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Alexander the ‘Accursed’ and Zoroastrianism (blogs.bl.uk)
66 points by benbreen on Feb 15, 2023 | hide | past | favorite | 72 comments



The biggest harm Alexander inflicted on Zoroastrianism was to kill all of the priests. Zoroastrianism has a tradition of oral transmission from priest to navar (newly minted priest), which is maintained to this day. Mass killing disrupted an entire generation and we are still grappling with the aftermath today, as we gather snippets from here and there to reconstitute what was lost.


A while back I read a book called Heirs to Forgotten Kingdoms about disappearing, often-obscure (at least to Westerners) Middle Eastern religions, which stretched its scope over to Iran/Persia at times and IIRC did treat of Zoroastrianism (maybe the least-obscure and least-nearly-extinct of the bunch).

Reading it, a pattern emerged of common elements to most or all of these religions: 1) Not seeking converts—in some cases, not permitting them at all—and 2) mostly or purely oral transmission of traditions, often with a "mystery" element—i.e. steps of initiation required to learn the "deeper" levels, which were regarded as secret.


> 1) Not seeking converts—in some cases, not permitting them at all

How does this not mean that ultimately, you run out of practitioners? Are only direct descendants allowed to take part?

>often with a "mystery" element—i.e. steps of initiation required to learn the "deeper" levels

Does this include things like having special glasses that allows decryption of the text until they were lost before ultimately losing the text itself?


> How does this not mean that ultimately, you run out of practitioners? Are only direct descendants allowed to take part?

Yep, some have a heavy focus on a kind of ethnocentrism or blood-continuity. Even marrying in sometimes won't get you inducted (indeed, it may mean the other partner is shunned).

> Does this include things like having special glasses that allows decryption of the text until they were lost before ultimately losing the text itself?

Usually it means not having texts, to any great degree, or having some but carefully guarding them. Think: Freemasons, but even more serious about keeping their proceedings and rules and ideas secret from outsiders. Often this is coupled with a mostly-oral tradition.

Judaism's kind of an interesting variant on these—it can be a bit ethnocentric and exclusive (see: maternal lineage rules) and doesn't really seek converts, but has also become enough things to enough people that joining some variant or another is usually possible, for outsiders; and it's heavy on only the initiated being able to meaningfully engage in theology, but, crucially, those proceedings are mostly in letters (in the broad sense), and a great deal of it takes place more-or-less out in the open, such that one can walk into a book store and come out with an armful of deep Jewish theology without needing to ascend some rabbinical hierarchy first. You can see in Judaism a distorted version of these other, extremely-insular religions that are in decline, but with enough of a twist on their rules and practices to keep the religion vital and alive.


Not seeking converts is relatively recent in Zoroastrian history, correlated largely with their move to the Indian subcontinent. In ancient Persia, Zoroastrians were free to proselytize and priests free to convert. It is believed that there were multiple factions of Zoroastrianism at the time.


There's a bit in the Christian Bible that is a rant against the Pharisees, that in passing, on its way to making a point about hypocrisy, mentions them "traveling over land and sea to win a convert".

That stuck in my mind, because of the contrast with modern Judaism. It makes them sound like...Mormons or JWs or something.

Somewhere I did run across the claim, not sure if it was reputable scholarship or what, that in fact there was a profound change in proselytization due to historical events, trauma so to speak.

I was unaware until recently of how "Palestine" got its name, and the Bar Kokhba revolt.

A lot of things I think are not exactly "obscure" or "not obscure", but widely known in fragmentary form such that they aren't interpreted.


>There's a bit in the Christian Bible

This isn't the first time I've seen/heard this phrase, but does any other religion refer to their book of text as Bible?


I'm neither an academic nor a practicing Christian or Jew. I guess I mainly qualified "Bible" with "Christian" because just writing "the Bible" has some ambiguous implications, like am I referring to a particular translation, and am I putting Christian scriptures above all others?

I could've refrained from capitalizing "Bible" too, but I don't have a specific set of style rules in mind.

