Scholarship in Iranian Studies

UC Irvine,Seminar,Scholarship in Iranian Studies,Report

Courtesy :  Maneck Bhujwala

Sat Feb 28, 2009 8:33 pm (PST)

On Saturday, February 14, 2009, a one-day seminar was held at
U.C.Irvine, California, titled “Exploring Iran: Emerging Scholarship in
Iranian Studies”. The seminar was organized by Prof. Nasrin Rahimieh and
Prof. Touraj Daryaee of the Dr. Samuel M. Jordan Center for Persian Studies
and Culture, University of California, Irvine, and co-sponsored by the
Farhang Foundation. One of the impressive young scholars of Avesta- Pahlavi was our very own Parsi-Zarathushti Dr. Youhan Vevaina from Harvard University, one of the panel members who talked about the challenges in interpreting our ancient Mazdayasni Zarathushti religious texts (Session V).

Following account is from my rough notes and remembrance from that conference:

Maneck Bhujwala

Session I titled “Literature, Self and the Nation” was chaired by Jasmin
Rostam-Kolayi (CSU Fullerton)
Speaker Amy Tahani-Bidmeshki (Comparative Literature, UCLA) talked about
six post-World War II African American and Iranian novels dealing with the
birth of new nations and emergence of a “New Man” in these post-colonial

Speaker Shervin Emami (Near Eastern Languages and Cultures, UCLA) talked
about the idea of secularism expressed in Persian literature, by authors
Hedayat and Al-e Ahmad. Whereas Hedayat advocated removing religion from
society in order to acheive progress, Al-e Ahmad blamed the Western
countries for their cultural imperialism.

Speaker Sharareh Frouzeh Bennett (Comparative Literature, UCI) said that
the post-WWII authors promoted revolutionaries as heroes, and there was an
expression of guilt in the literature of the Iranian Revolution. Sharareh
said that women were presented as secondary to male revolutionaries, and
there is a need for us to question these authors and their writings.

Speaker Leila Pazargadi (Comparative Litereature, UCLA) talked about the
mother’s title given to a nation in author Goli Taraghi’s novel “Khaneyi dar
Asemaan. Although the image of Iran as a mother was initially used against
the rule of the Shah of Iran, but after the Islamic Revolution this mother
image ends up demoting the postion of women. There is no change in the
status of women after the Revolution when it became that of an ailing mother
that needs protection from men.

Discussant, Fariba Taghavi (CSU Long Beach) gave her comments on the

Session II titled “The Cleric, the Intellectual and Modern Life” was
chaired by Arash Khazeni (Claremont McKenna College).

Speaker Phillip Grant (Anthropology, UCI) talked about the role of
Intellectuals as Translators, who offered criticism but did not propose
solutions to problems

Speaker Al M. Mehgdadi (Comparative Literature, UCI) talked about the
Persistent Threshold: Iran’s Traumatized Stasis. There was a persistent
mentality of being victimized – martyrdom of Imam Hussein, colonial
domination, martyrdom of many young people during the Iran-Iraq war, etc.
Meghdadi talked about author Al Ahmadi who criticized the West for making
Iranians dependent on the West and about westernized Iranians who are
without any ethics, affliation, religion, who are indifferent and only
caring for their jobs.

Speaker Janet A. Alexanian (Anthropology, UCI) talked about how
satellite TV images about Iran from Los Angeles TV stations presented a
false image of the celebration of the anniversary of the Islamic
Revolution – claiming that people were forced to participate in the marches,
etc. Janet took her own pictures of the celebration and marches that were
realistic and showed the conditions in a different light than the satellite
TV projections.

Speaker Mateo Farzaneh (History, UCSB) talked about Akhund (Mullah)
Khorasani and the Turning Point in Shi’ite Jurisprudence. Mateo said that at
the turn of the 20th century about 98 percent of Iranians were illiterate
and dependent on clerics. Khorasani was a high-ranking cleric (1839-1911)
who wrote Kifayat-al-usul (Sufficiency of Principles). He wrote to the
Qajar court asking why there were no attempts ot improve the status of the
people and modernise, and that the Quran should be interpreted according to
the needs of the people. Khorasai also believed that there should be a
secular government until the 12th Imam came when an Islamic government could
be established.

Discussant Afshin Matin-Asgari (CSU Los Angeles) commented on the talks.

Session III titled “Economy, Archaeology in Late Antique Iran” was
chaired by Touraj Daryaee (History, UCI).

Speaker Reza Yeganeh (History, UCI) talked about Environmental Decline
in Mesopotamia and Khuzestan and the Muslim conquest. He mentioned that the
Sasanians built weirs, canals, etc. to provide a steady supply of water, but
course changes of rivers, siltation, erosion, etc. caused loss of water
supply. Reza mentioned the flood of 628 C.E. and the pandemic plague that
caused the death of the Mesopotamian population. Based on early excavations
by european archaeologists and surface surveys in Khuzestan area in Susa,
Gundi Shapur and Shustar, Dez river, Karkha river and Shaur river, Robert
Wenke claimed decline of these sites during Sasanian times and led to the
Muslim invasion.

