John Palmer: Zoroaster – Forgotten Prophet of the one God

The article below by John Palmer “Zoroaster – forgotten prophet of the one God” first appeared in The Guardian on July 13, 2010.

John-PalmerJohn Palmer is a former European editor of the Guardian and former political director of the European Policy Centre. He is visiting practitioner fellow at Sussex University’s European Institute and a member of the governing council of the Federal Trust (Photo Source: The Guardian).

Kindly note that the embedded photographs and captions below do not appear in the original article in the Guardian; these have been cited in Kaveh Farrokh’s lectures at the University of British Columbia’s Continuing Studies Division, Stanford University’s WAIS 2006 Critical World Problems Conference Presentations on July 30-31, 2006, University of Southern California and the University of Yerevan (Iranian Studies Department).

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The tiny world wide communities of Zoroastrians are no doubt pleased to get any mention in Cif belief – even if it is only to provide alphabetical balance to a list starting with the Bahá’ís. Even those who take a close interest in the more exotic or esoteric of religions tend to have a vague grasp on what the followers of the ancient Persian (or maybe Bactrian) prophet, Zarathustra (Zoroaster in Greek) – born around 800 BC – actually believed. This is a great pity since even a non-believer must be impressed with the evidence of how the religious ideas first expressed by Zoroaster were fundamental in shaping what emerged as Judaism after the 5th century BC and thus deeply influenced the other Abrahamic religions – Christianity and Islam.

Zarathustra-Tomb-China-2Archaeologists in Northwest China’s Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region have discovered major Zoroastrian tombs, dated to over 2,500 years ago. (Caption and Photo Source: Chinanews.com). As noted in the China News report: “This is a typical wooden brazier found in the tombs. Zoroastrians would bury a burning brazier with the dead to show their worship of fire. The culture is unique to Zoroastrianism…This polished stoneware found in the tombs is an eyebrow pencil used by ordinary ladies. It does not just show the sophistication of craftsmanship here over 2,500 years ago, but also demonstrates the ancestors’ pursuit of beauty, creativity and better life, not just survival. It shows this place used to be highly civilized”. For more on this topic see: Archaeologists uncover Zoroastrian Links in Northwest China 

Born at a time when the peoples of the Iranian plateau were evolving a settled agriculture, Zoroaster broke with the traditional Aryan religions of the region which closely mirrored those of India, and espoused the idea of a one good God – Ahura Mazda. What became known eventually in the west as Zoroastrianism was also the first to link religious belief with profound attachment to personal morality. In Zoroastrian eschatology there is much which has become familiar from reading the Jewish and Christian testaments: heaven, hell, redemption, the promise of a Sashoyant (Messiah), the existence of an evil spirit Ahriman and – most striking of all – the prospect of a final battle for the salvation of man at “the end of time” between Ahura Mazda and Ahriman leading to the latter’s final defeat.

Baku Fire Temple-UNESCO[Click to Enlarge] The main fire altar at the Atash-kade (Zoroastrian Fire-Temple) of Baku in the Republic of Azerbaijan (known as Arran and the Khanates until 1918) (Picture Source: Panoramio). This site is now registered with UNESCO as a world heritage site. For more on these sites see: Zoroastrian and Mithraic sites in the Caucasus

The main contact between westerners and Zoroastrians came in India where they were known as Parsees (Persians), descendants of those who took part in a large scale migration from Persia after the Muslim conquest of that country. Zoroastrians were held (quite wrongly) to worship fire because they kept a permanent flame in their temples. Some even questioned whether they were monotheists at all because Ahriman was referred to as an evil “god”. But all the Abrahamic religions have also struggled to explain “evil” in the world which is why they gave Satan an important role.

The School of Athens by Raphael 1509- Zoroaster left, with star-studded globeA detail of the painting “School of Athens” by Raphael 1509 CE (Source: Zoroastrian Astrology Blogspot). Raphael has provided his artistic impression of Zoroaster (with beard-holding a celestial sphere) conversing with Ptolemy (c. 90-168 CE) (with his back to viewer) and holding a sphere of the earth. Note that contrary to Samuel Huntington’s “Clash of Civilizations” paradigm, the “East” represented by Zoroaster, is in dialogue with the “West”, represented by Ptolemy. Prior to the rise of Eurocentricism in the 19th century (especially after the 1850s), ancient Persia was viewed positively by the Europeans. For more information see: Dr. Ken R. Vincent: Zoroaster – The First Universalist

The first encounter between the ancient peoples who developed historical Judaism and the Persian religious ideas of Zoroastrianism seems to have come either during or shortly after the captivity in Babylon. It was the Persian king of kings, Cyrus, who liberated the Hebrews from Babylon and one of his successors, Darius, who organised and funded the return of some of the captives (probably along with many Persians) to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem. Nehemiah and Ezra also reorganised the traditional religion of the Judaeans and Israelites. What emerged was a stricter monotheistic version which was consistent with basic beliefs of the Persian imperial religion – Zoroastrianism.

Saint_Augustine_Portrait“St. Augustine of Hippo in his Study” as portrayed in 1480 by Sandro Botticelli (Source: Public Domain). Interestingly, St. Augustine had been a Manichean for 9 years until his conversion to Christianity in the aftermath of Emperor Diolectian’s edict (284-305 CE) condemning the Manicheans. Despite his conversion, it is believed that St. Augustine’s Manichean past influenced his later Christian writings. For more information on Manichean beliefs, see: Mani: Forgotten Prophet of Ancient Persia

Those who might doubt how Persian imperial policy so decisively shaped what we know as Judaism should reflect on the remarkable and first ever declaration of belief in one, universal God by the biblical writer known as “Second Isaiah” during this period. Indeed Isaiah describes King Cyrus as a “Messiah” and the chosen instrument of Yahweh. Interestingly there is evidence that the Persian imperial policy towards the religion of their subject peoples – to allow the traditional name of their gods to be retained but to revise the religions themselves in the image of Zoroastrianism – was also applied in Babylon and Egypt as well as Palestine.

Wailing Wall-JerusalemThe West Wall in Jerusalem. After his conquest of Babylon, Cyrus allowed the Jewish captives to return to Israel and rebuild the Hebrew temple. It is believed that approximately 40,000 did permanently return to Israel. For more discussion on this topic see: Retort to Daily Telegraph article against Cyrus the Great

Some claim that a belief in monotheism in Judea developed a little before the Babylonian conquest and exile. But although there is evidence for a centralisation of the different Canaanite-style cults into the worship of Yahweh in the capital – Jerusalem – over this period the most which can be said was that a form of monolatry, a belief in one God for a particular people had emerged.

