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Notes on the Jews of Persia Under Mohammed Shah

Obtained From One of Themselves

By the Rev. Abraham De Sola.

“Singula quaeque locum teneant sortita decentem”—Hor. Ars. Poet.

[The following “notes” form the substance of two lectures, publicly delivered in the city of Montreal. The first, in response to the appeal of the persecuted Persian Jews, was an humble offering in their behalf; and the second, at the request of the managers of the Montreal Mechanics’ Institute, formed one of their course of lectures for last winter. The approbation they then received may, perhaps, be some apology on the part of the writer for intruding his scanty and unsatisfactory gleanings in a place which might be more worthily occupied. Prevented, hitherto, by the more urgent duties of his office, from offering them to the attention of the readers of the “Occident,” he is rejoiced that he is at length enabled to defer to the request of the reverend editor, as well to gratify his own long and deeply felt desire of directing the attention of his brethren generally to the state of the sons of Jacob resident in the dominions of the Shah.

It will be at once perceived that his information has been obtained, not from actual observation, but through the medium of an informant. Considerations tending to show the integrity of this informant have been already adduced (Occident, vol. vii. p. 315.);* and to repeat these now may doubtless be considered as neither necessary nor desirable. The evident truthfulness of his descriptions will be readily admitted by every one who has at all read of Persia and the Persians; and his narrative of the various persecutions endured by his suffering brethren is in some measure authenticated, as will be presently shown, by the published statements of those who have not been in every case their friends, and, therefore, not likely to desire the excitation of that sympathy for them which the recital of such atrocities must needs create in every heart not of stone. But notwithstanding all this, the writer is anxious that he be considered as assuming no responsibility, and unable to vouch, farther than certain documents and credentials will permit him, the correctness of every particular he writes,—his aim having be n merely to reduce his informant’s answers and remarks to something like order, and <<505>>to invest the notes he took of them in an English dress. And if these notes shall ultimately prove instrumental in directing the attention of Israelites to their brethren living in the country where once lived Esther and Mordecai, and shall induce them to ascertain more fully and mere satisfactorily the true state and prospects of the Persian Israelites, then he will not regret the labours of amanuensis he has assumed.

As various notices of the lectures above mentioned have confounded the ancient Shushan with the modern Hamadan, it has been deemed correct to prefix a geographical and historical notice of these two cities, to rectify a mistake, which probably arose from the circumstance of there being in the latter city the tomb known as Keber Mordechai, or tomb of Mordecai, and from the former city being called Ir Mordechai, as well as Shushan. The authorities whence this notice is derived are given in the notes. Those, however, who may regard such a notice as unnecessary, will of course avail themselves of the privilege of all readers, and “proceed to the next chapter,” which forms more strictly a portion of the present “Notes.”]

I. Shushan and Hamadan.

Shushan, Susan, or Susa (τα Σοΰσα), was the capital of the province Susis,* or Susiana,† situated between Babylon or Persis, and answering to the modern Chosistan, which extends to the river Tigris. Chosistan, which, although mountainous, is not unfruitful, has for its capital Bussora or Basra. According to some, the city was named שושן (Shushan, meaning a lily,) because of the immense quantity of those flowers which grew there.‡ It stood on the site of the modern Shuster.§ Its rivers were:

1, the Euloeus,|| also called the Choaspes,¶ and in Scripture the Ulai,** now the Carun, “the water of which was so limpid that the Persian kings were wont to carry it with them in silver casks to different countries.†† It had two mouths, one into the Tigris, the other into the Persian Gulf.

* Strabo xv. 727 ap. Winer’s “Real Worter-buch,” article Susan.

† Ptol. vi. 3; Plin. vi. 31. “This name,” says Pinkerton, “is antiquated.” See Niebwhr. Deser. de l’Arab.

‡ “Ainsi appellé à cause de la grande quantité de lis qui y croissent.” De Wolzogue’s Fr. Transl. of Leigh’s Heb. Dic. Gesenius says, “It is called, however, in Egypt, Shensh, and perhaps the Hebrews adopted the Egyptian name, though with Sonic reference to its significancy in Hebrew.”

§ “Shuster is now the name of a large province.”—Pinkerton.

|| Arian Alex. vii. 7, and Winer R. W. Art. Ulai.

¶ Strabo i. 47; Herod. v. 49. ** Daniel viii. 2. †† Laurent.

2. The Oroatis River, called likewise Arosis, the <<506>>modern Tab, a small stream falling into the Persian Gulf. That part of Susiana on both sides the Euloeus was called Cissia, and its inhabitants Cissii. On the east side of the Euloeus stood Shushan, 120 stades in circuit, and distant some 450 miles from Ecbatana, and about the same distance from Seleucia. It contained a citadel or palace, (בירה) wherein the Persian kings resided* during the spring months;† thus “Cyrus spent the seven winter months yearly at Babylon, the three spring months yearly at Susa, and the two summer months at Ecbatana.‡

* Neh. i. 1; Dan. viii. 2; Esther i. 2, etc.

