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Zurvanism

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Zurvanism is a fatalistic religious movement of Zoroastrianism[1] in which the divinity Zurvan is a first principle (primordial creator deity) who engendered equal-but-opposite twins, Ahura Mazda and Angra Mainyu. Zurvanism is also known as "Zurvanite Zoroastrianism", and may be contrasted with Mazdaism.

In Zurvanism, Zurvan was perceived as the god of infinite time and space and was aka ("one", "alone"). Zurvan was portrayed as a transcendental and neutral god, without passion, and one for whom there was no distinction between good and evil. The name Zurvan is a normalized rendition of the word, which in Middle Persian appears as either Zurvān, Zruvān or Zarvān. The Middle Persian name derives from Avestan zruvan- (𐬰𐬭𐬬𐬀𐬢, lit.'time'), which is grammatical without gender.

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Zoroastrianism

Zoroastrianism

Zoroastrianism is an Iranian religion and one of the world's oldest organized faiths, based on the teachings of the Iranian-speaking prophet Zoroaster It has a dualistic cosmology of good and evil within the framework of a monotheistic ontology and an eschatology which predicts the ultimate conquest of evil by good. Zoroastrianism exalts an uncreated and benevolent deity of wisdom known as Ahura Mazda as its supreme being. Historically, the unique features of Zoroastrianism, such as its monotheism, messianism, belief in free will and judgement after death, conception of heaven, hell, angels, and demons, among other concepts, may have influenced other religious and philosophical systems, including the Abrahamic religions and Gnosticism, Northern Buddhism, and Greek philosophy.

First principle

First principle

In philosophy and science, a first principle is a basic proposition or assumption that cannot be deduced from any other proposition or assumption.

Creator deity

Creator deity

A creator deity or creator god is a deity responsible for the creation of the Earth, world, and universe in human religion and mythology. In monotheism, the single God is often also the creator. A number of monolatristic traditions separate a secondary creator from a primary transcendent being, identified as a primary creator.

Ahura Mazda

Ahura Mazda

Ahura Mazda, also known as Oromasdes, Ohrmazd, Ahuramazda, Hoormazd, Hormazd, Hormaz and Hurmuz, is the creator deity in Zoroastrianism. He is the first and most frequently invoked spirit in the Yasna. The literal meaning of the word Ahura is "lord", and that of Mazda is "wisdom".

Avestan

Avestan

Avestan, or historically Zend, is an umbrella term for two Old Iranian languages: Old Avestan and Younger Avestan. They are known only from their conjoined use as the scriptural language of Zoroastrianism, and the Avesta likewise serves as their namesake. Both are early Eastern Iranian languages within the Indo-Iranian language branch of the Indo-European language family. Its immediate ancestor was the Proto-Iranian language, a sister language to the Proto-Indo-Aryan language, with both having developed from the earlier Proto-Indo-Iranian language; as such, Old Avestan is quite close in both grammar and lexicon to Vedic Sanskrit, the oldest preserved Indo-Aryan language.

Origins and background

Although the details of the origin and development of Zurvanism remain murky (for a summary of the three opposing opinions see § Ascent and acceptance below), it is generally accepted that Zurvanism was: 1) a branch of greater Zoroastrianism;[2]: 157–304  2) a sacerdotal response to resolve a perceived inconsistency in the sacred texts[3]: intro  (see § The "twin brother" doctrine below); and 3) probably introduced during the second half of the Achaemenid era.[4][2]: 157–304 

Zurvanism enjoyed royal sanction during the Sassanid era (226–651 CE) but no traces of it remain beyond the 10th century. Although Sassanid-era Zurvanism was certainly influenced by Hellenic philosophy, any relationship between it and the Greek divinity of Time (Chronos) has not been conclusively established. Non-Zoroastrian accounts of typically Zurvanite beliefs were the first traces of Zoroastrianism to reach the west, leading European scholars to conclude that Zoroastrianism was a monist religion, an issue of controversy among both scholars and contemporary practitioners of the faith.

Zurvan appears in Sanskrit as sarva, and the etymology of Sarvastivada, a monistic Buddhist sect, suggests at least a common conceptional link to Zurvanism, depending on how the word Sarvastivada is parsed.

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Zoroastrianism

Zoroastrianism

Zoroastrianism is an Iranian religion and one of the world's oldest organized faiths, based on the teachings of the Iranian-speaking prophet Zoroaster It has a dualistic cosmology of good and evil within the framework of a monotheistic ontology and an eschatology which predicts the ultimate conquest of evil by good. Zoroastrianism exalts an uncreated and benevolent deity of wisdom known as Ahura Mazda as its supreme being. Historically, the unique features of Zoroastrianism, such as its monotheism, messianism, belief in free will and judgement after death, conception of heaven, hell, angels, and demons, among other concepts, may have influenced other religious and philosophical systems, including the Abrahamic religions and Gnosticism, Northern Buddhism, and Greek philosophy.

Achaemenid dynasty

Achaemenid dynasty

The Achaemenid dynasty was an ancient Persian royal dynasty that ruled the Achaemenid Empire, an Iranian empire that stretched from Egypt and Southeastern Europe in the west to the Indus Valley in the east.

Chronos

Chronos

Chronos, also spelled Khronos or Chronus, is a personification of time in pre-Socratic philosophy and later literature.

Monism

Monism

Monism attributes oneness or singleness to a concept e.g., existence. Various kinds of monism can be distinguished:Priority monism states that all existing things go back to a source that is distinct from them; e.g., in Neoplatonism everything is derived from The One. In this view only the One is ontologically basic or prior to everything else. Existence monism posits that, strictly speaking, there exists only a single thing, the universe, which can only be artificially and arbitrarily divided into many things. Substance monism asserts that a variety of existing things can be explained in terms of a single reality or substance. Substance monism posits that only one kind of substance exists, although many things may be made up of this substance, e.g., matter or mind. Dual-aspect monism is the view that the mental and the physical are two aspects of, or perspectives on, the same substance. Neutral monism believes the fundamental nature of reality to be neither mental nor physical; in other words it is "neutral".

Sarvastivada

Sarvastivada

The Sarvāstivāda was one of the early Buddhist schools established around the reign of Ashoka. It was particularly known as an Abhidharma tradition, with a unique set of seven Abhidharma works.

