Zoroaster (/ˌzɒroʊˈæstər ˈzɒroʊˌæstər/; from Greek
Ζωροάστρης Zōroastrēs, Persian: زرتشت), also known as
Zarathustra (/ˌzɑːrəˈθuːstrə/; Avestan:
𐬀𐬭𐬙𐬱𐬎𐬚𐬀𐬭𐬀𐬰 Zaraθuštra), Zarathushtra
Spitama or Ashu Zarathushtra, was an ancient Iranian-speaking prophet
whose teachings and innovations on the religious traditions of ancient
Iranian-speaking peoples developed into the religion of
Zoroastrianism. He inaugurated a movement that eventually became the
dominant religion in Ancient Persia. He was a native speaker of Old
Avestan and lived in the eastern part of the Iranian Plateau, but his
exact birthplace is uncertain.
There is no scholarly consensus about his dates either, but based
on linguistic and socio-cultural evidence
Zoroaster lived in the 2nd
millennium BCE, although other historians place him in the 7th and 6th
century BCE as a near-contemporary of
Cyrus the Great
Cyrus the Great and Darius
Zoroastrianism was already an old religion when
first recorded, and it was the official religion of
Ancient Persia and
its distant subdivisions from the 6th century BCE to the 7th century
Zoroaster is credited with authorship of the
Gathas as well as
Yasna Haptanghaiti, hymns composed in his native dialect, Old
Avestan, and which comprise the core of
Zoroastrian thinking. Most of
his life is known from these texts. By any modern standard of
historiography, no evidence can place him into a fixed period, and the
historicization surrounding him may be a part of a trend from before
the 10th century that historicizes legends and myths.
1 Name and etymology
5.1 In Islam
5.1.1 Muslim scholastic views
5.2 In Manichaeism
5.3 In the Bahá'í Faith
8 Western civilization
8.1 In classical antiquity
8.2 In the post-classical era
9 See also
13 External links
Name and etymology
Zoroaster's name in his native language, Avestan, was probably
Zaraϑuštra. His English name, "Zoroaster", derives from a later (5th
century BC) Greek transcription, Zōroastrēs
(Ζωροάστρης), as used in Xanthus's Lydiaca (Fragment 32)
and in Plato's
First Alcibiades (122a1). This form appears
subsequently in the
Latin Zōroastrēs and, in later Greek
orthographies, as Ζωροάστρις Zōroastris. The Greek form of
the name appears to be based on a phonetic transliteration or semantic
Avestan zaraϑ- with the Greek ζωρός zōros
(literally "undiluted") and the
Avestan -uštra with ἄστρον
In Avestan, Zaraϑuštra is generally accepted to derive from an Old
Iranian *Zaratuštra-; The element half of the name (-uštra-) is
thought to be the Indo-Iranian root for "camel", with the entire name
meaning "he who can manage camels".[a] Reconstructions from later
Iranian languages—particularly from the
Middle Persian (300 BC)
Zardusht,[further explanation needed] which is the form that the name
took in the 9th- to 12th-century
Zoroastrian texts—suggest that
*Zaratuštra- might be a zero-grade form of *Zarantuštra-.
Subject then to whether Zaraϑuštra derives from *Zarantuštra- or
from *Zaratuštra-, several interpretations have been proposed.[b]
If Zarantuštra is the original form, it may mean "with old/aging
camels", related to Avestic zarant- (cf.
Pashto zōṛ and
Ossetian zœrond, "old";
Middle Persian zāl, "old"):
"with angry/furious camels": from
Avestan *zarant-, "angry,
"who is driving camels" or "who is fostering/cherishing camels":
Avestan zarš-, "to drag".
Mayrhofer (1977) proposed an etymology of "who is desiring camels" or
"longing for camels" and related to
Vedic Sanskrit har-, "to like",
and perhaps (though ambiguous) also to
"with yellow camels": parallel to younger
The interpretation of the -ϑ- (/θ/) in
Avestan zaraϑuštra was for
a time itself subjected to heated debate because the -ϑ- is an
irregular development: As a rule, *zarat- (a first element that ends
in a dental consonant) should have
Avestan zarat- or zarat̰- as a
development from it. Why this is not so for zaraϑuštra has not yet
been determined. Notwithstanding the phonetic irregularity, that
Avestan zaraϑuštra with its -ϑ- was linguistically an actual form
is shown by later attestations reflecting the same basis. All
present-day, Iranian-language variants of his name derive from the
Middle Iranian variants of Zarϑošt, which, in turn, all reflect
Avestan's fricative -ϑ-.
In Middle Persian, the name is Zardu(x)št, in Parthian
Zarhušt, in Manichaean
Middle Persian Zrdrwšt, in Early New
Persian Zardušt, and in modern (New Persian), the name is
There is no consensus on the dating of Zoroaster, the
Avesta gives no
direct information about it, while historical sources are conflicting.
Some scholars base their date reconstruction on the Proto-Indo-Iranian
language and Proto-Indo-Iranian religion, and thus it is
considered to have been some place in northeastern
Iran and some time
between 1500 and 500 BCE.
