The House of David

"dawnbreak in the west"

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Joseph's sperm

I have steadily been going through the essays in Jesus and Brian, a collection I'd purchased almost two years ago. (At the SBL conference in San Antonio.)

Usually I read these whilst walking to Mass - or to "church", whichever term pleases you. Tonight was the solemnity of Mary's Assumption. From my perspective that is church, rather than Mass. From your perspective, dear reader - I have brought you content.

For some time this blog has been musing upon Jesus' inheritance. The Gospel ascribed to Matthew depends upon this genealogy, that Jesus descends by the male line through Joseph - who is, thereby, Jesus' natural father. This, by contrast with Luke (and with Justin). Jesus and Brian has expanded on the other gospels - and on Paul. I hadn't much looked at Paul's view of Jesus on account that Paul doesn't bother with Jesus as a mortal much.

Today I learnt, or was reminded, that Paul and (Pseudo-)Matthew are (mostly) in agreement. Where Paul disputes "Matthew", Jesus was "of a woman born" and not of a "virgin". On that much, perhaps the Panthera scandal hadn't reached Paul. What had reached him (and "Matthew"): Jesus was of the "seed" of David. For an educated Near Easterner of Paul's day that seed - that "sperm", in Greek - came from the father. Women were tilth - the soil in which seed may take root. The mother's genetic contribution was Problematic, to borrow a current-year meme; and where it was acknowledged, it remained uncouched in the metaphor of seed.

John and Mark, who (I think) independently expanded and confronted (respectively) an earlier gospel now almost lost to us, agree AGAINST Paul. Jesus as Messiah was not Davidic. John thought (as I believe) that Christ was G-d's hypostatic Word who came to us in history as a man. Mark thought that Jesus was a Galilean by birth. Both evangelists were aware of claims that the Christ should be a Davidide from Bethlehem. John didn't care and Mark flat disagreed.

Mark's was a Galilean gospel. His was also the great apologia for Simon Peter's rehabilitation within the Church. The Gospels do say that Peter had met Jesus' family but, if I am reading them right, Peter followed Jesus and didn't go over his head. So Peter might not even have known Jesus' true parentage. If he knew he might not have told Mark.

Or maybe... Peter did tell Mark. Peter knew that Joseph was nothing special and, also, could have done a Huckabee Sanders on whether Joseph was Jesus' biologic dad. Paul had the Conventional Wisdom, that Jesus as Christ of course had the Y chromosome from David. The Matthean Gospel attempts to prove it.

Paul wasn't there - and neither was "Matthew" nor, to be fair, was Mark. But Peter was there.

posted by Zimri on 20:58 | link | 0 comments

Monday, August 13, 2018

The kidnap of a messiah

Most intriguing is what has been made of Amos 4:13. In our Western Bibles it reads quia ecce formans montes et creans ventum / et adnuntias homini eloquium suum / faciens matutinam nebulam / et gradiens super excelsa terrae: Dominus Deus exercituum nomen eius. In the original KlingonGreek: For, behold, I am the one who strengthens thunder and creates wind and proclaims to humans his anointed, who makes daybreak and misty dark and treads on the high places of the earth. The Lord, the God, the Almighty One is His name. (Siegal cites W. Edward Glenny for his article's translation of the Greek, but he implies he translated the Hebrew himself; I do wonder if the shade of Jerome was guiding his hand for the latter.)

So for those working from the Greek, which includes the pre-Vulgate "Old Latin": Amos 4:13 is literally a verse of God's Christ, His Anointed Messiah. But there is a catch. Even for Hellenistic Jews, that this was messianic in no way implied the Galilean carpenter. Such a Jew would think of the king. And in the context of Amos 4, that king must overthrow the tyrant in Samaria. Amos, if so, preaches that God's Anointed was... the king of Ashur. The second Isaiah will preach similar of shahan-shah Cyrus II.

Or maybe the Anointed is Amos himself. It could be anybody - we Christians have a theory on that, too! Whoever might serve as krator, G-d is The Pantokrátor.

But the Jews need not have been reacting to Christianity when they abandoned this thundering messianism and chose the more anodyne adnuntias homini eloquium suum. Perhaps the Jews back in Roman Judaea and, more so, in Palaestina felt that it was all a little too much for gentle (and gentile) ears to bear. Even without Christianity, several messianic claimants led Jews into Sheol. Consider Bar Kochba.

So by the time it got to Jerome, Amos was watered down.

posted by Zimri on 20:07 | link | 0 comments

The Sasanian arena

Michal Bar-Asher Siegal has found an anti-Christian allusion in the Bavli Talmud.

I know: big news flash. Under the Sasanians, the Jews were equal to the Christians. In this milieu, whatever Christians said against Jews, the Jews could retort.

Siegal is looking at the attacks against the minîm - the 'heretics' - particularly one in tractate Ḥullin 87a. In it, the min fails to understand Near Eastern parallelism in poetry and rhetoric, as befits a fool. The (attempted) proof text is Amos 4:13, which isn't much bothered with in the West: For, lo, He who forms the mountains and creates the wind - The Lord of hosts, is His name. The fool might consider this two separate gods.

To add to that part of Siegal's argument, early (naive) Christian literature pulled proof-texts like this a few too many times for the liking of our generation of Christians. The Lord, to rain upon Sodom, called forth fire from The Lord; the Lord's Messiah would come on a donkey, upon a foal. For the Jews of Iraq, the Christians were the most annoying of the minîm.

