Lecture 1 of 3
lecture 2 of 3
In my first two
lectures I gave some of the reasons that prevent me from accepting the
extravagant views on Zoroaster which Nyberg and Herzfeld have presented.
In this lecture, we shall be occupied with reviewing some matters that lie
within the area of common opinion.
I hope I shall be
forgiven if I refrain from defining what the common opinion on Zoroaster
is. There is scarcely a point on which there is unanimity: Zoroaster's
time and place, the religion he inherited from his forefathers, the
message he brought, his aim, his community, the development of his church,
the history of the Avesta – each scholar will dissent from his fellows on
one point or the other. In spite of this healthy divergence of views,
there are nevertheless certain basic matters on which all but extremists
are agreed. We must not lose sight of the essentials in favour of mere
details. It is agreed, for example, that Zoroaster was a man of forceful
personality who impressed the people of his time so deeply that his memory
was never extinguished; that he was a prophet, if prophet means one who
believes himself inspired by a divine being to bring a message to his
people; that he possessed moral integrity, preached truth and
truthfulness, and abhorred lies, deceit, and hypocrisy; that he had
something new to say that was worth both saying and listening to; and that
the people whose spiritual guide he was were not savages but reasonable
The first matter to be
considered' in this lecture is the date of Zoroaster. It is obviously
impossible to understand anything of anyone without knowing, at least
approximately, the time in which he lived, without apprehending, by such
knowledge, his environment, the conditions of life, the cultural situation
in which he found himself, To say that the date is irrelevant shows
abysmal lack of feeling for all history. The date must be settled one way
or the other; without it all discussion on Zoroaster will retain futile.
On the date there have
been, in essence, only two opinions. The Zoroastrian tradition has
preserved a date which would put Zoroaster in the neighborhood of 600 B.C.
Opinion is divided according to whether this traditional date is accepted
as true or rejected.
I will say straightway
that I count myself among those who accept the date and all that flows
from it. There is nothing in the historical situation in the cultural
environment, in the religious development, in fact in anything, that can
be said to conflict with it. As it can be shown to be in perfect agreement
with the required conditions, we should accept it as a fact and suppress
the natural urge to doubt all and everything, and in particular any kind
Those who reject the
date seem to do so not so much because of reasoned arguments but out: of a
vague feeling, the feeling that the Gathas of Zoroaster are old, old, ever
so old as if 600 B.C. were not old enough for almost any thing! It was due
to the same kind of vague feeling that earlier generations of scholars
attributed, the Rig-Veda to the third millennium B.C. – an estimate that
is thoroughly discredited nowadays. Of course, this feeling is not, as a
rule, represented as such, but appears in the guise of specious reasoning.
In the: case of Zoroaster we have to deal chiefly with two pleas one is a
linguistic argument of such extraordinary feebleness that one is amazed at
finding it seriously discussed at all; the other is the hitherto
unsuccessful attempt to set the traditional date aside by showing that it
is not a genuinely transmitted date, but one found by calculation in later
argument is this in comparison with the language of the Old Persian
inscriptions the language of the Gathas is far less developed far closer
to hypothetical Old Iranian therefore, the Gathas should be older than the
oldest Old Persian inscriptions by more than a few decades. This argument
would hold good only if the language of the Gathas were the same dialect,
at an earlier stage, as Old Persian; but that is not the case and has
never been claimed. It is notorious that the various dialects of one and
the same language group develop at different speeds and in different
directions, so that the comparison of two dialects can never lead to a
relative date. Moreover, in Iranian the Eastern and Western dialects
developed not merely in different but in opposite directions thus while
the word endings disappeared in the West, they were well maintained in the
East. From the point of view of comparative linguistics the Gathas could
have been composed at a date far later than 600 B.C.
Thus, the only
possible way of disparaging the traditional date is by proving that a
clever chronologist concocted it. The latest attempt of this kind was by
Nyberg who attributed its invention to the time of Yezdegerd 'the Sinner',
around A.D. 400, when the expectation that the end of the world was near
had kept (to believe Nyberg) chronologists working overtime. We need not
go into the details of his ingenious construction; for there is no
evidence of any description to show that the Persians of the time of
Yezdegerd were worried by millennial speculations; but, what is more
important, it has been proved in the meantime that the traditional date
must have been known as early as the beginning of the Sassanian reign, in
the third century.
