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The Dawn and Twilight of Zoroastrianism (Phoenix Press) Paperback – May 1, 2003

4.7 out of 5 stars 6 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

R.C. Zaehner was born in 1913 and educated at Tonbridge School and Christ Church, Oxford where he gained first class honours in Persian and Avestan. In 1936-37 he studied Pahlavi with Sir Harold Bailey at Cambridge where he began work on his monumental ZURVAN, A ZOROASTRIAN DILEMMA. During and immediately after the war he served at the British Embassy in Teheran. Appointed Lecturer in Persian at Oxford in 1950, he returned to Teheran in 1951 with the rank of Counsellor for a period of one year. On his return to Oxford he was elected Spalding Professor of Eastern Religions and Ethics. R.C. Zaehner died in 1974.
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Product Details

  • Series: Phoenix Press
  • Paperback: 372 pages
  • Publisher: Phoenix (May 1, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1842121650
  • ISBN-13: 978-1842121658
  • Product Dimensions: 11.5 x 3.3 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #931,276 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Paperback
Zaehner is probably the most respected Zoroastrian scholar around. If you want a clear and concise exposition of the Zoroastrian faith and historical experience, this is the work to consult. This book requires a modicum of understanding in order to comprehend the development of the faith, however, so I wouldn't recommend it as a first read. Mary Boyce's `Zoroastrians' is a good first book, as is Nigosian's `The Zoroastrian Faith'. I began reading this book first and couldn't get through it. Once I had some background, I was able to come back to it and read it with ease.
Zaehner goes to the very beginning: Zoroaster himself. He dates him to the traditional, but mostly now discredited, time of about 250 years before Alexander's conquest. The evidence for this comes from a single unreliable source, and most of the evidence indicates a time between 1600 and 1300 BCE. The primary line of evidence comes from the language and manner in which the Gathas, the songs of Zoroastrianism and the Avesta, the first scriptures are written: they indicate an undeveloped pastoral culture that had not yet begun to coalesce into a dominant Persian culture. The inaccuracy is not a big deal for this work. Zoroaster's ideas were truly revolutionary, to have a most dramatic impact on history in his singular development of the binary dualism of the cosmic sphere and metaphysical reality. He claimed there was one God worthy of worship, Ahura Mazda, who had one primary adversary, Angra Mainyu, who embodied the Lie and all that was evil. These beings were primal and respectively chose, according to the true natures, good and evil before the dawn of creation.
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When I first read this book I was still in high school. I found it on the shelves of the library of the University of Montana. Since I was not, of course, a University student at that time, I could not check it out. So I spent hours upon hours reading it in the library, returning day after day. I simply could not put the darn thing down. For here was a book on an ancient and hardly known prophet of Iran who taught an ethical monotheism centuries before the birth of Christ. Though Zaehner's work has been, in some respects, superseded by others who have followed him (such as Mary Boyce), no work on the subject before or since conveys so vividly, profoundly, and movingly the religious genius of Zoroaster. Furthermore, there has not appeared any work which deals so thoroughly or so sympathetically with the scholastic theology of the Zoroastrian priests during the Sassanian empire. Zaehner demonstrates, by means of hundreds of quotes (which he explains in a masterly fashion) that the Sassianian philosopher priests proposed a powerful solution to the problem of evil, a solution that still ought to be carefully studied by theists of any religious tradition. The final chapter, dealing with Zoroastrian eschatology, is still unrivaled, as a recent Zoroastrian scholar, Shaul Shaked, has confessed in print. Mary Boyce may think the work is "basically unsound", but such a sentiment is unworthy of her (for it is a kind of patricide), and it smells to me of "sour grapes". The reprint of this book after so many years is welcome indeed to any person who takes faith in a personal God seriously.
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Format: Paperback
Steven B. Herrmann
Author of "Walt Whitman: Shamanism, Spiritual Democracy, and the World Soul"

As the Zoroastrian scholar R. C. Zaehner (1961) tells us in his magisterial book The Rise and Fall of Zoroastrianism: the first prophet of Iran, the ancient Persian poet Zarathushtra, taught that every person is born with the freedom to choose between Good conscience and Bad conscience, the Good Mind and the Evil Mind, Right-Mindedness and Wrong-Mindedness, Truth and the Lie. From a Zoroastrian standpoint, there are two consciences within humans, as well as two wills that emanate from a pair of hostile twin Spirits, Spenta Mainyu and Angra Mainyu, the Holy Spirit and Destructive Spirit. Both Spirits are believed to have originally emanated from Ahura Mazdâh, the Wise Lord of the Gâthâs (pp. 33-50). The Gâthâs consist of five books of `hymns' or `songs' in the Avesta, a volume generally considered to have been written by Zarathushtra himself. In Zoroastrianism the twin Spirits are not one entity, they are split into a pair of warring opposites within conscience: a pair of hostile twin brothers that form an ethical dualism similar, but not identical to, the dualistic thinking of the Rig-Veda, yet unlike the oldest Hindu scriptures, Zarusthushtra thrust the dualistic conception of conscience directly into the forefront of his religious teaching (p. 40). It is a basic tenet of Zoroastrianism that sooner or later every person is faced with an ethical dilemma, a moral decision of having to choose between the two consciences. Ahura Mazda gave humans freedom to choose between the two consciences and twin wills and the Wise Lord of the Gâthâs was not exempt from having to make ethical decisions Himself.
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