Some scholars such as
Mary Boyce (who dated
Zoroaster to somewhere
between 1700–1000 BCE) used linguistic and socio-cultural evidence
Zoroaster between 1500 and 1000 BCE (or 1200 and 900
BCE). The basis of this theory is primarily proposed on
linguistic similarities between the Old
Avestan language of the
Gathas and the Sanskrit of the
Rigveda (c. 1700–1100
BCE), a collection of early Vedic hymns. Both texts are considered to
have a common archaic Indo-Iranian origin. The
Gathas portray an
ancient Stone-Bronze Age bipartite society of warrior-herdsmen and
priests (compared to Bronze tripartite society; some conjecture that
it depicts the Yaz culture), and thus it is implausible that the
Rigveda could have been composed more than a few centuries
apart. These scholars suggest that
Zoroaster lived in an isolated
tribe or composed the
Gathas before the 1200–1000 BCE migration by
the Iranians from the steppe to the Iranian Plateau.
The shortfall of the argument is the vague comparison, and the archaic
Gathas does not necessarily indicate time
Other scholars propose a period between 7th and 6th century, for
example, c. 650–600 BCE or 559–522 BCE. The latest
possible date is the mid 6th century, at the time of Achaemenid
Empire's Darius I, or his predecessor Cyrus the Great. This date gains
credence mainly on the thesis that certain figures must be based on
historical facts, thus some have related the mythical Vishtaspa
with Darius I's father
Vishtaspa (or Hystaspes in Greek) with the
account on Zoroasters life. However, in the
Avesta it should not be
ignored that Vishtaspa's son became the ruler of the Persian Empire,
Darius I would not ignore to include his patron-father in the Behistun
Inscription. A different proposed conclusion is that Darius I's father
was named in honor of the
Zoroastrian patron, indicating possible
Zoroastrian faith by Arsames.
Classical scholarship in the 6th to 4th century BCE believed he
existed six thousand years before
Xerxes I invasion of Greece in 480
BCE (Xanthus, Eudoxus, Aristotle, Hermippus), which is a possible
misunderstanding of the
Zoroastrian four cycles of 3000 years i.e.
12,000 years. This belief is recorded by Diogenes
Laërtius, and variant readings could place it six hundred years
before Xerxes I, somewhere before 1000 BCE. However, Diogenes also
mentions Hermodorus's belief that
Zoroaster lived five thousand years
before the Trojan War, which would mean he lived around 6200 BCE.
The 10th-century Suda, provides a date of "500 years before Plato" in
the late 10th century BC.
Pliny the Elder
Pliny the Elder cited Eudoxus who also
placed his death six thousand years before Plato, c. 6300 BCE.
Other pseudo-historical constructions are those of
recorded certain Zaratas the Chaldeaean to have taught
Babylon, or lived at the time of mythological
Semiramis. According to Pliny the Elder, there were two
Zoroasters. The first lived thousands of years ago, while the second
Xerxes I in the invasion of Greece in 480 BCE. Some
scholars propose that the chronological calculation for
developed by Persian magi in the 4th century BCE, and as the early
Greeks learned about him from the Achaemenids, this indicates they did
not regard him as a contemporary of Cyrus the Great, but as a remote
Some later pseudo-historical and
Zoroastrian sources (the Bundahishn,
which references a date "258 years before Alexander") place Zoroaster
in the 6th century BC,[d] which coincided with the accounts by
Ammianus Marcellinus from 4th century CE. The traditional Zoroastrian
date originates in the period immediately following Alexander the
Great's conquest of the
Achaemenid Empire in 330 BC. The Seleucid
rulers who gained power following Alexander's death instituted an "Age
of Alexander" as the new calendrical epoch. This did not appeal to the
Zoroastrian priesthood who then attempted to establish an "Age of
Zoroaster". To do so, they needed to establish when
lived, which they accomplished by (erroneous, some even identified
Cyrus with Vishtaspa) counting back the length of successive
generations, until they concluded that
Zoroaster must have lived "258
years before Alexander". This estimate then re-appeared in the
9th- to 12th-century
Arabic and Pahlavi texts of Zoroastrian
tradition,[c] like the 10th century
Al-Masudi who cited a prophecy
from a lost
Avestan book in which
Zoroaster foretold the Empire's
destruction in three hundred years, but the religion would last for a
Painted clay and alabaster head of a
Zoroastrian priest wearing a
distinctive Bactrian-style headdress, Takhti-Sangin, Tajikistan,
Greco-Bactrian kingdom, 3rd–2nd century BC
The birthplace of
Zoroaster is also unknown, and the language of the
Gathas is not similar to the proposed north-western and north-eastern
regional dialects of Persia. It is also suggested that he was born in
one of the two areas and later lived in the other area.
Yasna 9 and 17 cite the Ditya River in Airyanem Vaējah (Middle
Persian Ērān Wēj) as Zoroaster's home and the scene of his first
Avesta (both Old and Younger portions) does not
mention the Achaemenids or of any West Iranian tribes such as the
Medes, Persians, or even Parthians. The Farvardin
Yasht refers to some
Iranian peoples that are unknown in the Greek and Achaemenid sources
about the 6th and 5th century BCE Eastern Iran. The
seventeen regional names, most of which are located in north-eastern
and eastern Iran.
Yasna 59.18, the zaraϑuštrotema, or supreme head of the
Zoroastrian priesthood, is said to reside in 'Ragha' (Badakhshan).
In the 9th- to 12th-century
Middle Persian texts of Zoroastrian
tradition, this 'Ragha' and with many other places appear as locations
in Western Iran. While the land of Media does not figure at all in the
Avesta (the westernmost location noted in scripture is Arachosia), the
Būndahišn, or "Primordial Creation," (20.32 and 24.15) puts Ragha in
Media (medieval Rai). However, in Avestan, Ragha is simply a toponym
meaning "plain, hillside."
