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Javdan-nama

This is an edited version of an article that was originally published in Encyclopaedia Iranica, Vol. XIV, Fasc. 6, pp. 603-605, 2008.

Javadan-nama (also known as Javdan-nama-ye kabir or Javdan-nama-ye elahi), the major work of Fadhl-Allah Astarabadi (d. 1394; q.v.), the founder of the Hurufi movement [1]. The title, which can be translated from Persian either as the “Eternal Book” or as the “Book of Eternity”, has been transcribed here as Javdan and not Javidan (although this latter form is more current in Persian and is often used in contemporary literature on the Hurufisinfo-icon), because early Hurufi authors mostly use the form without the “ya” between the “waw” and the “dal.”

History and manuscripts: The composition of this voluminous work (the complete copy contains about 500 folios) probably took many years. Interpreting the allusive indications found in the Korsi-nama of Ali al-A‘la (d. 1419; q.v.; one of the most significant followers of Fadhl-Allah), Hellmut Ritter (1892-1971) suggested that the Javdan-nama could have been finished by 1386 CE (Ritter, pp. 22-23). Mohammad-Ali Tarbiat relates in the Daneshmandan-e Adharbayjan (p. 553) that Fadhl-Allah wrote the Javdan-nama during his imprisonment in Alinjaq in 1394 CE, but this does not seem very plausible since Fadhl-Allah was executed shortly after his arrest. The Javdan-nama does, however, mention Baku, the capital of Shirvan where Fadhl-Allah spent the last few years of his life, and the date 2 Rabi‘ II 796 AH / 4 February 1394 CE (British Library, MS Or. 5957, fol. 85b), that is, just seven months before the most probable date of his execution on 6 Dhu’l-Qa‘dainfo-icon 796 AH / 2 September 1394 CE. It is therefore possible that Fadhl-Allah completed the Javdan-nama shortly before his death.

Like most Hurufi texts, the Javdan-nama is only available in manuscript form, with the exception of the fragments included in the Vaza-nama of Sadeq Kia (pp. 42-45) and those in an unpublished dissertation (Mir-Kasimov, 2007a, pp. 495-733). As for the other Hurufi writings, the catalogue descriptions require careful scrutiny, and much work still has to be done in order to identify the manuscripts. Among the dated copies of the work, the one in the Millet Library in Istanbul (MS Ali Emiri Farsi, no. 920, dated 992/1584) is perhaps the oldest of the extant. According to the Gölpınarlı catalogue (pp. 56-59), the Millet Library copy was transcribed in Baku from a manuscript which, in its turn, was copied from the manuscript written by Maqdumzada (d. 1441), the daughter of Fadhl-Allah. After the second half of the 15th century, the text of the Javdan-nama was essentially preserved and transmitted within the Bektashi order of dervishes, from which some copies of this work found their way to the European libraries in the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th centuries (Huart, 1889, pp. 238-70; Browne, 1896, pp. 69-86; Idem, 1907, pp. 533-81). According to manuscript catalogues, there are copies of the Javdan-nama in libraries in Istanbul, Cairo, Leiden, Cambridge, and in the British Library in London, as well as in some private collections.

The original Javdan-nama-ye kabir (the “great” Javdan-nama) was written in an idiosyncratic idiom, which mixes the literary Persian with the archaic dialect of Astarabad; the text starts with the word ebteda’ (beginning) repeated six times. This version should not be confused with the shorter and simplified version written without the use of the dialect, which is also ascribed to Fadhl-Allah and known as the Javdan-nama-ye saghir (the “little” Javdan-nama). Two works in Ottoman Turkish are described as adaptations or translations of the latter version: the ‘Eshq-nama (the Book of Love) of ‘Ezz-al-Dininfo-icon ‘Abd-al-Majid b. Fereshta Taravi (Firishte-oğlu, d. 1459-60), written in 1430; and the Dorr-e yatim (the Unique Pearl), composed by a Bektashi dervish named Mortadha in 1638-39 (Gölpınarlı, pp. 114 and 144-47). The former has been translated into modern Turkish under the title Ilminfo-icon-i Cavidan.

