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Zoroaster – Politician or Witch Doctor
Lecture 1 of 3)


Henning, Walter B..

lecture 2 of 3
lecture 3 of 3


















I am conscious of the honor conferred upon me by the University of Oxrford in inviting me to deliver the third series of Ratanbai Katrak Lectures These lectures, which were founded by the late Dr. Nanabhai Navroji Katrak of Bombay, were first given in 1925 by Dr. Gray of Columbia University, under the title of 'The Foundations of the Iranian Religions'. Dr. Gray gave a valuable and comprehensive survey of the Iranian Pantheon and Pandemonium, which, later published in Bombay, did not, at any rate in the West receive the attention to which it was entitled.

The second series was delivered by Professor Bailey, of the University of Cambridge, in 1936 and published by the Oxford University Press in 1943. The modest title of his lectures, 'Zoroastrian Problems in the Ninth-Century Books', underrates their value. They are, in each, perfect specimens of the manner in which the problems of the Iranian past, in particular the problems of the Zoroastrian religion, should be dealt with nowadays; that is to say, not only with a proper understanding of the Pahlavi literature, which remains terra incognita to most other scholars, but also wish the fullest use of the Middle Iranian material that has come to us from central Asia in the course of the present century. The standard Professor Bailey has set in his lectures should serve as a warning to those rash spirits who engage in Zoroastrian studies without equipping themselves properly, without reading the Pahlavi literature, without learning to handle the intricate Manichaean fragments in Middle Persian, Parthian, and Sogdian, without studying the Sogdian and Khotanese books. The days when knowledge of the Avesta and a dash of Pahlavi were considered sufficient are irrevocably past.

The Electors to the Ratanbai Katrak Lectureship allow the lecturer complete freedom to choose his own subject, provided it is connected with the study of the Zoroastrian religion or its later developments. On this occasion, they expressed the wish that if possible I should, in the course of these lectures, define my attitude towards the theories propounded by Professor Nyberg. It was a pleasure to me to accept this suggestion and so secure an opportunity for enlarging on the opinions I expressed briefly in the course of a review of Professor Nyberg's book, The Religions of Ancient Iran.[1]

Any discussion of Professor Nyberg's theories is bound to have constant regard to the latest and – regrettably -- last work published by Professor Herzfeld in 1947, a few months before his death, which we lament as the greatest blow to Iranian Studies in recent years. Herzfeld's work, Zoroaster and his World, has been aptly described by a friend of mine as 'an 800-page review of Nyberg's book'; indeed, Herzfeld has discussed and criticized, and at great length, almost every word that 'Nyberg had written. As I am often in agreement with Herzfeld's views, as far as his criticism of Nyberg's theories goes, my task has been eased considerably; for most of what I proposed to say on this subject has now already been said by Herzfeld, probably much better than I could do it. However, Herzfeld's work is by no means confined to mere criticism. His main object was to state and restate his own theories on Zoroaster, to which he had devoted a great deal of his writing in the last twenty years: he restates opinions he had held for a long time, he elaborates them, he fortifies them by fresh argument, and at the same time he criticizes Nyberg, as indeed Nyberg, on his part, had criticized him in his own book. A controversy between these two scholars was natural and inevitable; for their disagreement on everything that concerns Zoroaster is complete.

Herzfeld's Zoroaster was a man who lived his life in the full fight of history, in the time of Cyrus and Darius. By birth and by marriage, he was himself a member of the two royal houses that dominated the history of Ancient Iran, the Median dynasty and of its successor, the Persian house of the Achaemenides. Astyages the last of the Median kings, whom Cyrus deposed, was Zoroaster's grandfather. After Cyrus had gained his great victory, he married Zoroaster's mother. Cyrus' daughter, Atossa, was therefore half-sister to Zoroaster. Atossa married Cambyses, Cyrus' son and successor, and after the early death of Cambyses, she married his successor, the Great King Darius. Through Atossa, therefore, Zoroaster was brother-in-law to both Cambyses and Darius.

