Table of Contents
Zoroastrianism, also called Zarathustriaism, Magianism (Magi) or Mazdaism is an ancient Iranian religion. Before the rise of the Persian Empire (circa 600 b.c.) Zoroaster, the founder of this religion, reformed the earlier Iranian pantheon into a simplified version, focused primarily on only two opposing forces of good and evil. Over time, Zoroaster influences over this religion led to it bearing his name.
The symbol for Zoroastrianism is the Faravahar, the winged guardian spirit holding a disc, a symbol of power.
Zoroaster is the founder of Zoroastrianism. The dates of when Zoroaster lived fluctuate greatly among scholars from as early as 1800 b.c. to as late as 600 b.c. He native language was Avestan and lived on the Iranian Plateau, the eastern part. He was married and had children, as most of his life is described in the Zoroastrian writings that still exist today.
He proclaims he was illuminated by Ahura Mazda at the age of 30 , in which he received his revelation of spiritual truths. He had a difficult converting others to his religious belief system, but his wife and children where among the first to receive his new teachings.
Some writings of ancient Greek historians such as Pliny considered him a sorcerer-astrologer, and inventor of magic and astrology for the Iranian people. Pythagorean tradition associates Zoroaster as an avid student in Babylon from where he supposedly learn and taught his understandings of astrology – Porphyry Life of Pythagoras 12, Alexander Polyhistor apud Clement’s Stromata I.15, Diodorus of Eritrea, Aristoxenus apud Hippolitus VI32.2.
The only indications we have of Zoroaster’s death is in the Zoroastrian Text, the Shahnameh 5.92, which indicates he was murdered at the altar by Turanians who were at war with the Persian Empire, during the storming of Balkh, in present day Afghanistan.
The Indo-Iranian Pantheon & religious system dates back as early as 2000 b.c. It is believed that around 600 b.c. Zoroaster reformed the entire religious system by promoting Ahura Mazda as the supreme deity and all other previously worshiped deities to a lesser position.
Recordings of the Zoroastrian believers and their activities were made by Herodias (Ancient Greek Historian) and through various scripts of the Magi, the Persian followers of Zoroaster.
Following the unification of Persian and the Medes (ancient Iranian people) in circa 500b.c., many of the people of this region became avid followers of the Zoroastrian religion or its influences, with rulers such as King Daruis I being an avid follower of Ahura Mazda.
Various Zoroastrian legends tell of many of its sacred writing being lost or destroyed at the hand of Alexander The Greats invasion into Persepolis and its royal library. A claim that appears to be substantiated by various historic resources.
During the rule of the Sassanid dynasty circa 200 a.d., a certain forms of Zoroastrianism was aggressively promoted until the advent and aggressive promotion of Islam on the people in circa 700 a.d.
Ahura Mazda is the chief and supreme god. He is the non-created creator of everything, cannot be seen. He is eternal, pure good and truth. Zoroaster promoted the belief that there is to be no other being worshiped or devoted to except Ahura Himself.
Is the essence of all that is evil, and is ever trying to destroy the creation of Ahura Mazda. He is believed to be equally powerful to Ahura Mazda, as the eternal conflict between good and evil continue.
Yazata literally means “worthy of worship.” This is the Zoroastrian concept with a wide range of meanings, but collectively represents all those that are good or the good powers of Ahura Mazda. Yazata’s are also portrayed as divinities that can be invoked or called upon, some that even perform mundane ‘celestial’ tasks such as charioteers for other celestial beings.
Literally meaning the ‘bounteous immortals.’ In Zoroastrianism, the Amesha Spentas is a classification of divine beings.
Great Divine Sparks – The Amesha Spentas is used in Zoroastrian scripture to refer to the 6 divine sparks of Ahura Mazda, the first emanations of the creator. Each one with a divine attribute, and in some context Ahura Mazda is considered among them:
Ahura Mazda – Supreme Creator- Guardian of Mankind
Vohu Manah- Good Purpose – Guardian of Cattle
Asa Vahista- Truth/ Righteousness- Guardian of Fire
XsaOra Vairya- Dominion- Guardian of Metal
Spanta Armaiti- Holy Devotion- Guardian of Earth
Haurvatat- Wholeness- Guardian of Water
Ameretat- Immortality- Guardian of Plants
Daena (Eternal Law)
Is the revealed law or principles from Ahura to humanity.