Apart from these indications in
Middle Persian sources that are open
to interpretations, there are a number of other sources. The Greek and
Latin sources are divided on the birthplace of Zarathustra. There are
many Greek accounts of Zarathustra, referred usually as Persian or
Ctesias located him in Bactria, Diodorus
Siculus placed him among Ariaspai (in Sistan), Cephalion and Justin
suggest east of greater
Iran whereas Pliny and
Origen suggest west of
Iran as his birthplace. Moreover, they have the suggestion that
there has been more than one Zoroaster.
On the other hand, in post-Islamic sources Shahrastani (1086–1153)
an Iranian writer originally from Shahristān, present-day
Turkmenistan, proposed that Zoroaster's father was from Atropatene
(also in Medea) and his mother was from Rey. Coming from a reputed
scholar of religions, this was a serious blow for the various regions
who all claimed that
Zoroaster originated from their homelands, some
of which then decided that
Zoroaster must then have then been buried
in their regions or composed his
Gathas there or preached
Arabic sources of the same period and the same
region of historical Persia consider Azerbaijan as the birthplace of
By the late 20th century, most scholars had settled on an origin in
eastern Greater Iran. Gnoli proposed Sistan, Baluchistan (though in a
much wider scope than the present-day province) as the homeland of
Zoroastrianism; Frye voted for
Bactria and Chorasmia; Khlopin
suggests the Tedzen Delta in present-day Turkmenistan. Sarianidi
Bactria–Margiana Archaeological Complex
Bactria–Margiana Archaeological Complex region as
"the native land of the Zoroastrians and, probably, of Zoroaster
himself." Boyce includes the steppes to the west from the
Volga. The medieval "from Media" hypothesis is no longer taken
seriously, and Zaehner has even suggested that this was a
Magi-mediated issue to garner legitimacy, but this has been likewise
rejected by Gershevitch and others.
Encyclopedia Iranica article on the history of Zoroastrianism
summarizes the issue with "while there is general agreement that he
did not live in western Iran, attempts to locate him in specific
regions of eastern Iran, including Central Asia, remain
The rings of the Fravashi'.
Zoroaster is recorded as the son of Pourušaspa of the Spitaman or
Avestan spit mean "brilliant" or "white"; some argue that
Spitama was a remote progenitor) family, and Dugdōw, while
his great-grandfather was Haēčataspa. All the names appear
appropriate of the nomadic tradition, as his father's means
"possessing gray horses" (with the word aspa meaning horse), while his
mother's is "milkmaid". According to the tradition, he had four
brothers, two older and two younger, whose names are given in much
later Pahlavi work.
The training for priesthood probably started very early around seven
years of age. He became a priest probably around the age of
fifteen, and according to Gathas, he gained knowledge from other
teachers and personal experience from traveling when left his parents
at twenty years old. By the age of thirty, he experienced a
revelation during a spring festival; on the river bank he saw a
shining Being, who revealed himself as
Vohu Manah (Good Purpose) and
taught him about
Ahura Mazda (Wise Spirit) and five other radiant
Zoroaster soon became aware of the existence of two primal
Spirits, the second being
Angra Mainyu (Hostile Spirit), with opposing
Asha (truth) and
Druj (lie). Thus he decided to spend his
life teaching people to seek Asha. He received further revelations
and saw a vision of the seven Amesha Spenta, and his teachings were
collected in the
Gathas and the Avesta.
He taught about free will, and opposed the use of the
Haoma plant in rituals, polytheism, over-ritualising
religious ceremonies and animal sacrifices, as well an oppressive
class system in Persia which earned him strong opposition among local
authorities. Eventually, at the age of about forty-two, he received
the patronage of queen Hutaosa and a ruler named Vishtaspa, an early
Zoroastrianism (possibly from
Bactria according to the
Shahnameh). Zoroaster's teaching about individual judgment, Heaven
and Hell, the resurrection of the body, the Last Judgment, and
everlasting life for the reunited soul and body, among other things,
became borrowings in the Abrahamic religions, but they lost the
context of the original teaching.
Zoroaster centered in Nineveh.
According to the tradition, he lived for many years after the
Vishtaspa conversion, managed to establish a faithful community,
and married three times. His first two wives bore him three sons and
three daughters. His third wife, Hvōvi, was childless.
Zoroaster died when he was 77 years and 40 days old. The later
Pahlavi sources like Shahnameh, instead claim that an obscure conflict
with Tuiryas people led to his death, murdered by a karapan (a priest
of the old religion) named Brādrēs.
Main articles: 101 Names of God, Names of God in Islam, and Cyrus the
Great in the Quran
Further information: Daeva, Jinn, Ifrit, Iblis, and Angra Mainyu
A number of parallels have been drawn between
and Islam. Such parallels include the evident similarities between
Amesha Spenta and the archangel Gabriel, and the mention of
Iram of the Pillars
Iram of the Pillars in the Quran. These may also indicate the vast
influence of the
Achaemenid Empire on the development of either
The Sabaeans, who believed in free will coincident with Zoroastrians,
are also mentioned in the Quran.
Muslim scholastic views
Main article: Shahnameh
Tang dynasty Chinese clay figurine of a Sogdian man (an
Eastern Iranian person) wearing a distinctive cap and face veil,
possibly a camel rider or even a
Zoroastrian priest engaging in a
ritual at a fire temple, since face veils were used to avoid
contaminating the holy fire with breath or saliva; Museum of Oriental
Art (Turin), Italy.
