The Zoroastrian Religion and its Progeny

- by Peter Myers

Date July 11, 2003; update December 14, 2022.

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(1) Mary Boyce, A History of Zoroastrianism Volume One: The Early Period
(2) William W. Malandra, An Introduction to the Ancient Iranian Religions
(3) Helmut Humbach et al, The Gathas of Zarathustra and the Old Avestan Texts
(4) The Zend-Avesta, Translated by L. H. Mills {Yasna 30}
(5) Norman Cohn, Cosmos, Chaos and the World to Come: The Ancient Roots of Apocalyptic Faith
(6) Yuri Stoyanov, The Hidden Tradition in Europe
(7) The Winged Disc - symbol of Ahura-Mazda - and the Behistun Inscription
(8) Darius calls himself "a Persian, son of a Persian, an Aryan, having Aryan lineage"

The Influence of the Zoroastrian religion on Judaism: zoroaster-judaism.html.

(1) Mary Boyce, A History of Zoroastrianism Volume One: The Early Period, E. J. Brill, Leiden 1975.

Boyce supports the "orthodox" Zoroastrian dualistic theology, against the Zurvanite monistic "heresy".

The dualistic theology sees two contrary forces as original; Zurvanism sees a monism - Zurvan (Kronos or Time) - as giving birth to the two contrary forces.

Both viewpoints depend on the interpretation of Yasna 30, which is a Gatha (hymn).

The Gathas record the words of Zoroaster, preserved (though much else was lost) because they were incorporated into the Yasnas (liturgy, i.e. rituals).

I believe that Yasna 30 is vague, allowing both interpretations.

Now to Boyce's book:

{p. 192} The core of Zoroaster's new teachings appears to have been his apprehension of primeval unity in the sphere of the divine also, a counterpart to the primeval unity already held to have existed for physical things. In the beginning, he taught, there was only one good God, only one divine being worthy to be worshipped, a yazata, namely Ahura Mazda, the Lord Wisdom. At first all divine goodness was comprehended within his person, and plurality and diversity came about only because of the existence also of evil divinity - for together with Ahura Mazda in the beginning, and likewise uncreated, was another being who was opposed to him, the Hostile Spirit, Angra Mainyu. These two Zoroaster saw with prophetic eye at their original encountering: {from Yasna 30} "Now these two spirits, which are twins, revealed themselves at first in a vision. Their two ways of thinking,

{p. 193} speaking and acting were the better and the bad. - Between these two (ways) the wise choose rightly, fools not so. - And then when these two spirits first met, they created both life and not-life, and that there should be at the last the worst existence for the followers of the Drug {the Lie, the False}, but, for the followers of Asa {the Right, Good}, the best dwelling. Of the two spirits, the one who follows the Drug chose doing the worst things, the Most Bounteous Spirit who is clad in the hardest stones chose asa, and (so do) they who will willingly come with true actions to meet Ahura Mazda" (Y. 30.3-5). {Yasna 30}

The "Most Bounteous Spirit", Spanista Mainyu, who chose asa, is evidently Ahura Mazda himself, "clad in the hardest stones", that is, the crystal sky; and the "two spirits" are duly explained by the Pahlavi commentator on these verses as "Ohrmazd and Ahriman". This and the commoner expression, "Bounteous Spirit", Spenta Mainyu, are used, however, in complex fashion elsewhere in the Gathas; for sometimes they seem to represent the power in Ahura Mazda himself through which he thinks or perceives or acts, at others an independent divinity who hypostatizes this power. The former appears to be the dominant concept, to judge from both the Gathas and the tradition, which usually identifies Ahura Mazda with his "Bounteous Spirit". Later the Zurvanites, a heterodox Zoroastrian group, came to interpret literally the words "these two spirits which are twins" as meaning that the two great opposed beings were actually twins in the sense of having been born together from one womb; and they postulated accordingly a father for them, namely Zurvan or Time. This doctrine was rejected by orthodox Zoroastrians as flat heresy, demon-inspired; but a number of European scholars have followed the Zurvanites in taking the expression "twins" literally, and have attempted to justify this by supposing that the "Most Bounteous Spirit" of Y. 30 is to be identified with Spanta Mainyu as a separate divinity, Ahura Mazda being the "father" of both Bounteous and Hostile Spirits. This "childbirth" (it has been suggested) "consisted in the emanation by God of undifferentiated 'spirit', which only at the emergence of free will split

{p. 194} into two 'twin' Spirits of opposite allegiance". But however one may refine upon the interpretation, it remains doctrinally utterly alien to the Gathas and to the whole orthodox Zoroastrian tradition that evil should in any way originate from Ahura Mazda; and Lommel was evidently right to reject the hypothesis as "a misunderstanding arising from a rationalistic, lifeless interpretation of the word (twin)."

{It is begging the question, to say that this view is alien to the orthodox interpretation}

{p. 195} In his Gathas Zoroaster invokes, as well as Ahura Mazda and the seven Bounteous Immortals, the "other Ahuras" (who can only be Mithra and Vouruna Apam Napat).

{p. 196} Since his creation included all beneficent lesser divinities, they, the yazatas of Zoroastrianism, cannot properly be called "gods", for this word suggests the independent divine beings ; a pagan pantheon - and it is a striking fact that the old Iranian term for "god", baga, is rarely used in the Avesta. On the other hand, the origin of most of the yazatas as pagan divinities, and their position still as beings worthy of worship in their own right, makes them more than the angels with which other monotheisms have bridged the gulf between man and the Deity. In general it is probably best, therefore, to leave the Zoroastrian word yazata untranslated, to represent a concept unique to his great faith.

{or a contradiction; Boyce, despite her scholarship, reveals her partisan position by repeated use of epithets such as "great"}

{p. 198} When the Lord Wisdom revealed himself to Zoroaster, it is evident, moreover, from random phrases that the prophet apprehended him, as was only natural, in human form: "This, Mazda, with the tongue of your mouth tell us for the knowing" (Y. 31.3, cf. 28.11); "by the hand with which you hold those rewards..." (Y. 43.4). The anthropomorphic concept of Ahura Mazda is stated explicitly in the tradition: "It is revealed by a passage of the Avesta that Zoroaster ... spoke to Ohrmazd saying ... 'your head and hands and feet and hair and face and tongue are visible to me even as are my own, and you have such clothes as men have. Give me your hand, so that I may take hold of your hand'. Ohrmazd said: 'I am intangible spirit (menog agriftar); it is not possible to take hold of my hand.' " One of the Avestan epithets which is unique to Ahura Mazda is hukereptema "of fairest form". This anthropomorphism by no means restricts the grandeur of the supreme Lord, who wears the crystal sky as his garment (Y. 30.5), and it is in many respects close to the anthropomorphic concepts of Jehovah and Allah. To state, however (as is often done), that Zoroaster apprehended the Creator as disembodied, invisible Spirit is to import alien and anachronistic ideas into the Gathas, and to ignore the evidence of the prophet's own words.

In the light of Vedic evidence about the asuras it can be safely assumed that even before Zoroaster became his prophet the Lord Mazda was a moral deity; and in Zoroaster's teaching the conflict between him and his adversary Angra Mainyu, was wholly a struggle between the right, asa, and the false, drug. Behind this ethical dualism (which itself had evidently some pagan roots) there lay also, as we have seen, an Indo-Iranian tradi-

{p. 199} tion of theistic dualism, of an opposition between the gods of the bright sky, with life and happiness in their gift, and the lord of the dark kingdom of the dead beneath the earth. For Zoroaster this subterrarean realm appeared as hell, a place where sinners went to suffer punishment; and it seems possible, therefore, that it was its ruler, who even in pagan times was regarded as claiming those unworthy of heaven, who suggested to him the concept of the "Hostile Spirit", so that he saw "Ohrmazd in the height and Ahriman in the depth." In the absence of evidence this must remain conjecture; but such a hypothesis would help to explain why in Zoroastrian tradition Angra Mainyu is seen both as actively malignant, a militant foe, and also as a mere shadow, a negation of good; for traditionally existence in the kingdom of the dead was characterised by a lack of substance, by a spectral quality without positive capacities, a nothingness. It was this existence which the Vedic Indians considered as truly "death" ; and such a belief may lend significance to Zoroaster's statement that "when these two spirits first met, they created both life and not-life" (Y. 30.4), immortality in Paradise and "death" beneath the earth.

In the pagan {Zoroastrians, like Jews, Christians and Moslems, call those outside their faith "pagan"} religion, to judge from the Vedas, asa was conceived as an impersonal force whose action was for the benefit of the world; but for Zoroaster there existed both the principle asa and Asa who was a divinity, one of the seven Bounteous Immortals of his own great vision. In the Gathas (as in the partly pagan Yasna Haptanhaiti) the principle asa has a dominant role. The righteous man is still described as asavan, "possessing asa", and each person is urged to surpass the other in asa (Y. 53.5). The divinity Asa is, moreover, the most often named of the Amasa Spentas, by the prophet himself and in the Younger Avesta. Zoroaster prays that Ahura Mazda will show him Asa, and Ahura Mazda commands him to go to Asa to learn (Y. 43.10-12), for Ahura Mazda is of the same mind as Asa (Y. 29.7). One thus finds in the Gathic conception of Asa/asa the same pattern that we have already met in relation to the "abstract" gods of pagan times: asa, "righteousness" or "justice" is a quality which can manifest itself in many ways in daily life; and Asa is a divine being who personifies that quality, and who may be invoked and prayed to ...

{end of quotes}

(2) William W. Malandra, An Introduction to the Ancient Iranian Religions (University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, 1983).

{p. 18} Despite the obscurity of their content, the Gathas bear unmistakable witness to the passionately personal relationship felt by Zarathushtra with his god Ahura Mazda. The Gathas usually find Zarathushtra in intense dialogue with him. ... It appears that his initial efforts at spreading the word and winning support for his views in his homeland were met with stiff opposition and ultimately failure. In one obscure stanza (Y. 46.1), Zarathushtra seems to be questioning where he might go as a result of his being rejected or even made an outcast by the community. In any case, he often complains of his weakness and his lack of cattle and men (Y. 46.2). When the Soul of the Cow (geush urwan) is told by Ahura Mazda that her protector is to be Zarathushtra, she complains bitterly about the latter's weakness (Y. 29.8-9). His principal enemies were men whom he identifies as kawis and karapans. The latter, whose name means 'mumbler', were priests of some sort. The case of the kawis is not so clear. Since a common word for a Vedic poet-seer is kavi, it would appear that the Iranian kawi was also a poet-seer. Matters are complicated, however, by the fact that kawi was also a princely title in eastern Iran, or at least in the house of Zarathushtra's eventual patron, Wishtaspa. Zarathushtra attaches no pejorative connection to the title kawi when it is applied to him. ... Zarathushtra eventually found a patron, the kawi Wishtaspa, who not only espoused the new faith but protected it and helped propagate it by force of arms.

