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International Standard Bible Encyclopedia

pur'-shan, pur'-zhan,RATURE (ANCIENT):

I. LANGUAGE (Introductory)




1. Ordinary Ayestic

2. Gathic


1. His Date, etc.

2. Date of Avesta

3. Divisions of the present Avesta

(1) The Yasna

(2) The Vispered

(3) The Vendidad

(4) The Yashts

(5) The Khorda Avesta


1. Literature

2. Comparison


I. Language: (Introductory).

The Persian language, ancient and modern alike, is an Aryan tongue. In its ancient forms it is more closely connected with Vedic Sanskrit than with any other language except Armenian. Most of its roots are to be found also in Slavonic, Greek, Latin and other tongues of the same stock.


There were two main dialects in the ancient language of Iran (Airyanem),

(1) that of the Persians proper, and

(2) that of the Medes.

The former is known to us from the inscriptions of the Achemenian kings, the latter from the Avesta, and a few Median words preserved for us by Herodotus and other Greek writers.

II. Old Persian Inscriptions.

These fall between 550 and 330 B.C., and contain about 1,000 lines and 400 words. They are carved upon the rocks in a cuneiform character, simplified from that of the neo-Susian, which again comes from the neo-Babylonian syllabary. In Old Persian inscriptions only 44 characters are employed, of which 7 are ideographs or contractions. The remaining 37 phonetic signs are syllabic, each consisting of an open syllable and not merely of a single letter, except in case of separate vowels. The syllabary, though much simpler than any other cuneiform system, does not quite attain therefore to being an alphabet. It was written from left to right, like the other cuneiform syllabaries. Of Cyrus the Great only one Persian sentence has been found: Adam Kurush Khshayathiya Hakhamanishiya, "I am Cyrus the King, the Achemenian." Darius I has left us long inscriptions, at Behistan (Besitun), Mt. Alvand, Persepolis, Naqsh i Rustam, etc., and one at Suez, the latter mentioning his conquest of Egypt and the construction of the first (?) Suez canal:

Adam niyashtayam imam yuviyam kantanaiy haca Pirava nama rauta tya Mudrayaiy danauvatiy abiy daraya tya haca Parsa aiti.

("I commanded to dig this canal from the river named the Nile, which flows through Egypt, to the sea which comes from Persia.")

We have also inscriptions of Xerxes at Persepolis and many short ones of Artaxerxes I, Artaxerxes Mnemon, and Artaxerxes Ochus. From them all taken together we learn much concerning the history and the religion of the Achemenian period. It is from Achemenian or Old Persian, and not from the Medic or Avestic, that modern Persian has sprung through Pahlavi and Dari as intermediate stages. This is probably due to the political supremacy which the Persians under the Achaemenides gained over the Medes. The few words in the inscriptions which might otherwise be doubtful can be understood through comparison with Armenian and even with the modern Pets, e.g. yuviya in the above inscription is the modern vulgar Pets jub.

III. Medic Dialect.

1. Ordinary Avestic:

The Medic dialect is represented in literature by the Avesta or sacred books of the Zoroastrians (Parsis). The word Avesta does not occur in the book itself and is of uncertain meaning and signification. It is probably the Abashta of Beh. Inscr., IV, 64, and means either

(1) an interview, meeting (Sanskrit avashta, "appearance before a judge"; At. ava-sta, "to stand near"), or (2) a petition (Pahl. apastan, "petition"; Arm. apastan, "refuge," "asylum"),

in either case deriving its name from Zoroaster's drawing near to Ahura Mazda in worship.

This dialect represents a much greater decadence in grammar and vocabulary than does the Old Persian. Many of its consonants and most of its vowels are weakened. Its verbs have almost entirely lost the augment; its declensional system shows extreme confusion. It stands to Old Persian grammatically somewhat as English does to German Its alphabet, consisting of 43 letters, is derived from the Syriac (probably the Estrangela), and is written from right to left. As a specimen of the language of most of the Avesta we give the following extract (Yasna LXIV, 15(61)):

Daidi moi, ye gam tasho apasca urvarwsca

Ameretata, haurvata, Spenista Mainyu Mazda,

Tevishi, utayuiti, Mananha Vohu, senhe.

"Give me, O thou who didst make the bull (earth),

and the waters and the plants, immortality, health-

O most Bountiful Spirit, Mazda

-strength, might, through Vohu Mano, I say.")

2. Gathic:

There is a sub-dialect of Medic (Avestic) known as the Gatha-dialect, from the fact that the Gathas or "Hymns" (Yasna XXVIII-XXXIV, XLII-L, LII), and also the prayers (Yatha Ahu Vairyo, Ashem Vohu, Airyama Ishyo, and originally Yenhe Halam, and a few scattered passages elsewhere) are composed in it. This represents, speaking generally, an older form of the Avestic. It is probably the old language of Bactria or of Margiana Gatha I, 2, runs thus:

Ye vw, Mazda Ahura, pairijasai Vohu Mananha,

Maibyo davoi ahvw (astivatasca hyaTca mananho)

Ayapta AshaT haca, yais rapento daidiT hvathre.

"To me, O Ahura Mazda, who approach you two through Vohu Mano,

grant the benefits from Asha, (those) of both worlds,

both of the material (world)

and of that which is of the spirit, through which (benefits)

may (Asha) place in glory those who please him.")

The meter of the Gathas, like that of the other Avestic poems, is based on the number of syllables in a line, with due regard to the caesura. But the condition of the text is such that there is great difficulty in recovering the original reading with sufficient accuracy to enable us to lay down rules on the subject with any certainty. The first Gatha is composed of strophes of 3 lines each (as above). Each line contains 16 syllables, with a caesura after the 7th foot.

