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BRÏ LL Iran and the Caucasus 18 {2014) 27-45

Tawus Protogonos:
Parallels between the Yezidi Theology and Some
Ancient Greek Cosmogonies

Artur Rodziewicz
Warsaw University

The paper concerns some crucial issues of theology and cosmogony of the Yezidis, which
have distinct parallels in the writings of the ancient Greeks. A startling coincidence of cer-
tain topics and the manner of approach can lead to the conclusion that the Yezidi theol-
ogy and mythology seem to have a distant genetic relationship with the Greek theology,
or—which is also possible—we are dealing with distinct independent inscriptions of the
same ideas, meaning here the highest factors governing the world. The paper also contains
references to similar topics in the literature of Early Christianity and Gnosticism.

Yezidism, Greek Cosmogony, Platonism, Gnosticism, Pearl, One

Almost all of the authors of publications devoted to the Yezidi theology

indicate Zoroastrian and Gnostic foundation of concepts present in it.'
There is more and more literature on the relations between Yezidism and
Gnosticism. On the other hand, researchers of Gnosticism^ indicate its
relationship to concepts derived from the Greek theology and philosophy''

' See, for example, Kreyenbroek iggr. 57-79; Spät 2001: 1-54; eadem 2010; Arakelova
" It is difficult to separate the Yezidis from the Gnostics, because if we take into ac-
count 1) the Yezidis' doctrine secrecy, secrecy of the theological and mystical knowledge
that 2) is structurally connected with some of the Gnostic movements, we should call
them Gnostics (see Rudolph 1977).
' There is general agreement that Platonic concepts had a significant influence on the
theology of many Gnostic movements. It is noteworthy that in the body of a number of
Gnostic texts found in Egypt, known collectively as the "Library of Nag Hammadi", was
found a separate fragment of Plato's Potiteia (588a-589b, NHC VI 5). A simple formula of
© Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, 2014 DOI: io.iie3/i573384X-2oi4oio3
28 A. Rodziewicz /Iran and the Caucasus ;8 (20/4) 27-45

At the same time there is no research on structural, not temporal, associa-

tions between these distant areas—i.e. the theological ideas of the Greeks
and the Yezidis. If we are dealing not with a series of transmissions, but
with independent reflections or divine revelations concerning the reality,
understanding of a certain convergence between the two theologies
(Greek and Yezidi) will allow a better understanding of each of them. So, I
propose here a philosophical and comparative approach, not a historical
one (in the modern sense of the word, as an examination of the temporal
facts and of the temporal relationship between them) that might show
the value of formal content, not the time when it was established.
However, if I were briefly indicate threads that I omit here, but which
could be relevant from the "historical" perspective, I would devote partic-
ular attention to Sheikh 'Adi (d. 1162/3 in Lalish), the co-founder of the
Yezidi doctrine and trace his education to the centre of science and phi-
losophy of that time, esp. in Baghdad, where the translation movement
flourished (Gutas 1998), considering his presumable knowledge of mysti-
cal doctrines of the Greek imbued with the spirit of Islam and his ac-
quaintance with the Gnostic concepts and the Greek philosophy itself,
which was then highly esteemed by Muslims."* We must also remember
that we are talking about areas on which the Hellenistic culture left its
distinctive imprint, where for centuries the Byzantines and Muslims cul-
tivated its fruits. Even in the 6th century diadochi of Plato's Academy
(closed in 529 by Emperor Justinian) went from Athens to the court of a
Persian monarch, Khosrau I, in whom the Greeks saw Plato's philosopher-
king,'' and who himself supported the academy in Gondeshapur (Khuze-

Gnosticism could be: Platonism + Bible (in the broad sense, as embedding in the tradition
defined by the corpus consisting of the Old and New Testament, the Apocrypha, and scho-
lia) + elite knowledge hased on the cult of daemon/-s (i.e. intermediaries between the su-
preme God and men) worshiped by a closed community believed in the supreme God un-
defiled by contact with the evil (because of the matter) world.
•* In the iith/i2th centuries, the Middle East hosted such minds as al-Ghazali or as-
Suhrawardi. In their writings we can discern the knowledge of the concepts of such Greek
thinkers as Pythagoras, Empedocles, Aristotle, and esp. of Plato (regarding Greek topics in
Islamic culture, cf, e.g., Gutas 2000; Walzer 1962).
•' Byzantine historian, Agathias Scholasticus (Historiae II 28, 1-2) portrays Khosrau I as
a king fascinated by Greek literature and philosophy, especially of Aristotle and Plato,
whose main dialogues he read in Persian translations (cf. Watts 2005).
A. Rodzlewicz /Iran and the Caucasus 18 {2014) 27-45 29

Stan region, near the present Iraqi border) in which the exiles and refu-
gees from Byzantium, the Nestorians and the Greek philosophers worked
with the translations of Greek works into Middle Persian. On the other
side of Iraq, in the present SjTia, we can still find well-preserved Greek in-
scriptions in Apamea, where a philosophical school dealing with Greek
thought used to be.'' The importance of these areas for the spread of Greek
culture in the Middle East is well known.^ Why, then. Sheikh 'Adi, being a
conspicuous figure and seriously engaged in theology, should not be ac-
quainted with at least the main ideas from the Greek culture, culture so
admired in the Middle East? What should also be stressed is his relation-
ship with Nestorians,** who were familiar with the Greek theological and
philosophical concepts. We also must be aware of the fact that in the 12th
century when 'Adi Ibn Musafir acted, knowledge of Greek culture in the
Middle East was much greater than in Europe, which had to relearn Greek
from the beginning of the 15th century.
The aim of this paper, however, is not to argue that Yezidi concepts are
derived from the Greek. I propose to look at the Yezidi theology as a part
of a broad heritage." I only indicate the most common elements, hoping