Herzfeld's Zoroaster was primarily a politician. He soon got into difficulties with the authorities -- not because (as we might perhaps expect) he had claims to the throne himself: for as a grandson of Astyages he might have planned the removal of Cyrus or Cambyses, he might have plotted for the restoration of the Median royal house, of which he himself was the chief; but such considerations do not seem to have entered his head.  His sole interest, as politician, was to improve the situation of agricultural labor in Media, or, to use Herzfeld's own words, he wanted 'to replace serfdom by the voluntary, sworn-to obedience of the vassal'.[2] In pursuit of this aim, he got into conflict with the ruling classes, the great landowners, noblemen, and priests. He was 'indicted as a revolutionary in Raga, his home-town, and brought before a court presided over by none other than Gaumata the Magian, who later usurped the kingship and was murdered by Darius. Gaumata concerned him to banishment, and Cambyses at that time Viceroy of Media-for all this happened still during the lifetime of Cyrus -- confirmed the judgment.[3] Zoroaster was extremely indignant at the treatment he had suffered, most of all with Cambyses who, as his stepbrother, should by ancient right, have upheld him.

Now comes that memorable journey into exile to which Herzfeld has devoted so much labor, the journey along the post-road from Raga to Tus with the now famous halt at Qumis where a certain Persian gentleman refused to let him stay in his castle as a refugee. In each of his recent books, Herzfeld has added fresh details to this story: now everything has become clear, except the one point whether the coach in which Zoroaster traveled was his own or one hired from a friend.[4]

For the whole fascinating tale, Gaumata's court, Cambyses failure to revise the judgment, Raga, Qumis, Tus -- for all this Herzfeld has discovered clear evidence in Zoroaster's own poems, the Gathas, which in this matter are his sole source. All previous students, and them have been many, have failed to find any reference to any such events in the Gathas, or for that matter anywhere else.

At Tus Zoroaster found favor with the there residing satrap of Parthia, Viŝtaspa, the father of Darius who was destined to become the King of Kings of Persia after the death of Cambyses. At Viŝtaspa's court important positions were held by two brothers, Jamaspa and Fraŝauŝtra, members of a leading Persian family. Zoroaster thought it wise to strengthen his position by allying himself to this family, and so added a daughter of Fraŝauŝtra 's to his harem. His newly acquired relatives did all they could to reverse the judgment of banishment which Cambyses had so naughtily confirmed: both Jamaspa and Fraŝauŝtra traveled from Tus to the far-distant court of the Great King Cyrus himself to intercede on his behalf.[5] Cyrus, who after all was Zoroaster's stepfather, could well be expected to stretch out a helping hand to the fugitive. But all was in vain. Zoroaster had to remains at Tus, cut off from the centers of the Persian Empire, cut off from the chance of indulging in political intrigues, his favorite occupation. All he could do, and did do, was to compose a few more verses cursing Cambyses and his bosom-friend Gaumata.

After Cyrus died and Cambyses succeeded to the throne, Zoroaster's prospects of re-establishing himself in the rank to which he was born seemed to disappear altogether. However, fate smiled on him again: soon he could rejoice at the news of the sudden death of Cambyses, and soon he could arrange, behind the scenes, for the murder of his bitterest enemy, Gaumata the Magian.

The story of Cambyses, his misdeeds and his misfortunes, how he had his younger brother Bardiya secretly killed, how during his absence from Persia Gaumata the Magian usurped the throne pretending to be Bardiya, how Cambyses died when he hurriedly returned from Egypt, how the impersonation of Bardiya by Gaumata was discovered, and how seven noble Persians, Darius among them, murdered Gaumha and proclaimed Darius as King of Kings -- the story is too well, known to bear repetition. Here we are concerned solely with the role that Zoroaster is said to have played in the matter.

The man to whom Cambyses had entrusted the task of killing his brother was, according to Herodotus, Prexaspes, a noble Persian. This Prexaspes, we learn from Herzfeld, was the brother of Jamaspa and Fraŝauŝtra, an uncle, therefore, of one of Zoroaster's wives. Herodotus makes it clear that Prexaspes kept his secret carefully enough; his life would have been forfeit had it become known that he had slain the heir-apparent to the throne. However that be, thanks to Herzfeld we know now that Prexaspes could not, after all, keep the secret from his brothers. He might as well have told everybody; for his brother Fraŝauŝtra, of course, told his daughter, and his daughter told her husband, Zoroaster, and Zoroaster gleefully told the world. And when the news of the death of Cambyses, had reached Tus, he saw at last how he could revenge himself on Gaumata. He composed a few more stirring verses to incite his listeners to the murder of the usurper;[6] one at least among them, Darius the son of Viŝtaspa hung on his lips and hastened away to do the deed to which Zoroaster had inspired him.

