Thursday, October 15, 2009

1) Zarathustra and his impact.

Before this background we should see also the appearance of Zarathustra. Persian tradition knows either three different persons by the name, or title, Zarathustra, or relates to three different periods in which he appeared. In any case, the most likely period of the one who is commonly known as Zarathustra, is the 7th or 6th Century BCE. In one of his Gathas (Divine Songs, or Praises), he prays: “Grant Thou, O Aramaiti (=the unflinching faith in the love of God), strength to Vishtaspa the King, and to me. And Thou, O Mazda, give sovereign power that we Thy devotees may spread about Thy Holy Word” (Yasna 28:7; also 46:14). This Vishtaspa the King (or governor) of Bhaktria and patron of Zarathustra’s teaching, is also mentioned in the Behistun inscription as a contemporary and relative (uncle) of King Cyrus the Great.

The place of Zarathustra’s birth and activity was the land of the Medes. Ancient Persian and Greek traditions mention him as the Spitama Zarathustra, indicating that Spitama was his family name (cf Yasna 46:15), and Zarathustra his epithet.

It is not too far fetched to assume that the fame of the Kings David and Solomon which had reached the Queen of Sheba in the south, had certainly reached peoples in the north, too, and thus perhaps also Zarathustra.

In this context, we should take into account the brief mentioning of an episode from the time of King Ahab, of the (Northern) Kingdom of Israel before its destruction by the Assyrians. After he had routed thoroughly an attacking army of the Arameans (“Syrians” in many English Bibles), some servants of their fleeing King Ben-Hadad advised him: “We have heard that the kings of the house of Israel are merciful kings: let us … put sack cloth on our loins … and go out to the king of Israel [=Ahab]: peradventure he will save thy life…”2a. That is, the humaneness of the kings of Israel must have been a fact well known to the peoples of that time, notwithstanding the prevailing atmosphere of cruelties and atrocities mentioned above.

What is more, Zarathustra might have been influenced also by the culture of those tribes of the Northern Kingdom of Israel who were exiled “into the lands of the Medes” shortly before by the Assyrians, as mentioned. The exile of these tribes, centuries after Abraham had sent his seven sons from Kethura "with gifts" to the east, was like a dissemination of Israel's message unto the nations, not only as a side effect by chance but by Divine intention as we may conclude from Hosea's words: "And I will sow her [Israel] unto me in the earth"3. And Zarathustra may well have been a fruit thereof. - There are traditions that even the famous city of Isfahan was founded by exiled Jews3a.

Notwithstanding the possibility of such influences, Zarathustra must have been quite an autonomous personality, deeply moved by his longing for God on the one hand, and by the awful conditions in which mankind was entangled at his times. A quotation from one of his discourses, or Gathas (songs), in Yasht 29 may illustrate this point, and his character as well4:

"Unto Thee, O Lord, the Soul of Creation cried:

'For whom didst thou create me, and who so fashioned me?

Feuds and fury, violence and the insolence of might

have oppressed me.

None have I to protect me save Thyself,

Command for me, then, the blessings of a settled, peaceful life'. (29-1)

"Thereupon, the Lord Ahura said to Truth:

'Whom wilt thou have as a chief for the world,

to be its protector and its ruler,

who, with his zealous energy, may bring prosperity to it?

Whom wilt thou have as its lord, who may drive off

violence and smite back the forces of Evil?' (29-2)

And thus to the Lord, does Truth reply:

"I know no chief who can give the world shelter from woes;

I know none who knows what moves and works thy lofty plans.

Mazda knows best what works have been wrought

by the followers of evil and by mortal men;

and He knows what shall be wrought for them forever hereafter.

The Lord Ahura is the discerning Judge.

To us let it be as He shall will" (29-3,4)

And thus, we two, my soul and the Soul of Creation,

prayed with hands outstretched to the Lord Ahura,

and thus, we two urged Mazda with entreaties:

"Let not destruction overtake the right-living,

let not the diligent good suffer at the hands of evil" (29-5)

In an ensuing stanza, Zarathustra then prays in a way which sounds like a prayer for a Cyrus type redeemer:

"O Ahura Mazda! Do Thou grant patience and strength to the Soul of Creation;

With the help of Truth and Good Mind,

give mankind power to bring rest and happiness to the world,

of which Thou, my Lord,

art indeed the first Possessor". (32-10).

1 comment:

  1. Salam!

    Thanks Dr.Asher Eder, I am sure this is going to be real interesting book.
    Best Regards,