Besides that, I have learnt a few things about Jewish culture in mediaeval Iraq. It appears that "gone to the roof and died" was associated with suicide. I haven't visited Iraq, but I have visited old Jewish parts of Jerusalem: in this dry land, it was practical to own flat roofs, and they were cool in the nights; so they were often rented out for visitors to sleep on. These would not be the best rooms in the inn. It was possible for some klutz to fall off the roof by accident, then as now; but it wasn't as common, so mishnah Gitin 6:6 has to clarify the distinction.

posted by Zimri on 20:00 | link | 0 comments

Ugaritic might not be paraCanaanite

Ugaritic is a Bronze Age Semitic language on the Mediterranean coast north of old Canaan, and its literature features several myths and legends to which Canaanite literature will allude. Hebrew is, as you know, a Canaanite language. So when Ugaritic is taught, it is normally taught to Jews and to people interested in the Jewish Bible. When you buy a textbook or primer in Ugaritic, it will explain its grammar with reference to Hebrew - and not to, for instance, Arabic. I know a sight more Arabic than I know Hebrew but I have made my peace with the "Canaanist" paedogogy of Ugaritic.

It is looking like Aramaists and Syriacists might have more cause to complain. John Huehnergard and Na'ama Pat-El together have put up a chart on the Semitic languages. I don't quibble with most of it. I mean, I might personally suggest that Qur'anic Arabic be assigned alongside Classical and Safaitic as an extra, separate dialect of Arabic; but that is definitely a case of Varying Mileage. More seriously: isn't Taymanitic considered a Northwest Semitic intrusion into North Arabia, and not an Arabian language by birth?

The bit which surprises me is where Ugaritic is separated from all other Northwest Semitics, next to that (known) outlier Sam'ali (not to be confused with Somali). I am not aware that Aramaic mythology is closer to Canaanite; I was not aware that Aramaic grammar is closer to Canaanite.

I know even less about Aramaic than about Hebrew. Still, among what I thought I knew was that Ugaritic was closer to the latter. I have to trust that Huehnergard and Pat-El have their reasons.

Given the short and - last I heard - erroneous shrift given to Taymani, this is trust that the two authors will have to earn with me.

posted by Zimri on 16:21 | link | 0 comments

Sunday, August 12, 2018


Two decades back I leafed through Frederick Weidmann, Polycarp and John (1999). I mostly forgot it, since I had no use for it at the time; but yesterday I found a copy in Longmont's library. It concerns an ancient Ephesus/Smyrna rivalry and its implications in early Christian hagiography.

Ephesus was a coastal city; Smyrna, landlocked. When land powers ruled, like Phrygia and Lydia, Smyrna hosted the administrative capitol - and it was the capital of Lydia. Ephesus looked to the Greek naval world - Ionic, in particular. One is reminded of Athens and Sparta.

Christianity, later, came out of the Roman colonial world. Rome was a Mediterranean power like Athens - had to be, in those days before rail and aeroplanes. The Roman victory - especially over, I would guess, Mithridates of Pontus - raised the profile of coastal cities at the expense of the hinterland. Revolts against Rome only convinced the Romans they needed to feed the coasts more.

In "Asia" [Minor], Ephesus was the big winner, particularly against Smyrna but also Pergamon and others. Weidmann cites Vespasian as the main driver. As Christianity sprouted in Anatolian cities, Ephesian Christians and Smyrnean Christians were tempted to behave more like Ephesians and Smyrneans than like Christians.

Imperial Ephesus, being already important, naturally was the focus of early Christian efforts. Paul went there; he did not deal with Smyrna. Smyrna had to content itself with "Apostolic Fathers", starting with Polycarp.

Meanwhile the Christian muhaddith Papias thought that the apostle John had died early, at the Jews' hand. Eusebius ignored this tradition - probably tendentiously - but others didn't. Weidmann, 134 cites Philip of Side, in epitome; and also George the "sinner" meaning, our boy the Monk - and MS Coislin. 305 at that.

Weidmann wonders if the Church un-martyred John. This (rare!) revision allowed such Christians to stick John's name onto the clearly-late Johannine Epistles and the associated Gospel (which develop the Lamb theology). But maybe even more important - to some - John as the never-martyred "Elder" allowed the Smyrneans to claim Apostolic succession - through Polycarp - on par with Rome's through Clement. I also have to wonder how that letter "to the Ephesians" got its title...

In the end Smyrna lost this battle. It took until the Byzantine/Islamic era before Smyrna's church even got loose from Ephesus' control. (Byzantium had learnt to behave like a land empire by then.) And the Byzantine Smyrneans forgot that ancient claim to John through Polycarp; the manuscript recording any of this was a Sahidic translation.

posted by Zimri on 11:49 | link | 0 comments

The first Muslim-authorised translation of the Qur'an

I have posted here and there about Late-Antique translations of the Qur'an into Greek, Syriac, and Armenian - also, during the Middle Ages, into Latin and Aragonese. There were also translations into "Persian" - likely vernacular Iranian tongues, starting with New Persian. With the possible exception of Iranian, these translations tended to be hostile. Although I must wonder if the Emirate of Tblisi had also commissioned that Armenian version, and/or one in Georgian.

Some hinterland regions created "translations" which were really new Qur'ans entirely. The orthodox Muslims claimed that the Barghawatas had done one into "Berber" - west Moroccan Rif Tamazight, I assume. The Iranian nativists created several fake Qur'ans of their own. These contained real Qur'anic material. But such material was buried in nativist antiArab concerns.