It is a matter for regret that when Darius, after his success, act up an inscription to commemorate these events and enumerated the names of his helpers in it, he did not so much as mention the name of Zoroaster whose advice he was so greatly indebted. Those who disputed Herzfeld's theories inevitably pointed out that the omission of Zoroaster's name was significant. However, this point has been cleared up now: it was at Zoroaster's own suggestion that his part in the affair was not mentioned: he wished to work in the dark. Here we have the picture of two men who conspire to hide the truth, but who, in their speeches and writings, almost monotonously, enjoin the speaking of Truth as the chief duty of Man, who never came condemning all lies and liars, all deceit and hypocrisy. And one of these two cunning and hypocritical intriguers was the man whom the Persians, mistakenly it seems, regarded as their prophet for many centuries.

So much for Herzfeld's Zoroaster. Nyberg's Zoroaster is a very different kind of person. He lived somewhere in the region of Oxus and Jaxartes, beyond the countries that had come into contact with the civilized states of Babylonia and Mesopotamia, in a nation that had no history. He was a prehistoric man, While Herzfeld gives us precise dates for almost every event' of Zoroaster's life, Nyberg declares that the question of Zoroaster's date is altogether unessential and without interest.[7]

In his tribe, Zoroaster held the hereditary office of witch-doctor or medicine-man. He faithfully fulfilled the duties that were attached to this position among the savage tribes of inner-Asia before they were subdued and civilized by the Persian Empire. Their religion can be best described as a form of shamanism; its chief points are two, both of equal importance: the ordeal and the Maga. The tribal mythology, theology, and all rites derive from ordeal and Maga; they are their functions. The ordeal, the divine judgment here carried out by pouring molten metal on the litigants, it) self-explanatory ; it was administered by a college of Fellow of the Ordeal, presided over by Zoroaster as medicine-man and shamanism chief.

It is less easy to explain the purport of the Maga. Secondarily, the Maga is an enclosure within which the sacred rites are performed; primarily it is a term for 'magic singing', and as a collective, 'a group of people engaging in magic songs'. Within the Maga the members of the tribe who were admitted to the sacred community met from time to time to perform certain acts that aimed at reaching a state of ecstasy. The chief means employed to this end were singing and probably dancing, hence the curious name. Quicker results were reached by the application of steam and hemp (the question whether Zoroaster used hemp for such purposes will be discussed later),

As soon as the participants in these ceremonies had fallen into a trance, they began to shout incomprehensible words and syllables; but presently they fell into a complete coma. In this state, they imagined themselves to reach a mystical union with God, or rather with Vohu Manah. Their souls, released by trance from the body, rose up to the higher regional to join with other souls who had been freed either in the same way or by death; there is no real difference: between these two groups: as we might say 'sleep is the brother of death' the shamanists would have said 'trance is the brother of death'. Vohu Manah is the collective of the Free-souls, or the cosmic, divine Free-soul.

To reach a trance or a coma was regarded as the greatest boon; to be excluded from the fellowship of the Maga a terrible misfortune. It is clear that in a given tribe the leading shaman must have exercised great influence; for beside presiding over the ceremonies connected with the ordeal he was the chief of the Maga and as such determined who was to be admitted to the supreme happiness the Maga alone could bestow.

We also begin to understand now why the Gatha, the poems by Zoroaster, which his community so faithfully transmitted through the centuries, have presented so great difficulties to the scholars who have hitherto tried to fathom their meaning. If the Gathas are crazy, mutterings shouted by a senseless man in, a hemp-induced stupor, it is pointless to seek much meaning in them. It was also rather pointless that those who-mistakenly -- believed – themselves to be following in the footsteps of Zoroaster should have taken so much trouble to preserve what turns out to be gibberish. As to the scholars who in modern times studied the Gathas without finding the true key to them, the less we say about their inept attempts the better.

We come now to an intricate problem: the religious development, which Zoroaster underwent. To understand Nyberg's position, it is necessary to make a few general remarks. One of the chief problems that confront the student of the Zoroastrian religion is the relation to each other of several types of religious belief that appear to have coalesced in Zoroastrianism (I am using this term only of the later form of religion). As a rule, it is assumed that there were two, or at the most three, religions involved; we can pass by those extremists who operate with larger numbers, in some cases far larger numbers.

