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

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The Arabic manuscript here translated was presented to me before I left Mosul by my friend Dâud aṣ-Ṣâîġ as a memento of our friendship. Ḫawâja aṣ-Ṣâîġ was a man of culture, in sympathy with western thought, and an intimate acquaintance of M. N. Siouffi, the vice-consul of the French Republic in Mosul. From the first page of the manuscript it appears that through some Yezidis he had access to their literature. I know he was in close touch with many of them, especially with the family of Mulla Ḥaidar, which is the only Yezidi family that can read and guard the sacred tradition of the sect.

The manuscript comprises a brief Introduction, the Sacred Books, and an Appendix. In the first, the compiler indicates the source of his information and gives a sketch of the life of Šeiḫ ‘Adî, the chief saint of the Yezidis.

The Sacred Books comprise Kitâb al-Jilwah (Book of Revelation), and Maṣḥaf Rêš (Black Book)--so named because in it mention made of the descent of

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the Lord upon the Black Mountain (p. 32). Al Jilwah 1 is ascribed to Šeiḫ ‘Adî himself, and would accordingly date from the twelfth century A. D. It is divided into a brief introduction and five short chapters. In each, ‘Adî is represented as the speaker. In the Preface the Šeiḫ says that he existed with Melek Ṭâ’ûs before the creation of the world, and that he was sent by his god Ṭâ’ûs to instruct the Yezidi sect in truth. In the first chapter he asserts his omnipresence and omnipotence; in the second he claims to have power to reward those who obey him and to punish those who disobey him; in the third he declares that he possesses the treasures of the earth; in the fourth he warns his followers of the doctrines of those that are without; and in the fifth he bids them keep his commandments and obey his servants, who will communicate to them his teachings. The Black Book2 which perhaps dates from the thirteenth century, is larger than the Book of Revelation, but is not divided into chapters. It begins with the narrative of creation: God finishes his work in seven days--Sunday to Saturday. In each day he creates an angel or king (melek). Melek Ṭâ’ûs, who is created on Sunday, is made chief of all. After that Fahr-ad Din creates the planets, man, and animals. Then follows a story about Adam and Eve, their temptation and quarrel; the coming of the chief angels to the world to establish the Yezidi kingdom; the flood; the miraculous birth of Yezîd bn Mu‘awiya; and certain ordinances in regard to food, the New Year, and marriages.

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The Appendix contains the following:

1. A collection of materials concerning the Yezidi belief and practice.

2. A poem in praise of Šeiḫ ‘Adî.

3. The principal prayer of the Yezidis, in the Kurdish language.

4. A description of the Yezidi sacerdotal system.

5. A petition to the Ottoman government to exempt the sect from military service, presented in the year 1872 A. D.


An analysis of the texts shows that the material is taken from different sources: part of it is clearly derived from the religious books of the sect; another part from a description of the beliefs and customs of the sect given by a member of it to an outsider; a third, partly from observations by an outsider, partly from stories about Yezidis current among their Christian neighbors. Unfortunately the compiler does not specify whence each particular part of his information is obtained. On closer examination it is evident that part, at least, of the Arabic in hand is a translation from Syriac.

The Yezidis, frequently called "Devil-Worshippers," are a small and obscure religious sect, numbering about 20,000. 3 They are scattered over a belt of territory three hundred miles wide, extending in length from the neighborhood of Aleppo in northern Syria to the Caucasus in southern Russia. The mass of

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them, however, are to be found in the mountains of northern and central Kurdistan and among the Sinjar Hills of Northern Mesopotamia.

By reason of their mysterious religion, the Devil Worshipers have been an object of interest and investigation for several generations. Our chief first-hand sources of information in regard to the manners, customs, and practices of these people are: Sir Henry Layard, Nineveh and its Remains (1849), Nineveh and Babylon (1853); G. p. Badger, The Nestorians and their Rituals (1852); my honored teacher, Rev. A. N. Andrus, veteran missionary of the A. B. C. F. M., resident in Mardin, Mesopotamia, "The Yezidis," in the Encyclopedia of Missions; p. Anastase, "The Yezidis," in the Arabic periodical, Al-Mašrik, Vol. II , (1899); Professor A. V. Williams Jackson, of Columbia University, Persia Past and Present (1906); "The Yezidis," in the International Encyclopedia, s. v.; also in JAOS, XXV, 178; M. N. Siouffi, in the Journal Asiatique, 1882 (viie série, T. 20), p. 252, and 1885 (viiie série, T. 5), p. 78. Siouffi was the first to discover and establish the historical character of Šeiḫ ‘Adî, about whom the scholars had been puzzled. He published an extract relating to ‘Adî from Ibn Ḫallikân's Wafaiyât ‘al-Ayân (bibliographical work). Of the second-hand sources of information may be mentioned Les Yezidis, by J. Menant (Paris, 1892), and the article by Victor Dingelstedt, "The Yezidis," in the Scottish Geographical Magazine, Vol. XIV, pp. 259 ff. 4

