#ThursdayTheology: Zoroastrianism, part 1

Back in 1893, the Swedenborgian Judge Charles Bonney initiated the first World’s Parliament of Religions, the largest of all the congresses held in conjunction with what we think of today as a world’s fair. Swedenborgians are still recognized today as a strong proponent of interfaith efforts, and the New Church of Montgomery’s programs are flavored with the basic idea that all religions can be honored for the wisdom they offer, and for their various approaches to encouraging a universal friendship across peoples. Our own faith celebrates the infinite expressions of the kingdom of heaven, as Christians call it, and those who inhabit it, and those who, knowingly or not, grow towards it as they live the best they know how. Here we shine a light upon one of the world religions represented among the many presented at this 1893 exposition, and with which we maintain connections in 2022.

Consider this little piece of historical text

This letter is used as the preface for an essay reprinted as part of the Kessinger’s Legacy Reprints, A Brief Sketch Of The Zoroastrian Religion And Customs, An Essay (1893), by ErvadSheriarji Dadabhai Barucha. While the essay itself is quite long and provides much historical and theological perspective, one thing that can be easily found is some basic ideas that 129 years later still can be found to apply to the local Zoroastrian Community in Cincinnati.

In this posting we include a few excerpts from the essay, and some commentary on our recent interaction with the Zorastrian congregation some of our parishioners participated in a few weeks ago.

First some historical notes right from the essay: “While other religions of the ancient world, such as those of ancient Egypt, Chaldea, Assyria, Babylon, Greece, and Rome have disappeared from the face of the earth, this [Zoroastrianism] has survived many trials and vicissitudes and still flourishes, if not in all its pristine vigour and glory, with many of its distinctive features preserved practically intact. In the earlier days of its greatness its adherents were counted by millions, and it had a considerable body of renowned literature.” Today most of the literature has been destroyed or hidden, and only now (in the 2000’s) are recent finds coming to light that can shed some light on the history of both the life of Zoroaster and the development of the religion. The number of adherents has dropped to a quite small number, due to repeated persecution, mostly situated today in India and the United St ates. “…this religion and this ancient customs of its followers … possess certain striking and interesting features which have always excited the admiration and respect of those who have brought a liberal and sympathetic spirit to bear on their study…”

The essay goes on to speak about what little information is known about Zoroaster, rather, Zarathushtra in ancient Iranian, and about the early personages involved in supporting or denigrating his teachings. However, in this short offering we’ll just point to it’s peak time and influence in the world, and what things the events of those times reveal about the religion.

“Leaving aside the prehistoric times and coming to the historical, it may be confidently asserted that the kings of the Achaeminian Dynasty such as Cyrus, Darius, Xerxes, and others (B.C. 559-329) were Zoroastrians, for they emphatically speak of Auramazda, the greatest God, as does every Zoroastrian…” For a thousand years it was the dominant religion during three mighty Persian empires, that stretched west towards Rome and Greece, east to India, north into Russia, and south into Egypt. At that time it was the largest empire geographically that had ever existed in the world. When Cyrus conquered Babylon, during the time the Jews had been held in captivity there, he returned the jews to Israel and financed the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem. This illustrates one of the principles of Zoroastrianism, namely its openness to other religions and cultures, and those dynasties of the Persian Empire were (like the later Roman Empire) largely successful due to their integration of conquered peoples into the empire, rather than practice subjugation and oppression, as many other conquerors did.

Being one of the other faiths (meaning similar to our own) that has a particularly universal perspective on how God and the world’s people operate in a cooperative fashion that includes everyone as a worthwhile and loved child of God given the opportunity to strive for the success of goodness over evil, it is instructive to learn how similar and different our two faiths really are in practice. In a future post we will examine this and other faith groups that can be working hand in hand to advance our common missions.

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