date of Zoroaster is very uncertain. Conjecture ranges over more than a thousand years, some making the prophet of the ancient Persians a contemporary of Abraham, while others bring him down as far as Hystaspes, the father of Darius I., i.e.
to the sixth century B.C.
The translator of the Gâthas, in the Sacred Books of the East, Mr. Mills, thinks that these poems, the oldest part of the Avesta
, and believed to be from the mind if not from the hand of Zoroaster, may possibly have been composed as early as about 1500 B.C.
; but that it is also possible to place them as late as 900 to 1200 B.C.1
Taking the latest of these dates, the ninth century before the Christian era, as the period in which Zoroaster, or as he is now called, Zarathustra
, made his appearance, it results that the man who is known to all the world as the promulgator of the dualistic theory preceded Buddha by three hundred years. If it had been necessary to be guided supremely by chronological considerations he should, therefore, have come first in our course. But for our purpose it does not greatly matter which of the two religious initiators has the honour of the first place. The movements they inaugurated are independent products of human thought brooding on the phenomena of life, proceeding from minds differently constituted and influenced by diverse environments.
The two men, however, were connected by very important links. They were kindred in race and in language, and they had a common religious inheritance. Indians and Persians were both of the Aryan stock. Their fathers lived together at a far-back time in the region north of Hindostan, whence they are believed to have migrated in two streams, one flowing southwards through the mountains towards India and the other westward towards Eastern Persia. Some time ago the theory was held that the separation was due to a religious rupture. The hypothesis was built on the facts that certain gods of the Vedic Pantheon appear degraded to the rank of demons in the Persian Sacred Book, the Avesta, and that the very name for a god in the Vedic dialect (deva
) is, under a slightly altered form (daeva
), in that book the name for a demon. It seemed a not improbable inference that the Zoroastrian movement was of the nature of a religious revolt which threw contempt on the common deities of the Indo-Iranian family.2
Recent scholars reject this theory and invert the relation between geographical separation and religious divergence. Mr. Mills expresses the view now in favour in these terms: No sudden and intentional dismissal of the ancient gods is to be accepted with Haug, nor any religious schism as the cause of the migration of the Indians towards the south. The process was, of course, the reverse. The migrating tribes, in consequence of their separation from their brethren in Iran, soon became estranged from them, and their most favoured gods fell slowly into neglect, if not disfavour.3
Whatever the cause of religious diversity may have been, there is no room for doubt as to its existence. The religious temper revealed in the Gâthas is widely different from that of the Vedic hymns, and still more from that of Buddha. The Vedic religion, as we saw, is a kind of healthy, cheerful, poetic naturalism, of which the beautiful hymns to the dawn (Ushas) may be taken as the typical expression. The Vedic worshipper cherishes no lofty conception of the highest good, nor does he brood too much on the sorrows of life and on its dark end in death. He seeks chiefly material things in his prayers, enjoys life cheerily while he may, and thinks of death as a sleep, without fear of aught beyond. By Buddha's time the Indian mind has made an immense advance in moral earnestness. Life now means much more than meat and drink; man's chief end is not to be happy, but to be good; sin and sorrow, the very occasional themes of reflection in the Veda, now monopolise attention. But the animal vigour and healthy energy of the Vedic Indian are gone, and in their place have come quietism and despair. The religion of the Gâthas sympathises with the moral intensity of Buddha as against the easy-going ways of the Vedic Indians; but, on the other hand, it is in touch with the manliness of the earlier phase of Indian character, as opposed to the sickly life-weary spirit of the later. There is a fervid spirituality pervading the Gâthas which reminds one of the Hebrew Psalter. The moral world, not the material, is what the seer has mainly in view. Of the Pagan enjoyment of nature, as it appeals to the senses, there is little trace. We find there nothing corresponding to the Ushas-group of hymns. Natural objects are seldom referred to, and never alone, or as the supreme objects of interest. When the Good Spirit is praised as the Maker of heaven and earth and all things therein: sun, moon, and stars, clouds, winds, waters, plants, He is also praised as inspirer of good thoughts.4
The summum bonum
for the poet of the Gâthas is the Kingdom of righteousness; fields, crops, flocks, have only the second place in his thoughts.