5-Tomb of EstherThe tomb of Esther and Mordechai in Hamedan, northwest Iran. External view (left) and the interior of the tomb (right). For more see: Response to Spiegel Magazine’s attack on the Legacy of Cyrus the Great

The Persian influence on Judaism was powerful and long lasting. Certainly the profound belief in the end of days exhibited by the Dead Sea Scroll communities in the immediately pre-Christian era and indeed the images employed by the Christian evangelist, John, in his Apocalypse, display a clear continuity of influence.

Iranian Jews 2011Iranian Jews praying during Hanukkah celebrations on Tuesday, December 27, 2011 at the Yousefabad Synagogue, in Tehran, Iran (Source: Wodu). For more on this topic see: Professor Jacob Neusner: Persian Elements in Talmud

What – at the very least – were the deep affinities between Zoroastrianism and Judaism goes a long way to explain what over the centuries were the close and friendly relations between Persians and Jews. The influence of 20th century religious-political ideologies have poisoned that relationship. Perhaps a greater acknowledgement by Jews, Christians and Muslims of their Persian Zoroastrian inheritance would be a step to improving those relationships.

 

Dr. Ken R. Vincent: Zoroaster – The First Universalist

The article below by Dr. Ken R. Vincent discusses the ancient prophet Zoroaster and his impact on human theology and the world’s major religions.

Dr Ken R VincentDr. Ken R. Vincent’s writings all contain a strong undercurrent of Universalist thought. In his book The Magi: From Zoroaster to the Three Wise Men, he compares the religion of the Magi (Zoroastrianism) to Christianity and shows the parallels of Universal Restoration in both faiths. 

Kindly note that the article below contains pictures and captions that do not appear in Dr. Vincent’s original posting of the article.

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1. Zoroaster, the Prophet of the Magi

Once upon a time, before wisdom was confined to books, Shamans of the “Great Spirit’ anticipated an afterlife for their peoples. But the earliest existing expression of the Universalist idea of an afterlife where God saves ALL people can be found in the revelation of Zoroaster, Prophet of the Magi. Truly, it is one of many profound influences that Zoroaster’s new religion had on the subsequent development of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Known as Zoroaster by the Greeks and Zardust by the Arabs, he is properly called Zarathustra by the followers of the religion he founded. (Since he is best known in the West by the Greek name Zoroaster, that name will be used in this paper; interestingly, the Greek name “Jesus” also became favored over the Hebrew “Yeshua.”)

According to the Holy Book of the Magi, Zoroaster was born in eastern Iran and lived from about 660 BCE to 583 BCE. Like Moses (who is thought to have lived between 1600 and 1200 BCE), there is virtually no corroborative historical evidence for his life outside the religious writings. Most scholars place Zoroaster’s life earlier in history (as long ago as 1200 – 1800 BCE), mainly due to the ancient Eastern Persian language he used to compose his Hymns (Gathas).

Zoroaster’s parents were middle-class, and his father was probably a horse or camel trader as well as a priest.  He was married and had children. His major revelations occurred at age 30 after he, like Jesus, went into the wilderness to seek God. After this experience, he was inspired to say that:

God declared to me that silent meditation is the best for attaining spiritual enlightenment” (Y43.15).

The Holy Book of the Magi relates how Satan tempted him in the wilderness with a promise of a 1,000-year rule. He preached for ten years without success, after which he converted his cousin, the rest of his family, and King Vishtaspa.

The School of Athens by Raphael 1509- Zoroaster left, with star-studded globeA detail of the painting “School of Athens” by Raphael 1509 CE (Source: Zoroastrian Astrology Blogspot). Raphael has provided his artistic impression of Zoroaster (with beard-holding a celestial sphere) conversing with Ptolemy (c. 90-168 CE) (with his back to viewer) and holding a sphere of the earth. Note that contrary to Samuel Huntington’s “Clash of Civilizations” paradigm, the “East” represented by Zoroaster, is in dialogue with the “West”, represented by Ptolemy.  Prior to the rise of Eurocentricism in the 19th century (especially after the 1850s), ancient Persia was viewed positively by the Europeans.
2. An Introduction to Zoroastrianism

Once Zoroastrianism was adopted by the kings of Persia, the religion spread throughout the Persian Empire. The Magi, who at that time were priests of the old pagan religion in western Iran, accepted and taught the new religion of Zoroaster; some believe that Zoroaster himself was a Magus of the old religion prior to his divine revelations. His Hymns to God (Gathas), about the length of the Gospel of Matthew, were first recited orally and eventually written into the Holy Book of the Magi (Avesta). We know that he was assassinated by a rival priest at the age of 77 years. While Zoroaster claimed no divinity for himself, later traditions created miraculous stories that were characteristically attached to persons held in high esteem in the ancient world. A fond tradition claims that Zoroaster laughed (instead of crying) at birth!

In the religion of the Magi, humanity has free will to choose between good and evil, and we are required to be active participants with God in the eventual defeat of evil. The core beliefs are often summarized succinctly in the phrase:

Good thoughts, good words, and good deeds.”

Zoroaster’s name for God is “Ahura Mazda” which means, “Lord of Life and Wisdom” or simply “Wise Lord.” This can be compared to the literal translations of the names for God in Hebrew Scriptures: “Yahweh” which means “I AM” and “Elohim” which means “God“. For Zoroaster, God is wholly good; God unconditionally and totally loves all his Creation and all humanity – always. God is not angry, jealous, or vengeful; God would never tempt humans into doing evil. We are made of the essence of God and are cherished by God. Fasting, celibacy, and the austere life have no place in the religion of the Magi; one is simply directed to BE LIKE GOD – Do Good and Oppose Evil. (Christians may recall that in Matthew 5:48, Jesus also commands us to be like our heavenly Father.) Because all creation is sacred, it is also humanity’s duty to protect creation and not defile it or pollute it. (In a very real way, Zoroaster was the first environmentalist!)

Zarathustra-Tomb-China-2Archaeologists in Northwest China’s Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region have discovered major Zoroastrian tombs, dated to over 2,500 years ago. (Caption and Photo Source: Chinanews.com). As noted in the China News report: “This is a typical wooden brazier found in the tombs. Zoroastrians would bury a burning brazier with the dead to show their worship of fire. The culture is unique to Zoroastrianism…This polished stoneware found in the tombs is an eyebrow pencil used by ordinary ladies. It does not just show the sophistication of craftsmanship here over 2,500 years ago, but also demonstrates the ancestors’ pursuit of beauty, creativity and better life, not just survival. It shows this place used to be highly civilized”. For more on this topic, see here…

God is opposed by an evil force called “The Demon of the Lie” which Zoroaster described as “that which is not and never was” — almost as if he saw the devil as a vacuum. Satan is responsible for all death, destruction, decay, and darkness. Satan has no physical presence on Earth but does have the ability to corrupt God’s creation. However, Satan is dim-witted and disorganized and can be defeated by the Good!