Like the Greeks of classical antiquity, Islamic tradition understands
Zoroaster to be the founding prophet of the Magians (via Aramaic,
Arabic Majus, collective Majusya). The 11th-century Cordoban Ibn Hazm
(Zahiri school) contends that Kitabi "of the Book" cannot apply in
light of the
Zoroastrian assertion that their books were destroyed by
Alexander. Citing the authority of the 8th-century al-Kalbi, the 9th-
and 10th-century Sunni historian al-Tabari (i.648) reports that
Zaradusht bin Isfiman (an
Arabic adaptation of "
was an inhabitant of Israel and a servant of one of the disciples of
the prophet Jeremiah. According to this tale, Zaradusht defrauded his
master, who cursed him, causing him to become leprous (cf. Elisha's
Gehazi in Jewish Scripture).
The apostate Zaradusht then eventually made his way to
day Afghanistan) where he converted Bishtasb (i.e. Vishtaspa), who in
turn compelled his subjects to adopt the religion of the Magians.
Recalling other tradition, al-Tabari (i.681–683) recounts that
Zaradusht accompanied a Jewish prophet to Bishtasb/Vishtaspa. Upon
their arrival, Zaradusht translated the sage's Hebrew teachings for
the king and so convinced him to convert (Tabari also notes that they
had previously been Sabis) to the Magian religion.
The 12th-century heresiographer al-Shahrastani describes the Majusiya
into three sects, the Kayumarthiya, the Zurwaniya and the
Zaradushtiya, among which
Al-Shahrastani asserts that only the last of
the three were properly followers of Zoroaster. As regards the
recognition of a prophet,
Zoroaster has said: "They ask you as to how
should they recognize a prophet and believe him to be true in what he
says; tell them what he knows the others do not, and he shall tell you
even what lies hidden in your nature; he shall be able to tell you
whatever you ask him and he shall perform such things which others
cannot perform." (Namah Shat Vakhshur Zartust, .5–7. 50–54) When
the companions of Muhammad, on invading Persia, came in contact with
Zoroastrian people and learned these teachings, they at once came
to the conclusion that
Zoroaster was really a Divinely inspired
prophet. Thus they accorded the same treatment to the Zoroastrian
people which they did to other "People of the Book".
Though the name of
Zoroaster is not mentioned in the Qur'an, still he
was regarded as one of those prophets whose names have not been
mentioned in the Qur'an, for there is a verse in the Qur'an: "And We
did send apostles before thee: there are some of them that We have
mentioned to thee and there are others whom We have not mentioned to
Thee." (40 : 78). Accordingly, the Muslims treated the founder of
Zoroastrianism as a true prophet and believed in his religion as they
did in other inspired creeds, and thus according to the prophecy,
Zoroastrian religion. James Darmesteter remarked in the
translation of Zend Avesta: "When
Islam assimilated the Zoroastrians
to the People of the Book, it evinced a rare historical sense and
solved the problem of the origin of the Avesta." (Introduction to
Vendidad. p. 69.)
Ahmadi Muslims view
Zoroaster as a
Prophet of God and describe the
Ahura Mazda, the god of goodness, and Ahraman, the god
of evil, as merely referring to the coexistence of forces of good and
evil enabling humans to exercise free will. Mirza Tahir Ahmad, the
fourth Caliph of the
Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, in his book
Revelation, Rationality, Knowledge & Truth views
Prophet of God and describes such the expressions to be a concept
which is similar to the concepts in Judaism,
Zoroaster to be a figure (along with
the Buddha) in a line of prophets of which Mani (216–276) was the
culmination. Zoroaster's ethical dualism is—to an
extent—incorporated in Mani's doctrine, which viewed the world as
being locked in an epic battle between opposing forces of good and
evil. Manicheanism also incorporated other elements of Zoroastrian
tradition, particularly the names of supernatural beings; however,
many of these other
Zoroastrian elements are either not part of
Zoroaster's own teachings or are used quite differently from how they
are used in Zoroastrianism.
In the Bahá'í Faith
Zoroaster appears in the
Bahá'í Faith as a "Manifestation of God",
one of a line of prophets who have progressively revealed the Word of
God to a gradually maturing humanity.
Zoroaster thus shares an exalted
station with Abraham, Moses, Krishna, Jesus, Muhammad, the Báb, and
the founder of the Bahá'í Faith, Bahá'u'lláh. Shoghi Effendi,
the head of the
Bahá'í Faith in the first half of the 20th century,
Bahá'u'lláh as the fulfillment of a post-Sassanid Zoroastrian
prophecy that saw a return of Sassanid emperor Bahram: Shoghi
Effendi also stated that
Zoroaster lived roughly 1000 years before
The School of Athens
The School of Athens by Raphael, 1509, showing Zoroaster
(left, with star-studded globe).
In the Gathas,
Zoroaster sees the human condition as the mental
struggle between aša (truth) and druj (lie). The cardinal concept of
aša—which is highly nuanced and only vaguely translatable—is at
the foundation of all
Zoroastrian doctrine, including that of Ahura
Mazda (who is aša), creation (that is aša), existence (that is aša)
and as the condition for free will.
The purpose of humankind, like that of all other creation, is to
sustain aša. For humankind, this occurs through active participation
in life and the exercise of constructive thoughts, words and deeds.
Zoroastrian philosophy entered the West through their
Middle Platonism and have been identified as
one of the key early events in the development of philosophy.
Among the classic Greek philosophers,
Heraclitus is often referred to
as inspired by Zoroaster's thinking.
In 2005, the Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy ranked
first in the chronology of philosophers. Zarathustra's impact
lingers today due in part to the system of rational ethics he founded
called Mazda-Yasna. The word Mazda-
Avestan and is translated
as "Worship of Wisdom" in English. The encyclopedia Natural History
(Pliny) claims that Zoroastrians later educated the Greeks who,
starting with Pythagoras, used a similar term, philosophy, or “love
of wisdom” to describe the search for ultimate truth.
