Video transcript

- [Instructor] So in any discussion of ancient Persia, we quickly talk about the faith of the Achaemenid Empire, and that's Zoroastrianism, and it's popularized by Cyrus the Great when he establishes the Achaemenid Empire, takes over the Median Empire, the Neo-Babylonian Empire, the Lydians. His son, Cambyses, takes over the Egyptians. And their faith is based on the teaching of Zoroaster. And Zoroaster is the Greek name for Zarathustra, and sometimes the religion is referred to as Zarathustrianism. And it's one of the oldest religions we have, and it's an existing religion. People still practice Zoroastrianism. In terms of when it started, there's some debate. A lot of accounts have it starting as early or even earlier than 3,500 years ago, so around 1500 BCE, and some accounts put it a little bit closer to Cyrus the Great, maybe 700 or 600 BCE. And the accounts, or the beginning of the religion is really around the teachings of Zarathustra, and his teachings really establish one of the first often viewed as monotheistic religions of the world, this idea that there is one god, and that god in the Zoroastrian faith is Ahura Mazda. Ahura Mazda. And it's viewed that Ahura Mazda does not take a human form. It is even, you cannot even conceive of, you know, fully conceive, the human mind can't fully conceive of Ahura Mazda, but Ahura Mazda is the, in the Zoroastrian faith, the one and only god. But in conjunction with the idea of Ahura Mazda, a lot of people refer to Zoroastrianism as a dualistic faith. A dualistic faith means that there's this kind of interest in counterbalancing forces. For example, light versus dark, and of course good versus evil. And one of the main ideas or words here are the ideas of asha and druj. So asha, these are the ideas of being principled, honest, ordered, and druj is the opposite. Druj is the idea of being unprincipled, dishonest, chaotic. And so there's a lot of talk and kind of insight or trying to get a better understanding of these dualistic natures in the world, and trying for humanity be on the side of the good, the light, the ordered, the principled, the honest. Now right over here is a key symbol of Zoroastrianism that you might see. It's called the Faravahar. I'm probably be mispronouncing it. Faravahar, and there's a lot of symbolism here. It shows the connection of the universe to humanity, you see the depiction of a human being here, and the three layers of the wings depict these three very important ideas in Zoroastrianism. The first layer is good thoughts, the second layer right over here of wings are good words, and then the third layer here is good actions, good actions. And it makes sense. You kind of imagine this idea that good thoughts lead to good words, and that combined, they can lead to good actions. And on the tail here, and these are the things you should avoid, these are the bad thoughts, the bad actions, or the bad thoughts, the bad words, and the bad actions. Along lines this ideas of dualism, especially the fascination with the ideas of light, fire is a very important element of the Zoroastrian faith. In fact, if you visit a Zoroastrian temple, you will see an eternal fire, and they feed that fire five times a day. Another very important element of the faith is water. And the sacred text for the Zoroastrians is called the Avesta. And the Avesta is written in a language called Avestan, and it's called Avestan because it's the language that the Avesta was written in, but it's written in a language that is closely related to ancient Sanskrit, and so there's probably some connections, or for sure there's some connections, between ancient Hinduism and the progenitor or some of the preexisting ideas that might, that Zarathustra developed or might have built on top of. Now one of the really interesting things about Zoroastrianism is that even though today it's a relatively small faith, on the order of less than 200,000 people around the world practice it, and most of them are in India and the United States, at one time, it was, you could view it as the state religion of ancient Persia, but then eventually, in the seventh century CE, when Persia, or Iran, became Islamic, you have a Zoroastrian diaspora, especially moving to India and then eventually places like the United States, although there are still practicing Zoroastrians in Iran. But above and beyond the continuing legacy of the Zoroastrians, they've had a lot of influence on some of the major religions of the world. And what you have on this timeline here, I've made some of the major religions. You see up here in blue you have Judaism, and the reason why I draw the dotted line is these are periods and it's not exact, you know, these religions are evolving and they are forming and they're getting more and more tradition over time. So you hear Judaism, and of course, Christianity is in a lot ways built on top of Judaism. Jesus was Jewish. You have Islam right over here, which of the major world religions is one of the newest, in a lot of ways built or related to Christianity and Judaism. And even though the Zoroastrianism is related and it kind of comes out of a similar kind of early Aryan people type of religion, it has a lot of influence on some of these other traditional, or these mainstream religions that we have in the world today. As we mentioned, it's viewed as a monotheistic religion, and it's also had direct influence on, for example, Christianity. So right over here, this is from John Bowker, who's a famous Christian theologian. He wrote in his book World Religions "that angels, the end of the world, "a final judgement, the resurrection, "and heaven and hell received form and substance "from Zoroastrian beliefs." In Christian tradition, the Three Wise Men, the Three Kings, the Three Magi that visit the baby Jesus, Magi, this is referring to Zoroastrian priests who were visiting the baby Jesus. And the word magic comes from the word magi, because the Zoroastrian elite, the priests, they were very capable in the sciences of astronomy, and they were also very well-known for their astrology, and so some people associated them with, you know, magical capabilities. It also has close ties to Islam. The sacred fire in Zoroastrianism is fed five times a day. Zoroastrians pray five times a day, and before prayer, they go through a ritual around washing themselves to cleanse themselves, where they wash themselves three times before each prayer. That is something that we see in Islam. So Zoroastrianism, it's the faith of ancient Persia popularized by Cyrus the Great, and it's a living religion, even today, although it's a much smaller population that practices it. But as we've seen, it's had a lot of influence on many of the major world religions.