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Jews, Muslims, Shaykhis and the Bible in Qazvin and Hamadan and the Babi and Baha'i Religions



Jews, Muslims, Shaykhis and the Bible in Qazvin, Hamadan and Elsewhere:

Some Notes on Persian Jews and their interactions with Christians, Shi`i Muslims, Shaykhis  and Members  of the Babi and Baha'i Religions.



Under Revision and In Progress

Stephen Lambden UC Merced

During the 1840's Hamadan, the seat of the tomb of Esther and Mordecai and an ancient and important center of Persian Jews, had a Jewish population of about 2, 000 and three or more synagogues in its somewhat derelict Jewish quarter.

A number of Baha'i sources connect the first glimmerings of a Bābī approach to Jews with the eloquent and learned Bābi poetess Tahirah who was martyred in Tehran 1852. Though her extant writings which I have seen do not seem to contain direct biblical quotations, she may well have had direct knowledge of the Bible. In 1825 the converted Jew and Christian missionary Joseph Wolff (d. 1863) distributed more than 100 Arabic Bibles to the (about 50) Mullas of Qazvin (Wolff, Missionary Journal III: Λ 14 ). Ṭāhirah's uncle Hajji Mulla Taqi Baraghani who wrote a Shi'i tract against the stance of the Christian missionary Henry Martyn (d.1813; he translated the New Testament into Persian in 1811-12, a copy of which came to be presented to Nasir al-DIn Shah), may well have been along with other relatives, among those who received Bible translations.

At one time Tahirah sought refuge in the house of Hakham llyahu [Rabbi Eliyahu] who was, it seems, the learned chief Rabbi of Hamadan. [ who had asked Wolff for a translations of the New Testament and John Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress (cf. Wolff, Dawnings.. 24W.) Various Baha'i sources have it that she converted his son Rabbi [Mulla] Eleazar [Il'āzār], a learned physician (and "clever talmudist" ? Wolff, ibid ). According to the Baha'i writer and historian Fāḍil-i Māzandarānī, Rabbi [Mulla] Eleazar became a "secret believer" and came to aid Joseph Arthur Comte de Gobineau (1816-1882) with aspects of the writing of his classic and influential Les Religions et les Philosophies dans l'Asie Centrale (1st ed. Paris 1865) which contains much about Bābi history and doctrine ( see Mazandarani, KZH VI:703; Awara, Kawàkib-ADD 18). The fact that Gobineau makes no mention of Tahirah's stay in Hamadan (see Amanat, Amanat, Resurrection..314-5 & fn.124) could perhaps be understood in the light of an avoidance of any reference to his crypto-Bàbi helper or his family - if, that is, this tradition has any historical basis.

The Bābi-Baha'i approach to Hamadani Jews began around 1280 A.H./1863-4 C.E. with the mercantile and teaching activities of the Naraqi brothers Muhammad Jawad and Muhammad Baqir. In 1294 A.H./ 1877-8 the Jewish physician, Dr. Hakim Aqa Jan, attended the sick wife of Muhammad Baqir-i Naraqi and was treated respectfully ( not as one "unclean" [najis] ) by a Baha'i who showed knowledge of and a positive attitude towards the Torah and the Injil and informed him of the new religion and of the fulfillment of the prophecies of the Hebrew Bible. Both Hakim Aqa Jan and his cousin, Mirza Abdu'l-Rahim Hafiz and subsequently many of his relatives, were converted by Aqa Muhammad Baqir-i Naraqi and began teaching other Hamadani Jews.


A significant event relative to 19th century Jewish conversions was the fact that Hakim Masih the one time court physician to Muhammad Shah (with whom he travelled on pilgrimage to Karbila, Iraq) stopped at Baghdad where he was deeply attracted to the Bābī Cause by the stunning knowledge, eloquence, and religiosity of Tahirah whom he sought out and heard debating with Shi`i clerics in Baghdad at the house of Shaykh Muhammad Shibl. As a result of this experience he subsequently made enquiries in Baghdad and elsewhere until, a decade or so later in 1278 /1861-2, he came to attend 'All Muhammad, Ibn-i Asdaq (d. Tehran 1928) the young child of Ism-A'lleh al-Asdaq (d.1889).