Speaker Alan Farahani (Archaeology, UC berkeley) talked about the
rethinking of agricultural Intensification in Early Sasanian Iran.

Speaker Khodadad Rezakhani disagreed with Robert Wenke’s conclusions
(mentioned by Yeganageh), saying that there is no textual evidence to
support that, and actually the region continued to be prosperous with a
shift towards a market economy.

Discussant Ali Mousavi (LACMA) gave his comments on the talks.

Session IV titled Psychoanalysis and Gender was chaired by Prof. Martin
Schwartz (UC Berkeley).

Speaker Warren Soward (History, UCI) talked about Psychoanalytic
insights into the Creation Myths in the Iranian Tradition.

Speaker Haleh Emrani talked about the Challenges facing Historians of
Women in Late Sasanian Empire. He said that the records were written in many
languages = Greek, Arabic, Middle and Modern Persian. He said that there
were many different communities that lived in the vast Sasanian empire –
Mazdeans, Rabbinic and non-Rabbinic Jews, East Syrian (Nestorian) and West
Syrian (Jacobite) Christians, Manicheans, etc. who followed different local
customs. Archives from Kushan Shah town in Afghanistan indicate that
Bactrian law allowed two brothers to marry one wife, but this was not
allowed in the Mazdean Sasanian community. There was evidence of a
pre-marriage contract. Dadestan-e-Dinik is a source of information on
Mazdean Family Law, and Talmud was followed for Jewish Family law.

Discussant Youhan Vevaina (Harvard University) commented on the talks.
He said that we need to know more about Zurvanism, mainstream Zoroastrianism
and Zurvanism. He also said that the information on women was written by
men for consumption by men. He asked “If minorities were not satisfied with
their own legal decisions could they go to the central Sasanian law ?” The
answer was that Jewish women did go to central Sasanian law when they did
not like their local legal decisions.

Session V titled “Translating Middle Persian Texts: How can we Learn from
other Traditions?” was a Round-Table discussion by a panel of scholars –
Dr. Mathew Stolper (Oriental Institute, Chicago) talked about the
Achaemenian inscriptions written in three languages – Old Persian (language
of the rulers) on top, Elamite (the older language) and Babylonian (the
prestige language). He said that the inscriptions were meant to be seen, not
just read, because the inscriptions talked about the things on which they
were inscribed; some texts were meant to be read, and some were meant to
train the scribes; due to lack of context on some inscriptions, photographs
are needed. Stolper said that in order to make the three different language
texts symmetrical on walls, etc., some language versions are padded with
extra words. Also, some Old Persian words are not translated in the
Babylonan version.

Dr. Touraj Daryaee (Jordan Center for Persian Studies, UCI) talked about
some of the Pahlavi texts that were written in the 11th century during the
rule of the Caliphs. He said that we do not have a complete list of Pahlavi
texts, and new texts have recently been found in Iran and many in Navsari,
India and at the Cama Institute.

Dr. Hussein Zia (Near Eastern Languages and Culture, UCLA) said that we
need to study a variety of texts – Vedic, Turkish, Pamiri, Badakshani,
Rostkhari etc., in order to find the proper context for early Parsian words
and phrases, and scholars should have exteme reverence for truth and

Dr. Nasrin Rahimieh said that in modern Persian texts also we have the
same problems – translations can be subjective, and we need to be aware of
historical and social contexts, and translators who are not knowledgeable
about these contexts can make wrong choices.

Dr. Martin Schwartz (Near Eastern Studies, UC Berkeley) commenting on the
difficulty of translating texts, said that some Pahlavi letters look alike.
He said that middle Persian texts deserve a place in the study of literature
with commentaries on contexts. He said that in the Zoroastrian Pahlavi
books, the vision of heaven dexcribed in the Arda Viraz Namag influenced the
european poet Dante, Ge aksi nebtuibed tge Nabucgaeb Middle Persian texts in
Chinese Turkestan, and the profound philosophical and stylistic literature
in the 7th Book of Denkard (translated by Saul Shaked).

Dr. Youhan Vevaina (Near Eastern Languages and Civilization, Harvard
University) gave handouts titled “Translating Pahlavi Literature into
English” and mentioned the following:
* Bit ebiygh knowledge about Pahlavi timelines
* Pahlavi texts are very brief in style and need more commentaries
* Need to use a combination of oral and written sources
* Importance of Memorization
– from the Denkard Book 5.23.12 and 5.24.13
[A Christian (TARSAAG) named Boxt-Maare poses several questions to
his Zoroastrian interlocutor]
Christian: “Why did God proclaim this religion (deen) in an unknown
concealed language called Avestan? Why is it not considered perfect in
(its) written form, but ordered to be memorized in speech?”
Zoroastrian: “… But to memorize is a great profit. It’s
profitableness is in giving knowledge to people of the worship and praise,
but one thing is more (profitable), namely, that one gets to know things
from it. Also, that, in this way, it is possible to transmit words
profoundly and customs truly and without changing their color. The law in
spoken form is vastly superior to the written form; and for many other
reasons also it makes better sense to consider living speech as being more
important than the written.”