Not much value can be
attached to a Manichaean text
, which gives the time
passed between the Biblical Enoch and King Vistaspa on the basis of a
calculation in which the traditional date of Zoroaster appears to be
involved; there is a gap in the manuscript at the critical point, However,
clear proof is furnished by a discovery made by an American scholar, Dr.
 anti perfected by Sayyid
 It is briefly this:
Under the first
Sassanian kings a system of chronology was established which allowed the
Arsacid dynasty, the Parthian kings whom the Sassanians displaced, only
266 years, little more than half the period during which that dynasty had,
in fact, ruled over Iran. This singular mistake was explained by an Arab
author of the tenth century, Mas'udi, as due to deliberate fraud on the
part of the Sassanian kings, who had wished to belittle the memory of
their hated predecessors and therefore, the length of their rule
unsuitably impressive, simply decreed its reduction by half, In spite of
its strangeness Mas'udi's explanation found credit until recent times; the
truth of the matter has only now been recognized by the two scholars I
At the beginning of
the Sassanian epoch there was current in Persia only one era by which
events could be conveniently dated the Seleucid era.
 That it was widely used in that country is well
established; thus the Parthian coins date by it. However, although the
Seleucid era was used its origin was not known; in particular, the
Persians did not know that it was a foreign era. Wrongly believing it to
be an indigenous way of counting years, they combined it recklessly with
their world-year of twelve thousand years, which had been devised many
centuries earlier, perhaps in the fifth century B.C. This world-year had
been a vague affair. The great events of world history as seen by the
Persians were fixed in it: the creation of the world, the First Man, the
coming of Zoroaster the future Messiah, Judgment Day, etc.; but it had no
precise relation to everyday This was changed now : by becoming combined
with the Seleucid era the world-year ceased to be a nebulous speculation
and gained practical importance. The years of the Seleucid era were
identified with the corresponding years of the tenth millennium of the
world-year; thus the Seleucid year 538, which was counted as the official
beginning of Sassanian rule, became the year 9538 of the world era.
'Now, on the other
hand, the tenth millennium is the one that opens with the Coming of
Zoroaster. In the year 9,001 Zoroaster, then 4.2 years of age, converted
King Vistaspa. From that time until Alexander the Great 258 years passed.
Alexander was believed to have ruled for fourteen years. This t h e n is
the 'traditional date of Zoroaster' either 258 years before Alexander or
258+14 = 272 years before the death of Alexander (the Coming of Zoroaster)
or 258+42 = 300 years before Alexander (the birth of Zoroaster).
When the Seleucid era
was identified with the tenth millennium, its beginning necessarily
coincided with the Coming of Zoroaster. Thus, the Seleucid era became, so
to speak, the 'era of Zoroaster'. The mistake that was made in determining
the length of the Arsacid rule followed automatically. Ardeshir, the first
Sassanian king, ascended the throne in 538. Subtract from 538 the 258
years from the Coming of Zoroaster to Alexander and the 14 years of
Alexander, then the remainder must be the period of Arsacid rule (which
was wrongly believed to have begun with the death of Alexander), This
remainder is precisely 266 years, the number of years actually allotted to
the Arsacids in the Sassanian tradition.
The mistake thus
proves to be a perfectly innocent one. It reveals not deliberate fraud, as
Mas'udi thought, but singular ignorance of Iranian history. The point that
concerns us here is that the mistake presupposes acquaintance with the
traditional date of Zoroaster, 258 years before Alexander. It became
possible only because the traditional date was not merely known to exist,
but respected as an immutable quantity.
The intrusion of the
Seleucid era into 'the Zoroastrian sacred calendar is, at first sight,
very strange. It becomes less so when one knows that it as misused, in a
similar fashion, by the Manicheans. The Manicheans had the same kind of
world-year as the Zoroastrians -- 12,000 years, 12 world-months of one
thousand years each. The world-months, as the months of the solar year,
could be (and usually were) named after the twelve constellations; thus
the first thousand years constituted the 'millennium of Aries', the second
the 'millennium of Taurus', and so on. There exists an interesting Chinese
 on the Manichaean
religion that so far has not been made accessible to Western scholars. It
is a brief statement, which the Manichaean bishop of China submitted to
the Chinese emperor in A.D. 731. It gives the chief points in the history
of the Manichaean Church, its dogmas, rites, sacred books, and so forth.
