26 July 2011

Zenobia and the Manichean Convert (Part III)

(Click here for Part I & II)

Walk therefore in joy, drawn to the land of light

Whatever the true history of Nafsha, sister of Queen Tadhi (= Zenobia), there can be no doubt that the Manichean missionary, Mar Adda, believed that he had miraculously healed and so converted a high-born lady of Palmyra. As a result,  many other people were confirmed in the faith as well.  But did he really convert the queen herself, as he claimed?
And also Queen Tadhi, Nafsha's sister and the wife of the Caesar (kysr), came before Mar Adda with great ... and from him received the truth.
We needn't take this too seriously: kings and queens seemed remarkably convertible whenever Mani or one of his disciples performed a miracle or two.  It's standard Manichean hyperbole.  What is interesting is that, even by their own accounts, such royal conversions usually followed a missionary's success as healer rather than as proclaimer of a unique revelation. 

Still, healed is healed and it would be surprising if Zenobia had not become a fan of the Manicheans.  That is what seems to have happened.

For the next part of the story, we leave the Sogdian documents and return to the Coptic historical texts (see Part I).

Holy Men on the Move

The Coptic fragment which refers to Queen Thadamor (= Zenobia) makes no mention of Mar Adda.  Perhaps the unfolding events took place after he had left Palmyra to go to 'the great Alexandria' -- the farthest point of his mission, according to Middle Persian sources.  In any case, the scene now shifts to his younger colleague, Abiesou, whom Mani had sent to accompany Mar Adda on his western mission ...  and a previously unknown episode in the history of Palmyra is revealed: 

He (Abiesou) again went in before Queen Thadamor and she looked favourably on him.  Abiesou the teacher had confidence [in her and settled] there with other brothers.  She became a [great protectress] of the church in that place....

The most likely dates, I think, both for Mar Adda's Egyptian mission and Abiesou's meeting with Zenobia,would be 269-272 CE, that is, the years when the queen ruled over Egypt.  In what happens next, it isn't clear whether Abiesou acted at the urging of Thadamor/Zenobia or if it was his own idea:   
... after which Abiesou the teacher sent Sethel, the deacon ... to the fort of Hira [Abiran] so that they might build up the church in that place.  They healed numerous people.  The matter came before Amaró the king, who was the son of Lahim, so as to enable the brothers to go to his house for a cause of healing.  They befriended him by doing good. He helped us greatly and took care of us.  He became a great protector of the brothers, openly granting us his help and his protection....
Thus, the mission spread out from Palmyra, back across the Euphrates and into the desert areas between the Roman and Persian empires. That region was dominated by the Tanukh, an Arab tribe that had recently migrated into this part of the world.  In the 3rd century CE, they founded the town of al-Hira ('camp') --  7 km/4 miles from what is now the holy city of Najaf in Iraq.  According to Arab legend, Amaró was the first king of al-Hira and his name in Arabic, Amr ben Lakhm, was taken by his descendants of the Lakhmid dynasty of the city.  The Lakhmids were traditionally allied to the Persians and fought as their main desert allies in Roman-Persian conflicts.  We have every reason to think that they were already close allies of the Sasanians: King Amaró is mentioned as one of the supporters of Narseh I (r. 293-302 CE) in the Paikuli inscription, written soon after events of 293 to justify Narseh's right to the throne after he had violently deposed the former crown prince.*  So, by crossing back into the territory of a Persian client, the Manichean missionaries were playing a dangerous game.

End Game

During the last years of Mani's life, the new religion experienced ups and downs  inside Persia itself.  The Zoroastrian clergy (led by the high priest Kirdir) were furiously opposed to the upstart religion.  Worse, they regarded the Manicheans as heretics since they had assimilated some Zoroastrian concepts and names of deities into their system.  As the Zoroastrian 'Acts of the Religion' emphasizes: The most dangerous enemy of religion is the heretic who betrays the stronghold from within.  Political reasons, too -- not least, I would think, their missionary activities on both sides of the frontier and in client kingdoms -- made them seem a subversive element at a time when the Sassanians were facing renewed conflict with Rome.

In January 274 (or 276), Persian fury boiled over.  Their implacable opponent,  Kirdir, finally managed to set the King of kings Bahram I against the prophet. A telling encounter between Mani and Bahram is preserved. Mani arrives at the royal palace to be told that he is unwelcome. "What wrong have I done?" he asks the king.

