Competitive Impetus and the Representation of Prophets and Kings in Iranian Historiography from the Ninth to Eleventh century

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Columbia University
Academic Bio: 
Ghazzal Dabiri holds a Ph.D. in Iranian Studies from the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Cultures, UCLA. Her research centers on classical Persian and Arabic literatures with a particular interest in the development of epics and other literary genres. She has taught Persian language courses at UCLA, CSUF, and SMC and has recently joined the Columbia faculty in the capacity of lecturer and coordinator for the Persian Language Program.

The purpose of this paper is to discuss one of the important features of the histories written in the ninth to the eleventh century: namely, competitive debates that appeared in the guise of appropriating and refuting the histories of predecessors and contemporary rivals. The paper first addresses the term “Iranian historiography” as covering those histories that dealt with various aspects of Iranian history irrespective of language used. The paper then argues that Iranian historiography begins with histories such as Dīnavarī’s al-Akhbār al-Tiwāl and especially Ṭabarī’s seminal history Tārīkh al-Rusul wa al-Mulūk, whose prevalent theme, as the title of the latter implies, is on the relationship between prophets and kings: This theme would prevail in most works of history until the eleventh century. The paper traces the ways in which the first kings were equated with the Qur’anic prophets as a means of challenging those who accused the Iranians of not having their own sacred genealogies. The paper then focuses on the Samanid-sponsored translation and adaptation movement. It analyzes in particular the introduction to, and translation of, Ṭabarī ’s Jāmi‘ al-Bayān ‘an Tawīl al-Qur’ān (or Tafsīr al-Ṭabarī), which further fostered the competitive impetus to give Iranians a history that both provided them a significant place in the history of Islam, and a sacred genealogy, by interweaving the history of the mythical Iranian kings with that of the prophets.

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Iranian Studies
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