Achaemenids - dynasty of ancient Persia. They were
descended presumably from one Achaemenes, a minor ruler in a mountainous
district of SW Iran. His successors, when Elam declined, spread their
power westward. Cyrus the Great established the Persian rule by his
conquest of Astyages of Media. The Achaemenids (c.550–330 B.C.)
were important for their development of government administration, the
appearance of literature written in cuneiform, and the spread of Zoroastrianism;
during this period there was also a great flourishing of Persian art
and architecture. The Achaemenid rulers after Cyrus were Cambyses II,
the impostor Smerdis, Darius I, Xerxes I, Artaxerxes I, Xerxes II, Sogdianus,
Darius II, Artaxerxes II (opposed by Cyrus the Younger), Artaxerxes
III, Arses, and Darius III. The dynasty ended when Darius III died in
his flight from Alexander the Great.
Amesha Spentas - (Holy Immortals) Eternal
divine beings in Zoroastrianism, entities that bring blessings and comfort.
The Amesha Spantas are in the Avesta presented as aspects of Ahura Mazda.
With each of their functions, the Amesha Spentas constitute Ahura Mazda's
Angels - Later on, post-Zarathushtra Zoroastrianism
mythologized the Amesha Spentas into angelic hierarchies, and brought
back some of the Pre-Zarathushtra Gods into the scripture as angels.
Ardashir I[ardashEr´] [another form of Artaxerxes],
d. 240, king of Persia (226?–240). He overthrew the last Parthian
king, Artabanus IV, entered Ctesiphon, and reunited Persia out of the
confusion of Seleucid decline. He established the strong Sassanid or
Sassanian dynasty and reconquered the old eastern territories. Ardashir
established Zoroastrianism as the state religion and gave much power
to the priestly caste. His move against Mesopotamia, Armenia, and Cappadocia
caused the Roman emperor Alexander Severus to campaign against him.
A great battle in 232 cost both armies heavy losses. It was Alexander
who had to retire, and though Alexander celebrated a triumph in Rome,
Ardashir took Armenia, and Persian power was firmly established. He
is sometimes called Ardashir Papakan, for his father, Papak. Shapur
I succeeded him.
Ahriman - (1)According to Zarathushtra, there is no
devil. However, some of the post-Zarathushtra scripture introduced the
concept of the devil, or Ahriman, which was effectively a personification
of Angra Mainyu.
(2)The evil power in the
Avesta, the collection of religious writings in Zoroastrianism. Ahriman
is ethymologically the Middle Persian form of Angra Mainyu, one of the
two twin-spirits created by Ahura Mazda. Ahriman chose evil consciously,
and by this act he created death. The central subject of Zoroastrian
teaching and theology is the constant ongoing battle between Ahriman
and Ahura Mazda.
Ahura Mazda - Literally translated, Ahura means The
Lord Creator, and Mazda means Supremely Wise. This was the name by which
Zarathushtra addressed his God. He proclaimed that there is only one
God, who is the singular creative and sustaining force of the Universe.
Choice - As human beings we are given the right to
choose. However, because of the law of cause and effect, we are also
responsible for our choices, and must face their consequences.
Co-Creators - We
are co-creators of God. We are here to fulfill the divine plan, not
to become obedient slaves of God, nor to be helpless children of God.
And this is why we are given the choice. Even the choice not to cooperate
with God’s plan and go against it, and that is why we find evil
in the world. Because there are some who choose not to work according
to God’s plan.
Cosmology - Ahura Mazda first created Vohu Mano or
the Spirit of the Good Mind, through which God created a plan or blueprint
for the universe. Part of this blueprint was to incorporate an operating
mode and operating laws. This was Asha or the spirit of Truth and Right
(the software of the universe). Then comes the actual act physical creation,
which involved certain actions and manifestations. This is Khshatra
or the spirit of Holy Sovereignty. These manifestations are actualized
through Spenta Armaiti, with much devotion, faith and love. And finally
that the universe is created in the spirit of Perfection (Haurvatat)
and is timeless and immortal (Ameretat).