{p. 19} The dualism of Zarathushtra, in contradistinction to that of the Younger Avesta and of orthodox Zoroastrianism of the Sasanid period, is not absolute: that is, the opposing forces of Tl-uth and Ealsehood are not prjmordial. They came into being. it would seem, as emanations or creations of Ahura Mazda. As we shall soon learn, Ahura Mazda is surrounded by a group of beings, or 'Entities' (hatam) as they are called, who appear to be emanations of aspects of his own personality. Drawing upon an ancient Indo-European myth of the Twins in whom life and death originate, Zarathushtra elaborated his own variant whereby Ahura Mazda had created two Spirits as twin brothers (yema), Spenta Mainyu and Angra Mainyu, who were distinguished in mind, word, and deed, the former as very good and the latter as bad (Y. 30.3). Together they estahlished life and death. Although their very natures differed in every respect (Y. 45.2), the crucial distinction between the two lay in their exercise of choice, that is, free will. As Zarathushtra puts it, "of the two Spirits, the

{p. 20} follower of the Lie chose the worst actions, the most beneficent (Spirit chose) Truth" (Y. 30.5).

{p. 21} Not only was Zarathushtra a religious thinker and poet, but also a ritualist through and through. It will be remembered that he was a priest (zaotar) by profession. As in matters of theology, so in ritual. Zarathushtra instituted a reform of older practices. ... There is general agreement on two points. One is that Zarathushtra emphasized in the extreme the differences in ritual accorded the daewas and the ahuras. As already noted, in the later Vedic literature of the Brahmanas, the devas (gods) and the asuras (demons) are in a state of perpetual strife over the sacrifice (yajna). From Zarathushtra's point of view the daewas were the demons. To worship them, to perform sacrifices appropriate to them, was to promote the Lie and all it represented. The Gathas never state specifically who the daewas are. ... The second point on which there is agreement is that what he objected to in particular was the violent manner in which the daewa worshippers sacrificed animals, especially cattle. It must be understood that he did not oppose animal sacrifice: Zoroastrianism, except under pressure from Hinduism and Hinduized Parsis, has always countenanced animal sacrifice. In Zarathushtra's eyes, the cow was a sacred animal, and in his religion the Soul of the Cow (Geush Urwan: see Yasna 29) was the prototype of all ahuric animal creation. The extreme sense of sacredness attaching to the cow made it neccssarily the object of solicitous care, but did not exempt it from sacrifice.

{end of quotes}

(3) Helmut Humbach et al, The Gathas of Zarathustra and the Old Avestan Texts (Carl Winter-Universitatsverlag, Heidelberg 1991)

This translation is "modern" and "philosophical", but probably less true to the original. Instead of depicting the Creation of two antagonistic forces, it sets the opposition between the two spirits at the level of the everyday choices we face.

Compare this translation of Yasna 30 with Mary Boyce's (above) and Lawrence Mills' (below).

Now to the text:

{p. 123} Yasna 30


I shall proclaim (now), O You approaching ones such (things) which You
shall report also to (Him) who (already) knows (them),
(I shall proclaim) both, praises for (Him), the Ahura, and worshipful
(words) of good thought,
O You well-learned, and for Truth (I shall proclaim) what delight (is)
to be seen through the lights.


Hear with (Your) ears the best (things)! View through the radiance
(of the fire), with (Your) thought
the invitations resulting from the discnmination of each single man,
for his own self
before the great sharing (of good things), expecting (someone) to
announce that to us.


These (are) the two spirits (present) in the primal (stage of one's
existence), twins who have become famed (manifesting themselves
as) the two (kinds of) dreams,
the two (kinds of) thoughts and words, (and) the two (kinds of)
actions, the better and the evil
And between these two, the munificent discriminate rightly,
(but) not the miserly.

{p. 124} 30, 4

and when these two spirits confront each other (to vie for a person),
then (that person) decides (of what nature will be) the primal (stage
of his existence):
vitality and lack of vitality, and (on the other hand) of what nature
(his) existence will be in the end:
that of the deceitful (will be) the worst, but best thought will (be
in store) for the truthful one.

30, 5

Of these two spints, the deceitful one chooses to do the worst (things),
[bc] (but) the most prosperous spirit, who is clothed in the hardest
diamonds, (chooses) truth, as also (do those) who devotedly satisfy
the Ahura with true actions, (Him), the Wise One.

30, 6

The Daevas do not at all discriminate rightly between these two (spirits).
Because delusion
comes over them when they take counsel, so that they choose the worst
therefore they gather with Wrath, with which the mortals sicken existence.

30, 7

(But) if one comes to it (existence) with power, good thought, and truth,
then stability grants form (to ones body), nghtmindedness (grants) breath,
so that through their (the Daevas) being fettered in iron, (existence) will
be Thy prime one.

{p. 125} 30,8

And when the atonement for their (the Daevas) cnmes will have arrived,
one will commit to Thee the power (over it) with good thought, O Wise One,
at (the recompense) aunounced to those, O Ahura, who will have delivered
deceit into the hands of truth.


Thus may we be those who will make existence brilliant, O Wise One and You (other) Ahuras, with the bnnger of changes aud with truth, when (our) thoughts will have become concentrated (on the place) where insight may be present.


For then damage from being brushed off will descend upon deceit.
The swiftest (steeds) will be yoked (in order to race) as far as
the good dwelling of the Good Thought
of the Wise One and of Truth, (those steeds) which will win good fame.


O you mortals, when you master those rules which the Wise One has
and which convey good mobility and immobility, and (when you master)
what long-lasting harm (is in store) for the deceitful,
as well as (what) benefits for the truthful, then (the things) desired
will in future be available through them.

{end of quotes}

(4) The Zend-Avesta, Translated by L. H. Mills {Yasna 30}

Part III

The Yasna, Visparad, Afrinagan, Gahs, and Miscellaneous Fragments

Motilal Banarsidass, Delhi 1988

First published 1887

Volume 31 in the series Sacred Books of the East, Editor: F. Max Muller

{p. 25} YASNA XXX.


1. Accustomed to instruct the masses who throng him on public occasions seeking light, the composer constructs this hymn for similar opportunities. He may be regarded as continuing he thoughts in the close of Y. XXVIII, where he besought Ahura to inform him concerning the origin of the world. He says that he will declare the counsels of God, by which, as we see, he means the great doctrines concerning the origin of good and evil. With these he will declare also the praises, the laudatory portions of the Mathra, and the sacrifices. And he prays that propitious results may be discerned in the heavenly bodies.

2. He further introduces what he has to say by telling the throngs before him that a decisive moment is upon them. They are to choose their religion, and not by acclamation with the foolish decision of a mob, but man by man, each individually for himself. They should therefore arouse themselves and hear with all attention and gaze at the holy Fire with a good and receptive disposition of mind.

3. He then delivers the earliest statement of dualism which has come down to us. There were two original spirits, and they are called, be it well noted, not two persons, or at least not only two persons, but a better thing, or principle, and a worse one. (The qualifying words are all in the neuter.)

At the next sentence they are personified as a pair, each independent in his thoughts, declarations, and actions. Such is the short Theodicy, followed at once by an admonition to those before him to choose the better.

4. These two spirits came together as by natural combination, to make the opposing phenomena of life and its absence, of Heaven and of Hell.

And Hell is described not as a scene of cruelty inflicted on the innocent and the ignorant, but as 'the worst life,' and Heaven as equally remote from a superstitious paradise; that is, as the 'best mental state.' ...

{p. 28} Translation.

I. And now I will proclaim, O ye who are drawing near and seeking to be taught! those animadversions which appertain to Him who knows (all things) whatsoever; the praises which are for Ahura, and the sacrifices (which spring) from the Good Mind, and likewise the benignant meditations inspired by Righteousness. And I pray that propitious results may be seen in the lights.

{p. 29} 2. Hear ye then with your ears; see ye the bright flames with the (eyes of the) Better Mind. It is for a decision as to religions, man and man, each individually for himself. Before the great effort of the cause, awake ye (all) to our teaching!

3. Thus are the primeval spirits who as a pair (combining their opposite strivings), and (yet each) independent in his action, have been famed (of old). (They are) a better thing, they two, and a worse as to thought, as to word, and as to deed. And between these two let the wisely acting choose aright. (Choose ye 6) not (as) the evil-doers!

{p. 30} 4. (Yea) when the two spirits came together at the first to make life, and life's absence, and to detrmine how the world at the last shall be (ordered), for the wicked (Hell) the worst life, for the holy (Heaven) the Best Mental State,

5. (Then when they had finished each his part in the deeds of creation, they chose distinctly each his separate realm.) He who was the evil of them both (chose the evil), thereby working the worst of possible results, but the more bounteous spirit chose the

{p. 31} (Divine) Righteousness; (yea, He so chose) who clothes upon Himself the firm stones of heaven (as His robe). And He chose likewise them who content Ahura with actions, which (are performed) really in accordance with the faith.

6. And between these two spirits the Demon-gods (and they who give them worship) can make no righteous choice since we have beguiled them. As they were questioning and debating in their council the (personified) Worst Mind approached them that he might be chosen. (They made their

{p. 32} fatal decision.) And thereupon they rushed together unto the Demon of Fury, that they might pollute the lives of mortals.

7. Upon this Aramaiti (the personified Piety of the saints) approached, and with her came the Sovereign Power, the Good Mind, and the Righteous Order. And (to the spiritual creations of good and of evil) Armaiti gave a body, she the abiding and ever strenuous. And for these (Thy people) so let (that

{p. 33} body) be (at the last), O Mazda! as it was when Thou camest first with creations!

8. And (when the great struggle shall have been fought out which began when the Daevas first seized the Demon of Wrath as their ally), and when the (just) vengeance shall have come upon these wretches, then, O Mazda! the Kingdom shall have been gained for Thee by (Thy) Good Mind (within Thy folk). For to those, O living Lord! does (that Good Mind) utter his command, who will deliver the Demon of the Lie into the two hands of the Righteous Order (as a captive to a destroyer).

9. And may we be such as those who bring on

{p. 34} this great renovation, and make this world progressive, (till its perfection shall have been reached). (As) the Ahuras of Mazda (even) may we be; (yea, like Thyself), in helpful readiness to meet (Thy people), presenting (benefits) in union with the Righteous Order. For there will our thoughts be (tending) where true wisdom shall abide in her home.

10. (And when perfection shall have been attained) then shall the blow of destruction fall upon the Demon of Falsehood, (and her adherents shall perish with her), but swiftest in the happy abode of the Good Mind and of Ahura the righteous saints

{p. 35} shall gather, they who proceed in their walk (on earth) in good repute (and honour),

11. Wherefore, O ye men! ye are learning (thus) these religious incitations which Ahura gave in (our happiness and (our) sorrow. (And ye are also learning) what is the long wounding for the wicked, and the blessings which are in store for the righteous. And when these (shall have begun their course), salvation shall be (your portion)!