' This is where Poseidonius worked (I B.C.), hence came Platonist and Pythagorean
Numenios (II A.D.), here also lived and acted (IV A.D.) Platonist Iamblichus, very familiar
with the theological tradition of Greece and the East, or Cassius Longinus (111 A.D.), asso-
ciated with Ammonius Saccas and Porphyry, advisor of Queen of Palmyra. Last but not
least, from Syria came last diadochos of Athenian Academy—Damaskios (VI A.D.). No-
tabene the distance between Apamea and the Yezidi centre of the world, Lalish, is ap-
proximately equal to the distance from Barcelona to Madrid. It is hard to believe that there
were no contacts between so closely located sites. Mediaeval Spain was almost untouched
by Greek culture compared with the Hellenisation of the Middle East, yet the Spanish the-
ology and mathematics have Greek roots.
' See Brock 1982; noteworthy are also works of Pigulevskaia 1979.
' The main Yezidi temple is located in a former Nestorian monastery in which the
(co-)author of the doctrine had to serve for some time. There is no clarity, however, if that
was one and the same person or whether it was rather different 'Adi, while 'Adi ibn Mu-
safir appeared later and occupied an already empty monastery (see Leroy/Collin 1963:189-
201; Nau 1914:105-108).
' I refrain from genetic explanations. It is possible that they would lead from the
Greeks back to the East. It is sufficient to mention the important work of West (1997) in
which he points to the parallels between cosmogonies of the Greeks and the Middle East.
Therefore, 1 write about a "broad heritage" or "universal theology".
30 A Rodziewicz /Iran and the Caucasus 18 {2014) 27-45

that this way we could better understand Yezidis' culture and some kind
of universalism in theology.
Therefore, I distinguish and discuss briefly six major elements in the
theology and cosmogony of the Yezidis that have explicit parallels to ear-
lier concepts than known from the Gnostic texts of Late Antiquity.


In many theologies one can find a distinction ofthe divinity describing at
least two areas: a part/aspect/Ziyposiasis/person 1) beyond any character-
istic, which is undifferentiated, nameless, unnameable and generally in-
describable, and 2) having contact with the world, whether formal or ma-
terial, that is formed and structured by it, and which as a result of this,
remains under its rule. This distinction can be found in the oldest Greek
theologies'" and esp. in the writings of Plato. It is thanks to the dialogue
Timaeus that the term "demiurge" ("craftsman, manufacturer") entered on
a permanent basis into theology to describe the god-manufacturer ofthe
material world. This distinction was blurred a little in Christianity" but
with redoubled force returned in numerous Gnostic theologies, even
fought against demiurge from the book of Genesis, as stained by contact
with matter seen as the essence of evil.
In Yezidism we can see the distinction between the supreme God
(Xwadé) and the demiurgic trinity (Sultan Yezid, Sheikh 'Adi, Melek
Tawus) whose characters are often equated."' In a certain sense we can
say that at the most general level we can distinguish between God re-
maining in itself beyond the created world who does not interfere in its
affairs, and the three-name Demiurge.'-^ At the same time, supreme God is

'" See a table showing the distinction in the concepts ofthe fiist Greek theologians and
philosophers (Rodziewicz 2012:185; 431).
" To a certain extent by the introduction ofthe term homoousios, i.e. "consubstantial".
" Yezidism can, therefore, be seen as a form of monotheism in which different deities
are emanations of one God. However, it should be emphasised that on the basis of sources
the position of God (Xwadë) is clearly separated from the divine trinity. Cf. Asatrian/ Ara-
kelova (2003:5): "It is not an accident that in the Yezidi liturgy, as well as in the oral tradi-
tion, a direct address to Xwadè is a very rare occasion, and nor does he want any offerings".
'' With regard to the identification of Sheikh 'Adi with Sultan Yezid and Melek Tawus,
cf e.g. The Hymn ofthe Laughter of Snakes in Kreyenbroek/Rashow 2005:391; see also The
Poem in Praise of Seikh 'Adi (arabic text in Joseph 1909 147-148, translation: 241-242) in
which he states about himself mier a t o :
A. Rodziewicz /Iran and the Caucasus 18 (2014) 27-45 31

usually depicted as motionless, who was in the beginning of the creation

in the Pearl, to whom he gave the soul.'" God is represented as both
incomprehensible by people and at the same time thinking about himself.
In a text dedicated to God, Glorification of God {Madh'é Xwadé), we read:
O, my Lord, you are eternal, (...) Yd, fablo, tu däyml(...)
You are God of all gods, (...) Tuxudäyeharxudäyl{...)
You are God of firmament of heaven. Tu xudäne a'rSë a'zïmï/a'zmâni
Initially ancient (...) , A'maldä däni qadîml(...)
You bave no home, no shelter. Ta na mala, ta nap'arda
You have no colouration, no colour. Ta na lawna, ta na ranga.
You have no voice, nor sound Ta na äwäza, ta na danga.
No one knows what you are (...) Kas nizäna tu cawänt (...)
You give souls...'"' nuh'ädidL..