Dualism - Even though there is only one God, our universe
works on the basis of moral dualism. There is Spenta Mainyu (progressive
mentality) and Angra Mainyu (evil or regressive mentality). Zarathushtra
pleaded with us to think clearly before we choose, and asked us to choose
the progressive choices to bring about beneficial consequences. He said
that Ahura Mazda would not order us to choose either this or that.
In other words, having given us the ability to choose, Ahura Mazda leaves
us alone and allows us to make our choices. And if we choose good, we
will bring about good, and if we choose evil, we will cause evil. This
is how the moral universe operates.
Gnosticism[nos´tisizum] -dualistic religious
and philosophical movement of the late Hellenistic and early Christian
eras. The term designates a wide assortment of sects, numerous by the
2d cent. A.D.; they all promised salvation through an occult knowledge
that they claimed was revealed to them alone. Scholars trace these salvation
religions back to such diverse sources as Jewish mysticism, Hellenistic
mystery cults, Iranian religious dualism (see Zoroastrianism), and Babylonian
and Egyptian mythology. The definition of gnosis [knowledge] as concern
with the Eternal was already present in earlier Greek philosophy, although
its connection with the later Gnostic movement is distant at best. Christian
ideas were quickly incorporated into these syncretistic systems, and
by the 2d cent. the largest of them, organized by Valentinus and Basilides,
were a significant rival to Christianity. Much of early Christian doctrine
was formulated in reaction to this movement.
Until the discovery at Nag Hammadi in Egypt of key Manichaean (1930)
and Coptic Gnostic (c.1945) papyri, knowledge of Gnosticism depended
on Christian sources, notably St. Irenaeus, St. Hippolytus, Tertullian,
and Clement of Alexandria. Among principal Gnostic writings are the
Valentinian documents Pistis-Sophia and the Gospel of Truth (perhaps
by Valentinus himself). Important too is the literature of the Mandaeans
in modern Iraq, who are the only Gnostic sect extant. Gnostic elements
are found in the Acts of Thomas, the Odes of Solomon, and other wisdom
literature of the pseudepigrapha.
Some Gnostics taught that the world is ruled by evil archons, among
them the deity of the Old Testament, who hold captive the spirit of
humanity. The heavenly pleroma was the center of the divine life, and
Jesus was interpreted as an intermediary eternal being, or aeon, sent
from the pleroma to restore the lost knowledge of humanity's divine
origin. Gnostics held secret formulas, which they believed would free
them at death from the evil archons and restore them to their heavenly
abode. See Valentinus for typical Gnostic teaching on the pleroma.
Gnosticism held that human beings consist of flesh, soul, and spirit
(the divine spark), and that humanity is divided into classes representing
each of these elements. The purely corporeal (hylic) lacked spirit and
could never be saved; the Gnostics proper (pneumatic) bore knowingly
the divine spark and their salvation was certain; and those, like the
Christians, who stood in between (psychic), might attain a lesser salvation
through faith. Such a doctrine may have inspired extreme asceticism
(as in the Valentinian school) or extreme licentiousness (as in the
sect of Caprocrates and the Ophites). The influence of Gnosticism on
the later development of the Jewish kabbalah and heterodox Islamic sects
such as the Ismailis is much debated.
Haoman - A plant (the twigs are being used) that is
used in Zoroastrianism to reach intoxication, and through this the divine
power, that is called the same: Haoma.
Haoma was by Zarathustra redefined as the power that
renews life, but in spiritual terms. Haoma is to a large extent a divine
power with a proper existence, something we see particularly in older
Iranian religions. Haoma can punish people who do not honour him, with
sterility. For those who do honour him, Haoma offers healing remedies.
Heaven and Hell - According to Zarathushtra after we
leave this life, our essence leaves the body, and depending on the choices
that it has made, either it will go to the House of Songs or Realm of
light (if he has made good choices) or to the Realm of Darkness and
Separation (if evil choices). Heaven and Hell are not physical places,
but are described as timeless states of consciousness: either state
of oneness with or separation from Ahura Mazda.
