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Zoroaster (Latinized from Greek variants) or Zarathushtra (from Avestan Zaraθuštra), also referred to as Zartosht ( ), was an ancient Iranian prophet and religious poet. The hymns attributed to him, the Gathas, are at the liturgical core of Zoroastrianism.



Avestan Zarathushtra

Avestan Zaraθuštra is generally accepted to derive from an Old Iranian *zarat-uštra-, which might in turn be a zero-grade form of *zarant-uštra-. This is supported by reconstructions from later Iranian languages – in particular from Middle Persian Zartosht, which is the form the name has in the ninth- to twelfth-century Zoroastrian texts.

The interpretation of the -θ- in Avestan zaraθuštra was for a time itself subject 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.” 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-.

The second half of the name – i.e. -uštra- is universally accepted to mean ‘camel’. The first half of the name does not otherwise appear in Avestan, which makes it necessary to seek a meaning in the etymology of the name. Subject then to whether Zaraθuštra derives from *zarant-uštra- or from *zarat-uštra-, several interpretations have been proposed:

Following *zarant-uštra- are
  • “with old/aging camels,” related to Vedic járant- and Ossetic zœrond. (cf. Pashto zorr, “old”, Persian zāl/زال, "Old", pir, pur and szur/zir)
  • “with yellow camels” with a parallel to Younger Avestan zairi-.
  • “with angry camels,” from Avestan *zarant- “angry, furious.”

Following *zarat-uštra- are
  • “moving camels” or “driving camels,” and related to Avestan zarš- “to drag.”
  • “desiring camels” or “longing for camels” and related to Vedic har- “to like” and perhaps (though ambiguous) also to Avestan zara-.
  • “owner of the golden camel” or “golden camel” which is derived from old Eastern-Iranian word zar for gold and shtra for camel, further corresponding to an Eastern-Iranian origin (the Old-Persian word dar as a Western-Iranian dialect would be the equal term of Eastern-Iranian zar; Modern Persian uses the Eastern-Iranian word for gold).

“Several more etymologies have been proposed, some quite fanciful, but none is scientifically based.”

Greek Zoroaster

Greek Zōroástrēs appears to have arisen from an association of ástra “stars” with the leading zōrós meaning “undiluted.” This is the oldest attested Greek form of the name, attested in the mid-fifth century BCE Lydiaka of Xanthus (frag. 32) and in (Pseudo-)Plato’s Alcibiades Maior (122a1). This old form appears subsequently as Latin Zoroastres and - as a secondary development - Greek Zōroástris.


The date of Zoroaster, i.e. the date of composition of the Old Avestan gathas, is unknown. Current academic consensus tends to place him in the 11th or 10th century BCE, although dates proposed by reputable scholars diverge widely, between the 18th and 6th centuries BCE.

Until the late 1600s, Zoroaster was generally dated to about the sixth century BCE, which coincided with both the “Traditional date” (see details below) and historiographic accounts (Ammianus Marcellinus xxiii.6.32, fourth c. CE). However, already at the time (late nineteenth century), the issue was far from settled, with James Darmesteter pleading for a later date (c. 100 BCE). Some ancient authors also give a mythological "date" corresponding to about 6000 BCE.

The “Traditional date” originates in the period immediately following Alexander’s conquest of the Achaemenid Empire in 330 BCE. The Seleucid kings 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 counting back the length of successive generations until they concluded that Zoroaster must have lived “258 years before Alexander.” This estimate then re-appeared in the ninth- to twelfth-century texts of Zoroastrian tradition, which in turn gave the date doctrinal legitimacy. In the early part of the twentieth century, this remained the accepted date (subject to the uncertainties of the 'Age of Alexander' ) for a number of reputable scholars, among them Hasan Taqizadeh, a recognized authority on the various Iranian calendars and hence became the date cited by Henning and others.

By the late nineteenth century, scholars such as Bartholomea and Christensen noted problems with the “Traditional date,” namely in the linguistic difficulties that it presented. Since the Old Avestan language of Gathas (that are attributed to the prophet himself) is still very close to the Sanskrit of the Rigveda, it seemed implausible that the Gathas and Rigveda could be more than a few centuries apart, suggesting a date for the oldest surviving portions of the Avesta of roughly the 11th to 10th century BCE.

