For my project on Christianity in Sogdiana, I have picked the thurbile, the fragment about Barshabba bringing Christianity to Merv, and the Christian refutation of Manichean doctrines. The thurbile depicts the crucifixion of Jesus, which fits into my theme if the thurbile is, in fact, Sogdian in origin. The text about Barshabba and the origins of Christianity in Central Asia set the groundwork for the history of Christianity in the region and possibly Sogdiana. The Christian refutation of Manichean doctrines shows the relationship between Christians and other religions. This is incredibly important for my project considering Sogdiana’s state religion was Zoroastrianism and the fact that I want to look at how Christians functioned and what roles they played within Sogdian communities.
For my project on grapes and the Sogdian way of life, I have picked one of the wine seller figurines and a silver cup at the Hermitage to research. The wine seller, though of Chinese origin, depicts a stereotypical Westerner, quite possibly a Sogdian. My thought here is that grapes make wine, so the association between grapes as a symbol of the Sogdian way of life is linked to Dionysian merriment. Further, the silver cup at the Hermitage that I’m looking at has grape vines engraved on the outside. Again, my thought is that both Sogdians themselves and outsiders closely relate grapes to drinking in Sogdian culture.
Finding objects for my project of Jewish Sogdians (or Sogdian Jews) has been a little harder. Everything I have read about Bukharan Jews talks about inscriptions from Sasanian Iran as well as a mysterious 2000-year old manuscript. I cannot find any specifics about it, like what it says. However, the Alamedyn-Pishpek ossuary in our collection looks as if it could be a Jewish ossuary. According to the Jewish Virtual Library’s Encyclopedia Judaica, Jewish ossuaries are typically decorated with double rosettes, wreaths, and other plants. They are also usually symmetrical in design. The Alamedyn-Pishpek ossuary depicts this balance as well as organic design, which makes it much different than the other ossuaries in our collection. The use of an ossuary by a Jew in Central Asia could possibly point to Zoroastrian or Sogdian influence. That is where the connection comes in, begging the question would Bukharan Jews be considered Sogdian Jews or Jewish Sogdians?
For the two texts, I am going to try to find translations. I am currently trying to figure out where and how exactly I’ll do that. There is a bit of information on the thurbile in Expedition Silk Road. A State of Mixture by Richard E. Payne may also have information about these objects or the like. “Religious Diversity” by Grenet and the Judith Lerner readings from earlier this semester will help me with the ossuary (hopefully) as well as the wine seller and the silver cup. Other sources include the aforementioned Encyclopedia Judaica, the Encyclopedia Iranica, and Bukharan Jews by Hano Tolmas. I am also trying to find someone willing to go to the Bukharian Jewish Heritage Museum in Queens. I know the artifacts there will be much newer than the ones we’re looking at, but hopefully I could find similar ossuaries or pick Aron Aronov’s brain.
Links for objects: