Zoroaster, Zarathusthra, Zarathustra

{zoh - roh - as' - tree - uhn - izm}

General Information

During the 7th and 6th centuries BC the ancient polytheistic religion of the Iranians was reformed and given new dimensions by the prophet Zoroaster (or Zarathusthra). Zoroaster's life dates have been traditionally given as (c. 628 - 551 BC), but many scholars argue for earlier dates. Linguistic evidence suggests that he was born in northeastern Iran, but the prophet's message was to spread throughout the Persian Empire. Adopted as the faith of the Persian kings, Zoroastrianism became the official religion of the Achaemenid empire and flourished under its successors, the Parthian and Sassanian empires. Its theology and cosmology may have influenced the development of Greek, later Jewish, Christian, and Muslim thought. The Muslim conquest of the 7th century AD marked the beginning of a steady decline of Zoroastrianism. Persecution resulted in the migration (about the 10th century) of the majority of Zoroastrians to India, where the Parsis of Bombay are their modern descendants.

Text Font Face
Text Size
(for printing)
The religion of ancient Iran was derived from that of the ancient Indo Europeans, or Aryans. The language of the earliest Zoroastrian writings is close to that of the Indian Vedas, and much of the mythology is recognizably the same. Two groups of gods were worshiped, the ahuras and the daevas. The worship of the ahuras (lords) may have reflected the practice of the pastoral upper classes, and tradition holds that Zoroaster was born into a family that worshiped only the ahuras. The message of the prophet, however, was that Ahura Mazda, the Wise Lord, was the sole creator and lord of the world and that the worship of the daevas was the worship of evil. In Zoroaster's theology the Amesha Spentas, or Bountiful Immortals, were divine beings who acted essentially as agents of the power of Ahura Mazda; they were traditionally seven in number: Bounteous Spirit, Good Mind, Truth, Rightmindedness, Dominion, Health, and Life. The first of these, Spenta Mainyu, is of special importance in that he is paired with a "twin," Angra Mainyu, or Hostile Spirit.

When given a choice between good and evil, or truth and the lie, Bounteous Spirit chose truth and Hostile Spirit the lie. Creation becomes a battleground, with the demoted ahuras invoked for the doing of good and the daevas enlisted by Angra Mainyu in the doing of evil. Nevertheless, Ahura Mazda has decreed that truth will triumph, and the old world will be destroyed by fire and a new creation instituted.

BELIEVE Religious Information Source - By Alphabet Our List of 2,300 Religious Subjects
In the period following Zoroaster, for which little evidence remains, Zoroastrianism consolidated its position and spread throughout Iran. The rise of the southern Persians and Medes seems to have been accompanied by the reinstatement of many of the ahuras, although Ahura Mazda is still recognized as supreme god. Among the most important figures to revive at this time were Mithra (Mithraism), usually associated with the sun, and Anahita, associated with the waters and fertility. Ahura Mazda (who becomes Ormazd) becomes identified with Spenta Mainyu, and Angra Mainyu (Ahriman) remains his antagonist. Ahura Mazda has relinquished some of his absolute supremacy and appears to need the assistance of the lesser ahuras, particularly Mithra, who appears as mediator and protector of the created world.

This dualist view eventually became the orthodox position. Its development may have owed much to the Magi, a hereditary priestly caste, although their role is unclear. From them, however, the Greco Roman world learned much of what it knew of the religion. An important reform movement, however, arose within Zoroastrianism - the movement around Zurvan. The Zurvanites posited a supreme god, Zurvan (Infinite Time), who had sacrificed for 1,000 years in order to gain offspring. At the end of that time he experienced momentary doubt, and from that doubt arose Ahriman; at the same time, Ormazd came into being because of the efficacy of the sacrifices. At the end of 3,000 years Ahriman crossed the void that separated them and attacked Ormazd. The two made a pact to limit the struggle, and Ahriman fell back into the abyss, where he lay for 3,000 years.

During that period Ormazd created the material and spiritual world; in retaliation, Ahriman called into being six demons and an opposing material world. In the next 3,000 year period Ahriman attempted to corrupt the creation of Ormazd; he was successful but was trapped in the world of light. The final period of 3,000 years was ushered in by the birth of Zoroaster, who revealed this struggle to man; the prophet is to be followed by three saviors, appearing at intervals of 1,000 years. At the appearance of the last, a day of judgment will occur, the drink of immortality will be offered to those who have fought against Ahriman, and a new creation will be established.

The sacred literature of Zoroastrianism is found in the Avesta, which was compiled sometime during the Sassanian period (224 - 640 AD) from much earlier materials. Only a portion of the Avesta remains, but the language of its earliest sections is extremely ancient, closely related to that of the Indian Vedas. These sections, the Gathas, are thought to be by Zoroaster himself. They are hymns and form the primary part of the Yasna, the central liturgy of the religion. Also contained in the Avesta are the Yashts, hymns to a number of the ahuras, and later in date than the Gathas. Finally comes the Videvdat, which is concerned with purity and ritual. A large body of commentary exists in Pahlavi, dating from the 9th century AD, which contains quotations from earlier material no longer extant.

The rituals of Zoroastrianism revolve around devotion to the good and the battle against the forces of evil. Fire plays a major role, being seen as the manifestation of the truth of Ahura Mazda, as preached by Zoroaster. Also important is the ritual drink, haoma, which is related to the Vedic soma.

Tamara M Green

M A Boyce, Zoroastrians: Their Religious Beliefs and Practices (1979); M Dhalla, History of Zoroastrianism (1938) and Zoroastrian Theology from the Earliest Times to the Present Day (1914); J Duchesne - Guillemin, Symbols and Values in Zoroastrianism (1966) and The Western Response to Zoroaster (1958); J H Moulton, Early Zoroastrianism (1913); R C Zaehner, The Dawn and Twilight of Zoroastrianism (1961) and The Teachings of the Magi: A Compendium of Zoroastrian Beliefs (1956).


Spitama Zarathustra (c. 660 - 583 BC).

Advanced Information

The fundamental idea of Zoroastrianism is that since the beginning, there has existed a spirit of good (Ahura Mazda or Ormazd) and a spirit of evil (Ahriman) who are in perpetual conflict, with the soul of man as the great object of the war. Ormazd created men free, so that if they allow themselves to fall under the sway of Ahriman they are held to be justly punishable. When a person dies, his good and evil deeds will be weighed against each other, and accordingly as the balance is struck he will be sent to heaven or to hell. If they are exactly equal, the soul passes into an intermediate state and remains there until the day of judgment. Ormazd is to triumph ultimately, and then there will be one undivided kingdom of God in heaven and on earth.

The 'bible' of Zoroastrians is the Zend - Avesta.

It is divided into 5 parts:

Zoroaster taught a higher moral plane, where men attained virtue by good thoughts and conduct rather than by sacrifice. All of a man's good works are actually entered into the book of life as credits, and bad works as debits. If the total score is positive, the soul goes to heaven; if negative, hell. If the balance is close, the soul stays in an intermediate state until the final judgment. Sins could never be washed away, but just balanced out.

