More correctly, Zarathustra. He was the Legislator and Prophet of the ancient Baetrians, out of whose doctrines the modern religion of the Parsees has been developed. As to the age in which Zoroaster flourished, there have been the greatest discrepancies among the ancient authorities. The earliest of the Greek writers who mentions his name is Xanthus of Lydia, and he places his era at about 600 years before the Trojan war, which would be about 1800 years before Christ. Aristotle and Eudoxus say that he lived 6,000 years before Plato; while Berosus, the Babylonian historian, makes him a king of Babylon, and the founder of a dynasty which reigned over Babylon between 2200 and 2000 B.C.
The Parsees are more moderate in their celebrations, and say that their Prophet was a contemporary of Hystaspes, the father of Darius, and accordingly place his era at 550 B.C. Haug, however, in his Essays on the Sacred Language of the Parsees, declares that this supposition is utterly groundless. He thinks that we can, under no circumstances, assign him a later date than 1000 B.C., and is not even disinclined to place his era much earlier, and make him a contemporary of Moses. Brother Albert Pike, who has devoted much labor to the investigation of this confused subject of the Zoroastrian era, says, in an able article in Doctor Mackey's National Freemason (volume iii, No. 3):
In the year 1903 before Alexander, or 2234 B.C., a Zrathustrian king of Media conquered Babylon. The religion even then had degenerated into Magism, and was of unknown age. The unfortunate theory that Vitagpa, one of the most efficient allies of Zarathustra, was the father of Darius Hystaspes, has long ago been set at rest. In the Chaldean lists of Berosus, as found in the Armenian edition of Eusebius, the name Zoroasfer appears as that of the Median conqueror of Babylon; but he can only have received this title from being a follower of Zarathustra and professing has religion. He was preceded by a series of eighty-four Median Kings- and the real Zarathustra lived in Baetria long before the tide of emigration had flowed thence into Media. Aristotle and Eudoxus, according to Pliny, place Zarathustra 6000 years before the death of Plato, Hermippus, 5000 years before the Trojan war. Plato died 348 B.C.- SO that the two dates substantially agree, making the date of Zarathustra's reign 6300 or 6350 B.C., and I have no doubt that this is not far from the truth. Bunsen, however (God in History, volume I, book iii, chapter vi, page 276), speaks of Zarathustra Spitama as living under the reign of Vistaspa toward the year 300() B.C., certainly not later than toward 2500 B.C. He calls him "one of the mightiest intellects and one of the greatest men of all time"; and he says of him: "Accounted by his contemporaries a blasphemer, atheist, and firebrand worthy of death; regarded even by his own adherents, after some centuries, as the founder of magic, by others as a sorcerer and deceiver, he was, nevertheless, recognized already by Hippocrates as a great spiritual hero, and esteemed the earliest sage of a primeval epoch--reaching back to 5000 years before their date--by Eudoxus, Plato, and Aristotle."
The name of this great reformer is always spelled in the Zendavesta as Zarathustra, with which is often coupled Spitama; this, Haug says, was the family name, while the former was his surname, and hence both he and Bunsen designate him as Zarathustra Spitama. The Greeks corrupted Zarathustra into Zarastrades and Zoroastres, and the Romans into Zoroaster, by which name he has always, until recently, been known to Europeans. His home was in Bactria, an ancient country of Asia between the Oxus River on the North and the Caucasian range of mountains on the South, and in the immediate vicinity, therefore, of the primal seat of the Aryan race, one of whose first emigrations, indeed, was into Bactria.
The religion of Zoroaster finds its origin in a social, political, and religious schism of the Bactrian Iranians from the primitive Aryans. These latter led a nomadic and pastoral life in their native home, and continued the same habits after their emigration. But a portion of these tribes, whom Haug calls the proper Iranians, becoming weary of these wanderings, after they had reached the highlands of Bactria abandoned the pastoral and wandering life of their ancestors, and directed their attention to agriculture. This political secession was soon followed by wars, principally of a predatory kind, waged, for the purpose of booty, by the nomadic Aryans on the agricultural settlements of the Iranians, whose rich fields were tempting objects to the spoiler.
The political estrangement was speedily and naturally followed by a religious one. It was at this time that Zoroaster appeared, and, denouncing the nature worship of the old Aryan faith, established his spiritual religion, in which, says Bunsen, "the antagonisms of light and darkness, of sunshine and storm, become transformed into antagonisms of good and evil, of powers exerting a beneficent or corrupting in Huenee on the mind."
The doctrine of pure Zoroastrianism was monotheistic. The Supreme Being was called Ahuramazda, and Haug says that Zoroaster's conception of him was perfectly identical with the Jewish notion of Jehovah. He is referred to as "the Creator of the earthly and spiritual life, the Lord of the whole universe, at whose hands are all the creatures." He is wisdom and intellect; the light itself, and the source of light; the rewarder of the virtuous and the punisher of the wicked.
The dualistic doctrine of Ormuzd and Ahrimanes, which has falsely been attributed to Zoroaster, was in reality the development of a later corruption of the Zoroasteric teaching. But the great reformer sought to solve the puzzling question of the origin of evil in the world, by supposing that there existed in Ahuramazda two spirits, inherent in his nature, the one positive and the other negative. All that was good was real, existent; while the absence of that reality was a non-existence or evil. Evil was the absence of good as darkness was the absence of light.
Zoroaster taught the idea of a future life and the immortality of the soul. The doctrine of the resurrection is one of the principal dogmas of the Zendavesta. He also clearly inculcated the belief of a heaven and a hell. The former was called the House of Hymns, because the angels were supposed to sing hymns there; the latter the house of destruction, and to it were relentlessly consigned the poets and Priests of the old Aryan religion.
The doctrine of sacred names, so familiar to the Hebrews, was also taught by Zoroaster. In one of the Yashts, a portion of the Zendavesta, Ahuramazda tells Zarathustra that the utterance of one of his sacred names, of which he enumerates twenty, is the best protection from evil. Of these names, one is ahmi, meaning I am, and another, ahmi vat ahmi, I am who I am. The reader will be reminded here of the Holy Name in Exodus, Ehyeh asher Ehyeh, or I am that I am.
The doctrine of Zoroaster was not forever confined to Bactria, but passed over into other countries; nor in the transmission did it fail to suffer some corruption. From its original seat it spread into Media, and under the name Magism, or the doctrine of the Magavas, that is, the mighty ones, was incorporated at Babylon with the Chaldean philosophy, whence we find its traces in the Rabbinism and the Cabalism of the Hebrews. It was carried, too, into Persia, where it has Jeell developed into the awoder and still existing sect of the Parsees, of whom we now find two divisions, the conservatives and liberals; the former cultivating the whole modified doctrine of Zoroaster, and the latter retaining much of the doctrine, but rejecting to a very great extent the ceremonial instructions.
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Brother Ofotsu, Upper Marlboro, MD