What is Zoroastrianism?


Most of the modern cultures and philosophical beliefs root in the ancient religions that might have entirely or partly erased from human civilization or modified beyond recognition. Zoroastrianism may be named among them, but it is unique. 

It is an ancient Persian religion. It is difficult to give exact dates but most scholars agree that Zoroastrianism dates back to about 4,000 years ago. There are reasons to believe that it is the first monotheistic religion of the human civilization, although this statement is quite arguable. What is certain – Zoroastrianism is the oldest religion that still exists in modern days.

Zoroastrianism was practiced through the reign of three dynasties in Persia and was substituted by Islam only in the VII AD after the Arab conquest. The new authorities persecuted those people who remained faithful to Zoroastrianism harshly. Eventually, they were forced to become refugees and flee to India. Nowadays Zoroastrianism counts about 200,000 worshipers, who mostly live in Iran and India. 

Zoroaster; the Prophet of Ancient Iran | Iranian Folklore
Ancient Zoroaster Art

The Origin

Zoroastrianism takes its name from its prophet – Zoroaster. This fact is still argued by researches, but worshipers of this ancient religion claim that it was Zoroaster (or Zarathustra in Persian equivalent), who was the first one to preach the idea of monotheistic faith. Before that, all known religions were based on the concept that the Universe is built and ruled by various deities and each of them has his (or her) own “field of expertise”. 

Just like any centralized religion, Zoroastrianism has its secret scripts – the Avesta. They describe the life and deeds of the prophet – Zoroaster but do not give any particular clues to the time when he lived. Anyway, the extant scripts, data, and research allow speculating on the period and place of birth and life of the prophet. Most scholars agree on the term that Zoroaster lived on the territory of modern northeastern Iraq or southeastern Afghanistan. In the 1990s a Russian archeological expedition claimed that it has discovered the remains of a Zoroastrian temple at the Gonur Tepa – the Bronze age site in Turkmenistan. This gives a more realistic concept of location and spread of the Zoroastrian religion. Also, the temple dates back to around 2,000 BC, which provides some chronological data and historical background of Zoroastrianism.

The community, where he was born and brought up most probably was practicing polytheism similar to the earliest form of Hinduism. Once, when Zoroaster was already a grown man, he was taking part in a pagan ritual, possibly a sacrifice, and suddenly had an epiphany. The divine entity that has appeared to him described Zoroaster the ultimate structure of the Universe and the name of the true god. Since the Zoroaster started to preach worshiping a one and an only god named Ahura Mazda.

Zoroastrianism became a powerful religion that has shaped and supported one of the greatest empires in Human civilization – the Persian Empire. It has remained its official belief for 3 reigning dynasties. One of the most celebrated Persian Rulers – Cyrus the Great, the founder of the powerful Achaemenid Persian Empire – was a faithful Zoroastrian. Mostly he became famous and celebrated for the fact that he has never imposed Zoroastrianism to peoples who lived on the territories conquered by the Persian Empire. While Zoroastrianism was officially called “Asha” – the truthfully righteous, worshipers of any other religions were not persecuted by any means and could continue living according to their customs and local laws. 

Spread and influence

Silk Road was not the main economical arteries of that time. It has become a powerful means of cultural exchange and enrichment, connecting the 3 greatest human civilizations – the Middle East, China, and Europe. In this light the theories that the main world religion of the modern time – Islam, Christianity, and Judaism look quite plausible. The main concepts of the greater power, monotheism, guarding, and the leading role of the divine that are common for those fundamental doctrines we actually first mentioned and developed in the scripts of Zoroastrianism.

For example, the Jewish community might have adopted the ideas of Judgment Day, which is the fundamental concept of Judaism, while the people of Judea have lived in Babylonia. In 539 BC, Cyrus allowed them to leave Babylonia and return to Jerusalem. The famous Hebrew Bible – the ground doctrine of Judaism was written shortly after those events.

The expulsion

Zoroastrianism has remained the state doctrine of the Persian Empire until its fall in the period of 633-651 AD when it was conquered by Muslims, which lead to the fall of the Sassanian dynasty. As a result, Zoroastrianism and its worshipers got under the pressure of new laws and doctrines. Along with physical prosecutions, Muslim leaders were practicing all kinds of bureaucratic ways to make the life of Zoroastrians more and more difficult. For example, there were introduced taxes, exclusively applied to Zoroastrians only, who wanted to continue living according to their doctrine. As a result, most Zoroastrians who lived on the territory of modern Iran have converted to Islam. Those who refused to accept the new religion were forced to flee. 

Eventually, Zoroastrians settled on the territories of modern India and Pakistan. They were widely known as “Parsi”. The Parsi community still exists in those territories nowadays counting about 62,000 people.

Links:

https://zorostudies.weebly.com

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zoroastrianism

https://www.britannica.com/topic/Zoroastrianism

https://www.ancient.eu/zoroastrianism/

Most of the modern cultures and philosophical beliefs root in the ancient religions that might have entirely or partly erased from human civilization or modified beyond recognition. Zoroastrianism may be named among them, but it is unique.

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