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The Prophet Zoroaster is known as a founder of the world’s oldest religion, called Zoroastrianism. Born in the age of immoral religious rituals, animal sacrifices and manipulation of people, he introduced a radically new vision, which denied all of the above; later this vision became the basis of other famous world religions, for example, Christianity.
The Background Information
The Prophet Zoroaster is a figure of many names and faces. Even now, no one can tell for sure when and where he lived. According to many sources, the prophet was born in the territory of Iran or Afghanistan, probably in the seventh century BC, although many scientists claim that he lived between 1500 and 1100 BC (Traver 408).
Even the Gathas, the part of the Avesta, which contains the hymns of the liturgy, do not mention Zoroaster’s place of living. However, those texts still give a clue, and many other sources assume that the prophet lived in the territory Eastern Persia. In different countries and languages, Zoroaster is known by various names: Zarathustra in Persian, Zoroaster in Greek, and so on. (“Zoroaster” par. 4).
Although the Avesta does not tell where the prophet was born or lived, it still gives some background information. The man worked as a priest and was “a noble Persian” (Violatti par. 8). He had a large family that consisted of him, his wife Dughdova, and six children – three sons and three daughters (“Zoroaster” par. 5). According to several other sources, he had three wives (Katz 39). At the age of thirty, the prophet began to see unusual visions, which were sent to him directly from God (Violatti par. 9).
He was trying to preach those, but they were too contrary to the understanding of the religion of that time, and not too many people listened to him. Because of his efforts to preach, Zoroaster made several influential enemies and finally had to leave his homeland. Among those enemies were the karpans and the kawis (Violatti par. 10). The karpans were the priests who performed immoral religious rituals, and the kawis were the representatives of the upper class who manipulated the ordinary people (Violatti par. 10).
While Zoroaster was travelling around Persia, he managed to convert one of the local rulers, called Vishtaspa, to his new religion. As some of the legends told, Zoroaster earned the trust and support of the ruler after he healed his favorite horse (Hopfe and Woodward 237).
That is why he not only decided to be converted to the new religion but also allowed Zoroaster to preach the concepts of this religion in his territories. Zoroaster remained very influential in ancient Persia until the seventh century CE when Islam spread in these areas and took the first place (Violatti par. 1).
Zoroaster’s Major Contributions to Religion
Zoroaster was born in times when people believed in dozens of gods and performed standard rituals that included animal sacrifice. Zoroastrianism, on the contrary, implied worshiping animals, nature, the earth, the sun, ancestors, and all living things. And that is the first essential contribution to religion made by Zoroaster.
Zoroastrianism believes in one supreme God, Ahura Mazda, who is the creator of the world and the source of all good things in the universe. Ahura Mazda is omniscient, omnipresent, unchanging and has unlimited power. Along with him, there is Angra Mainyu, his “evil opponent” (Violatti par. 11). He is a destructive spirit that brings illnesses, deaths, and all existing evil to the human world.
Along with the concept of the only God and his evil enemy, Zoroastrianism has made another significant contribution to religion. It is free will. Although people on earth can never fully conceive the God, they still are free to choose between the goodness and happiness represented by Ahura Mazda and evil sides of a human being supported by Angra Mainyu.
Therefore, the dualism between good and evil is not only cosmic but also moral. Apart from the only God, there is also his retinue, the immortal creatures that can help an individual to become closer to God and know him better. Those are truth and holiness (Asha Vahishta), kindness and devotion (Spenta Ameraiti), wellbeing and health (Hauravatat), clear mind and good intentions (Vohu Manah), and others (“A Brief Introduction to Zoroastrianism” par. 10).
Zoroaster encouraged people to worship Ahura Mazda, to make the right choice between good and evil and step on the path of truth and righteousness. In this scenario, Zoroaster is only the prophet, he is not worshipped, he is followed. As for the worship, Zoroastrians are not very ritualistic, which is probably caused by the previous religions and their immoral rituals. They are not forced to temple worship and can simply pray at home.