On the other hand, the morality of the Gâthas, unlike that of Buddhism, is virile, militant. It is a fight for the good against evil with all available weapons, material ones not excepted. The Zoroastrian has no idea of retiring from the world into a monastery, to give himself up to meditation on the vanity of things, and to that extirpation of desire which issues in Nirvana. His aim is to do his part manfully in the work of the world, tilling the fields, tending the flocks; and for the rest to fight to the death men of evil minds and evil lives whenever he encounters them.
Compared with Vedism the religion of the Gâthas is monotheistic, in tendency
at least, if not in precisely formulated creed; compared with Buddhism it is theistic, believing not only in a moral order of the world, but in a moral order presided over by a Divine Sovereign. And the natural order and the moral are conceived as under one and the same divine control. The Good Spirit, Ormuzd (now written, Ahuramazda
), is at once maker of the physical world, the source of piety, and the fountain of that reverential love which a dutiful son cherishes towards a father.5
In the hymns of Zoroaster, as in the Hebrew Psalms, the glory of God appears alike in the firmament which showeth His handiwork and in the moral law whose statutes make wise the simple.
But beside the Divine Head of the Kingdom of righteousness is Another, not perhaps of equal power and godhead, yet a kind of antigod, head of the Kingdom of evil and maker of whatever in the world is hostile to goodness. The Zoroastrian idea of God is practically dualistic, if not in the strict sense ditheistic. Ahuramazda has to submit to a rival, Ahriman (now called Angra-mainyu
), the evil-minded, the Demon of the Lie. This dualism is not necessarily a pure invention of Zoroaster's. It may be the development of an unconscious dualism latent in the primitive religion of the united Aryan family.6
Anthropologists tell us that dualism in crude forms was a characteristic of all primitive religions. It is e.g.
a conspicuous feature in the religion of American Redmen from north to south.7
Tylor gives the following curious example: North American tribes have personified Nipinukhe and Pipunukhe, the beings who bring the spring (nipin) and the winter (pipun): Nipinukhe brings the heat and birds and verdure, Pipunukhe ravages with his cold winds, his ice and snow; one comes as the other goes, and between them they divide the world.8
Traces of this early omnipresent dualistic philosophy9
were to be expected in the original Aryan religion as elsewhere; and they are found in the Vedic Hymns as well as in the Gâthas.
In the Veda, however, the conflict is physical
, not ethical. It is simply a vivid mythological representation of the phenomena of storms. The scene of warfare is the atmosphere, and the war is between Indra, the god of light and of rain, and Ahi, the serpent whose tortuous body, the clouds, hides the light, or Vritra, the bandit, who shuts up the light and the waters in his nebulous cavern.10
It has been maintained that the Persian dualism was originally of the same type, and ingenious attempts have been made to discover support for the assertion in the Avesta.11
This position, whether true or not, it is not necessary to call in question. The fact of importance for us is that at some time before the Gâthas were composed the physical conflict was transformed into a moral one, and the scene of warfare passed from the sky to the earth, and the subject of contest was no longer the light and the waters of heaven but the human soul. This is admitted even by Darmesteter, who strenuously maintains the primitive affinity between the Indian and the Persian forms of dualism. At what precise time the transformation took place it may be impossible to determine, as also to what agency it was due; enough for us that the great crisis in the Persian religion was antecedent to the Gâthic period. If the Gâthas, as is alleged, contain survivals of the older type of dualism, they contain also abundant traces of the transformed ethical type. Ahura is an ethical divinity loving righteousness and hating iniquity. His rival also is an ethical being, but of a sinister order; a lover of falsehood and patron of wrong. And their respective subjects are like-minded with the divinities they serve. And the great fact for the sacred poet is the subjection of the world to the dominion of two antagonistic spirits, with the corresponding division of mankind into two great classes, those who obey the Good Spirit and those who are subject to the Evil Spirit. If these lofty conceptions were not entirely new creations, but transformations from lower forms of thought, they are none the less marvellous, when we consider how much is involved in the change of physical deities into ethical deities. If the transformation was the work of Zoroaster, single-handed, he deserves to be ranked among the great religious initiators of our race. If it was not the work of one man, or of one generation, the gradualness of the process does not make the