Parsees, who came originally from Persia, have been in India for many centuries. Persia was the name the Greeks gave to Iran, a land to the north-west of India. The Parsees follow a religion called Zoroastrianism that originated in Iran about the time of Israel’s exile in Babylon in the sixth century BC.
Other than the Parsees in India, there aren’t many Zoroastrians left in the world, but their religion has had a profound effect on other faiths, including Judaism. And since Judaism gave birth to Christianity and Islam, two of the world’s most populous religions, Zoroaster, the founder of Zoroastrianism, could be described as one of history’s most influential religious figures.
A Little History of Religion
Background on Richard Holloway
c. 628BC – c. 551BC
A major figure in the history of world religions, Zoroaster has been the object of much scholarly attention, in large part due to: 1) his apparent monotheism (his concept of one god, whom he referred to as Ahura Mazda or the “Wise Lord”); 2) his purported dualism (evident in the stark distinction he drew between the forces of good and the forces of evil); and, 3) the influence of his teachings on emerging Middle Eastern religions, including Judaism.
Zoroaster is said to have received a vision from Ahura Mazda who appointed him to preach the truth. Zoroaster began preaching his message of cosmic strife between Ahura Mazda, the God of Light, and Ahriman, the principle of evil. According to Zoroaster, man had been given the power to choose between good and evil. The end of the world would come when the forces of light would triumph and the saved souls rejoice in its victory.
This dualism was part of an evolution towards monotheism in the Middle East. Zoroaster’s teaching became the guiding light of Persian civilization.