IV. Zoroaster.

1. His Date, etc.:

Many of the Gathas are generally ascribed to Zoroaster himself, the rest to his earliest disciples. They compose the most ancient part of the Avesta. It is now becoming a matter of very great probability that Zoroaster lived at earliest in the middle of the 7th century B.C., more probably a century later. The Arta Viraf Namak says that his religion remained pure for 300 years, and connects its corruption with the alleged destruction of much of the Avesta in the palace burned by Alexander at Persepolis, 324.B.C. This traditional indication of date is confirmed by other evidence. Zoroaster's prince Vishtaspa (in Greek Hustaspes) bears the same name as the father of Darius I, and was probably the same person. Vishtaspa's queen Hutaosa, who also protected and favored Zoroaster, bears the same name (in Greek Atossa) as Cambyses' sister who afterward married Darius, and probably belonged to the same family. Zoroastrianism comes to the fore under Darius, whereas Cyrus in his inscriptions speaks as a decided polytheist. Hence, we conclude that the earliest part of the Avesta belongs to circa 550 B.C. Of Zoroaster himself we learn much from the Avesta, which traces his genealogy back for 10 generations. It mentions his wife's name (Hvovi), and tells of his 3 sons and 3 daughters. His first disciple was Frashaostra, his wife's natural uncle. His own name means "Owner of the yellow camel," and has none of the higher meanings sometimes assigned to it by those who would deny his existence. Tradition says he was born at Ragha (Raga, Rai) about 5 1/2 miles South of the present Tehran, though some think his native place was Western Atropatene (Azarbaijan). Rejected by his own tribe, the Magi, he went to Vishtispa's court in Bactria. The faith which he taught spread to the Persian court (very naturally, if Vishtispa was identical with Darius' father) and thence throughout the country. Tradition (Yasht XIX, 2, etc.) says that the Avesta was revealed to Zoroaster on Mt. Ushi-darena ("intellect-holding") in Sistan. But it is not the composition of one man or of one age.

2. Date of Avesta:

Herodotus makes no mention of Zoroaster, but speaks of the Magi (whom he calls a Median tribe (i.101)) as already performing priestly functions. His description of their repetition of charms and theological compositions (i.132) would agree very well with recitation of the Gathas and Yasna. Mention of controversies with Gautama, Buddha's disciples (Yasht XIII, 16) who probably reached Persia in the 2nd century B.C., is another indication of date. The fact that in both the Yasna and the Vendidad heretics (zanda) are mentioned who preferred the commentary (zand) on the Avesta to the Avesta itself, is a sign of late date. Names of certain persons found in the Avesta (e.g. Atare-pata, a Dastur who lived under Hormuzd I, 273 A.D., and Rastare-Yaghenti, whom the Dinkarl identifies with the chief Mobed of Sapor II, 309-379 A.D., Aderpad Marespand, and who, according to the Patet, section 28, "purified" the revelation made to Zoroaster, i.e. revised the text of the earlier parts of the Avesta) enable us to prove that certain portions of the work as we now have it were composed as late as near the end of the 4th century of our era. It is said that the text was in confusion in the time of Vologases I (51-78 (?) A.D.). A reccnsion was then begun, and continued with much zeal by Ardashir Papakan, 226-240 A.D. According to Geldner (Prolegomena, xlvi) the final recension took place some considerable time after Yezdigird III (overthrown 642 A.D.). In the times of the Sasanides there were, it is said, 21 Naskas or volumes of the Avesta, and the names of these are given in the Dinkart (Book IX). Of these we now possess only one entire Naska, the Vendidad, and portions of three others.

3. Divisions of the Present Avesta:

The present Avesta is divided into 5 parts:

(1) The Yasna

The Yasna root yaz, Sanskrit yaj, "to invoke," "to praise") contains 72 chapters of hymns for use at sacrifices, etc., including the "Older Yasna" or Gathas.

(2) The Vispered

The Vispered (vispa, "every," "all," and radha, "a lord") is divided into 24 chapters in Geldner's edition; it is supplementary to the Yasna.

(3) The Vendidad

The Vendidad (van plus daea plus data, "law for vanquishing the demons") contains 22 chapters. The first chapter contains the Iranian myth about the order in which the provinces of the Iranian world were created by Ahura Mazda. It tells how the Evil Spirit, Anro Mainyus, created plagues, sins and death, to destroy the good creatures of the Good Spirit. The greater part of the book contains ceremonial laws and formulas, some of them loathsome and all rather petty and superstitious in character.

(4) The Yashts

The Yashts, 21 in all, are hymns, telling many mythological tales about Mithra, Tishtriya, etc.

(5) The Khorda Avesta

The Khorda Avesta ("Little Avesta") consists of a number of short compositions, hymns, etc., compiled by the Aderpad Marespand (Adharpadh Mahraspand, Atarobat Mansarspendan) already mentioned, in Sapor II's reign.

Much of the Avesta is said to have been destroyed by the Khalffah `Umar's orders when Persia was conquered by the Arabs after the battle of Nahavand (642 A.D.). Certainly `Umar ordered the destruction of Persian libraries, as we learn from the Kashfu'z Zunun (p.341).

V. Pahlavi.

1. Literature:

Under ancient Persian literature may be classed the Pahlavi

(a) inscriptions of Sapor at Hajiabad and elsewhere,

(b) legends on Sasanian coins,

(c) translations of certain parts of the Avesta, made under the Sasanides for the most part,

(d) such books as the Arta Viraf Namak, the Zad Sparam, Dinkart, Ormazd Yasht, Patet, Bundishnih, etc.

These are mostly of religious import. The Arta Viraf Namak gives a description of the visit of the young dastur Arta Viraf, to the Zoroastrian heaven. The Bundihishnih ("creation") tells how Ormazd and Ahriman came into being, and treats of the 9,000 years' struggle between them. Pahlavi, as written (the so-called Huzvaresh), contains an immense number of Aramaic words, but the Persian terminations attached to these show that they were read as Persian: thus yehabunt-ano is written, and dat-ano ("to give") is read. Pahlavi works that are no longer extant are the sources of the Vis o Ramin, Zaratusht Namah, Shahnamah, etc.

2. Comparison:

In order to understand the relation in which the Persian dialects and stages in the history of the language stand to one another, it may be well to subjoin a list of words in Old Persian, Avestic, Pahlavi and modern Persian. It will be seen that Ayestic is not the source of the Aryan part of the present tongue.


