Zoroastrianism in the Sasanian Period Discussed at U.C.Irvine Center for Persian Studies

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Maneck Bhujwala: Zoroastrianism in the Sasanian period was the topic of a talk given by Dr. Jennifer Rose on November 20, 2008 at the Center for Persian Studies in U.C. Irvine.

Dr. Jennifer Rose is a Professor and the head of the Zoroastrian Studies program at Claremont Graduate University in Claremont, California.

During the lecture two handouts were distributed, one containing a list of Middle Persian (Pahlavi) texts and Persian texts with a brief description of each, and another one containing a communication from the Chief Minister of the King of Persia, Mir Nersch, to the people of Armenia, from the History of Armenia by Elisaeus Vartabed.

Following are some highlights of Dr. Rose’s lecture about Zoroastrianism in the Sasanian period:

-The inscriptions from the time of Zarthushti priest Kerdir do not mention Zarathushtra (Zoroaster), but they only mention Ormuzd.  This is used by ome scholars to claim that Sasanians were not really Zarthushtis (Zoroastrians), and it was only a small group of Zarthushtis who wrote down the beliefs of Zarathushtra’s religion much later in time. But other scholars including her mentor Dr. Mary Boyce beleived otherwise, that there was a continuity of Zarthushti beliefs throughout Iranian history including the Achaemenian, Parthian and Sasanian Zarthushti empires.

– The name of the founder of the Sasanian empire, Ardashir  relates to the Zarthushti concept of Asha. Sculptures of the Investiture of Ardashir show the human figure of Ahuramazda (recognized due to Barsam) on a horse trampling a figure denoting Ahriman, and a figure of Ardashir who horse is trampling a figure denoting Parthian emporer Ardalan whom he had defeated. Another slide of a sculpture showing inscription on Ardashir’s horse mentions Mazda worship. Ardashir is the king who asked Priest Tosar to gather together the Avesta texts that were scattered during Alexander’s time.

– Shapur I, another Sasanian king, was known to be tolerant towards other religions. In the inscriptions Shapur I claims that his victory against the Romans were due to Yazdan.

– Priest Kerdir who started as a young priest during Ardashir’s rule, continued as a leading priest under Shapur I and claimed establishment of many fire temples (in inscriptions).  His claim of destroying demons may be referring to Buddhists and Hindus. He continues to lead the religious hierarchy during the sixth Sasanian ruler, his formal title rising from Herbad (during Ardashir I) to Mowbad  etc. during later rulers.  Although there is no inscriptional evidence about the position of a “High Priest”  Tabari and other Muslim writers mention about High Priest during the rule of Bahram II

– A slide showed what was previously believed to be a fire temple was actually a place for ritual praise to the Waters, probably related to the Liturgy of Waters in the Yasna prayer rituals. Zarthushti pilgrimage places known as Pirs with water flows although supposed to be associated with Sasanian princesses (Banu) may also be related to praise of Waters. Al Birouni mentions continuity of water rituals during the festival of Tirgaan,  and they continued even upto the rule of Mughal king Jehangir in India.

– Zurvanism beliefs existed side-by-side with traditional Zarthushti beliefs as both accepted Ahuramazda as the source of all creation.

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