Zoroastrianism is a religion that developed in Iran from about the sixth century BC, generally ascribed to Zoroaster (Zarathustra), who was born in Iran '258 years before Alexander.' The date of Zoroaster's birth has been given variously as 6000 BC, 1400 BC, and 1000 BC, but Herzfeld accepts the traditional date, approximately, as now confirmed (Herzfeld, (570 - 500 BC); Jackson, 660 - 583 BC). Accordingly, Zoroaster was contemporary with other great religious personages, including Buddha, Confucius, Lao Tze, and several Hebrew prophets. That Zoroaster used Vedic materials found in early Hinduism can hardly be denied; that he was a polytheist like Darius, Xerxes, and others who were probably Zoroastrians (at least, their inscriptions pay homage to Ahura Mazda) seems most likely.

But Zoroaster was protesting against the false and cruel in religion, and followed the principle, "If the gods do aught shameful, they are not gods." Accordingly, he exalted Ahura Mazda ("wise Lord," often improperly translated "Lord of light") as supreme among the gods or spirits, and viewed the world as an agelong struggle between Ahura Mazda and Angra Mainy (or Ahramanyus, Ahriman, "Spirit of evil"), both of whom came into existence independently in the distant past. Zoroastrianism is therefore called a dualism, but it is a limited dualism.

Zoroaster calls upon human beings to join in this conflict on the side of Ahura Mazda, the key words of such religion being "good thoughts, good works, good deeds." The ultimate victory of Ahura Mazda, however, was not to be accomplished by human assistance but by the advent of a messiahlike figure, the Saoshyant. The duration of the struggle was to be six thousand years (three thousand had already passed when Zoroaster was born), following which was to be the resurrection and judgment. Many of the details of Zoroastrianism are later developments, some post Christian and even post Mohammedan, and scholars are divided on what elements are to be traced to Zoroaster's own teaching.

Because of the fact that the revelation of the doctrines of resurrection, angels, Satan, and the Messiah comes late in the OT or even in the intertestamental period in early Judaism, scholars have frequently traced these ideas to Zoroastrian influence exerted upon the Jewish people after the Babylonian exile. Moulton examined these points in detail and concluded that they were "not proven." The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls has reopened the discussion, due to the presence of marked "Zoroastrian" influences in the Qumran literature. Some of the most striking parallels to Jewish Christian eschatology can be shown to be very late developments in Zoroastrianism. On the other hand, it would not do violence to a high view of inspiration to admit that God could have used Zoroastrianism as a means of stimulating the Jewish mind to think on these subjects even as he used hellenism to prepare the Jewish mind for the Christian revelation (witness Saul of Tarsus). The magi ("wise men") of the birth narrative may have been Zoroastrian priests.

A branch of Zoroastrians is the Parsees, who are fire worshipers. Zoroastrians generally worship natural objects, such as the sun and fire, and of great heroes.

W S Lasor

J H Moulton, HDB; A V W Jackson, Jewish Encyclopedia; E Herzfeld, Zoroaster and His World; R P Masani, The Religion of the Good Life, Zoroastrianism; J J Modi, The Religious Ceremonies and Customs of the Parsees; M Boyce, "Zoroastrianism," in Historia Religionum.


Advanced Information

Zoroastrianism is a religion that developed in Iran from about the sixth century B.C., generally ascribed to Zoroaster (Zarathustra), who was born in Iran "258 years before Alexander." The date of Zoroaster's birth has been given variously as 6000 B.C., 1400 B.C., and 1000 B.C., but Herzfeld accepts the traditional date, approximately, as now confirmed (Herzfeld, 570-500 B.C.; Jackson, 660-583 B.C.). Accordingly, Zoroaster was contemporary with other great religious personages, including Buddha, Confucius, Lao Tze, and several Hebrew prophets. That Zoroaster used Vedic materials found in early Hinduism can hardly be denied; that he was a polytheist like Darius, Xerxes, and others who were probably Zoroastrians (at least, their inscriptions pay homage to Ahura Mazda) seems most likely. But Zoroaster was protesting against the false and cruel in religion, and followed the principle, "If the gods do aught shameful, they are not gods." Accordingly, he exalted Ahura Mazda ("wise Lord," often improperly translated "Lord of light") as supreme among the gods or spirits, and viewed the world as an agelong struggle between Ahura Mazda and Angra Mainy (or Ahramanyus, Ahriman, "Spirit of evil"), both of whom came into existence independently in the distant past. Zoroastrianism is therefore called a dualism, but it is a limited dualism.

Zoroaster calls upon human beings to join in this conflict on the side of Ahura Mazda, the key words of such religion being "good thoughts, good works, good deeds." The ultimate victory of Ahura Mazda, however, was not to be accomplished by human assistance but by the advent of a messiahlike figure, the Saoshyant. The duration of the struggle was to be six thousand years (three thousand had already passed when Zoroaster was born), following which was to be the resurrection and judgment. Many of the details of Zoroastrianism are later developments, some post-Christian and even post-Mohammedan, and scholars are divided on what elements are to be traced to Zoroaster's own teaching.

Because of the fact that the revelation of the doctrines of resurrection, angels, Satan, and the Messiah comes late in the OT or even in the intertestamental period in early Judaism, scholars have frequently traced these ideas to Zoroastrian influence exerted upon the Jewish people after the Babylonian exile. Moulton examined these points in detail and concluded that they were "not proven." The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls has reopened the discussion, due to the presence of marked "Zoroastrian" influences in the Qumran literature. Some of the most striking parallels to Jewish-Christian eschatology can be shown to be very late developments in Zoroastrianism. On the other hand, it would not do violence to a high view of inspiration to admit that God could have used Zoroastrianism as a means of stimulating the Jewish mind to think on these subjects even as he used hellenism to prepare the Jewish mind for the Christian revelation (witness Saul of Tarsus). The magi ("wise men") of the birth narrative may have been Zoroastrian priests.

W S Lasor
(Elwell Evangelical Dictionary)

J. H. Moulton, HDB; A. V. W. Jackson, Jewish Encyclopedia; E. Herzfeld, Zoroaster and His World, 2 vols.; R. P. Masani, The Religion of the Good Life, Zoroastrianism; J. J. Modi, The Religious Ceremonies and Customs of the Parsees; M. Boyce, "Zoroastrianism," in Historia Religionum, ed. C. J. Bleeker and G. Widengren.

The Avesta

Catholic Information

The sacred books of Parsees, or Zoroastrians, and the main source of our knowledge concerning the religious and spiritual life the ancient Persians. This collection of writings occupies the same place in the literature of Iran (ancient Persia) that the Vedas do in India. The designation Zend-Avesta, which is often employed to denote the sacred code, is not strictly correct. It owes its origin to a mistaken inversion of the Pahlavi designation Avistak u Zand, a term which probably means "Text and Commentary"; for the word Zand (in the Avesta itself, Zainti) signifies "explanation" and even in the Avesta is applied to the exegetical matter in the text. It is similarly used by the Parsee priests to denote the Pahlavi version and commentary, but not the original scriptures. Whether the term Avistak, which is the Pahlavi form of the word Avesta, has the meaning of "text", "law", is not absolutely certain. Some scholars interpret it as "wisdom", "knowledge".

