The House of David

"dawnbreak in the west"

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

The Zoroastrian calendar's roots in 400s BC Persia

I looked around and ran across Sacha Stern, Calendars in Antiquity (Oxford, 2012), fifth chapter.

In the Zoroastrian calendar, the first day of month Farwardîn does not coincide with the vernal equinox. But Sacha Stern points out that it used to, at least within 15 days, over 525-430 BC.

Stern next notes the Sogdian, Choresmian, and Armenian calendars. These place the new year on the sixth of Farwardîn. She brings de Blois 1996 and 2005, that the Sasanians enacted a calendar reform. But the Iranshahr being what it is, not every province accepted this. The three northern fringes in question maintained the pre-Sasanian calendar. As to that original, the Sogdians retained the Babylonian Aramaic month “Nisan” for the third month. The third solar month and the lunisolar Nisan coincided in the late 300s and early 200s. The same holds for the Mandaeans in Iraq – rather, for those Iraqis whose posterity would become Mandaeans.

So for the fifth century BC Persian administration, Stern’s proposal implies a calendar with Iraqi names in an Egyptian solar arrangement. This has additional implications in how we understand the “Babylonian” dates among the (pro-Persian) Israelites in Egypt; the dates might, in the later decades, be intended as solar. For Cantera’s purpose, if I may speak for him, this removes Elephantine from the evidence against him, which (weakened) evidence was constraining the Achaemenid retention of the lunisolar system to the last Persian decade.

To continue with Stern: When in the late 300s BC the Greeks cut the Iranians off from the Semites, such Iranians as kept their solar calendar relexified this with religious and Iranian terms. The “Younger Avesta” community (once more: east Iranian, not Farsi) may or may not have been the ringleaders; but they kept the best record. Elsewhere the Sogdians, being traders, were perhaps slowest to accept the pan-Iranian nativist programme.

posted by Zimri on 17:32 | link | 0 comments

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Until morale improves

On Monday I came into work to read this happy horseshit. (NOTE: I'm backdating this point to Tuesday just to, you know, plug the gaps here.)

There is nothing here to make (working) employees happier. I see no new raises, no new benefits, no new improvements to corporate culture. I don't even see any jokes. All I see is it's time we all worked happy, a trademark no less, as if to tell us in passive-aggressive fashion that I haven't been "working happy" and that it's my fault.

This looks like some consultants got together with the fundamentally unserious blowhards making up our senior management, looked up some Studies Say That studies, and from it gathered the Deep Thought that happy employees are productive employees.

This much is fair enough. I get that a corporation is foremost interested in making shareholders and the higher management happy, pleasing the peasants only as a means to that end. I am a capitalist myself, almost certainly more so than I've seen from our oh-so-PC Chairman and CEO.

The problem occurs when these internal communications become broadsides sent to the staff. The same thing happens, by the way, when Diversity becomes a department and not something organic; Diversity corporations inevitably discriminate more. Studies show that. We have here a Chairman who imagines, like Shah Darius, that he can command shiyâti by fiat.

Down (way down) at my level, it's "Message: I care" all over again. Except that the message I got is that this company doesn't.

posted by Zimri on 17:35 | link | 0 comments

Monday, March 20, 2017


Helmut Humbach in 2010 pointed out that the older Avesta assumes a day split into three parts for ritual purposes, like the Qur’anic times of prayer. The Young Avesta, famously, has five times of prayer, like Zoroastrianism and Islam today. Humbach, in parallel to what I’ve been musing here concerning other Avestan redactions, assigned the expansion to the Sasanians, if early Sasanians.

Alberto Cantera is now telling us that we're missing something: “Miϑra and the Sun”, Estudios Iranios y Turanios 3 (2017), 25-58. Cantera has been looking further at Mithra / Mitra / Mehr, and at the Zoroastrian calendar – the whole of it. Yes, the Zoroastrians have one. (Actually, several, as we’ll see below.) Cantera sees a more thoroughgoing metanoia in Avestan thought, between the Old Avestan base (already redacted: p. 26) and the Younger Avestan commentaries of that older base. And he has some reformers in mind.