Structure and Contents: The account of the text given here is based on the manuscript of the British Library. It is therefore feasible that some of the conclusions made here might need to be modified after the thorough comparison of the extant copies of the work has been made. The Javdan-nama is without doubt the main source on the original Hurufi doctrine. Notwithstanding its foundational role, the contents of the Javdan-nama cannot be easily comprehended. The structural idiosyncrasies and some of the difficulties encountered in this text could be a result of intentional encryption elaborated in the Iranian heterodox milieu of the late medieval period, and there are some indications suggesting this possibility in the Javdan-nama itself as well as in some later Hurufi works. An attempt to comprehend and analyze the contents of the Javdan-nama with the help of the indications found in the Javdan-nama itself and in other Hurufi works was made in Mir-Kasimov, 2007a.

One of the impediments here is the use of a little known local dialect already mentioned above and of the special signs or abbreviations which replace some of the most recurrent expressions. Fortunately, Hurufi manuscripts contain notes that explain the meaning of the abbreviations. Besides, the Javdan-nama and other Hurufi works provide sufficient contextual information for deciphering these abbreviations without the need to consult any other source. Lists of the special signs used in the Hurufi texts have been provided by Clément Huart (1909, pp. 189-90), Sadeq Kia (pp. 39-40), and Abdulbaki Gölpınarlı (pp. 148-49). Shahzad Bashir has discussed a possible metaphysical dimension of these signs (Bashir, 2005, pp. 77-81). Copies of a brief vocabulary of the Astarabadi dialect are sometimes appended to the manuscripts of the Javdan-nama, and a substantially extended version of this vocabulary is now available, thanks to the work of Sadeq Kia (pp. 48-209).

Another difficulty—the allusive, indirect language of the work, which does not allow any immediate conclusion—is attenuated by the incremental repetition in the text, returning regularly to the same questions with some extra details added on, thus gradually clarifying the intentions of the author. A much more serious obstacle is the fragmented composition of the Javdan-nama. Indeed, the work is devoid of any thematic organisation: paragraphs follow one another without any logical link, and passages related to the same topic are dispersed throughout different places in the text.

The major thematic divisions of the Javdan-nama are suggested in an anonymous note annexed to the manuscript of the British Library. They are six, in accordance with the six words ebteda’, with which the text starts. Although they do not cover all the subjects discussed in the Javdan-nama, they give a general idea about the contents of the work. These six divisions can be summarised as follows: Time, Cosmogony, Anthropology; Theory of the Creative Imagination (‘alam-e methal or ‘alam-e khayal), Prophetology, and Return to the Origin (ta’wilinfo-icon). The Javdan-nama thus contains a complete theological doctrine, the logical pattern of which seems to be determined by the cycle of the Divine Verb with its 28 and/or 32 aspects (literally “words,” kalema). This cycle unfolds according to two modalities: the “unconscious” one underlies the laws of evolution of the material Universe with all its components, from the heavenly spheres to the tiniest atoms; while the “conscious” one corresponds to the transmission of the knowledge of the Verb in the line of the Prophets.

A close correlation exists, therefore, between the cosmic and prophetic cycles. There are only three points where the “unconscious” and “conscious” currents cross and where the physical Form of the complete Verb, with its 28/32 aspects, meets the complete Knowledge of the Verb. The first is Adam, whose bodily form is the locus of manifestation (mazhar) of the Verb par excellence, and to whom God “taught all the names” (Qur’aninfo-icon 2:31)—which means, according to the Javdan-nama, that God taught to Adam all the 28/32 aspects of the Verb. Adam is also the last “crossing point,” because he will necessarily appear at the end of the cycle, as the locus of manifestation of the accomplished Verb. Between the two manifestations of Adam comes Jesus, whose body is not produced by the laws of the human heredity, but by the Verb spontaneously taking the form of the human body in the womb of Mary. According to the prophetology of the Javdan-nama, Jesus begins a sub-cycle within the major prophetic cycle, and he will come back at its end as Mahdiinfo-icon, the eschatological Saviour. This is the sub-cycle of the Ommiyin—prophets and saints who have a special connection with the “Mother” (Omm), the foundation of the divine Verb. Muhammad is the second Ommi prophet. His mission achieves the period of the “descent” (tanzilinfo-icon) of the Verb, and it inaugurates the period of the “return to the origin” (ta’wil).