Pic2- ZoroasterA drawing of Zoroaster that was made by a Manichean initiate at Dura Europus (Source: Clioamuse); for more on the creed of Mani, see here…

Like Christianity, the religion of the Magi has a concept of the Holy Spirit as being the part of God that is present with us on the Earth. God is both immanent (present) and transcendent (other). It is the Holy Spirit or Mentality of God (Spenta Mainyu) that counters the Evil Spirit or Mentality (Angra Mainyu). In the words of Zoroaster:

Through his Holy Spirit
And his Sovereign mind,
Ahura Mazda will grant
Self-realization and immortality
To him whose words and deeds
Are inspired by righteousness,
Moral courage and Divine Wisdom.” (Y47.1)

3. Zoroastrianism: The Origin of God as Light

Both the ancient Magi and the modern followers of Zoroaster see God as Light, the oldest non-anthropomorphic conception of God. God is the light above us, around us, and within us. For Zoroaster, the contrast between light and darkness is always a metaphor for the conflict between Good and Evil. In speaking of the God of the Magi, the 3rd-century Greek philosopher Porphyry said:

God’s body is Light, and His Spirit Truth.”

In more modern times, Einstein saw all matter as frozen light, and physicist Stephen Hawking stated:

When you break subatomic particles down to their most elemental level, you are left with nothing but pure light.”

Sometimes observers of this religion from ancient to modern times have mistaken the Magi for fire worshippers because of the “eternal flame” present in all of their temples. However, the fire has never been worshiped; the flame of the fire represents LIGHT, their symbol for God.

Yazd-Tower of SilenceAn ancient Zoroastrian Tower of Silence in Yazd (Source: The Heritage Institute).

4. Zoroastrianism: The Origin of a Final Judgment

Concepts of the afterlife in the religion of the Magi are almost identical to those of Christianity. Joseph Campbell suspects direct borrowing of the ideas of the Magi by Dante in his vivid descriptions of a multi-layered Heaven and Hell. According to Zoroaster’s vision, each human soul is required to face judgment on the “Bridge of Judgment.” If there is a preponderance of good deeds, the soul is allowed to pass over a wide bridge to Heaven on which the good deeds meet him or her in the form of a beautiful 15-year-old girl. The soul of the saved asks:

Who are thou, for I have never seen a young girl on Earth more beautiful or fair than thee? In answer, the young girl replies, “I am no girl, but thy own good deeds.”

If the human soul contains a preponderance of evil deeds, a young girl “who has no semblance of a young girl” comes to meet it, and the soul of the damned says:

Who are thou? I have never seen a wench on Earth more ill-favored and hideous than thee.” In reply, the ill-favored wench says, “I am no wench, but I am thy deeds – hideous deeds – evil thoughts, evil words, evil deeds, and evil religion.”

Unlike Dante whose Limbo is for the righteous who are not Christians, Limbo in the religion of the Magi is for those whose good deeds and bad deeds are in equal balance. The Hell of the Magi is not eternal but only a temporary detour while you “shape up” and the evil in you is purified. Zoroastrians, like other Universalists, believe God is too good to sentence humans to Eternal Hell. Some modern minimalist scholars dispute the fact that Zoroaster was a Universalist and say that Universal Salvation came into Zoroastrianism later; however, as Mary Boyce points out in Textual Sources for the Study of Zoroastrianism, the religion was definitely Universalist many years before Christianity when the 4th century B.C. Greek, Theopompus stated that:

Zoroaster prophesies that some day there will be a resurrection of all the dead. In the end Hades shall perish and men (people) shall be happy …”

Baku Fire Temple-UNESCOThe main fire altar at the Atash-kade (Zoroastrian Fire-Temple) of Baku in the Republic of Azerbaijan (known as Arran and the Khanates until 1918) (Picture Source: Panoramio). This site is now registered with UNESCO as a world heritage site. For more on Zoroastrian and Mithraic temples in the Caucasus, see here…

5. Zoroastrianism: The Origin of Angelic Beings

In the religion of the Magi, the Archangels – called the “Bounteous Immortals” – are very powerful, as you can tell from their names: “The Good Mind“, “Righteousness“, “Divine Power“, “Universal Love“, “Perfection“, and “Immortality.” Interestingly, half are male and half are female. They were created by God and with the Angels serve as a link of communication between humanity and God. Additionally, they are manifestations of the characteristics present in men and women of good will – those that each of us needs to integrate into our lives in order to serve God. For instance, good men and women manifest the characteristics of the Archangel of the Good Mind, while evil people are beset with the Evil Mind. The Archangels have been called deities erroneously by some scholars. Some scholars maintain that Zoroaster’s original conception was that of highly abstract Archangels which represent mere aspects of God. Tradition and, more importantly, followers of the modern Zoroastrian religion interpret them literally as Archangels. The Magi also believed that there were Earth Angels of which the prophet Zoroaster was one. Dr. J. J. Modi sees parallels between the Christian angel Michael and the Zoroastrian angel Mithra, as well as between the Christian angel Gabriel and the Zoroastrian angel Sraosha.

Ostia_Antica_TauroctonyA Roman version of the statue of Mithras “Bringer of Light” in a Mithraic temple in Ostia, Italy (Consult, Hinnels, 1988, pp.83). Note the opening on the ceiling just above Mithras, allowing the sun rays to “illuminate” the god. Mithras in Iranian mythology is the bringer of light and justice as well as a manifestation of the eternal sun (Picture source: Public Domain). For more on Mithras, see here…

The name of Mithra may sound familiar to Westerners because of a heretical cult during Roman times that extended as far west as England. This “mystery religion” (which allowed only men) worshipped Mithra as a god, and its popularity is said to have rivaled the early Christian movement. Curiously, Mithra’s birthday is December 25, a date adopted later by the Christian Church for Christmas in its effort to discourage participation in this pagan celebration. Mithra is still worshipped as a god in India. However, in the orthodox religion of the Magi, Zoroastrians consider Mithra “only” an Angel and not even an Archangel! Sophy Burnham, author of A Book of Angels, credits Zoroaster with the development of the concept of angels. Before their contact with the Magi, the Hebrews often refer to the messengers of God as simply men (as in Genesis 18 when three men, one of whom is God, appear to Abraham). After their contact with the Magi, Judaism and later Christianity and Islam have a well-developed system of Archangels and Angels.

