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Post Happy Nowruz!
Created by John Eipper on 03/20/17 3:59 AM

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Happy Nowruz! (A. J. Cave, USA, 03/20/17 3:59 am)

This year, Nowruz, the Persian/Iranian New Year, arrives in San Francisco around 3:30 am (vernal equinox) on Monday, 20 March. So, Happy Nowruz to all.

I have written about Nowruz over the years and my fluffy Nowruz greeting card (in form of a free digital magazine) is posted at http://www.magcloud.com/browse/issue/1258053 .

Nowruz (pronounced no rouz in Persian, meaning new day) has always been more than a seasonal festival. After the Muslim Arab conquest of Persia in the 7th century, the Mazdaean (Zoroastrian) religious festival of Nowruz continued on as a secular celebration of spring by the Persians.

In 2010, the United Nations recognized 21 March as the International Day of Nowruz. It was meant to establish some sort of common grounds among over 300 million people who celebrate this ancient festival around the world. Instead, those 300+ million people have found new grounds to fight over--the spelling of Nowruz, its meaning, and more importantly, who owns this ancient festival anyway.

I don't bother opening those emails that are congratulating me on the start of the New Year 1396 by Iranian nationalists and purists who have been cleverly substituting Persian words for Arabic ones (like Arabic Eid, meaning festival, or something like that). Year 1396 fixes the start of the Iranian calendar to year 622 CE (start of Muslim calendar), ignoring at least 13 centuries of Persian history and heritage prior to Arab conquest, and couple of millenniums more if we count the Elamites. The road to Nowruz cannot be paved with historical ignorance.

JE comments:  If I'm calculating the time zones right, the vernal equinox arrived exactly 34 minutes ago.  A joyous Nowruz to all!  A question for A. J. Cave:  Didn't the conquering Arabs seek to eliminate the holiday?  Or were they content to co-opt it, as the Christians did with Christmas, Easter, etc?

A. J.'s "How to Nowruz like a Persian" is an e-publishing tour de force.  Make sure you don't let Nowruz go by without clicking on the above link.

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  • Nowruz and Purim (Massoud Malek, USA 03/20/17 4:24 PM)
    If you start telling a story, you must finish it.

    To become a Muslim, you just have to say: "There is no god, except one."

    In Saudi Arabia, if you do not mention the second part, you would lose your head.

    When I was a young boy, I loved listening to the Persian stories told by my grandfather, who could actually add and multiply large numbers in his head.

    When I was reading the Babylonian Talmud and the book of Esther, I discovered that most of the stories were almost identical to the tales told to me by my grandfather.

    In 2007, I visited Hamadan in Iran; there, I saw a structure over a large burial cave. In the cave, there are two large wooden gravestones. The tomb on the right is attributed to Esther the Queen and the tomb on the left belongs to Esther's uncle, Mordechai. There is now some scholarly controversy about whether Queen Esther really did indeed exist.

    In 539 BCE, the Persian king Cyrus defeated the Babylonian king and the Jews came under Persian rule; thus exposing both groups to each others' customs. For over 2,500 years, Persians and Jews coexisted peacefully. As a result of this long-term peaceful coexistence and basic similarity in worldview, we might well have expected what in fact we find: a large number of parallels, mutual and one-way influences and borrowings, etc. These manifest themselves in several areas of Babylonian-Jewish rabbinic life: in lifestyle, in legal and theological borrowings, and in sensibility.

    The story of Purim as told in the Book of Esther may be adapted from a Persian legend about the shrewdness of Queen Vashti, suggesting that Purim may be a transformation of the Persian New Year, Nowruz. By Googling Purim and Nowruz, you may notice many similarities between these two spring festivities.

    In 2015, the day before the Jewish holiday Purim, the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu brought up the biblical story in his speech to Congress to urge US lawmakers to reject a deal with Iran over its nuclear program.

    In his speech, Netanyahu evoked the Book of Esther. He said: "We all read of a powerful Persian viceroy named Haman, who plotted to destroy the Jewish people some 2,500 years ago."