In that document, it is said that according to the world-year calendar 'in
the 527th year of the era controlled by the P2th constellation called
mo-hsieh the Buddha of Light. Mani was born in the country of Su-lin in
the royal palace of Pa-ti etc.’ the name of the twelfth constellation,
mo-hsieh, is the Parthian or Sogdian word for Pisces, masyag. According to
this statement, Mani was born in the year 11,527 of the world-era. Now we
know that Mani was in fact born in the year 527 of the Seleucid era. The
Manicheans therefore had identified the Seleucid era dates with the
corresponding years of the twelfth and last millennium, while the
Zoroastrians had chosen the tenth millennium more providently for as early
as at the date of the Chinese document, A.D. 731, the Manicheans must have
found it difficult to explain why the end of the world had not come with
the end of the twelfth millennium, which should have occurred in the
spring of 690 over forty years before.
Although it forms no
part of the subject under discussion, it may be worthwhile to mention here
that the Chinese document makes it possible to fix the date of the birth
of Mani. According to it, he was born on the eighth day of the second
Chinese month and died on the fourth day of the first month. These dates
were not properly converted, but merely translated. We know that Mani died
on the fourth day of the Babylonian month Adtlaru, As first Chinese month
here corresponds to Addaru, second Chinese month should be equal to the
Babylonian month following upon Addaru, which is Nisan, Mani, therefore,
was born on the eight of Nisan in the Seleucid year 527, which corresponds
to the 14th of April A.D. 216.
To return now to
Zoroaster, I think we can say that the earlier attempts at disparaging the
traditional date have broken down by the demonstration that the date was
established by the third century of our era at the latest. It is to be
expected that there will be fresh attempts, aiming to show that the date
was found by calculation; until that has been shown conclusively, we shall
be wise to assume that it is a genuine date.
There is no difficulty
in such an assumption. It is but natural that the members of the early
Zoroastrian community should have counter the years from a significant
moment in the life of their prophet, and that they should have gone on
doing so until Alexander destroyed the Persian Empire and, with it, the
power of the Magi; that with the confusion brought on by the Macedonian
conquest: the counting of years should have been interrupted, but, that,
nevertheless, that one date, so-and-so many years before Alexander, should
have been remembered for all time, although otherwise the memory of all
that went on before Alexander and of much that happened after Alexander
That there is nothing
strange in all this is readily understood when one considers what
Alexander meant to the Persians. To the modern historians who base
themselves on Greek or Macedonian authors only, and who in judging the
source material give preference to Alexander's intimate friends and
companions (the Orientalist might say his accomplices), while they silence
the few critical voices among the Greek writers by pointing out that they
had no firsthand knowledge of events since they had no share in
Alexander's army command (and, one is tempted to add, no share in the
immense booty Alexander's activities brought). Alexander may appear as a
saint. To his Persian victims he seemed a veritable monster. They failed
to notice the high civilisatory motives, which the historians are fond of
ascribing to him. They only saw a bloodthirsty conqueror who exterminated
whole nations in senseless massacre, who burned their towns and stole
their possessions, who even robbed their temples and the tombs of their
ancestors. The conquest by Alexander is the greatest break in the
continuity of Persian history; it took the Persians more than half a
millennium to recover from its effects. That is why the counting of the
years of Zoroaster came to be interrupted with the advent of Alexander.
When one tries to see
Alexander as he was see by the Persians, one also understands what the
final term is in the date 258 years before Alexander, It cannot refer, for
example, to the birth of Alexander or to his accession to the throne of
Macedonia, happenings that were irrelevant from the Persian point of view.
It can refer only to the event that made him the ruler of all Asia, the
death of Darius, the last Achaemenid king in the summer of 330. The date
of Zoroaster is thus 588 B.C. However, from time: to time it has been
suggested that the date 258 years before Alexander should mean 258 years
before the beginning of the Seleucid era, because that era was sometimes
called 'the era of Alexander. This explanation cannot be maintained; it is
based solely on a mistake which the eminent Muslim astronomer al-Beruni
committed in one of his early works, but which he himself denounced in a
treatise he wrote later in life for the express purpose of apologizing for
 Moreover, the Seleucid
era only gradually came to be used in Persia, where its introduction
passed unnoticed. It was never known in that country as 'the era of
Alexander' how little it was associated with the name of Alexander is best
seen by the early Sassanian construction of chronology, which put
Alexander in the 258th year of that era and not at its beginning.
We are thus entitled
to hold to the view that the year 588 B.C. is the true date of Zoroaster,
The one uncertain point is whether the year from which his adherents
counted was the one in which he reached the age of thirty and had his
first revelation, or the one when he was forty and had his first success,
or the one when he was forty-two and. converted King Vistaspa. The
differences are not of much account. The tradition says that his age at
death was seventy-seven. Accordingly, the three possible dates of
Zoroaster are: 630-553, 628-551, 618-541.