† Xen. Cyr. viii. 6, 2; Anab. xsxv. 15; Polyb. v. 48.

‡ Xen. Cyr. I. 8, p. 233, ap.; Sir Isaac Newton’s “Chronology,” p. 331.

Shushan was founded, according to some, by King Darius; according to others, by Tithonus, and received time name of Memnonia, or palace of Memnon, because that prince resided there.§ Memnonium is a name applied only to the citadel. The city was adorned with many magnifi­cent buildings,|| and was the place in which the treasures of the Persian monarchs were stored.¶

§ Lempriere. || Strabo xv. 728. ¶ Diod. Sic. xvii. 65, xix.18.

The royal palace was built with white marble, and its pillars were overlaid with gold and precious stones. R. Benjamin, of Tudela, informs us that, in his time, the remains of Shushan still contained very large and handsome buildings, of ancient date. He says (under the head Khuzestan), “Its seven thousand Jewish inhabitants possess fourteen synagogues, in front of one of which is the sepulchre of Daniel, who rests in peace. The river Ulai divides the parts of the city, which are connected by a bridge. That portion of it which is inhabited by the Jews contains the markets; to it all trade is confined, and there dwell all the rich. On the other side of the river they are poor, because they are deprived of the above-mentioned advantages, and have even no gardens nor orchards. These circumstances gave rise to jealousy, which was fostered by the belief that all honour and riches originated from the possession of the remains of the prophet Daniel, who rests in peace, and who was buried on their side.**

**Itinerary of Benjamin of Tudela, vol. p. 117, ed. A. Asher.

Josephus tells us†† that this prophet built a tower in Shushan (according to the copy seen by Jerome,‡‡ but in Ecbatana, according to the present <<507>>copies), “a most elegant building, and wonderfully made, and is still remaining and preserved to this day; and to such as see it, it appears to have been lately built, and to have been no older than that very day; when any one looks upon it, it is so fresh, flourishing and beautiful, and no way grown old in so long time.”

†† Ant. lib. x. cap. 11, § 7.

‡‡ Prideaux thinks that Jerome’s copy had most likely the true reading. His reasons are worth quoting:—“For, Susa being within the Babylonish empire, the Scripture tells us that Daniel had sometimes his residence there; and the common tradition of those parts hath been, for many ages past, that Daniel died in that city, which is now called Suster, (Benj. Itin.), and there they show his monument, even to this day. And it is to be observed, that Josephus calls this building Baris, which is the same name by which Daniel himself calls the castle or palace at Shushan or Susa. For what we translate at Shushan in the palace, is in the original Beshushan Habirah, where no doubt the Birah of Daniel is the same with the Baris of Josephus, and both signify this palace or castle, built by Daniel while he was governor of that province. For ‘there he did the king’s business,’ i. e. was governor for the king of Babylon.”—Connexions, vol. i. p. 129, ed. 1720.

* * *

“Now they bury the kings of Media, of Persia, and Parthia, in this tower to this day; and he who was entrusted with the care of it was a Jewish priest, which thing is also observed to this day.”

The Talmud* informs us, that on the eastern gate of the temple was engraved a representation or the city of Shushan, “because,” says R. Obadiah Bartenora, in his comment on the passage under notice, “the Israelites were so commanded by the kings of Persia, in order that they might retain a lively fear of the government to which they were subjected,”†—according to R. Benjamin Musaphia, in his “Aruch,” that they might be reminded thereby of the captivity which was formerly theirs in Persia,‡—and according to Dean Prideaux, from Lightfoot, because “the decree for finishing the temple having been granted by Darius at his palace in Shushan, the eastern gate in the outer wall of the temple was from this time called “The gate of Shushan,” and a picture and draught of the city was portrayed in sculpture over it, and there continued till the last destruction of that temple by the Romans.”§ At present, the only remains of Shushan are some ruins, situate about two miles in a westerly direction from the city of Desphial.||

* בר׳ש מדות (דף ר״ב) שער מזרחי עליו שושן הבירה צורה
The following quotation, forming the gloss of Constantine L’Empereur on this passage, will show how far he agrees with the comment of Bartenora, quoted below:—“Caeterum ut quod de porta orientali traditur melius percipiatur, facit traditio communis, quae affirmat, jussos fuisse Judaeos è Susan Metropoli reduces, januam, quae referret formam civititis Susan, conficere, ut Persarum regis reverentia tenerentur, nee rebellarent: quippe qui exilium hoc mode) in memoriam revocarent. Sunt etiam qui aedificium apud portam istam, civitatem illam referens fuisse asserant,”Codex Middoth, ed. 1630, p. 13. 

   כשעלו מן הגולה צוו להם מלכי פרס לצייר צורת שושן הבירה על שערי הבית כדי שיהיה להם מורה מלכות וציירוהו בשער המזרח׃

 ‡ כדי שיהו ישראל רואין אותו ונזכרין הגלות שהיו בו׃

§ Prideaux’s Connexions, vol. i. p. 151.

|| Kerr Porter’s Travels, ii. 411; Hoch. Vet. Pers. Monum. 95.

(To be continued.)