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What Do We Know about the Mysterious Zoroaster?

Updated on September 2, 2017
Zoroaster holds the star-studded globe (upper right)
Zoroaster holds the star-studded globe (upper right)
Achaemenid Empire
Achaemenid Empire

Did this guy really invent magic?

Much has been written about Zoroaster – perhaps too much, because he couldn’t possibly be what many people think he was. Actually, he may never have existed!

Zoroaster, also known as Zarathustra or Zarantustra, lived sometime between the eighteenth and sixth centuries B.C.E, though some think he could have existed as long ago as 6000 B.C.E. You’d think scholars and scientists could narrow the timeline somewhat but apparently they haven’t been able to do so!

Zoroaster was the reputed founder of Zoroastrianism, perhaps the major religion of the Achaemenid Empire (a.k.a. the Persian Empire), which flourished from about 550 B.C.E. to 330 B.C.E, when Alexander the Great conquered its vast expanse. Modern Iran approximates the heart of the Achaemenid Empire.

Nobody seems to know where Zoroaster was born either, though many claim it happened in their country. Many Arabic sources assert he was born in Azerbaijan, a region in northwestern Iran, as opposed to the modern country known as such. In fact, so many countries have laid claim to Zoroaster that it has been suggested he was actually more than one person!

Be that as it may, there are two texts which comprise the sacred works of Zoroastrianism: the Gathas, containing some 5,660 words, and the Yasna Haptanghaiti. These are collections of hymns supposedly written by Zoroaster and both hold references to the life of the prophet. But there appears to be no historical Zoroaster, only collections of legends.

Here are a few lines from the Gathas:

Owing to the best thought, word and deed, inspired through righteousness, Ahura Mazda doth give unto us happiness, immortality (heaven), prosperity and perfect mindedness through Spenta-Mainyu (Beneficent spirit).

The Religion of Zoroastrianism

As the story goes, Zoroaster was given the light by Ahura Mazda, the highest god of the Old Iranian religion. Ahura Mazda was considered omniscient but not all-powerful, though he eventually defeats Angra Mainyu, the evil one. However, some experts think Zoroastrianism may be one of the first monotheistic religions.

According to the tenets of the religion, the purpose of humankind is to sustain Asa (the truth), as opposed to druj (the lie). Interestingly, according to the Younger Avesta, written centuries after the Gathas, Zoroaster was confronted by Angra Mainyu, who tempted him to reject his faith. This event may have some similarity to what happened to Jesus Christ when he was tempted by the devil in the wilderness, as written in three of the canonical Gospels.

Zoroastrianism influenced many other ancient civilizations. In Classic Greek philosophy Heraclitus was inspired by Zoroaster’s teachings. To many Greeks, Zoroaster was the sorcerer-astrologer. As for the Romans, Pliny the elder called Zoroaster the inventor of magic. And Christian-Judeo literature associates Zoroaster with Nimrod, a Babylonian and the inventor of astrology.

In fact, numerous books throughout antiquity have been attributed to Zoroaster, but all of these are certainly spurious. Nevertheless, Zoroaster and the religion he spawned have stood the test of time, as people still practice Zoroastrianism.

Probably of interest to many, Richard Strauss’ Opus 30, inspired by Friedrich Nietzsche’s book Also Sprach Zarathustra (Thus Spoke Zarathustra), was used during the prologue of the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Modern Discoveries at Archaeological Sites

In an article entitled “Seeking Zoroastrianism’s Roots” written by Andrew Lawler in the September/October 2011 issue of Archaeology magazine, the author suggests that Zoroaster may have been born in Balkh, once a major city on the Silk Road and now a small town in Northern Afghanistan. Incidentally, modern adherents of the Zoroastrianism call it “the good religion.”

The article goes on to say that In the mid-fifth century B.C.E., Herodotus the historian said that Persians worshipped the sun, moon and the elements, particularly fire. To Zoroastrians, fire is the manifestation of the deity Ahura Mazda. Archaeological sites dating from about 400 B.C.E. in Uzbekistan, Cheshm-e Shafa in northern Afghanistan and Nush-i-Jan in northeastern Iran show the ruins of Achaemenid period temples where Zoroastrian fire altars have been uncovered by archaeologists. But experts disagree on whether the Achaemenid Persians practiced Zoroastrianism, though it seems they almost certainly worshipped Ahura Mazda.

