🔼The name Syria: Summary
- Social Synchronicity & Collective Felicity, Populism
- From the verb אשר ('asher), to go straight, or the noun אשר ('ashar), happiness.
- From the verb συρω (suro), to draw or drag along.
🔼The name Syria in the Bible
The name Syria in the Bible belongs to the area directly north and north-east of Israel, roughly where modern Syria is today. In the Old Testament, this area is called Aram. There is also a realm called Assyria, which belonged to an empire further to the north-east, roughly where today Iraq is. Syria and Assyria are two different places, but their names are very much alike and are often confused, also because these two places are the remnants of a once much more unified language area: that of the Aramaic language. A very similar thing happened with the names Rome and Romania, which are two different places but stem from the same, long faded, Roman world that once encompassed them both.
In the New Testament, the name Syria is consistently used for the Roman province directly north and north-east of Judea. This province called Roman Syria was slightly larger than modern Syria is. It included several ancient Phoenician cities (Tyre and Sidon). And it included the city of Damascus, which had been the capital of Aram but was in decline during Roman times, also because the capital of the Roman province became Syrian Antioch.
The name Syria occurs 8 times in the New Testament; see full concordance. The ethnonym Syrian (Συρος) occurs once (Luke 4:27 only). And in Mark 7:26 only occurs the term Συροφοινισσα (Surophoinissa), meaning Syrophoenician, which describes a lady from a Phoenician background living in the Roman province of Syria.
Nobody in Mark's original audience would have missed in the story of the Syrophoenician lady whose demonized daughter Jesus healed, the obvious wink to Carthage, the colony of Tyre, which the Romans had utterly destroyed two centuries earlier. The destruction of Carthage concluded a series of three Punic Wars, but also heralded the demise of the Roman Republic and thus the rise of the disastrous Roman Empire (see our article on Pyrrhus for more on this).
🔼A match made in heaven
The relationships between the nations within the Roman realm were of course vastly complex, perhaps as complex as the relationships between the organs that make up a single large organism. But still, in general and on average, the vault line between the holy and the profane — that also ran between Persia and Assyria, between Judah and the Ten Tribes, between the Pharisees and the Sadducees, between the specific left (αριστερος, aristeros) and the general right (δεξιος, dexios), between Hebrew and Koine, between sexual reproduction and physical wastes (see our article on Stephen) — ran clean between Judea and Syria.
Just like Jesus had come from his divine heaven and assumed the guise of a mere mortal man, so the Hebrew Scriptures had assumed the font of Aram (the familiar block-shaped "Hebrew" letters are not Hebrew at all but rather royal Aramaic letters). What once was solely for the Jews, namely the Spirit of the Law, was now available to the gentiles, and in their own letter. And so Paul was a Jew to the Jews, a Greek to the Greek, a slave to the slaves and a freeman to the free; everything to everyone in order to save anyone (1 Corinthians 9:19-23).
God is One (Deuteronomy 6:4) and utterly unique, but man, though many, is invited to partake in the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4) and be One (Ephesians 4:1-6, John 17:21-23) just like God is One (Matthew 5:48). An uncritical descent into whatever the majority is doing is always a bad idea (Exodus 23:2), but salvation comes by χαρις (charis), which is not simply "grace" but communal felicity (Ephesians 2:8). Jesus embodies the Logos, or the Word, and language itself comes from the same dynamic: from imitating each other's expressions and collectively gravitating toward a shared consciousness.
The word χαρις (charis) relates to the word "choir," and that explains it all: Salvation does not come from simply being swept along by an emotional wave of elation and cheer, but rather from finding each other within the governing structures of a rational composition. From structure and discipline comes a far greater and much more fruitful kind of collective joy than any kind of uninhibition and abandon.
In Genesis 2:7, God first gathered the dust of the earth and forged them into a vital composition. Then he breathed into that composition the breath of life, and Adam became a living soul. Later he told Abraham that his offspring would be like the dust of the earth (Genesis 13:16). Later still, Paul explained that those who lived by the Word were the offspring of Abraham (Galatians 3:7). And sure enough, God gathered that Abrahamic "dust of the earth" and forged it into a vital composition, and released into that composition his own Spirit, and the Church became a living People (Acts 2:4).
Life comes from the marriage of social synchronicity and the rational Logos. The followers of Jesus embody the rational Logos. The Syrians embody social synchronicity and collective felicity.
🔼Etymology of the name Syria
The name Syria, like the name Assyria, ultimately comes from the Semitic root אשר ('asher), to go straight, to go right-on, or its all-telling derivative אשר ('ashar), happiness:
Verb ישר (yashar) means to be straight or level. Adjective ישר (yashar) means right or upright. Nouns ישר (yosher), ישרה (yeshara) and מישר (meshar) mean uprightness or straightness. Noun מישור (mishor) describes a level place or plain.
Verb אשר ('ashar) covers a decisive progression or a setting right, and is often applied to describe happiness and prosperity (right on!). This is not due to a curious coincidence but to the obvious correlation of righteousness and efficiency. Righteousness in the Biblical sense describes a solid grasp of natural law, which leads to high levels of technology, social liquidity and thus peace and prosperity.
Nouns אשר ('esher), אשר ('ashar) and אשר ('osher) mean happiness or blessedness. Nouns אשור (ashur) and אשר (ashur) mean a step, a walk or a going. The noun תאשור (te'ashur) refers to a kind of tree (a happy tree? a progressing tree?).
The relative particle אשר (asher) means who or which, and may or may not be related to the previous (but probably does).
But the Greek version of our name Syria (συρια, suria), rather obviously relates to the verb συρω (suro), to draw or drag along. It's not clear where this verb may have come from, but here at Abarim Publications we suspect that this verb actually derives from the name Syria, rather than the other way around:
The verb συρω (suro) means to draw or drag along, and that commonly by force or violence. Noun συρτης (surtes) describes anything to draw with (a rope or reign or anything attractive), and noun συρτος (surtos) denotes anything drawn or swept along and subsequently deposited (like gold dust on a river bank, or exiles in the land of their abductors).
The name Syria expresses social synchronicity and collective felicity, which are wonderful things when they are contained within a structure of reason but not so much when they are not (see our article on the name Beelzebub). As the Ten Tribes were to experience, getting swept up by the Syrian spirit of whoopie results in the disintegration of social bonds and the liquidation of identity at every level (social and personal). But when the fire of the Syrian spirit remains contained within the boundaries set by the Logos, it becomes a lamp that enlightens the entire human world.