The King said: "I have sworn not to let you come to this country".  And in his anger he spoke thus to the Lord [Mani]. "What are you good for since you go neither fighting nor hunting? But perhaps you are needed for this doctoring and this physicking? and you don't even do that!"

Mani was imprisoned, crucified (or, more likely, impaled), and his corpse flayed. It was said that Kirdir had his skin stuffed with straw and hung outside the city walls.   After his death, the Manicheans faced their bloodiest period of persecution:  

... Manichaeans were struck down, idol temples were destroyed, and the dens of the foreign gods were ruined and turned into thrones and seats for the gods.

Persecution continued until 293 CE ... and then a true miracle happened.

The 'Living Spirit' 

The reverse of the Coptic page that tells us about the Manicheans at Palmyra and at al-Hira preserves a short text that continues the story after the death of Mani:
He told us that the king [Amaró] had arrived in the neighbourhood of our shepherd Innaios, together with the noble Persians who were his assistants.  He spoke to him.... He asked him to go to the king [of kings].  He achieved mercy for us from him and stopped the destruction.
King Amaró apparently wrote several letters on behalf of the Manicheans to his overlord Narses, seeking an end to the persecution.  The 'shepherd' Innaios, possibly now the leader of the sect, carried the letters to Persia and managed to have an audience with Narses.  The persecution came to an end. 

So, in a way, it was because of Thadamor/Zenobia that they were saved.  The favour she showed to the sect during her lifetime led directly to their mission to the Lakhmids of Hira.  Now, twenty years after her demise, Amaró still provided the Manicheans with protection and vitally needed shelter from persecution.

If only for a time.

Under the successor of Narses (Hormizd II), the Zoroastrian priests once again clamoured for the extirpation of the sect and persecution was renewed. 

The End of the World

What happened next is entirely a matter of legend.  As legends will, as circumstances change, old stories shift and are turned, twisted, and refined in a poet's mind until little remains but names and dimly-remembered places.  Just so, in Arab legend, Zenobia and Amaró of al-Hira become deadly enemies.  All else is forgotten as they dual in the desert....  

Those stories are told in 'The Zenobia Romance I' and II: Truth or Fiction, brilliant inventions, true, but not nearly as enlightening as the history revealed by the Manichean fragments.

* § 92: Amru King of the Lahmids

Sources are the same as those listed in Part I and II; in addition, I have used part of my own account of Kirdir's career from Zoroastrian Stuff III


Above: Leaf from a Manichaean Book. Khocho, Temple α. 8th-9th c. Manuscript painting, MIK III 4979. Via Washington.edu

Middle:  Fragment of a Manuscript. Khocho. 8th-9th c. Painting on paper. MIK III 4937. Via Washington.edu

Below: The execution of Mansur al-Hallaj (858-922): Persian mystic, Sufi, and perhaps crypto-Manichean. Via Wikipedia.

12 July 2011

Zenobia and the Manichean Convert (Part II)

(Click here for Part I)

The Elect of the Apostle of the Light 

Manicheism was a self-consciously missionary religion from the very beginning.  The prophet Mani actively sought to deliver his message to a wide range of audiences in every part of the known world.  The uniqueness of his revelation would thus be proved by his spectacular missionary successes.  Mani himself undertook missionary journeys throughout the Sasanian Empire and to lands further east.  He is known to have preached in India and was said to have converted the king of Turan (a country in northeastern Baluchistan).  His disciples followed suit, called to a lifetime of travel and evangelism. 

In the lands of Rome

The rich variety of Manichean texts found by German archaeologists in the Turfan Oasis in Central Asia consisted not only of hymns, psalms, and homilies but also records recounting the history of their founder and their church.  Fragments include an account of the missionary exploits of Mar Adda, the earliest and best known of the Manichean missionaries sent by Mani into the Roman Empire.  Mani gave Adda instructions for this mission to the western region, so that 

.... this goodness should be received in greatness. And be very learned and educated in it, wise and well-spoken in the district where you are going.  And when you act the way that I have commanded you, then the religion will be spread in these districts, and your work and doings will result in [its] furtherance.

Accordingly, Mar Adda traversed the frontier and entered Roman territory. 

First Stop: Palmyra?

