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Publications

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.

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Publications

The last ruling woman of Ērānšhahr

Daryaee, Touraj. 2014. The last ruling woman of Ērānšahr: Queen Āzarmīgduxt. International Journal of the Society of Iranian Archaeologists 1(1). 77–81.

Read the article here.

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Publications

Building a new vision of the past in the Sasanian Empire

Canepa, Matthew. 2013. Building a new vision of the past in the Sasanian Empire: The sanctuaries of Kayānsīh and the great fires of Iran. Journal of Persianate Studies 6. 64–90.

This article analyzes how Zoroastrian holy sites as celebrated in the Avesta or elaborated in later, related traditions, emerged as important architectural and ritual centers in late antiquity. Instead of ancient foundations whose details were lost in the depths of time, this paper argues that some of the holiest sanctuaries of the Zoroastrian religion, including Ādur Gušnasp, Ādur Farnbāg, Ādur Burzēn-Mihr, Ādur Karkōy and Lake Kayānsīh, emerged no earlier than the Arsacid era, and were actively manipulated and augmented by the Sasanian dynasty.

Read the article here.

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Publications

To convert a Persian

Kiperwasser, Reuven. 2014. To convert a Persian and to teach him the holy scriptures: A Zoroastrian proselyte in Rabbinic and Syriac Christian narratives. In Geoffrey Herman (ed.), Jews, Christians and Zoroastrians: Religious dynamics in a Sasanian context, 91–127. Gorgias Press.

Read the article here.

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Publications

Review: The Iranian Talmud

Hezser, Catherine. 2014. Review of Shai Secunda: The Iranian Talmud. Reading the Bavli in its Sasanian context. Theologische Literaturzeitung 139(7/8). 867–869.

Catherine Hezser, SOAS, has reviewed Shai Secunda’s excellent The Iranian Talmud. The last paragraph of the review says it all:

This relatively short (the body of text has 146 pages only) but excellent and methodologically careful discussion sums up previous approaches to studying the Bavli contextually and constitutes the basis of all future comparative studies. The book will interest not only Talmudists and historians of ancient Judaism but also scholars of Iranian history and Zoroastrian religion and scholars and students of early Christianity.

Read the review here.

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Publications

Review: Remembering and forgetting the Persian past

Elizabeth Urban has reviewed Sarah Bowen Savant’s very important The New Muslims of Post-Conquest Iran: Tradition, Memory, and Conversion for Marginalia:

However, The New Muslims of Post-Conquest Iran will prove fascinating to anyone interested in identity narratives and how authors shape the past in the service of the present. Savant builds a bridge between the history of Persia and the memory of Persia, and atop this bridge we can clearly witness the inherent tension in any identity between the old and the new.

Read the full review here.

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Events

Secrecy and canonisation

Bahari Lecture Series: “Sasanian Iran in the Context of Late Antiquity”

20 May (Week 4)
Arash Zeini (University of St Andrews):
Secrecy and canonisation in Sasanian Iran: A scholastic reading of the Zand

Tuesday at 5pm
Ioannou Centre for Classical & Byzantine Studies, 66 St Giles’, Oxford (OCLA)

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Events

Bahari lecture series

Sasanian Iran in the Context of Late Antiquity

Tuesdays of Weeks 2–9 of Trinity Term 2014 at 5pm
Ioannou Centre for Classical & Byzantine Studies, 66 St Giles’

The lectures are convened by Professor Touraj Daryaee and Professor Edmund Herzig and organised by the Oxford Centre for Late Antiquity (OCLA). The full programme is here.

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Events

The Sasanian Empire as a garden

The Sasanian Empire as a garden: The limits of Iranshahr

Speaker: Touraj Daryaee (University of California, Irvine)
Where: The British Institute of Persian Studies, London
When: 22 May 2014

Poster at the BIPS.

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Events

Public lecture II

02_Ardashir_investiture2. The Sasanian Empire and religious authority: The case of Zoroastrianism

As one of the major political and economic powers in the region, the Sasanian Empire (224–651 CE) elevated Zoroastrianism to the dominant religious and cultural force within its polity, bringing to the foreground the question of the interaction between religion and sovereignty in the Sasanian era. By providing an historical overview this lecture highlights the dynamics between political and religious authority during the Sasanian era.

Speaker: Arash Zeini
Where: University of St Andrews, School of Classics, Swallowgate, S11.
When: 07 May 2014, 17:30