Friend.... zusta daushta dost dust

Hand...... zasta dasta dast dast

Bactreia.. Bakhdhi Bakhtri Bahr Balkh

Straight.. drva(sta) duruva(sta) drust durust

Greatest.. mazista mathishta mahist mahin Most right razista rasta rast rast

Abode..... nmana maniya man man-dan ("to remain")





Achaemenian inscriptions, Korsowitz, Spiegel, Rawlinson: Geiger and Kuhn (editors), Grundriss der iranischen Philologie; Darmesteter, Etudes iraniennes; Spiegel, Eranische Altertumskunde; Noldeke, Aufsatze zur persischen Geschichte; W. Geiger, Ostiranische Kultur im Alterium; Geldner's edition of Avesta; Professor Browne, Literary History of Persia; De Harlez, Manuel de la langue de l' Avesta, Manuel de la langue Pehlevie, and Introduction to the Avesta; Haug, Book of Artd Viraf; Cook, Origins of Religion and Language.

W. St. Clair Tisdall



1. Early Aryan Religion

2. Avesta and Rig-Veda

3. The Creator


1. Leading Principle

2. Not Monotheistic

(1) Darius and Xerxes

(2) Ahura Mazda

3. Objects of Worship

4. Anro Mainyus and His Creatures

5. Production versus Destruction Fertility

6. Contest between Ormazd and Ahriman

7. Ethics

8. Sacred Thread

9. Early Traditions

10. The Earth

11. Heaven and Hell

12. Interment

13. Worship

14. The Magi

15. Eschatology

16. Hebrew and Christian Influence

17. No Virgin Birth


I. Before Zoroaster.

1. Early Aryan Religion:

There are clear indications in the Avesta that the religion of the Medes and Persians before Zoroaster's time agreed in most respects with that of the Indian Aryans, and in a less degree with the beliefs of the Aryans in general. All the Aryan tribes in very ancient times showed great respect for the dead, though they carefully distinguished them from the gods (compare Rig-Veda X, 56, 4). The latter were principally the powers of Nature, the wind, fire, water, the sky, the sun, the earth, and a host of personifications. The procreative powers in Nature, animate and inanimate, seeming to be the source of animal and vegetable life, received adoration, which ultimately led to unspeakable corruption. Herodotus tells us that the Persians in his time worshipped the sun, moon, sky, earth, fire, wind and water (i.131). Offerings to the gods were laid on a mass of pomegranate twigs (baresman; Sanskrit, barhis), and the flesh of victims was boiled, not burnt. Libations of haoma-juice were poured out, just as in India the soma was the drink of both gods and their worshippers.

2. Avesta and Rig-Veda:

A comparison between the spiritual beings mentioned in the Avesta and those spoken of in the Rig-Veda is most instructive in two ways. It shows that the original religion of the Iranians and of the Indian Aryans agreed very closely; and it also enables us to realize the immensity of the reformation wrought by Zoroaster. Many of the names of supernatural beings are practically the same; e.g. Indra (Indra, Andra), Mitra (Mithra), Aryaman (Airyaman), Asura (Ahura), Apam Napat (Apam Napat), Tvashtri (? Tishtrya), Rama (Raman), Vayu (Vayu), Vata (Vata). So are many words of religious import, as Soma (Haoma), Mantra (Mathra), Hotra (Zaotar). The Yama of India is the Yima of Persia, and the father of the one is Vivasvat and that of the other Vivanhat, which is the same word with dialectic change. The Holy River of the Avesta, Aredhvi Sura, the Unstained (Anahita), is represented by the Sarasvati, the Ganga (Ganges) and other sacred streams worshipped in India. In Persia Atar (or Fire) is a son of Ahura Mazda (Yasna LXIV, 46-53), as Agni (equals Ignis) is of Tvashtri in the Rig-Veda. Armaiti is Ahura Mazda's daughter, as Saranyu in the Rig-Veda is the daughter of Tvashtri, the "Creator." The use of gomez (bovis urina) for purification is common to both India and Persia. Though the soma-plant is not now the same as the haoma, the words are the same, and no doubt they at one time denoted one and the same plant. Many of the myths of the Avesta have a great resemblance to those of the Rig-Veda. This comparison might be extended almost indefinitely.

In another respect also there is an important agreement between the two. Though some 33 deities are adored in the Vedic Hymns, yet, in spite of polytheism and low ideas of the divine, traces of something higher may be found. Varuna, for instance, represents a very-lofty conception. In the closest connection with him stands Asura, who is a being of great eminence, and whose sons are the gods, especially the Adityas.

3. The Creator:

Tvashtri again is creator of heaven and earth and of all beings, though his worship was ultimately in Vedic times displaced by that of Indra. It is clear then that the Indian Aryans were worshippers of the Creator and that they knew something of Him long before they sank into polytheism. In the Avesta and in the Persian cuneiform inscriptions alike, Ahura Mazda occupies much the same position as Varuna, Asura (the same word as Ahura), or Tvashtri in the Rig-Veda, or rather in the ancient belief of which traces are retained in the latter work. Hence, as the Avesta teaches, Zoroaster was not for the first time preaching the existence of Ahura Mazda, but he was rather endeavoring to recall his people to the belief of their ancestors, the doctrine which Ahura Mazda had taught Yima in primeval time in his first revelation (Vendidad II, 1-16, 42). The great truth of the existence of the Creator, testified to by tradition, reason and conscience, undoubtedly contributed largely to Zoroaster's success, just as a similar proclamation of the God Most High (Allah ta`ala'), worshipped by their ancestors, helped the thoughtful among the Arabs in later years to accept Muhammad's teaching. The consciousness in each case that the doctrine was not new but very ancient, materially helped men to believe it true.

