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Zarathushtra

Zarathushtra - The Revolutionary Iranian Prophet and First Philosopher in History

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There was a time when the philosophy of oneness, one entity and one universal power emerged out of the polytheistic teachings. The Persian words goftare nik, pendare nik, kerdare nik meaning good words, good thoughts, good deeds became the main keystones of the religion called Zoroastrianism. It is known as history's oldest monotheistic religion and was founded by a man who became a prophet and who also was the first philosopher in history. His name was Zarathushtra. These ideas were sprung out of the place where Zarathushtra lived which is considered to be in modern day northeastern Iran and which in ancient times were one of the main geographical sites where the Aryan civilization thrived.

Birth and Early life

It all began with a man named Pourushaspa met a young woman named Dughdova. The two married and she became a part of the family of Pourushaspa named Spitama . The two of them had two children together until a few years later, when relatives and friends received the news that Dughdova was pregnant to a third child. The legend says that while she was pregnant, she started to have apocalyptic nightmares. When she was in the fifth month of pregnancy, she dreamt that the world was destroyed and as she became deeply frightened, an angel suddenly revealed itself in the dream and told her that she was carrying a very special boy who would change the world and prevent evil from becoming victorious. Time passed by and the day of giving birth arrived. When the boy was born, family and relatives immediately noticed that this infant differed from other infants. The boy did not cry, but instead giggled and had a smile on his face. Pourushaspa and Dughdova named their newborn son Zarathushtra, meaning golden light.

While there formerly has been disagreements among historians regarding the birth date of Zarathushtra, the latest archeological and historical evidence all point to the fact that he was born between 1800 - 1700 BC. This information converges with the traditional date which states that the Zoroastrian calendar starts with the birth of Zarathushtra on 26 March 1738 BC. This date is still celebrated among modern Zoroastrians and coincides with the Persian new year celebration called Nowruz which takes place on 21 March.

As a child, Zarathushtra developed a profound curiosity for everything in nature and he often questioned life. He was an intelligent child who was very observant and wanted to have clear cut answers to every question that came to his mind. With his ability to see through the surface of things and penetrate to the depth of their cause and meaning, he often confronted local priests and teachers about the meaning of their polytheistic teachings. However, either the priests and teachers barely managed to answer his questions or Zarathushtra himself was not satisfied with the answers he received. At the age of nine, his friends arranged a meeting for him with the head priest of his town to discuss the questions he wanted to have answered. Zarathushtra and the head priest discussed for several hours but ultimately, neither side could convince the other. Many of the questions that Zarathushtra asked had however deeply affected the priest. The fact that the priest could not answer the child's questions shocked him and made him feel miserable. The legend says that while the priest was on his way home after the meeting, troubled by the situation, he suffered a heart attack and died right on the spot.

When Zarathushtra turned 20 years old, he decided to leave his birthplace and travel to distant places in search of the Truth. He spent years philosophizing in the wilderness of the various places he visited. During his travels he also met and married a woman named Hvovi, with whom he had six children.

The symbol of Zoroastrianism named Faravahar seen at the ruins of Persepolis, Iran

The symbol of Zoroastrianism named Faravahar seen at the ruins of Persepolis, Iran ( Wikimedia Commons )

The Illumination

After ten years of traveling, Zarathushtra was now at the age of 30. One early morning, he went to the river to bring water back to his residence. As he stepped into the water, a divine entity named Vohu Mana meaning The Good Mind suddenly appeared to him. Vohu Mana then opened a portal to the bright divine light of God named Ahura Mazda, meaning The Wise Spirit . In his vision, he experienced the presence of Ahura Mazda and perceived him as the creator of universe. He also experienced the presence of the so called Amesha Spentas which are six divine entities that act as the protectors of the physical world and obey the decisions of Ahura Mazda. To Zarathushtra, the Amesha Spentas were perceived as abstract entities but in ancient scriptures they have been described as angels, so that one can easily grasp their abstract nature. He understood the roles of the Amesha Spentas in the world order and creation. The creation of universe was explained to him and also the importance of Truth and order. He understood that Truth and order were essential for maintaining the universe as a good place away from the evil spirit named Ahriman who always tries to implant lies in the minds of humans in order to create falsehood, misery and chaos. Zarathushtra had received illumination. The Truth which he had long searched for had suddenly appeared to him. In that split moment, all his questions were answered.