For background: the Old Avesta texts associated certain of their gods, or angels as Zoroastrians prefer you call them, with the times of day and the seasons of the year. Mithra was the god / angel of “daybreak” (p. 26; and of oaths, as he was for the Mitanni diplomats in the Bronze Age); the Frauuašịs presided over sunset. The Old Avesta also assigned the Iranians into four social circles, presumably concentric. These weren’t directly involved with what passed for the Old Avesta calendar – at first. It was all very Vedic.

As Iranians go, we know the Achaemenids best, and the Achaemenids were the smartest of the Iranians. They do tell us their calendar up to 459 BC. It was Babylonian, the lunisolar one. Even in Egypt, which had its own calendar (a solar one, much like the Younger Avesta – as Cantera notes), the Persian administration clung to the Babylonian calendar for instance at Elephantine, up to 401 BC - on that, see, Encyclopaedia Iranica on 'Calendars'. And the Seleucids and Jews borrowed this too. [UPDATE 3/22: Elephantine might be using the Egyptian calendar reskinned as Babylonian]

This implies that the Iranians didn’t have a calendar of their own up through the fifth century BC; and whoever had the Old Avesta, they knew that it was of no help in planning the harvest. So nobody knew the Younger Avesta yet as of 400 BC. [UPDATE AGAIN]

Cantera notes that the two additional (Young) Avesta rituals are entirely about the ritual, not about the natural world. They also keep Mithra at work throughout the day and night, not just at dawn. Cantera argues for a priest-friendly calendric reform, from a daily auroral focus to a solar and seasonal one – the latter based on the Egyptian calendar. Mithra thus became the angel of the sun, the Iranian Ra – as the Roman soldiers remembered him.

The Mihr Yasht and Frawardîn Yasht further introduce a fifth social circle: dax ́iiunąm fratəmatātō; this is “at a higher level than the country”. That is, it is either “a federation of countries” or an empire. This fifth circle, the circle of the shah’s court, is associated with the Frauuašịs and therefore with the calendar.

All this means that a Divinely-ordained empire introduced this calendar to Iran from Egypt, and from pagan pre-Ptolemaic Egypt at that. After the shah fixed the calendar, Iran’s priests overhauled the Avesta to fit. Whatever they left of the documents of the pre-reform Avesta, these the new priests burned, or surrendered to invaders to burn. Most likely the former, which they subsequently blamed on the latter; but let’s leave that to the side.

Anyway there is no way the Sasanians could have known so much about the lost Egyptian calendar. And the Seleucids before them were on Babylonian time, so the new Egypto-Iranian calendar was no gift from the Greeks. Some earlier Iranian empire took the calendar and enforced it, except where and when they couldn’t.

As Cantera notes, we have little choice here. The Achaemenids were the only Iranian imperials to control Egypt in its pagan era. Cantera doesn’t bring it up, but Quintus Curtius Rufus reports (apud Encyclopaedia Iranica again) that the “magi” were assuming the 365-day year as of Darius III.

But even if we assume Darius III’s solar year and extend it to an Avesta-based calendar (which, again, Cantera does not touch), I cannot see us convincing the academy straightaway. I should like to see more reference to this solar calendar and to all five Avesta rituals in late Achaemenid and post-Seleucid Iranian documents.

Furthermore, Cantera proposes this order: Old Avesta, [Achaemenid] calendar overhaul, Younger Avesta. The Achaemenids were literate in Old Persian and left no monument in Avestan. If their priests were working with an Old Avesta base, and expected to preach among Persians, as Darius preached among Persians, these priests assuredly would have commented upon that text in Old Persian too. The Younger Avesta is, still, not in any Persian dialect. How did they get from A through Z to C?

