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Zoroastrianism is a small religion with about 140,000 members worldwide. Yet it is one of the oldest religions still in existence and may have been the first monotheistic religion. Zoroastrian theology had a profound impact on the early development of Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

 Origins of Zoroastrianism

The religion was founded by Zarathushtra (Zoroaster in Greek). Zarathushtra lived in Persia (modern Iran) sometime between 1,500 and 1,000 BCE. He preached monotheism at a time when polytheistic religions prevailed. He was attacked for this teaching, but Zoroastrianism finally became the state religion of the Persian empire. When Islamic Arabs conquered Persia in 650 CE, Zoroastrians fled to India where most are concentrated today. Those who remained behind have survived centuries of persecution.

Zoroastrian Sacred Texts

The Zorastrian holy book is called the Avesta. This includes the original words of their founder Zarathushtra, preserved in a series of five hymns, called the Gathas. These are the core text of the religion and are sacred poetry. Many centuries later, the remaining parts of the Avestas were written. These deal with laws of ritual and practice, and with the traditions of the faith.

 Zoroastrian Beliefs

Zoroastrians believe in a single supreme god, Ahura Mazda. Zoroastrians were the first monotheistic religion to develop the idea of a savior, born of a virgin, who will raise the dead and judge everyone in a final judgment.

A basic belief is the cosmic dualism between all powerful Ahura Mazda and an evil spirit of violence and death, Angra Mainyu. This cosmic conflict requires humans to choose which to follow. At the end of time, Evil will be completely destroyed and Goodness will be in all. After death, souls are allowed three days to meditate on his/her past life. The soul is then judged and if the good thoughts, words and deeds outweigh the bad, then the soul is taken into heaven. Otherwise, the soul is led to hell.

Zoroastrians believe the universe will go through three eras: creation; the present world where good and evil are mixed; and a final state when good and evil will be separated. Eventually, everything will be purified and even the occupants of hell will be released.

Zoroastrian worship includes prayers and symbolic ceremonies. The rituals are conducted before a sacred fire, regarded as a symbol of God.

Zoroastrians do not generally accept converts: one has to be born into the religion.

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Last modified: October 15, 2016.