Mithras-LegacyMithras’ Enduring Legacy? (Left) Mithras at Taghe Bostan, Western Iran; (Middle) Deo Sol Invictus, Italy; (Right) The Statue of Liberty, Staten Island, New York. For more on Mithras, see here…

6. Zoroastrianism: The Origin of Universalism

Both a spiritual afterlife of the soul and a physical resurrection at the end of time are concepts of Zoroaster. Humanity can fall prey to evil, but after “purification” in Hell, ALL are saved at the end of time. When the victory over evil is complete, the end of time will come where nothing ever dies or decays, and there is no darkness – only LIGHT.

In the spirit of Universalism, Zoroaster tells of future Saviors possibly coming from different nations:

Indeed such shall be the Saviors

Of the countries who follow

The call of Duty by good thoughts

Because of their deeds

Inspired by righteousness

In accord with your command

O Mazda, they certainly have been marked out

As smiters of wrath.” (Y48.12)

Historical JesusThe historical Jesus as reconstructed by modern anthropologists (see BBC Report…). 

7. Zoroastrianism: The Origin of Dualistic Good Versus Evil

One ongoing issue in Zoroastrianism present since antiquity is the debate between those who interpret Zoroaster’s understanding of God as “ethical dualism” (monotheism) and those who maintain the concept of “cosmic dualism” (God and Satan co-exist). Although Zoroaster was very sure that God is wholly good and that man is free to choose good or evil, his teachings were unclear about the source of evil in the world. That is, if God the Creator is all good, where does evil come from? Those supporting ethical dualism (monotheism) would answer that evil originates in the mind of humanity and is the byproduct of creation; because the Universe is incomplete and unfinished, there is a capacity to alter the status quo. That is why humanity must be active in helping God to overcome evil. The Zoroastrian scholar and modern-day believer, Prof. Farhang Mehr, sees Zoroaster as a pure monotheist who taught ethical dualism rather than cosmic dualism.

Throughout the long history of this religion, the concept of cosmic dualism has been more widely accepted; that is, a belief that good comes from God and that evil comes from Satan, although God is Eternal and Satan is not. Interestingly, this same concept of cosmic dualism is used throughout the New Testament by both Jesus and St. Paul, although the monotheism of Christianity is never doubted. Satan is a very real and powerful being to Jesus; he is tempted by Satan in the three Synoptic Gospels (Matthew 4:1-11, Mark 1:12-13, Luke 4:1-13). He asks:

How can Satan cast out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand” (Matthew 12:25-26, Mark 3:23-24, Luke 11:17-18).

In Ephesians 6:11, Paul writes:

Put on the whole armor of God so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the Devil.” (Ephesians 6:11)

Ravenna3WiseMenThe Three Wise Men as depicted in Ravenna (Sant’Apollinare Nuovo), Italy (Source: Public Domain). Note the European depiction of Partho-Sassanian Iranian dress, caps and cloaks. 

 

The proponents of cosmic dualism feel comfortable with modern-day “Process Theology” which expresses the idea that God cannot bestow free will and remain all powerful. A concept in modern physics that may reinforce the reality of cosmic dualism is that “a little chaos” is present in every atom of the Universe.

The God of the Magi is Universal, and Zoroaster was the first to proclaim this truth. In the words of the Persian (and Zoroastrian) King Darius:

I am King of all the Nations by the will of God.”

In the words of Zoroaster, God is supreme:

“When I held you in my very eyes

Then I realized you in my mind, O Mazda,

As the first and also the last for all Eternity,

As the Father of Good Thoughts,

As the Creator of Righteousness

And Lord over the actions of life.” (Y31.8)

Darius_In_ParseA relief of Darius I (r. 522–486 BCE) at Persepolis (Source: Public Domain); Darius was the third monarch of The Achaemenid Empire (550-330 BCE).

8. Zoroastrianism’s Influence on World Religions

Although the Persian Empire fell to Alexander (331 BCE), the Magi continued to be very influential throughout the Middle East and the Western World, and the religion of the Magi continued as the primary religion in the middle east until the Moslem conquest (642 CE). The Magi were prized as teachers of great wisdom and power, and Zoroaster remained a highly respected figure.

Of course, Zoroastrian ideas have been enormously important to subsequent religious thought. Many scholars contend that it was Zoroaster’s cursing of the Hindu gods that initiated the break between the religious approaches of the East (Hindu, Buddhism) and those of the West (Judaism, Christianity, Islam). In the Dead Sea Scrolls of the Essenes, the imagery of the “Sons of Light” and “Sons of Darkness” is a direct borrowing from the Religion of the Magi. Six hundred years after the Moslem conquest, the Sufi Mystic, Attar of Nishapur, wrote:

We are the Eternal Magi, we are not Muslims.”

MagiZoroastrian magi from Kerman during the Jashne Sadeh ceremonies (Source: Heritage Institute).

The Cypress slender Minister of Wine in the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam is a Magi. Omar Khayyam once said he wore the belt of a Magi because he was ashamed of his Islam.

Zoroaster taught that God loves us all and that, after evil is finally defeated, ALL humanity will be saved at the end of time, although those whose bad deeds outweigh their good deeds will need to be “purified” in Hell before joining God in Heaven.

The following example illustrates the views of Zoroaster concerning Universal Salvation:

If you understand these laws of happiness and pain

Which Mazda has ordained, O mortals,

(There is) a long period of punishment for the wicked

And reward for the pious

But thereafter eternal joy shall reign forever.” (Y30.11, emphasis added)

9. References

Boyce, M. (1984). Textual sources for the study of Zoroastrianism. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press. 

Burnham, S. (1992). A book of angels: Reflections on angels past and present and true stories of how they touch our lives. Ballantine Books. 

Mehr, F. (2003). The Zoroastrian tradition: An introduction to the ancient wisdom of Zarathushtra. Mazda Pub.  

Modi, J. J. (2010). A catechism of the Zoroastrian religion. Nabu Press. 

Vincent, K. R. (1999). The Magi: From Zoroaster to the “Three Wise Men. North Richland Hills, TX: Bibal Press.

Professor Jacob Neusner: Persian Elements in Talmud

The below article by Jacob Neusner was originally published in the Encyclopedia Iranica on July 20, 2005. As demonstrated by Professor Neusner, the Persian influence on Judaism through the Babylonian Talmud (Bavli) is by no means negligible. The Bavli, as seen in his article below, is full of Iranian words and motifs.