Here is another claim, from Monthly Crescent: the first complete translation of the Quran was completed in 884 CE in Alwar (Sindh-India now Pakistan) by the orders of Abdullah bin Umar bin Abdul Aziz on the request of the Hindu Raja Mehruk. It is not fully known whether this translation was in Hindi, Sanskrit or local Sindhi language.

As stated this statement stretches credulity. I am a fairly hardcore revisionist - at least until Marijn Putten releases his essay debunking our whole enterprise. Still, I hold that by the end of Hisham's reign, the "'Uthmanic" Umayyad Qur'an existed (give or take some variants) and was canon among proto-Sunnis and the first Shi'a, including the sectarian Shi'a. Only the Khawarij were shut out. It is absurd to imagine that the Syrians and Greeks did not keep up with their own good-enough translations.

So the statement concerns that first Qur'an translation upon which the Muslims attached their approval.

posted by Zimri on 11:17 | link | 0 comments

Friday, August 10, 2018

A world without Chicxulub

The Devil's Tail is still in the news, because some people still are not buying it. Personally I do buy that hypothesis. But of the stances I am willing to invest in, I don't rate it very high. So instead, let's consider contrafactuals.

I was watching a Sliders episode. This is a series about parallel Earths, which are mostly like our Earths, often so close that some or all the main characters are genetic doubles. One such world hosts (badly rendered) dinosaurs - the two legged sort, which I shall be calling 'raptors here. There are humans as well, which made me think that the world was Jurassic Park world - well over 25 years ahead of us in CRISPR. But suppose it wasn't?

Let us posit a world in which Chicxulub didn't matter. Let us cast our minds back to the late Cretaceous. 66 mya.

The continents and the subcontinents we know today are recognisable, for the most part, except for India. We already have flowering plants and deciduous trees, with sturdy branches and fruits. The trees are being colonised by two forms of new life: a flying form of feathered raptor called the 'bird', and a nimble form of climbing rodent called the 'primate'.

I don't know that the ground mammals have a Killer App yet that can break into dinosaur eggs (that was a common Just So Story before Alvarez in 1980). If they did, should not the mammals have evolved such already, a hundred million years before 66 mya?

Anyway, on this world, or rather slightly above it, we see an arms-race between the sturdier climbing primates and the lighter flight-specialist birds. I think that a form of monkey appears earlier. (Also a bat.) Larger monkeys - and apes - hit the ground and are able to fight off similarly-sized ground-raptors. Because raptors have weaker skeletons. And don't work in packs.

I think that this Earth gets something like the human, earlier. But not the dog.

posted by Zimri on 18:00 | link | 0 comments

The first Arabic emphatics

Ahmad al-Jallad has posted "The Arabic of Petra", ed. A. Arjava, J. Frösnen, J. Kaimo in The Petra Papyri V (Amman: ACOR, 2018). The Academia site is acting weird today so you may want to look at it later.

Petra is the Greek name for Reqem in Jordan, and was ground zero for preclassical Arabic. As usual in the Near East, the main language of literacy was Aramaic; it is questionable when or even whether this region ever moved over to Syriac. Greek was also used. But Arabic was spoken here and as a result many of the local terms are Arabic. It's place names and personal names mostly. So that's what al-Jallad uses.

He finds that in Greek, the transcribed Arabic vowels change according to the consonants ("stops") near them. This is... what I perceived speaking my own IndoEuropean language and attempting to pronounce the emphatics. The nerds call this Pharyngealization. For Semitists this is important, because not all Semitic languages do that with their "stops".

At base there are three ways to pronounce a stop. You can breathe into it, like a "d" becomes a the "dh" in "breathe". You can halt your execution entirely and then continue: this is Glottalization. Or you can go somewhere in the middle. Most of us find the distinctions too nuanced, and collapse these three to two. In English we distinguish fully aspirated consonants from the others, considering Glottalization as overkill. The Maya went the other way.

And then there's Arabic with Pharyngealization. Where Arabic roots have pharyngeals, Ethiopic languages instead go with Glottalization; same with "Modern South Arabian". Akkadian is a tougher call being para-Semitic and, to my knowledge, not transcribed outside an ungainly Sumerian syllabary. But if we exclude that outlier, proto-Semitic looks glottal at base, like Maya, with Pharyngealization a secondary development.

Al-Jallad is telling us that Pharyngealization is old in Arabic, Petra-old, but not ancient. There were dialects of Arabic which didn't change their vowels and are, therefore, presumed Glottal.

posted by Zimri on 16:29 | link | 0 comments

Tuesday, August 07, 2018


Rakhigarhi is, at last, coming... several years too late. It agrees with what the transHimalayan geneticists have been telling us: the R1a gene in India comes from the great Eurasian steppe in the Bronze Age, and is presumed Aryan (and Pontic Indo-European before that). For many genetic-history bloggers, this occasion is all about chaay-bagging the Hindutva.

Razib at GNXP - from the postMuslim perspective - has no truck with the Hindutva and therefore was right all along. Davidski / Eurogenes, who has dealt more directly with the apologists, for years, is dippin'em in there. Which occasioned Razib to caution fellow non-Hindu-nationalists to calm it down some.

Sage advice, and I'll keep that link at hand in case I face Hinduism in comments. But that time isn't now. The real discussion about Rakhigarhi shouldn't even be about what it isn't (Aryan, SLAVIC MASTER RACE, or freakin' Nubian Kangz). It should be about what it is. So let us discuss that.

