Islamo-Biblica in Imami Shi`i Historical Writings and Persian World Histories. IV.




Islamo-Biblica in Imami Shi`i Historical Writings and Persian World Histories. IV.

Stephen Lambden UCMerced.

In progress and Under revision 1980s+ 2017.


Imāmī  Shī`ī  historians.

al‑Ya`qūbī (d.c. 292/905) 

 The Shī`īte historian al‑Ya`qūbī has recently been called the "first historian of world culture in Islam" (Khalidi, 1994:2). In presenting a "culturally and intellectually oriented tableau of pre‑Islamic nations" (Humphreys, `Ta’rīkh’ EI 2 X: 272) he drew on the Bible and other non‑Islamic sources not holding to any theory of the whole scale taḥrīf   (corruption) of the biblical text. The first volume of  Ya`qūbī’s two volume Ta`rīkh  (Chronicle) deals with the pre‑Islamic era devoting over seventy pages to the period from  the first couple till the time of Jesus (Tā`rīkh 1:5‑80). In addition to the Bible, Ya`qūbī was influenced by various extra‑biblical sources such as the originally Syriac (+ Arabic) apocryphal and sometimes genealogical Me’ârath Gazzê  (Book of the Cave of Treasures, 4th cent CE?).  This to some degree bolstered  Ya`qūbī’s  Shī`ī interest in issues of waṣiyya  (successorship) (Refer Bezold,1883‑8; Budge, 1927; Adang 1996:38 ; Ebied &  Wickham, 1970; Ferrê, 1977).

 Ya`qūbī evidently had a considerable regard for the integrity of biblical scripture. He taught that king Zerubbabel rescued the Hebrew bible from a well into which Nebuchadnezzar had cast it and considered the NT a trustworthy source (Adang, 1996:226‑7). For him the Gospels have it that after traveling to Jerusalem, Jesus communicated to his disciples a distinctly messianic, Paraclete promise:

The hour has come at which the Son of Man (ibn al‑bashar  = Jesus) must withdraw unto his Father ... [then] there will come unto you the Paraclete (al‑fāraqlīṭ) who will be with you as a prophet (nabī)... " (Tā’rīkh  1: 72)

∎ al‑Mas`ūdī (d. 345/956)

 A one time student of al‑Ṭabarī in Baghdad (see below), the amazingly prolific al‑Mas`ūdī  did not wholly share his teachers’ negative views regarding pre‑Islamic scripture. He was much travelled and had frequent  dialogue with Jews, Zoroastrians, Christians and the Sabeans of Harran. Most probably a Shī`ī Muslim like Ya`qūbī  he authored several highly influential historical works replete with detailed accounts of pre‑Islamic history and rich by Isrā’īliyyāt traditions (Shboul1979 Ch.IV). Notable in this respect are his two digests of larger works, the Murūj al‑dhahab wa ma`ādīn al‑jawhar  (Meadows of Gold and Mines of Jewels) and the  K. al‑Tanbīh wa’l‑ishrāf  (The Book of Indication and the General View) which are "both part of a series of seven works in which al‑Mas`ūdī combined history, geography, astronomy, ethnography and religion" (Adang, 1993:46 ;  Shboul, 1979:68ff). 

 The abovementioned works of al‑Mas`ūdī both draw heavily on biblical history and several times give an account of the fate of the Torah, a book which al‑Mas`ūdī claimed to have directly consulted (Murūj  I:45, Praries I:32 Adang 1996:124). Shboul thought that  al‑Mas`ūdī was familiar with several Arabic translations of the Torah and aware of the Greek, Septuagint (LXX) version as well as the existence of the targumic tradition (Shboul, 1979:288). He certainly had an impressive knowledge of  Christianity though he held back from giving NT citations. As he saw the matter, neither the Q. nor the Prophet had explicitly confirmed  the Gospel narratives (Shboul, 1979:290f; Adang, 1996: 44‑48, 122‑126; Pulcini, 1998:32‑35).

