7-Siddharta Gautama

The Buddha’s Links to Achaemenid Persia

The article below by  Harvey Kraft “Ancient Persian Inscriptions Link a Babylonian King to the Man Who Became Buddha” first appeared in Ancient Origins on May 4, 2015.

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Dramatic evidence has revealed the presence of Siddhartha Gautama, the man who became Buddha, as far west as Persia. Family seals and records found at Persepolis, the ancient capital of the fourth Persian Emperor, Darius the Great, have been identified and associated with the names of Siddhartha Gautama and his father, Suddhodana Gautama.

1-Buddha offers fruit to the devil

‘Buddha offers fruit to the devil’ from 14th century Persian manuscript ‘The Jāmiʿ al-Tawārīkh’ (Compendium of Chronicles) (Source: Ancient origins).

The Persepolis Seals identified royals and other important personages within the Persian ruling sphere. Guatama was the name of the royal family of the Saka kingdom.

Analysis of Seals PFS 79, PFS 796 and PF 250 found among the collection of important seals in Persepolis, the Persian capital of Emperor Darius I, are purported to be the Gautama family according to an interpretation by Dr. Ranajit Pal (The Dawn of Religions in Afghanistan-Seistan-Gandhara and the Personal Seals of Gotama Buddha and Zoroaster, published in Mithras Reader: An Academic and Religious Journal of Greek, Roman and Persian Studies. Vol. III, London, 2010, pg. 62).

The family crest bore the etching of a crown-headed king flanked by two totems, each a standing bird-headed winged lion. The Seal of Sedda depiction of a Sramana (Persepolis Seal PFS 79), a Lion-Sun shaman, is based on information gathered from a number of other seals the name refers to Sedda Arta (Siddhartha), i.e., Siddha (Liberator of) and Arta (Universal Truth).

2-Persepolis-Seal-PFS-79Persepolis Seal PFS 79 and outline. Seal of Seddha, standing ruler flanked by bird-headed Arya-Sramana priests of Indus-Vedic tradition, linked to Saka tribe (Scythians) royal family of King Suddhodana Gautama, and his son-prince Siddhartha. Seal art courtesy of Oriental Institute, Chicago (Source: Ancient Origins).

The twin guardians each had the body of lion and the head and wings of a mythic sunbird (i.e., Egyptian Sun-bearing falcon). The lion and falcon-gryphon motifs represented a pair of Sramana shamans. Therefore, the family seal associated with Gautama, described a royal person of the Arya-Vedic tradition.

A similar image of Buddhist iconography shows a Buddha seated on a “lion-throne” under a bejeweled tree with cosmic aides at his side. The Buddhist montage declares his enlightenment under the cosmic Sacred Tree of Illumination.

3-Buddhist Emblem

Possibly a modification of his family seal designed to reflect his new teachings, once Siddhartha Gautama achieves enlightenment this Buddhist emblem comes to represent him seated on the lion-throne under the sacred cosmic tree flanked by two celestial Bodhisattva (Source: Ancient Origins).

What would the family crest of the Gautama family be doing in Persia? Was Siddhartha Gautama connected to the Persian Empire?

The inscriptions of Darius the Great (Per. Darayavaush), the Persian emperor for thirty-five years, boast that the Zoroastrian God Assura Mazda (Per. Ahura Mazda) chose him to take the throne (in 522 BCE) from a usurper named “Gaumâta.” Darius shrouds the short-lived reign of his predecessor in a power struggle involving deceit, conspiracy, murder, and the prize of the Persian throne. He characterizes “Gaumâta” as an opportunist who illegally grabbed the throne in Babylon while the sitting Persian Emperor Kambujiya was away in Egypt.

4- Darius-ParsaRelief carving of Darius the Great at Persepolis (Source: Public Domain).

Written in Cuneiform Script on tablets at Mount Bisutun (aka Behistun) in three different languages: Old Persian, Elamite and Babylonian (a form of Akkadian), the Bisutun Inscriptions may have echoed the name of Siddhartha Gautama, the man who became the Buddha, in the name of a little known King of Babylon.

The inscriptions refer to a religious figure named “Gaumâta,” from whom the Achaemenid Persian Emperor, Darius the Great, seized the throne in Babylon. Darius painted “Gaumâta” an imposter and illegal ruler, although the description does not seem to fit the highly educated and beloved leader. Darius identified him as a Magi (practitioner of esoteric knowledge), and sardonically labeled him as a “stargazer.” If the name “Gaumâta” referred to Siddhartha Gautama, this reference would mean that he held a key leadership position in the Magi Order. Moreover, as the headquarters of the Magi was in the temple complex of Esagila, home of the ziggurat tower dubbed “House of the Raised Head,” the designation of “stargazer” suggests that Gautama was involved with Babylon’s star observatory.

Could it be that Siddhartha Gautama was the mysterious King “Gaumâta”?

5- Darius victorous over rebels

During lifetime of Buddha (b. 563 – d. 483 BCE) when the Persian Empire stretched from Egypt to the Indus, Darius the Great comes to power by overthrowing the stargazer-Magus “Gaumata” in Babylon about whom his Bisutun Inscriptions claim: “he seized the kingdom on July 1, 522 BCE. Then I prayed to Ahuramazda and slew him.” Image of Darius reasserting Persian domination stomps on “rebels” with inscriptions etched below (Source: Ancient Origins).

The name “Gaumâta” appears to be a variant of Gautama, the Buddha’s family name. In the ancient multilingual land of Babylonia, multiple names and titles with spelling variations referring to the same person were common.Does evidence of the Babylonian Magi Order’s influences appear in Buddhist literature? Could we discover Mesopotamian references in the Buddhist scriptures?

The earliest mathematical systems, astronomical measurements, and mythological literature were initiated in the ziggurat tower-temples of the Fertile Crescent by the cultures of Sumer/Akkad and Amorite Babylonia. Both Magi and Vedic seers furthered knowledge of a cosmic infrastructure, well known in the Buddha’s time from the Tigris to the Ganges. Discovering this connection in the Buddhist sutras would challenge the prevailing view that Buddhism was born and developed in isolation exclusively in India. Although the oral legacy of the sutras were assembled and recorded later in India, a Babylonian finding would have major implications regarding the origin, influences, and intentions of the Buddha.

6- Persian Magi at Ravenna
Byzantine depiction of the Three Magi in a 7th-century mosaic at Basilica of Sant’Apollinare Nuovo (Source: Public Domain).
Described as a compassionate philosopher-cosmologist “Gaumâta” decreed freedom for slaves, lowered oppressive taxes across the board, and inspired neighbors to respect one another in a city known for its diverse ethnic groups and many languages. His espousal of liberty, human rights, and generosity supports the thesis that “Gaumâta” and Gautama were one and the same person.
7-Siddharta Gautama
Prince Siddharta Gautama shaves the hair off his head as the sign to decline his status as ksatriya (warrior class) and becomes an ascetic hermit, his servants hold his sword, crown, and princely jewelry while his horse Kanthaka stands on right. Bas-relief panel at Borobudur, Java, Indonesia (Source: Public Domain).
Darius, a military strongman, and a member of the Achaemenid family, prepared for his coup with a propaganda campaign designed to legitimize his overthrow of “Gaumâta.” In his public inscription he referred to his cohorts as witnesses who would confirm the killing of the usurper.While his story appears to be full of cunning deceptions, the real behind the scenes story of this episode has remained elusive to history. Certainly as Darius had good reason to write history in his own self-interest, what happened has gone undetected for thousands of years because historians know little to nothing about “Gaumâta.”Of course, if “Gaumâta” was really Siddhartha Gautama, this assassination had to be a lie, because he did go on to become the Buddha. Either someone else was murdered in the name of “Gaumâta,” or Darius shrewdly produced a disinformation campaign designed to cover up what really happened. With the “death of the imposter” the new emperor wanted to send a message to supporters of “Gaumâta” that he would not tolerate rebellions and suppressed any hope for the return of this popular leader. But in the wake of the coup nineteen rebellions arose throughout the empire. It would take Darius more than a year of brutal military action to crush the liberation-minded communities inspired by “Gaumâta.”
Baku Fire Temple-UNESCO

Farroukh Jorat: The Atashgah (Fire temple) of Baku

The article below “Zoroastrians of Apsheron: from Sassanians to present days” is written by Farroukh Jorat from the Republic of Azerbaijan (formerly known as Arran and the Khanates until May 1918).

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 Baku is the capital of the Azerbaijan Republic, which called by poets as “Land of flames”. This country was the part of Great Iran from ancient times until XIX century. In this article I will briefly talk about Zoroastrian history of Baku and Apsheron peninsula.

Before Sassanians

The earliest mention of Persians in the Caucasus is found in the Greek historian Herodotus’ account of the Achaemenid expansion of 558-330 BC, during which they annexed Transcaucasia (South Caucasus) as the X, XI, XVIII and XIX satrapies of their empire [1].

Archaeological material uncovered in present-day Azerbaijan, Armenia and Georgia include Achaemenid architecture, jewelry and ceramics [2].

