The House of David

"dawnbreak in the west"

Friday, March 10, 2017

The currency of Nobadia

Artur Obluski's The rise of Nobadia has been raised to my attention. This is a book-length thesis on the Nubian kingdom directly south of Byzantine Egypt and, soon enough, of Islamic Misr.

One Jwona Zych has translated Obluski's book to English for a certain "Journal of Juristic Papyrology". I do not know why she (I think it's a she) chose that journal, given that Rise is an analysis of archaeology with precious little documentation of any sort, let alone legal briefs. Although, given the time and place in question, papyrus was the material of choice. And I am grateful to have it in English since I'm not a Slav myself.

On Nobadia's borders, another Nubian state came up to its south: Makuria. Makuria is the state known to the Muslim historians. The Copts writing early in the eighth century noted a King Merkurios ruling Makuria a few decades prior, who styled himself a black Constantine and fought against Nobadia. Apparently Merkurios won, since inscriptions in the Nobadian capital mention Merkurios in the 700s and, later, the Muslims mostly forgot Nobadia ever existed.

Obluski mootes one conclusion around pp. 107f. He finds that much of what has been unearthed in Nobadia are "enclosures". These are like army forts, but without a lot of structure inside them. Obluski believes these were built to hold livestock. And they were fortified to a standard such that they kept the "livestock" from finding ways to climb or sneak out. So these were quite intelligent livestock.

The enclosures could have been constructed in the sixth century. Something is telling me, early seventh.

posted by Zimri on 07:50 | link | 0 comments

Tuesday, March 07, 2017

Chaos from a shackled mind

Nathaniel Matthews weighs in on Dr. Jonny Rape-Rape with an essay unwieldily titled "Slavery, Abolition and the Moral Horizon of Prophet Muhammad". Thus ensues what I can only describe as a twentyfive page filibuster.

Matthews is here developing Hans George Gadamer on "horizons". (We on the Right, and policy-wonks generally, know this better as the Overton Window.) Matthews argues - asserts would be a better word - that although Muhammad was himself a slaver, he set up conditions that must lead to manumission (fourteen centuries later).

Matthews trolls selectively through the Qur'an, alongside hadiths that lean toward manumission, whilst glossing over hadiths that don't, not once considering modern skeptical scholarship, and generally ignoring entirely the conduct of the first Muslims we have a record for - that is, of the conquerors and the proto-caliphal amirs-of-the-believers. Having done that, Matthews may now pronounce his verdict: from this it is clear that the Prophet accepted slavery as a part of Arabian society, but did not actively encourage the taking of slaves, and did much to ameliorate the condition of the enslaved.

And then Matthews goes on to describe how, on slavery, Islamicate society followed the same path as post-mediaeval Christendom. Islam and 16th-century Portugal both lacked an explicit theory of race, and behaved the same along the African coasts. The slavers used religious justifications to enslave foreigners, and to bind them into a caste system that oops just happened to look kinda racial. Matthews could easily have cited David Goldenberg on the Curse of Ham / Race of Canaan, but somehow missed that one. Matthews also muses that the Qur'anic condition of man - also similar to the Biblical condition - with respect to God is as the slave to his master.

Overall I don't see where Matthews has even made his case. Manumission of slaves is meritorious in Islam, but even Matthews admits that the Qur'an has made slaves "currency", to be spent to offset one's sins. That renders unmanumitted slaves, among other things, capital for purchasing indulgences. Money in the bank, as it were.

And a scholar can't be writing CUTTING-EDGE MODERN SCHOLARSHIP without a lot of name-calling and abuse directed at FAUX NEWS, AMIRITE: we live in a US media environment characterized both by the phenomenon of faux outrage, and by high levels of Islamophobia; so, became the subject of a right-wing media witch hunt; unwarranted attacks of the far right, Orientalist charges that Muslims are somehow uniquely compelled to own slaves etc, etc, etc.

In between I note that Dr Matthews' footnote to "Orientalist charges" points, in fact, to Sayyid Qutb and the qadi of Kenya. I had to smile at that.

So I have to wonder if Matthews had read Goldenberg, but couldn't cite him because that would force him to wonder about the east-to-west direction of racist theory; if Matthews does know of the Overton Window, but cannot mention it because Overton was on the Right. I don't know to what degree Matthews even believes the rot he'd spouted about Muhammad Liberator Soter Euergetes.

But maybe it's just... forget it, Jake; it's Gown Town. Dr Matthews, as an academic, knows that if he doesn't toe the line he'll be sent to the hospital, and that his own university will not stand up for him. He's the POW in the Hanoi Hilton denouncing Lyndon Johnson's war on camera whilst his eyes dot-and-dash out the letters T-O-R-T-U-R-E.

posted by Zimri on 19:48 | link | 0 comments

Monday, March 06, 2017

Arab cannibalism

Here's an article to be read over breakfast: New ISIS Command to EAT Infidels Has Islamic Roots. I have recently read about this inedifying custom, but mainly as an Arab custom rather than as a Muslim one.

Zarinkoob's Two Centuries of Silence translates Ibn 'Abd Rabbih claiming to quote shah Khusro II Parvez:

In inferiority and obtuseness they are in the same rank as mauling animals and wandering birds, as they kill their children through deprivation and poverty, and dine on each other in hunger and destitution. They are entirely wanting of cuisines, attire, and joys of this world. Their best food ― afforded only to their wealthy - is camel meat, something that many beasts would not eat for fear of getting sick and because it is unpleasant and indigestible.

I would also add, from the Sira (and from The Message), that sexually-charged scene in which Hind, the pagan Umawi Arab, grins as she dips her head down to munch upon Hamza's Muslim liver.

Now, Ibn 'Abd Rabbih is late, and the Sira is pretty late too. But I'm not here to discuss if these exact scenes actually took place. I'm here to ask why the 'Abbasi-era audience would agree they took place.

To me this looks like the Muslims' Arab troops, in the train of the conquests, were still practicing cannibalism. It's mainly done upon their enemies. The more civilised Muslims disapproved, and certainly the non-Arab mawali were disgusted - which is why it's in the Sira, as a jâhilî perversion.

But in Islam, some Arabs still couldn't keep themselves from this descent into bestiality. The practice also sometimes worked to terrify the infidel. And that's what matters for Muslims: if Islamic forces win, then God was pleased.

posted by Zimri on 17:44 | link | 0 comments

Sunday, March 05, 2017

Mazdaq and Mazdaqism

I've been reading, and reviewing, Abdolhossein Zarinkoob's book - 1957 edition - which Avid Kamgar has translated as Two Centuries of Silence. I am learning a lot from it.

Relevant to my interests these days, the book claims Mani and Mazdaq as "reformers". I don't think Zarinkoob has come to grips with either character. In his defence... neither did the Zoroastrians and Muslims. All Zarinkoob has to do for Mazdaq is to explain how eighth-century Iranians remembered him. Given that, all those movements, like Abu Muslim's, which claimed Mazdaq as one of them, tend to agree on "Mazdaqism". Which was wife-swapping, pacifism, and communism.

Michael Jackson Bonner believes that none of this had much to do with Mazdaq in life, when he was advising shah Kobad. This was instead the worst anarchist-caricature Khusro Anushirwan's court could cook up about him. After the slander entered the Sasanian canon, it trickled into the Iranian folk-hero tradition. These hinterland bumpkins retold the stories, under Arab / Muslim tyranny, and eventually they gave up and said to each other - hey, all this is AWESOME!!

Mazdaq himself would certainly have been shocked if he had seen what his "followers" made of his teachings.

posted by Zimri on 17:36 | link | 0 comments

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