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In addition to these descriptions, several manuscripts have come to light of recent years which give a great deal of information about the beliefs and customs of the Yezidis

Two of these manuscripts are in the Bibliothèque Nationale, in Paris (Fond Syriaque, Nos. 306 and 325). A translation of the Arabic (Carshuni) texts in these manuscripts relative to the Yezidis was published by Professor E. H. Browne in an appendix to O. H. Parry, Six Months in a Syrian Monastery, 1895. Professor Browne at that time proposed to edit the Arabic text (see J.-B. Chabot, Journal Asiatique, 1896, ixe série, T. 7, p. 100); but so far as I can ascertain this intention has not been carried out.

The manuscript translated by Browne, which according to Parry (loc. cit., p. 357) was written by a native of Mosul, seems to be closely related to that translated below. There are, however, some differences in contents and arrangement: my copy is divided into the Book of Revelation, the Black Book, and an Appendix; while Browne's embraces the Book of Revelation which corresponds to that in my manuscript), and two other "Accounts," the greater part of which is contained in the Black Book of my text, and the rest in the Appendix. Further, in my manuscript Al-Jilwah immediately follows the Introduction; while in Browne's the discussion of the sacerdotal system, the petition to the Ottoman government, and some other matters are inserted between the Introduction and Al-Jilwah. In Browne's, moreover, the

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[paragraph continues] Poem in Praise of Šeiḫ ‘Adî, and the Principal Prayer (in Kurdish) are absent, while the petition to the Turkish government is briefer, and lacks articles iv and xiv. The text of this petition, in its original form. was published by Lidzbarski in ZDMG, LI, 592 ff., after a manuscript in Berlin which was procured from Šammas Eremia Šamir.

Two Syriac texts have also been printed. The first, edited and translated by J.-B. Chabot in the Journal Asiatique, 1896 (ixe série, T. 7), p. 100 ff., from the Paris manuscripts referred to above, corresponds, with slight variations, to the second "Account,"' of Browne (Parry, loc. cit., pp. 380-87).

The second was published with an Italian translation, by Samuel Giamil, under the title, Monte Singar; Storia di un Popolo Ignoto (Rome, 1900), from a manuscript copied for him in 1899 from an original in the monastery of Rabban Hormizd. The author of this work, a Syrian priest, Isaac, lived for a long time among the Yezidis, and not only had unusual opportunities of observation, but, as is evident from several anecdotes, possessed their confidence and esteem in a singular degree. His work is in catechetical form: a youthful Yezidi inquirer questions a teacher about the beliefs, traditions, and customs of his people, and the answers contain the fullest exposition of these matters we at present possess. Occasionally the author falls out of his role, and lets it appear that the questioner is no other than Priest Isaac himself.

The work is divided into ten sections, which treat

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respectively of the works of God and his abode (p. 3) the creation of Adam and Eve (p. 8); the wonderful deeds of the god Yezîd (p. 16); the Yezidi saints (p. 27); the New-Year (p. 32); marriage customs (p. 46); death and burial (p. 53); the pilgrimage to Šeiḫ ‘Adî's shrine (p. 67); the festivals and assemblies at Šeiḫ ‘Adî (p. 80); and the Yezidi kings (p. 87).

Apart from the Kitâb al-Jilwah, Priest Isaac's work is clearly the source from which is derived most of the material in the Syriac and Arabic manuscripts that have hitherto come to light.

Beside the Arabic manuscript from Dâud aṣ-Ṣaîġ which is translated below, I have in my possession two others, which were sent me by the Rev. A. N. Andrus. The first of these written by Šammas Eremia Šamir (designated in the notes hereafter as SS), seems to be a duplicate of that from which Browne's translation was made. They agree in contents and arrangement, and in certain readings in which they differ from the other texts. At the close of SS the writer says that he compiled it (chiefly from Al-Jilwah) for the benefit of some of his friends who wished to acquaint themselves with the Yezidi religion.

