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Chronicle of the Carmelites

(230 words)

Author(s): Vera B. Moreen
The Chronicle of the Carmelites is an anonymous account of Carmelite and other Christian missionary activities in Iran between 1588 and 1722, including the fall of the Ṣafavid dynasty. The Carmelites (and also the Augustinians and the Capuchins) were tolerated by the Ṣafavids in the hope of establishing commercial and diplomatic ties with important European powers. The Chronicle is primarily concerned with the Carmelites’ promotion of Catholicism in Persia, especially among Armenians, and their diplomatic representation of the papacy at the Ṣafavid co…

Shiʽa and the Jews

(2,472 words)

Author(s): Vera B. Moreen
1. Historical Overview Jewish-Shīʽī interaction through history is still not well known despite significant advances in researching the subject. Scholars generally note that Shīʽī Muslims have tended to hold more severe attitudes than Sunnīs toward Jews and Judaism, but on closer investigation a considerable area of Judeo-Shīʽī “symbiosis” emerges. It sheds light on Jewish-Shīʽī relations especially during the first two centuries of Islam, the formative period of Shīʽism, supporting the view of tho…

Illuminated manuscripts (Judeo-Persian)

(984 words)

Author(s): Vera B. Moreen
Iranian Jews strove to emulate the book arts of the Iranian tradition of illuminated manuscripts, which flourished in the Timurid and Ṣafavid eras (ca. 1400–1700) and constitute one of the most magnificent artistic achievements of the Islamic world. Only thirteen Judeo-Persian illuminated manuscripts are known, none earlier than the second half of the seventeenth century ( Mūsā-nāma . SPK or. oct. 2885), and they were clearly inspired by the Muslim Iranian book arts. Most of the surviving Judeo-Persian manuscripts, both illuminated and not, were produ…

Maḥmūd, Shah

(297 words)

Author(s): Vera B. Moreen
Maḥmūd Shah was a Ghilzāy Afghan chieftain who invaded Iran in 1722, and besieged Isfahan, the capital, for seven months (March–October 1722).  The city was subjected to terrible famine and suffering that caused the death of approximately eighty thousand people,  many of starvation. The effect of the siege on the city’s Jewish community is described briefly but movingly in Kitāb-i Sar-Guzasht-i Kāshān dar Bāb-i ʿIbrī va Goyimi-yi Sānī (The Book of Events in Kashan Concerning the Jews; Their Second Conversion), the Judeo-Persian chronicle of Bābāī ibn Far…

Yazdī, Shihāb

(161 words)

Author(s): Vera B. Moreen
Shihāb Yazdī was a Jewish Iranian poet known solely from one Judeo-Persian poem, Ay Qādir Qudrat Numā (Almighty Lord, Displaying Might), that appears in countless manuscripts. Shihāb (Pers. flame, bright star), was probably the poet’s pen name, and Yazdī indicates merely that he hailed from Yazd. There is no other information available about Shihāb Yazdī. As his famous poem makes its first appearance in Judeo-Persian manuscripts from the late eighteenth century, it has been assumed that Shihāb Yazdī flourished in that period. The poem itself is a superb paea…

Sulṭān Ḥusayn, Shah

(429 words)

Author(s): Vera B. Moreen
Shāh Sulṭān Ḥusayn (r. 1694–1722), the ninth monarch of the Ṣafavid dynasty of Iran, succeeded his father, Shāh Sulaymān (r. 1666-1694), and like him was unprepared to rule, having been raised in the harem. Under the influence of Shīʿī clerics like Muḥammad Bāqir al-Majlisī (d. 1698), the new shah, in an effort to become devout, prohibited the production and drinking of wine along with gambling and pigeon flying. These prohibitions soon fell out of use, not least because of the debauched practices of the …

Maman, Joseph

(332 words)

Author(s): Vera B. Moreen
Joseph Maman (1741–1825), the great spiritual leader of Bukharan Jewry, was born in Tetouan, Morocco. He went to Palestine in 1770 and settled in Safed. In 1792, he was sent as a rabbinical emissary (Heb. shaliaḥ de-rabbanan or shadar) to Iran to collect charitable funds. While there he spent a few months in Mashhad, where he met and developed cordial relations with  Siman Ṭov Melammed (d. 1800, 1823, or 1828),according the town’s learned spiritual leader. According to some sources, Maman learned about the deplorable religious state of the Jews of Bukhara …

Ḥayāt al-Rūḥ

(431 words)

