The Isma¿ilis thus believed from early on that the hierohistory of mankind comprised seven prophetic eras (dawrs) of various durations, each inaugurated by the speaker-prophet or enunciator (na@tÂeq) of a revealed message that in its exoteric (záa@her) aspect contained a religious law, or Þar^¿a. The na@tÂeqs of the first six eras were Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and Moháammad respectively. Each was succeeded by a legatee (wasá^), also called "foundation" (asa@s) or "silent one" (sáa@met), who revealed to the elite the inner (ba@tÂen) meanings of the message for his dawr. These inner meanings represented the unchangeable truths (háaqa@÷eq) of Isma¿ili gnosis. Each wasá^ was, in turn, succeeded by seven imams, who guarded the true meaning of the message in both záa@her and ba@tÂen aspects. The seventh imam of each dawr became the na@tÂeq of the following dawr, abrogating the Þar^¿a of the previous na@tÂeq and promulgating a new one (Feraq al-Þ^¿a, pp. 61-63; Qom^, pp. 83-85, apud Stern, pp. 49-55; Madelung, pp. 48 ff.; Daftary, pp. 104-05, 136-40). This pattern would change only in the seventh, final dawr of hierohistory.
In the sixth dawr, the era of the Prophet Moháammad and Islam, the seventh imam was Moháammad b. Esma@¿^l b. Ja¿far al-Sáa@deq, who had gone into concealment. On his reappearance as the qa@÷em (restorer of justice on earth and true Islam), or mahd^, he would become the seventh na@tÂeq, ruling over the final, eschatological dawr. Moháammad b. Esma@¿^l would abrogate the law of Islam; his own divine message would not entail a new law, however, but would consist of the full revelation of the esoteric truths (háaqa@÷eq) concealed in all the previous messages, the immutable truths of all religions, which had previously been accessible only to the elite of mankind. In this final, messianic age there would be no need for religious law. Moháammad b. Esma@¿^l, the last of the na@tÂeqs and imams, would rule in justice as the eschatological qa@÷em and would then bring to an end the physical world. His dawr would thus mark the end of time and human history (Ebn H®awÞab, pp. 189, 191-92, 197 ff.; Ja¿far b. Mansáu@r Yaman, 1952, pp. 14 ff., 50, 97, 104, 109, 113-14, 132-33, 138, 150, 170; Abu@ Ya¿qu@b, 1966, pp. 181-93; idem, 1980, pp. 47-56; Corbin, pp. 30 ff.; Halm, pp. 18-37; Walker, pp. 355-66).
The whole cycle from Adam to the advent of the qa@÷em as the seventh na@tÂeq was also called the "era of concealment" (dawr al-satr), because the truths were concealed in the laws. By contrast, the seventh dawr, when the truths would be fully revealed to mankind, was designated the "era of revelation, or manifestation" (dawr al-kaÞf), an era of pure spiritual knowledge with no need for religious laws. The Isma¿ilis also used the expression dawr al-satr in reference to a period when the imams were hidden (mastu@r) from the eyes of their followers, in contradistinction to dawr al-kaÞf, when the imams were manifest and accessible.
This Isma¿ili view of history was evidently first committed to writing in Persia and Transoxania by prominent early da@¿^s (missionaries) and authors there, notably Moháammad b. Ahámad Nasaf^ (d. 332/943-44), whose major treatise Keta@b al-mahásáu@l has not survived, and Abu@ H®a@tem Ra@z^ (d. 322/934), whose ideas on the subject were primarily expounded in his Keta@b al-esála@há, which is still unpublished. Both these early Isma¿ili theologians envisaged hierohistory in terms of the scheme of seven prophetic eras, though they disagreed on some details. In fact, they became the protagonists in a scholarly debate over religious obligations and certain metaphysical issues, later joined by Nasaf^'s disciple Abu@ Ya¿qu@b Sejesta@n^. Subsequently the da@¿^ H®am^d-al-D^n Kerma@n^ acted as arbiter in this controversy (Kerma@n^, pp. 176-212). Nasaf^ and Abu@ H®a@tem devoted much energy and imagination to accommodating other religions, notably those of the Zoroastrians and the Sabaeans, within their scheme of seven prophetic eras, assigning these religions to specific dawrs and na@tÂeqs. Abu@ H®a@tem also introduced the concept of an interim period (dawr al-fatra), marked by the absence of imams and occurring at the end of each prophetic dawr, between the disappearance of the seventh imam of that era and the advent of the na@tÂeq of the following era. According to him, the Zoroastrians belonged to the fourth era, the dawr of Moses, and Zoroaster himself had appeared during the interim period at the end of that dawr (pp. 52 ff., 59, 69 ff., 160 ff., 171-77; Abu@ Ya¿qu@b, 1966, pp. 82-83; Corbin, pp. 187-93; Madelung, pp. 101-14; Stern, pp. 30-46; Daftary, pp. 234-39).