{end of quotes}

(5) Norman Cohn, Cosmos, Chaos and the World to Come: The Ancient Roots of Apocalyptic Faith, Yale University Press, New Haven 1995

{p. 220} CHAPTER 13 Jews, Zoroastrians and Christians

1 Enoch, Jubilees the Community Rule from Qumran, the synoptic gospels, the Book of Revelation are very different works - but an eschatological preoccupation is evident in all of them, while the world is viewed in ever more dualistic terms with the passing generations. In varying degrees, the authors of all these works were conscious of a destructive supernatural power which had been working to frustrate the divine intention down the ages, and was still doing so. They were also convinced that in the very near future that power and its human agents would be overthrown by the angels of God and reduced to nullity. A universal judgment would be held - with, in some versions, a transcendent Messiah as judge. Time and history would come to an end, to be succeeded by the eternal kingdom of God, established on this earth. The true servants of God, endowed with immortal and unageing bodies, would live as denizens of that kingdom for evermore, while the rest would be cast into a fiery abyss. These contrasting fates would befall also the dead, who would be resurrected for the purpose.

These notions flourished most vigorously in relatively small sects, and the contrast they present with ancient Israelite religion is startling. The Hebrew Bible knows of foreign powers which threaten the people of Israel, and which in that sense are enemies of Israel's god - but it does not know of a supernatural power devoted to frustrating the divine intention. Genesis never suggests that the serpent which tempts Eve is a demon, or indeed anything more than 'the most subtle of all the wild beasts Yahweh God has made'; and the only 'satan' to appear is a member of Yahweh's court. Again, the exilic and post-exilic prophets look forward to a time when the enemies of the chosen people will be cast down, and the chosen people itself will flourish in a wonderfully fertile and peaceful land. But there is no suggestion that in that time individual Jews will live for ever: like all previous generations, each future generation will go down to Sheol, there to exist as pale disembodied shades. With the exception of Daniel the Hebrew Bible offers no assurance that the

{p. 221} dead will be resurrected, let alone that they will all be resurrected together, to face a universal Last Judgment. Nor has it anything to say about a transcendent Messiah who is to carry out that judgment, and so bring time and history to their consummation. But indeed the very notion of a new, eternal world, lying beyond time and history, is foreign to the Hebrew Bible.

These notions were in fact such major innovations that, though adopted in their entirety by relatively few Jews, the controversy they caused in the Jewish community lasted for generations. They were also clearly of foreign origin - for if some Jewish thinker had been responsible for such radical rethinking we would surely know something about him, if only his name. So what of possible Zoroastrian influence?

Zoroastrians had always believed in a future glorious consummation, when the world would be transformed, and all the righteous, including the righteous dead, would be endowed with immortal and unageing bodies. They had also always believed in a destructive supernatural power at work in the world. To appreciate how much Jewish and Christian Beliar/Satan owes to Zoroastrian notions one has only to recall what the Avesta has to tell of Angra Mainyu. For Angra Mainyu too brought death into the world and is the cause of bodily deformities and afflictions; he too is called the father of lies; he too is the leader of a host of demons. And he too will eventually be utterly defeated by the supreme god.

Moreover, the one great difference between Angra Mainyu and the Judaeo-Christian Devil had disappeared by the time that any Jews could have experienced the full impact of Zoroastrian thinking. For if originally Angra Mainyu had been imagined as coeval with the supreme god, and almost his equal, he had ceased to be so in the version of Zoroastrianism known in the West in Hellenistic times, Zurvanism. That heterodoxy seems to have evolved under the late Achaemenians in their western lands, notably Babylonia, and to have been adopted by those monarchs as orthodox. Zurvanism was a monism: it postulated a high god, Zurvan (meaning 'Time'), who created both Ahura Mazda and Angra Mainyu. Such a doctrine could be more easily harmonised with Jewish belief than could the original Zoroastrianism. In the apocalypses and the Qumran writings the Devil is likewise a creature of God and subject to him. The Community Rule of the Qumran community, for instance, tells how the spirits of truth and falsehood, of light and darkness, compete for mastery over human beings - but God is above them both. In Jubilees too the destructive spirit, Mastema or Beliar or Satan, and his host of demons are creatures of God and operate only by his permission.

{Note that Yuri Stoyanov, in his book The Hidden Tradition in Europe (p. 23), argues the other way: that original Zoroastrian monism gave way to Dualism. See item 6 below. Richard Friedman shows that the Torah was written (edited) in Babylon by Ezra about 458 BC, under the (Zoroastrian) Persian Empire, and imposed with the Emperor's authority: bible.html. Mary Boyce shows that even parts of the Torah show a Zoroastrian influence: zoroaster-judaism.html.}

{p. 222} The similarities between Zoroastrian beliefs and beliefs that flourished in apocalyptically minded groups of Jews extended to lesser matters. The protective angels who assist God in governing the world recall the Amesha Spentas: in Jubilees they are even charged, like Ahura Mazda's assistants, with supervising particular aspects of the cosmos. When, in I Enoch, the archangels Raphael and Michael defeat, respectively, the archdemons Azazel and Semyaza, they bind them and bury them underground, beneath great piles of rocks, there to await the day ofjudgment: in Zoroastrian legend exactly the same fate befell the archdemon Azi Dahaka. Above all, the periodisation of time into a series of world-ages, which is characteristic of Zurvanism, is found also in various apocalypses. The parallelism is particularly striking in the case of the Book of Daniel: the symbolism of the four metals, representing four world-ages, has a counterpart in the Zoroastrian apocalypse known as the Vahman Yasht, which dates from the time of the Macedonian conquest. Even the curious detail that the fourth and last age is symbolised by 'iron mixed with clay' is present also in the Persian work - and nowhere else: the Greek source of the whole tradition, Hesiod's Works and Days, knows nothing of it.

That is not to say that there are no differences between Zoroastrian (or Zurvanite) expectations and Jewish expectations. Neither the fate of individuals after death nor the fate of the world after the great consummation is imagined in quite the same way. For Zoroastrians, pending the final judgment individual souls existed in heaven or hell, experiencing the reward or punishment earned during life on earth. After the universal judgment they would be reunited with their bodies - after which the righteous would live for evermore on the perfected earth, while the sinners would simply be annihilated. In the Jewish apocalypses the dead sleep until the Last Judgment - but then the sinners will be condemned to eternal punishment. The Zoroastrian vision of a future world wholly good and happy, wholly cleansed of evil and suffering, has therefore no precise Jewish counterpart: in the apocalypses hell subsists, a fearful imperfection in an otherwise perfect world. It is as though the apocalyptists were trying to reconcile Zoroastrian notions with the ancient Israelite/Jewish notions of Sheol.

Nevertheless, the similarities between Zoroastrianism and the notions that one finds in the Jewish apocalypses are too remarkable to be explained by coincidence.


It has often been objected - and continues to be objected right down to the present day - that Jews cannot have known much

{p. 223} about Zoroastrianism, as the Avesta was not written down before the fifth or sixth century AD. However, the argument is not valid: in fact Jews had ample opportunity to familiarise themselves with the essentials of Zoroastrianism.

For some two centuries Judaea formed part of the vast Achaemenian empire, while the large Jewish diaspora also lived within the bounds of that empire. Achaemenian rule was relatively benign, and was recognised by the Jews to be so: whereas there is plenty of Jewish propaganda against Babylon and Greece and Rome, there is not a single Jewish text, biblical or rabbinic, directed against the Persians. Moreover, already in Achaemenian times there was a certain affinity between Jewish and Iranian religion. It was not simply that, like Zoroastrians, Jews saw themselves as a people chosen by God to implement his intention for the world - Second Isaiah and his successors had taught them to look forward with confidence to a time when, under God, they would be lords of a fertile, prosperous and peaceful world, and when their enemies would be finally subdued, never to rise again. Relatively modest though it was, this prospect will have prepared at least some Jews to sympathise with the far more grandiose Zoroastrian notions about the 'making wonderful'.

Nor need Jews have had any difficulty in learning about those notions. In Achaemenian times Jews employed by wealthy Zoroastrian families as scribes or business agents or household servants or outdoor workers could easily have been exposed to the religion of their masters. The process could have continued for generations on end, until the Jewish employees came to know as much about the Zoroastrian as about the Jewish faith - in modern India, Hindus and Moslems working for Zoroastrians have had just such an experience.

More solid evidence is available about contacts after the fall of the Achaemenian empire. In the Hellenistic period the descendants of Iranian colonists of Achaemenian times are known to have dwelt side by side with Jewish settlers in many towns in Babylonia, in the area around Damascus, in Lydia and Phrygia. Both groups produced distinguished citizens, who served together on town or provincial councils - and, as Greek was now a common language of the educated, they will have communicated with one another more easily than before. And wherever Iranians lived there were Zoroastrian priests, many of whom will have been impressively devout and zealous. A Jew who talked with such men and enquired after their beliefs, and set about harmonising those beliefs with his own, need not have felt that he was being false to the faith that he treasured above all things. But if Jewish understanding of Zoroastrianism grew in the diaspora, it did not stop there: what-

{p. 224} ever emerged from such contacts will soon have become known in Palestine also - for, through pilgrimages and the remission of dues to the Temple, Jews of all regions kept in touch with Jerusalem.

By that time what Zoroastrian priests had to tell will have been very much what some Jews wanted to hear. The overthrow of the Achaemenian empire was a truly traumatic experience for Iranians. It was not simply that a dispensation that had been perceived as divinely ordained and everlasting was abruptly and totally obliterated - it was replaced first by the miseries of defeat, then by generations of warfare between the successor states. Iranians and Jews were no longer rulers and ruled but fellow-sufferers in an uncertain and tormented world.

In such circumstances the eschatological promises enshrined in Zoroastrian teaching must have taken on a new urgency. Faced with the horrors of the Antiochan tyranny, when for the first time they were persecuted for fidelity to their religion, and again when they were faced with the brutalities of Roman rule, some Jews could find in that teaching an assurance that evil came not from God but from a great adversary of God, working through human agents. They could also find there assurance that evil would not go unpunished. So great was the wickedness of the foreign rulers, so overwhelming the power of the forces of chaos, that cosmos was impaired - but not for long: God, acting through his angels and his Messiah, was about to put all things to rights.

Zoroastrian teaching was all the more effective because it had found a new vehicle. Whereas the Avesta was still being transmitted orally, and in archaic Iranian, there now came into being a Zoroastrian literature - and one intended to be read by non-Iranians. Persian Sibylline oracles, modelled upon Greek prototypes and written in Greek, were probably in circulation already in late Achaemenian times. After Alexander's overthrow of the empire more extended prophecies were produced - prophecies that foretold how Greek rule would in turn be overthrown by the Saoshyant, and how the eternal kingdom of Ahura Mazda would be established on a perfect earth. Fragments of such works have been preserved, embedded in the writings of Christian apologists; and one, the Oracles of Hystaspes (named after Zoroaster's patron Vishtaspa), is known in some detail. These works will certainly have been studied by learned Jews long before there were any Christians: we have seen the influence that the closely related Vahman Yasht had on the author(s) of the Book of Daniel.