About the self-centered God we read in the following passages of pray-

ers {Dû'a Ziyaretbûn and Dû'a Tifaqê):
God saluted himself (...) ' Xudê U xo kir silave (...)
As yet, earth and sky did not exist Hê§ta 'erd û 'ezman nebû
The King was lonely in the Pearl Peci§a It nava duré xewle bû
He loved to make pilgrimage Ew muhibê ziyaretiya nûra xo bû.
to his own light (...)
He had prostrated himself before his King ... Kê§abû berPed§êxo sicûde
It was always He himself, Ker ewe bi xome 'bûde.
he was his own object of worship.'**
And cf.
...God became aware of himself in the Pearl." ...Xûdêxo naskir linav durêye.

Ali that are in the universe are under me... (...)

And I am he to whom the Lord of heaven hath said: »'—¡' Mj
Thou art thejust judge and ruler of the earth. (...) L>» jVI ¡¿U j J J U I ^Ull csi
And I am 'Adi aá-Sami, the son ofMusafir. (...) Ji» ùi' ijr-^' L?-^^ ^' J
In the secret of my knowledge there is no God but me. 14 jf^ •J' ^y. >- <JF^J*- > - i^
Regarding the sharp distinction between God and Sultan Yezid, called "the prince of
this world", described as a helper in creation, see, e.g. The Hymn of the Thousand and One
Names in Kreyenbroek/Rashow 2005:74-82.
" Cf. eg. The Hymn of the Creation of the World {Qewlê Aftrína Dinyayê 4) in ibid.
"= Original text (from: Celil/Celil 1978:323-324), English translation in Asatrian/Arakel-
ova 2003:5-6.
"^ The Prayer of Pilgrimage {Dû'a Ziyaretbûn), translation and original text in Kreyen-
broek/Rashow 2005: io8.
32 A. Rodziewicz /Iran and the Caucasus 18 (2014) 27-45

But the demiurgic features are usually attributed to the Trinity in

which the cardinal role is played by Melek Tawus."*
The aforementioned elements have their explicit parallels in the theo-
ries of Plato and Aristotle. In the Platonic texts we can find a description
of God as either the absolute Good whose image is the Sun,''' or the Mind,
which is the demiurge of the world—firstly the mental and invisible, and
then—with the cooperation of gods-demiurges created by him {Timaeus
41a)—the material world and the human beings.""' Demiurge is also agent
forming the World Soul. At the same time in the Platonic texts (as well as
in a large number of Greek works) one can find a connection between
these lesser gods and the planets, which is also a common feature with
On the other hand, in the writings of Aristotle (Metaphysics, On the
Soul), we find the mention of God as the eternal Unmoved Mover or the
Prime Mover remaining outside of the world being also its beginning, who
is also the essence and activity^' and the Mind thinking about itself.^^
Both of these conceptions—of Aristotle and Plato—were later com-
bined into one theory,"-^ which in the most complete version can be traced
in the writings of Plotinus and later Platonists. According to this theory,
the heginning of reality is the absolute indivisible and unnamed One (Gr.
ev) in which the individual hypostases have their origin—firstly the Mind
(Gr. voûç), secondly the Soul or Spirit. In a certain sense, therefore, the

" The Prayer ofAgreement (Dû'a Tifaqê), Kreyenbroek 1991: no.

'* Hymn to tiiatak Taus 21: "0 my Lord, you are the creator, we the creatures" (Asa-
trian/Arakelova 2003: i8).
" Esp. in the Potiteia 5o8bi2-509bio where it is also clearly stated that it is beyond the
world as the absolutely first and as the cause of understanding, which is at the same time
'" Exact passages are cited in my book (Rodziewicz 2012: 297 ff). Similar statements can
also be found in the Plato's PoUticus where God is depicted as having two roles or aspects,
i.e. once being motionless outside the world, and once gives it movement.
" "What is the most powerful, thinks about itself and is a Thinking of thinking" (Meta-
physica 1072a 25: êaxi xi 6 où xivoú|x£vov xivEÎ, àîSiov xai OÚCTÍOÍ xai ¿vépyEio ouao).
" Metaphysica io74b33-34: aUTÔv apa VOEÎ, eijrep éirri xô lípáxiorov, xai êoxiv v) vor)aiç
vorjaetoç voyjaiç. Ail translations from Greek in this article belong to the author.
'' Although neither of them excluded the other; so Aristotle can be considered as one
of the Platonists (cf. Gerson 2005).
A Rodziewicz /Iran and the Caucasus 18 [2014) 27-45 33

various demiurgic factors of the world, as in Yezidism, are considered to

be the manifestations of the one nameless God.


The central object of Yezidi worship, Melek Tawus, is usually associated

with two icons—the peacock and the snake (regarded as taboo and is
generally present only at the entrance to the temple in Lalish). While the
image of snake can in part be explained in relation to the descriptions of
paradise in the Book of Genesis (although in Yezidi mythology one can
also find a thread of the serpent, which saved the Ark by clogging the hole
through which water was starting to sip in), a symbol of the peacock
seems to be more problematic.^" This is where, in my opinion, the Greek
theology can help, with its theory of the diversity of the material beauty. It
is difficult not to notice the parallels between the symbol of the peacock,
tawus (word of Greek origin—from Tawç) (Asatrian/Arakelova 2003: 25),
and the descriptions of the demiurgic bird, which we know from the
Greek cosmogonies, esp. proclaimed by Orphies. According to their ac-
count, at the beginning of the world from the cosmic egg (resembling a
pearl) emerged Phanes or Eros Protogonos "shining golden wings on the
back" (Aristophanes, Aves 693-699) who gave rise to the world. It also
brings to mind the well-known verses of Hesiod's Theogony in which one
of the first cosmic factors belonging to the oldest divine trinity is Eros, i.e.
116 Verily at the first Chaos came into being, but secondly Wide-bos-
omed Earth/Gaia (...)
120 and Love/Eros, the most beautiful among the immortal gods.^'

