The Greco-Iranian World and Its Religious Movements As Of c. 600 CE
2.2:Chapter2, On the Eve ofIslam (seemodel syllabus)
ISLAM: TWO ROOTSArabia (next session)Ancient Hellenistic-Iranian WorldBoth a break and a continuation of this world
IranAchaemenids(Hakhamanesh), c. 559-331 BCE- Cyrus (Kurush) the Great unites Medes and Persians, c. 559 BCE,- conquers Babylon, 539 BCEGreek dominance 331- c. 246 BCE - 651 CE- Alexander the Great destroys Persepolis, ends theAchaemenidDynasty.- Seleucid (successor Greek) dynasty, c. 323 BCE - c. 246 BCEParthianDynasty, c. 246 BCE - 227 CE. Gradual culturalPersianizingSasanianDynasty, 227 CE - 651 CE-Zorastrianism'refounded', made the state religion.- Continuing Struggles with the Roman/Byzantine empire.Muslims conquer Iran :- Battles ofQadesiyeh(637),Nahavand(642),- death ofYazdagerdIII, lastSassanianShah, 651.
Long term Iranian (re)assertation?Continuity of Political struggle into Islamic period:GreeksvsAchaemenidsRomanvsParthiansthenSasaniansByzantinesvsSasaniansthen MuslimsContinuity of Persian cultural assertion:- Hellenizing influence under Seleucids-Parthiansturned increasing to Iranian heritage-SasaniansnuturedIranian consciousness and Zoroastrian religion- Persian high culture submerged under Muslims for about two centuries- Then reasserts itself (see next chapter)
Zoroastrian ReligionMazdaism“The Good Religion”GoodEvilOrmazd(AhuraMazda, “The Wise Lord”)Ahriman(AngraMainyu,)Chooses good chooses evilAmeshaSpentas(6 Holy immortals)yazatasdivs(daevasWorld created byOrmazd(arena of struggle of GoodvsEvil)Humans (may choose good or evil)Shah (representsOrmazd)Rebels,enemiesPriests Heretics, etc.SaoshyantFinal Judgment
Kingship in IranOhrmazdbestows part of his sovereignty on the shah:- the king is a symbol of God;- royal power on the material plane parallels divine power on the spiritual plane.- royalkhvarenah(effulgence, blessing, fortune), probably related to the later Muslim idea of the Sultan as the Shadow of God on earth.“[If the shah rules well] The empire will prosper, the common people will be freed from fear and enjoy a good life, science will advance, culture will be looked after, good manners will be further refined, and men will be generous, just and grateful, many a virtue will they practice and perfect will their goodness be.” (Denkart, late Zoroastrian text)“The principal characteristic of kings is pleasure . . . pleasure is consonant with kingship provided it is rooted in greatness. Pleasure rooted in greatness does not pass away” (DenkartinZaehner, 1961, 299)
Religion and government- “religion and government are twins” (sometimes ascribed to Muhammad but certainly of Iranian origin.)-Jamshid, the first ruler, said to have refused to accept both kingship and priesthood- God said to have granted kingship toGayomarth(the Iranian Adam) and charged Seth with the affairs of religion (another version, from a Muslim source)- Thus priesthood is parallel to kingship“Nor can religion be stable without royaltyNor can royalty be permanent without religion:They are two foundations interlaced with one another,Which intelligence hath combined in one."(Firdowsi, quoted in Martin,Islam and Modernism33)
ManicheismFounded by Mani (d. c. 275)- claimed to be a prophet- successor toZarathushtra, Buddha and ChristSpread to Roman Empire in the West and China in the EastTeachings:- Material world is evil and darkness, opposed to the Realm of Light- sparks from the realm of light have become captive in material human bodies- may escape through a regimen of strict asceticism, including celibacy and vegetarianism.- Only the elect can do this- Others can benefit by following a less rigorous regime and supporting the elect.Politics:- Mani sought support of shah, gained it for a time-Uigurrulers in central Asia adoptedManicheism763 – 840- Heavily persecuted before and under Islam
Byzantine Christianity (Eastern Orthodoxy)4th Century: Christianity first tolerated and then becomes the state religion476 End of the Western Empire1453 End of Eastern (Byzantine) EmpireDoctrines:Trinity:- One God in three “persons”, Father, Son, Holy Spirit- Christ is “the only begotten Son of God, begotten of his Father before all ages; God of God, Light of Light, True God of True God, of one substance (orbeing) with the Father . . .” (“Nicene” Creed)Incarnation:- “one and the same Son . . . perfect in Godhead and perfect in manhood . . . in two natures,inconfusedly, unchangeably, divisibly . . . , concurring in one person . . . not divided into two persons . . .” (Creed of Chalcedon)- “born of the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God (theotokos, lit.: God bearer) (Creed of Chalcedon)
Orthodoxy continuedWorship; Churches- Icons: “windows on eternity”- Iconostasis – sense of mystery-ChristosPantokrator–Risen Christ is ruler of the universe- A Russian reaction to Orthodox worship in Constantinople (10th century):“We knew not whether we were in heaven or on earth, for surely there is no suchsplendoror beauty anywhere upon earth. We cannot describe it to you: only this we know, that God dwells there among men, and that their servicesurpasssesthe worship or all other places. For we cannot forget that beauty.”(Ware, The Orthodox Church, p 269)
Church and Society related- State/emperor as “icon” of God’s rule- “Melkite” – follower of the king/emperor- Eventual development of ethnic churches- Clergy and laity; Monks and higher clergy are celibate- In Syria: clergy were generally Greek but the people spoke Aramaic (later Arabic)
Nestorian ChristianityAlso called “The Church of the East”- Named after Nestorius, who was for a time Patriarch of Constantinople (428-31).- Seems to have emphasized the distinction between the divine and human natures of Christ- In particular, he objected to the termtheotokosused of the Virgin MaryHistory- Initially strong in Syria and Iraq- Spread eastward to Iran, Central Asia, China- Strong for some time under Islam- Nestorians made major contributions to Islamic civilization; especially translations of philosophy.- Declined after the Mongol invasions.
