English, Readings, Recent Publications

New Iranica Antiqua and a Hebrew Inscription on Ahura Mazda’s Tunic

For Talmudists interested in the Bavli’s Sasanian context, a new edition of Iranica Antiqua is always a reason to celebrate. Volume 46 (2011) has just been published, and it does not disappoint. It contains a slew of interesting articles on Sasanian Iran, including:

Maciej Grabowski, “Ardašīr’s Struggle against the Parthians: Towards a Reinterpretation of the Fīrūzābād I Relief”

The proposed reinterpretation of the Fīrūzābād I relief is based on the assumption that we deal with a particular iconographic synopsis of the events that occurred during Ardašīr’s war against the Arsacids (c. 220-228). The concept of iconographic summary of several historical events may be traced back to the Achaemenid period (Bīsotūn relief), and may also be observed in the triumph reliefs of Šāpur I. It is thus suggested that each of the three equestrian combat scenes depicted on the Fīrūzābād I relief recalls one of three major stages of Ardašīr’s struggle against the Parthians. Information from textual sources combined with iconographic observations permit to develop a hypothesis concerning the identity of some of the depicted personages, and thus to reveal proper historical context of each scene. New terminus post quem for the Fīrūzābād I relief is also proposed, this being the year 228 which most probably marks the end of the last phase of the war.

Brucno Overlaet, “Ardashir II or Shapur III? Reflections on the Identity of a King in the Smaller Grotto at Taq-i Bustan,”

Two Sasanian kings are depicted on the back wall of the smaller grotto at Taq-i Bustan near Kermanshah (Iran). They are identified by inscriptions as Shapur II (309-379 A.D.) and his son Shapur III (383-388 A.D.). However, the details of the crowns and the design of the relief oppose this idea. It makes it likely that the figure identified as Shapur III is in fact Ardashir II (379-383 A.D.), the immediate successor and (half)brother of Shapur II. It is suggested that the identifying texts were added when Shapur III came to power.

Jamsheed K. Choksy, “Friends and Friendships in Iranian Society: Human and Immortal”

Constructs, permutations, functions, and bases of friends and friendships in society and sociopolitical hierarchies are analyzed within the context of religiosity in Iran and Iranian regions of Central Asia.

Michael B. Charles, “The Sassanian ‘Immortals”

The Sassanian Persians are generally regarded as having maintained an elite cavalry unit called the ‘Immortals’, the formation of which was inspired by Achaemenian practice, thereby demonstrating continuity between the two dynasties, as per the general scholarly view. This article assembles all the pertinent evidential material from the Greco-Roman sources in order to present a comprehensive critique of this position. It emerges that references to Sassanian Immortals in sources emanating from the Mediterranean world may owe more to classicizing fancy than to historical reality, and particularly a desire to approximate late-antique wars against Persia with those waged by the West against Achaemenian kings.

Bruno Overlaet, “Hidden in Plain Sight: The Hebrew Inscription on Ardashir I’s Rock Relief at Naqsh-i Rustam,”

The relief of Ardashir I at Naqsh-i Rustam is the first Sasanian investiture scene with the two protagonists on horseback. They are identified by a prominent trilingual inscription on the horses as Ardashir I and Ahura Mazda. A Hebrew inscription remained unobserved since the 19th century, however. It is chiselled on the folds of Ahura Mazda’s tunic.

The final article in particular caught my eye. Who might have written a Hebrew inscription hiding in on the folds of Ahura Mazda’s tunic at Naqsh i Rustam? Unfortunately, I was disappointed to find that the piece contains no readings of the Hebrew inscription in question. In fact, aside from a clear photograph on the final page, the article reads more like a notice than a work of actual scholarship.

I contacted Shaul Shaked Schwarzmann University Professor emeritus here at the Hebrew University, who was kind enought to relay the following, tentative remarks:

1. A faint inscription above the main one. I am indicating doubtful readings by parentheses, and editorial supplements by square brackets.

(בניה) שמואל הכהן


(חש?) רברבה חסן בן חסן בן (ס)הל באלחסן מזאר
אלשג סמן
מן חלון

The date 1303 is naturally Seleucid, i.e. 992 CE. The translation of inscription 2 is:

… (?) … Hasan son of Hasan son of Sahl Bu-l-Hasan, visit
of the year
1303. Good
From Hulwan.

The beginning of the inscription is hard to make out, and I doubt whether רברבה is the correct reading. An alternative reading of the beginning of this inscription could be:

הזר ברכה (Persian-Hebrew:) A thousand blessings.

The trouble is that the last one letter looks distinctly like bet.

The two inscriptions could have been engraved at the same time, probably by two different hands. These are obviously inscriptions of the type of “Jimmy was here”. With luck we may be able to identify one of these two persons. The date is perfectly compatible with the Islamic-period names and, I believe, with the shape of the script.


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