The doctrine of the Javdan-nama is clearly focused on this last phase of the cycle of the Verb, when the gap separating the 28 aspects of the Verb, revealed by the prophet Muhammad (figured by the 28 letters of the Arabic alphabet composing the text of the Qur’an), from the 32 aspects of the complete Verb, revealed by God to Adam, will be filled. This is the mission of the Ommi prophets coming after Muhammad, among whom the author apparently integrates the Shi‘i Imams (only very vaguely outlined in the Javdan-nama, without any mention of their affiliations, numbers and names, with the exception of Ali b. Abi Talibinfo-icon and his son, Husayn), and the mysterious Witnesses (Shahada). The disclosure of the whole set of the 32 original aspects of the Verb will reveal the ultimate meaning of all sacred books. Simultaneously, the material universe will dissolve as the aspects of the Verb will withdraw from the created world on the way of Return to their source. The “conscious” and the “unconscious” lines of the cycle of the Verb will thus come to the common end in the movement which is the Spiritual Exegesis and the Return to the Origin at the same time, in accordance with the etymological meaning of the Arabic term ta’wil.

The doctrinal positions of the Javdan-nama are mainly developed through the comments of the scriptural materials: the Qur’an, the hadithinfo-icon, and extracts from the Old and the New Testaments. The Qur’an is the main scriptural source of the Javdan-nama. According to some evidence found in the Javdan-nama itself as well as in the later Hurufi works, the fragmented structure and the allusive language of the Javdan-nama could be inspired, to a certain extent, by the specific composition of the Qur’anic text.

The only title of a hadith collection mentioned in the Javdan-nama is Masabiha, which probably refers to the Masabih al-Sunnainfo-icon of Abu Mohammad al-Husayn Baghawi (d. 1122). However, many hadith quotations in the Javdan-nama are not provided with references, and most of them cannot be found in any of the standard Sunni compilations. It is noteworthy that the author uses the hadith ranging in a very large spectrum. Some hadiths are quoted in the text under the authority of the Prophet Muhammad’s wife, ‘Ayesha, who was particularly unpopular in Shi‘i circles because of her opposition to the caliphateinfo-icon of Ali b. Abi Talib. Yet, her name is accompanied with honorific titles, which is usually not to be expected from an “orthodox” Shi‘i author. At the same time, the Javdan-nama frequently quotes theophanic sayings with the extreme-Shi‘iteinfo-icon coloration ascribed to Ali b. Abi Talib, which had little credit in the Sunni milieu. Besides, there is no sign in the text of the Javdan-nama, which would further corroborate the remarks on its possible Shi‘i or more particularly Twelver or Isma‘ili inspiration made in a number of previous studies (Browne, 1896, pp. 69-70; Huart, 1909, pp. xii-xiii; Corbin, pp. 234 and 255; Amoretti, p. 624; Ivanow, p. 188; Gölpınları, pp. 17-18; Ritter, p. 4). As it stands, the work seems to combine the Sunni and the Shi‘i views without conflict—a circumstance which is not unusual in Iranian mysticism, particularly in the period between the Mongol invasion and the rise of the Safavidsinfo-icon (13th-16th centuries; see for instance Molé, pp. 61-142).

Along with the Islamic scriptural materials, the Javdan-nama also contains extended comments derived from both the Old and the New Testaments, particularly from the Books of Genesis and Exodus, the Gospel of John, and the Book of Revelation or the Apocalypse of John. The extent of the quotations from the Bible and the importance of the doctrinal positions developed around them may represent another aspect of the eschatological orientation of the Javdan-nama: reforming Islam and ensuring its transition towards becoming the universal religion which will reunify humankind at the end of time.

The Javdan-nama and the later Hurufi tradition: Although the Javdan-nama contains no such claim in itself, the followers of Fadhl-Allah considered it as a divine text (Javdan-nama-ye elahi) containing the secrets of the spiritual exegesis (ta’wil) of the Qur’an and of all the previous Holy Books (it should be noted that Fadhl-Allah was addressed by his disciples as Saheb-e ta’wil, the Master of the Spiritual Exegesis). This was certainly part of the general tendency to sanctify Fadhl-Allah after his death (cf. Bashir, 2000, pp. 289-308).