The attraction of Zoroastrianism will have been reinforced when, in the second century BC, Iranian power revived under the Parthians. When, in the first century, Judaea came under the harsh rule of

{p. 225} Rome, Jews looked to Parthia as Rome's most formidable enemy. Pompey and, after him, Crassus made themselves very unpopular by invading the Temple: Crassus even despoiled it. In 53 BC Crassus marched against the Parthians - and, despite great numerical superiority, his forces were decimated and he himself was killed. The Parthians became more popular than ever with the Jews; and when, in 40 BC, they invaded Syria-Palestine, entered Jerusalem, and installed a Jewish king in place of the hated Roman nominee Herod, they could be regarded as champions of the Jews against the Romans. And though Herod was reinstated by the Romans two years later, the Parthians persisted with their efforts to move west and to oust the Romans. These developments can only have made Zoroastrian prophecies of salvation from tyranny and of the coming of the kingdom of God sound still more convincing.

Contacts between Parthians and Jews - including, later, Christian Jews - continued also outside Palestine. Babylon, with its important Jewish community, was under Parthian rule. In Syria, Armenia and Anatolia, too, the two cultures remained in contact for generations on end.


Some Zoroastrian notions were widely accepted amongst Jews. Thus the Pharisees, though they belonged to mainstream Judaism, felt no difficulty in 'interpreting' the scriptures in the light of new doctrines which they believed to be truly Jewish, but which were really of Zoroastrian origin. And some of the early rabbis in turn adopted those doctrines. Around the time of Jesus, the important rabbinical school headed by Bet Hillel was maintaining that after death all souls are rewarded or punished in heaven or hell until the end of time, when they will be reunited with their bodies for a final judgment - a notion unknown to the Hebrew Bible, but central to Zoroaster's teaching. And this Pharisaic legacy has endured: it is preserved in normative Judaism as it exists today - even though in practice it has far less importance for Jews than for Christians.

On the other hand, the Pharisees never accepted the notion of a great supernatural power hostile to God - they had no use for even a qualified dualism, any more than present-day Judaism has. Belief in the Devil, his power and his eventual overthrow, remained the preserve of certain groups which deviated more widely from the central tradition of Judaism. Two of these groups are known to history: the Qumran sect and the Jesus sect.

Already while the Scrolls were first coming to light, between 1947

{p. 226} and 1956, scholars were struck by the affinity between the Community Rule, with its doctrine of the two great antagonistic spirits, and Zoroastrian doctrine, especially in its Zurvanite form. And if the Qumran sect was annihilated already before the fall of Jerusalem, the Jesus sect, transformed into the Christian Church and later into the Christian churches, was to keep a very similar blend of dualism and eschatology alive down the centuries.

Then there is the matter of God's agent in the last days. The Messiah of the Book of Revelation has far less in common with any messianic figure in the Hebrew Bible than with the divine warriors in the various versions of the combat myth - and amongst them, neither Indra, nor Marduk, nor Ba'al, nor the early Yahweh offer as close a parallel as the Zoroastrian Saoshyant. For Zoroaster is expected to return, resurrected and glorified, in the Saoshyant miraculously born of his seed, to fight and defeat the demonic hosts, resurrect the dead and carry out the eschatological judgment - and Revelation tells us to expect the very same deeds of the resurrected and glorified Christ when he returns. Moreover, in both cases the return of the saviour marks the end of time and the beginning of the world beyond time, the kingdom of God on earth.

All in all, it would seem that amongst the fringe groups in Judaism the Jesus sect was the one that was most exposed to Zoroastrian influence. There is nothing mysterious about that. The Iranian culture is now known to have been long and firmly established in areas into which early Christians moved. There was, for instance, a strong Zoroastrian influence in Anatolia - and Anatolia had great importance in the early development of Christianity. The author of the Book of Revelation knew the region well.

Soon, of course, Christianity was to change out of all recognition into something that was quite remote from both Judaism and Zoroastrianism. That Jesus' death on the cross was a redemptive act, by which God offered mankind the possibility of salvation from the consequences of sin - this was something wholly new, and it has remained central to the creeds of the major Christian churches to this day. However, what Christianity had taken over from Zoroastrianism has also lasted, and that too has been carried across the continents and down the centuries and into the modern world.

{p. 227} Afterword

This book is concerned with a major turning-point in the history of human consciousness: it tries to describe how the destiny of the world and of human beings came to be imagined in a new way, and how these new expectations began to spread abroad. A brief recapitulation of the main argument may not come amiss.

Until around l500 BC peoples as diverse as Egyptians, Sumerians, Babylonians, Indo-Iranians and their Indian and Iranian descendants, Canaanites, pre-exilic Israelites were all agreed that in the beginning the world had been organised, set in order, by a god or by several gods, and that in essentials it was immutable. For each people, security - meaning fertility of the land, victory in war, stable social relations sanctioned by custom and law - was the outward and visible sign that a divinely ordained order did indeed exist.

However, that order was never untroubled, it was always threatened by evil, destructive forces - sometimes identified as flood or drought, famine or plague, inertia or death itself - but sometimes also as hostile peoples or tyrannical conquerors. In the combat myth, in its various formulations, the conflict between universal order and the forces that threatened and invaded and impaired it - between cosmos and chaos - was given symbolic expression. A young hero god, or divine warrior, was charged by the gods with the task of keeping the forces of chaos at bay; and in return he was awarded kingship over the world.

Some time between 1500 and 1200 BC Zoroaster broke out of that static yet anxious world-view. He did so by reinterpreting, radically, the Iranian version of the combat myth. In Zoroaster's view the world was not static, nor would it always be troubled. Even now the world was moving, through incessant conflict, towards a conflictless state. The time would come when, in a prodigious final battle, the supreme god and his supernatural allies would defeat the forces of chaos and their human allies and eliminate them once and for all.

{p. 228} From then on the divinely appointed order would obtain absolutely physical distress and want would be unknown, no enemy would threaten, within the community of the saved there would be absolute unanimity; in a word, the world would be for ever untroubled totally secure.

Unheard of before Zoroaster, that expectation deeply influenced certain Jewish groups - as witness some of the apocalypses and some of the writings found at Qumran. Above all it influenced the Jesus sect, with incalculable consequences.

In this book the story is carried only to the close of the first century AD - but the story itself has continued down the ages. And what a story it has become! Much theological speculation; innumerable millenarian movements, including those now flourishing so vigorously in the United States; even the appeal once exercised by Marxist-Leninist ideology - all this belongs to it. Nor is there any reason to think that the story is nearing its end. The tradition whose origins are studied in this book is still alive and potent. Who can tell what fantasies, religious or secular, it may generate in the unforeseeable future?

{end of quotes}

Cohn alludes to fundamentalist Christians in the US; but Zionist fundamentalism, equally millennial, is his blind spot. This movement, aiming to demolish the Dome of the Rock, in order to build the Third Temple, is a major factor in the West's crusade against Islam: tmf.html.

(6) Yuri Stoyanov, The Hidden Tradition in Europe, Arkana (Penguin), London 1994.

{p. i - about the author} Yuri Stepanov ... has ... done research at Oxfird and the University of London, where he is currently a Frances A. Yates Fellow at the Warburg Institute. ...

{p. 22} The consolidation and elevation of Zoroastrianism in the Achaemenid empire is commonly attributed to the Magi, the Median sacerdotal tribe or caste, which appears analogous to the Indian Brahmins or the Levites of ancient Israel and had formed the hereditary priestly class of the Median kingdom. Apart from Media, the Magi were the acknowledged priesthood entrusted with the conduct of religious ceremonies in western Iran. Herodotus recounted that the Persians could not offer a sacrifice without a Magus (1: 132). ... For the Greeks, the teachings of the Magi were indeed the teachings of Zoroaster and the prophet of Ahura Mazda came to be styled 'Magus'. The Magi had certainly been exposed to Mesopotamian religious influences but since the Achaemenid era their fortunes were inextricably linked to Zoroastrianism, although at least some of them continued to participate in non-Zoroastrian rites. The religious eclecticism of the Magi was to make possible the assimilation of Near Eastern traditions within Zoroastrianism in an era when the religious policy of the Achaemenids allowed coexistence and prolonged interchange between varying religions and cults. Among the important religious developments of the Achaemenid era was the Zoroastrian rehabilitation of the Lord Covenant, Mithra 'of the broad pastures', as the supreme of the divine yazatas (the worshipful ones), who came to be revered as the omniscient master of the world and its wakeful guardian against the powers of evil and darkness. Another significant religious phenomenon of the period was the spread of the cult of the Iranian Great Goddess Anahita, the Immaculate Lady of the 'strong undefiled waters', which arose under strong Assyrio-Babylonian influence. The Achaemenid King of Kings Artaxerxes II (404-359 BC) is credited with erecting many

{p. 23} statues of Anahita throughout the empire and since his reign Mithra and Anahita came to be invoked along with the supreme god Ahura Mazda as the divine protectors of the Iranian monarchy.

The religious transformations of the Achaemenid era also affected the original Zoroastrian dualist scheme, which had set in absolute opposition the principles of Truth and Untruth and the related opposing modes of being of the two twin Spirits beneath Ahura Mazda, the Holy and the Destructive Spirits. While in the Gathas of Zoroaster Ahura Mazda is clearly above the twin Spirits, in Achaemenid Zoroastrianism the process began of the coalescence of Ahura Mazda (Ohrmazd) with Spenta Mainyu, the Holy Spirit. From 'the first and the ultimate' supreme God, Ahura Mazda was gradually equated with the holy one of the twin Spirits and came to confront what was now his symmetrical opposite, the virtual anti-God, Angra Mainyu (Ahriman). The new, Zoroastrian dualist formula, in which Ohrmazd and Ahriman were positioned as two primordial and independent principles, swiftly gained currency, even outside the Iranian world. Aristotle reported in his work On Philosophy (fourth century BC) that the Magi believed in the existence of two principles, the good spirit, Zeus or 'Oromasdes', and the evil spirit, Hades or 'Arimanius'. Aristotle's statement on Magian dualism is recorded in Diogenes Laertius' Lies of Eminent Philosophers (1:8), where Diogenes also attributes to Aristotle the belief that the Magi were more ancient than the Egyptians. In modern research, the Magi have indeed been credited with the hardening of early Zoroastrian dualism in the doctrine of Ohrmazd versus Ahriman and Babylonian influences are also thought to have played a role in this Magian revision of the teaching of the twin Spirits. How much this fully-fledged dualism affected Achaemenid Zoroastrianism may only be conjectured but it received theological elaboration and eventually emerged as the orthodoxy of the Zoroastrian state-church of the Sassanid empire in Iran (c. AD 22440).

{Note that Norman Cohn (above) argues the reverse: that original Zoroastrian dualism gave way to Zurvanite monism, this last influencing Jews. NormanCohn, Cosmos, Chaos and the World to Come: The Ancient Roots of Apocalyptic Faith, p. 221}

In classical Zoroastrian accounts of the new strict dualist system, Ohrmazd and Ahriman appeared as two separate prime causes existing from the beginning - two absolutely independent and diametrically opposed spirits. Ohrmazd is the Creator who is 'all goodness and all light' and dwells in the Endless Light above, while Ahriman is the Destroyer who is 'all wickedness and full of death'

{p. 24} and dwells in the abyss of Endless Darkness below.

