A State of Mixture: Christians, Zoroastrians, and Iranian Political Culture in Late Antiquity (Transformation of the Classical Heritage)
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The rise of Christianity in Iran depended on the Zoroastrian theory and practice of hierarchical, differentiated inclusion, according to which Christians, Jews, and others occupied legitimate places in Iranian political culture in positions subordinate to the imperial religion. Christians, for their part, positioned themselves in a political culture not of their own making, with recourse to their own ideological and institutional resources, ranging from the writing of saints’ lives to the judicial arbitration of bishops. In placing the social history of East Syrian Christians at the center of the Iranian imperial story, A State of Mixture helps explain the endurance of a culturally diverse empire across four centuries.
unpracticed in the arts of the Good Religion were not entirely devoid of the capacity to do good work, and any viable political system would have to harness their efforts. What Ohrmazd IV’s court formulated for the first time was a metaphor for such a state of mixture that recognized the vital importance of the activities of inferior humans, which also underpinned the authority of the throne, while pointing to the ultimate cosmic function of Zoroastrian kingship. The good work of the kings of
recently shown, Jerusalem’s fall caused some prominent ascetics to work to purify Christian communities to appease a malcontent deity, while others placed responsibility on the Iranians and their paganism, which necessarily rendered them barbarians. In his poems recounting the conquest, Sophronius of Jerusalem, a leading ascetic thinker of the age and a future patriarch of Jerusalem, depicted the Iranians as murderous, demonically inspired barbarians seeking the destruction of Christianity.74
College extended me a research fellowship that allowed me to embark on new research and to expand the project beyond the limits of my dissertation. Mount Holyoke offered me not only a research leave but also one of the most stimulating environments I have encountered. Its faculty and students constituted the ideal incubator for this book. The writing of the manuscript was largely completed at the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World during my tenure of a Visiting Research Scholarship in
rare glimpse of a situation that would have been common in overlapping communities, even if Zoroastrian and Christian authors alike avoided divulging such disturbingly complex scenarios. Not all Christians who found the Good Religion appealing, however, necessarily converted. The commentators of the Hērbedestān also considered situations in which Christians and others sought to participate in Zoroastrian rituals, even to learn their contents, while remaining recognizably agdēn. Although the
conversion. The literary model of the debate in question-and-answer format gave the hagiographer an opportunity to showcase his knowledge of Zoroastrian doctrine, only to undermine its foundations. When the mowbed, the rad, and their companions interrogate the converts, Adurohrmazd and Anahid both give accounts of the essentials of the belief system that they rejected. From the outset, their accounts are intended to upend the teachings that they describe. They speak, moreover, with an authority