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28Zarathustra and the Christiany; The End of 2000 years of misunderstanding
 

European Centre for Zoroastrian Studies

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 Zarathustra and the Christiany; The End of 2000 years of misunderstanding
 

Speech by Dr. Khosro Khazai ( Pardis)
Brussels 31st Oct. 2004, in Paris 19th June 2005 and London, 5th June 2005;
Organized by “ World Zoroastrian Organization” in London-England
This speech is already published in several magazins

The body of my talk, today, is based on a speech I made in 2003 in Los Angeles (USA) in the context of 3000 years of Zoroastrian culture, organized by Unesco.
The title of that speech was “Zarathustra and the European Experience”. In fact the European experience with regard to Zarathustra, has been mainly related on one hand with Greco-Roman philosophers, and on the other hand with the Christianity.

Today, if I may, I would like to develop the difficult relationship between the Christianity and Zarathustra for the past 2000 years and the perspective of an end to this long misunderstanding

If for the past 2500 years Zarathustra’s ideas and views on the existence and the world have been an integral part of the European culture, this very long period, however, has not always been a love story. It has been marked by the alternation of the highest veneration for Zarathustra and the deepest rejection of him.

Praised and venerated passionately for about 1000 years as the highest symbol of knowledge by almost all the ancient Greek and Roman philosophers, Zarathustra, was severely demonized as from the 6th century by the Christian Church in Europe as the father of Dualism; and with him all the Persian doctrines and rivals such as Mithraism and Manichaeism together with Platonic philosophers were rejected.

The 6th century was the beginning of the Middle Ages in Europe. A horrible time called the great heresy. A period of terror, obscurantism and inquisition that destroyed by what is called today “collateral damage” the finest part of the Western European civilization

The Church had decided that any idea, any philosophy or any movement that has incorporated in their Christianity a belief in Dualism, was at war against God. Thus they should be punished. And punishment meant either to be killed or to be burned in public places.
Behind the concept of “dualism”, according to which the existence is conditioned by the struggle between two self- created opposite forces, good and evil, the Church saw mainly Zarathustra.

With Zarathustra’s rejection, almost the whole Pre-Christian European civilization was rejected by the Church.
In fact, many of the Greek and Roman philosophers, mostly dualistically inspired, had astonishingly either sheltered their philosophical or scientific work under the cover of Zarathustra’s authority or had related themselves in one way or another to Zarathustra
For instance Pythogoras the great philosopher and mathematician of the 5th century BC., a convinced dualist, called himself a pupil of Zarathustra, another great dualist philosopher, Platho of the 4th century BC. was called by his famous student Aristotle, a reincarnation of Zarathustra, so much he was influenced by Zarathustra’s ideas.

There were also the Manichaeism, another Persian religion, under the form of the Southern French Catharism and many other movements around the Mediterranean Sea and in Central Europe, behind which the Church saw again Zarathustra, as the great evil.

The fifty years of successive crusades and terrible wars initiated by Pope Innocent III in the 13th century, on the Cathars and the horrible carnage at Montsegur and Carcassonne the Cathar;s strongholds in the South of France, left over one hundred thousand dead (1).

Perhaps it is worthy to note that, the Protestant Churches, since the Reform, kept distance with the Catholic Church and didn’t praise any of Catholic excommunications (2).

The confusion and the absurdity regarding Zarathustra went so far that during the whole European Middle-Age, Zarathustra was called prince of the Magi, when the magi in return were strangely mistaken for magicians! Even the invention of the asrtrology, alchemy and the Jewish Cabala was attributed to him (3)!

In such a confusing and repressive climate, gradually the discontent voices of some enlightened minds against the religious totalitarism, here and there, start to rise.

Europe in search for a new cultural reference and a new identity starts to be interested in the long forgotten culture and civilization of the ancient Greece and Rome. Everything was to rediscover. We are in the 14th century, the beginning of the slow European Renaissance

At this time the great and influential Byzantine philosopher of the 14th and 15th century, Giorgius Plethon, who was initiated into the Zoroastrian philosophy by his Jewish master Eliaus, decided with a number of intellectuals of that time to promote an ambitious, perhaps too ambitious idea.
He said, “the world is tired of the endless wars between the three religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam. So let’s try another road, another vision for this world”.
Using his important political influence at the Byzantine court and his great intellectual notoriety among the Intellegencia of that time, he tried to set up a universal religion made of Zoroastrianism and Platonism to replace the three mentioned religions (4).

Despite the years of huge effort, he did not succeed. However, his ideas spread among the European elite, and flourished within the famous Platonic academy in Florence. They
became the basis of the process that lead to the humanism in Europe during the Renaissance.
As from that period the interest in Zarathustra was once again reborn in Europe.