{p. 26} Ahriman might have despoiled the Good Creation but his stronghold in the material world proved to be his perennial prison, as the sky was made a fortress which he could not overcome to return to his realm of darkness. After battles with Ohrmazd's spiritual forces, Ahriman was cast into the middle of the earth and firmly ensnared in the world, which itself now had to go through transformation to 'duality, opposition, combat and mingling of high and low' (Grater Bundahishn 4:28). On the death of the primal Bull his limbs gave rise to plant life, his seed to animal life and his blood to the fruit of the vine, while the seed of the dying Righteous Man generated the first human couple, Mashye and Mashyane, the Zoroastrian counterparts of Adam and Eve. The 'father and mother of the world' were inducted into Ohrmazd's 'righteous order', but none the less were led astray by Ahriman to proclaim him the creator of water, earth and the plants, and thus committed 'the root sin against dualism', mistaking the Destroyer for the Creator. After indulging in more crimes, Mashye and Mashyane were consigned to Hell until the time of the final transfiguration and salvation.

Despite the transgressions of the first human couple, the human race, endowed as it is with free will, remained in the forefront of Ohrmazd's battle against Ahriman throughout the remaining millennia of the original pact. The demonic hosts of Ahriman are not only compelled to fight a losing battle against Ohrmazd's forces, but also the genius of 'disorderly motion' is bound to finally provoke their self-ruin. While Ahriman's infernal world was doomed to be extermi-

{p. 27} nated at the hands of Ohrmazd's commanders amid demonic orgies of self-destruction, Ahriman himself was to be hurled out of the sky through the very hole he had pierced into the Good Creation. With the decimation of the calamitous potency of the Destroyer Ahriman, described sometimes as the cutting off of his head, the Creator Ohrmazd finally becomes infinite not only in time, but also in space, to reign over the transfigured world for all eternity.

Although prevalent during long phases in the history of Zoroastrianism, the strict dualism of Ohrmazd and Ahriman, the two first principles, was not the only theological solution to Zoroaster's riddle of the twin Spirits, 'renowned to be in conflict' (Yasna 30:3). While Aristotle alluded to the two primordial principles of the Magi 'Oromasdes' and 'Arimanius', Eudemus of Rhodes recorded another form of Magian dualism. According to Eudemus the Magi and the 'whole Aryan race' {i.e. Persians} called the 'whole intelligible and unitary universe' Space or Time, from which were extracted a good god and an evil demon, light and darkness, the first ruled by Ohrmazd, the latter by Ahriman.

The Father of Light and Darkness

Besides their contribution to the transformation of the original Zoroastrian dualism in the Achaemenid era the Magi encouraged religious syncretism which prepared the ground for the assimilation of new religious concepts in Zoroastrianism. The cults of ancient Mesopotamian deities persisted in what were now the Near Eastern domains of the Achaemenid empire in the fertile climate of the encounter between the Iranian and Mesopotamian civilizations. In parallel with Iranian dualism, neo-Babylonian thought seems to have already begun to develop a dualist antagonism between the patron god of Babylon, Bel Marduk, and the Mesopotamian archetypal deity of war, death and the underworld, Nergal, the consort of the queen of underworld and darkness, Ereshkigal. As a personification of the destructive power of the sun and fire and with solar attributes, like the gryphon and the lion, Nergal is sometimes associated with the Mesopotamian sun-god Shamash. With his

{p. 28} underworld association, Nergal was sometimes equated with the Phoenician netherworld deity Moloch (Molech), who, besides having close connections with the cult of the dead and necromancy was said to be worshipped with human sacrifice, the victims being 'passed through fire'. Extolled as 'Lord of the Gods' and bringer of light, Bel Marduk came to be conceived of as a deity of good, while the formidable death-god Nergal, the dreaded bringer of fever and pestilence, predictably emerged as his antipode. The rival cults of the two deities persisted into the Achaemenid era and there are indications that the worship of Nergal merged with vestiges of archaic Iranian pre-Zoroastrian traditions.

In the Achaemenid period Zoroaster's Good Religion not only increased its influence and authority but also felt the impact of new religious developments in the Near East: under Babylonian influence, certain novel religious and astrological notions concerning the nature and functions of time brought about a new transmutation of the Irarian dualist scheme with the emergence of a new trend in Zoroastrianism, Zurvanism.

In Zurvanism, Ohrmazd and Ahriman were regarded as twin offspring of the higher and supreme being Zurvan, the god of Time, later identified also with Destiny {the Law of History, for Marxism}. While Zurvanism has sometimes been considered an independent pre-Zoroastrian Iranian religion of a time-god, with its own teachings and ritual, the prevailing view is that Zurvanism arose as a new form of modified Zoroastrian dualism which sought the common origin of Ohrmazd and Ahriman in a deified Time-Destiny. The origin and early fortunes of Zurvanism, as well as its potential links with other religious trends, such as Orphism and early Buddhism and Greek philosophical traditions, are still in dispute. What seems certain is that the Zurvanite trend in Zoroastrianism developed during the middle or late Achaemenid era in western Iran and was particularly influential throughout the Persian domains in Asia Minor.

Zurvan, as the deity of Infinite Space Time and Destiny, was raised to the supreme status of the first principle, the boundless 'Great and Just God', who is without origin and is the source of all things. Extolled as the Lord of the Zoroastrian 'Three Times' {original paradise, present strife, future paradise}, Zurvan came to be worshipped as a quaternity, a four-fold god, associated with Light, Power and Wisdom in addition to Time. He

{p. 29} is the primal, intelligible unitary All that has begotten both Ohrmazd and Ahriman and the related antitheses of good and evil, light and darkness, et cetera. As the sole ultimate fons et origo of all cosmic dualities, Zurvan seems essentially a coincidence of opposites, a preexisting and eternal Being that transcends good and evil {like Shiva, or perhaps Tao?}. Zurvanism came to develop its own elaborate mythology, which is preserved in fragmentary and sometimes slightly discrepant versions, expounding its central concepts of the pre-eminence of Zurvan, the primeval birth of Ohrmazd and Ahriman and their alternating rule of the world.

In Zurvanite mythology, before anything existed, there was the boundless and eternal Zurvan who yearned to father a son who would create and preside over heaven and earth as a Creator and Cosmocrator. To provoke the birth of a creator-god, Zurvan was set to offer sacrifices for a whole millennium but eventually came to doubt their efficacy and conceived twin sons - Ohrmazd, the embodiment of his wisdom, and Ahriman, the incarnation of his doubt. In some versions of the myth, Zurvan originally appears androgynous, while other variants introduce a mother goddess figure who was brought into existence early in cosmic history and conceived Ohrmazd and Ahriman after Zurvan's plea. As Zurvan had pledged that the first-born should be consecrated king, Ahriman, the would-be Lord of darkness and evil, ventured to 'tear the womb open', and came forth to claim his right to kingship. In other versions Ahriman inaugurated Untruth and proclaimed that he was Ohrmazd, but was betrayed by his 'dark and stinking' nature. The luminous and fragrant Ohrmad was born immediately after him but although Zurvan aspired to bestow the kingship on the younger twin son, the Lord of goodness and light, he had to cede to the first-born the kingdom of the world for the finite period of 9,000 years. While unwillingly granting the kingship to Ahriman, Zurvan conferred on Ohrmazd the priesthood with its emblem, the barsom twigs. After Zurvan offered sacrifices for his son, Ohrmazd had to offer sacrifices for his father. Bestowed with divine priesthood, Ohrmazd was made king over Ahriman, apparently in the heavenly realm, and after the fixed nine millennia of Ahrimanic dominion in the world, he was to reign and order everything according to his will.

{p. 30} Zurvan endows his two sons with their respective weapons or 'garments', which they choose freely according to their will and which invest them with their contrasting essences. The substance of light, Ohrmazd's essence, that 'form of fire - bright, white, round and manifest afar' (Greater Bundahishn 1:44), was regarded in Zurvanism as an implement granted by his father. The weapon chosen by Ohrmazd was also associated with the robes of priesthood, the 'shining white garment' that furthered good and destroyed evil. In contrast, the ashen-coloured garment chosen by Ahriman as his essence was associated with heretical priesthood, 'evil knowledge' and the Ahrimanic planets, mostly with Saturn, the bringer of death. ...

In Zurvanism both Ohrmazd and Ahriman exercised their creative potential, Ohrmazd mastering heaven, earth and all that was good and right, whereas Ahriman's counter-creations were confined to the demons and all that was evil and twisted.

{p. 31} In Zoroastrian literature Zurvanism is described as the teachings of Ohrmazd and Ahriman, as 'two brothers of one womb'. In modern scholarship Zurvanism has been evaluated variously as an intellectual-philosophical current within Zoroastrianism, as a dangerous heresy verging on materialism and fatalism, but also as the 'supreme effort of Iranian theology to transcend dualism and to postulate a single principle that will explain the world'. In its search for a single unitary principle Zurvanism modified the original dualist message of Zoroaster, which had condemned evil as a force entirely separate from and alien to the supreme Wise Lord. Far from being an eternal and independent principle, evil in Zurvanism emanates from a 'doubt', a kind of divine fall or imperfection within the First Cause, the Great and Just God Zurvan. The ensuing cosmic struggle between Ohrmazd and Ahriman is virtually designed to restore the unity and integrity of the absolute Godhead. Moreover, the fixed nine millennia of strife and mixture between Ohrmazd and Ahriman in orthodox Zoroastrianism was transformed in Zurvanism into a time of Ahriman's rule in the world, fixed in a treaty with Zurvan. By enthroning Ahriman as Prince of the World for 9,000 years Zurvanism radically reshaped the traditional Zoroastrian sacred history, which had always rejected the idea of an era of

{p. 32} Ahrimanic supremacy over the Good creation and an Ahrimanic worldly imperium.

{end of quotes}

(7) The Winged Disc - symbol of Ahura-Mazda - and the Behistun Inscription

(7.1) Mary Boyce on the Winged Disc

Mary Boyce, A History of Zoroastrianism Volume Two: Under the Archaemenians (E. J. Brill, Leiden, 1982).

