Everything old is new again. Or it can be, if we let it. Though several thousand years old, the teachings and guidance for making the right decisions - in all things - can be seen in the words and ideas of Zoroaster, and the writings that grew out of his movement. Seeking to give individuals a view of their place in the grand scheme of life, and acknowledging the part that man has in manifesting a higher order of thought and action - was the 'mission' of the profoundly influential prophet.

In MindMatters' continued discussion of Zarathustra and the religion known as Zoroastrianism, we examine just what this leading figure of antiquity sought to do. And just how far-reaching and relevant his concepts became. We also take a look at Zoroaster's pre-Christian eschatology or his take on what an 'end times' was really about - among several other concepts that informed the world's great monotheistic religions to come. Sometimes we have to look back at things to take a step forwards; what things might we take in about this ancient teaching that would assist us in just such an effort? It turns out there is a lot to learn from Zoroastrianism's cosmology and its framework for the moral uplifting of the world.

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Harrison: Welcome back to mind matters everyone today we are going to be doing another show on Zoroastrianism and its prophet Zarathustra. In the last show we talked a bit about the history and some of the ideas. We're going to be talking about some other pieces of the history and some more ideas today. Some of the things may go a bit more in-depth into some of the things we talked about last week. I want to give a bit more background to the environment in which scholars have identified as the ground in which the Zoroastrian religion grew and developed.

So one of the interesting things about Zoroastrianism is the texts themselves because they were only written down in the first century and were probably oral traditions before then. The earliest sections of the text, the Gathas, are in an ancient form of Persian that has no previous written language. So there's no inscriptions in this ancient Persian language which is named Avastin. When this was first discovered and when the texts were first translated in the 1800s, the people working on these texts realized that the language was very similar to the ancient Indian languages like Sanskrit, to the point where if you read two sentences, they're almost identical. If you know one language you can read the other one fairly easily. It's almost as if they were dialects of each other.

The Indian language, the Sanskrit language, was the one used to compose the ancient Hindu text, the Rig Veda. So we have these two ancient texts, one of which was discovered and was in this ancient language that no one was really familiar with at the time. This led to a lot of linguistic discoveries too, to see that these languages were part of the same family and probably came from a common source. This helps develop the Indo-European hypothesis basically, that all these languages trace back to a common source and with the Hindu and the Zoroastrian texts and religions, you can see that they came from the same source, the Indo-Iranian culture.

There are several theories about when this happened, including two main ones and we talked a bit about that last week. But with the genetic evidence it seems that probably, I don't know, two or three thousand years ago was when the people working on genetic histories think that the Indo-Europeans came down from the steppes, the area north of the Caucasus that stretches out to Central Asia but the more western end of the steppes and that whatever culture and religion existed in these peoples was the one in which Zarathustra grew up and which he reformed.

So the way that Paul Kriwaczek in In Search Of Zarathustra, which we talked about last week, described the existing religion was like this. "In any case, the old religion had been too tainted by association with a rigid caste-bound and despotic monarchy, its priests too obsessed with enforcing the pettifogging details of correct observance." So that was what Zarathustra was combating. It reminded me of a similar prophet and reformer of religion and that's the Apostle Paul because he had a similar message with reforming from within his own religion, the religion in which he grew up and the texts with which he was very familiar, and that was Judaism at the time.

So there was reform that was going on that Zarathustra was doing. He saw various problems existing in his society and then gave a new message which is what all kinds of religious innovators and reformers do. They see problems and they introduce a new system or a new way of looking at the world, to try to introduce a new way of life to replace or reform that previous way of life. Just as with all religions, the progress of this followed a predictable trajectory because just like with all religions, it was used at various times for despotic purposes.

So when the Sassanians reintroduced the religion in the third century AD, there was a priest that seems like the Éminence Grise of all of these Persian emperors who probably was the guy influencing things behind the scenes and really pushing to get Zoroastrianism to be the state religion and once that happened it created a kind of Orwellian totalitarian thought control system where you had to believe the official religion. This is what everyone thinks about theocracies today, where you live in this theocratic totalitarian system where you have to believe certain religious precepts. It's not just that you're free to practice your religion and there are certain laws that you have to follow. No, you have to believe this and you have to follow this religion.