The origin of the Yezidi sect has been the subject of much discussion, but no satisfactory solution of the problem has as yet been reached. There are those who assert that the Yezidis are the remains of the ancient Manichaeans; 5 others entertain the view that the Yezidis were originally Christians, whom progressive ignorance has brought into their present

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condition 6--some even going so far as to connect the name "Yezidi" with "Jesus"! 7 Some think that the Yezidi sect takes its name from the Persian word yazd, 'god, or good spirit,' over against Ahriman, the evil principle; 8 while others associate it with Yazd or Yezid, a town in central Persia, the inhabitants of which are chiefly Parsees. 9 Some finally maintain that the sect was founded by Šeiḫ ‘Adî. 10

The Yezidis themselves had a curious legend connecting the name with the Caliph Yezîd bn Mu‘âwiya 11 (see p. 37).

In a dissertation presented for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Harvard University I called attention to a statement of aš-Šahrastânî the importance of which seems hitherto not to have been appreciated, but which appears to me to give the most probable explanation of the name and of the original affinities of the sect. The passage is as follows (Kitâb al Milal wan-Nihal, ed. Cureton, I, 101):


The Yezidis are the followers of Yezîd bn Unaisa, who kept friendship with the first Muhakkama, before the Azariḳa; he separated himself from those who followed after them with the exception of the Abadiyah 12 for with these he kept friendly. He believed that God would send an apostle from among the Persians, and would reveal to him a book that is already written in heaven, and would reveal the whole (book) to him at one time, 13 and as a result he would leave the religion of Mohammed, the Chosen One--

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may God bless and save him!--and follow the religion of the Sabians mentioned in the Koran. 14 (These are not the Sabians who are found in Ḥarân and Wasit. 15) But Yezîd associated himself with the people of the Book who recognized the Chosen One as a prophet, even though they did not accept his (Mohammed's) religion. And he said that the followers of the ordinances are among those who agree with him; but that others are hiding the truth and give companions to God, and that every sin, small or great, is idolatry. 16

The statement of Aš-Šahrastânî is so clear that it can bear no other interpretation than that the Yezidis were the followers of Yezîd bn Unaisa. He calls them his ’aṣḥâb, that is, his followers, a term by which he designates the relation between a sect and its founder. 17 The statement comes from the pen of one who is considered of the highest authority among the Arab scholars on questions relating to philosophical and religious sects. 18 This precise definition of the position of Yezîd bn Unaisa in the sectarian conflicts of the first century of Islam seems to show that he had exact information about him.

The prediction about the Persian prophet is quoted, almost in the same words, by another great Mohammedan authority on religious sects, Ibn Ḥazm, who lived a century before Aš-Šahrastânî. (The Egyptian edition of Ibn Ḥazm, Vol. IV, p. 188, reads Zaid bn Abi Ubaisa; but that Unaisa should be restored is evident from the fact that Ibn Ḥazm is at pains to distinguish the author of this unorthodox prediction from

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the well-known traditionist of the name--e. g., Tabari, I, 135. 19

The prophecy was perhaps preserved among the leaders of the Abaḍiya, with which sect Yezîd bn Unaisa is associated Aš-Šahrastânî's statement, the significant part of which we have found also in Ibn Ḥazm was doubtless derived from an older written source.

Who is intended by the coming Persian prophet--if, indeed, any particular individual is meant--it is not possible to determine. Kremer 20 cannot be right in identifying him with Šeiḫ ‘Adî, for the supposed prediction was in circulating a century or more before his time. He is said to have been, not a Persian, but a Syrian from Baalbek or elsewhere in the West; and both in Arabic authors 21 and in his own writings 22 he appears as a Moslem, a Sufi saint in good standing. The Yezidis to this day await the appearance of the Persian prophet. 23

On the basis of these scanty bits of fact, it appears that: The Yezidis were originally a Ḫarijite 24 subsect, akin to the Abadiya, bearing the name of their founder, Yezîd bn Unaisa. Certain distinctive Ḫarijite peculiarities seem indeed to have outlived among them the common faith of Islam; such as the tolerant judgment of Jews and Christians; the condemnation of every sin as implicit idolatry. In their new seats in Kurdistan, whither they migrated about the end of the fourteenth century 25 they were drawn into the movement of which Šeiḫ ‘Adî was in his life time the

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leader and after his death the saint, and ended by making of him the incarnation of God in the present age. 26 With this they joined elements drawn from Christianity, 27 with here and there a trace of Judaism, and with large survivals of the persistent old Semitic heathenism, many of which they share with their neighbors of all creeds.

