Sunday, July 5, 2015

Kurdish Origins & the Saka Claim. Pt. 1 - Credibility of Sources

Credibility of Research Sources
There is a fair amount of information and speculation in books and on the internet regarding the ethnic antecedents of the the Kurdish peoples in particular and western Aryans (ancient Irano-N. Indians) in general. Some of the discussion speculates on the possible Saka/Scythian origins of the Kurdish people. Since conclusions are only as good as the information on which they are based, before we review the information available to us, it is prudent to assess the credibility of our information sources.

Researchers are essentially of two kinds and then everything in-between: Those who approach research scientifically and analytically and those who skew information to support a bias, or speculate, or jump to conclusions, or who are inclined towards the fantastic making them better suited as writers of fiction.

We find many English translations of texts originally in Avestan, Greek and Latin to be extremely problematic and subject to a translator's bias. As such, we have been compelled to conduct our own translations.

The sources cited by researchers are useful if they provide consistent, factual or credible information. If the researcher provides information that is objective rather than laced with opinions, the reader can agree or disagree with any conclusions drawn by the researcher and in the event of the latter, make her or his own informed and considered decision.

This holds true for the information on the Medes, Saka & Kurds of Kurdistan.

Information via Herodotus & Xenophon
For instance, two of our primary sources of Achaemenid and Parthian era historical information are the famed classical (we use 'classical' loosely here) Greek authors Herodotus (c.484-c.425 BCE) and Xenophon (c.430-c.354 BCE). At times, the information one provides contradicts the other, compelling us to make a choice. While the circumspect researcher will seek to make a choice based on whose information is more credible, some researchers appear to make a choice based on a personal bias. Researchers with a Eurocentric or anti-Iranian/Persian bias will gravitate towards the source (and translation) which supports that bias.

One the one hand, Greeks such as Xenophon who held the Persian system of governance in high regard (and even served the Persians) were labelled derogatorily as medized Greeks. Those researchers who are offended by Xenophon's pro-Persian approach, dismiss his accounts such as those on the life of King Cyrus as romanticized fiction. They prefer the works of 'classical' authors who are more critical of Cyrus.

Jacob Abbott in his Histories of Cyrus the Great and Alexander the Great (New York, 1880, pp. 13-36) offers us some valuable insights on bias and credibility. While Abbott does not venture a judgement on credibility, he notes that Herodotus’ "object was to read what he was intending to write at great public assemblies in Greece, he was, of course, under every possible inducement to make his narrative as interesting as possible." Xenophon on the other hand was a military commander who in Abbott’s opinion presented a more authentic (and therefore more reliable) account in the form of a chronicle. In classical antiquity, Polybius, Cicero, Tacitus, Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Quintilian, Aulus Gellius and Longinus ranked Xenophon among philosophers and historians of the highest calibre. They considered his Cyropaedia as the masterpiece of a very widely respected and studied author. Then there are classical Greek writers who for one reason or the other criticize Herodotus quite severely. Photius in his Bibliotheca (at 72) cites Ctesias’ Persica as stating, "In nearly every instance he (Ctesias) gives an opposing account to Herodotus, going so far as to expose him as a liar and label him an inventor of fables (other translators have ‘spinner of yarns’)." Those opposed to Ctesias make a similar charge against him. Plutarch, however, goes the other way and finds Herodotus a 'barbarian' lover.

Despite all that is said about these two great souls, we have found the writings of both Herodotus and Xenophon (and others) to be remarkable achievements and stores of invaluable information.

We use context and corroborating evidence as our guide in selecting between competing sources of information. It is necessary to be circumspect while being as thorough as the space available in a non-technical forum as this reasonably allows us to be.

Regarding information provided by classical writers on the Saka (Sacae) and Scythians, Roman author Pliny the Elder (23-79 CE) in his Natural History at 6.19 (on Scythians) says it best: "Nec in alia parte maior auctorum inconstantia...." Translation: "On no other subject are the major authorities/authors more inconsistent (i.e. confused)...."

Next page: » Kurdish Origins & the Saka Claim. Pt. 2 - Inscriptions at Saqqez, Kurdistan (Iran)

Also see:
» Herodotus' References to the Saka
» Saka (& Scythians)

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