After Cyrus the Great, I think it was to two rulers after Cyrus - Darius the second - who was also a Zoroastrian and introduced Zoroastrianism. This was 600 or more years before that, probably 700 or 800 years before that, before the Sassanians. He did a similar thing, using the religion for violent purposes, for takeovers. It became a religion associated with a political system. That seems to happen to every religion, even if they don't start out with that intention. It's just the way things go.

But as we discussed last week, if we look at the legacy of Zoroastrianism and the thoughts, concepts and ideas that have traced forward and become part of our culture today, I want to list a few religious ideas and wider cultural ones that we probably wouldn't have without Zarathustra. This is the idea of world ages, that the world progresses and declines and there are either cycles or progressions so you can divide history into chunks of thousands of years.

In the Zoroastrian tradition it's a twelve thousand year cycle with three thousand year intervals in between it. The idea of angels. Before Zoroastrianism, specifically I'm thinking in the Judaic traditions, there weren't angels. But once we have the influence of Zoroastrianism in the religion, all of a sudden we have the names of angels. We have all of these characters showing up in later books of the Old Testament and in books like The Book of Enoch, not only just the idea of angels and naming the angels and worshipping angels, but the depiction of angels as these Winged beings. That was Zoroastrianism.

If you look at the graphic for our show last week, you see an image of Ahura Mazda. It's the circle with the wings and he's in the middle. Those wings are one of those earliest depictions of angels. So the reason we picture angels with wings is probably, again, because of Zoroastrianism. Also the idea of the resurrection of the dead didn't come from Judaism. That came from Zoroastrianism. It got imported in. The idea of a final judgment with fire and brimstone is Zoroastrianism. The idea of a messiah to come that would set things right, that was called I believe, the Saoshyant in Zoroastrianism, again from Zarathustra. Also the idea of heaven as a paradise. Paradise meant garden in these old languages, so heaven is paradise, this image of heaven comes from Zoroastrianism.

And finally certain ideas of life after death. If you look at the early ideas of life after death or what happens after you die in the Bible for instance, you go to Sheol which is this dreary place and nothing really happens. The idea of an actual life after death was again probably one of these Zoroastrian innovations. Sorry, that wasn't the final one. The last one is the idea of the devil.

So again in the Bible, the figure of the devil doesn't really figure in too prominently in most of the books of the Bible. You have the serpent in the origin stories in Genesis, in the Garden of Eden, but the serpent hadn't taken on the identity as Satan or as the devil until the Christian era. But with later books of the Bible, again you get imported this idea of this evil force at odds with God. That too comes from Angra Mainyu or Ahriman who was the opposer and the force at odds with the good in the world. So we have the truth and the lie and Ahriman was the representative of the lie.

Those are just some of the foundational ideas that are just so common today in either pop culture or religious culture that we may not realize have been around for longer than the religions and the cultures that have those ideas today. So I just wanted to give that as a bit more of the background behind Zoroastrianism and how it has influenced us today.

Elan: Well, as you said all that I'm reminded about the virtues of this religion and that is that it has built in, an almost full cosmology that's been manifested through all of these other great world religions today. When we did the show some months back on the afterlife, there is in that material a great amount of information suggesting a hierarchy of spiritual understanding and power. This material also affirms that hierarchy. It affirms the idea that there is, for lack of a better word, a war, a fight that each man, woman and child, whether we realize it or not, are a part of.

Again and again in Zoroastor's material there is this beseeching, this call to duty and responsibility in becoming a manifest force for good, for one's self, for one's tribe and even for the world at large. So this is a quote which speaks to that a little bit and I believe it's from this book which we also discussed last week. It's Mary Settegast's When Zarathustra Spoke which we'll have a link to in the article.