At any rate, Zoroaster and the religion he founded have made a lasting impact on other religions in the Middle East. Muslims adopted the practice of praying five times a day from Zoroastrianism, and Iranians still celebrate the beginning of spring, which was the religion’s holiest day. Also, at the birth of Jesus, three magi came from the east to see the Christ-child. These three were priests of “the good religion.”

Conclusion

Admittedly, there isn’t much information available about Zoroaster. Nobody knows for certain where he was born - or that he was ever born. But, since the name Zoroaster has been thrown around throughout history, his name seems synonymous with mystery, exotic knowledge, magic and astrological notions. Thus, in a fashion, if you know Zoroaster, you know the wisdom of the ages!

Please leave a comment.

© 2011 Kelley

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    • Kosmo profile imageAUTHOR

      Kelley 

      4 years ago from California

      Thanks for the comment, tfox62@yahoo.com. Must of the source material for this article came from Wikipedia and that magazine article I cited in the article. As for myself, I don't know much about Nimrod. Sorry. Later!

    • tfox62@yahoo.com profile image

      Tammy 

      4 years ago

      This article has answered allot of questions I have been struggling with for the last few years. Would you mind supplying where you have gotten your information regarding Zoroaster as Nimrod. Great article keep up the good work.

    • profile image

      Tohir 

      6 years ago

      I think the author is completely right. There is no doubt that there are were more than one Zarathustras. Ancient Iranian tribes called all their prophets Zarathustras. I think Gathas, Avesta and Dasatir had been revealed at different times and by different authors

    • profile image

      fordie 

      6 years ago

      Life would be more interesting!

    • Kosmo profile imageAUTHOR

      Kelley 

      6 years ago from California

      I'm always happy to open dimensions, fordie. We could always use another two or three, couldn't we? Later!

    • profile image

      fordie 

      6 years ago

      Awesome. This is an area that I am deeply interested in and you have added another dimension

    • profile image

      Zoroastrian 

      6 years ago

      The Gathic texts had to be composed by someone, I think they are the key to who the real Zoroaster was.

    • Kosmo profile imageAUTHOR

      Kelley 

      6 years ago from California

      Thanks for the comment, IntimatEvolution! Zoroaster is definitely interesting subject matter. Later!

    • IntimatEvolution profile image

      Julie Grimes 

      6 years ago from Columbia, MO USA

      I agree with Peter up there.

      Interesting article.

    • Kosmo profile imageAUTHOR

      Kelley 

      6 years ago from California

      Thanks for the comments, Seeker7 and Cardisa. Much of what Zoroaster seems responsible for developed over hundreds if not thousands of years. Therefore, he couldn't possibly be what many people think he is. He's one of those composite characters or, indeed, more than one person. Later!

    • Cardisa profile image

      Carolee Samuda 

      6 years ago from Jamaica

      During the eras you mentioned there were a lot of experimenting with Alchemy, Astrology, Black Magic and other crafts. I am not surprised abouh this particular religion. Quite a few of them existed then.

    • Seeker7 profile image

      Helen Murphy Howell 

      6 years ago from Fife, Scotland

      Very interesting hub about this enigmatic person or 'persons'. It seems likely this Zoroaster may well remain in the world of legend than become a reality - but who knows? Many thanks for sharing this fascinating hub!

    • Kosmo profile imageAUTHOR

      Kelley 

      6 years ago from California

      Thanks for the comment, Christofers Flow. I try to stay as "nondogmatic" as I can in all matters. Later!

    • Christofers Flow profile image

      Christofer French 

      6 years ago from Denver

      Great job. Thorough, nondogmatic. Easy to read. Wonderful work. Keep writing.

    • Kosmo profile imageAUTHOR

      Kelley 

      6 years ago from California

      Thanks for the comment, Peter Lumetta. Zoroaster is an interesting read, even though his existence could be little more than legend. Later!

    • PETER LUMETTA profile image

      PETER LUMETTA 

      6 years ago from KENAI, ALAKSA

      A tempting look at an old belief. A reason to look further, Thanks,

      Peter

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