1. The religion of Persia prior to the Mohammedan conquest. Its traditional founder is Zoroaster,* its sacred book the Avesta. (see also Zend-Avesta). Other sources are texts written in Pahlavi, the medieval Persian, collected from the 3d to the 9th c., of which the most important is the Bundahishn, a work containing cosmogony, mythology, and legend.
2. Before Zoroaster the religion of the Persians was a polytheistic nature worship (see Brahmanism). Among their deities were Mithra, the sun god, Ahura Mazdah, or Wise Lord, the sky god, a fire spirit, numerous evil spirits, called daevas. This nature worship was reformed by Zoroaster in the direction of a practical monotheism. Of the old gods he chose Ahura Mazdah (later Persian, Ormuzd) and ascribed to him absolute supremacy, rejecting all other gods. The name Mazdaism, therefore, is also applied to the Avestan religion. Zoroaster also taught an ethical dualism which, as Zoroastrianism, developed during the following centuries and became more and more pronounced until it was the most characteristic doctrine of the system.
3. Beside Ahura Mazdah, who is the creator of the universe, the guardian of mankind, the source of all that is good, and who demands righteousness of his people, there existed from eternity a powerful evil spirit, Angra Mainyu, or Ahriman, who is the source of all evil and the implacable opponent of Ahura Mazdah and who endeavors to lead men from the path of virtue. Between these two spirits is man, who has a free will to choose bet. good and evil and will be rewarded or punished accordingly. Characteristic of the system also is a well-developed angelology and eschatology.
4. Associated with Ahura Mazdah are a large number of good spirits, presided over by 6 archangels, the Amesha Spentas, or Immortal Holy Ones, who are personified attributes of the supreme deity and regarded as his main agencies. They are Good Thought, Best Righteousness, Wished-for Kingdom, Harmony on Earth, Salvation, Immortality.
5. Opposed to the good spirits and associated with Ahriman is a hierarchy of evil spirits. The conflict bet. these 2 forces will continue until the end of the world cycle, which consists of 12,000 years, when Ahura Mazdah will finally triumph and Ahriman be overthrown. The last period of 3,000 years of this cycle begins with Zoroaster's prophetic career.
6. Zoroaster's ethical code lays great stress on good thoughts, good words, good deeds. To be good, however, means chiefly to abstain from demon worship and to worship Ahura Mazdah and follow his precepts. Body and soul must be kept pure. It is also man's religious duty to foster agriculture, cattle raising, and irrigation, to protect especially the cow and the dog, to abstain from lying and robbery. The elements of earth, fire, and water must be kept from defilement. Because of the last injunction Zoroastrians neither bury nor cremate their dead, as thereby earth and fire would be defiled, but expose them to vultures on towers of silence. Forgiveness of sins has no place in the system; sins must be counterbalanced by good works. Three days after death the souls cross the Cinvat bridge to be judged, the righteous passing on to heaven, the wicked to the tortures of hell. If good and evil deeds balance exactly, the soul passes to an intermediate place, called Hamestakan (or Hamestagan; Hamistagan), where it experiences neither bliss nor torture.
7. At the Last Day all men will be raised from the dead and subjected to another ordeal. They must pass through molten metal, which causes joy to the good, but extreme pain to the wicked. After that all souls, even of the wicked, being purified, will be taken to heaven and a new world established, which shall endure to eternity.
8. Zoroaster's teachings did not involve a ritual. Later, however, a complete ceremonial worship and a priesthood developed (see Magi). Important rites were preparation of the haoma, a sacred drink, and in later centuries fire ceremonies (see Fire Worshipers). Marriage was a religious duty, and intermarriage of those closely related, even of brother and sister, was permitted. Zoroastrianism made considerable progress under the Achaemenian kings (558331 BC); but whether it was universally accepted during that period is not known. It received a setback through the conquest of Persia by Alexander the Great and under Greek and Parthian rule had difficulty in maintaining itself. In the Neo-Persian empire (226637), under the Sassanid dynasty, it again became the dominant religion; but after the Moslem conquest it began to decline rapidly, yielding to Shi>ite* Mohammedanism. Due to Moslem persecution many Zoroastrians emigrated to India, where they settled mainly at Bombay.
Edited by: Erwin L. Lueker, Luther Poellot, Paul Jackson
©Concordia Publishing House, 2000, All rights Reserved. Reproduced with Permission
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