The next desideratum in Indology is the Dravidestan. Most Dravidian speakers came from the west. There are some easterners in India with those M* mitochondria (my cousins!), but easterners seem secondarily intrusive to South India. Although I don't recall posting much about Dravidians specifically, if you had asked me in - say - 2009, I would have blathered something about Elamites. I certainly thought Brahui off in the northwest was a relict.

But since 2009 I have been reading a lot more about the vast Iranian territory between the Indus and the Tigris: in Arabic (which I'd been doing already) and also in Pahlavi, Syriac, and Greek. This was done mainly in service of Throne of Glass but some of it also ended up on A Garden for the Poets. I'd read most of these comments in translation, or in some Englishman's or Frenchman's summary; I am only human. But they did touch upon northwest India.

I did not find here any mention of an isolate language like Dravidian in these accounts. I stated at Brown Pundits that I expected there should have been some mention somewhere.

The Greeks and Arabs were avid ethnographers; or at least they produced some, like Herodotus and Mas'udi. The Syriac-speaking Christians had interest in the customs of the tribes they hoped to convert, as well. The Sasanians were weak on the whole concept of Truth but you'd think they might have mentioned something by accident. Nobody did. Nobody noticed the Brahui language up to Mas'udi which means, up to 950 AD.

Razib counters that the western ethnographers didn't notice the Burusho either. It's a valid point.

Still, I don't see that Brahui has to be a relict. As they say, one hunts where the ducks are. And for Brahui, the ducks are in the northern edge of the Dravidian base, as that Dravidian base had already established itself, in south India.

posted by Zimri on 18:01 | link | 0 comments


Incoming to Science Daily this week, I read a couple of meteorite studies. 40,000 meteors are identified to date. One was found in northwest Africa - NWA 11119, yo! – and has a lot of silica. Therefore, it is “igneous” like a basalt – it comes from a planetoidal crust. The asteroid Vesta also has a crust, as of course do the inner planets, and our Moon; and we have several samples of crust knocked over here from many of these. And NWA 11119 being a meteorite found on our surface, it must have landed there in recent geologic time, as those meteorites had done.

But NWA 11119 isn’t from any of these, and it is dated 4,565 mya (these dates derive from the radioactive elements an igneous silicate should have, but doesn’t, because of natural alchemy over that long). For perspective: the chondrites are only two million years older than that, and are usually marked as When The Solar System Began (as opposed to, just the solar nebula). And our very Moon is younger - I think a straight 4.5 bya.

The best estimate for NWA 11119 is that it is one of the few remnants of a small planet that got bashed to bits. We may have two other meteorites related thereto... out of 40,000. So there isn't even much rubble left in space, let alone here. To me this suggests that the planetoid got "disrupted", as the astronomers say, very early. Perhaps during the roller derby which spawned the Moon.

posted by Zimri on 17:22 | link | 0 comments

Ephesians on the ballot

Over this month our parish is preaching from John 6… because Catholic. But the NT reading is “Ephesians”. Which is in the news again because a Republican candidate has expressed belief in it.

I hadn’t much read “Ephesians” (and admitted as much to the priest last Sunday after the Mass - don't worry, it wasn't a sacramental confession). So I did some wiki-reading.

The epistle isn’t actually addressed to anyone. It reads as an encyclical for all Pauline churches with no especial case for Ephesus, which city Paul knew well and didn't here mention. Its first commentators instead thought it was aimed first at Laodicea, perhaps based on their reading of Revelation. Ignatius, writing to Ephesus, happened to borrow a lot from this letter; Wiki implies that his example encouraged later scribes to add “to Ephesians” to the earlier letter, as well. This quirk of orthography has little doctrinal force; I don't think many pastors made a point of it being Ephesian, in the way (say) the Romans made a lot of 1 Corinthians when they wrote their own letter to that church, now-called "1 Clement".

More seriously, many non-Christian scholars consider quote-unquote “Ephesians” as a quote-unquote “Pauline”. Christian apologists defend it as, at least, a summary of Paul (including Colossians).

If Ephesians is canon, it poses the counter-reaction to Paul’s antinomianism and even anarchism, as Paul had presented Lord Jesus in his earliest preserved epistles (i.e. before Philemon and Corinthians). The Republican - a Baptist pastor - is in line not only with his Waldensian para-church but with all the Churches under the Apostolic Succession of which I know, including Nestorians. I don’t think even the Gnostics rejected this one.

I admit I remain Ephesians-skeptical, wholly ignoring “but it’s sexist”. But even if it's not in my canon, it's in my Church's canon. And I don't see an argument for deleting it off.

More to the point: is the canonical status of Ephesians on the ballot? If so, how is this race not a referendum on all normative Christianity?

posted by Zimri on 17:00 | link | 0 comments

Monday, August 06, 2018

Heikki Räisänen... and Ilkka Lindstedt

Last week in Helsinki Ilkka Lindstedt gave a talk, and today he has posted an English rendition thereof to Academia. The topic was Heikki Räisänen. Räisänen was a Biblical scholar working in Finland. Lindstedt - sort of (we'll get to that) - aims to raise Räisänen's profile in Islamic studies. Räisänen had published work in that field: in German and English in the 1970s, in Finnish thereafter.

Kind of like Julius Wellhausen. And - more so - John Wansbrough...

I cannot say that Räisänen had published important work - yet. We have not read Räisänen south/west of the Baltic. At least I haven't; and I haven't seen many footnotes to him, either. But this could just be me. As you can see on this very blog this past very week, I have missed several important publications (on late-antique Iran and Islamic Iraq) over the past five years and am only now catching up. And more generally scholarly fashion isn't everything: consider Paul Casanova. Maybe Räisänen will find his audience posthumously.