Zoroaster emphasized the freedom of the individual to choose right or
wrong and individual responsibility for one's deeds. This personal
choice to accept aša, or arta (the divine order), and shun druj
(ignorance and chaos) is one's own decision and not a dictate of Ahura
Mazda. For Zarathustra, by thinking good thoughts, saying good words,
and doing good deeds (e.g. assisting the needy or doing good works) we
increase this divine force aša or arta in the world and in ourselves,
celebrate the divine order, and we come a step closer on the
everlasting road to being one with the Creator. Thus, we are not the
slaves or servants of
Ahura Mazda, but we can make a personal choice
to be his co-workers, thereby refreshing the world and
Although a few recent depictions of
Zoroaster show the prophet
performing some deed of legend, in general the portrayals merely
present him in white vestments (which are also worn by present-day
Zoroastrian priests). He often is seen holding a baresman (Avestan;
Middle Persian barsom), which is generally considered to be another
symbol of priesthood, or with a book in hand, which may be interpreted
to be the Avesta. Alternatively, he appears with a mace, the
varza—usually stylized as a steel rod crowned by a bull's
head—that priests carry in their installation ceremony. In other
depictions he appears with a raised hand and thoughtfully lifted
finger, as if to make a point.
Zoroaster is rarely depicted as looking directly at the viewer;
instead, he appears to be looking slightly upwards, as if beseeching.
Zoroaster is almost always depicted with a beard, this along with
other factors bearing similarities to 19th-century portraits of
A common variant of the
Zoroaster images derives from a Sassanid-era
rock-face carving. In this depiction at Taq-e Bostan, a figure is seen
to preside over the coronation of
Ardashir I or II. The figure is
standing on a lotus, with a baresman in hand and with a gloriole
around his head. Until the 1920s, this figure was commonly thought to
be a depiction of Zoroaster, but in recent years is more commonly
interpreted to be a depiction of Mithra. Among the most famous of the
European depictions of
Zoroaster is that of the figure in Raphael's
1509 The School of Athens. In it,
Ptolemy are having a
discussion in the lower right corner. The prophet is holding a
star-studded globe.
Zoroastrian devotional art depicting the religion's founder with white
clothing and a long beard
Zoroaster in Clavis Artis, an alchemy manuscript
published in Germany in the late 17th or early 18th century and
pseudoepigraphically attributed to Zoroaster
An image of
Zoroaster on display at the
Yazd Atash Behram
Yazd Atash Behram (Zoroastrian
fire temple) in Yazd,
Yazd province, Iran
An image of
Zoroaster on mirrored etched glass at the
temple in Taft, Iran
The School of Athens: a gathering of renaissance artists in the guise
of philosophers from antiquity, in an idealized classical interior,
featuring the scene with
Zoroaster holding a planet or cosmos.
In classical antiquity
See also: Magi
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The Greeks—in the Hellenistic sense of the term—had an
Zoroaster as expressed by Plutarch, Diogenes
Laertius, and Agathias that saw him, at the core, to be the
"prophet and founder of the religion of the Iranian peoples," Beck
notes that "the rest was mostly fantasy".
Zoroaster was set in the
ancient past, six to seven millennia before the Common Era, and was
described as a king of
Bactria or a Babylonian (or teacher of
Babylonians), and with a biography typical of a Neopythagorean sage,
i.e. having a mission preceded by ascetic withdrawal and
enlightenment. However, at first mentioned in the context of
dualism, in Moralia,
Zoroaster as "Zaratras," not
realizing the two to be the same, and he is described as a "teacher of
Zoroaster has also been described as a sorcerer-astrologer –
the creator of both magic and astrology. Deriving from that image, and
reinforcing it, was a "mass of literature" attributed to him and that
Mediterranean world from the 3rd century BC to the end
of antiquity and beyond.
The language of that literature was predominantly Greek, though at one
stage or another various parts of it passed through Aramaic, Syriac,
Coptic or Latin. Its ethos and cultural matrix was likewise
Hellenistic, and "the ascription of literature to sources beyond that
political, cultural and temporal framework represents a bid for
authority and a fount of legitimizing "alien wisdom".
the magi did not compose it, but their names sanctioned it." The
attributions to "exotic" names (not restricted to magians) conferred
an "authority of a remote and revelatory wisdom."
Among the named works attributed to "Zoroaster" is a treatise On
Nature (Peri physeos), which appears to have originally constituted
four volumes (i.e. papyrus rolls). The framework is a retelling of
Plato's Myth of Er, with
Zoroaster taking the place of the original
hero. While Porphyry imagined
Pythagoras listening to Zoroaster's
discourse, On Nature has the sun in middle position, which was how it
was understood in the 3rd century. In contrast, Plato's 4th-century BC
version had the sun in second place above the moon. Ironically,
Plato of plagiarizing Zoroaster, and
Heraclides Ponticus wrote a text titled
Zoroaster based on his
perception of "Zoroastrian" philosophy, in order to express his
Plato on natural philosophy. With respect to
substance and content in On Nature only two facts are known: that it
was crammed with astrological speculations, and that Necessity
(Ananké) was mentioned by name and that she was in the air.[citation
Pliny the Elder
Pliny the Elder names
Zoroaster as the inventor of magic (Natural
History 30.2.3). "However, a principle of the division of labor
appears to have spared
Zoroaster most of the responsibility for
introducing the dark arts to the Greek and Roman worlds." That
"dubious honor" went to the "fabulous magus, Ostanes, to whom most of
the pseudepigraphic magical literature was attributed." Although
Pliny calls him the inventor of magic, the Roman do not provide a
"magician's persona" for him. Moreover, the little "magical"
teaching that is ascribed to
Zoroaster is actually very late, with the
very earliest example being from the 14th century.