Beginning of Sassanian times

Earliest mentions of a Zoroastrianism in Transcaucasia dates back to the Sassanians, who founded here the fire temples. Mobed Kartir (III c.) write in “Kabah of Zartusht”:

“And from earliest times onward for the sake of the Yazads and noble lords and for my own soul’s sake, I, Kartir, saw much trouble and toil. And I made prosperous many fires and magi in the empire of Iran. And I also, by command of the King of Kings, put in order those magi and fires which were for the territory outside Iran, wherever the horses and men of the King of Kings arrived the city of Antioch and the country of Syria and what is beyond Syria, the city of Tarsus and the country of Cilicia and what is beyond Cilicia, the city of Caesarea and from the country of Cappadocia to Galatia, and the country of Armenian and Georgia, and Albania, and from Balaskan to the Alans’ pass. And Shahpuhr, King of Kings, with his own horses and men visited with pillaging, firing, and havoc. But I did not allow damage and pillaging, and whatsoever pillaging had been made by any person, those things I had taken away and returned to their own country” [3].

Movses Khorenatsi in V century in the description of Bhagavan on the Caspian coast mentioned about Sanctuary with seven worshiped holes and referred to the establishment of the Shah Ardashir I (227-241) fire temples in Bhagavan [4]. Bhagavan (Bagavan) is one of medieval names of Baku. Ghevond Alishan described them as seven holes with burning oil which were called “Azer Pehram” [5].

Obviously, we are talking about a fire temple “Ateshgah” in the village of Surakhani (near Baku) where burned seven eternal flames.

Jorat-Baku-1

Fire temple Ateshgah (Source: Farroukh Jorat).

Also there is another tower fire-temple called “Maiden Tower”. Nezami Ganjevi in his poem “Eskandar Nameh” wrote:

In that place was a fire built round with stone

Which the fire-worshipper used to call – “Khudi-soz”

For it, were a hundred priests (erbadan) of the fire-temple with collar of gold.

“Khudi-soz” (“Burning itself”) refers to the burning of natural oil or gas fires. “For it, were a hundred priests (erbadan)” – to stand before the sacred fire so many erbads could only in very large temple.

Such large tiered fire temple with premises able to accommodate a hundred erbads could be the Baku temple tower known as the Maiden’s Tower. Having examined the mortar with which the tower was built, scientists have concluded that it was built between the I and X centuries AD, i. e. in Sassanian times.

Jorat-Baku-2

“Maiden’s tower” in Baku (Source: Farroukh Jorat).

Towering fire temple of Sassanian times existed in Ardasher-Khwarrah in the province of Pars (now Firouzabad). This fire temple was built by shah Ardeshir I and was located at the center of the city and it was a 30 m high and spiral in design. This architectural type influenced on architecture of Great Mosque of Samarra in Iraq.

Jorat-Baku-3

Draft of towering fire temple in Ardasher-Khwarrah (now Firouzabad), Iran (Source: Farroukh Jorat).

In 1964, in front of the “Maiden’s tower” archaeologists found altar of fire, which, unfortunately, was soon destroyed. Altar had three-tier octagonal base, each step was 22-25 cm tall at the center of the upper base has been installed an octagonal tower height of 110 cm and 45 cm at the top of the column is clearly seen traces of fire and oil. The column had no openings for gas, oil burned in the bowl, which is not fully preserved. Place reliance shallow bowl was round a spherical cavity on the top of the column. The whole height of the altar was approximately 225-235 cm.

Jorat-Baku-4

Altar of fire near the “Maiden’s tower” in Baku (Source: Farroukh Jorat).

Sketch of the reconstructed ancient altar of the fire is shown. The altar of this type has been widely distributed by the Medes and Sassanian Iran, where the altars were low (below human growth). Their images carved on coins.

Jorat-Baku-5

Altar of fire. Coin of shah Ardashir I (Source: Farroukh Jorat).

Arabian invasion. VII-XII AD

In 642, in the Caucasus invaded by an army of the Arab Caliphate, began a violent Islamization. However, despite this, the majority of the population remained Zoroastrians a few centuries after the Arab conquest. Estakhri (X century) mentioned that not far from Baku (i.e., on the Apsheron Peninsula) lived fire worshippers [6]. This was confirmed by Movses Kaghankatvatsi in his reference of the province of Bhagavan (“Fields of the Gods” i.e., “Fire Gods”) [7] and by Aboulfeda [8].

At the same time group of Zoroastrians from Sanjan (now in Turkmenistan) migrated to India. It was the beginning the history of Parsi community.

It is known that when referring to Zoroastrians, Muslims used the word “Gabri”. To the west of Baku is located a desert area, which until the 1940’s was called “Gabristan”. In the 1940’s,after the discovery of rock paintings, this place has become famous, and the name “Gabristan” was deemed invalid because of its consonance with the word “gabir” (“grave” in Azeri) and the district was renamed the “Gobustan”. However, as noted archaeologist Gardashkhan Aslanov, in fact stated, the name Gabristan has no relation to the word “grave” and actually means “Country of Gabris”. It is likely that this desert area was a place for Zoroastrians who were trying not to attract the attention of Muslim rulers. Now the new name “Gobustan” stuck and few people know the old name of the area.

Middle ages. XV-XVII AD

From XV-XVI centuries diplomatic and trade relations between India and Shirvan were expanded. Surakhani Ateshgah was used as sanctuary of Hindus, Sikhs and Zoroastrians.

In 1683 German traveler Engelbert Kämpfer visited Surakhani and mentioned about “seven holes with eternal fires” [9]. “Surakhani” in Persian of Caucasus (language of Surakhani) means “hole with the fountain”. In other words, “Yotnporakyan Bagink” and “Surakhani” is practically calques.

Jorat-Baku-6

Seven fire holes, picture by Kaempfer, 1683 (Source: Farroukh Jorat).

Chardin in the 17th century reported about Persian Guebres, which worshiped forever burning fire that was in two days’ journey from Shemakha (on the Apsheron) [10].

Engelbert Kaempfer wrote that among people who worshiped fire, two men are descendants of Persians who migrated to India.

French Jesuit Villotte, who lived in Azerbaijan since 1689, reports that Ateshgah revered by Hindus and Guebres, the descendants of the ancient Persians [11].

German traveler Lerch who visited the temple in 1733, wrote that here there are 12 Guebres or ancient Persian fire worshipers» [12].

Around the fire altar (“Chahar-tag”) were cells for pilgrims and guest room (“balakhani”), located at the entrance to the courtyard. According to travelers in the cells as small fires burned.

Jorat-Baku-7

Ateshgah of Baku, XVIII-XIX centuries (Source: Farroukh Jorat).

Despite the fact that the temple was primarily used by a Hindus and Sikhs too, it represents the Sassanian “Chahar-tag” style. Fire temples of this type were in Niasar and other areas of Iran [13].

Jorat-Baku-8
“Chahar-tag” fire temple in Niasar (Iran) (Source: Farroukh Jorat).

On the walls of cells were encrypted dedicatory inscriptions (14 Hindu, 2 Sikh and one Persian inscriptions).

Jorat-Baku-9

Persian (Zoroastrian) inscription in Ateshgah (Source: Farroukh Jorat).

آتشی صف کشیده همچون دک

جیی بِوانی رسیده تا بادک

سال نو نُزل مبارک باد گفت

خانۀ شد رو سنامد (؟) سنة ۱۱۵٨

ātaši saf kešide hamčon dak

jeyi bavāni reside tā bādak

sāl-e nav-e nozl mobārak bād goft

xāne šod ru *sombole sane-ye 1158

Fires stand in line

Esfahani Bavani came to Badak

“Blessed the lavish New Year”, he said:

The house was built in the month of Ear in year 1158.

In the first line of inscription author talks about of a number of fires burning in the cells around the temple.

Jorat-Baku-10Worshiped fire and small fires stand in line in the background cells (1865) (Source: Farroukh Jorat).

In the second line the author says that he was from Isfahan and Bavan and reached the city of Badak. “Jay” is form of “Gay”, one of the earliest names of Isfahan. Bavan (modern Bavanat) is the village near Esfahan. [14, 15]. The word Badak is a diminutive of Bad-Kubeh. (The name of Baku in the sources of the 17th and 18th centuries was Bad-e Kube).

The 1158 year corresponds to 1745 AD. At the end of the reference is the constellation of Sombole /Virgo (August-September). In the name of the month the master mistakenly shifted the “l” and “h” at the end of the word. According to Zoroastrian calendar Qadimi New Year (Novruz) in 1745 AD was in August.

J. Hanway visited Baku in 1747 and left few records of Ateshgah. People, who worshiped fire in Ateshgah he calls “Indians”, “Persians” and “Guebres”. [16].

S. Gmelin, who visited Ateshgah in 1770, wrote that in the present Ateshgah lived Indians and descendants of the ancient Guebres [17].

XIX AD

As said M. J. Saint-Martin, French orientalist of early XIX century: “The city of Baku is regarded by Parsis as a holy place due to many sources of naphtha with natural burning fire and in many places worshiping a eternal fire”. (La ville de Bakou est regardée par les Parsis comme un lieu saint, à cause du grand nombre de sources de naphte qui s’y enflamment naturellement, et qui, en plusieurs endroits, y entretiennent un feu perpétuel.) [18].

In 1820 the French consul Gamba visits the temple. According to Gamba here lived Hindus and Persian guebres, the followers of Zoroaster. [19].

In 1840 Avraham Firkowicz, a Karaite collector, wrote about his meeting in Darband in 1840 with fireworshiper from Baku. Firkowicz asked him “Why do you worship fire?” Fireworshiper replied that they do not worship fire at all, but the Creator, which is not a person, but rather a “matter” (abstraction) called Q’rţ’, and symbolized by fire. Term Q’rţ’ (“kirdar”) means in Pahlavi and Avestan as “one who does”, “creator” [20].

