Category Archives: Articles

Spiritual Elite Communities: Mandaeans, Yezidis, Ahl-e Haqq, Druze and Alawis

Jong, Albert de. 2018. Spiritual Elite Communities in the Contemporary Middle East. Sociology of Islam 6(2). 116–140.

This article claims that we are in need of alternative ways of modelling religious diversity in the Middle East. This region is characterized by a high level of religious diversity, which can only be partly explained by the persistence of religions that were already in existence when Islam arose. Many communities came into being since the Islamization of the area. The communities addressed in this article therefore include one pre-Islamic tradition, the Mandaeans, and five communities that crystallized (much) later: the Yezidis, the Ahl-e Haqq, the Druze, the Alawis, and the (Turkish) Alevis. These have often been discussed in conjunction with each other, in ways that are historically and conceptually problematic. A focus on two characteristics these communities share—endogamy and a “spiritual elite” structure—makes it possible to discuss the processes in which these communities have come into being, have crystallized, and relate to the wider Islamic setting in a new light. Three communities have continued to distance themselves from Islam, and three have been in a constant process of negotiating their relation with more mainstream versions of Islam. This has consequences for the maintenance, or gradual dissolution, of religious pluralism in the Middle East.

Aristotle and Avicenna on the habitability of the Southern Hemisphere

de Blois, François. 2018. Aristotle and Avicenna on the habitability of the Southern Hemisphere. In Sabine Schmidtke (ed.), Near and Middle Eastern Studies at the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, 1935-2018, 188-193. Piscataway: Gorgias Press.

The history of Near and Middle Eastern Studies at the Institute for Advanced Study dates back to 1935, and it is the one area of scholarship that has been continuously represented at the Institute ever since. The volume opens with a historical sketch of the study of the Near and Middle East at the Institute. The second part of the volume consists of essays and short studies by IAS scholars, past and present, covering fields such as the ancient Near East and early Islamic history, the Bible and the Qurʾān, Islamic intellectual history within and beyond denominational history, Arabic and other Semitic languages and literatures, Islamic religious and legal practices, law and society, the Islamic West, the Ottoman world, Iranian studies, the modern Middle East, and Islam in the West.

Iran and America: A forgotten friendship

Potts, Daniel Thomas. 2018. Iran and America: A forgotten friendship. The Conversation.

As President Donald Trump’s rhetoric against Iran heats up again, it is worth recalling a time when the two countries had a distinctly different relationship.

A (New) Old Iranian Etymology for Biblical Aramaic אֲדַרְגָּזַר‬‎

Noonan, Benjamin J.  2018. A (new) Old Iranian etymology for Biblical Aramaic אֲדַרְגָּזַר‬‎. Aramaic Studies 16(1): 10 – 19.

Despite the many advances that have taken place in our understanding of the Hebrew Bible’s Old Iranian terminology, the donor terms of several words have remained elusive. Among them is Biblical Aramaic ‮אֲדַרְגָּזַר‬‎ (Dan. 3:2–3). Proposed Old Iranian etymologies for this word suffer from various phonological and semantic difficulties, rendering them unlikely. This paper proposes that Biblical Aramaic ‮אֲדַרְגָּזַר‬‎ is best derived from *ādrangāžara- ‘announcer of financial obligation’, a compound of *ādranga- ‘financial obligation’ and *āžara- ‘announcer’. A derivation from Old Iranian *ādrangāžara- adequately explains the form of Biblical Aramaic ‮אֲדַרְגָּזַר‬‎. Furthermore, this etymology also suits the context well in that ‮אֲדַרְגָּזַר‬‎ occurs just prior to ‮גְּדָבַר‬‎ ‘treasurer’ and therefore falls logically within the progression from political administration to finances to law evident in the lists of Nebuchadnezzar’s officials (Dan. 3:2–3).

Archaeological traces of the Achaemenid palaces of Hamadan

Boucharlat, Rémy. 2018. Les traces archéologiques des palais achéménides de HamadanArta 2018.002.

Several tens of incomplete column bases and fragments of column drums and stone capitals testify to the existence of several hypostyle halls on the Hamadan site. The majority of the pieces presented here, often little known, come from Tépé Hegmateneh in the north-east of the modern city center. However, the important excavations on this hill did not reveal any level of Achaemenid times. The buildings of this period must then be sought elsewhere, perhaps on the other nearby hill, Tépé Mosalla.

Dependent Labor and Status in the Neo-Babylonian and Achaemenid Periods

Kleber, Kristin. 2018. Dependent Labor and Status in the Neo-Babylonian and Achaemenid Periods. In Agnès Garcia-Ventura (ed.), What’s in a name? Terminology related to work force and job categories in the ancient Near East, 441-465, Münster: Ugarit-Verlag.

The article gives an overview of terms for workers, servile dependents and juridical statuses in Babylonia in the first millennium BC with a focus on the Neo-Babylonian and Achaemenid periods (ca. 620 – 330 BC).

