Books Features

New Medieval Books: The Book of Kings and the Explanations of the World

The Book of Kings and the Explanations of the World: A Universal History from the Late Sasanian Empire

Translated by Charles G. Häberl

Liverpool University Press
ISBN: 978-1-80085-627-1

Likely created in the seventh century, this text is a cross between history and scripture written by the Mandaeans, a people living in present-day Iraq and Iran. It offers a look at the perspective of one community in the Middle East during the Early Middle Ages.


The Book of Kings and the Explanations of the World in a short but at times narratively dense composition, comprising some 16 manuscript pages and 5,523 words, roughly comparable in size to the Book of Ezra. It derives into four discrete parts, composed at different times and presumably in different places: a partial translation and elaboration (‘Tangrum’) some portions from the biblical books of Genesis and Exodus, concerning the origins and history of the world; a King List, which corresponds to those in Chapter 36 of the Zoroastrian cosmological work, the Greater of Iranian Bundahisn (‘Primary Creation’) and Chapter 4 of the Ayadgar in Jamaspig ‘Memorian of Jamasp’; and annalistic Chronicle, indexing a series of historical and astronomical events in the final centuries of the millennium beginning on in 10 February 322 BCE, which the text identifies with the first ‘year of Pisces’; and finally an Apocalypse, which bears intriguing similarities to several Zoroastrian and Christian apocalyptic works, but which cannot be identified with any of them, and which must be an original composition, albeit one couched in a familiar apocalyptic rhetoric.


Who is this book for?

There will not be a large audience for this book, as it deals with subject matter that is fairly specialized. It does offer interesting insights into a Middle Eastern community during the era of the Byzantine and Sasanid empires. It is useful for those wanting to compare religious beliefs between cultures.

The translator:

Charles G. Häberl is Professor of African, Middle Eastern, and South Asian Languages and Literatures and Religion at Rutgers University. He is a leading expert on the Mandaeans. Click here to view his Wikipedia page or follow Charles on Twitter @cghaberl


You can learn more about this book from the publisher’s website

You can also buy this book from | |