Readers are also referred to the following text for further reference:

Talmud-Persia

Author: Shai Secunda

Title: The Iranian Talmud: Reading the Bavli in Its Sasanian Context

Publisher: University of Pennsylvania Press (2013)

Order: University of Pennsylvania Press, Amazon.

 

 

 

 

 

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While the Jews of the Parthian and Sasanian empires spoke (eastern) Aramaic, not Middle Persian, Persian influence on Judaism through the Babylonian Talmud (Bavli) is by no means negligible. The Bavli is full of Iranian words and motifs, such as the resurrection of the dead and the last judgment, that are familiar in Zoroastrianism. The laws of purity set forth in the Pentateuch (Leviticus mainly) and in the Mishnah, the 2nd-century CE law code of Judaism, exhibit remarkable affinities with the Zoroastrian counterparts. The Mishnah and counterpart Zoroastrian law codes exhibit striking, formal correspondences, but there is no counterpart in Iranian law codes to the commentary of the Talmud to the Mishnah (Neusner, 1993). However, Iranian language, law, and culture made its impact on the Jews and on Judaism.

Iranian Jews 2011Iranian Jews praying during Hanukkah celebrations on Tuesday, December 27, 2011 at the Yousefabad Synagogue, in Tehran, Iran (Source: Wodu).

For nine centuries Babylonian Jews lived under Iranian rulers, Parthian, then Sasanian, from the middle of the 2nd century BCE to the 7th century CE. Other Jews lived in Mesopotamia (Dura Europos) and Nippur (whence the Jewish magical bowls), in Armenia, in Characene (see CHARACENE AND CHARAX), in Khuzestan, and in Iran proper. But the Bavli represents principally Babylonian conditions, though making reference to Khuzestan. Babylonia had a diverse population, not made up mainly of an Iranian majority and a Jewish minority. In Babylonia lived various sorts of Semites—Tai Arabs, Mandaeans, Syrians, Babylonians—who spoke different dialects of Aramaic as well as Greek. There also were Armenians, Indians, Romans, and Chinese, in small numbers, in the commercial life of the Iranian-administered provinces, particularly in the imperial capital, Ctesiphon and its commercial neighbors, Selecta and Vologasia. The Jews were mostly farmers and artisans living in villages. Thus, Babylonia was a mosaic of peoples and cultures.

Ravsida-TalmudMaggie Anton‘s novel “Rav Hisda’s Daughter” (Published by Plume 2012 – order at Amazon). Anton’s novel narrates the story of the daughter of a Talmudic figure who lived in ancient Persia (Picture Source: The Unmasked Persona’s Review).

Being a military aristocracy, the Parthians made slight effort to Iranize the low country of present-day Iraq. The Sasanians, however, made a systematic effort to settle the rich lowlands between the two rivers, improving the standing of Zoroastrianism. From time to time they made an effort to impose Zoroastrianism on the territories; in Armenia these efforts went on for centuries.

The Babylonian Talmud is full of Iranian words. Rabbis could understand spoken Persian, we do not know what dialect, but could not read the written language. The original language of the passage that follows is Aramaic:

II. 11A. When to Rabbi Pappa would come a document written in Persian deriving from gentile archives, he would give it to two gentiles to read, not in the presence of one another, not telling them the purpose, and if their readings concurred, he would issue an order on the strength of the document to recover a debt even from property mortgaged after contracting the debt to a third party.

II. 12A. Said Rabbi Ashi, “Said to me Rabbi Huna bar Nathan, ‘This is what Amemar said: “As to a document in Persian on which Israelite witnesses signed, we collect on the strength of it even from mortgaged property.”

B. But lo, the Israelites can’t read it.

C. It’s a case of those who can read Persian [Pahlavi].

D. But it has to involve writing that can’t be forged without leaving some sort of evidence, and in the case of Pahlavi documents, that consideration is not enforced!

E. It is one that has been treated with gall nuts.

F. Lo, we require that the final line of the document contain the gist of the contents of the document, and the Persian courts don’t impose that requirement!

(Bavli Gittin 19b)

Pappa could not read the language but could understand when it was read to him. There is no reason to suppose that the rabbis could read the Iranians’ holy books. But they did record disputations with Magi, although the following story does not yield profound knowledge of Zoroastrianism:

V. 16A. Said a magus to Amemar, “The part of you from the middle and above belongs to Hormiz, and the part of you from the middle and downward belongs to Ahormiz.”

He said to him, “If so, how can Ahormiz let Hormiz piss on the ground.”

(Bavli Sanhedrin 39a)

The Wall of JerusalemThe West Wall in Jerusalem. After his conquest of Babylon, Cyrus allowed the Jewish captives to return to Israel and rebuild the Hebrew temple. It is believed that approximately 40,000 did permanently return to Israel (Photo source – see Blog).

Reference is made to Iranian festivals, two of them being days on which taxes were paid:

V. 4A. These are all Roman festivals. What about the Persian ones?

B. They are Mutardi, Turyaskai, Muharnekai, Muharin.

C. These are the festivals of the Romans and the Persians. What about the Babylonian ones?

D. They are Muharnekai, Aknayata, Bahnani, and the tenth of Adar.

(Bavli Abodah Zarah 11b)

Mutardi refers to Nawsard; Turyaski, to Tiragān (13th of the 4th month); Muharnekai, to Mihragān; Muharin, to Nawruz (see Taqizadeh, pp. 632-39).

5-Tomb of EstherThe tomb of Esther and Mordechai in Hamedan, northwest Iran. External view (left) and the interior of the tomb (right).

Some Jews adopted Iranian names and mastered Iranian military arts and wore Iranian garments:

I. 7A .Rabbi Ahi b. Rabbi Josiah had a silver cup in Nehardea. [14B] He said to Rabbi Dosetai b. Rabbi Yannai and to Rabbi Yosé bar Kippar, “When you come back from there, would you bring it with you?”

B. Then went and got it. They said to them, “Effect transfer of title” [so that you are responsible for the cup from this point forward, and we are not].

C. They said to them, “No.”

D. ”Then give it back to us.”

E. Rabbi Dosetai b. Rabbi Yannai said to them, “Yes,” but Rabbi Yosé b. Kippar said to them, “No.”

F. They were abusing him. He said to him, “Look, sir, what they are doing!”

G. He said to him, “Hit him again, hit him again, harder, harder.”

H. So when they got back to him, he said to him, “Look, sir, it wasn’t enough that he didn’t help us, but he even said to them, ‘Hit him again, hit him again, harder, harder’!”

