David Benjamin Keldani - A bishop converts to Islam?

Mark Pleas

From: ntscon1@halcyon.com (Mark Pleas) [Note: email address is defunct now!]
Newsgroups: soc.religion.islam 
Subject: David Benjamin Keldani ('Abdu 'l-Ahad Dawud)
Date: 23 Aug 1997 22:02:21 -0700  
Message-ID: <5tof8t$6oj$1@shell3.ba.best.com>  

On 26 Jan 1997, ntscon1@chinook.halcyon.com (Mark Pleas) wrote:

> On 28 Feb 1996, maalkadh@mailbox.syr.edu (Misha'al Al-Kadhi) wrote:
>> Subject: Does the Bible say God is "THREE"?  Can you prove it?
>> Date: 28 Feb 1996 18:14:27 -0800
>> [....]
>> We know that many very eminent Christian scholars, after a
>> lifetime of devotion to the Bible, the study of ancient Greek,
>> Latin, and Hebrew, the study of countless other ancient
>> Christian documents, and years upon years of continuous
>> preaching of established doctrines, after all of this they
>> learned about Islam and reverted to Islam.  One example that
>> imediately springs to mind is the Roman Catholic *BISHOP*
>> David Benjamin Keldani (later known as Abdul-Ahad Dawood). 
> [....]
> My question is this: Are the above claims true?  Are there any
> inaccuracies in these claims, particularly with respect to Keldani?
> Thank you.
> Mark Pleas
> ntscon1@halcyon.com

I have since then done some research on my own to find out more about
this person and his scholarly credentials.  Yet I have been unable to
find any mention of him in Catholic or Muslim sources.  The Catholic
sources I consulted were extremely detailed, but were on the worldwide
level -- his lack of mention there indicates only that he was never
famous among Catholics either before or after he left the Church.
Additional search might turn up something, but the fact that Keldani
apparently left the Church by the age of 33 makes it seem unlikely that
he was ever well known among Catholics outside of his home town or
region. For information on him, then, one would have to consult archives
for the organizations or places he was connected with.  I have contacted
some Chaldean Catholic representatives outside of Iran, but none of them
had heard of Keldani.  One of them was personally acquainted with the
man who is presently Chaldean archbishop in Keldani's home town of
Urmiah in northwestern Iran, but he was unable to find out anything
about Keldani on his own.

The Muslim sources at my disposal were only a variety of encyclopaedias
of Islam in Western languages.  Some were compiled by Muslims, some by
non-Muslims.  None of them made any mention of anyone like "Fr.
Benjamin", "Fr. Keldani", or "'Abdu 'l-Ahad Dawud" in either the index
or the list of contributors.  I also had recourse to one or two Iranian
biographical dictionaries, but found nothing there either.

As a result, everything I have been able to find out directly about
Keldani comes from the biography in his book (see below), or from a
couple of autobiographical comments in the text of the book.
Nevertheless, I have found information about many of the things
mentioned in the biography, and I believe that information will serve to
correct or clarify some of the claims or impressions given by the book's

The biography gives the names of four periodicals that Keldani published
in before he left the Church.  As all 4 were quite regional, and
obviously rather old, the libraries I had access to had none of them.
It would seem not unlikely, however, that some of the articles might
have appended to them a brief explanation of who the author was.  If so,
getting copies of those articles would serve to fill in the enormous
gaps that the biography below leaves concerning his childhood and his
entry into the Church.  I have contacted one of the periodicals, the
Tablet, by e-mail, but was told that there was no autobiographical
information appended to the articles he published in that magazine:


  We did find that Rev. David Benjamin wrote a lengthy
  series of ten articles for The Tablet between December
  1892 and May 1893 on 'Assyria, Rome and Canterbury' but
  unfortunately there is no autobiographical sketch of him.

  You may be interested to know that the final article ends
  with the words: "I asked Cardinal Vaughan, '...tell the
  Holy Father, I most earnestly beg him to pray to Him whose
  Vicar he is, for the re-union of Mar Shimum and my most
  beloved nation, the Chaldaeo-Assyrians'".


In addition, the book's biography gives no information on Keldani after
his acceptance of Islam in 1904, at the age of 37, but the Web version
below says, "(died 1940c)"  If one knew where and when he died, one
might be able to find a newspaper obituary from the area that would
provide additional information about his life.  In addition, there might
be some biographical information given in the article that Keldani wrote
for "the Turkish paper the Aqsham" in 1922 or 1923, as mentioned in the
sixth article of the Web version of the book (i.e., 'Prophet Muhammad Is
the Son-of-Man').

The contents of Keldani's "Articles of Religion" found at the Azhar
Mosque of the Internet (http://www.mosque.com) appear nearly identical
to the contents of Keldani's book "Muhammad in the Bible."  The copy of
"Muhammad in the Bible" that I have seen gives no dates for original or
most recent publication, but was printed in 1981 by Shirkat Printing
Press, Lahore, Pakistan.  The biographical sketch found at
http://www.mosque.com/gooda.html appears identical to the biographical
sketch found in the printed book, with the exception of a few minor
differences that appear to be errors in transcription.  Below I follow
the Web version, noting anywhere where it differs significantly from the
book's version.

>     (died 1940c)
>     Former Roman Catholic Bishop of the Uniate Chaldean

"Bishop" -- In the title of the printed book, too, he is given as a
former bishop: "Prof. 'Abdu 'L-Ahad Dawud (Former Bishop of Uramiah)".
But in the caption to the picture of Keldani opposite the table of
contents in the book, there is no claim of Keldani having ever been a
bishop: "Professor 'Abdu 'l-Ahad Dawud, B.D., the writer of the present
series of articles is the former Reverend David Benjamin Keldani, B.D.,
a Roman Catholic priest of the Uniate-Chaldean sect.  A brief sketch of
his biography appears elsewhere."  (The title "Reverend" is normally
used only for priests, not bishops.)  Also, in the title of the
biographical sketch in the book there is no use of the term "bishop": "A
Short Biographical Sketch of Professor 'Abdu 'L-Ahad Dawud, B.D."  In
the printed book, therefore, the only reference to Keldani as a bishop
is on the title page.

Here, however, in the title of the Web version, we have a second mention
of the bishop claim.  In addition, on the main page of the Azhar Mosque
of the Internet, Keldani is referred to as "Bishop Benjamin", and in the
main page for the Keldani articles the title is again "The Articles of
the Bishop of Uramiah, on the Creator, Holy Books and Prophets", which
are "Presented by Shaykh Ahmad Darwish".  It could be, then, that the
extra emphasis on the word "bishop" in the Web version is due to Shaykh
Ahmad Darwish.

I have checked the enormous and fully indexed eighth volume of
"Hierarchia Catholica Medii et Recentioris Aevi," which gives detailed
biographical information on every Catholic bishop, archbishop, and
cardinal between 1846 and 1903.  There is no mention of Keldani (or
"Benjamin") anywhere in the book, so he was clearly never a Catholic
bishop.  Furthermore, in the first article in the second part of the Web
version of the book ('Islam and Ahmadiyat Announced by Angels'), he
gives the following: 

  Whether an orthodox or a heterodox, when a Christian comes
  out from the church where he has "shared" the "Lord's Com-
  munion" which they call the "Institution of the Eucharist,(1)"
  they become so hypocritically fanatical and unsocial as to
  prefer to meet a dog rather than a Muslim or a Jew, because
  these do not believe in the Trinity and in the "Lord's Supper."
  I know it. I used to be of the same sentiments when I was
  a Catholic priest. The more I thought myself spiritual, holy,
  and sinless, the more I hated the heretics, especially the non-
  believers in the Trinity.

It is clear from the context that he means to bolster the believability
of his observation by noting the highest position he ever occupied in
the Church: if he had ever been more than a priest, his argument here
would be strengthened by noting that.

>     Abdu'l-Ahad Dawud is the former Rev. David Abdu Benjamin Keldani,
>     B.D., a Roman Catholic priest of the Uniate-Chaldean sect. He

In the book he is the former "Rev. David Benjamin Keldani, B.D.", with
no mention of the second "Abdu".  Its presence here may be a
transcription error.  The word "keldani" appears in the title of the
Chaldean Church in Urmiah ("Khalifagari Kaldani Katoliq"), and when I
checked with one Chaldean Catholic he stated that he believed the word
merely means "chaldean".  The name, then, would actually be Rev. David
Benjamin, and this matches with the name he wrote under for the Tablet
(see above), as well as the fact given below that in France he was
referred to as "Father Benjamin".  (Note here that he is expressly
recognized as a former priest, not a former bishop.)