Little was known concerning the religion and customs of ancient Persia before the Avesta was brought to Europe in the eighteenth century. From the allusions in Greek and Roman writers, like Herodotus, Plutarch, Pliny, and others, it had long been surmised that such a body of scriptures existed. Scattered allusions in Arabic and Syriac writers strengthened this conviction. But the information to be extracted from these references was vague and meagre. The first scholar to make the language and the contents of the sacred books of the Parsees known to Europe was a young Frenchman, Anquetil du Perron, who in 1754 went to India for this very purpose. His enthusiasm and perseverance overcame the many obstacles he encountered on his journey to Hindustan and the difficuities he met during his stay in Surat. Success at last crowned his efforts, and on his return in 1771 he was able to give to the world the first translation of the Avesta. From the moment of its publication a bitter controversy arose concerning the authenticity of the work. Some scholars, like Sir William Jones, declared that it was a clumsy forgery of modern Parsee priests, and the question was disputed for half a century until the advance made in the study of Sanskrit and comparative philology decided the matter and vindicated the genuineness of the scriptures and the value of Anquetil's work, although his translation, as a first attempt, was necessarily, imperfect in many respects.


Originally, the sacred scriptures of the Parsees were of far greater extent than would appear from the Avesta in the form in which we now possess it. Only a relatively small portion of the original has in fact been preserved, and that is collected from several manuscripts, since no single codex contains all the texts now known. In its present form, therefore, the Avesta is a compilation from various sources, and its different parts date from different periods and vary widely in character. Tradition tells us that the Zoroastrian scriptures consisted originally of twenty-one nasks (books), but only one of these, the Vendidad, had been completely preserved. The loss of the sacred books is attributed by the followers of Zoroaster to the invasion of Alexander "the accursed Iskandar", as they call him, who burned the palace library at Persepolis, thus destroying one archetype copy of the text, and threw the other into the river near Samarkand, according to the statement of the Pahlavi records (Dinkard, bk. III, West, "Sacred Books of the East", XXXVII, pp. xxx, xxxi, and Shatroiha-i Airan, 2-5). For wellnigh five hundred years after the Macedonian invasion the Parsee scriptures remained in a scattered condition, much being preserved only by memory, until the great Zoroastrian under the Sassanian dynasty (A. D. 226-651), when the texts were again collected, codified, translated into Pahlavi, and interpreted. A beginning in this direction had already been made under the last of the Parthian kings, but the great final redaction took place in Sassanian times, under Shahpuhar II (309-379). Our present Avesta is essentially the work of this redaction, although important sections of the text have been lost since then, especially after the Arabs conquered Persia. This conquest (637-651) was fatal to the Iranian religion, and caused Zoroastrianism to be supplanted by Mohammedanism and the Avesta by the Koran. As already mentioned, great portions of the scriptures have since disappeared entirely; out of the original twenty-one nasks, the nineteenth alone (the Verdidad) has survived. Portions of other nasks are preserved, interspersed here and there among the Yasna and Vispered, or have come down to us as flattered fragments in Pahlavi works, or have been rendered into Pahlavi, like the Bundahishn (Book of Creation) and the Shayast-la-Shayast (Treatise on the Lawful and Unlawful). In this way we are able to make good some of our losses of the old scriptures enough has been said, however, to explain the lack of coherence noticeable in certain parts of the Avestan code. The Avesta, as we now have it, is usually divided into five sections, relating to the ritual, hymns of praise, the liturgy, and the law. These sections:

the Yasna, including the Gathas, or hymns;



minor texts, such as the Nyaishes (favourite prayers in daily use among the Parsees), and


Besides this there are some independent fragments preserved in Pahlavi books (Hadhokt Nask, etc). The main divisions, when taken together, again fall into two groups, the one liturgical comprising Vendidad, Vispered and Yasna, or the Avesta proper, the other general, called Khorda Avesta (Abridged Avesta) and comprising the minor texts and the Yashts. A brief characterization of the five divisions will now be given.

(1) The Yasna (Skt. yajna), "sacrifice", "worship", the chief liturgical portions of the sacred canon. It consists principally of prayers and hymns used in the ritual, and is divided into seventy-two ha or haiti (chapters), symbolized by the seventy-two strands of the kushti, or sacred girdle with which the young Zoroastrian is invested on his being received into the Church. The middle third of the Yasna (Ys., 28-53), however, is not directly connected with the ritual, but contains the Gathas, the holy psalms, songs which preserved the metrical sayings of Zoroaster himself as used in his sermons. This is the oldest portion of the Avesta and descends directly from the prophet and his disciples. These canticles are metrical in their structure and are composed in the so-called Gatha-dialect, a more archaic form of language than is used in the rest of the Avesta. There are seventeen of the hymns, grouped in five divisions, each group taking its name from the opening words; thus Ahunavaiti, Ushtavaiti, etc. Inserted in the midst of the Gathas is the Yasna Haptanghaiti (the Seven-chapter Yasna) consisting of prayers and hymns in honour of the Supreme Deity, Ahura Mazda, the Angels, Fire, Water, and Earth. This selection also shows a more archaic type of language, and stands next to the Gathas in point of antiquity. Its structure though handed down in prose, may once have been metrical.

(2) The Vispered (vispe ratavo, "all the lords") is really a short liturgy, very similar in style and form to the Yasna, which it supplements in a briefer form. It owes its name to the fact that it contains invocations to "all the lords".

(3) The Yashts (yeshti, "worship by praise"), of which there are twenty-one, are hymns in honour of various divinities. These hymns are for the most part metrical in structure, and they show considerable poetic merit in certain instances, which is not common in Avesta. They are of especial interest historically on account of the glimpses they afford us of the great mythological and legendary material in the folklore of ancient Iran used so effectively by Firdausi in his great epic of the Persian kings, the "Shah Namah". Among the divinities to whom special yashts are devoted we find Ardvi Sura the goddess of waters; Tishtrya, the star Sirius; Mithra, the divinity of light and truth; the Fravashis, or departed souls of the righteous, Verethragna, the genius of Victory and the Kavaya Hvarenah, "kingly glory", the divine light illuminating the ancient kings of Iran.

(4) The fourth division (minor texts) comprises brief prayers, like the five Nyaishes (to the Sun, Moon, Mithra, Water, and Fire), the Gahs, Siruzas and Afringans (blessings). These selections form a manual of daily devotion.

(5) The fifth division, Vendidad (from vi daeva data, "law against the demons"), is the religious law code of Zoroastrianism and comprises twenty-two fargards (chapters). It begins with an account of Creation in which Ormuzd, the god, is thwarted by Ahriman, the devil; then it describes the occurrence of a destructive winter, a sort of Iranian deluge. The remainder of the book is largely devoted to elaborate prescriptions with regard to ceremonial purification, especially the cleansing from defilement incurred by contact with the dead, and to a list of special penances imposed as a means of atoning for impurity. The Vendidad is an ecclesiastical code, not a liturgical manual. Its different parts vary widely in character and in age. Some parts may be comparatively recent in origins although the greater part is very old.