The Englishman Ussher visited Ateshgah in September 19, 1863. He calls it “Atesh Jah” and said that there are pilgrims from India and Persia [21].

German Baron Max Thielmann visited the temple in October 1872 and in his memoirs he wrote that Parsi community of Bombay sent here a priest who after a few years will be replaced. His presence is necessary, because here come the pilgrims from the outskirts of Persia (Yazd, Kerman) and from India and remain in this sacred place for several months or years. [22].

In 1876 English traveler James Bruce visited Ateshgah. He noted that the Bombay Parsi Punchayat provides a permanent presence in the temple of their priest [23].

E. Orsolle, who visited the temple after Bruce, said that after Parsi priest died in 1864, the Parsi Punchayat of Bombay a few years later sent another priest here, but the pilgrims who came here from India and Iran have already forgotten the sanctuary, and in 1880 there was nobody [24].

O’Donovan visited the temple in 1879 and refers about religious worship of Guebres. [25].

In 1898 in the “Men and Women of India” magazine was published an article entitled “The ancient Zoroastrian temple in Baku”. Author calls Ateshgah as “Parsi temple” and notes that the last Zoroastrian priest was sent there for about 30 years ago (that is, in the 1860s.) [26].

XX AD

Henry in 1905, in his book also noted that 25 years ago (i.e. about in 1880) in Surakhani died last Parsi priest. [27].

In 1855, with the development of oil and gas fields the natural flames of Ateshgah began to fade. In 1887, Ateshgah had greatly weakened flames and was visited by the Emperor Alexander III. The temple flames finally extinguished January 6, 1902.

In 1925 the Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic at the invitation of the “Community for the survey and study of Azerbaijan” visited the famous Bombay Zoroastrian scholar and professor J. J. Modi. Modi claimed that the ancient texts say about the Parsi fire temples on the shores of the Khazar (Caspian) Sea.

Parsi scientist visited completely abandoned Ateshgah, but due to the large number of attributes of the Hindu religion (the inscriptions, trishul) he ranked Ateshgah to Hindu temples. In the Persian inscriptions he was able to partially disassemble only the first and last row.

He visited the “Maiden’s tower”, which he considered as “ancient Ateshkade” (fire temple), and suggested the architectural similarity of the tower, discovered during excavations of the ancient city of Taxila, near Rawalpindi (now Pakistan). It should be noted that Modi’s assumption had remained unconfirmed [28].

Jorat-Baku-11

J. J. Modi, Baku, November, 1925 (Source: Farroukh Jorat).

He gave lectures in Baku on the two subjects: “The Parsees” and “The Importance of Azerbaijan from a Parsee Point of View”. His objective was to create an interest in our religion among the local learned people.

After J. J. Modi’s visit Ateshgah 50 years was in oblivion. But since 1975, after the restoration it was re-opened to the public. Flames of Ateshgahs burn again.

XXI AD

Since the 1991 Zoroastrian community of Iran began missionary work outside of Iran. One of the objectives of Zoroastrians of Azerbaijan is the recognition of Zoroastrianism by society and the State as one of the traditional religions of Azerbaijan. Zoroastrians of Azerbaijan, as well as from Iran and India carried out in Ateshgah religious ceremonies.

Jorat-Baku-13

Iranian Zoroastrians in Ateshgah (Source: Farroukh Jorat).

In July 2009, Ilham Aliyev, the President of Azerbaijan announced a grant of AZN 1 million for the upkeep of the shrine.

Jorat-Baku-14

Ateshgah at present days (Source: Farroukh Jorat).

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Ateshgah and balakhani (house above the entrance) at present days (Source: Farroukh Jorat).

Footnotes

[1] Herodotus, The Histories, Book III (Thaleia) 92, 94.

[2] Kroll Stephan. “Medes and Persians in Transcaucasia: archaeological horizons in north-western Iran and Transcaucasia”, in : G. B. Lanfranchi, M. Roaf, R. Rollinger, eds., Continuity of Empire (?) Assyria, Media, Persia. Padova, S.a.r.g.o.n. Editrice e Libreria, 2003, pp. 281-287. History of the Ancient Near East / Monographs – V.

[3] Royal inscription found on the Kabah of Zartusht. An account of how Zoroastrianism was propagated beyond Iranian territories during the Third Century, and other religions suppressed.

[4] Movses of Chorene “The History of Armenia”.

[5] Alishan. Hin Havatk gam Hetanosagan gronk Hayots (“Ancient Beliefs, or Pagan Religions of Armenia”], pp. 55-56, Venice, 1895).

[6] Abu Ishaq Ibrahim ibn Muhammad al-Farisi al Istakhri. Ketāb al-masālek wa’l-mamālek.

[7] History of the Caucasian Albanians by Movses Dasxuranci. Translated by C. J. F. Dowsett. London, 1961.

[8] Geographie d’Aboulfeda traduite de Parabe en francais et accompagnee de notes et d’eclaircissements par M. Reinaud, t. I-II, Paris, 1848-1883.

[9] E. Kämpfer. Amoenitatum exoticarum politico-physico-medicarum fasciculi V, quibus continentur variae relationes, observationes et descriptiones rerum Persicarum et ulterioris Asiae, multa attentione, in peregrinationibus per universum Orientum, collecta, ab auctore Engelberto Kaempfero. Lemgoviæ : Typis & Impensis Henrici Wilhelmi Meyeri, Aulæ Lippiacæ Typographi , 1712, p. 253—262.

[10] Chardin J. Voyages en Perse et autres lieux de 1’Orient. Vol. II. Amsterdam, 1735. p. 311.

[11] J. Villotte, Voyage d’un missionnaire de la Compagnie de Jésus en Turquie, en Perse, en Arménie, en Arabie et en Barbarie, Paris, 1730.

[12] Лерх Иоанн. Выписка из путешествия Иоанна Лерха, продолжавшегося от 1733 до 1735 г. из Москвы до Астрахани, а оттуда по странам, лежащим на западном берегу Каспийского моря. «Новые ежемесячные сочинения», ч. XLIV, февраль, СПб., 1790 г., с. 75.

[13] Fire Temple at Niasar.

[14] Bavan on Google maps.

[15] Ali Akbar Dehkhoda. Loghatnameh, (in Persian), Tehran.

[16] Jonas Hanway. An Historical Account of the British Trade Over the Caspian Sea, 1753.

[17] Samuel Gottlieb Gmelin. Reise durch Russlaud zur Untersuchung d. drei Naturreiche, p. 45.

[18] Saint-Martin M. J. Mémoires historiques et géographiques sur l’Arménie I, Paris, 1818, p. 153-154.

[19] Jean Françoise Gamba. Voyage dans la Russie meridionale. II. Paris. 1826. P. 299.

[20] Dan Shapira. A Karaite from Wolhynia meets a Zoroastrian from Baku. Iran and the Caucasus, vol. 5, no. 1, 2001, pp. 105-106.

[21] Ussher. A Journey from London to Persepolis. pp. 208-207, London, 1865.

[22] Thielmann, Journey in the Caucasus, Persia, and Turkey in Asia, Eng. tr. by Heneage, 2. 9-12, London, 1876.

[23] James Bryce. Transcaucasia and Ararat: Being Notes of a Vacation Tour in the Autumn Of 1876.

[24] E. Orsolle. Le Caucase et la Perse. Ouvrage accompagné d’une carte et d’un plan. Paris, E. Plon, Nourrit et cie, 1885, pp. 130-142.

[25] O’Donovan E. Merv Oasis: Travels and Adventures East of the Caspian during the years 1879-80-81. 2 vols. New York, 1883.

[26] Men and Women of India. Vol. 1, no. 12, p. 696, Bombay, Dec. 1898.

[27] J. D. Henry, Baku, an Eventful History, 1906.

[28] Maari Mumbai Bahaarni Sehel – Europe ane Iran-nee Musaafari-naa 101 Patro. 1926, p. 266-279 (English translation: “My Journey outside Mumbai – 101 letters of my Europe and Iran Journeys.” by Ervad Shams-Ul-Ulama Dr. Sir Jivanji Jamshedji Modi. Translated from Gujarati by Soli P. Dastur in 2004.

mithras-the-bringer-of-light

Mithra: The “Pagan” Christ?

The article below by S. Acharya and D.M. Murdock was originally published in the Truth be Known Website.

Kindly note that several pictures and all captions for pictures featured below are different from the original article posted in the Truth be Known website.

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Both Mithras and Christ were described variously as ‘the Way,’ ‘the Truth,’ ‘the Light,’ ‘the Life,’ ‘the Word,’ ‘the Son of God,’ ‘the Good Shepherd.’ The Christian litany to Jesus could easily be an allegorical litany to the sun-god. Mithras is often represented as carrying a lamb on his shoulders, just as Jesus is. Midnight services were found in both religions. The virgin mother…was easily merged with the virgin mother Mary. Petra, the sacred rock of Mithraism, became Peter, the foundation of the Christian Church.” Gerald Berry, Religions of the World

Mithra temple-CarrawburghRemains of the Temple of Mithra at Carrawburgh, England (Source: Britain Express). The culture 0f Mithras continues to endure among the Iranians (within Iran and the Kurds of the Near East beyond modern-day Iran. The Kurds speak West Iranian languages (i.e. Kurmnaji, Gowrani, etc.) that are akin to Persian and Luri.