I. He said to him, “Why did you do this?”

J. He said to him, “Those men are a cubit high, and their hats are a cubit high, and they took? from their bellies [in deep voices], and they have outlandish names, like Arda and Arta and Pili-Barish [Pahlavi: Arda/Arta = Sadoq, that is, Justified; Pili-Barish = Elephant-Rider]. If they give orders, ‘Tie him up,’ they tie him up. If they give orders, ‘Kill him,’ they kill him. So if they had killed Dosetai, who is going to give Yannai, my father, a son like me?”

K. He said to him, “Are these men close to the government?”

L. He said to him, “Yes. They have horses and mules in their retinue.”

M. He said to him, “If so, what you did was perfectly within your rights.”

(Bavli Gittin 14a-b)

6-Tomb of DaneilThe tomb of Daniel in Khuzestan in southwest Iran. The main structure (note cone-like dome) as it stands today (left) and Iranian pilgrims paying homage within the tomb of Daniel.

An Arta the Scribe is known from the Dura synagogue graffiti as well, not to mention an Arsaces in addition to an Abraham. The reference to Jews wearing high hats (“as tall as themselves”) calls to mind the pointed cap or hood brought by the Iranians from the Siberian steppes. The Babylonian Talmud (Bavli Horayot 13b) refers to a Jewish authority from Babylonia who wore the kamara, sash, which signified authority in the Kerdīr inscription. The context of the several stories suggests that Jews wore Iranian garments, which were outlandish in the eyes of the Palestinian counterparts. The Talmudic rabbis do not seem to have known much about Iranian religion and culture, and the contrary was also the case. While one may locate in Rabbinic literature motifs and images familiar in Iranian religions, the resurrection of the dead and last judgment being a principal borrowing, one cannot support that the authorities who included them saw them as Iranian. On the contrary, they went to great efforts to prove that resurrection of the dead and last judgment derived from the ancient Israelite scriptures. So the rabbis of the Talmud knew those aspects of Iranian culture, law, and religion that impinged on the practical affairs of the Jewish community. The only matters of Iranian law that interested them had to do with taxes and real estate transactions, laws they had to enforce in their own courts. The Middle East was divided into three cultural units: (1) Hellenistic-Roman, (2) Iranian, and (3) the world of Semites, Armenians, and other smaller groups. It was to that complex third world, the Semitic, Aramaic-speaking part of it, that the rabbis of the Talmud belonged.

Bibliography:

Bernhard Geiger, “The Synagogue. Middle Iranian Texts,” in The Excavations at Dura-Europos. Final Report VIII, Part I:The Synagogue, ed. Carl H. Kraeling et al., New Haven, 1956, pp. 283-317.

A. Kohut, “Les fêtes persanes et babyloniennes dans les Talmuds de Babylon et de Jérusalem,” Revue des études juives 24, 1892, pp. 256-71.

Jacob Neusner, “How Much Iranian in Jewish Babylonia,” JAOS 92, 1975, pp. 184-90.

Idem, Judaism and Zoroastrianism at the Dusk of Late Antiquity. How two Ancient Faiths Wrote down their Great Traditions, Atlanta, 1993.

J. Neusner et al., eds., The Talmud of Babylonia: An American Translation, Chico, Calif, then Atlanta, 1984-95.

Seyyed Hasan Taqizadeh, “The Iranian Festivals Adopted by the Christians and Condemned by the Jews,” BSOAS 10, 1940-41, pp. 632-53.

Sigismond Telegdi, “Essai sur la phonétique des emprunts iraniens en araméen,”JA 226, 1935, pp. 177-257.

New Course: The Silk Route-Origins and History

A new course by Kaveh Farrokh entitled “The Silk Route-Origins and History” is being offered at the University of British Columbia (final lecture on December 16, 2014):

 SR-UBC-2

The lectures will be delivered at the Tapestry Center in the University of British Columbia’s Wesbrook Village. For information on registration, etc., kindly contact the University of British Columbia-Continuing Studies Division.

 Tajik-Nowruz

Tajik girls celebrate the Iranian Nowruz (New Year) on March 21, 2014 in Dushanbe, Tajikestan.

Below is a synopsis of the course as delivered in the Class syllabus:

The origins and history of the east-west Silk Route that connected the empires of Asia, Central Asia, Persia and the Romano-Byzantine West, as well as the lesser-known north-south route that connected Persia, the Caucasus and East- Central Europe. Emphasis will be placed on the development and transfer of the arts, music, culture, mythology, cuisine, and militaria. The peoples of the Silk Route from China across Eurasia, Central Asia, Persia to Europe are also examined

WAALM-Logo

The curriculum and impetus of this course is the direct outcome of meetings with the Cultural Diplomacy’s Department of Traditions & Cultural History of the WAALM Academy based in London, England. WAALM is affiliated with the Academic Council On The United Nations System (ACUNS) and The International Peace Bureau. WAALM was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011. Kaveh Farrokh has been featured in WAALM’s Tribune Magazine (click here…).

silk painting

Chinese painting of Leizu (Xi Ling Shi) the ancient Chinese empress credited with inventing silk in c. 2700 BCE; she was the teenage wife of the Yellow Emperor Huangdi.

shir-dar-samarkand

The “Shir Dar” (Lion Gate/doorway) of the Islamic college at Samarkand built originally in 1627 (Nafīsī, 1949, p. 62). The sun motif is characterized by Kriwaczek (2002, picture Plate 1) as ”…the image of Mithra, the rising and unconquered sun, Zoroastrian intercessor between God and Humanity” (Courtesy of Kriwaczek, 2002).

Chinese women silk-12th century CE

Chinese women produce silk in the 12th century CE.

Kyrgiz MusiciansKyrgyz musicians performing with traditional instruments. Hsiang-Nou races replaced Iranian speaking peoples of Central Asia; Despite this: These greatly assimilated the cultural and mythological traditions of their Iranic predecessors.

UBC-2-Migrations

One of ancient founding peoples of the Silk Route? Mummies bearing Caucasoid features uncovered in modern northwest China; these were either Iranic-speaking or fellow Indo-European Tocharian (proto-Celtic?). Archaeologists have found burials with similar Caucasoid peoples in ancient Eastern Europe. Much of the colors and clothing of the above mummies bear striking resemblance to the ancient dress of pre-Islamic Persia/Iran and modern-day Iranian speaking tribal and nomadic peoples seen among Kurds, Lurs, Persians, etc.  (Source: Kaveh Farrokh’s lectures at the University of British Columbia’s Continuing Studies Division – this was also presented at Stanford University’s WAIS 2006 Critical World Problems Conference Presentations on July 30-31, 2006, the annual Tirgan event at Toronto (June, 2013) and at Yerevan State University’s Iranian Studies Department (November, 2013) – Diagram is Copyright of University of British Columbia and Kaveh Farrokh). For more on this topic, see also here…

Kaveh Farrokh Interviews: Persian Heritage Magazine and Voice of America

Kaveh Farrokh has been interviewed by the Persian Heritage Magazine (published March 31, 2014) and Voice of America (published April 1, 2014) regarding the 300 sequel and Noah (starring Russell Crowe).

