The Christian concepts of heaven and hell originate in Iran. The Jewish holy Talmud is littered with Iranian words and ideas. And some Iranians cherish the Israeli city of Haifa as a sacred place. These are among the fascinating nuggets in the Encyclopedia Iranica, a sprawling project under way since 1973 that seeks to distill 5,000 years of Iranian history, geography and life into 45 blue-bound volumes proclaiming Iran's greatness. "Today more than at any other time we need to keep our Iranian culture alive," Iranica's director Ehsan Yarshater told an audience of 350 Iranians at a fundraiser in Dubai last month. The glitzy dinner, concert and auction raised US$100,000 (â‚¬75,210) for a project that will take a total of US$20 million (â‚¬15 million) - and another decade or so - to finish. The Iranian government bitterly opposes the encyclopedia, and the US government backs it. More than half of the encyclopedia's budget comes from the US National Endowment for the Humanities, which has funded it as a project of major cultural significance since 1979.