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9 - A name for all and no one: Zoroaster as a figure of authorization and a screen of ascription

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  22 September 2009

Michael Stausberg
Professor of the Study of Religion University of Bergen
James R. Lewis
University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee
Olav Hammer
University of Southern Denmark
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Commonly held to be one of the so-called founders of religion which make up “the foremost type of religious authority,” Zoroaster (= Zarathustra) belongs to the list of “sacred names” that stand “for a unique experience and … an uninterchangeable symbol of human faith and hope” – as Joachim Wach puts it in a classical study. As is the case with other “founders,” ancient and modern, the authority ascribed to Zoroaster is intimately linked to a textual corpus embodying what believers regard as divine revelation.

This chapter will contextualize the problem of textual ascriptions and the related inventions of sacred traditions with respect to two different yet interrelated historical lines of development. The first part will briefly discuss the problem of textual ascription with regard to the construction of Zoroastrianism as a chain of transmission (from the divine to the community of believers). Besides Zoroaster, two of his associates are relevant for this process. A spurious text is attributed to one of them in later Iranian Zoroastrian literature, while fragments have been ascribed to the other one outside the Zoroastrian tradition, that is, in the West, since the second century ce. In the course of the development of Zoroastrianism as a religious “system,” the foundational act of divine revelation came to be conceptualized as a verbal exchange (“dialogue”) in which Zoroaster is the colorless, shadowy receiver and transmitter of the divine “revelation discourse” spoken by the god Ahura Mazdā.

Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2007

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