    Haman was a Semite from Canaan, an area covering Israel, Philistia and Phoenicia. No historical sources outside the Bible mention a plot to kill the Jews in ancient Persia; Jews aren't even mentioned in ancient Persian sources.

    At the end of the Book of Esther, after the Jews are saved, they are given the Persian King's permission to go on a killing spree against their enemies, Persians! On the 13th and final day of the Nowruz holiday, Iranians leave the house and picnic. This tradition is meant to recall the ancient Persians who ran away from the massacring Jews of the biblical story!

    Every year around the Purim holiday, Netanyahu likes to repeat the first part of the biblical tale of Purim, but never mentions the end of the story.

    Main sources:



    JE comments:  This is a curious case of syncretism.  If I understand correctly, Purim is a celebration of the Jews' salvation from the Persians, and Nowruz celebrates the Persians' salvation from the Jews.  Or maybe both holidays are just two takes on the equinox?  (Throw Passover and Easter into the mix, and the plot gets complicated.)

    Has WAIS discussed Purim before in the context of contemporary Iran?  At least once:  see this Ronald Hilton post from 2006:


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  • Did the Arab Conquerors Attempt to Eliminate Nowruz? (A. J. Cave, USA 03/21/17 3:52 AM)
    John E asked: "Didn't the conquering Arabs seek to eliminate the [Nowruz] holiday [in Persia]? Or were they content to co-opt it, as the Christians did with Christmas, Easter, etc.?"

    As some WAISers know, I lack appreciation for anything Arabic. So, if you had asked me even a few years ago, my answers would have been the usual yes and no. Done and done.

    This period of history is the backstory to the novel I have been researching for almost 10 years, and all I can say, is that it is beyond complicated. The biggest historical challenge--fall of the Sasanian Persian Empire and rise and spread of Islam in the mid-seventh century CE--is the lack of credible and reliable sources. Within a couple of decades the world fundamentally changed, and yet, we know very little about exactly what happened and why and how. We just know it happened because we live in the world that was re-made in those pivotal years.

    The pagan polytheist Arabs, wedged between the two super-powers of the time, Sasanian Persians (mostly Zoroastrians) and Byzantine Romans (Christians), had no real scribal tradition of their own to record their exploits. During the course of conquest, Arabs destroyed almost all of the Sasanian royal archives and libraries (called houses of knowledge), and the Byzantines had no real interest in what was happening outside of their borders. It was the Muslim Persian historian al-Tabari (839-923 CE), writing in Arabic, who wrote about those early years of Islam couple of centuries later.

    That said, the answer to the second question is still no. Muslim Arabs eventually adopted Persian Sasanian imperial court customs lock, stock, and barrel. However, the ancient festival of Nowruz was such an integral part of the Zoroastrian Persian existence that co-opting it was not an option.

    Did Arabs try, instead, to eliminate Nowruz and its celebration?

    Since Nowruz is still fully celebrated today, if Arabs tried to eliminate it way back when, they obviously failed miserably. I don't know if Arabs tried to eliminate Nowruz altogether, since they (grudgingly) recognized Zoroastrians as "People of the Book" (ahl-e al-kitab in Arabic), hence protected from [religious] interference. Zoroastrians were treated severely as second-class citizens in the Islamic Arab empire (payback for being treated the same by the Persians), but as long as they paid the special tax (called Jizyah in Arabic), they were supposed to have been left alone. In practice, however, that special tax assessment was so high, that it probably forced conversion to Islam over 2 to 3 centuries. Off-the-record, I call Islam the religion that was spread by extreme taxation.

    All conquests are bloody and since ISIS (The Islamic State or Daesh) is supposedly following in the footsteps of the early Muslim wave, we have a rare opportunity to see what could have happened to the Persians (and other non-Muslims) 14 centuries ago.

    JE comments:  Extreme taxation is just as effective as the sword.  Possibly more.  Isn't ISIS/Daesh doing the same in the territories of its so-called Caliphate?

    As the ISIS tax base shrinks, the rates have increased to compensate.  (Detroit has done the same thing since the 1960s.)  This NYT piece claims that non-Sunnis have to pay up to $2500 four times a year for a "certificate of repentance."


    Thanks for the informative answer, A. J!

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