Association with astrology according to Roger Beck, were based on his
Babylonian origin, and Zoroaster's Greek name was identified at first
with star-worshiping (astrothytes "star sacrificer") and, with the
Zo-, even as the living star.[verification needed] Later, an even
more elaborate mythoetymology evolved:
Zoroaster died by the living
(zo-) flux (ro-) of fire from the star (astr-) which he himself had
invoked, and even, that the stars killed him in revenge for having
been restrained by him.[verification needed]
The alternate Greek name for
Zoroaster was Zaratras or
Zaratas/Zaradas/Zaratos. Pythagoreans considered the
mathematicians to have studied with
Zoroaster in Babylonia.Lydus,
in On the Months, attributes the creation of the seven-day week to
"the Babylonians in the circle of
Zoroaster and Hystaspes," and who
did so because there were seven planets. The Suda's chapter on
astronomia notes that the Babylonians learned their astrology from
Lucian of Samosata, in Mennipus 6, reports
deciding to journey to
Babylon "to ask one of the magi, Zoroaster's
disciples and successors," for their opinion.
While the division along the lines of Zoroaster/astrology and
Ostanes/magic is an "oversimplification, the descriptions do at least
indicate what the works are not"; they were not expressions of
Zoroastrian doctrine, they were not even expressions of what the
Greeks and Romans "imagined the doctrines of
Zoroastrianism to have
been" [emphases in the original]. The assembled fragments do not
even show noticeable commonality of outlook and teaching among the
several authors who wrote under each name.
Zoroastrian pseudepigrapha is now lost, and of the attested
texts—with only one exception—only fragments have survived.
Pliny's 2nd- or 3rd-century attribution of "two million lines" to
Zoroaster suggest that (even if exaggeration and duplicates are taken
into consideration) a formidable pseudepigraphic corpus once existed
at the Library of Alexandria. This corpus can safely be assumed to be
pseudepigrapha because no one before Pliny refers to literature by
"Zoroaster", and on the authority of the 2nd-century
Pergamon and from a 6th-century commentator on
Aristotle it is known
that the acquisition policies of well-endowed royal libraries created
a market for fabricating manuscripts of famous and ancient
The exception to the fragmentary evidence (i.e. reiteration of
passages in works of other authors) is a complete Coptic tractate
titled Zostrianos (after the first-person narrator) discovered in the
Nag Hammadi library
Nag Hammadi library in 1945. A three-line cryptogram in the colophones
following the 131-page treatise identify the work as "words of truth
of Zostrianos. God of Truth [logos]. Words of Zoroaster." Invoking
a "God of Truth" might seem Zoroastrian, but there is otherwise
"nothing noticeably Zoroastrian" about the text and "in content,
style, ethos and intention, its affinities are entirely with the
congeners among the
Another work circulating under the name of "Zoroaster" was the
Asteroskopita (or Apotelesmatika), and which ran to five volumes (i.e.
papyrus rolls). The title and fragments suggest that it was an
astrological handbook, "albeit a very varied one, for the making of
predictions." A third text attributed to
Zoroaster is On Virtue of
Stones (Peri lithon timion), of which nothing is known other than its
extent (one volume) and that pseudo-
Zoroaster sang it (from which
Cumont and Bidez[who?] conclude that it was in verse).[citation
needed][original research?] Numerous other fragments preserved in the
works of other authors are attributed to "Zoroaster," but the titles
of those books are not mentioned.[original research?]
These pseudepigraphic texts aside, some authors did draw on a few
Zoroastrian ideas. The Oracles of Hystaspes, by "Hystaspes",
another prominent magian pseudo-author, is a set of prophecies
distinguished from other
Zoroastrian pseudepigrapha in that it draws
Zoroastrian sources. Some allusions are more difficult to
assess:[original research?] in the same text that attributes the
invention of magic to Zoroaster,[clarification needed] Pliny states
Zoroaster laughed on the day of his birth,
although in an earlier place, Pliny had sworn in the name of Hercules
that no child had ever done so before the 40th day from his birth.
This notion of Zoroaster's laughter (like that of "two million
verses"[this quote needs a citation]) also appears in the 9th– to
11th-century texts of genuine
Zoroastrian tradition, and for a time it
was assumed[weasel words] that the origin of those myths lay with
indigenous sources.[original research?] Pliny also
records that Zoroaster's head had pulsated so strongly that it
repelled the hand when laid upon it, a presage of his future
wisdom. The Iranians were however just as familiar with the Greek
writers, and the provenance of other descriptions are clear.[citation
needed][original research?] For instance, Plutarch's description of
its dualistic theologies reads thus: "Others call the better of these
a god and his rival a daemon, as, for example,
Zoroaster the Magus,
who lived, so they record, five thousand years before the siege of
Troy. He used to call the one Horomazes and the other Areimanius".
In the post-classical era
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Zoroaster was known as a sage, magician, and miracle-worker in
post-Classical Western culture. Although almost
nothing was known of his ideas until the late 18th century, his name
was already associated with lost ancient wisdom.
Statements by Sir
Thomas Browne as early as 1643 are the earliest
recorded references to
Zoroaster in the English language.[citation
Enlightenment writers such as
Voltaire promoted research into
Zoroastrianism in the belief that it was a form of rational Deism,
preferable to Christianity.
