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What Part Did Iran Play in Shaping World’s Religions? Research Paper Example

Pages: 6

Words: 1699

Research Paper

Today more than ever before humanity lives in the era of globalization. Global community becomes increasingly tight-knit daily and the relevance of religion in life will continue to have major influence, not only at the level of politics and international affairs, but at the local level as well. It is well-known that religion not only does have spiritual influence but also is responsible for the forming of the world view of the whole nations. Religion is mystery, the cluster of egregore. Therefore ideas, notions, social, economical, ethical, aesthetical and psychological development of societies depend on religion. Nowadays scholars mark out three world religions: Buddhism, Christianity and Islam. Each of these three religions deeply influenced the development of civilization. Their partisans declared wars and destroyed the whole nations driven by faith and will to impose this faith on others. It is understood that religion played, plays and will play one of the most major roles in human life, therefore the theme under analyses possess significance and novelty.

What part did Iran play in shaping world’s religions? Did Iranian religion and culture have an impact on the development of the faith principles of other religions? First, it should be noted that all three world religions (Buddhism, Christianity and Islam) arose in Asia: Buddhism in the subcontinent of India, Christianity and Islam in the Middle East. Iran is also located in this region, thereafter it is understood that even geographically it could have more influence on Christianity and Islam than on Buddhism. Second, it is essential to give a detailed insight into the history of Iran, its culture, ancient religion, etc.

Proto-Iranian tribes arrived to the modern territory of Iran about the third and second millennium BC. Some of them continued to migrate to the steppes north of the Black Sea, but Persians, Medes, Parthians and Bactrians remained on the territory of modern Iran.  At first Medes succeeded in unification of Iranian tribes but soon Persians took the lead, defeated Medes, conquered Babylonia, Lydia, Phoenicia, Egypt and some Greek poleis and founded the Achaeminid Empire, one of the greatest and biggest empires ever. At that time Persians (or Iranians) had the unique culture and religion. Before the Zoroastrianism (the teaching of Prophet Zoroaster) spread widely all over the territories of the Achaeminid Empire, the ancient Iranians: believed in a number of gods and goddesses who personified forces of nature (wind, rain, water, vegetation, etc.) and astronomical entities such as the sun, moon, planets, and conspicuous stars like Sirius or the Pleiades (Elton, 2001).

Their form of paganism was common to all nomadic tribes that once inhabited the steppes of Eurasia. Zoroaster was against those practices. He claimed that there was only one God – Ahura Mazda, that the duty of every person was to freely choose virtuous thoughts, words and deeds. The concept of free will to choose between good and evil is a cornerstone of this religion. Zoroastrianism was a dogmatic religion with developed theology that was based on principles written by Zoroaster in the holy book of Avesta that constituted a number of sacred texts written in Ancient Iranian language. It is essential to take notice of some concepts of Zoroastrianism: belief in one God (Ahura Mazda); belief in Zoroaster as the single prophet who showed the humanity the way to achieve goodness and dignity; belief in the world of spirits and that there are two main spirits – Good  and Evil; belief in the last battle between Good (Ahura Mazda) and Evil (Ahriman); belief in life after death and resurrection of all dead after the final battle of Ahura Mazda with the forces of evil; belief in savior, Saoshyant, who will come about the final renovation of the world. As we can see, Zoroastrianism has much in common with Christianity and Islam.  It is hardly surprising because the territory of the Achaeminid Empire encompassed Judaea and Israel and the contacts between Persians and Ancient Jews were a common practice. Therefore it is possible to suggest that the concepts of Zoroastrianism had influence on the Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam). The question is to what extent Ancient Jews adopted the core principles of Zoroastrianism?

According to most religious historians, “the Jewish, Christian and Muslim beliefs concerning God and Satan, the soul, heaven and hell, the virgin birth of the savior, slaughter of the innocents, resurrection, the final judgment, etc. were all derived from Zoroastrianism (Zoroastrianism: An ancient religion founded  by Zarathustra, 2011). It is an interesting fact that historians cannot give relevant evidence to the question, if Zoroastrianism is actually older than Judaism? Some believe that Judaism is older because the first written documents about the life and teachings of Zoroaster (or Zarathustra) date from the 6th century BC, but it is a stated fact that it was forbidden to write the principles of Avesta for many centuries, therefore it is possible that Zoroastrianism is actually the world’s oldest monotheistic religion. However, the issue is still contradictory. It is well-known that Persian rule was liberal enough that other peoples of the empire could get used to some sources of that good overlordship – that is, to adopt some principles of Zoroastrianism. Nevertheless it is hard to deny that numerous concepts of Judaism, Christianity and Islam are similar to the core statements of Zoroastrianism.