This 11th/10th century BCE date is now widely accepted among Iranists, who in recent decades found that the social customs described in the Gāthās roughly coincides with what is known of other pre-historical peoples of that period. Supported by this historical evidence, the “Traditional date” can be conclusively ruled out, and the discreditation can to some extent be supported by the texts themselves: The Gathas describe a society of bipartite (priests and herdsmen/farmers) nomadic pastoralists with tribal structures organized at most as small kingdoms. This contrasts sharply with the view of Zoroaster having lived in an empire, at which time society is attested to have had a tripartite structure (nobility/soldiers, priests, and farmers).

Although a slightly earlier date (a century or two) has been proposed on the grounds that the texts do not reflect the migration onto the Iranian Plateau, it is also possible that Zoroaster lived in one of the rural societies that remained where they were.


Yasna 9 & 17 cite the Ditya River in Airyanem Vaējah (Middle Persian Ērān Wēj) as Zoroaster’s home and the scene of his first appearance. Nowhere in the Avesta (both Old and Younger portions) is there a mention of the Achaemenids or of any West Iranian tribes such as the Medes, Persiansmarker, or even Parthians.

However, in Yasna 59.18, the zaraθuštrotema, or supreme head of the Zoroastrian priesthood, is said to reside in ‘Ragha’. In the ninth to twelfth century Middle Persian texts of Zoroastrian tradition, this ‘Ragha’ - along with many other places - appear as locations in Western Iran. While Medea 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 Medea (medieval Raimarker). However, in Avestan, Ragha is simply a toponym meaning “plain, hillside.”.

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 birth place of Zarathustra. There are many Greek accounts of Zarathustra, referred usually as Persian or Perso-Median Zoroaster. Moreover they have the suggestion that there has been more than one Zoroaster. On the other hand in post-Islamic sources Shahrastani (1086-1153) an Iranian writer originally from Shahristān, present-day Turkmenistanmarker, proposed that Zoroaster’s father was from Atropatene (also in Medea) and his mother was from Raimarker. 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. Also Arabic sources of the same period and the same region of historical Persia consider Azerbaijan as the birth place of Zarathustra.

By the late twentieth century the consensus among some scholars had settled on an origin in Eastern Iran and/or Central Asia (to include present-day Afghanistanmarker): Gnoli proposed Sistan (though in a much wider scope than the present-day province) as the homeland of Zoroastrianism; Frye voted for Bactria and Chorasmia; Khlopin suggests the Tedzen Delta in present-day Turkmenistan.Sarianidi considered the BMAC region as “the native land of the Zoroastrians and, probably, of Zoroaster himself.” Boyce includes the steppes of the former Soviet republics. 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.”


Information about the life of Zoroaster derives primarily from the Avesta, that is, from Zoroastrian scripture of which the Gathas - the texts attributed to Zoroaster himself - are a part. These are complemented by legends from the traditional Zoroastrian texts of the ninth to twelfth century.

The Gathas contain allusions to personal events, such as Zoroaster’s triumph over obstacles imposed by competing priests and the ruling class. They also indicate he had difficulty spreading his teachings, and was even treated with ill-will in his mother’s hometown. They also describe familial events such as the marriage of his daughter, at which Zoroaster presided.

In the texts of the Younger Avesta (composed many centuries after the Gathas), Zoroaster is depicted wrestling with the daevas and is tempted by Angra Mainyu to renounce his faith (Yasht 17.19; Vendidad 19).

The Spenta Nask, the thirteenth section of the Avesta, is said to have a description of the prophet’s life. However, this text has been lost over the centuries, and it survives only as a summary in the seventh book of the ninth century Dēnkard. Other ninth to twelfth century stories of Zoroaster, as in the Shāhnāmeh, are also assumed to be based on earlier texts, but must be considered to be primarily a collection of legends. The historical Zoroaster, however, eludes categorization as a legendary character.

Collectively, scripture and tradition provide many rote details of his life, such as a record of his family members: His father was Pourushaspa Spitāma, son of Haechadaspa Spitāma, and his mother was Dughdova. He and his wife Hvōvi had three daughters, Freni, Pourucista and Triti; and three sons, Isat Vastar, Uruvat-Nara and Hvare Ciθra. Zoroaster’s great-grandfather Haēchataspa was the ancestor of the whole family Spitāma, for which reason Zoroaster usually bears the surname Spitāma. His wife, children and a cousin named Maidhyoimangha, were his first converts after his illumination from Ahura Mazda at age 30.

According to Yasnas 5 & 105, Zoroaster prayed for the conversion of King Vištaspa, who appears in the Gathas as a historical personage. In legends, Vištaspa is said to have had two brothers as courtiers, Frašaōštra and Jamaspa, and to whom Zoroaster was closely related: his wife, Hvōvi, was the daughter of Frashaōštra, while Jamaspa was the husband of his daughter Pourucista. The actual role of intermediary was played by the pious queen Hutaōsa. Apart from this connection, the new prophet relied especially upon his own kindred (hvaētuš).

