al-BADʾ waʾl-TAʾRĪḴ (The book of creation and history), an encyclopedic compilation of religious, historical, and philosophical knowledge written in Arabic by Abū Naṣr Moṭahhar b. al-Moṭahhar (or Ṭāher) Maqdesī in 355/966 at Bost in Sīstān for a Samanid prince. It survives in three Istanbul manuscripts. “Dâmâd Ebrahim 918” was copied by Ḵalīl b. Ḥosayn Kordī Walāšjerdī in 663/1265 and ascribes the work to Abū Zayd Aḥmad b. Sahl Balḵī (d. 322/934) on the title page. According to Sezgin (GAS I, p. 337), the rest of this text is in “Reis-ül-Küttâb 701”, which was copied in 1006/1598. The “Yusof Ağa” summary (in “Süleymaniye 315”), copied in 670/1272 is also attributed to Balḵī, while “Ayasofya 3406” is an eighth/fourteenth-century copy ascribed to Maqdesī. The “Dâmâd Ebrahim” ms. was edited by Huart in six volumes and published by the Ēcole des langues orientales vivantes (Ser. IV, vol. 16/1-6, Paris, 1899-1919; repr. Baghdad, 1962) as Le livre de la création et de l’histoire d’Abou Zaid A. b. Sahl al-Balkhī, although by 1901 Huart was convinced that Maqdesī was the author. Huart’s announced French translation appears never to have been published. A six-volume Persian translation of volumes IV-VI, Āfarīneš wa tārīḵ, was published by M. R. Šafīʿī Kadkanī (Tehran, 1349 Š./1970) with an index to each volume. Determining the date and authorship of this work is complicated by a reference (V, p. 78) to the discovery of the gold fields of Ḵašbājī in Sīstān in 390/1000, which is added to the book as a “wonder.”

The published text is divided into twenty-two sections: (1) the nature of knowledge (I, pp. 18-55), (2) the unity of creation (I, pp. 56-94), (3) the attributes of the creator (I, pp. 95-108), (4) prophecy (I, pp. 109-144), (5) ideas about creation (I, pp. 115-50), (6) heaven and hell (I, pp. 161-208), (7) the creation of the material universe (II, pp. 1-73), (8) Adam (II, pp. 74-132), (9) the end of the world (II, pp. 143-241), (10) the prophets (II, pp. 137), (II) the Persian kings (molūk al-ʿajam; III, pp. 133-211), (12) the religions of the world (IV, pp. 1-48), (13) world geography (aqsām al-arż; IV, pp. 49-104), (14) Moḥammad at Mecca (IV, pp. 131-79), (16) Moḥammad at Medina (IV, pp. 180-242), (17) Moḥammad’s character (V, pp. 1-69), (18) the Prophet’s companions (Saḥāba; V, pp. 70-120), (19) sectarian divisions among Muslims (V, pp. 121-50), (20) the rightly guided caliphs (ḵelāfat al-ṣaḥāba; V, pp. 151-238), (21) the Omayyads (welāyat Banī Ommaya; VI, pp. 1-55), and (22) the ʿAbbasids (ḵolafāʾ Banu’l-ʿAbbās until 350/961; VI, pp. 65-127).

This work contains important supplementary information, some of it first-hand, relating to Iranian history and religion. The author describes his visit to an ancient fire temple in Ḵūz where he questioned the Zoroastrian priests who showed and recited a copy of the Avesta to him (I, pp. 62-3). He records the views of Zoroastrians (majūs) on creation (I, p. 143), on their own prophets (III, p. 7), and information about their laws (IV, pp. 26-30). Concerning the Mazdakīya there is an account of Qobād and Mazdak (III, pp. 167-8), the Ḵorramī view of creation (I, p. 143), the ascent of souls that he read in the Ḵorramī book (II, pp. 20-21), the subgroups of the Ḵorramīya and how he visited them in Māsabaḏān and Mehrajān Qaḏaq (IV, pp. 30-31), and the revolt of Bābak Ḵorramī (VI, pp. 114-20). The section on the molūk al-ʿajam contains an account of the legendary as well as the Parthian and Sasanian kings of Iran (III, pp. 138-73) in which three lines of Masʿūdī of Marv’s Šāh-nāma are quoted (III, pp. 138, 173). The section on the aqsām al-arż includes a survey of Iranian geography (IV, pp. 76-81) and of cities founded by Iranian rulers (IV, pp. 98-100). The Muslim conquest of Iraq and Iran are recounted (V, pp. 169-88) as well as the death of Yazdegerd (V, pp. 196-99) and the conquest of Jorjān and Ṭabarestān under Solaymān b. ʿAbd-al-Malek (VI, pp. 42-43). There is also a short section on the Barāmeka viziers of the early ʿAbbasid caliphs (VI, pp. 104-07).