II. Zoroastrianism.

1. Leading Principle:

The reformation wrought by Zoroaster was a great one. He recognized-as Euripides in Greece did later-that "if the gods do aught shameful, they are not gods." Hence, he perceived that many of the deities worshipped in Iran were unworthy of adoration, being evil in character, hostile to all good and therefore to the "All-Wise" Spirit (Ahura Mazda) and to men. Hence, his system of dualism, dividing all beings, spiritual or material, into two classes, the creatures of Ahura Mazda and those of the "Destroying Mind" (Anro Mainyus). So many of the popular deities were evil that Zoroaster used the word daeva (the same as deva, deus, and Aramaic di) to denote henceforth an evil spirit, just as Christianity turned the Greek daimones and daimonia (words used in a good sense in classical authors) into "demons." Instead of this now degraded word daeva, he employed baga (Old Persian; Av. bagha, Vedic bhaga, "distribution," "natron" "lord") for "God."

2. Not Monotheistic:

But, it must be remembered that Zoroaster did not teach monotheism. Darius says that "Auramazda and the other gods that there are" brought him aid (Beh. Inscr., IV, 60-63), and both he and Xerxes speak of Auramazda as "the greatest of the gods." So, even in the first Gatha, Zoroaster himself invokes Asha, Vohu-Mano, maiti, Sraosha, and even Geus-urvan ("the Soul of the Bull"), as well as Ahura Mazda.

(1) Darius and Xerxes.

Darius mentions the "clan-gods," but does not name any of them. He and Xerxes ascribe the creation of heaven and earth to Auramazda, and say that the latter, "Who made this earth, who made yon sky, who made man, who made happiness for man," has appointed each of them king. It is "by the grace of Auramazda" (vashna Auramazdaha) that Darius conquers his enemies. But both Artaxerxes Mnemon and Artaxerxes Ochus couple Mithra and Anahata (Anahita) with Auramazda (Ahura Mazda) in praying for the protection of the empire.

(2) Ahura Mazda.

In the Avesta, Ahura Mazda is one of the seven Amesha spentas or "Bountiful Immortals." He is the father of one of them, Spentas Armaiti, who is also his spouse. He is primus inter pares among them, their chief, but by no means the only god. Monotheism is distinctly taught in later Zoroastrian works, for instance, in the Zaratusht-Namah, composed 1278 A.D., but it is due to Christian and Islamic influence.

3. Objects of Worship:

The modern Zoroastrian view, clearly stated in the Dasatir i Asmani and elsewhere, that all the good creatures of Ormazd (Ahura Mazda) are entitled to adoration, undoubtedly rests upon the Avesta. There we find, in the first place, the Amesha Spentas, who occupy in regard to Mazda the same position as do the Vedic Adityas toward Varuna, though not one of the Adityas is identical with any of the Amesha Spentas.

The names of these are: (1) Ahura Mazda (otherwise called Spento Mainyus or "Bountiful Mind");

(2) Vohu Mano ("Good Mind");

(3) Asha Vahista ("Best Righteousness");

(4) Khshathra Vairya ("Excellent Ruler");

(5) Spenta Amaiti ("Bounteous Piety");

(6) Haurvatat ("Health");

(7) Ameretat ("Immortality").

Each has a special province: thus Armaiti is the general spirit of earth and presides over its fruitfulness. She is the troness of virtuos matrons. Khshathra is the guardian of metals. Vohu Mano guards sheep and cattle and introduces to Ahura Mada the spirits of the just. Next in rank come the Yazatas ("Worshipful Ones"), of whom there are a large number. Three of them, Mithra, Rashnu and Sraosha, preside at the judgment of the dead on the 4th day from death. Rashnu holds the scales in which a man's deeds are weighed. Sraosha guards the soul during the first three nights after death. Airyaman Ishya ("the longed-for comrade") is the protector of mankind, the bestower of peace and happiness. On one occasion (Vend., Farg. XXII, 23-29) Ahura Mazda sends his messenger Nairyo Sanha ("male instructor") to ask his aid against overwhelming odds. Riman Hvastra, the bosom friend of Mithra, presides over the atmosphere and also gives its taste to food. Mithra is the genius of truth, possessed of 1,000 ears, and riding in a single-wheeled chariot (the sun), while darting golden darts and driving fiery steeds. Tishtrya, identified with the dog-star Sirius, sends rain and is by Ahura Mazda endowed with his own power and dignity (Yasht VIII, 52;). This is true of Mithra also (Yasht X, 1) Atar ("Fire"), Vayu ("Air"), Vata ("Wind"), Verethraghna ("Mars"), Saoka ("Prosperity"), Aratat (genius of Justice), Vizista ("Lightning"), Fradatfshu (the guardian of cattle), Berejya (genius of grain), Cista and Daena ("Knowledge" and "Religion"), who are others of the Yazatas. All these are entitled to worship at the hands of the true adorer of Mazda (Mazdayasna, opposed to Daevayasna, or worshipper of the demons).

4. Anro Mainyus and His Creatures:

In opposition to the creatures of Ahura Mazda are those of Anro Mainyus, who is the source of all moral and material evil. The first chapter of the Vendidad tells how he created something bad in opposition to everything good made by Ahura Mazda.

A demon is the adversary of each Amesha Spenta: Aka Mano ("Evil Mind") that of Vohu Mano, and so in order: Indra (or Andra, "demon of untruthfulness"), Saurva ("evil government") Nonhaithya ("discontent"), Tauru ("who poisons water") and Zairi ("poison"), being antagonistic to the other Bountiful Immortals. Aeshma-Daeva ("Demon of Wrath")-the Asmodeus of Tobit 3:8-is the special foe of Sraosha, the genius of obedience. Apaosha, demon of drought, is the enemy of Tishtrya. Buiti (or Buidhi) teaches men to worship idols, and also causes death. Bushyasta is the demon of sloth. Vidhatus or Astuvidhstus causes death by destroying the body. Other evil beings, Drujes, Pairikas, Jainis, Yatus, are so numerous in the later parts of the Avesta that a pious Zoroastrian must have lived in continual dread of their assaults. He had even to conceal the parings of his nails, lest they should be used as darts to his injury by these his spiritual foes.

