For other uses, see Zoroaster (disambiguation).
"Zarathustra" redirects here. For other uses, see Zarathustra (disambiguation).
𐬰𐬀𐬭𐬀𐬚𐬎𐬱𐬙𐬭𐬀 Zaraθuštra

A 3rd century fresco from Dura-Europos in modern Syria, depicting Zoroaster in religious garb.
Born c. 1500-650 BCE
Died c. 1000-500 BCE
Venerated in Zoroastrianism
Bahá'í Faith
Attributes Founder of Zoroastrianism

Zoroaster (/ˌzɒrˈæstər/ or /ˈzɒrˌæstər/, from Greek Ζωροάστρης Zōroastrēs from Persian: زرتشت Zartosht)—also known as Zarathustra (/ˌzɑːrəˈθstrə/; Avestan: 𐬰𐬀𐬭𐬀𐬚𐬎𐬱𐬙𐬭𐬀] Zaraθuštra), Zarathushtra Spitama, or Ashu Zarathushtra — was the prophet of ancient Iran, whose transformation of his inherited religion, Zoroastrianism, inaugurated a movement that eventually became the dominant religion in Iran up until the triumph of Islam. He was a native speaker of Old Avestan and lived in the eastern part of the Iranian Plateau, but his exact birthplace is uncertain.[1][2]

Zoroaster dating is uncertain as there is no scholarship consensus,[3] on linguistic and socio-cultural evidence is dated around 1000 BCE and earlier, while others put him in the 7th and 6th century BCE as a contemporary or near-contemporary of Cyrus the Great and Darius I.[4][5][6][7] Zoroastrianism was already an old religion when was first recorded, and it was the official religion of Persian Empires (Modern Iran) and its distant subdivisions from 6th century BCE to 7th century CE.[8] He is credited with the authorship of the Yasna Haptanghaiti as well as the Gathas, hymns which are at the liturgical core of Zoroastrian thinking. Most of his life is known through the Zoroastrian texts.[1]

By any modern standard of historiography, no strictly historical evidence can place him into a fixed period, and the historicization surrounding him is part of a trend from before the 10th century which historicizes legends and myths.[9]


Zoroaster's name in his native language, Avestan, was probably Zaraϑuštra. His English name, "Zoroaster", derives from a later (5th century BC) Greek transcription, Zōroastrēs (Ζωροάστρης),[10] as used in Xanthus's Lydiaca (Fragment 32) and in Plato's First Alcibiades (122a1). This form appears subsequently in the Latin Zōroastrēs and, in later Greek orthographies, as Zōroastris. The Greek form of the name appears to be based on a phonetic transliteration or semantic substitution of Avestan zaraϑ- with the Greek zōros (literally "undiluted") and the Avestan -uštra with astron ("star").

In Avestan, Zaraϑuštra is generally accepted to derive from an Old Iranian *Zaratuštra-; The element half of the name (-uštra-) is thought to be the Indo-Iranian root for "camel", with the entire name meaning "he who can manage camels".[11][a] Reconstructions from later Iranian languages—particularly from the Middle Persian (300 BC) Zardusht, which is the form that the name took in the 9th- to 12th-century Zoroastrian texts—suggest that *Zaratuštra- might be a zero-grade form of *Zarantuštra-.[11] Subject then to whether Zaraϑuštra derives from *Zarantuštra- or from *Zaratuštra-, several interpretations have been proposed.[b]

If Zarantuštra is the original form, it may mean "with old/aging camels",[11] related to Avestic zarant-.[10] (cf. Pashto zōṛ and Ossetian zœrond, "old"; Middle Persian zāl, "old")[12]

But if Zaratuštra-, meaning "[owner of the] golden camel", is correct, it is derived from old Eastern Iranian word *zar- for gold and ushtra for camel. An Eastern Iranian origin is also suggested by the fact that the Old Persian word dar as a Western-Iranian dialect would be the equal term of Eastern Iranian zar, and Modern Persian uses the Eastern Iranian word for gold.[14]

The interpretation of the -ϑ- (/θ/) in Avestan zaraϑuštra was for a time itself subjected to heated debate because the -ϑ- is an irregular development: As a rule, *zarat- (a first element that ends in a dental consonant) should have Avestan zarat- or zarat̰- as a development from it. Why this is not so for zaraϑuštra has not yet been determined. Notwithstanding the phonetic irregularity, that Avestan zaraϑuštra with its -ϑ- was linguistically an actual form is shown by later attestations reflecting the same basis.[11] All present-day, Iranian-language variants of his name derive from the Middle Iranian variants of Zarϑošt, which, in turn, all reflect Avestan's fricative -ϑ-.