For those who travelled to the Roman Empire from southern Mesopotamia in the third century, Palmyra (Tadmor) was the entry point for caravans as they began the last lap at the western branch of the Silk Road.  This location between east and west gave the city huge commercial advantages and great wealth.  Being at the crossroads also had major strategic implications, especially when, in mid-century, Palmyra was forced willy-nilly to be a bulwark against Sasanian Persia.  In 252-253 CE, the King of Kings, Shapur I, crossed the Euphrates and invaded Syria.  The Roman legions stationed to the north were woefully unprepared to defend the province.  As Shapur boasted,
The nation of Syria and whatever nations and plains that were above it, we set on fire and devastated and laid waste.  And in that campaign we took ... a total of 37 cities with their surrounding territories.
Six years later, the Roman emperor Valerian tried to regain lost territory and avenge Rome's defeat.  Valerian crossed into Mesopotamia with an army of 70,000 men.  They met Shapur in battle and the Roman army was annihilated. Valerian himself was taken prisoner -- to spend the rest of his life rotting in Persia.  The Persian king followed up this victory with another invasion of Syria.  This time around, he destroyed 34 cities, including the eastern capital, Antioch. 

No organized Roman forces remained to protect the eastern provinces.  Then,  like a deus ex machina, Odenathus, prince of Palmyra (ras tadmor) leapt into action.  His army pushed the Persians back into Mesopotamia and chased them all the way to their capital, Cteisiphon, even briefly laying siege to the city.  As reward, the Roman Emperor Gallienus (son of Valerian),  granted Odenathus the title 'Restorer of all the East', and raised  him to consular rank.  Odenathus now outranked any other Roman official or general in Syria.  At some point, he also adopted the more grandiose title of 'King of Kings', thus putting himself on a metaphorical par with Shapur I.  The end game came in 266/67: at the height of his powers, Odenathus was murdered -- almost certainly by a cousin, quite possibly at the instigation of Gallienus -- and his wife Zenobia seized the regency on behalf of their young son. 

It was probably while Zenobia ruled Palmyra herself (267-272 CE) that the Manichean missionary Mar Adda arrived in the city.

How important was the Manichean presence in Palmyra?  That's the first thing to establish. Then, I'll  tell you the most amazing story about Mar Adda bringing his 'Hope' to Palmyra.

The Special Manichean Script

The writing and circulation of Manichean scripture played almost as important a part as preachers and teachers in the diffusion of Mani's faith.  Professional scribes and painters were included on the early missionary journeys in order to spread the 'The Living Gospel' among literate and illiterate audiences alike (with such elegant results as above, left).  The scribes adopted an Aramaic script as the official script of their sect and used it to write their literature in Syriac as well as Persian and other central Asian languages as the religion spread eastward over the centuries. There is good reason to think that some early-bird scribes arrived at Palmyra at the very beginning of the Manichean western mission: as it happens, the so-called Manichean script is virtually identical with the Palmyran script (as attested in Palmyrene inscriptions).  It is possible, of course, that the scribes chose a script already known to them from foreign merchants who travelled along the western Silk Road; but it seems to me altogether more likely that it was created by scribes who accompanied Mar Adda on his mission to Palmyra and stayed there long enough to record the history of his evangelical success.**   

Healer and Wonder Worker  
And I have a religion the radiance of which is brighter than the sun.
And I have as provisions divine profit[?], the taste of which is sweeter than honey.
Two recently-published fragments of Manichean history from the Turfan Oasis (written in Sogdian*) tell us about an important convert brought by Mar Adda to the new faith.  This was a woman named Nafsha, sister of the queen of the city.  Nafsha was cured of her illness by invoking the name of Jesus and the laying on of hands by Adda.  Here's what the Manicheans said happened next: 
And right away the lord [Mani], the apostle, descended openly into the presence of Nafsha and laid his hand upon her, and Nafsha was healed at once and was made complete and without pain. And all the people were astounded at the miracle.  And there were many who received the truth anew.  And also Queen Tadhi, Nafsha's sister and the wife of the Caesar (kysr), came before Mar Adda with great ... and from him received the truth.(So 18223, 18222)

Since the word kysr in Sogdian is used invariably to denote a Roman ruler, and the only ruler with such a title in a frontier region in this period was Odenathus, it seems certain that these events took place at Palmyra (though the surviving fragments do not name the city) -- and that Queen Tadhi, the sister of Nafsha, is none other than Odenathus' wife,  our dear Queen Zenobia.

