The Mahdī and the Treasures of al-Ṭālaqān

in Arabica
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This study highlights a hitherto neglected trope of Muslim apocalyptic literature—namely, that in a region known as al-Ṭālaqān there awaits the future Mahdī a great treasure that will gain him a mighty army to aid him fight the final battle against evil. Tracing the trope’s origin in Zoroastrian apocalypticism and its subsequent dissemination in a wide array of Muslim apocalyptic traditions, this paper argues that this apocalyptic trope ultimately entered into Muslim apocalypticism, in particular Šīʿite apocalypticism, during a Zaydī revolt against the ʿAbbāsids led by the Ḥasanid Yaḥyā b. ʿAbd Allāh in the year 176/792. The paper then explores how the revolt of Yaḥyā b. ʿAbd Allāh shaped the function of the ‘treasures of al-Ṭālaqān’ trope in Muslim apocalypticism and how Yaḥyā’s personality and the revolt he inspired continued to leave an indelible imprint on Imāmī apocalypticism thereafter.

The Mahdī and the Treasures of al-Ṭālaqān

in Arabica




C.E. Bosworth“Ṭālaḳān”EI2.


See Cl. Cahen Ch. Pellat“Ibn ʿAbbād, Abū ’l-Ḳāsim Ismāʿīl”EI2.


H. Halm“Das ‘Buch der Schatten’. Die Mufaḍḍal-Tradition der Ġulāt und die Ursprünge des Nuṣairiertums, I. Die Überlieferer der heretischen Mufaḍḍal-Tradition,” Der Islam55 (1978) p. 219-66.


Halm“Das ‘Buch der Schatten’. Die Mufaḍḍal-Tradition der Ġulāt und die Ursprünge des Nuṣairiertums, II. Die Stoffe,” Der Islam58 (1981) p. 15-86.


Published in L. Capezzone“Il Kitāb al-Ṣirāṭ attributto a Mufaḍḍal Ibn ʿUmar al-Ğuʿfī: Edizione del ms. unico (Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale Ar. 1449/3) e studio introduttivo,” Rivista degli Studi Orientali69 (1995) p. 295-416.


ḪaṣībīHidāya p. 325-6.


FriedmanNuṣayrī-ʿAlawī Religion p. 17-34.


ḪaṣībīHidāya p. 206-7; Ḥasan b. Sulaymān Muḫtaṣar p. 451-4; Mağlisī Biḥār LIII p. 53 f.


Ḥasan b. SulaymānMuḫtaṣar p. 451 reads: Āl Muḥammad.


Ḥasan b. SulaymānMuḫtaṣar p. 452-5 reads: ğāʾil.


Ibn al-MunādīMalāḥim p. 200; cf. D. Cook Muslim Apocalyptic p. 376.


See M.A. Amir-MoezziLa religion discrète: croyances et pratiques spirituelles dans l’islam shi’iteParisVrin2006 p. 300.


RāzīAḫbār Faḫḫ p. 236.


Abū l-FarağMaqātil p. 394 reads mukaḏḏib.


H.W. Bailey“To the Žāmāsp-Nāmak II,” Bulletin of the School of Oriental Studies6 (1931) p. 584 f. On the overall narrative of Zoroastrian apocalypticism see Phillip Kreyenbroeck “Millennialism and Eschatology in the Zoroastrian Tradition” in Abbas Amanat (ed.) Imagining the End: Visions of Apocalypse from the Ancient Middle East to Modern America London I.B. Tauris 2002 p. 33-55.


Karol Czelédy“Bahrām Čōbīn and the Persian Apocalyptic Literature,” Acta Orientalia Hungarica8 (1958) p. 37 f. Only Hans Kippenberg has strongly rejected Czeglédy’s thesis in his “Die Geschichte der mittelpersischen apokalyptischen Traditionen” Studia Iranica 7 (1978) p. 67-70. While many of Kippenberg’s objections to Czelédy’s thesis are provocative the basic insights of Czelédy’s have been more recently redeemed and considerably improved and nuanced in the study of Carlo Cereti “Central Asian and Eastern Iranian Peoples in Zoroastrian Apocalyptic Literature” in Csanád Bálint (ed.) Kontakte zwischen Iran Byzanz und der Steppe in 6.-7. Jh. Budapest Instituti Archaeologici Academiae Scientarum Hungaricae 2000 p. 198-200. In another study I have revisited this data and dated the treasure motif of the Ayādgār ī Žāmāspīg as well as other key aspects of its apocalyptic section known as the Žāmāsp-nāma to the period immediately following the murder of Abū Muslim al-Ḫurāsānī in 137/755. See S.W. Anthony “Chiliastic Ideology and Nativist Rebellion in the Early ʿAbbāsid Period: Sunbādh and the Jāmāsp-nāmaJournal of the American Oriental Society (forthcoming).


See A. Tafażżolī“Dež-i Rūyīn”EIr.


Abū l-FarağMaqātil p. 392 : li-ʿilmī annahu yamsaḥu ʿalā l-ḫuffayn.


Abū l-FarağMaqātil p. 388-9. In the multiple versions of the report Yaḥyā does not name the umm walad of Ğaʿfar to whom he refers but perhaps he is referring to Mūsā l-Kāẓim’s mother Ḥamīda (or Ḥumayda) who was a slave of Berber origin.


D. CookMuslim Apocalyptic p. 214-21.


See Abū l-FarağMaqātil p. 464-73. A number of his followers even claimed that he had not in fact died but shall one day return as the Mahdī; see Abū l-Ḥasan al-Ašʿarī Maqālāt al-islāmiyyīn wa-ḫtilāf al-muṣallīn ed. H. Ritter Beirut Klaus Schwarz 20054 p. 82. Massignon notes the importance of this messianist tradition to al-Ḥallāğ and his followers as well citing the revolt in the Ṭālaqān of Ḫurāsān in the martyred mystic’s name following his death in 309/922 (The Passion of al-Hallaj: Mystic and Martyr of Islam trans. H. Mason Princeton Princeton U.P. 1982 p. 94 f.); however al-Bīrūnī connects al-Ḥallāğ’s fondness for the ‘treasures of al-Ṭālaqān’ tradition rather with the Ṭālaqān of the Daylam (viz. Ṭabaristān). See Abū l-Rayḥān al-Bīrūnī K. al-Āṯār al-bāqiya ʿan al-qurūn al-ḫāliya ed. E. Sachau Leipzig F.A. Brockhaus 1878 p. 211 212. It strikes me as plausible that the ‘treasures of al-Ṭālaqān’ motif became associated with Ḫurāsān as a result of the revolt of the Ustāḏsīs in Bāḏġīs where the Zoroastrian laborers they led in revolt had been employed mining massive quantities of silver from a local mountain. See Robert G. Hoyland trans. Theophilus of Edessa’s Chronicle and the Circulation of Historical Knowledge in Late Antiquity and Early Islam Liverpool Liverpool University Press 2011 p. 308-9. Ustāḏsīs reputedly followed the way of Bihāfarīd an Iranian holyman whom Abū Muslim al-Ḫurāsānī killed in c. 131/748 at the prompting of Zoroastrian priests and whose followers were reputed to await his messianic return. See Elton L. Daniel “Bihāfarīd” EI3.

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