result less valuable. It was a great day for ancient Persia, and for the world, when there dawned upon prophetic minds the idea of a Kingdom of the good under the dominion of a beneficent Spirit who required of men the culture of righteousness and the practice of mercy. If the bright vision had its dark shadow in a Kingdom of evil presided over by a rival deity, let us not undervalue it on that account. The Demon of the Lie only serves as a foil to show forth by contrast the virtues of Ahura. The sombre conception of an antigod, however crude and helpless from a philosophical point of view, at least evinces the resolute determination of the Persian sage to preserve the character of the good Spirit absolutely free from all compromise with evil, and from all moral contamination. To accomplish this laudable purpose is the raison d'être
of the evil Spirit in the Zoroastrian creed. He is simply the negative of the good Spirit. He grows in the distinctness of his attributes and functions in proportion as the importance of keeping the divine idea pure is realised. He is whatever it is desirable that the truly divine should not be. In the primitive time before the separation, he was not known by name; then he became the personification and heir of the demons of the storm; then he assumed more definite shape as the antithesis of Ahura, and his character was outlined in malign completeness on the principles of analogy and contrast.12
The thing to be emphasised, therefore, in the first place, in the religion of the Gâthas, is not the dualism, but the conception contained in them of the Good Spirit
. This is a permanently valuable contribution to the evolution of religious thought. The character ascribed to Ahura is pure and exalted. Among the epithets employed to describe him, one specially strikes a thoughtful reader. Ahura is declared to be the Father of the toiling good mind, and piety or devotion revealing itself in good deeds is called his daughter.13
The application of the title Father to the Divine Being is in itself worthy of note, and from the connection in which it is used we get a glimpse into the heart of the Divine Father. Observe who are His children. They are the men who toil, who take life in earnest, who with resolute will strive to do the work that lies to their hand. And what is the nature of that work? It is such as commends itself to the good mind, work in which noble souls can be enthusiastic. That means something higher than tilling the fields and tending the flocks, though these useful labours are not despised. It means contributing to the store of righteousness and its beneficent fruits: in short, toiling for the kingdom of goodness. That is to say, the sons and daughters of Ahura are those who, in the language of Jesus, seek first the kingdom of God, and heroically devote themselves to its service. Through the children we know the Father, and perceive that He bears some resemblance to the Father-God Jesus made known to His disciples.
Further light is thrown on the character of Ahura by the doctrine of the Amschaspands
. The name sounds very unattractive to our ears, but the thing is simple. The doctrine of the Amschaspands is simply the doctrine of the divine attributes. The Amschaspands are personified virtues of the good Spirit. They are six, or, counting Ahura Himself as one, seven. Their names are uncouth, and I shall not attempt to pronounce them, but according to Darmesteter they signify righteousness, the good mind, sovereign might, piety as it manifests itself in the souls of believers, health, and long life.14
In this list there seems to be a mixture of physical and moral properties. Another thing still more notable is, the ascription to the Divine Being of what belongs to His worshipperpractical piety. We have already seen that the piety of good men is represented as the daughter of Ahura. But in the doctrine of the Amschaspands it is more than a daughter, even an essential ingredient in the character of Ahura. It almost seems as if the Deity of the ancient Persians were simply the immanent spirit of the holy commonwealth; He in it and it in Him, and all characteristic properties common to both. This might be called pantheism, were it not for the conception of an antigod, which is not consistent with a pantheistic theory of the universe. Mr. Mills suggests the designation, Hagio-theism, to which he appends the explanatory title, a delineation of God in the holy creation.15
This phrase does not cover the whole truth about God as conceived by Zoroastrians. Ahura is not merely the immanent spirit of the society of saints; He is, as already indicated, the Creator-spirit of the universe. His attribute of righteousness, Asha, denotes right order not only in the holy commonwealth but in the cosmos at large. This appears in Yasna xliv., which contains a series of suggestive questions addressed to Ahura which, in an interrogative form, set forth the poet's confession of faith concerning the relations of the good Spirit to the cosmic order. Two of these questions may be given by way of sample.