Räisänen's main preWansbroughian contribution was that he approached the Qur'an as if it was just another late-Antique Judaeo-Christian apocryphon, to be interpreted as one would interpret - say - Cave of Treasures. Lindstedt in his talk cited Patricia Crone as another one in this mould, which is fair; although I should rather go to Hagarism (with Michael Cook) and not to the output she published in 2016. Lindstedt has read Hagarism, and Wansbrough too.

Lindstedt problematises these Räisänen comments: the Muslim attitude to the Qur’an has remained relatively constant and Muslims shrink from any kind of critical analysis of [the Quran’s] text. Räisänen was, I believe, describing the mainstream Islam over the past millennium. Against that, Lindstedt reaches back to the Mutazila.

Might I suggest that the Mutazila was a long time ago and that no attempt since to revive the Mutazila has succeeded. Might I further suggest that the Mutazila's intent was a coup against Islam: by the Divine-Right Caliphs to subvert and suborn a caliph-independent judiciary. The course of history has proven that the Mutazila is a dead-end. Islam is what Islam has become, and the germ of that is entrenched in the Islamic Qur'an as canonised under the Umayyads (whichever Umayyads we say those were). In Islam the Qur'an is the hypostatic Word Of God: pre-existent and unquestionable, on pain of losing Islam.

I must also point out, on Shi'ism, that although the Shi'a at first experimented with revising the Qur'an (Sayyari, 'Ayyashi); their ulema too had abandoned that project during the Middle Ages. Shi'ite Islam today is also Islam. Their Qur'an is the Qur'an until al-Mahdi returns.

Lindstedt goes on to make a NAMALT argument, that modern(ist) readers of the Qur'an aren't like Khomeini and Qaradawi. He brings up Muhammad ʿAbduh and Rashid Rida, who proposed to re-interpret the Qur'an. These two still weren't questioning the Qur'an's very text. He also brings up Amina Wudud. He has to flat-out concede that Wudud isn't questioning the text. Lastly, he brings up Emran El-Badawi. Emran El-Badawi doesn't even claim to be a Muslim, unless I am seriously misreading his book.

What I find most... problematic... in Lindstedt's talk is that he has been falling into the lazy academic/Left cant which we have been enduring on Twitter for too long. That stupid weasel word "problematic" appears twice in its eight pages without irony. "Orientalist(s)" appears twice as well, and not in the way one might describe Ignaz Goldziher as an Orientalist.

If you are going to problematise an author, please do it right. Please address his work on the merits of its argument. Please don't compare it to modern pieties.

posted by Zimri on 18:46 | link | 0 comments

The Testament of Jāmāsp

In 2014, one A Domenico published the bulk of Ayādgār ī Jāmāspīg: un texte eschatologique zoroastrien - not just that sixteenth chapter.

Since (as you can see) he did it in French, Anglophones still want an English translation. Bits and pieces are in English already of course; and given that a Gujarati text exists, we even might have some nineteenth-century translation of the whole thing floating around and/or Google Books. Mind you even if this is so, such a translation would be out of date and lacking in Domenico's commentary.

Domenico seems to agree with me that the famed sixteenth chapter is of a piece with the rest. Kind of like... John Bar Penkaye! Everybody reads the last chapter of Rish Melle, because Arabs, and nobody cares to translate nor even to look at the world-history leading up to it. It is good that Domenico has translated what had led up to The Sexy Part.

For Zoroastrians, Ayādgār ī Jāmāspīg transmits information vital to their faith. In particular, the Nasks: a part of the Avesta(s), now lost. The Denkard cites the Nasks as well. The Nasks are, for Zoroastrians, a Missing Book Of The Bible; like the Book of Jashar would be for Jews or the Egerton Gospel would be for Christians.

Domenico translates Pahlavi Ayādgār to Mémorial but I think we should consider that the Zoroastrians are, here, calquing the Judaeo-Christian literary concept of testament (and the Qur'anic concept of wasiya). I admit that although some Biblical material did enter Pahlavi, we might not own a full lexicon of Christian jargon into Pahlavi. Also Pahlavi could tend just to grab the Syriac root and to redeploy it as an ideogram, as the Akkadians did with Sumerian words.

posted by Zimri on 16:56 | link | 0 comments

Sunday, August 05, 2018

What the Mandaeans had from the Zoroastrians

Five years too late I found Dan Shapira's article on "The Kings And The Last Days" - Mandaean Ginza, right hand side, chapter 18. In 2013, since I did not have this at the time, I dragged an old German translation through Google and, from that, did mine own analyses. Which efforts would be an insult to the confectionary profession to describe as half baked.

Shapira had anticipated my thought that RG18 reads like it came from Bar Penkaye's own south-Iraqi cousin and, also, Pseudo-Methodius. But he, knowing Mandaic, could read the original, not some laughable double-translated mutant as I had done. In particular Shapira could tell which words were Aramaic and which weren't.

It turned out that the overall work was full of Iranisms, and pulled from Zoroastrian tropes only secondarily Mandaeanised. So Shapira pulled at the Iranian apocalyptic cycle, not just from the Syriac.

The work mentions the land of "Gaukai" a lot. This land is mentioned in the Acts of Mar/Saint Mari and in Mani's biography; Shapira places it on the eastern side of the Tigris.