The Tārīkh   of  al‑Ṭabarī  and its Persian  recreation by Bal`amī (d. c. 387/997) . 

The massive Ta’rīkh al‑rusūl wa’l‑mulūk (The history of prophets and kings) of the famous Q. commentator al‑Ṭabarī (d. 310/ 923) is universally recognized as an extremely important Arabic  historical source. Drawing  on numerous earlier sources  it  covers Israelite and Persian pre‑Islamic history  in considerable detail  (800+ Arabic pages) -this work is exactly 811 pages in the Ar. Leiden edition (Brill, 14 vols. + index, 1879‑1901). The English  translation of this portion fills vols.1‑4 of  the Yarshater (ed) translation (see bib.). Though a certain amount of biblical data informs this seminal work, Ṭabarī "ostensibly relied on the traditional Muslim material" (Rosenthal, 1962:42). In both his Ta`rīkh  and his Tafsīr   Ṭabarī  was of the opinion that Jewish leaders willfully distorted the Hebrew Bible (trans. Cooper, 1987, 403ff; Adang, 1993:2983,107; Pilcini, 1998:29‑32). 

∎ The recreated Persian Histoiry of al-Ṭararī  of Abū Alī Muhammad, Bal`amī

 al‑Ṭabarī’s Arabic history was early freely translated into new Persian (c. 963 CE) by Abū Alī Muhammad, Bal`amī for the Samānid ruler Manṣūr b. Nūḥ (d. 365/976). More a transformation of the Arabic than a translation, it amplifies, reworks and sometimes `corrects’ Ṭabarī’s original text at times in line with Samānid legitimacy and the incorporation of Judaeo‑Christian material  (Meisami, 1999:23ff). The Persian Ṭabarī is best viewed as an independent literary entity (Daniel, 1990). Following the Persian preface in the introductory section, Jewish, Christian and Muslim traditions about the age of the world are registered (Tārīkh  [Per.]).

 The Persian Ṭabarī expands, alters and to some extent Persianizes  aspects of the Arabic legend of the Aṣḥāb al‑kahf  (Companions of the Cave). In line with Islamic tradition al‑Ṭabarī  held that the  sleepers  entered and left  the "cave" at the time of Jesus (al‑Ṭabarī, Tārīkh,  trans. Perlman, IV: 156‑7). The Bal`amī version holds that this happened after the time of Dhū’l‑Qarnayn (= Alexander the Great) though prior to that of Ardishīr [I] b. Bābak, the founder of the Sassanian dynasty (?‑242 CE; see Ṭabarī, Tārīkh (Per.) I:179‑80; cf. trans. Zotenburg, II:39‑40). 

∎ The Shī`I historianal‑Maqdisī (fl. 10th cent. CE.)  and his  K. al‑bad` wa’l‑tārīkh

 The aforementioned Shī`I historianal‑Maqdisī (fl. 10th cent. CE.) authored his wide‑ranging  K. al‑bad` wa’l‑tārīkh    for a Samānid prince around 355/966. Basically a universal history it incorporates much pre‑Islamic data in its twenty‑six sections (in the published edition).  Subjects covered include God and the creation, prophecy, Adam, the prophets (II:74‑132+III:1ff), the Persian kings and the end of the world (Morony, EIr. III:352). The Tā’rīkh‑I Maqdisī  is a richly detailed book widely read in eastern Islamic countries. It includes important  information about Iranian religion and history and cites copiously from Jewish,  Christian and other sources (Maqdisī, K. al‑Bad`;  Goitein, 1968:142‑3; Morony, `al‑Bad` wa’l‑Tarīkh’ EIr. IV:352).


Mujmal al-tawarikh wa'l-qiṣaṣ. (written c. 520/1126).