In addition, there is material relevant to Shiʿism: on Salmān Fāresī (V, pp. 110-13), its sects (feraq al-Šīʿa; V, pp. 124-38), ʿAlī b. Abī Ṭāleb and his children (V, pp. 71-76, 208-38), the deaths of Ḥasan (VI, pp. 5-6) and Ḥosayn (VI, pp. 10-13), the revolts of Moḵtār (VI, pp. 20-25), Zayd b. ʿAlī b. al-Ḥosayn (VI, pp. 49-51), Yaḥyā b. Zayd (VI, pp. 52-53), and the ʿAbbasids (VI, pp. 56-69). There is also information about Abū Moslem (V, pp. 62ff., 80-82, 92-95), and the revolts of Sonfād (sic) Majūsī, the Rawandīya, Moḥammad and Ebrāhīm the Ḥosaynīs, and Ostādsīs (VI, pp. 82-87) that broke out after Abū Moslem’s death.

The scope of Maqdesī’s work, which ranges from creation to the author’s time and embraces non-Islamic peoples, puts it among the new type of universal histories along with the work of Yaʿqūbī (d. ca. 284/897) and Masʿūdī (d. 345/956). Like them he gave a cultural treatment to pre-Islamic history and a dynastic presentation to Islamic history. His interest in ancient peoples and in India foreshadows that of Bīrūnī (d. 442/1051). As a Muʿtazilite he was concerned with the development of reason and revelation in history and urged that creation legends be taken symbolically rather than literally (II, p. 50); he interpreted the legends of the prophets allegorically (II, pp. 33-34).

Although much of Maqdesī’s material parallels that in other works, Ṯaʿālebī (d. 429/1038) included the section on Indian religion in his Ḡorar, (p. 501), and Abu’l-Maʿālī Moḥammad b. ʿObayd-Allāh translated the section on the Avesta (I, p. 62) into Persian in his Bayān al-adyān (pp. 5, 6-7) in 485/1092. Moreover, Ebn al-Wardī included entire sections of Maqdesī’s work in his ninth/fifteenth-century Ḵarīdat al-ʿajāʾeb (pp. 249-52) but ascribed them to Abū Zayd Balḵī.



Jūzjānī, Ṭabaqāt I, pp. 12, 21, 64, 106, 133-35, 138, 142, 157-158, 162-163, 170, 174-175, 181, 321.

Cl. Huart, “Le véritable auteur du Livre de la Création et de l’Histoire,” JA, Ser. 9, 18, 1901, pp. 16-21.

Idem, Littérature arabe, Paris, 1902, tr. A History of Arabic Literature, Beirut, 1966, pp. 284, 291, 301.

Cl. Cahen, “Les chroniques arabes concernant la Syrie, l’Egypte et la Mésopotamie de la conquête arabe à la conquête ottomane dans les bibliothèques d’Istambul,” Revue des études islamiques, 1936, p. 336.

Brockelmann, GAL, S. I, pp. 222, 408.

Sezgin, GAS I, p. 337.

T. Khalidi, Islamic Historiography, Albany, 1975, pp. xiii-xiv, xvi, 7-8, 57, 59, 68-69, 83, 114.

(M. Morony)

Originally Published: December 15, 1988

Last Updated: August 19, 2011

This article is available in print.
Vol. III, Fasc. 4, pp. 352-353