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Sacred Books and Traditions of the Yezidiz, by Isya Joseph, [1919], at



But the myth of the Yezidis is not the only account that attempts to trace their religious origin; the eastern Christians have a tradition that gives a different interpretation. It is to the effect that the people in question were originally Christians, but that ignorance brought them into their present condition. The tradition

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runs that the shrine of Šeiḫ ’Adî was formerly a Nestorian monastery which was noted for the devotion of its monks, but that these were tempted by the devil and left their convent. The Church of the Monastery was dedicated to St. Thaddeus or Addai, 12 one of the seventy-two disciples who, after the ascension of our Lord, was sent to King Abgar of Edessa. It is said that the temple of ’Adî has a conventicle resembling that at Jerusalem. 13 The story of how the cloister was deserted is as follows:

On a great feast day, while the hermits bearing the cross went in procession around the church, they saw, hanging on a tree, a piece of paper with this inscription: "O ye devout monks! Let it be known to you that God has forgiven all your sins, great and small; cease to undergo religious exercises; leave your hermitage; disperse, marry and rear children. Peace be unto you!" On the second day they observed the same thing, and were: led to dispute among themselves whether this were a device of God or of a devil. When on the third day the same incident was repeated, they agreed to leave the abbey and follow what seemed to them a divine order. Šeiḫ ’Adî, the legend goes on, had foretold to the Yezidis of that district that the monks of this monastery would desert their place, would become Yezidis, would marry and beget children; that he would die during that time; and that he wishes his followers to pull down the attar of the church in that priory and bury him there. Shortly after the fulfilment of his prophecy, the Šeiḫ

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died, and was entombed in the place of the altar. And since that time, it is asserted, the spot has become the sanctuary of the devil-worshippers. In support of this statement, it is argued, that there was a Syriac inscription in the temple mentioning the name of the founder of the monastery and the patriarch in whose time it was built; that some of the Yezids themselves bear testimony to this fact, and say they have removed the writing from its former place and have hidden it at the entrance to ’Adî's temple, a spot the whereabouts of which only a few of them know. The reason why this record is hidden, it is explained, is the fear that the Nestorians may see it and reclaim the church. 14

Such is the eastern Christian's tradition relative to the origin of the Yezidis. It is of course, merely a legend; but its character is such as to require careful examination and' critical study. It may embody a measure of truth that will indirectly throw some light on the subject in hand.

One noticeable thing regarding this current view is. that it is not a recent invention; else it might be said to be the creation of ignorance at a time far removed from the event which it records. Assemani, himself an oriental of distinguished scholarship, in that part of his book wherein he treats of the religion of Mesopotamia, according to the natives of the country, says that the Yezidis were at one time Christians, who, however, in the course of time, had forgotten the fundamental principles of their faith. 15 This statement

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is incorporated in the writings of all western orientals that have travelled in the East. 16

Another thing worthy pf notice is that the Christians should have such a sacred regard for his tradition as to hand it down to posterity at the risk of their own reputation. Certainly the Christians are not cherishing this theory with any expectation of receiving honor by assuming relation with the Yezidis. The devil-worshippers are utterly despised by all their neighbors. Nor do they do it out of love, that they may arouse the sympathy of the dominating race for this degraded people. Oriental Christians themselves despise the Yezidi sect. They would not, and could not, help them. There must then be some truth in a legend that leads the church to regard a despised people as having been at one time co-religionists.

Were the antiquity of the tradition, and the unfavorable result which its entertainment causes, the only two reasons for its consideration, we might just as well dismiss it. But there are other things which go to point out some historic facts underlying the current theory. One such fact is that the family name of the Yezidis around Mosul is Daseni, plur Dawasen. The Christians and the Mohammedans know them by this name, and they themselves also use it, and say it is the ancient name of their race, existing from time immemorial. 17 Now Daseni, or Dasaniyat, was the name of a Nestorian Diocese, the disappearance of which is simultaneous with the appearance of the Yezidis in these places. 18

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It is stated, moreover, that all the people of Sinjar were formerly Christians, belonging to the ancient Syriac Church and having a very prominent diocese, which was called the diocese of Šaki, i.e., Sinjar; and that the diocese continued to exist till the middle of the eighteenth century: What goes to verify this tradition is that, at present, there is a library at Jabal Sinjar, under the control of the Yezidis, that consists of ancient Syriac books. They are kept in a small room guarded by a Yezidi. On Sunday and Friday of every week they burn incense and light lamps in honor of the manuscripts; and once a month they take them out in the sun to dust and to preserve them from destruction by dampness. After the door is locked, the key is kept by the Šeiḫ, besides whom and his son no one else is allowed to touch the books. What is more interesting, the people of Sinjar say they have inherited the library from their forefathers, who were Christians. 19 It is pointed out, furthermore, that the names of the principal towns of the Yezidis are Syriac. Ba‘šika comes from "the house of the falsely accused, or oppressed"; Ba‘adrie from "the place of help or refuge"; Baḥzanie from "the house of visions or inspiration"; Talḥas from "the hill of suffering," where many Christians were martyred by Persians. These are a few of many Yezidi villages having Syriac names.

