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Friday, February 10, 2017
Kobad I, evangelist for the Manichees
I read Moshe Gil, “The Creed of Abu ‘Amir”, Israel Oriental Studies 12 ed. Joel Kraemer (Brill, 1992), 9-58 in Ibn Warraq’s reprint in Christmas in the Koran. This was a brief for Manichaean and Enochian influences upon the Hijaz as of Muhammad’s floruit. When I read that essay there I reviewed it as a “curate’s egg”, if only for confusing Mani’s doctrines with their sources in 1 Enoch. Among its assumptions was Tabari’s assessment of Kobad I’s reign and religion. Tabari had marked the shah as a “zindiq”, a mediaeval Islamic term for a Manichaean-leaning heretic; Gil sees the influence of the haeresiarch Mazdaq. Michael RJ Bonner now dismisses Tabari’s assessment as too reliant on the next shah Khusro I’s “propaganda machine”. Bonner’s stark revisionism – iconoclasm, some might call it – has rippled into every essay that deals with Kobad.
Although I haven’t supported the theses of Gil or for that matter of Khusro, I offer here a rearguard defence for both. After all, propaganda must deliver some truth, lest it be disbelieved and rejected, as we should disbelieve and reject American fake news. And Bonner hasn’t yet taken note of Gil as far as I know.
Tabari portrays Kobad as a full Manichaean, so a pacifist. Clearly Kobad was no such thing; he raided the Romania in the early 500s. Gil himself notes that Tabari’s full account is incoherent – it has the Yemeni prince Shamir murder Kobad in Rayy, which Gil mocks (“certainly untrue”). Bonner more reasonably has identified Kobad as a Persian neo-conservative, a liberal reformer as far as a shah may ever be one, but also warlike against ideological enemies. Elsewhere coinage finds tell us that the Hephthali Huns to the east had become ideological allies to the Zoroastrian project, if only against the Turks. Christian Rome at the other extreme could never accept the Avesta. Kobad, turning his energies westward, likely considered himself a warrior for orthodox Zoroastrianism.
But that doesn’t mean that Kobad imagined he could preach Zarathustra unto all the world – at least, not right away. Gil provides other sources on what Kobad sent westward in the meantime, to Aniran.
One source Gil brings is Ibn Sa‘id’s Nashwat al-tarab. This claimed that Kobad had ordered Harith al-Kindi king of the Hira to evangelise “zindiqism” across Arabia, from Najd to the Tihama. Gil backs this up from Ibn Rusteh apud Kister, Arabica 15 (1968), 144f, that some Quraysh had accepted “the zandaq”. In Yathrib the Banu ‘Amr b ‘Awf at the city gate named their headquarters “Kobad” (it later became “Quba’”). We have no evidence that the Arabs had received the Aryo-Turanian Scripture, even in the syncretic form Elisha had received in the quasi-Iranian Armenia. It is reasonable to concede that the next best thing – for a Sasanian seeking to unite the Semites against Christianity – was the gospel of Mani. Its pacifism was a problem but at least pacifists wouldn’t get in the shah’s way.
So Tabari might carry a real memory of Arab tradition: that the Arabian hinterlands circa 500 AD suffered a Manichaean phase, and that Kobad had sponsored this. If so then Khusro and the Greeks independently noticed the Manichaean revival in the Semitic territories along their frontier. They further agreed in disliking Kobad’s policies (differing over which policies perhaps). For their independent purposes, each side agreed to denounce the late shah as an apostate and/or heretic, himself.
As for Harith in the Hira, his zandaq didn’t survive Kobad. His daughter Hind married Mundhir of the Lakhm and endowed a nunnery. This Dayr Hind sported an inscription that declares Hind as a daughter of God’s “servants” (plural!) and itself as aligned with Mar Ephraim the Nestorian bishop. If there was going to be a pan-Arab religious movement against Byzantine Christendom, such would have to wait.
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