There is no consensus on the dating of Zoroaster, the Avesta gives no direct information about it, while historical sources are conflicting. Some scholars base the date reconstruction on the Proto-Indo-Iranian language and Proto-Indo-Iranian religion,[8] and thus it is considered some place in the north-east and time between 1500 and 500 BCE.[17][18][19][20]

Many scholars like Mary Boyce (1700-1000 BCE) used linguistic and socio-cultural evidence to place Zoroaster between 1500 and 1000 BCE (or 1200 and 900 BCE).[5][20] The basis of this theory is primarily proposed on linguistic similarities between the Old Avestan language of the Zoroastrian Gathas and the Sanskrit of the Rigveda (c. 1700–1100 BCE), a collection of early Vedic hymns. Both texts are considered to have a common archaic Indo-Iranian origin. The Gathas pictures an ancient Stone-Bronze Age bipartite society of warrior-herdsmen and priests (compared to Bronze tripartite society; some consider it depicts the Yaz culture[21]), and thus it is implausible that the Gathas and Rigveda could have been composed more than a few centuries apart. These scholars suggest that Zoroaster lived in an isolated tribe or composed the Gathas before the 1200-1000 BCE migration by the Iranians from the steppe to the Iranian Plateau.[4][22][5][23][24] The shortfall of the argument is the vague comparison, and the archaic language of Gathas does not necessarily indicate time difference.[3][19]

Other scholars propose a period between 7th and 6th century, for example, c. 650-600 BCE or 559-522 BCE.[19][20] The latest possible date is the mid 6th century, at the time of Achaemenid Empire's Darius I, or his predecessor Cyrus the Great. This date gains credence mainly on the thesis that certain figures must be based on historical facts,[20] thus some have related the mythical Vishtaspa with Darius I's father Vishtaspa (or Hystaspes in Greek) with the account on Zoroasters life. However, in the Avesta it should not be ignored that Vishtaspa's son became the ruler of the Persian Empire, Darius I would not ignore to include his patron-father in the Behistun Inscription. The most likely conclusion is that Darius I's father was named in honor of the Zoroastrian patron, indicating probable Zoroastrian faith by Arsames.[25]

Classical scholarship in the 6th to 4th century BCE believed he existed six thousand years before Xerxes I invasion of Greece in 480 BCE (Xanthus, Eudoxus, Aristotle, Hermippus), which is a possible misunderstanding of the Zoroastrian four cycles of 3000 years i.e. 12,000 years.[3][26][27][28] This belief is recorded by Diogenes Laërtius, and variant readings could place it six hundred years before Xerxes I, somewhere before 1000 BCE.[19] However, Diogenes also mentions Hermodorus' belief that Zoroaster lived five thousand years before the Trojan War, which would mean he lived around 6200 BCE.[19] The 10th-century Suda, provides a date of "500 years before Plato".[3] Pliny the Elder cited Eudoxus who also placed his death six thousand years before Plato, c. 6300 BCE.[19] Other pseudo-historical constructions are those of Aristoxenus who recorded certain Zaratas the Chaldeaean to have taught Pythagoras in Babylon,[3] or lived at the time of mythological Ninus and Semiramis.[29] According to Pliny the Elder, there were two Zoroasters. The first lived thousands of years ago, while the second accompanied Xerxes I in the invasion of Greece in 480 BCE.[3] Some scholars propose that the chronological calculation for Zoroaster was developed by Persian magi in the 4th century BCE, and as the early Greeks learned about him from the Achaemenids, this indicates they did not regard him as a contemporary of Cyrus the Great, but as a remote figure.[30]

Some later pseudo-historical sources (the Bundahishn, "258 years before Alexander") place Zoroaster in the 6th century BC,[31] which coincided with the accounts by Ammianus Marcellinus from 4th century CE. The traditional Zoroastrian date originates in the period immediately following Alexander the Great's conquest of the Achaemenid Empire in 330 BC.[19] The Seleucid rulers who gained power following Alexander's death instituted an "Age of Alexander" as the new calendrical epoch. This did not appeal to the Zoroastrian priesthood who then attempted to establish an "Age of Zoroaster". To do so, they needed to establish when Zoroaster had lived, which they accomplished by (erroneous, some even identified Cyrus with Vishtaspa[32]) counting back the length of successive generations, until they concluded that Zoroaster must have lived "258 years before Alexander".[3][33] This estimate then re-appeared in the 9th- to 12th-century Arabic and Pahlavi texts of Zoroastrian tradition,[c] like the 10th century Al-Masudi who cited a (invented) prophecy from lost Avestan book in which Zoroaster foretold the empire's destruction in three hundred years, but the religion would last for a thousand years.[34]