"In the famous Gotha of the choice, the individual is urged to choose for himself either the path of Asha or the path of Drug." And just a word about Drug which in this material, is synonymous with lying and the debasing moral choices that men make in service to their own gratification, wealth and power. There was a time prior to Zoroastrianism that individuals would take a drug in a ritual that he saw as a personal abuse that people were indulging in. So he sought to, in one of his reforms, take that out of the equation. So the drug is both this literal and metaphorical representation of those things that he saw among his people that were debasing them.

Harrison: I'm not sure about that. I assumed it's a coincidence that the word Drug happens to be the same word as our modern drug. But the idea is valid about the practice that he was against because in the Indian tradition it was soma which was a plant that it seems might have been mind-altering to some degree, kind of like ayahuasca maybe. And then in the Iranian tradition it was hiyoma.

Corey: Yeah.

Harrison: But the word drug itself, I'm not sure if there was any intention behind that one being, like it is in our current language, in English. I'm not sure if the word traces to English in the same way. Did you read that somewhere? I'm just curious.

Elan: I thought I read that in When Zarathustra Spoke. It might have been in one of the other books...

Harrison: Okay.

Elan: ...that there was an abuse of this drug. I might be conflating this idea of the metaphor of drug as lie with the literal overdoing of the drug.

Harrison: At the very least it's an interesting coincidence that not only was Zarathustra against the use of this drug, but that the word he used for the lie - because that was the word in the language - was drug or lie.

Elan: Yes. And just continuing on that quote, this is a statement he makes. "'Hear with your ears the highest truths I preach and with illumined minds weigh them with care before you choose which of two paths to tread, deciding man by man, each one for each.' And the comment is that the Prophet is here urging all those who receive his message to judge for themselves, without clerical intermediary, the truth of his teaching. Just as the two primal beings each made a deliberate choice, so must every man choose freely and without priestly intervention between good and evil in this life. Zarathustra is believed to have been the first to teach that each individual must bear the responsibility for the fate of his own soul as well as sharing in the responsibility for the fate of the world."

Again and again there is this theme of taking personal responsibility, of seeing this battle as an individual one where human beings are a part of the cosmology. They are if not angels, then agents of angels on earth, but only if they can see that and make the choice to be that manifestation. That's a crucial idea throughout all of this, which I think comes up in the powers and the principalities which is an old Christian text and doctrine which gives life and credence to the idea that on a metaphysical level, on a soul level, there are these intelligences, entities or whatever you want to call them, that are highly concentrated forces for the lie, forces for evil and selfishness, that find their way into influencing not only individuals but institutions, governments, royalties, the priestly class and it's a reality just as much as the reality of doing a good deed for a neighbor on this physical plane.

So acknowledging these levels of reality in this fight against good and evil can be said to be one of the most valuable parts of Zoroastrianism, I think.

Corey: I'd like to say just a word on the cosmology that Zoroastrianism has. It seems to have just sprung so well-formed and inspired and so stratified in terms of all of the content that it has for determining humanity's place in the cosmos. It's like a general theory of relativity or a quantum level of theory for the moral universe and for determining what your place is in the universe and how you should act and that it has numerous levels, ranging from matter to plants all the way up to the gods and then to the god of truth himself. It's all imbued with virtue and moral significance so that it almost functions as a monadic device. When you walk around the earth and you see the earth, you see represented in the earth, in the sky, in all of these things, very clear and very well thought out and very, dare we say, more progressive than progressive values that center around that fundamental dichotomy between truth and lies.

So Ahura Mazda, the creator of the universe, stands as a symbol of truth and is truth and that truth is a force to be reckoned with in the universe, that it is a force just as important and powerful as gravity, not more important than gravity, that material existence only owes its existence to the truth and to the number of other gods that were brought into existence, the Archangels that were brought into existence by Ahura Mazda in order to create the universe. Each one of these gods or Archangels the Amesha Spentas, I believe is what they're called, have a corresponding virtue, whether it's the right order of things which is the functioning of the universe - the Sun always seems to come back around, the moon always seems to come back around and things seem to function right, things work well, when they're in the proper observance by this god, when this god, this force is furthering their existence.

