History : Sep-Oct 2018
NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC HISTORY 21 The impacts of Zarathustra’s teachings are bold and brilliant: Common beliefs, concepts, and lessons are plain to see in the tenets of Juda ism, Christianity, and Islam. The concepts of one good god battling evil, the existence of a savior, and a day of final judgment are just a few of their shared traits. Unlike these illuminating tenets, the figure of Zarathustra himself remains a shadowy figure in the history of ancient Iran. Books of the Prophet Historical records of Zarathustra’s life are more difficult to locate. Much of what is known about him comes from religious texts, or from historians writing centuries after his death. Finding contemporary ac counts is even more challenging as few experts agree on when Zarathustra lived and died. Zarathustra’s teachings were col lected in a compilation known as the Avesta. A massive tome, it was reported to be originally some 12,000 pages, but only a fraction survived. Some say large portions were lost when Alexander the Great conquered Persia in the fourth century b.c. What remained was collected and standardized into a fivepart sacred text. The main section contains the Gathas, a collection of hymns believed to be written by Zarathustra during his life. Other books contain prayers, rituals, accounts of cre ation, and descriptions of Zoroastrian law. Ancient Greek and Roman studies of Zoro astrianism framed Zarathustra as a priest who challenged the polytheistic IndoIranian reli gion. While these accounts tell similar stories, they do not occur in the same time frame. Some Greek authors writing centuries later make grandiose claims for his antiquity based on ideas that Zarathustra was an alchemist or even the inventor of magic. For instance, GrecoRoman author Plutarch, writing in the first century a.d., claimed that Zarathustra lived “5,000 years before the siege of Troy.” Other historians state that he was a middleaged man living 258 years before Alexander the Great conquered Persepolis, placing Zarathustra in the seventh century b.c. LEONID ANDRONOV/AGE FOTOSTOCK MAGIC FIRE The 17th- or 18th- century alchemy manual Clavis Artis is attributed to Zarathustra. It depicts him with a salamander, an animal associated with fire. BRIDGEMAN/ACI KINGS AT REST Numerous Zoroastrian images, including that of the sole deity Ahura Mazda, adorn the rock- cut tombs of Naqsh-e Rostam, resting place of Persia’s Achaemenian and Sasanian kings.