Painted clay and alabaster head of a Zoroastrian priest wearing a distinctive Bactrian-style headdress, Takhti-Sangin, Tajikistan, Greco-Bactrian kingdom, 3rd-2nd century BC

The birth place of Zoroaster is also unknown, and the language of the Gathas is not similar to the proposed north-western and north-eastern regional dialects of Persia. It is also suggested that he was born in one of either area, and later lived in the other area.[35]

Yasna 9 and 17 cite the Ditya River in Airyanem Vaējah (Middle Persian Ērān Wēj) as Zoroaster's home and the scene of his first appearance. The Avesta (both Old and Younger portions) does not mention the Achaemenids or of any West Iranian tribes such as the Medes, Persians, or even Parthians. The Farvardin Yasht references to some Iranian peoples are unknown in the Greek and Achaemenid sources about the 6th and 5th century BCE Eastern Iran. The Vendidad contain seventeen regional names, most of which are located in north-eastern and eastern Iran.[36]

However, in Yasna 59.18, the zaraϑuštrotema, or supreme head of the Zoroastrian priesthood, is said to reside in 'Ragha' (Badakhshan).[1] In the 9th- to 12th-century Middle Persian texts of Zoroastrian tradition, this 'Ragha'—along with many other places—appear as locations in Western Iran. While the land of Media does not figure at all in the Avesta (the westernmost location noted in scripture is Arachosia), the Būndahišn, or "Primordial Creation," (20.32 and 24.15) puts Ragha in Media (medieval Rai). However, in Avestan, Ragha is simply a toponym meaning "plain, hillside."[37]

Apart from these indications in Middle Persian sources which are open to interpretations, there are a number of other sources. The Greek and Latin sources are divided on the birthplace of Zarathustra. There are many Greek accounts of Zarathustra, referred usually as Persian or Perso-Median Zoroaster; Ctesias located him in Bactria, Diodorus Siculus placed him among Ariaspai (in Sistan),[1] Cephalion and Justin suggest east of greater Iran whereas Pliny and Origen suggest west of Iran as his birthplace.[35] Moreover, they have the suggestion that there has been more than one Zoroaster.[38]

On the other hand, in post-Islamic sources Shahrastani (1086–1153) an Iranian writer originally from Shahristān, present-day Turkmenistan, proposed that Zoroaster's father was from Atropatene (also in Medea) and his mother was from Rey. Coming from a reputed scholar of religions, this was a serious blow for the various regions who all claimed that Zoroaster originated from their homelands, some of which then decided that Zoroaster must then have then been buried in their regions or composed his Gathas there or preached there.[39][40] Also Arabic sources of the same period and the same region of historical Persia consider Azerbaijan as the birthplace of Zarathustra.[35]

By the late 20th century, most scholars had settled on an origin in Eastern Iran. Gnoli proposed Sistan, Baluchistan (though in a much wider scope than the present-day province) as the homeland of Zoroastrianism; Frye voted for Bactria and Chorasmia;[41] Khlopin suggests the Tedzen Delta in present-day Turkmenistan.[42] Sarianidi considered the Bactria–Margiana Archaeological Complex region as "the native land of the Zoroastrians and, probably, of Zoroaster himself."[43] Boyce includes the steppes to the west from the Volga.[44] The medieval "from Media" hypothesis is no longer taken seriously, and Zaehner has even suggested that this was a Magi-mediated issue to garner legitimacy, but this has been likewise rejected by Gershevitch and others.

The 2005 Encyclopedia Iranica article on the history of Zoroastrianism summarizes the issue with "while there is general agreement that he did not live in western Iran, attempts to locate him in specific regions of eastern Iran, including Central Asia, remain tentative".[45]


The rings of the Fravashi'.

Zoroaster is recorded as the son of Pourušaspa of the Spitaman or Spitamids (Avestan spit mean "brilliant" or "white; some argue that Spitama was a remote progenitor) family,[46] and Dugdōw,[35] while his great-grandfather was Haēčataspa. All the names appear appropriate of the nomadic tradition, as father's mean "possessing gray horses" (with the word aspa meaning horse), while mother's "milkmaid". According to the tradition, he had four brothers, two older and two younger, whose name are given in much later Pahlavi work.[47]

The training for priesthood probably started very early around seven years of age.[48] He became a priest probably around the age of fifteen, and according to Gathas, he gained knowledge from other teachers and personal experience from traveling when left his parents as twenty years old.[49] By the age of thirty, he experienced revelation during spring festival; on the river bank he saw a shining Being, who revealed himself as Vohu Manah (Good Purpose) and taught him about Ahura Mazda (Wise Spirit) and five other radiant figures. Zoroaster soon became aware of the existence of two primal Spirits, the second being Angra Mainyu (Hostile Spirit), with opposing concepts of Asha (truth) and Druj (lie). Thus he decided to spend his life teaching people to seek Asha.[50] He received further revelations and saw a vision of the seven Amesha Spenta, and his teachings were collected in the Gathas and the Avesta.[51]

