March 5: Zhang Zhan

The Persian Circle presents
انجمن سخن در دانشگاه شیکاگو تقدیم می کند

Zhang Zhan
PhD Candidate in Iranian Studies, Harvard University

Jews in Khotan: a historical perspective

Wednesday March 5, 5:00–6:30pm
Pick 222 / 5828 South University Avenue

In 2004, a Judaeo-Persian manuscript went into the possession of the National Library of China. This manuscript, almost intact, bears striking resemblance with the Judaeo-Persian letter discovered by Aurel Stein in 1901 during his first expedition in Khotan, Xinjiang, China.

In my talk, by comparing the orthography, linguistic features, and content of these two documents, I will demonstrate that one and the same Jewish merchant penned them. In view of Chinese and Khotanese documents excavated from Khotan, I will date these two letters the end of the eighth century.

This curious document is significant in many ways. It sheds light on the otherwise shrouded history of Central Asia during the eighth century and testified to the activities of Jewish merchant along the Silk Road. It is also the earliest document of considerable length in New Persian. For this fascinating document, I have more questions than answers, and would like to invite you to join me in tackling the puzzles it poses.

Zhang Zhan received his BS in chemistry from Peking University in 2001 and, as fate wills it, switched to the study of ancient languages thereafter. In 2006, he graduated from Peking University with an MA in Sanskrit and continued his journey in academia in Iranian Studies at Harvard University under Professor Skjaervo. In 2008-2009, he spent a school year in Iran, studying Persian. Based at the Enghelāb Square in Tehran, he traveled extensively in the Greater Iran, including Istanbul, Samarkand and Bukhara. He is now working on his dissertation on the secular documents in Khotanese and the history of Khotan during the 7-9th centuries. He expects to receive his PhD degree in 2015.

Discussion will be in English. Hope to see you there!

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