Human History, Its Aims and Its End, according to the Zoroastrian Doctrine of Late Antiquity

Panaino, Antonio. 2020. Human History, Its Aims and Its End, according to the Zoroastrian Doctrine of Late Antiquity. In Tilo Schabert & John von Heyking (eds.), Wherefrom Does History Emerge?, 97–122. Berlin: De Gruyter.

Zoroastrianism offers a remarkable presentation of the origin of humankind, its present condition, and its final destiny. Human history is considered to be the result of a cosmological strategy enacted by god himself, Ohrmazd, in order to compel his direct and primordial antagonist, the evil Ahreman, to engage battle in our world. Eventually, the forces of darkness will be completely destroyed at the conclusion of a chiliadic temporal cycle. The most important battle in order to defeat Ahreman is fought by humankind. The importance of history in this teleology accounts for the emphasis put by it on the political dimension. We evoke the Sasanian period, in which the Persian kings assumed the status of a kosmokrátor, i.e. of a universal king, charged with achieving victory over evil. We offer in this article an overview of the intellectual contribution of the Pre-Islamic Iranian world to the idea of history.


Zoroastrian Laws of Ritual Purity

Moazami, Mahnaz. 2020. Laws of Ritual Purity. Zand ī Fragard ī Jud-Dēw-Dād (A Commentary on the Chapters of the Widēwdād) (Iran Studies 19). Leiden: Brill.

Laws of Ritual Purity: Zand ī Fragard ī Jud-Dēw-Dād (A Commentary on the Chapters of the Widēwdād) describes the various ways in which Zoroastrian authorities in the fifth-sixth centuries CE reinterpreted the purity laws of their community. Its redactor(s), conversant with the notions and practices of purity and impurity as developed by their predecessors, attempt(s) to determine the parameters of the various categories of pollution, the minimum measures of polluted substances, and the effect of the interaction of pollution with other substances that are important to humans. It is therefore in essence a technical legal corpus designed to provide a comprehensive picture of a central aspect of Zoroastrian ritual life: the extent of one’s liability contracting pollution and how atonement/purification can be achieved.


Der Islam 97 (2)

Among other interesting papers published in the latest issue of Der Islam, 97 (2), two contributions fall in the scope of Iranian Studies:

  • Sebastian Bitsch: Sengende Hitze, Eiseskälte oder Mond? Zum Echo zoroastrischer eschatologischer Vorstellungen am Beispiel des koranischen zamharīr

Abstract: This article discusses eventual Qurʾānic allusions to Zoroastrian texts by using the example of zamharīr (Q 76:13). In the early tafsīr and ḥadīth-literature the term is most commonly understood as a piercing cold, which has frequently been interpreted as a punishment in hell. This idea, it is argued, has significant parallels to the concept of cold as a punishment in hell or to the absence of cold as a characteristic of paradise in the Avestan and Middle-Persian literature. In addition, Christian and Jewish texts that emphasize a similar idea and have not been discussed in research so far are brought into consideration. The article thus aims to contribute to the inclusion of Zoroastrian texts in locating the genesis of the Qurʾān – or early Islamic exegesis – in the “epistemic space ” of late antiquity.

  • Gregor Schoeler: The “National Amnesia” in the Traditional History of Iran

Abstract: It is well known that the pre-Islamic “national history” of Iran (i. e., the indigenous secular historical tradition, transmitted orally over many centuries) knows nothing at all, or as good as nothing, about the dynasties and empires of the Medes, Achaemenids, Seleucids, and Parthians (ca. 700 BCE–226 CE). It is first with the Sasanians (226‒651 CE) that Iran’s “national history” evinces more detailed knowledge. Instead of reports on the historical Medes and Achaemenid dynasties, accounts of mythical and legendary dynasties, the Pīšdādians and Kayānians, are found.

In this essay, an attempt will be made to explain this “gap” in the pre-Islamic historical tradition, this “strange historical (or national) amnesiaˮ (Ehsan Yarshater) in the cultural memory of the Iranians, with the help of a theory on the structure and modality of oral tradition, based on field research, by the Belgian historian and anthropologist Jan Vansina. The structure in question concerns a tripartite perception of the past: a wealth of information about antiquity (traditions of origin or creation and reports on culture heroes) – plenty of information, too, on the recent and most recent times – and lying between them, a “gap” in the accounts. Vansina described this phenomenon as the “hourglass effect.” This is exactly the narrative structure of Iranian national history; it is evident that the Achaemenids and the other pre-Christian dynasties fall into the “gap” described by Vansina.

