The House of David

"dawnbreak in the west"

Sunday, January 29, 2017

The incoherence of fifth-century Zoroastrianism

The anti-Christian polemic of mid-fifth-century Sasanian envoys must rely upon a firm basis itself to work. As to that...

Michael RJ Bonner cites a ninth-century tradition, endorsed by Boyce, that Ḫusraw I ordered the writing of the Avesta (BOYCE 1979, p. 135). Bonner has been noting a lot of Khusro-era propaganda throughout his thesis. We now have the opportunity to test that: was the writing of the Avesta part of Khusro's 'Abd-al-Malik-ite propaganda campaign; or was his being credited with this, part of that campaign?

The dên by 450 AD was behaving like a religion of the Book... although nobody is yet using these terms. That a mythology can grow out of a single word, "perhaps", is characteristic of Midrash. A Jewish example: the Mishnah had developed the doctrine that murder is genocide - of the unborn - from Genesis's use of the plural form "bloods". The dên has borrowed more directly from the Jews of Iraq that Jesus is Bar Pantera.

The text in question was certainly the Avesta. I've posted elsewhere that the Avesta had arrived to the Zoroastrians by 400 AD. As of the early 500s, Khusro I in his "reactionary" programme would consult this text, now a book, like an Aryan Koran.

In 450 AD we see a confusion between the old-time Turanian religion and the realities of interfaith dialogue in the fifth century Near East. Our polemic here features both a near-animist origin-story, and an assumption that God resides outside the universe, together. Almut Hintze says that for the Gathas and other pre-Sasanian "Avestan" literature, there is no incoherence: the universe is animist, so one worships God by honouring His creation.

As of 450 AD the Zoroastrians were still struggling to merge the Bronze Age Avesta with the Late Antique Near Eastern consensus. Bonner points out elsewhere that the contemporary Armenians agreed with Dinawari that the story of Az-Dehik the Dragon belongs, somehow, with the Biblical Nimrod. Zoroastrian propaganda elsewhere blames Alexander for burning their old books, which books presumably would have better helped their doctrine.

It seems to me that the Avesta, at least the origin-story in it, had already achieved a fixed text. Khusro just edited it. It's possible he did restore the Avesta to a better state after earlier shahs (like Kovad) had corrupted it. But remember that Sasanian princes always lie. So it is valuable that this envoy in 450 AD let slip what he did, to Armenians who weren't in the habit of lying all the time.

posted by Zimri on 10:16 | link | 0 comments

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