And then there's good thought and there's good action and there's rightful dominion so that there's a way to go about ordering your house that is imbued with and rooted in the highest fashioning of the universe so that everything that you do as a human being needs to take place according to objective moral criteria that you can also see in the universe around you.

So it's very much rooted in the seeking of understanding the world around you and the organization and conscientious duty to replicate that in your own life. Each one of those gods has a physical dimension, and more important than that is that they have that physical dimension. But then when you are living in the world and you are working in the world you're seeing reflected in the world this moral criteria. It's functioning as a device to always remind you that you are part of this great battle that, in the end, hopefully will lead to the purification and the brilliant existence of all of the materials and the people and the spirit that you live with.

Harrison I'm not sure if it was Zarathustra or just later Zoroastrian tradition that called that goal, that endpoint, which in other contexts we'd call the end of the world, the words they used for it translate as "the making wonderful" which is another light on it. We picture the end of the world as this terrible thing with destruction and death and blood, but they're not saying that that's the making wonderful. The goal is to actually raise the current existence up a level, to have it be something that it's not right now.

Elan, you mentioned the power and the principalities and these gods and Corey, you talked about these extensions of Ahura Mazda, the six forms that form that group under Ahura Mazda. There are a couple of things I want to say about that and a couple of quotes I want to read on that topic because the Indo-Iranian religion that Zarathustra grew up in and which he was reforming was a polytheistic one. There were gods that we can see traced back through Hindu mythology. You can see the same names for a lot of these gods and they have the Greek gods. They've got the representations of them, who they are, what they look like, what their personalities are and things like that.

But Zarathustra wasn't having any of that. He wanted to get rid of that way of looking at the cosmos and that way of looking at the gods. Of course he was probably the first introducer of a monotheistic idea, that there is one supreme god and everything else is either underneath or contained within that supreme god, that one overarching god.

So what he did was first to demote those previous gods, the Devas, down to the level of what we'd call demons. They were not as high as God. They were actually beings but not that the true good. They might have their own agendas. They might be part of the lie. They might influence people in negative ways. So he demoted them to demons. Deva or deva meant celestial one and the other class of gods were the Asuras or the Ahuras in Avestan, who were the lords. So what he did was elevated the one lord and demoted the many celestial ones.

In the introduction to Hymns of Zoroaster M.L. West makes a couple comments on this tendency, so overall not just about the gods but about the actual things in the hymns that Zoroaster composed. He says, "There is an impressive clarity and simplicity in Zoroaster's religion as it appears in the Gathas. It is not cluttered up with mystical or theological baggage. Its pantheon is not made up of assorted characters from an obscure, prehistoric mythology, but of beings with clearly defined identities and properties. Its ethics is plain and straightforward. It is concerned not with irrational rules and taboos but with easily understood moral and intellectual values. The emphasis is on divine and human sapience and on man's responsibility for the choices he makes between good and bad."

So what Zarathustra did is instead of having these gods with their own personalities as we'd think of human personalities, kind of like in the Greek pantheon, he had these abstract qualities which were almost personified. That made it really practical. You mentioned some of them already Corey. This is what M.L. West writes about these gods. I'll read almost the full paragraph. He says,

"Zoroaster nowhere identifies the other Ahuras explicitly, (the other lords) but we can assume that he is thinking of certain divine entities which he constantly associates with Mazda and sometimes addresses in the vocative. Their names are the names of abstract qualities, mostly of an ethical nature - right, good thought, piety, bounteous will, dominion. These are all things that human beings may have in themselves."

So that's the important part. These are all things that we can identify in ourselves. These gods are not just remote beings whose wills we can't possibly comprehend. These are actually principles that we can see in ourselves and which operate in ourselves and that therefore have some kind of practical down-to-earth quality that we can then work with. What this relates to or a connection I want to make is that you see the same thing in early Christianity, or a very similar thing. In Paul's letters, he's constantly almost personifying things like sin, death, almost to the point where they are these powers. That's why we got this idea of the powers and the principalities from Paul, that they are things operative in not only the human body but the human mind.