3. This, I ask thee, O Ahura! tell me aright:
Who by generation was the first father of the righteous order (within the world)?
Who gave the (recurring) sun and stars their (undeviating) way?
Who established that whereby the moon waxes and whereby she wanes, save thee?
These things, O great Creator! would I know, and others likewise still.
4. This I ask thee, O Ahura! tell me aright,
Who from beneath hath sustained the earth and the clouds above that they do not fall?
Who made the waters and the plants?
Who to the wind has yoked on the storm-clouds, the swift and fleetest two?
Who, O great Creator! is the inspirer of the good thoughts (within our souls)?16
The cosmic order and the moral order, then, are both alike ordained by Ahura. The courses of the stars; the alternations of light and darkness, day and night, sleep and waking hours; the daily succession of dawn, noon and midnight; the flow of rivers, the growth of corn and of fruit-trees; the exhilarating sweep of purifying breezes; the inspired thoughts of poets, saints, and sages, and the love which binds men together in family tiesthese all have their origin in Ahura's wisdom and power.
This being so, what room and need, one is inclined to ask, in this universe, for a rival divinity? On first thoughts Angra-mainyu may seem an idle invention; but on second thoughts we are forced to admit that the conception, however crude, was very natural. Theories always have their ultimate origin in observation of facts. The fact-basis of the Persian dualism was the observed presence in the world of two sorts of men
, diverse in spirit and in conduct, with incompatible interests and ever at war. They are the good-minded and the evil-minded respectively; those who love truth and justice, and those who love falsehood and wrong. The existence of the two classes is recognised in the Gâthas in these quaint terms, He is evil who is the best one to the evil, and he is holy who is friendly to the righteous, as thou didst fix the moral laws, O Lord.17
The opposed classes come under the notice of the poet in a very realistic, obtrusive, and unwelcome manner in the form of two peoples, diverse in race, language, religion, and social condition. The good are represented by his own people, Aryans in race and language, worshippers of Ahura and tillers of the soil in fertile valleys by river-courses where flocks graze and grain grows. The evil are represented by obnoxious neighbours of the Turanian race,18
nomads, worshippers of demons, too near the Aryan farmers for their comfort, ever ready to make incursions into their settlements and carry off the joy-creating kine from the pleasant peaceful meadows.19
Behold an elect people, an Israel, in the far East, with Philistines on every side! The incessant conflict between them can be imagined. Invasion and rapine on the part of the demon-worshipping nomads, resolute defence of their property on the part of Zoroastrians. The bitterness of the increasing strife is reflected in the sacred poems by frequent reference, and by the terms of intense dislike applied to the foes of the children of light. In the conflict, material, moral and religious interests and motives are blended, and all three are surrounded with a common halo of sacredness. The defence of agriculture against the assaults of pagan nomads becomes a holy cause. Hence the personified abstraction, the Soul of the Kine, becomes the poetic emblem, not only of the material interests of the worshippers of Ahura, but also of the spiritual. It is the Soul of the Kine, representing the devout tillers of the land, that in the hour of distress raises a wailing cry to Ahura to send a strong wise man to teach them the true faith and lead them against their foes. Zoroaster was the answer to its prayer.20
No wonder that in these circumstances the idea of a divine antagonist to Ahura, head of the Kingdom of darkness, took possession of the mind of the poet and prophet who was sent in answer to the Soul of the Kine's prayer. For one of his intense mystic temper, Ahriman would seem the appropriate divine embodiment of the evil spirit active in the dark Turanian world. One can imagine how it might appear to him as a great revelation, throwing a flood of light on life's mysteries, to proclaim as an ultimate fact the existence of two opposed Spirits dividing the dominion of the world between them. This accordingly the hero, sent in answer to the distressed cry of the Kine's soul, is represented as doing in a solemn address to an assembled multitude. Hear ye then with your ears, thus he begins, see ye the bright flames with (the eyes of the) Better Mind. It is for a decision as to religions, man and man, each individually for himself.21