The 71 years in the Arabs' dominion had stuck out to me as a hijri date, perhaps pointing to the date of authorship. After RG18's second mention of those 71 years it has a lacuna and continues to five decades after ... something. Those five decades are prosperous for "the coasts of Gaukai" which is, what, Basra? I would not have thought that the Marwani half-century in lower Iraq were particularly enjoyable but, the region did finance a couple of revolts: half-heartedly under Ibn al-Ash'ath, and then more seriously under Yazid bin al-Muhallab.

If the lacuna is minor, then five decades after the 70s AH get us to the 120s: al-Walid II's murder and the last Umayyad fitna. After that point there is garble I cannot decipher in German or English, after which appears the Golden Mountain which features so strongly in Zoroastrian apocalypse. Perhaps we are leaving history at that point. We might even be entering Hebrew and Arabic apocalyptic: the twelve-year reign of good king Mzaraz is a coded "Mansur" but cannot be the caliph claiming that name, who ruled for 22 and was a bigot.

Shapira also translated a chunk of Jamasp-Nama ("-Namag", here) for us. But since then, Anthony informed us that this work could be off, by six-to-seven decades and a dynasty, from Resh Melle and Pseudo-Methodius. Shapira could not have known better about that.

About Pseudo-Methodius vaguely dated after 629-30 p. 146 and subsequently translated from Sackur's 1898(!)'s Latin(!!), Shapira should have known better, since Palmer in the early 1990s had called it as a 70s / 690s work composed in Syriac. Resh Melle and Pseudo-Methodius are near contemporaries, even if they are not mutually aware of each other. Bar Penkaye was a Nestorian, and Pseudo-Methodius worked in the rival Monophysite colony in Sinjar (despite not having a problem with Nestorians himself).

To me RG18 looks like a Zoroastrian text from the 'Abbasid era, which had itself adapted an apocalypse from 71 AH, which had expanded on an astrological chronicle ad 803 anno piscorum.

The Piscean Age is today associated with the Christian Era beginning around 1 AD. But in those days the Aramaean Christians were using the Seleucid calendar beginning 313 BC. So this must be a third calendar starting soon after 200 BC: Antiochus III? Also the author puts the (cursed) Aquarian Age in his own times, not in the 2000s AD as do our astrologers.

posted by Zimri on 13:22 | link | 0 comments


I'd bookmarked Sean Anthony on the Jāmāsp-Nāmah recently, which paper he'd written some years before (which I likely had not seen at the time) but I hadn't really read it. Since I am on topic of early 'Abbasid-era outsider apocalypticism lately, and returning to my blogposts of later 2013, it's time I corrected that.

Also, research on Nativist Prophets In 'Abbāsid Iran has progressed since 2012 - by a lot. Over the past five years Zarrinkoob has been more widely available in English; and Patricia Crone and Michael Jackson Bonner have released entire books on the topic or at least related to the topic. Anthony in fact cites some of Crone's preliminary lectures. 'Abbāsid studies have progressed as well thanks to Ilkka Lindstedt.

It was Anthony's thought that the last (sixteenth) part of Ayādgār ī Jāmāspīg, known as Jāmāsp-Nāmah, is a Zoroastrian apocalypse "predicting" the revolt of Sunbādh in the 130s / 750s, during the 'Abbāsid consolidation in the west.

But first, some background. All agree that Iranian nativists had allied with the "'Abbāsid" dawla against the Umayyads. Apparently at the time, the Iranians were under the illusion that the dawla was an "Abū Muslim" dawla - who was, if a "father of a Muslim", not much of a Muslim himself. (Seriously, just look at the psychedelic beliefs associated with his name.) The Arabs in the dawla's van like al-Saffah and al-Manṣūr later, upon taking Syria, made it an 'Abbāsid project. Islam was not to be overthrown; it was to be "restored", "in accordance with the Book Of God and the Prophet's Sunna". At that point the Iranian nativists made a play to wrest control back from heretical Harran and Islamic al-Kūfa. (Baghdad wasn't a thing yet.) This Sunbādh, who had retained the dawla's main treasury back in Rayy, put that resource in Iran's service.

To nitpick this paper (but really, all papers like it): Pērōz (p. 644), aparvēž (p. 647), and Parvīz (p. 648) are all translated "victorious". I wonder about this. Isn't the a- prefix a negation in Iranian as it is in classical Greek, Armenian, and sometimes in Western tongues? Maybe some of them mean Victor / Nicator; and aparvēž means Invincible, that he cannot be beaten. I should like to see more clarity on that, from all the scholars. I do not speak middle Persian nor read Pahlavi, so I do not know; but I want to know, and I should like scholars to teach me, in their published work.

Besides that: Anthony does teach the Jāmāsp-Nāma (he doesn't always add the -h). That book contains Sasanian tropes, and tropes associated with Bahrām Čōbīn; but it is not a late-Sasanian work as oft assumed. Its parallels to Sasanian-era epic history are, here, assigned to the Last Days (p. 651) - which weren't Čōbīn's, but Sunbādh's. I note parallels to how Qatāda's famous Zubayrid apocalypse has, in the Dastuwāī transmission preserved in Ibn Hanbal and Abū Dāwud, been re-applied to the Hasani of Mecca. (Who will launch an anti-'Abbāsī revolt of his own in 762 AD, an Islamist one.)

Also the fifteenth chapter of Ayādgār ī Jāmāspīg has kind words to say of the Parthians. A Sasanian text would not do this. A post-Sasanian text appealing to all Iran, however, might. Dan Shapira, "On Kings and the Last Days", ARAM 22 (2010), 133-70 doi 10.2143/ARAM.22.0.2130135.

posted by Zimri on 12:56 | link | 0 comments

Italian names

Via hbdchick (who today is otherwise occupied explaining the dictionary to evil idiots), here is a map of Italia today and the surnames popular in each region.