It is not without
interest that such a date was given as early as the eighth century by a
Syrian writer, Theodore bar Qoni, who put Zoroaster 628 years and seven
months before Christ.
 If, as is generally
supposed, Theodore bar Qoni used the book, which Theodore of Mopsuestia
had written against the Magian religion, this date may have been known
even at the beginning of the fifth century.
Thus, the lifetime of
Zoroaster immediately preceded the destruction of the Median state by the
Persian Cyrus, who conquered the countries of the whole of Asia as known
at that time and laid the foundation of the Achaemenian Empire. How far
the Median state had extended to the east is not known; there is nothing
to indicate that it had ever reached beyond the Caspian Gates. It is
likely that it was Cyrus who joined the eastern half of Iran to the
western provinces to Media and Persia; we know that he met his death
fighting with nomad tribes somewhere between Marv and the southeastern
corner of the Caspian Sea.
If Cyrus was the first
western ruler to conquered the provinces of eastern Iran, they must have
been organized, before his advent, in the form of a state or a number of
states. Otherwise, if nomad tribes merely had roamed these vast areas,
each independent of the next and each hostile to all others, even the
great Cyrus could not have accomplished their organization in the brief
years he could devote to the East. That would have been a task needing
centuries rather than generations; and Cyrus, of course, was chiefly
occupied with his western provinces, with Media, Babylonia and Asia Minor.
Moreover, there are
reflexes in the Greek tradition, which point to the existence of a state
in eastern Iran that was independent of the Medians. There is, in
particular, the story of the River Akes, which Marquart has analyzed so
According to this story, which Herodotus gives, presumably from Hecataios,
the Khwarezmians, in the old days, possessed the valley of the akes, i.e.
the Hari-rud and its continuation, the modern Tejen. They exercised some
measure of suzerainty over the Hyrcanians, the Parthians, the Saragians of
Seistan, and the Thamanaeans of Arachosia. Both Marv and Herat were then
occupied by the Khwarezmians, whom Hecataios in one of the few fragments
of his work that have come down to us, places to the east of the
We can thus be fairly
certain that there was a state in eastern Iran which centered around Marv
and Herat and co-existed with the Median Empire; which was fed by the
Khwarezmians and abolished by Cyrus, who deprived them of their southern
provinces, whereupon they gradually retired to their northern possessions
along the River Oxus.
Zoroaster and his
protector, Kavi Vistaspa, fit effortlessly into this situation. The Avesta
places them in. a country vaguely named Airyanem Vaejo. Both the Avesta
and the later Zoroastrian tradition assure us that this Airyanam Vaejo was
Khwarezm. This identification should be accepted, but with the
qualification, that Airyanam Vaejo was not merely the Khwarezm of later
times, when it comprised only the districts near the lower course of the
Oxus, but the Khwarezm of the time of Vistaspa, of which Marv and Herat
formed perhaps the most important part. It is remark- able that according;
to the Avesta and the whole Persian tradition, as embodied in the
Sassanian Khudai-namag, Vistaspa was the last of a line of kings. If we
see Vistaspa, as we should, as the ruler of the Khwarezmian state of Marv
and Herat in the first half of the sixth century, we understand why his
dynasty and his state disappeared all of a sudden: his state suffered the,
fate that Babylon and Lydia had suffered, it lost its separate existence
in Cyrus' gigantic empire.
Not more than a
passing glance deserves the pseudo-historical construction by some
Sassanian theologians, who, at a time when the eastern provinces were lost
to the Persians, tried to localize Zoroaster in the West, in Media or
Azerbaijan. Its absurdity is apparent when one considers the geographical
horizon of the Avesta, A sufficiently large number of place-names occur in
the Avesta. We find references to such regions as Seistan, Arachosia, the
Hindukush, Bactria, Sogdiana, Marv, Herat, Hyrcania; but the very name of
Media is not mentioned in the whole of it.
Only Raga, the north-easternmost town of Media, the first town entered by
a traveler from the East, occurs in two particularly late passages.
Moreover, one can say confidently that any unbiased reading of the Gathas
always has given, and always will give, the impression that their author
was untouched by urban civilization. Yet Media was the one corner of Iran,
at the time of Zoroaster that boasted towns and had reached the state of
civilization that goes with the existence of towns.
