Tag Archives: Irano-Judaica

New Perspectives on Late Antique Iran and Iraq

Pregill, Michael (ed.). 2018. New perspectives on late antique Iran and Iraq. Mizan. Journal for the Study of Muslim Societies and Civilizations 3(1).

Aramaic incantation bowl from Sasanian Babylonia, 4th-7th c., currently held in the collection of the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology & Anthropology (B2945; courtesy Penn Museum Blog)

This volume of the peer-reviewed, open access Mizan: Journal for the Study of Muslim Societies and Civilizations presents several articles (and a provocative postscript) centering on the theme of “New Perspectives on Late Antique Iran and Iraq.” The articles featured here originated with a pair of conference panels convened in 2016. The first was held during the summer of 2016 at the Eleventh Biennial Iranian Studies Conference at the University of Vienna, August 2–5, 2016; the second followed in the fall of that year, convened during the 50th Anniversary Annual Meeting of the Middle East Studies Association held in Boston, November 17–20, 2016.

ToC
– Touraj Daryaee: “How the Sasanians Saw the Late Antique World: A Persianate View of the Interconnectedness of Eurasia”
– Isabel Toral-Niehoff: “Al-Ḥīra: An Arab Late Antique Metropolis in Sasanian Iraq”
– Shai Secunda: “East LA: Margin and Center in Late Antiquity Studies and the New Irano-Talmudica”
– Teresa Bernheimer: “The Revolt of Qaṭarī b. al-Fujāʿa (d. 79/698) and the Kharijite Revolts of Early Islamic Iran: Social Change between Late Antiquity and Early Islam”
– Rahim Shayegan: “On Diachrony in Sasanian Studies”
– Jason Mokhtarian: “Religious Polemics in Sasanian Writings”
– Thomas Carlson: “The Long Shadow of Sasanian Christianity: The Limits of Iraqi Islamization to 950”
– Mimi Hanaoka: “Authority and Identity in Early Medieval Persianate Islamic Historiography: Methologies for Reading Hybrid Identities and Imagined Histories”

On Yaakov Elman

Perpetual Motion: Shai Secunda on Yaakov Elman, who passed away on July 29, 2018.

Reinventing Mosaic Torah in the Light of the Law of Ahura Mazdā and Zarathustra

Leningrad Codex text sample, portions of Exodus 15:21-16:3

Kiel, Yishai. 2017. Reinventing Mosaic Torah in Ezra-Nehemiah in the light of the law (dāta) of Ahura Mazda and Zarathustra. Journal of Biblical Literature 136(2). 323–345.

In this study I examine the linguistic and theological contours of the term (tôrâ) in Ezra-Nehemiah—particularly the identification of with the law () of God promulgated by Ezra (Ezra 7:14)—through the lens of Old Persian and Avestan notions of “the law set down (dāta)” by Ahura Mazda and revealed through Zarathustra. While the basic notion of divine revelation of laws through the mediation of Moses emerges already in preexilic biblical texts, I posit that the innovative link drawn by the authors of Ezra-Nehemiah between the Old Persian and Avestan term dāta (via Aramaic ) and the Hebrew reflects a broader and more comprehensive impact of Avestan traditions, mediated by Achaemenid ideology, on the construction and conceptualization of Mosaic in Ezra-Nehemiah. Weighing in on the ongoing debate over the range of imperial authorization of local legislation and cult in Judea, Egypt, and Asia Minor, I argue that the Achaemenids, who were probably involved in certain aspects of the codification and canonization of textual, legal, and theological manifestations of Zoroastrianism, functioned as agents (whether actively or passively) in facilitating and reinforcing the adaptation by the Babylonian-Judean scribes of Avestan notions of divine revelation of the law and scriptural unity linked to personal authority.

A Jewish Convert to Imāmī Šīʿism

Halft, Dennis. 2017. Ismāʿīl Qazvīnī: A twelfth/eighteenth-century Jewish convert to Imāmī Šīʿism and his critique of Ibn Ezra’s commentary on the four kingdoms (Daniel 2:31-45). In Miriam Lindgren Hjälm (ed.), Senses of scripture, treasures of tradition: The Bible in Arabic among Jews, Christians and Muslims (Biblia Arabica 5), 280–304. Leiden: Brill.