How did Queen Zenobia turn into Queen Tadhi?  Simple, really. First of all, the good book of missionary history was translated from Syriac Aramaic or Parthian into Sogdian hundreds of years after Palmyra/Tadmor had been destroyed by Aurelian (273 CE).  The city itself may well have been forgotten and its name ('Tadhi' in Sogdian) confused with the personal name of the queen.  And so, the Queen of Tadhi was turned into Queen Tadhi.  Much the same had happened, you may remember, in the Coptic Manichean texts from Egypt, with Tadmor translated as Thadamor (Homilies of Mani; see Part I) -- and Zenobia hides there, too, behind the name of 'Queen Thadamor'.  The city and the queen are again conflated in some later Arab legends, where she is simply named as 'Tadmur'; perhaps the Arab poets -- who did remember Tadmor -- imagined that she had founded the city and given it her own name

In short, kysr is Odenathus and Tadhi is Zenobia. 

... but who is Nafsha? And did Zenobia really have a sister?

Graeco-Roman sources do not mention any sister.  That doesn't mean much, to be honest, as they tell us very little about her family (even the name of her father is uncertain).  However, Arab legend, as recorded by the Persian historian al-Tabari (839-923 CE),*** does put a sister in her story -- a rather shrewd tactician named Zabibah (or Zaynab, Zubayba, or Zalubya).  Most Arab histories call Zenobia herself 'al-Zabba', a reasonable approximation of her name in Palmyrene, zby [Tabari's account is told in an earlier post, The Zenobia Romance, so we needn't rehearse it here.] Although not known earlier than Tabari's 6th C source, we can at least point to a regional tradition that gives Zenobia a sister.  

Yet there is no Nafsha at all at Palmyra.

Or, rather, there is no name like 'Nafsha' among the thousands of Palmyrene names known from inscriptions.

Why, I ask myself, is no real woman ever named Nafsha?  Was this really a given name -- or something else entirely?

Let me make a guess.  In the context of the story -- a sickbed conversion -- I naturally wonder if 'Nafsha' is, in fact, a description of the convert: in Palmyrene, naphsa (related to Hebrew nephesh) refers to the 'spirit' or 'soul' (discussed in 'The Secret Language of Palmyra II').  So we may have a personification of a 'soul' that is saved when it accepts the truth taught by Mani,
fear not, righteous soul, but step forward to the Light Paradise and receive joy.
Just as the place-name 'Tadhi' is confused with the name of the queen in this late translation of an old story, I suggest that the soul, the 'nafsha' that is saved, becomes mistakenly the convert's personal name. 

That might be the be-all and end-all of the matter.

But, not so fast!  This may be true but there are yet more Manichean stories connected with Zenobia/Tadhi/Thadamor behind this tale -- the subject of my next post, in Part III.  Sorry to be so long about it but there's a whole lot of forgotten history lurking in the Manichean fragments.

Click here for Part III

* The centre of ancient Sogdiana was around the cities of Samarkand and Bukhara in present-day Uzbekistan. 

**  Mani himself used this script to write his confessions in Middle Persian, a non-Semitic language (M 172 [= MIK III 196]), adding a few letters and diacritical marks necessary to express specifically Iranian sounds not found in Aramaic: see 'The Manichean Script' in the Encyclopaedia Iranica

*** His stated source was the pre-Islamic Christian Arab poet Adi b. Zayd (died ca. 600) from al-Hira.

Sources for this post (in addition to those used in Part I) include: U. Hartmann, Das palmyrenische Teilreich, Stuttgart, 2001, 311-313; Prods Oktor Skjærvø, Manicheism II: Texts, Sept 21, 2006;  I. Gardner-S.N.C.Lieu, Manichaean Texts from the Roman Empire, CUP, 2004,112-114; S.N.C. Lieu, Manichaeism in the later Roman Empire, Manchester UP. 1992, 73-75.


Top left: Manichean priests, 10th/11th c,. Wall painting, Museum für Indische Kunst, Berlin-Dahlem. Photo credit: Gryffindor via Wikipedia.

Upper middle: Cover leaf of a Manichaean hand scroll (detail). Turfan Oasis. 10th c. Paper.  MIK III 4614. Via Washington.edu

Lower middle:  Leaf from a Manichaean Book.  Turfan Oasis (Khocho Temple) 8th-9th c. Manuscript painting. MIK III 4959.  Via Washington.edu

Bottom left: Manichaean Female Elect. Turfan Oasis. 10th c. Painting on silk. MIK III 4815. Via Washington.edu


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