Zoroastrianism Holy text (the Avesta)

After reading the document respond to the following questions in 2-3 paragraphs (200-300 words)

*Responses that are too short (below 200 words) will not receive full credit. Please spend some time reading, analyzing, and thinking about the document to be able to write a meaningful and critical reflection.

1) What can we learn about this religion from its holy text? What was important to Zoroastrians? What did they believe?

2) Choose 2 quotes you find interesting or important and explain why. If you are familiar with Christianity or Islam, try to find quotes that you think are similar to those religions. If you are not familiar with any other religions, just choose quotes to analyze that interest you.

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The Cyrus Cylinder (539 BCE)

“I am Cyrus, king of the universe, the great king, the powerful king, king of

Babylon, king of Sumer and Akkad, king of the four quarters of the world…”

The Persian Empire, 557-500 BCE

-Cyrus (557-530 BCE) founded the Persian Empire in what

is today Iran through his skills as a general and a diplomat

who saw respect for others’ religious practices as good

imperial policy

-Everything about the Persian king emphasized his

magnificence…his servants held their hands before their

mouths so that he would not have to breathe the same air as

they…the king punished criminals by mutilating their bodies

and executing their families

-Satraps- regional governors who ruled enormous territories

-Darius I- extended Persian power…royal roads and a

courier system provided communication among the far flung

provincial centers

“It is said that as many days as there are in the whole journey, so many are the men and horses that

stand along the road, each horse and man at the interval of a day’s journey; and these are stayed

neither by snow nor rain nor heat nor darkness from accomplishing their appointed course with all


-Herodotus, The Histories, 440 BCE

West vs. East

Greece vs. Persia

Persian Religion

-Zoroaster/Zarathustra (circa 1000-900 BCE)

-Raphael, The School of Athens, 1509-1511

-Haydar Hatemi, Zoroaster, 2013

Rapahel, The School of Athens, 1509-1511

The Mythical Origins of Zoroaster

-started teaching monotheism at age 30 and preached his religion for 70 years

-the king Vishtasp called an assembly of all the great men, including Zoroaster to advise him

on certain issues. Zoroaster brought a book with him, the Avesta. He set the book before

Vishtasp when the learned men of the country were present and the crowd was gathered there.

Zoroaster ordered copper to be melted and then said: ‘Oh God, if this is your book with which

you have sent me to this King, then prevent the copper harming me.” Then he ordered the

molten copper to be poured over his body; it was poured over his breast and abdomen, but the

copper ran over and beneath him without doing any harm to him and from each of his hairs

hung a round bullet of copper. Vishtasp accepted the new religion and professed that angels

had come to him from God and ordered him to believe on Zoroaster when he came and to

accept the message he brought.

-No one is allowed to have access to the book of Avesta which Zoroaster brought, except those

who are trusted in their faith, and whose conduct is found praiseworthy by the followers

-Zoroaster broke with the traditional….religions of the region which closely mirrored those of India,

and espoused the idea of a one good God –Ahura Mazda. Zoroastrianism was also the first to link

religious belief with profound attachment to personal morality. Zoroastrinaism contained the

concepts of heaven, hell, redemption, the promise of a Messiah, the existence of an evil spirit

Ahriman and – most striking of all – the prospect of a final battle for the salvation of man at ‘the end

of time’ between Ahura Mazda and Ahriman leading to the latter’s final defeat.

-The most important doctrine of Zoroastrianism was moral

dualism, which saw the world as a battlefield between the

divine forces of good and evil. Human beings had to

choose between the way of truth or the way of the lie,

between purity and impurity. In Persian religion only those

judged righteous after death made it across ‘the bridge

of separation’ to heaven and avoided falling from its

narrow span into hell. Persian religion’s emphasis on

ethical behavior and on a supreme god had a lasting

influence on others, especially the Israelites.

-”It is supposed that with the birth of Zoroaster, twelve

thousand years following the creation of the world, a

decisive turn was given the conflict in favor of the good, and

that when [Zoroaster] returns, after twelve millennia, in the

person of the messiah Saoshyant, there will take place a

final battle and cosmic conflagration, through which the

principle of darkness and life will be undone. Whereafter, all

will be light, there will be no further history, and the

Kingdom of God (Ahura Mazda) will have been established

in its pristine form forever.” (Joseph Campbell, The Masks

of God: Oriental Mythology)


-“Zoroaster has been called ‘the first personality to have worked creatively and formatively

upon the course of religious history.’”

