Zarathushtra was 42 when he and his followers finally reached the court of King Vishtaspa. The wise King had granted Zarathushtra an audience, but he had also invited all the priests and wise men of his court to attend and listen to Zarathushtra and question him about his philosophy. The King had wisely set the scene for a debate, if it need be.
At the debate in the court of King Vishtaspa, Zarathushtra eloquently spoke and convincingly responded to all challenges and questions. The King saw the wisdom of this man, and his teachings and embraced the religion. At the same time, the King invited his subjects to also listen carefully and choose wisely to follow the Zoroastrian religion. This was a major breakthrough for Zarathushtra.
However, the story goes on to say that Zarathushtras enemies then plotted against Zarathushtra and planted various objects of black magic in his quarters, and finally by accusing him of such evil acts, prompted the King to search his room. Upon finding such artifacts, Zarathushtra was imprisoned and denied to eat or drink.
Yet the story has a favorable turning, as such stories inevitably do. It is said that the Kings favorite dark horse is struck with an incurable deforming disease. None of the physicians in the kingdom can offer any cure. When Zarathushtra, who was now in prison, hears about this, he offers the King to try to cure his favorite horse.
The King reluctantly lets Zarathushtra attempt his healing techniques, which he duly does. The King then realizes the error of his judgment about Zarathushtra, and embraces his religion. The King also punishes the priests who conspired against Zarathushtra, and starts to promote the religion.
Now, these stories may seem somewhat difficult to believe. What we do know however, is that once the King embraced the religion of Zarathushtra, it was a breakthrough and a turning point in the fortunes of the Zoroastrian Religion. From that time on, Zarathushtra had the backing and support of a powerful and wise King. He freely went about propagating his teachings throughout that land, and very soon his message crossed the borders of the country to neighboring countries. In a way, if Zarathushtras illumination was the conception, this was the birth of the Zoroastrian Religion, as we know it today.
Two of the earliest converts, after King Vishtaspa embraced the religion were two brothers named Frashaoshtra and Jamaspa, of the Hvogva family. These two are mentioned in the Gathas, and they continued to be among Zarathushtras disciples until the end.
There is yet another legendary story about a tree that Zarathushtra allegedly planted. It is also mentioned in the Shahnameh that when Zarathushtra visited Kashmar, he planted a Sarv (Cyprus tree). This tree which became famous as Sarv-e Kashmar, is claimed to have grown for millennia, from the time of Zarathushtra until it was ordered to be cut down by Caliph al-Mutawaqqil, in the year 861 CE.
There are a number of versions of how Zarathushtra died, all of them legendary.
First story as described in detail in the Shahnameh of Ferdowsi says that in the seventy seventh year of his life, Turanian army had captured King Vishtaspas land. The Turanian army then entered the fire-temple, where they massacred eighty priests who were at prayer. Zarathushtra was also there at the time of prayers, and was attacked by the dagger of Turbaratur (Bratrakarash), and was martyred there on the spot.
Many different accounts of this martyrdom follow, including some in which supernatural forces intervene to kill the murderer of Zarathushtra. According to some Greek historians, he was not attacked by a person, but by a thunderbolt that fell from the sky. And yet there is another version that claims that the assassin murdered someone else by mistake, and Zarathushtra ascended to the skies (much like the resurrection of Jesus).
Another story claims that in his seventy seventh year, one night Zarathushtra bid his family members farewell, and after his evening prayer retired to bed. He passed away calmly and quietly in his sleep. In the morning, when his family members noticed that he had not awaken, they went to his bed side to find his body lying there in a peaceful state.
Another discrepancy to note is that the legend claims that Zarathushtra died on December 26th. One account puts his age at five days short of 77 years old, and another claims he was 77 years and 40 days old. Considering that his birthday according to tradition is March 26th, none of these figures corroborate each other.
This is the final testimony to how little is known about Zarathushtras life and times.
According to tradition, Zarathushtra is claimed to be from the Athravan (priestly family), and later on, he is named as one of the Magi.
The Magi are familiar to us today, mainly through the story of the Birth of Jesus (Nativity). The three Magi or three wise men, were the kings or priests from the East who recognized Jesus was being born, and went to search for him, and present him with gifts. Effectively the Magi were Zoroastrian priests.
However, the root of the Magi comes from the Medes (Western ancient Iran) who in their ranks had the priestly class named the Magi. After the Medes accepted the Zoroastrian religion, their priests became Zoroastrian priests. Their tradition continued even after the Achaemenian Empire grew to include the Medes. In fact there is even one claim that the nature of the hereditary priesthood initiated in the Magi and not the Athravan.
To clarify, there is no concrete evidence, other than the legends of the traditions, that Zarathushtra was from a priestly class. Furthermore, the Magi did not even come into existence until much later than the time of Zarathushtra, nor did they exist in the lands where he lived.
The Magi are also known to have been well versed in the occult sciences of their time, sciences such as astrology. However, this was part of the heritage that they received from their pre-Zoroastrian phase. No such sciences were taught by Zarathushtra himself, nor by any of his teachings.
Furthermore, it was the erroneous claim of the Medes when they were in power, that Zarathushtra was from the Median priestly cast that has given rise to the claims that he was born in Azerbaijan or Raga.
To summarize, while the Magi later in their existence became part of the Zoroastrian priesthood, they were not at the time of Zarathushtra. And Zarathushtra was not a Magus (singular for Magi).
While there is much lacking in reconstructing the events of Zarathushtras life, there is ample evidence of Zarathushtras character, all be it from his very short Divine Songs, the Gathas. Dr. Farhang Mehr states:
He was loving and kind, yet resolute and intent on adhering to truth and justice. He was wise and discerning. Possessed a very observant and incisive mind. He had a clear vision and understanding of the physical laws and moral principles of the world, and with a super-human power adhered to righteousness. In short, he was the epitome of spiritual strength.
© Shahriar Shahriari
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This page was last updated on Friday, February 11, 2005.