He taught about free will,[52] and opposed the use of the hallucinogenic Haoma plant in rituals, polytheism, over-ritualising religious ceremonies and animal sacrifices, as well an oppressive class system in Persia which earned him strong opposition among local authorities.[53] Eventually, at the age of about forty-two, he received the patronage of queen Hutaosa and a ruler named Vishtaspa, an early adherent of Zoroastrianism (possibly from Bactria according to the Shahnameh).[54] Zoroaster's teaching about individual judgment, Heaven and Hell, resurrection of the body, Last Judgment, and everlasting life for the reunited soul and body, among others became borrowings in the Abrahamic religions, but they lost the context of the original teaching.[55]

Disciples of Zoroaster centered in Nineveh.

According to the tradition he lived for many years after Vishtaspa conversion, managed to establish a faithful community,[56] and married three times. First two wives bore him three sons and three daughters. His third wife Hvōvi was childless.[57][58]


According to the tradition Zoroaster died when he was 77 years and 40 days.[59] The later Pahlavi sources like Shahnameh, however claim an obscure conflict with Tuiryas people, in which Zoroaster was murdered by karapan (old religion priest) Brādrēs.[60]


In Islam

Further information: Daeva, Jinn, Ifrit, Iblis, and Angra Mainyu

A number of parallels have been drawn between Zoroastrian teachings and Islam. Such parallels include the evident similarities between Amesha Spenta and the archangel Gabriel, and the mention of Thamud and the Iram of the Pillars in the Quran. These may also indicate the vast influence of the Achaemenid Empire on the development of either religion.[52]

The Sabaeans who practiced Free Will coincident with Zoroastrians are also mentioned in the Quran.[52]

Muslim scholastic views

Main article: Shahnameh
An 8th-century Tang dynasty Chinese clay figurine of a Sogdian man (an Eastern Iranian person) wearing a distinctive cap and face veil, possibly a camel rider or even a Zoroastrian priest engaging in a ritual at a fire temple, since face veils were used to avoid contaminating the holy fire with breath or saliva; Museum of Oriental Art (Turin), Italy.[61]

Like the Greeks of classical antiquity, Islamic tradition understands Zoroaster to be the founding prophet of the Magians (via Aramaic, Arabic Majus, collective Majusya). The 11th-century Cordoban Ibn Hazm (Zahiri school) contends that Kitabi "of the Book" cannot apply in light of the Zoroastrian assertion that their books were destroyed by Alexander. Citing the authority of the 8th-century al-Kalbi, the 9th- and 10th-century Sunni historian al-Tabari (i.648)[62] reports that Zaradusht bin Isfiman (an Arabic adaptation of "Zarathustra Spitama") was an inhabitant of Israel and a servant of one of the disciples of the prophet Jeremiah. According to this tale, Zaradusht defrauded his master, who cursed him, causing him to become leprous (cf. Elisha's servant Gehazi in Jewish Scripture).

The apostate Zaradusht then eventually made his way to Balkh (present day Afghanistan) where he converted Bishtasb (i.e. Vishtaspa), who in turn compelled his subjects to adopt the religion of the Magians. Recalling other tradition, al-Tabari (i.681–683[62]) recounts that Zaradusht accompanied a Jewish prophet to Bishtasb/Vishtaspa. Upon their arrival, Zaradusht translated the sage's Hebrew teachings for the king and so convinced him to convert (Tabari also notes that they had previously been Sabis) to the Magian religion.[62]

The 12th-century heresiographer al-Shahrastani describes the Majusiya into three sects, the Kayumarthiya, the Zurwaniya and the Zaradushtiya, among which Al-Shahrastani asserts that only the last of the three were properly followers of Zoroaster. As regards the recognition of a prophet, Zoroaster has said: "They ask you as to how should they recognize a prophet and believe him to be true in what he says; tell them what he knows the others do not, and he shall tell you even what lies hidden in your nature; he shall be able to tell you whatever you ask him and he shall perform such things which others cannot perform." (Namah Shat Vakhshur Zartust, .5–7. 50–54) When the companions of Muhammad, on invading Persia, came in contact with the Zoroastrian people and learned these teachings, they at once came to the conclusion that Zoroaster was really a Divinely inspired prophet. Thus they accorded the same treatment to the Zoroastrian people which they did to other "People of the Book".