The Avesta does not represent the whole of the sacred scriptures of the Parsees. It is supplemented by an extensive Pahlavi literature, consisting in part of translations from the sacred canon and in part of original matter. The most notable Pahlavi works belonging here are the Dinkard (Acts of Religion), dating from the ninth century of the Christian Era; Bundahishn, "Original Creation", finished in the eleventh or twelfth century of the Christian Era, but containing material as old as the Avesta itself, being in part a version of one of the original nasks; the Mainog-i-Khirad (Spirit of Wisdom), a religious conference on questions of faith, and the Arda Viraf Namak, a sort of Zoroastrian "Divina Commedia", which is especially important because of its account of the Persian ideas concerning the future life. There is also some later Zoroastrian literature in modern Persian, comprising works like the Zartushtnamah (Book of Zoroaster), the Sad-dar (Hundred Doors, or Chapters), the Rivayats (traditional treatises).


The language of the Avesta is best designated simply as Avestan, not as Zend, for the reasons given in the beginning of this article. Nor is Old Bactrian a desirable term, since it is by no means proved that the language of the Avesta was spoken in ancient Bactria. The Avestan language is an Indo-Germanic tongue and belongs more specifically to the Iranian group, the other members being the Old Persian of the cuneiform inscriptions, the Pahlavi, and Pazend (or Middle Iranian), and the later dialects, New Persian, Kurdish, Afghan, etc. The Avestan speech is very closely related to Sanskrit; in fact, we are able to transpose any word from one language into the other by the application of special phonetic laws. The script employed in the Avestan texts, as five have them, is not so old as the language itself, but dates from the Sassanian period. It is read from right to left and can be traced ultimately to a Semitic sources. It is not known in what script the original Avesta was recorded.


It can no longer be doubted that Zoroaster was a real historical personage. The attempts of some scholars to represent him as a mythical being have failed, even though much that is related about his life is legendary, as in the case of Buddha. The man Zoroaster in the original texts appears as Zarathushtra, from which Zoroaster, our present form of the prophet's name, is derived through the Greek and Latin. The Avesta always writes Zarathushtra; the Pahlavi has Zartusht; the modern Persian, Zardusht. What the meaning of the name is, cannot be stated positively. All that we know is that the name is a compound, and that the second element, ushtra, means "camel", the first part has been variously rendered as "old", "lively", "golden", "ploughing", etc. There has been much discussion as to the date when the prophet lived. The traditional date in the Pahlavi books places his era between the earlier half of the seventh and the sixth century B. C., or, more specially, 660-583 B. C.; but many scholars assign him to a century, or even several centuries, earlier. There is much uncertainty regarding his birthplace and the details of his life. He was undoubtly born in Western Iran. From Western Iran, more specifically Azerbaijan (the ancient Atropatene) he seems to have gone Ragha (Rai) in Media, and even his mission did not meet with success in that region he turned to the East, to Bactria. There a certain king named named Vishtaspa became converted to his creed, the generous patronage of this powerful defender of the faith the new religion soon gained a firm footing. Presumably the faith was carried from Bactria to Media, whence it spread into Persia and was accepted in all probability by the great Achaemenian kings. In the case of Cyrus there is some doubt whether he was adherent of Zoroastrian law, but Darius was a pronounced Mazda-worshipper and presumably, therefore, a true Zoroastrian, as we know that the last kings of the Achaemenian dynasty were genuine followers of the religion. If tradition can be believed, Zoroaster began his ministry at the age of thirty, made a convert, when he was forty-two, of King Vishtaspa, and was slain at the age of seventy-seven, when the Turanians stormed Balkh. This account of the prophet's death is given, at least, by Firdausi.

Under the kings of the Achaemenian line the religion founded by Zoroaster became one of the great religions of the ancient East. But it shared the fate of the Persian monarchy, it was shattered, though not overthrown, by the conquest of Alexander and fell consequently into neglect under the Seleucid and Parthian dynasties. With the accession of the Sassanian dynasty it met with a great revival. The kings ot the house of Sassan were zealous believers and did everything in their power to spread the faith as a national creed, so that its prosperity rose again to the zenith. Sectarian movements, to be sure, were not lacking. The heresy of Mazdak for a moment imperilled the union of the Zoroastrian Church and State, and Manichaeism, that menace of early Christian orthodoxy, also threatened the ascendancy of the Iranian national faith, which was really its parent. These dangers, however, were only temporary and of minor importance as compared with the Arab conquest, which followed in the seventh century (651) and dealt the fatal blow from which Zoroastrianism never recovered. The victorious followers of Mohammed carried on their proselytizing campaign with relentless vigour. The few Zoroastrians who stood firmly by their faith were oppressed and persecuted. Some remained, and were scattered throughout their native land; but the majority took refuge in India, where their descendants, the Parsees, are found even at the present day. About 10,000 are here and there throughout Persia, chiefly at Yazd and Kirman, but the bulk of the Zoroastrians, upwards of 90,000 souls, constitute a prosperous community in India, chiefly at Bombay.

Publication information Written by Arthur F.J. Remy. Transcribed by Joseph P. Thomas. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume II. Published 1907. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Nihil Obstat, 1907. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John M. Farley, Archbishop of New York

The Theological Aspects of the Avesta

Catholic Information


The name of the Supreme God of the Avestic system is Ahura Mazda (in the Achaemenid royal inscriptions, Auramazda), which probably signifies the All-Wise Lord. This divine name was later modified into the Pahlavi form Auharmazd, the modern Persian Ormuzd (Greek Oromazes). Hence the name of Mazdeism commonly applied to Avestic religion.

Ahura Mazda is a pure spirit; His chief attributes are eternity, wisdom, truth, goodness, majesty, power. He is the Creator (datar) of the all good creatures - not, however, of Evil, or evil beings. He is the supreme Lawgiver, the Rewarder of moral good, and the Punisher of moral evil. He dwells in Eternal Light; in the later literature light is spoken of as the clothing of Ahura Mazda or even His "body", i.e. a kind of manifestation of His presence, like the Old Testament Shekinah. In this same patristic (Pahlavi) literature we find frequent enumerations of the attributes of Ahura Mazda; thus these are said to be "omniscience, omnipotence, all-sovereignty, all-goodness". Again He is styled "Supreme Sovereign, Wise Creator, Supporter, Protector, Giver of good things, Virtuous in act, Merciful, Pure Lawgiver, Lord of the good Creations".


It has been remarked above that Ahura Mazda is the Creator of all good creatures. This at once indicates the specific and characteristic feature of the Avestic theology generally known as "dualism". The great problem of the origin of evil which has ever been the main stumbling-block of religious systems, was solved in the Zoroastrian Reform by the trenchant, if illogical, device of two separate creators and creations: one good, the other evil. Opposed to Ahura Mazda, or Ormuzd, is His rival, Anro Mainyus (later, Aharman, Ahriman), the Evil Spirit. He is conceived as existing quite independently of Ahura Mazda, apparently from eternity, but destined to destruction at the end of time. Evil by nature and in every detail the exact opposite of Ahura Mazda, he is the creator of all evil, both moral and physical. Zoroaster in the Gathas says (Ys., xlv, 2, Jackon's translation):

Now shall I preach of the World's two primal Spirits,

The Holier one of which did thus address the Evil:

Neither do our minds, our teachings, nor our concepts,

Nor our beliefs, nor words, nor do our deeds in sooth,

Nor yet our consciences, nor souls agree in aught.