This is what some of the things that we've all been saying so far, gets at. This struggle, the battle between the true and the false, the truth and the lie and between good and evil is within every individual. In Zoroastrianism it's not our goal and our duty to stamp out the evil in the world outside of us, like Darius did in warfare or something like that. It really comes down to engaging in that battle within. That's where these names of these Ahuras come in handy because we can identify these principles. We can see that the principles and the things they represent are present at all levels.

So it's present within us. It's present at the highest level. There is an alignment that then takes place when we have good thoughts, good words and good deeds because we're aligning with something intangible, something higher and intangible. We're getting into alignment with that and out of alignment with something else because we can't escape the fact that there are dualities in the world, that there are multiple choices. Life is like an extremely complicated multiple-choice test but at any moment we're actually answering. Before us we have multiple questions, multiple, multiple choice questions and it's just a maze operating in this world.

So there are all these choices that we have and what a teaching likes Zoroastrianism, I think was intended to do from the beginning, was to provide that path, to provide something to make it easier to understand and then to make it easier to put into practice because that has to be the purpose of any philosophy, of any religion, to actually make it practical. Well how do you actually do that? And what are the goals of that religion or that philosophy? Is it just to learn things? Well what does that mean to learn things? To know geography or astronomy or the theory of moral emotions? Well that won't help you in life. In the two shows we did on stoicism, the purpose is to actually put it into practice and change yourself somehow.

I wanted to make a comment on the battle between the truth and the lie that you talked about a little while ago Elan. In Paul Kriwaczek book In Search Of Zarathustra, he's got a chapter on Nietzsche because of course that's why a lot of people know the name Zarathustra, from Nietzsche's book. He points out that Nietzsche kind of saw himself as a reformer of Zarathustra's teaching in setting things right. But then Kriwaczek argues that Nietzsche seems to have actually reinvigorated Zoroastrianism by taking some of those core principles and putting them in modern clothes, essentially, well modern at the time.

So he says that what he thinks Nietzsche saw, as Kriwaczek put it, the drama, this battle between good and evil, between the truth and lie, must be played out within each individual, the struggle between what a person is and what he or she might become. For listeners of this show and our previous show Truth Perspective, should be ringing some bells now because it's central to not only Jordan Peterson, it's central to Dabrowski, it's central to early Christianity, central to Gurdjieff, this idea of potential and the inner struggle to then manifest that potential as opposed to just living like you always have lived, never growing up, never changing, never putting the effort into seeing what that potential might be.

So that's what Kriwaczek says is what he gets from Nietzsche's perspective on all of this. That relates to the Zoroastrian doctrine of two wills. So I'd like to read something else from M.L. West here. He describes how these opposite forces, these two principles at odds with each other, engage in a struggle, a battle for each individual's soul. The way West says it, "He describes how the tussle for a man's soul, making their voices heard in his mind." Let me just rephrase that and change my emphasis. "He describes how they tussle for a man's soul, making their voices heard in his mind and how his choice between them determines his ultimate fate."

So this is just another way of describing that that battle is within. We're not necessarily schizophrenic but we've got conflicting voices in our head. Well I think we've all had that before. We have conflicting impulses, conflicting drives, conflicting aims and these are personified as these forces operating within and through us and then that path, that struggle through that maze then becomes an internal one. It's like the path in your own mind, in your own conscience. Which path will I take? Which direction will I go? Will I go left or right in every situation in life. So that's why it really is such a down-to-earth and practical religion, down-to-earth in many ways, like we talked about last week.

Elan: Absolutely. We take it for granted, this conception, this framework for good and evil and seeing ourselves within this framework as individuals and at it's very basic core he set up this framework for the religions to come. You think about Ponerology, you think about Andrew Lobaczewski's work and how he drills down into the science of evil adjusted for political purposes. In his own way, Zoroaster was talking about these very things. He was also getting into it on a spiritual and metaphysical level of course. But there is in his words a kind of indictment against the priests and the organized beliefs at the time that were, for all intents and purposes, a kind of ponerological influence on people.

