Permit me to repeat and add to, in a small
nutshell, what my colleague, Dr. Ardeshir Anoshiravani, presented. (1)
Monotheism: One God as the Creator, Maintainer and Promoter of the
Universe. (2) The Universe, including the human society, operates on a
number of Fundamental Principles of Life. They are the Universal Law of
Right and Precision, Good Mind, Conscience, Perception, Intuition, Free
Choice of a Good Order, and Progressive Peace to settle in a free,
industrious society and to think good, speak good, and work good towards
perfection, immortality and becoming godlike.
And a point to remember is that of all the founders of religions,
Zarathushtra is the only person whose very words have reached us as his
compact, complete, melodious Message in 241 stanzas of 17 songs. No
dictation, no narration, no interpretation, and no adulteration of the
Let us now keep the following points in mind and begin our subject:
(1) Interaction Traffic: There is no "One-way Traffic" in human relations.
The interaction takes place under all circumstances -- migration, trade,
customs, beliefs, peace, war, invasion, asylum, domination, and
subordination. Of these, tolerant domination and intimate subordination
(2) Serial Order: To this day, the world has seen five dominating
multinational religions. They are:
(a) Chronological order: Zoroastrianism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity,
Islam and Baha'ism.
(b) Geographical order of the birthplace from east to west: Buddhism,
Hinduism, Zoroastrianism, Baha'ism, Christianity, and Islam.
(c) Expansion order: Zoroastrianism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity,
Islam and Baha'ism.
(d) Root order. Zoroastrianism, Hinduism and Buddhism share an
Indo-Iranian base. Christianity, Islam and Baha'ism have descended from
Judaism, more or less, an ethnic religion of a Semitic origin.
(3) Position: Of the ancient religions, Zoroastrianism enjoyed a central
position. It had Hinduism and Buddhism in the east, and among other
beliefs, Judaism and Christianity in the west. On its northwestern border,
it had the Greeks and the Romans. It was in direct touch with all of them.
It enjoyed another privilege: It was the religion of a superpower,
tolerant in nature, which dominated, sometimes most of the lands and
sometimes parts of the lands, of all the religions in the east and the
west for over one thousand years.
Of the above, two points are of greater importance in interaction:
Chronology and domination. Chronologically, Hinduism stands first. But
Hinduism is not a religion founded by a single person. It is a
synchronized evolution of the ideas of the older natives of the land and
the Aryan immigrants through ages. In that case, although it does harbor
old beliefs and practices, it is the product of many ideas by many persons
in many ages and stages, some conflicting and opposed to one another. In
its contact with its western neighbors, it has never dominated any part of
their lands. Its expansion has been mainly towards its southeast up to
Next stands the Zarathushtrian Religion. It is the oldest and has
outnumbered and dominated other religions for over 1,300 years -- from 700
BCE to 652 CE.
Judaism, the parent of Christianity and Islam, is one of the religions
with which it has interacted. Jews have been living in the Greater Iran --
from Mesopotamia to the Chinese borders -- for the last 2,500 years, and
these Jews had a good say in collating and canonizing the Old Testament
and the Talmud.
It is the Zoroastrian-Jewish interaction that has been inherited by
Christianity, Islam, and now to an extent, by Baha'ism. In addition,
Christianity had a continuous contact since its inception and stood face
to face from the establishment of the Byzantine Empire in 330 CE to the
rise of Islam in the first half of the 7th Century.
Islam received what the earlier two had taken. In 652 CE, a relatively
small and ill-equipped army of Arab Muslims overthrew the Sassanian
Empire, which had an estimated population of 15 million people. Since then
Islam has dominated and converted the masses and their descendents during
the following 1,000 years. In other words, the majority of the present
people of the Iranian stock are descendents of Zoroastrians. Although
Hinduism and Buddhism have evolved mostly outside the direct sphere of
Zoroastrianism, they did have good neighborly contacts, and those contacts
have had their result.
Religious interactions generally take place in theology, eschatology, and
Theology shows that human belief in divinity has evolved from polytheism
through henotheism to monotheism. A question arises as to which people
reached monotheism first. My own opinion, formed after a comparative
study, is that monotheism, in its broad sense, was reached by several
persons/peoples, in several places, prior to an interaction with others.
We know of King Amenhotep IV (1350-1334 BCE), also known as Ikhnaton
(Akhenaton). His is a violent example of monotheism in ancient Egypt.