Evidence of the cult

The earliest evidence of the cult of Zurvan is found in the History of Theology, attributed to Eudemus of Rhodes (c. 370–300 BCE). As cited in Damascius's Difficulties and Solutions of First Principles (6th century CE), Eudemus describes a sect of the Medes that considered Space/Time to be the primordial "father" of the rivals Oromasdes "of light" and Arimanius "of darkness".[5]: 331–332 

The principal evidence for Zurvanite doctrine occurs in the polemical Christian tracts of Armenian and Syriac writers of the Sassanid period (224–651 CE). Indigenous sources of information from the same period are the 3rd century Kartir inscription at Ka'ba-i Zartosht and the early 4th-century century edict of Mihr-Narse (head-priest under Yazdegerd I), the latter being the only native evidence from the Sassanid period that is frankly Zurvanite. The post-Sassanid Zoroastrian Middle Persian commentaries are primarily Mazdean and with only one exception (10th-century century Denkard 9.30[6]) do not mention Zurvan at all. Of the remaining so-called Pahlavi texts only two, the Mēnōg-i Khrad and the Selections of Zatspram (both 9th century) reveal a Zurvanite tendency. The latter, in which the priest Zatspram chastises his brother's un-Mazdaean ideas, is the last text in Middle Persian that provides any evidence of the cult of Zurvan. The 13th century Zoroastrian Ulema-i Islam ([Response] to Doctors of Islam), a New Persian apologetic text, is unambiguously Zurvanite and is also the last direct evidence of Zurvan as a First Principle.

There is no hint of any worship of Zurvan in any of the texts of the Avesta, even though the texts (as they exist today) are the result of a Sassanid era redaction. Robert Zaehner proposed that this is because the individual Sassanid monarchs were not always Zurvanite and that Mazdean Zoroastrianism just happened to have the upper hand during the crucial period that the canon was finally written down.[3]: 48 [7]: 108  In the texts composed prior to the Sassanid period, Zurvan appears twice, as both an abstract concept and as a minor divinity, but there is no evidence of a cult. In Yasna 72.10 Zurvan is invoked in the company of Space and Air (Vata-Vayu) and in Yasht 13.56, the plants grow in the manner Time has ordained according to the will of Ahura Mazda and the Amesha Spentas. Two other references to Zurvan are also present in the Vendidad, but although these are late additions to the canon, they again do not establish any evidence of a cult. Zurvan does not appear in any listing of the Yazatas.[5]

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Eudemus of Rhodes

Eudemus of Rhodes

Eudemus of Rhodes was an ancient Greek philosopher, considered the first historian of science, who lived from c. 370 BCE until c. 300 BCE. He was one of Aristotle's most important pupils, editing his teacher's work and making it more easily accessible. Eudemus' nephew, Pasicles, was also credited with editing Aristotle's works.

Damascius

Damascius

Damascius, known as "the last of the Athenian Neoplatonists," was the last scholarch of the neoplatonic Athenian school. He was one of the neoplatonic philosophers who left Athens after laws confirmed by emperor Justinian I forced the closure of the Athenian school in c. 529 AD. After he left Athens, he may have sought refuge in the court of the Persian King Chrosroes, before being allowed back into the Byzantine Empire. His surviving works consist of three commentaries on the works of Plato, and a metaphysical text entitled Difficulties and Solutions of First Principles.

Medes

Medes

The Medes were an ancient Iranian people who spoke the Median language and who inhabited an area known as Media between western and northern Iran. Around the 11th century BC, they occupied the mountainous region of northwestern Iran and the northeastern and eastern region of Mesopotamia located in the region of Hamadan (Ecbatana). Their consolidation in Iran is believed to have occurred during the 8th century BC. In the 7th century BC, all of western Iran and some other territories were under Median rule, but their precise geographic extent remains unknown.

Armenian language

Armenian language

Armenian is an Indo-European language and an independent branch of that family of languages. It is the official language of Armenia. Historically spoken in the Armenian Highlands, today Armenian is widely spoken throughout the Armenian diaspora. Armenian is written in its own writing system, the Armenian alphabet, introduced in 405 AD by the priest Mesrop Mashtots. The total number of Armenian speakers worldwide is estimated between 5 and 7 million.

Syriac language

Syriac language

The Syriac language, also known as Syriac Aramaic and Classical Syriac ܠܫܢܐ ܥܬܝܩܐ, is an Aramaic dialect that emerged during the first century AD from a local Aramaic dialect that was spoken by Arameans in the ancient Aramean kingdom of Osroene, centered in the city of Edessa. During the Early Christian period, it became the main literary language of various Aramaic-speaking Christian communities in the historical region of Ancient Syria and throughout the Near East. As a liturgical language of Syriac Christianity, it gained a prominent role among Eastern Christian communities that used both Eastern Syriac and Western Syriac rites. Following the spread of Syriac Christianity, it also became a liturgical language of eastern Christian communities as far as India and China. It flourished from the 4th to the 8th century, and continued to have an important role during the next centuries, but by the end of the Middle Ages it was gradually reduced to liturgical use, since the role of vernacular language among its native speakers was overtaken by several emerging Neo-Aramaic dialects.

Kartir

Kartir

Kartir was a powerful and influential Zoroastrian priest during the reigns of four Sasanian kings in the 3rd-century. His name is cited in the inscriptions of Shapur I and the Paikuli inscription of Narseh. Kartir also had inscriptions of his own made in the present-day Fars Province. His inscriptions narrates his rise to power throughout the reigns of Shapur I, Hormizd I, Bahram I, and Bahram II. During the brief reign of Bahram II's son and successor Bahram III, Kartir was amongst the nobles who supported the rebellion of Narseh, who overthrew Bahram III and ascended the throne. During Narseh's reign, Kartir faded into obscurity.

Apologetics

Apologetics

Apologetics is the religious discipline of defending religious doctrines through systematic argumentation and discourse. Early Christian writers who defended their beliefs against critics and recommended their faith to outsiders were called Christian apologists. In 21st-century usage, apologetics is often identified with debates over religion and theology.

Avesta

Avesta

The Avesta is the primary collection of religious texts of Zoroastrianism, composed in the Avestan language.

