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Zoroastrian Hermeneutics in Late Antiquity

Vevaina, Yuhan Sohrab-Dinshaw. 2024. Zoroastrian Hermeneutics in Late Antiquity. Commentary on the Sūdgar Nask of Dēnkard Book 9 (Iranica 32). Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag.

The Sūdgar Nask of Dēnkard Book 9 is one of the most enigmatic and yet fundamental texts of Zoroastrianism. It is a commentary on the ‘Old Avesta’ of the 2nd millennium BCE produced in Pahlavi (Zoroastrian Middle Persian) in the Sasanian (224–651 CE) and early Islamic centuries. This commentary purportedly based on earlier Pahlavi translations and commentaries of lost Young Avestan tractates commenting in turn on the ‘Old Avesta’ is a value-laden, ideologically motivated discourse that displays a rich panoply of tradition-constituted forms of allegoresis. This terse yet highly allusive text mobilizes complex forms of citation, allusion, and intertextuality from the inherited Avestan world of myth and ritual in order to engage with and react to the profound changes occurring in the relationships between theology, religious praxis, national identity, and imperial politics in Iranian society. Despite its value and importance for developing our nascent understanding of Zoroastrian hermeneutics and the self-conception of the Zoroastrian priesthood in Late Antiquity, this primary source has attracted scant scholarly attention due to the extreme difficulty of its subject matter and the lack of a reliable translation. Volume 32 serves as an intertextual commentary on this often-bewildering text. It contextualizes and historicizes the traditional intersignifications of the Sūdgar Nask which evince indigenous hermeneutical interventions that violate the ‘plain sense’ of meaning, thus challenging our philological approaches to understanding the archaic corpus of the ‘Old Avesta.’ Reading the Sūdgar Nask is a hermeneutic process of traversing texts, genres, and rituals in both the Avestan and Pahlavi corpora, thus activating nodes in a web or network of textual and meta-textual relations that establish new forms of allegoreses or meaning making. It is argued that this entire hermeneutical complex of weaving a ‘new’ text composed of implicit proof text and explicit commentary renews, extends, and, ultimately, makes tradition.

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The Achaemenids, the Black Sea and Beyond

Tsetskhladze, Gosha R. (eds.). 2023. The Achaemenids, the Black Sea and Beyond: New Evidence and Studies (Colloquia Antiqua, 40). Leuven: Peeters.

The Achaemenids, the Black Sea and Beyond, a short and well-illustrated volume, presents some of the papers due to have been presented at a small conference in Constanta in 2020 that became victim to the public policy response to Covid. It is dedicated to Alexandru Avram, one of the intended participants, who died before submitting his paper. The remaining nine papers, with a balance towards the northern and southern Black Sea, are supplemented by an introduction from the editor in the form of a cut and reworked paper of 2019 (the full version appeared in Ancient West and East); he too died before he could complete his proper introduction. Two deaths have given life to this volume. It may appear a little uneven in its coverage of the Black Sea’s four shores, but it is a child of circumstance. The abstracts of some, but not all, of those who did not submit papers are included as an appendix.

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Books

Gandharan Art and the Classical World

Stewart, Peter. 2024. Gandharan Art and the Classical World: A Short Introduction. Oxford: Archaeopress.

This book offers an introduction to Gandharan art and the mystery of its relationship with the Graeco-Roman world of the Mediterranean. It presents an accessible explanation of the ancient and modern contexts of Gandharan art, the state of scholarship on the subject, and guidance for further, in-depth study.

In the early centuries AD, the small region of Gandhara (centred on what is now northern Pakistan) produced an extraordinary tradition of Buddhist art which eventually had an immense influence across Asia. Mainly produced to adorn monasteries and shrines, Gandharan sculptures celebrate the Buddha himself, the stories of his life and the many sacred characters of the Buddhist cosmos. Since this imagery was rediscovered in the nineteenth century, one of its most fascinating and puzzling aspects is the extent to which it draws on the conventions of Greek and Roman art, which originated thousands of kilometres to the west.

Inspired by the Gandhara Connections project at Oxford University’s Classical Art Research Centre, this book offers an introduction to Gandharan art and the mystery of its relationship with the Graeco-Roman world of the Mediterranean. It presents an accessible explanation of the ancient and modern contexts of Gandharan art, the state of scholarship on the subject, and guidance for further, in-depth study.

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Byzantine ideas of Persia

Shukurov, Rustam. 2024. Byzantine ideas of Persia, 650–1461 (Global Histories before Globalisation). London: Routledge.