It is here to be remarked that the specific name of Ahura Mazda in opposition to the Evil Spirit is Spento Mainyus, the Holy Spirit, and Ahura Mazda and Spento Mainyus are used as synonyms throughout the Avesta. The obviously illogical doctrine of two separate and supreme creators eventually led to certain philosophical attempts to reduce the double system to uniformity. One of these consisted in throwing back the Divine unity to an anterior stage in which Zrvana Akarana, "illimitable time", becomes the single, indifferent, primordial source from which both spirits proceed. Another solution was sought in attributing two spirits (faculties or functions) to Ahura Mazda himself, his Spento Mainyus and his Anro Mainyus, or his creative and destructive spirit -- an idea probably borrowed from lndian philosophy. This seems the favourite doctrine of the modern Parsees of Bombay, as may be seen in Mr. Navroji Maneckji Kanga's article in the "Babylonian and Oriental Record" for May, 1900 (VIII, 224-28), and it is claimed to be strictly founded on teaching of the Gathas; but although such a development of thought a real monotheism with the Zoroastrian dualism, these theories cannot really be called Avestic at all, except in so far as Zrvana Akarana is an Avestic term. They are "patristic" or "scholastic". The result of the dualistic conception of the universe is that of a continuous warfare that has been going on even from the beginning between two hostile worlds or camps. All creatures belong to one or another of the camps, not only sentient and intelligent beings, like the spirit and man, but also the animal and the vegetable worlds. All dangerous, noxious, poisonous animals and plants are evil by their very creation and nature. [We see here the primal germ of Manichæism. Mani was a heretic of the Mazdean faith (A.D. 258). This "heresy" is often reprobated in the Pahlavi religious books, together with Judaism and Christianity.] Hence - in sharp contrast to the Hindi ahimsa, a characteristic tenet of Buddhism, which prohibits the killing of any creature, even the smallest and the most noxious insect - to kill as many as possible of the Khrafstras, or noxious creatures of the Evil Spirit (such as wolves, serpents, snakes, locusts, intestinal worms, ants), is one of the most meritorious of religious actions. This great warfare, both spiritual and material, will go on to the end of time. It is to end in a final triumph of the Good and the annihilation (apparently) of Evil, including Anro Mainyus himself. Such at least is the teaching in the later "patristic" literature.


Dualism in its widest sense seems to be an inherent and ineradicable tendency of the Iranian mind. Almost everything is conceived in pairs or doubles. Hence the constant reference to the "Two Worlds", the spiritual and the material. The doctrine of the Spirit World, whether belonging to the good or the evil creation, is highly developed in the Avesta and subsequent literature. Around Ahura Mazda is a whole hierarchy of spirits, corresponding very closely with our "angels". There is, however, this to be noted, that in the Zoroastrian system many of these creature-spirits are demonstrably old Aryan nature deities who have been skilfully transformed into angels, and so fitted into a monotheistic framework, frequently enough, in hymns and other passages, by the simple interpolation of the epithet Mazdadata (created by Mazda), before their names. Of the good spirits who surround Ahura, the most important are the Amesha Spentas ("Holy Immortals" or "Immortal Saints") generally reckoned as six (though Ahura Mazda himself is frequently included among them, and they are then called seven). These are the characteristic genii of the Gathas and their very names show that they are merely personified attributes of the Creator Himself. They are: Vohu Manah (Good Mind), Asha Vahishta (Best Holiness), Khshathra Vairya (Desirable Sovereignty), Spenta Armaiti (Holy Piety, a female spirit), Haurvatat (Health), and Ameretat (Immortality). In the Younger Avesta and later traditional literature these evident personifications, whose very names are but abstract nouns, become more and more concrete personages or genii, with varying functions, most of all Vohu Manah (Vohuman) rises to a position of unique importance. Dr. L.H. Gray, however, argues, in a very striking article, that even these are evolutions of original naturalistic deities [Archiv für religions wissenschaft (Leipzig, 1904), VII, 345-372]. In later patristic literature Vohu Manah is conceived as the "Son of the Creator" and identified with the Alexandrine Logos. (See Casartelli, Philosophy of the Mazdayasnian Religion, 42-90.) Asha, also (the equivalent of the Sanskrit Rta=Dharma), is the Divine Law, Right, Sanctity (cf. Ps. cxviii), and occupies a most conspicuous position throughout the Avesta.

But besides the Amesha Spentas, there are a few other archangels whose rank is scarcely less, if it does not sometimes exceed theirs. Such is Sraosha ("Obedience" - i.e. to the divine Law). With him are associated, in a trio, Rashnu (Right, Justice) and Mithra. This last is perhaps the most characteristic, as he is the most enigmatical, figure of the Iranian angelology. Undoubtedly in origin (like the Vedic Mitra) a Sun-deity of the primitive Aryan nature-worship, he has been taken over into the Avesta system as the Spirit of Light and Truth - the favourite and typical virtue of the Iranian race, as testified even by the Greek historians. So important is his position that he is constantly linked with Ahura Mazda himself, apparently almost as an equal, in a manner recalling some of the divine couples of the Vedas. It is well known how in later times the Mithra cult became a regular religion and spread from Persia all over the Roman Empire, even into Britain. [See, especially, Cumont's great work, Monuments relatifs au culte de Mithra" (Paris, 1893).] Nor must mention be omitted of Atars, the Genius of Fire, on account of the particular importance and sanctity attached to fire as a symbol of the divinity and its conspicuous use in the cult (which has given rise to the entirely erroneous conception of Zoroastrianism as "Fire-worship", and of the Parsees as "Fire-worshippers"). Water, Sun, Moon, Stars, the sacred Haoma plant (Skt. Soma), and other natural elements all have their special spirits. But particular mention must be made of the enigmatical Farvashis, the origin and nature of whom is still uncertain. Some writers [especially Soderblom, "Les Fravashis" (Paris, 1899); "La vie future" (Paris, 1901)] have seen in them the spirits of the departed, like the dii manes, or the Hindu pitris. But, as a matter of fact, their primal conception seems to approach nearest to the pre-existent Ideai of Plato. Every living creature has its own Fravashi, existing before its creation; nay in some places inanimate beings, and, stranger still, Ahura Mazda Himself, have their Fravashis. They play an important role in both the psychology and the ritual cult of Mazdeism.

Face to face with the hierarchy of celestial spirits is a diabolical one, that of the daevas (demons, Pahlavi and Mod. Persian div or dev) and druj's of the Evil Spirit. They fill exactly the places of the devils in Christian and Jewish theology. Chief of them is Aka Manah (Pahlavi Akoman, "Evil Mind"), the direct opponent of Vohu Manah. Perhaps the most frequently mentioned of all is Aeshma, the Demon of Wrath or Violence, whose name has come down to us in the Asmodeus (Aeshmo daeva) of the Book of Tobias (iii, 8). The Pairikas are female spirits of seductive but malignant nature, who are familiar to us finder the form of the Peris of later Persian poetry and Iegend.


