Zoroastrianism

The Zendavesta.[16]

WHEN  the pure morality of Christianity is adduced as a proof of its high origin, one of the favourite devices of Modern Unbelief is to claim an equally high standard for the morality inculcated by the primitive creeds, and to rain praises upon the ethical systems embodied in the Soûtras of the Buddhists, the Rig-Veda of the Brahmans, or the Zendavesta of the Parsees. In making this claim our philosophers probably calculate on the little knowledge which the multitude possess of any creeds but their own. They are well aware that, to the popular mind, the teaching of Buddha or Zoroaster is necessarily a sealed book, and that the whole extent of its purport is known only to a few scholars. Hence, when they come to support their thesis by quotations, they are able to select those isolated passages which shine with the lustre of genuine diamonds, and produce an absolutely false impression of the general character of the writings in which they occur; thin veins of precious metal shining here and there through masses of worthless ore. No doubt the Veda contains numerous utterances of the highest beauty, in which the soul's devotion to a Supreme Power is expressed with a lyrical fervour inferior only to that of the Sweet Singer of Israel. No doubt the Zendavesta, or the books of K'ung-fu-tze, like the works of later and maturer intellects—a Xenophon and a Plato, a Seneca and a Marcus Aurelius—are enriched with thoughts of theloftiest description, and frequently breathe the most exalted aspirations. But what we have to remember is, that these are wholly exceptional; that they are the most arduous efforts of each self-absorbed thinker, and the indications of his boldest flights. At other times the wing grows feeble; at other times the music is faint and even discordant; the bird can do no more than creep along the ground. In the sayings of our Lord, however, or in the writings of His Apostles, the tone is always sustained, clear, definite. There is no uncertainty or hesitation. Nothing mean or unworthy is woven in their texture. No concessions are made to man's coarser desires or grosser passions. The system set before us is rounded in perfection, and shows not a flaw from beginning to end. We feel that He who speaks, whether in His own Person or through His disciples, speaks as never man spoke before; and that the Voice which fills our ears and stirs our hearts is, in deed and in truth, a Voice from Heaven.

We propose to furnish in this chapter a general view of the construction and teaching of the Parsee Scriptures, with the view of showing the signal inferiority of the creed it embodies to Christianity in all that can elevate the mind and satisfy the soul. At the same time we admit that the Parsee creed, and all similar creeds, possess an intrinsic value, apart from their ethical deficiencies, as illustrating the recognition of an Almighty Will, an Eternal and Supreme Force, by all the higher races of mankind. They show us the hopes, fears, and desires of great tribes and peoples which existed in the days before men wrote history; and they show us how their wisest teachers groped in the dark, and stumbled in the thorny path,—favoured occasionally, it is true, with a wonderful glimpse of light, and striking now and again into the pleasant places, but never rejoicing in the glory which rose upon earth with the Sun of Righteousness, never treading in that narrow but secure way which leads to Eternal Life. We see in them the great minds of the early world, like children on the seashore, perplexed by a music which they could not comprehend, and astonished by a power which they were unable to define. Yet happier and wiser they than the cold materialist of a later age, who resolves all mysteries, all phenomena, into the working of ablind inflexible Law, and takes out of creation its light, beauty, and joy by denying the existence of an all-powerful and all-loving Creator.

The religion professed by the ancient Persians, and still accepted by the Parsees of Western India, and by a scattered population in Yezd and Kerman, is taught in the books known as the Zend-Avesta. This title comes from the Sassanian term Avesta  or Apusta, that is, the text;[17] and Zend, or Zand, that is, the commentary upon it. The meaning of the latter word, however, seems to have varied at different periods. Originally it signified the interpretation of the sacred texts handed down from Zoroaster (or Zarathustra) and his disciples. In course of time the interpretation came to be esteemed not less authoritative and sacred than the original text, and both were called Avesta. But the language in which they were written having died out, they became unintelligible to the majority of the people, and a new Zend  or commentary was required before they could be understood. The new “Zend” was the work of the most learned priests of the Sassanian period, and consisted of a translation of the double “Avesta” into the vernacular language then in vogue.[18] And as this translation is the only key which the priests of modern Persia possess to the old creed as taught by Zarathustra, it has usurped the place of the original Zend, and is now the recognised official commentary.

But, anciently, the word “Zend” implied something more than a simple interpretation of the “Avesta,” or sacred texts. That interpretation was the source of certain new doctrines, the whole of which were considered orthodox, and designated Zandi-agahi, or Zend doctrines; doctrines which, it can hardly be doubted, supplied Plutarch and some other of the Greeks with ethical suggestions. The name Pazend, which frequently occurs in connection with Avesta  and Zend, denotes a further exposition of Zarathustrian teaching, as contained in the Vendidad, to which we shall shortly refer.

Thus far we have been indebted to Dr. Haug's account of the origin of the Zendavesta. His views are confirmed by Westergaard, who asserts that the sacred books belong to two epochs; that is, that they are written in one age, and collected and systematised in another, in much the same way as, according to Wolf, the Homeric poems were produced and assumed their present form. All the earlier traditions ascribe their origin to Zarathustra; but modern philologists affirm that they could not have sprung from any single mind, because they present no defined or self-consistent system of religious belief or moral economy. Like the hymns of the Vedas, and the strains of the Norse Edda, the several portions of the Zendavesta, so they say, must have been composed by different bards, each of whom coloured his particular theme according to the hues of his lively imagination. This theory, however, though it may have an element of truth in it, is hardly the whole truth. The Zendavesta is unquestionably wanting in unity and completeness. But it seems to us that traces of a dominant mind are everywhere visible; that the various parts are held together as on a thread by the teaching of Zarathustra himself; and that the additions made by later and inferior writers are not such as wholly to obscure the original work.