5. Production versus Destruction:

Holiness does not enter into Zoroaster's conception of the divine nature. This is a point to which attention has not yet been properly directed, though its importance can hardly be exaggerated. The epithet Spenta, often applied to Ahura Mazda and mistranslated "Holy," is by the Zoroastrians themselves in Pahlavi rendered afzunik, i.e. "that causes increase." Its (?) span or spen equals (Sanskrit) svi, "to swell," "to grow," "to increase." The opposite to this is the term anro (angro, from (?) angh; compare German eng, "narrow") to the Evil Spirit, and denoting "narrowing," "decreasing," "destroying." Hence, as the Destroyer, he is styled pourumahrka, "full of death."


Ahura Mazda and his assistants promote life, fertility in man, beast and plant, agriculture, increase; while Ahro Mainyus and his creatures cause destruction and death. Atar ("Fire"), also styled Apam Napat ("Offspring of the Waters"), is the vital flame and the male energy in the world; Aredhvi Sura Anahita is the female. As a river the latter flows from Mt. Hukairya, a peak in the Elburz Range (Yasna LXIV), into the Caspian Sea (Vourukasha) in the midst of which grows the tree Hvapa ("well watered") which bears the seeds of all plants. Anahita means "undefiled," but it is applied to purity of water (to defile any of the four "elements" was, for later Zoroastrians, a grievous sin) and not to any moral purity in the goddess. Her association with Mithra was close, even in Herodotus time, for he falls into the mistake of saying (i.131) that the Persians called Aphrodite Mithra, when he should have said Anaitis (Anahita). Though god of truth and righteousness Mithra is not associated with moral purity (chastity). On the contrary, he was said to fertilize the earth with his rays, as sun-god, and Anahita as goddess of fruitfulness represented the female principle in conjunction with him. The vileness which led to the identification of Anahita with the Babylonian Mylitta was doubtless of later date than Zoroaster's time, yet there was little or nothing in Zoroastrianism to check it. Something similar asserts itself in Armenia, as well as in Iran, and in fact in all Nature-worship everywhere. Associated with this was the form of incest known as next-of-kin marriage (Av. Hvaetva-datha, Pahl. Khvetukdas), which permitted and encouraged marriages between brothers and sisters.

6. Contest between Ormazd and Ahriman:

According to later Zoroastrian belief, the contest between Ormazd (Ahura Mazda) and Ahriman (Anro Mainyus), after continuing for 9,000 years, is to be decided in favor of the former only through his possessing foreknowledge and Ahriman's lacking it (Bund., I). Both came into existence independently in limitless time (Av. Zrvana Akarana; Vend., Farg. XIX, 13; Pahl. Daman i Akandrakhom-and, Bund., I), which, personified in the Vendidad, is called "Self-created," and is there by Ahura Mazda's command invoked by Zoroaster in conjunction with Vayu, the Air, the Winds, "the bountiful, beauteous daughter of Ahura Mazda" (Armaiti), the Earth, and other objects of worship (loc. cit.). No creature of Ahriman is to be worshipped; hence, Indra, though in later Vedic times rising in India to a leading position in the Pantheon, is in the Avesta accounted a fiend, the very impersonation of the Lie which the Avesta so firmly denounces and which Darius mentions as the cause of all the rebellions, which produced so much bloodshed in his time. No virtue was valued so highly as truth in ancient Iran, as Herodotus agrees with the Avesta in testifying.

7. Ethics:

Avestic morality encourages the destruction of all hurtful things, as being of Anro Mainyus' creation, and the propagation of everything good. Hence, agriculture is especially commended, together with the rearing of cattle and sheep. Somewhat later the whole duty of man was said to consist in good thoughts, good words, good deeds. Fierce opposition to every other religion was enjoined as a religious duty, and, under the Sasanides especially, this led to fearful and repeated persecutions of Christians throughout the empire.

8. Sacred Thread:

The Sacred Thread (Av. Aiwyonhana; Skt. Upavitam, etc., now by the Parsis styled the Kushti) plays as important a part in Zoroastrianism as in Hinduism. So do charms, mathras (Sanskrit, mantras), consisting in repetitions of the verses of the Avesta. The latter is even adored.

9. Early Traditions:

The first thing created by Ahura Mazda was a Bull, which may represent the earth, and reminds us of the Cow Audhumla in the Edda (Gylfaginning VI). This was killed Traditions by Anro Mainyus (in a later version, by Mithra). His spirit (Geus Urvan) went to heaven and became the guardian of cattle. The first man was Gaya-maretan ("Mortal Life"); hence, the phrase Haca Gayat Marethnat a Saosh-yantat, "from Gaya-maretan (Gayomard), Kayomarth) to Saoshyant" (Yasna XXVI, 10; Yasht XIII, 145), means "from the beginning to the end of the world." From the Airyanem Vaejo ("Aryan germ"), the first home of the Iranians, men were compelled to migrate because Anro Mainyus so altered the climate that the winter became ten months long and the summer only two. Yima Khshaeta ("Yima the Brilliant," Persian, Jamshid), son of Vivanhat, though he twice refused Ahura Mazda's commission to guard his creatures, and though by three lies he lost the "Royal Light" (Chvareno Kavaem) which he originally possessed, was yet directed to prepare a very extensive enclosure (Vara), in which he preserved "the seeds of sheep and cattle, of men, of dogs, of birds, and of red, glowing fires" from some terribly severe winters which came upon the earth (Vendidad II; Yasht XIX). The Bundihishnih tale of a flood differs from this, preserving an independent narrative. Ahura Mazda's law was preached to men within Yima's enclosure.

10. The Earth:

The earth consists of seven divisions, called Karshvares (compare the Sanskrit dvipas). Only one of these, Chvaniratha, is inhabited by men; the others are separated from it by impassable abysses. Sun, moon, and stars revolve round Mt. Taera, a peak in the Elburz Mountains (Demavend?). A later legend says that the Elburz Range surrounds the earth.