  • Mujmal al-tawarikh wa'l-qiṣaṣ.  ed. Mahmoud Omidsalar and Iraj Ashar. Tehran: 2005. Composed c. 520/1126 (so M. Qazvini). A world history from creation until the year 520/1126. Facsimile reproduction of a mss. copied in 751/1350-1 and in the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin Preussischer Kulturbesitz. Orìentabteilung (HS or 2371)

"Persian Manuscripts in Facsimile NO.1 In Memory of M.Taqi Bahār MUJMAL AL-TAWARIKH WA-'LQISAS Composed circa 520 AH (1126 AD), copied in 751 AH (1350 AD) Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin ֊ Preussischer Kulturbesitz. Orìentabteilung (HS or 2371) Funding by Society for Promotion of Persian Culture (S. P. P. C), Indiana.  Editors Mahmoud Omidsalar JFK Memorial Library California State University, Los Angeles.  Iraj Atshar Tehran University (Emeritus)".

Other mss. of this work are found, for example, [1] in Paris - Bibliotheque Nation  (Ancien fonds Persan, 62) dating to 813/1410; [2] in Dublin - Chester Beaty Lib. dated 823/1420 and [3] in Germany - the Heldelberg Library  dated 906/1500

∎  The Historical Compendium of Rashīd al-Din  Fadl-Allah (d. 718/1318)

Largely bypassing the Persian general history entitled Mujmal al‑tavarīkh wa’l‑qiṣaṣ (Compendium of Histories and the Prophets; written around 520/1126) which sums up historical data from many previous Persian and Arabic sources and the historical works of the jurisconsult, historian and Ḥanbalī preacher of Baghdad Abu’l‑Faraj Ibn al‑Jawzī (d.597/1200) it will be important to mention the Jewish convert to Islam and physician to certain Mongol Sulṭāns, Rashīd al‑Dīn Faḍl‑Allāh (d. 718/1318). He composed an extensive Arabic and Persian Jāmi` al‑tawārīkh  (Assembling of Histories) which is a wide ranging general history of the world from "the earliest beginnings" (Storey, 1/II:72ff). Schwartzbaum refers to this work as a "turning point in Islamic presentation of Biblical history and Biblical heroes".  Its author was "reared in Jewish Orthodox tradition, and nurtured upon the vast Talmudic‑Midrashic‑Aggadah". His history has a detailed section dealing with the history of the "Children of Israel" (Banū Isrā’īl) and covering both the biblical and post‑biblical periods. He was "the first Islamic historian who draws on the Hebrew text of the Bible, being well‑versed in the Hebrew language" (Schwartzbaum 1982: 42‑3, fn. 98,141).


Ḥāfiẓ Abrū, `Abd-Allah ibn Lutf Allah -  عبد الله بن لطف الله، (d. 833/1429).

  • Zubdat al‑tavārīkh (Quintessence of Histories), Persian.
  • زبدة التواريخ  = Zubdat al-tavārīkh.. 1992.
  • زبدة التواريخ  = Zubdat al-tavārīkh. ed. ; Kamāl Ḥājj Sayyid Javādī. Tehran: Sāzmān-i Chāp va Intishārāt, Vizārat-i Farhang va Irshād-i Islāmī, 2001.

The Rawḍat al‑ṣafā  of Mīrkhwānd (d.903/1498).

 According to Rosenthal the 13th century saw a "steady flow of Arabic and Persian universal histories" (Rosenthal 1968:148). Despite their sometimes considerable use of  Islamo-Biblica or Isrā’īliyyāt they cannot be possibly all be mentionedor analyzed here. Notable, however,  among the pre‑Safavid chronicles is the Rawḍat al‑ṣafā fī sīrat al‑anbiyā’ wa’l‑mulūk wa’l‑khulafā’  (Garden of Purity respecting the Lives of the Prophets, the Kings and the Caliphs;  7+1 vols.) of the late Tīmūrid writer Muhammad  b. Khwāndshāh  b. Maḥmūd, Mīrkhwānd1 (d. 903/1498).  Refer Storey, 1:92‑101 (342); Zaryāb, `preface’ [1:xff] Beveridge [Manz], `Mīrkhwānd..’ EI2  VII:126‑7; Quinn, 2000:14.