It is to the celebrated Frenchman, Anquetil Duperron, that the scholars of the West owe their knowledge of these remarkable books. Happening to see a facsimile of a few pages written in Zend characters, he resolved on setting out for India in order to purchase manuscripts of all the sacred books of the Zarathustrian religion, to acquire a thorough insight into their signification, and to obtain a knowledge of the rites and religious observances of the Parsees. His means being limited, he entered himself as a sailor on board a ship of the Dutch Indian Company, and worked his way out to Bombay in 1754. With money supplied by the French Government to assist him in his ingenious researches, he bribed one of the most learned dustoors  or priests, Dustoor Darat, or Surat, to procure the treasures he desired, and to instruct him in the Zend and Pehlvi languages. As soon as he had acquired the requisite proficiency, he addressed himself to the task of translating the whole of the Zendavesta into French. This was in 1759. Returning to Europe, he convinced himself of the genuineness of his purchases by comparing them with MSS. in the Bodleian Library; and, after several years of arduous labour, produced the first European version in 1771. At the outset, the authenticity of his work was challenged both in England and Germany; but all doubts have been set at rest by the inquiries of Rask and others; and thus, through the fanciful enterprise of a young Frenchman, the veil has been lifted which for so long a period shrouded the mysterious religion of the Magi.

We do not, however, possess the whole of the Avesta. It is asserted by an Arabian writer that Zarathustra himself covered with his verses no fewer than twelve thousand parchments, and who shall compute the extent of the literature accumulated by his disciples? Whether this literature perished at the epoch of the Macedonian conquest of Persia, or whether it was destroyed by Alexander the Great, or whether it gradually perished as the influence of the Greek philosophy prevailed over the Zarathustrian theology, it is impossible to determine. The remains of the sacred books, however, with short summaries of their contents, have been handed down to us. Originally they were twenty-one in number, called Nosks, and each Nosk  consisting of “Avesta” and “Zend”—text and commentary. The number twenty-one corresponded to the number of words composing the “Honovar,” or most sacred prayer, of the Zarathustrians. It is, we may add, a magical number, being the result of the multiplication of the sacred numbers, three  and seven.

Of these divisions the précis  now extant, and collected for the first time by the Danish scholar Westergaard, comprise the following books: First, the Yasna, which sets before us the devotions proper to be offered in connection with the sacrificial ceremonies. This Yasna is divided into seventy-two chapters, representing the six Yahânhârs, or “seasons” during which Ahura-Mazda, the Good Principle, created the world. The reader will here note the coincidence between the six creative seasons of the Magian seer, and the six creative days of the Hebrew lawgiver. The Yasna consists of two parts, the older of which is written in what is called the Gâtha dialect, and had acquired a peculiar sanctity prior to the date of composition of the other books. It may be described as a treasury of songs, hymns, and metrical prayers, which embody a variety of abstruse reflections upon subjects of metaphysical inquiry, and are much better adapted to stimulate the intellect of the student than to foster the devotion of the worshipper. They are rhymeless, like the poetical effusions of Cædmon, and in their metrical structure bear a curious resemblance to the Vedic hymns. Of these collections, or Gâthas, there are five, and their leading title seems to be: “The Revealed Thought, the Revealed Word, and the Revealed Deed of Zarathustra the Holy.” It is added that the Archangels first sang the Gâthas. Their general purport is an exposition of the work and teaching of the great founder of Magianism, who is represented as inveighing against a belief in the devas, or gods, and exhorting his disciples to lift up their hearts only to Ahura-Mazda, the Supreme Goodness.

Now it seems necessary to correct a popular error, that the Zendavesta is largely liturgical: an error confirmed by the assertion of Gibbon, who says: “Every mode of religion, to make a deep and lasting impression on the human mind, must exercise our obedience, by enjoining practices of devotion for which we can assign no reason; and must acquire our esteem by inculcating moral duties analogous to the dictates of our own hearts. The religion of Zoroaster was abundantly provided with the former, and possessed a sufficient portion of the latter.” But Zarathustra himself, in one of his best-known precepts, warns his followers that “he who sows the ground with care and diligence, acquires a greater stock of religious merit than he would gain by the repetition of ten thousand prayers.” It is the tendency of all ethico-religious systems, at least in their earliest stage of development, to discourage purely liturgical observances, and to enjoin on the disciple a state of self-concentration and self-absorption varied only by physical activity. Unaided by a divine Revelation, their founders never rise higher than the passive virtues of endurance and patience. As time passes away, and the new creed falls into the hands of a special school of expounders, minute rites and rigid practices are accumulated in order to impose upon the neophyte, and deepen the influence of those who alone possess a clue to their meaning. The formalities which encumber the Zarathustrian worship were invented long after the death of the master, and no indication of them appears in the oldest section of the Zendavesta. They are to be found chiefly in the much later pages of the Sadder, where fifteen different genuflexions and prayers are required of the devout Persian every time he cuts his finger-nails!

To return to the Yasna. The Gâthas, of which we have been speaking, were not improbably composed by Zarathustra himself, and may be held to express his belief and his thoughts in his own words. The second part, or “Younger Yasna,” is of a much later date and less lofty tone. The invention of some of the Master's disciples or priests, it re-establishes the Polytheism which Zarathustra so strenuously condemned; and furnishes the believer with a manual of prayers and incantations (in prose) to the genii of the woods and streams and hills, the powers of fire and earth and water, and all the invisible spirits which haunt the luminous air.