{p. 37} The adoption of an alien symbol

The ancient Iranians themselves using nothing man-made in their worship of the gods - not image or altar or symbol - it seems to have been the fact that the Babylonians, while using all these, linked their great gods also with stars which made possible Iranian assimilation of the cults of Ishtar and Nabu. There was one alien symbol, however, which being (it appears) more a declaration of royal than divine power was perhaps adopted already by the Median Deiocids, though later developments have caused it to be regarded as a characteristic Zoroastrian symbol. This is the winged disk, a symbol which, it is accepted, derived ultimately from Egypt, where it belonged to 'Horus, the sky- and sun-

{p. 38} god who was immanent in Pharaoh and manifest in the form of a falcon'. It first appeared there in the third millennium B.C., and was widely adopted in the lands of the ancient Near East during the second millennium, the time of Egypt's greatest expansion, 'perhaps not so much because it supplied a religious symbol ... as because of a certain display-value which it had received from the immense prestige of the Empire of the Thutmosids ... The winged sun-disk seems to have been considered as a symbol of power and royalty'. A development of the symbol in Assyria shows a human figure with the disk, which as it appears on seals of the ninth century is bearded and crowned, and regularly holds a bow in one hand while raising the other in salutation. It seems probable that, thus modified, the svmbol was adopted in Urartu, since it has been found on bronze objects from the rcgion of Lake Van; and it is the Urartian representation which is held most closely to resemble the carving of the symbol on Darius' monument at Behistun, which is the earliest known Iranian example. What significance the Iranians themselves attached to it must be left for consideration in a later chapter. {end}

(7.2) Zoroastrian Winged-Disc Symbol in the Louvre Museum

Robert Collins, The Medes and Persians: Conquerors and Diplomats (Cassell, London 1974).

{p. 73} Ahura Mazda, the Zoroastrian god of light, was portrayed this way in the palace of Darius, sixth or fifth century, B.C.
Louvre    Ahura-Mazda-wings.jpg

(7.3) Behistun Inscription - to cuneiform what the Rosetta Stone is to Egyptian hieroglyphs

The Persian Empire was a "Multicultural" empire, engulfing Egypt, Turkey, Pakistan, Anatolia, and the lands between.

King Darius ruled it from 521 to 486 BC. About 515 BC, he arranged for the story of the Empire to be inscribed into a cliff near Bisistun, in Iran.

The story was carved in 3 languages - Elamite, Old Persian and Akkadian (Babylonian) - in cuneiform, the wedge-shaped script used in Babylon.

From the Behistun Inscription, the amateur scholar Henry Rawlinson started the decipherment of the cuneiform script of Babylonia.

The text at Behistun explains and legitimates the consolidation of the empire.

The winged-disc symbol associated with the Assyrian sun-god Shamash: shamash.jpg, is from

This prominent Rosicrucian symbol, adapted from the Zoroastrian/Assyrian one, is called the Wings of Jehovah: Rosicrucian-WingsofJehovah.jpg. More on the Rosicrucians: rosicrucian.html.

Zecharia Sitchin uses a similar symbol in his New Age books, e.g. on p. 240 of The Cosmic Code (Avon Books, New York, 1998): sitchin-Cosmic-Code-240.jpg.

In the Behistun Inscription, Darius says, "Ahuramazda brought me help, and the other gods, all that there are" (paragraphs 62 & 63 at

This formulation does not seem Zoroastrian, because it sounds "polytheistic". But the Jewish Bible has similar ambiguities, e.g. "Who is like thee among the gods, O Yahweh? (Exodus 15: 11). Zoroastrianism tended to incorporate lesser deities as "angels" and "archangels".

However, the following formulations are very Zoroastrian: "I call Ahuramazda to witness that is true and not lies" (para. 57).

"I was not wicked, nor was I a liar" (para 63).

The evil force - the Devil or Satan - was commonly referred to as "the Lie", in Zoroastrian texts.==

(7.4) The Winged Disc - symbol of divine kingship in the Egyptian and Assyrian religions

The British Museum Dictionary of Ancient Egypt, by Ian Shaw and Paul Nicholson (The British Museum Press, London 1995; pocket edition 2002) says of the winged-disc symbol:

{p. 305} winged-disc

The image of the solar disc with the wings of a hawk was originally the symbol of the god HORUS of Behdet (or the 'Beddetine Horus') in the eastern Delta. An ivory comb dating to the reign of the 1st-Dynasty ruler DJET (c.2980 BC) already shows a pair of wings attached to the SOLAR BARK as it passes through the sky, and an inscribeds block from the mortuary temple of the 5th-Dynasty ruler Sahura (2487-2475 BC) includes a winged disc above his names and titles, with the phrase 'Horus of Behdet' written beside it. {end}

Richard H. Wilkinson writes in Reading Egyptian Art (Thames and Hudson, London, 1992; 1994 paperback edition):

{p. 101} According to a very ancient Egyptian conception of the cosmos, the heavens were the wings of a great falcon whose eyes were the sun and moon, and whose speckled underside was the starry sky. This deith was the falcon-shaped god Horus, and the conception of the heavens as his wings may be seen in the First Dynasty tomb of King Djet where the wings are attached to the solar barque on which the falcon rides. {end}

{p. 100} Emblems on the ivory comb of King Djet, from Abydos, First Dynasty: wings-Djet.jpg.

{p. 101, continued} Beginning in the Fifth Dynasty and concurrent with the rise in importance of the solar cult, a sun disc was placed between the two wings which then became attributes of the sun god Re. {end}

Richard H. Wilkinson writes in The Complete Temples of Ancient Egypt (Thames and Hudson, London, 2000):

{p. 77} Winged solar discs beneath the lintels of Ramesses III's monument at Medinet Habu trace the symbolic path of the sun along the temnple's axis: : winged-disc-RamesesIII.jpg. {end}

Gods, Demons and Symbols of Ancient Mesopotamia: An Illustrated Dictionary, by Jeremy Black and Anthony Green; Illustrations by Tessa Rickards (University of Texas Press, Austin, 1995).

{p. 37} Assur

Assur was the god of the Assyrian nation ...

{p. 38} The modern attribution to assur of the solar disc is certainly incorrect. Some scholars, however, believe that the winged disc, very common in assyrian art and often on Assyrian sculptures with the image of a god above it, and placed over scenes of battle, ritual and the chase, must represent Assur. The evidence, however, points strongly to this emblem as a symbol of the sun god Samas (Uru). again, there may be some borrowing of an image proper to another god.

{p. 182} Utu (Samas) Utu was the Sumerian sun god, whose Akkadian name as Samas. He represents the brilliant light of the sun, which returns every day to illuminate the life of mankind, as well as giving beneficial warmth, which causes plants to grow. ...

{p. 184} Presumably because the sun, in its path across the skies, sees everything, Utu/Samas came to be regarded as a god of truth, justice and right. Samas, together with Adad (see Iskur), is invoked during Babylonian extispicy rituals. As a protector of right and destroyer of evil, he also had a warrior aspect to his personality.

A third aspect ot Utu was his direct interest in the affairs of mankind. ... Utu acted as a special protector of some of the later heroic kings of the city, for instance Gilgames. In the Bablynian Epic of Gilgames, Samas helps the hero against the monstrous guardian ot the Cedar Forest, Humhaha (Huwawa).

{p. 185} winged disc

Both the origins and meaning of the winged solar disc are matters of controversy. Probably its ultimate origins were in Egypt, from where it passcd via the Syrians and the Hittites to Mesopotamia. It first appears there in the glyptic art of the Mitannian kingdom, and was then transmitted to Assyrian and Babylonian art. Taken over by the Achaemenid Persians, it remained an important emblem in Iran until

{p. 186} modern times. Often in Assyria, and normally in Achaemenid art, the figure of a god is shown above the central dise, in Assyria sometimes with the heads ot two facing figures, perhaps scorpionpeople, set at the ends of the wings.

The disc in Assyria was a symbol of Samas (Utu), though it has been attrihuted by some scholars to Assur or Ninurta. The disc is often supported by supernatural creatures, such as a pair of bull-men, a pair of scorpion-men or a figure of Lahmu. ...


Plate 155 in this book, on p. 186, shows a winged disc.

The caption reads, "Assurnasirpal II, king of Assyria (883-859 BC), rides into battle, firing at the enemy. From the sky he receives more than symbolic support from a god flying in a winged disc. Monumental stone relief from the royal palace at Kalhu (modern Nimrud). Ht. 0.93 m.": winged-disc-Assyria.jpg.

(7.5) The Faravahar - the Zoroastrian winged disc


The "Faravahar," the winged disc with a man's upper body that is commonly used as a symbol of the Zoroastrian faith, has a long and splendid history in the art and culture of the Middle East. Its symbolism and philosophical meaning is an ancient heritage that extends through three millennia to modern times. In this text I will tell the story of the Faravahar and explain some of its many symbolic aspects.

The history of the Faravahar design begins in ancient Egypt, with a stylized bird pattern which is known as the "spread-eagle." A "spread-eagle" (as it is called in heraldry) features a flying bird shown from below, with its wings, tail, and legs outstretched. Such designs have been used in cultures throughout history, including American, where the seal of the U.S. Government features a "spread-eagle." ==

Faravahar (fravashi) {also Farohar}

Definition: An emblem of the Zoroastrian religion. Faravahar means "to choose." The Faravahar is descended from the Egyptian winged disk, a symbol of divine kingship. It represented the Assyrian sun god Shamash, and may have represented the corona of a solar eclipse. In the Zoroastrian faith, it represents the human soul.

The faravahar has several parts:

A winged disk- the three layers of feathers represent the three pillars of the Zoroastrian faith: good words, good thoughts, good deeds. The ring represents eternity.

Two streamers, representing the duality of good and evil- left and right, respectively.

The head of a man, facing left-representing the prophet Zoroaster, and the choice to live a morally upright life. ==


The "Faravahar," the winged disc with a man's upper body that is commonly used as a symbol of the Zoroastrian faith, has a long and splendid history in the art and culture of the Middle East. Its symbolism and philosophical meaning is an ancient heritage that extends through three millennia to modern times. In this text I will tell the story of the Faravahar and explain some of its many symbolic aspects.

The history of the Faravahar design begins in ancient Egypt, with a stylized bird pattern which is known as the "spread-eagle." A "spread-eagle" (as it is called in heraldry) features a flying bird shown from below, with its wings, tail, and legs outstretched. Such designs have been used in cultures throughout history, including American, where the seal of the U.S. Government features a "spread-eagle."

An Egyptian "spread-eagle" device is featured in the treasure of Tut-ankh-amoun which has a bird's body with a human head, and in which hieroglyphic symbols are held in the outstretched talons. (Illustration: Tut-ankh-amoun) These features will later re- appear, transformed, in the Faravahar. Closer still to the Faravahar are Egyptian designs which feature a sun-disc with wings. (Illustration: Egyptian winged disc.) This winged sun-disc represents Horus, the hawk-god believed by the ancient Egyptians to be incarnate in Pharaoh, the god-king.

The winged disc was from the beginning a symbol of divine kingship, or the divine favor upon a king. Very early on (second millennium B.C.) this design had migrated from Egypt to the ancient Near East. It appears above the carved figure of a Hittite king, (The Hittites flourished from about 1400-1200 B.C.) symbolizing a god's favor in the "spread-eagle" form. In Syria it is shown on a seal from the Mitanni civilization (c.1450-1360 BC) (Illustration: Mitanni winged disc).