Summing up, one can
say that the traditional date of Zoroaster is in agreement with the
requirements of history; and inversely, that the little we know of history
demands the date that the tradition provides and the place that it
To turn now for a
moment from history to linguistics, the study of the distribution of the
various Iranian dialects and of their inter-relation offers little hope of
determining the localities in which the speakers of the languages
preserved in the Avesta lived. The most one can say is that the two
principal dialects of the Avesta are neither pronouncedly western Iranian
nor markedly eastern Iranian, that in fact they occupy an intermediary
position. This would agree with the assumption that the Gathas were
composed in the neighborhood of Marv and Herat, and the later Avestan
texts for the greater part in Seistan; but as we know nothing of the
languages that were spoken in those regions in later times, and as no
dialects have survived there to the present day, we cannot count on
At present, our one
hope in this field lies in the further exploration of the Khwarezmian
language material; I may perhaps recall that, together with my friend
Ahmed Zeki Validi Togan. I was the first to draw attention to this
material and make some use of it; a few years later our Russian colleagues
announced their discovery of the same material and made the same use of
it; they also promised an early publication, which so far we have waited
for in vain. While it is true that there are considerable difficulties to
be surmounted before the Khwarezmian glosses can properly be utilized for
the purpose of comparison, it would nevertheless be wrong to leave them
out of account altogether, merely because their publication has been
Khwarezmian material is of very late date the earliest from the eleventh
century, the bulk from the thirteenth -- it preserves features of the
ancient language. One can quote such verbs as iyy - 'to go', Av.
iy-; miyy - 'to die', A.v. mirya- ; such nouns as anget (ankit)
'partner', an agricultural term hitherto known only from Aramaic papyri of
the fifth century B.C. (hebrew);
 afcur 'uncle',
reflecting an ancient ptruya, Av. tuirya - udir; 'belly' from udara -;
azid silver from Av. erezata - (OPers. ardata-); raxt 'red' cf. Skt. rakta
-. Of special interest are those cases in which Khwarezmian goes with
Avestan. A few representative words may be mentioned here: uzanik
'neighbor' Av. versenya-; ryen(d) - 'to call, invite' = Av. gren -; wass -
'to say' = Av. vasa-, otherwise only in Balochi gwaš-, Orm. yuš-; arma
'leave alone', armic 'leave him alone', cf. Av. airime, armaešad- etc.,
otherwise only in Scythian apiua 'one' and Ossetic armast 'alone';
waraynik 'falcon' = Av. Otherwise only in Sogdian w’ryn-; uzira 'arisel',
a form that not merely sounds Avestan, but is actually found in the
Avesta; karbun 'lizard', of the many words of this stem that occur in the
various Iranian dialects the only one that corresponds precisely to Av.
kahrpuna... And though last not least, the verbal stem karb- 'to moan' or
'mumble', a derogatory term: to say ma karba, which roughly meant 'don't
talk nonsense', was considered a grave insult; in one passage it is
debated whether a Koran teacher who in exasperation said to his pupil
 ‘go on moaning
(mumbling) it’ was guilty of kufr, the gravest sin, which meant expulsion
from the Muslim community: the lawyers wisely decided that the teacher had
intended to insult not the Koran, but his inept pupil, whose way of
reading the sacred book left much to be desired.
 There is little doubt
that it was from this verb
 that the Gathic term
karapan- was derived, which Zoroaster himself used to refer to the priests
of whom he disapproved.
One cannot go so far
as to say that the linguistic evidence provided by the Khwarezmian
material proves the truth of our historical construction; but one can say
that it is in consonance with it. That is the most one can hope for in our
present state of knowledge.
Having dealt with the
time, the place, and the language of Zoroaster, we turn now to his
religion. If one asks in what points his religion differs from the other
religions of antiquity, the answer is: in his dualism and in his noble
view of Man as the arbiter between Good and Evil. These two matters are
closely bound up with each other. Zoroaster saw that world as the
battlefield of two eternal abstract Powers, Good and Evil, both of which
manifested themselves not only in mental and spiritual phenomena, but also
in the material things of this world; this dualism, accordingly, has been
well described as an ethical dualism, in contradistinction to the dualisms
of a later age in which the two hostile powers were Mind and Matter, or
Soul and Matter.
The battle between
Good and Evil has been in process since Time began and will go on till the
end of the world: but as the two powers are evenly matched, its outcome is
uncertain. The decisive factor will be the collective action of humanity.
Every man or woman is free to choose which side to join; his or her
support will add permanent strength to the side chosen, and so in the long
run, the acts of Man will weigh the scales in favour of the one side or
the other. Thus, Zoroaster beside his principal two powers recognizes a
third, which, though not of equal rank, holds the balance.