We come next to the Visparad, a collection of prayers in three-and-twenty chapters, written in Zend, and of a similar tenour to those in the younger Yasna. These prayers refer to the preparation of the sacred water, and the consecration of certain offerings—such as the sacred bread—which are carried round about the sacred fire, and after having been exhibited to it, are eaten by the priest and by the votary on whose behalf the ceremony is performed.

The Yashts  (Yêsti)—that is, worship by prayers and sacrifices—fall to be considered in the third place. Of these devotions, which are consecrated to the praise and worship of one Divine Being, and of a certain limited group of inferior deities, twenty-four are extant. In using them the votary endeavours, by a wearisome enumeration of the glorious achievements of the deity he is addressing, and of the miracles he has wrought, to induce him to come and enjoy the meal prepared for him, and then to bestow on his fervid worshipper a blessing not inferior to the boons bestowed on his children in bygone times. So far as concerns the legendary history of the ancient Iranians, and in connection with their belief in the pantheon of Magianism, the Yashts are of great value, and indeed, from this point of view, are the most precious portion of the Zendavesta.

While the three parts already described exhibit more or less of a liturgical character, the fourth division, known as the Vendidad, forms a collection of customs, observances, laws, pains, and penalties, the growth of a period much later than that of Zarathustra, when Ritual began its encroachments on Religion. It is the essence of all genuine  Ritual that it should illustrate and explain Doctrine, but this is never found to be the case in the primitive creeds. In all such it becomes merely the ingenious invention of a subtle priesthood, by which its members established their influence over an ignorant community. In the eyes of the unlearned its complex character invested it with an air of mystery; they were led to look upon the “form” as of greater importance than the “spirit,” and to attribute a strange, a wonderful potency to rites and ceremonies which they could not understand. While it is the special feature of the faith of Christ  that it appeals in its sweet simplicity to every heart, and that it requires of the believer to present himself before the altar with the innocence and trustfulness of a little child; that it seeks not to confuse by a multiplicity of minute observances, and even sums up its leading tenets in two brief and easily intelligible commandments; Magianism, conscious of its inherent defects, unable to fall back on the redeeming sacrifice of a Saviour , deficient in any enduring principle of vitality, sought to build up its structure on a foundation of ceremonies and formalities. And when it could not feed the soul with the bread of truth, it dazzled the senses by imposing spectacles, and confused the imagination with a cumbrous code of the most complicated ritualistic frivolities; so that the Persian worship, with its incantations and devices, laid the foundation of the later Magic.


Turning our attention now to that portion of the Zendavesta which is called the Vendidad, we find that it is divided into twenty-two Fargards, or chapters.

In the first of these we find an account of the creation by Ahura-Mazda, of sixteen holy regions, sinless spotless Edens, localities of perfect bliss; each of which is destroyed in succession by Ahriman, the Spirit of Evil,—a fable evidently suggested by the Mosaic history of Paradise. The second treats of a certain king, Yimo Vivaugham, who introduced agriculture into the land of Iran. The third sets forth the various means by which Zoma, or the Earth, may be rendered happy. You must beware of excavating deep holes in it, for through these the devs, or demons, pass to and fro between hell and earth; nor must you bury within it the dead bodies of men or dogs, or other animals. The fourth chapter enumerates six categories of crime, and the several punishments connected with them. The fifth and sixth are occupied with a description of various kinds of impurity. The seventh and eighth contain liturgical directions in reference to the disposal of the carcases of men and dogs;[19] and it is stated that whoever eats of flesh so unclean can never be purified, but that hell will undoubtedly be his portion. Even the house in which a man or a dog dies must immediately be purified by the use of incense or sweet-smelling odours; a sanitary precaution of some importance in hot climates. In the ninth occurs an elaborate detail of the rite of purification denominated the Barathium, to be performed by, and on behalf of a person who shall have been unwittingly defiled by touching the dead. The tenth and eleventh are not less minute in their directions what word must be repeated twice, and thrice, and four times at the different Gâthas, in order that Ahriman and his lieutenants may be expelled from men and women who have been in contact with the dead, and from houses, cities, and provinces into which they have obtained an entrance.

The twelfth Fargard treats of various funeral ceremonies, and repeats a number of injunctions relative to the cleansing of places, of clothes and other articles, polluted by lifeless bodies. It concludes with elaborate warnings against a two-footed dev, called Ashmog. The thirteenth and fourteenth run riot in praise of the noble qualities of dogs, and severe in their rebuke of the “superior animals” who ill-use them. The fifteenth reads like a Commination Service, in its denunciation of certain crimes which can never be undone even by the profoundest penitential offices, and are punished by Ahura-Mazda with eternal condemnation. The seventeenth, like the sixteenth, is tediously liturgical, and discusses such minutiæ as the arrangement of the hair of the head, the extraction of bad or gray hairs, and the cutting ofnails. If these operations are performed without certain prescribed ceremonies, the devs come upon earth, and parasitical organisms are produced to the great discomfort and injury of man. The eighteenth lays down the distinctions which should characterise an Athrava, or priest. He must wear the padan, a mouth-cover, of two fingers' breadth; must carry an instrument for disposing of parasitical insects; devote his nights to study, keep alive the sacred fire, and succour the distressed. The nineteenth chapter recounts the perils to which Zarathustra was exposed, when he had left the south on his mission, from the murderous assaults of Ahriman and his host, who hastened up from the north; the north, to an inhabitant of the warm sunny south, naturally appearing the fit home and haunt of the Spirit of Evil. The twentieth is devoted to the praise of Taneslied, who is represented as having swept away disease, death, bloodshed, war, evil-doers, falsehood, and all kinds of wickedness. The twenty-first enjoins the salutations to be paid to the sacred Bull, and extols some of its illustrious qualities. Finally, the twenty-second narrates the mission of Zarathustra, and describes the evil he will dispel through the influence of the Word; Ahura-Mazda having ordered him to establish his worship in the region called Airya-Mava, or Irman, so that it may become bright, pure, and happy as the abode of Ahura-Mazda himself, free from sin, and, consequently, free from sorrow and suffering.