Zoroaster’s death is not mentioned in the Avesta. In Shahnameh 5.92, he is said to have been murdered at the altar by the Turanians in the storming of Balkhmarker.


In his revelation, the prophet sees the universe as the cosmic 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 other Zoroastrian doctrine, including that of Ahura Mazda (who is aša), creation (that is aša), existence (that is aša) and Free Will, which is arguably Zoroaster’s greatest contribution to religious philosophy.

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 good 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.


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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, MP 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 God. Zoroaster is almost always depicted with a beard, usually brown. His complexion is pale, and this along with other factors bear similarities to nineteenth century portraits of Jesus.

A common variant of the Zoroaster images derives from a Sassanid-era rock-face carving. In this depiction at Taq-e Bostanmarker, 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 supposed 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 perceptions

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." 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.

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" attributed to him and that circulated the Mediterraneanmarker world from the third century BCE 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?"

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." The attributions to "exotic" names (not restricted to magians) conferred an "authority of a remote and revelation wisdom."

Once the magi were associated with magic in Greek imagination, Zoroaster was bound to metamorphose into a magician too. The first 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." Although Pliny calls him the inventor of magic, the Roman does not provide a "magician's persona" for him. Moreover, the little "magical" teaching that is ascribed to Zoroaster is actually very late, with the very earliest example being from the 14th century.

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 mytho-etymology 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."

The second, and "more serious" 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." 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/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 Alexandriamarker. This corpus can safely be assumed to be pseudepigrapha because no one before Pliny refers to literature by "Zoroaster," 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.

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." 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."

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 BCE version had the sun in second place above the moon. Ironically, Colotes accused Plato of plagiarizing Zoroaster, 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. With respect to substance and content in On Nature only two facts are known: that it was crammed with astrological speculations, and that Necessity 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." 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. 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. This notion (like that of "two million verses") also appears in the 9th-11th century texts of genuine Zoroastrian tradition, and for a time it was assumed that origin of those myths lay with indigenous sources. 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

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. However as early as 1643 Sir Thomas Browne in his Religio Medici wrote-

I beleeve, besides 'Zoroaster, there were divers that writ before Moses(R.M.Part 1:23)

whilst in The Garden of Cyrus of 1658 he speculated-

And if 'Zoroaster were either Cham,Chus,or Mizraim, they were early proficients thereof....

These statements by Sir Thomas Browne are the earliest recorded references to Zoroaster in the English language.

Zoroaster appears as “Sarastro” in Mozart’s opera Die Zauberflöte, which has been noted for its Masonic elements, where he represents moral order (cf. Asha) in opposition to the “Queen of the Night.”

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 his seminal work Also sprach Zarathustra (1885) the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche uses the native Iranian name Zarathustra (i.e. the Persian Zarathustra, as opposed to the Greek-Latin name Zoroaster) which has a significant meaning as he had used the familiar Greek-Latin name in his earlier works. In particular that Nietzsche states explicitly "I must pay tribute to Zarathustra, a Persian (einem Perser): Persians were the first who thought of history in its full entirety." It is believed that Nietzsche creates a characterization of Zarathustra as the mouthpiece for Nietzsche's own ideas against morality. Nietzsche did so because—so says Nietzsche in his autobiographical Ecce Homo (IV/Schicksal.3)—Zarathustra was a moralist ("was the exact reverse of an immoralist" like Nietzsche) and because "in his teachings alone is truthfulness upheld as the highest virtue." Zarathustra "created" morality in being the first to reveal it, "first to see in the struggle between good and evil the essential wheel in the working of things." Nietzsche sought to overcome the morality of Zarathustra by using the Zarathustrian virtue of truthfulness; thus Nietzsche found it piquant to have his Zarathustra character voice the arguments against morality.

Richard Strauss’s Opus 30, inspired by Nietzsche’s book, is also called Also sprach Zarathustra. Its opening theme, which corresponds to the book’s prologue, was used to score the opening sequence of Stanley Kubrick’s movie 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Zoroaster was mentioned by the nineteenth-century poet William Butler Yeats. His wife and he were said to have claimed to have contacted Zoroaster through “automatic writing.”

Zoroaster is ranked #93 on Michael H. Hart’s list of the most influential figures in history.