This lengthy work has a long opening section `On the beginning of creation, the stories of the Prophets (qiṣaṣ‑i   payāmbarān), the circumstances of the Iranian kings and of the sages of old (ḥukamā‑ yi pīshīn)’ (ed. `Abbās Zaryāb,1:15‑198).2  It cites around forty Arabic and Persian histories and exists in numerous often confused manuscripts. Apparently lacking an autograph ms. variant texts are represented by several 19th century lithograph editions (Bombay, 1845, 1848; Tehran, 1853‑56; Lucknow, 1874;1883) some having been translated into Turkish, Latin and other European languages. The Raḍwat  was also supplemented and extended in Qājār times by Riḍā’  Qulī Khān Hidāyat (d. 1288/1871)  as the  Rawḍat al‑ṣafā‑ yi Nāṣirī.  

The Rehatsek 1891‑2 partial translation of the first volume of the  Rawḍat al‑ṣafa is an English  rendering of the Bombay Lithograph printing of 1271/1854. It includes passages not found in the recent (1375 Sh./ 1996) Zaryāb edition printed in Tehran.

∎ Ghiyāth al‑Dīn, Khwāndamīr (d. c. 941/ 1534‑5)

            Mīrkhwānd’s grandson the Persian historian Ghiyāth al‑Dīn, Khwāndamīr (d.c. 941/ 1534‑5)  summed up and supplemented  his grandfather’s Rawḍat al‑ṣafā’   in his Khulāṣat al‑ akhbār  (905/1499). Khwāndamīr also completed his grandfather’s Rawḍat al‑ṣafā’ writing a seventh volume and a conclusion. Refer Storey, 1:92‑101 (342); Zaryāb, `preface’ [1:xff] Beveridge [Manz], `Mīrkhwānd..’ EI2  VII:126‑7; Quinn, 2000:14

He also authored another more  extensive, multi‑volume  general history covering  the period from the creation until just after the death of the Ṣafavid Shāh Ism ā’īl (d. 930/1524 CE).  This latter work is entitled Tārīkh ḥabīb  al‑siyar  f ī akhbār afrād bashar  (The Beloved of Histories regarding the traditions of the most singular  of mortals;  930/1524). In an independent manner it draws on sources additional to the Rawḍat   for  the pre‑Islamic era and other periods. 3  In the 1333/1954  edition of Khwāndamīr  edited  by Humā’ī  (4 vols.) in excess of 250 pages are devoted to pre‑Islamic history (Storey, I:101ff; Beveridge & deBrujin,EI2 V:1020‑1022; Quinn, 1996 :3‑5).

Select  Safavid Histories and related writings including Islamo-Biblica. 

 Numerous Safavid historical chronicles, including the partially published  Takmilat al‑akhbār    of  Zayn al‑`Ābidīn `Alī Abdī Beg Shīrāzī  (d. 988/1580) and the late Safavid Tārīkh‑i sulṭānī  composed in 1115/1703 during the reign of Sulṭān Ḥusayn by Husayn b. Murtaḍā Ḥusayn Astarabādī  (d. ??), contain large amounts of pre‑Islamic history and qiṣaṣ al‑anbiyā’  materials (cf.Storey 1/1:134).

Zayn al‑`Ābidīn `Alī Abdī Beg Shīrāzī  (d. 988/1580).

  • Takmilat al‑akhbār


Sayyid Ḥusayn Ibn-Murtaḍā Ḥusaynī Astarābādī (           )

تاريخ سلطانى : از شيخ صفى تا شاه صفى

Tārīkh‑i sulṭānī  composed in 1115/1703 during the reign of Sulṭān Ḥusayn by Husayn b. Murtaḍā Ḥusayn Astarabādī

Partial publication of the Persian text:

Iḥsān Išrāqī ed. Tārīkh-i sulṭānī : az Shaykh Ṣafī tā Shāh Ṣafī.  Tehran: ʻIlmī, 1366/1987. 314pp.