Difficult problems, 28 however, remain unsolved, especially the origin and nature of the worship of Melek Ṭâ'ûs. 29 The certain thing is that the actual religion of the Yezidis is a syncretism, to which Moslem, Christian (heretical, rather than orthodox), pagan, and perhaps also Persian religions have contributed. 30


12:1 p. 22 Al-Jilwah is said to have been written in 158 A. H., by Šeiḫ Faḫr-ad-Dîn, the secretary of Šeiḫ ‘Adî, at the dictation of the latter. The original copy, wrapped in linen and silk wrappings, is kept in the house of Mulla Ḥaidar, of Baadrie. Twice a year the book is taken to Šeiḫ ‘Adî's shrine. (Letter from Šammas Jeremia Šamir to Mr. A. N. Andrus, of Mardin, dated October 28, 1892.)

12:2 The Black Book is said to have been written by a certain Ḥasan al-Baṣrî, in 743 A. H. The original copy is kept in the house of Kehyah (chief) ‘Ali, of Kasr ‘Az-ad-Dîn, one hour west of Semale, a village east of Tigris. The book rests upon a throne, having over it a thin covering of red broadcloth, of linen, and other wrappings. Then is disclosed the binding, which is of wood.

13:3 The exact number of the Yezidis is unknown. See also Société de Géographie de l’Est, Bulletin, 1903, p. 284; Al Mašriḳ, II, 834.

14:4 For a fuller account of the literature on the Yezidis, consult J. Menant, Les Yézidis, and Paul Perdrizet, Société de Géographie de l’Est, Bulletin, 1903 pp. 281 ff.

17:5 Société de Géographie de l’Est, Bulletin, 1903, p. 297.

18:6 Fraser, Mesopotamia and Persia, pp. 285, 287; Rich, Residence in Kurdistan, II, 69; Al Mašriḳ, II, .396; Badger, The Nestorians and their Rituals, I: 111; Assemani, Bibliotheca Orientalis, III, 439.

18:7 p. 23 Michel Febvre, Theatre de la Turquie, p. 364; Société de Géographie de l’Est, Bulletin, 1903, pp. 299, 301; cf. also J. Menant, Les Yézidis, pp. 52, 86, 132.

18:8 Oppenheim, Vom Mittelmeer sum persischen Golf, 1900, II, 148; Victor Dingelstedt, Scottish Geographical Magazine, XIV, 295; Southgate, A Tour through Armenia, II, 317; A. V. Williams Jackson, "Yezidis," in the New International Encyclopedia, XVII, 939; Perdrizet, loc. cit., p. 299.

18:9 A. V. Williams Jackson, Persia Past and Present, p. 10, New International Encyclopedia, "Yezidis;" Perdrizet, loc. cit.

18:10 Dingelstedt, loc. cit.; Revue de l’Orient Chrétien, I, "Kurdistan."

18:11 Société de Géographie de l’Est, loc. cit.; Encyclopedia of Missions, "Yezidis"; A. V. Williams Jackson, loc. cit.

18:12 On these sects consult Aš-Šahrastânî, I, 86, 89, 100.

18:13 Not like Mohammed, to whom, according to Moslem belief, the Koran was revealed at intervals.

19:14 On the Ṣabians of the Koran, see Baiḍâwi and Zamaḫšari on Suras 2, 59; 5, 73; 22, 17.

19:15 On the Ṣabians of Ḥarrân, see Fihrist, p. 190; on the Ṣabians in general consult Aš-Šahrastânî, II, 203; on the location of Ḥarrân and Wasit, see Yaḳût, II, 331, and IV, 881.

19:16 To get more particular information in regard to Yezîd bn Unaisa, I wrote to Mosul, Bagdad, and Cairo, the three centers of Mohammedan learning, and strange to say, none could throw any light on the subject.