11. Heaven and Hell:

Each god and man possesses a fravashi, which has been compared to a guardian spirit and seems to differ from the soul (urvan). After judgment by Mithra, Rashnu and Sraosha, the souls of the dead must cross the Chinvat-bridge ("Bridge of the Judge"), which is guarded by two dogs and is narrow and difficult for the unjust, but wide and easy for the just. The righteous man then advances through three Paradises, those of Good Thoughts, Good Words and Good Works (Humata, Hukhta, Hvarsta: Yasht XVI; Arta Viraf Namak, VII IX), until, led by Sraosha, Atar, and Vohu Mano, he finally reaches Ahura Mazda's abode of light and glory, Garo-nmana (in Gathas, Garo-demana; Pahl. Garotman), where Ahura Mazda himself receives him with the words: "Greeting to thee; well hast thou come; from that mortal world hast thou come to this pure, bright place" (A. V. Namak, XI, 8, 9). But the soul of the wicked man, passing through regions of Evil Thoughts, Evil Words and Evil Deeds, finally reaches a dark and gloomy Hell (Duzhanh). In later times it was believed that those not yet fit for heaven waited in Misvana Gatus, an intermediate place where the extra merits of the just were stored up for the benefit of the less fortunate (Vend., Farg. XIX). A later name was Hamistakan. But De Harlez is of the opinion that this idea was borrowed from medieval Christianity.

12. Interment:

In primeval times the Persians buried or burned their dead. Zoroastrianism may have introduced the dakhma (Vendidad, passim) or Tower of Silence, on which bodies are exposed to be eaten by vultures. Those of which the ruins have been discovered at Al Hibbah are very ancient. But in Herodotus' time it was usual, after permitting the flesh to be devoured by dogs and birds, to cover the bones with wax and bury them (Herodotus i.140). This was done to prevent them from coming in contact with and so polluting the earth. The custom of burial is proved by the tombs of the Achemenian kings near Persepolis, and that of Cyrus, a stone chamber raised high above the ground, at Pasargadae.

13. Worship:

Zoroastrianism permits no idol-worship and no temples, fire-altars only being used. These were served by Atharvans or fire-priests, who fed the fire with costly wood and poured into it libations of haomajuice, taking care to cover their mouths with a cloth (paiti-dhana) to keep the sacred fire from being polluted by their breath. Sacrifices were often offered on the tops of the highest mountains under the open sky (Herodotus i0.132; Xen. Cyrop. viii).

14. The Magi:

The Magi doubtless owed their monopoly of priestly functions to their being Zoroaster's own tribe. They are not mentioned as priests in the Persian cuneiform inscriptions. Only once does the word. "Magus" occur in the Avesta, and then in composition (Moghu-tbish, a Magus-hater, Yasna LXV, 7). It is not necessary to trace to Babylonian influence the decay of Zoroastrianism and its degradation in late Achemenian times. This was at least in large measure due to a revival of the ideas and practices forbidden by Zoroaster, which reassert themselves in some parts of the Avesta, and which afterward gave rise to Mithraism.

15. Eschatology:

The Avesta states that, 1,000 years after Zoroaster's death, a prophet named Ukhshyat-ereta will arise from his seed to restore his religion. After another 1,000 years another, Ukhshyat-nemanh, will appear for the same purpose. The end of the world will come 1,000 years later. Then a third prophet, Saoshyant, will be born, and will usher in the Restoration (frasho-kereti) of the world to its primitive happiness and freedom from the evil creatures of Anro Mainyus. This process will be completed in 57 years, during which 6 other prophets will perform in the other 6 Karshvares the work which will here be accomplished by Saoshyant. But mention of this Restoration occurs only in very late parts of the Avesta (e.g. Vend., Farg. XVIII, 51). It does not mean Resurrection, as De Harlez has shown. Later still, something of the kind was believed, and in the Bundihishnih (chapter v) and the Patet (section 28) we have the word ristakhiz (from Av. irista, "departed," and chvis,"to rise"), which does mean "rising of the dead." But it can hardly be doubted that the doctrine is due to Hebrew and Christian influence, especially when we consider the late and uncertain date of the books in which the idea occurs.

16. Hebrew and Christian Influence:

Israelites settled in Media in large numbers in or about 730-728 B.C. under Sargon (2 Kings 17:6), long before Zoroaster's birth. It is possible that his reformation may have owed much therefore to Hebrew influence.


The idea of virgin birth has been asserted to occur in Zoroastrianism, both with reference to Zoroaster himself and to the last three great prophets of whom mention has been made. This is an error. The Avesta and all later Zoroastrian books speak of Zoroaster's birth as quite natural, his father being Pourushaspa. Nor is virgin birth referred to in the case of Saoshyant and the rest.

17. No Virgin Birth:

(Mater cuiusque ex iis, sese in lacu quodam lavans, Zoroastris semine illic reposito grayida facta filium pariet: Vend., Farg. XIX, 4-6; Yasht XIII, 128, 142; Bund., XXXII, 8, 9.) Virginity is not highly esteemed in the Avesta, though fornication is condemned.


Geldner's edition of text of Avesta; De Harlez, Avesta; Achemenian Inscriptions; Sacred Books of the East, volumes IV, XXIII, XXXI; Grassmann, Worterbuch zum Rig Veda; Haug and West, Arta Viraf Namak; Spiegel, Einleitung in die trad. Schriften der Parsen; Eranische Altertumskunde; Darmesteter, Etudes iraniennes; Haug, Essays on.... Religion of Parsis; De Harlez, Manuel du Pehlavi; Cook, Origins of Religion and Language.


W. St. Clair Tisdall

4069. Persis -- Persis, a Christian at Rome
... noun from Persikos (Persian) Definition Persis, a Christian at Rome NASB Word Usage
Persis (1). Persis. A Persian woman; Persis, a Christian female -- Persis. ...
// - 6k

1639. Elamites -- an Elamite, an inhabitant of Elam
... Elamites Phonetic Spelling: (el-am-ee'-tace) Short Definition: an Elamite Definition:
an Elamite, one of a people living to the north of the Persian Gulf in ...
// - 6k

3857. paradeisos -- a park, a garden, a paradise
... Paradise Definition: Paradise. 3857 -- an ancient Persian word meaning "enclosure,
garden, park.". Word Origin of Pers. origin (enclosure ...
// - 6k

2124. eulabeia -- caution
... 2124 ("godly respect") is illustrated by a person carrying a Persian vase across
the room -- which will always be in a "devout" (respectful) fashion! ...
// - 7k

