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History of Zoroastrianism

Zoroastrianism is the ancient religion and philosophy ascribed to Zarathusthra; known to Greek as Prophet Zoroaster, the founder of the religion. It was believed to have been founded about less than 4000 years ago in Persia that sprung out of polytheistic traditions in India and Iran. Zoroaster, the great Aryan teacher of righteousness, was recognized as one of the monotheists who preached about one god. For its followers, Zoroastrianism has been the foundation of all religions in the world that revealed truth about one God and godly living.

Although its beginnings was not fully supported by historical revelation, evidences of its teachings as well as its historical relevance have proven its significance during the ancient period in Iran particularly and many countries nearby. Being the oldest religion in the world and the first universal religion in history, many claimed that it influenced many teachings in the modern day religion that include Islam and Judaism, its influence over the life of Israel written in the Bible have in some ways influenced the teaching of the Judaism that shaped many Christian beliefs.

The spread of the religion was due to the rise of the Persian Empire during the 600 BC since it was the official religion practiced by Persian kings. The Zoroastrianism followers’ Diaspora in 10th century led to the weakening of the religion as most of its wise men were persecuted when Muslim Arabs invaded Persia. Zoroastrians fled to India while others have sustained the “persecution, systematic slaughter, forced conversion, heavy taxes” imposed on them (Religious Tolerance. org).

Followers continued to exist until today despite difficulties adjusting the tradition to the modern world. Zoroastrianism religion came into existence once again because of the availability of other scholarly works made many centuries ago and were revived by the remaining Zoroastrians. Thus, Zoroastrianism being the greatest religion during the ancient East marked the evolution of earliest religions in the world including Islam, Christianity, and Judaism, because of its influence in view of theological teachings and traditions practiced specifically during the Persian Imperialism.

Historical Evidences of the Existence of Zoroastrianism The facts relating to Zoroastrianism are derived from historical accounts that support the claim about the religion. Basically, its existence is rooted from the earliest close contact between Iran and India, which many historians claim to have been of same origin in culture. According to an internet article entitled Zoroastrianism, most of the literatures of Zoroastrianism were presumed lost.

However, surviving materials were consists of the Gathas, a group of Yasts, songs that praise archaic divinities usually associated with aspect of nature, seventeen hymns attributed to Zoroaster himself and frequently directly addressed to Ahura Mazda, and the Vendidad which was mostly collection of religious and more principles and purifications. To some extent, most of the evidences of the existence of Zoroastrianism can be traced in its influences in most major religions of the world including Judaism and Judaism.

Lewis Loflin contends that Zoroastrianism had some influences on both Christianity and Judaism but was limited on the end times and apocalyptic ideas and the concept of the devil. Zoroastrians according to Loflin also teaches that Satan was a faithful and trusted servant of God. Loflin noted that Zoraster’s name in its ancient form in the Avesta which is Zarathusta and later became Zardusht has been adopted from the Greek and Latin which strongly suggest evidences of the historical existence of Zoroastrianism.

One of the determinants of Zoroastrianism was the language. The language of the earliest Zoroastrian writings has greater similarity with that of the Indians Vedas. For instance, the sacred literature of Zoroastrianism was extremely ancient with language closely related to that of Indian Vedas. Boyce noted that Zoroastrian prayer and worship were originally written in language characterized as pseudo-Gathic. The text as she further explained was having evolved with the living tradition into a Younger Avestan form (Boyce, p.

253). The Birth of Zoroastrianism The early history of Zoroastrianism was wrapped in deep obscurity according to Boyce and that historical development of its accounts was unrecorded that it took many historians and archeologists to rely on traditions of what is known as Persia (p. 249). One of the most significant events in the life of Zoroastrianism was the struggle encountered by Zoroaster himself, which was written in the Pahlavi (middle Persian language) books and the Persian epic (Boyce, vol.

I p. 249). Boyce emphasized that Zoroaster had experienced harassment and discrimination from his own countrymen when he adopted the new doctrine; and that anger has even ignited among the prince. In those books as Boyce noted, Zoroaster was named Vistaspa, Vistaspa’s conversion had enraged the princes for it was a “great hurt and vexation” for the people; however, Vistaspa had won the victory in the end, which was the most important event in the history of Zoroastrianism (ibid).

The new religion during its younger life had other unknown princes who protected it according to Avesta. Boyce also noted in her book that Zoroastrianism was preached through teachings and missionary endeavor and not by sword or force (Boyce, op. cit, p. 250). The ancient writing that accounted the event was in the yasna liturgy, which was composed in the ancient Gathic dialect that says: “We reverence the return of the priests … who travel afar (to those) who seek Asa in (other) lands” (ibid).

