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Zoroastrian Studies in Europe
through the 19th century

Comparative Religion

Historical Facts:

As a prelude to the article you are about to read, the period of time covered, the sixteenth through the nineteenth century was a very trying time for the survival of the Zoroastrian religion and that of its followers.

The Zarathushtis remaining in Iran, the homeland of prophet Zarathushtra found themselves subject to increasing extreme hardship and prejudices at the hands of fanatics bent on their forced conversion or alternatively their extinction. With their ranks diminishing, the Iranian Zarathushtis were caught in a constant struggle for survival, and could not afford the luxury of time to engage in religious scholarship. As such the religion had taken a more ritualistic dimension for them.

Half a continent away descendents of Zarathushtis who had fled religious persecution in their motherland centuries earlier and had taken refuge on the hospitable shores of India, were trying to establish themselves in the volatile political scene of that subcontinent. They were also preoccupied with survival. Their situation did not improve until the establishment of British Raj rule in India that brought about political stability to the landscape of India.

The full extent of the philosophy of Zarathushtra expressed in the extant Gathic language appeared lost to these two groups of Zarathushtis who were steadfastly holding to the faith of their common ancestors. The effort leading to the rediscovery of the original philosophy of Zarathushtra had to be spearheaded by scholars and researchers a continent away in Northern Europe mostly for religio-political consumption of that subcontinent.

This article highlights some of the more notable works undertaken by European scholars that brought about the eventual uncovering of the full scope of Zarathushtra’s philosophy and helped in the revival of the ancient faith.

1700AD : Thomas Hyde published a book entitled The Ancient Religions of Iran.1 He was the first European scholar to express his view on Zarathushtra, the Prophet of ancient Iran and the principles set forth by him. In this book Hyde stated: "Zarathushtra was the first prophet who informed people of the appearance of Moses and Jesus Christ." 2

1756: Voltaire, the renown French philosopher expressed the idea below and used it as a weapon against Christianity and the Church, "Before Christ Zarathushtra emphasized Truth and Righteousness and led people to the right path of life." 3 From that time on, European scholars were motivated to research the Zoroastrian religion in order to find the origins of Christian beliefs. However, they run into the trouble of not having access to the Zoroastrian religious text, the Avesta.

Schaeder 4 in his book writes: "Hyde and Voltaire were the first persons to mention the Old Iranian religion of Zarathushtra." Subsequently, Walther Hinz 5 reiterated from Schaeder’s work: "These two were the first to speak about Zarathushtra."

1754 - 1771AD: After extensive search for information on the religion of Zarathushtra, Anquetil – Duperron, who had become interested in finding a Zoroastrian community learned of the existence of Zoroastrians (Parsis) in India. Traveling as a French soldier of East India Company, this poor Frenchman set off on an adventurous6 trip to India on November 7, 1754, carrying along a few books and pieces of clothing. It turned out to be a very difficult trip, which almost cost him his life. Upon arrival in India, he came down with Malaria and high fever, but continued until he made contact with the Parsis and managed to learn the Avestan, Pahlavi and the Farsi languages. Eventually he secured a copy of the Avesta from a Parsi, and upon his return to France in 1762 he set off to make translations of the Avestan, Gathic and Farsi texts into French. Finally, in 1771 he published his work, 7 entitled "Zend Avesta". The publication of Duperron’s "Zend Avesta" caused a big controversy, with the church taking a strong position against it.

In 1776, Dupperron’s book was translated into German and published as "Zand Avesta." 8 German scholars and researchers took great interest in this book, and a period of rather intensive study of the Zoroastrian religion got underway.

18th Century During the 18Th century rigorous research into Zoroastrianism continued in Europe with many publications and discussions on the character of Zarathushtra as a prophet, philosopher, reformer, revolutionary, politician, and even a witch doctor. Zoroastrianism became one of the hot topics of discussion in major scholarly circles in northern Europe. In addition, Zoroastrian discussions influenced the Philosophy research and scholarship activities in Europe.