>From the biography we know nothing of his parentage and upbringing, but
from the given name "David" he could be Jewish, Christian, or even
Muslim, while from the surname "Benjamin" his family would appear to
have been most likely either Jewish or Christian.  In addition to the
biography, however, he gives some information about his background in
passing in different parts of the book.  In the first article on the Web
page, ('Prefatory Remarks, Allah and His Attributes:  "And the Ahmed of
All Nations Will Come." - Haggai, ii.7'), we find the following:

   I have translated the above paragraph from the only
   copy of the Bible at my disposal, lent to me by an Assyrian
   lady cousin in her own vernacular language. But let us
   consult the English versions of the Bible, which we find have
   rendered the original Hebrew words himda and shalom into
   "desire" and "peace" respectively.

He had an Assyrian (i.e., "Chaldean") cousin with a Bible, which she
only lent to him -- apparently she wanted it back, so she might well
have been a Christian.  If so, this would imply that Keldani had
Christian relatives, and would serve as some slight additional evidence
that he may have come from a Christian family (rather than Jewish,
Muslim, or non-religious).

"a Roman Catholic priest of the Uniate-Chaldean sect"  -- The titles
used here and elsewhere make it appear that the biography was not
written by Keldani himself, but compiled from various sources by someone
else.  Catholics normally refer to themselves as "Catholics," not "Roman
Catholics."  Although the title "Roman Catholic Church" has been used
occasionally in the history of the Church, it first came into prominence
with the Anglicans in England after they split off from Rome in the 16th
century.  The Anglicans, who claimed that their church was just as
"catholic" as the church centered on the Pope in Rome, used the term to
imply that the Pope's Catholic Church was merely the _Roman_ branch of
the invisible "Catholic Church".  From the Anglicans the term passed
over to English-speaking Protestants, and is even occasionally
encountered among some English-speaking Catholics.  Nevertheless, it is
never used by the Church, as it is considered pejorative or as
potentially compromising the Church's claim to sole catholicity.  It
would seem from this that the writer was not a Catholic, and was
probably more familiar with Protestant English terminology.

In addition, the term "Uniate-Chaldean sect" is equally unlikely to have
come from a present or former Catholic.  The Catholic Church consists of
21 "rites," different cultural groups which have different liturgical
languages and calendars, and slightly different customs and practices,
but which are all under the Pope, the Bishop of Rome, and profess the
same faith.  The largest rite, the Latin Rite, comprises roughly 98% of
the world's approximately 1.05 billion Catholics.  The next largest rite
is the Ukrainian Rite; some other well-known rites are the Coptic,
Ethiopian, Maronite, Armenian, Chaldean, Malabar, Greek-Melkhite, and
Ruthenian.  (The Chaldean Rite consists of former Nestorian churches
which have returned to union with Rome; it is headed by the "Patriarch
of Babylon", who resides in Baghdad.  The rite, called Chaldean after
the ancient name for the territory in which it arose, is composed
primarily of ethnic Chaldeans (or Assyrians), and the liturgical
language is usually Syriac.)  The rites are all equal in precedence, and
believers all subscribe to the same creed.  But in order to keep the
ancient practices of some of the smaller rites from dying out, relations
between the rites are regulated: normally one remains in the rite in
which one was born, and certain procedures must be followed before one
can change from one rite to another.  Therefore the term "sect" is
inappropriate -- there is no difference in creed, all are subject to the
same central leadership, and wooing adherents from one rite into another
is forbidden. [1]

The term "Uniate" is also very strange here.  It is unknown to almost
all Catholics and Protestants, and is used almost exclusively by
(Eastern) Orthodox Christians.  It refers to the various Eastern
Catholic rites "uniting" with the Church in Rome, and is regarded as
quite pejorative by Eastern Rite Catholics such as Chaldean Catholics.
Even if Keldani might have disliked the Catholic Church after leaving
it, it seems unlikely that he would use a pejorative term designed to
affirm the dignity of the Orthodox churches.

>From these and other points it appears that the writer of the biography,
who may or may not be the same person who first mistakenly gave Keldani
the title "bishop," may not have spoken with Keldani directly, and may
instead have culled his information from a variety of outside sources
written from different points of view.

>     was born in 1867 at Urmia in Persia; educated from his early
>     infancy in that town. From 1886-89 he was on the teaching staff of
>     the Archbishop of Canterbury's Mission to the Assyrian
>     (Nestorian) Christians at Urmia. In 1892 he was sent by

"Urmia" -- Also Urmiah, Uramiah, and now romanized "Orumiyeh."  A city
in northwestern Iran, in the former Persian province of Adherbaidjan
(Azerbaijan), situated across from (i.e., southwest of) Tabriz on Lake
Orumiyeh, and about 75 km northwest of the point where the borders of
Iran, Iraq, and Turkey meet.  It was within the diocese of Adherbaidjan,
which existed from 420 to the thirteenth century.  When the Nestorian
patriarch of the area embraced Catholicism in 1582 he was recognized by
Rome as the Chaldean patriarch, and he resided at Urmiah.  The Chaldean
Rite Diocese of Urmiah was established by Rome in 1890.  The name of the
city was changed to Rizaiyeh (or Rezayeh) in honor of Riza Shah Pahlavi
(1925-41), but was later changed back to Urmiah (Orumiyeh).  In
approximately 1900 the diocese had 5,000 Catholics, 42 priests, 44
churches and chapels, and several schools for boys and girls.  In 1965
it had 4,890 Catholics and 6 priests   In 1995 it had 1,500 Catholics, 2
priests, and 10 churches.  The archbishop of Urmiah is also bishop of
the neighboring "suffragan" diocese of Salmas to the north.  The area is
rugged and prone to devastating earthquakes, and has been the scene of
much ethnic warfare in the last century, among Kurds, Armenians, and
others. [2]  Later in the biography, however, Keldani's hometown is
identified as Digala, not far from Urmiah.

"Archbishop of Canterbury's Mission to the Assyrian (Nestorian)
Christians" -- The Archbishop of Canterbury is the leader of the Church
of England (the Anglican Church), and is, obviously, not a Catholic.
Much information on this mission can be found in "Christians in Persia,"
especially Chapter 11, 'The Archbishop of Canterbury's Mission to the
Assyrian Church, 1886-1915.'  Above we were told that Keldani was on the
teaching staff from 1886 to 1889 (age 19 to age 22) in Urmiah.  The
obvious question is, was Keldani an Anglican at the time?

After some exploratory missions, the true Anglican mission at Urmiah
began in 1886, when A.J. Maclean and W.H. Browne arrived.  In 1887
Browne was sent to Turkey and replaced in Urmiah by A.H. Lang, who was
joined in 1888 by A.R. Eddington. [3]

  "The missionaries ... also firmly adhered to their determination
   to distinguish themselves from the American and the Roman
   Catholic missions by not doing anything which could possibly
   be interpreted as proselytising.  They contented themselves
   with starting schools for ordinands and others, and setting
   up a printing press to print liturgical works. ..." [4]

  "When Maclean opened schools he was very reluctant to teach
   the boys English, and he insisted that they should ... not be
   led to believe that Western ways were better. ... The educational
   work expanded rapidly and by 1888 the mission was responsible for
   high schools in Urmiah, Superghan and Ardishai and forty
   village schools, of which seventeen were in Turkey and the
   remainder in Persia.  They had a total of 1,200 scholars [i.e.,
   students] in these schools and used a considerable
   number of Assyrian [i.e., native Nestorian] clergy to teach
   in them. ..." [5]

Since these missionaries were the first in the area, and there was no
Anglican church already established in the vicinity, and the
missionaries did not proselytise, it seems unlikely that Keldani was an
Anglican before they came to Urmiah in 1886.  But if he were a Catholic
there at that time it seems unlikely that he would have been teaching at
an Anglican school -- the Catholics had abundant positions for teachers
in the area already.  It appears probable, therefore, that Keldani was a
Nestorian layman, possibly one on the verge of priestly ordination.