Based on those writings, the history of Zoroastrianism was carefully figured out. Boyce further stated that in the adoption of this new religion, there were some elements in the polytheistic beliefs that were retained, which includes cult and pantheon, that is why, Iranian converts never had difficulty adjusting to the new culture for little variation was emphasized (ibid). The new religion had definitely separated the converts from the pagan community.

Likewise, the new beliefs with respect to individual motivation had won the acceptance of many people for it virtually broke with old aristocratic and priestly tradition and reached the humblest members of the community even the slaves and women with assurance of salvation in heaven. Boyce cited, “Man or woman… whomever I shall impel to your invocation, with all these shall I cross the Bridge of the Separator” (Y. 46:10, cited by Boyce, vol. I, p. 250). Zoroaster’s teaching about the one true and good God – Ahura Mazda and daevas – the evil was the most difficult part of his entire endeavor.

In the same way, Zoroaster had received his ordination as a priest, warrior, and herdsman through the three components: the khwarr, fravahr and tan-gohr. The khwarr means divine grace representing the priesthood, fravahr is protection against evil, and tan-gohr represents plants and cattle. Boyce again noted the traditional explanation of this event in the life of Zoroaster as indicated in Yt. 13:89 (Boyce, vol. I p. 278). Zoroastrianism began to flourish throughout Iran during the Persian Empire, which was at the height of its power and influence in the fifth and fourth centuries B. C. (Brodd, p. 181).

During this period, the influence of Persian rule was very extensive that paved the way for the spread of Zoroastrianism in many foreign countries; the Greek invasion of Persia had led to the spread of Persian culture including Zoroastrianism. Finally, when Zoroaster died at the age of seventy-seven, he left to his converts the seventeen hymns or Gathas, the oldest part of the sacred text of Zoroastrianism, and the Avesta. Thus, the birth of Zoroastrianism was accounted based on the observance of the tradition passed on from generation to generation with clear evidence from ancient writings of the Old Persian literature.

Influence of Zoroastrianism Schonwald emphasized that Zoroastrianism, which existed with powerful role during the Persian Empire, have influenced the advancement of Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Manichaeanism, and other religion. Primarily, its contribution is the belief in the existence of one God, understanding of righteousness and cosmic order, promotion of social justice and individual preference between good and evil, and believing on one true and good God. Likewise, succeeding religions have almost same principles towards Supreme Being or god.

For Zoroastrians, this religion is the first truly ethical religion of humankind that teaches god-likeness by combating good thoughts, words, and deeds. In Judaism Ervard Dr. Jehan Bagli noted the closeness between Zoroastrianism and Judaism many centuries ago before the birth of Christianity. According to him, Zoroastrians had influenced the religious fabric of the Jews especially during the period of captivity and exile as indicated in the book of Isaiah. Primarily, influence had been inflicted during Persian rule in Israel.

Cited Professor Boyce, it says, “the verses of llnd Isaiah are remarkable in that in them alone, out of all the Old Testament, the term Messiah in the sense of an anointed deliverer of the Jewish nation is used of foreigner, a non-Jew (Cyrus)” (Bigel). Bigel also noted that the presence of various Zoroastrianism theological expression in the books of Isaiah, Ezra, which are not illustrated in Hebrew literature and tradition. Furthermore, Boyce noted Nehemiah, one of the Judaism prophets who became responsible about purity in the individual’s daily life.

This according to Boyce is a reflection of the purity laws in Zoroastrianism as stated, “The purity of laws were no longer restricted to the temple, but had to be exercised in the fields, the kitchen, the bed and the street (Boyce, vol. II, p. 190). Richard Viladesau mentioned that the influence of Zoroastrianism on Judaism especially during the period of Exile was unsettled but obviously, some of Judaism teachings were indebted to Persian religion for many important perspectives.

Some of the influences of Zoroastrianism to Judaism is the eschatology, which includes the myth on a eschatological savior, heaven and hell, the resurrection of the dead, and the last judgment (p. 158). In addition to that, Richard also mentioned that another influence to Judaism religion is the theological dualism, which is the doctrine that there are two ultimate powers, good and evil, locked in a cosmic struggle in which humanity must participate (Viladesau, p.

158). In Christianity The influence of Zoroastrianism in Christianity is rooted from the Judaism beliefs particularly of one God and the promised Savior. Again, this is another claim that Zoroastrianism had influence on the faith since the former is monotheist and that the Savior would be born of a virgin, who is Jesus. Likewise, theological beliefs such as Ahura Mazda whose chief attributes are eternity, wisdom, truth, goodness, majesty, powerful.

Supreme Sovereign, Protector, Giver of good things, and creator of all things also pertains to God of Christianity. The supreme lord of Iran exercises his power through a medium known as Spenta Mainyu, a corresponding Holy Spirit of the Christian faith. Zoroastrianism’s influence on Christianity is seen in most writings and teachings in the New Testament of the Bible; however, it can also be observed that influences on Christianity and Judaism are unmistakable.