From this brief summary it will be seen that the religion of the Parsees in its present form is a definite Dualism, recognizing the existence of two distinct principles, Good and Evil, impersonated by spirits of equal power, named Ahura-Mazda, (or Spento-Manyus,) and Ahriman, (or Angro-Manyus.) But no such doctrine was taught by Zarathustra himself. His creed, like all the earliest creeds, was purely Monotheistic. He set before men, as the sole object of their love and adoration, one Supreme Being, Ahura-Mazda, the great “Life-Giver” or the “Living Wisdom,” as the name is variously explained. Nor was his conception of this one God altogether unworthy of the Founder of a Religion. He does not represent Him, indeed, as the “Father,” loving, sympathetic, compassionate, and so full of condescension, that He is willing to give His Son to die for the salvation of erring Humanity; for he did not enjoy that fuller revelation of the Divine Nature which was vouchsafed to the Hebrew race. But he shows Him as the “Lord over all lords, the Forgiving, the Omniscient.” He is ineffably pure, the source of all Truth, the Holy God. In the Khordah Avesta, Zarathustra is introduced as inquiring: “Tell me the name, O pure Ahura-Mazda, which is Thy greatest, best, and fairest name?” Ahura-Mazda replies: “My name is He who may be questioned: the Gatherer of the people: the Most Pure: He who takes account of the actions of men. My name is God (Ahura); My name is the Great Wise One (Mazdas.) I am the All-Seeing, the Desirer of Good for My creatures, He who cannot be deceived: the Protector: the Tormentor of tormentors: He who smiteth once and only once: the Creator of All.”

His happiness, like His holiness, is without spot or blemish; every blessing is His that man can imagine—health and wealth, virtue, wisdom, prosperity, immortality; and these blessings He is willing to bestow on His creatures if in thought and word and deed they eschew impurity. But we nowhere read that He will assist them in the struggle against sin by creating in them a new heart, or by vouchsafing the grace of His Holy Spirit. The mystery of the Atonement was beyond the reach of the soul and intellect even of Zarathustra; and the highest conception of God to which he could attain was that of a Being of perfect Goodness, sitting enthroned in a strange awful loneliness, with no other feeling than that of approval of Good and disapproval of Evil. He is, of course, the supreme type of Power: all that is  flows from Him, as light from the Sun: He creates both the shadow and the brightness of the human existence, good and ill, fortune and misfortune. So far above all human intelligence is He placed, that images of Him are forbidden, though He is understood to be symbolised by the sun and by fire. He can be served only by prayers and offerings, by a life of purity and truth, by abstinence from sinful passions, by the banishment of sinful thoughts. Thus Herodotus says of the Zarathustrians, that they reject the use of temples, of altars, and of statues. “They smile,” he says, “at the folly of those nations who imagine that the Gods are descended from, or have any affinity with, human nature. The loftiest mountain-tops are the places chosen for their sacrifices. Hymns and prayers are their principal forms of worship. And the Supreme God, who fills the vast sphere of Heaven, is the object to whom they are addressed.”

The service of Ahura-Mazda consisted, then, as we see, in the performance of good works, in the cultivation of virtue, and in the due offering up of prayer and praise. It was an intellectual worship that Zarathustra prescribed; a worship that might assist in the development of a high morality, but could not inculcate a deep and true religious feeling. Of contrition for sin, of humbling oneself before God, of self-sacrifice and self-abnegation, of love, and faith, and hope, the creed of Zarathustra took no account. And here, as well as elsewhere, we observe its vast inferiority to the religion of Christ. It made no provision for the awakening and fostering of those tender emotions of profound humility, thankful adoration, and unutterable gratitude which are awakened in the Christian's heart by the name of Jesus. It could never have called forth such an utterance of the son's glad submission to the will of the Father  as we find, for example, in the ejaculatory verse of Ben Jonson:

“Hear me, O God !
A broken heart
Is my best part:
Use still Thy rod,
That I may prove
Therein Thy love.

“If Thou hadst not
Been stern to me,
But left me free,
I had forgot
Myself and Thee.

“For sin's so sweet,
As minds ill-bent
Rarely repent,
Until they meet
Their punishment.”

Such lines as these indicate a relation between man and his God  which could never obtain between the Zarathustrian and his Ahura-Mazda. His was a cold, unimpassioned, logical creed, warmed by no single heart-throb of Divine love and mercy; a creed which demanded human worship for a sinless God, but did not invite human faith in a loving Redeemer; and, consequently, a creed which left untouched the deepest springs and most responsive chords of our humanity.