– “The first novelty of this radically new teaching lay in its treatment in purely ethical terms of

the ultimate nature and destiny of both mankind and the world…In the Far East, as well as in

India…the world was not to be reformed, but only known, revered, and its laws obeyed.

Personal and social disorder stemmed from departure from those cosmic laws, and reform could

be achieved only by a return to the unchanging root. In Zoroaster’s new mythic view, on the

other hand, the world, as it was, was corrupt– not by nature but by accident– and to be

reformed by human action. Wisdom, virtue, and truth lay, therefore in engagement, not in


-”This is not the old, ever-revolving cycle of the archaic Bronze Age mythologies, but a

sequence, one and for all, of creation, fall, and progressive redemption, to culminate in a

final, decisive….victory of the One Eternal God of Righteousness and Truth.”

-From The Masks of God: Occidental Mythology by Joseph Campbell

There are around 124,000 practicing

Zoroastrians in the world today, and that

number is likely to decrease because

Zoroastrians do not believe in conversion.

Most Zoroastrians live in Iran and still

practice tenets of the religion that were

developed thousands of years ago,

including open-air burials where they leave

the body of a deceased person on top of a

wooden tower to be exposed to the

elements and eaten by vultures in the belief

that the earth is sacred and pure and a dead

body pollutes it.

The holiday Nowruz is celebrated across the Middle East. Nowruz is the Persian New Year’s celebration

that dates back 3,500 years and has roots in Zoroastrianism as a religious festival ushering in spring and

connected with ideas of death/rebirth. Nowruz has grown in popularity over the years and is recognized as

a public holiday in several countries. World leaders like President Obama and Canadian Prime Minister

Trudeau each gave public statements to recognize Nowruz this year.

The Israelites, Origins to 539 BCE

-no source provides definitive evidence for the historical background of the Israelites

-Israelites moved from the Mesopotamian city of Ur to Canaan and then to Egypt…by the thirteenth

century BCE the pharaohs had forced the Israelite men into slave-labor gangs

Then Pharaoh gave this order to all

his people: “Every Hebrew boy that is

born you must throw into the

Nile, but let every girl live.”

-God instructed Moses to lead the

Israelites out of bondage in Egypt against

the will of the king. God sent ten plagues

to compel the pharaoh to free the

Israelites, but the king still tried to

recapture them during their flight, God

therefore miraculously parted the sea to

allow them to escape eastward; the water

swirled back together and drowned the

pharaoh’s army as it tried to follow.

-Book of Exodus

Exodus 3:15

“…God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM” (I AM THAT I AM) and He said, “Thus you shall say to the sons of

Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.'” God, furthermore, said to Moses, “Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, ‘The

LORD, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.’

This is My name forever, and this is My memorial-name to all generations. “Go and gather the elders of Israel

together and say to them, ‘The LORD, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, has appeared

to me, saying, “I am indeed concerned about you and what has been done to you in Egypt.”

-In Hebrew, the name of God, “I am that I am”

(Ehyeh-Asher-Ehyeh) is traditionally written as the four

letters YHWH. These four letters are called the


-In the 1800s, a Hebrew scholar named Wilhelm Gesenius

proposed that the proper pronunciation of YHWH in

English is Yahweh and this is the commonly accepted

pronunciation by religious scholars and historians today,

although Jehovah is another proposed pronunciation.

-observant Jews use Hashem (“the Name”), El, Elohim, or Adonai

when speaking of God

-in the biblical narratives…the crucial event in the history of the

Israelites: the formalizing of a contractual agreement (a covenant)

between them and their deity, who revealed himself to Moses on Mount

Sinai in the desert northeast of Egypt. This contract between the

Israelites and Yahweh specified that, in return for their worshipping him

exclusively as their only god and living by his laws, Yahweh would make

them his chosen people and lead them into a promised land of safety and


-”The intimate God of Moses had mysteriously shared powers with his

creatures. He even treated his people as his equals by covenanting with

them. The supreme paradox was that this all-powerful Creator-God

sought a voluntary relation with his creatures.” (Daniel J. Boorstin,

The Seekers)

1.You shall have no other gods before Me.

2.You shall not make idols.

3.You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain.

4.Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.

5.Honor your father and your mother.

6.You shall not murder.

7.You shall not commit adultery.

8.You shall not steal.