Though the name of Zoroaster is not mentioned in the Qur'an, still he was regarded as one of those prophets whose names have not been mentioned in the Qur'an, for there is a verse in the Qur'an: "And We did send apostles before thee: there are some of them that We have mentioned to thee and there are others whom We have not mentioned to Thee." (40 : 78). Accordingly, the Muslims treated the founder of Zoroastrianism as a true prophet and believed in his religion as they did in other inspired creeds, and thus according to the prophecy, protected the Zoroastrian religion. James Darmesteter remarked in the translation of Zend Avesta: "When Islam assimilated the Zoroastrians to the People of the Book, it evinced a rare historical sense and solved the problem of the origin of the Avesta." (Introduction to Vendidad. p. 69.)

Ahmadiyya view

Ahmadi Muslims view Zoroaster as a Prophet of God and describe the expressions of Ahura Mazda, the God of goodness and Ahraman, the God of evil as merely referring to the coexistence of forces of good and evil enabling humans to exercise free will. Mirza Tahir Ahmad, the fourth Caliph of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, in his book Revelation, Rationality, Knowledge & Truth views Zoroaster as Prophet of God and describes such the expressions to be a concept which is similar to the concepts in Judaism, Christianity and Islam.[63]

In Manichaeism

Manichaeism considered Zoroaster to be a figure (along with Jesus and the Buddha) in a line of prophets of which Mani (216–276) was the culmination.[64] Zoroaster's ethical dualism is—to an extent—incorporated in Mani's doctrine, which viewed the world as being locked in an epic battle between opposing forces of good and evil.[65] Manicheanism also incorporated other elements of Zoroastrian tradition, particularly the names of supernatural beings; however, many of these other Zoroastrian elements are either not part of Zoroaster's own teachings or are used quite differently from how they are used in Zoroastrianism.[66][67]

In the Bahá'í Faith

Zoroaster appears in the Bahá'í Faith as a "Manifestation of God", one of a line of prophets who have progressively revealed the Word of God to a gradually maturing humanity. Zoroaster thus shares an exalted station with Abraham, Moses, Krishna, Jesus, Muhammad, the Báb, and the founder of the Bahá'í Faith, Bahá'u'lláh.[68] Shoghi Effendi, the head of the Bahá'í Faith in the first half of the 20th century, saw Bahá'u'lláh as the fulfillment of a post-Sassanid Zoroastrian prophecy that saw a return of Sassanid emperor Bahram:[69] Shoghi Effendi also stated that Zoroaster lived roughly 1000 years before Jesus.[z]


Detail of The School of Athens by Raphael, 1509, showing Zoroaster (left, with star-studded globe).

In the Gathas, Zoroaster sees the human condition as the mental struggle between aša (truth) and druj (lie). The cardinal concept of aša—which is highly nuanced and only vaguely translatable—is at the foundation of all Zoroastrian doctrine, including that of Ahura Mazda (who is aša), creation (that is aša), existence (that is aša) and as the condition for free will.

The purpose of humankind, like that of all other creation, is to sustain aša. For humankind, this occurs through active participation in life and the exercise of constructive thoughts, words and deeds.

Elements of Zoroastrian philosophy entered the West through their influence on Judaism and Middle Platonism and have been identified as one of the key early events in the development of philosophy.[70] Among the classic Greek philosophers, Heraclitus is often referred to as inspired by Zoroaster's thinking.[71]

In 2005, the Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy ranked Zarathustra as first in the chronology of philosophers.[72][73] Zarathustra's impact lingers today due in part to the system of rational ethics he founded called Mazda-Yasna. The word Mazda-Yasna is avestan and is translated as "Worship of Wisdom" in English. Zoroastrians later educated the Greeks, who used a similar term, philosophy, or “love of wisdom,” to describe the search for ultimate truth.

Zoroaster emphasized the freedom of the individual to choose right or wrong and individual responsibility for one's deeds. This personal choice to accept aša or arta (the divine order), and shun druj (ignorance and chaos) is one's own decision and not a dictate of Ahura Mazda. For Zarathustra, by thinking good thoughts, saying good words, and doing good deeds (e.g. assisting the needy or doing good works) we increase this divine force aša or arta in the world and in ourselves, celebrate the divine order, and we come a step closer on the everlasting road to being one with the Creator. Thus, we are not the slaves or servants of Ahura Mazda, but we can make a personal choice to be his co-workers, thereby refreshing the world and ourselves.


Zoroastrian devotional art depicts the religion's founder with white clothing and a long beard

Although a few recent depictions of Zoroaster show the prophet performing some deed of legend, in general the portrayals merely present him in white vestments (which are also worn by present-day Zoroastrian priests). He often is seen holding a baresman (Avestan; Middle Persian barsom), which is generally considered to be another symbol of priesthood, or with a book in hand, which may be interpreted to be the Avesta. Alternatively, he appears with a mace, the varza—usually stylized as a steel rod crowned by a bull's head—that priests carry in their installation ceremony. In other depictions he appears with a raised hand and thoughtfully lifted finger, as if to make a point.