Hurufi community split into several branches almost immediately after the death of its leader and founder Fadhl-Allah in 1394. Doctrinal controversies between regional Hurufi groups are attested already in the early Hurufi sources, such as the Estewa-nama of Ghiat-al-Din Astarabadi (d. 1449; cf. Ritter, pp. 40-50). The comparison of the Javdan-nama with the later Hurufi works also shows some significant shifts in the interpretation of a number of doctrinal topics as early as in the first generation of Fadhl-Allah’s disciples (Mir-Kasimov, 2006, pp. 203-35). It seems reasonable, therefore, to admit that after the death of Fadhl-Allah there existed not one but several “Hurufisms” which evolved along historically and theoretically divergent lines. Being the most comprehensive and the most authentic reference of the original Hurufi doctrine, the Javdan-nama is the starting point of this evolution and the basis for the study of further developments of Hurufi ideas.

Bibliography:

B. S. Amoretti, “Religion in the Timurid and Safavid Periods” Camb. Hist. Iran, vol. VI, ed. P. Jackson and L. Lockhart, Cambridge, 1986, pp. 610-55.

Fadhl-Allah Astarabadi, Javdan-nama, British Library, London, MS Or. 5957.

Shahzad Bashir, “Enshrining Divinity: the Death and Memorialization of Fazlallah Astarabadi in Hurufi Thought,” The Muslim World 90, 2000, pp. 289-308.

Idem, “Deciphering the Cosmos from Creation to Apocalypse: the Hurufiyyainfo-icon Movement and Medieval Islamic Esotericism ” in Imagining the End: Visions of Apocalypse from the Ancient Middle East to Modern America, ed. A. Amanat and M. Bernardsson, London and New York, 2002, pp. 168-84.

Idem, Fazlallah Astarabadi and the Hurufis, Oxford, 2005.

E. G. Browne, The Catalogue of the Persian Manuscripts in the Library of the University of Cambridge, Cambridge, 1896.

Idem, “Further Notes on the Literature of the Hurufis and Their Connection with the Bektashi Order of Dervishes” JRAS, 1907, pp. 533-81.

Henry Corbin, En Islam Iranien: aspects spirituels et philosophiques, vol. III, Paris, 1972.

Abdülbâki Gölpınarlı, Hurufilik metinleri kataloğu, Ankara, 1973.

Clément Huart, “Notice d’un manuscrit pehlevi-musulman,” JA, 8th series, 14, 1889, pp. 238-70.

Idem, Textes persans relatifs à la secte des houroûfîs, Leiden and London, 1909.

W. Ivanow, Ismaili Literature: a Bibliographical Survey, Tehran, 1963.

Orkhan Mir-Kasimov, “Notes sur deux textes hurûfî: le Jâvdân-nâma de Fadlallâh Astarâbâdî et l’un de ses commentaires, le Mahram-nâma de Sayyidinfo-icon Ishâq ” Stud. Ir. 35/2, 2006, pp. 203-35.

Idem, “Étude de textes hurûfî anciens: l’oeuvre fondatrice de Fadlallâh Astarâbâdî,” Ph.D. diss., École Pratique des Hautes Études, Paris, 2007a.

Idem, “Les dérivés de la racine RḤM: Homme, Femme et Connaissance dans le Jâvdân-nâma de Fadlallâh Astarâbâdî,” JA 295/1, 2007b, pp. 9-33.

Sadeq Kia, Važa-nama-ye Gorgani, Tehran, 1951.

Marijan Molé, “Les Kubrawiya entre sunnisme et shiisme aux huitième et neuvième siècles de l’hégire,” Revue des Études Islamiques 29, 1961, pp. 61-142.

Hellmut Ritter, “Studien zur Geschichte der islamischen Frömmigkeit. II: Die Anfänge der Hurufisekte,” Oriens 7/1, 1954, pp. 1-54.

‘Ezz-al-Din ‘Abd-al-Majid b. Ferešta Taravi (Firishte-oghlu), ‘Eshq-nama, tr. R. Tanrıkulu as Ilm-i Cavidan, Ankara, 1998.

Mohammad- ‘Ali Tarbiat, Danešmandan-e Adharbayjan, ed. Gholam-Redha Taba-taba'i, Tehran, 1999.

 

This is an edited version of an article that was originally published in Encyclopaedia Iranica, Vol. XIV, Fasc. 6, pp. 603-605,   2008