In fact, I would've been reading a translation that's relatively modern, not one of the most common ones, and definitely not King James. But I don't recall exactly.


"Hebrew Bible" is often used in secular academia in preference to "Old Testament." "Christian Bible" is the "New Testament" counterpart to that.


It's an English word, and calling other religions' core texts the "X Bible" as in "Mohammedan Bible" (Webster's 1913) used to happen, but is out of fashion as it's seen as culturally insensitive, or at least inaccurate (I'd quibble with "inaccurate" in a very few cases, but sure, it harms little to avoid that usage and probably is a net-improvement).

Christianity having been the closest thing to a "native" religion for the English language since... well, since before it was English, means that other religions don't use that term, including those that pre-date the spread of Christianity in Europe (there wasn't English yet, then). That's if those had "a book", which they didn't.

The closest thing another religion might do would probably be to call their text "the book", in some other language—but, it's also the case that most religions don't have a book. There's no single Buddhist, or Hindu book of scripture. Animist religions or indigenous religions of the Americas don't tend to have one. The Greeks and Romans didn't, nor does it seem to be the case that the Egyptians or Sumerians did.

Part of this is because having a book requires... books. To exist. The codex wasn't invented until well after most of these religions came into being, and, notably, Christians didn't seem to get worked up about creating a book and about canonicity and all that (a trunk of scrolls is less fixed than a bound volume and won't be copied or distributed as one body, so the implicit demand that its contents be in some sense complete or authoritative or similar in stature, isn't there) until the codex came around.

It's probably worth noting at this point that the English word "Bible" comes to the language explicitly as a Christian term (i.e. we'd likely not have the word at all, but for Christianity), from the Koine Greek for... drumroll... the books. Plural! This reflects the volume's nature as a collection of works that had once been disconnected.

What's the big exception to these religions that predate codices/books? Islam! Books already existed when they got started. And, sure enough, from the beginning, they have a concept of a book, perhaps to a greater degree than any other religion. And, indeed, they refer to other major "Abrahamic" religions (Judaism and Christianity, chiefly but not quite exclusively) as "people of the book" (and yes, the word is just "the book" in Arabic—I double-checked, the word in the phrase is the same given as a translation for simply "the book")

They shy away from calling their book "the book", however, instead calling it "the recitation", relating back to how they believe it was revealed and composed—Cf. referring to The Revelation of St. John as simply "Revelation" (or, commonly but a tad erroneously, "Revelations").

It may, in fact, be significant that the focus on a book progresses with the three major Abrahamic religions: Judaism is a hyper-literate religion, but places less focus on a single book than those who follow (the traditional presentation of the Torah is still as a scroll, and, I gather, that typically does not include the rest of what Christians would call the Old Testament); Christians are so big on the One Book that they had to figure out a way to awkwardly smash as much Judaism as they saw fit onto the beginning of theirs, and, to not a small degree, their compiling a book from what had been a competing and disconnected set of tales marks the beginning of the path toward modern forms of Christianity; while Islam is, to put it mildly, very into their one book and have been from the beginning—it's the absolute heart of their religion, it's the whole deal, it is entirely complete and flawless, it is unchanging and has never been changed a bit (hm... OK, sure, it's religion, so, whatever), and even reading it in translation is seen as a tad suspect—God gave them a book, more or less, and that's how important the book is. They have lore and practices and commentaries and all that, beyond the book, but they are extremely book-centric. It's possible the very form of these religions reflect, in part, the literary technology available at the time, which is kinda neat.


So, yeah, after all that, how do you feel about my terminology?

I didn't call the scripture of any other religion a Bible, and I read your wall of text as a lukewarm endorsement but you may have been thinking the opposite.


Western Freemasons, I am looking at you


In Sassanian sources he was refereed as "Alaksandar ī hrōmāy" and "Eskandar the Gajostak [accursed]".

Note they used hrōmāy (Roman) in spite of him being Greek, possibly due to Hellenic influence on Roman civilization.

Accursed cause he burned the original Avesta and plundered ērān-šahr (country of Iran) and moved all its gold to the original homeland.