Zoroaster was the subject
of the 1749 opera, Zoroastre, by Jean-Philippe Rameau. With the
translation of the
Abraham Anquetil-Duperron, Western
Zoroastrianism began.[according to whom?][citation
An early 19th-century representation of
Zoroaster derived from the
portrait of a figure that appears in a 4th-century sculpture at Taq-e
Bostan in south-western Iran.
In E. T. A. Hoffmann's novel Klein Zaches, genannt Zinnober (1819),
the mage Prosper Alpanus states that Professor
Zoroaster was his
In his seminal work Also sprach
Zarathustra (Thus Spoke Zarathustra)
(1885) the philosopher
Friedrich Nietzsche uses the native Iranian
Zarathustra which has a significant meaning[f] as he had used the
Latin name in his earlier works. It is believed
that Nietzsche invents a characterization of
Zarathustra as the
mouthpiece for Nietzsche's own ideas against morality.[g] Richard
Strauss's Opus 30, inspired by Nietzsche's book, is also called Also
sprach Zarathustra.[when?]
William Butler Yeats
William Butler Yeats (1865–1939) and his wife reportedly
claimed to have contacted
Zoroaster through "automatic
A sculpture of
Zoroaster by Edward Clarke Potter, representing ancient
Persian judicial wisdom and dating to 1896, towers over the Appellate
Division Courthouse of New York State at East 25th Street and Madison
Avenue in Manhattan. A sculpture of
Zoroaster appears with
other prominent religious figures on the south side of the exterior of
Rockefeller Memorial Chapel on the campus of the University of
The protagonist and narrator of Gore Vidal's 1981 novel Creation is
described to be the grandson of Zoroaster.
Zarathustra, the mythic hero in Giannina Braschi's 2011 dramatic novel
United States of Banana, joins forces with Shakespeare's
Also sprach Zarathustra, a tone poem composed in 1896 by Richard
Cypress of Keshmar
List of founders of major religions
Thus Spoke Zarathustra: A Book for All and None, a philosophical novel
by German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, composed in four parts
between 1883 and 1885.
Zartosht Bahram e Pazhdo, author of a Persian epic biography on
Zoroaster and the Mount Savalan
Zoroastre, an opera by Jean-Philippe Rameau
Originally proposed by Burnouf
For refutation of these and other proposals, see Humbach, 1991.
Bundahishn computes "200 and some years" (GBd xxxvi.9) or "284
years" (IBd xxxiv.9). That '258 years' was the generally accepted
figure is however noted by al-Biruni and al-Masudi, with the latter
specifically stating (in 943/944 AD) that "the Magians count a period
of two hundred and fifty-eight years between their prophet and
"258 years before Alexander" is only superficially precise.
It has been suggested that this "traditional date" is an adoption of
some date from foreign sources, from the Greeks or the
Babylonians for example, which the priesthood then reinterpreted.
A simpler explanation is that the priests subtracted 42 (the age at
Zoroaster is said to have converted Vistaspa) from the round
figure of 300.
From a letter of the Universal House of Justice, Department of the
Secretariat, May 13, 1979 to Mrs. Gayle Woolson published in
Hornby, Helen, ed. (1983), Lights of Guidance: A Bahá'í Reference
File, New Delhi: Bahá'í Publishing Trust,
ISBN 81-85091-46-3 . p. 501.
By choosing the name of 'Zarathustra' as prophet of his philosophy, as
he has expressed clearly, he followed the paradoxical aim of paying
homage to the original Iranian prophet and reversing his teachings at
the same time. The original
Zoroastrian world view interprets being
essentially on a moralistic basis and depicts the world as an arena
for the struggle of the two fundamentals of being, Good and Evil,
represented in two antagonistic divine figures.
Ecce Homo quotations are per the Ludovici translation.
Paraphrases follow the original passage (Warum ich ein Schicksal bin
3), available in the public domain on page 45 of the Project Gutenberg
^ a b c "Religions: Zoroaster". BBC. Retrieved 30 September
^ a b c Boyce 1975, pp. 188
^ a b c d West 2010, p. 4
^ Boyce 1975, pp. 3–4
^ a b c d e f g West 2013, pp. 89–109
^ a b Boyce 1975, p. 3
^ a b c West 2010, pp. 4–8
^ a b c Lincoln 1991, pp. 149–150: "At present, the majority
opinion among scholars probably inclines toward the end of the second
millennium or the beginning of the first, although there are still
those who hold for a date in the seventh century."
^ Fischer 2004, pp. 58–59
^ Candice Goucher; Linda Walton (2013), World History: Journeys from
Past to Present, Routledge, p. 100,
^ a b Boyce 2001, pp. 1–3
^ Stausberg, Vevaina, Tessmann 2015, pp. 60–61
^ a b Schlerath 1977, pp. 133–135
^ a b c d Schmitt 2003.
^ Paul Horn, Grundriß der neupersischen Etymologie, Strassburg 1893
^ a b Mayrhofer 1977, pp. 43–53.
^ Bailey 1953, pp. 40–42.
^ Markwart 1930, pp. 7ff.