Both the excellencies and the short-comings of Magianism are shown in the confessions and prayers included in the Zendavesta. For example, there is much that is elevated and noble in the following, yet its tone is curiously Pharisaical, and may be contrasted with that of Ben Jonson's verses. Instead of being the aspiration of a sinful soul after forgiveness, and a reaching forth towards love and light, it is the self-eulogium of a mind confident in its own sustaining power, and to appreciate its weakness we need only to contrast it with the fervour of a David or a S. Paul. We remember that the Hebrew king exclaimed: “My heart panteth, my strength faileth me: as for the light of mine eyes, it also is gone from me,” and how the Apostle confessed himself “the chief of sinners.” With no such aching consciousness of weakness does the Zarathustrian bow himself before God. There is all the pride of self-righteousness in his prayer. Thus:

“I remain standing fast in the statutes of the law which Ahura-Mazda gave to Zarathustra. As long as life endures I will stand fast in good thoughts in my soul, in good words in my speech, in good deeds in my actions. With all good am I in harmony, with all evil am I at variance. With the punishments of the future life I am content. I have taken hold of good thoughts, words, and works. I have forsaken evil thoughts, words, and works. May the power of Ahriman be broken! may the reign of Ahura-Mazda increase!”

And again:

“I am steadfast in this faith, and turn myself not away from it, for the sake of a happy life, or for the sake of a longer life, nor for power, nor for a kingdom. If I must give up my body for the sake of my soul, I give it willingly. I believe firmly in the good Mazda-yusaian faith; in the Resurrection; in the bridge of souls,[20] in the invariable reward of good deeds and punishment of bad deeds, in the everlasting continuance of paradise and the annihilation of hell; and I believe that, at the last, Ahura-Mazda will be victorious, and Ahrimanes will perish with the Devs, and all the children of darkness.... I am full of hope that I shall attain to Paradise and the shining Garathânan, where all majesty dwelleth. I make this confession in the hope that I may hereafter become more zealous to accomplish good works and keep myself more from sin; and that my good deeds may serve for the diminution of evil and the increase of good till the rising again.”

We know the form of prayer taught us by Jesus Christ ; how simple it is, how complete, how absolute in its renunciation of self, how comprehensive in its charity. “Thy will be done”.... “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive them who trespass against us”.... “Lead us not into temptation.” Such are its leading thoughts: submission before God , charity before Man; both implying and demanding the conquest and humiliation of self. Let us contrast it with a Zarathustrian prayer:

“In the name of God the Giver and Forgiver, Rich in Love, praise be to Ahura-Mazda, the God with the name ... ‘Who always was, always is, and always will be.'... Ahura-Mazda the Wise, the Creator, the Over-seeing God, pure, good, and just! With all strength bring I thank-offerings and praise to the Lord, the completer of good works, who made men greater than all earthly beings, and through the gift of speech created them to rule over the creatures and to war against the evil spirits. Praise to the omniscience of God who has sent through the holy Zarathustra power and knowledge of the law. All good do I accept at Thy command, O God, and think, speak, and do it. I believe in the pure law, and by every good work I seek forgiveness for sins. I keep pure the six powers—thought, speech, act, memory, reason, understanding. According to Thy will am I able to fulfil (these resolutions.) O Accomplisher of Good, to Thy honour are good thoughts, good words, and good works. I enter on the shining way to Paradise. May the terror of hell not overcome me! May I pass the bridge Chinavat and attain to Paradise, the bright and odoriferous, where are all joys. Praise to the Lord who awards those who accomplish good deeds according to His will, who purifies the obedient, and at last purifies the wicked in hell. All praise be to the Creator, Ahura-Mazda, the All-Wise, the Mighty, the Rich in Love.”


Prayer, according to Zarathustra, is not the humbling of the soul before its Creator, not the aspirations of the spirit towards the Source of all Love and Mercy, not the desire of the creature to be at peace with God , but the renunciation of will,—a noble and worthy aim in itself, but not fulfilling the Christian idea of prayer. To do good and to shun evil is, no doubt, the motive of the Christian life; but prayer is something more and something higher, the sacrifice of an humble and a contrite heart.

“Heaven is the magazine wherein God  puts
Both good and evil; prayer's the key that shuts
And opens this great treasure; 'tis a key
Whose wards are Faith, and Hope, and Charity.
Wouldst thou prevent a judgment due to sin?
Turn but the key and thou mayst lock it in.
Or wouldst thou have a blessing fall upon thee!
Open the door and it will shower on thee.”[21]

But no such conception as this is discernible throughout the length and breadth of the Parsee Scriptures, which here, as elsewhere, and in relation to other matters, attain a lofty, but not the loftiest, level; rise above earth, but do not soar to Heaven. They seem instinct with echoes of the original revelation vouchsafed to man, but those echoes are faint and imperfect; whereas, in the Hebrew creed, the voices of God  are repeated with a fulness and a power which leaves the heart nothing to desire. In this vast superiority we cannot fail to see a strong and striking proof of its authenticity. If it be found difficult to account for the moral excellence and æsthetic beauty of Zarathustrianism without tracing it back in some indirect way to a Divine origin; how shall we explain the sublimity and grandeur of the Hebrew Theism, unless we admit that it is all it professes to be,—is, in very truth, the expression of the will of the everliving God ?

