The Dawn and Twilight of Zoroastrianism

The Dawn and Twilight of Zoroastrianism

The Dawn and Twilight of Zoroastrianism

The Dawn and Twilight of Zoroastrianism

Excerpt

The Historical Setting --The Iranians --The Medes --The Persians and the First Persian Empire--Macedonian and Parthian Interregnum --The Sassanian or Second Persian Empire -- The Parsees --Sources and Tradition --The Avesta --The Inscriptions --The Pahlavi Books--Difficulties of Interpretation

'Also sprach Zarathustra. . . .' 'Thus spake Zarathushtra. . . .' Who was Zarathushtra? and what words did he speak? Even today the average educated man knows nothing of Zarathushtra except that he is the mouthpiece used by Nietzsche to pronounce his doctrine of the superman. Yet never has a great religious thinker been more grossly travestied--travestied by his own followers who straightway obscured the purity of his monotheistic vision, travestied by the Magi in the Levant who presented him to the Graeco- Roman world not only as the author of a rigid religious dualism which made good and evil two rival and co-eternal principles, but also as a magician, astrologer, and quack, travestied by Nietzsche himself who fathered on him doctrines he would have found little to his taste, travestied again in these latter days by men reputed as scholars whose fuddled imaginations have seen in him either a witch-doctor bemusing himself with the fumes of Indian hemp or a political intriguer plotting behind the scenes at the court of the Persian king of kings.

The Historical Setting

Zarathushtra or Zoroaster as he is commonly called in the West, was none of these things: he was the Prophet of ancient Iran who, according to tradition, flourished in the seventh and sixth centuries BC. In his day the Iranian peoples had fanned out throughout not only modern Persia and Afghanistan but also large parts of what is now the Soviet Union--Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan. They included not only the Medes and Persians so familiar to the West through both the Bible and the Greek historians, but also the Parthians and beyond them to the east the lesser-known tribes--Chorasmians, Soghdians, Bactrians, and many more. It was among these tribes which seem to have composed a loose federation under the hegemony of Chorasmia that Zoroaster proclaimed his religion which in the end came to be accepted by the ruling house of Vishtāspa soon to be extinguished by the military might of Cyrus the Persian.

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