ŌDŌ, TŌMĀ (romanized: Thomas Audo; b. Alqosh, Iraq, 1853; d. Urmia, 27 July 1918; Figure 1, Figure 2), Assyrian scholar and archbishop.  He was born in Alqosh, north of Mosul, but spent most of his adult life in Urmia, Azerbaijan, where he was killed. 

The Ōdō family raised many learned men and high-ranking clergymen to the Chaldean Catholic Assyrians of the Middle East. Tōmā Ōdō was the only one to serve in Persia.  He began his studies in Alqosh and continued at the Dominican Fathers’ school in Mosul.  In 1869 he traveled to Rome with his uncle, Patriarch Yōsep Ōdō (1790-1878), to study theology.  He remained in Rome until 1880, when he was ordained priest, and returned to Mosul to spend two years as his uncle’s assistant.  In 1882, he settled in Aleppo as the Patriarchal representative for four years, and then returned to Mosul to head the Patriarchal Seminary Center.  He was ordained bishop in 1892 for the newly created diocese of Urmia.

In the 1880s-90s, Mār (title applied to high clergy) Tōmā produced a number of Chaldean Neo-Aramaic translations of Catholic works on theology and on ecclesiastical and devotional practice; those that were typeset and printed at the Dominican Press in Mosul were listed by the Chaldean-American priest Raphael Oussani (1901, p. 90) and more recently, in greater detail, by J. F. Coakley and D. Taylor (2009; see Bibliography).  A culminating, linguistic work in this period was his two-volume dictionary of Chaldean, which is notable for its wealth of vocabulary (Coakley and Taylor, p. 31; Figure 3). In 1901, Oussani extoled the work, and he also praised Mār Tōmā’s brother, Qaššīša (priest) Isrāʾēl Audo, “at present pastor of the Chaldean community at Basrah,” as “the highest native authority living in Syriac grammar and lexicography” (p. 88)—a comment which may imply his involvement in this major publication. (Later, he was metropolitan of Mardin, in northern Iraq; for his account of the violence there in 1915, see in Altuğ, bibliography.) 

Mār Tōmā in 1906 published Qaryānē gōbyē (Selected readings) in Urmia, in which he asserted a derivation of the self-designation of the Assyrians, Sūryāyē/Sūrāyē, from an ancient form *Ātūrāyā/*Āthūrāyā. (For review of the ancient evidence for a connection of “Syria” and “Assyria,” see Rollinger.) He offered this idea based on the fact that the phonetic processes of apocopation of initial “a” and affrication of “t” occur as dialect variations within Aramaic languages (Macuch, p. 213).  Ōdō proposed what he termed a ‘return’ to the name Ātōrāyē. (For promotion of this name from the 19th century, see Becker, pp. 301-4.) 

Mār Tōmā’s knowledge of a large number of languages allowed him to produce Assyrian translations of Jean de la Lafontaine’s Fables (Ktābā d-‘mmā’ matalē, 1909) and of the Kalila wa Demna (1895). The latter translation is described as written “in simplified Syriac, designed for young people” (Coakley and Taylor, no. 41) rather than in the actual modern colloquial language. It was nevertheless termed by the scholar Rudolf Macuch (1919-1993) “a genuine pearl of Neo-Syriac” [i.e., Neo-Aramaic], and he regarded Mār Tōmā as worthy of being called the “father of Neo-Syriac literature” (p. 212; for classical Syriac in the 20th century, see Kiraz, 2011). 

Aside from the Chaldean religious works, Mār Tōmā’s most important book is the grammar of vernacular Aramaic (1st ed., 1905; 2nd ed., 1911; Figure 4), which has been frequently reprinted in the Diaspora. Ktābā d-grāmātīqī d-lišānā swādāyā has been very influential in preserving knowledge of the language after the community became scattered and its institutions largely destroyed, after World War I.  His other works, readers and grammars, offer basic educational language tools.

Toward the close of World War I, in the course of the genocide conducted by the Ottoman troops (which is most thoroughly described for 1915-16; see Gaunt, Yonan), Mār Tōmā’s last act was to provide shelter in for as many as 6,000 Assyrians in the Urmia district, as he tried to save them from the terror of religious war. Together with the apostolic delegate, he offered them shelter at the Catholic Mission, located on the property of the French delegation, in the hope that the French flag would offer security, but it did not. During the massacres that ensued, most of the nuns and priests who were there, both foreign (the apostolic delegate and the Lazarist clergy) and Assyrian, died. Mār Tōmā was shot in the face. He died on 27 July 1918 (“Audo”). According to the account of the bishop of Salmās, who survived, he was taken to the American hospital, where he succumbed to infection (“blood poisoning,” in Naayam, p. 309; full account,  pp. 304-14; see also p. 290).