MonophysitesChrist has one, divine, nature (mono+physis), which clothed itself in humanityArmenian (Gregorian) Church:- From about 300 (first country to have a Christian ruler).- Struggled to maintain political and cultural independence vis-à-vis Romans and Persians, later Byzantines and Muslims (and others).JacobiteChurch: Strong in Syria until the Crusades. Syriac language.Coptic Church:- Strong in Egypt, spread to Ethiopia.Strong emphasis on monasticism (Christian monasticism began in Egypt).- Persecuted by Byzantines.Eventually declined under Islam.The Monophysite and Nestorian churches represented cultures different from the Greek. This, probably more than doctrinal issues, accounts for their continuing separation from the “Orthodox” churches.
Jews and JudaismDates, people, placesc 1700bce?Abraham (Avraham) “Our Father”c 1300bce? Moses (Moshe) “Our Father”c 1013-973bceUnited Kingdom under David and Solomon (Shlomo)586bceDestruction of Temple, Babylonian exile,diaspora538bceBegin to return to Land of Israel331bceAlexander takes the Land; Greek rule168-63bceMaccabees– revolt, independence in Land63bce- 638ceRoman / Byzantine rule70ceTemple destroyed during revolt against Romansc 200ceMishnapromulgatedc 220ceBabylonian academy founded (under Persian rule)c 600ceBabylonian Talmud completed634-40ceMuslims take Syria, including Land of IsraelDiaspora:Probably from 586 on most Jews lived outside of the Land of IsraelSeen as “exile”Punishment for sinReturn in the time of the Messiah
Rabbi BenZakkaion the Destruction of the TempleOnce, as RabbiYohananbenZakkaiwas coming forth from Jerusalem, Rabbi Joshua followed after him and beheld the Temple in ruins.“Woe to us,” Rabbi Joshua cried, “that this, the place where the iniquities of Israel were atoned for, is laid waste!”“My son,” RabbiYohanansaid to him, “be not grieved. We have another atonement as effective as this. And what is it? Acts of mercy, as it is said, For I desire mercy and not sacrifice.” (Hosea 6:6)(Avotde RabbiNatan,ch. 6, quoted inNeusner,Between Time and Eternity, 33, modified)
Torah- The central concept and practice, especially after the destruction of the Temple and the end of sacrifice- Written authority- Bible (Tanach: Torah, Prophets, Writings)-Mishnah(laws)- Talmud (Mishnah+Gemara, commentary)- Contents:Halakah (Halacha) – law, practice (most important)Haggada– theology, myth, stories, etcRabbis: study, interpret these authoritiesTalmud on Study and PracticeWhich is greater: study or practice?RabbiTarfonsaid, “Practice is greater".RabbiAkibaanswered, “Study is greater, for it leads to practice.Then they all answered and said, Study is greater, for it leads to practice.”
GnosticsSeveral movements:- some scholars consider them a separate religion- some were Christian or Jewish in form- e.g.Valentinus(active c 135-165) andMarcion(active c 140s)Gnosis:- esoteric knowledge or wisdom- imparted by the teacher to initiates.- knowledge of one’s true self, which has fallen from the highest spiritual realm and become trapped in the world of matter- the means of return, salvation- Brought by a Messenger from the spiritual realm (e.g. Christ)- Often inversion of standard ideas: e.g. Serpent in Eden offered true wisdom, Old Testament as work of lower god (Marcion)Docetism: Christ did not have a material body, “appeared” to.
PhilosophyPhilo+Sophia= Love of WisdomCovered: physics, metaphysics, ethics, politics, and much elseMain figuresSocrates (d. 399bce),Plato (d. 347bce)Aristotle (d. 322bce).Philo of Alexandria – Jewish philosopher (c. 20bce– c. 40ce)Christian apologists: e.g. Justin Martyr (d. c. 165ce)Plotinus (205–c. 270ce)School of Athens closed in 529ceSchools inSasanianterritory, from late 5thcenturyce
Plato- Ideas/forms – material world is imperfect copy- Soul: immortal,prexistent, contemplated the form- Intellectual effort: means of attaining vision of formsCave: Most people see only images or reality projected on the back of the caveRepublic: should be ruled by philosophers who have seen the true formsPlotinus- The One, above being- Universe emanates from it (as rays from sun)- Evil is non-being- Material world is imperfect (not evil)- Turn from material world to realize unity with the One