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(351 words)

Author(s): Vera B. Moreen
Mūsā-nāma (The Book of Moses) is the first and longest Judeo-Persian epic on biblical themes by Mowlānā Shāhīn-i Shīrāzī (Our Master, the Royal Falcon of Shiraz), the fourteenth-century poet considered the progenitor of Judeo-Persian literature. It sets to verse non-legal portions chiefly of the Book of Exodus, but also of Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. A masnavī (epic in rhymed couplets) numbering some ten thousand distichs, Mūsā-nāma is written in the classical Persian meter hazaj mussadas makhzuf. Shāhīn’s major works include two epic cycles, one based on the Pentateuch, […

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…

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…

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…

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…


(479 words)

Author(s): Vera B. Moreen
Faraḥābād (Pers. Abode of Joy) is a town on the southern shore of the Caspian Sea, near the river Tijin. It was built by Shah ʿAbbās I (r. 1587–1629) between 1611 and 1612 on the site of the village Ṭāhān. Its new name reflected the shah's intention of making it a favored winter residence. He spent many winters in Faraḥābād and actually died there. According to various Christian travelers, the town was endowed with spacious roads, a brick mosque, an impressive, fortified palace, and was surrounded by a wall. It also functioned as a port. Shah ʿAbbās populated Faraḥābād with people of seve…


(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…

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…

Bereshit-nāma ('The Book of Genesis')

(407 words)

Author(s): Vera B. Moreen
As far as is known, Judeo-Persian belles-lettres began with the works of Mowlānā Shāhīn-i Shīrāzī (Our Master, the Royal Falcon of Shiraz), who flourished in the fourteenth century in Iran. Only the pen name of the poet is known and the fact that he lived during the reign of the Ῑl-khānid ruler Abū Saʿīd (1316-1335), to whom he dedicated a panegyric. Shāhīn's surviving oeuvre consists of two major epic cycles, the first of which, known only as [ Bereshit-] n āma (The Book of Genesis), a name bestowed upon it by scholars, consists of versifications of selected narrative part…


(443 words)

Author(s): Vera B. Moreen
Ardashīr-nāma (The Book of Ardashīr/Ahasuerus) by Mowlānā Shāhīn-i Shīrāzī (Jud./Pers. Our Master, the Royal Falcon of Shiraz), the “father” of Judeo-Persian belles-lettres (fl. 14th century), is a versification of the biblical Book of Esther recast as a Persian epic romance that resembles the works of the classical Persian poet Niżāmī (d. 1209). It is a masnavī (epic in rhymed couplets) numbering nine thousand distichs written in the complex hazaj-i musaddas-i akhrab-i maqbuż-i maḥzūf meter. To date only the pen name of the poet has come to light. Shāhīn apparently…

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.

Muḥsin-i Fayḍ-i Kāshānī, Muḥammad b. Murtaḍā

(387 words)

Author(s): Vera B. Moreen
Mullāh Muḥammad b. Murtaḍā Muḥsin-i Fayḍ-i Kāshānī, better known as Mullāh Muḥsin, was born in Kashan in 1598 into a family of ʿulamāʾ (Ar/Pers.) religious scholars). Educated in Kashan, Shiraz, and Isfahan, he studied with the famous Shīʿī scholars Bahāʾ al-Dīn ʿĀmilī (d. 1621), Mīr Dāmād (d. 1631), and Mullāh Ṣadrā (Ṣadr al-Dīn Shīrāzī; d. 1640). In addition to being learned in exegesis, ḥadīth, jurisprudence, and philosophy, Mullāh Muḥsin was a ṣūfī who strove to harmonize exoteric and esoteric learning. In 1653 Shah ʿAbbās II (r. 1642–1666) invited him to Isfahan to become…

Meliṣa, Sefer ha-

(250 words)

Author(s): Vera B. Moreen
Sefer ha-Meliṣa (Heb. The Book of Rhetoric) is one of the only two surviving Hebrew-Persian lexicons (the other was penned by Moses Shīrvānī). Comprising some eighteen thousand entries, it translates Hebrew words gathered from the Bible, Talmud, and midrashim  into Hebrew and comments on them in Persian (and occasionally in Turkish); it also translates numerous Aramaic, Syriac, and Greek words. The lexicon is of enduring importance to linguists because the words are translated into the old Persian dialect of  Khwārizm, but it has not yet been critically studied. Because it…

Nasi, David

(313 words)

Author(s): Vera B. Moreen
In the period from 1721 to 1731, Iran was invaded by Afghans and Russians, and the Ṣafavid dynasty collapsed. During this turbulent decade the Jewish community of Kashan was internally divided and headed by weak leaders, foremost among them was David Nasi. In 1729, Ṭahmāsp Khān, fighting against the Afghans and attempting to install Ṭahmāsp II on the Ṣafavid throne, demanded money from the Jews of Kashan. They were willing to pay at first, but when the amount kept increasing, David Nasi and the other communal leaders declared that they would rather convert to Shīʿī Islam. Despite some …

Yazdī, Abraham

(258 words)

Author(s): Vera B. Moreen
In 1729, as reported in chapter 12 of Kitāb-i Sar-Guzasht-i Kāshān dar Bāb-i ʿIbrī va Goyimi-yi Sānī (Jud.-Pers. The Book of Events in Kashan Concerning the Jews; Their Second Conversion), the Jews of Kāshān came under great pressure to pay a huge sum of money to the rapacious Ṭahmāsp Khān,  the future Nādir Shāh(r. 1736–1747). The community, including its leader,  David Nasi, opted to convert to Shīʿī Islam rather than pay the amount demanded.  Abraham Yazdī, a traveling merchant residing in Kāshān, staunchly opposed the decision to convert “voluntarily.” Maintaining…

Ashraf, Shah

(375 words)

Author(s): Vera B. Moreen
In 1725 Ashraf, a Ghilzāy Afghan warrior, deposed and probably assassinated his cousin, Shah Maḥmūd, after the latter’s madness led to increased unrest in partially conquered Iran. Maḥmūd had invaded Iran in 1722. During his seven-month siege of Isfahan, the capital, approximately eighty thousand people perished from disease and famine. After eliminating his Afghan enemies, Ashraf endeavored to consolidate his hold on the Afghan-controlled parts of Iran, which at the time was also beset, almost simultaneously, by the Ottomans in t…

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 …

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…

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…

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…
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