At the same time the ancient Greek theologians have suggested that
this Eros is hypostasis of god.''*' The function of Eros is to combine oppo-

"* There is also an interesting parallel to the descriptions of the divine peacock called
TausjMalka Taus in the Mandaean Book of John (see Jong 2009; 303-319).
"^ yJTOi \ih TTpÚTiaTa Xáoc yévEx'- aùxàp ïnznci Faî EÙpuorepvoç (...) r|S' "Epoç, oç j

"• I am referring to Pherecydes about whom Proclus writes {In Platonis Timaeum com-
mentaria II 54, 28-55, 3): "Pherecydes claimed that Zeus, intending to generate (Sïjj^ioup-
YEÎv), transformed himself into Eros, for having made the world of opposites, led him to
the agreement and friendship, planted in all the identity and unity that penetrate the
34 A- Rodziewicz /Iran and the Caucasus i8 {2014) 27-45

sites into the unity, i.e. to bring them to the cosmogonical starting point.
Similarly one can treat the peacock symbolism—as just this, which com-
bines coloured variety into the beautiful unity. It is worth noting that also
in the Yezidi theology Love has a status of separate demiurgic factor
whose function is bonding (cf. Rodziewicz 2014). Love is described in the
Qewlê Qere Ferqan and in the Qewlê Zebûnî Meksûr.
Oh God, you are the One, triumphant Itahiyo, tuyi wahidi, qahirt
Before the foundation of the earths, Ji beri binyana 'erda,
before heavens, ji beri 'ezmana,
Before the (holy) man, before the angels. Ji berîmêraji berimeieka.
Love was at your disposal: Mihbeta bi tera çêbû,
what did you create with it? te çîjê çêkirî?
(Kreyenbroek/Rashow 2005:108)
My King spoke pleasantly, Pad§ê min xo§ kir sihbete
The King and the Cup and Love, Pad§a û kase û mihbete
They had created rules and limits, Ewan çêkiribû hed û sede
There love had its place. (...) Lêk rûni§tin mihbete. (...)
The earth did not become solid 'Erdi bi xora negirtibu hisare
Until Love the luminous, acting as Heta mihbeta xerza nurani bi
rennet, was sent into it. navda nedihinare.
(ibid.: 58, 61, cf. 6-7,18)


The question about Adam that Melek Tawus asked God in Paradise was:
"How Adam could multiply?",""" and he is the best person to ask this ques-
tion. For the symhol of the peacock has also a further meaning, which is
associated with the function of Melek Tawus as the master of this world,
namely, diversity and multiplicity. These two terms in the very long Greek
philosophical and mythological tradition have repeatedly been associated
with the matter. The invisible and mental world is characterised by sim-
plicity and singularity, while physicality and materiality are related to di-
versity and colourfulness.

whole. So thanks to them and thanks to those who created it, the world is undamaged".
''~ The Black Book {Mashaf Resh): "Melek Tawus asked God how Adam could multiply
(jJ^) and have descendants if he were forbidden to eat of the grain (*i»J^l). God an-
swered, I have put the whole matter into thy hands" Qospeh 1909:222).
A. Rodziewicz /Iran and the Caucasus i8 {2014) 27-45 35

The very first lines of Hesiod's Theogony describe the emergence of

"Chaos", which is the word derived from the core -xa, meaning "division".
It is worth noting that the Greeks connect with this diversity also the
symbol of the snake. In the oldest known cosmogonies of Hesiod and
Pherecydes there are some special mentions of the mj^hical serpent:
"Pherecydes in the second book writes that Earth during the wedding
gave on the Ocean gifts of Hera to Zeus—the golden apples guarded by
the serpent, [son] of Typhon and Echidna, who had hundred heads and a
variety ofvoices" f
In the myth described by Pherecydes (6th century B.C.) there is a ref-
erence to a serpent that guards a place similar to the Biblical Eden. This is
where Hesperides guard the apple-tree with golden apples, and resides
"hundred heads immortal dragon, [son of] T)^hon and Echidna, barking
various and miscellaneous voices".^'-' References to the serpent or the
dragon are made in different sources. Incidentally it is worth mentioning
that the Yezidis in Armenia hold a brass figure of dragon-serpent (Nico-
laus 2011:65-66) that looks like a cross between a peacock and a serpent.^"
For example, Hesiod says in Theogony that the golden apples were
guarded by a "fearful serpent".^' Greek sources transmit a description of
the ancient battle of this serpent against god Chronos (or Cronus), which
took place at the beginning of the world. Its general outline can be known
thanks to Origen, who, referring to the views of pagan philosopher Celsus,
writes: "Wanting to give an interpretation of these enigmas, which, he be-
lieves, we providently explain as regarded to Satan, says that the ancients
allude enigmatically to a certain struggle among gods [for example] Hera-
clitus [...], while much older Pherecydes, created a myth ofthe battle of

