Devil Worship (Joseph)/Introduction



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 sources 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 is made of the descent of 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 Tâ’ûs before the creation of the world, and that he was sent by his god Tâ’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 Book,[2] 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 a king (melek). Melek Ṭâ’ûs, who is created on Sunday, is made chief of all. After that Fahr-ad-Dîn 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.

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 200,000.[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 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 Encyclopaedia 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 Encyclopaedia, 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]

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 Bibliotheque 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, ix® serie, 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

  1. Al-Jilwah is said to have been written in 558 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.)
  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.
  3. The exact number of the Yezidis is unknown See also Société de Géographie de l’Est, Bulletin, 1903, p. 284; Al Maŝriḳ, II, 834.
  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.