Sacred Texts  Bible  Bible Critical Views  Index  Previous  Next 
Buy this Book at

Pagan Christs, by John M. Robertson, [1911], at

§ 3. Zoroastrianism.

It is thus difficult to formulate precisely the evolution of Mithraism. If the Gâthas are really the oldest parts of the Avesta, the cult of Mithra, though older than the Gâthas, was for a time or in one region of Irân rejected or eclipsed, since in those rituals it does not appear. Zoroastrianism and Mithraism were certainly not originally one, neither did one grow out of the other. 3 And here arises the question whether Zarathustra (Zoroaster), so closely associated with the Mithra-cult in the later portions of the Avesta, was a mythical figure or a real reformer who put a more spiritual or philosophic teaching in place of the simpler naturalism of the Vedic period. Mr. L. H. Mills, the learned translator and commentator of the Gâthas, affirms in his introduction the historic reality 4 and religious originality of Zarathustra, mainly on the ground that whereas in the later Avesta he is lost in myth, in the Gâthas he figures quite simply as a real person. 5

From the conclusion thus drawn, some of us must respectfully but firmly dissent. The Gâthas, critically considered, do not warrant it; on the contrary, the ostensibly earliest so clearly present Zarathustra as either an ideal or an official figure that Mr. Mills is driven to try to explain them by the question, "Can there have been a school, or family, of Zarathustrians, religious poets, similar to the Vedic seers?" 6 Equally vital is his suggestion that "the

p. 287

special eminence of the Governor of Ragha as needing no 'Zarathustra' over him, that is, no imperial chief (Yasna xix, 19), may be attributed to the successors of Zarathustra." 1 The fact is that the Gâthas imply rather an established sacerdotal or quasi-regal functionary than a single notable man when they speak of Zarathustra Spitama. 2

Still more unconvincing is the claim made for Zoroastrian doctrine as something primarily abnormal. Mr. Mills first claims that "nowhere at their period had there been a human voice, so far as we have any evidence, which uttered thoughts like these"; but immediately afterwards, doubtless realising the impossibility of founding a cult all of a sudden with entirely new ideas, he admits that Zarathustra "was probably only the last visible link in a far extended chain. His system, like those of his predecessors and successors, was a growth. His main conceptions had been surmised, although not spoken before." 3 The last clause returns to the arbitrary. There is positively no ground for seeing in the Gâthas new ideas by a new man: they have all the air of a gradually evolved ritual.

The abnormal depth which Mr. Mills ascribes to them, finally, appears to be illusory. He affirms 4 that "the mental heaven and hell with which we are now familiar as the only future states recognised by intelligent people, and thoughts which, in spite of their familiarity, can never lose their importance, are not only used and expressed in the Gâthas, but expressed there, so far as we are aware, for the first time." But this claim proceeds on such expressions as, "for the wicked the worst life; for the holy the best mental state"; 5 and to read in such expressions a negation of places of happiness and of torment is to misread alike the psychology and the language of primitive life. The modern who negates a physical heaven and hell, but still affirms a future-state-of-mind, either evades entirely the fatal problem as to the details of that state or verbally affirms its non-locality. There is no reason whatever to suppose that in ancient Asia men either demurred to the doctrine of places of happiness 6 and torment, or sought thus intelligibly to modify them. "Worst life" and "best state of mind" could perfectly well connote for early thinkers bodily states and local habitations.

p. 288

We must refuse, then, to let the sympathetic illusions even of scholars force upon us an otherwise unsupported belief in the occurrence of a remarkable personality which of its own sheer moral power wrought a sudden and signal innovation in that most conservative of processes; ancient sacerdotal religion. The religious dualism ascribed to Zarathustra is in all likelihood a natural adaptation by priests of a polytheistic process of thought; 1 and it seems far more likely that Zarathustra is an ancient title for a kind of priest-king 2—since both functions appear to go with the name in the early Gâthas—than that there was a man so named who invented monotheistic dualism, 3 even as Abraham is fabled to have discovered monotheism, and somehow succeeded in imposing his doctrine as a system of ritual and worship on his contemporaries. As Mr. Mills and Haug admit, there is not a single biographical detail on Zarathustra to be found.


286:3 Cp. Justi, Gesell. des alten Persiens, 1878, pp. 68-70; Cumont, Textes et Monuments, i, 4, 11.

286:4 So also Justi, as last cited. p. 67, and Haug, as above cited.

286:5 Vol. iii of the Zendavesta trans., "Sacred Books of the East," vol. xxxi, introd. pp. xxii-xxv.

286:6 Id. p. 21, note on Yasna, xxviii.

287:1 Introd. p. xxviii. Compare the laboured arguments on p. 168, with regard to Yasna xlix, and on p. 141, under xlvi, 13.

287:2 Cp. the Bundahish, xxiv, 1; xxix, 2 (S. B. E. v); and the Mihir Yasht (Zendavesta, S. B. E. xxiii), xxix, 115.

287:3 Introd. cit. pp. xxiii-xxiv.

287:4 Id. p. xx.

287:5 Yasna, xxx, 4, p. 30.

287:6 The heavenly mount, whither all redeemed souls go, is spoken of in the Yasna, xxviii, 5—one of the early Gâthas.

288:1 In Yasna xlvi, 12, Mr. Mills (p. 141) finds proof that the Zarathustrians had early been joined by a Turanian clan. This would introduce Turanian influences.

288:2 As to the normal approximations of the offices of priest and king in antiquity compare Jewish history and Greek and Roman sacrificial usages with the historic developments in Egypt (Maspero, Hist. ancienne des peuples de l’orient, 4e édit. p. 288) and Phoenicia (Tiele, Hist. comp. des anciennes religions, Fr. tr. 1882, p. 324). See also Frazer, Golden Bough, 2nd ed. i, 7 sq.

288:3 Haug (Essays on the Parsis, 3rd ed. pp. 300-5) credits him with holding at once by Monotheism and Dualism—one God containing two "principles." This conception might as well be credited to the Vedas. See next section; and cp. Cox, Mythology of the Aryan Nations, p. 562, and Bréal and Maury as there cited.

Next: § 4. Evolution of Mithra