The proto-Faravahar symbol may also have a native Mesopotamian origin, which was combined with the Egyptian symbol in ancient Assyria. Assyrian art also associates the winged disc with divinity and divine protection of the king and people. It appears both with and without a human figure. Without the human figure, it is a symbol of the sun-god Shamash, but with the human figure, it is the symbol of the Assyrian national god Assur. This appears on many carvings and seals. The Assyrian versions of the winged disc sometimes have the kingly figure inside the disc, and others have him arising from within the disc in a design that is very close to the Faravahar as it appears in Persian art. The graphic evolution from the "spread-eagle" is evident in the stylized Assyrian version of the design, where the bird's legs are abstracted into wavy streamers on either side of the disc which end either in "claws" or in scrolls, as they do in the Persian design. (Illustration : 2 versions of Assyrian faravahar)

By the time of the Achaemenid kings (dynasty flourished from about 600 B.C. to 330 B.C.), then, the design that would become the Faravahar had already been in use for at least 1000 years, from Egypt to Syria and then to Assyria. The early Achaemenids conquered Mesopotamian lands in the 6th century B.C., and re-patriated all the peoples subject to Babylonian rule, the Jews among them. These same Achaemenids also adopted Assyrian and Babylonian motifs for their monumental art, including the winged disc.

The Persian Faravahar is carved on the rock-cut tombs of the Achaemenid kings at Bisetoon in Iran, and varies from one carving to the other. In one it is very much like the Assyrian version, with squared-off "wavy" wings. (Illustration : Bisetoon) But it is in the carvings of Persepolis, center of the Achaemenid dynasty, that the Faravahar reaches its most elaborate and finely wrought perfection. The Faravahar of Persepolis is the one that has been adopted by Zoroastrians as their symbol. It appears in more than one form at Persepolis. When it must fit a horizontal, narrow space, the winged disc is depicted without the human figure in the disc (Illustration : Persepolis). But when there is enough space, the Faravahar is shown in all of its glory, with kingly figure, disc, streamers, and many-feathered wings (Illustration : big faravahar at Persepolis.). And, as it had done throughout history, from Egypt to Mitanni to Assyria, it represents the divine favor hovering above the king. ...

After the Achaemenids the image of the Faravahar disappears from Persian art. ...

The general scholarly opinion, at least in the West, was that the winged disc represented Ahura Mazda. ...

The word "faravahar" actually is Pahlavi, or Middle Persian. It derives from ancient Iranian (Avestan) word fravarane which means "I choose." The choice is that of the Good, or the Good Religion of Zarathushtra. Another related word is fravarti or fravashi, which may derive from an alternative meaning of "protect," implying the divine protection of the guardian spirit, the fravashi. From these words come the later Middle Persian words fravahr, foruhar, or faravahar.

Whatever the origin of the word, the use of the word faravahar to describe the Winged Disc is modern. No one knows what the ancient Persians called their winged disc. But the history of the symbol, both before and during its Persian use, has a continuous meaning, and that is one of divine favor for a king. As the Winged Sun-disc of Horus it hovered over the Pharaoh of Egypt; it hovered over the Hittite King, and in Assyrian art it is depicted over the Assyrian King, often with weapons in its hands, helping the Assyrian monarch wage war. So when it enters Persian art, it is already a symbol of divine guardianship of the king.

The current consensus on what the Faravahar meant to the ancients who carved it is that it represents not Ahura Mazda, but the Royal Glory of the Persian King. This view is held by scholars such as Boyce and Jafarey. This Royal Glory is an important concept in Zoroastrian teaching; the Avestan word for it is khvarenah.

(7.6) The Behistun Inscription - Discovery

Jona Lendering ©

The Behistun inscription

Discovery of the monument

Several people have described the monument. The first to do so was the Greek doctor Ctesias of Cnidus (ca. 400 BCE). He tells us that there are a well and a garden beneath a monument dedicated by the Assyrian queen Semiramis to the supreme god, which Ctesias calls by his Greek name Zeus. The Roman author Tacitus (ca. 55-120 CE) informs us that there was an altar for Hercules; in 1959, this report was corroborated when a statue of the Greek god was found.

After the fall of the Achaemenid empire, the significance of the monument was forgotten. In the seventh century, a romantic story was told about the architect Farhad who created the monument. According to this legend, the relief shows king Khusrau II 'the victorious' (591-628 CE) and the enemies he has defeated. The next to describe the monument was the Arabian traveller Ibn Hauqal (died 977), who thought that Darius was a teacher in front of a group of pupils. He took Darius' bow to be a whip, used to punish the boys.

In 1598, the British diplomat in Austrian service Robert Sherley traveled east, hoping to speak the Persian shah Abbas the Great about the war against Turkey. One of his servants was a Frenchman, Abel Pinson, who wrote that the serail of Behistun was situated under a very high cliff on which he had seen a representation of 'the ascension of our Lord' with an inscription in Greek. It is obvious that Pinson had not seen the damaged figure of the fallen Gaumâta, and thought that the image of Ahuramazda and the twelve men represented Christ and his disciples. He was not the last to make this mistake: in 1808, a French traveler called Ange Gardane thought it represented twelve apostles standing under Jesus' cross. In 1818, the British scholar Ker Porter made the first drawing ot the monument, thinking that it was a picture of the ten tribes of the Jewish kingdom of Israel and the Assyrian king Salmaneser. Introduction Medieval legend Translation I Translation II

Henry Rawlinson

The first serious attempt to examine the rock relief was made by Henry Rawlinson in the summer of 1835. He must have been a skilled mountaineer, because he managed to climb the cliffs several times in order to make a squeeze of the cuneiform texts. This writing system was still unintelligible, but Rawlinson had already recognized the word Dârayavaus (Darius) somewhere else, and was soon able to recognize the same letters in this monument. When he received some notes by the German scholar Georg Friedrich Grotefend, who had booked some progress in the decipherment of the Persian cuneiform alphabet, Rawlinson was able to break the code. The first lines must have been a big surprise, because Darius wrote more or less:

I am Dârayavaus the King, son of Vistâspa, of the Hakhâmanisiya-dynasty, king of kings. I am king in Pârsa. My father is Vistâspa. Vistâspa's father is Arsâma, Arsâma's father was Ariyâramna, Ariyâramna's father was Cispis, and Cispis' father was Hakhâmanis.

This list was more identical to the list of kings in the Histories of the Greek researcher Herodotus (7.11), where these names are given as Darius, Hystaspes, Arsames, Ariaramnes, Teispes and Achaemenes. Within two weeks Rawlinson was able to establish the meaning of all 42 signs of the old Persian alphabet. In 1837 he returned to Bisotun, where he and an agile Kurdish boy made a new squeeze of half the Persian text, a dazzling feat of mountaineering which cost the two a year. Since Rawlinson knew the Persian language and had read the age-old holy book Avesta, he was soon able to read the entire text and to understand grammar, syntax and vocabulary of the language of one of the three texts at the monument. In 1838 he handed over his first results to the Royal Asiatic Society in London and the Société Asiatique in Paris. Eight years later, he started to publish on the 'Persian Cuneiform Inscription at Behistun, Deciphered and Translated' in the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society.

The translation caused a sensation. It told how a Magian had occupied the Persian throne after the death of king Cambyses (Persian: Kambûjiya), claiming to be his brother Smerdis (Persian: Bardiya). Seven conspirators had discovered it and Darius, who was a relative of Cambyses, had killed the man. This confirmed one of the most unbelievable and romantic stories told by Herodotus (Histories 3.61-79). In the Behistun inscription Darius also told how he had suppressed several rebellions against the Persian hegemony and how he had defeated the nomads of the Central Asian steppe against whom the legendary Persian king Cyrus the Great had fought in vain.

In 1844, Rawlinson and three colleagues again climbed the cliffs at Bisotun, now making a complete squeeze. Using this copy, the scholars Niels Westergaard and Edwin Norris managed to decipher the 131 characters of the Elamitic script and to read the old language: an impressive achievement since Elamite is a dead language, related to no known spoken tongue. Rawlinson started the decipherment of the complex cuneiform script of Babylonia (which has some 500 characters) and the Akkadian language. He succeeded in 1852; from now one, scholars were able to read the flood of clay tablets coming from the excavations at Nineveh. These opened the way to a new discipline: assyriology.

The relief was damaged during the Second World War, when soldiers used the figures as targets.


Andrew R. Burn, Persia and the Greeks. The Defence of the West, c.546-478 B.C. (1962 London) pages 81-104 Ann Fawkers, 'The Behistun relief' in: Ilya Gershevitch (ed.): The Cambridge History of Iran, vol. II: The Median and Achaemenian Periods, 1985 Cambridge, pages 828-831 P. Lecoq, 'Un problème de religion achéménide: Ahura Mazda ou Xvarnah?' in: Orientalia J. Duchesne-Guillemin emerito oblata, 1984 Leiden, pages 301-326 Rüdiger Schmitt, The Bisitun Inscriptions of Darius the Great. Old Persian Text (Corpus Inscriptionum Iranicarum, Part I: Inscriptions of Ancient Iran. Volume I, The Old Persian Inscriptions; Texts 1.) 1991 London.

(7.7) The Behistun Inscription - translation

The Behistun inscription (translation I)


The following translation was made by L.W. King and R.C. Thompson (The sculptures and inscription of Darius the Great on the rock of Behistûn in Persia, 1907 London). I have made some minor changes and added the titles of the sections. A new translation will be published by the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago (click here for the Achaemenid royal inscriptions project). Introduction Discovery Medieval legend Translation II

Part one

Introduction: Darius' titles and the extent of his empire

(1) I am Darius, the great king, king of kings, the king of Persia, the king of countries, the son of Hystaspes, the grandson of Arsames, the Achaemenid.

(2) King Darius says: My father is Hystaspes; the father of Hystaspes was Arsames; the father of Arsames was Ariaramnes; the father of Ariaramnes was Teispes; the father of Teispes was Achaemenes.

(3) King Darius says: That is why we are called Achaemenids; from antiquity we have been noble; from antiquity has our dynasty been royal.

(4) King Darius says: Eight of my dynasty were kings before me; I am the ninth. Nine in succession we have been kings.

(5) King Darius says: By the grace of Ahuramazda am I king; Ahuramazda has granted me the kingdom.

(6) King Darius says: These are the countries which are subject unto me, and by the grace of Ahuramazda I became king of them: Persia, Elam, Babylonia, Assyria, Arabia, Egypt, the countries by the Sea, Lydia, the Greeks, Media, Armenia, Cappadocia, Parthia, Drangiana, Aria, Chorasmia, Bactria, Sogdiana, Gandara, Scythia, Sattagydia, Arachosia and Maka; twenty-three lands in all.

(7) King Darius says: These are the countries which are subject to me; by the grace of Ahuramazda they became subject to me; they brought tribute unto me. Whatsoever commands have been laid on them by me, by night or by day, have been performed by them.

(8) King Darius says: Within these lands, whosoever was a friend, him have I surely protected; whosoever was hostile, him have I utterly destroyed. By the grace of Ahuramazda these lands have conformed to my decrees; as it was commanded unto them by me, so was it done.

(9) King Darius says: Ahuramazda has granted unto me this empire. Ahuramazda brought me help, until I gained this empire; by the grace of Ahuramazda do I hold this empire. ...==

The Behistun inscription (translation II)

Part three

... (51) King Darius says: This is what was done by me in Babylon.

