Rethinking Sasanian Iconoclasm

Shenkar, Michael. 2015. Rethinking Sasanian Iconoclasm. Journal of the American Oriental Society 135(3). 471–498.

This article presents a detailed reconsideration of the well-established and canonized theory of “Sasanian iconoclasm” postulated by Mary Boyce in 1975. The Sasanians did not develop any prohibition against anthropomorphic representations of the gods, and in the surviving Zoroastrian literature and inscriptions there is no evidence of either theological disputes over idols or of a deliberate eradication of them by the Persian kings. Sasanian cult was aniconic, but the historical and archaeological evidence clearly demonstrates that Sasanian visual culture was anything but iconoclastic. It seems that the Persian iconoclastic identity was constructed in the early Sasanian period as a response to the challenges posed by Christianity. By joining the common monotheistic discourse against idolatry, the Zoroastrian clergy adopted the conventions of the world in which they lived.
Attacks against “idols” and “idolatry” should be understood in the context of internal and external polemical discourse against beliefs deemed to be erroneous by the Zoroastrian priesthood.