The cultural freedom fighters of that time, namely philosophers, historians, writers, musicians, scientists, poets and many others, in search of the means for their struggle against the totalitarian power of the Middle Age Church, felt that Zarathustra could bring them a new light and a new instrument in their fight.

But in those times, who really knew what exactly Zarathustra’s existential philosophy was, or what did he say. Since at least 1500 years, even the Zarathustra’s language had been forgotten. The Moslem invasion of Persia, in the 7th century had burned and destroyed almost the whole Zoroastrian texts and literature.

So, everything was to be rediscovered. But this attempt of rediscovery, and consequently the recuperation of Zarathustra, became a pretext for another battle between the Christian, Jewish and Humanist scholars.
The first attempt by the Christians in that direction was made by a professor at Oxford University, named Thomas Hyde at the end of the 17th century. He based himself on the all sources available at the time, and wrote a large book in Latin. This work was to influence all the subsequent researches on the subject (5).
Hyde was a fervent Christian, for whom everything in the history of mankind turned around Christianity. Therefore, he tried to show Zarathustra and his doctrine in the light most favorable and acceptable to Christian eyes. He wrote” in reforming the ancient Persian religion, Zarathustra repeated the work of Abraham, and showed the religion of one and only God”. He insisted that Zoroastrians were always monotheists, because in their religion God namely Ahura Mazda had priority over the evil called Angra Mainyu.

It was of course a huge change compared to Christian dualist view of Zoroastrianism throughout the Middle-Ages.

But, only two years later, Hyde was severely attacked by other zealous Christian scholars.
The first one was Pierre Bayle. A famous French scholar that wrote in 1702 in his important work “Dictionnaire historique et critique” that Hydes argument on the monotheism of the Zoroastrians was weak and false. He wrote “because the Zoroastrians, submitted to the hard rule and hatred of the Moslems, wanted to protect themselves; so they adopted the Semitic religions belief according to which God has created evil”.
Bale’s attack on Hyde was to be carried on by another French scholar Abbe Foucher.
He blamed Hyde in his numerous papers with much arrogance for having put doubts on the ancient Greek authors’ affirmations according to which the Persians were dualists.
He then advised Hyde, a devout Christian himself, to stay in the line of serving the true Religion, that is to say Christianity.
In this scholastic quarrel, undermined by the religious militantism, another famous scholar, this time a Jew named Humphry Prideaux, enter the battlefield.
In his book “History of the Jews” published in 1715, he pushed the argument to such an extend that he considered Zarathustra has been born a Jew ! So he was a monotheist.
He even situated Zarathustra’s birth in the 5th century BC. and designated Zarathustra’s Jewish teachers namely Elias, Ezra and Daniel.

With the rediscovery and translation of Avesta, in the late 18th century by the French scholar Anquetil Duperron, it was the turn of the Humanists, made of philosophers, scholars, writers, poets, musicians, artists to enter this ideological battle.

The translation of Avesta provoked passionate discussions in Europe. Voltaire (6), Grimm (7), Didérot (8), Goethe (9), Von Kleist (9), Byron (10), Wordsworth (11),
Shelley (12) and later Nietzsche and many others joined this ideological fight (6). The great musicians participated as well. Rameau included Zarathustra in his opera “Zoroastre”, Mozart in his “ The Magic Flute” and Richard Strauss in his symphony “Thus Spake Zarathustra”.

The main interest for the European intellectuals in Zarathustra was that they thought having found a weapon against the power of the Church. To them the Church did not have anymore the monopoly of the truth. The truth could also be found in a non-Christian tradition, much older than Christianity.

More and more, as Jacques Duchesne-Guillemin in his book “Western Response to Zoroastre” points out, “Zarathustra became part of an attempt in Western Europe to emancipate modern men and women from Christianity”.
Zoroastrianism was praised with all the virtues which Christianity was supposed to be lacking: such as rationality, simplicity, contact with nature, constructive and positive instincts, and above all, Zarathustra was acclaimed for his dualistic solution to the problem of evil.
The old and disturbing question about the nature of Jewish and Christian God that had been left unanswered for at least two thousand years, once again, was brought forward:

You say: your God is All Knowledgeable and All Powerful. Tell us why He has created a creature named Satan, to deceit the weak human beings, that He Himself has created, and then send His poor creatures into the eternal fire of Hell.?
Either this God is not All Knowledgeable or He is not All Powerful or the Evil is a part of Him.

It was, of course an embarrassing question. In reaction, the Christian intellectuals counter-attacked and changed the front. They accused Duperron, the Avesta’s translator, of being a forger and the translation of Avesta a forgery.

Facing such a poisoning situation, Duperon, himself a faithful Roman Catholic, set back and refused to see anything in the Avesta that could be used against Christianity.
His attitude, of course, disappointed the anti-church intellectuals, though Voltaire, the famous French philosopher, in a letter praised the Duperron’s courage.