So in addition to the fact that he created this entire framework for these huge religions to follow, to work from, or to be influenced by, or perhaps they took bits and pieces of all of this to form their own religion, he drills down quite a bit. I guess an argument could be made for the fact that these truths that he's espousing are pre-existing. They're in the ether. They're accessed through the minds of prophets and people who are wise and people who have given thought and their heart to what is true and what is real. There is the argument that this is just one kind of feeling out and fleshing out of the bigger picture that has a much more important place in Western understanding than we would have realized, I guess up until I started reading all this material.

Just one more thing. Here's a piece on right order and because there is this moralistic framework that he gets into that isn't only a kind of cosmology and battle of good and evil. He does get into a Benjamin Franklin list of things and guidelines for living the good life that are no less important. This is a little bit also from Settagas's book.

"In forming his own worldview, Zarathustra seems to have incorporated several other principles of the ancient religion that he once served. Among these was the concept mentioned earlier of a universal right order, Avastin Asha, Vedic. At once cosmic, liturgical and moral, this ordering principle was held to govern every aspect of existence, from the rhythms of the cosmos and the workings of nature to the conduct of man. In Iran, the righteous man was Ashavan, possessing Asha, an upholder of the right order of things. Zarathustra himself would claim to have seen into that order vowing, 'While I have power and strength I shall teach men to seek the right - Asha.' According to one scholar Asha is both the principle by which Zoroastrians guide their lives in this world and the basis by which the entire structure of the Zoroastrian faith rests. 'The highest value in human life is neither the attainment of happiness nor the achievement of peace, but the incessant work of spreading the ideal of righteousness - Asha.'"

Here he seems to be saying - and we've about this on the show on happiness and suffering and a few other places - we can't become complacent and self-satisfied in those things that would seem to make us happy, that there has to be a striving for moving forward with ourselves, with being righteous about our lives and the choices we make for the sheer sake of being righteous, or appropriate.

There's another idea that is included in the Teachings of the Magi by Robert Charles Zaehner. It would seem to be an idea that Zoroaster borrowed from Aristotle and it's the idea of the mean which is just that one should strive not for excess or even for depletion in a kind of monastic minimal life sense of the term, but rather for a life of balance, in the material sense and in the spiritual sense where you have enough to make life good, enough to continue doing good, where excesses are exactly what the lie would implore you to pursue and out of a false sense of humility you might go in the other direction, in the way that say a fakir or a monk might go, although I don't know how good an analogy that is.

But the idea was that one should strive for balance and equilibrium in all things. It's not clear in the book. The suggestion is that it might have been directly drawn from our Aristotilean thought and teaching but then again it might just be one of those ideas that make sense and is wise. And after all, this material is a kind of homage to things that are wise, to the god of wisdom.

Corey: Yes. In that sense then there may even be a religion older than it is, but it is the voice of an ancient religion and provides a lot of the ideas that we get today, like you listed in the beginning of the show Harrison. I don't know if you've mentioned this, but when you're talking about Asha and right order, I get the sense of the cross that we all must bear in order to uphold the right order, to seek out the right order .It's not easy being a dumb human who's just fumbling around aimlessly most of the time, misinformed, ill-informed, never quite clear what is exactly happening. As you pointed out, there's always this maze of choices and of data and of information but in the end, to do what you can in that hurricane, in that storm, in order to uphold righteousness as the cross. That's a heavy cross that everyone has to bear.

All of these elements combine so well and they find such an appropriate amount of attention due to them in Zoroastrianism which is what I think makes it such an interesting moral framework that Nietzsche himself, after he'd seen that God was dead, thought that maybe Zarathustra is our last chance to reinvigorate him.