Robert Charles Zaehner

Robert Charles Zaehner

Robert Charles Zaehner (1913–1974) was a British academic whose field of study was Eastern religions. He understood the original language of many sacred texts, e.g., Hindu (Sanskrit), Buddhist (Pali), Islamic (Arabic). At Oxford University his first writings were on the Zoroastrian religion and its texts. Starting in World War II, he had served as an intelligence officer in Iran. Appointed Spalding Professor at Oxford in 1952, his books addressed such subjects as mystical experience, Hinduism, comparative religion, Christianity and other religions, and ethics. He translated the Bhagavad-Gita, providing an extensive commentary based on Hindu tradition and sources. His last books addressed similar issues in popular culture, which led to his talks on the BBC. He published under the name R. C. Zaehner.

Yasna

Yasna

Yasna is the Avestan name of Zoroastrianism's principal act of worship. It is also the name of the primary liturgical collection of Avesta texts, recited during that yasna ceremony.

Ahura Mazda

Ahura Mazda

Ahura Mazda, also known as Oromasdes, Ohrmazd, Ahuramazda, Hoormazd, Hormazd, Hormaz and Hurmuz, is the creator deity in Zoroastrianism. He is the first and most frequently invoked spirit in the Yasna. The literal meaning of the word Ahura is "lord", and that of Mazda is "wisdom".

Amesha Spenta

Amesha Spenta

In Zoroastrianism, the Amesha Spenta are a class of seven divine entities emanating from Ahura Mazda, the highest divinity of the religion. Later Middle Persian variations of the term include the contraction 'Ameshaspand' as well as the specifically Zoroastrian 'Mahraspand' and 'Amahraspand'.

History and development

Ascent and acceptance

The origins of the cult of Zurvan remain debated. One view[8][7][3]: intro  considers Zurvanism to have developed out of Zoroastrianism as a reaction to the liberalization of the late Achaemenid-era form of the faith. Another view[a] proposes that Zurvan existed as a pre-Zoroastrian divinity that was incorporated into Zoroastrianism. The third view[10][4][2] is that Zurvanism is the product of the contact between Zoroastrianism and BabylonianAkkadian religions (for a summary of opposing views see Boyce[2]: 304 ).

Certain however is that by the Sassanid era (226–651 CE), the divinity "Infinite Time" was well established, and – as inferred from a Manichaean text presented to Shapur I, in which the name Zurvan was adopted for Manichaeism's primordial "Father of Greatness" – enjoyed royal patronage. It was during the reign of Sassanid Emperor Shapur I (241–272 CE) that Zurvanism appears to have developed as a cult and it was presumably in this period that Greek and Indic concepts were introduced to Zurvanite Zoroastrianism.

It is however not known whether Sassanid-era Zurvanism and Mazdaism were separate sects, each with their own organization and priesthood, or simply two tendencies within the same body. That Mazdaism and Zurvanism competed for attention has been inferred from the works of Christian and Manichaean polemicists, but the doctrinal incompatibilities were not so extreme "that they could not be reconciled under the broad aegis of an imperial church".[2]: 30  More likely is that the two sects served different segments of Sassanid society, with dispassionate Zurvanism primarily operating as a mystic cult and passionate Mazdaism serving the community at large.

Decline and disappearance

The Sassanid Empire at its greatest extent (c. 610 CE)
The Sassanid Empire at its greatest extent (c. 610 CE)

Following the fall of the Sassanid Empire in the 7th century, Zoroastrianism was gradually supplanted by Islam. The former continued to exist but in an increasingly reduced state, and by the 10th century the remaining Zoroastrians appear to have more closely followed the orthodoxy as found in the Pahlavi books (see also § The legacy of Zurvanism below).

Why the cult of Zurvan vanished while Mazdaism did not remains an issue of scholarly debate. Arthur Christensen, one of the first proponents of the theory that Zurvanism was the state religion of the Sassanids, suggested that the rejection of Zurvanism in the post-conquest epoch was a response and reaction to the new authority of Islamic monotheism that brought about a deliberate reform of Zoroastrianism that aimed to establish a stronger orthodoxy.[2]: 305  Zaehner is of the opinion that the Zurvanite priesthood had a "strict orthodoxy which few could tolerate. Moreover, they interpreted the Prophet's message so dualistically that their God was made to appear very much less than all-powerful and all-wise. Reasonable as so absolute a dualism might appear from a purely intellectual point of view, it had neither the appeal of a real monotheism nor had it any mystical element with which to nourish its inner life."[11]

Another possible explanation postulated by Boyce[2]: 308–309  is that Mazdaism and Zurvanism were divided regionally, that is, with Mazdaism being the predominant tendency in the regions to the north and east (Bactria, Margiana, and other satrapies closest to Zoroaster's homeland), while Zurvanism was prominent in regions to the south and west (closer to Babylonian and Greek influence). This is supported by Manichaean evidence that indicates that 3rd century Mazdean Zoroastrianism had its stronghold in Parthia, to the northeast. Following the fall of the Persian Empire, the south and west were relatively quickly assimilated under the banner of Islam, while the north and east remained independent for some time before these regions too were absorbed.[2]: 308–309  This could also explain why Armenian/Syriac observations reveal a distinctly Zurvanite Zoroastrianism, and inversely, could explain the strong Greek and Babylonian connection and interaction with Zurvanism (see § Types of Zurvanism below).

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Zoroastrianism

Zoroastrianism

Zoroastrianism is an Iranian religion and one of the world's oldest organized faiths, based on the teachings of the Iranian-speaking prophet Zoroaster It has a dualistic cosmology of good and evil within the framework of a monotheistic ontology and an eschatology which predicts the ultimate conquest of evil by good. Zoroastrianism exalts an uncreated and benevolent deity of wisdom known as Ahura Mazda as its supreme being. Historically, the unique features of Zoroastrianism, such as its monotheism, messianism, belief in free will and judgement after death, conception of heaven, hell, angels, and demons, among other concepts, may have influenced other religious and philosophical systems, including the Abrahamic religions and Gnosticism, Northern Buddhism, and Greek philosophy.

Babylonian religion

Babylonian religion

Babylonian religion is the religious practice of Babylonia. Babylonian mythology was greatly influenced by their Sumerian counterparts and was written on clay tablets inscribed with the cuneiform script derived from Sumerian cuneiform. The myths were usually either written in Sumerian or Akkadian. Some Babylonian texts were translations into Akkadian from the Sumerian language of earlier texts, although the names of some deities were changed.

