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The Sufyānī in Early Islamic Kerygma: An Enquiry into His Origins and Early Development*


The present study aims to contribute to the quest for the origins of belief in the eschatological figure of the Sufyānī, a matter of hot debate since the late nineteenth century. To this end, three different bodies of evidence are produced and analysed: reports indicating that the Sufyānī was, indeed, thought of as a redemptive personality in some Syrian quarters, traditions on him in the Muslim endtimes literature that contain an ex eventu pronouncement, and reports concerning the propaganda activities of the first Sufyānī claimant, Abū Muḥammad Ziyād ibn ʿAbd Allāh ibn Yazīd “al-Sufyānī”, in the historical record. Making use of hitherto unavailable sources and looking afresh at the previously studied sources, it is argued that the myth of the Sufyānī emerged during the counterrevolutionary revolt of Abū Muḥammad al-Sufyānī in 132 ah, with vague residues of it traceable to his earlier military activities, against the Umayyad caliph Yazīd III, in 126 ah.

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I am most grateful to Sean Anthony (Ohio State University), Mushegh Asatryan (University of Calgary), Ahab Bdaiwi (Universiteit Leiden), and Christopher Melchert (University of Oxford) for their exacting comments on various drafts of this paper. It need not be stressed that all the remaining shortcomings and infelicities are solely to blame on me.

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This list contains references from the content that can be linked to their source. For a full set of references and notes please see the PDF or HTML where available.

Lorenzo DiTommaso , “Pseudonymity and the Revelation of John”, in J. Ashton (ed.), Revealed Wisdom: Studies in Apocalyptic in Honour of Christopher Rowland (Leiden, 2014), pp. 305315

Paul J. Alexander in his classic article, “Medieval Apocalypses as Historical Sources”, The American Historical Review 73 (1968), pp. 9971018

Antoine Borrut , “Vanishing Syria: Periodization and Power in Early Islam”, Der Islam 91 (2014), pp. 3768, at p. 51.

Menahem Mor , The Second Jewish Revolt: The Bar Kokhba War, 132-136 ce (Leiden, 2016)

Patricia Crone ’s magisterial tome, The Nativist Prophets of Early Islamic Iran: Rural Revolt and Local Zoroastrianism (Cambridge, 2012)

Patricia Crone , “A Note on Muqātil b. Ḥayyān and Muqātil b. Sulaymān”, Der Islam 74 (1997), pp. 238249.

Teresa Bernheimer , “The Revolt of ʿAbd Allāh b. Muʿāwiya, ah 127-130: A Reconsideration through the Coinage”, BSOAS 69 (2006), pp. 381393

William F. Tucker , Mahdis and Millenarians: Shīʿite Extremists in Early Muslim Iraq (Cambridge, 2008), pp. 88108

Luke Treadwell , “Qur'anic Inscriptions on the Coins of the ahl al-bayt from the Second to Fourth Century AH”, Journal of Qur'anic Studies 14 (2012), pp. 4771

Yury Karev’s La politique d'Abū Muslim dans le Māwarāʾannahr: nouvelles données textuelles et archéologiques”, Der Islam 79 (2002), pp. 146

John C. Reeves , “Jewish Apocalyptic Lore in Early Islam: Reconsidering Kaʿb al-Aḥbār”, in J. Ashton (ed.), Revealed Wisdom: Studies in Apocalyptic in Honour of Christopher Rowland (Leiden, 2014), pp. 200216

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Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society
  • ISSN: 1356-1863
  • EISSN: 1474-0591
  • URL: /core/journals/journal-of-the-royal-asiatic-society
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