I cannot hope for much trace of the Old Persian commentaries in the west, one way or another; our span is narrow, 400450-333 BC, and the Hellenistic Era did a lot of burning. I do expect traces of a translation from Old Persian to Younger Avestan like all those Hebraisms in the Septuagint and King James, or at least an adaptation like the Qur’an adapts Syriac lectionaries. Accordingly I should like to see Old(ish) Persian loans in the Younger Avesta. I will allow Parthian and even Greek and Aramaic loans where they be calques from Old Persian. We will beware Aramaeograms and Sasanian-era “spelling corrections”.

Failing that, I fall back on my previous position here, that the Achaemenids never read any Avestan text, just para-Avesta pan-Iranian material, mostly Old Persian and now lost.

In this case, some Egyptianised priest who spoke Persian fled Alexander up the Silk Road to some Podunkestan, waving his (papyrus) scroll and swearing by Mitra that here was the calendar of Darius. Did I say Darius, I meant the first Darius… no… it was really from Cyrus… that’s it… taught by Zoroaster, that’s the ticket! The local priest verified that the calendar was, indeed, very old and that it at least worked. His follow easterners, as it happens, already had a canon – the Old Avesta. The western priest and the eastern priests agreed to merge them. So they revamped it and produced the Young Avesta. And there it stayed, away from western notice, until the later Sasanians rediscovered it and made it their own. In this case we might still see western loans in the Younger Avesta but not quite as many.

POSTSCRIPT: As we know from the Dead Sea Scrolls, or for that matter from Protestant and Orthodox resistance to Pope Gregory’s calendar, a calendar reform never gets accepted immediately, even (or maybe especially) when the new calendar is objectively superior. So I’m interested in narratives of resistance and of alternate calendars in Iran among Crone’s Nativist-Prophets.

UPDATE 3/22: Sacha Stern allows for an Achaemenid adaptation of the Egyptian calendar. And we found our alternate calendars... sort of.

posted by Zimri on 17:53 | link | 0 comments

Northern African Sprachbünde

The Northern African language-groups Semitic and Berber (and Egyptian of course) each came from their own single community, as the Indo-European languages came from the charioteers of the Ukraine. Yesterday I asked if the Northern African base-communities ever have come from a single “Afro Asiatic” group. Here is a model explaining their similarities if they didn't.

During the classical era, which we’ll roughly set 1200 BC to 700 AD, and from the Mediterranean perspective, which is the perspective that bequeathed to us the bulk of the documentation, North Africa was an archipelago of large semi-isolated islands. Like Sardinia and Corsica. Southwestern Morocco at the edge of the Corrupting Sea might as well be Australia.

A trader doesn’t stick around on an island any longer than he has to, to make a profit. Empires will stay as long as there’s a problem; otherwise, the Emperor won’t be laying out the funds to occupy it either – like no-one bothered with Ireland. Religious evangelists will hang around to “convert” the locals, who might then join the mission, but they also might not.

As far as language goes, the surest way to change the language is to change the people. If traders quit showing up, the islanders quit teaching their counterparties. The army will have to learn the native tongue if it’s not parked with a colonia of veteran civilians; their language won’t stick either. Religious conversion has a better record of staying-power, at least in North Africa, but even here this can get delayed if a group goes heretic, as the Barghawata did. Or if the locals just lock the priests into convents as the Irish did.

Trade, military, and religious networks can, however, encourage all the languages involved into sharing similar rules, to make translation easier. These rules then wash back to the original languages. In historical times this has happened to the Balkan languages. NativLang points to Precolumbian Mesoamerica for another example. The German term is Sprachbund.

This may have happened in the Sahara when it was more naturally navigable. (I am assuming no dromedary camel; I think this came later, alongside decent Mediterranean navigation.) Lake Chad corresponded with Tuaregs, the Tuaregs with other Berbers, the Berbers with Phoenician Semites, the Semites with each other, the South Arabian Semites with the Cushites. The Egyptians were there too; these mediated between the Semites and the Berbers, and to a lesser extent with the Cushites of Punt. I think.