Father of Greatness

Father of Greatness

The Father of Greatness is the eternal divine manifestation of good in Manichaeism, a four-fold deity, embracing divinity, light, power and goodness. His throne is surrounded by at least 156 peaceful entities: 12 aeons, aeons of the aeons and angels.

Shapur I

Shapur I

Shapur I was the second Sasanian King of Kings of Iran. The dating of his reign is disputed, but it is generally agreed that he ruled from 240 to 270, with his father Ardashir I as co-regent until the death of the latter in 242. During his co-regency, he helped his father with the conquest and destruction of the Arab city of Hatra, whose fall was facilitated, according to Islamic tradition, by the actions of his future wife al-Nadirah. Shapur also consolidated and expanded the empire of Ardashir I, waged war against the Roman Empire, and seized its cities of Nisibis and Carrhae while he was advancing as far as Roman Syria. Although he was defeated at the Battle of Resaena in 243 by Roman emperor Gordian III, he was the following year able to win the Battle of Misiche and force the new Roman Emperor Philip the Arab to sign a favorable peace treaty that was regarded by the Romans as "a most shameful treaty".

Arthur Christensen

Arthur Christensen

Arthur Emanuel Christensen was a Danish orientalist and scholar of Iranian philology and folklore. He is best known for his works on the Iranian history, mythology, religions and medicine. Christensen received his doctorate in 1903. The book One Thousand and One Nights ignited his interest to the Middle East. The subject of his doctorate dissertation was written about Omar Khayyam, a renowned Persian polymath.

Robert Charles Zaehner

Robert Charles Zaehner

Robert Charles Zaehner (1913–1974) was a British academic whose field of study was Eastern religions. He understood the original language of many sacred texts, e.g., Hindu (Sanskrit), Buddhist (Pali), Islamic (Arabic). At Oxford University his first writings were on the Zoroastrian religion and its texts. Starting in World War II, he had served as an intelligence officer in Iran. Appointed Spalding Professor at Oxford in 1952, his books addressed such subjects as mystical experience, Hinduism, comparative religion, Christianity and other religions, and ethics. He translated the Bhagavad-Gita, providing an extensive commentary based on Hindu tradition and sources. His last books addressed similar issues in popular culture, which led to his talks on the BBC. He published under the name R. C. Zaehner.

Bactria

Bactria

Bactria, or Bactriana, was an ancient region in Central Asia in Amu Darya's middle stream, stretching north of the Hindu Kush, west of the Pamirs and south of the Gissar range, covering the northern part of Afghanistan, southwestern Tajikistan and southeastern Uzbekistan.

Margiana

Margiana

Margiana is a historical region centred on the oasis of Merv and was a minor satrapy within the Achaemenid satrapy of Bactria, and a province within its successors, the Seleucid, Parthian and Sasanian empires.

Parthia

Parthia

Parthia is a historical region located in northeastern Greater Iran. It was conquered and subjugated by the empire of the Medes during the 7th century BC, was incorporated into the subsequent Achaemenid Empire under Cyrus the Great in the 6th century BC, and formed part of the Hellenistic Seleucid Empire following the 4th-century-BC conquests of Alexander the Great. The region later served as the political and cultural base of the Eastern Iranian Parni people and Arsacid dynasty, rulers of the Parthian Empire. The Sasanian Empire, the last state of pre-Islamic Iran, also held the region and maintained the seven Parthian clans as part of their feudal aristocracy.

Byzantine Empire

Byzantine Empire

The Byzantine Empire, also referred to as the Eastern Roman Empire or Byzantium, was the continuation of the Roman Empire in its eastern provinces during Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages, when its capital city was Constantinople. It survived the fragmentation and fall of the Western Roman Empire in the 5th century AD and continued to exist for an additional thousand years until the fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman Empire in 1453. During most of its existence, the empire remained the most powerful economic, cultural, and military force in Europe. The terms "Byzantine Empire" and "Eastern Roman Empire" were coined after the end of the realm; its citizens continued to refer to their empire as the Roman Empire, and to themselves as Romans—a term which Greeks continued to use for themselves into Ottoman times. Although the Roman state continued and its traditions were maintained, modern historians distinguish Byzantium from its earlier incarnation because it was centered on Constantinople, oriented towards Greek rather than Latin culture, and characterised by Eastern Orthodox Christianity.

Babylon

Babylon

Babylon was the capital city of the ancient Babylonian Empire, which itself is a term referring to either of two separate empires in the Mesopotamian area in antiquity. These two empires achieved regional dominance between the 19th and 15th centuries BC, and again between the 7th and 6th centuries BC. The city, built along both banks of the Euphrates river, had steep embankments to contain the river's seasonal floods. The earliest known mention of Babylon as a small town appears on a clay tablet from the reign of Sargon of Akkad of the Akkadian Empire. The site of the ancient city lies just south of present-day Baghdad. The last known record of habitation of the town dates from the 10th century AD, when it was referred to as the "small village of Babel".

The "twin brother" doctrine

"Classical Zurvanism" is a term coined by Zaehner[3]: intro  to denote the movement to explain the inconsistency of Zoroaster's description of the "twin spirits" as they appear in Yasna 30.3–5 of the Avesta. According to Zaehner, this "Zurvanism proper" was

genuinely Iranian and Zoroastrian in that it sought to clarify the enigma of the twin spirits that Zoroaster left unsolved.[11]

. As the priesthood sought to explain it, if the Malevolent Spirit (lit: Angra Mainyu) and the Benevolent Spirit (Spenta Mainyu, identified with Ahura Mazda) were twins, then they must have had a parent, who must have existed before them. The priesthood settled on Zurvan – the hypostasis of (Infinite) Time – as being "the only possible 'Absolute' from whom the twins could proceed" and which was the source of good in the one and the source of evil in the other.[11]

The Zurvanite "twin brother" doctrine is also evident in Zurvanism's cosmogonical creation myth; the classic form of the creation myth does not contradict the Mazdean model of the origin and evolution of the universe, which begins where the Zurvanite model ends. It may well be that the Zurvanite cosmogony was an adaptation of an antecedent Hellenic Chronos cosmogony that portrayed Infinite Time as the "Father of Time" (not to be confused with the Titan Cronus, father of Zeus) whom the Greeks equated with Oromasdes, i.e. Ohrmuzd / Ahura Mazda.[10]

Creation story

The classic Zurvanite model of creation, preserved only by non-Zoroastrian sources, proceeds as follows:

In the beginning, the great God Zurvan existed alone. Desiring offspring that would create "heaven and hell and everything in between", Zurvan sacrificed for a thousand years. Towards the end of this period, androgyne Zurvan began to doubt the efficacy of sacrifice and in the moment of this doubt Ohrmuzd and Ahriman were conceived: Ohrmuzd for the sacrifice and Ahriman for the doubt. Upon realizing that twins were to be born, Zurvan resolved to grant the first-born sovereignty over creation. Ohrmuzd perceived Zurvan's decision, which He then communicated to His brother. Ahriman then preempted Ohrmuzd by ripping open the womb to emerge first. Reminded of the resolution to grant Ahriman sovereignty, Zurvan conceded, but limited kingship to a period of 9,000 years, after which Ohrmuzd would rule for all eternity.[3]: 419–428 

Christian and Manichaean missionaries considered this doctrine to be exemplary of the Zoroastrian faith and it was these and similar texts that first reached the west. Corroborated by Anquetil-Duperron's "erroneous rendering" of Vendidad 19.9, these led to the late 18th-century century conclusion that Infinite Time was the first Principle of Zoroastrianism and Ohrmuzd was therefore only "the derivative and secondary character". Ironically, the fact that no Zoroastrian texts contained any hint of the born-of-Zurvan doctrine was considered to be evidence of a latter-day corruption of the original principles. The opinion that Zoroastrianism was so severely dualistic that it was, in fact, ditheistic or even tritheistic would be widely held until the late 19th century.[5]: 490–492 [12]: 687 

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Ahura Mazda

Ahura Mazda

Ahura Mazda, also known as Oromasdes, Ohrmazd, Ahuramazda, Hoormazd, Hormazd, Hormaz and Hurmuz, is the creator deity in Zoroastrianism. He is the first and most frequently invoked spirit in the Yasna. The literal meaning of the word Ahura is "lord", and that of Mazda is "wisdom".

Creation myth

Creation myth

A creation myth is a symbolic narrative of how the world began and how people first came to inhabit it. While in popular usage the term myth often refers to false or fanciful stories, members of cultures often ascribe varying degrees of truth to their creation myths. In the society in which it is told, a creation myth is usually regarded as conveying profound truths – metaphorically, symbolically, historically, or literally. They are commonly, although not always, considered cosmogonical myths – that is, they describe the ordering of the cosmos from a state of chaos or amorphousness.

Cosmogony

Cosmogony

Cosmogony is any model concerning the origin of the cosmos or the universe.

Chronos

Chronos

Chronos, also spelled Khronos or Chronus, is a personification of time in pre-Socratic philosophy and later literature.

Cronus

Cronus

In Ancient Greek religion and mythology, Cronus, Cronos, or Kronos was the leader and youngest of the first generation of Titans, the divine descendants of the primordial Gaia and Uranus. He overthrew his father and ruled during the mythological Golden Age, until he was overthrown by his own son Zeus and imprisoned in Tartarus. According to Plato, however, the deities Phorcys, Cronus, and Rhea were the eldest children of Oceanus and Tethys.

Zeus

Zeus

Zeus is the sky and thunder god in ancient Greek religion, who rules as king of the gods on Mount Olympus. His name is cognate with the first element of his Roman equivalent Jupiter. His mythology and powers are similar, though not identical, to those of Indo-European deities such as Jupiter, Perkūnas, Perun, Indra, Dyaus, and Zojz.

Types of Zurvanism

According to Zaehner,[3][11] the doctrine of the cult of Zurvan appears to have three schools of thought, each to a different degree influenced by alien philosophies, which he calls

  • materialist Zurvanism,
  • aesthetic Zurvanism, and
  • fatalistic Zurvanism.

These are described in the following subsections. Zaehner proposes that each of three arose out of

  • classical Zurvanism

described above.

Materialist Zurvanism

Materialist Zurvanism was influenced by the Aristotelian and Empedoclean view of matter, and took "some very queer forms".[11]

While Zoroaster's Ormuzd created the universe with his thought, materialist Zurvanism challenged the concept that anything could be made out of nothing. This challenge was a patently alien idea, discarding core Zoroastrian tenets in favor of the position that the spiritual world – including heaven and hell, reward and punishment – did not exist.

The fundamental division of the material and spiritual is not altogether foreign to the Avesta; Geti and Mainyu (middle Persian: menog) are terms in Mazdaist tradition, where Ahura Mazda is said to have created all first in its spiritual, then later in its material form. But the material Zurvanites redefined menog to suit Aristotelian principles to mean "that which did not (yet) have matter", or alternatively, "that which was still the unformed primal matter". Even this is not necessarily a violation of orthodox Zoroastrian tradition, since the divinity Vayu is present in the middle space between Ormuzd and Ahriman, the void separating the kingdoms of light and darkness.

Aesthetic Zurvanism

Ascetic Zurvanism, which was apparently not as popular as the materialistic kind, viewed Zurvan as undifferentiated Time, which, under the influence of desire, divided into reason (a male principle) and concupiscence (a female principle).

According to Duchesne-Guillemin, this division is "redolent of Gnosticism or – still better – of Indian cosmology". The parallels between Zurvan and Prajapati of Rig Veda 10.129 had been taken by Widengren to be evidence of a proto-Indo-Iranian Zurvan, but these arguments have since been dismissed.[7] Nonetheless, there is a semblance of Zurvanite elements in Vedic texts, and, as Zaehner puts it, "Time, for the Indians, is the raw material, the materia prima of all contingent being."

Fatalistic Zurvanism

The doctrine of Limited Time (allotted to Ahriman by Zurvan) implied that nothing could change this preordained course of the material universe, and the path of the astral bodies of the 'heavenly sphere' was representative of this preordained course. It followed that human destiny must then be decided by the constellations, stars and planets, who were divided between the good (the signs of the Zodiac) and the evil (the planets):

Ohrmazd allotted happiness to man, but if man did not receive it, it was owing to the extortion of these planets.

— Menog-i Khirad 38.4–5

Fatalistic Zurvanism was evidently influenced by Chaldean astrology and perhaps also by Aristotle's theory of chance and fortune. The fact that Armenian and Syrian commentators translated Zurvan as "Fate" is highly suggestive.