This book offers a comprehensive study into the perceptions of ancient and medieval Iran in the Byzantine empire, exploring the effects of Persian culture upon Byzantine intellectualism, society and culture.

Byzantine Ideas of Persia, 650-1461 focusses on the enduring position of ancient Persia in Byzantine cultural memory, encompassing both in the ‘religious’ and the ‘secular’ significance. By analysing a wide range of historical sources – from church literature to belles-lettres – this book examines the intricate relationship between ancient Persia and Byzantine cultural memory, as well as the integration and function of Persian motifs in the Byzantine mentality. Additionally, the author uses these sources to analyse thoroughly the knowledge Byzantines had about contemporary Iranian culture, the presence of ethnic Iranians, and the circulation and usage of the Persian language in Byzantium. Finally, this book concludes with an insightful exploration of the importance and influence of Iranian science on Byzantine scholars.

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Articles

Apocalyptic Eschatology and Empire in Sasanian Iran

Canepa, Matthew P. 2024. Envisioning dualism and emplacing the Eschaton: Apocalyptic eschatology and empire in Sasanian Iran. In Jörg Rüpke, Michal Biran & Yuri Pines (eds.), Empires and Gods: The Role of Religions in Imperial History (Imperial Histories: Eurasian Empires Compared), vol. 1, 135–174. Berlin: De Gruyter.

The Sasanian Empire (224–642 CE) was the last great Iranian empire to rule overWestern Asia before the coming of Islam. The empire was founded when Ardaxšīr I (r. 224 – ca. 242), a local ruler of Pārs and vassal to the Parthian king of kings, revolted from his overlord, Ardawān IV, defeating and killing him in the Battleof Hormozgān. Ending five centuries of Arsacid rule, Ardaxšīr I quickly took control of the Iranian plateau and Mesopotamia, expanding the empire and soon bringing him into conflict with the Romans. His son and successor Šābuhr I (r. 242–272) expanded the empire eastward into Northern India at the expense of the Kushan Empire and westward into Roman territory, raiding several importantRoman cities and deporting their inhabitants, including those of Antioch. By the late-sixth century CE the Sasanians had forged a centralized empire from theParthian Empire’s heterogenous network of crown lands, client kingdoms, semi-autonomous city-states, and aristocratic estates. Despite setbacks, the new powerful empire succeeded in contending with and often defeating the economic and military might of the Roman Empire, while resisting the military pressures of the steppe, and harnessing the economic forces of Eurasian trade. With mercantile networks that extended from the Persian Gulf to the South China Sea, the Empire of the Iranians exercised power over Mesopotamia, Iran, portions of the Caucasus,South and Central Asia, and briefly Egypt, Anatolia and even to the walls of Constantinople during the empire’s final apogee under Husraw II (r. 590–628). Over the course of late antiquity, Sasanian art, architecture, and court culture created a new dominant global aristocratic common culture in western Eurasia, beguiling theirRoman, South Asian, and Chinese contemporaries, and deeply imprinted the later Islamic world.

This chapter is available as an open access publication.
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Books

The Cambridge Companion to Alexander the Great

Ogden, Daniel (ed.). 2024. The Cambridge companion to Alexander the Great. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Has any ancient figure captivated the imagination of people over the centuries so much as Alexander the Great? In less than a decade he created an empire stretching across much of the Near East as far as India, which led to Greek culture becoming dominant in much of this region for a millennium. Here, an international team of experts clearly explains the life and career of one of the most significant figures in world history. They introduce key themes of his campaign as well as describing aspects of his court and government and exploring the very different natures of his engagements with the various peoples he encountered and their responses to him. The reader is also introduced to the key sources, including the more important fragmentary historians, especially Ptolemy, Aristobulus and Clitarchus, with their different perspectives. The book closes by considering how Alexander’s image was manipulated in antiquity itself.

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Articles

Avestan ī̆šti-

Musavi, Fatemeh. 2024. The Avestan ī̆šti- in Middle Persian texts. BSOAS FirstView.

Middle Persian translations and interpretations of Avestan texts employ the word īšt in the translation of the Avestan ī̆šti- “capability, capacity, competence”. The word became a vocabulary item in the Middle Persian corpus. It seems to be a calque of its Avestan counterpart. The Avestan ī̆šti- has presented challenges in the Avesta scholarship and is translated with words from different semantic domains. This article discusses the definition of Avestan ī̆šti- and how it is reinterpreted and understood in the Middle Persian translations. It is argued here that Av. ī̆šti- refers to “capability, capacity, and competence”. However, it is understood and interpreted in the MP texts as “wealth, property”, “remuneration”, or “reward”. It is sometimes translated to a verb form from xwāstan “desire, want”.