Mithra or Mitra is…worshipped as Itu (Mitra-Mitu-Itu) in every house of the Hindus in India. Itu (derivative of Mitu or Mitra) is considered as the Vegetation-deity. This Mithra or Mitra (Sun-God) is believed to be a Mediator between God and man, between the Sky and the Earth. It is said that Mithra or [the] Sun took birth in the Cave on December 25th. It is also the belief of the Christian world that Mithra or the Sun-God was born of [a] Virgin. He travelled far and wide. He has twelve satellites, which are taken as the Sun’s disciples…. [The Sun’s] great festivals are observed in the Winter Solstice and the Vernal Equinox—Christmas and Easter. His symbol is the Lamb….” Swami Prajnanananda, Christ the Saviour and Christ Myth

Because of its evident relationship to Christianity, special attention needs to be paid to the Persian/Roman religion of Mithraism. The worship of the Indo-Persian god Mithra dates back centuries to millennia preceding the common era. The god is found as “Mitra” in the Indian Vedic religion, which is over 3,500 years old, by conservative estimates. When the Iranians separated from their Indian brethren, Mitra became known as “Mithra” or “Mihr,” as he is also called in Persian.

Ostia_Antica_TauroctonyRoman 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).

By around 1500 BCE, Mitra worship had made it to the Near East, in the Indian kingdom of the Mitanni, who at that time occupied Assyria. Mitra worship, however, was known also by that time as far west as the Hittite kingdom, only a few hundred miles east of the Mediterranean, as is evidenced by the Hittite-Mitanni tablets found at Bogaz-Köy in what is now Turkey. The gods of the Mitanni included Mitra, Varuna and Indra, all found in the Vedic texts.

Mithra as Sun God

The Indian Mitra was essentially a solar deity, representing the “friendly” aspect of the sun. So too was the Persian derivative Mithra, who was a “benevolent god” and the bestower of health, wealth and food. Mithra also seems to have been looked upon as a sort of Prometheus, for the gift of fire. (Schironi, 104) His worship purified and freed the devotee from sin and disease. Eventually, Mithra became more militant, and he is best known as a warrior.

Like so many gods, Mithra was the light and power behind the sun. In Babylon, Mithra was identified with Shamash, the sun god, and he is also Bel, the Mesopotamian and Canaanite/ Phoenician solar deity, who is likewise Marduk, the Babylonian god who represented both the planet Jupiter and the sun. According to Pseudo-Clement of Rome’s debate with Appion (Homily VI, ch. X), Mithra is also Apollo.

1-Taq-BostanInvestiture of Ardashir II (r. 379-383) (center) by the supreme God Ahuramazda (right) with Mithra (left) standing upon a lotus (Ghirshman, 1962 & Herrmann, 1977). Trampled beneath the feet of Ahura-Mazda and Ardashir II is an unidentified defeated enemy (possibly Roman Emperor Julian). Of interest are the emanating “Sun Rays”  from the head of Mithras.  Note the object being held by Mithras, which appears to be a barsum, or perhaps some sort of diadem or even a ceremonial broadsword, as Mithras appears to be engaged in some sort of “knighting” of Ardashir II as he receives the `Farr`(Divine Glory) diadem from Ahura-Mazda (Picture source: Shahyar Mahabadi, 2004).

In time, the Persian Mithraism became infused with the more detailed astrotheology of the Babylonians and Chaldeans, and was notable for its astrology and magic; indeed, its priests or magi lent their very name to the word “magic.” Included in this astrotheological development was the re-emphasis on Mithra’s early Indian role as a sun god. As Francis Legge says in Forerunners and Rivals in Christianity:

The Vedic Mitra was originally the material sun itself, and the many hundreds of votive inscriptions left by the worshippers of Mithras to “the unconquered Sun Mithras,” to the unconquered solar divinity (numen) Mithras, to the unconquered Sun-God (deus) Mithra, and allusions in them to priests (sacerdotes), worshippers (cultores), and temples (templum) of the same deity leave no doubt open that he was in Roman times a sun-god. (Legge, II, 240)

Mithras Cave near Aubeterre-Julianna LeesThe Mithras Cave near Aubeterre, France (Source: Julianna Lees).

By the Roman legionnaires, Mithra—or Mithras, as he began to be known in the Greco-Roman world—was called “the divine Sun, the Unconquered Sun.” He was said to be “Mighty in strength, mighty ruler, greatest king of gods! O Sun, lord of heaven and earth, God of Gods!” Mithra was also deemed “the mediator” between heaven and earth, a role often ascribed to the god of the sun.

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. 

An inscription by a “T. Flavius Hyginus” dating to around 80 to 100 AD/CE in Rome dedicates an altar to “Sol Invictus Mithras”—”The Unconquered Sun Mithra”—revealing the hybridization reflected in other artifacts and myths. Regarding this title, Dr. Richard L. Gordon, honorary professor of Religionsgeschichte der Antike at the University of Erfurt, Thuringen, remarks:

It is true that one…cult title…of Mithras was, or came to be, Deus Sol Invictus Mithras (but he could also be called… Deus Invictus Sol Mithras, Sol Invictus Mithras…Strabo, 15.3.13 (p. 732C), basing his information on a lost work, either by Posidonius (ca 135-51 BC) or by Apollodorus of Artemita (first decades of 1 cent. BC), states baldly that the Western Parthianscall the sun Mithra.”  According to Gordon: The Roman cult seems to have taken this existing association and developed it in their own special way. Mithra is who the monuments proclaim him—the Unconquered Sun. (Gordon, “FAQ.” (Emph. added.))

Santa_Maria_Capua_Vetere_Mithraeum_Tauroctony[Click to Enlarge] Depiction of Mithras with Persian dress of the (Parthian and Early-Mid Sassanian era type) slaying the sacred bull at the Santa Maria Capua Vetere. Note the dog and serpent.

As concerns Mithra’s identity, Mithraic scholar Dr. Roger Beck says:

Mithras…is the prime traveler, the principal actor…on the celestial stage which the tauroctony [bull-slaying] defines…. He is who the monuments proclaim him—the Unconquered Sun“. (Beck (2004), 274)

In an early image, Mithra is depicted as a sun disc in a chariot drawn by white horses, another solar motif that made it into the Jesus myth, in which Christ is to return on a white horse. (Rev 6:2; 19:11)

Mithra in the Roman Empire

Subsequent to the military campaign of Alexander the Great in the fourth century BCE, Mithra became the “favorite deity” of Asia Minor. Christian writers Dr. Samuel Jackson and George W. Gilmore, editors of The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge (VII, 420), remark:

It was probably at this period, 250-100 b.c., that the Mithraic system of ritual and doctrine took the form which it afterward retained. Here it came into contact with the mysteries, of which there were many varieties, among which the most notable were those of Cybele.

According to the Roman historian Plutarch (c. 46-120 AD/CE), Mithraism began to be absorbed by the Romans during Pompey’s military campaign against Cilician pirates around 70 BCE. The religion eventually migrated from Asia Minor through the soldiers, many of whom had been citizens of the region, into Rome and the far reaches of the Empire. Syrian merchants brought Mithraism to the major cities, such as Alexandria, Rome and Carthage, while captives carried it to the countryside. By the third century AD/CE Mithraism and its mysteries permeated the Roman Empire and extended from India to Scotland, with abundant monuments in numerous countries amounting to over 420 Mithraic sites so far discovered”.

By the third century AD/CE Mithraism and its mysteries permeated the Roman Empire and extended from India to Scotland“.

Nik Spatari-Mithras[Click to Enlarge] Professor Nik Spatari’s drawing of the site of Eski Kale in Turkey (dated to circa 300 BCE) showing  Mithras at left in Iranian attire shaking hands with the Hellenic God Zeus at right. This may be one of the first artistic depictions of the  handshake symbolizing the “Payman” (pact).

From a number of discoveries, including pottery, inscriptions and temples, we know that Roman Mithraism gained a significant boost and much of its shape between 80 and 120 AD/CE, when the first artifacts of this particular cultus begin to be found at Rome. It reached a peak during the second and third centuries, before largely expiring at the end of the fourth/beginning of fifth centuries. Among its members during this period were emperors, politicians and businessmen. Indeed, before its usurpation by Christianity Mithraism enjoyed the patronage of some of the most important individuals in the Roman Empire. In the fifth century, the emperor Julian, having rejected his birth-religion of Christianity, adopted Mithraism and introduced the practice of the worship at Constantinople.” (Schaff-Herzog, VII, 423).

Julian's failed invasion of Persia in 363 ADEmperor Julian is killed during his failed invasion of Sassanian Persia in June 26, 363 CE. Above is a recreation of  Sassanian Persia’s elite cavalry, the Savaran, and combat elephants as they would have appeared during Julian’s failed invasion.  Note the rider in Mithraic attire bearing an unknown Sassanian 3-pronged symbol  ( Picture source: Farrokh, Plate D, -اسواران ساسانی- Elite Sassanian cavalry, 2005).

Modern scholarship has gone back and forth as to how much of the original Indo-Persian Mitra-Mithra cultus affected Roman Mithraism, which demonstrates a distinct development but which nonetheless follows a pattern of this earlier solar mythos and ritual. The theory of “continuity” from the Iranian to Roman Mithraism developed famously by scholar Dr. Franz Cumont in the 20th century has been largely rejected by many scholars. Yet, Plutarch himself (Life of Pompey, 24) related that followers of Mithras “continue to the present time” the “secret rites” of the Cilician pirates, “having been first instituted by them.” So too does the ancient writer Porphyry (234-c. 305 AD/CE) state that the Roman Mithraists themselves believed their religion had been founded by the Persian savior Zoroaster.