The most important form of religion involved is that represented by Zoroaster himself; he may have originated it; or he may have inherited it; or he may have inherited it in part and added to it on his own. The chief points in Zoroaster's religion are these: belief in one God whose name in Ahura Mazdah; belief in an anti-divine force led by Angra Mainyu, the 'Evil Spirit'; the belief that the acts of mankind exercised great influence on the outcome of the incessant struggle between God and the Evil Spirit, resulting in the attribution to Man of a unique position as the arbiter between Good and Evil; and finally, the association with God of a number of so-called Amesha Spantas, on whose function scholars always have disagreed and probably always will disagree; some regard them as aspects of God (that is also my view); according to Nyberg they are social collectives representing the Tribe in its various aspects.

The second chief ingredient in Zoroastrianism is the comparatively primitive polytheism which the Iranians had inherited from the remote past, from the time when their forbears were still in contact with the tribes, later known as Indo-Aryans, that immigrated into India This primitive religion existed before and after Zoroaster; it still flourished centuries, after the destruction of the Persian Empire by Alexander. There were many gods and goddesses; Mithra, Anahita, Varathragna, Tiŝtrya, and so on; there were animal sacrifices on a lavish scale; an intoxicating drink, Haoma, the Indian Soma, played an important role in the sacrificial ceremonies. No doubt, this religion assumed different forms in the different provinces at different times; the points of divergence have been stressed, in my view exaggerated, by several students; they need not concern us here.

The third form of religion involved is one about which we know very little, the religion of the Magi. It seems to have exhausted itself in a narrow-minded ritual; purification rites, particularly in connexion with dead bodies, characterize it. Some regard Magism as a remnant of the autochthonous religion which the Iranians found existing in Media and elsewhere when they entered the country as conquerors, and which they gradually absorbed.

Now it is evident that there is a great gulf between the primitive polytheism and the religion represented by Zoroaster, Indeed – on this point there is unanimity --Zoroaster attacks the polytheists in his poems, and does it in terms that leave us in no doubt about his views. Nevertheless, in the Zoroastrianism we find the polytheism inextricably mixed with Zoroaster's own religion. And the merging of the two forms, which apparently also wallowed up the third, must have taken place at a fairly early date, by 400 B.C. at the very latest. How did it come about that these two incompatibles combined in a harmonious association, which was solid enough to endure until the present day? To find a satisfactory answer to this question is one of the chief tasks before the students of Zoroastrianism. The answer usually given is that the merger was due to the integration of the Iranian provinces that was brought about by the Persian Empire; that it was deliberately encouraged or promoted by the Persian government.

These few observations will be sufficient, I hope, to indicate the nature of the problem by which we are confronted, so that I can now proceed to explain the solution at which Professor Nyberg has arrived. According to Nyberg, the religion, which, together with the medicinemanship, Zoroaster had inherited from his forefathers, resembled the later Zervanism in certain points, especially in its theology in the narrow sense: Ahura, Mazdah here occupies the position which Zervan, the god of Time, held in Zervanism. Ahura Mazdah is a Deus otiosus: he has set the world in motion, but now keeps aloof from it; its management is left to two contrasting and contending powers, the Good Spirit and the Evil Spirit. In Zervanism, Zervan creates Ahura Mazdah and the Evil Spirit and then takes no further part in the affairs of the world. In his aloofness Zoroaster's Ahura Mazdah, as seen by Nyberg, reminds one of the shadowy gods of Gnostic systems, who are known as 'The Nameless God' or 'The Stranger'.

This is the central point in the religion into which Zoroaster was born. He would no doubt have transmitted it unchanged to succeeding generations, had not exterior events compelled him to search his heart and reformulate his creed. The event that produced a revolution in his mind was missionary activity by primitive polytheists, by that group which put the God Mithra into the foreground. The propagandists of Mithraism, with their animal sacrifices and nocturnal haoma orgies, exercised an unholy fascination upon the simple, unsophisticated members of Zoroaster’s community. The number of those who attended the Maga to spend their days in a peaceful coma grew less and less; the situation worsened from day to day. Zoroaster held stoutly 'to his ancient religion at the beginning, but soon his mind was affected by doubts. This is the 'great crisis' in his life.