After the defeat of the Achaeminid Empire by Alexander the Great and the formation of Seleucid Empire, Zoroastrianism continued to be the national religion of the Persian people for many centuries. It spread wide all over Middle East to become international religion, not only Persians, but also other folks and tribes recognized the teaching of Zoroaster. When Romans conquered Asia Minor, Kingdom of Armenia, Fertile Crescent and Egypt, the elements of Zoroastrianism had already taken deep root in the culture and mentality of local nations. Soon Zoroastrianism began to spread in the western parts of the Roman Empire together with the Egyptian cult of Isida and Osiris, but nevertheless had the strongest position in Syria. Zoroastrianism continued to become increasingly popular around the Roman Empire till the onset of Christianity. Historians assert that “Zoroastrian fire-temples, with their worshippers, continued to flourish there, unharassed, until Christianity gained effective power” (Boyce, Grenet, 1991). It is possible to suppose that Early Christianity took a lot from Zoroastrianism since Fertile Crescent was a mixture of cultures and nations. Some scholars claim that the influence had even deeper roots and “see Cyrus, the great king of Persia who liberated the Jews in 537 BC from their captivity in the ancient city of Babylon, as one who brought the Zoroastrian monotheistic view of God to the Hebrew people and through them to Christianity” (Hartz, O’Brien, Palmer, 2009).

Being ousted from Asia Minor, Syria and Egypt, Zoroastrianism maintained its positions in Persia and continued to be the national religion till the Muslim conquest of Persia in the 7th century AD. The conversion to Islam was complex and gradual. A great number of Zoroastrian scriptures were burned and a lot of priests were killed. Islam became a dominant religion by the 9th century. It is to note that Iran was gradually Islamized but not Arabized. Persians succeeded in saving their own language and traditions that resulted in development of so-called Iranian Islam or Persian Islam. It is notable that the process of Islamization was not cruel, as there were a lot of similar points between the faiths. According to Thomas Arnold, “for the Persian, he would meet Ahura Mazda and Ahriman under the names of Allah and Iblis” (p. 173). It is hardly surprising because the regions inhabited by Arabic tribes including the cities of Mecca and Medina once were the tributaries of the Persian Sassanid Empire. Furthermore Persia and the Arabian tribes carried on active trade. There is no doubt that ideas of Zoroastrianism were present in pre-Islamic Arabian culture and it is possible that Muhammad, who was a merchant himself, apprehended some ideas of Zoroastrianism. Nevertheless Iranian Islam was modified by Zoroastrianism and Quran translated into the Persian language. Having adopted Shia Islam and Islamo-Persian culture, new theocratic nobility of Iran broadened their influence deep into the heart of Central Asia.

To sum it up, religions play a vital role in human life by shaping the mentality and providing cultural background to the whole nations. The region of modern Iran acquired great cultural and scientific significance being a homeland to Zoroastrianism which is believed to have influenced the development of Judaism, Christianity and Islam (although the influence on Buddhism remains contradictory). Being the world’s oldest monotheistic religion, Zoroastrianism transferred its main principles and ideas through Ancient Jews to all Abrahamic religions. The similarities are hardly to be denied. It would be risky to suggest that the prophets of other religions stole teachings of Zoroaster but it is possible to suggest that they (Abraham, Jesus, Muhammad), living on the territories with vast Zoroastrian population, could adopt and modify some of the core principles of this religion. The Arabian tribes having conquered Iran succeeded in Islamization but not in Arabization of Persian people. Significant influence of Persian culture and language led to development of so-called Persian or Iranian Shia Islam that influenced the development of numerous cultures and nations of Central Asia. It is to assert that Iran played one of the key roles in shaping world’s religions (except Buddhism). Elements of Ancient Persian religion of Zoroastrianism is found in all Abrahamic religions and it is possible to suggest that Persians were the first people to propose an idea of one God, of belief in heaven and hell, in savior and the last battle between Good and Evil that is to come. Iran, being the hub of international trade, could provide such new ideas to the world and shape the world view of billions of people through other world’s religions.

Works cited

Arnold, T. “The preaching of Islam: a history of the propagation of the Muslim faith”. Law Price Publication. 1990.

Boyce, M., Grenet, F. “Zoroastrianism under Macedonian and Roman Rule”. Handbuch der Orientalistik. Erste Abteilung, Nahe und Mittere Osten. 1991.

Elton, D. “The History of Iran”. Greenwood press. 2001.

Hartz, P., O’Brien, J., Palmer, M. “Zoroastrianism”. Chelsea House. 2009.

“Zoroastrianism: An ancient religion founded by Zarathushtra.” Religions of the world. 2011. 11 Oct 2011.Available at <http://www.religioustolerance.org/zoroastr.htm>

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