The northern African correspondences were so piecemeal and tenuous, but still over such a long period, that I think patches of Sprachbund could spread. And then came the camel and the ship, and Islam, forcing the issue harder. We now have the illusion that northern Africa is genetically related in language.

posted by Zimri on 17:51 | link | 0 comments

Sunday, March 19, 2017

A warning for Afro-Asiatic scholars

What if I told you... that Berber, Semitic, Chadic, Egyptian, and Cushitic are not related? Let alone that weird outlier Omotic, which Rolf Thiel personally doubted; or those Old Libyan languages which may or may not be Berber; Canary-Islander ditto; or whatever the hell Ongota is (or was).

Claudia A. Ciancaglini is here to tell you that there are some languages that follow some regular rules, and that those languages may be grouped as families and their correspondences demonstrated over time. Indo-Hittite has contained such languages. So has Semitic. English and modern Romance, not so much; but that doesn't matter because these have an historical record, where the authors doggedly wrote down the language as spoken at nearly every step.

This does matter for Korean and Japanese. They don't have a written record before the Tang or so, much less a phonetic one. So every attempt to relate them so far has failed. And they will continue to fail, unless and until someone finds a book that describes their languages in 1500 BC.

I get a similar bad feeling about Afro-Asiatic studies. Whenever I look up language-groupings, I see a profusion of mutually-contradictory charts. This tells me that Afro-Asiatic linguists don't have a good data-set.

We have a good handle on proto-Semitic, sure; and Egyptian is just Egyptian, the only riverboat-gamble on the lower Nile. Proto-Berber studies are coming along; I haven't kept up myself, but I'm sure the best Frogs are on it. However: I have no clue what's been done on proto-Chadic or proto-Cushitic. And then there's the juggling around Omotic, Ongota, et al.

It's probably a good idea to sort out those Deep Saharan and East African languages, first.

posted by Zimri on 19:49 | link | 0 comments

New buzzword: "functional rights"

We've discussed "privilege" before; a perfectly good Latinate word that professional liars have perverted into something it isn't. Now, at Foreign Policy where now more than ever the truth matters, another professional liar has offered more jargon: "functional rights".

Today's liar is one fine-looking globe-trotting masters-degreed (in East Asia, not West) blonde chick named Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian. She thinks that Jonathan Rape-Rape Brown is da kewtest (looks a good bit younger than his 39 years) and, just because it's the right thing to do, you understand, defends him - poorly, I need hardly add. In the process she smears an honest Muslim, Umar Lee, he who first raised the issue, but hey.

I don't feel like linking directly, because when I take the time to deal with lies I at least want the lies to be ancient, and besides I don't want to put up with the paywall. So here's Robert Spencer. The commenter Custos Custodum over at JW adds, Bottom line: Foreign Policy is now running interference for global SLAVERY. If that's the case DC establishment wants to make, it should make that case honestly. But anyway.

I have mine own take on this last bit:

Ideologues are seeking to marginalize Muslims by making their speech and their activism relating to their religion come at a very high price. ... In the process, they are denying Islam the same functional rights that Christianity enjoys and silencing the very people

As a matter of American law, Spencer and Brown enjoy the same rights - if rights are limited to legal rights. Bethany Double-Barrel knows this, like any SJW knows that adjective-justice isn't justice. So she employs a parallel adjective to "rights", showing that legal rights don't render sufficient social parity for her taste. The notion here is the same notion with which academics have to deal: that Hate Speech Is Not Free Speech, that someone like Spencer speaking out is not the same as someone like Brown.

I suppose the question I would ask Bethany A-E, besides what face cream does she use, is at what point can we say that any Christian may be at a similar social level to any Muslim that their functional rights are sufficiently equal that the Christian may critique an Islamic argument, over matters that one might think have already been settled in this country like, oh, slavery and forcible concubinage. Clearly Spencer having a blog and Brown having a Georgetown professorship aren't sufficient. What additional handicaps should Bethany A-E place upon Christians?

posted by Zimri on 18:38 | link | 0 comments

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