In discussing what may have been recounted by ancient writers asserted to have written many volumes about Mithraism, such as Eubulus of Palestine and “a certain Pallas,” Gordon (Journal Mithraic Studies, v. 2, 150) remarks:

Certainly Zoroaster would have figured largely; and so would the Persians and the magi.”

It seems that the ancients themselves did not divorce the eastern roots of Mithraism, as exemplified also by the remarks of Dio Cassius, who related that in 66 AD/CE the king of Armenia, Tiridates, visited Rome. Cassius states that the dignitary worshiped Mithra; yet, he does not indicate any distinction between the Armenian’s religion and Roman Mithraism.

 Tiridates I ArmeniaA statue of Armenina king, Tiridates I at versailles, France (Source: Public Domain).

It is apparent from their testimony that ancient sources perceived Mithraism as having a Persian origin; hence, it would seem that any true picture of the development of Roman Mithraism must include the latter’s relationship to the earlier Persian cultus, as well as its Asia Minor and Armenian offshoots. Current scholarship is summarized thus by Dr. Beck (2004; 28):

Since the 1970s, scholars of western Mithraism have generally agreed that Cumont’s master narrative of east-west transfer is unsustainable; but…recent trends in the scholarship on Iranian religion, by modifying the picture of that religion prior to the birth of the western mysteries, now render a revised Cumontian scenario of east-west transfer and continuities once again viable.”

In his massive anthology, Armenian and Iranian Studies, Dr. James R. Russell, professor of Armenian Studies at Harvard University, essentially proves that Roman Mithraism had its origins in not only Persian or Iranian Mithraism and Zoroastrianism but also in Armenian religion, dating back centuries before the common era.

Commagene-Mithras AttireAn interesting relief at the ruins of Arsameia, the capital of the kingdom of Commagene in 1st century BC. King Mithradates I Kallinikos of Commagene (100–70 BC) dressed as the Zoroastrian Magi (left) shakes hands with the Greek god Hercules (Source: Rocksnbirds).  Note that Hercules in Commagene also represented the Persian god Artagnes. Commagene like the Pontus was a small post-Achaemenid  Iranian kingdom in Anatolia situated squeezed between Parthia to its east and the expanding Roman Empire to its west. Various versions of Mithradates’ crown continue to appear among various mystical sects of Western Iran, notably Kurdistan.

The Many Faces of Mithra

Mainstream scholarship speaks of at least three Mithras: Mitra, the Vedic god; Mithra, the Persian deity; and Mithras, the Greco-Roman mysteries icon. However, the Persian Mithra apparently developed differently in various places, such as in Armenia, where there appeared to be emphasis on characteristics not overtly present in Roman Mithraism but found as motifs within Christianity, including the Virgin Mother Goddess. This Armenian Mithraism is evidently a continuity of the Mithraism of Asia Minor and the Near East. This development of gods taking on different forms, shapes, colors, ethnicities and other attributes according to location, era and so on is not only quite common but also the norm. Thus, we have hundreds of gods and goddesses who are in many ways interchangeable but who have adopted various differences based on geographical and environmental factors.

Garni Temple-Armenia[Click to Enlarge] The Temple of Garni in Armenia. An example of Classical Armenian architecture of Hellenic inspiration, this Temple was first ordered to be built in dedication to Mithras by Tiridates I in approximately 66 CE. The god Mithras in time became merged with the Sol Invictus (Unconquered Sun) of the Roman Empire (Picture Source: Skyscraper City).

Mithra and Christ

Over the centuries—in fact, from the earliest Christian times—Mithraism has been compared to Christianity, revealing numerous similarities between the two faiths’ doctrines and traditions, including as concerns stories of their respective godmen. In developing this analysis, it should be kept in mind that elements from Roman, Armenian and Persian Mithraism are utilized, not as a whole ideology but as separate items that may have affected the creation of Christianity, whether directly through the mechanism of Mithraism or through another Pagan source within the Roman Empire and beyond. The evidence points to these motifs and elements being adopted into Christianity not as a whole from one source but singularly from many sources, including Mithraism.

The evidence points to these motifs and elements being adopted into Christianity…”

Thus, the following list represents not a solidified mythos or narrative of one particular Mithra or form of the god as developed in one particular culture and era but, rather, a combination of them all for ease of reference as to any possible influences upon Christianity under the name of Mitra/Mithra/Mithras.

Historical JesusA reconstruction of Jesus by contemporary anthropologists (see BBC report: “Why do we Think Christ was White?” March, 27, 2001). The reconstruction above is very different from the icons we are used to seeing in the churches and Christian arts of Northwestern Europe. How many images has the reader seen in North American or Western European churches that show the historical Aramaic Christ?

Mithra has the following in common with the Jesus character:

  • Mithra was born on December 25th of the virgin Anahita.
  • The babe was wrapped in swaddling clothes, placed in a manger and attended by shepherds.
  • He was considered a great traveling teacher and master.
  • He had 12 companions or “disciples.”
  • He performed miracles.
  • As the “great bull of the Sun,” Mithra sacrificed himself for world peace.
  • He ascended to heaven.
  • Mithra was viewed as the Good Shepherd, the “Way, the Truth and the Light,” the Redeemer, the Savior, the Messiah.
  • Mithra is omniscient, as he “hears all, sees all, knows all: none can deceive him.”
  • He was identified with both the Lion and the Lamb.
  • His sacred day was Sunday, “the Lord’s Day,” hundreds of years before the appearance of Christ.
  • His religion had a eucharist or “Lord’s Supper.”
  • Mithra “sets his marks on the foreheads of his soldiers.”
  • Mithraism emphasized baptism.

December 25th Birthday

The similarities between Mithraism and Christianity have included their chapels, the term “father” for priest, celibacy and, it is notoriously claimed, the December 25th birthdate. Over the centuries, apologists contending that Mithraism copied Christianity nevertheless have asserted that the December 25th birthdate was taken from Mithraism. As Sir Arthur Weigall says:

December 25th was really the date, not of the birth of Jesus, but of the sun-god Mithra. Horus, son of Isis, however, was in very early times identified with Ra, the Egyptian sun-god, and hence with Mithra…”

Mithra’s birthday on December 25th has been so widely claimed that the Catholic Encyclopedia (“Mithraism“) remarks:

The 25 December was observed as his birthday, the natalis invicti, the rebirth of the winter-sun, unconquered by the rigors of the season.”

Reconstruction of Mithra ceremonyAn interesting reconstruction of a Mithraic ceremony in at the Mithraic temple of Osterburken, Germany (Mithraeum.eu).

Yet this contention of Mithra’s birthday on December 25th or the winter solstice is disputed because there is no hard archaeological or literary evidence of the Roman Mithras specifically being named as having been born at that time. Says Dr. Alvar:

There is no evidence of any kind, not even a hint, from within the cult that this, or any other winter day, was important in the Mithraic calendar“. (Alvar, 410)

In analyzing the evidence, we must keep in mind all the destruction that has taken place over the past 2,000 years—including that of many Mithraic remains and texts—as well as the fact that several of these germane parallels constituted mysteries that may or may not have been recorded in the first place or the meanings of which have been obscured.

Mithraism-RomeClick to Enlarge] The stages of Roman Mithraism: Stage 1: Cerax (Raven); – Stage 2-Nymphos (Bride); Stage 3-Miles (Soldier); Stage 4-Leo (Lion); Stage 5-Perses (Persian); Stage 6- Heliodrommus (Sun-Runner); Stage 7-Pater (Father) (Picture sources: Hinnels, 1988). Note that term “Bride” often used to denote “Nymphos” for the second stage is simplistic at best. The Latin term should actually be in the feminine “Nymphe” and not the masculine “Nymphos” or a male bride which possibly may suggest something of a mystical male-female fusion. The reasons for this are not as yet clear, but it seems consistent with Roman or Western (as opposed to the original Iranian) Mithraism which is believed to have excluded women from its rituals and membership. Note that in the final grade (Stage VII-Father) there is a distinct Persian cap symbolizing the cap of Mithras (Picture sources: Cerax, Nymphos, Miles from Hinnels, 1985; Leo, Persian, and Heliodrommus, and Pater in Public Domain).

The claim about the Roman Mithras’s birth on “Christmas” is evidently based on the Calendar of Filocalus or Philocalian Calendar (c. 354 AD/CE), which mentions that December 25th represents the “Birthday of the Unconquered,” understood to refer to the sun and taken to indicate Mithras as Sol Invictus. Whether it represents Mithras’s birthday specifically or “merely” that of Emperor Aurelian’s Sol Invictus, with whom Mithras has been identified, the Calendar also lists the day—the winter solstice birth of the sun—as that of natus Christus in Betleem Iudeae: “Birth of Christ in Bethlehem Judea.”

Moreover, it would seem that there is more to this story, as Aurelian was the first to institute officially the winter solstice as the birthday of Sol Invictus (Dies Natalis Solis Invicti) in 274 AD/CE. (Halsberghe, 158) It is contended that Aurelian’s move was in response to Mithras’s popularity. (Restaud, 4) One would thus wonder why the emperor would be so motivated if Mithras had nothing whatsoever to do with the sun god’s traditional birthday—a disconnect that would be unusual for any solar deity.

Regardless of whether or not the artifacts of the Roman Mithras’s votaries reflect the attribution of the sun god’s birthday to him specifically, many in the empire did identify the mysteries icon and Sol Invictus as one, evidenced by the inscriptions of “Sol Invictus Mithras” and the many images of Mithras and the sun together, representing two sides of the same coin or each others’ alter ego. Hence, the placement of Mithras’s birth on this feast day of the sun is understandable and, despite the lack of concrete evidence at this date, quite plausibly was recognized in this manner in antiquity in the Roman Empire.