We have spoken of Zarathustra's religion as originally monotheistic; its purity, however, was not long preserved, and the cause of its corruption lay in itself. Zarathustra could not deny the existence of Evil, and to explain it was driven to concoct an extraordinary hypothesis. As in every electrified object there are two poles, a positive and a negative, so, according to the Prophet, in Ahura-Mazda, and in all rational beings, man included, are present a good and holy Will, and its shadow or negative,—a higher and a lower nature,—the Positive and the Negative Mind. How Zarathustra reconciled this idea with his conception of Ahura-Mazda, as Perfect Goodness, we are unable to comprehend. At all events, it contained the germs of the future Dualism of the Persian religion. The Negative Mind soon came to be separated from the good and holy Will, and was quickly personified as an independent evil being, a Power of Night and Darkness, Ahriman (Angro-Manyus,) equal in might to Ahura-Mazda, and disputing with him the possession of the world. Thus arose the myth of the constant struggle between the two powers, as between Day and Night; the servants of Ahura-Mazda being sent forth to encounter, resist, and overcome the slaves and works of Ahriman, thereby bringing about the end of all things, when Ahriman himself should be vanquished and reconciled.

In course of time the difficulties of this dual theory were detected by acute intellects, and at the Sassanian Revival an attempt was made to dispose of them by introducing the doctrine of Monotheism under a new form, that of a Great Primal Cause (Zervana Akarana), the Boundless Time or Uncreated Whole, such as we trace in the later Greek poetry, and apparently rather a “metaphysical abstraction,” like the Greek Ἀνάγκη, or the Roman Nemesis, than “an active and presiding deity.” Thence proceeded both the Good and the Evil Principles; the two antagonist creators who balanced against each other in perpetual conflict a race of spiritual and material beings, light and darkness, good and evil. The wise benevolence of Ahura-Mazda formed men capable of virtuous impulses, and endowed each with everything that could contribute to his happiness. He preserved by his watchful providence the harmonious movements of the planets, and the temperate combination of the elements. But the malice of Ahriman has long since pierced Ahura-Mazda's “egg;” in other words, violated the sweet accord and bounteous beauty of His works. Since that fatal irruption, the most minute articles of good and evil are alternately commingled and agitated together; the most poisonous herbs spring up among the most wholesome plants; the warfare of deluges, earthquakes, and conflagrations disturbs the serenity of nature; and humanity is subjected to all the blighting influences of sin, suffering, and sorrow. While the rest of mankind were led away captive in the chains of their terrible enemy, the faithful Persian alone remained constant in his faith in Ahura-Mazda, and fought under his banner of light, looking forward to a triumphant day when Good should prevail over all the world.

It seems to us impossible to doubt that, in this later development of the Zoroastrian faith, its priests and teachers were largely indebted to the Sacred Writings, though into what they borrowed they introduced much original and fanciful speculation.

A Parsee, with a firm faith in Ahura-Mazda, and conscious of having obeyed the law, offered up prayer and praise, and renounced, in intention at least, evil thoughts and deeds and words, lay down on his death bed in a certain hope and expectation of the Eternal life. We have seen that the Zendavesta appointed a variety of penances, by the performance of which the believer obtained immediate pardon for ordinary transgressions; and therefore, full of the self-righteousness which his creed was so well adapted to inculcate, he faced the passage of the Dark River without fear. He knew not of any need to implore the mercy of a Redeemer, to humble himself in sackcloth and ashes, to base his hope on the infinite love of God  made man, on the glorious sacrifice of the Cross; his soul passed straight to Paradise, as an arrow flies towards its mark. In the Khordah Avesta we can follow the stages of its journey:—On the first night after death the soul dwelt near the head of the inanimate body it had just deserted, and sat there praying, rejoicing in as much joy as is vouchsafed to the whole living world. And so did it dwell on the second night, praying. And so did it dwell on the third night, praying. But when the third night verged upon dawn, the soul of the pure man went forward. A wind, sweeter than all other winds, blew to meet it from the south. And in that wind came to embrace the pilgrim his own law, under the figure of a maiden beautiful and shining, fair as the fairest of created beings. The pilgrim then took the first step in his celestial progress, and arrived in the paradise Hamata ; he took the second, and reached the paradise Hûkhta ; he took the third, and arrived at the paradise Hvarsta. The beatified wanderer made yet another step, and gained the presence of the Eternal Light. There was he addressed by an already beatified soul: “How art thou, O pure deceased, who hast come from the perishable world hither to the imperishable?” Ahura-Mazda here interrupted: “Ask him not, for he has come on the fearful trembling way, the separation of soul and body. Bring him hither of the food of the full fatness, that is, of the filling food for those who think, speak, and do good, for the pure after death.”

A recent writer says of this notion of a progressive advance to the “Eternal Light,” of the welcome received from the blessed, and from the gentle words of Ahura-Mazda himself; and of the conducting angel who represents the man's own earthly faith and life, (like Bunyan's Mr. Good-Conscience meeting old Honest beside the River of Death,) “all these,” he says, “are beautiful thoughts.” Surely fanciful, rather than beautiful; and better adapted to amuse religious sentimentalists than to satisfy healthy and earnest believers. The obvious reference to the three days and nights spent by our Lord  “in prison” appears to indicate that this is a comparatively modern portion of the Zendavesta, founded upon some vague knowledge of the mystery of the Resurrection.

While the pure soul proceeded, as we have seen, by three stages or gradations to the Paradise of Light and Sweetness, the evil and unclean soul, on the other hand, descended, also by three stages, to the terrors of Douzakh, the dark abode of Ahriman and the Devs. There it suffered according to its sinfulness until the general day of Resurrection. At that great epoch these nights of indescribable woe will be undergone by all who have not expiated their earthly offences; woe so terrible, that the Blessed, looking down upon it from their celestial battlements, will be moved to tears of pity. And then the massive mountains and the solid rocks shall be melted by the heat, and streams of liquid gold shall flow, in which both the pure and evil shall receive a regenerating bath. Ahriman and his devs shall share in the universal happiness, and all created life shall swell the song of praise sent up in honour of Ahura-Mazda.