Fun fact, in Persian, the name of the country Greece is Yunan referring to the Iona region in western Anatolia (current day Turkey).


> Fun fact, in Persian, the name of the country Greece is Yunan referring to the Iona region in western Anatolia (current day Turkey).

Same in Indian languages. Modern Indian languages borrow the Persian term, though more often Indians encounter the term in the name of the (still fairly popular in some circles) traditional system of medicine the Central Asians bought to India - Yunani.

In Ancient India, from the time that Alexander came to India, the Greeks were referred to as Yavana. In ancient times, Greek mercenaries were common across the country, with Indo-Greek kingdoms based in North West India & Afghanistan for several centuries after Alexander. Greeks were so prevalent that the ancient sources apply the Yavana term to any outsider.


"Yunnani" medicine comes from the region of Yunnan [ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yunnan ] and is unrelated to Yunan.


Nope, Yunani/Unani medicine in India is derived from the Greek system of Galen and developed by the Arabs.

https://www.britannica.com/science/Unani-medicine/Modes-of-t...

http://www.jtcm.org/yunani-medicine/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unani_medicine?oldformat=true


Roman, because that's how the Greeks named themselves at the time of the Sasanian Empire, being the time of Romania (a.k.a. the Byzantine Empire).


Wow. I'm fully aware that the Byzantines called themselves the Romans until at least the fall of Constantinople, and still found that section of the article confusing. For some stupid reason it never occurred to me other people would call them Roman.


Same way a large number of European and Islamic empires continued to use some variation of Caesar to mean King or Emperor (eg. Tsar in Slavic cultures, Kaiser in Germanic cultures, Geysar/Qeysar/Kesar in Indo-Iranian and Ottoman culture)


I've always attributed that to the full Roman empire, though it probably was both, as I was under the impression Basileus was more commonly used when speaking Greek like the Byzantines did.

I think this comes from my modern perspective, where I think "nobody considers the Byzantines 'Roman' though that's what they called themselves." Of course that wouldn't be true in 1000 AD.


Later they came to be called the Greeks mostly by the Latins, to kind of steal the legacy, i.e. you're not Roman, you're Greek. But for the Ottomans it was always Rum (Roman), even now it is more Istanbulite to call the "European" side Rum. Same as there is this story from the liberation wars, where Greek kids from an island came running to see the soldier. The soldiers asked, what are you looking for, and they say: "Greeks!". The soldiers say: "But you, too are Greeks". The kids answer, "No, we're just Romans."


And in Hebrew it's Yavan. Probably Babylonian captivity influence.


How much do we know about pre-Islamic Zoroastrianism, and is it something that modern Zoroastrians care about?

I've heard that while modern Zoroastrianism is "dualist", this might have started as a concession to Islam, to prevent followers from being persecuted for idolatry.


I always assumed that the dualism of modern Christianity and Islam came from Zoroastrianism - it's not an obvious feature of a monotheistic religion and it must have come from somewhere.

That said, I suppose we're removed enough from the source material that it's very hard to be sure. But is there a competing theory for the origin of dualism in these religions?


Manichaeism probably had a lot of influence on early Christianity including introducing dualism, but its hard to say. St Augustine started his religious journey as with Manichaeism and it certainly influenced his thinking and writing which in turn influenced later Christian thinkers.


What I've heard from religious scholars is that they think Christianity's dualism seems pretty inspired by Zoroastrianism, with the added insight that Judaism was originally polytheistic. There's therefore a lot of underlying assumptions in the religion primed for the idea of multiple god-like entities.


The theory I’ve heard is that Christianity’s dualism was inherited from Second Temple Judaism’s cosmology. During that time there was a lot more interest in angels and demons among certain Jewish sects. In turn these beliefs may have been a result of syncretism with Zoroastrianism.


Yazidism, which has roots at least as deep as Judaism, is built around angels: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yazidism

The easy answer regarding adoption of angels is simply that angels figured prominently in multiple religions and cultures in that region for at least as long as we can look back; what would be surprising is any religion from that region lacking angels. Angels may have been a background fact that you might not think to question at all, even if you sat down to deliberately concoct a religion.