Further east, in southern Mesopotamia, we find Semitic henotheism slowly
evolving towards monotheism.
Very far from these two sites, and a number of centuries earlier, in
northeastern Iran (today's Central Asia), Zarathushtra rose to declare
that there is only one "Ahura - Being, Essence" who is the Creator,
Maintainer, and Promoter of the Universe. He called his "mentally
realized" god "Mazda," meaning "Super-Intellect." He rejected all
other gods as the creation of wrong imagination.
These three do not appear to have any connection. Direct contact was
established in 539 BCE when Cyrus the Great (559-530 BCE) peacefully
entered Babylon, and contrary to the prevailing custom among Elamites,
Hittites, Assyrians, and Babylonians, he freed all the captive peoples and
helped them to rehabilitate themselves. He gave them, including the Jews,
full freedom plus funds to return home and rebuild their temples (Ezra
I need not go into details of revolution brought in by the Zoroastrian
Achaemenians during their 220 years of rule. They, for the first time,
founded a primitive type of federation of some 30 nations from India to
Libya and from Siberia to the Indian Ocean. They introduced political,
social, administrative and economical reforms. They ordered codification
of local laws and their enforcement. It gave the local people the earliest
freedom of managing their own affairs. All in the benevolent spirit of
Keeping in view the newly codified laws, let us turn to the Jews. The
construction of the temple, begun in the time of King Cyrus, was completed
during the reign of Darius the Great (522-486 BCE). The episode of Esther
and Mordecai occurred during the days of Xerxes (486-465 BCE). The
commissioning of Ezra the Scribe to administer the codified Jewish law,
and the appointment of Nehemiah, the royal cupbearer, as the Governor of
Judah was done by Artaxerxes I (464-424 BCE). Nehemiah rebuilt the
Jerusalem wall. The enforcement of laws meant a detailed prescription for
"do's and don'ts." These actions helped the Jews to administer themselves
under a unified order promoted by the patronage of the Persians for
another 100 years.
The Old Testament is a collection of the books concerning the Jewish
people only. Yet we find, for the first and the last time, an alien people
praised in them. Cyrus the Great is mentioned as the "shepherd of Lord"
and his "anointed (Messiah or Christ)" (Isaiah 44:28, 45:1). The name of
Cyrus occurs 23 times, Darius 25 times, Xerxes 30 times, Artaxerxes 15
times, Medes and Media 21 times, Persians and Persian 37 times, and
Parthians once. Several sections of the Old Testament are dated from the
reigns of the Achaemenian kings.
We see a split in the Jewish community following the Achaemenian period:
The Sadducees and Pharisees. The Sadducees of priestly descent regarded
the five books of the Torah as the only sacred scriptures. They rejected
the oral law. The Pharisees were the educated laymen who often acted as
teachers of the Jewish Law and as scribes. They acknowledged both the
written law of the five books of the Torah and the oral law later written
down as the Mishnah. They believed in the resurrection of the dead, heaven
and hell, angels, demons, and the future coming of the Messiah. It is,
more or less, the Pharisee phase of Judaism that has survived as the
In the post-exilic Judaism, God is more universal than being mostly a
deity of covenant. The snake, which was cursed to go on its belly, eat
dust and bruise humans, and have its head bruised by them, evolved into
devils and demons. There is a clearer notion of eschatology and about
going to heaven or hell according to one's good or bad deeds.
All these things were already there in then evolving and formalizing
Zoroastrianism. Ahura Mazda God of universe, Anghra Mainyu his evil
adversary, the Amesha Spentas and the yazatas which would translate into
Archangels and angels, resurrection, last judgement, heaven, and hell.
Christianity was founded during the Roman era when the Zoroastrian
Parthians ruled in the next-door Iran. It also saw the fully formalized
form of Zoroastrianism of the Sassanian Theocracy for over six centuries.
Christianity is more specific about God, the rebel Devil or Satan, the
archangels, angels, and eschatology with its paradise, hell and purgatory.
For the first time, a date of birth is recorded and celebrated. It is the
birth of Christ. Scriptural records show that Zarathushtra is the first
human being whose birthday was hailed, and Herodotus writes that the
Achaemenians celebrated their birthdays. Birthday celebration is a
Zoroastrian tradition. Christ's birth also reminds one of the Wise Men,
the Magi being led by astronomy to pay their respects to the newborn
mothered by a virgin. Virgin birth of the promised savior is a prophecy
made in later Zoroastrianism. The presence of three Zoroastrian priests,
instead of Jewish sages or Roman elders, is an important sign of the
Islam was founded when the theocratic Sassanians ruled and they had their
hold around the Arabian Peninsula from the Persian Gulf up to the Yemen.
