Zoroaster Criticism - Essay

Jal Dastur Cursetji Pavry (essay date 1929)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: An introduction to The Zoroastrian Doctrine of a Future Life: From Death to the Individual Judgement, second edition, 1929. Reprint AMS Press, 1965, pp. 1-8.

[In the following essay, originally published in 1929, Pavry discusses the form and style of Zoroaster's Gathasand observes that according to Zoroaster's doctrines, salvation is achieved through faith and works.]

Yōi mōi ahmāi ssraošsm
dąn čayasčā
upā.jimsn haurvātā
amsrstātā vaehsuš
mainysuš šyaoθanāiš.

—Gāthā Ushtavaitī, Ys. 45. 5.



(The entire section is 3136 words.)

John W. Waterhouse (essay date 1934)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: “The Scriptures of Zoroastrianism” in Zoroastrianism, Epworth Press, 1934, pp. 42-56.

[In the essay below, Waterhouse examines the process by which the Avesta, including Zoroaster's Gathas, was compiled and discusses the structure of each.]

The discovery of the key to the understanding of the Avesta, the Bible of the Parsis, is a romantic story. In the year 1754, a young Frenchman, Anquetil du Perron, saw a few pages of a manuscript in an unknown Oriental tongue, in a library at Paris. His interest and curiosity were so awakened that he determined at all costs to decipher the writing. He thereupon joined the French East India Company as a ranker, and...

(The entire section is 4142 words.)

R. C. Zaehner (essay date 1961)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: “The Prophet” in The Dawn and Twilight of Zoroastrianism, G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1961, pp. 33-61.

[In the essay that follows, Zaehner offers an overview of Zoroaster's life and his spiritual doctrines, as outlined in the Gathas.]


The traditional date the Zoroastrians assign to their Prophet is ‘258 years before Alexander’, and for the Persian or Iranian the name ‘Alexander’ can only have meant the sack of Persepolis, the extinction of the Achaemenian Empire, and the death of the last of the kings of kings, Darius III. This occurred in 330 bc, and Zoroaster's date would then be 588 bc, and this date we may...

(The entire section is 14101 words.)

Richard N. Frye (essay date 1963)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: “Iranian Traditions” in The Heritage of Persia, World Publishing Company, 1963, pp. 15-52.

[In the following excerpt, Frye reviews the controversy surrounding the dating of Zoroaster and his scriptures, outlines the differences between Zoroaster's teachings and other ancient beliefs, and comments on the influence of Zoroaster on the development of the Iranian epic tradition.]


Zarathushtra, or Zoroaster, as the Greeks called him, presents many problems, and it is discouraging that after so many years of research we do not know when or where he lived or even precisely his teachings. One may marshal the...

(The entire section is 5671 words.)

Ilya Gershevitch (essay date 1964)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: “Zoroaster's Own Contribution,” Journal of Near Eastern Studies, Vol. XXIII, No. 1, January, 1964, pp. 12-38.

[In the essay below, Gershevitch investigates the nature of the discrepancies between the doctrines Zoroaster puts forth in the Gathas and those beliefs attributed to him in the Later Avesta.]


Zoroaster's own verses, the Gathas, which may be dated to the first half of the sixth century b.c., form only a small part of the scripture that goes under the name of the Avesta. The difference between the doctrine which Zoroaster states or implies in the Gathas and...

(The entire section is 16678 words.)

George G. Cameron (essay date 1968)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: “Zoroaster the Herdsman,” Indo-Iranian Journal, Vol. X, No. 4, 1968, pp. 261-81.

[In the essay below, Cameron argues that Zoroaster's many references to the cow, pasturage, and herdsmen in the Gathas should be read as metaphors, rather than be taken literally—as they often have been by followers and scholars alike.]

The message of the prophet Zoroaster would have made strong appeal to those people in any era of time who, in the morass of polytheism, were searching for new approaches toward deity. He taught that there was a single god whom all men should recognize and worship since He, who was present at the beginning and would still be present at...

(The entire section is 10028 words.)

Mary Boyce (essay date 1975)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: “Iconoclasm among the Zoroastrians” in Christianity, Judaism, and Other Greco-Roman Cults, Part Four, edited by Jacob Neusner, E. J. Brill, 1975, pp. 93-111.

[In the essay below, Boyce examines the way in which the veneration of fire, which served an important role in Zoroaster's teachings, was transformed by his followers to a ritual temple cult.]

The iconoclastic movement in Christianity has been carefully studied, as has Islamic iconomachy, but the origins of both still present problems; and in investigating these consideration should certainly be given to the fact that Zoroastrianism, ancient and until the 9th century a.d. immensely influential, had an...

(The entire section is 8362 words.)

Cyrus R. Pangborn (essay date 1983)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: “Scriptures and Doctrines” in Zoroastrianism: A Beleaguered Faith, Advent Books, 1983, pp. 13-49.

[In the following essay, Pangborn analyzes the development of Zoroastrianism from the qualified monotheism of Zoroaster's Gathas, through the ritual polytheism of the Later Avesta, to the controversy between the purist reform movement and the orthodoxy of modern Zoroastrianism.]

We have now identified the Zoroastrians and those composing their largest single—and, in recent times, modestly dispersed—community, the Parsis. Meanwhile, little has been said about the substance of the faith which, after all, enough people having embraced it, sets...

(The entire section is 15074 words.)