The reinvention of Iran

Payne, Richard. 2014. The reinvention of Iran: The Sasanian Empire and the Huns. In Michael Maas (ed.), The Cambridge companion to the age of Attila, 282–299. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Find the article here.

Symposia Iranica’s second graduate conference on Iranian Studies

Symposia Iranica provides ‘postgraduates and early career scholars with the opportunity to present their research without the limitations of an overarching theme – as such, submissions related to any aspect of Iranian studies in the ancient through to contemporary periods within the humanities and social sciences are all welcome’.
Call for Papers | Symposia Iranica
Second Biennial Iranian Studies Conference
Hosted by the University of Cambridge, 8-9 April 2015
***Deadline: 15 November 2014***

Continue reading Symposia Iranica’s second graduate conference on Iranian Studies

Two reviews

Brody, Robert . 2014. Review of Shai Secunda: The Iranian Talmud. University of Pennsylvania Press. Zion 79(3). 435–437.

See also here for another review of Shai’s book.

Mokhtarian, Jason. 2014. Review of Shai Secunda & Steven Fine (eds.): Shoshannat Yaakov, Jewish and Iranian studies in honor of Yaakov Elman. Zion 79(3). 438–442.

Women in the Hērbedestān

Strauch Schick, Shana. 2014. Women in the Hērbedestān: A re-examination of the Bavli’s Beruriah narratives in light of Middle Persian literature. Zion 79(3). 407–424.

The Babylonian Talmud contains a number of dicta which unambiguously exclude women from the study of Torah. Yet the narratives concerning Beruriah, supposedly the daughter of R. Hanina b. Teradyon and wife of R. Meir, suggest otherwise. She is depicted as having received formal instruction at the same level as rabbinic sages. Yet, these traditions appear only in the Babylonian Talmud, a few centuries after she would have lived, and contain a number of common literary motifs. This and other factors indicate the constructed nature of these stories, as David Goodblatt and Tal Ilan have noted. While it is possible to explain the local function of these narratives on literary and didactic grounds, given the Babylonian Talmud’s general stance regarding women and Torah study, the figure of a woman well-versed in Torah learning is indeed surprising.
This paper proposes that the appearance of the character of Beruriah is best understood within the Middle Persian milieu when the late Talmudic narratives arose. It is clear from Zoroastrian texts that religious study was a possibility open to men and women and that both were equally viable candidates to leave their home in order to engage in religious training at the Hērbedestān. A passage from Mādayān ī Hazār Dādestān, for example, depicts women who are well versed in jurisprudence and shares other significant parallels with the Beruriah narratives. By turning to relevant Middle Persian sources it thus becomes clear that the idea of the scholarly woman was not simply a literary motif called into existence, but was in fact a real possibility that Jews of Babylonia had to confront—a novel phenomenon unknown (or perhaps suppressed) in earlier Palestinian sources. Within a larger culture in which women participated in religious scholarly pursuits, the exclusion of women from Torah study and the community of scholars was addressed by the creation of Beruriah. Although the existence of a woman of Beruriah’s erudition within an elite rabbinic family could now be presented as a plausible historical persona, her existence served as a cautionary tale to justify the importance of keeping Torah study exclusively male.

The Babylonian Talmud and the Paikuli inscription

Herman, Geoffrey . 2014. Insurrection in the academy: The Babylonian Talmud and the Paikuli inscription. Zion 79(3). 377–407.

