Robin Derricourt
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Ahura Mazda and the enigmas of Zoroastrian origins
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The religion that is today called Zoroastrianism is considered by many to be the oldest of the religions with a single creator divinity at the centre of its beliefs. This divinity was called Ahura Mazda (Wise Lord), from which comes an alternative name for the religion, Mazdaism. The religion’s primary texts, the Gathas, identify a prophet Zarathushtra as their author, and he has therefore been widely considered as founder of the religion. While Zoroastrian traditions placed the prophet’s life in the late 7th to early 6th centuries bce, for some modern scholars the origins of Zoroastrianism, the prophet and his texts stretch far back into the 2nd millennium bce. The origins and spread of Zoroastrianism present many intriguing questions, with differing claims for evidence of the Ahura Mazda cult, the antiquity of the practices, texts and prophet of Zoroastrianism, and the places of its development. Following the Muslim Arabians’ conquests of the Sasanian Empire, Zoroastrian priests committed to writing the sacred texts of the Avesta. A millennium earlier, the inscriptions of Achaemenid Persian rulers show they were worshippers of Ahura Mazda, but with no mention of Zarathushtra. Scholars have identified passages in the later writings of Judaism and early Christianity that echo Zoroastrian ideas. There is a broad consensus that places Zoroastrianism’s early stages in Central Asia, where history and archaeology provide a background to the societies in which it may have evolved. Yet mysteries remain about the beginnings of this ancient religion.

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The birth and growth of major religions


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