9.You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

10.You shall not covet.

– “The Ten Commandments…made obedience the mark of the believer. This idea

would become, millennia later, the very heart of Islam (from Arabic, for

‘resignation,’ surrendering to God’s will.” (Daniel J. Boorstin, The Seekers)

10 Commandments

613 Commandments

-The Talmud records a sermon by the Rabbi Simlai in the 3rd century C.E. (circa

255) that lists 613 commandments, known as Mosaic Law

– 1. To know there is a G-d–Exodus 20:2

2. Not to entertain thoughts of other gods besides Him–Exodus 20:3

3. To know that He is one–Deuteronomy 6:4

4. To love Him–Deuteronomy 6:5

5. To fear Him–Deuteronomy 10:20

6. To sanctify His Name–Leviticus 22:32

7. Not to profane His Name–Leviticus 22:32

8. Not to destroy objects associated with His Name–Deuteronomy 12:4

9. To listen to the prophet speaking in His Name–Deuteronomy 18:15

10. Not to test the prophet unduly–Deuteronomy 6:16

“Probably there is more space given

to Moses in the Qur’an than to any

other Old Testament character, even

Abraham the Friend of God. The

figure and symbol of Moses in the

New Testament also outweighs that

of Abraham. Musa (Moses) is named

in thirty- four suras of the Qur’an and

in twelve books of the New

Testament. He is a popular topic of

legendary material in the Hadith and

the Church Fathers.”

-C. Umhau Wolf, “Moses in

Christian and Islamic Tradition,”,

Journal of Bible and Religion, Vol.

27, No. 2 (Apr., 1959), pp. 102-108

“I can’t mount a film of this

budget, where I have to

rely on tax rebates in

Spain, and say that my

lead actor is Mohammad

so-and-so from such-and-

such. I’m just not going to

get it financed. So the

question doesn’t even

come up.” -Ridley Scott

History of the Israelites

-the Israelites who fled Egypt with Moses made their

way back to Canaan [twelve Israelite tribes]…three

Israelite kings- Saul, David, Solomon…built a

temple…and daily animal sacrifices to God that

priests performed on the altar there became the

center of the Israelites’ religion

In 597 BCE, the Babylonians conquered Judah and

captured its capital, Jerusalem. In 586 BCE, they

destroyed the temple to Yahweh and banished the

Israelite leaders, along with much of the population,

to Babylon. In exile the Israelites learned about

Persian religion

-When the Persian king Cyrus

overthrew the Babylonians in 539

BCE, he permitted the Israelites to

return to their part of Canaan….

Cyrus allowed them to rebuild

their main temple in Jerusalem and

to practice their religion.

-Diaspora- dispersion of population,
came to characterize the history of

the Jewish people.

Zoroastrianism Influenced Judaism  Christianity 


-Zoroastrianism and Judaism came to share ideas, such as the existence of God and

Satan, angels and demons, God’s day of judgement, and the arrival of the messiah.

-”It was the Persian king of kings, Cyrus, who liberated the Hebrews from Babylon

and one of his successors, Darius, who organized and funded the return of some of

the captives to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem…[and this interaction with the

Persians who practiced Zoroastrianism] reorganised the traditional religion of

the Judaeans and Israelites. What emerged was a stricter monotheistic version

which was consistent with basic beliefs of the Persian imperial religion –


-Jewish prophets…preached that their defeats were divine

punishment for neglecting the Sinai covenant and mistreating the

poor. Some prophets also predicted the end of the present world

following a great crisis, a judgement by Yahweh, and salvation

leading to a new and better world. This apocalypticism

(revelation), recalling Babylonian prophetic wisdom literature,

would later provide the worldview of Christianity.

-Israelite monotheism made the preservation and

understanding of a sacred text, the Hebrew Bible (Torah), the

center of religious life. Making scripture the focus of religion

proved the most crucial development for the history not only

of Judaism but also of Christianity and Islam, because these

later religions made their own sacred texts—the Christian

Bible and the Qur’an…the centers of their belief and practice

-”…writing expanded tribal revelations into a world religion.”

(Boorstin, The Seekers)

Egyptian Religion  Zoroastrianism  Judaism  Christianity  Islam

Religious Influence


-the world can be reformed by human action

-moral duality (Good vs. Evil)

-personal morality/salvation

-end times

-sacred texts form focus of religion

-monotheism (one God)