'' Scholia in Apollonii Rhodii Argonautica [scholia vetera) 317, 1-4: on TU Aií Ya|.ioûvTi
"Hpav Sûpo! xà. xpuaâ \a\ka. hà TÛ COXEOÎVÛ ôvaSaStoitEV T) Vy\, <J>£pe)cu8»)ç èv ß' cvjaív. È<pu-Xaacrn)
Se aiiTà Sçiç ó Tuçûvoç xaX 'ExiSvrjç,'É)(tú\xe^aXàç p' xai çcovàç mavroiaç.
"^ Apollodorus, Bibliotheca II113-114.
'" In the archives of the Armenian Institute of Ancient Manuscripts (Matenadaran),
one can see a miniature illustrating the Book of Genesis in which the biblical serpent also
has wings.
'• Theogonia 334: SEIVÔÇ 091c; St. John in the Book of Revelation refers to "the great
dragon, the ancient serpent" (20, 2,1-2; 12, 9,1: ó Spáxcüv ó néyaç, ó oçiç ó àpxaîoç), equated
with the Devil and Satan. Apáxíüv and açiç are the two main epithets In the literature de-
scribing the ancient Typhon.
36 A. Rodziewicz /Iran and the Caucasus 18 {2014) 27-45

one army against another, and the leader of the first made Cronus and the
other—Ophioneus. He recounts also their challenges and struggles and
said that there were agreements between them that those who fall into
Ogenos are to be defeated, and those who pushed them out, win and
should have a possesion of heaven" {Contra Celsum VI42,17-28).


In Greek literature the presence of humans on earth was repeatedly ex-

plained by the fall from the higher world. Over time, a belief developed,
present firstly in tbe writings of tbe Orphies, Pythagoreans and Empedo-
cles (often quoted by later Muslim philosophers) that people, or, more
precisely, the souls of men, are fallen angels descended from the higher
world. Cf. "[Empedocles] shows that not only he, but [starting] from him
we are all newcomers from there, strangers and exiles".*"
In one of the Yezidi oral sources we can hear: "Angel Dardail (...)
taught Adam the science of God and brought bim to Paradise and said
unto him: Now you are an angel, do not leave Paradise for if you do so,
you shall become a man".-^^ Tbe aim of souls is to return tbere.
The transmigration of souls is also mentioned in the Book of Revelation
{Al-Jilwah): "When I want to, I send the soul to reincarnate (c'jj"^' ¿*JUJJ)
again and a second and a third time into this world or to another".-^''
The fall of the soul to the world of birtb (and metempsychosis)'* is a
prevalent topic in Greek literature. A number of commentaries can be
found especially in tbe texts stemming from tbe Platonic school (e.g. Plu-
tarch, Porphyry, Proclus, Iamblicbus).

'•" Plutarch, De exilio 6o7c6-d3; Hippolytus, Refutatio omnium haeresium VII 29,14, 65:
„Empedocles proclaimed at the beginning of philosophy: There is an oracle of Necessity, the
ancient resolution ofgods \ if anyone sins—its nice limbs [will be fdled] with fear \—Demons
long-lived, received life —| thrice ten thousand years shall he wonder [away] from the blessed
\ and I am one of them, exile from the gods anda wanderer".
" Haji Feqir from Baadra, near Mosul (apud Spät 2008:671).
'" Arabic text in Joseph 1909:120. Most of scholars agree that Al-Jilwah (and Meshefa
Resh) is not an original Yezidi book. But it is still a valuable source for research on Yezidis
and the testimony of how they were perceived in the Middle East.
'•' Concerning metempsychosis in Yezidism, cf. Book of Revelation {Al-Jilwah), Chapter
II: "I send a person a second or a third time into this world or into some other by the trans-
migration of souls (c'ij'i" ¿^iJJj)" (Jospeh 1909; 220).
A. Rodziewicz /Iran and the Caucasus i8 {2014) 27-45 37

In the texts of Plato (esp. in the Phaedrus) we find one important ele-
ment previously described in less clear style by Heraclitus, namely the
theory of logos, that is the reason of divine origin, which comes down
from the divine to the human world and then can go back there. This the-
ory will be further developed by the Stoics and Christian thinkers (such as
Origen or John of Damascus).* Some of the ancient commentators find it
also in Homer.'"^ Both in early Greek literature, and later in Christian
literature, logos was considered as a demiurgic agent and equated with
the "Son of God" {vide the Prologue of the Gospel of John), who was in the
beginning and through whom all things were made.
A similar role in the Yezidi theology is played by Melek Tawus.
Threads sketched above found specific combination in the theology of
one of the early Gnostic sects who worshipped the serpent (Gr. oçiç)—
Ophites (or Perates), temporally closer to Yezidis. Cf. "According to them
the universe is: Father, Son and Matter. Each of these three has unlimited
powers in itself. Between the Matter and the Father is the Son, logos, the
Serpent forever moving towards his unmoved Father and moving Matter.
And at one time he turns to the Father and receives the power into his
own person, and when he takes the power, he then turns towards the
Matter. And the Matter, which is devoid of quality and is formless, is
marked by ideas by which the Son marked himself of the Father" (Hippol-
ytus, Refutatio omnium haeresium V17, 5-12).
Reading these words, let us consider the representation of serpent on
the wall in front of Sheikh Adi's tomb in Lalesh—it crawls upward, toward
the sky. This thread also has a parallel in the New Testament. In the
Gospel of John the author cites the words of Christ: "And no one has as-
cended into heaven, except the one who came down from heaven, the
Son of Man. And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so the son of
man must be lifted up, so that whoever believes in him may have eternal
life" (3,13-15).''

•''' Cf Expositiofldei 35.