1883 - 1885AD: Friedrich Nietzsche compiled a book during 1883 - 1885 entitled, Thus sprach Zarathushtra9. As a first impression, it may sound this book deals with the Zoroastrian religion. In fact it has nothing to do with Zarathushtra or his religion. Nietzsche only used the name of Zarathushtra in the title of his book. The book, more than anything represents the personal views of Nietzsche as an atheist. The author realized that contrary to his ideas, Zarathushtra believed in one God as shown in some of the quotations in this book; "Zarathushtra such a spiritual man did not know that God is dead or it does not exist at all." 10 Nietzsche also quoted Zarathushtra as saying that, "My brothers be aware that the God I have introduced to you is like the other Gods, because all of them are created by human beings." 11 Nietzsche 14 also writes, Whenever you go to a woman, you should not forget to take your whip." Nietzsche did not portray a good understanding of Zarathushtra and his religion, but he further popularized the religion of Zarathushtra.

1886AD: In his next publication, Jenseits Von Gut und Bose 12, (The Other Sides of Good and Evil) which was published in 1886, Neitzsche stated, "I am sorry to say that nobody asked me whether I knew anything about Zarathushtra or not; and I would have told them that I do not have any information about his religion..." He also wrote I am sorry to have caused any misunderstanding of the Persian History because I did not apply morality and ethics in my writing. But, at the same time I am proud of Zarathushtra and pay respect to him and Iranians, who laid the foundation of the civilization of the world. 13

1) Histofla rail gic is veterum Persarum, eorumque Magorum, Oxonii 1700
2) Page 379f.
3) Essai sur les maeurs et l'esprit des nations, Bd. I, Paris 1805 page 50, Bd. II page 71.
4) H.H. Schaeder Goethes eriebnis des Osten, Lipzig 1938 page 134.
5) Walther Hinz: "zarathushfra" Kolihammer Stuttgart, 1961 page 12.
6) E.G.Browne3A Uterary History of Persia, Bd. I, new print Cambridge 1951, page 46. Raymond Schwab: Vie d’Anquetil - Duperron, Paris 1934.
7) (Zend-Avesta, ouvrage de Zoroastre) L'abominable fatras que l'on attribue a ce Zoroastreitiert bei Jack Duchesne Guillemin, Western response page 15.
8) Jon.Fr Kleuker, "Zend-Avesta" Zoroasters lebendiges Wort, Riga 1776-7.
9) Friedrich Nietzsche: Thus Sprach Zarathustra.
10) Thus Sprach Za.rathushtra, Krdner Taschenbuch, page 8
11) Thus Sprach Zarathushtra, Krdner Taschenbuch, page 31
12) Jenseit von Gut und Bose Ecco hme, Lipzig 1922, page 118.
13) In Kisner Tasthenbuch Band, 75, Lipzig 1930, page 417.
14) Nietzsche , born in Rocken, Germany in 1844 to a priestly family became a Professor of philosophy Basel (1869-79). He then moved to Silmaria (Switzerland) and taught there. In 1889 he moved to Turin (Italy), and became mentally unstable. Then he moved in to his sister’s house (Elisabeth Forster Nietzsche). After suffering for a long time from his mental illness he passed away in 1900. Because of contacts with Prostitutes in his youth, he was inflicted with Syphilis and other sexually transmitted diseases. In 1883-85 at the time that he published the book, "Thus Sprach Zarathustra," his illness had affected his mental capacity so much so that he hated God and women. He denied the existence of God.

For further information, refer to the following:
1. Spiegel Keilinschnften, Leipzig, 1881
2. Hans Heinrich Schaeder ubersetzte das werkdes Scweden Nyberg ins
Deutsche: Die Religionen des alten Iran, Leipzig, 1938
3. Schaeders Schrift Gott und Mensch in der Verkundiatina Zaratustras, 1937
4. Franz Altheim Hochkulturendes Mittleren und Ostasien
5. Franz Altheim Zarathustra und Alexander, 1960
6. Walter Hinz Zarathustra, 1961

Keikhosrow Mobed