I'm curious what everybody means when they refer to dualism in this thread, because AFAIU there are several different kinds of philosophies that can be called dualist, and while we can connect dots between them, some of them are arguably contradictory. A theistic dualism as in traditional Judaism and Christianity which merely posits that the essence (or at least an essence) of the godhead is distinct from physical creation (cf. pantheism) is quite different from a moralist dualism that posits a universe defined by a struggle between goodness and evil. Elements of the latter can also be found in Christianity and Judaism, but that results in tension, and for that reason moral dualism is less prominent in those religions notwithstanding that some sects and strains (present and historic) really embrace it.


I would say both. Early Judaism didn't have the concept of a "source of bad" (Satan, etc). Similarly, early Judaism didn't have the concept of paradise and hell.

Zoroastrianism is the first known major religion that introduced the conflict between a good God, Ahuramazda, and an evil spirit. Humans have a choice in this conflict and that's how the morality is defined. Based on their choice they can end up in Pardise (a Persian concept <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paradise>) or hell <https://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/hell-i>


What does "dualism of ... Islam" refer to?


presumably Halal and Haram, but I'm not a Muslim scholar nor do I live in a Muslim culture. I do know that Christian culture has a (and used to have a much stronger) preoccupation with a struggle between god and the devil.


I recommend the Heritage Institute website if you are keen to learn more:

http://www.heritageinstitute.com/zoroastrianism/


For those who dont know, Zoroastrians migrated to India to escape persecution, where they are today called Parsis.

The cool thing is that they are India's smallest (officially) ethnic population, however have had an OUTSIZED impact on India and the World. The unique culture (and names) are a signature element in Bollywood. And Zoroastrian food is an essential part of what defines Mumbai as a city - https://www.nytimes.com/2019/05/08/t-magazine/parsi-food.htm... .

But beyond that, Tata (which owns Jaguar Land Rover), Serum Institute of India (world's largest maker of vaccine including COVID vaccines), Godrej Industries, Bhabha Atomic Research Centre ...and many others are all Indian Zoroastrian enterprises.

And of course, Farrokh Bulsara...also known as Freddie Mercury !

But the really interesting thing is about how they treat their dead - Zoroastrians have their dead eaten by vultures. So the Indian govt operates one of the largest vulture breeding programs in the world, specifically for this purpose. These special "Towers of Silence" exist in every major city in India - especially in Mumbai, where the active Tower of Silence sits in the middle of what is considered the most expensive piece of real estate of the world.


not sure to which degree current islamic republic brainwashing has messed up with this but many "modern not too or not at all religious iranians" call alexander the great just "alexander" and don't have a good view of him.


That could just be part of the secular trend of re-assessing the records of "conquerors" across the world. Some people consider Napoleon, Alexander and so on to be glorified warlords who happened to win but are essentially mass murderers like non-western conquerors (Attila the Hun and so on).


No, it is not.

Alexander was/is (ridiculously, par per course in this matters) considered by "doctors of religion" to be Zal Qurnain (the Two Horned one) mentioned in Sura 18 (The Cave) in the Qur'an. I personally think Carl Jung had a firmer grasp on the meaning of Sura 18 than most of these scholars. But anyway, the two-horned one was a "servant of God" who had 'divine proxy power' to "punish or reward as you see fit". He sets up the molten metal wall to protect against "Gog and Magog" (which should cause spiritual discomfort vis a viz IRI & CCP /g). He travels far and wide.

Two horns in spiritual context: https://aleteia.org/2021/08/23/the-reason-why-michelangelos-...

There is a distinct pro-Roman anti-Persian element to the Qur'an which (regrettably for the divine word set) maps exactly to geopolitical alliances of client states of the contemporary contending Roman and Persian Empires at the time of Islam's arrival on the scene. (It is fascinating that Rome 2.0 -- British Empire and then US -- also have an affinity for Arabs vs Persians.)

So, obviously no son or daughter of Iran would care to celebrate the person that caused the demise of the Hakhamanesh empire.