^' In the D-schoiia of Iliad, in the commentary on verses 385-387 of Book V (SC/ZO&IOÍÍÍ
IUadem, E 385, 28-39 (ed. H. van Thiel), in electronic form:
^ Kcà oùSeiç avcxßeßy]X6v EIÇ X6V oùpotv6v ei \à\ ó ¿x xoO oùpavoû xaxaßac, ó ulèç xoû àv9pu-
Ttou. xal xaSùç Muucr^ç iiijjtoaev xèv açiv èv xjj eprij/u, oiixcoç úijitooíjvaí SEÎ xiv ulov xoû
38 A. Rodziewicz /Iran and the Caucasus 18 {2014) 27-45

Similar threads can also be found in the Yezidi theology, eg. in the
following statement of a contemporary expert on the Yezidi lore: "God
created Adam's body between Saturday and Friday. After seven hundred
years, a soul entered this body. This soul was an angel that came from the
Since the soul descends from the sky, it has to pass by the various re-
gions/heavens designated by the heavenly bodies.



Another thread, which has numerous references in Greek literature, is the

concept of the seven heavenly spheres. In the Yezidi hymns we read about
the seven"" angels/Mysteries/spheres and we can see their physical
symbol used in worship: seven sanjaqs and the structure of each of
them—seven spheres resembling planets"' on a brown stem, on the top of
which sits a bird (or peacock):"^

áv9pá)7rou, 'iva 7tâç ó mo-xeúuv âv aiixû e^i) Ç'^'i'»' aiúviov. 1 do not develop this idea further for
the lack of space (see Nicolaus 2011: 49-72). In this context, see a fragment of the text at-
tached as Appendix to Meshefa Resh: "The Gospel says, 'No one ascended up to heaven hut
he who came down from heaven. No one came down from heaven but Melek Tawus and
Christ. From this we know that the great God has been reconciled to Melek Tawus, who
went up to heaven, just as God came down from heaven and went up again" (Joseph 1909:
*•' Feqir Haji from Baadra (apud Spät 2008:664).
•"'Sometimes this number is doubled, as in Quewle Aflrinia Dinayaye 10: "He built
heaven and earth, fourteen spheres" (Kreyenhroek/Rashow 2005: 67)—one can see here
the theory of parallels between the higher and lower world. Cf. Du'a Bawiriye 11: "Seven
spheres of earth and heaven on the back of the Bull and the Fish" (ibid.: 105).
" As Peter Nicolaus writes (2008: 248): "On the shaft there are seven orbs, like pearls
on a string. The orbs symbolise, according to Yezidi sources, the seven archangels and the
seven layers of heaven and hell. They can also be seen as the planets of the ancients (Sun,
Moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn)". Large fragments on sanjaqs are also con-
tained in Meshefa Resh.
•" "The seven sanjaqs, or sacred images of Malak Tawus, are the more concrete expres-
sion of Yezidism and considered the holiest of the holy ritual objects ofthat religion. (...)
Each of the birds symbolises one of the seven supreme angels, which constitute the Yezidi
heptad of divine beings. Each of the seven sanjaqs is named after the seven archangels, or
rather individuals, who attained divinity through transmigration of the soul of the respec-
tive archangel" (Nicolaus 2008:217-219).
A. Rodziewicz /Iran and the Caucasus 18 {2014) 27-45 39

My King is the Lord of Might Pad§ê min reb il- 'ezete

In the beginning he created the angels Ji 'erwil 'efirandibû miiyakete
In their hands he placed hell and heaven (...) Dana dest wan doj û cinete.
(...) After seven (hundred) years the Seven Be'di hefl sal, heft sur gehi§tine
Mysteries came around the Cup. (...) doran û kase. (...)
The Seven Mysteries came from above** Heft Sur hatin hindave
A Cup was fetched for me, Kasekji minra di-îna
AU seven drink (from it) Her hefta vedixwîne
Through it they became kings on earth** Pê dibän metik li zemtne.
All Seven Angels, when they were created Her heft Melek ku 'eftrin
Appeared together in agreement and Bi tiftiqê û rastiyê lêk êwirîn (...)
tmthfiilness (...)
The Angels took their place with these Melek li'ezmana bi wan rawistan
in heaven.
The seven heavens, the seven hells were Heft cinet heft cehenim sewirand.

Also in the Btack Book (Meshefa Resh) one can read: "In the beginning
[God] created six gods ( ^ ' ) of himself and of his light, and their creation
was as if someone had lit a candle from another candle. God said:—I cre-
ated the heavens. Let one of you go to create something in them. As-
cended the second and created the sun, ascended the third and created
the moon; the fourth created the firmament, the fifth created the Farg,
the Morning Star, the sixth created paradise, the seventh created hell".''''
In the writings of the Greeks, especially the Pythagoreans (Philolaos)
and above all of Plato {PoLiteia, Phaedrus, Timaeus, Laws, Epinomis) and
Aristotle (On the world. On the soul) references are repeatedly made to the

"' The Hymn of the Weak Broken One {Qewtê Zebûnî Meksûr), (Kreyenbroek/Rashow
2005: 62). Cf. Meshefa Resh: "On the first day, Sunday, God created Melek Azazil, and he is
Taus-Melek, the chief of all. On Monday he created Melek Dardael, and he is Seih Hasan.
Tuesday he created Melek Israfel, and he is Seih Sams (ad-Din). Wednesday he created
Melek Mihael, and he is Seih Abu Bakr. Thursday he created Melek Azrael, and he is Sajad-
ad-Din. Friday he created Melek Semnael, and he is Nasir-ad-Din. Saturday he created
Melek Nurael, and he is Yadin (Fahr-ad-Din). And he made Melek Taus ruler over all. After
this God made the form of the seven heavens, the earth, the sun, and the moon" (tr. Joseph
*• The Hymn ofthe Thousand and One Names {Quewlè Hezar û Yek Nav) ( Ibid. 75).
'^ The Prayer ofAgreement {Dû'a Tifaqê), (Ibid.: no).
'^ Translation belongs to the author; Arabic text in Joseph 1909:126.
40 A. Rodziewicz /Iran and the Caucasus 18 {2014) 27-45

