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Title: The Scholars of Sasanian Iran and Their Islamic Heirs
Authors: Benfey, Thomas Blair
Advisors: Cook, Michael
Contributors: Near Eastern Studies Department
Subjects: Middle Eastern history
Science history
Issue Date: 2020
Publisher: Princeton, NJ : Princeton University
Abstract: This dissertation, “The Scholars of Sasanian Iran and Their Islamic Heirs,” focuses on the intellectual history of the Sasanian Empire, particularly the fields of medicine, astral science, and philosophy. It also addresses the Sasanian legacy’s importance for the development of early Islamic intellectual life. The dissertation’s first two chapters address the existence and nature of a substantial medical tradition in pre-Islamic Iran, which I argue had a formative influence on that of the early Islamic world. In the first of these chapters, my systematic and exhaustive analysis of passages in Islamic-era Syriac- and Arabic-language historiography discussing the origins and nature of medicine in Sasanian Iran points to a common basis for these accounts in fact. I then shift focus to several individual medical authors apparently active in Khuzestan and southern Iraq, during the first century after the Islamic conquest of these regions. In addition to clarifying key details about the lives and careers of these figures, I argue that their activity and presence in this region is another clear indicator of a robust medical tradition in pre Islamic Iran. My third chapter focuses on astral science in Sasanian Iran: particularly the influential astronomical reference works known in Arabic as the Zīj al-Shāh, and their supposedly Indian background. In this connection I make a case for several substantial adjustments to the existing scholarly consensus. In my fourth and final chapter I turn to the current of “skepticism” often imputed to Sasanian Iran in previous scholarship, this trend’s potential legacy in the early Islamic world, and the possible role the Greco-Roman and Indian philosophical traditions played in this connection. The ideas about epistemology and religion we can detect in Sasanian authors do not coalesce into anything approaching discrete philosophical schools, as scholars have sometimes suggested. Nevertheless, a broader ferment over issues such as the limitations of human understanding, and the criteria for choosing one religion over another, is very much in evidence, and it is not difficult to see the similar conversations of the early Islamic period as a legacy of this Sasanian milieu.
Alternate format: The Mudd Manuscript Library retains one bound copy of each dissertation. Search for these copies in the library's main catalog:
Type of Material: Academic dissertations (Ph.D.)
Language: en
Appears in Collections:Near Eastern Studies

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