Post-Zarathushtra Zoroastrianism mythologized these timeless states
of consciousness into everlasting physical locations and descriptive
places. This later concept permeated into Judeo-Christian religions.
Hell is a temporary place of suffering for sinners
after death. When evil is finally defeated (at Frashegird), the souls
of sinners will be released from hell, and will be purified by the ordeal
of molten metal. They will then join the congregation of God and the
Magi - priestly caste of ancient Persia. Probably Median
in origin, they were, according to Herodotus, a tribe rather than a
priestly family. Zoroaster is thought to have been a Magus. Study of
the Magi is hampered by the lack of original source material. They are
thought to have molded a pre-Zoroastrian religion, but nothing is known
of it except by inference. After Zoroaster, Magian priests headed Zoroastrianism;
the greatest was Saena. The Magi were revered by classic authors as
wise men, and their reputed power over demons gave rise to the word
Microcosm - Each one of us carries the divine essence
within ourselves. It is our duty to recognize this and act accordingly.
Based on Zarathushtra’s teachings, we can and should act like
Ahura Mazda. We should think about every choice that we wish to make
and in the spirit of our good mind choose wisely. We should respect
the natural and moral laws and operating mode of the universe. We should
act diligently, with love and faith. And we will then make perfect and
timeless choices, and fulfill our purpose of renewing the world.
Middle Persian - The language that was a contemporary
of Parthian, and during the Arsacid period, Persian was strongly influenced
by Parthian. Middle Persian was the language used in the Sassanian Empire,
and was called Pahlavi. Middle Persian was, just like Old Persian, spoken
in southwestern Iran, Parthian was spoken in the north, while a group
of languages (Khwarezmian, Sogdian and Saka) were spoken in southeast.
The grammar of Middle Persian was simpler than in Old Persian. The script
used was one of ambiguous script with multivalent letters, derived from
Middle Persian would last until the 9th century CE, even if its decline
came with the introduction of Arabic already two centuries earlier.
Modern Persian - the language of Iran today, was developed
as early as in the 9th century. It was in many fields a continuation
of Middle Persian, but there were important influences coming from other
Modern Persian used an expanded form of Arabic writing, introducing
letters like ch, p, zh, g, and changing the pronunciation of Arabic
zh into "za". There is also a large selection of Arabic words
in Modern Persian.
The grammar of Modern Persian is simpler than the one of Middle Persian.
Mithra [mith´ru] - ancient god of Persia and
India (where he was called Mitra). Until the 6th cent. B.C., Mithra
was apparently a minor figure in the Zoroastrian system. Under the Achaemenids,
Mithra became increasingly important, until he appeared in the 5th cent.
B.C. as the principal Persian deity, the god of light and wisdom, closely
associated with the sun. His cult expanded through the Middle East into
Europe and became a worldwide religion, called Mithraism. This was one
of the great religions of the Roman Empire, and in the 2d cent. A.D.
it was more general than Christianity. Mithraism found widest favor
among the Roman legions, for whom Mithra (or Mithras in Latin and Greek)
was the ideal divine comrade and fighter. The fundamental aspect of
the Mithraic system was the dualistic struggle between the forces of
good and evil. Mithra, who gave to his devotees hope of blessed immortality,
represented the fearless antagonist of the powers of darkness. The story
of Mithra's capture and sacrifice of a sacred bull, from whose body
sprang all the beneficent things of the earth, was a central cultic
myth. The ethics of Mithraism were rigorous; fasting and continence
were strongly prescribed. The rituals, highly secret and restricted
to men only, included many of the sacramental forms common to the mystery
religions (e.g., baptism and the sacred banquet). Mithraism, which bore
many similarities to Christianity, declined rapidly in the late 3d cent.