spheres marked out by the seven planets included in the final sphere of
Heaven/Uranos. However, in Greek literature (as well as later in Roman)
planets are treated as having souls—a kind of demons belonging to Kro-
nos/Saturn, Zeus/Jupiter, Ares/Mars, Hermes/Mercury, Sun, Moon and
Earth. Cf. "Thus, from the reason (Xoyoç) and from such God's reflection
(Siavoia) on the generation of time, to generate time, the Sun and Moon
and five other stars called "wanderers" (7:Xaví]Tá [planets]) came into ex-
istence for the separation and guard numbers of time. God, after creating
the bodies of each, placed them in circles (...), which are seven, like [the
planets] are seven. The Moon in the first [circle] around the Earth, the
Sun in the second above the Earth, and the Morning Star and [this one],
which is called Sacred [Star] of Hermes he placed in the [circles], which
move in orbit equal to the Sun's velocity, but receive power opposite to it"
(Plato, Timaeus 38c3-38d4).''
The number of sources on the subject is vast and extends to Late An-
tiquity. For example, in the treaty of a Syrian Platonist, Porphyry, De antro
nympharum, there are detailed descriptions of the way along which the
soul descends for birth defeating the demonic spheres and the way back,
which the soul should follow moving away from the

"' cf Timaeus Locrus, Fltpi pvaioç xóajiu xai ij/uxâç 213, 28-215, 8 and a fragment of On
the Universe attributed to Aristotle: "A set of planets falls into seven divisions, located ade-
quate in sequence number of circles, so situated that the higher is always greater than the
lower, and the seven are always contained one in another, and all are closed under the
sphere of fixed stars. The nearest position is always occupied by the circle of the Shining
(<I)aivovToç JcuxXoç), also known as the circle of Cronos. Next is the circle of Beaming
(<t>oé9ovToç KÚJíXoc), also known as [circle] of Zeus (Aiôç), then follow [the circle of] Fiery (6
)—called also [the circle of| Hercules and [of] Ares, and then Glistening (6
), which some call the holy [star of] Hermes, others—[of] Apollo. After that is [the
circle of] Lightbearing, which some call [the star of] Aphrodite, others—[of] Hera. Then is
[the circle of] the Sun and lastly—[circle of] the Moon." (De mundo 392ai9-29). Cf De deis
et mundo of Salhistius.
•'" Notabene Porphyry notes that this concerns not only the Greek tradition but is also
connected with Mithraism. I do not go into greater detail here, but it should be noted that
the tradition of seven spheres ofthe planets having souls is present among others (as indi-
cated by Yezidi researchers) among modern Mandaeans (cf Arakelova, 2002: 69: "In the
Mandaean tradition the Moon is one of the seven planets the creatures of God, each hav-
ing a spirit in it").
A Rodziewicz /Iran and the Caucasus 18 {2014) 27-45


The last discussed element of the Yezidi theology (known also to Ahl-e
Haqq) that has many parallels in Greek concepts is the motive of the cos-
mogonie Pearl. It is described in sucb texts as Meshefa Resh and especially
in the hymns.''" In short, the summarised content of these songs presents
the following picture. In the beginning of the world there was a white
Pearl, initially invisible, then God, separated it from himself and began
the creation hringing out the elements of the world from the Pearl and di-
viding it into parts, and diversifying more and more. In Meshefa Resh,
Quewlê Bê Elîf and Qewlê Aftrína Dinyayê we read: "In the beginning God
created the White Pearl (Í-^Í>JJI ÓJ.^) out of his most precious essence (...).
Thereupon the White Pearl broke up into four pieces, and from its midst
came out the water, which became an ocean. The world was round, and
was not divided".^" Cf. also:
Tbe luminous Throne in the Pearl, Texte nûrî sedef,
My King is bidden inside it. Ped§ê min li navdayî bi xef,
My King is concealed inside it. Ped§ê min U navdayî mixß bû
By himself, be was contented with Ewbixoaxorazîbû (...)
himself (...)
My King created by himself, he became Ped§ê min bixo efirandibû dure. (...)
the Pearl (...)
By himself my King created Ped§ê min bixo efirandî
the White Pearl.''' dura beyzaye.
In the ocean was only a Pearl Di behra da tenê hebu dur
It did not progress, it did not progress (...) Ne dîma§iya, ne dîma§iya (...)
The Pearl burst open in its awe of God (...) Durji heybeta êzdan hincinî (...)
It became adorned with such colours (...) /(' rengê îsan xemilî (...)
He built heaven and eartb, Cardeflebeq 'erd û ezman nijnî
fourteen spberes''''
Our God brought the Pearl out. Êzdanê me dur derant
Waterflowedfrom the Pearl Avji duré herikî

^' E.g., Quewlê Bê Elîf, Qewlê Afirîna Dinyayê, Qewlê ZebûnîMeksûr, cf. also Dû'a Bawiri-
^ The Black Book (MashafRes), op. cit., pp. 221-222.
' ' Kreyenbroek/Rashow 2005:71-72.
^ I.e. seven spheres of heaven and seven spheres of earth.
42 A. Rodziewicz /Iran and the Caucasus t8 {2014) 27-45

