That "corban" thing

Sat 05 August 2023 by R.L. Dane

I have a most peculiar skill (for a monoglot): I can read and sing Azerbaijani (Turkish).
Now, I don't understand it. But I can (slowly) read and recite it, and I have learned to sing about a dozen songs, almost all of which were sung by Rashid Behbudov, a popular Azerbaijani singer of the mid-20th century.

I started learning these songs last October, and I don't remember exactly how I decided to learn this particular skill, but it just sort of happened. I had been finding music that my mother liked while she was in the hospital last year, and Behbudov featured prominently in the list, because my family members had seen him perform live when he visited Iran in the 1960s as a guest of the Soviet ambassador (yeah buddy, everything is political. Even folk songs).

Anyway, as my mother had lost a lot of her eyesight due to her rather long and arduous stay in the hospital, I could no longer play cards with her to spend time with her, so I would start playing these songs for her on my phone, and after not too long, I started to rather like some of them. (Which is notable, because I've really never liked most of the music from the part of the world I'm originally from, as I found so much of it to be melodramatic, or screechy, or just unpleasant to listen to.)

As I started to enjoy listening to some of the songs, I looked up the lyrics and started attempting to read through them. The lyrics were in roman script, but with special accents indicating how it should be pronounced in a rather precise and consistent way (lol, English), so after a few read-throughs, I learned the basics and was able to read and sing in Azeri/Turkish. How... odd! ;)

There's a word in one of those songs that I hear a lot in my context as an Iranian-American: "qurban" (also can be spelled "ghorban, "ghorbaan," etc). It dosn't rhyme with "turban" — the first syllable mostly rhymes with "poor" and the second syllable sounds like "bahn" in "autobahn."

One thing my grandmother has said to me all throughout my life and even well into middle age is: "Ghorbooneh-toh beram man!"
The literal translation is "I sacrifice myself for you." It is, as many Persian phrases, incredibly effusive and poetic.

Thinking about qurban, something popped up in the back of my mind: a familiar passage:

He said to them, "All too well you reject the commandment of God, that you may keep your tradition. For Moses said, 'Honor your father and your mother'; and, 'He who curses father or mother, let him be put to death.' But you say, 'If a man says to his father or mother, "Whatever profit you might have received from me is Corban' (that is, a gift to God), then you no longer let him do anything for his father or his mother, making the word of God of no effect through your tradition which you have handed down. And many such things you do."
— Mark 9:9-13 NKJV

I only realized that that word which I've read in some form or another for twenty five years is the exact same word as I've been hearing said to me all my life: qurban/ghorban/"corban" (note the pretty terrible transliteration through the Greek, lol)

It's so interesting to see a staple of my culture and upbringing actually encapsulated in the words of Jesus — the Pharisees make the concept of a sacrifice of worship to God and make it an avenue for denying not only the commandment, but the very heart of God to look after one's own parents.