19:17 Al-Haratiyah he describes as Aṣhâb Al-Ḥareṭ (I, 101), al-Ḥafaziyah, Aṣḥâb Ḥafez (ibid.), etc.

19:18 p. 24 Ibn Ḫallikân says: " Aš-Šahrastânî, a dogmatic theologian of the Ašarite sect, was distinguished as an Imâm and a doctor of the law. He displayed the highest abilities as a jurisconsult. The Kitâb al-Milal wan-Nihal (this is the book in which Al-Šahrastânî traces the Yezidi sect to Yezîd bn Unaisa) is one of his works on scholastic theology. He remained without an equal in that branch of science."

20:19 It is to be noticed also that the name "Unaisa" is very common among the Arabs; cf. Ibn Sa‘ad (ed. Sachau), III, 154, 260, 264, 265, 281, 283, 287, 289; Musnad, VI, 434; Mishkat, 22, 724.

20:20 Geschichte der herrichenden Ideen des Islams, p. 195.

20:21 Ibn Ḫallikân (Egyptian edit., A. H. 1310), I, 316; Mohammed al-‘Omari, at-Mauṣili, "Šeiḫ ‘Adî," quoted by M. N. Siouffi, Journal asiatique, 1885; Yakut, IV, 374.

20:22 ‘Itiḳad Ahl as-Sunna, "Belief of the Sunnites," the Waṣaya, "Counsels to the Califs"; cf. C. Huart, History of Arabic Literature, p. 273.

20:23 See p. 61 of this book.

20:24 Aš-Šahrastânî regards them a Ḫarijite sub-sect.

20:25 Layard, Nineveh and its Remains, II, 254.

21:26 Mohammed al-‘Omari al-Mausili and Yâsîn al-Ḥâtib al-‘Omari al-Mauṣili, "Šeiḫ ‘Adî," quoted by M. N. Siouffi, Journal asiatique, Série viii, V (1885), 80.

21:27 George Wards, Bishop of Arbila, Poems, edited by Heinrich Hilgenfeld, Leipzig, 1904.

21:28 Such as their ceremonies at Šeiḫ ‘Adî (Badger, The Nestorians, I, 117), which have obtained for them the name Cheraġ Sonderan, "The Extinguishers of Light." Bar Hebraeus (Chronicon; Eccles., ed. Abeloos-Lamy, I, 219) Speaks of similar practices p. 25 among what he calls "Borborians," a branch of the Manichaeans, and calls them "The Extinguishers of Light." This name is applied to other eastern sects also; see Abhandlungen für die Kunde des Morgenlandes, V, 124.

21:29 Professor Jackson, of Columbia University, Seems to trace it to the "old devil-worship in Mazanderan" (JAOS, XXV, 178). But it is not certain that the Yezidis believe in Melek Ṭâ’ûs as an evil spirit. In the history of religion the god of one people is the devil of another. Asura is a deity in the Rig Veda and an evil spirit only in later Brahman theology. In Islam the gods of heathenism are degraded into jinns, just as the gods of North Semitic heathenism are called še‘îrîm (hairy demons) in Lev. 17:7; or as the gods of Greece and Rome became devils to early Christians. See W. R. Smith, Religion of the Semites, p. 120; Fihrist, pp. 322, 326.

Professor M. Lidzbarski (ZDMG, LI, 592), on the other hand, argues that Ṭâ’ûs is the god Tammuz. His contention is based on the assumption that the word Ṭâ’ûs must embody the ancient god; that in Fihrist, 322, the god Tâuz has a feast on the 15th of Tammuz (July); that in Kurdish, the language of the Yezidis, m is frequently changed to w. This theory also is untenable, for one might guess at any ancient god. The exact form of the name "Tauz" is uncertain (see Chwolsohn, Die Ssabier, II, 202; the statement that in Kurdish m is frequently changed to w is not true, if one would set it up as a grammatical rule to explain such phenomena; the Kurdish-speaking people never pronounce Tammuz, "Tauz;" and, finally, in the Yezidi conception of Melek Ṭâ’ûs there are no traces of the notion held respecting Tammuz.

21:30 p. 26 Such a state of affairs finds a historical parallel in other religions. Take, for example, Christianity. In it we find that the distinctive characteristics of the founder have been wrapped up in many foreign elements brought in by those who came from other religions.

Next: Notes on the Introduction