Special Issue "Tracing Iranian Influences in the Religions of Ancient Iran"
A special issue of Religions (ISSN 2077-1444).
Deadline for manuscript submissions: 1 August 2019
Iran has been a fertile region for religious activity dating back thousands of years. In the pre-Islamic period the rise of successive empires, especially the Persian Achaemenids (553-330 B.C.E.) and Sasanians (224-651 C.E.), ruled over diverse populations in territories stretching from Mesopotamia to India. In addition to being the birthplace of both ancient and modern religions, such as Zoroastrianism and Baha’ism, Iran has also been a homeland for and purveyor of many non-Iranian religions, including Judaism, Christianity, Manichaeism, Mandaeism, Islam, and Buddhism. Nevertheless, while scholars often acknowledge the importance of Iranian civilization in the history of these religions, they face a complex set of issues when trying to reconstruct traces of Iranian or Persian influences within them. In short, what impact did ancient Iranian culture, religion, and politics have on these resident religions in Iran, and how can scholars effectively research this question?
With differing levels of success, scholars in the past century have posited all sorts of answers to these questions. In some cases, the attempt is driven by a maximalist or western-colonial desire to unearth the foreign (i.e., Iranian) elements that altered or tainted the original religion under study. In the case of Persian or Zoroastrian influences on Judaism, there has been no shortage of studies—from biblical books like Ezekiel to the dualistic ideas in the Dead Sea Scrolls to the Iranization of the Babylonian Talmud (e.g., see Grabbe 2004; Shaked 1984; Barr 1985; Elman 2007). Although given less attention, the topics of Iranian Christianity and Irano-Manichaeism have been explored in depth as well (Labourt 1904; Asmussen 1983; Skjærvø 1995). For their part, experts in Islam have shown the tantalizing possibilities for further research on the legacy of Sasanian-Zoroastrian culture in early Islamic societies (Kennedy 2009). Finally, the Iranian context of Buddhism demonstrates the strong affinities between Iran and India (Scott 1990). One can add still other groups to this list, including dualists, pagans, and gnostics, such as the Mandaeans, as well as popular magic.
Although historically ancient Iranology has been a relatively inaccessible field to non-specialists, there is a new wave of scholarship that reverses this trend while also using up-to-date methods regarding the study of influences. Building upon some of these recent trends, the purpose of this special edition of the journal is to critically engage the question of influence as it relates to ancient Iranian civilization, broadly defined as any time period between the Achaemenid and early Islamic periods (ca. 6th B.C.E-10th C.E.). The volume welcomes submissions from experts in any discipline with a stake in the topic and encourages reflection on relevant methodological issues. Broadly articulated, the following list represents examples of questions that authors may wish to explore—
- How did the policies, laws, and institutions of the Achaemenid, Parthian, and Sasanian empires shape the non-Zoroastrian religions that resided under their rule?
- To what extent did Zoroastrianism leave an imprint on other religions in antiquity?
- To what extent did the resident religions of ancient Iran accommodate versus resist Persian culture, politics, and religion?
- What is the religious significance and outcome of Iranian-Semitic interactions?
- What are some effective methods that scholars can use to research Iranian influences on non-Iranian religions?
- What do the sources and study of ancient Iran offer scholars in overlapping areas of expertise?
- J.P. Asmussen, “Christians in Iran,” in The Cambridge History of Iran, Volume 3(2), The Seleucid, Parthian and Sasanian Periods, ed. Ehsan Yarshater (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1983), 924-48.
- James Barr, “The Question of Religious Influence: the case of Zoroastrianism, Judaism, and Christianity,” Journal of the American Academy of Religion 53 (1985): 201–235.
- Lester L. Grabbe, A History of the Jews and Judaism in the Second Temple Period, Volume 1—Yehud: A History of the Persian Province of Judah (New York: T&T Clark International, 2004), esp. “Appendix: The Question of Persian Influence on Jewish Religion and Thought,” 361-64.
- Hugh Kennedy, “Survival of Iranianness,” in The Rise of Islam, The Idea of Iran, Volume IV, eds. Vesta Sarkhosh Curtis and Sarah Stewart (New York: I.B. Tauris, 2009), 13-29.
- J. Labourt, La Christianisme dans l’empire perse sous la dynastie sassanide (224-632) (Paris, 1904).
- David Alan Scott, “The Iranian Face of Buddhism,” East and West 40 (1990): 43-77.
- Shaul Shaked, “Iranian Influence on Judaism: First Century B.C.E. to Second Century C.E.,” in The Cambridge History of Judaism, Volume 1, Introduction; the Persian Period, eds. W.D. Davies and L. Finkelstein (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984), 308-25.
- P. O. Skjærvø. “Iranian Elements in Manicheism. A Comparative Contrastive Approach. Irano-Manichaica I,” in Au carrefour des religions. Mélanges offerts à Philippe Gignoux, ed. Rika Gyselen (Leuven: Peeters Press, 1995): 263-85.
Prof. Dr. Jason Mokhtarian
Manuscript Submission Information
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- Ancient Iran/Persia
- Iranian religions
- Achaemenid empire
- Parthian empire
- Sasanian empire
- question of influence