In my travels throughout the Middle East and Central Asia, my impression of historical sites is that they often downplay Christian history. Yet, despite Christianity often appearing as a minority faith, the existing evidence still needs exposure.
Khujand, located on the western portion of the Ferghana valley, boasts a rich history that includes excursions of Cyrus the Great and Alexander the Great into the region. In addition, the Silk Road made the valley an oasis of international influence. The ancient trade route initiated its road east from Antioch (Acts 13), where the first church started, then passed through Central Asia on the way to China.
The history of Central Asia often jumps from the Greek influence to the time of the Islamic Umayyad dynasty into the Samanid time. The ignored time between the secular Greek/Roman rule and the coming of Islam hints at a more significant Christian influence than many would expect.
Bobojon Ghafurov, the famous Tajik historian, said, “Christianity entered Central Asia in the II-III centuries B.C. [sic – should be A.D.] Biruni provides the information that one priest brought Christianity to Merv about two hundred years after” the resurrection of the Lord Jesus.Bobojon Ghafurov, Tajikon, 2020, pdf, found on http://www.tguk.tj/failes/tajiks/tajiks.pdf We also know that crosses exist from an early period in Takhti Sangin and Balkh.see https://twitter.com/of_tajikistan/status/1459458876152164352This picture by the National Museum of Tajikistan portrays a religious vessel with three crosses which if older than the time of Christ, then the crosses could have been placed on for later use.
Area cities like Penjikent affirmed a Christian influence on local rulers when they minted coins with crosses, thus emphasizing the dominance of that period to Christian ideas(near the 5th and 6th centuries).https://www.historyfiles.co.uk/KingListsFarEast/AsiaSogdianaPenjikent.htm accessed Sept. 18, 2022 I visited the Museum in this city in 1996 and prayed for the city to find their connection to their past respect for Christianity.
With this knowledge of a Christian presence in the lands of Tajikistan, I often visit historical sites looking for evidence of Christianity’s existence. Some of my recent visits to museums did not disappoint.
During my visit to the Khujand Archeology Museum, many allusions exist to a Christian influence in the region. First, an old Ferghana Valley Suzani depicts a cross-like image. Many of the tribes and artisans of the past were Christian, and they incorporated references to the cross in their designs.
Notice the use of red and the highlighted aspect around the cross to emphasize the image. Similar to the famous Bokhara Rugs, which depict “a field divided into four by a Greek cross.” https://www.dorisleslieblau.com/bokhara-rugs/, these Suzanis exude flowery patterns with illusions of a cross-like centerpiece.
In the lower area of the Museum, this clay pot displaces a curious white cross. The white paint begs an answer as the seemingly painted image does not appear ancient but apparently added at a later time. Was this vessel used for some religious function or a mark of ownership somewhere along the way? The cross does not depict a Russian Orthodox cross but more simply how Central Asian believers would paint a cross more symmetrically. As usual, no description presents this water vessel but boggles the viewer.
In the bowl area, notice the twelve sections of crosses exuding from the center, possibly referencing the disciples of the Lord Jesus. Also, does the above fragment depict two fish in a circle of connection or some other ancient symbol? With the combination of these symbols, this vessel demonstrates the existence of a community of believers in this ancient area.
Near the Museum entrance, these ornament pieces are on display. They show small crosses centering the geometric shapes encompassing them. These pieces also emphasize Islamic geometric patterns without any certain Islamic writings or symbols, but the use of the cross stresses a Christian emphasis. These geometric patterns also often appear in many ancient Byzantine churches.see https://atcm.mathandtech.org/EP2012/invited_papers/3472012_19700.pdf.This article starts with Byzantine art and ventures west to Europe, ignoring an Eastern direction. The label does not designate where these were found but most likely within the Ferghana Valley.
This beautiful plate (below) with an octagon centerpiece portrays symmetry throughout the pattern. Yet one wonders why the near exterior three-layer circle depicts cross-like images. Furthermore, on a closer look, the interior white area seems to simulate reddish crosses with pearl droplets in the design.This could be similar to the 11th-century glazed plate from Khujand, which the Russian archeologist, Belyaeva wrote about, 1994, 79-81 that displayed beside the designs the names of Jesus and Mary.
The Ferghana valley’s rich history presents an international roadway influenced by many factors. To those willing to observe, maybe the time has come to thoroughly explore the Christian narrative in this area.
For those who know Tajik, www.dardidil.com shares a chart of historical Christian sites in Central Asia.
|↑1||Bobojon Ghafurov, Tajikon, 2020, pdf, found on http://www.tguk.tj/failes/tajiks/tajiks.pdf|
|↑3||This picture by the National Museum of Tajikistan portrays a religious vessel with three crosses which if older than the time of Christ, then the crosses could have been placed on for later use.|
|↑4||https://www.historyfiles.co.uk/KingListsFarEast/AsiaSogdianaPenjikent.htm accessed Sept. 18, 2022|
|↑7||This article starts with Byzantine art and ventures west to Europe, ignoring an Eastern direction.|
|↑8||This could be similar to the 11th-century glazed plate from Khujand, which the Russian archeologist, Belyaeva wrote about, 1994, 79-81 that displayed beside the designs the names of Jesus and Mary.|