>     (Nestorian) Christians at Urmia. In 1892 he was sent by
>     Cardinal Vaughan to Rome, where he underwent a course of
>     philosophical and theological studies at the Propaganda Fide
>     College, and in 1895 was ordained Priest. In 1892 Professor

Here we encounter a puzzling gap in the biography.  In 1889, at the age
of 22, he is in Persia teaching at an Anglican school, probably as
either a Nestorian or (by the end) an Anglican.  Three years later in
1892, at the age of 25, he is in England about to be dispatched to Rome
by a Catholic cardinal, and presumably Keldani was a Catholic.  What
happened during those three years?  Some details related to the facts
given in the biography may help to provide a clearer picture or narrow
down the possibilities:

"sent by Cardinal Vaughan" -- Herbert Vaughan, 1832-1903.  Early in his
career Vaughan was appointed to head a seminary, and eventually
dedicated his life to building up a college that would send out
missionaries all over the world.  This college, the College for Foreign
Missions (or "St. Joseph's College"), was founded at Mill Hill near
London in 1866, and is still in operation.  As of 1913, the college had
missioners at work "in the Philippines, in Uganda, in Madras, in New
Zealand, in Borneo, in Labuan, in the Basin of the Congo, in Kashmir,
and in Kafiristan."  Although he had to retire from personally
overseeing the college when he was made a bishop in 1872, Vaughan
remained until the end of his life the head of the St. Joseph's
Missionary Society, which had responsibility for sending the college's
graduates out to missionary posts around the world.  Vaughan was made a
cardinal on January 9, 1893, to replace Cardinal Manning.[6]

Some important points to note:

1) The English Catholic weekly magazine that Keldani published his
articles in in 1892, the Tablet (see below), was owned by Vaughan from
the 1870's until his death in 1903, at which time it was stipulated that
1/3 of the profits of the Tablet should go to Vaughan's foundation, the
Mill Hill Missionaries; [7]

2) Keldani was not sent to Rome by "Cardinal Vaughan" in 1892, as
Vaughan was not made a cardinal until the following year.  From the fact
that in 1892 Keldani was sent away for his priestly studies by Bishop
Vaughan, head of a Catholic society for sponsoring missionaries, and in
1892 wrote articles for a Catholic magazine owned by Bishop Vaughan
whose profits paid for the sending of missionaries, it is difficult to
imagine that Keldani was anything other than a Catholic who had been
studying at Bishop Vaughan's school for some period of time.  Prior to
his becoming a cardinal in 1893, the only people on earth Vaughan had
authority to "send" abroad would have been the priests and employees of
his diocese (Salford until 1892, then Westminster) and the students of
the College at Mill Hill.  So if Keldani was sent to Rome by Vaughan, it
was not because Keldani was important to a "Cardinal" at the Vatican.
It is far more likely that Keldani was a seminarian at Mill Hill, and
that once he completed his studies, having expressed an interest in the
priesthood, he was naturally sent on for further priestly and missionary
study by Vaughan, who would have been his direct boss.  

How did he end up in England?  If he had already been a Catholic in
Urmiah then England would have been an odd place to go: the Chaldean
Rite Catholics in Urmiah had no connection with England, and the Latin
Rite Catholic missionaries (the Lazarists -- see below) were from
France, not England.  The most likely explanation is that, either as a
Nestorian or Anglican, Keldani learned English from the Englishmen he
was teaching for, attracted their notice as a young man with potential,
and about 1889 was sent to England to study more about the Anglican
Church, most likely with the intention of being ordained a priest.  (The
cost of going from Persia to England was considerable for the extremely
poor mountain Assyrians at that time, and it is difficult to imagine him
getting to England unless the Anglicans had sent him, and the budget of
the Anglican mission in Urmiah was such that this is not conceivable
unless Keldani were already an Anglican. [7.1])  For some reason, while
in England he must quickly have converted to the Catholic Church, and
begun attending a school for Catholic missionaries, while his intention
to become a priest remained unchanged.  Some solution like this is
necessary to explain the curious three-year gap. 

In fact, the e-mail from the Tablet quoted at the beginning gave as the
author of the articles in 1892-93 "Rev. David Benjamin".  Since his
ordination as a Catholic priest would not occur until 1895 (see below),
this "Rev." title must refer to some prior ordination as a Nestorian or
Anglican priest. 

"course of philosophical and theological studies at the Propaganda Fide
College" -- Propaganda Fide is the Sacred Congregation for the
Propagation of the Faith, a department founded within the Vatican in
1622 and renamed in 1967 to the Congregation for the Evangelization of
Peoples.  According to the relevant article in the "Catholic
Encyclopedia," as of 1913 Propaganda ran a number of different colleges
for the training of priests for missionary fields: 

  The colleges are institutions for the education of the clergy,
  intended either to supply clergy for missions that have no native
  clergy or to give a better education to the native clergy for the
  apostolate in their own country. The central seminary of Propaganda
  is, as has been said, the Urban College, established in the palace of
  the congregation at Rome. The immediate superiors are two prelates,
  one the general secretary of the congregation, and the other the
  rector. In this college may be found students from all the territories
  subject to Propaganda, but from nowhere else. The average number of
  its resident students is about one hundred and ten. It has its own
  schools, which are attended by many other students not subject to
  Propaganda -- e. g. the Bohemian College.[8]

It should be mentioned that in general missionary priests do not need to
be especially well educated in theology, general Church history, and
ancient languages.  More important for them is a thorough knowledge of
the customs, languages, and religions of their intended area of
activity, and a knowledge of the kinds of questions that may come up in
discussions with believers of the other major religions in the area.  As
it seems that from the beginning Keldani had the intention of returning
to Urmiah, in the course of his studies at Mill Hill and Rome it is
likely that he would have had specialized instruction in the history of
Christianity in the area (pre-451 Christianity in Azerbaijan, the
doctrines of Nestorius and the history of Nestorianism after the Council
of Chalcedon, and especially the complex relationship between the
Nestorians and the Chaldean Rite Catholics from 1500), and also in
defending the faith from challenges by the most likely opponents in
Urmiah -- Nestorians, Protestants, Anglicans, and possibly Orthodox.
Because none of these groups questioned either the reliability of the
Bible or, with the possible exception of a few Anglicans at the time,
the Trinity or the Divinity of Christ, it is unlikely that Keldani ever
had the chance to be taught the standard answers or Biblical proofs for
these questions.  And there is no reason to believe that his education,
which cannot have been more than 6 years in length, was longer or higher
than average for a missionary.

A priest who was going to be active in Persia would certainly have had
no need of Greek, and would only have needed slight reading knowledge of
Latin.  From what I have read of the Web version of his book, this seems
to be the case for Keldani: his preference is to discuss ancient texts
in Semitic languages (Hebrew, Aramaic, Syriac, Arabic) rather than Latin
or Greek, even though the version of the Old Testament that the Apostles
were apparently most familiar with was in Greek, the earliest versions
of the New Testament documents were apparently mostly in Greek, and the
only version of the Old and New Testaments that the Catholic Church has
vouched for as "authentic" is in Latin. (On the version of the OT
familiar to the Apostles, see

Finally, it might be thought that because this college is in Rome it
might be quite elite within the Catholic Church.  This would be a
mistake -- I believe the Gregorian and Lateran Universities are
generally regarded as the most prestigious among Catholic universities
in Rome in terms of academic level, and there are many excellent
Catholic universities or seminaries outside of Rome.

"and in 1895 was ordained Priest" -- A priest, not a bishop.  Also note
that this is just five years before he leaves the Church.

>     College, and in 1895 was ordained Priest. In 1892 Professor
>     Dawud contributed a series of articles to The Tablet on
>     "Assyria, Rome and Canterbury"; and also to the Irish
>     Record on the "Authenticity of the Pentateuch." He has

"Professor" -- This title would seem to be, at best, an anachronism
here.  There is no mention of him being on a teaching faculty anywhere
before his conversion to Islam (except with the Anglicans when he was
19, but the Anglicans in Urmiah ran nothing more advanced than a high
school), and there is certainly no reason to believe he was a professor
when he submitted those articles in 1892 at the age of 25.  As will be
noted immediately below, these are not scholarly periodicals but popular
magazines or newspapers.  As for his educational attainment, the title
of the biography gives him only the title "B.D.", which means merely
Bachelor of Divinity.

"The Tablet" -- This is a popular Catholic weekly magazine published in
England.  It is still publishing, and has a Web page at
http://www.thetablet.co.uk/tablethm.cgi  For those s.r.i. readers in the
UK, the Tablet can be reached at the following:
                The Tablet Publishing Co. Ltd, 1 King Street Cloisters,
                Clifton Walk,
                London W6 OQZ, Great Britain
                Telephone: 0181 748 8484 F>
                Webmaster: market@tablet.netkonect.co.uk
The text of the note I received from the Tablet, in which I asked for
biographical information from the articles, is given above.  According
to the quotation given in that note, it would seem that the greatest
hope of Keldani's life in 1893 was that the Nestorian leader of the
Urmiah area, Mar Shimun, would join the Catholic Church.  It seems all
the more likely, then, that Keldani's studies in Rome, if not even
earlier in England, had been directed toward returning to Urmiah to
evangelize Nestorians, not Muslims.

"Canterbury" -- This is the location of the "headquarters" of the Church
of England (the Anglican Church).  The articles are apparently about
Nestorianism, Catholicism, and Anglicanism.  As there were other
Christian churches active in Urmiah (e.g., Protestants), this is
apparently not a list of all the churches in Urmiah, but instead,
perhaps, a list of those he had belonged to at one time or another in
his life.  As he was certainly a Catholic at the time he wrote the
articles, the placing of Canterbury _after_ Rome might indicate that he
is discussing them in the order they became active in Urmiah.