Author(s): Vera B. Moreen
Ḥayāt al-rūḥ (The Life of the Soul) was Siman Ṭov Melammed’s most important contribution to Judeo-Persian literature. A learned dayyan ( judge), communal leader, poet, mystic, and philosopher, Melammed died in either 1800, 1823, or 1828. His works have not yet been thoroughly studied.              The exact date of composition of Ḥayāt al-rūḥ is unknown, but 1778 is suggested by the fact that the printed edition (Jerusalem, 1898) mentions that it was in manuscript form for 120 years.  Thus it may have been written while Melammed was living in Herat (Afghanistan), as suggested by his…


(447 words)

Author(s): Vera B. Moreen
Khudāidād, also known as Bā yād-i Khuydodcha ['To the Memory of Little Khuydod'], is the only text of historical import to have come to light out so far from the trove of Judeo-Persian texts produced in Bukhara. Named after its hero, Khudāidād (Persian for the Hebrew "Netanʾel" ['God gave']), this short masnavī (narrative poem in rhymed couplets), is only 279 verses long and it is written in the hazaj meter in the Bukharan dialect. Khudāidād is essentially an account of the martyrdom of a simple cloth merchant whose strong faith enabled him to withstand the persecution of…

Allāhverdī Khān [I]

(295 words)

Author(s): Vera B. Moreen
Allāhverdī Khān, (d. 1613) was one of the most important courtiers of Shah 'Abbās I (r. 1581-1629). A Georgian or Armenian Christian by origin, he had been enslaved by the Safavids in his youth and became a trusted soldier. After converting to Islam, he rose to the rank of qullār āghāsī (Turk. general of the slave army) and was appointed governor of the provinces of Fars and Koghīluya. Having distinguished himself in battles against the Uzbeks with an army he had reorganized along European lines as suggested by Sir Robert Shirley. Allāhverdī Kh…

Sulaymān, Shah

(393 words)

Author(s): Vera B. Moreen
Shah Sulaymān (r. 1666-1694), the eighth ruler of the Iranian Ṣafavid dynasty, was originally crowned as Ṣafī II. He was the eldest son of Shāh ʿAbbās II (r. 1642-1666) and had been raised in the harem. Unprepared to reign, Sulaymān devoted himself to a life of pleasure that rendered Iran virtually bankrupt by 1668 at a time when the kingdom suffered from Uzbek and Cossack raids, earthquakes, draughts, and famines. He then endeavored to reform himself, becoming highly abstemious, even as his own revenues grew through higher taxes imposed on a suffering population. It was during this rei…


(208 words)

Author(s): Vera B. Moreen
The arbitrary nature of the persecution of Jews in Iran during the reign of  Shah Sulṭān Ḥusayn (r. 1694–1722) is vividly described in the Judeo-Persian chronicle Kitāb-i Sar Guzasht-i Kāshān dar Bāb-i ʿĪbrī va Goyimi-yi Sānī (The Book of Events in Kashan Concerning the Jews; Their Second Conversion) by Bābāī ben Farhād. In 1694 the shah issued a decree prohibiting alcoholic beverages. Sometime after this, and possibly on the twenty-first of Ramaḍān (the Shīʿī commemoration of Imam ʿAlī’s martyrdom), a Jew in Kashan named Allahyār gave a feast for his friends that involved musi…

Amīnā, Benjamin ben Mishaʾel

(307 words)

Author(s): Vera B. Moreen
Benjamin ben Mishaʾel, known by the pen name Amīnā (Pers. the faithful), was one of the most important Jewish poets of premodern Iran. A native of Kashan, he was born in 1672/73 and was alive as late as 1732/33. The only biographical information about him is provided by the poet himself in various works, namely, that he had seven children and was unhappily married. He witnessed the Afghan invasion of Iran, including his hometown, as described in the Judeo-Persian chronicle Kitāb-i Sar-Guzasht-i Kāshān dar bāb-i ʿibrī va goyimi-yi sānī (The Book of Events in Kashan Concerning…

Rashīd al-Dīn Ṭabīb

(674 words)

Author(s): Vera B. Moreen
Rashīd al-Dīn Ṭabīb (Physician) Faḍl Allāh ibn ʿImād al-Dawla, Abūʿl Khayr ibn Ghālī (ca. 1247–1318), was one of medieval Iran’s greatest statesmen and historians. Although once much debated by medieval and modern scholars, it is now accepted that Rashīd al-Dīn was born a Jew in Hamadan. A controversial figure in his lifetime, he was a physician from a family of apothecaries. Nothing is known of the early part of his life and career; he first served at the Īlkhānid court as the physician of Abāqā (r. 1265–1282). Around the age of thirty, and for reasons that were probab…

