Zoroastrians, their religious beliefs and practices

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Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1979 - Religion - 252 pages
This book, now re-issued with a new introduction by Mary Boyce, is the first attempt to trace the continuous history of the faith from the time it was preached by Zoroaster down to the present day-a span of about 3,500 years. First taught among nomads on the Asian steppes, Zoroastrianism became the state religion of the three great Iranian empires. With the conquest of Iran by the Muslim Arabs, Zoroastrianism lost its secular power but continues to survive as a minority faith.

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I had picked Boyce’s Zoroastrians not only for its rarity but also because of the rave reviews that it had received. It is supposed to be an introduction to this foreign religion. Quite honestly, I found the book burdened with non-essential details combined with a complete lack of embedding the narrative in any kind of comprehensive historical context. Boyce version of Zoroastrian history is non-confrontational and not the least concerned with the greater questions of historicity that loom on every corner along the way.
As the author of The Great Leap-Fraud – Social Economics of Religious Terrorism, I am probably entirely unsuitable to reading Boyce’s book, in particular because I studied a lot of primary evidence rather than pre-cooked secondary sources. Naturally, it may be hard to please me with conformist religious gibberish that seems to derive from Boyce’s admiration for this faith of supposed peace, tolerance and care for the poor (as if these would not be expedient central tenets of everybody else). Even though the author hints at some problems with the orthodoxy, she seems to stubbornly refuse to address them. She is not the least irritated by the Zoroastrian claim that they would not have relied on written texts. Is it not obvious to the author that a religion without firm written doctrines would be prone to hi-jacking by just about any vested interest? How does the total absence of evidence prove the historicity of a “prophet” 6,000 years ago? While it is certainly not enough to stake the claim over 4,000 years later, not even the oldest archaeological evidence is watertight. It may be nothing more than a symbol and a god-like figure, combined with a god that may have been adopted later on. I think that Boyce is reading too much into primary evidence that may have been backdated centuries later, which is possibly a shared bias among academics in the dusty minefield of religion. But then, said evidence points at an entirely different history: one of a religious revolution that may have swept the Middle East somewhere from the sixth to the fourth century BC.
While the read itself is challenging, even strenuous, I doubt that many are able to memorize much out of the bombardment of names and places. The book Zoroastrians is for those that do not dare to ask questions and want to learn something about this faith for the sake of being good conversationalists. If you are one of those, pray for never being seated at my table! A disappointing lone star.


Zoroaster and his teaching
The establishing of Mazda worship
The unrecorded centuries

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