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On the Orthodoxy of Sasanian Zoroastrianism

  • Mary Boyce (a1)


It is some time since a book has been published which focuses entirely on Sasanian Zoroastrianism, and one from Professor Shaul Shaked, who has studied the religion at this period for many years, is sure of eager attention. The Sasanian epoch naturally attracts scholars approaching Zoroastrian studies from the Persian or Semitic fields; and the author points moreover to its interest for students of religions more generally, since this was a time when a number of other faiths were jostling for place within Iran, from Judaism, Buddhism and Christianity to the ill-fated but then vigorously expanding Manichaeism, and lesser ones of diverse hues. All this, and ‘an openness to Greek scientific and philosophical ideas’, made for as ‘lively and diversified a period of intellectual and religious activity as could ever be found in ancient Iran’ (p. 12).



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1 Dualism in transformation: varieties of religion in Sasanian Iran (Jordan Lectures in Comparative Religion, XVI), 1991, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, 1994.

2 However, because of the vigorous work of reformists (largely by origin European-inspired) Parsis began to change their beliefs under Darmesteter's eyes (see Massé, H., ‘Rencontres et entretiens de James Darmesteter et des Parsis’, Bulletin of the Iran Cultural Foundation, 1, 1970, 107–19, at 113); and by now even the most traditionalist of Iranian villages have adopted to a large extent reformist views.

3 Kingsley, P., ‘The Greek origin of the sixth-century dating of Zoroaster’, BSOAS, LIII, 2, 1990, 245265.

4 This makes the want of an index (which Professor Shaked tells me is due to an oversight) all the more felt.

5 Geldner, K. F., ‘Awestalitteratur’ in Grundriss der Iranischen Philologie, Geiger, W. und Kuhn, E. (ed.), (Strassburg, 18961904), Bd.II, 4652.

6 Christensen, A., L'Iran sous les Sassanides, 2nd ed. (Copenhagen, 1944), who was the first to demonstrate that the Sasanian kings were Zurvanites, suggested (p. 437) that this fatalistic heresy created a weakness at the heart of Sasanian Zoroastrianism, and that this contributed to decadence and hence to the victory of the Arabs; but the idea of a swift collapse by Persia and rapid general conversion to Islam can no longer be sustained (cf. Shaked, 3).

7 He is therefore opposed to the view, strongly championed by Gnoli, G. (notably in his The idea of Iran, Serie Orientale Roma, LXII, Rome, 1989), that the Sasanian kings ‘promoted the Zoroastrian religion as part of their national perception’, see S., 109–10.

8 On this see most recently Boyce in Boyce, M. and Grenet, F., A history of Zoroastrianism, III (Leiden, 1991), 66, n. 71.

9 Dādestān ī Mēnōg ī Xrad, ch. XV. 16–24; Tansar Nāma, ed. Minovi, M., p. 17, tr. Boyce, , p. 42.

10 This was emphasized with regard to these Syriac Christian passages by Christensen, , L'Iran, 145.

11 Le Zend-Avesta (Paris, 18921893, repr. 1960), Vol. 2, 691708. The most recent edition is Taraf, Z., Der Awesta-Text Niyāyiš (Munich, 1981).

12 References apud Boyce, Zoroastrians: their religious beliefs and practices (London, 1979, revised 3rd repr. 1988), 122123.

13 Qissa-ye Sanjān, II. 165, 170, from the transcription and translation being prepared by Dr.Williams, A. V.; cf. the excerpt from the translation by Hodivala, S. H. in Boyce, M. (ed.), Textual sources for the study of Zoroastrianism (Manchester, 1984; Chicago, 1990), 120.

14 For discussion and references see Boyce and Grenet, Hist. Zoroastrianism, III, 62–5, 93–4. Shaked (95, n. 73)says that previously (Hist. Zoroastrianism, II (Leiden 1982), 222225) I proposed seeing the name ‘Ataš Bahrām’ as ‘reflecting the general noun for “victory”, unconnected to the name of the deity’. In fact I suggested that at the time of their founding the temple fires were given the Avestan epithet vƏrƏϑrayan- ‘victorious’, which in due course, as pronunciations changed, would have fallen together with developments of the substantive vƏrƏϑrayan- ‘victory’, and so have become identical with the yazad's name. In later times such a fire is said to be installed pad warahrānīh ‘victoriously’, and is addressed as pērōzgar ‘victorious’; and there are no rites in its consecration or maintenance to associate it with the yazad Bahrām. For these reasons Dastur Firoze Kotwal has approved this explanation of the name's origin.