Zoroaster is rarely depicted as looking directly at the viewer; instead, he appears to be looking slightly upwards, as if beseeching. Zoroaster is almost always depicted with a beard, this along with other factors bearing similarities to 19th-century portraits of Jesus.[74]

A common variant of the Zoroaster images derives from a Sassanid-era rock-face carving. In this depiction at Taq-e Bostan, a figure is seen to preside over the coronation of Ardashir I or II. The figure is standing on a lotus, with a baresman in hand and with a gloriole around his head. Until the 1920s, this figure was commonly thought to be a depiction of Zoroaster, but in recent years is more commonly interpreted to be a depiction of Mithra. Among the most famous of the European depictions of Zoroaster is that of the figure in Raphael's 1509 The School of Athens. In it, Zoroaster and Ptolemy are having a discussion in the lower right corner. The prophet is holding a star-studded globe.

Western civilization

In classical antiquity

Although, at the core, the Greeks (in the Hellenistic sense of the term) understood Zoroaster to be the "prophet and founder of the religion of the Iranian peoples" (e.g. Plutarch Isis and Osiris 46-7, Diogenes Laertius 1.6–9 and Agathias 2.23-5), "the rest was mostly fantasy".[75] He was set in the impossibly ancient past, six to seven millennia before the Common Era, and was variously a king of Bactria, or a Babylonian (or teacher of Babylonians), and with a biography typical for every Neopythagorean sage, i.e. a mission preceded by ascetic withdrawal and enlightenment.[75]

Most importantly however, was their picture of Zoroaster as the sorcerer-astrologer non-plus-ultra, and indeed as the "inventor" of both magic and astrology. Deriving from that image, and reinforcing it, was a "mass of literature"[76] attributed to him and that circulated the Mediterranean world from the 3rd century BC to the end of antiquity and beyond. "The Greeks considered the best wisdom to be exotic wisdom" and "what better and more convenient authority than the distant—temporally and geographically—Zoroaster?"[77]

The language of that literature was predominantly Greek, though at one stage or another various parts of it passed through Aramaic, Syriac, Coptic or Latin. Its ethos and cultural matrix was likewise Hellenistic, and "the ascription of literature to sources beyond that political, cultural and temporal framework represents a bid for authority and a fount of legitimizing "alien wisdom". Zoroaster and the magi did not compose it, but their names sanctioned it."[76] The attributions to "exotic" names (not restricted to magians) conferred an "authority of a remote and revelatory wisdom."[78]

Once the magi were associated with magic in Greek imagination, Zoroaster was bound to metamorphose into a magician too. The 1st-century Pliny the Elder names Zoroaster as the inventor of magic (Natural History 30.2.3). "However, a principle of the division of labor appears to have spared Zoroaster most of the responsibility for introducing the dark arts to the Greek and Roman worlds." That "dubious honor" went to the "fabulous magus, Ostanes, to whom most of the pseudepigraphic magical literature was attributed."[79] Although Pliny calls him the inventor of magic, the Roman does not provide a "magician's persona" for him.[79] Moreover, the little "magical" teaching that is ascribed to Zoroaster is actually very late, with the very earliest example being from the 14th century.[80]

One factor for the association with astrology was Zoroaster's name, or rather, what the Greeks made of it. Within the scheme of Greek thinking (which was always on the lookout for hidden significances and "real" meanings of words) his name was identified at first with star-worshiping (astrothytes "star sacrificer") and, with the Zo-, even as the living star. Later, an even more elaborate mythoetymology evolved: Zoroaster died by the living (zo-) flux (-ro-) of fire from the star (-astr-) which he himself had invoked, and even, that the stars killed him in revenge for having been restrained by him.

Similar ideas about Zoroaster also appear in early Christian literature, beginning with the Clementine Homilies 9.4–5, which identifies him with a parallel series of traditions about Nimrod having been the founder of astrology. In this account, Nimrod is killed by lightning and posthumously deified by the Persians as "Zoroaster, on account of the living (zosan) stream of the star (asteros) being poured upon him."[81]

The second, and "more serious"[82] factor for the association with astrology was the notion that Zoroaster was a Babylonian. The alternate Greek name for Zoroaster was Zaratas/Zaradas/Zaratos (cf. Agathias 2.23-5, Clement Stromata I.15), which—so Cumont and Bidez—derived from a Semitic form of his name. The Pythagorean tradition considered the mathematician to have studied with Zoroaster in Babylonia (Porphyry Life of Pythagoras 12, Alexander Polyhistor apud Clement's Stromata I.15, Diodorus of Eritrea, Aristoxenus apud Hippolitus VI32.2). Lydus (On the Months II.4) attributes the creation of the seven-day week to "the Babylonians in the circle of Zoroaster and Hystaspes," and who did so because there were seven planets. The Suda's chapter on astronomia notes that the Babylonians learned their astrology from Zoroaster. Lucian of Samosata (Mennipus 6) decides to journey to Babylon "to ask one of the magi, Zoroaster's disciples and successors," for their opinion.