-- "that must be Eskandar!" --

https://carm.org/islam/quran-surah-18/

83. And they ask you about Dhul-Qarnain. Say: “I shall recite to you something of his story.”

84. Verily, We established him in the earth, and We gave him the means of everything.

85. So he followed a way.

86. Until, when he reached the setting place of the sun, he found it setting in a spring of black muddy (or hot) water. And he found near it a people. We (Allah) said (by inspiration): “O Dhul-Qarnain! Either you punish them, or treat them with kindness.”

87. He said: “As for him (a disbeliever in the Oneness of Allah) who does wrong, we shall punish him; and then he will be brought back unto his Lord; Who will punish him with a terrible torment (Hell).

88. “But as for him who believes (in Allah’s Oneness) and works righteousness, he shall have the best reward, (Paradise), and we (Dhul-Qarnain) shall speak unto him mild words (as instructions).”

89. Then he followed another way,

90. Until, when he came to the rising place of the sun, he found it rising on a people for whom We (Allah) had provided no shelter against the sun.

91. So (it was)! And We knew all about him (Dhul-Qarnain).

92. Then he followed (another) way,

93. Until, when he reached between two mountains, he found, before (near) them (those two mountains), a people who scarcely understood a word.

94. They said: “O Dhul-Qarnain! Verily! Ya’juj and Ma’juj (Gog and Magog) are doing great mischief in the land. Shall we then pay you a tribute in order that you might erect a barrier between us and them?”

95. He said: “That (wealth, authority and power) in which my Lord had established me is better (than your tribute). So help me with strength (of men), I will erect between you and them a barrier.

96. “Give me pieces (blocks) of iron,” then, when he had filled up the gap between the two mountain-cliffs, he said: “Blow,” till when he had made it (red as) fire, he said: “Bring me molten copper to pour over it.”

97. So they [Ya’juj and Ma’juj (Gog and Magog)] were made powerless to scale it or dig through it.

98. Dhul-Qarnain) said: “This is a mercy from my Lord, but when the Promise of my Lord comes, He shall level it down to the ground. And the Promise of my Lord is ever true.”

99. And on that Day [i.e. the Day Ya’juj and Ma’juj (Gog and Magog) will come out], We shall leave them to surge like waves on one another, and the Trumpet will be blown, and We shall collect them all together.


The vast majority of Muslims, "doctors of religion" or otherwise, have never identified Dhul Qarnayn with Alexander and even those who did considered it a possibility rather than a certain thing. If you took a survey today, only a small fraction would say it might be Alexander. The view that it was Alexander is much more common in western circles, probably because the colonialist mind wanted to identify a western figure as having tremendous importance in Islam and among Muslims.

Alexander is much more popular among Muslims today and historically because of his aptitude as a military commander, just as he is in the west.


This is because the Romans practiced a form of Christianity (and still do), which Islam recognizes as a revealed (yet corrupted) religion, while the Persians were idol-worshipers. I agree that it is fascinating that this geopolitical orientation is still in place since the time of the Qur'an's revelation.

I don't think you're correct in saying that the scholars agree that Dhul-Qarnain is Alexander. The opinions I've heard rule Alexander out. What I've always heard is that the identity of Dhul-Qarnain is one of those details in Qur'anic exegesis that are not known with total certainty, like the identity of Al-Khidr in the same surah. Cyrus the Great has been floated as another candidate, though [0].

---

[0] https://www.iranchamber.com/history/articles/zolqarnain_cyru...


(Don't know why you are downvoted). Thank you for your reply. I think at the time when "great" was appended to Eskandar's name, so it became a norm, it was a held opinion, but tbh I don't have authoritative knowledge of this bit.

It is possible that Sassanid's had slipped into "idol worship" (promoting a couple of angels into some sort of Iranian pseudo-pantheon had already occurred) but note that there are no idols in Zoroastrianism itself. Fire is effectively a natural phenomena 'icon'.


I'm not an expert on Zoroastrianism but just relating something that's come in Muslim tradition.