15 For references see Boyce, , ‘Iranian Festivals’, in Cambridge History of Iran, Vol. 3(2), (ed.) Yarshater, E. (Cambridge, 1983), 793.

16 See Boyce, apud, Hist. Zoroastrianism, II, 184185.

17 See Boyce, , ‘On Mithra's part in Zoroastrianism’, BSOAS, XXXII, 1, 1969, 2627, drawing on the authority of Dastur (then Ervad) Firoze Kotwal, and through him on that of his grandfather, Ervad Pirojshah Adarji Kotwal, a noted ritual priest.

18 Boyce, , Zoroastrianism: its antiquity and constant vigour (Columbia Lectures on Iranian Studies, 7, Costa Mesa, 1992), 87.

19 This is the convincing interpretation of Gershevitch, I., ‘Die Sonne das Beste’, in Hinnells, J. (ed.), Mithraic Studies (Manchester, 1975), I, 87. Gershevitch suggested that the Mithra of this compound was the Saka sun god, adopted by the Medes. See contra Boyce in Boyce, and Grenet, , Hist. Zoroastrianism, III, 471475, 482.

20 Dārāb Hormazyār's Rivāyat, ed. Unvala, M. R., (Bombay, 1922), II, 18.14; Dhabhar, B. N., tr., The Persian Rivayats of Hormazyar Framarz (Bombay, 1932), 403.—On what follows above see further Boyce, , ‘Dar-e Mehr’, Encyclopaedia Iranica, VI, 669670 (where by an oversight only Meillet's earlier suggestion of an Old Persian *miϑryāna is given as the origin for Arm. mehean).

21 The proper name ‘Mihr-Ohrmazd’ cannot be taken as evidence, because the rule in such compounds is that the shorter component always comes first.

22 cf. Shaked's earlier remarks in Mihr the Judge’, Jerusalem Studies in Arabic and Islam, II, 1980, 15.

23 cf. notably, Henning, W. B., ‘An astronomical chapter of the Bundahishn’, JRAS, 1942, 229248 at 230 (= his Selected Papers, II, Acta Iranica, 15, 1977, 96).

24 cf. Boyce in Boyce, and Grenet, , Hist. Zoroastrianism, III, 265 with n. 11.

25 Lommel, H., Die Religion Zarathustras nach dem Awesta dargestellt (Tübingen, 1930, repr. 1971), 219222.

26 This was emphasized by Lommel, loc. cit.

27 See Pines, S., ‘Eschatology and the concept of time in the Slavonic Book of Enoch’, Numen, Supp.XVIII, 1970, 78; Boyce, and Grenet, , Hist. Zoroastrianism, III, 393394.

28 Ch. 32.5 (ed. A. V. Williams, Copenhagen, 1990; text, I, 138/39; tr., II, 59 with commentary, 186).

29 Ch. 48.97 (ed. Williams, I, 188/89; II, 87).

30 Tavernier, J. B., Collections of travels through Turky into Persia and the East-Indies (London, 1684) I, 165; cited by Firby, N. K., European travellers and their perceptions of Zoroastrians in the 17th and 18th centuries (AMI Ergänzungsband, 14, Berlin, 1988), 43.

31 Boyce, Zoroastrianism: its antiquity …, 170.

32 Tavernier, op.cit., 164 (Firby, loc.cit.); cf. Dādestān ī dēnīg, Pt. I, ed. T. D. Anklesaria, Purs. 31.13 (16), tr. E. W. West, SBE, XVIII, 74 with n. 1; and Boyce, , Hist. Zoroastrianism, I, 243, n. 63 (where the reference is to be corrected).

33 Pahl. Riv. Dd, ch. 48.99–102 (ed. Williams, I, 188/89; II, 87–8).

34 Dēnkard VI, E34a (ed. Shaked, The wisdom of the Sasanian sages (Boulder, Colorado, 1979), 202/203.

35 Dēnkard VI, 77–8 (ed. Shaked, op. cit., 28/29).

36 See Schwartz, M., ‘The old Eastern Iranian world view according to the Avesta’, in Cambridge History of Iran, Vol. 2, (ed.) Gershevitch, I. (Cambridge, 1985), 641.

37 See Boyce, Zoroastrianism: its antiquity …, 53.

On the Orthodoxy of Sasanian Zoroastrianism

  • Mary Boyce (a1)


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