On the office of hu-dēnān pēšōbāy

Rezania, Kianoosh. 2023. On the concept of leadership and the office of Leader of the Zoroastrians (hu-dēnān pēšōbāy) in Abbasid Zoroastrianism. Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies. 1–36.

Like many other religions, Zoroastrianism frequently restructured its priestly organization during its long history, largely because of the environmental changes to which it was exposed. A major shift in status – from being the state religion in the Sasanian Empire to holding only a minor position in the early Islamic period – challenged the Zoroastrian hierarchy of authority. The Abbasid state provided Zoroastrianism with an opportunity to initiate a new office, which was called hu-dēnān pēšōbāy “Leader of the Zoroastrians”. This article is the first to deal with this office in detail and scrutinizes the concept of leadership (pēšōbāyīh) in Sasanian and Abbasid Zoroastrianism. It sheds some light on the priestly structure of Zoroastrianism in this period and investigates the position of the office within the overall religious organization. It re-examines, moreover, evidence for the officiating Zoroastrian theologians in this office at the Abbasid court in Baghdad. Finally, it searches for the parallels between this office and that of the East-Syrian catholicos and the Jewish exilarch.

Abstract from FirstView

Islamic Transformations of the Classical Past

Casagrande-Kim, Roberta, Samuel Thrope & Julia Rubanovich (eds.). 2018. Romance and reason: Islamic transformations of the classical past. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Within a century of the Arab Muslim conquest of vast territories in the Middle East and North Africa, Islam became the inheritor of the intellectual legacy of classical antiquity. In an epochal cultural transformation between the eighth and tenth centuries CE, most of what survived in classical Greek literature and thought was translated from Greek into Arabic. This translation movement, sponsored by the ruling Abbasid dynasty, swiftly blossomed into the creative expansion and reimagining of classical ideas that were now integral parts of the Islamic tradition.

Romance and Reason, a lavishly illustrated catalogue accompanying the exhibition of the same name at New York University’s Institute for the Study of the Ancient World, explores the breadth and depth of Islamic engagement with ancient Greek thought. Drawing on manuscripts and artifacts from the collections of the National Library of Israel and prominent American institutions, the catalogue’s essays focus on the portrayal of Alexander the Great as ideal ruler, mystic, lover, and philosopher in Persian poetry and art, and how Islamic medicine, philosophy, and science contended with and developed the classical tradition.

Contributors include Roberta Casagrande-Kim, Leigh Chipman, Steven Harvey, Y. Tzvi Langermann, Rachel Milstein, Julia Rubanovich, Samuel Thrope, and Raquel Ukeles.


Norouz in the Abbasid Literary Sources

Norouz in Abbasid SourcesBorroni, Massimiliano & Simone Cristoforetti. 2016. An Index of Nayrūz Occurences in Abbasid Literary Sources. Phasar Edizioni.

This volume is the result of a two-years research project entirely funded by Ca’ Foscari University of Venice in 2012. The project focused on an exhaustive indexing of all edited Arabic sources mentioning the festival of Nayrūz (Nawrūz) in the Abbasid age (750-1258 CE). The preference given here to the Arabic form Nayrūz for the name of the first day of the Iranian traditional solar year is in agreement with the majority of the literary sources in Arabic language of the Abbasid period.



Central Asia and the Persianate World

Peacock, Andrew C. S. & D. G. Tor (eds.). 2015. Medieval Central Asia and the Persianate world: Iranian tradition and Islamic civilisation. (I.B.Tauris & BIPS Persian Studies Series 7). London: I.B.Tauris.

From the political dissolution of the Abbasid Caliphate in the mid-ninth century to the beginning of the thirteenth century, the Persianate dynasties of Islamic Central Asia constituted the political and military stronghold of Sunni Islam. It was in this region, historically known as Khurasan and Transoxiana, that many of the important religious and cultural developments of Islamic civilisation took place.

The region first gave rise to the Abbasid Revolution, provided the troops for its success, and supplied the military slaves and auxiliaries that led to its political dissolution. From the second part of the ninth century and for the ensuing 400 years, the Sunni Persianate dynasties formed the mainstay of Islamic military might over the Islamic heartland, from India to Egypt.

