Certain features of Zoroastrianism are found in more commonly known religions and cultures today. It has essential features like dualism that makes it a base for other philosophies today. Zoroastrian doctrines have many similarities to Christian, Jewish, and Islamic beliefs. The history of Zoroastrianism tells a lot about how and why it used to be such a popular religion, but is no longer heard about. While many of its beliefs are found in other modern religions, its influence has been felt not only by adherents of this ancient religion but also by scholars and theologians of monotheistic faiths, including Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.
The prophet Zoroaster made Zoroastrianism a successful religion by not giving up his beliefs and persevering. During the time in which Zoroaster lived, he was also called Zarathustra. Zoroaster was a name that the Greeks came up with. Zoroaster was born in Persia in 628 B. C. E. While his family was not wealthy, they were part of the knightly class, called the Spitamas, who raised and traded horses. Legends say that he was born to a virgin (Stockdale “Zoroaster” para 3). This holds a resemblance to how Christians believe Jesus was born to a virgin, the Virgin Mary.
In the beginning of Zoroaster’s life, he was a priest and followed the polytheistic religion of the ancient Persians. When Zoroaster was about 40 years old, he began to preach Zoroastrianism and wrote the Gathas, which were his teachings (Stockdale “Zoroaster” 2). When the ruling class found out that he was preaching against Persia’s traditional polytheistic religion, they were not pleased. Once Zoroaster converted Vishtaspa, the king of Chorasmia, he and his religion were welcomed and he converted many others (Stockdale “Zoroaster” para 5).
Thus began the spread of Zoroastrianism and it’s affect on the Persian culture and cultures around the area. One of Zoroaster’s daughters, Pourucista, married one of the king’s ministers. At the age of 77, Zoroaster passed away. (Stockdale “Zoroaster” para 6). His legacy was appreciated greatly by the generations of Greek philosophers that followed. The god of Zoroastrianism, Ahura Mazda, provides a beacon of hope for Zoroastrians in many ways. The followers of Zoroastrianism used to call the religion Mazdayasnian.
The followers accept and respect the four elements in nature, fire, earth, wind, and water (Canepa para 3). The core belief is dualism which states that good will eventually win over evil (Melton para 4). This resulted in a culture that was very optimistic about the future. Ahura Mazda was the symbol of good and Angra Mainyu was the force or symbol of evil. Zoroastrianism was the first religion to teach the idea of an apocalypse. Zoroastrianism also came up with the idea of rebirth. Once the end of the current world came, there would be a new heaven as well as a new earth.
Each of these beginnings and ends were thought to be about 12,000 years. They believe that overall, humanity gets more and more mature over time, and the people that are spending life after death in hell are eventually saved. After earth is “renovated”, the new heaven and earth that Ahura Mazda creates is named “Khshathra Vairya”, which means “desired kingdom” (Taylor para 5). The forces of evil or, ‘The Lie’, had an affect on people in that if they were influenced by it, there would be a decline in morals in humanity. As a result, the person would have to spend life after death in hell (Taylor para 3).
The history of Zoroastrianism and how it spread is very relevant because it explains why such an important religion is not as well known today as it should be. The spread of Zoroastrianism started in northern Persia and branched out into modern day Afghanistan. In 224 C. E. , the religion was finally acknowledged by the shah of the Sassanid Empire and was made the official state religion. This affected the people greatly, as they would go to the temples and pray for the counseling of Ahura Mazda. The Zoroastrian holy book, the Avesta, was translated into native dialects.
Believers of the religion celebrated with festivals and holidays (Stockdale “Zoroastrianism” para 9). After the religion peaked, it was followed by a decline. In the seventh and eighth centuries, during the Muslim invasion of Persia, Islam begin to rise in Persia and Zoroastrianism began to fall. Many Zoroastrians fled to India, where the religion took root and grew. According to Stockdale, “Zoroastrianism is still practiced by a very small community. Scholars estimate that there are about 140,000 believers in the world, with more than 90,000 living in India.
The remaining communities are in Iran, Europe (particularly in the United Kingdom), and North America” (“Zoroastrianism” para 11). It did not continue to grow significantly, as the religion does not welcome converts. Zoroastrianism has many ties with more modern religions like Islam, Judaism, and Christianity. Zoroastrianism was one of the first monotheistic religions found in the world. This affected all the other religions found today, most of which are also monotheistic. The idea of rebirth that heavily influenced Christianity had also been come up with first in Zoroastrianism (Canepa para 2).