At this point philologists and linguists also joined the battle.
Three years later another translation of Avesta made by the German linguist Kleukers proved that Duperron was right and Avesta entered for good the field of scientific research (15).
It took however another thirty years until the last panchristian resistants give in and recognize its authenticity.
From then on the scholars became interested to search the hidden sources of Christianity within the Zoroastrian doctrine.
The discovery of Sanskrit and the relationship between this language and the Avestan language, made easier the comprehension of the Avesta. The idea of the common origin of the civilization of Iran and India was thus established.

For the Humanists however, there was a grater victory on the way. In the middle of the 19th century, the brilliant German philologist, Martin Haug who had started a vast study on Avesta, discovered something curious ; he found that 17 out of the 72 chapters of the Avesta, were written in a much older language.
He isolated these 17 chapters and through a very hard study translated them. These 17 chapters, called the Gathas, that mean “songs”, proved to be the words that have come from the very mouth of Zarathustra, more than 3000 years earlier (16)..

Haug could thus distinguish between Zarathustra’s theology, that was monotheistic and his existential philosophy that was dualistic.
This affirmation was enthusiastically welcomed by the Parsis in India because it was pointing out Zarathustra’s original monotheism.

But some other scholars, such as Spiegel and Darmesteter could hardly digest the fact that Zarathustra could be the discoverer of monotheism. (17)
So they counter attacked. The first one tried to show it was the Hebrews that had given to Zarathustra the idea of a single God in the Gathas, and the second went farther and claimed the Gathas were forgeries, composed under the influence of Hellenizing Jews.
Of course neither of these views could be sustained for longtime, specially when the further researches proved that Zarathustra had been lived in the Eastern of Iran where the Jewish ideas had not been penetrated at the time of Zarathustra. These claims were abandoned soon even by their authors themselves.

This kind of attitudes led other German scholars such as Rhode (18) and Creuzer ( 19) to claim the Zoroastrian origin for all cultures, Western and Eastern. Perhaps such claim was excessive, but it was the climate of the intellectual battles of that period.

Just a few years after the rediscovery of the texts of the Gathas, the gist of Zarathustra’s ideas expressed 3000 years earlier was recovered in a brilliant way in 1883 by one of the greatest philosophers of our time, Friedrich-Wilhelm Nietzsche, in his book “ Thus Spake Zarathustra”.
His work based on an extremely well understanding of Zarathustra’s revolutionary concept and ideal, rendered in European thought, is considered as the final victory in the struggle against the power of the Church in Europe. It changed radically the European thought of modern times, delivering people from the sins they had never committed (20).

As from the beginning of 20th century, with the development of comparative studies of religions, the researchers became more and more interested in the influence of Zarathustra’s thought on Christianity. There are many to be cited. One of the first was Lawrence Mills, Prof. of Avestan philology at Oxford University who wrote in 1910 a very long article entitled “Our Own Religion In Ancient Persia”. Almost all the academic researchers recognized the debt of the Bible to Zarathustra.

But strangely, the very name of Zarathustra was still a taboo in the Church. This situation dramatically changed when one day on the 24th of October 1976 ( 3 years before the Islamic revolution), something incredible happened.

In the University of Tehran, in front of a selected audience of some three hundred people, made up of respected specialists in the Zoroastrian field, the prelates of the Catholic Church in Iran and a number of cultural and political western personality, a man was going to speak.
The speaker was the Cardial Franz Koenig, the archbishop of Vienna, one of the most important personalities in the catholic world.
The subject of the speech was “ Influence of Zarathustra in the World”. During his speech, Cardinal analyzed with so much erudite the decisive influence of Zarathustra’s thought on Judeo-Christian religions and more broadly on the world.
His speech was full of the phrases such as: “ whoever wishes to understand Jesus and Mohamad, ought to start with the religious universe of Zoroaster”,or “ the ideas and thought of Zarathustra shaped Europe and Christianity”, or “ Bible is indebted to Iran” and so on.

Curiously, this highly important speech, though published one year later, in German and its translation in French, was put in a drawer and a larger public could not get aware of it. The Islamic Revolution made then matter worse, and those who had a copy of it had to hide it.
Only three years ago I discovered this document, in French version, when the famous Iranian writer, Dr. Shafa who was during the Shah’s period responsible for the Royal Library, sent it to me.
As soon as I found the huge importance of this document, I published it in three languages, Persian, French and English, and in five thousand copies, through our Centre in Brussels “the European Centre for Zoroastrian Studies”. We sent them to every single cardinal and priest that we could find the addresse.
As a matter of fact this document, undoubtedly can open a new chapter in the difficult relationship between the Zoroastrians and the Christians.