Harrison: Well that reminded me of one more quote from West's book where he's talking about another of the six extensions or sons of Ahura Mazda, one of the lord's - dominion. So West writes:

"Dominion is again a property of Ahura Mazda as well as being something that humans aspire to. Mazda's dominion however is not total and absolute. It is represented as something that mankind must fight to promote. It is strengthened and he is increased when they follow piety and good thought (two the other Ahuras). It is a striking feature of Zoroastra's religion, that is that Ahuras and their antagonists the Devas, do not live in a separate world and are not self-sufficient. They operate on earth through their human adherents and the extent of their power and authority depends on their success in getting people to listen to them."

So I just wanted to include that as a context in which to place that idea of the cross. These Devas and these Ahuras are operating through our thoughts. Whenever we have a thought that might be, "Oh we can just be lazy today" or you have a like a malevolent thought about another person, well again, that's one of those branching off points. That's one of those choices you have to make, whether to identify with that thought and then manifest it in your action or in your words, or to reject that thought and say, "No. I choose not to identify with that thought and I'm going to do the opposite," kind of like George Costanza in that one Seinfeld episode. You just do the opposite of what you regularly do and your life will turn around {laughter} in miraculous ways. So there's a lot of wisdom in George Costanza.

But maybe as a final as a final topic for today's show I want to talk about a couple more correspondences with the later Christian tradition in the letters of Paul which are the earliest Christian documents. You can see one already with that idea of dominion, the kingdom of god, the empire of god. There are many more though, one of which comes back to the fact that Zarathustra was actually a poet and a prophet. The hymns that he wrote, West argues, were written in order to be recited and performed in front of his congregation, in front of his communities.

So these hymns were probably sung or chanted or simply recited by Zarathustra to his people. That's the poet's element of him. But there's also the prophet element and in the language there's this word. and there's this word in the Zoroastrian tradition - I can't remember what the actual Avestin word is, but it comes down to us as mantra or the holy utterance. So what the Prophet was, what Zarathustra was, was someone who hears the holy utterance and then speaks it. So he essentially speaks the word of god and that's what a prophet is.

That directly relates of course to all other prophetic traditions, but specifically, prophecy as presented in and as underlying the writings of Paul. Paul presents himself as a prophet, one who hears the voice of the lord and who presents it, that in his communities, the communities that he formed they are vehicles for the word of god, for what he calls best translated as faith's heard thing. It's an awkward phrase but it's the best way to translate it, faith's heard thing, the prophetic word.

Just like with Zarathustra, the holy utterance is something that is heard within that comes from that higher source, from god, from Ahura Mazda in Zoroastrianism, and it's god who speaks through mortals. So when mortals speak the truth you can argue that speaking the truth is speaking god's word, in the framework of these two traditions, not only through mortals but through the community. When you have this unified community and they're speaking the truth to each other, and it could and it could be in weird ways like an early Christianity where not only are they speaking in tongues but they're actually engaging in "Okay, now I'm going to give prophecy. I'm going to speak prophecy." That might be a moral injunction or a statement about the way things are. But it was delineated and bracketed off from ordinary conversation. There was something special about it.

What this prophetic word, faith's heard thing did, was to provide a direction for behavior and the power to see it through, to get it done. That's what Timothy Ashworth says in his book Paul's Necessary Sin, which we'll be discussing next week probably. To give a framework for how Paul was thinking about these things, this gets back to our Stoicism show on the spirit, on the pneuma, that it's actually this through the spirit that the prophetic word comes to us. I don't know if it comes through our ears or through our crown chakra, but somehow this spirit comes into us. But it needs to be digested. There needs to be soil in which it can grow. Well we'll get into some of that stuff, probably next week.

But one of the important things in the Christian setting is not only the prophetic word, hearing the word of god - because anyone can convince themselves that they're hearing the word of god - but there's another related concept to that thing and that is the obedience of faith, that when the truth is spoken, when there is a message from above you could say, there's then the correlative principle of obedience to that word which is actually putting it into practice. So if you get a moral injunction from on high, you can be a scholar, an academic and write it down, "Oh this was the moral injunction from on high." You can know that, but if you don't actually do it, then what's the point?