While we are unable to doubt that in the Zendavesta, as it has come down to us, may be traced the direct influence of the Hebrew creed, and that ideas and principles of a still later date were borrowed more or less closely from Christianity, we can as little doubt that Zarathustrianism had no inconsiderable effect on the Jewish popular belief. The Jewish prophets, after the Captivity, would seem to have adopted much of what may be called their poetic language and machinery from the writings of the Magian teachers. The Talmud contains unmistakable evidence of its indebtedness to the same source. The Angelology of the Jewish doctors originated, probably during the captivity of the Tribes in Babylonia, in the Magian superstitions; and it was then that the complete angelic hierarchy was evolved, with its seven great archangels corresponding to the seven Amchaspands of the Zendavesta. It was then that for the first time the Jewish popular creed recognised the existence of two antagonistic hosts of spiritual beings, arrayed against each other in everlasting battle. Then was developed the fancy of a guardian angel attending every individual to shelter him from the malignant hostility of his Dev or demon. So that much of the mythology which Milton employs so effectively in “Paradise Lost,” having borrowed it from the traditions and legends of the Hebrew race, came originally from the far East, and was invented by the followers of Zarathustra. The Miltonic and popular conception of Satan, so unlike the Biblical representation of the great Destroyer, was largely coloured from the Magian sketch of Ahriman, the Power of Darkness.

It is certain that the grand and lofty Hebrew revelation of the One God  was modified and debased by its contact with the Magian teaching. It has been well remarked that wherever any approximation had been made to this sublime truth of the existence of the one great First Cause, either “awful religious reverence” or “philosophic abstraction” had removed the Creative Power absolutely out of the range of human sense, and supposed that the intercourse of the Divinity with man, the moral government, and even the actual creative work, had been carried on by the intermediate agency of, in Oriental phrase, an Emanation, or, in Platonic language, of the “Wisdom,” “Reason,” or “Intelligence” of the Supreme. The Jews, under the influence of their intercourse with the Persians, adopted that conception, and, departing from the path laid down for them by Revelation, interposed one or more intermediate beings as the channels of communication between God  and man. The Apostle seizes on the popular fancy, and endeavours to restore from it the original truth, when he tells his readers that the “Word” of which they spoke so vaguely and presumptuously was none other than God  Himself,—the Son  of God , but equal with the Father ,—the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person. He showed them that the mediation between the lofty spiritual nature of God  and the intellectual and moral being of Man was not to be accomplished through any independent agency, but by the revelation of God  Himself in the person and presence of His beloved Son. That this, the essential and central truth of Christianity, was one which the unassisted human intellect could never have developed we know, from the fact that it is found in no creed of admittedly human origin, and that it is never clearly set forth even in any religious system which has borrowed from Christianity.

We can imagine the ability of man to shape out for himself an idea of some awful Power, some mighty First Cause, which created and ordered the universe, and controlled and shaped its destinies. Looking around upon creation, he might, perhaps, without any severe intellectual effort, attain to the thought of a Creator. This conception once realised, he might in due time come to believe that the Creator could be pleased or angered by the doings of His creatures; and that the anger of One so powerful would be something to dread and avoid. But the idea of this grand and terrible Creator sending from Heaven His own Son to take upon Himself humanity, and thereby save the creature from the just wrath it had provoked, and the dread retribution it had deserved,—an idea, so glorious and consoling, could never, we believe, have been grasped by the loftiest human intellect, unless aided by a revelation from above.

The exact relation of Zarathustrianism to Christianity it is somewhat difficult to define, because a cloud of doubt and uncertainty hangs over the compilation of the later portions of the Zendavesta. While the great antiquity of the Gâthas cannot be disputed, while there is clear evidence that they contain much of the original teaching of Zarathustra,—teaching nobler and more exalted than that of his followers,—it seems not less certain that the doctrines of the Resurrection and the Future Life were borrowed from the Hebrews. What then is left to justify a comparison with Christianity? The keynote of its scheme is intellectual pride; that of the Christian religion, spiritual abasement. The former urges on its disciples the necessity of good thoughts, words, and deeds in order to please Ahura-Mazda; the latter, as a proof of faith in the mission of its Founder. The former teaches an excellent code of morals, so far as relates to the individual; the latter lays down one golden rule, “Do unto others as thou wouldest they should do unto thee.” The former enforces the law of self-control; the latter of self-renunciation. It is impossible to pretend that Magianism shows the same insight into man's wants, failings, passions, temptations, as Christianity shows; or provides a system so capable of adaptation to every age, and rank, and character.

We see no reason to doubt the authenticity and antiquity of the Zendavesta; but it is somewhat surprising that scholars who make haste to accept it  as genuine, should show so much scepticism in reference to the Christian Scriptures. Surely, as regards the latter, the evidence of genuineness is infinitely stronger than as regards the former. We know that they were implicitly accepted by men who lived almost in the very time of those who recorded them; on the other hand, of Zarathustra and his contemporaries or successors we know absolutely nothing. Some authorities represent him to have flourished as early as 2200 b.c.; others as late as 500 b.c. Some consider him to have been the founder of a dynasty; others invest him with a supernatural personality. But at the best he remains nominis umbra ; as indistinct and shadowy, as in his teaching he is cold and clear. Of the authenticity of his writings the principal proofs are those derivable from the writings themselves. But if we allow that such proofs are admissible, what shall we say of those to be found in the Gospels and Epistles? As their morality is so much more elevated than that of the Zendavesta, so is the certainty of their Divine origin infinitely more assured. The class of testimony which asserts the authenticity of the one not less convincingly affirms the genuineness of the other. And if the Gospels are all that they purport to be, how can we avoid the conclusion that they are truthful also in the witness they bear to the life and character of Christ ?