^ a b c p. 98 http://www.rabbinics.org/pahlavi/MacKenzie-PahlDict.pdf
^ p.384 https://archive.org/stream/DictionaryOfMMP
^ Boyce 1975, pp. 3, 189–191
^ Stausberg, Vevaina, Tessmann 2015, p. 61
^ a b c d e f g Nigosian 1993, pp. 15–16
^ a b c d Shahbazi 1977, pp. 25–35
^ J. P. Mallory;
Douglas Q. Adams (1997), Encyclopedia of
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^ Boyce 1982, pp. 1–7
^ West 2010, p. 18
^ Stausberg 2008, p. 572
^ a b West 2010, p. 6
^ Stausberg, Vevaina, Tessmann 2015, p. 441
^ Boyce 1982, p. 260
^ Boyce 1975, pp. 285–292
^ a b Christopher Tuplin (2007). "Persian Responses: Political and
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^ West 2010, p. 8
^ Boyce 1982, p. 261
^ Stausberg, Vevaina, Tessmann 2015, p. 9
^ Boyce 1982, p. 68
^ Shahbazi 1977, pp. 25–26
^ a b c d Nigosian 1993, pp. 17–18
^ Boyce 1975, pp. 190–191
^ Gershevitch 1964, pp. 36–37.
^ William Enfield, Johann Jakob Brucker, Knud Haakonssen, The History
of Philosophy from the Earliest Periods: Drawn Up from Brucker's
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^ cf. Boyce 1975, pp. 2–26.
^ cf. Gronke 1993, pp. 59–60.
^ Frye 1992, p. 8.
^ Khlopin 1992, pp. 107–110.
^ Sarianidi 1987, p. 54.
^ Boyce 1975, p. 1.
^ Malandra 2005
^ West 2010, p. 17
^ Boyce 1975, pp. 182–183
^ Boyce 1975, pp. 183
^ Boyce 1975, pp. 184
^ West 2010, pp. 19–20
^ West 2010, p. 24
^ a b c Hinnel, J (1997), The Penguin Dictionary of Religion, Penguin
^ Boyce 1975, pp. 187
^ West 2010, p. 29
^ West 2010, p. 9
^ West 2010, p. 31
^ Boyce 1975, pp. 192
^ Lee Lawrence. (3 September 2011). "A Mysterious Stranger in China".
The Wall Street Journal. Accessed on 31 August 2016.
^ a b c Qtd. in Büchner 1936, p. 105.
^ "Zoroastrianism". www.alislam.org.
^ Widengren 1961, p. 76.
^ Widengren 1961, pp. 43–45.
^ Widengren 1961, pp. 44–45.
^ Zaehner 1972, p. 21.
^ Taherzadeh 1976, p. 3.
^ Buck 1998.
^ Blackburn, Simon (1994), "Philosophy", The Oxford Dictionary of
Philosophy, Oxford: Oxford University Press, p. 405
^ August Gladisch (1859), Herakleitos Und Zoroaster: Eine Historische
Untersuchung, p. IV
^ Blackburn, S. (2005). p 409, The Oxford dictionary of philosophy.
Oxford University Press.
^ Frankfort, H., Frankfort, H. A. G., Wilson, J. A., & Jacobsen,
T. (1964). Before Philosophy. Penguin, Harmondsworth.
^ Jones, W.H.S. (1963). "Pliny Natural History Vol 8; Book XXX".
Heinemann. Archived from the original on January 1, 2017. Retrieved
December 28, 2016.
^ Stausberg 2002, p. I.58
^ See Plutarch's Isis and Osiris 46-7,
Diogenes Laertius 1.6–9, and
^ a b Beck 1991, p. 525.
^ a b Brenk, Frederick E. (1977). In Mist Apparelled: Religious Themes
Moralia and Lives, Volumes 48-50. Mnemosyne, bibliotheca
classica Batava [Vol. 48: Supplementum]. Leiden, NDL: Brill Archive.
p. 129. ISBN 9004052410. Retrieved March 19, 2017.
^ a b Beck 1991, p. 491.
^ Beck 2003, para. 4.
^ a b c d Beck 1991, p. 493.
^ Nock 1929, p. 111.
^ Livingston 2002, pp. 144–145.
^ Livingston 2002, p. 147.
^ a b Beck 2003, para. 7.
^ Beck 1991, p. 522.
^ a b Beck 1991, p. 523.
Agathias 2.23–5 and Clement's
^ See Porphyry's Life of
Pythagoras 12, Alexander Polyhistor apud
Stromata I.15, Diodorus of Eritrea and
Hippolytus VI32.2, for the primary sources.[non-primary source needed]
^ Lydus, On the Months, II.4.[non-primary source needed]
Lucian of Samosata, Mennipus 6.[non-primary source needed]
^ a b Beck 1991, p. 495.
^ a b Beck 1991, p. 526.
^ Sieber 1973, p. 234.
^ Pliny, VII, I.[non-primary source needed]
^ Pliny, VII, XV.[non-primary source needed]
^ Plutarch's Isis and Osiris, 46–7.[non-primary source needed]
^ "Klein Zaches Genannt Zinnober". Michaelhaldane.com. Retrieved
^ a b Ashouri 2003.
^ Watkins 2006, pp. 3–4.
^ "Tall Statue of
Zoroaster in New York" ایرون دات کام:
عکس ها: مجسّمهٔ تمام قّدِ زرتشت در
نیویورک (in Persian). Iroon.com. Retrieved 2013-11-19.
^ Pages 9–12 of
^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on January 11, 2014.
Retrieved December 17, 2013.
^ Burnouf 1833, p. 13.
^ Humbach 1991, p. I.18.
^ Jackson 1899, p. 162.
^ a b Shahbazi 1977, p. 26.
^ Kingsley 1990, pp. 245–265.
^ Shahbazi 1977, pp. 32–33.
^ Nietzsche/Ludovici 1911, p. 133
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