In the midst of the secular warfare that has gone on from the beginning between the two hosts of Good and Evil stands Man. Man is the creature of the Good Spirit, but endowed with a free will and power of choice, able to place himself on the side of Ahura Mazda or on that of Anro Mainyus. The former has given him, through His prophet Zarathushtra (Zoroaster) His Divine revelation and law is (daena). According as man obeys or disobeys this Divine law his future lot will be decided; by it he will be judged at his death. The whole ethical system is built upon this great principle, as in the Christian theology. Moral good, righteousness, sanctity (asha) is according to the Divine will and decrees; Man by his free will conforms to, or transgresses, these. The Evil Spirit and his innumerable hosts tempt Man to deny or transgress the Divine law, as he tempted Zoroaster himself, promising him as reward the sovereignty of the whole world. - "No!" replied the Prophet, "I will not renounce it, even if body and soul and life should be severed!" (Vendidad, xix, 25, 26). It is well to emphasize this basis of Avestic moral theology, because it at once marks off the Avesta system from the fatalistic systems of India with their karma and innate pessimism. [See Casartelli, "Idée du péché chez les Indo-Eraniens" (Fribourg, 1898.)]. A characteristic note of Iranian religious philosophy is its essential optimism; if there is human sin, there is also repentance and expiation. In the later Pahlavi religious literature there is a proper confession of sin (patet) and a developed casuistry. Asceticism, however, finds no place therein.

Divine worship, with elaborate ritual, is an essential duty of man towards his Creator. There is indeed no animal sacrifice; the leading rites are the offering of the quasi-divine haoma (the fermented juice of the a sacred plant, a species of Asclepias), the exact counterpart of the Vedic soma-sacrifice; the care of the Sacred Fire, the chanting of the ritual hymns and prayers, and passages of the Sacred Books (Avesta).

The moral teaching is closely akin to our own. Stress is constantly laid on the necessity of goodness in thought, word, and deed (humata, hakhta, hvarshta) as opposed to evil thought, word, and deed (dushmata, duzhukhta, duzhvarshta). Note the emphatic recognition of sin in thought. Virtues and vices are enumerated and estimated much as in Christian ethics. Special value is attributed to the virtues of religion, truthfulness, purity and generosity to the poor. Heresy, untruthfulness, perjury, sexual sins, violence, tyranny are specially reprobated. Zoroaster's reform being social as well as religious agriculture and farming are raised to the rank of religious duties and regarded as spiritually meritorious. The same will account for the exaggerated importance, almost sanctity, attached to the dog. On the other hand, the one repulsive feature of Avestic morality is the glorification, as a religious meritorious act, of the Khvaetva-datha, which is nothing else than intermarriage between the nearest of kin, even brothers and sisters. In later times this practice was entirely repudiated by the modern Parsees.


After death the disembodied soul hovers around the corpse for three days. Then it sets off across the Cinvat bridge to meet its judgment and final doom in the world beyond the grave. The three judges of souls are Mithra, Sraosha, and Rashnu. The soul of the just passes safely over the bridge into a happy eternity, into heaven (Auhu vahishta, Garo nmana), the abode of Ahura and His blessed angels. The wicked soul falls from the fatal bridge and is precipitated into hell (Duzh auhu). Of this abode of misery a lively description occurs in the later Pahlavi "Vision of Arda Viraf", whose visit to the Inferno, with the realistic description of its torments, vividly recalls that of Dante. The state called Hamestakan, or Middle State, does not appear in Avesta itself, but is a development of the later patristic theology. It is not, however, conceived, exactly as our Purgatory, but rather as an indifferent state for those whose good and evil deeds are found at death to be in perfect equilibrium. They are therfore neither in suffering nor in happiness. At the end of time, the approach of which is described in the Pahlavi literature in terms strikingly like those of our Apocalypse, will come to the last Prophet, Saosyant (Saviour) under whom all occur the Ressurection of the Dead (Frashokereti), the General Judgment the apokatastasis or renewal of the whole world by the great conflagration of the earth and consequent flood of burning matter. According to the Pahlavi sources, this terrible flood will purify all creatures; even the wicked will be cleansed and added to the "new heavens and the new earth". Meanwhile a mighty combat takes place between Saoshyant and his followers and the demon hosts of the Evil Spirit, who are utterly routed and destroyed forever. (See Yasht, xix and xiii)


It is frequently asserted or assumed that the Avesta religion as above sketched was the religion of Darius and the other Achaemenid Kings of Persia (549-336 B.C.) From the cuneiform inscriptions of these sovereigns (in the Old Persian language, a sister dialect of the Avestic Zend) we know pretty well what their religion was. They proclaim themselves Mazdeans (Auramazdiya, Darius, Behistun Column, IV, 56); their Supreme God is Auramazda, greatest of gods (Mathishta baganam). He is Creator of all things - heaven, earth, and man - all things happen by His will (vashna); He sees and knows all things, man must obey His precepts (framana), and follow the "good way" (pathim rastam); man must invoke and praise Him; He hates sin, especially falsehood which is denounced as the chief ot sins, also insubordination and despotism. Inferior spirits are associated with Him, "clan gods" and particularly Mithra and Anahita. Yet, with all these close similarities, we must hesitate to consider the two religious systems are identical. For in this Achaemenid inscriptions there is absolutely no trace of the dualism which is the characteristic and all-prevailing feature of the Avesta, and no allusion whatever to the great prophet Zoroaster, or the revelation of which he was the mouthpiece. The exact relation between the two systems remains enigmatical.


"The highest religious result to which human reason unaided by revelation, can attain" is the deliberate verdict of a learned Jesuit theologian (Father Ernest Hull, S.J., in "Bombay Examiner" 28 March, 1903). This estimate does not appear exaggerated. The Avesta system may be best defined as monotheism modified by a physical and moral dualism, with an ethical system based on a Divinely revealed moral code and human free will. As it is now followed by the living descendents of its first votaries, the Parsees of India, it is virtually the same as it appears in the Avesta itself, except that its monotheism is more rigid and determined, and that it has shed such objectionable practices as Khvetuk-das (Khvaetva-datha) and seeks to explain them away. A great revival in the knowledge of the old sacred languages (Zend and Pahlavi) which had become almost forgotten, has taken place during the past half-century under the stimulus of European scholarship, whose results have been widely adopted and assimilated. The religious cult is scrupulously maintained as of old. The ancient traditional and characteristically national virtues of truth and open-handed generosity flourish exceedingly in the small, but highly intelligent, community.

Publication information Written by L.C. Casartelli. Transcribed by Joseph P. Thomas. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume II. Published 1907. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Nihil Obstat, 1907. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John M. Farley, Archbishop of New York


Jewish Viewpoint Information

The religion of ancient Persia as founded by Zoroaster; one of the world's great faiths that bears the closest resemblance to Judaism and Christianity. According to the tradition in the Parsee books, Zoroaster was born in 660 B.C. and died in 583; but many scholars claim that he must have flourished at a much earlier time. All investigators, however, are agreed that his teachings were generally in force throughout Iran before the time of the Jewish Captivity. His name in its ancient form in the Avesta is "Zarathustra," and in later Persian, "Zardusht"; the form "Zoroaster," which is now common, has been adopted from the Greek and Latin "Zoroastres." The native country of the prophet is now believed to have been Media, in western Iran, and there are reasons for claiming that his birthplace was in the province of Atropatene, the modern Azerbaijan; but much of his ministry, or rather most of his prophetic career, was passed in eastern Iran, especially in the region of Bactria, where he won a powerful patron for his religion. This defender of the faith was a king named Vishtaspa, or Gushtasp, a name identical with that of Hystaspes, the father of Darius, although the two personages are not to be confounded, as has sometimes been done.