Saoshyant ‘one who brings benefit’ (i.e. Messiah)
The Saoshyants are mentioned in the Zoroastrian texts as teachers and religious leaders, however in Yasht 19.88-96, the text speaks of a specific leader or ‘messiah’ that will come to make the world perfect and immortal, and the evil Druj will disappear. This coming ‘Messiah’ that will usher in the end of the world, resulting in the renovation of the entire universe, in which the dead will be revived. He is said to be the son of Vispa. Taurairi and will come from lake Kansaoya/Kansava, carrying the weapon of Verethragna to vanquish the evil creations of Angra Mainyu.
Tradition speaks of 3 of these saviors coming at the end of each 1000 year periods for a total of 3000 years. All born of maidens that bathed in the lake, which supposedly preserves the seed of the prophet Zoroaster himself. The names of each one will be; Hushedar, the second Hushedarmah and the third will be named Saoshyant.
Creation of the Universe
Zoroastrians believe the Ahura Mazda created everything, and all creation is asha- truth and order. This is the opposite of druj, which is chaos, falsehood and disorder.
The religion states that people need to actively participate in good deeds throughout their life to ensure happiness and keep chaos at bay.
Life After Death
Zoroastrians believe that every human soul (the urvan) was created when Ahura created the universe and before birth, every human spirit exists with is guardian spirit (fravashi). After the human is born the fravashi acts as the mortals guardian spirit until death. After the fourth day of death, the human soul is reunited with its guardian spirit, in which its life experience are collected to use in the battle against evil in the spiritual world.
Final Judgment & World Renovation
The resulting conflict will involve all creation, the entire universe including humanity, whom will have an active role to play in the final battle. The final battle will result in Ahuras victory over Angra Mainyu, and the entire universe will undergo a cosmic renovation, and time will come to an end. Every dead soul even though banished to darkness will be reunited with Ahura in an undead form.
Zoroastrians believe that any act of worship toward something good is an act o f worship that ultimately get reflected to Ahura Mazda. There for those who desire to be morally good are to worship everything that is good.
The most important texts of the religion are those of the Avesta, of which a significant portion has been lost, and mostly only the liturgies of which have survived. The lost portions are known of only through references and brief quotations in the later works, primarily from the 9th to 11th centuries.
The Avestan was the religious book of the Zoroastrians which contained a collection of their sacred texts, and its history is referred to many other Iranian writings. These writings, the Avestan, where put into archives.
When Persian was conquered in 300 b.c. by Alexander the Great, the Avesta was burned, except for some useable scientific sections the Greeks took to make copies of.
During the Parthian Empire, 200b.c., an attempt was made to restore the Avesta under the high priest Tansar. The various pieces where brought together and translated into Pahlavi, one of the various Iranian languages.
Today only a fraction of these texts survive, which includes;
- Gathas – 17 hymns believed to have been composed by Zoroaster
- Yasna – a ceremonial text and liturgy
- Visperad – texts on religious liturgy
- Vendidad – a text of formulas and confrontations against evil spirits.
Criticism & Apologetics
Obscure Religious Beliefs
One obvious problem with this religion, as mentioned before, is the obvious lack of verification that can be produced for the entire belief system, as most of its texts where destroyed in ancient times. Most of the beliefs, rituals and practices have to be speculated by today’s scholars.
Correlations to Abrahamic Religions
Different critics claim that many of the Abrahamic faiths derived from Zoroastrianism. However with the examination of the few similarities between, we find that these belief systems are very different. In fact it may have been Zoroaster himself that was first influenced by Judaism, when the Jews where exiled from Israel.
This claim only comes from critics whom believe that Zoroastrianism is older than 1500 b.c, a time frame which in of itself is highly controversial and unproven.
Judaism is a monotheist religion, beginning with Abraham roughly 2000 b.c., which was extraordinary and unusual for its time. History shows that the traditions and cultures of the surrounding nations, as with most of the world where polytheistic. Even as people groups had their own personal gods, they tended to accept the gods of others nations in addition to their own.
The Israelite people where at times brought into idol worship, following the false gods of other religions, of whom the God of Israel in the Bible would always reveal as being simple, man made fabrications (Ps.106.35-36; Isa 44).
Apart from these heresies and idolatries, Biblical (Torah) teachings and true Judaism was wholly monotheistic from the beginning (Deut 4.35) proclaiming that no other god even exists except for Yahweh.
This provides a unique foundation to the Hebrew faith as no other religion had this type of philosophy or dogmatic view against all other world beliefs.
Keeping in mind the vast archive of ancient texts for the Zoroastrian religion is missing, we have the basic idea of what they believed about their supreme deity.
Ahura Mazda, their supreme deity, can be traced back to an older pantheon of gods developed in the proto-indo-Iranian religion, of which Zoroaster reformed to make his religion. As a side note, the oldest reference we have to the name of Ahura Mazda is from the Achaemenid Period (500-300 b.c.) in the Behistun Inscription, located on Mt.Behistun in the Kermanshah Province of Iran..