Persian HeritagePersian Heritage Magazine (Volume 19, Number 73, Spring 2014, pp.32-34) – download edition in pdf. Note that the text/interview is in Persian. The above picture of Farrokh is from the WAALM event in London where he received the “Best History Book of 2008″ award for “Shadows in the Desert: Ancient Persia at War (see also BBC-Persian report). The book has been translated into Persian by two separate publishing houses in Iran (Qoqonoos publishing-see Mehr News & Press TV report and Taghe Bostan Publishers of Kermanshah Azad University) and Russian (consult Russian EXMO Publishers website). Farrokh’s  book was also nominated as one of three finalists for the Benjamin Franklin Award in 2008. The book has also been reviewed in peer-reviewed academic journals such as the Iranshenasi Journal (2010) and the Quarderni Asiatici Journal of Italy (2011). In addition to teaching history at the University of British Columbia, Farrokh also serves as استاد سنتها و تاریخ فرهنگی ازدانشکده دیپلماسی فرهنگی وآلم ـ انگلستان-Chair of the Cultural Diplomacy’s Department of Traditions & Cultural History of the WAALM Academy in London, England (see also Academia.edu).

Kaveh Farrokh was also interviewed with other participants in the Voice of American Persian program entitled [صدای امریکا -برنامه افق-با میزبانی سیامک دهقانپور-تاریخ و سینما: از ۳۰۰ تا نوح] “Voice of America – The Horizon – Hosted by Siamak Dehghanpur – Date Cinema: From 300 to Noah“:

صدای امریکا -برنامه افق-با میزبانی سیامک دهقانپور-تاریخ و سینما: از ۳۰۰ تا نوح-Voice of America – The Horizon – Hosted by Siamak Dehghanpur – Date Cinema: From 300 to Noah. Note that Farrokh had already published an extensive retort against the first “300” movie (2007) entitled: The 300 Movie: separating fact from Fiction.

The program produced a lively discussion, but unfortunately the shortage of time prevented the full exploration of a number of points, namely whether (1) the movie is political in nature and (2) Zoroastrianism and the Achaemenids. Five more topics also need to be discussed in two more follow-up postings, but for now, topics (1) and (2) are discussed below:

(1) The proposal that the new “300” movie does not serve any particular political and especially anti-Iranian agenda

It was suggested (not by Kaveh Farrokh) that the movie is entertainment cinematography and not intended to be an anti-Iranian picture. This notion is challenged by a number of prominent Western professors and journalists. Professor John Trikeriotis (himself of Greek ancestry) has begun a petition entitled: Adding a disclaimer or explanatory message to “300: Rise of an Empire”. Readers are strongly encouraged to sign the petition and support Professor Trikeriortis’ initiative.

John TrikeriotisProfessor John Trikeriotis strongly opposes the false historical messages in the movie “300 Rise of an Empire”. He has initiated a petition against the movie (click here…)

Akbar Montaser, one of the regular readers of Kavehfarrokh.com noted the following on April 7, 2013: “I still believe there is a tendency to demean Iran. This is done “cleverly”, not intelligently. If one does not see the Truth, the same disasters will be repeated based on history“.  It is in this light that readers are introduced to the excellent article by Jehanzeb Dar in Racialicious: intersection of racism and Pop Culture:”Frank Miller’s “300′′ and the persistence of accepted Racism“. Below are some quotes from Jehanzeb Dar’s article:

I was absolutely outraged by the racist content of the film and more so at the insensitivity of movie-goers who simply argued “it’s just a movie.” Later on, I would hear these same individuals say, “The movie makes you want to slice up some Persians”…“300”…represents the ever-growing trend of accepted racism towards Middle-Easterners in mainstream media and society, but also the reinforcement of Samuel P. Huntington’s overly clichéd, yet persisting, theory of “The Clash of Civilizations” which proposes that cultural and religious differences are the primary sources for war and conflict rather than political, ideological, and/or economic differences. …“300” grossed nearly $500 million worldwide in the box office…suggest that movie-goers share the film’s racist and jingoistic views…”

The late Samuel Huntington’s Eurocentric (if not racist) formula is unhelpful as it diverts the discussion away from the real causes of contemporary military conflicts, which are for the main part based on economics and geopolitical factors.

Samuel P. Huntington - World Economic Forum Annual Meeting Davos 2008The late Professor Samuel Huntington (1927-2008) who proposed the idea that wars are the result of the “Clash of Civilizations”. Huntington’s thesis has helped re-invigorate Eurocentric views of “race” and how these “explain” the so-called “East vs. West” paradigm. The “300” movies represent the revival of Eurocentricism in entertainment, the media in general and increasingly in academia, even within Iranian Studies: see for example a conference in Washington DC (March 9, 2013) and the petition of Professor Yarshater against the appointment of unqualified persons in Iranian Studies programs (December, 3, 2013).

Revisiting the notion of “300” being “harmless entertainment”, let us return to Jehanzeb Dar’s article cited earlier. The movie clearly attempts a Eurocentric-style “East = backwardness and oppression” versus “West=Freedom and Democracy“. This is again overly simplistic, as Demos (People) Kratus (rule) or Democracy in Athens did not apply to the entirety of society, especially to women. This is exemplified by Greek philosophers such as Socrates (d. 399 BCE) who stated in his Book 8 that “…one sign of democracy’s moral failure is the sexual equality it promotes” (563b; consult Nickolas Pappas, 2003, Routledge Philosophy Guidebook to Plato and the Republic, New York: Routledge). The topic of women’s rights in ancient Achaemenid Persia, and the views of women by contemporary Greek philosophers shall be addressed in ensuing postings.

cyrus-cylinder-NewThe Cyrus Cylinder (Picture Source:  Angelina Perri Birney – see her article here…). Just as Greece was evolving with the concept of Democracy, so too had the Achaemenids  proclaimed the freedom of peoples to practice their cultures and religions, as exemplified by the cylinder proclamation of Cyrus the Great (559-530 BCE). The history of Cyrus’ proclamation has been challenged by what some would regard as Eurocentric views (see Human Rights Petition…

There is in fact strong coordination between Hollywood Heads and Studios and US foreign affairs departments. Consult reports below by highly reputable media outlets:

The Office of the Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs (established in the 1940s) was tasked to promote inter-American cooperation during the 1940s in the distribution of news, films and advertising, to counter the propaganda of World War Two fascist Italy and Nazi Germany.