While the division along the lines of Zoroaster/astrology and Ostanes/magic is an "oversimplification, the descriptions do at least indicate what the works are not." They were not expressions of Zoroastrian doctrine, they were not even expressions of what the Greeks and Romans "imagined the doctrines of Zoroastrianism to have been."[78] The assembled fragments do not even show noticeable commonality of outlook and teaching among the several authors who wrote under each name.

Almost all Zoroastrian pseudepigrapha is now lost, and of the attested texts—with only one exception—only fragments have survived. Pliny's 2nd- or 3rd-century attribution of "two million lines" to Zoroaster suggest that (even if exaggeration and duplicates are taken into consideration) a formidable pseudepigraphic corpus once existed at the Library of Alexandria. This corpus can safely be assumed to be pseudepigrapha because no one before Pliny refers to literature by "Zoroaster",[83] and on the authority of the 2nd-century Galen of Pergamon and from a 6th-century commentator on Aristotle it is known that the acquisition policies of well-endowed royal libraries created a market for fabricating manuscripts of famous and ancient authors.[83]

The exception to the fragmentary evidence (i.e. reiteration of passages in works of other authors) is a complete Coptic tractate titled Zostrianos (after the first-person narrator) discovered in the Nag Hammadi library in 1945. A three-line cryptogram in the colophones following the 131-page treatise identify the work as "words of truth of Zostrianos. God of Truth [logos]. Words of Zoroaster."[84] Invoking a "God of Truth" might seem Zoroastrian, but there is otherwise "nothing noticeably Zoroastrian" about the text and "in content, style, ethos and intention, its affinities are entirely with the congeners among the Gnostic tractates."[85]

Among the named works attributed to "Zoroaster" is a treatise On Nature (Peri physeos), which appears to have originally constituted four volumes (i.e. papyrus rolls). The framework is a retelling of Plato's Myth of Er, with Zoroaster taking the place of the original hero. While Porphyry imagined Pythagoras listening to Zoroaster's discourse, On Nature has the sun in middle position, which was how it was understood in the 3rd century. In contrast, Plato's 4th-century BC version had the sun in second place above the moon. Ironically, Colotes accused Plato of plagiarizing Zoroaster,[86][87] and Heraclides Ponticus wrote a text titled Zoroaster based on (what the author considered) "Zoroastrian" philosophy in order to express his disagreement with Plato on natural philosophy.[88] With respect to substance and content in On Nature only two facts are known: that it was crammed with astrological speculations, and that Necessity (Ananké) was mentioned by name and that she was in the air.

Another work circulating under the name of "Zoroaster" was the Asteroskopita (or Apotelesmatika), and which ran to five volumes (i.e. papyrus rolls). The title and fragments suggest that it was an astrological handbook, "albeit a very varied one, for the making of predictions."[78] A third text attributed to Zoroaster is On Virtue of Stones (Peri lithon timion), of which nothing is known other than its extent (one volume) and that pseudo-Zoroaster sang it (from which Cumont and Bidez conclude that it was in verse). Numerous other fragments (preserved in the works of other authors) are attributed to "Zoroaster," but the titles of whose books are not mentioned.

These pseudepigraphic texts aside, some authors did draw on a few genuinely Zoroastrian ideas. The Oracles of Hystaspes, by "Hystaspes", another prominent magian pseudo-author, is a set of prophecies distinguished from other Zoroastrian pseudepigrapha in that it draws on real Zoroastrian sources.[78] Some allusions are more difficult to assess: in the same text that attributes the invention of magic to Zoroaster, Pliny states that Zoroaster laughed on the day of his birth, although in an earlier place (VII, I), Pliny had sworn in the name of Hercules that no child had ever done so before the 40th day from his birth. This notion of Zoroaster's laughter (like that of "two million verses") also appears in the 9th– to 11th-century texts of genuine Zoroastrian tradition, and for a time it was assumed that the origin of those myths lay with indigenous sources. Pliny also records (VII, XV) that Zoroaster's head had pulsated so strongly that it repelled the hand when laid upon it, a presage of his future wisdom. The Iranians were however just as familiar with the Greek writers. The provenance of other descriptions are clear, so for instance, Plutarch's description of its dualistic theologies: "Others call the better of these a god and his rival a daemon, as, for example, Zoroaster the Magus, who lived, so they record, five thousand years before the siege of Troy. He used to call the one Horomazes and the other Areimanius" (Isis and Osiris 46-7).