Monotheism [mon´uthEizum] [Gr.,=belief in one
God], in religion, a belief in one personal god. In practice, monotheistic
religion tends to stress the existence of one personal god that unifies
the universe. The term is applied particularly to Judaism, Christianity,
and Islam, as well as Zoroastrianism. Some eastern religions, notably
Vaishava, Saiva, Sikhism, and some Hindu sects, tend to promote the
omnipotence of one particular god within the pantheon, and thus display
some monotheistic characteristics. Monotheism arose in opposition to
polytheism, the belief in many gods. Monism, or nondualism between the
physical and the spiritual, presupposes unity but deemphasizes personal
Old Persian - the language that was contemporary
to Avestan, another Old Iranian language. Old Persian is preserved through
cuneiform tablets found in the remains after the Achaemenid dynasty
(550- 330 BCE). The oldest traces of Old Persian date to the 6th century
BCE, but it was spoken until the 3rd century BCE. Old Persian was spoken
in southwestern Iran, while Avestan was spoken in northeastern Iran.
In addition to the two languages there must have been at least a third.
Median is mentioned by the Greek historian Herodotus.
Parsis or Parsees[both: par´sEz, parsEz´] -
religious community of India, practicing Zoroastrianism. The Parsis
(numbering about 160,000) are concentrated in Maharashtra and Gujarat
states, especially in Bombay. Their ancestors migrated from Iran in
the 8th cent. to avoid Muslim persecution. They use the ancient Pahlavi
scriptures and are faithful to much of the Zoroastrian dogma. The Parsis
deny the frequent assertion that they worship fire; rather they reverence
fire (along with other aspects of nature) as manifestations of the divinity
of Ahura Mazdah. To avoid contaminating fire, earth, or water, the Parsis
dispose of their dead by exposing the bodies in "towers of silence"
(circular structures some 20 ft/6 m high surrounding a stone courtyard)
where vultures devour them. The community is closely unified, and schools
established by the wealthier members make the Parsis one of the best-educated
groups of India. Their economic importance is far greater than their
small numbers would indicate. The huge Tata industrial empire bears
the name of one of India's most famous Parsi families.
Reincarnation - The concept of reincarnation is foreign to
Zoroastrianism. It has been stated if there is reincarnation, then there
cannot be the idea of resurrection. So these doctrines go counter to
one another and is incompatible with the letter and spirit of traditional
Zoroastrianism. There has been some tendency for bringing in reincarnation
from Hindu philosophies, but is generally not accepted as Faith.
Sassanid, Sasanid[both: sas´unid] or Sassanian[sasA´nyun]
last dynasty of native rulers to reign in Persia before the Arab conquest.
The period of their dominion extended from c.A.D. 224, when the Parthians
were overthrown and the capital, Ctesiphon, was taken, until c.640,
when the country fell under the power of the Arabs. The last Sassanian
king died a fugitive in 651, but he had been forced to yield Ctesiphon
to the Arabs in 636. Under the Sassanids, who revived Achaemenid tradition,
Zoroastrianism was reestablished as the state religion. The name of
the dynasty was derived from Sassan, an ancestor of the founder of the
dynasty, Ardashir I, who took and ruled Ctesiphon (224–40). During
his reign and many that followed, war with the Romans occupied much
attention. Sassanian persecution of Christians led to wars with Byzantium.
Syria and Armenia suffered particularly from invading armies. Ardashir
I was succeeded by his son Shapur I, who was victorious over Roman Emperor
Valerian and ruled until 272. The next reign of importance was that
of Shapur II (309–79), a period of particular significance and
glory. Bahram V, ruling 420–38, was defeated by the Emperor Theodosius
but succeeded against the White Huns. The Armenians were overwhelmed
by Yazdagird II in 451, and their land was overrun by Sassanians under
Khosrow I, who reigned 531–79 and who also invaded Syria. Both
countries were again overrun by Khosrow II (ruled 590–628), whose
conquest of Egypt was the final victorious achievement of the dynasty.
The last representative of the family on the throne was Yazdagird III,
who began his reign in 632. His struggle against the Arabs ended in
the fall of the Sassanid dynasty.