So that's what Paul in particular - and I would think Zarathustra as well - that was his aim, that was his mission, to get people to actually put it into practice. The way Ashworth describes it is as responsive hearing. So not only do you hear but you respond to what you're hearing by putting it into action and through that hearing of the word and the change that happens within through the reception of the spirit, that is what gives clear guidance for right and wrong.

So all these things are put together. It is the voice of conscience in a sense, that comes from within and that is the goal I think, at least in the early Christian tradition. Not in the way that these ideas later developed with later Christian theologians and practices, but in those original Christian communities, the idea was to receive that word and for it to have a life-changing effect on your actual behavior, in what you manifest in the world.

So I see Zoroastrianism and the letters of Paul and the ideas behind them as just so similar that it's pretty striking at times. One that might not be as important practically but which is still interesting, is the focus on light. So for Zarathustra, light was very important. It was kind of the expression of god really. Let me just refresh my memory on something about light in Zarathustra's Hymns. This is again from M.L. West. So how does he describe it? The activities of the two Ahuras, right and good thought are associated with daylight and the sun. So daylight and the sun are actually manifestations of those two things. Sunlight was very important. West writes that "Frashaushtra, one of Zoroaster's friends, is said to expose his body to the good religion as if to the sunlight (because sunlight was so important). So I don't know, maybe he was a sun gazer.

Finally, I have one last practical thing that I hadn't mentioned yet when I was talking about how down to earth Zoroastrianism is. It's not all morality and religious ideas and all that stuff, but it gets really practical to the level where, for Zarathustra it was important to have good health. What is often translated as immortality in translations of his hymns, is actually simply long life, so to try to be healthy, to live a long life so that you can do what needs to be done.

Elan: I think that there also in the hymns some mention of enjoying festivities with one's community, having a certain amount of joy. So this wasn't an oppressive person who didn't consider the need to experience joy with one's community. When I read that I thought, "Oh a wonderful. There is a place for karaoke in ancient Persia and enjoying a nice meal and perhaps dancing and doing the types of things that would bond the community together in their faith, in their connections with one another as individuals and very human, very basic, very insightful."

Corey: If we can trust the traditions and the information that we have about Zoroaster, he was an individual who was trained from a very young age, according to Indo-Iranian traditions, taken at a young age and taught to wrestle with religious ideas and to really learn the rituals of the tribe and to understand the cosmology of the gods and how they all fit into place. At this time, according to tradition, he was also witnessing the corruption of the world around him, the corruption of rulers, the corruption of nomadic bands, the corruption of the priests themselves and the corrupt religious practices. When you read the Gathas, there are so many translations because like you said Harrison, it's a lost language, but what you take away from it is a man who is pleading for humanity, who is just pleading because there's nothing that he can do. But he knows the truth in his heart and I think it's in the Psalms, they say the prayer of a righteous man is effective.

There's something about that righteous heart praying and yearning for the betterment of his people and for the betterment of all of life that comes through that is so pure. You can almost hear him just kind of coming out of the pages to you.

Elan: Yes.

Corey: You can hear the desire to end all of the madness, to end the intoxication and to end all of the bloodshed and the corruption and everything that wastes all of the potential of life, the meaninglessness and how evil has spread and just seems to continue to spread. There's something so pure about this priest. From what we can tell, he didn't have a band of warriors. I think he only converted one person up until, according to tradition, he was in his 30s or 40s when he started to convert more people. But somebody who was absolutely weak and defenseless in the face of a terrifying reality and yet because of his prayer and effort, really changed the fate of the world in many ways.

Harrison: Good place to end it. I'll just say that I forgot to make the connection with light to Christianity. Of course it's god's glory and Paul is always talking about glory in his letters. So that was the connection there. But with that said, thanks for tuning in and we hope you enjoyed it. Make sure to like and subscribe if you like what you heard and want to hear more and we will see you next week