Abstract of the article:

This study explores the previously unstudied anti-Jewish Persian polemic Anbāʾ al-anbiyāʾ by the Jewish convert to Twelver Šīʿī Islam, Ismāʿīl Qazvīnī, the father of Ḥāǧǧī Bābā Qazvīnī Yazdī. It examines Ismāʿīl Qazvīnī’s discussion of a medieval Jewish controversy concerning the four-kingdom schema in the book of Daniel and Ibn Ezra’s interpretation of the dream-vision in favor of Islam as the fourth kingdom. The study shows that Ismāʿīl Qazvīnī, besides his reference to Muslim works in Persian, relied on different (partly printed) Jewish textual sources in the original Hebrew and Aramaic (Miqraʾot Gedolot, Neḇuʾat ha-yeled, Sefer haš-šorašim, Sefer Josippon), from which he quoted in his own Persian translation/adaptation. He thus made internal Jewish debates accessible to native Muslim scholars, such as Mullā ʿAlī Nūrī, who borrowed from Anbāʾ al-anbiyāʾ. Ismāʿīl Qazvīnī was a cross-cultural intermediary and go-between who expanded the traditional range of Šīʿī polemical arguments against Judaism in pre-modern Iran.

Continue reading A Jewish Convert to Imāmī Šīʿism

Household and Family Religion in Persian-Period Judah

Gallarreta, Jose E. Balcells. 2017. Household and Family Religion in Persian-Period Judah: An Archaeological Approach (Ancient Near East Monographs 18), SBL Press.

Balcells Gallarreta investigates the ritual artifacts from Persian period Tell en-Nasbeh in their original contexts, as a case study that provides a deeper understanding of the religious ideas and practices of households in Persian period Judah. Unlike previous scholarship that focused on official or state religion, he utilizes archaeology of religion and domestic contexts to reveal the existence of household religion and rituals in Persian period Tell en-Nasbeh, along with other contemporary sites in Yehud. Archaeological data from Tell en-Nasbeh and other sites in the Shephelah region of Yehud demonstrate that family and household rituals and religion were practiced in Persian period Judah.

José E. Balcells Gallarreta is Assistant Professor at Universidad Interamericana de Puerto Rico, where he focuses on Hebrew Bible and Near Eastern archaeology.

Sexual Desire in Jewish, Christian and Zoroastrian Ethics

Reżā ʿAbbāsī (1570-1635). Deatil of Two Lovers (A.H. 1039 A.H./1630 A.D.)
Reżā ʿAbbāsī (1570-1635). Deatil of Two Lovers (A.H. 1039 A.H./1630 A.D.)

Kiel, Yishai. 2016. Dynamics of Sexual Desire: Babylonian Rabbinic Culture at the Crossroads of Christian and Zoroastrian Ethics. Journal for the Study of Judaism 47. 1–47.

The article examines the inherently dialectical view of sexuality reflected in Babylonian rabbinic culture, which differentiates the sexual act, consisting of the indivisible elements of procreation and sexual gratification, from notions of sexual desire. On the one hand, the Babylonian Talmud accentuates the relative role of both male and female sexual gratification in the sexual act, but, on the other hand, it expresses a pessimistic view of the sexual urge, which is reified as part and parcel of the demonic realm. This dialectical perception is resolved in Babylonian rabbinic culture through a paradoxical mechanism that seeks to extinguish sexual desire via marital sex. The article situates different aspects of this distinctive construction of sexual desire in the context of contemporaneous Christian and Zoroastrian views. First, the Babylonian rabbinic mechanism is contextualized with the Pauline view of marital sex as a therapy for those “aflame with passion” (1 Cor 7:9) and its reception in patristic literature. Second, the Babylonian rabbinic dialectic of sex and desire is viewed in the light of a similar bifurcated perception evident in the Pahlavi tradition: while Zoroastrianism advocated full-fledged marital relationships from its very inception, an important strand in the Pahlavi tradition expresses an ambiguous view of sexual desire, which is linked in various ways to the demonic sphere.
The article is here online available .