"The idolaters wanted the Persians to prevail over the Romans, because they were idol worshipers, and the Muslims wanted the Romans to prevail over the Persians, because they were People of the Book."

http://m.qtafsir.com/Surah-Ar-Room/Foretelling-the-Victory-o...

We may just be splitting hairs, but I would be slacking if I had a reference and didn't provide it.


Calling Persians idol worshippers sounds revisionist and is materially incorrect. Persians were more attuned to natural symbols. Noting that Muslims pray to a stone in Mecca, would you call that idol worship?


Muslims don't pray to a stone, they pray towards the Mosque in Mecca, where the stone happens to be and is only used as part of a ritual during the Hajj pilgrimage. There was a period of history where the stone had been removed from its current place and that did not change the direction of prayer.

Also, idol worship is a misnomer and mistranslation. From an Islamic perspective, associating anything other than God alone in worship would fall into the category of polytheism and paganism, it does not have to be literal idols. Hence, zoroastrians are included in our definition of pagans or polytheists. Frankly, it's really telling how the HN crowd is speaking so confidently about Islam all over this thread while not really having any idea.


You know, you're right about most of what you said, but when I looked into it, it seems that idol worshiper is the correct translation. In ibn Kathir you can find the narration. It's not a hadith but this at least shows that it's not a mistranslation or a revisionist stance. [0]

كَانَ الْمُشْرِكُونَ يُحِبُّونَ أَنْ تَظْهَرَ فَارِسُ عَلَى الرُّومِ؛ لِأَنَّهُمْ أَصْحَابُ أَوْثَانٍ

I wasn't trying to offend anyone, just giving context. Maybe it comes down to whether you consider fire an idol. Muslims certainly would, but if you don't, I understand why you would take exception to that. Either way, it seems obvious that Christianity is closer to Islam than Zoroastrianism because of our shared belief in Jesus and the Israelite prophets. I wanted to highlight this in regards to the Roman-Arab connection. That was really my point, not to pass judgment on ancient Persians' beliefs.

[0]: http://www.quran-wiki.com/surah-overview.php?sura=30&aya=1


Hit a nerve, did I? And yet folks, you included, are speaking about Zoroastrianism without having any idea. For the record, Zoroastrianism is widely recognized as a monotheistic faith, in fact the world's oldest recorded monotheistic faith [1]. The characterization as pagan or polytheistic is an Islamic interpretation and has no basis in truth.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zoroastrianism


>and has no basis in truth

Whose truth?


I mean, Alexander was if nothing else a pretty bad guy to be be around. Just ask his friend Cleitus who saved Alexander's life but would later get killed by him in a drunken fight.


To be fair, binge drinking (and its share of drawbacks) when celebrating military victories was very much a big feature of Macedonian culture.


yeah, he was a young violent warlord, not unlike his contemporaries, but had some redeeming qualities of honor and respecting the culture of places he conquered, which was unusual for the time.


Isn't the original article an example of him disrespecting the culture of the place he conquered?


Some level of respect, higher than the average warlord of the time.


An Elon Musk of the ancient world.


Not really, Alexander actually did stuff.


Do you see this is an expression of secular "neo-Persian" nationalism, or as part of a reaction to Iran's religious conservatives who'd read literal truth in the Quran's story of a heroic Zuul al Qarayn (whom I've heard is identified with Alexander)?


i enjoyed the shitstorm i unintentionally created but i don't think most people (even religious ones) make the connection with dhu-l-qarnayn. it's probably, like someone else said, something that has to do with softer or harder persian nationalism. after all, even religious iranians are still iranians.


Not much with the Islamic Republic than with the Shah regime, which went on a run glorifying the old Achaemenid and Sassanid empire over even the Safavid empire.


Zoroastrianism is very confusing. As is Hinduism. Getting to the central tenants is rough.


Was brought up Zoroastrian. AMA

Some central tenets:

- Good thoughts lead to good words lead to good deeds.

- Life shouldn’t be a zero sum game. Therefore don’t loot and pillage, don’t tolerate looting and pillaging, no more sacrificing animals or people, instead grow food and grow populations.