Tenets of the Faith.

Zoroaster was originally a Magian priest, but he appears to have reformed or purified the creed of the Magi. His religious teachings are preserved in the Avesta. The character of the Persian religion before Zoroaster's time is not known, but a comparison with that of India shows that it must have had much in common with the early religion of the Hindus. It may be presumed that it was a modified nature-worship, with polytheistic features and some traces of demonistic beliefs. Herodotus ("Hist." i. 131 et seq.) states that the Persians from the earliest times worshiped the sun, moon, stars, and earth, and the waters and wind, and he intimates in precise words that they had borrowed certain religious elements from the Assyrians. One or two superstitious practises which he describes, such as the propitiation of the powers of evil (ib. iii. 35, vii. 114), show survivals of demoniacal rites, against which Zoroaster so strongly inveighed; and the account which he gives of the Magian ceremonies is quite in accordance with Zoroastrianism.

The Kingdoms of Good and Evil.

One of the characteristic features of Zoroastrianism is the doctrine of dualism, recognizing the powers of good and evil as two personified principles at war with each other. Ahuramazda, or Ormuzd ("the Wise Lord"), leads the forces of good; Angra-Mainyu, or Ahriman ("the Spiritual Enemy"), heads the hosts of evil. Bands of angels and archangels follow the divine leader, while troops of demons and archfiends hasten after the evil lord. The archangels are six in number and are called by the general name Amesha Spentas ("Immortal Holy Ones"); they are personifications of virtues and abstract ideas, and are named Vohu Manah ("Good Mind"), Asha Vahishta ("Perfect Righteousness"), Khshathra Vairya ("Wished-for Kingdom"), Spenta Armaiti (a feminine personification of harmony and the earth), Haurvatat ("Health," "Salvation"), and Ameretat ("Immortality"). The angels and lesser divine beings are termed Yazatas ("Worshipful Ones") and are very numerous, although twenty-one of them are more prominent than the rest; these include divine embodiments of the sun, moon, stars, fire, earth, water and air, the spirits of the righteous (called "fravashis"), and also several abstract concepts, like victory, religion, kingly glory, and the divinity known as Mithra, an incarnation of light and truth. The rabble of hell, led by Ahriman, is ill organized, and the chief archfiend, after Ahriman himself, is the demon Aeshma (Dæva), a name which is thought to be found in the Book of Tobit as Asmodeus, although this view is not accepted by some (see Asmodeus). In addition to the six archfiends there is a legion of minor fiends and demons ("dæva," "druj").

Millennial Doctrines.

The conflict between the opposing kingdoms of light and darkness forms the history of the world, which lasts for 12,000 years and is divided into four great eons. The first 3,000 years is the period of spiritual existence. Ormuzd knows of Ahriman's coexistence, and creates the world first in a spiritual state before giving it a material form, the "fravashis" being the models of the future types of things. Ahriman is ignorant of his great rival's existence, but on discovering this he counter-creates the hosts of demons and fiends. In the second 3,000 years, while Ahriman and his host have been confounded by Ormuzd, the latter creates the world in its material form, and the world is then invaded by Ahriman. The third 3,000 years is the period of conflict between the rival powers and the struggle for the soul of man, until Zoroaster comes into the world. His birth inaugurates a new era, and the fourth and last 3,000 years begins. These final millennial eras are presided over by Zoroaster himself and his three posthumous sons, who are to be born in future ages in an ideal manner, the last being the Messiah called Saoshyant ("Savior," "Benefactor"; lit. "he who will benefit and save the world"). In its general bearings this dualistic scheme of the universe is theologically monotheistic in so far as it postulates the final predominance ofOrmuzd; and it is optimistic in its philosophy, inasmuch as it looks for a complete regeneration of the world.

In all this struggle man is the important figure; for the ultimate triumph of right depends upon him. He is a free agent according to Zoroaster ("Yasna," xxx. 20, xxxi. 11), but he must ever be on his guard against the misguidance of evil. The purpose of Zoroaster's coming into the world and the aim of his teaching are to guide man to choose aright, to lead him in the path of righteousness, in order that the world may attain to ultimate perfection. This perfection will come with the establishment of the Good Kingdom (Avesta, "Vohu Khshathra"), the Wished-for Kingdom (Avesta, "Khshathra Vairya"), or the Kingdom of Desire (Avesta, "Khshathra Ishtōish"). When this shall come to pass the world will become regenerate (Avesta, "Ahūm Frashem Kar"; or "Frashōkereti"); a final battle between the powers of good and evil will take place; Ahriman and his hosts will be routed; and good shall reign supreme ("Yasht," xix. 89-93; Bundahis, xxx. 1-33). The advent of the Messiah (Saoshyant) will be accompanied by the resurrection of the dead and the general judgment of the world, which thenceforth will be free from evil and free from harm.

Ethical Teachings and Religious Practises.

The motto of the Zoroastrian religion is "Good thoughts, good words, good deeds" (Avesta, "Humata, hūkhta, hvarshta"). Man in his daily life is enjoined to preserve purity of body and soul alike. He is to exercise scrupulous care in keeping the elements earth, fire, and water free from defilement of any kind. Truth-speaking and honest dealing are made the basis of every action; kindliness and generosity are virtues to be cultivated; and agriculture and cattle-raising are prescribed as religious duties. Marriage within the community of the faithful, even to wedlock with blood relatives, is lauded; and according to the Avesta ("Vendidād," iv. 47), "he who has a wife is to be accounted far above him who has none; and he who has children is far above the childless man."

In disposing of the dead, it is unlawful to burn or bury the body or to throw it into water, as any of these modes of disposal would defile one of the sacred elements; the dead must therefore be exposed in high places to be devoured by birds and dogs, a custom which is still observed by the Parsees and Gabars in their "Towers of Silence."

Priesthood and Ritual.

In religious matters the priesthood was supreme in authority, and the sacerdotal order was hereditary. The Mobeds and Herbeds were the Levites and Kohanim of Zoroastrianism. The name for priest, "athaurvan," in the Avesta corresponds to "atharvan" in India; the Magi were a sacerdotal tribe of Median origin. In acts of worship (Avesta, "Yasna") animal sacrifices were sometimes offered, especially in more ancient times, but these immolations were subordinate and gave place more and more to offerings of praise and thanks-giving accompanied by oblations of consecrated milk, bread, and water. The performance of these rites was attended by the recitation of long litanies, especially in connection with the preparation of the sacred drink "haoma," made from a plant resembling the Indian "sōma," from which an exhilarating juice was extracted. It has been thought that the twigs (Avesta, "baresman"; modern Persian, "barsom") employed by the Zoroastrian priests in their ritual are alluded to as the "branch" held to the nose by the sun-worshipers in the vision of Ezekiel (viii. 16-17); and the consecrated cake (Avesta, "draonah"; modern Persian, "darūn") has been compared with the Hebrew showbread.

