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Zoroaster Politician or Witch Doctor (lecture 3 of 3)

Series:
Library

Author:
Henning, Walter B..

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 human beings.

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 of date.

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 times.

The linguistic 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 [1], 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. Hildegarde Lewy, [2] anti perfected by Sayyid Hasan Taqizadeh. [3] 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 mentioned.

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. [4] 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 document [5] 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. [6]

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 was extinguished.

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 this error. [7] 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. [8] 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 admirably.  [9] 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 Parthians. [10]

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.[11] 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 indicates.

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 definite proof.

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 impeded.

Although the 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); [12] 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 gwa-, Orm. yu-; arma 'leave alone', armic 'leave him alone', cf. Av. airime, armaead- etc., otherwise only in Scythian apiua 'one' and Ossetic armast 'alone'; waraynik 'falcon' = Av. Otherwise only in Sogdian wryn-; 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 karbida [13] 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. [14] There is little doubt that it was from this verb [15] 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.

How different 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 own value.

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.

Zoroaster's dualism 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 respect?

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 resulting inconsistencies.

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 ago. [16] 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 foreign sources. 

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 [17] 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, [18] 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 demons Kundi [19] and Gandarawa [20] 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 problem.

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.


[1] Bull. School Or. & Afr. Stud. xi (1943), p. 73.

[2] 'The Genesis of the Faulty Persian Chronology', JAOS. lxiv (1944), pp. 197-214. 

[3] The 'Era of Zoroaster', JRAS. (1947), pp. 33-40.

[4] Occasionally 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.).

[5] 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.

[6] H.C. Pucch. Le Manicheisme (1950), p. 33 and notes 109-10, pp. 115-16, has now arrived at the same result.

[7] See S. H. Taqizadeh, Bull. School Or. Stud. X.129 sq.

[8] H. Pognon, Inscriptions Mandaites des coupes de Khouabir, p. 113.

[9] J. Markwart; Wehrot und Arang, pp. 8 sqq.

[10] Cf. W. W. Tarn, Greeks Bactria, pp. 478 sqq.

[11] Nor, incidentally, is the name of Persia or the Persians mentioned.

[12] A. Cowley, Aramaic Papyri, No. 43.1.9. The word should not be translated as 'compatriot'.

[13] From karba (iptve. sg. 2) + hi (suff. pron. sg. 3) + da (iptve. particle).

[14] Cf. Islamica iii, 207, 15-6.

[15] Cf. Skt. krp-.

[16] Apud S. G. Champion. The Eleven Religions (1944), p. 291.

[17] M 28. F. W. K. Muller published a part of it, but omitted the most interesting sections. The captions are R jwwgyg 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 ymysnc
'c ydr xwd dnynd
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.

 [18] The Manichaean 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.

[19] Kuni as 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).

[20] Gwnrp in 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.).