- The representation of god cannot be known, and best showcased through fire (or energy). I’d bet a lot of money that a Tesla Coil would also be an acceptable representation.

- Otherwise, think critically and question intention and motivation of yourself and others to ensure it’s “towards god rather than towards the devil”.


Does Herodotus' characterisation sound rooted in Zoroastrianism?

> παιδεύουσι δὲ τοὺς παῖδας ἀπὸ πενταέτεος ἀρξάμενοι μέχρι εἰκοσαέτεος τρία μοῦνα, ἰχνεύειν καὶ τοξεύειν καὶ ἀληθίζεσθαι. [The Persians] educate their boys from five to twenty years old, and teach them only three things: riding and archery and honesty

(iow "sit straight, shoot straight, and speak straight")

NB. https://lsj.gr/wiki/ἰχνεύω suggests possible issues with the received (1920) english translation above, but I'd easily believe hunting (as to hounds) to imply riding.


> Does Herodotus' characterisation sound rooted in Zoroastrianism?

My assumptions: The Zoroastrian Persians of that time were "Zoroastrian" like today's Christian Americans are "Christian".

> educate their boys from five to twenty years old,

Based on how me, my family, and friends were all raised, yes education is paramount. It falls into "make life a positive sum game" or "grow". That seems fundamentally Zoroastrian.

The exclusion of women strikes me as anti-Zoroastrian. Maybe this is a more modern ethos even for Zoroastrians. Every Zoroastrian, regardless of sex/gender, that I know is educated at least till 20, and past that if they desire it/finances accamodate).

> and teach them only three things: riding and archery and honesty

Making it exclusive to riding, archery and honesty seems non-Zoroastrian. Likely just pragmatic for their army or something. Even that seems off to me - they had farmers and mathematicians and engineers, etc. If I were guessing this is selection bias from likely his Greek roots, the ongoing wars, and living in a smaller city (I assume closer to the borders of the empire).

The honesty does resonate, but its likely an incomplete translation. I'd assume they actually meant "noble"[0], which would be rooted Zoroastrianism. Where specifically they taught honesty as important, but caveated with pragmatism to withheld to ensure "high moral outcomes". "High moral outcomes" is very rooted in Zoroastrianism.

[0] having or showing fine personal qualities or high moral principles and ideals.


That's sound close to praising agriculture against hoarding/recollecting. Cain vs Abel. In the end Abrahamic religions are cults which make the sow and harvesting times sacred and "humanized". It's not a coincidence. The Holy week with Jesus' death and resurrection and harvesting times are the same.

So, all Christians, Muslims and Jews are secretly celebrating... the Neolithic revolution.


It sounds close to it only if you read it overly literally.

A more appropriate interpretation is "do not do things which take from others. do things which add to the world" where stealing and looting and sacrifices take away from others / the world, and growing, building and bearing children are adding new to the world.


Any good books you can recommend in connection with this way of life? Fiction, nonfiction, biographies. Anything that, in your view, reflects that spirit, or has a chance to give the reader an experience of it.

(Am primarily interested because I like Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra, which does borrow at least the name.)


Sorry, I'm not too much of a reader myself. I also am not constantly thinking in terms of flagging content as "Zoroastrian or not" so its hard to recall in this moment.

I'd say in terms of short stories read "The Last Question - Asimov" its very helpful to my understanding of Zoroastrianism.

I also struggle to suggest anything. Most of these things would be very much my interpretations of the art in too nuanced a way to evoke the same connections for others. e.g. I found the most recent Marvel's Eternals film to have a lot of Zoroastrian reflections within them (like around God's creation of and struggle against the Devil). In Eternals (spoiler alert) is it better to sacrifice the Earth to create a net-positive Reverse Entropy Machine or better to keep the Earth? It is a serious struggle to weigh those outcomes and try to know which outcome is "more Zoroastrian" and "aligned with God vs the Devil".

My dad actually wrote a book about "Zarathustra in a Space Age" (https://www.amazon.com/dp/1980264627). I hesitate to share, I haven't read this book - yet - I suppose I'm a not so great son. I also hesitate to share because as I understand it there are a lot of "hot takes" - my grandma who is more orthodox would disagree some of these ideas are Zoroastrian.