Gender, Personal Adornment, and Costly Signaling in the Iron Age Burials of Hasanlu, Iran

Cifarelli, Megan. 2018. Gender, Personal Adornment, and Costly Signaling in the Iron Age Burials of Hasanlu, Iran. In Saana Svärd and Agnes Garcia-Ventura (eds.), Studying Gender in the Ancient Near East. Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns.

This article explores the role played by personal ornaments in the performance of gender, and in the construction and differentiation of gendered identities, in the early Iron Age (Period IVb) burials at Hasanlu, a site in Northwestern Iran. A small site situated beyond the limits of the Assyrian Empire and in the path of the advancing Urartian kingdom, Hasanlu was caught in, and ultimately lost to, the currents of regional conflicts by around 800 BCE. While certainly subjected to the actions of these larger scale entities, material and visual culture of Hasanlu cannot be understood through the application of the same theoretical and methodological approaches that illuminate the artistic and cultural production of hegemonic states.
A careful analysis of the entire cemetery shows that, compared to earlier burials at the site, the artifacts and ornaments in burials dating between an earlier destruction (ca. 1050 BCE) and the catastrophic destruction (ca. 800 BCE) evidence heightened gender differentiation, an influx of artifact types from regions to the north, and the introduction of military equipment and militaristic ornaments to a range of distinct, elite burial assemblages. These new elements can be interpreted as representing an ideological shift towards militarization at the site, but I will argue that the nature of these objects and the contexts in which they are found demand a methodological approach that looks more closely at the interplay between human choices and cultural norms, in the period leading up to Hasanlu’s catastrophic destruction. The shifts in the material culture evidenced in the Period IVb burials are the record of local, dynamic, and gender specific attempts to negotiate status and identity at the site, in an era of internal unease.

 

Arsacid Cities in the Hanshu and Houhanshu

Zanous, Hamidreza Pasha & Juping Yang. 2018. Arsacid Cities in the Hanshu and HouhanshuIran and the Caucasus 22 (2), 123–138.

In the reports of Chinese travellers submitted to the Emperors, they mentioned the places they had visited or heard of. Although some scholars have tried to identify these Chinese names as specific places in the Iranian Plateau and its bordering plains, their locations are still somewhat vague and debatable. This article discusses the place-names mentioned in Chinese sources and attempts to verify that they could have denoted the localities along the ancient Great Khorasan Road and other routes, which were once the main sections of the Silk Road. Among them, the route that Chinese traveller Gan Ying might have passed before he reached the western frontier of the Arsacid Empire will also be discussed in this study.

The end of the Kura-Araxes culture as seen from Nadir Tepesi in Iranian Azerbaijan

Alizadeh, Karim, Sepideh Maziar & Mirrouhollah Mohammadi. 2018. The end of the Kura-Araxes culture as seen from Nadir Tepesi in Iranian Azerbaijan. American Journal of Archaeology 122(3). 463-477.

By the late fourth to early third millennium B.C.E., Kura-Araxes (Early Transcaucasian) material culture spread from the southern Caucasus throughout much of southwest Asia. The Kura-Araxes settlements declined and ultimately disappeared in almost all the regions in southwest Asia around the middle of the third millennium B.C.E. The transition to the “post–Kura-Araxes” time in the southern Caucasus is one of the most tantalizing subjects in the archaeology of the region. Despite current knowledge on the origins and spread of the Kura-Araxes culture, little is known about the end of this cultural horizon. In this field report, we argue that the Kura-Araxes culture in the western Caspian littoral plain ended abruptly and possibly violently. To demonstrate this, we review the current hypotheses about the end of the Kura-Araxes culture and use results from excavations at Nadir Tepesi in Iranian Azerbaijan.

Linguistic Paradox and Diglossia

Houben, Jan. 2018. Linguistic paradox and diglossia: The emergence of Sanskrit and Sanskritic language in ancient India. Open Linguistics 4(1). 1–18.

What is it about?

“We know that Middle Indian (Middle Indo-Aryan) makes its appearance in epigraphy prior to Sanskrit: this is the great linguistic paradox of India.” In these words Louis Renou (1956: 84) referred to a problem in Sanskrit studies for which so far no satisfactory solution had been found. I will here propose that the perceived “paradox” derives from the lack of acknowledgement of certain parameters in the linguistic situation of Ancient India which were insufficiently appreciated in Renou’s time, but which are at present open to systematic exploration with the help of by now well established sociolinguistic concepts, notably the concept of “diglossia”. Three issues will here be addressed in the light of references to ancient and classical Indian texts, Sanskrit and Sanskritic. A simple genetic model is indadequate, especially when the ‘linguistic area’ applies also to what can be reconstructed for earlier periods. The so-called Sanskrit “Hybrids” in the first millennium CE, including the Prakrits and Epics, are rather to be regarded as emerging “Ausbau” languages of Indo-Aryan with hardly any significant mutual “Abstand” before they will be succesfully “roofed,” in the second half of the first millennium CE, by “classical” Sanskrit.

Why is it important?

The history of (classical) Sanskrit, of Prakrit, of the so-called “hybrid” Sanskrits, of Vedic poetry and prose, and of the related Avestan and old Persian languages is of central importance for the cultural history of ancient India, ancient Iran and Asia.