Irano-Talmudica

persian-talmud-1423640093In the recently published issue of the Jewish Quarterly Review, four contributions explore different aspects of Talmudic scholarship in its late antique Iranian context (Irano-Talmudica) . The study of the Babylonian Talmud, or Bavli, a crucial part of the Jewish canon since the Middle Ages, has gained fresh and advanced perspectives over the last two decades. In part, this new approach is the result of the scholars’ insights into the Talmud’s Iranian background as a text reflecting the inter-cultural dynamics between the Jews and their Zoroastrian neighbours under the Sasanian Empire.


Brody, Robert. 2016. Irano-Talmudica: The New Parallelomania? Jewish Quarterly Review 106(2). 209–232.

Among Talmudists, there has been an explosion of interest over the last fifteen or twenty years in exploring the significance of the Talmud’s Iranian background for the interpretation (on several levels) of the Bavli. This work, spearheaded by Yaakov Elman, represents an attempt to redress the imbalance between the contextual study of the Babylonian Talmud and of Palestinian rabbinic literature. Students of Palestinian rabbinic works have made extensive use for well over a century of literary and other sources of knowledge concerning the late ancient Greek-speaking world in order to illuminate numerous facets of the literature produced by Palestinian rabbis in this period; by comparison, little has been done on the Babylonian/Iranian front. There are of course objective reasons for this disparity—including the much more limited source material available for the study of Sasanian Iraq—but Elman and those he has inspired have been doing their best to overcome these obstacles.

Secunda, Shai. 2016. “This, but Also That”: Historical, Methodological, and Theoretical Reflections on Irano-Talmudica. Jewish Quarterly Review 106(2). 233–241.

Some fifteen years ago, Yaakov Elman and a handful of young talmudists embarked on a major effort to correct a scholarly lacuna, namely, the dearth of talmudic studies that take the Bavli’s Sasanian context seriously into account. The history of scholarship has been recounted time and again, but the primary point bears repeating. Unlike researchers of Palestinian rabbinic literature who have consistently aspired to read rabbinic texts alongside classical literature and the archaeological record of Roman Palestine, for decades most scholars of the Babylonian Talmud did not so much as glance at Sasanian literary or material remains. Working against the clock, as it were, scholars of Irano-Talmudica have already made important advances by laying the groundwork for a contextualized study of talmudic law in its Sasanian milieu, offering new readings of talmudic narrative and myth in light of Iranian parallels, and suggesting novel understandings of Babylonian rabbinic ritual against neighboring non-Jewish ritual systems.

Kalmin, Richard. 2016. The Bavli, the Roman East, and Mesopotamian Christianity. Jewish Quarterly Review 106(2). 242–247.

Scholarly study of the Persian nexus of the Bavli began approximately a century and a half ago, but this study has entered a new stage of methodological rigor and sophistication during the past two decades. In the tremendous enthusiasm for the study of Bavli in its Persian context, however, some scholars have forgotten the obvious point that it is essential to use all of the cultural contexts at our disposal. The ensuing discussion suggests a few areas where that study is already ongoing and has yielded important results and would greatly benefit from additional research. One very promising area of comparative study of the Bavli is the literature of the Mesopotamian neighbors of the Babylonian rabbis, the Syriac-speaking Christians.

Gross, Simcha M. 2016. Irano-Talmudica and Beyond: Next Steps in the Contextualization of the Babylonian Talmud. Jewish Quarterly Review 106(2). 248–252.

Traditional scholarly study of the Babylonian Talmud has largely ignored the work’s historical context. The underlying presumption of most scholarship was that the Bavli was the product of a reified rabbinic culture, with Palestinian rabbinic literature as its antecedent and geonic literature as its successor, and that the Babylonian rabbis were themselves an ideologically and culturally insular elite. In recent years, however, a school of scholarship, sometimes called “Irano-Talmudica,” sought to give historical context to the Bavli and its rabbis, challenging the presumed insularity of the Babylonian rabbis. This has proved to be a critical turn in the field. This drive to contextualize the Babylonian Talmud has begun to emerge from its infancy, raising a number of new questions: What are the most apt and fruitful sources and materials? Which methodology is most promising? What is the potential payoff for scholars investigating these sources? The answer to any one of these questions has an impact on the others.