Mithrasgrotte_Halberg_Saarbruecken Mithraic temple discovered in Saarbrücken, Germany (Source: Public Domain).

Persian Winter Festivals

In addition, it is clear that the ancient peoples from whom Mithraism sprang, long before it was Romanized, were very much involved in winter festivals so common among many other cultures globally. In this regard, discussing the Iranian month of Asiyadaya, which corresponds to November/December, Mithraic scholar Dr. Mary Boyce remarks:

“…it is at this time of year that the Zoroastrian festival of Sada takes place, which is not only probably pre-Zoroastrian in origin, but may even go back to proto-Indo-European times. For Sada is a great open-air festival, of a kind celebrated widely among the Indo-European peoples, with the intention of strengthening the heavenly fire, the sun, in its winter decline and feebleness. Sun and fire being of profound significance in the Old Iranian religion, this is a festival which one would expect the Medes and Persians to have brought with them into their new lands… Sada is not, however, a feast in honour of the god of Fire, Atar, but is rather for the general strengthening of the creation of fire against the onslaught of winter“. (Boyce (1982), 24-25)

This ancient Persian winter festival therefore celebrates the strengthening of the “fire” or sun in the face its winter decline, just as virtually every winter-solstice festivity is intended to do. Yet, as Dr. Boyce says, this “Zoroastrian” winter celebration is likely pre-Zoroastrian and even proto-Indo-European, which means it dates back far into the hoary mists of time, possibly tens of thousands of years ago. And one would indeed expect the Medes and Persians to bring this festival with them into their new lands, including the Near East, where they would eventually encounter Romans, who could hardly have missed this common solar motif celebrated worldwide in numerous ways.

“The Mithraists believed that this night is the night of the birth of Mithra, Persian god of light and truth.”

MegreganShooshtarNiknam3Zoroastrians engage in the celebration of Mehregan or festival of Mithras in Shushtar, Iran (Picture source: Kouroush Niknam). For more see article by Massoume Price entitled “Mehregan”

The same may be said as concerns another Persian or Zoroastrian winter celebration called “Yalda,” which is the festival of the Longest Night of the Year, taking place on December 20th or the day before the solstice:

Yalda has a history as long as the Mithraism religion. The Mithraists believed that this night is the night of the birth of Mithra, Persian god of light and truth. At the morning of the longest night of the year the Mithra is born from a virgin mother….

In Zoroastrian tradition, the winter solstice with the longest night of the year was an auspicious day, and included customs intended to protect people from misfortune…. The Eve of the Yalda has great significance in the Iranian calendar. It is the eve of the birth of Mithra, the Sun God, who symbolized light, goodness and strength on earth. Shab-e Yalda is a time of joy.

Yalda is a Aramaic-Syriac word which means birth. it is notable that the worshipers of Mithra used the word “yalda” to refer speifically to the brith of the God Mithra.Shab-eyalda (Night of Yalda) is the longest night of the year and it is also a crucual turning poiunt, after whihc the nights grow shorter and the days longer. In antiquity, Yalda symbolized the truimph of the sun-god (Mithra) over the dominion of evil and darkness.

kurd-engaged-in-worship-of-mithrasKurdish man engaged in the worship of Mithras in a Pir’s (mystical leader/master) sanctuary which acts as a Mithraic temple (Courtesy Kasraian & Arshi, 1993, Plate 80). Note how he stands below an opening allowing for the “shining of the light”, almost exactly as seen with the statue in Ostia, Italy. These particular Kurds are said to pay homage to Mithras three times a day.

It is likely that this festival does indeed derive from remote antiquity, and it is evident that the ancient Persians were well aware of the winter solstice and its meaning as found in numerous other cultures: To wit, the annual “rebirth,” “renewal” or “resurrection” of the sun.

“‘Christmas’ is the birth not of the ‘son of God’ but of the sun.”

In the end the effect is the same: “Christmas” is the birth not of the “son of God” but of the sun. Indeed, there is much evidence—including many ancient monumental alignments—to demonstrate that this highly noticeable and cherished event of the winter solstice was celebrated beginning hundreds to thousands of years before the common era in numerous parts of the world. The observation was thus provably taken over by Christianity, not as biblical doctrine but as a later tradition in order to compete with the Pagan cults, a move we contend occurred with numerous other “Christian” motifs, including many that are in the New Testament.

Mehregan-North Shore News-NV-2003[Click to Enlarge] The Mehregan Persian Music festival as reported in the North Shore News of North Vancouver (British Columbia, Canada) on October 17, 2003.

Mithra the ‘Rock-Born’

Mithra’s genesis out of a rock, analogous to the birth in caves of a number of gods—including Jesus in the apocryphal, non-canonical texts— was followed by his adoration by shepherds, another motif that found its way into the later Christianity. Regarding the birth in caves likewise common to pre-Christian gods, and present in the early legends of Jesus, Weigall relates (50):

“...the cave shown at Bethlehem as the birthplace of Jesus was actually a rock shrine in which the god Tammuz or Adonis was worshipped, as the early Christian father Jerome tells us; and its adoption as the scene of the birth of our Lord was one of those frequent instances of the taking over by Christians of a pagan sacred site. The propriety of this appropriation was increased by the fact that the worship of a god in a cave was commonplace in paganism: Apollo, Cybele, Demeter, Herakles, Hermes, Mithra and Poseidon were all adored in caves; Hermes, the Greek Logos, being actually born of Maia in a cave, and Mithra being “rock-born.”

As the “rock-born,” Mithras was called “Theos ek Petras,” or the “God from the Rock.” As Weigall also relates:

"Tauroctony" - Mithras slaying a bull[Click to Enlarge] Another depiction of Mithras with Persian dress slaying the sacred bull at the Vatican Museum in Rome. Note the dog and serpent heading towards the gushing blood pouring down from the bull’s neck as the the scorpion heads towards the dying bull’s testicles.

Indeed, it may be that the reason of the Vatican hill at Rome being regarded as sacred to Peter, the Christian “Rock,” was that it was already sacred to Mithra, for Mithraic remains have been found there.

“Mithras was “the rock,” or Peter, and was also “double-faced,” like Janus the keyholder, likewise a prototype for the “apostle” Peter. Hence, when Jesus is made to say (in the apparent interpolation at Matthew 16:12) that the keys of the kingdom of heaven are given to “Peter” and that the Church is to be built upon “Peter,” as a representative of Rome, he is usurping the authority of Mithraism, which was precisely headquartered on what became Vatican Hill.”

Mithraic remains on Vatican Hill are found underneath the later Christian edifices, which proves the Mithra cult was there first.”

Tbilisi Ategsha (Fire Temple)[Click to Enlarge] Remains of an “Atash-kade” (Zoroastrian fire-temple) undergoing repairs in Georgia. The cultural ties between Iran and the Caucasus  stretch back for thousands of years (Picture courtesy of Dr. David Khoupenia with caption from Kaveh Farrokh’’s lectures at the University of British Columbia’s Continuing Studies Division – also presented at Stanford University’s WAIS 2006 Critical World Problems Conference Presentations on July 30-31, 2006). For more on the topic of Zoroastrian fire temples in Georgia see Payvand News of Iran: The Northernmost Zoroastrian Fire Temple in the World (in the Republic of Georgia).

By the time the Christian hierarchy prevailed in Rome, Mithra had already been a popular cult, with pope, bishops, etc., and its doctrines were well established and widespread, reflecting a certain antiquity. Mithraic remains on Vatican Hill are found underneath the later Christian edifices, a fact that proves the Mithra cult was there first. In fact, while Mithraic ruins are abundant throughout the Roman Empire, beginning in the late first century AD/CE:

The earliest church remains, found in Dura-Europos, date only from around 230 CE.”

The Virgin Mother Anahita

Unlike various other rock- or cave-born gods, Mithra is not depicted in the Roman cultus as having been given birth by a mortal woman or a goddess; hence, it is claimed that he was not “born of a virgin.” However, a number of writers over the centuries have asserted otherwise, including several modern Persian and Armenian scholars who are apparently reflecting an ancient tradition from Near Eastern Mithraism.

“The worship of Mithra and Anahita, the virgin mother of Mithra, was well-known in the Achaemenian period.”

 

Anahita-TextThe comprehensive textbook “Anahita: Ancient Persian Goddess & Zoroastrian Yazata” published in 2013. See abstract in Academia.edu.

Dr. Badi Badiozamani says that a “person” named “Mehr” or Mithra was “born of a virgin named Nahid Anahita (‘immaculate‘)” and that “the worship of Mithra and Anahita, the virgin mother of Mithra, was well-known in the Achaemenian period [558-330 BCE]…” (Badiozamani, 96) Philosophy professor Dr. Mohammed Ali Amir-Moezzi states: “Dans le mithraïsme, ainsi que le mazdéisme populaire, (A)Nāhīd, mère de Mithra/Mehr, est vierge”—”In Mithraism, as in popular Mazdaism, Anahid, the mother of Mithra, is a virgin.” (Amir-Moezzi, 78-79) Comparing the rock birth with that of the virgin mother, Dr. Amir-Moezzi also says:

“…il y a donc analogie entre le rocher, symbole d’incorruptibilité, qui donne naissance au dieu Iranien et la mère de celui-ci, Anāhīd, éternellement vierge et jeune […so there is analogy between the rock, a symbol of incorruptibility, giving birth to the Iranian god and the mother of that (same) one, Anahid, eternally virgin and young]. In Mithraic Iconography and Ideology (78),

Dr. Leroy A. Campbell calls Anahita the:

great goddess of virgin purity…”

Religious History professor Dr. Claas J. Bleeker says:

In the Avestan religion she is the typical virgin.” (Bleeker (1963), 100)

According to Persian mythology, Mithras was born of a virgin given the title “Mother of God.”

