Page images
PDF
EPUB

CHAP. III.

On Zoroastres and the Religion of the ancient

Persians.

ZOROASTER, or Zoroastres, or Zerdusht, who was regarded as the great institutor or reformer of the Persian religion, was one of the earliest and most distinguished teachers of mankind among the heathens.

There have been many persons of this name *, and much confusion has been introduced concerning the age in which the original Zoroastres lived f. Sorne place him in the shade of remote antiquity, supposing him to have lived six hundred years before Xerxes passed into Europe I; others carry him back almost to the time of the flood. More probable accounts, however, represent him to have flourished towards the conclusion of the empire of the Medes, to have enjoyed the favour of Cyrus, and to have established his religion in the time of Darius Hystaspes* ; though others, indeed, consider the contemporary of Darius as a second Zoroastres, who introduced temples in which the sacred fire was preserved. Clement of Alexandria states that Pythagoras, (who adopted many of the precepts of Zoroastres,) described him as one of the Persian Magi t.; Suidas speaks of him as a Chaldean or PersoMedian, who wrote on mathematics. The actions of many different persons seem occasionally to have been ascribed to the original character, his name having been afterwards applied to eminent persons as an honourable distinction. Plutarch represents him to have taught magic to the Persians I, confirming his pretensions to be regarded as the person who introduced science and philosophy among them. Zoroastres appears to have been indebted to the Mosaic and prophetic writings for much of the information which he

* Stanley's Lives of the Philosophers, part xiv. c. 2. + Suidas. Plutarch, Isis, et Osirid. Pliny, lib. xxx. c. 1. | Diogen. Laert. Proem. p. 2. Edit. Stephan. 1683.

* Hyde de Rel. vet. Pers. p. 277. 292. $12. 318. Prideaux, Con. Part I. b. iv. Richardson, Diss. p. 74.

+ Strom. lib. i. p. 357, vol. i. Edit. Potter, 1715. L'Abbé Foucher, Traité historique de la Religion des Perses, tom. xxv. Hist. de l'Academ. des Inscriptions.

| De Isid, et Osirid.

[ocr errors]

possessed, and for an acquaintance with those doctrines which he communicated with his instructions to his followers. From the knowledge which he displays of the religion and customs of the Israelites, some have conceived that he was a Jew, and a very strong and general persuasion has prevailed that he was an inmate with one of the Jewish prophets, or of Ezra, and possibly he might have lived with one of those who partook of the captivity, as with Daniel or Ezekiel, who prophesied in Assyria, rather than with Jeremiah, who during that period remained in Judea.

There are some circumstances, indeed, recorded of the life of Zoroastres, which seem to be borrowed from the history of Daniel, particularly with respect to his being exposed to danger from the persecutions of his enemies, and after a miraculous deliverance, retored to favour with his sovereign.

The Arabian authors, some of whom assert that he was dismissed from the prophet whom he served, with a leprosy, inflicted as a punishment for having opposed his will, seem to have misapplied to him the circumstances, which are related with respect to Gehazi ;

and some bare formed the opinion that he lived with Elijab.

All that appears indisputable is, that be was intimately acquainted with the history and religion of the Jews, and that he availed himself of the information, which he possessed, to support the pretence of inspiration, and to establish his doctrines.

The acquirements of Zoroastres in learning and philosophical knowledge enabled him to obtain a considerable authority. He endeavoured also to strengthen his influence by imitating the circumstances, which had conferred a lustre on the Hebrew legislator, and by pretending to distinctions of divine favour and miraculous powers.

He ascended on a mountain, and there, as he affirmed, he held converse with God, who appeared to bim in a flame of fire *, and he afterwards retired to prepare his Institutes in a cave decorated with mystical figures of Mithras, and allegorical devices, to impose on the imaginations of the people ; thus employing a contrivance, afterwards imitated by Pythagoras, Mahomet, and other impostors, and by the Dervises of the East.

* Exod. iji. 2.

VOL. I.

After having made his appearance at Xiz in Bactria, or at Ecbatana, and laid the foundations of his religion in Media, he repaired under the countenance of Hystaspes, the father of Darius to Bactria, and took up his abode at Balch, on the river Oxus, on the confines of Persia, India, and Cowaresmia, extending his doctrines through those countries; and thence he went to Susa, where Darius became his convert, and by his example brought over the superior ranks of the Persians to the new religion. Notwithstanding the opposition of the Sabians, it soon became the religion of the country, with public institutions and sacred edifices, and the order and economy of national establishments and service.

Having effected this, Zoroastres settled himself as the spiritual head of the institution, which he had set up, and governing with patriarchal and almost regal power in Bactria, he is said to have been killed by a King of the Oriental Sabians, who resisted his attempts to convert him. Darius avenged his death, and continued to support bis institutions, which indeed maintained their ascendancy in the East through many ages. • Many stories are related of him not worth

O

« PreviousContinue »