Zoroaster's Man is from the cringing primitive who runs to his witch
doctor to beg for protection against the dark threats of imaginary
spirits; or from the trembling believer of the contemporaneous religions
of the Near East who approaches his god with fear and servility! He is a
proud man, who faithfully serves the side he has, freely and deliberately,
chosen, but who remains conscious of the value of his support and of his
Zoroaster's view of
Man-- this is the important point -- was not reached by nebulous feeling
or by the dreams that may come to one in a drugged stupor; it can have
been reached only by thinking, and I should say by very clew thinking.
This is true also of his dualism. It seems to me that a dualism of this
kind can have been built only on a preexisting monotheism, on the belief
that one God, a good God, was responsible for the world. For this reason,
I would claim that the religion in which Zoroaster grew up was purely
monotheistic. Zoroaster's religion (as are most dualistic movements) is
best understood as a protest against monotheism. Wherever a monotheistic
religion establishes itself, this protest is voiced - if there is a man
with a brain in. his head. Any claim that the world was created by a good,
and benevolent god must provoke the question why the world, in the
outcome, is so very far from good. Zoroaster's answer, that the world had
been created by a good god and an evil spirit, of equal power, who set out
to spoil the good work, is a complete answer; it Is a logical answer, more
satisfying; to the thinking mind than the one; given by the author of the
Book of Job, who withdrew to the claim that it did not behoove man to
inquire into the ways of Omnipotence.
To us such problems
may seem matters of past history; but to appreciate Zoroaster, we should
see him against the background of his time. If we do that, we cannot help
paying tribute to him as an original thinker; for he was the first to put
forward this protest, based on reasoning, against monotheism; and he was
the first, in drawing the consequence from his dualism to give his lofty
conception of the position of Man. This is a great achievement. It seems
all the greater when we consider that in material culture he was not far
advanced; far less advanced than the peoples of the Near East, whom he
nevertheless surpassed in thought.
So far, I have treated
it as accepted that Zoroaster was a dualist, and that he was the inventor
of his dualism; yet doubt has been thrown on both points. To take the
second first, it need not detain us for long. If for argument's sake we
take it for granted that Zoroaster was a dualist, then we can say that
Zoroaster was the first man known to advocate dualism; that he himself
attributed his message to revelation not to earlier teachers; that by his
adherents he was regarded as their prophet, and as such was believed to
have been the first to proclaim his doctrines. It is a little disingenuous
to say now 'No, he must have learnt his dualism from somebody else, I
don't know whom; it does not matter who it was, anybody would do, anybody,
of course, except Zoroaster himself’. There is no call for a
Shakespeare-Bacon controversy here, all the less as we have not even a
name to hang on the Unknown Genius.
More important is the
denial that Zoroaster was a dualist at all. It has been made, firstly, by
Parsee theologians who are apt to regard the attribution of dualism as an
insult to their prophet and themselves. However, their writings on this
point are clearly apologetic. Early in the last century they were attacked
by Christian missionaries, who revived the hoary arguments against dualism
stored up in the works of the Fathers, and thundered against the Parsee as
St. Augustine once had thundered against the Manicheans. Driven on the
defense some of the Parsee theologians raised the status of their good
God, depreciated. The rank of the Evil Power, and so assimilated their
religion to Christianity. Our sympathy goes to those among them who
withstood the attack and upheld their ancient belief.
has been denied, secondly, by modern scholars, on the basis of their
interpretation of his own words. Several apparently sound reasons have
been advanced. There is a lack of balance in the figures that represent
Good and Evil, e.g. there is Ahura Mazdah on the one side, together with
his agent Spenta Mainyu, the Sacred Spirit; but on the other side there is
only Anra Mainyu, the Evil Spirit. Spanta Mainyu is the counterpart to
Anra Mainyu, so where is a counterpart to Ahura Mazdah? Further,
throughout the Gathas there is the firm conviction that Good will triumph;
the possibility even, that Evil may gain the victory, is not given a
thought; therefore, the Good side must be intrinsically the stronger. Yet
if one party preponderates, how can one talk of dualism? Does not dualism,
in the strict sense, imply that the two powers are evenly matched in every
Such arguments are not
convincing. The same defects, lack of parallelism in the divine and
anti-divine figures and ultimate preponderance of one side over the other
are found in all dualist systems; indeed, far from affecting their
character as dualist, they appear to be necessary ingredients. They are
present even in Manichaeism, the very model of all dualist religions.
The reason for the
apparent attribution of greater weight to one power lies in the nature of
these as religions. Their teachers were not professors of philosophy,
arguing dispassionately the merits of new theories on the origin of the
world; but prophets who fervently sought to rally humanity to their cause.