In 1997, the British gothic rock band Tammuz released a song named ‘Zarathustra’ on their album Yezidi. The track features an Avestan language verse from the Gathas. The name ‘Zarathustra’ appears in passing in Bryan Ferry’s ‘Mother of Pearl’, a Roxy Music song from the band’s 1973 Stranded album.

The protagonist and narrator of Gore Vidal’s 1981 novel Creation is described to be the grandson of Zoroaster, with whom the narrator has several philosophical discussions and whose death he is a witness of.

In other religious systems

In Islam

Like the Greeks of classical antiquity, Islamic tradition understands Zoroaster to be the founding prophet of the Magians (via Aramaic, Arabic Majus, collective Majusya). Their portrayal of Zoroaster is consequently "in accordance with their idea of Zoroastrians being a kind of inferior Ahl al-Kitab," that is, formally not quite "people of revealed scripture" (the connotation of Ahl al-Kitab "People of the Book"), but not altogether heathen (mushrik) either. The 9th/10th century al-Razi and al-Naisaburi considered the prophet of the Magians to be no real prophet, but a would-be prophet, a poseur (a mutanabbi).

Citing the authority of the 8th century al-Kalbi, the 9th/10th century historian al-Tabari (i.648) reports that Zaradusht bin Isfiman (an Arabic adaptation of "Zarathustra Spitama") was an inhabitant of Palestine, 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 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) 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.

The 10th/11th century heresiographer al-Shahrastani describes the Majusiya into three sects, the Kayumarthiya, the Zurwaniya and the Zaradushtiya. Al-Shahrastani asserts that only the latter were properly followers of Zoroaster, but before whose time all Iranians had followed the religion of Ibrahim (i.e. Abraham). Al-Shahrastani remarks that the Madjusya are not Ahl al-Kitab.

In Manichaeism

Manichaeism considered Zoroaster to be a figure (along with Jesus and the Buddha) in a line of prophets of which Mani (210–277) was the culmination. 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. 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.

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, Gautama Buddha, Krishna, Jesus, Muhammad, the Báb, and the founder of the Bahá'í Faith, Bahá'u'lláh. Shoghi Effendi, the Guardian of the Bahá'í Faith, saw Bahá'u'lláh as the fulfillment of a post-Sassanid Zoroastrian prophecy that saw a return of Sassanid emperor Bahram: Shoghi Effendi also stated that Zoroaster lived roughly 1,000 years before Jesus.

See also


a: Originally proposed by Burnouf
b: For refutation of these and other proposals, see Humbach, 1991.
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 CE) that “the Magians count a period of two hundred and fifty-eight years between their prophet and Alexander.”
d: “258 years before Alexander,” is only superficially precise, and thus debated. What in Zoroaster’s life happened 258 before Alexander? His birth? His enlightenment? His conversion of Vistaspa? His death? Similarly, before Alexander’s what? His accession to the Macedonian throne? His invasion? His death? The beginning of the “Era of Alexander” (which began 10 years after his death)?

It has been suggested that this “traditional date” is an adoption of some date from foreign sources, from the Greeks or the Babylonians 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.
e: The “extravagant,” “fantastic” and “extraordinary” 6000 BCE date (or thereabouts) appears in several classical sources: Pliny the Elder (1st c.), Plutarch (1st c.), a Scholion to the (Pseudo-)Platonic Alcibiades Major, Diogenes Laertius (3rd c.), Lactantius (3rd c.) and Syncellus (8th c.). The date is typically described as “5,000 years before the Trojan war” or “6,000 years before Plato” (or “before Xerxes”). “Their chief claim to any consideration” is that these sources cite the authority of (variously) Hermippus (5th c. BCE), Xanthus of Lydia (5th c. BCE), Eudoxus of Cnidus (5th/4th c. BCE), Aristotle (4th c. BCE) and Hermodorus (4th c. BCE, a student of Plato’s). In general, the 6000 BCE date is assumed to be based on a Greek misunderstanding of the (Zoroastrian) “great-year” cycles, which foresees recurring 12,000-year periods of three 3,000-year segments each.

Other classical sources - again on the authority of Xanthus of Lydia - consider “600 years before Xerxes” (i.e. before his invasion of Greece), i.e. 1080 BCE, which would then coincide with the linguistic dating of the Gathas. Similarly, the tenth c. Suda, which cites no one but provides a date of “500 years before Plato” for one of its two Zoroasters.
f: Ecce Homo quotations are per the Ludovici translation. 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 Aryan 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.
z: From a letter of the Universal House of Justice, Department of the Secretariat, May 13, 1979 to Mrs. Gayle Woolson published in
. p. 501.



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  • . Cf. especially Chapter IV: Prophets Outside Israel

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