With a sense of relief and ultimate joy, Zarathushtra decided that the divine message had to be shared with the world. He went back to his home town and met his family. He gathered all the members of his family around him and told them about his illumination and ultimately asked them if they would be pleased to join in his footsteps and live by his philosophy and the divine message he had received. The first person to join was his brother Maedyoimaha, followed by his wife Hvovi and his six children.

Go to Part 2: The Emergence of Zoroastrianism and The Legacy of Zarathushtra

Top image: Illustration of Zarathushtra ( Wikimedia Commons )

By Mahbod Khanbolouki

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Mahbod Khanbolouki's picture

This debate is actually very entertaining! It's humoristic to see how hard you try even though you know both the archeological and historical facts don't go together with your point of view. I even doubt that you read the paragraphs I wrote because if you did, you would know better by know. It is fine to speculate but whether I convince you or not is not important. That does not matter when the broad majority of scholars read the facts and base their knowledge on correct sources. As I told you fact speaks for itself. Among the things you stated, there weren't even one correct statement about when Zarathushtra was born. Not to mention that you use wikipedia as reference, no comment about that. There are many like you out there who try to undermine Iranian history but what is beautiful about this case is that facts speaks for itself. He was born around 1700 BC, more specifically 1738 BC. Either you can keep on trying in vain or accept facts. And yes this debate was already settled when we discussed my other article. The readers will clearly see who was correct in this debate.

 

 

 

It is not my view that is "incorrect" I am simply relating what I (or anyone else who looks into the matter, and I would urge them to do so, will find through a simple on-line search) have learned over the years through research. It's not my view that is narrow (In fact, I will change "my view" if I am confronted with any real proof from you, or anyone else, to do so.).

Conventional historians do confirm my opinion; Zoroaster, Old Iranian Zarathushtra, or Zarathustra (born c. 628 bc, probably Rhages, Iran—died c. 551, site unknown), Iranian religious reformer and founder of Zoroastrianism http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/658060/Zoroaster Zoroaster, Zarathustra (Persian prophet who founded Zoroastrianism (circa 628-551 BC)) http://wordnetweb.princeton.edu/perl/webwn?s=zoroaster "Controversy over Zarathushtra's date has been an embarrassment of long standing to Zoroastrian studies. If anything approaching a consensus exists, it is that he lived no later than 1000 BCE, give or take a century or so, though reputable scholars have proposed dates as widely apart as 1750 BCE and '258 years before Alexander'." (Encyclopedia Iranica). I cited three but, there are many others which anyone who looks will find.

Jewish historians; in the middle of the seventh century BC, a prophet, Zarathustra, appeared among them and preached a new religion. This religion would become Zoroastrianism http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/History/Exile1.html

Islamic historians; Citing the authority of the 8th-century al-Kalbi, the 9th- and 10th-century Sunni historian al-Tabari reports that Zaradusht bin Isfiman (an Arabic adaptation of "Zarathustra Spitama") was an inhabitant of Israel and a servant of one of the disciples of the prophet Jeremiah. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zoroaster See how they look for Zoroaster at the time of Jeremiah?

Historians of the Baha'i Faith; Shoghi Effendi, the head of the Baha'i Faith in the first half of the 20th century, ... stated that Zoroaster lived roughly 1000 years before Jesus. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zoroaster This is early but not a thousand years too early.