In the post-classical era

An early 19th-century perception of Zoroaster derived from the portrait of a figure that appears in a 4th-century sculpture at Taq-e Bostan in south-western Iran. In both the original (seen here) and the 19th-century interpretation, the figure bears a barsom in hand. In the original, the barsom solemnizes an investiture ceremony. In the reinterpretation, the figure wears the ceremonial headgear of a Zoroastrian high priest. In the academic literature of 19th and early 20th centuries, the figure in the original 4th-century carving was indeed assumed to be an depiction of Zoroaster. That assumption is no longer followed today.

Zoroaster was known as a sage, magician, and miracle-worker in post-Classical Western culture. Although almost nothing was known of his ideas until the late 18th century, his name was already associated with lost ancient wisdom. Statements by Sir Thomas Browne as early as 1643 are the earliest recorded references to Zoroaster in the English language.

He is also the subject of the 1749 opera Zoroastre, by Jean-Philippe Rameau.

Enlightenment writers such as Voltaire promoted research into Zoroastrianism in the belief that it was a form of rational Deism, preferable to Christianity. With the translation of the Avesta by Abraham Anquetil-Duperron, Western scholarship of Zoroastrianism began.

In E. T. A. Hoffmann's novel Klein Zaches, genannt Zinnober, the mage Prosper Alpanus states that Professor Zoroaster was his teacher.[89]

In his seminal work Also sprach Zarathustra (Thus Spoke Zarathustra) (1885) the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche uses the native Iranian name Zarathustra which has a significant meaning[s] as he had used the familiar Greek-Latin name in his earlier works.[90] It is believed that Nietzsche invents a characterization of Zarathustra as the mouthpiece for Nietzsche's own ideas against morality.[f] Richard Strauss's Opus 30, inspired by Nietzsche's book, is also called Also sprach Zarathustra.

Zoroaster was mentioned by the Irish poet William Butler Yeats. He and his wife were said to have claimed to have contacted Zoroaster through "automatic writing".[91]

The Appellate Division of the Supreme Court of New York has a sculpture of Zoroaster towering over the building on E. 25th St. and Madison Ave in Manhattan, representing the ancient Persian judicial wisdom. The sculpture was made by Edward Clarke Potter in 1896.[92][93] Also on the south side of the exterior of Rockefeller Memorial Chapel in the campus of the University of Chicago, there is a sculpture of Zoroaster among other prominent religious figures.[94]

The protagonist and narrator of Gore Vidal's 1981 novel Creation is described to be the grandson of Zoroaster.

Zarathustra, the mythic hero in Giannina Braschi's 2011 dramatic novel United States of Banana, joins forces with Shakespeare's Hamlet.

See also


a:^ Originally proposed by Burnouf[95]
b:^ For refutation of these and other proposals, see Humbach, 1991.[96]
c:^ The Bundahishn computes "200 and some years" (GBd xxxvi.9) or "284 years" (IBd xxxiv.9). That '258 years' was the generally accepted figure is however noted by al-Biruni and al-Masudi, with the latter specifically stating (in 943/944 AD) that "the Magians count a period of two hundred and fifty-eight years between their prophet and Alexander."[97][98]
d:^ "258 years before Alexander" is only superficially precise.[98]

It has been suggested that this "traditional date" is an adoption of some date from foreign sources, from the Greeks[99] or the Babylonians[100] for example, which the priesthood then reinterpreted. A simpler explanation is that the priests subtracted 42 (the age at which Zoroaster is said to have converted Vistaspa) from the round figure of 300.

f:^ Ecce Homo quotations are per the Ludovici translation.[101] Paraphrases follow the original passage (Warum ich ein Schicksal bin 3), available in the public domain on page 45 of the Project Gutenberg EBook.
s:^ By choosing the name of 'Zarathustra' as prophet of his philosophy, as he has expressed clearly, he followed the paradoxical aim of paying homage to the original Iranian prophet and reversing his teachings at the same time. The original Zoroastrian world view interprets being essentially on a moralistic basis and depicts the world as an arena for the struggle of the two fundamentals of being, Good and Evil, represented in two antagonistic divine figures.[90]
z:^ From a letter of the Universal House of Justice, Department of the Secretariat, May 13, 1979 to Mrs. Gayle Woolson published in
Hornby, Helen, ed. (1983), Lights of Guidance: A Bahá'í Reference File, New Delhi: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, ISBN 81-85091-46-3 . p. 501.


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  61. Lee Lawrence. (3 September 2011). "A Mysterious Stranger in China". The Wall Street Journal. Accessed on 31 August 2016.
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