(Zaraθuštra), usually known in English as Zoroaster after the Greek version of the name, Ζωροάστρης, was an Iranian prophet and the founder of Zoroastrianism, which was the national religion of the Persian Empire from the time of the Achaemenidae to the close of the Sassanid period. Zoroaster was probably born in the north eastern part of Iran, though there is also a tradition that he came from Balkh in modern day Afghanistan. In Modern Persian the name takes the form of Zartošt or Zardošt (زرتشت).
Zoroaster is generally accepted as a historical figure, but efforts to date Zoroaster vary widely. Scholarly estimates are usually roughly near 1000 AEV. Others however give earlier estimates, making him a candidate as the founder of the earliest religion based on revealed scripture.
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The name zaraθ-uštra is a Bahuvrihi compound in the Avestan language, of zarəta- "feeble, old" and uštra "camel", translating to "having old camels, the one who owns old camels". The first part of the name was formerly commonly translated as "yellow" or "golden", from the Avestan "zaray", giving the meaning "having yellow camels". A more romantic, but inaccurate, translation of the name in the past has been "bringer of the golden dawn", based on the mistaken assumption that the second part of the name is a variant of the Vedic word "Ushas" meaning "dawn". This last translation seems to have derived from a desire to give a more fitting meaning to the prophet's name than "owner of feeble camels."
Life of Zoroaster
What we know of the life of Zoroaster is from the Avesta, the Gathas, the Greek texts, oral history (which is a significant method of teaching in the tradition), and what can be inferred and archeological evidence.
The 13th section of the Avesta, the Spena Nask, the description of Zoroaster's life, has perished over the centuries. The biographies in the seventh book of the Denkard (9th century AD) and the Shahnama are mythic.
It is fair to say that Zoroaster lived in the NE area of ancient Iranian territory. The Greeks refer to him as a Bactrian (coming from present day Afghanistan), a Median or a Persian about 3-5,000 years ago. His wife was named Hvōvi, and they had three daughters, Freni, Friti and Pourucista, and three sons, Isat Vastar, Uruvat-Nara and Hvare Ciθra. His mother was Dughdova; his father was Pourushaspa Spitāma, son of Haecadaspa Spitāma. His illumination from Mazda came at age 30. His first converts were his wife and children and a cousin named Maidhyoimangha.
The Greek writers recount a few points regarding the childhood of Zoroaster and his hermit-life. According to tradition and Nat. Hist. Zoroaster laughed on the day of his birth and lived in the wilderness. He seems to have enjoyed exploring the wilderness from a young age. Plutarch compares him with Lycurgus and Numa Pompilius (Numa, 4). Dio Chrysostom relates Zoroaster's Ahura Mazda to Zeus. Plutarch, drawing partly on Theopompus, speaks of Zoroastrianism in Isis and Osiris.
Here he is a mortal, empowered by trust in his God and the protection of his allies. He faces outward opposition and unbelief and inward doubt. These human qualities support a historical Zoroaster, despite a lack of historical detail. The Gathas are poetic admonitions and prophecies, cast in the form of dialogues with God and the Spentas "Immortals" (Pahlavi Amahraspandān). However, they seem to contain allusions to personal events, overcoming obstacles in life imposed by competing priests and the ruling class. He had difficulty spreading his teachings, and was even treated with ill-will in his mother's hometown (an exceptional insult in his culture and time).
It is important to note the differences between the Zoroaster of the later Avesta and the Zoroaster of the Gathas. In the later Avesta, he is depicted wrestling with the Devas or "evil immortals" (Pahlavi Dēwān), and, in remarkable prescience of Jesus in the New Testament, is tempted by Ahriman to renounce his faith. (Yasht, 17,19)
The historical Zoroaster, however, eludes categorization as a legendary character. The GathasGāthās within the Avesta make claim to be the ipsissima verba of the prophet. The Vendidad also gives accounts of the dialogues between Ahura Mazda and Zoroaster. They are the last surviving account of his doctrinal discourses presented at the court of King Hystaspes.
- Zarathushtra's Name (http://www.cais-soas.com/CAIS/Religions/iranian/Zarathushtrian/zoroaster_name.htm)(CAIS at SOAS)
- Influence of Zoroastrianism on Judaism and Christianity (http://www.cais-soas.com/CAIS/Religions/iranian/Zarathushtrian/zoroastrianism_influence.htm)
- Zarathushtra and His Religion (http://www.iranologie.com/history/zarathushtra.html) (iranologie.com)
- Harry Thurston Peck's entry on Zoroaster, in the Harpers Dictionary of Classical Antiquities (1898) (http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/cgi-bin/ptext?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.04.0062&layout=&query=id%3Dzoroaster&loc=zoroaster)
- Zoroaster--Zarathustra, The Persian Prophet (http://www.crystalinks.com/z.html)
- Zarathushtra's Gathas (http://www.avesta.org/yasna/yasna.htm) (avesta.org)
- Wikipedia. (2005). Zoroaster (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zoroaster). Retrieved on July 14. 2005.