In Arabic-Christian Legend; The Arabic-Christian legends identify Baruch with Zoroaster, and give much information concerning him. ... The prophecy of the birth of Jesus from a virgin, and of his adoration by the Magi, is also ascribed to Baruch-Zoroaster (compare the complete collection of these legends in Gottheil, in "Classical Studies in Honor of H. Drisler," pp. 24-51, New York, 1894; Jackson, "Zoroaster," pp. 17, 165 et seq.). www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/2562-baruch Once again in the days of Jeremiah.
And the Parsee Zoroastrians themselves; Chapter 36 of the Bundahishn (one of the Pahlavi books) offers a detailed list of Persian rulers in which Alexander the Great is mentioned as ruling Persia 258 years after the time of Zoroaster. Alexander conquered Persia in 331 BCE, so Zoroaster must have lived, if we choose to accept the veracity of this dynastic chronology, around 589 BCE. http://www.ancient.eu/zoroaster/

So, as much as you seem to want to suggest, that what I present is only "my view" and is "narrow," anyone who wants to look into the matter can see the wide-spread origins of "my" view. Obviously there is some dissension among the scholars as to the date of Zoroaster However, it is plain that what I have said is not merely "my view" for very many profess the same opinion (I believe that I can be forgiven, if I am being misled, by the bulk of historic studies).

Your view is obviously what the Encyclopedia Britannica terms the "extreme claims of pan-Iranianism" (Take note that it is the Encyclopedia Britannica's use of the term "extreme," not mine.) which says of Zoroaster the following;

"his monotheistic concept of God has attracted the attention of modern historians of religion, who have speculated on the connections between his teaching and Judaism and Christianity. Though extreme claims of pan-Iranianism (i.e., that Zoroastrian or Iranian ideas influenced Greek, Roman, and Jewish thought) may be disregarded, the pervasive influence of Zoroaster's religious thought must nevertheless be recognized." www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/658060/Zoroaster

What you present as "evidence" is contradictory (even bordering on schizophrenic; Were there two Zoroasters?).

You chide the sources that I quote as being "outdated" while you tout your own view as based upon "tradition." Of course the 628 BC. year of his birth is cited by scholars as the "traditional date."

You tell the stories of Zoroaster's childhood that are known only through sources that you yourself seem to doubt! To quote your own "Historical evidence": “The Gathas seem to indicate a society of nomadic pastoralists, which contrasts sharply with the view of Zoroaster living in the court of an Achaemenid satrap such as Vishtaspa (believed to be Zoroaster's first patron). The absence in the Gathas of any mention of Achaemenids or any West Iranian tribes such as Medes, Persians, or even Parthians, makes it unlikely that the historical Zoroaster ever lived in the court of a sixth century satrap.”

Which "Zoroaster" are you talking about?

The one who was born in Rhages, a city of the Medes? For the first historical mention of the Medes was in the Assyrian chronicles about 900 BC.

The one who was the reformer of the Magi? For the earliest known usage of the word "Magi" is in the trilingual inscription written by Darius the Great, known as the Behistun Inscription in the 6th century BC. And Herodotus makes them to be a tribe of the Medes.

The one who was the Bactrian king Vishtaspa's subject? Apparently not the late-6th century BC father of Darius I, a grandfather of "Ardashir" (Artaxerxes I/II). Not the Vishtaspa whose kingdom was overrun by the Turanians during a battle in which Zoroaster was supposedly killed. Zoroaster's death was said to have been in Balkh located in present-day Afghanistan during the Holy War between Turan and the Persian empire in 583 BCE. The oldest existing mention of Turanian is in the Farvardin Yashts of the young Avesta, which is dated by linguists to have been composed approximately 2500 years ago (again the 6th century BC.) The word occurs only once in the Gathas, but 20 times in the later parts of the Avesta.

Was it the one whom the Achaemenid Persians followed? For Herodotus said that the Persians were split off from the Medes (in the 7th century BC. He makes Cyrus the Great to be the son of a King of the Medes). Modern scholarship that seems to confirm this; Parsuash, (860-600 BC) located near Lake Urmia (about 200 miles Northwest of Ekbatana the Median capital) was distinct from Persis, another region to the southeast, now known as Fars province in Iran. Some accounts suggest that Teispes, the ancestor of the Achaemenid dynasty, led a migration from Parsuash to Persis, formerly the Elamite state of Anshan (about 650 BC). http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parsua

Was it the same Zoroaster who taught about Ahura Mazda? Because the Behistun Inscription written by Darius I in the 6th century BC. contains the earliest reference to Ahura Mazda.