"Irish Record" -- This periodical is not mentioned by either the
Catholic Encyclopedia (1913) or the New Catholic Encyclopedia (1967), so
it may not have been a Church-run periodical.  Nevertheless, if it was a
popular daily or weekly anywhere in Ireland, the subject matter of his
articles might have been of interest to general readers, who would for
the most part have been either Catholics or Protestants.  An obvious
question is, why Ireland? Did Keldani spend some time in Ireland between
1889 and 1892?

"Authenticity of the Pentateuch" -- As the only education we know of
Keldani having had by this time (1892) was at most two or three years of
general missionary study at Mill Hill, if he wrote these articles alone,
then they would presumably have been based on rather general knowledge
such as the similarities between the customs in the Torah and the
Assyrian customs of his homeland, instead of profound research in
archaeology, linguistics, and comparative literature.  He apparently
never investigated the Pentateuch in depth, as several times in his book
he argues that the Bible is false because according to the Mosaic Law
Abraham would have been a criminal, even though Abraham lived at least
half a millenium before Moses was given the Mosaic Law (and, in any
case, the criminality of pre-Mosaic incest would at best be
questionable, as who would the first generations after Adam and Eve have
married if not their own relatives?).

Neither these two publications, nor the three mentioned later, were
scholarly journals of the time.  Oddly, the biography makes no mention
of any papers or publications by Keldani during his three years in Rome. 
If he truly was sent to Rome in 1892, then the articles in the Tablet,
published from December 1892 to May 1893, would presumably have been
written in Rome. 

One little bit of information about his activities in Rome is given in
the preface to the Web version of his book ('Prefatory Remarks, Allah
and His Attributes:  "And the Ahmed of all Nations Will Come." - Haggai,

   Among the "Fathers" of the Eastern Christians, one of the most
   distinguished is St. Ephraim the Syrian. He is the author of many
   works, chiefly of a commentary on the Bible which is published both
   in Syriac and in Latin, which latter edition I had carefully read in

Although he apparently could read ("carefully") Latin, he appears most
comfortable with Semitic languages -- Syriac, Hebrew, and Arabic.  His
knowledge of the earliest periods of Church history seems poor, and the
things that he imagines would be regarded as terribly heretical in the
Catholic Church would certainly not be.

>     Record on the "Authenticity of the Pentateuch." He has
>     several translations of the Ave Maria in different languages,
>     published in the illustrated Catholic Missios. While in

"Ave Maria" -- This is the "Hail Mary" prayer.  It is very short.  Its
most common English form is as follows:

   Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee.
   Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit
        of thy womb, Jesus.
   Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us sinners, now
        and at the hour of our death.  Amen.

That is all.  One or more translations of this would hardly be something
to put in one's resume.  Furthermore, the first two verses are taken
directly from the Bible, and the Bible had most likely already been
translated by someone into most of the languages he published his
translations in, so very likely all he had to translate anew for himself
was the last sentence.

"Illustrated Catholic Missions" -- This appears to have been a rather
small English publication for a general audience.  The only mention I
found of it is in the article on Catholic periodicals in the Catholic
Encyclopedia (1913), where midway through the section on England there
is the following: "There are a considerable number of minor Catholic
monthlies, mostly founded in recent years to advocate and promote
special objects.  The "Annals of the Propagation of the Faith" and
"Illustrated Catholic Missions" specialize on the news of the mission
field. ..." [9]

>     published in the illustrated Catholic Missions. While in
>     Constantinople on his way to Persia in 1895, he contributed
>     a long series of articles in English and French to the daily
>     paper, published there under the name of The Levant Herald,
>     on "Eastern Churches." In 1895 he joined the French
>     Lazarist Mission at Urmia, and published for the first time
>     in the history of that Mission a periodical in the vernacular
>     Syriac called Qala-La-Shara, i.e. "The Voice of Truth."

"The Levant Herald" -- The sources at my disposal give no information on
this daily newspaper.

"Eastern Churches" -- Even at this point in his life, there is still no
indication that Keldani knew or cared anything about Islam, so it is
unlikely that during his education he had taken courses on answering
Islamic challenges.  His later conversion to Unitarianism, and then to
Islam, is not especially unusual for missionaries who have prepared
intensively to address the questions raised by one religion, only to be
completely caught off guard by the questions raised by another religion.
Note that already, by 1895, Keldani knew French, and was joining a
French-speaking mission in his home city.  It is not clear when he might
have studied French if not during his stay at Rome, since the
opportunities to learn it in Urmiah must have been slight.

"French Lazarist Mission" -- "Lazarists" is the term applied (usually in
French) to members of the Congregation of the Mission, founded by St.
Vincent de Paul in France in 1625.  Named in French after the first
mother house of their congregation, the Saint-Lazare in Paris, in
English they are normally called "Vincentians" after their founder.  The
Vincentians are a worldwide missionary congregation in the Catholic
Church, and since their founding have expanded their work to missions
worldwide. [10]  They established a mission in Persia in 1841, and in
1846 set up a major seminary at Shahpur (Salmas).  In 1892 this seminary
was transfered to Urmiah.  In fact, by 1892 "there were two seminaries
in Urmiah, a teacher-training college with boarding facilities for
training village teachers, and forty-five village schools in the
surrounding area." [11]  According to the Catholic Encyclopedia (1913),
the Vincentians at Urmiah "possess a seminary and a Syrian printing
press, where P. Bedjan has published many editions of the ancient
texts."[12]  This printing press was probably the same one Keldani was
printing his Syriac periodical on 18 years earlier, as Fr. Bedjan had
been active there for many years: "Soon after Cluzel succeeded Darnis as
head of the [Lazarist] mission [1858] three Assyrians went to France and
after a short novitiate joined the missionary [Lazarist] Fathers in
Iran.  The most famous of these was Pere Paul Bedjan, who proved to be a
notable scholar and whose editions of ancient Syriac texts have been
widely admired." [13]

"a periodical in the vernacular Syriac called Qala-La-Shara, i.e. 'The
Voice of Truth.'" -- Since there were few or no Muslims in the region
who spoke Syriac, obviously Keldani's work was focussed on Christians,
either Catholics or Nestorians.  The language he is working with here,
his vernacular language, is the same as that of his cousin's Bible, more
information about which is given in the third article on the Web page,
('The Mystery of the "Mispa"'):

   (1) The Bible which I consult does not contain the so-called deutro-
   canonical or Apocryphal books of the Old Testament. This Bible
   is published by the American Bible Society (New York 1893 ) .
   The title runs thus Kthahhi Qaddishi Dadiathiqi Wadiathiqi Khadatt
   An Shad-wath Poushaqa dmin lishani qdimaqi. Matha 'ta d'dasta.
   Biblioneta d' America [The Holy Books of the Old Testament and of
   the New Covenant (Testament), with the concordance or witnesses.
   Translated from the ancient languages. Published at the Press of the
   American Bible Society].

Note that the Bible he uses here is Protestant (missing the
deuterocanonical books), while for the Bible in English in his articles
he seems to prefer the Authorized Version (i.e., the "King James"
translation), which is Anglican.

>     In 1897 he was delegated by two Uniate-Chaldean Arch-
>     bishops of Urmia and of Salmas to represent the Eastern
>     Catholics at the Eucharistic Congress held at Paray-le-Monial
>     in France under the presidency of Cardinal Perraud. This
>     was, of course, an official invitation. The paper read at the
>     Congress by "Father Benjamin" was published in the Annals
>     of the Eucharistic Congress, called "Le Pellerin" of that year.
>     In this paper, the Chaldean Arch-Priest (that being his official
>     title) deplored the Catholic system of education among the
>     Nestorians.

"two Uniate-Chaldean Archbishops of Urmia and of Salmas" -- The
Archbishop of Urmiah from 1890 to 1918 was Thomas Audo, a Chaldean
Catholic born in Alkosch in 1855.  The Bishop of Salmas from 1894 to
1908 (or 1915) was Isaac Khoudabache, a Chaldean Catholic born in
Kosrowa in 1860. [14]  I believe "two...Archbishops" is incorrect, as at
the time Salmas was apparently headed by a bishop, not an archbishop.