ʿAbbās I, Shāh

(752 words)

Author(s): Vera B. Moreen
Shah ʿAbbās I (r. 1587–1629) is considered to have been the greatest monarch of the Ṣafavid dynasty. He ascended the throne of Iran at the age of sixteen during a turbulent political upheaval that included the murder of at least nine family members. Styled “the Great” for having consolidated the Iranian empire, ʿAbbās I enlarged and transformed his realm into one of the seventeenth century’s greatest powers, on a par with the Moghul empire under Akbar (r. 1556–1605), England under Elizabeth I (r. 1558–1603), a…

ʿĀmilī, Muḥammad ibn Bahāʾ al-Dīn Ḥusayn al-

(333 words)

Author(s): Vera B. Moreen
Muḥammad ibn Ḥusayn Bahāʾ al-Dīn al-ʿĀmilī (ca. 1547–1621), also known as Shaykh Bahāʾī, was one of the most respected Imāmī (Twelver Shīʿī) Ṣafavid theologians during the reign of Shah ʿAbbās I (1581–1629). Originally from Jabal ʿĀmila, Syria, he migrated to Iran in his youth. Thoroughly educated in medicine, mathematics, and literature in addition to Islamic law and theology, and imbued with Ṣūfī leanings, al-ʿĀmilī became shaykh al-Islām (supreme religious judge) of Isfahan for a while. He traveled extensively throughout Iraq, Egypt, and Palestine on his way to perform the ḥājj.

Allāhverdī Khān [II]

(176 words)

Author(s): Vera B. Moreen
Allāhverdī Khān [II] (d. 1662) was a high-ranking military officer of Armenian origin in the service of Shah Ṣafī I (r. 1629–1642) and Shāh ʿAbbās II (r. 1642–1666) of Iran. In 1654 he advanced from the post of amīr shikār bāshī (Pers./Turk. master of the royal hunts) to sardār-i lashkar (Pers. commander-in-chief) of the army, thereafter distinguishing himself in campaigns against the Ottomans, Mughals, Uzbeks, and Georgians. He was instrumental in bringing about the downfall of Muḥammad Beg, the grand vizier who, according to the Judeo-Persian chronicle of Bābāī ibn Luṭf, was resp…

Kitāb-i Anusī

(1,209 words)

Author(s): Vera B. Moreen
Kitāb-i A nusī (The Book of a Forced Convert) by Bābāī ben Luṭf, the first known Judeo-Persian chronicle, recounts the periodic persecutions of Iranian Jews between 1617 and 1662, together with a few other events from the Ṣafavid era (1501–1736), specifically from the reigns of Shahs ʿAbbās I (1581–1629), Ṣafī I (1629–1642), and ʿAbbās II (1642–1666). The historicity of Kitāb-i Anusī is confirmed by its references to external events that can be corroborated by royal Iranian chronicles and other sources, but its emphasis is on the travails of Iranian Jewr…

Shīrvānī, Moses (Mūsā) ben Aaron ben Sheʾerit

(195 words)

Author(s): Vera B. Moreen
Moses (Mūsā) ben Aaron ben Sheʾerit Shīrvānī compiled a Hebrew/Aramaic–Persian dictionary in 1459 in Shirvan (today in Azerbaijan). Shīrvānī’s dictionary is known as the Agron (Heb. glossary, lexicon), a title undoubtedly derived from Saʿadya Gaon’s (d. 942) famous double-dictionary of the same name. Intended as an aid to Bible study, the Agron includes vocabulary from the Bible and is largely organized according to Hebrew roots and nouns. It is known only from manuscripts, but all of the existing ones are incomplete, covering only the entries from the letter yod (tenth in the Hebr…

Bābāī ben Luṭf

(688 words)

Author(s): Vera B. Moreen
Bābāī b. Luṭf, the author of Kitāb-i A nusī (The Book of a Forced Convert), the earliest known Judeo-Persian chronicle, lived in Kashan and was probably a native of that town. Most of what we know about him comes from his sketchy introduction to the chronicle. Clearly an educated man, Bābāī b. Luṭf believed that the major persecutions he witnessed, beginning in 1656 and ending in 1662, during the reign of the Ṣafavid Shah ʿAbbās II (1642-1666), constituted but another chapter in the long history of persecutions endured by the Jewish people. He therefore called his work a megillah (Heb. scrol…
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