The cyclical prophetic view of hierohistory elaborated by the early Isma¿ilis was retained by the Fatimid Isma¿ilis, who refined or modified certain aspects of it, especially in connection with the duration of the sixth dawr, the era of Islam; the number of imams during that era; and the qa@÷em and his functions (see, e.g., Ja¿far b. Mansáu@r Yaman, 1984, pp. 21 ff., 57 ff., 67 ff., 101, 105, 109, 112, 164 ff., 201 ff., 217, 219, 229 ff.; Qa@zµ^ No¿ma@n, pp. 40-368; Daftary, pp. 176-79, 218-20, 234). Some authors of the Fatimid period introduced new concepts into the cyclical scheme. The Persian Na@sáer-e K¨osrow (394-ca. 471/1004-ca. 1078), for instance, distinguished between a grand cycle (dawr-e meh^n), encompassing the entire sequence of the seven na@tÂeqs, and a small cycle (dawr-e keh^n), coinciding with the latter part of the grand cycle and including the era of Islam and thereafter (pp. 62-64, 126-27, 157, 169-70, 245, 256, 331).
Later Isma¿ilis introduced further innovations into the earlier interpretation of hierohistory expressed in terms of the seven prophetic dawrs. On the basis of astronomical calculations the Yaman^ T®ayyeb^s conceived of a grand eon (kawr a¿záam) comprised of countless cycles, each divided into seven dawrs, which would be consummated in the qa@÷em of the "great resurrection" (q^a@mat al-q^a@ma@t). Furthermore, the grand eon was held to progress through successive cycles of concealment (satr) and revelation (kaÞf or záohu@r), each composed of seven dawrs (see e.g. H®a@med^, pp. 149 ff., 205-27, 232 ff., 258-72; Wal^d, pp. 100 ff., 121-28; Corbin, pp. 37-58; Daftary, pp. 140-41, 291 ff., 295).
The Neza@r^ Isma¿ilis of the Alamu@t period (487-654/1094-1256) in Persia followed a religious and political path of their own and, unlike the T®ayyeb^ Isma¿ilis, were not particularly concerned with the earlier cyclical view of history, though they generally adhered to the scheme of seven prophetic eras. However, in connection with elaborating their own doctrines, they allowed for transitory eras of resurrection (q^a@mat) during the dawr of the Prophet Moháammad, who, like the five enunciating prophets before him, had initiated an era of concealment (dawr-e satr). In the era of Islam, and in special honor of Moháammad's greatness, there could be occasional anticipatory eras of resurrection, each offering a foretaste of the q^a@mat that was to occur at the end of Moháammad's era, ushering in the seventh and final millennium in the religious history of mankind. The condition of q^a@mat could in principle be granted at any time, to mankind as a whole or to the elite, by the current Neza@r^ imam, for every imam was potentially also a qa@÷em. As a result, in the era of Moháammad human life could alternate, at the will of the imam, between dawrs of q^a@mat and satr, the normal condition of human life. The Neza@r^s, however, interpreted the q^a@mat symbolically and spiritually as the manifestation of the unveiled truth in the person of the Neza@r^ imam, whereas satr meant concealment of the true spiritual reality of the imam, when truth was again hidden in the ba@tÂen of the laws, requiring the strictest observance of the Þar^¿a and taq^ya, or dissimulation (T®u@s^, pp. 61-63, 83-84, 101-02, 110, 117-19, 128-49; Corbin, pp. 117 ff.; Hodgson, pp. 148 ff., 225-38; Daftary, pp. 386 ff., 404 ff., 410-11).
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