"Eucharistic Congress" -- Eucharistic Congresses are large conventions
of common Catholics to celebrate Mass (the Eucharist), pray, and hear
seminars and discussions.  The first was held in Lille, France, in 1881,
and the latest, the 46th, was held in Wroclaw, Poland, from May 25 to
June 1, 1997.  At the time of the 10th Eucharistic Congress, in
Paray-le-Monial in France, the conventions were being held on the
average about once a year, in French-speaking countries.  The congresses
have always been designed to encourage the faithful and strengthen their
devotion; the events at these congresses have no impact on the teaching
or governance of the Catholic Church.  The Catholic Church is governed
not through Eucharistic Congresses, but through Ecumenical Councils of
the world's bishops, or by local synods of bishops, or by departments of
the Vatican in Rome.  Hence Keldani's attendance at this congress in no
way implies that he was highly placed in the Catholic Church: the
special "official" invitation issued to the bishops of Urmiah and Salmas
may well have been issued to all the world's bishops, and the congress
as a whole was, by design, open to the public; attendance at the time
was typically in the tens of thousands.  The congress in 1897 took place
over five days, during which no doubt many papers were read, so there is
no reason to suppose that Keldani was a key speaker at the congress.
Since Keldani attended only in place of his two bishops (perhaps because
he spoke French), and because he soon opened a school in his town, it is
likely that the paper he "read", if it was not written by the bishops,
at least expressed ideas that they approved of. [15]

"Le Pellerin" -- Apparently this is a misspelling of "Le Pelerin" (The
Pilgrim), a popular Catholic weekly published in France since 1873. [16]

"Arch-Priest" -- This title denotes a priest who has been placed by his
bishop in charge of some other priests, and is a synonym for "Dean".
Often a bishop will divide his diocese into districts or deaneries, and
assign one priest from the district to be "dean" or "archpriest": his
job is to facilitate relations between the bishop and the local priests,
and to exercise some supervision over the parish priests.  Fifteen years
after this, in 1913, the archdiocese of Urmiah had just 42 priests
(including archpriests), and Keldani and perhaps one or more other
archpriests must have been overseeing these priests for the bishop. [17]
But the archpriest is still, in terms of order, no more than a priest.
The Church has always clearly distinguished the three different levels
of the Sacrament of Confirmation -- deacon, priest, bishop -- and there
is no way for one to gradually cross the line from one order to another.
Likewise, I do not believe there is any special form of address used
before the names of archpriests: note, in fact, that the biography
points out that both before the congress and after (see below) Keldani
was addressed simply as "Father Benjamin", i.e., a common priest, one of
perhaps 300,000 in the world at that time.  (I have not had the
opportunity to verify statistics for that time, but the most recent
statistics for the Catholic Church worldwide are 8 patriarchs, 4,088
bishops and archbishops, and 404,461 priests. [18] )

There is one clause in the printed book that is missing from the Web
version.  The book runs, "...deplored the Catholic system of education
among the Nestorians, and foretold the imminent appearance of the
Russian priests in Urmia."

"deplored the Catholic system of education among the Nestorians" --
While it was unclear from the title of Keldani's periodical whether he
was spending his time with Catholics or Nestorians, it would appear from
this that he may have been spending much of his time evangelizing (or
teaching) the Nestorians.  Note that in 1897, just three years before he
leaves the Church, his concern is still exclusively with 'Christianity'
(Catholics, Nestorians, and Orthodox [i.e., "Russians"]).  There is no
indication that before this point, at the age of 30, he had ever given
any attention to Islam, or had had the opportunity to see Catholic
answers to the more common Muslim challenges.  The focus of all his
life's attention, and the corner of the world where the arrival of
"Russian priests" is imminent, is only Urmiah.

>     In 1888 Father Benjamin was back again in Persia. In
>     his native village, Digala, about a mile from the town, he
>     opened a school. The next year he was sent by the
>     Ecclesiastical authorities to take charge of the diocese of

In the book, "opened a school gratis."  Because he had just come back
from reading a paper criticizing the Catholic system of education among
the Nestorians, this school was presumably an attempt to do better, and
was therefore probably directed toward the Nestorians.

Both the printed and the Web versions have "1888", although from the
context the year should clearly be 1898.

>     Salmas, where a sharp and scandalous conflict between the
>     Uniate Archbishop, Khudabash, and the Lazarist Fathers for
>     a long time had been menacing a schism. On the day of

Some details on the conflict would be helpful.  Judging from the paper
Keldani read (probably for his bishops) in France, and the content of
his last sermon, it would appear that the disagreement was primarily
over the strategy the Lazarists were using to teach or convert the
Nestorians.  From what was quoted above about the Lazarists in Urmiah,
it would seem that their major missionary effort in the Urmiah area was
schools for non-Catholics, presumably mostly Nestorians.

>     a long time had been menacing a schism. On the day of
>     New Year 1900, Father Benjamin preached his last and
>     memorable sermon to a large congregation, including many
>     non-Catholic Armenians and others in the Cathedral of
>     St. George's Khorovabad, Salmas. The preacher's subject
>     was "New Century and New Men." He recalled the fact

I believe that at that time it was already the practice for Catholic
priests to preach on Sundays a homily rather than a sermon.  A homily
explicates the Bible readings for that day, while a sermon discusses one
religious subject while referring to the Bible.  Keldani, here, seems to
have done neither, and chosen an entirely secular subject.

>     that the Nestorian Missionaries, before the appearance of
>     Islam, namely "submission" to God, had preached the Gospel

This remark about Islam was presumably added by the editor of the
biography, as it is apparent that Keldani did not believe that Islam
equated to submission to God for a few more years.  In addition, the
editor of the biography appears unfamiliar with the common Muslim
argument that Islam has always existed.

>     in all Asia; that they had numerous establishments in
>     India (especially at the Malabar Coast), in Tartary,

In fact the consensus of scholars at present is that the "Thomas"
Christian communities of the Malabar Coast do indeed date from the time
of the Apostle Thomas (d. ca. AD 52), and that the link to Nestorians in
Syria did not come until many centuries later.  The Nestorians certainly
did not found those communities.

>     China and Mongolia; and that they translated the Gospel

It is apparent that Keldani had not had much opportunity to read up on
the history of the Nestorians in Asia.  They did indeed have missions
among the Mongols and, most notably, in China, but the mission in China
is especially noteworthy because even after more than two centuries the
Nestorian converts in China were almost exclusively non-Chinese, e.g.,
Central Asians in the army.  The Catholics had much better success in
Urmiah than the Nestorians had in China.  All the Nestorian missions in
that part of the world eventually died out entirely, with no trace
except in a few ancient manuscripts, and this well before the Nestorians
were decimated by Tamerlane.

>     to the Turkish Uighurs and in other languages; that
>     the Catholic, American and Anglican Missions, in spite
>     of the little good they had done to the Assyro-
>     Chaldean nation in the way of preliminary education, had
>     split the nation - already a handful in Persia, Kurdistan
>     and Mesopotamia into numerous hostile sects; and that their
>     efforts were destined to bring about the final collapse. Con-

His reference to the Assyrians as "the nation" seems evidence of a
rather nationalistic strain.  The Assyrians, like their neighbors the
Kurds and Armenians, did not have independent recognized states.  In
addition, a cursory reading of the appropriate sections of "Christians
in Persia" will reveal plentiful evidence that although the various
missions certainly did compete, they were generally far from hostile
toward each other.

>     efforts were destined to bring about the final collapse. Con-
>     sequently he advised the natives to make some sacrifices in
>     order to stand upon their own legs like men, and not to
>     depend upon the foreign missions, etc.
>     The preacher was perfectly right in principle; but his

It was perhaps right in principle as a political speech, but not as a
sermon.  There is nothing of Christian love in it: instead, it
exaggerates the glories of the Nestorian past and convicts all the
"Christian" missions in the area (including the Catholics) with the
crimes of the few missions that gave out money too freely.

>     The preacher was perfectly right in principle; but his
>     remarks were unfavorable to the interests of the Lord's
>     Missionaries. This sermon hastily brought the Apostolique
>     Delegate, Mgr. Lesne, from Urmia to Salmas. He remained
>     to the last a friend of Father Benjamin. They both returned

"Apostolique Delegate, Mgr. Lesne" -- This is Archbishop Francois Lesne,
CM.  Born in Maroue in France in 1846, he joined the Lazarists in 1868,
and was both nominated as Apostolic Delegate to Persia and consecrated
titular bishop of Philippopolis (in Greece) in April 1896.  If he
remained a friend of Keldani "to the last", this would mean only another
ten years after this episode, as he died in Urmiah on 11 February, 1910. 
It is not clear when Lesne might have come to know Keldani: it is said
that he came to Persia as a missionary 7 years before being appointed
apostolic delegate, so this would be 1889, but the Lazarists were not
active only in Urmiah at the time.  But Keldani was gone from Urmiah
from sometime soon after 1889 until at least 1895, so he probably did
not meet Lesne until that time. [19]

As Apostolic Delegate, Msgr. Lesne was subject to Propaganda Fide, and
therefore would have been suspected of a natural inclination to side
with the Lazarist missionaries (he was one himself) rather than the
local bishops.  The role of the Apostolic Delegates at the time is given
in the article on Propaganda Fide referred to above:

   The organization of Propaganda is developed externally
   by means of delegations, dioceses, vicariates, prefectures,
   simple missions, and colleges. The Apostolic delegations
   are established to maintain immediate representatives of the
   Holy See in places where they seem to be needed by reason of
   the growth of the Church in organization and in numbers.
   Their personnel is composed of an Apostolic delegate and an
   auditor, subject to Propaganda. They are as follows: in Europe,
   those of Constantinople and of Greece (Athens); in Asia,
   those of the East Indies (Kandy in Ceylon), of Mesopotamia,
   Kurdistan, and Armenia Minor (Mosul), of Persia (Urumiah),
   of Syria (Beirut); in Africa, that of Egypt and Arabia (Alexandria).
   ...  [20] 

The one in Urmiah was, at the time of Keldani, obviously none other than
Msgr. Lesne.

