Der Islam 97 (2)

Among other interesting papers published in the latest issue of Der Islam, 97 (2), two contributions fall in the scope of Iranian Studies:

  • Sebastian Bitsch: Sengende Hitze, Eiseskälte oder Mond? Zum Echo zoroastrischer eschatologischer Vorstellungen am Beispiel des koranischen zamharīr

Abstract: This article discusses eventual Qurʾānic allusions to Zoroastrian texts by using the example of zamharīr (Q 76:13). In the early tafsīr and ḥadīth-literature the term is most commonly understood as a piercing cold, which has frequently been interpreted as a punishment in hell. This idea, it is argued, has significant parallels to the concept of cold as a punishment in hell or to the absence of cold as a characteristic of paradise in the Avestan and Middle-Persian literature. In addition, Christian and Jewish texts that emphasize a similar idea and have not been discussed in research so far are brought into consideration. The article thus aims to contribute to the inclusion of Zoroastrian texts in locating the genesis of the Qurʾān – or early Islamic exegesis – in the “epistemic space ” of late antiquity.

  • Gregor Schoeler: The “National Amnesia” in the Traditional History of Iran

Abstract: It is well known that the pre-Islamic “national history” of Iran (i. e., the indigenous secular historical tradition, transmitted orally over many centuries) knows nothing at all, or as good as nothing, about the dynasties and empires of the Medes, Achaemenids, Seleucids, and Parthians (ca. 700 BCE–226 CE). It is first with the Sasanians (226‒651 CE) that Iran’s “national history” evinces more detailed knowledge. Instead of reports on the historical Medes and Achaemenid dynasties, accounts of mythical and legendary dynasties, the Pīšdādians and Kayānians, are found.

In this essay, an attempt will be made to explain this “gap” in the pre-Islamic historical tradition, this “strange historical (or national) amnesiaˮ (Ehsan Yarshater) in the cultural memory of the Iranians, with the help of a theory on the structure and modality of oral tradition, based on field research, by the Belgian historian and anthropologist Jan Vansina. The structure in question concerns a tripartite perception of the past: a wealth of information about antiquity (traditions of origin or creation and reports on culture heroes) – plenty of information, too, on the recent and most recent times – and lying between them, a “gap” in the accounts. Vansina described this phenomenon as the “hourglass effect.” This is exactly the narrative structure of Iranian national history; it is evident that the Achaemenids and the other pre-Christian dynasties fall into the “gap” described by Vansina.

The same phenomenon can also be detected on the level of Sasanian history. We find there a plethora of information on the founder of the dynasty, Ardašīr (reigned 226‒241 CE); meanwhile, very few details are known of the kings following Ardašīr, and it is only as of Kavād I (reigned 488‒496 and 499‒531 CE) that we have outstanding historical information.