∎ ADD to IV

This author of Kashf al-zunūn said with regard to this matter that the Evangel was a book which was revealed to Jesus, the son of Mary, and, discussing the lack of authenticity and genuineness of the present gospels, he said:

The Evangel which was in reality revealed to Jesus was a single book which was absolutely free from contradictions and inconsistencies. It is the Christians who have put the false blame on Allah and His Prophet (Jesus) by ascribing the present gospel to them.


The Nāsikh al‑tawārīkh  (Supplanter of Histories) of Siphir (d.1297/1880).

More recent among histories  is the Persian general history entitled  Nāsikh al‑tawārīkh  (Supplanter of  Histories, around 14 vols.) of Muhammad Tāqī Kāshānī,  Sipihr (= `Celetial Sphere’; d. 1297/1880). Completed in the early 1850s 4 this extensive work  contains much about pre‑Islamic prophets, sages and nations, spanning (in  the Tehran [Amīr Kabīr 1958‑?] edition) almost 1,000 large and dense pages (vol.1 has  600+ pages and vol. 2 has 338 pp.).

There have been many 19th century printings of the Nāsikh   including Tehran 1860; 1888‑9; early 1890s; Bombay, 1892, etc. (Storey. 1:152f, 1247; Minorsky, `Sipihr’ EI2 IX:658).

The Nāsikh al‑tawārīkh  is a very wide ranging work. There are, for example, sections on America (cf. I:27)  and ancient Chinese figures  (I:475f). It claims to have drawn  on a huge array of over two hundred (listed) Arabic, Persian, European and other historical sources including  a good many works dealing with pre‑Islamic religion, scripture and  Isrā’īliyyāt‑qiṣaṣ al‑anbiyā’   such as the Tārīkh‑i  tawrat va injīl` (The history [historical potions]  of the Torah and the Gospels’),  Ṭabarī’s Tārīkh,  a  Qiṣaṣ al‑anbiyā’  work[s] (of Tha`labī?),  a `History of (Tārī kh‑i)  Wahb b. Munabbih (!), the (abovementioned)  Rawḍat al‑safā’ ,  Majlisī’s  Ḥayāt al‑qulūb , a work  entitled  Kamāl‑i  aḥadīth‑i qudsiyyah‑yi  āl‑i  isrā’īl  (The Perfection of the sacred traditions of the family of Israel) and the book of Dhū’l‑Qarnayn  ascribed to Mīrzā Faḍl Allāh, a Tarīkh‑i banī Isrā’īl  (History of the children of Israel) as well, among numerous other miscellaneous titles such as the Mīzān al‑ḥaqq  (presumably of that of Pfander) (Nāsikh al‑taw ārīkh [195?  ed.]  I:29‑32).

Throughout the Nāsikh   there are  very precise though  idiosyncratic  chronological datings  "after the Fall [of Adam]" (hubūṭ‑i  Ādam; loosely  anno mundi )  for hundreds of pre‑Islamic figures and events.  Siphir has it, for example, that Jesus was born 5, 595 years after the fall while Mānī son of (the Parthian prince)  Qātan (sic.  Pātrik; founder of the Manichean movement)   is described as "among the non‑Arab  sages" ( āz jumlih‑yi ḥukamā‑ yi `ajam) and dated to  5,804 AM ( Nasīkh,  II:112f). Mānī’s dates were actually 216‑274[77?] CE.  Like the updated Rawḍat  al‑ṣafā, the Nāsikh al‑tawārīkh  was very probably known to Bābī‑Bahā’ī leaders and writers; in part  because their updated supplements contain inaccurate and critical accounts of Bābī beginnings. In an unpublished letter of `Abd al-Baha' to Lotfullah Ḥakīm, the Nāsīkh al‑tawārīkh  is strongly criticized.