Islam is still more elaborate about Godhead, angelology, and eschatology.
It has its five-times-a-day prayers patterned on Zoroastrianism. Muslim
heads of the theocratic state turned, right after the fourth Caliph, to
hereditary succession on the Sassanian pattern. The number of Zoroastrians
converted by the Arabs well exceeded their own numbers as well as those of
the non-Iranians in the Middle East. Priests and judges appeared the way
the Sassanians had their priests and judges. Books on jurisprudence and
other religious prescriptions were written, mostly by Iranians. The Quran
had, for the first time, its translation and commentary in Persian the way
the Zoroastrians had their Avesta with Pahlavi translation and commentary.
Baha'ism, less than 150 years old, followed Islam, particularly the
esoteric Shiite school, in a fast-moving modern world of globalization.
Its early Zoroastrian converts have their part played and being played in
Let us turn to Hinduism and Buddhism. The two share a common origin in the
Indo-Iranian lore. Zarathushtra rose during the Vedic period. He declared
his belief in one God and rejected all others recognized by the
Indo-Iranian as gods and goddesses. He talked of freedom of choice. He
taught clear thinking with an awakened mind that translates into good
thought, words and deeds. He introduced a novel way of asking questions to
automatically supplying the answers. His answering questions covered
self-realization, social recognition, the living world around us, the
universe, and the creating, maintaining and promoting Master Mind behind
all of them.
It is after Zarathushtra's successful mission that there began a growth in
independent thinking in the later Vedic period and the following Vedanta
age. Allusions were made that there lay a single source of energetic
creation. Popular gods and goddesses gave way to a trinity, the Trimurti
of Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva in one deity. Questions and doubts were
expressed in open. Differing ideas and views were tolerated. The process
of freethinking received a boost.
Still later, a man, Siddharta Gautam, rose against the ancient lore. He
too spoke about mind, its thinking power, and the subsequent awakening --
to become a Buddha. He seriously wanted, through his Three Jewels of
buddha (enlightenment), ariya dhamma (noble path) and ariya
sangha (noble community) to infuse wisdom, remove misery and work for
progress -- all for the ultimate freedom from physical fetters. This
echoes Zarathushtra's baodha (enlightenment), the Primal Principles
of Life, and airyaman (noble fellowship). Periodically appearing
Boddhisattvas, the enlightened, who serve to enlighten others, reminds
one of the Gathic Saoshyants (Benefactors) who appear to lend a
leading hand in progress. And finally, Buddhists are awaiting Maitrya
just as the Traditionalist Zoroastrians are doing for the last 2,700
years for the coming of Ukhshya-ereta, the first Renovator
In return we see the effects of the Semitic religions on Zoroastrianism.
(1) Zarathushtra, who searched and realized God and the Divine Principles
of Life through his mental search, is made into a "Prophet" sent by God.
(2) Early Zoroastrianism celebrated its festivals in combination with
earlier festivals based on the agricultural and economic living of the
Iranians. They were the six seasonal festival of Gâhânbârs. Later,
the calendar underwent a change. Its months and days were named after
certain divinities in the Egyptian fashion. Fifteen festivals are
celebrated on the days when the names of the months and the days coincide.
(3) The canonization of the Bible by the Christian authority in the west
had the Sassanian priesthood to screen, collate and canonize the collected
writings. (4) Many matters borrowed by other religions are borrowed back
with their added colors. These include the incarnated Godhead, angels and
demons, and comforts of heaven, tortures in hell, certain pollution and
purification rules, spells, and prophecy. (5) Zoroastrians prayed at home
or in open enclosures. They learned to build temples for themselves from
their western neighbors whom they had helped to rebuild their temples.
This stabilized the priestly class in the temple tradition, a centralizing
and rewarding tradition.
The interaction has worked well. It has enriched all the participants. It
has brought them closer. It should bring them still closer, closer to
create a united world fellowship desired by all, particularly the
Based on a
speech given "The Festival of Fire, Introduction to the Religion of
Zarathushtra" at the Claremont School of Theology, Claremont,
California on Thursday, February 25, 1999.