>     to the last a friend of Father Benjamin. They both returned
>     to Urmia. A new Russian Mission had already been estab-
>     lished in Urmia since 1899. The Nestorians were enthu-
>     siastically embracing the religion of the "holy" Tsar of All
>     Russias!
>     Five big and ostentatious missions, Americans, Anglicans,
>     French, Germans and Russians with their colleges,
>     press backed up by rich religious societies, Consuls and
>     Ambassadors, were endeavoring to convert about one
>     hundred thousand Assyro-Chaldeans from Nestorian heresy
>     unto one or another of the five heresies. But the Russian

One might get the impression from the biography that the Christians in
the area only had "missions".  In fact, besides the Nestorians, the
Catholics had had an indigenous Church for centuries.  That is the
Church that the two bishops mentioned, of Urmiah and Salmas, headed.
One should not believe that everything in the area except Nestorianism
was new, "Western", or "missionary".  The emphasis of Keldani on
missionary things (e.g., teaching among the Nestorians) is his own: as a
Catholic from Urmiah he had the opportunity to work with the local
church, but apparently for reasons of his own he wished to join the
Lazarists and evangelize the non-Catholic Nestorians.

>     unto one or another of the five heresies. But the Russian
>     Mission soon outstripped the others, and it was this mission
>     which in 1915 pushed or forced the Assyrians of Persia, as
>     well as the mountaineer tribes of Kurdistan, who had then
>     immigrated into the plains of Salmas and Urmia, to take up
>     arms against their respective Governments. The result was
>     that half of his people perished in the war and the rest
>     expelled from their native lands.

The writer seems to have an interest in painting with a broad brush all
the Christian missionaries in the area because of the actions of the
Russians, who differed from the others in having immediate territorial
interests in the region.  In addition, the writer never brings up the
faults of the Kurds, who repeatedly attacked and killed Nestorians
during this period, and never mentions what religion they belonged to.
If Keldani thought that his countrymen had much to worry about from the
Christians, he might have done well to recall that in 1896, "a prominent
Nestorian bishop, Mar Gauriel, had been murdered by the Kurds and his
murderers had never been brought to justice." [21]  In addition, note
here how the "mountaineer tribes of Kurdistan", many of them no doubt
Kurds from Turkey, nonchalantly "immigrated" into the plains around
Salmas and Urmiah.

Despite what the writer says here about all of his people being killed
or driven off, the Catholics, at least, are still there (see the
statistics I give at the beginning above).  The number of Catholics is
much reduced since then, but that has much to do with epidemics,
earthquakes, and political conditions after the period in question.  And
if you count numbers worldwide, the latest figures for Chaldean
Catholics are 316,396.  Clearly extinction is not what it used to be.

In any case, it seems doubtful that the events of 1915 were what caused
Keldani to begin questioning the authenticity of the Scriptures before

>     The great question which for a long time had been
>     working its solution in the mind of this priest was now
>     approaching its climax. Was Christianity, with all its multi-
>     tudinous shapes and colors, and with its unauthentic,
>     spurious and corrupted Scriptures, the true Religion of God?

I assume that this is being added by the writer of the biography.  If he
had already come to the conclusion that the Scriptures were false, he
would have been extremely dishonest to be giving any sermon at all there
in Salmas.  A sermon follows on the reading of the Gospel, and normally
should have some connection with the content of that day's reading, or
some other Biblical theme.

Besides this, how can something be "corrupted" if it is already
"spurious" and "unauthentic"?

>     In the summer of 1900 he retired to his small villa in the
>     middle of vineyards near the celebrated fountain of Chali-
>     Boulaghi in Digala, and there for a month spent his time in
>     prayer and meditation, reading over and over the Scriptures
>     in their original texts. The crisis ended in a formal resigna-

There is another very strange lapse of time here.  We had him preaching
his last sermon on New Year's Day, then heading back to Urmiah with
Msgr. Lesne.  What happened between January 1 and the summer?  If he was
still a Christian, then as a priest he still had a responsibility to say
Masses, which would, at least on Sundays, include sermons.

"in their original texts" -- The meaning of this remark is unclear.  The
original languages of the Old Testament are Hebrew and Greek (along with
some Aramaic in the Book of Daniel).  Although Hebrew is related to
Syriac, they are not the same, and it is questionable whether during his
short education in England (presumably) and Rome he had much chance to
acquire a mastery of Hebrew.  The original language of some parts of the
New Testament was apparently Aramaic, of other parts certainly Greek,
although from the Aramaic only the Greek translations survive.
Nevertheless, there is no reason to believe that Keldani acquired great
proficiency in Greek, as that language would have been quite useless to
him in his work in the Urmiah area.  In addition, if he had access to
the Bible in the original languages at this point, at his own villa, why
does he retreat to using a Bible in Syriac when it comes to writing
these articles?

>     in their original texts. The crisis ended in a formal resigna-
>     tion sent in to the Uniate Archbishop of Urmia, in which he
>     frankly explained to (Mgr.) Touma Audu the reasons
>     for abandoning his sacerdotal functions. All attempts made
>     by the ecclesiastical authorities to withdraw his decision were
>     of no avail. There was no personal quarrel or dispute
>     between Father Benjamin and his superiors; it was all ques-
>     tion of conscience.

This seems difficult to accept at face value.  At this time he has quit
the priesthood ("abandoned his sacerdotal functions"), but not left the
Church.  Because the "ecclesiastical authorities" (i.e., the bishops and
Lazarists, but apparently not any of the many Catholic faithful he must
have known) tried to have him withdraw his decision, it would seem that
they did not know that he had left Christianity.  If Keldani was leaving
the priesthood because he believed Christianity to be wrong, then from
what is given here it seems that he did not inform his superiors of the
true reason for his departure.  And the idea that there was no personal
quarrel _or dispute_ between Father Benjamin and his superiors is
clearly false.  While the two bishops may have disagreed with the
Lazarists' ways of teaching the Nestorians, Keldani, as a Lazarist
living in an area with a Lazarist mission, would also have had a
_Lazarist_ superior, who presumably would not have disagreed with his
own policy for teaching the Nestorians.  And even if it be supposed that
Keldani's jingoistic, anti-missionary New Year's Day sermon was approved
of by the bishops, it is impossible to believe it was approved of by his
missionary superior.  Otherwise, why the hasty trip to Salmas by Lesne,
himself a Lazarist?

No, Keldani was clearly involved in a quarrel between two parties.  A
Lazarist since 1895, in France in 1897 he read a paper for the bishops
that criticized the methods of the Lazarists at Urmiah, then in 1899
went to Salmas to intercede for a bishop in a conflict with the
Lazarists, then in 1900 gave a sermon at the bishop's cathedral that
scathingly attacked the Lazarists and all other missionaries, resulting
in the immediate arrival on the scene of a Lazarist, Msgr. Lesne.  It
would seem that although Keldani in Urmiah and Salmas was most directly
subject to his Lazarist superior in the area, and only then to the local
bishops, in fact he sided with the local bishops (his fellow countrymen)
against the superiors he was sworn to obey, and participated in a
campaign to vilify their work.

The questions about the truthfulness of Christianity, although they
might have existed before his New Year's Day sermon, and may have
reached their conclusion during that one summer month, may not have been
the immediate cause of his resignation.  The fact that he was reasoned
with by the ecclesiastical authorities, but not any of the common
faithful (even any of his Nestorian students), would be the clue to
this.  Once a priest had made it clear that he is certainly no longer a
Christian, no bishop would encourage him to return to his job -- this is
precisely the period when the enormous Modernist controversy was rocking
the Church, and priests were being _barred_ from exercising their
functions if they did not proclaim absolute agreement with all Church
teachings.  So once one had made clear that one was no longer a
Christian, one would expect the ecclesiastical authorities to lose all
interest but, on the other hand, one would expect common Christians to
come and reason with one to make one see the error of one's ways.  The
fact that this did not happen makes me suspect that Keldani did not give
any reason for his leaving the priesthood.