My first takeaway is that North America didn't get many Sardinians. We got a lot of southern Italians instead - and southern Italy includes Sicily. Russo and variants like Lorusso (and Rossi?) are common here.

I did not see the name "Lazio" on the map except as the standard Italian name for the classical Latium province. We do see that name in the US. My guess is that this is like how the fictional Andolinis of Corleone came to the US and, instead of giving their real name (dangerous in vendetta culture) gave their region. Either that or overworked and ignorant immigration officials filled in the wrong box.

One name I haven't seen much in the US is "Greco". This one is common in the Italian south. That obviously points to Magna Graeca. Many southern Italians here will cop to being Hellenes. Perhaps Greci over here tend to the Lazio / Corleone thing.

Looking north I detect that a pulse of Piedmontese came here: Ferraro, Gallo (the Gaul!), Favre, Bruno, Bianchi (Mr Brown, Mr White) and such. By contrast I do not find Tyrolese (Kofler, lolz) nor, really, anyone from the northern Adriatic coast. I did not even know that Pavan, Trevisan, and Magnan were Italian names!

posted by Zimri on 11:44 | link | 0 comments

Thursday, August 02, 2018

A Russian translation of the Logothete!

Five years back I gave up on waiting for an Anglophone to translate the parts of Symeon Logothete I wanted, so I started a translation myself. I was concerned with Islam up to al-Hajjaj and, to a lesser extent, with Monotheletism. At last count, 2016, I had covered 640-715ish, from Muhammad to Vardanes.

In the meantime someone from the Slavic Master Race has done one of his own, covering much more of it. Take it away, Pavel Kuzenkov (and Andrey Vinogradov).

I didn't see my name in the paper. But I do have to admit that when we aren't in a scholarly network, we miss out on stuff. Also my translation is incomplete and was VERY incomplete as of 2014.

If any member of SMR does (ever) wish to credit me (and if I ever produce something worthy thereof), I should recommend how to transcribe my name into Cyrillic. That would be "Давид Росс". Davîd with the circumflex is how I write and type my name in Latin miniscule. It is a portmanteau of "David" with my mother's maiden name "Reid", and also points to my heritage through her mother.

Боже мой 7 PM MST: I did a search and found a @daviross on Instagram and perhaps Pinterest, out on Vladivostok. So I will have to pass as Давид Р Росс. Sigh.

posted by Zimri on 18:36 | link | 0 comments

Wednesday, August 01, 2018

An Islam without jihad?

Robert Spencer is about to publish his History of Jihad. We are here to question whether this is "The" such history as its actual title suggests.

I have tried commenting under my "Zimriel" name twice over at Jihadwatch recently, and failed twice, so I suspect that I have (finally) been banned, which I can hardly deny I deserve (we have a History, over 2008-9, back when I was a liberal). But I can still comment here. And here I will be addressing Spencer's book by way of a review - Loren Rossen's.

Spencer is a "confessed" Islamophobe, as another of his - recent - books has explained. Spencer argues for the fear of Islam in authority:

There is no period since the beginning of Islam that was characterized by large-scale peaceful coexistence between Muslims and non-Muslims. There was no time when mainstream and dominant Islamic authorities taught the equality of non-Muslims with Muslims, or the obsolescence of jihad warfare. There was no Era of Good Feeling, no Golden Age of Tolerance, no Paradise of Proto-Multiculturalism. There has always been, with virtually no interruption, jihad.

This is a strong statement. It is also a true statement. It does however require nuance.

My tradition is English, at least border-English (I sometimes identify as "Anglo Irish"). England - being a nationstate - does not own a founding Constitution. It does however own a series of bills-of-rights. Traditionally we start from the Magna Carta; Americans tend to finish their study of English law with the 1689 Bill Of Rights, from which the Declaration of Independence and first ten Amendments steal. In it is the clean right of Protestants to bear arms. The 1689 is much clearer than the Second Amendment, note - many Constitutional scholars will tell you that the Second Amendment makes no sense without reference to 1689.

The key here is that 1689 and the Second Amendment together formalise a key right for free peoples, already inherent in the Rights of Englishmen. The First Amendment is new. That is why the American Bill Of Rights starts with the equality of [Judaeo-Christian and peaceful] religions; it then applies 1689, formerly just for Prots, to Jews and Catholics too.

Until the First Amendment, every nation had its own religion. Adherents to the state's faith might be free citizens, but as for anyone else - his status was clear, as a mere guest, at best. And even the First Amendment applied that freedom only between states. Massachusetts remained Puritan Nation until 1833.

So what could be said about Islam under the Umayyads was exactly what could be said about freakin' Boston as of the 1812 War. And (technically) about England today although the Defender Of The Faith has been sleeping on that job lately.

Any nation demands an ideology, and it demands that its supporters support that ideology, and it demands that nonsupporters within its territory at least shut up or else get out of the way. The issue with jihad as such is that it doesn't do well with "territory".

Islam arose out of a Byzantine and Sasanian milieu. These involved two religions claiming deep antiquity (however artificially; we can debate that elsewhere) each of which believed that the One G-d had sent it upon an international mission. In that context Islam wasn't new. Jihad wasn't new. George of Pisidia was hardly different from any hija' plucked at random from Tabari.