Abstract
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Books

The “Sūdgar Nask” of “Dēnkard” Book 9

Vevaina, Yuhan Sohrab-Dinshaw. 2023. The Sūdgar Nask of Dēnkard Book 9. Text, Translation and Critical Apparatus (Iranica 31). Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag.

The Sūdgar Nask of Dēnkard Book 9 is one of the most enigmatic and yet fundamental texts of Zoroastrianism. It is a commentary on the ‘Old Avesta’ of the 2nd millennium BCE produced in Pahlavi (Zoroastrian Middle Persian) in the Sasanian (224–651 CE) and early Islamic centuries. This commentary purportedly based on earlier Pahlavi translations and commentaries of lost Young Avestan tractates commenting in turn on the ‘Old Avesta’ is a value-laden, ideologically motivated discourse that displays a rich panoply of tradition-constituted forms of allegoresis. This terse yet highly allusive text mobilizes complex forms of citation, allusion, and intertextuality from the inherited Avestan world of myth and ritual in order to engage with and react to the profound changes occurring in the relationships between theology, religious praxis, national identity, and imperial politics in Iranian society. Despite its value and importance for developing our nascent understanding of Zoroastrian hermeneutics and the self-conception of the Zoroastrian priesthood in Late Antiquity, this primary source has attracted scant scholarly attention due to the extreme difficulty of its subject matter and the lack of a reliable translation. This volume represents the first critical edition and translation of this formidable text which will contribute to the philological, theological, and historiographical study of Zoroastrianism in a pivotal moment in its rich and illustrious history.

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Books

Central Asia 300-850

La Vaissière, Etienne de. 2024. Asie centrale 300-850: des routes et des royaumes. Paris: Belles lettres.

Central Asia forms the heart of medieval Eurasian trade, what is known, not entirely incorrectly, as the “Silk Road”. Caravans and conquerors, monks and artists all passed through Samarcand, Dunhuang or Bactria on their way from China to Byzantium or from Iran and India to the steppes. This was the era of the first globalisation, a thousand years before European expansion. But this history is in tatters, and at the height of these contacts, from the Huns’ raid in the fourth century AD to the end of the Tibetan empire and Islamisation in the ninth century, no work in any language had ever attempted to follow all the threads and patiently reweave the patterns.

Nomadic migrations and Buddhist art, great trade and the organisation of the State, Chinese colonisation and the Arab conquest, the history of climate, irrigation and demography, the birth of Persian and archaic globalisation, and many other themes: this summary offers a wide range of themes which it crosses and weaves into a complex but clear fabric. Using a wealth of maps and illustrations, it reconstructs a huge missing piece in the jigsaw puzzle of medieval Old World history. It is the product of twenty years of research, and draws on the most recent work, including scholarly studies of Arabic, Chinese, Iranian and Turkish texts, new discoveries of manuscripts and the results of the many archaeological excavations that have been carried out since the end of the USSR and the opening up of China’s economy. All the disciplines and tools of the historian are called upon to make this world intelligible and legible, while at the end, behind the scenes, another level of analysis is offered for those who, like the great merchants and pilgrim monks, would like to go further.

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Books

Navigating Language in the Early Islamic World

Borrut, Antoine, Manuela Ceballos and Alison Vacca (eds.). 2024. Navigating language in the early Islamic world: Multilingualism and language change in the first centuries of Islam (Interdisciplinary Studies in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance 2). Turnhout: Brepols.

Traditional accounts of Arabicization have often favoured linear narratives of language change instead of delving into the diversity of peoples, processes, and languages that informed the fate of Arabic in the early Islamic world. Using a wide range of case studies from the caliphal centres at Damascus and Baghdad to the provinces of Arabia, Egypt, Armenia, and Central Asia, Navigating Language reconsiders these prevailing narratives by analysing language change in different regions of the early Islamic world through the lens of multilingualism and language change. This volume complicates the story of Arabic by building on the work of scholars in Late Antiquity who have abundantly demonstrated the benefits of embracing multilingualism as a heuristic framework. The three main themes include imperial strategies of language use, the participation of local elites in the process of language change, and the encounters between languages on the page, in the markets, and at work. This volume brings together historians and art historians working on the interplay of Arabic and other languages during the early Islamic period to provide a critical resource and reference tool for students and scholars of the cultural and social history of language in the Near East and beyond.

Summary