Summary and conclusion

(52) King Darius says: This is what I have done. By the grace of Ahuramazda have I always acted. After I became king, I fought nineteen battles in a single year and by the grace of Ahuramazda I overthrew nine kings and I made them captive.

One was named Gaumâta, the Magian; he lied, saying 'I am Smerdis, the son of Cyrus.' He made Persia to revolt. Another was named Âssina, the Elamite; he lied, saying: 'I am king the king of Elam.' He made Elam to revolt. Another was named Nidintu-Bêl, the Babylonian; he lied, saying: 'I am Nebuchadnezzar, the son of Nabonidus.' He made Babylon to revolt. Another was named Martiya, the Persian; he lied, saying: 'I am Ummannis, the king of Elam.' He made Elam to revolt. Another was Phraortes, the Mede; he lied, saying: 'I am Khshathrita, of the dynasty of Cyaxares.' He made Media to revolt. Another was Tritantaechmes, the Sagartian; he lied, saying: 'I am king in Sagartia, of the dynasty of Cyaxares.' He made Sagartia to revolt. Another was named Frâda, of Margiana; he lied, saying: 'I am king of Margiana.' He made Margiana to revolt. Another was Vahyazdâta, a Persian; he lied, saying: 'I am Smerdis, the son of Cyrus.' He made Persia to revolt. Another was Arakha, an Armenian; he lied, saying: 'I am Nebuchadnezzar, the son of Nabonidus.' He made Babylon to revolt.

(53) King Darius says: These nine king did I capture in these wars.

(54) King Darius says: As to these provinces which revolted, lies made them revolt, so that they deceived the people. Then Ahuramazda delivered them into my hand; and I did unto them according to my will.

(55) King Darius says: You who shall be king hereafter, protect yourself vigorously from lies; punish the liars well, if thus you shall think, 'May my country be secure!'

Affirmation of the truth of the record

(56) King Darius says: This is what I have done, by the grace of Ahuramazda have I always acted. Whosoever shall read this inscription hereafter, let that which I have done be believed. You must not hold it to be lies.

(57) King Darius says: I call Ahuramazda to witness that is true and not lies; all of it have I done in a single year.

(58) King Darius says: By the grace of Ahuramazda I did much more, which is not graven in this inscription. On this account it has not been inscribed lest he who shall read this inscription hereafter should then hold that which has been done by me to be excessive and not believe it and takes it to be lies.

Affirmation that it is pious to make known the record

(59) King Darius says: Those who were the former kings, as long as they lived, by them was not done thus as by the favor of Ahuramazda was done by me in one and the same year.

(60) King Darius says: Now let what has been done by me convince you. For the sake of the people, do not conceal it. If you do not conceal this edict but if you publish it to the world, then may Ahuramazda be your friend, may your family be numerous, and may you live long.

(61) King Darius says: If you conceal this edict and do not publish it to the world, may Ahuramazda slay you and may your house cease.

(62) King Darius says: This is what I have done; by the grace of Ahuramazda have I always acted. Ahuramazda brought me help, and the other gods, all that there are.

The importance of righteousness

(63) King Darius says: On this account Ahuramazda brought me help, and all the other gods, all that there are, because I was not wicked, nor was I a liar, nor was I a tyrant, neither I nor any of my family. I have ruled according to righteousness. Neither to the weak nor to the powerful did I do wrong. Whosoever helped my house, him I favored; he who was hostile, him I destroyed.

(64) King Darius says: You who may be king hereafter, whosoever shall be a liar or a rebel, or shall not be friendly, punish him!

Blessings and curses

(65) King Darius says: You who shall hereafter see this tablet, which I have written, or these sculptures, do not destroy them, but preserve them so long as you live!

(66) King Darius says: If you shall behold this inscription or these sculptures, and shall not destroy them, but shall preserve them as long as your line endures, then may Ahuramazda be your friend, and may your family be numerous. Live long, and may Ahuramazda make fortunate whatsoever you do.

(67) King Darius says: If you shall behold this inscription or these sculptures, and shall destroy them and shall not preserve them so long as your line endures, may Ahuramazda slay you, may your family come to nought, and may Ahuramazda destroy whatever you do!

Names of Darius' supporters

(68) King Darius says: These are the men who were with me when I slew Gaumâta the Magian, who was called Smerdis; then these men helped me as my followers:

Intaphrenes, son of Vayâspâra, a Persian; Otanes, son of Thukhra, a Persian; Gobryas, son of Mardonius, a Persian; Hydarnes, son of Bagâbigna, a Persian; Megabyzus, son of Dâtuvahya, a Persian; Ardumanis, son of Vakauka, a Persian.

(69) King Darius says: You who may be king hereafter, protect the family of these men.

(70) King Darius says: By the grace of Ahuramazda this is the inscription which I have made. Besides, it was in Aryan script, and it was composed on clay tablets and on parchment. Besides, a sculptured figure of myself I made. Besides, I made my lineage. And it was inscribed and was read off before me. Afterwards this inscription I sent off everywhere among the provinces. The people unitedly worked upon it.

Part five

A new rebellion on Elam (Autumn 521)

(71) King Darius says: The following is what I did in the second and third year of my rule. The province called Elam revolted from me. An Elamite named Atamaita they made their leader. Then I sent an army unto Elam. A Persian named Gobryas, my servant, I made their leader. Then Gobryas set forth with the army; he delivered battle against the Elamites. The Gobryas destroyed many of the host and that Atamaita, their leader, he captured, and he brought him unto me, and I killed him. Then the province became mine.

(72) King Darius says: Those Elamites were faithless and Ahuramazda was not worshipped by them. I worshipped Ahuramazda; by the grace of Ahuramazda I did unto them according to my will.

(73) King Darius says: Whoso shall worship Ahuramazda, divine blessing will be upon him, both while living and when dead.

War against the Scythians (520/519)

(74) King Darius says: Afterwards with an army I went off to Scythia, after the Scythians who wear the pointed cap. These Scythians went from me. When I arrived at the river, I crossed beyond it then with all my army. Afterwards, I smote the Scythians exceedingly; [one of their leaders] I took captive; he was led bound to me, and I killed him. [Another] chief of them, by name Skunkha, they seized and led to me. Then I made another their chief, as was my desire. Then the province became mine.

(75) King Darius says: Those Scythians were faithless and Ahuramazda was not worshipped by them. I worshipped Ahuramazda; by the grace of Ahuramazda I did unto them according to my will.

(76) King Darius says: [Whoso shall worship] Ahuramazda, [divine blessing will be upon him, both while] living and [when dead.]


(8) Darius calls himself "a Persian, son of a Persian, an Aryan, having Aryan lineage"

Achaemenid Royal Inscriptions: DNa    

Darius' tomb

In ca.521, the Persian king Darius I the Great ordered that a new alphabet, the Aryan script, was to be developed. This was used for a small corpus of inscriptions, known as the Achaemenid Royal Inscriptions. An overview of all inscriptions can be found here.

Darius was buried at Naqs-i Rustam, where he left two inscriptions.

  DNa, in the upper register, can be regarded as his political autobiography. It can be read below.

  DNb as a theological and moral testament. It is in the central register of the tomb

{DNa} A great god is Ahuramazda, who created this earth, who created yonder sky, who created man, who created happiness for man, who made Darius king, one king of many, one lord of many.

I am Darius the great king, king of kings, king of countries containing all kinds of men, king in this great earth far and wide, son of Hystaspes, an Achaemenid, a Persian, son of a Persian, an Aryan, having Aryan lineage.

King Darius says: By the favor of Ahuramazda these are the countries which I seized outside of Persia; I ruled over them; they bore tribute to me; they did what was said to them by me; they held my law firmly; Media, Elam, Parthia, Aria, Bactria, Sogdia, Chorasmia, Drangiana, Arachosia, Sattagydia, Gandara, India, the haoma-drinking Scythians, the Scythians with pointed caps, Babylonia, Assyria, Arabia, Egypt, Armenia, Cappadocia, Lydia, the Greeks, the Scythians across the sea, Thrace, the sun hat-wearing Greeks, the Libyans, the Nubians, the men of Maka and the Carians.

King Darius says: Ahuramazda, when he saw this earth in commotion, thereafter bestowed it upon me, made me king; I am king. By the favor of Ahuramazda I put it down in its place; what I said to them, that they did, as was my desire.

If now you shall think that "How many are the countries which King Darius held?" look at the sculptures [of those] who bear the throne, then shall you know, then shall it become known to you: the spear of a Persian man has gone forth far; then shall it become known to you: a Persian man has delivered battle far indeed from Persia. Darius the King says: This which has been done, all that by the will of Ahuramazda I did. Ahuramazda bore me aid, until I did the work. May Ahuramazda protect me from harm, and my royal house, and this land: this I pray of Ahuramazda, this may Ahuramazda give to me!

O man, that which is the command of Ahuramazda, let this not seem repugnant to you; do not leave the right path; do not rise in rebellion!

{end DNa}

{DNb} A great god is Ahuramazda, who created this excellent thing which is seen, who created happiness for man, who set wisdom and capability down upon King Darius.

King Darius says: By the grace of Ahuramazda I am of such a sort, I am a friend of the right, of wrong I am not a friend. It is not my wish that the weak should have harm done him by the strong, nor is it my wish that the strong should have harm done him by the weak.

The right, that is my desire. To the man who is a follower of the lie I am no friend. I am not hot-tempered. What things develop in my anger, I hold firmly under control by my thinking power. I am firmly ruling over my own impulses.

The man who is cooperative, according to his cooperation thus I reward him. Who does harm, him according to the harm I punish. It is not my wish that a man should do harm; nor indeed is it my wish that if he does harm he should not be punished.

What a man says against a man, that does not convince me, until I hear the sworn statements of both.

What a man does or performs, according to his ability, by that I become satisfied with him, and it is much to my desire, and I am well pleased, and I give much to loyal men.

Of such a sort are my understanding and my judgment: if what has been done by me you see or hear of, both in in the palace and in the expeditionary camp, this is my capability over will and understanding.

This indeed my capability: that my body is strong. As a fighter of battles I am a good fighter of battles. When ever with my judgment in a place I determine whether I behold or do not behold an enemy, both with understanding and with judgment, then I think prior to panic, when I see an enemy as when I do not see one.

I am skilled both in hands and in feet. As a horseman, I am a good horseman. As a bowman, I am a good bowman, both on foot and on horseback. As a spearman, I am a good spearman, both on foot and on horseback.

These skills that Ahuramazda set down upon me, and which I am strong enough to bear, by the will of Ahuramazda, what was done by me, with these skills I did, which Ahuramazda set down upon me.

O man, vigorously make you known of what sort I am, and of what sort my skillfulnesses, and of what sort my superiority. Let not that seem false to you, which has been heard by your ears. Listen to what is said to you.

O man, let that not be made to seem false to you, which has been done by me. That do you behold, which has been inscribed. Let not the laws be disobeyed by you. Let not anyone be untrained in obedience. [The last line is unintelligible]

{end DNb}

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