In his perplexity, he turned to his God: Ahura Mazdah heard his prayer: he received a revelation. In a vision, he saw that his earlier theology had been wrong Ahura Mazdah, in truth, was not I the God who keeps aloof from the world, the God that had created both the Good and the Evil Spirits. No, Ahura Mazdah was an I active God, who guided the good, who was ever ready to stretch out a helping hand to those who fought for Truth, He had not I created the Evil Spirit: the Evil Spirit was independent, hostile to  him and all his creatures, equal or almost equal in power. In short, while he had been a Zervanist before, Zoroaster now became a strict Dualist, the author of that dualism that has characterized Zoroastrianism through the ages.

Armed with his new theology Zoroaster turned to the attack. However, while he had been able to do very little against the lusty Mithraists before, his sudden change of front did not improve matters. One can easily imagine that the few faithful friends that were ready to stand by him now despaired and lured away. At any rate, he had to leave his tribe, reviled by his enemies, abandoned by his friends. The great crisis in Zoroaster's life -- if I may use words I used once before -- can be summed up in four words: alcohol prevailed over hemp.

He found refuge in another tribe whose chief, one Viŝtaspa, welcomed him with open arms. Geographically, his move was from the Oxus to the Jaxartes -- we had seen that in Herzfeld's view the journey was from Raga to Tus. Viŝtaspa’s tribe had originally observed religious customs similar to those current in Zoroaster's home country. Yet some time before Zoroaster's arrival this tribe, too, had become converted to Mithraism. Nevertheless, Viŝtaspa's tribe proves more receptive than his own to Zoroaster's persuasive words, and Viŝtaspa himself soon experiences the happiness of ecstasy on the newly established Maga. However, there is a considerable change in Zoroaster's attitude. He no longer fulminates against the wicked Mithraists. His earlier lack of success has made him more cautious in his dealings with them. He is ready to compromise. We might say he has become a realist. He begins to make advances to the Mithraists, he uses bits of their terminology, and he makes little concessions here and there. It was only by proceeding in this worldly-wise fashion that he succeeded in establishing himself in Viŝtaspa's tribe at all. And, fortunately for him, his new friends .were still lukewarm in their Mithraism, were equally ready to make compromises. They accepted Zoroaster as their spiritual leader, they accepted Ahura Mazdah, the dualism the Amesha Spantas, the Maga and all that went with it. And Zoroaster accepted Mithra and Anahita and other constituents of Mithraism in its local form. He even admitted the haoma against which he had inveighed shortly before; but to relieve his conscience, he insisted on a radical change in the ingredients: in future haoma was to consist chiefly of water, milk, and plant-juice.

Thus Zoroaster, none other, became the founder of the composite Zoroastrianism, which other students attribute to later development. How far Zoroaster went in absorbing Mithraist elements is not very clear from Nyberg's book. At any rate, he began that process of uniting and combining which was continued after him by his disciples.

In concluding this brief description of Nyberg's theories, I hope I have given a fairly accurate idea of the chief points in which he differs from earlier interpreters of Zoroaster. My description is necessarily selective, and the selection is in some respects colored by personal views; others may regard other matters as of greater importance.[8] The points I have stressed are those on which I shall make a few remarks in these lectures.

Any student who contemplates the figure of Zoroaster drawn by Herzfeld on the one hand, by Nyberg on the other, will be filled with perplexity. How is it possible, one is bound to ask, that two scholars of renown who work with precisely the same material, use exactly the same sources, arrive at results that are diametrically opposed to each other? Here is Herzfeld's Zoroaster: a backstairs politician, an exiled nobleman who goes to the races when not engaged in malicious gossip. There is Nyberg's Zoroaster: a prehistoric man, a drunken witch-doctor muttering gibberish on his ludicrous Maga. There is comfort in the thought that if the one is right the other must be absurdly wrong there in no middle way. There is more comfort in the possibility that both may be wrong.

It must be borne in mind that the theories advanced by Herzfeld and Nyberg are in opposition not only to each other, but also to the common opinion on Zoroaster, the opinion gradually developed by scholars during the last one hundred and fifty years. At least I think it is permissible to talk of a common opinion for even though there was always a great deal of divergence of views, nevertheless, there had emerged commonly accepted notions on many essential points. One hesitates to abandon this common opinion in favor of theories that are as strongly contested as Nyberg's and Herzfeld's are. At the beginning of this lecture, I pointed out that Nyberg had strongly criticized Herzfeld's ideas, and Herzfeld even more strongly Nyberg's views. It is noteworthy and significant that their mutual criticism carries conviction nearly throughout, while the exposition of the views they favor leaves the student filled with doubt and misgiving.