It became an ocean without end, Bù behra bê sert bê hint

Thus, in a sense, the Pearl contained everything (including God) and

all comes from it. It can be understood as something like the Gnostic ple-
roma, the mental and perfect fullness and completness of all things,
which is a concept that has a strong grounding in the writings of Plato.^'"
The theme of the undivided beginning from wbich multiplicity emerged
is constantly repeated in the texts of many Greek mythologists and phi-
losophers. In other cultures, such as in Phoenicia and India, it takes the
form of the cosmic egg. The belief that the world emerged from the One is
probably the most common in Greek literature, both in philosophical
texts and poetry,"'"' esp. Orphic. An example of the convergence of orphie
tradition can be a part of the first book oí the Argonautica of Apollonius
of Rhodes:
494 ... Orpheus
Having raised kithara in a left hand started the song
And he sang how the Earth and the Heaven and the Sea
Once combined together in one shape
[because of] the strife, from the fullness/completness were sepa-
rated, each from other (...)
503 And he sang how the first Ophion and Eurynome,
daughter of Ocean, wielding the power of [the] snowy Olympus.
He, using arms and violence, gave to Cronus the way to dignity.
While She to Rhea, and then they fell in the Ocean waves.

" Kreyenbroek/Rashow 2005:66-67.

*•' Esp. in Timaeus, Dillon 1992: 99-110.
•'' E.g., one of the oldest Greek theologians, the mythical student of Orpheus, Musaeus
had to say: "Everything arises from the one and dissolves in it" (Diogenes Laertios, Vitae
philosophorum I 3, 5-6: âÇ Évèç xà 7rávxa yivEaSai xai EÍC xaùxèv avaXÚEa9ai). Almost the
same can be read in the Empedocles' cosmogonical poem: "Once the One rises—to be a
single from the multiplicity, then it's growing again—to be a multiplicity from the One. ".
Empedocles also mentions something that seems to be the idea of the world and what he
calls the Sphairos, i.e. "Globe". He writes that it was spherical at the time when diversity
appeared within it and movement arose. Empedocles distinguished also a moment of In-
visibility (mental) and the appearance of the world as visible (cf. Hippolytus Refiitatio om-
nium haeresium VII 29,13-14,63).
A. Rodziewicz /Iran and the Caucasus ;8 (2074) 27-45 43

Here we find the same theme of serpent (Ophion) mentioned by

Pherecydes. Also Aristophanes (Aves 693-695) described a fragment of
Orphic cosmogony in which from the Night emerged the egg from which
then came out the shining winged Eros-Love.^*^ The idea of the same struc-
ture again appears in the texts of Plato," and then is established in the
whole mystical and theological tradition of Greece, in particular among
Platonists, such as Plotinus, Numenios, Proclus, and Damaskios.
The most formal approach to the issue was presented by Pythagoreans
dealing with the first cosmogonical factors: One (TO EV) and Monas/Single
(fíovác), which somehow combines opposites being "even and odd and
even-odd".'** From the One emerges then, as in Yezidi cosmogonies, the
first order of the four elements: fire, air, water, earth reflected in the first
four numbers (called Tetractys).™
Yezidis' descriptions of the primary Pearl seem to describe the same
cosmogonie moment that was pictured earlier by the Greeks whether us-
ing the language of myth (as the egg) or formal philosophy (as the One or
the Single).

* 693 There was Chaos, and Night and the black Erebus, the first, and the vast Tartarus
But wasn't The Earth, nor Air, nor Heaven. And in the infinite valleys of Erebus
695 Blackwinged Night gives birth to the first windy egg / From which, during the cy-
cles of the seasons, sprang the alluring Eros / Shining golden wings on the back, looking
like the whirlwinds. It was he, mixed with winged Chaos, at night in the midst of a vast
Tartarus / Who hatched our race, and as the first brought to light
•" Leges 9O3e6-9O4ai: "Many together-from the one or from the many-one" (aú|.i7toXXa
èÇ avec Y¡ ix noXK&v ëv). Also in the treatise attributed to Aristotle one can read: "One har-
mony from all these things together singing and dancing in heaven [ie. planets], arises
from the one and in the one has its end" (De mundo 399ai2-i3).
'•*' Iamblichus, Theologoumena arithmetlcae 1,12. Such expressions are also ascribed to
Philolaos; cf. Herodotus, Historiae II 81.
'"" Cf. Simplicius, In Aristotelis physicorum libros commentaria IX 230, 34-231, 2: "... early
Pythagoreans, and later (as testifies Moderatos) Plato, because for him—in accordance
with the Pythagoreans—the primary One (irpÛTOv Sv) reveals over being, and all essence,
and the second one, that is, which is an essential existing and mental, says that these are
the forms (eïSr]), and the third [one] is related to the soul, participates in the One and the
forms". See also Syrianos In Aristotelis metaphysica commentaria 151, 17-21; Theon of
Sm)TTia, De utilitate mathematicae 20,19-20 and Cohortatio ad Gentiles (i8bi-d4 (Otto)) at-
tributed to Justin Martyr; Aristotle, Metaphysica 986ai5-2i; Simplicius, In Aristotelis physi-
corum libros commentaria IX181,7-30.
44 ^ Rodziewicz /Iran and the Caucasus i8 (2014) 27-45

I have attempted to show that the topics present in the theology and
mythology of the Yezidis have counterparts in ancient Greek literature—
both poetic and strictly philosophical. This leads in particular to two pos-
sible conclusions: 1) the Yezidis are the distant heirs of some theories of
the Greeks, or 2) the reality described by the Greeks and the Yezidis is one
and hence the similarity of the structures of their cosmogonies. We can-
not also ignore the significant fact that the concepts of the Greeks are pre-
sent in the theology of early Christianity, as well as in the theories of
Gnostic and Islamic movements, which are the elements that appear re-
peatedly in the Yezidis' religion.

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