– from the Pahlavi Rivayat Accompanying the Dadestaan I Denig 17B1
[Ohrmazd Tells Zarathushtra that Memorization of the Gathas is a
Prerequisite for the Next World]
Ohrmazd: “…for no one among mankind will be righteous and worthy
of Garodmaan [Paradise] who has not learned by heart the Gathas, O Righteous

* Importance of Discourse
– from Pand-Namag I Zarduxshtan az Chidag Andarz I Poryotkeshan 8
“Fifthly, one must go to school (herbedestan) one-third of the day
and one-third of the night in order to quety the wisdom of the Righteous

– from Pand-Namag I Zarduxshtan az Chidag Andarz I Poryotkeshan 44
“Every day you should go to the assembly to discuss with good people.
For he who most often goes to the assembly to discuss with good people, will
receive the most of Good Works and Righteousness.”

* Dasturs used to discuss interpretations of texts
* Existing Pahlavi texts are commentaries on Pahlavi texts which were
commentaries on late Avestan texts which were commentaries on old Avestan
* Sudgar Nask
Harmonizing Old Avesta with New Avestan texts
Harmonizing Gathas with Yashts
* Pahlavi interpreters were operating under the old tradition to
understand the texts.

Dr. Vevaina’s handout contained two examples of Gatha verses and their
1) [The opening strophe (stanza) of the fourth Gatha (Yasna 51.1.22)]
“The good command is what is the best bringer of the worthy share to
him who wishes to distinguish it clearly. The milk libation itself is at
this very moment walking between heaven and earth through Order by our
actions, O Mazda. The (best) action of ours I am just now about to
produce.” YASNA 51.1

[An interpretation of the Vohu Xshathra Gatha (Yasna 51.1.22) – “Good
Rule” which begins with a Counter-Example of the Bad Rule of the Dragon King
“The twentieth fragard, the Vohu xshathra, is about how oppressiely
Dahag ruled over the earth of seven (regions) and how his command went forth
from the hands of change. (2) And about Dahag’s question in the assembly
about the reason why all people were filled with poison after Jam had been
split in two and (about) the rule of Dahag. And how the people answered
Dahag: ‘Jam had kept away from the earth want and destitution and hunger and
thirst and decrepitude and death and sorrow and weeping and immoderate cold
and heat and the mixing of the demons with people.'” DENKARD BOOK

2) [The opening strophe of the Fifth and Final Gatha – The Vahishtoisti
Gatha (Yasna 53.1-9)]
“The best seeking/ritual/vigour [3 possible roots] is thus renowned
as that of Zarathustra Spitama. For when Ahura Mazda shall give to him as
prizes in accordance with (its?) Order the possession of a good ahu for an
entire lifespan, but also that of those who imitate and master the
utterances and actions of his good daena.” YASNA 53.1

[An interpretation of the Vahishtoisti Gatha (Yasna 53.1-9) – “Best
Seeking” in Denkard Book 9]
“The twenty-first fragard, the Vahishtoisti, is about where the best
seekings of the good den (are). And about Xeshm [the demon “Wrath”] coming
to the whole world once every night, and Bushasp [the demonness “Sloth” who
lulls people to sleep] (coming) twice in order to ruin and diminish (the
world); and Srosh comes three times and Dahman Afrin (comes) four times for
the sake of producing abundance and growth.” DENKARD BOOK 9.22.1
Dr. Vevaina asks the question “What in the Gathas triggers the passage
in Denkard?”

The following tables were provided by Dr. Vevaina in his handout:

“The Sacred Corpus (Den) of 21 Nasks (“Bundles”) According to Denkard Book 8
7 Gathic Nasks 7 Ritual Nasks 7
Legal Nasks
Sudgar Daamdaad
Waarshtmaansr=Denkard Book 9 Naaxdar
Bag Paajag
Washtag Rathbishtaaiti
Haadooxt Barish
Spand Kashkaysraw
Stood Yasht Wishtaasp Yasht
Bagaan Yasht

A Tentatve Timeline of the Transmission of the Gathic Nasks of Denkard
Book 9

Old Avesta composed (orally) Middle of
2nd millenium BCE
Young Avesta transmitted (“lost” Avestan nasks,
Early 1st millenium BCE onwards
Pahlavi (orally transmitted) versions of the “lost”
Avestan nsks
Late Parthian period? (ca 100 CE – 224 CE)
Pahlavi resumes of the three nasks of Denkard
Book 9 first composed Early
Sasanian period?(ca 224 CE – 500 CE)
Pahlavi resumes in Denkard Book 9 transmitted
Late Sasanian period? (ca 500 – 651 CE)
Pahlavi resumes in Denkard Book 9 finally
redacted and written down Early
Islamic period in Iran (ca 651 – 900 CE)

Earliest colophon of the Denkard 1020 CE,

Earliest manuscript of Denhard Book 9 1577 CE,

Earliest manuscript of Denkard Book 9 1895 CE,

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