>     For several months Mr. Dawud, as he was now called, was employed
>     in Tabriz as Inspector in the Persian Service of Posts and Customs
>     under the Belgian experts. Then he was taken into the service of
>     the Crown Prince Muhammad 'Ali Mirza as teacher and translator.
>     It was in 1903 that he again visited England and there joined the
>     Unitarian Community. And in 1904 he was sent by the

Here we are to believe that Keldani has already abandoned Christianity
after determining that its Scriptures are spurious and corrupted, and he
is living in a predominantly Muslim country working for a Muslim Prince,
yet after three years of this he goes and becomes ... a Unitarian!

"Crown Prince Muhammad 'Ali Mirza as teacher and translator" -- This is
Muhammad 'Ali Shah Kadjar, sixth ruler of Persia's Kajar dynasty.  He
was born in Tabriz in 1872.  According to the Islamic Encyclopaedia (New
Edition), "...Muhammad 'Ali received the title I'tidad al-Saltana in
1882 and ten years later he was made *Sardar* of the troops in
Adharbaydjan [i.e., Azerbaijan, the province where Urmiah, Salmas, and
Tabriz were located.  According to the encyclopaedia's article on
Adharbaydjan, this province was traditionally the residence of the Crown
Prince] ... After the succession of his father in 1896, Muhammad 'Ali
was proclaimed *wali 'ahd*.  His governorship of Adharbaydjan from then
until 1906 was marked by a measure of greed and rapacity and by the
growth of Russian political influence at Tabriz. ... [much information
deleted on his attempts, after becoming shah in 1907, to fight liberal
Persian revolutionaries and reformers] ... Anti-royalist feeling grew in
several regions, notably in Adharbaydjan, and Russian troops occupied
Tabriz in April 1909.  Various pro-Constitutional tribal forces then
converged on Tehran, and on 13 July Muhammad 'Ali sought refuge in the
summer residence of the Russian Minister.  On 16 July he was compelled
to abdicate in favour of his son Sultan Ahmad.  As he was a minor, his
uncle Abu 'l-Fadl Mirza was appointed Regent.  Russian diplomats then
negotiated the details of the former Shah's persion arrangements with
the Persian government, and Muhammad 'Ali left Tehran for Russia on 9
September 1909.  His first place of residence in exile was Odessa, and
there he and his supporters quickly began to plot their return to
Persia.  Money was spent on recruiting support among disaffected tribal
and brigand groups in the northern provinces of the country, as well as
in the Russian Caucasus and Transcaspia. ... Muhammad 'Ali returned to
Persia, with his half-brother Shu'a' al-Saltana and a quantity of arms,
in a chartered Russian steamer, landing near Astarabad on 17 July 1911. 
That town quickly surrendered to him. ..."[23]

If Keldani was truly upset at the Christian missionaries because they
preached the same religion as the Russians, who later got his people
massacred and driven off, then he would have had all the more reason to
be upset at Islam, the religion of the Crown Prince.  The Russian
mission at Urmiah expanded so much after 1899 precisely because the
shahs, followers of Islam, brought in the Russians to help balance
against British pressure in the Persian Gulf.  This same Muhammad 'Ali
used the Russians to execute a coup d'etat against his own people -- the
Russians were particularly brutal when they occupied Tabriz (not far
from Urmiah and Salmas) for the shah. [24]

We have Keldani fleeing from the horrible Christian missionaries because
the Russians among them were dividing his people and would eventually
encourage them to take up arms against their lawful governments.  But
who does he flee to?  A Muslim whose administration of the area had been
marked by greed and rapaciousness, whose whole life was spent increasing
Russian influence in the area, and who was in fact the very person
responsible for stirring up the "disaffected tribal and brigand groups
in the northern provinces of the country", i.e., encouraging people like
the Assyrians of Urmiah and Salmas to rise up against their leaders, as
a result of which they would be massacred or exiled.  Keldani worked for
him as a teacher, but, indeed, what sorts of things did Muhammad 'Ali
learn from him?

>     Unitarian Community. And in 1904 he was sent by the
>     British and Foreign Unitarian Association to carry on an
>     educational and enlightening work among his country people.

The same man who preached a thunderous sermon to Catholics and
non-Catholics on the evils of foreign missionary efforts in the region,
is now going back as part of ... a foreign missionary effort in the

>     On his way to Persia he visited Constantinople; and after
>     several interviews with the Sheikhu 'I-Islam Jemalu 'd-Din
>     Effendi and other Ulemas, he embraced the Holy Religion
>     of Islam, meaning submission to God.

"Sheikhu 'I-Islam Jemalu 'd-Din Effendi" -- This is Jamal al-Din (T.
Cemaleddin) Efendi, 1848-1919.  "...Educated by his father and by
private tutors, he attained the rank of *mudarris* and entered the
secretariat of the Shaykh al-Islam's department.  In 1295/1880 he was
appointed Secretary (*mektubdju*), with the rank of *musile-i
Suleymaniyye*, then became *kadi'asker* of Rumeli, and Muharram
1309/August 1891 Shaykh al-Islam.  He held office until 1327/1909,
retaining his post in the cabinets formed immediately after the revival
of the Constituent Assembly in 1908.  He became Shaykh al-Islam again in
1912, in the cabinets of Ghazi Ahmed Mukhtar Pasha and Kamil Pasha, but
lost office with the fall of Kamil Pasha's cabinet in the *coup* of
1331/1913. ..." [25]

There is no more information on Keldani's life in the biography (except
for his death in "1940c"), but his mention in the book of a letter he
wrote to a Turkish newspaper in 1922 or 1923 may indicate that he spent
much of the rest of his life in Turkey.  Certainly, with all the
massacring going on on the Iran/Turkey border during the years
surrounding the First World War, it seems unlikely that Keldani spent
those years back in Urmiah.

Keldani seems to be the sort of person who is never happy under
authority, and is always moving from one place to another.  We first saw
him in Urmiah, and by the time he left there for England he was almost
certainly an Anglican.  Then he was a Catholic.  Then he was an
ex-Catholic, or a follower of no organized religion.  Then he was a
Unitarian.  And then he was a Muslim.  Between 1900 and 1904 he changed
religions three times, and it seems that he probably changed religions
at least once in his youth too.  This would make a total of at least 4

>     Click Here to Go Back to Table of Contents

As I pointed out above, the most recent statistics for the Catholic
Church worldwide are 8 patriarchs, 4,088 bishops and archbishops, and
404,461 priests. [26]  I have seen Muslim claims here on the Internet
that a large number of bishops (presumably either Catholic or, since
1054, perhaps Orthodox) have converted to Islam after a lifetime of
study of Christianity and the Bible.  How many bishops should we expect?
How many bishops have there been since the rise of Islam, how many have
been in a position to learn of the teachings of Islam, and how many of
those might have converted?

The number of bishops and archbishops in the world today is about 4,000. 
And at the Second Vatican Council (1962-65) approximately 2,500 bishops
attended at one time or another, although some might have been sick, and
bishops from Communist countries were all absent.  So although I do not
know the number of bishops worldwide in earlier eras, the attendance at
general councils may give us some indication.  The number of Catholic
bishops should grow fairly constantly from the beginning of the Church
until today, except for large backward steps in 1054, when the Orthodox
Church separated from the Catholics, and the 1530's, when all of
Northern Europe became Protestant.  Here are some estimates for the
larger councils: Chalcedon (in AD 451), 350-600 bishops; Nicaea II
(787), 300 bishops; Lateran II (1123) 500-1000, Constance (1414-18) 300;
Vatican I (1869-70), 744. [27] Keeping in mind the difficulties of
attendance at the various times, I would say from these figures that,
from the rise of Islam until today, a conservative estimate of the
average number of Catholic bishops in the world at any one time would be
at least 800.  (This takes into account the rapid rise in the number of
bishops in the Western Hemisphere and Asia over the last 2 centuries.) 

Several years ago I had a chance to look at the volume by Bonifacius
Gams giving lists of bishops and archbishops for all dioceses worldwide
since the beginning of the Church, and I took the opportunity to check
the average interval between bishops for a number of dioceses in
different parts of the world in different ages.  Some averaged 14 or 15
years between bishops, some 17 or 18, but the overall average was
clearly about 16 years.  In other words, any particular diocese is
likely to have an average of about 6 (actually 6.25) bishops in any
given century, i.e., the 800 bishops of the world at any one time will,
on the average, all die off every 16 years, so the number of bishops
_worldwide_ in any given _century_ might be 800 x 6 = 4,800.