The Zoroastrian ideas of the supreme god is better described as a divine mind and immanent self creating universe that is more closely related to a pantheistic belief (belief the universe is identical to divinity, or that all existence composes the immanent god), more closely related to the ideas setup in Hindu Brahmanism. Not at all like the Monotheistic God of the Torah.
Zoroastrian is not always thought of as monotheistic, but is interpreted by some to be more of a type of henotheism. As some interpret the text to indicate the acceptance of other deities, however the religion itself taught only to worship Ahura. Additionally, the continual conflict between Angra Mainyu (destructive principle) and Ahura Mazda (principle of creation) shows a belief in Dualism that is not present in the Torah. The God of the Jews is absolute sovereign over all with no equal.
C.) Zoroastrianism Influenced By Judaism
In the book of Daniel we have a very detailed account of Yahweh using his children, namely Daniel, to be his mouthpiece to the Babylonians and the Mede-Persians. There is a much higher probability simply based on historic accounts, that the Magi and the Zoroastrians where influenced by the Exiled Jews, saw the power of their God, and adjusted they religion to match what Daniel or other exiled Jews had taught them.
We have the historic account of the Magi, who were of the Zoroastrians, that visited baby Jesus when He was born (Matt 2). This verifies they knew of Daniel’s prophecy from God and that they obviously believed what the Jewish scriptures taught.
Even if the Zoroastrian religion did predate Judaism, which there is no evidence for, who’s to say they didn’t add prophecies and philosophies form the Judaism faith to their own, when they saw the power of the God of the Jews?
2.) Other Similarities
Similarities include those of the belief in a Messiah, angels and demons, a literal 6 day creation and an end of the world with a type of millennial kingdom.
However, once again we know that the Zoroastrians had encountered the prophet Daniel’s prophecies and texts, and Daniel was a student of the other prophets of Israel, including Jeremiah. These prophets spoke specifically about these issues, so if the Zoroastrians knew about Daniels prophecies, they would have also studies the other writings and prophecies of the Jews.
In conclusions, we have a full account, author and known authority for the Jewish scriptures, on the other hand, we can only make vague speculations of the Zoroastrian prophecies and inferences because of the lack of their preservation and uncertainty of their timelines. The Jewish scriptures are unlike anything mankind has ever developed hinting at a supernatural influence. The Zoroastrian texts where just avid students that learned from the Jewish community spiritual truths and continued to apply them to their own persona beliefs.
Prophecy of End Time & Messiah
Zoroastrians believe that at the end of each 1000 year period, a Messiah will appear until a full 3000 year has concluded the end of the world. All three are to be born of maidens who bathed in the lake that miraculously contains the seed of Zoroaster himself, their names will be:
Whom will lead humanity in the battle against falsehood.
Thirty years before the decisive final battle, a maiden named Eredat-fedhri (“Victorious Helper”) and whose nickname is “Body-maker” will enter a lake (in Yasht 19.92, this is “Lake Kansava”). Sitting in the water, the girl, who has “not associated with men” will receive “victorious knowledge.” Her son, when born, will not know nourishment from his mother, his body will be sun-like, and the “royal glory” of Khwarenah will be with him. Then, for the next 57 years he will subsist on only vegetables (17 years), then only water (30 years) and then for the final 10 years only on “spiritual food.”– Denard 7.10.15ff
In the final battle (Bundahishn 30.1ff; 34.18) against evil, the yazatas Airyaman (divinity) and Atar (holy fire) will melt the hills and mountains like metal but the righteous will not be harmed.
A few strong points can be drawn from taking these scriptural texts from the Zoroastrian beliefs:
First, The only person that would fit the description of a Messiah was Jesus Christ, whom if you where a Zoroastrian and you took His word as true, would have been considered the first Messiah. This would in turn cancel out the entire Zoroastrian religion, converting you into a Christian as you accepted Jesus teachings. This seems to be further verified historically as the Magi did come to see Jesus and would have been converted to the one true God by Jesus teachings. The Magi during Jesus era did consider Him to be the Messiah.
Second, this original prophecy is lacking as there was no major event that occurred after the next 1000 year mark (the time of the second Messiah), no messiah appear, nor any person that had a major influence over the entire world, nor has any astounding person risen up to rid the entire world of evil since then.
Plutarch Isis and Osiris 46-7, Diogenes Laertius 1.6–9 and Agathias 2.23-5
The Student’s Manual of Oriental History: Medes and Persians, Phœnicians, and Arabians, Page. 38, by François Lenormant, E. Chevallier