Christianity also shares the theme of dualism with Zoroastrianism. Similar to how Ahura Mazda represents good and light and Angra Mainyu represents evil and darkness, Jesus symbolizes good and Satan symbolizes evil (Leeming 296). Also similarly to Christianity, when someone dies, Zoroastrians believe that their soul is judged by Ahura Mazda before it is decided whether they are sentenced to a blissful afterlife with happiness, or are punished for their association with evil during their life (Stockdale “Zoroastrianism” para 5). In 480 B. C. E. , there was a war between the Persians and the Greeks.
The Greeks eventually defeated the Persians, but if it had been the other way around, Zoroastrianism would probably be the most popular religion found in the west today rather than Christianity (Leeming 294). In the fourth century B. C. E. , Greek philosophers showed acknowledgment of Zoroastrian beliefs. In the sixth century B. C. E. , the recognition of Zoroastrianism grew as the Hebrews found the Zoroastrian scriptures, which impacted their beliefs of heaven, hell, and resurrection (Taylor para 2). The Zoroastrian beliefs of hellfire were likely the roots for hellfire beliefs of the Christian and Muslim faiths (Taylor para 5).
Christianity now teaches that hell is a place created by God and is made for the punishment of sinners. Today, Islam teaches that hell is a real place also made by God for those who do not believe in God, rebel against God’s laws, or reject God’s messengers. Followers of Zoroastrianism pray five times a day, similarly to how Muslims also pray five times a day. Also similarly to Islam, Zoroastrianism is a lifestyle rather than simply a religion. The Avesta, which was Zoroastrian scripture, told a lot about the life of Zoroaster himself.
They are written in Avestan, which was a very ancient and difficult language. This language was only spoken for a short amount of time in a small area. This is a huge clue as to when Zoroaster lived. While Zoroaster lived over 3,000 years ago, nobody knows what he looked like. In the eighteenth century, an artist said that Zoroaster came to him in a dream and so he painted what Zoroaster looked like in his dream. He painted a man looking upwards with one hand in the air, and this is how Zoroaster has been viewed since (Hartz 26). The Avesta says that the earth began with only light.
The world was becoming too overpopulated, so Ahura Mazda told the king Yima, the fourth king of the Pishdadian Dynasty, that a flood was going to come. The king went on a mountain and then the flood came. The whole world was destroyed but him. Zoroastrian myths stated that Angra Mainyu’s evil could be defeated through creation. They teach to create through farming and making children. This is beneficial because it fulfills their religious beliefs while also contributing to the society’s success. Ahura Mazda is also called Ohrmazd and Angra Mainyu is often called Ahriman (Leeming 296).
After Ahriman started orking against creation, he had to be put into hell. Zoroaster’s mother’s and father’s names were also mentioned in the Avesta (Hartz 25). Fire is a crucial part of Zoroastrianism and is greatly respected by Zoroastrians. Fire represents fairness, truth, and all other aspects of Ahura Mazda. This is why many people pray in front of a light or fire (Melton para 3). All rituals are done in front of a fire to symbolize Ahura Mazda’s presence. Fire temples are sacred places that followers go to pray in. The fire room holds an urn that burns 24 hours a day, tended to by priests. The rooms are very plain with no decorations or pictures.
Only certain priests are allowed to enter the fire room, but worshippers may also view the sacred fire behind iron bars (Hartz 18). There are three levels of fire temples. The fire temples of greatest importance are called “atash behram”. There are only ten of these in the world and only the holiest rituals are done in them (Hartz 20). Overall, Zoroastrianism is an incredibly important religion because it serves as a foundation for many cultures and religions found today. While it is not a dominant religion in the western world, it holds many similarities to more well known faiths such as Christianity, Judaism, and Islam.
Its history and legacy is very important in understanding in what way it affected the cultures and religions of the west. Some similarities are found between the doctrines and gods of Zoroastrianism and Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. Zoroastrianism was a religion of many firsts because it was the first religion to believe in rebirth and the apocalypse. It was also one of the first monotheistic religions. While Zoroastrianism is not widely practiced today, it is important to know and understand the history of such an important religion in order to understand modern cultures and religions.