Although at first glance the theories presented by Nyberg and Herzfeld appear to be in contrast with each other, when one looks deeper on finds that nevertheless there are certain features in which they share. It is perhaps not accidental that the points that are common to them are also those that provoke the liveliest objection; the remainder of this lecture will be devoted to their enumeration.

Firstly, as I mentioned just now, they are at one in the dim view I they take of the labors of their predecessors in Zoroastrian studies. Their attitude oscillates between the patronizing and the downright contemptuous. For example, Nyberg sums up the common opinion on Zoroaster in these words:[9] the picture of a progressive country parson an interest in agrarian reforms -- nicely formulated but scarcely an accurate description.

Secondly, both authors are certain in their minds that they have understood Zoroaster correctly, and tell us so frequently. It is pleasant to find this conviction in the midst of a maze of uncertainty. They would probably regard it as more accurate to describe their opinions as plain facts than as hypotheses.

Thirdly, both scholars have built their theories largely on the re-interpretation of words and to some extent on the emendation, is not of passages in the Avesta. The second feature, emendation, is not so prominent in Nyberg's work, but very much so in Herzfeld's writings. Indeed, Herzfeld, when dealing with obscure passages, was fond of declaring: this line must mean so-and-so; therefore, it does mean so-and-so; if grammar does not agree with it, well, so much the worse for grammar.

Of far greater importance is the re-interpretation of words. Inevitably, there is a large number of words in the Avesta whose meanings are unknown, and a further large number whose meanings are imperfectly known; and such unknown or imperfectly known words are particularly numerous in the Gathas. Then there are the words whose meaning is not in doubt; but even they, as all words, have a certain range of meaning and from that range, one can select an eccentric meaning. Now if one attributes an entirely arbitrary set of meanings to the unknown words, in such a way that this set of meanings is consistent within itself and conforms to a preconceived notion of the contents of the Gathas, and if one proceeds to select suitable extreme meanings for the known words, one can translate the Gathas (or for that matter any ancient text that carries a sufficient number of unknown words) in any way one likes; one can turn them into a philosophical treatise or a political notebook, a lawgiver's code or a soothsayer's utterance. Take a word that properly means 'house' or 'dwelling': one can say 'in the Gathas this word always designates the residence of the royal family' or one can say 'in the Gathas this word regularly denotes the felt-hut in which the can give the sense of these ancient verses a twist in any direction one may have in mind.

This 'method' was first introduced into this subject by Hertel. He noticed what everybody else had noticed before him, namely, that the ancient Iranians had the highest regard for Fire and Light. Proceeding from this correct observation he soon conceived the notion that they had had regard for Fire and Light only, and set out to translate the Avesta in conformity with his ideas. He proved to his satisfaction that almost every word in the Avesta meant 'light' or 'bright' or 'fiery' or the like. It is difficult to preserve one’s gravity when one reads his translations, which happily have not been taken seriously by most students. That his method should have been revived, in modified forms, by Herzfeld and Nyberg is a matter for regret. It is due to its application that on the one hand harmless words, such as xwafna 'sleep', are given a restricted and specialized meaning, such as 'trance', suitable to it shamanist environment, and that on the other hand the Gahas turn out to be crowded with the technical terms of racing, as in fitting for the poems of an idle gentleman.

The fourth point common to the two scholars is their tendency to project the cultural phenomena of a later age into the more distant past. Thus Herzfeld seeks to elucidate events in the circle around his Zoroaster by constant reference to the happenings at the court of the Abbaside Caliphs, at the court of a Ma'mun or a Mutawakkil; yet there is a world of difference between the cultural levels of these two epochs: so much has happened in between, the Persian Empire, Macedonians and Greek, Parthians, Sassanians, and Islam, that intermediate comparison is misleading rather than helpful. Similarly, Nyberg calls on the Dancing Dervishes of fairly recent times to lend support to his dancing and shrieking Zoroaster; indeed, his Zoroaster is modeled, in many respects, on the Muslim Dervishes. He anticipates our objection and surmises that the customs of those Dervishes may have had their origin in the shamanist: Zoroastrianism; thus the Dervish customs are to help explain Zoroaster as a shaman, and the shamanist Zoroaster serves to explain, the Dervish customs.