How many centuries have there been since the rise of Islam?  To be
conservative, let us say 13.5 (i.e., AD 647-1997).  So since the rise of
Islam, the total number of Catholic bishops and archbishops who have
lived in the world would be 4,800 x 13.5 = 64,800.

What proportion of bishops would have an opportunity to learn of the
teachings of Islam?  Certainly in the 7th century one would not expect a
bishop in northern Germany to have converted to Islam, as all he would
have heard of Islam would have been the vaguest and most distorted
rumours of an invasion in Africa and Asia.  At the beginning, perhaps
only 15% of the world's bishops were in areas immediately adjacent (or
within) Muslim-controlled territory, where they would be in a position
to receive accurate information on Muslim beliefs.  That percentage
might have risen over time to 20% or more during much of the Middle
Ages, but let us, to keep the calculation conservative, assume that even
if 20% of bishops may have been geographically situated where they could
hear accurate information about Islam, only half of them (10%) had
sufficient contact with people outside their own cathedrals that they
could actually obtain such exotic information. 

But by 1300 the Qur'an was widely available in Western Europe in Latin,
and by 1500 there were many works in Latin and other languages on the
beliefs of Muslims, so we would expect this 10% figure to rise to at
least 20% by 1500.  And since 1900, it is difficult to imagine how any
significant number of the world's bishops could be entirely cut off from
access to information on Muslim teachings, so the number nowadays would
be close to 100%.  For a weighted historical average, then, let us say
that 15-20% of those bishops could have learned of Islam -- because 15%
of 64,800 equals 9,720 bishops, let us take 15.4%, which yields 10,000
bishops, a conveniently round number.

Of these 10,000 Catholic bishops and archbishops who, based on
conservative calculations, should have had some access to Islamic
teachings, how many should have converted to Islam?  I have seen claims
by Muslims here on the Internet that large numbers of bishops have
embraced Islam, so by these large numbers I would expect, even by the
most conservative estimate, that 20% of those 10,000 bishops (i.e.,
2,000) would have found the spare time during their lives to find out
about Islam's overwhelmingly superior arguments, and had the purity of
heart to recognize them, while half of these 20% (i.e., 1,000 bishops)
would actually have had the courage to publicly convert.  If Islamic
beliefs were in any way convincing to an intelligent Christian man, then
I cannot see how even under the worst circumstances there could be less
than 1,000 Catholic bishops who would have converted to Islam throughout

But in the face of this bare minimum of 1,000 bishops, below which it
would be difficult for anyone to maintain that Islam has a belief system
the least bit convincing, how many bishops do the Muslims present us
with?  How many of these many bishops' names have the Muslims, after
over a thousand-year-long polemic campaign against Christianity, been
able to accumulate to reduce us to silence? 

The only person I have ever seen a Muslim bring forward as a Catholic
bishop who converted to Islam is Keldani.  As we have seen, however, his
biography never lists him as anything more than a simple priest.  At the
moment he left the Church he was taking orders from a simple bishop, and
the only places that he could have been placed in charge of if he had
been consecrated bishop -- Urmiah and Salmas -- were already filled with
bishops during the five-year period between when he was ordained a
priest (1895) and when he left the Catholic Church (1900).  Keldani of
Urmiah never even claimed to have been consecrated a bishop, and when we
check the bishop lists for the two dioceses in that area his name is not
on them.  Clearly the man was never a bishop.

With Keldani's true standing revealed, then, instead of the 1,000
Catholic bishops whose names the Muslims should be presenting us with,
we see the membership of the Council of Muslim Bishops decline from one
to ... zero.

Mark Pleas


[1] For more information on Chaldean Rite Catholics, see the following:
 1. 'Religion of the Chaldeans' (http://www-personal.umd.umich.edu/
 2. 'CIN - Joint Patriarchal Statement - Assyrian Church of the East and
    Chaldean Catholic Church' (http://www.cin.org/east/jointpat.html)
 3. 'East Syrian Rite'.  Catholic Encyclopedia (1913), available at
 4. Stockert, Fr. Hal. 'Introduction to the Eastern Rites of the
Catholic Church'

[2] 'Urmiah', Catholic Encyclopedia (1913), v. 15, p. 225.
    'Urmya', Lexikon fur Theologie und Kirche (1965), v. 10, col. 565.
    'Rizaiyeh', New Catholic Encyclopedia (1967), v. 12, p. 528.
    'Salmas', Catholic Encyclopedia (1913), v. 13, p. 402.
    "Annuario Pontificio per l'anno 1996".  Vatican: Libreria
       Editrice Vaticana, 1996.  pp. 741-42, 1154.
    Ritzler, Remigium, and Pirminum Sefrin.  "Hierarchia Catholica
       Medii et Recentioris Aevi", vol. 8 (1846-1903).  Padua:
       Messaggero di S. Antonia, 1979.  pp. 493, 576.

[3] Waterfield, Robin E.  "Christians in Persia: Assyrians, Armenians,
Roman Catholics and Protestants".  London: George Allen & Unwin, 1973.
pp. 126-27.

[4] Waterfield, p. 127.

[5] Waterfield, p. 128.

[6] 'Vaughan, Herbert', Catholic Encyclopedia (1913), v. 15, pp. 311-15.

[7] "Catholic Press, World Survey", New Catholic Encyclopedia (1967),
vol. 3, p. 295.

[7.1] "But the resources of the mission were very limited and,
contrasted with the numbers and wealth of the American mission, must
have seemed very inadequate.  The total income of the Archbishop's
mission in 1887 was L1,300 compared with about $25,000 (= L5,500) for
the Americans. ..."  Waterfield, p. 129.

[8] Article from Catholic Encyclopedia (1913) available at "Notre Dame
Archives: Propaganda Fide" (http://cawley.archives.nd.edu/propfide.htm)

[9] 'Periodical', Catholic Encyclopedia (1913), v. 11, p. 675.

[10] 'Lazaristes',  "Catholicisme: Hier, aujourd'hui, demain". Fasc. 28
(1969), col. 116.  See also the Vincentians' home page at

[11] Waterfield, p. 82; 'Urmiah', Catholic Encyclopedia (1913), v. 15,
p. 225; 'Rizaiyeh', New Catholic Encyclopedia (1967), v. 12, p. 528.

[12] 'Urmiah', Catholic Encyclopedia (1913), v. 15, p. 225.

[13] Waterfield, p. 82.

[14] Ritzler and Sefrin, p. 493.

[15] For a brief history of the Eucharistic Congresses, and the dates
and locations of the 46 held so far, see the official Web page for the
46th International Eucharistic Congress, held in Wroclaw in 1997 --
http://www.kongres.wroc.pl/  According to this list it appears that the
last several congresses have been held at 4-5 year intervals, so the
next one may not be until 2002, and this Wroclaw Web page might well
continue in operation for some time.

[16] 'Pelerin (Le)', in "Catholicisme: Hier, Aujourd'hui, Demain".
Fasc. 48 (1986), col. 1102-1103.

[17] 'Archpriest', Catholic Encyclopedia (1913), vol. 1, pp. 697-98;
'Urmiah', Catholic Encyclopedia (1913), vol. 15, p. 225.

[18] "1997 Catholic Almanac". Huntington, Indiana: Our Sunday Visitor,
1996, p. 368.  The figures given are as of December 31, 1994, and were
taken from the "Statistical Yearbook of the Church, 1994" (latest
edition available) and "Annuario Pontificio, 1996".

[19] Ritzler and Sefrin, p. 453, Waterfield, p. 82.

[20] Catholic Encyclopedia (1913), available at "Notre Dame Archives:
Propaganda Fide" (http://cawley.archives.nd.edu/propfide.htm)

[21] Waterfield, p. 130.

[22] "1997 Catholic Almanac", p. 268. The statistics of the section are
principally from the "Annuario Pontificio, 1996".

[23] 'Muhammad 'Ali Shah Kadjar'.  Encyclopaedia of Islam (New Edition),
vol. 7 (1993), pp. 431-32.

[24] Langer, William, comp. and ed.  "An Encyclopedia of World History",
fifth ed.  Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1980, p. 897.

[25] 'Djamal al-Din (T. Cemaleddin) Efendi'.  Encyclopaedia of Islam
(New Edition), vol. 2 (1991), p. 420.

[26] "1997 Catholic Almanac", p. 368.

[27] Gontard, Friedrich.  "The Chair of Peter: A History of the Papacy",
trans. from German by A.J. and E.F. Peeler.  New York: Holt, Rinehart
and Winston, 1964.  Appendix II (pp. 612-14).  (Although the book on the
whole is moderately anti-Catholic, the catalogue of the popes given in
Appendix I is very worthwhile.)

Thanks to Mark Pleas for his kind permission to display his newsgroup article on this page.

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