In the Sasanian Empire Persian court culture cast its shadow well beyond the palace walls in Ctesiphon. Palatial or imperial custom was ubiquitous and smaller courts, as indeed the Divine Kingdom in heaven, acquired for themselves many of the characteristics of the royal court. Court culture impacted greatly on diverse realms of life including not just political thought, but also Sasanian art, literature, and religion.
The Jews of Babylonia lived within this imperial context and it shaped their outlook. They looked upon royal palace culture in admiration as an ideal worthy of imitation. The Babylonian rabbinic academy and the literature woven around it may therefore be conceptualized and interpreted in light of this imperial context.
The rabbinic academy is, indeed, portrayed as a ‘kingdom’, a microcosm of the royal palace. Here, its leaders presided over assembles sitting in a dignified and luxurious manner. They ‘reigned’ as doormen guarded the entrance, and certain court ‘rituals’ were observed.
This article traces ways in which Babylonian rabbis employed Sasanian imperial themes when portraying the contemporary rabbinic academy, and when developing tales of court intrigue and usurpation narratives set in the rabbinic academy.
Focusing on the Babylonian Talmud’s revision of the Yerushalmi’s account of the deposition of Rabban Gamaliel from the patriarchate (BT. Berakhot 27b-28a), the article suggests that specific images within the story evoke Sasanian imperial culture and literature. Indeed, its revision mirrors in many ways the themes and structure of a contemporary source – the monumental Paikuli inscription, a late third century CE royal inscription that describes a struggle over the Persian throne. This inscription, while describing a historical event, is itself inspired by, and partially caste in accordance with mythical and epic Iranian models and literary patterns. It can therefore serve to exemplify the genre of usurpation accounts to which the Talmudic authors were also exposed. More generally, these parallels highlight the impact of the Sasanian literary heritage on the Babylonian Talmud.
Notwithstanding the fictional nature of many of the sources explored in this paper, they are nevertheless illustrative of the way in which the Babylonian academy was imagined. They are, in fact, suggestive of the actual dimensions of this institution of higher education when these sources were being created.

Iran: A very short introduction

Ansari, Ali. 2014. Iran: A very short introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Iran: A VSIThis Very Short Introduction presents a radical reinterpretation of Iranian history and politics, placing the Islamic Revolution in the context of a century of political change and social transformation. By considering the various factors that have contributed towards the construction of the idea of Iran and the complex identity of Iranians themselves, Ali Ansari steers a clear path towards a more realistic understanding for us all.

See here for more information.

Interview: ایران شناسی یک پدیده جهانی است

«ایران شناسی یک پدیده جهانی است»

An interview in Persian with the Swedish scholar Ashk Dahlén on Iranian Studies. Read the interview at AVA Diplomatic.

The ancient world in an age of globalization

This is an important publication and the ancient Iranian world is represented through contributions by Panaino, Sadovski and Gariboldi.

Geller, Markham (ed.). 2014. Melammu: The ancient world in an age of globalization (Proceedings 7). Edition Open Access.

The present Melammu volume extends from Greece to India, with articles on Phrygia and Armenia, also viewing texts from ancient Israel, Egypt, and Mesopotamia. The globalization described in this volume extends over language barriers and literatures, showing how texts as well as goods can travel between societies and regions. This collection of papers offer new insights and perspectives into connections between the Mediterranean World, Mesopotamia, Anatolia, Persia and India.

The book is available for download.

Cosmopolitanism in the Tang dynasty

Since most of this week’s posts relate to Eastern Iranian regions, I thought I would also post this announcement for a forthcoming publication by Valenstein, who has previously published Cultural Convergence in the Northern Qi Period: A flamboyant Chinese ceramic container. The forthcoming volume was already announced in 2012, but publication seems to now be imminent:

Valenstein, Suzanne. 2014. Cosmopolitanism in the Tang dynasty: A Chinese ceramic figure of a Sogdian wine-merchant. Los Angeles: Bridge21 Publications. Distributed by Transaction Publishers in Piscataway, NJ.

Infrastructure and distribution in ancient economies

International Congress

Infrastructure and Distribution
in Ancient Economies

The Flow of Money, Goods and Services

Austrian Academy of Sciences, Vienna
28–31 October 2014

Section 3 is dedicate to ‘Ancient Iranian Economies’. For the list of participants, programme and abstracts, see the conference website.

A predominantly bibliographic blog for Iranian Studies