Discover more about Types of Zurvanism related topics

Aristotle

Aristotle

Aristotle was a Greek philosopher and polymath during the Classical period in Ancient Greece. Taught by Plato, he was the founder of the Peripatetic school of philosophy within the Lyceum and the wider Aristotelian tradition. His writings cover many subjects including physics, biology, zoology, metaphysics, logic, ethics, aesthetics, poetry, theatre, music, rhetoric, psychology, linguistics, economics, politics, meteorology, geology, and government. Aristotle provided a complex synthesis of the various philosophies existing prior to him. It was above all from his teachings that the West inherited its intellectual lexicon, as well as problems and methods of inquiry. As a result, his philosophy has exerted a unique influence on almost every form of knowledge in the West and it continues to be a subject of contemporary philosophical discussion.

Empedocles

Empedocles

Empedocles was a Greek pre-Socratic philosopher and a native citizen of Akragas, a Greek city in Sicily. Empedocles' philosophy is best known for originating the cosmogonic theory of the four classical elements. He also proposed forces he called Love and Strife which would mix and separate the elements, respectively.

Avesta

Avesta

The Avesta is the primary collection of religious texts of Zoroastrianism, composed in the Avestan language.

Vayu-Vata

Vayu-Vata

Vāyu-Vāta or Vāta-Vāyu is the Avestan language name of a dual-natured Zoroastrian divinity of the wind (Vayu) and of the atmosphere (Vata). The names are also used independently of one another, with 'Vayu' occurring more frequently than 'Vata', but even when used independently still representing the other aspect.

Reason

Reason

Reason is the capacity of consciously applying logic by drawing conclusions from new or existing information, with the aim of seeking the truth. It is closely associated with such characteristically human activities as philosophy, science, language, mathematics, and art, and is normally considered to be a distinguishing ability possessed by humans. Reason is sometimes referred to as rationality.

Concupiscence

Concupiscence

Concupiscence is an ardent, usually sensual, longing. In Christianity, particularly in Roman Catholic and Lutheran theology, concupiscence is the tendency of humans to sin.

Jacques Duchesne-Guillemin

Jacques Duchesne-Guillemin

Jacques Duchesne-Guillemin was a Belgian linguist, philologist, and orientalist who was professor at the University of Liège and specialized in ancient Iran.

Gnosticism

Gnosticism

Gnosticism is a collection of religious ideas and systems which coalesced in the late 1st century AD among Jewish and early Christian sects. These various groups emphasized personal spiritual knowledge (gnosis) above the orthodox teachings, traditions, and authority of religious institutions. Gnostic cosmogony generally presents a distinction between a supreme, hidden God and a malevolent lesser divinity who is responsible for creating the material universe. Consequently, Gnostics considered material existence flawed or evil, and held the principal element of salvation to be direct knowledge of the hidden divinity, attained via mystical or esoteric insight. Many Gnostic texts deal not in concepts of sin and repentance, but with illusion and enlightenment.

Prajapati

Prajapati

Prajapati is a Vedic deity of Hinduism. In later literature, Prajapati is identified with the creator god Brahma, but the term also connotes many different gods, depending on the Hindu text, ranging from being the creator god to being same as one of the following: Viswakarma, Agni, Indra, Daksha, and many others, reflecting the diverse Hindu cosmology. In classical and medieval era literature, Prajapati is equated to the metaphysical concept called Brahman as Prajapati-Brahman, or alternatively Brahman is described as one who existed before Prajapati.

Mandala 10

Mandala 10

The tenth mandala of the Rigveda has 191 hymns. Together with Mandala 1, it forms the latest part of the Rigveda, containing much mythological material, including the Purusha sukta (10.90) and the dialogue of Sarama with the Panis (10.108), and notably containing several dialogue hymns. The subjects of the hymns cover a wider spectrum than in the other books, dedicated not only to deities or natural phenomena, including deities that are not prominent enough to receive their own hymns in the other books, but also to objects like dice (10.34), herbs (10.97), press-stones and abstract concepts like liberality, creation, knowledge (10.71), speech, spirit (10.58), faith (10.151), a charm against evil dreams (10.164).

Robert Charles Zaehner

Robert Charles Zaehner

Robert Charles Zaehner (1913–1974) was a British academic whose field of study was Eastern religions. He understood the original language of many sacred texts, e.g., Hindu (Sanskrit), Buddhist (Pali), Islamic (Arabic). At Oxford University his first writings were on the Zoroastrian religion and its texts. Starting in World War II, he had served as an intelligence officer in Iran. Appointed Spalding Professor at Oxford in 1952, his books addressed such subjects as mystical experience, Hinduism, comparative religion, Christianity and other religions, and ethics. He translated the Bhagavad-Gita, providing an extensive commentary based on Hindu tradition and sources. His last books addressed similar issues in popular culture, which led to his talks on the BBC. He published under the name R. C. Zaehner.

Chaldea

Chaldea

Chaldea was a small country that existed between the late 10th or early 9th and mid-6th centuries BCE, after which the country and its people were absorbed and assimilated into the indigenous population of Babylonia. Semitic-speaking, it was located in the marshy land of the far southeastern corner of Mesopotamia and briefly came to rule Babylon. The Hebrew Bible uses the term כשדים (Kaśdim) and this is translated as Chaldaeans in the Greek Old Testament, although there is some dispute as to whether Kasdim in fact means Chaldean or refers to the south Mesopotamian Kaldu.

Mistaken identity

In his first manuscript of his book Zurvan, Zaehner identified the leontocephalic deity of the Roman Mithraic Mysteries as a representation of Zurvan. Zaehner later acknowledged this mis-identification as a "positive mistake",[13] due to Franz Cumont's late 19th century notion that the Roman cult was "Roman Mazdaism" transmitted to the west by Iranian priests. Mithraic scholars no longer follow this so-called 'continuity theory', but that has not stopped the fallacy (which Zaehner also attributes to Cumont) from proliferating on the Internet.

The legacy of Zurvanism

No evidence of distinctly Zurvanite rituals or practices have been discovered, so followers of the cult are widely believed to have had the same rituals and practices as Mazdean Zoroastrians did. This is understandable, inasmuch as the Zurvanite doctrine of a monist First Principle did not preclude the worship of Ohrmuzd as the Creator (of the good creation). Similarly, no explicitly Zurvanite elements appear to have survived in modern Zoroastrianism.