Where there was tolerance of nonIslamic faiths under an Arab amir, this was not acceptance - it could never be acceptance. And wherever I hear of tolerant amirs I find the Muslims angrily arguing over whether they were Muslims at all. Terms like zindiq, bida' - even kufr fly around the polemic literature.

In 'Abbasi and Shi'i literature 'Uthman was a mediator and a nepotist; Mu'awiya was an experimenter - a protoIslam perhaps existed in al-Madina but these Arab amirs could never have imposed that upon a diverse Near East. Al-Walid II might have been a Manichee(!). And then there's the question of whether Yazid I was reconsidering Christianity in some form.

Under the 'Abbasids the theme (as far as I know) seems to be of a Caliph pretending to rise above all faiths under the doctrine of the Created Qur'an. By sticking the Qur'an next to the Book of Isaiah, the Caliph could indeed treat his Sunni opponents in equality with the Christians and Jews. But was this Islam? Was this submission to God Alone as His Word was revealed to His Prophet?

The Sunnis didn't think Caliph al-Ma'mun was a proper Muslim. And the Caliph had to accept demotion, in the end.

My takeaway is that Spencer is right. A neoreactionary could counterargue that dhimmitude must exist in every nation; that jihad (if theoretically nonviolent) must exist in every religion. Islam's achievement, in this view, is to lay bare the ugly truth about Politics and Religion for all the world. But all that is just Whaddabout. Islam's failing is that it has failed to find anything else. Contrast dyothelete Catholicism.

posted by Zimri on 19:34 | link | 0 comments

Crusader Orientalism in the reading of Syriac

Now that we’re getting a handle on the Sergius / Bahira stuff, we are ready to attempt Barbara Roggema’s PhD thesis The Legend of Sergius Bahira (now Brill, 2009). 8.215f. concerns the Latin adaptation.

The Latin is from “the apocalyptic material” only, what Krisztina Szilágyi (whom Roggema consulted – p. viii) would call A and D. It has been woven together, not without seams: pp. 216-7. This much, we know. At stake here is whether the weaver knew the C strand as well. (I mean, beyond the mere meme that Sergius was also called Bahira, which could have entered the transmission as a gloss.)

Roggema, 217-8 points out that although transmissions from Syriac to Latin are common – the Syriac chronicle tradition, the west-Syrian Pseudo-Methodius – a direct translation is not. Historically there have been intermediaries, as the Syriac historical memory entered the West by way of Theophanes’ Greek chronicle, and as Pseudo-Methodius passed through a direct Greek translation (even preserving its Biblical Peshittisms). Later, Syriac scientific (and parascientific) knowledge entered Latin by way of Arabic. To ascertain the translation’s route we require first a catalog of errors, and of what sort.

For the Sergius “Barris” work, no errors point to Arabic (nor, one gathers, to Greek). So the translation was direct.

History asserts constraints on a direct Latin – Syriac meeting. To that Bignami-Odier and Levi della Vida “Une version latine”, 134-7 pointed out one such event: Crusade.

However there were Syrians active in Italy before then. Several Popes were Syrians; these had fled the Arabs. I suspect Maximus before he was Confessor was also conversant in both Latin and Syriac, although of course the language of his letters was Greek. For awhile the Umayyads in Damascus protected their Syrians from strife and treated them fairly in peacetime. Later, the first ‘Abbâsids ravaged the place; another pulse of refugees would have resulted in the late 100s / 700s.

Roggema recognizes that the Crusade argument skips steps – “no firm ground on which to build a case”. But I say we can find some ground to build on. We need here the DIRECTION of errors: whether the adapter was a Syrian who made his mistakes in Latin, or a Latin who misread his Syriac.

A Syrian would be pushing his literature upon a wider audience. A Latin westerner would be pulling, due to his own curiosity about Syrian apocalyptic. Also the Latin (if he weren’t a Spaniard or a Sicilian) might not care about ol’ Mo, just about the future of the world. This could explain why the Latin lacks almost all the Bahira stuff (in C) save the name “Barris”. A Syrian escaped from Caliph al-Mansur’s dungeon might hope to warn others against Islam generally.

For Sergius “Barris” these errors turn out to be in the Syriac. So the author was a Latin.

For Latin curiosity about Syrian lore, rather than “being given” such lore: the Crusade does seem more likely.

Therefore the Latin is no good guide to the state of the legend in the first Islamic centuries. It was simply the first exercise in spreading select parts of that legend westward (it was an “Orientalism”, if you like). Robert Hoyland should have relegated the Latin to “Dubia”, and stuck with A and D as they exist in Syriac.

posted by Zimri on 16:51 | link | 0 comments

Monday, July 30, 2018

Advice to academic reviewers of Martin Nguyen's work

Martin Nguyen recently popped up on my feed for some information he'd provided. Some of it was useful: such as when he noted Mehmet Akif Koc`s finding that the İstan-polis library didn't own the Ibn Habib Naysaburi tafsir as previously advertised. He had also corrected and updated some half-baked work on the Naysaburis generally, notably by Dr Walid Saleh - but now I have to wonder.

Robert Spencer points out that Nguyen isn't honest. Also, this one got his PhD at Harvard, whose academic standards concerning Islam are poor.

I do not think that someone reading about fi sabili'llah can possibly see it as anything other than violence. Even Dr Robert Hoyland could see that. Anyone telling you otherwise is counting on your ignorance of the Qur'an - and working to keep you ignorant.

If I were asked to review a Nguyen article, I should be very very careful with it.

posted by Zimri on 19:10 | link | 0 comments

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