Anahita and Bahram Chobin[Click to Enlarge] Recreation of the facade of a Sassanian palace and Bahram Chobin receiving a diadem (possibly representing the Farr  or “Divine Glory”) from a priestess of the Anahita temple (Source: Kaveh Farrokh, Elite Sassanian Cavalry, 2005 –اسواران ساسانی).

The Parthian princes of Armenia were all priests of Mithras, and an entire district of this land was dedicated to the Virgin Mother Anahita. Many Mithraeums, or Mithraic temples, were built in Armenia, which remained one of the last strongholds of Mithraism. The largest near-eastern Mithraeum was built in western Persia at Kangavar, dedicated to “Anahita, the Immaculate Virgin Mother of the Lord Mithras.”

Anahita, also known as “Anaitis“—whose very name means “Pure” and “Untainted” and who was equated in antiquity with the virgin goddess Artemis—is certainly an Indo-Iranian goddess of some antiquity, dating back at least to the first half of the first millennium prior to the common era and enjoying “widespread popularity” around Asia Minor. Indeed, Anahita has been called “the best known divinity of the Persians” in Asia Minor. (de Jong, 268)

Anahit-ArmeniaArmenian version of goddess Anahita (known locally as Anahit) depicted in bronze-work in accordance with the Hellenic style (Source: Change.org). This is believed to be dated the reign of Armenian king Tigranes, 1st Century BCE.

Moreover, concerning Mithra, Schaff-Herzog says:

The Achaemenidae worshiped him as making the great triad with Ahura and Anahita.” Ostensibly, this “triad” was the same as God the Father, the Virgin and Jesus, which would tend to confirm the assertion that Anahita was Mithra’s virgin mother. That Anahita was closely associated with Mithra at least five centuries before the common era is evident from the equation made by Herodotus (1.131) in naming “Mitra” as the Persian counterpart of the Near and Middle Eastern goddesses Alilat and Mylitta (de Jong, 269-270).

Moreover, Mithra’s prototype, the Indian Mitra, was likewise born of a female, Aditi, the “mother of the gods,” the inviolable or virgin dawn. Hence, we would expect an earlier form of Mithra also to possess this virgin-mother motif, which seems to have been lost or deliberately severed in the all-male Roman Mithraism.

Well known to scholars, the pre-Christian divine birth and virgin mother motifs are documented in the archaeological and literary records, as verified by Dr. Marguerite Rigoglioso in The Cult of the Divine Birth in Ancient Greece and Virgin Mother Goddesses of Antiquity.

Mithra and the Twelve

The theme of the teaching god and “the Twelve” is found within Mithraism, as Mithra is depicted as surrounded by the 12 zodiac signs on a number of monuments and in the writings of Porphyry (4.16), for one. These 12 signs are sometimes portrayed as humans and, as they have been in the case of numerous sun gods, could be called Mithra’s 12 “companions” or “disciples.”

Regarding the Twelve, John M. Robertson says:

On Mithraic monuments we find representations of twelve episodes, probably corresponding to the twelve labors in the stories of Heracles, Samson and other Sun-heroes, and probably also connected with initiation.”

Bible_museum_-_Mithrasheiligtum[Click to Enlarge] A reconstruction of a Mithraeum (Darb-e Mehr)  depicting the stages of ascension on the floor as alluded to in an earlier figure in this posting. Note the placing of grapes (right side); grapes continue to signify vitality and renewal in Iran, Italy, Anatolia and the Caucasus.

The comparison of this common motif with Jesus and the 12 has been made on many occasions, including in an extensive study entitled, “Mithras and Christ: some iconographical similarities,” by Professor A. Deman in Mithraic Studies.

Early Church Fathers on Mithraism

Mithraism was so popular in the Roman Empire and so similar in important aspects to Christianity that several Church fathers were compelled to address it, disparagingly of course. These fathers included Justin Martyr, Tertullian, Julius Firmicus Maternus and Augustine, all of whom attributed these striking correspondences to the prescient devil. In other words, anticipating Christ, the devil set about to fool the Pagans by imitating the coming messiah. In reality, the testimony of these Church fathers confirms that these various motifs, characteristics, traditions and myths predated Christianity.

Christianity took a leaf out of the devil’s book when it fixed the birth of the Saviour on the twenty-fifth of December.”

Concerning this “devil did it” argument, in The Worship of Nature Sir James G. Frazer remarks:

If the Mithraic mysteries were indeed a Satanic copy of a divine original, we are driven to conclude that Christianity took a leaf out of the devil’s book when it fixed the birth of the Saviour on the twenty-fifth of December; for there can be no doubt that the day in question was celebrated as the birthday of the Sun by the heathen before the Church, by an afterthought, arbitrarily transferred the Nativity of its Founder from the sixth of January to the twenty-fifth of December.”

Armenian Church built on Fire Temple[Click to Enlarge] Pictures of a Medieval Armenian Church at Goshavank sent to Kavehfarrokh.com by Professor George Nercessian (see article: “Professors Curatolia and Scaria: Dome Architecture and Europe“). This was built on the remains of cyclopean walls, where a Zoroastrian fire temple (Armenian Atrushan =Iranian Atar-Roshan) originally stood. There are many similar sites in Armenia where Churches were built on top of Zoroastrian fire temples (Pictures courtesy of Professor George Narcessian). For more on the topic of Armenian-Zoroastrian fire temples consult CAIS: The Armenian Fire Temple of Ani.

Regarding the various similarities between Mithra and Christ, as well as the defenses of the Church fathers, the author of The Existence of Christ Disproved remarks:

Augustine, Firmicus, Justin, Tertullian, and others, having perceived the exact resemblance between the religion of Christ and the religion of Mithra, did, with an impertinence only to be equalled by its outrageous absurdity, insist that the devil, jealous and malignant, induced the Persians to establish a religion the exact image of Christianity that was to be—for these worthy saints and sinners of the church could not deny that the worship of Mithra preceded that of Christ—so that, to get out of the ditch, they summoned the devil to their aid, and with the most astonishing assurance, thus accounted for the striking similarity between the Persian and the Christian religion, the worship of Mithra and the worship of Christ; a mode of getting rid of a difficulty that is at once so stupid and absurd, that it would be almost equally stupid and absurd seriously to refute it.”

It is good practice to steer clear of all information provided by Christian writers: they are not ‘sources,’ they are violent apologists.”

In response to a question about Tertullian’s discussion of the purported Mithraic forehead mark,  Dr. Richard Gordon says:

In general, in studying Mithras, and the other Greco-oriental mystery cults, it is good practice to steer clear of all information provided by Christian writers: they are not “sources,” they are violent apologists, and one does best not to believe a word they say, however tempting it is to supplement our ignorance with such stuff.” (Gordon, “FAQ”)

Saalburgmuseum-Mithraic Temple findsArtifacts discovered in a Mithraic temple in Stockstadt, Germany (Source: Public Domain): note the figure of the mother and child and left – the “mother” is most likely Iranian goddess Anahita (or an equivalent deity) holding the infant Mithras. Note that Anahita is the virgin mother of Mithras.

Dr. Richard Gordone also cautions about speculation concerning Mithraism and states that “there is practically no limit to the fantasies of scholars,” an interesting admission about the hallowed halls of academia.

Priority: Mithraism or Christianity?

It is obvious from the remarks of the Church fathers and from the literary and archaeological record that Mithraism in some form preceded Christianity by centuries. The fact is that there is no Christian archaeological evidence earlier than the earliest Roman Mithraic archaeological evidence and that the preponderance of evidence points to Christianity being formulated during the second century, not based on a “historical” personage of the early first century. As one important example, the canonical gospels as we have them do not show up clearly in the literary record until the end of the second century.

Mithra’s pre-Christian roots are attested in the Vedic and Avestan texts, as well as by historians such as Herodotus (1.131) and Xenophon (Cyrop. viii. 5, 53 and c. iv. 24), among others. Nor is it likely that the Roman Mithras is not essentially the same as the Indian sun god Mitra and the Persian, Armenian and Phrygian Mithra in his major attributes, as well as some of his most pertinent rites.

San Clemente-MithraeumMithraic temple located on the lowest floor of the Basilica San Clemente in Rome (Source: Public Domain).

Moreover, it is erroneously asserted that because Mithraism was a “mystery cult” it did not leave any written record. In reality, much evidence of Mithra worship has been destroyed, including not only monuments, iconography and other artifacts, but also numerous books by ancient authors. The existence of written evidence is indicated by the Egyptian cloth “manuscript” from the first century BCE called, “Mummy Funerary Inscription of the Priest of Mithras, Ornouphios, Son of Artemis” or MS 247.

As previously noted, two of the ancient writers on Mithraism are Pallas, and Eubulus, the latter of whom, according to Jerome (Against Jovinianus, 2.14; Schaff 397), “wrote the history of Mithras in many volumes.” Discussing Eubulus and Pallas, Porphyry too related that there were “several elaborate treatises setting forth the religion of Mithra.” The writings of the early Church fathers themselves provide much evidence as to what Mithraism was all about, as do the archaeological artifacts stretching from India to Scotland.