Dhalla explicitly accepted a modern Western version of the old Zurvanite heresy, according to which Ahura Mazda himself was the hypothetical 'father' of the twin Spirits of Y 30.3 ... Yet though Dhalla thus, under foreign influences, abandoned the fundamental doctrine of the absolute separation of good and evil, his book still breathes the sturdy, unflinching spirit of orthodox Zoroastrian dualism.

— Mary Boyce[14]: 213 

Zurvanism begins with a heterodox interpretation of Zarathushtra's Gathas:

Yes, there are two fundamental spirits, twins which are renowned to be in conflict. In thought and in word, in action they are two: the good and the bad.

— Y 30.3 (trans. Insler)

Then shall I speak of the two primal Spirits of existence, of whom the Very Holy thus spoke to the Evil One: "Neither our thoughts nor teachings nor wills, neither or words nor choices nor acts, not our inner selves nor our souls agree."

— Y 45.2[15]

A literal, anthropomorphic "twin brother" interpretation of these passages gave rise to a need to postulate a father for the postulated literal "brothers". Hence Zurvanism postulated a preceding parent deity that existed above the good and evil of his sons. This was an obvious usurpation of Zoroastrian dualism, a sacrilege against the moral preeminence of Ahura Mazda.

The pessimism evident in fatalistic Zurvanism existed in stark contradiction to the positive moral force of Mazdaism, and was a direct violation of one of Zoroaster's great contributions to religious philosophy: his uncompromising doctrine of free will. In Yasna 30.2 and 45.9, Ahura Mazda "has left to men's wills" to choose between doing good and doing evil. By leaving destiny in the hands of fate (an omnipotent deity), the cult of Zurvan distanced itself from the most sacred of Zoroastrian tenets: that of the efficacy of good thoughts, good words and good deeds.

That the Zurvanite view of creation was an apostasy even for medieval Zoroastrians is apparent from the 10th century Denkard,[6] which in a commentary on Yasna 30.3–5 turns what the Zurvanites considered the words of the prophet into Zoroaster recalling "a proclamation of the Demon of Envy to mankind that Ohrmuzd and Ahriman were two in one womb".[6]: 9.30.4 

The fundamental goal of "classical Zurvanism" to bring the doctrine of the "twin spirits" in accord with what was otherwise understood of Zoroaster's teaching may have been excessive, but (according to Zaehner) it was not altogether misguided. In noting the emergence of an overtly dualistic doctrine during the Sassanid period, Zaehner[11] asserted that

[There must] have been a party within the Zoroastrian community which regarded the strict dualism between Truth and the Lie, the Holy Spirit and the Destructive Spirit, as being the essence of the Prophet's message. Otherwise the re-emergence of this strictly dualist form of Zoroastrianism some six centuries after the collapse of the Achaemenian Empire could not be readily explained. There must have been a zealous minority that busied itself with defining what they considered the Prophet's true message to be; there must have been an 'orthodox' party within the 'Church'. This minority, concerned now with theology no less than with ritual, would be found among the Magi, and it is, in fact, to the Magi that Aristotle and other early Greek writers attribute the fully dualist doctrine of two independent principles – Oromasdes and Areimanios. Further, the founder of the Magian order was now said to be Zoroaster himself. The fall of the Achaemenian Empire, however, must have been disastrous for the Zoroastrian religion, and the fact that the Magi were able to retain as much as they did and restore it in a form that was not too strikingly different from the Prophet's original message after the lapse of some 600 years proves their devotion to his memory. It is, indeed, true to say that the Zoroastrian orthodoxy of the Sassanian period is nearer to the spirit of Zoroaster than is the thinly disguised polytheism of the Yashts.[11]

Thus – according to Zaehner – while the direction that the Sassanids took was not altogether at odds with the spirit of the Gathas, the extreme dualism that accompanied a divinity that was remote and inaccessible made the faith less than attractive. Zurvanism was then truly heretical only in the sense that it weakened the appeal of Zoroastrianism.

Nonetheless, that Zurvanism was the predominant brand of Zoroastrianism during the cataclysmic years just prior to the fall of the empire, is, according to Duchesne-Guillemin, evident in the degree of influence that Zurvanism (but not Mazdaism) would have on the Iranian brand of Shi'a Islam. Writing in the historical present, he notes that "under Chosrau II (r. 590–628) and his successors, all kinds of superstitions tend to overwhelm the Mazdean religion, which gradually disintegrates, thus preparing the triumph of Islam." Thus, "what will survive in popular conscience under the Muslim varnish is not Mazdeism: it is Zervanite fatalism, well attested in Persian literature".[7]: 109  This is also a thought expressed by Zaehner, who observes that Ferdowsi, in his Shahnameh, "expounds views which seem to be an epitome of popular Zervanite doctrine".[3]: 241  Thus, according to Zaehner and Duchesne-Guillemin, Zurvanism's pessimistic fatalism was a formative influence on the Iranian psyche, paving the way (as it were) for the rapid adoption of Shi'a philosophy during the Safavid era.

According to Zaehner[11] and Shaki,[16] in Middle Persian texts of the 9th century, Dahri (from Arabic–Persian dahr, time, eternity) is the appellative term for adherents of the Zurvanite doctrine that the universe derived from Infinite Time.[16]: 35–44 "Dahri"  In later Persian and Arabic literature, the term would come to be a derogatory term for 'atheist' or 'materialist'. The term also appears – in conjunction with other terms for skeptics – in Denkard 3.225[6] and in the Skand-gumanig wizar where "one who says god is not, who are called dahari, and consider themselves to be delivered from religious discipline and the toil of performing meritorious deeds".[16]: 587–588 

Discover more about The legacy of Zurvanism related topics

Mary Boyce

Mary Boyce

Nora Elisabeth Mary Boyce was a British scholar of Iranian languages, and an authority on Zoroastrianism. She was Professor of Iranian Studies at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) of the University of London. The Royal Asiatic Society's annual Boyce Prize for outstanding contributions to the study of religion is named after her.

Zoroaster

Zoroaster

Zoroaster, also known as Zarathustra, is regarded as the spiritual founder of Zoroastrianism. He is said to have been an Iranian prophet who founded a religious movement that challenged the existing traditions of ancient Iranian religion, and inaugurated a movement that eventually became a staple religion in ancient Iran. He was a native speaker of Old Avestan and lived in the eastern part of the Iranian plateau but his exact birthplace is uncertain.