The same phenomenon can also be detected on the level of Sasanian history. We find there a plethora of information on the founder of the dynasty, Ardašīr (reigned 226‒241 CE); meanwhile, very few details are known of the kings following Ardašīr, and it is only as of Kavād I (reigned 488‒496 and 499‒531 CE) that we have outstanding historical information.


The Sin of the Woman

Sadeghi, Fatemeh. 2020. The Sin of the Woman: Interrelations of Religious Judgments in Zoroastrianism and Islam (Islamkundliche Untersuchungen, 336). Berlin: Klaus Schwarz Verlag.

Since the 1920s, the so-called “return to the roots”, has become a hegemonic discourse in Iran. Whereas the Pahlavi regimes (1925–1979) propagated the myth of the lost idyll of pre-Islamic Iran representing themselves as the true inheritors of those monarchies, the Islamists adopted a respective approach in regard to Islam. As a result, a similar fairytale was made about the early Islamic community. Such claims, as it were, are not so much about the past as they are about the present. So is this study. By delving into the past, it questions the widespread nostalgic notions considering the pre-Islamic era as a lost utopia, wherein women were free from the restrictions “imposed by Islam”. In point of fact such past is a fabrication. In the majority of cases, therefore, the revival projects invent traditions to legitimize current political agendas.

Table of Contents:

A Note on Persian and Arabic Transliteration and Translation
Chapter I:
Women in the Sasanian Zoroastrianism
Chapter II:
Zoroastrian Dadestan: From Sasanian Era to Islam
Chapter III:
Chapter IV:
Islam and Menstruation
Chapter V:
Sexual Relations in Zoroastrianism and Islam


The Zoroastrian Vision, Straight in the Eyes

Azarnouche, Samra & Olivia Ramble. 2020. La Vision zoroastrienne, les yeux dans les yeux Commentaire sur la Dēn selon Dēnkard III.225. Revue de l’his toire des reli gions 237(3). 331–395.

Sassanian Seal MOT 6.1, Collection M. I. Mochiri, after Gnoli 1993: 80.

In the Zoroastrian tradition, the Dēn (Avestan daēnā “vision”) is a polysemic notion that denotes either an auroral psychopompic deity, or the religious doctrine, or again the sacred word of the Avesta. Passage 225 of the Dēnkard III, commented here for the first time, combines these different concepts, thereby not only bringing direct proof for the continuity of the word’s original meaning—“vision”—between the Avestan textual layer and the Middle Persian (Pahlavi) exegetic layer, but also testifying to the development of metaphysical speculation (with a neo-platonic backdrop) concerning the transcendental vision acquired by the magi. Material sources (iconographic as well as epigraphic) also contribute to highlighting the notion that the Dēn is the divine entity that one looks at straight in the eyes.


Moses and Garšāsp

Ehsani Chombeli, Azadeh. 2020. Moses and Garšāsp, Ardašīr and Herod: Narratives of the Babylonian Talmud in their Iranian context (Zoroastrian Studies Series 5). Costa Mesa: Mazda Publishers.

This book offers a comparative study between a number of Talmudic and Middle Persian narratives. The present work seeks first and foremost to examine Talmudic narratives in their Iranian context, and secondly to examine the Talmudic background of Iranian narratives where applicable.
The first and second chapters will offer an analysis of the alteration of historical and Biblical figures in the Bavli (the Babylonian Talmud) based on the influence of Iranian mythical and historical figures, while the third chapter will provide an account of how Iranists can learn from Talmudic studies. Here we suggest that a Talmudic narrative may have encouraged Zoroastrian priests to compose an extensive work of religious literature, namely the Ardā Wīrāz-nāmag, an idea which will be further explored in the appendix.

Azadeh Ehsani has a PhD in religion from Concordia University in Montreal, Canada (2018) and an MA in ancient languages and culture of Iran with a focus on Middle Persian (Pahlavi) from Institute for Humanities and Cultural Studies University in Tehran, Iran (2005).