735. Artemis -- Artemis, the name of the Gr. goddess of the hunt
... goddess of the hunt. Part of Speech: Noun, Feminine Transliteration: Artemis Phonetic
Spelling: (ar'-tem-is) Short Definition: the Persian or Ephesian Artemis ...
// - 6k

3934. Parthos -- a Parthian, an inhabitant of Parthia
... a Parthian Definition: a Parthian, an inhabitant of the country beyond the eastern
boundary of the Roman Empire between the Caspian Sea and the Persian Gulf. ...
// - 6k

3097. magos -- a Magian, ie an (Oriental) astrologer, by impl. a ...
... to "the Magoi, a Median tribe (so Herodotus); a Magian, one of a sacred caste,
originally Median, who seem to have conformed to the Persian religion, while ...
// - 7k

Strong's Hebrew
4825. Meres -- a Persian noble
... Meres. 4826 . a Persian noble. Transliteration: Meres Phonetic Spelling:
(meh'-res) Short Definition: Meres. ... Of foreign derivation; Meres, a Persian -- Meres. ...
/hebrew/4825.htm - 5k

4826. Marsena -- a Persian noble
... a Persian noble. Transliteration: Marsena Phonetic Spelling: (mar-sen-aw') Short
Definition: Marsena. ... Of foreign derivation; Marsena, a Persian -- Marsena. ...
/hebrew/4826.htm - 5k

6542. Parsi -- inhab. of Persia
... Parsi. 6543 . inhab. of Persia. Transliteration: Parsi Phonetic Spelling:
(par-see') Short Definition: Persian. ... of Persia NASB Word Usage Persian (1). Persian. ...
/hebrew/6542.htm - 6k

6543. Parsay -- inhab. of Persia
... Parsay. 6544 . inhab. of Persia. Transliteration: Parsay Phonetic Spelling:
(par-see') Short Definition: Persian. ... of Persia NASB Word Usage Persian (1). Persian ...
/hebrew/6543.htm - 6k

8674. Tattenay -- Tattenay
... prefect NASB Word Usage Tattenai (4). Tattenai, a Persian. Of foreign derivation;
Tattenai, a Persian -- Tatnai. 8673, 8674. Tattenay. 1 . Strong's Numbers
/hebrew/8674.htm - 5k

133. Admatha -- a prince of Pers. and Media
... and Media NASB Word Usage Admatha (1). Admatha. Probably of Persian derivation:
Admatha, a Persian nobleman -- Admatha. 132, 133. Admatha. 134 . ...
/hebrew/133.htm - 5k

3752. Karkas -- a eunuch of Ahasuerus
... Of Persian origin; Karkas, a eunuch of Xerxes: Of Persian origin; Karkas, a eunuch
of Xerxes: 3751, 3752. Karkas. 3753 . Strong's Numbers.
/hebrew/3752.htm - 5k

4462. Memukan -- a prince of Persia and Media
... Memucan. Or (transp.) Mowmukan (Esth. 1:16) {mo-moo-kawn'}; of Persian derivation;
Memucan or Momucan, a Persian satrap -- Memucan. 4461, 4462. ...
/hebrew/4462.htm - 6k

150. adarkon -- a drachma
... Word Origin of foreign origin Definition a drachma NASB Word Usage darics (2). dram.
Of Persian origin; a daric or Persian coin -- dram. 149, 150. ...
/hebrew/150.htm - 5k

1867. Dareyavesh -- the name of several Pers. kings
... kings NASB Word Usage Darius (10). Darius. Of Persian origin; Darejavesh, a title
(rather than name) of several Persian kings -- Darius. 1866, 1867. ...
/hebrew/1867.htm - 6k


To Eusebius, Bishop of Persian Armenia.
... To Eusebius, Bishop of Persian Armenia. ... [1749] Mark 4:39. [1750] These letters on
the Persian persecution might be placed anywhere while it lasted c. 420-450. ...
/.../the ecclesiastical history of theodoret/lxxviii to eusebius bishop of.htm

To Eulalius, Bishop of Persian Armenia.
... Letters of the Blessed Theodoret, LXXVII. To Eulalius, Bishop of Persian
Armenia. I know that Satan has sought to sift you as wheat ...
/.../the ecclesiastical history of theodoret/lxxvii to eulalius bishop of.htm

Kind Treatment of the Persian Captives by Acacius Bishop of Amida.
... Book VII. Chapter XXI."Kind Treatment of the Persian Captives by Acacius
Bishop of Amida. A noble action of Acacius bishop of ...
/.../chapter xxi kind treatment of the.htm

Renewal of Hostilities Between the Romans and Persians after the ...
... This prince yielding to the influence of the magi, persecuted the Christians there
with rigor, by inflicting on them a variety of Persian punishments and ...
/.../chapter xviii renewal of hostilities between.htm

... of Persia, in the face of the express statement of Herodotus (iii.84) that the king
was bound to choose his consort from one of seven noble Persian families. ...
// to the old testament/esther.htm

From Malachi to the Birth of Christ.
... This was about 445 BC and Judea was still under Persian rule. ... (2) The Greek Period.
(3) The Period of Independence. (4) The Roman Period. The Persian Period. ...
/.../tidwell/the bible period by period/chapter xvii from malachi to.htm

The Perversive Heresy of the Manicheans which Began at this Time.
... Footnotes: [2433] The name Manes, or Mani, is not of Greek, but of Persian or
Semitic origin. It has not yet been satisfactorily explained. ...
/.../pamphilius/church history/chapter xxxi the perversive heresy of.htm

The Restoration.
... chs.13, 14, 21, 44-47; Jer.28:4-11; chs.50-52; Ez. ch.27, etc. The Rise
of Persian Power. This was a period of world change. Great ...
/.../tidwell/the bible period by period/chapter xvi the restoration.htm

The Death of Darius.
... The Persian fleet sails southward."Fate of Hippias."Omens."The dream and the
sneeze."Hippias falls in battle."Movements of the Persian fleet."The ...
// the great/chapter xii the death of.htm

Hebrew Captives; Or, Mordecai and Esther.
... Nabonadrius, the son of Darius, usurped the throne after his father's death; and
after reigning several years, Cyrus, a nephew of Darius, a Persian general who ...
/.../headley/half hours in bible lands volume 2/hebrew captives or mordecai and.htm

Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary
1. (a.) Of or pertaining to Persia, to the Persians, or to their language.