We can't just pluck Zoroaster out of his own history and throw him back a thousand years and plop him down somewhere between Shulgi and Hammurabi without having any explanation as to what happens with all of his ambient history.

Were the Turanians, the same as the Gutians? Were the Persians, the Elamites? Were the Medes, the Mitanni? Was Ahura Mazda, Bel Murdock? Who were the Magi back in the days of Hammurabi? The Turanians, Persians, Medes, Ahura Mazda, and the Magi, were not from the 18th century BC. we have lots of writings from back then and neither Shulgi nor Hammurabi mention them. Neither is there any mention of Zoroaster (correct me if I'm wrong but, I don't think that even the Behistun Inscription makes reference to him.) until some Greeks start to talk about him in the 5th century BC.

It is entirely understandable as to why someone might doubt the earlier dating of Zoroaster, and needless to say your article, and subsequent arguments, have failed to convince me. And I know that you would join me as I urge others to do their own research with an open mind. Or should I say; "This is settled now. ... and I proved to you that you were incorrect." (Just kidding, that's your tactic, not mine.)

Mahbod Khanbolouki's picture

Greetings!

We already discussed about this matter in my former article I published and I proved to you that you were incorrect. In fact, my view is nowhere near “extreme” due to that it is based on archeological and historical evidence. On the other hand, your view is outdated. Read and learn bellow.

The different time points regarding the birth of Zarathushtra are based on different historical sources, and most scholars in fact do not agree that he lived in the 6th century BC as you state. That theory is outdated. You just deliberately narrow down your point of view in trying to confirm your own theories.

Historical evidence: “The Gāthās seem to indicate a society of nomadic pastoralists, which contrasts sharply with the view of Zoroaster living in the court of an Achaemenid satrap such as Vishtaspa (believed to be Zoroaster's first patron). The absence in the Gāthās of any mention of Achaemenids or any West Iranian tribes such as Medes, Persians, or even Parthians, makes it unlikely that the historical Zoroaster ever lived in the court of a sixth century satrap.”

Archeological evidence: “Archaeological evidence is usually inconclusive regarding questions of religion. However, a Russian archaeologist, Viktor Sarianidi, links Zoroaster to circa 2000 B.C.E. based upon excavations of the Bactria-Margiana Archaeological Complex, the modern archaeological designation for a Bronze Age culture of Central Asia, dated to circa 2200–1700 B.C.E.”

“Indo-Iranian religion is generally accepted to have begun in the late 3rd millennium B.C.E. (e.g., the Soma cult), but Zoroaster himself already looked back on a long religious tradition. The Yaz culture, an early Iron Age culture in the Afghan-Turkmen-Iranian border area (c. 1500-1100 B.C.E.), is considered a likely staging ground for the development of East Iranian and early Zoroastrian practices.”

“The teachings of Zarathustra (Zoroaster) appeared in Persia at some point during the period 1700-1800 BCE. His wisdom became the basis of the religion Zoroastrianism, and generally influenced the development of the Iranian branch of Indo-Iranian philosophy.”...”According to the Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy (page 409), the chronology of the subject and science of philosophy starts with the Indo-Iranians, dating this event to 1500 BC”...”The Oxford dictionary also states, "Zarathushtra's philosophy entered to influence Western tradition through Judaism, and therefore on Middle Platonism." … “The works of Zoroaster and Zoroastrianism had a significant influence on Greek and Roman philosophy.”

“A more modest date was suggested during the Hellenistic period; this was "258 years before Alexander", i.e., 258 years before 312 BC, the beginning of the first absolute dating system established by the Seleucid dynasty in Persia. This date of 570 BC appears to have been based on a late 4th century BC statement by Heraclides of Pontus that Pythagoras had studied with Zoroaster in Babylon (Kingsley, P., "The Greek Origin of the sixth-Century dating of Zoroaster", "Bulletin of SOAS" LIII, 1990, pp.245-65). This historically incorrect date was unfortunately adopted by the Sasanians, and there are still many scholars in the West who accept it, partly because it conveniently places Judaism before Zoroaster.” ...” The Gathic texts, moreover, describe a pastoral society which seems to correspond with the evidence produced by Soviet archaeologists from the northeastern parts of Central Asia. Some personal names, such as Hvogva, Vishtaspa, and Zarathushtra denote settled agrarian people owning domesticated cows, horses and camels. We know these animals were long domesticated in Central Asia. The Avesta also talks about chariots and chariot races. The earliest known such vehicle is attested in the steppes around 1600 BC It is also known that chariots encouraged nomadism in that part of the world leading to a reduction in the number of cows and to a corresponding increase in the number of horses.”

