Today I encountered a book, written by an Iranian, discussing the position of “religious minorities” in Iran during the Sassanid and medieval period. The author is Aptin Khanbaghi, the title is The Fire, the star and the cross: Minority religions in medieval and early modern Iran, I.B.Tauris, 2006, and there is a Google books preview here.
It’s very interesting to see a different perspective on things:
The position of Christians probably improved even more under Khusraw I Anushiravan (531-578) as he had a Christian wife. His son Anushazad apparendy embraced the religion of his mother and hoped to obtain the support of Nestorians in Khuzistan to usurp power, without any success.66 Anushazad’s appeal to the Christians for support, shows the numerical importance of this community in Khuzistan at this time. During the same period, Maraba (540-552), a Zoroastrian apostate, became Catholicos (head of Nestorian Church) at Ctesiphon.67 Despite the fact that apostasy in Zoroastrianism was not acceptable, the important number of Christians in the West of Iran prevented Khusraw I from killing him. He needed his collaboration to appease a revolt of Christians.68 Following Maraba’s death, Khusraw I placed his private physician, Joseph on the throne of the Catholicate (552-567). The bishops did not contest his choice.69 Another physician, named Moses or Narses from Nisibis, is mentioned as having gone to the court in order to present to the monarch the anguish of the Christians, so that Joseph could be deposed. However, Joseph’s influence on Khusraw was so strong that the bishops did not dare nominate another Catholicos.70
Henceforth, Zoroastrian officers who converted to Christianity were allowed to maintain their rank in the Persian army, and were no longer ostracized.71 By the time of Hormizd IV (579-590), the number of Christians had increased to such an extant that when the Zoroastrian priests solicited the King to restrict the activities of the Christians, Hormizd replied:
“Just as our royal throne cannot stand on its two front legs without the two back ones, our kingdom cannot stand or endure firmly if we cause the Christians and adherents of other faiths, who differ in belief from ourselves, to become hostile to us. So renounce this desire to persecute the Christians and become assiduous in good works, so that the Christians and the adherents of other faiths may see this, praise you for it, and feel themselves drawn toward your religion.”72
The reconciliation of the Sassanians with the Christians generated a new social and political atmosphere, which allowed the Christians to establish intellectual centres similar to those belonging to Jews, such as the School of Nisibis and the School of Ctesiphon.
I wish that I could see the references!
And … why is this book so expensive? How on earth does on get to read it?