2. (n.) A native or inhabitant of Persia.

3. (n.) The language spoken in Persia.

4. (n.) A thin silk fabric, used formerly for linings.

5. (n.) See Persian columns, under Persian, a.

Persian (4 Occurrences)
... 4. (n.) A thin silk fabric, used formerly for linings. 5. (n.) See Persian columns,
/p/persian.htm - 45k

Tirshatha (5 Occurrences)
... Easton's Bible Dictionary A word probably of Persian origin, meaning "severity,"
denoting a high civil dignity. The Persian governor ...
/t/tirshatha.htm - 10k

Shetharboznai (4 Occurrences)
... Easton's Bible Dictionary Star of splendour, a Persian officer who vainly attempted
to hinder the rebuilding of the temple (Ezra 5:3, 6; 6:6, 13). Int. ...
/s/shetharboznai.htm - 9k

Shethar-boznai (4 Occurrences)
... Easton's Bible Dictionary Star of splendour, a Persian officer who vainly attempted
to hinder the rebuilding of the temple (Ezra 5:3, 6; 6:6, 13). Int. ...
/s/shethar-boznai.htm - 9k

Macedonia (23 Occurrences)
... maintain their position they entered into a good understanding from time to time
with the states of Greece or acknowledged temporarily Persian suzerainty, and ...
/m/macedonia.htm - 40k

... CAMBYSES. kam-bi'-sez (Aram., cnbnzy; Persian, Kambujiya; Assyrian, Kambuzia; Egyptian,
Kambythet; Susian, Kanpuziya): The older son of Cyrus, king of Persia. ...
/c/cambyses.htm - 12k

Persians (6 Occurrences)
...Persian Parsa, name of both country and people; does not occur in Avesta): I. AFFINITY
1. Three Classes 2. Tribal and Clan Divisions 3. Achemenian Dynasty II. ...
/p/persians.htm - 20k

Euphrates (36 Occurrences)
... Hebrew, Perath; Assyrian, Purat; Persian cuneiform, Ufratush, whence Greek Euphrates,
meaning "sweet water." The Assyrian name means "the stream," or "the ...
/e/euphrates.htm - 26k

... The same papyrus mentions Jehohanan (Johnnan of Nehemiah 12:22) as the high priest
of the temple at Jerusalem, and Bagohi (Bagoas) was the Persian governor of ...
/e/ezranehemiah.htm - 22k

... The same papyrus mentions Jehohanan (Johnnan of Nehemiah 12:22) as the high priest
of the temple at Jerusalem, and Bagohi (Bagoas) was the Persian governor of ...
/e/ezra-nehemiah.htm - 22k

Bible Concordance
Persian (4 Occurrences)

Nehemiah 12:22 As for the Levites, in the days of Eliashib, Joiada, and Johanan, and Jaddua, there were recorded the heads of fathers' houses; also the priests, in the reign of Darius the Persian.

Ezekiel 27:10 Persian and Lud and Phut Have been in thy forces -- thy men of war. Shield and helmet they hung up in thee, They -- they have given out thine honour.

Daniel 6:28 So this Daniel prospered in the reign of Darius, and in the reign of Cyrus the Persian.

Daniel 10:13 And the head of the kingdom of Persia is standing over-against me twenty and one days, and lo, Michael, first of the chief heads, hath come in to help me, and I have remained there near the kings of Persia;
(See NIV)



Persian Language and Literature

Persian Religion

Related Terms

Tirshatha (5 Occurrences)

Shetharboznai (4 Occurrences)

Shethar-boznai (4 Occurrences)

Macedonia (23 Occurrences)


Persians (6 Occurrences)

Euphrates (36 Occurrences)




Mithredath (2 Occurrences)

Shethar-bozenai (4 Occurrences)

Shetharbozenai (4 Occurrences)

Ahasbai (1 Occurrence)

Darius (26 Occurrences)

Medes (15 Occurrences)

Tarsus (5 Occurrences)


Persia (30 Occurrences)



Paradise (6 Occurrences)

Bondage (55 Occurrences)


Great (10383 Occurrences)


Money (284 Occurrences)

Sidon (35 Occurrences)

Between (2624 Occurrences)

Esther (48 Occurrences)

Chaldeans (82 Occurrences)

Chaldea (8 Occurrences)

Shushan (19 Occurrences)

Dispersion (4 Occurrences)



Cyprus (12 Occurrences)



Jaddua (3 Occurrences)

Javan (12 Occurrences)

Tigris (2 Occurrences)

Tattenai (4 Occurrences)

Tikvath (1 Occurrence)

Tikvah (2 Occurrences)

Teresh (2 Occurrences)

Dedan (10 Occurrences)

Media (14 Occurrences)

Mordecai (52 Occurrences)

Parbar (1 Occurrence)

Papyrus (4 Occurrences)

Babylon (270 Occurrences)

Breeches (6 Occurrences)

Cilicia (8 Occurrences)

Achmetha (1 Occurrence)

Artaxerxes (14 Occurrences)

Abagtha (1 Occurrence)


Shinar (8 Occurrences)

Shethar (3 Occurrences)

Sabteca (2 Occurrences)

Satraps (12 Occurrences)

Eden (19 Occurrences)

Cush (31 Occurrences)

Deer (15 Occurrences)

Zerubbabel (25 Occurrences)

Kittim (8 Occurrences)

Havilah (7 Occurrences)

Ophir (12 Occurrences)

Elamites (2 Occurrences)

Armenia (2 Occurrences)

Alexander (5 Occurrences)

Goat (92 Occurrences)

Taxing (3 Occurrences)

Cyrus (20 Occurrences)

Tax (43 Occurrences)

Elam (24 Occurrences)

Crown (94 Occurrences)

Chronicles (45 Occurrences)

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