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
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
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
- 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.