The Zoroastrian influence on the post Babylonian Judaism, and the Christianity, led to another consciousness among the European Intellingecia. One of the movements issued of this new awareness
is called “Sacra Europa”


20 years ago, one of the greatest French specialists in the history of religion and Zoroastrianism, Paul du Breuil, put forward a provocative question: “ Is the Christianity dying?”
The answer given to this question by a number of researchers in history of religion from different European countries was deeply worrying. The conclusion could be sum up in a few phrases:
► The Christianity that together with Greco-Roman civilisation gave shape to Europe, and offered to its historical and cultural consciousness a direction, confronted today with the needs and wishes of the different groups in industrial societies has no answer to give.◄ ► Churches are empty of the European populations. And they have no other way than to attract the people of the third world countries.
► In order to face this situation, and to save the Christianity, about 15 years ago a number of French, Swiss, Greek, and Russian academics, philosophers, specialists in religions gathered and founded a movement, that they called “Sacra Europa”.◄
The methodology followed by theorists of this movement
is quite original. They say:
► “we should rethink about the Christianity and in this rethinking we must go as far as the very source that has irrigated the spiritual and religious consciousness of the people of Europe. And this source is nothing else but Zarathustra’s message; the message that gave inspiration to the Jewish prophets, to Greco-Roman philosophers, to the ethical behaviour of different people in Europe, to the Christianity and finally to the formation of a self-refreshing view point on existence. We should carry out research on it and connect the Zarathustra’s message to the Christianity”. ◄

But here a basic question arises: in linking the Christianity to the source of the European spiritual and religious consciousness, that is Zarathustra’s thought, do the aim is to renew the Christianity or to transform it?

 

To answer this question Démétre Théraios, the Greek philosopher and one of the theorists of this movement in a long and complex article, based on du Breuil’s work
on Zarathustra, tries to answer this question in three parts:

►The first part is called Good thought ( Humata):
He writes this Zoroastrian concept could be used for the psychology of Christ. It consists of rethinking deeply the two natures of Christ, his human nature and his divine nature.
►The second part is called, Good words ( Hukhata):
He uses this second Zoroastrian concept, that is the power of the creative words to create a theology for Christ in order to situate him in the centre of the mystery of Trinity. Yahve, the Biblical God, said and the world was. And the good words are there to build the bridge between a god coming from the desert and his Paradise conceived as a flowering green garden.
► And finally the third part is called Good deed ( Huvarshta):
This third Zoroastrian concept, could be used to create a cosmology in Christ able to renew his church through the faith, hope and love.

The founder of this movement Paul du Breuil was dead prematurely in 1991. But the movement itself is going on and attract other thinkers to this concept.

Please let me finish this general view on relationship between Zarathustra and the Christianity with this Nietzsche phrase:
“I am from yesterday and I am from today, but a part of me is from tomorrow, from after tomorrow and from always”. So spake Zarathustra

Khosro Khazai ( Pardis)
Brussels, June 2005

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

• References are in the following page (page 11)

 


References

1- Zoe Oldenbourg; Massacre at Montsegur. A History of the Albigensian Crusade, 1961. Paul Kriwaczek; In Search of Zarathustra, London 2002
2- P. de Breuil ; New scope on some aspects of Zoroastrian history and philosophy, p.64, 1994
3- J. Bidez et F. Cumont, Les mages hellénisés, Paris 1938, rééditée 1973, p. 6 ; J. Duchesne-Guillemin,
Les religions de l’Iran, . p. 253, 1961
4- J. Duchesne-Guillemin; Western Response to Zaratoustra,. p. 4, 1957; H. Levy, Chaldean Oracles in the later Roman Empire, Cairo 1956 p. 99ss).
5- Thomas Hyde; De Vetere Religione Persarm, Oxford 1700
6- Voltaire; Dictionnaire philosophique, “Zoroastre” Paris 1764
7- J.Grimm; Deutsch Mithologie, 1835, p.76
8- Diderot ;Encyclopedie, Article « Perses », p.12
9- Goethe; Parsi Nameh ( West-Ostihicher Diwan, with notes on the ancient Persians)
10- Heindrich von Kleist ; Priere de Zoroastre; 1810
11- Byron ; Child Harold
12-Wordsworth ;Excursion
13- Shelly; Prometheus Unbound
14- F.Nietzsche; Thus Spake Zarathustra ; 1885- 1887
15- J. Kleukers; Zend-Avesta, Riga 1776
16- Martin Haug; Essays on the sacred language, 2e éd. 1878.
17- Fr. Spiegel; Eranisch Alterthumskund, P.1 and 24, 1873 ;
J.Darmesteter; Le Zend-Avesta ; 3 volumes,1892
18- J.Rhode; Die Heilige Sage und Gesammte Relgionsystem, 1980, P. 19- Creuzer ; Symbolik und Mythologie, 1819-1821, P. 21
20- James Farrell; The Influence of Zarathustra on Western Culture, 1977

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