The Office of the Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs was later renamed as the Office of Inter-American Affairs (OIAA) with slightly changed powers as per Executive order 9532 on March 23, 1945.

Readers are also invited to consult the article Re-Birth of a Nation“, penned by Osagie K. Obasogie and posted in Genetics and Society on September 19th, 2007 with respect to the first 300 movie. Below are some excerpts of the Obasogie article:

“…300 is arguably the most racially charged movie since D.W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation. In true post-9/11 form, Zack Snyder’s film turns Brown into the new Black; Persians are depicted as bloodthirsty savages thwarted … by a small contingent of freedom fighters – with noticeably paler skin – looking to preserve democracy at all costs. This eerily resembles Birth of a Nation, the 1915 epic celebrating the Ku Klux Klan’s rise … to defend Southern whites’ dignity and honor against what were then seen as recently liberated Black insurgents. Like Griffith’s film, this mixture of race, racism, sex… racialized depiction of freedom, nation, and democracy becomes central to 300’s … message. But closer inspection reveals a subtler, yet similarly troubling idea that has gone largely unnoticed: 300’s unapologetic glorification of eugenics.”

Whether one chooses to agree or not with Osagie K. Obasogie or Jehanzeb Dar, serious questions may be raised as to the picture’s true intentions. By the same token, profound political and ideological divisiveness has prevented the Iranian community (diaspora and inside Iran) from coalescing towards a concerted approach. There is for example no real “Iranian anti-defamation League” to protest against Hollywood producers and international cultural venues in general for presenting Iranians as propaganda targets.

The WAALM School of Cultural Diplomacy however, has worked towards the establishment of cultural dialogue at the international level with success, and has in fact been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011 (see also original report: Nobel Peace Prize 2011: World Academy of Arts, Literature and Media (WAALM) Nominated | Persianesque: Iranian Magazine). For more on WAALM’s initiative in international diplomacy click on the image below:

ACUNS-WAALM-Nobel

(2) The Achaemenids and Zoroastrianism

Towards the end of the program one of the participants asserted that there is “no absolute proof that Achaemenids were  Zoroastrian“. Farrokh only had a few minutes to respond adequacy and in full, which is why this complex topic, which is why it needs to be re-addressed. In principle, yes, the Achaemenids were not Zoroastrian in the sense of an institutionalized religious system during the Sassanian era (like Papacy of Rome), however the notion that they (Achaemenids) were “not Zoroastrian” is highly misleading.

First, the doctrine of Zoroastrianism versus the religious institution of Zoroastrianism cannot be so simplistically equated. The Achaemenids did know of Zoroaster’s teachings, however these were yet be  institutionalized into a complex state religious system, as occurred (in its finalized form) during the Sassanian era (224-651 CE).

There is clear proof that Zoroaster and his teachings were known in the ancient world. Xanthus of Lydia for example, who was a contemporary of Herodotus (5th century BCE), is the first westerner to mention Zoroaster by name (Yamauchi, 1990, p.400). Herodotus (like Plutarch later in the 2nd century CE) does not mention Zoroaster by name, but his descriptions of the tribe of the Magi priesthood and Persian customs clearly point to Zoroastrian beliefs (in Chapter XIII of Herodotus’ The Histories, Penguin Classics, London: England, 1972). Similar classical descriptions are found in Strabo (63 BCE-19 CE) where references are made to the Magus, worship practices and the god Mithras (passage 15.3.13-14 of Strabo, Geography, translated by H. L. Jones (ed.), Perseus project, Tufts University, 2000). For more on this subject, a list of readings are provided at the conclusion of this section.

The School of Athens by Raphael 1509- Zoroaster left, with star-studded globeA detail of the painting “School of Athens” by Raphael 1509 CE (Source: Zoroastrian Astrology Blogspot). Raphael has provided his artistic impression of Zoroaster (with beard-holding a celestial sphere) conversing with Ptolemy (c. 90-168 CE) (with his back to viewer) and holding a sphere of the earth. Note that contrary to Samuel Huntington’s “Clash of Civilizations” paradigm, the “East” represented by Zoroaster, is in dialogue with the “West”, represented by Ptolemy.  Prior to the rise of Eurocentricism in the 19th century (especially after the 1850s), ancient Persia was viewed positively by the Europeans.

If Greco-Roman sources are so clear about Zoroaster’s doctrines, then how can the Achaemenids not have known of Zoroaster, or respected his teachings?

Much like later Christianity, when the early doctrines of Christ predated the religious institution of Christinaity, so too did the doctrines of Zoroaster precede the religious institution of Sassanian Zoroastrianism.  A (broadly-speaking) similar process occurred with respect to Christ’s early teachings when Emperor Constantine the Great (r. 306-337 CE) declared Christianity as the official religion of the Roman Empire.

The question is how were Zoroastrian doctrines practiced during the Achaemenid era as ancient Iranian theology was invariably complex (as attested to in Zoroastrian documents). Zoroaster was, in a sense, a reformer of the more ancient Iranian cults, perhaps he was at first one of the followers of the cult of Mithras, but direct evidence is certainly lacking for this suggestion. What is clear is that there is solid proof of Achaemenid respect for Zoroaster’s teachings, as seen with the Zoroastrian Fravahar symbol depicted at Persepolis:

Fravahar-PersepolisDepiction of the Zoroastrian Fravahar at Persepolis (Photo source: Mani Moradi, 2012). This indicates that the doctrines of Zoroaster were known by the Achaemenids, and they clearly respected these, as indicated by the depiction of this symbol at their regal locale of imperial power.

To further consult this topic, readers are referred to:

  • Nigosian, S.A. (1993). The Zoroastrian Faith: Tradition and Modern Research. Montreal & Kingston: Mcgill-Queen’s University Press.
  • Yamauchi, E.M. (1990). Persia and the Bible. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House; see especially chapters 12 (Zoroastrianism), 13 (The Magi) and 14 (Mithraism).
  • Boyce, M. (2001; first published in 1979). Zoroastrians: Their Religious beliefs and Practices. London: Routledge Taylor & Frances Group.
  • Kriwaczek, P. (2003). In Search of Zarathustra: The First prophet and the Ideas that Changed the World. Weidenfeld & Nicolson.

Future postings will further discuss topics related to the “300” sequel movie discussed in the Voice of America interview:

  • The real reason for war: commerce and economics
  • Military falsifications of the 300 movie
  • The historical Themistocles
  • Women of ancient Iran
  • “Nordification” of ancient Greeks