The Yezidis have religious practices which are to be found only in the Christian Church. I mean the rites of baptism and the Eucharist. It is true that

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the use of water as a rite is practised by other non-Christian sects, such as the Mandeans; but it is argued that this ordinance as observed by the Yezidis is so similar to that of the Christians that its origin is to be traced back to Christianity, rather than to any other system. Like their neighbors, the Dawaseni must if possible baptize their children at the earliest age. In performing the rite, the Šeiḫ, like the Christian priest, puts his hand upon the child's head. In regard to the sacrament of the Lord's supper, it is strictly Christian in character. The Yezidis call the cup the cup of Isa (Jesus); and when a couple marry, they go to a Christian town to partake of Al-Ḳiddas (the Eucharist) from the hand of a priest, a custom which prevails among eastern Christians. What requires special note is that this practice is observed where the Yezidi influence is not very strong, a fact which seems to indicate that the Apostate Nasara, who lived remote from strongly Yezidising influences, were able to retain some of their originally much favored practices, and vice versa. 20

Finally, the Dawaseni entertain great reverence for Christianity and the Christian saints. They respect the churches and tombs of the Christians, and kiss the doors and walls when they enter them; but they never visit a Mohammedan mosque. In the Black Book a statement is made that on her way to the house of her bridegroom, a bride should visit the temple of every idol she passes by, even if it be a Christian Church. 21 They have also professed reverence for

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[paragraph continues] ‘Isa (Jesus). They affect more attachment to An Naṣara than to Mohammedans. Such a religious affinity cannot be fully accounted for on any other ground than that of their sincere respect for Christianity, a feeling which clearly indicates that these people must at one time have had a very close connection with Christianity. This intimate relation cannot be explained by their ignorance, or by kindred experiences, as some scholars seem to think. 22 It is true the Christians have been co-sufferers with them; both have lived for generations under the same yoke of bondage and oppression and under similar circumstances. But this alone could not create sympathy between them. Such an assumption cannot be verified by the facts collected through our observation of the Yezidis' character as a religious body. They are sincere in their beliefs, and never compromise in religious matters. History has shown again and again that they have suffered martyrdom for their faith, in which they have been as sincere and unshaken as have been the heroes of any religion. No matter how uneducated they may be, they are not hypocrites in their faith. The theory is also refuted by our understanding of the nature of the affinity in question between the Yezidis and the Christians. It is not a matter of sympathy but of religion. They believe in some forms of Christianity; and when they visit a church, they want to exercise their faith and not to express their-sympathy. What is more, the eastern Christians have no sympathy for the devil worshippers, at least,

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not more than they have for any other religious body. Such an affinity is wanting between the Jews and the Christians or the Yezidis, yet they all live under the same conditions.

I am not here advocating the theory, or implying, that the Yezidi sect is a corrupt form of Christianity, but am simply aiming to show that if the similarity of a certain religion with another in some phases be taken as a ground for the explanation of its origin, the Christian tradition can be regarded as a more probable theory to account for the rise of Yezidism than any other view: And, hence, to point out, what seems to me to be the best position, that the explanation must be found ultimately in some historical document which will give us a reasonable clew in the tracing of the sect in question to its founder.


97:12 Fraser: Ibid, p. 147.

97:13 Rich: Residence in Kurdistan, vol. II, p. 69.

98:14 Al-Mašrik, vol. II, p. 396.

98:15 Ibid, vol. III, p. 493.

99:16 Fraser: Ibid; Rich, ibid.

99:17 Badger: Nestorians and Their Rituals, vol. I, p. 111; Fraser, ibid, p. 285.

99:18 Al-Mašrik, ibid, p. 36.

‘Abdišû was at one time bishop of Sinjar; cf. Fardaisa de ‘Eden, ed. by B. Cardaḥi, Beirut, 1889, p. 5.

100:19 Ibid, pp. 56, 110, 832.

101:20 p. 139 Ibid. This rite is practiced by the Yezidis of Ḫalitiyeh, a dependency of Darbeker, where the Yezidis are few in number.

101:21 Southgate: A Tour Through Armenia, etc., Vol. II, p. 179.

102:22 See p. 42 of this book. Badger, ibid, p. 128.

Next: III. The Speculative Theories of Western Orientalists