Publications of Tōmā Ōdō [Thomas Audo]. (For the titles in Neo-Aramaic typeface, see the entries in Coakley and Taylor; for a few additions, see Oussani, p. 88; Kiraz, 2008, pp. 344-45.)

revised, Manuale Sacerdotum, ex operibus P. Segneri, S.J., excerptum, in Linguam Chaldaicum ..., Mosul, 1882 (Coakley and Taylor, no. 16); 2nd ed., 1893 (no. 39).

revised and corrected, La balance du temps, par le Père J. Eusèbe Nieremberg ..., Mosul, 1884 (Coakley and Taylor, no. 22, q.v. for attribution to Ōdō).

tr., Catechismus ex decreto concilii tridentini ad parochos ..., Mosul, 1889 (Coakley and Taylor, no. 30).

Kalila et Dimna. Fables indiennes traduites en langue chaldeene ..., Mosul, 1895 (Coakley and Taylor, no. 41).

tr., Instruction pour les ministres de l’Église d’après le P. Louis Togni ..., Mosul, 1895 (Coakley and Taylor, no. 42).

tr., J. P. Gury, Compendium Theologiae Moralis, 2 vols., Mosul, 1896 (Oussani, p. 86; Kiraz, 2008, p. 344).

Dictionnaire de la langue chaldeenne, 2 vols. Mosul, 1897; repr., as Treasure of the Syriac Language: A Dictionary of Classical Syriac. Chicago, 1978; Piscataway, N.J., 2008 (Coakley and Taylor, no. 52; Kiraz, 2008, p. 344).

Grammaire de langue chaldéenne moderne dialecte d'Ourmiah/Grammaṭiqi d-lešana swadaya, 2nd ed., Urmia, 1911; repr., Chicago. 1982.

Other sources.

Seda Altuğ, “Sectarianism in the Syrian Jazira: Community, Land and Violence in the Memories of World War I and the French Mandate (1915-1939),” Ph.D. diss., University of Utrecht, 2011.

[“Audo”]  “Archbishop Thomas Audo,” at http://www.catholic-hierarchy.org/bishop/baudot.html.

Adam H. Becker, Revival and Awakening: American Evangelical Missionaries in Iran and the Origins of Assyrian Nationalism, Chicago, 2015.

J. F. Coakley and David Taylor, Syriac Books Printed at the Dominican Press, Mosul, Piscataway, N.J., 2009.

David Gaunt, Massacres, Resistance, Protectors: Muslim-Christian Relations in Eastern Anatolia During World War I, Piscataway, N.J., 2006.

George A. Kiraz, ̤“Bio-Bibliographies of Some Twentieth Century Syriac Writers,” in idem, ed., Malphono w-Rabo d-Malphone, Studies in Honour of Sebastian P. Brock, Piscataway, N.J., 2008, pp. 339-64 (see pp. 343-45).

Idem, “Kthobonoyo Syriac. Some Observations and Remarks,” Hugoye: Journal of Syriac Studies 10/2, 1911, pp. 129-42.

Rudolf Macuch, Geschichte der spät- und neusyrischen Literatur, Berlin and New York, 1976, pp. 211-13.

Joseph Naayem, Shall this Nation Die? New York, 1921. 

Gabriel Oussani, “The Modern Chaldeans and Nestorians, and the Study of Syriac among them,” JAOS 22, 1901, pp. 73-90.

“al-Rejālat al-nahżat al-qawmiyat al-Āšuriyat,” at http://www.almahatta.net/malfone.htm, sub “al-Maṭrān Tūmā Awdow.”

Robert Rollinger, ”The Tems ‘Assyria’ and ‘Syria’ Again,” Journal of Near Eastern Studies 65, 2006, pp. 283-87.

Gabriele Yonan, Ein vergessener Holocaust: die Vernichtung der christlichen Assyrer in der Türkei, Göttingen, 1989; tr., as Lest We Perish. A Forgotten Holocaust: The Extermination of the Christian Assyrians in Turkey and Persia (www.aina.org/books/lwp.pdf), 1996.

(Eden Naby)

Originally Published: September 20, 2016

Last Updated: September 30, 2016

Cite this entry:

Eden Naby, “ŌDŌ, TŌMĀ,” Encyclopædia Iranica, online edition, 2016, available at http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/odo-toma (accessed on 20 September 2016).