The following are the similarities in the teaching mentioned in both religions: the teaching about heaven and hell, and revealed mysteries including resurrection, judgment, salvation and the apocalypse; the sacred cup or grail; the prophet is slain; the religion had a Eucharist; the statement “Word made flesh”; the expectation of second coming, the second coming, the virgin-born savior; and (Acharya, p. 123). Man in Zoroastrianism is a creation of God whom God is given his revelation and laws for him to obey with a free will of choice. In Islam

According to Hinnells, Zoroastrianism and Islam have much in common in view of conviction concerning religious beliefs. The similarity between the two religions was accounted because of the invasion of Persia by Islam in the six to seventh century A. D. which led to sharing of experiences and cultural traditions. As further noted, Hinnells mentioned that some of the influences of Zoroastrianism to Islam faith has something to do with a conviction of a revelation through a prophet, purity, laws, and times of prayer; traditional Zoroastrianism and Islam share a similar eschatology and concepts of heaven and hell (Hinnells, p.

298). Furthermore, Zoroastrianism has also influence the knowledge about science particularly astrology that pertains to sun, moon, stars, and the twelve zodiac constellations at the north, east, south, and west. Zoroastrians believed that the “blessed Amesha-Spentas laid down also the paths of these stars, of the everlasting lights, and of the winds and clouds, all of which formerly stood in the same place unmoving, but now hastened onward. ” Boyce also recalled ecological structure such as water that flows freely abundant in minerals and nourishes the vegetation and living organisms (Boyce, vol.

I, p. 132-46). Ethical Teaching of Zoroastrianism Zoroastrianism teaches that Man in his everyday life is enjoined to preserved purity of both the body and soul. Their motto is Good thoughts, good words, and good deeds. Loflin pointed out that man has to exercise scrupulous care in keeping the components earth, water, and fire from defilement of any kind. Zoroastrianism emphasized that truth speaking and honest dealing should be the basis of every action while generosity and kindliness are the virtues to be cultivated.

Zoroastrianism held that cattle- raising and agriculture are religious duties, and that marriage within the community of the faithful even with blood relatives, is praiseworthy. They believed that burning, burying, and throwing the dead into the water is unlawful, as whichever of these modes of disposal defiles one of the sacred elements. Believers of Zoroaster instead, believed that the body must be exposed in high places to be consumed by birds and dogs. Zoroastrianism Today

According to Josh Schonwald in his article in University of Chicago Chronicle, as of 2007 there were about 200,000 adherents of Zoroastrianism in the world today that could be found in Canada, United States, England, India, and Australia and in Persian Gulf nations. Cited the New York Times report, noted the dwindled population of the Zoroastrians, which was once dominated vast area of Asia and part of Europe while the mobility of the people and adaptability due to intermarriage contributed to their demographic crisis (Religious Tolerance.

org). Similarly, continue studies regarding Zoroastrianism is now of great interest to historians of religion as noted by Schonwald. On the conference held on May 11, 2007, he mentioned the highlights of the program, which specifically dealt with researches done about Zoroastrianism by prominent people such as Jean Kellens, professor of Indo-Iranian languages and religions at the College de France; Clarisse Herrenschmidt, a scholar from the France’s Centre National de la recherche scientifique; and Lincoln whose full name was not given.

The purpose of the conference according to Lincoln was to find the way “in which religious sensibilities have influenced other aspects of ancient Iran-whether it’s politics, culture, psychology, astronomy or astrology” (Schonwald). Conclusion Zoroastrianism could be regarded as the oldest and the most ancient religion of the world originated by Zarathushtra with Greek name Zoroaster who believed to live for seventy-seven years in Persia. His existence is estimated to be 600 BC. , however, the height of the religion took place during the reign of Persian empire which was about many centuries ago after his death.

Zoroastrianism based on the evidences in ancient Vedas writings, the language used during Zoroaster period, is considered as the foundations of major religions in the world today particularly Islam and Christianity. This is due to resemblance in theological expression and traditions that could be rooted from the earlier life of the faiths such as in case of Judaism, the forerunner of the Christian faith. Basically, the originality of the declaration of faith stated in laws and principles of Zoroastrianism made it regarded as the foundation of today’s religion.

Hence, the spread and decline of Zoroastrianism is attributed to historical events that took place in the region. It reached its popularity when Persia became a superpower and its decline is caused by the Islamic propagation in the land. Yet, as the saying goes, “history repeats itself,” Zoroastrianism starts to evolve again as many of its followers are desperately professing the faith wherever they are. Also, as scholars began to open the opportunities for more studies about the religion, it is not impossible to popularize again the once powerful religion in the world.

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