The period was also characterised by the cultural dominance of the Persian-speaking court, bringing about the acceptance of classical Persian as the second primary Islamic language of high culture. It produced the writing of many of Islamic civilisation’s greatest works of poetry, philosophy, biography, history, belles-lettres and religion, in both Arabic and Persian. This volume explores the origins and nature of this cultural and political authority and sheds light on one of the most formative yet unexplored eras of Islamic history.

About the Editors:

A.C.S. Peacock is Lecturer in Middle Eastern History at the University of St Andrews.

D.G. Tor is Assistant Professor of Medieval Middle Eastern History at the University of Notre Dame.


Samarkand and Soghd During the Abbasid Period: Political and Social History

Karev, Yuri. 2015. Samarqand et le Sughd à l’époque ‘abbasside: Histoire politique et sociale. (Cahiers de Studia Iranica 55). Paris. Peeters.

During the Abbasid period (750-820), the vast territories beyond the Amu Darya river (the Mawara’annahr), conquered by the Umayyad generals in the first half of the eighth century, entered definitively into the cultural sphere of Islam. The comparative analysis of medieval Arabic, Persian, and Chinese sources, supplemented by materials from unpublished manuscripts, as well as the latest results yielded by archaeological excavations at Samarkand, have made it possible to establish a fine-grained chronology of this turning point in the history of Central Asia. Examined in this new light are complex and irreversible processes that resulted in a changed political and religious fabric, transformations of the Sogdian and Muslim elite, and the evolution of the state’s system of controlling territories on its borders, within a context of confrontations and diplomatic relations between the caliphate, the Tang empire in China, and the Turks.

For more information, see the Table of Contents of this volume.


Books as material and symbolic artifacts in religious book cultures

Books as Material and Symbolic Artifacts in Religious Book CulturesBooks as Material and Symbolic Artifacts in Religious Book Cultures

Käte Hamburger Kolleg, Center for Religious Studies, Ruhr University Bochum: 28 & 29 May 2015

The Käte Hamburger Kolleg Workshop on Books as Material and Symbolic Artifacts in Religious Book Cultures will analyze the connections between books and manuscripts as material artifacts and the formation of religious book cultures before the printing era. It will also explore the ways in which, in religious book production, the medium, in its forms of “human and institutional interactions,” influences the transmission of the religious message, allowing for the material format to receive further alterations from the religious message itself. Finally, this workshop will investigate interactions between modern religious groups and the very academic books which describe them.

Programm of The KHK Workshop on Books as Religious Artifacts (May 28-29, 2015)

Thursday, 28 May 2015

  • Costantino Moretti (Paris): “Non-Textual Uses in Buddhist Medieval China”
  • Grégoire Espesset (Bochum): “Petitioning in Pre-Modern Taoist Liturgy”
  • Vladimir Glomb (Bochum): “Sagehood for Young Boys: Confucian Primers in Traditional Korea”
  • Shervin Farridnejad (Berlin): “The Zoroastrian “Holy Book”: The Understanding and Construction of the Avesta as a Book in Zoroastrian Tradition and Oriental Studies”
  • Kianoosh Rezania (Bochum): “The Zoroastrian “Pahlavi Book”: The Genesis of the Dēnkard in the Early Abbasid Period”
  • Marie Efthymiou (Aix-Marseille): “Suras Collections in Central Asia: From Manuscripts Used in Daily Devotions to Teaching Subject in Quranic Schools”

Friday, 29 May 2015

  • Ksenia Pimenova (Bochum): “Ethnographers, Their Books, and Their Shamans: The Scripturalization of Post-Soviet Tuvan Shamanism”
  • Mareile Haase (Bochum): “The Zagreb Mummy Wrappings: An Etruscan Linen Book from Egypt”
  • AnneMarie Luijendijk (Princeton): “Put them in an earthenware jar, in order that they may last for a long time (Jer. 32:14): On Saving and Discarding Sacred Books”
  • Flavia Ruani (Ghent): “Books of Protection, Books of Perdition: Book Imagery in Ephrem the Syrian’s Heresiology”
  • Eduard Iricinschi (Bochum): “No one in Rome really has time to attend readings (Pliny, Letters, 3.18.4): The Anxiety of Publishing Books in Late Antiquity”