Historical Development of Zoroastrianism


Historical Development of Zoroastrianism
of Zoroastrianism
The principle of exposing the dead to birds and beastsof prey seemsto have been a
part of Zoroastrian life from earliest times. The Zend-Auesta commands the following
And two men, strongand agile,havingchanged
their garments,shalllift the body from the clayor
the stones,or out of the plasteredhouse,and they
shalllay it down at a placewherethey know that
dogs and corpse-eating
bi rds.l
Zoroastrian disposal of the dead occasionally runs into problems when the community is small and deaths are so infrequent that there are not large numbers of vultures
about the dal<hmas.On some occasions, non-Zoroastrian majorities protest against this
procedure. In such situations, it is permissible to bury the body in a stone casket lined
with lead to prevent contamination of the soil. Modern Zoroastrians sometimes live in
cities where the practice of exposing the dead may be frowned upon. This has caused
them to think of alternatives, such as cremation by means of electrical heat. In this manner, the flame may not be contaminated. Another alternative is to bury a body in a
completely sealedcasket so there is no chance of contaminating the earth.
of Zoroastrianism
Apparently, Zoroastrianism was well-established as the religion of the Persian people by
the sixth century B.c.E.It was therefore the religion of Cyrus the Great when he founded
the Medo-Persian Empire and ruled from 558 to 530 B.c.E.Cyrus is mentioned in the
Hebrew Bible as the liberator of the Jews from Babylonian captivity in 538 B.c.E.However,Zoroastrian sourcesdo not mention Cyrus or his contemporaries. The earliest
sourcesof information on the religion of the Persian Empire are inscriptions from the
time of Darius the Great (521,-486 B.c.E.).Although they indicate that the people of that
era worshipped Ahura Mazda, they do not mention Zotoastet
who createdthis excelA greatgod is Ahuramazda,
lent work which is seen,who createdhappiness
man, who bestowedwisdom and activityupon Darius
th e king.
SaysDariusthe king: By the favorof AhuramazdaI
am of sucha sort that I am a friendto the right, I am
not a friendto wrong; it is not my desirethat the
weak man shouldhavewrong done to him by the
mighty; nor is that my desire,that the mighty man
shouldhavewrong done him by the weak.
What is righ! that is my desire.I am not a friendto
the man who is a Lie-follower.I am not hot-tempered.
What thingsdevelopin my anger,I hold firmly under
control by my willpower.I am firmly ruling over my
own [impulses].20
Zoroastrian influence of people and religions other than the Persians is also
a marter of some speculation. Many_ ancient Greek and Roman writers werg apparqqtly
enamored of Zoroaster and his thoughts, and he is featured in many of theli writines.
r"ir;J #r.r.r"l"ri.;r?ti.
rtto"g there.pe.siadid
Etin(uer and htild the Middle Eastfor two centuries,and
its influ"ence
was very strong
on the peoplesof that area.The Jewscameunder Persiancontrol in 538 s.c.p.when
CyrusconqueredBabylon,where many Jewslived in captivity.Accordingto the Hebrew Bible, Cyrus allowed_thecaptiveJewsto return tolerusalem.2lApiarently a mi
nority of the Jewsreturned,but most stayedin Mesopotamiaand becanieu puri of th,
culture there.I{.r-he^b.ook
of Estheris correct, a Jewishwoman evenbecamethe wife of
qheklpg 9f P_-grs-ia.
How much influence didZoroastrianism have on Judaismduring this period?\We
cannbt be sure.However,there are certain changesi" itr. ttt.;togy'o?fud"ir;;;;*;;
thepre-exilicdaysof 586 s.c.E.and the post-e*i-iic
-have beginningin 5J8 e.c.E.Bibli';eLbg*s
;.- !\
{ I'r
the pgdgdJger t,o-586 a.cJ.
no s"atanfigure.How.u.r, ,f,.
fic; f#.tir*r.t)i"-;il;
1 )--v iA terresramental
f..qu.r,tly: in the New
t.' t \,
"Testamentliterature,they are acceptedas a regular
part of life.23Jesusis confrontedby
' Satanas he beginshis public ministrg and a largep"rt of that ministry is devoted
to exorcisingdemons'Pre-exilicbiblical bookshaveno mentionof a resurreg,tion
of the bodr..
little concernfor life g,fq.-e,1.{eath.in
either a hea_yeu-pr.!"91_1,'
no ,.fei."c. lo cod6'plan ror
bringingthe earthto
only an occasionai*."ii"" irr angels,and no *ord ubort
$ar lu$s+-e,1!.Each of thesethemes,which were part of the teachingsof Zoroastrianism, developedin Judaismafter the exile,and eachhad becomea vital part of the religion by thelpg of Jesus., .
The early Christiansincorporatedtheseitemsinto theii religion.I" [ai.i y.u6, it
'was the eschatologyof Judaismand Christianitythat most deeplyinfluencedih. proph.,
j Muhammad;judgmentday,resurrection,heaven,hell,
satan,de-ons, and angelsall'betu-: vital parts of.Islam.It 11rey.bp
'qgy lrom Zoro?stflaflrsrrr1
The Persian Empire was conquered by Alexander the Great in the fourth century
s.c.P. In the years that followed,,Zoroastrianism suffered a decline. The entire persian
culture was invaded by the pervasive Hellenistic culture. During the era of the Roman
Empire, Zoroastriatrism. also was quiescent. All that seemsto have been active
in this pewas-.thecrrlt o-f Mithra. The Roman Empire became acquainted with Mithra in
first century c.e. Mithra, the god
lighl anJ obedience,appealed esp,eciallyto the
Roman soldier; thusr-Mi1lqaic culli
weie establishedthroughout the entiie Mediterranean world. the woiihip or Mithra became so popular ,f,";r;;.
ri4lir; riilt'tiielrly chiistianity.
\rhen christianiiy*"r a*i-ril;.;Fii;i;.r,rir"
the Roman Empire,however,Mithraism was suppiessed.
A revivalof7s1o^tatianismoccurredin the third centuryc.E.underthe Sassanid
: rulers o!-l--ersia.Theserulers establishedofficial support for Zorijastridnism
and had the
-" ancrentscripturestranslatedinto contemporarylanguage.