How could they be expected to admit in public the mere possibility that
their chosen side, whose support they demanded, might lose the great
battle? But in their hearts they knew that the possibility existed,
however much they hoped and even believed that victory would be theirs.
Precisely that knowledge gave impetus to their appeal and power to their
words. It is implicit in their whole activity; for otherwise had the good
side possessed inherent superiority and been bound to win anyway there
would have been no need for them to exert themselves. There is here a
clear conflict between the abstract doctrines and the needs of missionary
policy; what is mere hope and optimism tends to be expressed as if it were
fact. The existence of this conflict has caused enough trouble to the
dualist religions: their enemies were not slow to draw advantage from the
In Manichaeism the
dark or evil Power is led by the King of Darkness. His opponent, in the
creation of the world, is the First Man; but he is an emanation of the
Father of Greatness, the chief of the light or good Power. The relation
between Father of Greatness, First Man, and King of Darkness is precisely
that to be observed between Ahura Mazdah, Spenta Mainyu, and Anra Mainyu.
The Manichaean parallel shows that lack of balance among the leading
figures is permissible; in the minor figures, the absence of symmetry is
even more marked. I would now withdraw the explanation I gave a few years
 It involved the
assumption that in the realm of Darkness there was recognized one higher
than Anra Mainyu and directly opposite to Ahura Mazdah; and that his name
was tabooed and therefore is never mentioned in our sources. There is no
need for this hypothesis, which by its very nature is incapable of proof.
In any case I can find
no evidence in the Gathas in favour of the theory that Professor Nyberg
has evolved on the character of the religion into which Zoroaster was
born; that it was a kind of Zervanism with Ahura Mazdah in the role of the
later Zervan, with Ahura Mazdah as the father of both the Sacred Spirit
and the Evil Spirit. This theory imposes on Zoroastrianism a tortuous
development from Zervanism to the true Zoroastrian dualism, from that back
to Zervanism, and from that again to dualism; it can be dismissed as the
projection of a late belief into earlier times. As indeed the whole of
Nyberg's views on the development that Zoroaster underwent it is based on
the assumption that the Gathas were composed by Zoroaster roughly in the
sequence in which they happen to stand now as part: of the Yasna.
Acquaintance with the history of the sacred books of other religions, the
Bible or the Koran or the Rig-Veda, scarcely encourages one to trust to
such good fortune. As a matter of fact, the Gathas arc arranged simply
according to their metres, those of the same metre having been placed
together; it is hard to believe that Zoroaster, in each stage of his life,
should have confined himself to a single metre, and discarded it in favour
of the next when he grew a few years older.
To my mind, there is
no doubt that Zervanism, with its speculations on Time, its apparatus of
numbers, and the idea of the world-year, is the outcome of contact between
Zoroastrianism and the Babylonian civilization. It originated in the
second half of the Achaemenian period. As a party within the Zoroastrian
Church, it flourished especially during the first centuries of our era,
but was later repressed in favour of the orthodox dualism. Its writings
were expunged from the Zoroastrian literature; nevertheless the scrutiny
of the Pahlavi books (for which we are indebted chiefly to Professor
Nyberg and Mr. Zaehner) has revealed several valuable Zervantist
documents, which the orthodox theologians seem to have over- looked.
Although, thanks to these documents, we are now fairly well acquainted
with Zervanism, we still depend, as regards its principal tenets, on
These foreign sources,
chiefly Syrian and Armenian Christian writers, are undeniably hostile
witnesses. The doctrines they attribute to the Zervanists are often little
short of outrageous. One who has observed the perversions and, not rarely,
downright lies with 'which early Christian polemical writers attacked the
Manicheans (no doubt believing that in their good cause every weapon was
fair), may well hesitate to accept their word when they set out to
ridicule the Zervanists. All here depends on our recognition of the manner
in which these writers obtained and used their information.