Thanks. I’ll check out the two you mentioned. And no worries. I know it was kind of an odd question.


These actually sound pretty solid, but I wonder if "Life shouldn't be a zero sum game" is an anti-competitive meme that it isn't safe for religions to adopt if they want to last or spread. Hopefully not :)


> "Life shouldn't be a zero sum game" is an anti-competitive meme

Disclaimer: I'm defining "anti-competitive meme" as some idea that is vulnerable to The Prisoner's Dilemma (aka. tragedy of the commons, or "why we can't have nice things").

It is! No different than "peace" is an anti-competitive meme, or "turn the other cheek" or "do not follow eye-for-an-eye" are all anti-competitive memes.

Arguably the goal of religion is to use the supernatural to keep anti-competitive memes prioritized within society.


@yazaddaruvala are you following the Indian branch of Zoroastrianism or the Iranian? How different are the traditions?


I was born in India and that Indo-Persian (Parsi) culture is what helped raise me.

My understanding is Iranian Zoroastrians and Indian Zoroastrians have very different traditions. Many in common but many that are an inherited from their 1000 years apart.

Specifically, Zoroastrians (both Indian and Iranian) have a few annual traditions (https://theguibordcenter.org/zoroastrian-holy-days-and-obser...), and like 4 life-milestone traditions (e.g. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Navjote, Wedding, Death, etc). I believe all of these are very similar.

There are many differences tho, mostly based on "sibling-culture". For example, my cousin recently had a wedding (to another Indian Zoroastrian) and there were a lot of Indian traditions included (Iranians would not do these). Indian Zoroastrians celebrate a lot of Indian Hindu traditions (e.g. Holy, Diwali, etc) and similarly I'm sure (I don't know for fact) Iranian Zoroastrians celebrate a lot of Iranian Muslim traditions (e.g. Eid).

Even the choice of clothing is more inspired by their surroundings than their religion. However, the do share a common tradition of wearing particular undergarments (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sedreh, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kushti).

Food again has a similar story. Mostly from their surroundings, but some commonality. e.g. Parsi's use a lot of spices in their cooking (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parsi_cuisine). But the dessets are typically more middle-eastern ("Common desserts include sev (vermicelli), ravo (sweet semolina pudding) and malido (a nutty fudge). Also popular are faluda and kulfi, both of which are adoptions from the cuisines of the Irani and Persian-speaking communities.")

You'd find it quite difficult to find http://www.nilouferskitchen.com/2014/12/parsi-sev.html or anything similar in any Indian dessert shop, but as per my understanding shares a lot in common with "Halawat Sha'riyya" or "Sh'ariyeh be-sukkar".

There is a Parsi breakfast https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Akuri that shares a lot in common with Menemen (Turkey) or scrambled Shakshuka. Akuri differs because it is also Indian and meant to be heavily spiced, and many times meant to be spicy. If any of you ever are in London try out https://www.dishoom.com/food-drink/ their Akuri is NOT on point lol - its adapted for a British pallet -, but if you add a bunch of Salt and Chillies (they provide them on request) then it becomes very representative. The Keema Per Eedu is on point tho! and mixing some of that spicy sauce into their "Akuri" will also work to make representative Akuri.


Thanks for all the pointers. How common are Persian names among Indian Zoroastrians? There was a recent thread by an Iranian historian on how Achaemenid king names were forgotten in Iran. Is Proshat a common name? <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parysatis> among Indian Parsis?


Umm, I’d say Zoroastrian names (or ancient Persian names) are very common.

It’s not clear to me that any modern “Persian” names are even similar.

If you’d like a list: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Names_of_God_in_Zoroastriani.... But note while my name is unchanged from the list many of them can be variations. For example, “Farman” is not a modern name. The variation “Farhan” is extremely common. So small things like that.


Cyrus is a fairy popular name. And I know a Darius too. Never heard of a Proshat though.


There are some scholars who try to tie the emergence of agriculture to Zoroastrianism.




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