Free will

Free will

Free will is the capacity of agents to choose between different possible courses of action unimpeded.

Apostasy

Apostasy

Apostasy is the formal disaffiliation from, abandonment of, or renunciation of a religion by a person. It can also be defined within the broader context of embracing an opinion that is contrary to one's previous religious beliefs. One who undertakes apostasy is known as an apostate. Undertaking apostasy is called apostatizing. The term apostasy is used by sociologists to mean the renunciation and criticism of, or opposition to, a person's former religion, in a technical sense, with no pejorative connotation.

Denkard

Denkard

The Dēnkard or Dēnkart is a 10th-century compendium of Zoroastrian beliefs and customs during the time. The Denkard is to a great extent considered an "Encyclopedia of Mazdaism" and is a valuable source of information on the religion especially during its Middle Persian iteration. The Denkard is not considered a sacred text by a majority of Zoroastrians, but is still considered worthy of study.

Magi

Magi

Magi were priests in Zoroastrianism and the earlier religions of the western Iranians. The earliest known use of the word magi is in the trilingual inscription written by Darius the Great, known as the Behistun Inscription. Old Persian texts, predating the Hellenistic period, refer to a magus as a Zurvanic, and presumably Zoroastrian, priest.

Aristotle

Aristotle

Aristotle was a Greek philosopher and polymath during the Classical period in Ancient Greece. Taught by Plato, he was the founder of the Peripatetic school of philosophy within the Lyceum and the wider Aristotelian tradition. His writings cover many subjects including physics, biology, zoology, metaphysics, logic, ethics, aesthetics, poetry, theatre, music, rhetoric, psychology, linguistics, economics, politics, meteorology, geology, and government. Aristotle provided a complex synthesis of the various philosophies existing prior to him. It was above all from his teachings that the West inherited its intellectual lexicon, as well as problems and methods of inquiry. As a result, his philosophy has exerted a unique influence on almost every form of knowledge in the West and it continues to be a subject of contemporary philosophical discussion.

Robert Charles Zaehner

Robert Charles Zaehner

Robert Charles Zaehner (1913–1974) was a British academic whose field of study was Eastern religions. He understood the original language of many sacred texts, e.g., Hindu (Sanskrit), Buddhist (Pali), Islamic (Arabic). At Oxford University his first writings were on the Zoroastrian religion and its texts. Starting in World War II, he had served as an intelligence officer in Iran. Appointed Spalding Professor at Oxford in 1952, his books addressed such subjects as mystical experience, Hinduism, comparative religion, Christianity and other religions, and ethics. He translated the Bhagavad-Gita, providing an extensive commentary based on Hindu tradition and sources. His last books addressed similar issues in popular culture, which led to his talks on the BBC. He published under the name R. C. Zaehner.

Jacques Duchesne-Guillemin

Jacques Duchesne-Guillemin

Jacques Duchesne-Guillemin was a Belgian linguist, philologist, and orientalist who was professor at the University of Liège and specialized in ancient Iran.

Ferdowsi

Ferdowsi

Abul-Qâsem Ferdowsi Tusi, also Firdawsi or Ferdowsi, was a Persian poet and the author of Shahnameh, which is one of the world's longest epic poems created by a single poet, and the greatest epic of Persian speaking countries. Ferdowsi is celebrated as one of the most influential figures of Persian literature and one of the greatest in the history of literature.

Source: "Zurvanism", Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, (2022, November 25th), https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zurvanism.

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Footnotes
  1. ^ "Swedish-school" theory, e.g. Nyberg (1931)[9] reiterated by Zaehner (1955).[3]: conclusion 
References
  1. ^ "Zurvanism". Encyclopædia Iranica. 28 March 2014. Retrieved 17 March 2021.{{cite encyclopedia}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h Boyce, Mary (1957). "Some reflections on Zurvanism". Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies. London, UK: School of Oriental and African Studies. 19 (2): 304–316. doi:10.1017/s0041977x00133063.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h Zaehner, R.C. (1955). Zurvan, a Zoroastrian Dilemma (Biblo-Moser ed.). Oxford, UK: Clarendon Press. ISBN 0-8196-0280-9.
  4. ^ a b Henning (1951)
  5. ^ a b c Dhalla (1932)
  6. ^ a b c d Müller, F.M., ed. (1892). "Denkard 9.30". Sacred Books of the East (SBE). Vol. 37. Translated by West, E.W. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
  7. ^ a b c d Duchesne-Guillemin, J. (1956). "Notes on Zurvanism". Journal of Near Eastern Studies. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press. 15 (2): 108–112. doi:10.1086/371319. S2CID 162213173.
  8. ^ Zaehner, R.C. (1940) [1939]. "A Zervanite apocalypse". Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies. London, UK: School of Oriental and African Studies. 10 (2): 377–398. doi:10.1017/s0041977x00087577.
  9. ^ Nyberg (1931)
  10. ^ a b Cumont and Schaeder
  11. ^ a b c d e f g h Zaehner, R.C. (2003) [1961]. The Dawn and Twilight of Zoroastrianism (reprint ed.). New York: Putnam / Phoenix. ISBN 1-84212-165-0. "A section of the book is available online". Archived from the original on 2012-05-09. Several other websites have duplicated this text, but include an "Introduction" section that is very obviously not by Zaehner.
  12. ^ Boyce (2002)
  13. ^ Zaehner (1972)
  14. ^ Boyce, Mary (1979). Zoroastrians, Their Religious Beliefs and Practices.
  15. ^ Textual Sources for the Study of Zoroastrianism. Translated by Boyce, Mary.
  16. ^ a b c Shaki, Mansour (2002). Encyclopaedia Iranica. New York, NY: Mazda Publications.


Further reading
  • Taraporewala, Irach, ed. (1977). "Yasna 30". The Divine Songs of Zarathushtra. Translated by Bartholomae, Christian. New York, NY: Ams. ISBN 0-404-12802-5.
  • "The 'Ulema-i Islam]". The Persian rivayats of Hormazyar Framarz and others. Translated by Dhabhar, Bamanji Nasarvanji. Bombay, IN: K.R. Cama Oriental Institute. 1932.
  • Frye, Richard (1959). "Zurvanism Again". The Harvard Theological Review. London, UK: Cambridge University Press. 52 (2): 63–73. doi:10.1017/s0017816000026687.


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