The Conceptual Image of the Planets in Ancient Iran and the Process of Their Demonization

Panaino, Antonio. 2020. The conceptual image of the planets in ancient Iran and the process of their demonization: Visual materials and models of inclusion and exclusion in Iranian history of knowledge. Zeitschrift für Geschichte der Wissenschaften, Technik und Medizin 28. 359–389.

The Moon God (Klimova plate, Perm region, Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg S-43)

The present contribution offers an overview of the main problems concerning the representation of the planets in the pre-Islamic Iranian world, the origin of their denominations, their astral roles and the reasons behind their demonization in the Zoroastrian and Manichaean frameworks. This is a preliminary attempt to resume the planetary iconography and iconology in western and eastern Iranian sources, involving also external visual data, such as those coming from Dunhuang and the Chinese world. The article offers an intellectual journey into a net of mutual cultural and spiritual relations, focusing on the image of the heaven (and of its celestial beings), thereby proposing a new synthesis and highlighting a number of intercultural contaminations.


Maniiu et la mythologie protozoroastrienne

Pirart, Éric. 2020. Maniiu et la mythologie protozoroastrienne: Étude de textes vieil-avestiques (Acta Iranica 59). Leuven: Peeters.

Dieux et déesses aniconiques, abstraits, souvent anonymes, imbriqués les uns dans les autres, impliqués dans les rouages d’un rite méconnu, tel est le monde mythologique d’un Zarathushtra des origines, lorsque l’auteur des Cantates vieil-avestiques disait encore «lui et moi». Toutes les péripéties mythiques sont techniques, dictées par la haute idée que le poète se fait du grand dieu Ahura Mazda. Avec la certitude que le Roi vêtu du ciel a dispensé la connaissance à Zarathushtra, le poète officiant développe le Maniiu, l’idée, le sentiment, la conviction que, pour retrouver au-delà de la mort la vache qui a pu le nourrir, la science divine lui sera bien utile. En effet, elle régit la façon de conjuguer toutes les pièces, concrètes et abstraites, de la célébration cultuelle, un insaisissable complexe dont l’harmonieuse réussite portant le nom d’Asa donnera à la divinité les moyens de jouer son rôle.


Zoroastrian Dualism in Jewish, Christian, and Manichaean Perspective

Volume 96, issue 2 (2020) of Ephemerides Theologicae Lovanienses is dedicated to the subject of Zoroastrian dualism in Jewish, Christian, and Manichaean perspectives.

Table of Contents

  • Jan Dochhorn: Zu den religionsgeschichtilichen Hintergründen der jüdischen und christlichen Satanologie. Eine Antwort auf John J. Collins, zugleich Sondierungen zum Verhältnis zwischen der Zwei-Geister-Lehre in 1 Q S III,13-IV,26 und dualistischen Konzepten iranischer Herkunft.
  • Benjamin Gleede: More Zoroastrian than Zoroaster? The Problem of Zoroastrian Influence on Manichaeism Illustrated by a Version of the Manichaean Myth Preserved in Severus of Antioch, Titus of Bostra and Theodoret of Cyrus.
  • Nestor Kavvadas: Sasanian Creed or Byzantine Projection? The Zurvanite Myth and Theodore of Mopsuestia’s Contra Magos.
  • Alexander M. Schilling: Ahreman in Armenien. Untersuchungen zu den christlich-orientalischen Zurwān-Texten.
  • Fazel Pakzad: Deus filius temporis? Divine Derivations and the Nature of Zoroastrian Dualism

Iranian Cosmographical World

Panaino, Antonio. 2020. A Walk through the Iranian Heavens: For a History of an Unpredictable Dialogue between Nonspherical and Spherical Models (Ancient Iran Series 9). Irvine, CA: Jordan Center for Persian Studies, University of California, Irvine.

This book by Antonio Panaino discusses the development of the Iranian cosmographical world and its interaction with the Greek, Mesopotamian and Indic civilizations. By undertaking such a study, the author places the Iranian intellectual tradition in perspective vis-à-vis other ancient civilizations and demonstrates the depth and importance of the Mazdean tradition, which was able to absorb and systematize foreign knowledge. Panaino shows the presence of both Aristotelian and Neo-Platonist traditions in the Iranian intellectual scene, though somewhat changed and acculturated to the Mazdean ideas and world-view. Hence, the book is a lively and interesting study of the juxtapositioning of various scientific and philosophical ideas at play in the Mediterranean, Iranian and Indic worlds.