Zoroastrianism in the Levant

Abouzayd, Shafiq (ed.). 2014. Zoroastrianism in the Levant: Proceedings of conferences held in 2010 & 2012. ARAM 26(1).

Table of contents:

Patricia Crone: “Pre-existence in Iran: “Zoroastrians, ex-Christians Mu‘tazilites, and Jews on the human acquisition of bodies”

Oktor Skjærvø & Yaakov Elman: “Concepts of pollution in late Sasanian Iran. Does pollution need stairs, and dose it fill space?”

Maria Macuch: “The case against Mār Abā, the Catholicos, in the light of Sasanian law”

Sara Kuehn: “The dragon fighter: The influence of Zoroastrian ideas on Judaeo-Christian and Islamic iconography”

Geoffrey Herman: “Like a slave before his master: A Persian gesture of deference in Sasanian, Jewish, and Christian sources”

Michał Gawlikowski: “Zoroastrian echoes in the Mithraeum at Hawarte, Syria”

Vicente Dobroruka: “Zoroastrian apocalyptic and Hellenistic political propaganda”

Dan D.Y. Shapira: “Pahlavi Fire, Bundahishn 18”

Matteo Compareti: “The representation of Zoroastrian divinities in late Sasanian art and their description according to Avestan literature”

Bahman Moradian: “The day of Mihr, the month of Mihr and the ceremony of Mihrized in Yazd”

Ezio Albrile: “Hypnotica Iranica: Zoroastrian ecstasy in the West”

Andrew D. Magnusson: “On the origins of the prophet Muhammad’s charter to the family of Salman Al-Farisi”

Predrag Bukovec: “The soul’s judgement in Mandaeism: Iranian influences on Mandaean afterlife”

Daphna Arbel: “On human’s elevation, hubris, and fall from glory. Traditions of Yima/Jamshid and Enochmetatron – an indirect cultural dialogue?”

Vicente Dobroruka: “The order of metals in Daniel 2 and in Persian apocalyptic”

Myriam Wissa: “Pre-Islamic topos in Dhu’l-Nūn Al-Misrī’s teaching: A re-assessment of the Egyptian roots of the knowledge of the name of god and their interaction with Zoroastrianism in the Achaemenid period ”

David H. Sick: “The choice of Xerxes: A Zoroastrian interpretation of Herodotus 7.12-18”

Judeo-Persian Literature

Iran Name 1,2Iran Nameh, New Series, Volume 1, Number 2 (Summer 2016)

The second issue of Iran Nameh, New Series, Volume 1, Number 2 (Summer 2016), a memorial volume in honour of Professor Amnon Netzer (1934-2008), the Iranian-Jewish historian and researcher of Iranian Jewry and Judeo-Persian Literature is published. The volume comprises bilingual Persian and English contributions on different aspects of Judeo-Persian Literature and Iranian Jewry.

Table of Contents

Continue reading Judeo-Persian Literature

Iranian Jews in Israel

Cecolin, Alessandra. 2015.Iranian Jews in Israel: Between Persian Cultural Identity and Israeli Nationalism. (Library of Modern Middle East Studies). London: I.B. Tauris.
Since the establishment of the State of Israel in May 1948, more than 40,000 Iranian Jews have moved to Israel, with the last big wave arriving after the Iranian Revolution of 1978/79. As the governments of these two states continue to display animosity towards each other, an examination of the Jews of Iran who now live in Israel provides important insights into the nature of the relationship between these two key countries in the Middle East. Alessandra Cecolin combines a historical approach to the patterns of Iranian Jewish emigration to Israel with a political analysis of Iranian-Israeli relations, exploring how the political and diplomatic interactions between the two have shaped the processes of emigration and integration of Iranian Jewry in Israel. In this book she explores how this community is often caught between a Persian cultural identity and Israeli nationality, and draws out the implications this has both for the community in Israel and for the wider region.
About the Ahuthor
Alessandra Cecolin (PhD 2013) is a scholar of Jewish history in the Department of History, Goldsmiths, University of London.