There is another matter, which could be mentioned here. It seems to me that Nyberg's opinion on Zoroaster has been influenced in yet another way by his extensive knowledge of Islam, influenced in particular by the figure of Mohammed; Mohammed, that is to say, as seen by Western scholars. There is an implicit resemblance:

(a)                 Mohammed, who had hallucinations and visions owing to some nervous disorder; some unkind spirits even used to say he was an epileptic Zoroaster; who had vision through the physical and mental collapse attending shamanist practices; perhaps he was even a drug-addict.

b)                Mohammed, the fervent preacher of the end of the world, who was rejected by his people and compelled to leave Mecca in danger of his life --Zoroaster, precisely the same, if we put 'home-tribe' instead of Mecca.

(c)                 Mohammed, after the Hijrah, in al-Medinah, turning from a prophet into a politician -- Zoroaster, after his flight, in Viŝtaspa's tribe, turning from a prophet: into a religious politician.


However, there is genuine resemblance in one point only: both prophets leave their own country in distress and become honored in their place of refuge; which merely illustrates what has been said on the point in the Gospels.

The fifth point is the claim that the Zoroastrians, who believed themselves the true disciples of Zoroaster, were wrong in this belief, that in fact they did not understand Zoroaster at all. It is plain that both Nyberg and Herzfeld are bound to make this claim; for the view they take of Zoroaster it is basically different from the view held by the Zoroastrians through the ages. As to Herzfeld's Zoroaster, it is sufficient to point out that the Zoroastrians regarded their prophet as a prophet, not as a politician. And as regards Nyberg's Zoroaster, it is well known how deeply the Zoroastrians, at all times, abhorred such obscure practices as Nyberg attributes to their founder. Indeed, Nyberg himself admits that even in the later parts of the Avesta such practices are roundly condemned, and that the Maga, on which his Zoroaster performed, is treated with scant respect. One can add that this lack of appreciation went so far that in Sassanian times the word 'Maga' could be used for nothing more dignified than a lavatory.[10] It is, of course, admitted that the faithful of any religion are apt to see their founder through rose colored spectacles, and to him to understand him properly, in true historical perspective; but there are degrees of misunderstanding. Moreover, in no point are religions more conservative than in the forms of service and ritual observances; and of all religions known Zoroastrianism is perhaps the most conservative.

And so I come to the sixth and last point: the inadequacy of the figures drawn by Herzfeld and Nyberg to the place of Zoroaster in history. Whatever Zoroaster was, at any rate he was the founder of one of the great religions of the world. A great nation revered him as its prophet. Long after the Iranians had forgotten Cyrus and Darius and all their crowd, they continued to accord nearly divine honors to Zoroaster. Herzfeld's Zoroaster is manifestly insufficient one does not see why this slightly shady politician, who, had nothing in particular to his credit, should have been remembered at all. Nyberg at least admits Zoroaster to the dignity of prophet; but his ecstatic witch-doctor is not greatly distinguished from the multitude of other ecstatic witch-doctor that, one in each generation, interceded with the spirits fix their fellow tribesmen in each tribe all over northern Asia. His one distinction, it seems, is that he admitted not merely polytheists but polytheism into his Church. That would have been treason -- a compromise where no compromise can be allowed. It would have earned him contempt and derision instead of reverence and devotion.

It is said that Mohammed, driven to despair by the unbelievers, faltered one day and emitted a revelation, which accorded sanctity to three goddesses whom the idolaters worshiped. Mohammed repented at once of his momentary weakness and proclaimed his error on the next day. Thus, he regained the respect of his friends and enemies. Had he persisted in this mistake, Islam would have died before it was born. That is exactly what would have happened to Zoroaster's religion, had Zoroaster been weak enough to adopt Mithra or any such divinity. His memory would not have survived the next generation.

[1] The Journal of Theological Studies, xliv (1943), pp. 119-22.
[2] Herzfeld, Zoroaster and his World, i. 349; cf. ibid. 199.
[3] Cf. ibid. 202
[4] Cf. ibid. 186.
[5] Cf. Herzfeld, op. cit, i. 203.
[6] Cf. ibid. i. 202
[7] Cf. Nyberg, Die Religionen des alten Iran, p. 45.
[8] I pass by in silence such interposting matters as the 'Begiessung' Of the pastures with cow urine (Nyberg, op. cit., pp. 198 sqq), an activity which the followers of Zoroaster, to believe Nyberg apparently considered necessary and desirable.
[9] Nyberg, op. cit. p. 202.
[10] E.h. Yoist-I Fryan, iii. 69.