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.

These many written volumes doubtlessly contained much interesting information that was damaging to Christianity, such as the important correspondences between the “lives” of Mithra and Jesus, as well as identical symbols such as the cross, and rites such as baptism and the eucharist. In fact, Mithraism was so similar to Christianity that it gave fits to the early Church fathers, as it does to this day to apologists, who attempt both to deny the similarities and yet to claim that these (non-existent) correspondences were plagiarized by Mithraism from Christianity.

Regardless of attempts to make Mithraism the plagiarist of Christianity, the fact will remain that Mithraism was first.”

Nevertheless, the god Mithra was revered for centuries prior to the Christian era, and the germane elements of Mithraism are known to have preceded Christianity by hundreds to thousands of years. Thus, regardless of attempts to make Mithraism the plagiarist of Christianity, the fact will remain that Mithraism was first, well established in the West decades before Christianity had any significant influence.

Bibliography

Alvar, Jaime, and R.L. Gordon. Romanising Oriental Gods: Myth, Salvation and Ethics in the Cults of Cybele, Isis and Mithras. Leiden/Boston: Brill, 2008.
Amir-Moezzi, Mohammed Ali. La religion discrète: croyances et pratiques spirituelles dans l’islam shi’ite. Paris: Libr. Philosophique Vrin, 2006.
Anonymous. The Existence of Christ Disproved. Private Printing by “A German Jew,” 1840.
Badiozamani, Badi. Iran and America: Rekindling a Lost Love. California: East-West Understanding Press, 2005.
Beck, Roger. Beck on Mithraism. England/Vermont: Ashgate Pub., 2004.
Berry, Gerald. Religions of the World. New York: Barnes & Noble, 1955.
Bleeker, Claas J. The Sacred Bridge: Researches into the Nature and Structure of Religion. Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1963.
Boyce, Mary. “Mithraism: Mithra Khsathrapati and his brother Ahura.”
A History of Zoroastrianism, II. Leiden/Köln: E.J. Brill, 1982.
Campbell, LeRoy A. Mithraic Iconography and Ideology. Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1968.
de Jong, Albert. Traditions of the Magi: Zoroastrianism in Greek and Latin Literature. Leiden/New York: Brill, 1997.
Forbes, Bruce David. Christmas: A Candid History. Berkeley/London: University of California Press, 2007.
Frazer, James G. The Worship of Nature, I. London: Macmillan, 1926.
Gordon, Richard L. “FAQ.” Electronic Journal of Mithraic Studies, www.hums.canterbury.ac.nz/clas/ejms/faq.htm
—”The date and significance of CIMRM 593 (British Museum, Townley Collection).” Journal of Mithraic Studies, II: 148-174).
Halsberghe, Gaston H. The Cult of Sol Invictus. Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1972.
Hinnells, John R., ed. Mithraic Studies: Proceedings of the First International Congress of Mithraic Studies. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1975.
Kosso, Cynthia, and Anne Scott. The Nature and Function of Water, Baths, Bathing and Hygiene from Antiquity through the Renaissance. Leiden/Boston: Brill, 2009.
Lundy, John P. Monumental Christianity. New York: J.W. Bouton, 1876.
Molnar, Michael R. The Star of Bethlehem: The Legacy of the Magi. New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 1999.
The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia, VII. eds. Samuel M. Jackson and George William Gilmore. New York/London: Funk and Wagnalls Company, 1910.
Plutarch. “Life of Pompey.” The Parallel Lives by Plutarch, V. Loeb, 1917
Porphyry. Selects Works of Porphyry. London: T. Rodd, 1823.
Prajnanananda, Swami. Christ the Saviour and Christ Myth. Calcutta: Ramakrishna Vedanta Math, 1984.
Restaud, Penne L. Christmas in America: A History. New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1995.
Robert, Alexander, and James Donaldson, eds. Ante-Nicene Christian Library, XVIII: The Clementine Homilies. Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1870.
Robertson, John M. Pagan Christs. Dorset, 1966.
Russell, James R. Armenian and Iranian Studies. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2004.
Schaff, Philip, and Henry Wace. A Select Library of Nicene and Post-Nicene Father of the Christian Church, VI. New York: The Christian Literature Company, 1893.
Schironi, Francesca, and Arthus S. Hunt. From Alexandria to Babylon: Near Eastern Languages and Hellenistic Erudition in the Oxyrhynchus Glossary. Berlin/New York: Walter de Gruyter, 2009.
Srinivasan, Doris. On the Cusp of an Era: Art in the Pre-Kusana World. Leiden/Boston: Brill, 2007.
Weigall, Arthur. The Paganism in Our Christianity. London: Thames & Hudson, 1923.

Figure 1-Persian_Lady_recites_Hafez_Poems_in_Yalda_Night

Fezana Journal article on the Legacy of ancient Yalda Festival

The Fezana Journal has published an article by Kaveh Farrokh on the ancient Yalda festival of Iran:

Farrokh, K. (2015). Yalda: an enduring legacy from ancient Persia. Fezana Journal (Publication of the Federation of Zoroastrian Associations of North America), Vol. 29, No.3, Fall/September, pp. 30-33.

The article begins as thus:

The annual Iranian festival of the birth of the unconquerable Sun (In Roman Mithraism: Sol Invictus), Mithras, is known as “Yalda” or more commonly as “Shab-e Yalda ” (Night of Yalda) as well as “Shab-e Chelley-e Bozorg” (Night of the Great Forty). “

Figure 1-Persian_Lady_recites_Hafez_Poems_in_Yalda_NightAn Iranian lady recites poetry with the Book of Hafez during the night of Yalda; note the pomegranate and melon on the table spread (Source: Public Domain).

The following observation is made in the article with respect to the linguistic roots of the term /Yalda/:

The term /da/ in Yalda is not of the Hamito-Semetic linguistic family, but instead belongs to the wider Indo-European language families. In Avestan, the term /Daēva/ is broadly defined as “divine being” (Herrenschmidt & Kellens, 1993, pp. 599-602) (in Old Iranian: /Daiva/), which is derived from older Indo-Iranian /Daivá/ (God), which in turn is traced to (undifferentiated) Proto Indo-European (PIE) /Deiu̯ó/ (God). According to Pokorny’s Master PIE lexicon the /Da/ or /Daē/ affix in /Daēva/ is defined as: “day, sun, glitter, to shine, deity, god” (Pokorny, 1959-1969 & 1989, pp.183-187). The legacy of Yalda is an essence rooted in the ancient Indo-European mythological tradition.

Figure 3-ChristAsSolMosaic of Christ as Sol in Mausoleum M in the pre-4th-century necropolis located below the Vatican’s St. Peter’s Basilica (Source: Public Domain). While commonly interpreted as representing Christ, the figure is virtually identical to the pre-Christian representations of Mithra (note fluttering Iranian-style cloak on the mosaic figure).

The legacy of Yalda is further discussed:

Perhaps most interesting is the continuing legacy of Yalda and Mithras in Rome and greater Europe, even after the official adoption of Christianity by the Emperor Constantine the Great in 312 CE (r. 306-337 CE) followed by the legalization of Christian worship in 313 (Edict of Milan), the formulation of the Nicene creed of Christianity in 325 CE (First Council of Nicea) which became the official state religion of Rome in 380 CE (Edict of Thessalonika). Mithraism however, could not be so easily displaced.

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.

cyrus-stamp

Israel Post Issues Cyrus Declaration Stamp

The article below entitled Israel features Cyrus Declaration, several nations honor Magna Carta” appeared in the Linn’s Stamp News and Insights website on May 15, 2015. Kindly note that the pictures and accompanying captions seen below did not appear in the original Linn’s Stamp News and Insights article.

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Recent stamps commemorate two historic charters: the Cyrus Declaration of 538 B.C. and the Magna Carta of A.D. 1215. Israel pictures the Cyrus Declaration, also known as the Cyrus cylinder, on an 8.30-shekel stamp issued April 14.

cyrus-stamp

The Cyrus Declaration Stamp Sheet (Source: Israel Post).

In announcing this stamp on its website, the Israel Post stated:

In 538 BCE king Cyrus made a public declaration granting the Jews the right to return to Judah and rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem.”

The biblical book of Ezra begins with the king’s decree. The tab, or label, attached to the stamp includes a portion of Ezra 1:3, “Anyone of you of all His people … and let him go up to Jerusalem.”

Cyrus Koresh Kourosh street in Jerusalem

When History goes beyond Politics: Koresh or Cyrus street in Jerusalem. There is currently no street named Cyrus or Koroush in Tehran, the capital of Iran today (for more see here…). There is also an “Iran” street in Israel; see also “Iranian Schindler who saved Jews from Nazis“.

The stamp pictures the cylinder, which was discovered by Hormuzd Rassam during a British Museum archaeological excavation in 1879 in Babylon.

The British Museum, in a press release announcing that the cylinder would be displayed in five museums in the United States in 2013, explained its significance:

The Cyrus Cylinder is one of the most famous objects to have survived from the ancient world. The Cylinder was inscribed in Babylonian cuneiform (cuneiform is the earliest form of writing) on the orders of the Persian King Cyrus the Great (559-530 BC) after he captured Babylon in 539 BC. It is often referred to as the first bill of human rights as it appears to encourage freedom of worship throughout the Persian Empire and to allow deported people to return to their homelands … ”

Iranian Jews 2011

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