Resemblances Between Zoroastrianism and Judaism.

The points of resemblance between Zoroastrianism and Judaism, and hence also between the former and Christianity, are many and striking. Ahuramazda, the supreme lord of Iran, omniscient, omnipresent, and eternal, endowed with creative power, which he exercises especially through the medium of his Spenta Mainyu ("Holy Spirit"), and governing the universe through the instrumentality of angels and archangels, presents the nearest parallel to Yhwh that is found in antiquity. But Ormuzd's power is hampered by his adversary, Ahriman, whose dominion, however, like Satan's, shall be destroyed at the end of the world. Zoroastrianism and Judaism present a number of resemblances to each other in their general systems of angelology and demonology, points of similarity which have been especially emphasized by the Jewish rabbinical scholars Schorr and Kohut and the Christian theologian Stave. There are striking parallels between the two faiths and Christianity in their eschatological teachings-the doctrines of a regenerate world, a perfect kingdom, the coming of a Messiah, the resurrection of the dead, and the life everlasting. Both Zoroastrianism and Judaism are revealed religions: in the one Ahuramazda imparts his revelation and pronounces his commandments to Zarathustra on "the Mountain of the Two Holy Communing Ones"; in the other Yhwh holds a similar communion with Moses on Sinai. The Magian laws of purification, moreover, more particularly those practised to remove pollution incurred through contact with dead or unclean matter, are given in the Avestan Vendïdād quite as elaborately as in the Levitical code, with which the Zoroastrian book has been compared (see Avesta). The two religions agree in certain respects with regard to their cosmological ideas. The six days of Creation in Genesis find a parallel in the six periods of Creation described in the Zoroastrian scriptures. Mankind, according to each religion, is descended from a single couple, and Mashya (man) and Mashyana are the Iranian Adam (man) and Eve. In the Bible a deluge destroys all people except a single righteous individual and his family; in the Avesta a winter depopulates the earth except in the Vara ("enclosure") of the blessed Yima. In each case the earth is peopled anew with the best two of every kind, and is afterward divided into three realms. The three sons of Yima's successor Thraetaona, named Erij (Avesta, "Airya"), Selm (Avesta, "Sairima"), and Tur (Avesta, "Tura"), are the inheritors in the Persian account; Shem, Ham, and Japheth, in the Semiticstory. Likenesses in minor matters, in certain details of ceremony and ritual, ideas of uncleanness, and the like, are to be noted, as well as parallels between Zoroaster and Moses as sacred lawgivers; and many of these resemblances are treated in the works referred to at the end of this article.

Causes of Analogies Uncertain.

It is difficult to account for these analogies. It is known, of course, as a historic fact that the Jews and the Persians came in contact with each other at an early period in antiquity and remained in more or less close relation throughout their history (see Avesta; Media; Persia). Most scholars, Jewish as well as non-Jewish, are of the opinion that Judaism was strongly influenced by Zoroastrianism in views relating to angelology and demonology, and probably also in the doctrine of the resurrection, as well as in eschatological ideas in general, and also that the monotheistic conception of Yhwh may have been quickened and strengthened by being opposed to the dualism or quasi-monotheism of the Persians. But, on the other hand, the late James Darmesteter advocated exactly the opposite view, maintaining that early Persian thought was strongly influenced by Jewish ideas. He insisted that the Avesta, as we have it, is of late origin and is much tinctured by foreign elements, especially those derived from Judaism, and also those taken from Neoplatonism through the writings of Philo Judæus. These views, put forward shortly before the French scholar's death in 1894, have been violently combated by specialists since that time, and can not be said to have met with decided favor on any side. At the present time it is impossible to settle the question; the truth lies probably somewhere between the radical extremes, and it is possible that when knowledge of the Assyrian and Babylonian religion is more precise in certain details, additional light may be thrown on the problem of the source of these analogies, and may show the likelihood of a common influence at work upon both the Persian and Jewish cults.

Kaufmann Kohler, A. V. W. Jackson
Jewish Encyclopedia, published between 1901-1906.

For general works on the subject consult bibliographies under articles Avesta, Media, and Persia. Special works on Zoroaster and the religion: Jackson, Zoroaster the Prophet of Ancient Iran, New York, 1899; idem, Die Iranische Religion, in Geiger and Kuhn, Grundriss der Iranischen Philologie, Leipsic, 1904; Justi, Die Aelteste Iranische Religion und Ihr Stifter Zarathustra, in Preussische Jahrbücher, lxxxviii. 55-86, 231-262, Berlin, 1897; Lehmann, Die Parsen, in Chantepie de la Saussaye, Lehrbuch der Religionsgeschichte, 3d ed., Tübingen, 1905; idem, Zarathustra, en Bog om Persernes Gamle Tro, pp. 1-2, Copenhagen, 1899, 1902; Tiele, Geschichte der Religion: Die Religion bei den Iranischen Völkern, vol. ii., section 1, translated by Gehrich, Gotha, 1898 (English transl. by Nariman in Indian Antiquary, vols. xxxii. et seq., Bombay, 1903). Particular treatises on the analogies between Zoroastrianism and Judaism: Schorr, in He-Ḥaluẓ, ii.-v.; Kohut, Ueber die Jüdische Angelologie und Dämonologie in Ihrer Abhängigkeit vom Parsismus, Leipsic, 1866; idem, Was Hat die Talmudische Eschatologie aus dem Parsismus Aufgenommen? in Z. D. M. G. xxi. 552-591; De Harlez, Avesta, Introduction, pp. ccv.-ccvi., ccix., Paris, 1881; Spiegel, Eranische Alterthumskunde, ii. 17, 19, 26, 34, 40, 50 et seq., 63-65, 75, 117, 166 et seq., 169-171, Leipsic, 1878; Darmesteter, La Zend-Avesta, iii., Introduction, pp. lvi.-lxii., Paris, 1893; S. B. E. 2d ed., iv., Introduction, pp. lvii.-lix.; Cheyne, Origin and Religious Concepts of the Psalter, London, 1891; Aiken, The Avesta and the Bible, in Catholic University Bulletin, iii. 243-291, Washington, 1897; Stave, Einfluss des Parsismus auf das Judenthum, Haarlem, 1898; Söderblom, La Vie Future d'Après le Mazdeisme, Paris, 1901; Böklen, Verwandschaft der Jüdisch-Christlichen mit der Parsischen Eschatologie, Göttingen, 1902; Moulton, in Expository Times, ix. 351-359, xi. 257-260, and in Journal of Theological Studies, July, 1902, pp. 514-527; Mills, The Avesta, Neoplatonism and Philo Judœus, i., Leipsic, 1904; Moffat, Zoroastrianism and Primitive Christianity, in Hibbert Journal, 1903, i. 763-780.K. A. V. W. J.

The individual articles presented here were generally first published in the early 1980s. This subject presentation was first placed on the Internet in May 1997.

This page - - - - is at
This subject presentation was last updated on - -

Copyright Information

Send an e-mail question or comment to us: E-mail

The main BELIEVE web-page (and the index to subjects) is at: BELIEVE Religious Information Source - By Alphabet http://mb-soft.com/believe/indexaz.html