We may point to a remarkable contrast between Magianism and Christianity,—that the former has undergone an almost complete revolution of meaning and doctrine, while, in spite of sectarian glosses, the latter remains virtually unaltered. The faith once for all delivered to the saints is held by believers to-day in all its original purity. We repeat the Creed just as it fell from the rapt lips of martyrs, saints and confessors. But the monotheism of Zarathustra has been broken up into a curious Dualism; and upon the religious system of the Gâthas has been accumulated such a burden of ritual, of novel teaching, of borrowed dogmas, and alien mysteries, that the acutest students are almost baffled in their endeavours to distinguish the false from the true, and the new from the old. It is almost impossible to determine what belongs to the Zarathustrian original, and what to perversions or adaptations from the Jewish Scriptures.

It is an indisputable testimony to the living force and divine genius of Christianity, that it occupies a void which no one of the primitive religions has ever been able to fill. We find it difficult to conceive that any man who has once been a Christian could voluntarily embrace Zarathustrianism or Buddhism, and attempt to satisfy his soul with it, any more than with the philosophy of the Stoics. We are tempted to ask, indeed, whether either could at any time have satisfied the cravings of humanity. We know that all their ethical schemes could not lift the sages of Greece and Rome out of the deep, the intense sadness which possessed them, nor respond to their yearnings after a something they could neither describe nor define. Their state of thought and feeling has been expressed by a modern poet, Matthew Arnold, with what seems to us a wonderful fidelity:—

“Nor only in the intent
To attach blame elsewhere,
Do we at will invent
Stern powers who make their care
To embitter human life, malignant deities.

“But next, we would reverse
The scheme ourselves have spun,
And what we made to curse
We now would lean upon,
And feign kind gods who perfect what man vainly tries....

“We pause, we hush our heart,
And then address the gods:
‘The world hath failed to impart
The joy our youth forebodes,
Failed to fill up the void which in our breasts we bear!'”

Their principles of thought were pure, but they felt that there existed a purity which was beyond their reach; their standard of conduct was high, but they were inwardly conscious that it ought to be higher. On that golden “ladder of sunbeams” which rises from earth to the angel-guarded battlements of heaven, they had ascended a few timid steps, but above and beyond they could see a glory to which it was not given them to rise. Hence it has often been said, and justly, that the men were greater than their system; and such, so far as Magianism was concerned, may well have been the case with the loftier minds of Bactria and Persia. But it can never be pretended that the Christian is greater than Christianity. Let him be ever so holy in his living, ever so exalted in his aspirations, he will not seek for something beyond  and out of Christianity, because he feels and knows that he cannot exhaust all its capabilities; that it soars far higher than he can ever soar. It has truths which the profoundest psychologist cannot fathom; it opens up visions which the boldest imagination cannot comprehend; it contains a wealth of emotion and sympathy which the most passionate soul can never exhaust. After we have said and done all we can, after we have mastered all that has been said and done by other men, we still find in the life and character of Christ  that which may well engage, and yet never weary our attention. And here we touch upon a feature which no human system of religion or morality has ever matched. Strip the Zendavesta, if you will, of all its later and less worthy adjuncts, and yet it cannot, any more than the Rig-Veda, present us with the divine beauty of the Man of Sorrows. But this it is which fills, soothes, blesses, inspires the aching, restless, craving human heart. When it can no longer satisfy itself with the cold moralities of philosophy, when it pines for a deeper and a warmer life, when it is weary with problems which it cannot solve, and disappointed in hopes which it has seen fade away like dreams of the night, it turns to the Cross and is comforted. The mysteries which perplexed it vanish in the light that emanates from the Divine history of the Son  of God. The awe with which it regards the passionless abstraction of a great First Cause, a supreme entity of Power and Wisdom without Love, passes into reverent admiration and joyous thanksgiving when it looks up into the face of the Good Shepherd, and reposes in the shadow of the Vine, and learns how that He Who was with the Father  before the beginning, has suffered even as we suffer, has borne the heavy burden of the flesh even as we have borne it, and now sits on the right hand of God ,—not an idea, not a principle, not a Spirit, but a Person , bidding all who believe to come unto Him and be at rest.

This, indeed, is the cardinal merit of Christianity,—it has given us Christ.

God  forbid that we should deny a certain value even to the “unconscious prophecies of heathendom,” or refuse to see something of the spirit of Christ  in the teaching of the ancient sages and philosophers; but when an attempt is made to raise Magianism to an equal rank with Christianity, and the cold intellectual utterances of the Zendavesta to rank with the living voices of Holy Writ, it is essential to point out how vast, how impassable is the gulf between them; how little Magianism did or could do to elevate man's spiritual nature; and how largely Christianity surpasses it, in and through the manifestation of the Divine love in the mystery of God  made Man.


[16] More correctly, Avesta-Zend.

[17] Sanscrit, Avasthâ. This is Haug's conjecture.

[18] The Pazend language was identical with the Parsi, i.e., the ancient Persian.

[19] Dogs are here associated with man on account of their high value in an early stage of civilisation. Zarathustra protected them by special ordinances and penalties.

[20] The bridge Chinavat  by which the souls of the good crossed into Paradise; a fancy afterwards adopted by Muhámad.

[21] Quarles.