It has been evident
for some time that all the principal anti-Zervanite writers based
themselves on one and the same source. At present, it is generally held
that this ultimate source was the book. On the Persian Magism by Theodore
of Mopsuetia a Christian bishop who died in about A.D. 428. This view
leaves out of account a hitherto inaccessible Manichaean text written in
the Middle Persian language. The Manichaean fragment
 mentions the demon
Mahmi, known otherwise only from the Armenian Eznik, and describes his
functions in such a way as to leave no doubt that its author used the same
book as the one that lay before the other anti-Zervanite writers. The
Manichaean author was one of Mani's first disciples (Absursam or someone
close to him) and so must have written about a century before the lifetime
of Theodore of Mopsuestia. Moreover, it is clear from the forms of the
Persian names used in the ultimate source (e.g. MPers. m'hmy,
 Arm, Mahmi) that it
cannot have been written in the Greek language. There are traces of the
Persian dialect in which the Manicheans wrote, i.e. the languages of the
Sassanian court, which the Persians called Dari, thus the names of the
 and Gandarawa
 slow the assimilation of
-nd- to -nn-, which is characteristic of that Persian dialect. The nature
of the book that gave a description of Zervanism remains thus an unsolved
To conclude, I hope to
have shown that the common opinion on Zoroaster, his time, his place, and
his religion, is not altogether absurd. A critic may well point out that I
have failed to say anything new, and I will not contradict him. It is a
fallacy to think that a novel opinion is necessarily right or an old-
opinion necessarily wrong.
School Or. & Afr. Stud. xi (1943), p. 73.
Genesis of the Faulty Persian Chronology', JAOS. lxiv (1944), pp.
The 'Era of
Zoroaster', JRAS. (1947), pp. 33-40.
the 'Arsacid' era was used; thus in the inscription of Artaban V,
dated in the year 462 (erroneously read as 532 by Ghirshman, Monuments
Piot. 97 sqq.).
Yakubi Keiki, Meisa yoin. Rare and unknown Chinese manuscript remains
of Buddhist literature discovered in Tun-huang collected by Sit Aurel
Stein and preserved in the British Museum. Tokyo, 1930, pl. 104.
Taisho Issaikyo, vol. iiv, No. 2141a.
Le Manicheisme (1950), p. 33 and notes 109-10, pp. 115-16, has now
arrived at the same result.
See S. H. Taqizadeh, Bull. School Or. Stud. X.129 sq.
H. Pognon, Inscriptions Mandaites des coupes de Khouabir, p. 113.
Markwart; Wehrot und Arang, pp. 8 sqq.
Cf. W. W.
Tarn, Greeks Bactria, pp. 478 sqq.
incidentally, is the name of Persia or the Persians mentioned.
A. Cowley, Aramaic Papyri, No. 43.1.9. The word should not be
translated as 'compatriot'.
karba (iptve. sg. 2) + hi (suff. pron. sg. 3) + da
Islamica iii, 207, 15-6.
S. G. Champion. The Eleven Religions (1944), p. 291.
M 28. F. W. K.
Muller published a part of it, but omitted the most interesting
sections. The captions are R jwwg’yg bwrs'm, V gwysn'yg
= the verse- homilies of the congregation (Arm. Jok etc.) of Abursam.
The folio contains parts of three alphabetic poems (the last three
verses of one poem, one whole poem, and the first: six verses of
another) abusing other religions. The lines on the Zervanists form
part of the second poem (verses h, w, z, h -- with wd in the
manuscript in place of the original u). Text and translation:
[H] h dwdy ymys’nc
'c ydr xwd d’nynd
And do not also those
know by this very fact
ky prystynd dwr swcyndg
kwsn bdwmyy 'w dwr
that worship the blazing Fire
that their end belongs to Fire?
[W] 'wd gwynd kw whrmyzd
'wd pdys's yn sxwn
And they assert that Ohnnizd
it is consistent with such ideas
wd hrymn br'dr hynd
rsynd w wnywdyh
and Ahrmen are brothers --
that they will come to an evil end.
[Z] z'wr u pdys'gyh
kws mhmy dyw hmwxt
Falsehood and slander
That Mahmi the demon, had taught him
gwynd br whrmyzd
shr rwsn qyrdn
they tell against Ohrmizd:--
to make the world light.
[H] hnzynynd u nhynd
u bwd hy[nd] dwsmyn
They murder and cut to pieces
they have been hostile
dm y whrnmyzd u hrmyn
y hrw dw[n'n] twhmgn
the creatures of Ohrmizd and Ahrmen:
to both the Families.
spelling shows that, contrary to Nyberg op. cit., p. 385, the name
cannot be derived from madmiya-; for original -adm- either remains
unchanged (Parthian and related dialects) or becomes -en- (Middle
Persian), cf. xdm: xem 'wound', nsdm: nisem 'seat, nest', etc.
Manichaean form in the SGV., and so restored by M. Benveniste in
Theodore bar Qoni's account of the Zoroastrians (Le Monde oriental,
xxvi (1932), p. 203).
Theodore bar Qoni, i.e. Gunnarf (< Gonnarb). Different explanations
have been proposed by M. Benveniste (loc. cit., p. 201) and P. de
Menasce (Journal Asiatique, 1949, pp. 4 sqq.).