Academic journal article The Journal of the American Oriental Society

ABU MUSLIM'S CONQUEST OF KHURASAN: PRELIMINARIES AND STRATEGY IN A CONFUSING PASSAGE OF THE AKHBAR AL-DAWLAH AL-[ABBASIYYAH.Sup.[Subset]]

Academic journal article The Journal of the American Oriental Society

ABU MUSLIM'S CONQUEST OF KHURASAN: PRELIMINARIES AND STRATEGY IN A CONFUSING PASSAGE OF THE AKHBAR AL-DAWLAH AL-[ABBASIYYAH.Sup.[Subset]]

Article excerpt

The Akhbar al-dawlah al-[Abbasiyyah.sup.[subset]] is a major source of information in any understanding of the [Abbasid.sup.[subset]] revolution. However, one critically important passage in it that describes the initial eruption and the steps leading up to it has been misunderstood and has given rise to an erroneous perception of the exact strategy of Abu Muslim in regard to the role Marw played vis-a-vis the outlying districts of Khurasan. Once the meaning of this key section of the text is clarified, a proper appreciation of the precise sequence of events follows and the highly significant role of the Iranian populace in this revolt becomes quite obvious.

THE AKHBAR AL-DAWLAH AL-[ABBASIYYAH.sup.[subset]] [1] is probably the most important source [2] for our knowledge of the so-called "[Abbasid.sup.[subset]] revolution" to have been discovered and published since Tabari's [Ta.sup.[contains]] rikh. [3] This source, however, is not without its own share of difficulties and shortcomings. Its most distressing flaw is the superimposition of an apocryphal [Abbasid.sup.[subset]] presence on what would otherwise have been a coherent and tenable sequence of historical events. Once these [Abbasid.sup.[subset]] interpolations are isolated and eliminated, however, the fundamental veracity of the historical material is restored, and the material it contains can, henceforth, be subjected to the rigorous standards of the historical-critical method. [4]

Other difficulties, which exist in many classical Arabic historical texts, also exist in the Akhbar--such difficulties may stem from digressions; from erroneous inclusions, omissions, or misplacements of segments of a text by careless or confused scribes; and from syntactical subtleties, awkwardnesses, and potentially confusing pronominal or implied and interpretable references. Naturally, difficulties of this kind always call for extreme caution in reading and interpreting such texts, but no-where more so than in instances where a specific passage is employed as a cornerstone in the understanding, and in the reconstruction of a coherent sequence, of historical events whose significance goes beyond the minute details of the specific text. One such instance is the focal point of this article.

I

The historical juncture on which the passage in question reports is the first eruption of the revolt, as it passed from its clandestine into its open phase. As a consequence, a correct or an incorrect reading of the text in this instance tends to shape, over and above our understanding of the sequence of events, the fundamental understanding of Abu Muslim al-Khurasani's successful strategy--a strategy which, by virtue of the fact that it was successful, reflects the true demographic landscape of the revolutionary forces it was designed to respond to and on whose geographical configuration it capitalized.

An errant reading of the subject text shaped Moshe Sharon's reconstruction of the events reported in it, [5] and contributed to his missing the crux of Abu Muslim's strategy, and led to erroneous conclusions regarding the composition of the revolutionary forces. But it was not entirely Sharon's fault. The proper placement of this passage, within its textual environment, eluded also the careful editors of the Akhabar, [A.sup.[subset]]. [A.sup.[subset]]. Al-Duri and [A.sup.[subset]]. J. al-Muttalibi, who have not commented on the problem at all.

The wider textual environment within which the subject text is embedded extends over six pages. [6] The problematic portions themselves (underlined below), and the most vital of its immediate tetual environs, are as follows:

THE KEY PASSAGE

[p. 274: 1. 3] Wa amara-hum Abu Muslim bi-[liqa.sup.[contains]]I ikhwani-him wa al-[bi.sup.[subset]] thati ilay-him li-[yajtamai.sup.[subset]] u wa yuqimu bi-[mawdi.sup.[subset]]i-him lia [1. 4] dukhul al-Muharram. Wa kana alladhi [da.sup.[subset]]a Aba Muslim wa [da. …

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