Zoroastrianism, the forgotten religion

Cultural Insights — By on September 6, 2006 at 2:23 pm

In light of the strength of Christianity, Islam and Judaism in the modern world, it’s easy to forget that another monotheistic religion that sprang from the Middle East was also quite influential at one time in history.  The International Herald Tribune has an article today about Zoroastrianism, the religion of ancient Persia, and how its modern day adherents are trying to maintain their faith across numerous countries.

“We were once at least 40, 50 million – can you imagine?” said Antia, senior priest at the fire temple here in suburban Chicago. “At one point we had reached the pinnacle of glory of the Persian Empire and had a beautiful religious philosophy that governed the Persian kings. Where are we now? Completely wiped out. It pains me to say, in 100 years we won’t have many Zoroastrians.”

There is a palpable panic among Zoroastrians today around the world that they are fighting the extinction of their faith, a monotheistic religion that most scholars say is at least 3,000 years old.

Zoroastrianism predates Christianity and Islam, and many historians say it influenced those faiths and cross-fertilized Judaism as well, with its doctrines of one God, a dualistic universe of good and evil and a final day of judgment.

While Zoroastrians once dominated an area stretching from what is now Rome and Greece to India and Russia, their global population has dwindled to 190,000 at most, and perhaps as few as 124,000 ….The number is imprecise because of wildly diverging counts in Iran, once known as Persia – the incubator of the faith.

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