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Prophet Zoroaster: Biography & Quotes

Instructor: Tommi Waters

TK Waters has a bachelor's degree in literature and religious studies and a master's degree in religious studies and teaches Hebrew Bible at Western Kentucky University.

Zoroaster, or Zarathustra, was undoubtedly a real person, but most details of his life are unknown because of the lack of reliable historical sources. Read this lesson to learn what scholars know about Zarathustra, the founder of Zoroastrianism.

The Historical Zarathustra

If you have ever watched the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey—or seen commercials on television, been to sports games, or heard a soundtrack for something monumental—then you have surely heard the theme ''Also Sprach Zarathustra'' composed by Richard Strauss. The piece, which means ''thus spake Zarathustra,'' captures the epic-ness of the Persian prophet Zarathustra who is called Zoroaster in Greece and in the West. Zarathustra is probably best known as the founder of Zoroastrianism, a religion focused on living a good life to aid in the cosmic war between supreme good and evil. You might know the Zarathustran saying, ''A reflective, contended mind is the best possession.''

Artistic representation of Zarathustra
Artistic representation of Zarathustra

Historical Setting

Most of what scholars know about Zarathustra is based on religious texts from Zoroastrianism. He lived somewhere in the wide range of 1500-600 BCE (Before Common Era). He was born in eastern Persia, which is now modern-day Iran, close to the border of India. Zarathustra was probably a part of a Vedic religion, similar to Hinduism, that had a caste system and worshiped daevas (wrong gods). In this caste system, he was part of one of the highest castes, that of priests. His particular family was called the Spitamid family.

Birth and Family

Zarathustra's father was Pourusaspa, a nobleman, and his mother, Dughdova was also part of nobility. So, Zarathustra would have had a comfortable upbringing with such wealth and high caste. Zarathustra's name literally means ''the one who owns old camels;'' probably not a name you would give to your kid today! When Zarathustra was older, he married a woman named Huvovi, and they had three boys and three girls. When Zarathustra founded his new religion, his wife and children were among the first to convert.

Zarathustra the Prophet

Revelation

At the age of 30, Zarathustra had a supernatural revelation from Ahura Mazda, the god of Zoroastrianism. According to the Gathas, the religious hymns of Zoroastrianism, Ahura Mazda was the embodiment of supreme good.

Text from the Gathas
Text from the Gathas

''In the beginning were two primal spirits, twins spontaneously active, these are the Good and the Evil, in thought, and in word, and in deed.''

Zarathustra's revelation was essentially embodied by the above quotation. He learned that Ahura Mazda was the supreme good, but that he battled against:

  • Angra Mainyu: the supreme evil. Note: His name is easy to remember since it sounds like ''angry!''
  • The fact that humans had to choose sides and live virtuous lives to support the good.

Prophecy and Persecution

If you have studied any history, you know that revolutionaries— particularly religious revolutionaries, are often met with violent opposition. Zarathustra encountered opposition and persecution for acting as a prophet--or messenger of a deity--and spreading his beliefs that were quite different than the standard Vedic beliefs of his priestly caste. His main enemies were the karpans, traditional priests who worshiped the daevas and sacrificed animals. Zarathustra thought the daevas were not real or not gods, which the Zoroastrian creed captures as:

''...even as Zarathustra rejected the authority of the daevas, so I also reject (their authority), as Mazda-worshipper and supporter of Zarathustra.''

As a result of spreading the message from Ahura Mazda, Zarathustra was persecuted for his beliefs and fled from his home. On his travels, he converted another city's ruler. Some stories indicate he just told the man, Vishtaspa, the story, and he converted. Others claim Zarathustra miraculously healed the man's horse. Whatever the case, this event led to not only commoners believing Zarathustra's message, but royalty as well. This goes a long way in spreading a religion. However, at the age of 77, Zarathustra was assassinated, while praying at an altar, by someone from a different religious cult. Some scholars reject the authenticity of this story, saying Zarathustra died of natural causes. But, the story has become a legend to the figure of Zarathustra.

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