However, Zoroastrianism encourages communal worship, which usually happen during navjote, marriage ceremonies, seasonal festivals, etc. Finally, Zoroastrians promote the concept of “Good Words, Good Thoughts and Good Deeds”; to represent that idea, they wear a kusti, the special cord, that should be knotted three times around them (“A Brief Introduction to Zoroastrianism” par. 12).
Critiques of Religion
Although many people welcomed Zoroastrianism, it was also criticized a lot. First of all, too little is known about Zoroaster. Where was he born? When did he live? According to different sources, he could live both in the seventh century BC and several centuries earlier. Some critics even stated that he did not have any divine commission at all: “All he desires of his audience is a patient hearing and a calm and impassioned judgment, but he claims no special authority” (Sharma and Sharma 17).
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According to the same source, he did not rely on any miracles, which he performed (Sharma and Sharma 18). In addition, the Avesta, which is considered as the most important source of the information about Zoroaster, is too unreliable since many of its texts are lost (Rose 205). Presently, the Gathas is the only part of the Avesta, where any information about the prophet can be found. Finally, Zoroastrianism receives a lot of criticism because Zoroastrians usually pray beside the fire.
Some people claim that they are “fire worshippers” who are not far removed from their predecessors conducted immoral rituals (“A Brief Introduction to Zoroastrianism” par. 12). Still, that is not entirely right. Zoroastrians do pray in the direction of fire, but they do it not because they worship fire but because the light represents their God, Ahura Mazda.
The Impact of Zoroastrianism upon the World
Presently, the number of Zoroastrians left in the world is decreasing. The majority of them live in the territories of India and Iran, and the total number is approximately 200,000 people (“A Brief Introduction to Zoroastrianism” par. 14). The primary reason for such a decrease is the marriage rule.
First of all, Zoroastrians tend to marry late, which is why they do not have many children (or do not have them at all). Secondly, they are against interreligious unions, which also complicates the problem. But although Zoroastrianism per se is gradually losing its power, it will not disappear without leaving a trace.
Zoroastrianism is often considered as the backbone of such popular religious as Judaism and Christianity (“A Brief Introduction to Zoroastrianism” par. 16). Many critics believe that the idea of heaven and hell comes from Zoroastrianism. Besides, Christians have also borrowed the concept of twofold duality from Zoroastrians: they have both God and devil, and each of them represents not only good or evil thighs in nature but also the positive or negative sides of people’s souls.
Besides, since Zoroastrians believe in the importance and purity of every God’s creation, they are very concerned about nature and the present-day ecological problems. They fight with rivers’ pollution, tree cutting, and so forth. That is the reason why Zoroastrianism is known as “the first ecological religion ever” (“A Brief Introduction to Zoroastrianism” par. 16).
Zoroastrians also respect the human rights – many famous philanthropists and freedom fighters adhere to this religion. Among those are J.R.D Tata, Pherozshah Mehta and Dadabhai Naoroji (“A Brief Introduction to Zoroastrianism” par. 15).
To conclude, the Prophet Zoroaster and his religion indeed made a difference in history. Zoroastrianism denied religious rituals that included animal sacrifices and instead of this worshiped animals and every living being. It implied the existence of the only God, the creator of the world and the source of happiness, and encouraged the best human qualities. Although presently there are only 200,000 Zoroastrians left in the world, many principles of Zoroastrianism still exist in other religions.
A Brief Introduction to Zoroastrianism 2014. Web.
Hopfe, Lewis M., and Mark R. Woodward. Religions of the World. 2nd ed. 2009. Upper Township, New Jersey: Pearson Education. Print.
Katz, Morris. The Journey, Victoria, Canada: Trafford Publishing, 2004. Print.
Rose, Jenny. Zoroastrianism: An Introduction, London, England: I.B.Tauris, 2014. Print.
Sharma, Suresh K., and Usha Sharma. Cultural and Religious Heritage of India: Zoroastrianism. Vol. 7. New Delhi, India: Mittal Publications, 2004. Print.
Traver, Andrew G. From Polis to Empire, the Ancient World, C. 800 B.C.-A.D. 500: A Biographical Dictionary. 2nd ed. 2002. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Publishing Group. Print.
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