“1737 B.C.E. - Zarathushtra; The First Monotheist Prophet, he was one of the first prophets to introduce the concepts of: monotheism, equalism, duality of good and evil, mankind’s free choice between the two alternatives, messianic redemption, resurrection, final judgement, heaven (the word “Paradise” comes from Old Persian), hell and the notion of an almighty, kind, loving and forgiving God.” … “Zoroaster’s birthday falls on March 26th 1767 B.C.E. (6th of Farvardin in Persian Calendar) This date is more significant and special for the Zoroastrians. The Zoroastrian Year Calendar is based on his 40th Birthday, right now, the year is 3752 Zoroastrian Holy Year.

* These dates are based on linguistic evidence and archeology and not the usual Greek anachronism which often corrupts historical fact. (Many wrongly confuse King Vishtasp who reigned during Zarathustra’s life with the father of Darius the Great, with the same name). That mistake alone is the main reason why many ancient Greek historians wrongly believed that Zarathustra lived around (600 B.C.E) 258 years before the reign of the Macedonian king Alexander, when in fact Zarathustra lived over 14 centuries before him.”

“As the linguists of both Europe and India worked on the Gathas, however, it became clear that the language of the Gathas attributed to Zarathushtra was far older than the language spoken in Iran at the time of King Darius' father. Gathic Avestan was very close to the Sanskrit of the Indian Rig-Vedas, which can be dated from the period 1500-1200 BC. This would mean that Zarathushtra lived far earlier than the "traditional" date.”

If you’d like to view the sources of the paragraphs I posted above, see my latest article I published about Nowruz. This is settled now. Thank you for the opportunity to once again enlighten you!

 

 

 

Greetings Mahbod, It is good to see another of your articles. However I do feel the need to remind your readers of your "extreme" view as to the date of Zoroaster. You have a belief that is not shared by most historians or Zoroastrians, dating "the prophet" before either Moses or Akhnaten and therefore you unwarrantably judge Zoroastrianism to be "known as history's oldest monotheistic religion." Well, this may be "known" by you but, I wouldn't want your readers to be mislead.

In your article you state; "the traditional date which states that the Zoroastrian calendar starts with the birth of Zarathushtra on 26 March 1738 BC." as if the "traditional date" of Zarathushtra's birth was in the year 1738 BC but this is not a feature of any tradition that I am aware of. Most traditions agree to celebrate the "Nowruz" about the month of March (mostly March 21st) but the year 1738 BC as the year of Zarathushtra's birth is a fairly modern, and not widely agreed upon, invention.

"Controversy over Zarathushtra's date has been an embarrassment of long standing to Zoroastrian studies. If anything approaching a consensus exists, it is that he lived no later than 1000 BC, give or take a century or so, though reputable scholars have proposed dates as widely apart as 1750 BC and '258 years before Alexander'." (Encyclopedia Iranica).

today the largest population of Zoroastrians resides in India. The beginnings of Indian Zoroastrianism can be dated back to about 1000 BC - 600 BC.

The traditional date in the Pahlavi books (The Avesta, the sacred books of Parsees, or Zoroastrians,) places his era between the earlier half of the seventh and the sixth century BC., or, more specially, 660-583 BC.
http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/02151b.htm

Mahbod Khanbolouki's picture

As stated in the article, he was born in what is NOW northeastern Iran. He lived in an aryan kingdom and Zarathushtra was an Iranian which means Aryan. By how you describe Zoroastrianism, your point of view of Zoroastrianism is clearly influenced by the traditions in India. Your prayers of zen avesta and religion is in fact not derived from the rig veda. It has totally different sources but the underlying Aryan message in the two religions are evident.

 

 

 

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