Then follows the great doctrine of dualism: Thus are the primeval spirits who as a pair (combining their opposite strivings), and (yet each) independent in his action, have been formed (of old). (They are) a better thing, they two, and a worse, as to thought, as to word, and as to deed. And between these two let the wisely acting choose aright. (Choose ye) not (as) the evil-doers.22
That this doctrine of dualism would never have been heard of but for Turanian invasions of Aryan settlements, would be a very simple supposition. Alas! there was evil within the holy land as well as without, and there was a traditional instinctive dualism already in possession of the popular mind, and both these sources would contribute material for reflective thought on the mystery of good and evil and its ultimate explanation. But the doctrine would gain sharpness of outline from the existence of a Turanian environment, and the constant conflicts between the two hostile races would convert what might otherwise have been a mild philosophic theorem into a divine message coming from a heart on fire with a sacred enthusiasm and uttered in words of prophetic intensity. Such is the character of the Gâtha in which the doctrine is proclaimed. The temper of the poet is not philosophic; it is truculent, Hebrew, Puritan. His utterance breathes at once the lofty spiritual tone and the vindictiveness of certain Psalms in the Hebrew Psalter. He contemplates with satisfaction the time when vengeance shall come upon the wretches who worship the Daevas.23
His mind is dominated by the same broad antitheses that were ever present to the thoughts of Israel: between the elect people and the Gentiles, between light and darkness, truth and falsehood; and the light is very brilliant and the darkness very dark.
Yet the attitude of the Persian prophet towards the outside world is not exclusively hostile, as if those who had given themselves to the service of the Evil Spirit were incapable of change. Conversion is conceived to be possible. Conversions are expected even from the Turanians. With clear prophetic vision, reminding us of Hebrew Psalmists, the poet of the Gâthas anticipates a time when from among the tribes and kith of the Turanian those shall arise who further on the settlements of Piety with energy and zeal, and with whom Ahura shall dwell together through his Good Mind (in them), and to them for joyful grace deliver His commands.24
The man who cherishes this hope has no wish to enjoy a monopoly of Ahura's blessing. He harbours in his heart no pride either of election or of race. He is conscious, indeed, of possessing in the true faith a boon for which he cannot be too thankful. But he is willing to share the boon with any who have a mind to receive it, even if they come from the tents of the nomads. Race for him is not the fundamental distinction among men, as is caste for his kindred in India. The grand radical cleavage in his view is that between men of the Good Mind and men of the Evil Mind, and the fact attests the sincerity and depth of his devotion to the creed he proclaims.
That conversion is thought to be possible, even in unlikely quarters, is a point worth noting in that creed. Men, we see, are not conceived to be good or evil by necessity of nature and irrevocably; every man by an insurmountable fatality a child of Ahura, or a child of Ahura's antagonist; no change from bad to good possible, either through self-effort or through gracious influence of transcendent powers. Evil and good are objects of choice, and the man who makes a wrong choice to-day may make the better choice to-morrow. Such is the hopeful creed of Zoroaster.
But no optimistic expectations are cherished. Present experience does not encourage extravagant anticipations or universalistic dreams. Depressing facts stare one in the face: the obstinacy of unbelief, the rarity of conversions, and even within the pale of the chosen people the prevalence of grievous evil; arrogance among those of high degree, lying among the people, slothful neglect of needful toil;25
and, worst of all, evil men not seen and believed to be the sinners that they are, posing and passing as children of light when they are in truth children of darkness.26
To these moral faults have to be added perplexing social evilsbad men prospering, good men suffering frustration and misfortune. Surveying the whole, a man of earnest spirit addicted to reflection is more likely to fall a prey to dark doubt than to indulge in high hopes of rapid extension and steadily increasing sway for the kingdom of righteousness. Traces of such doubts are not wanting in the Gâthas. The poet asks such questions as these:Wherefore is the vile man not known to be vile?27
When shall I in verity discern if ye indeed have power over aught, O Lord?28
and he brings under Mazda's notice the perplexing facts of his own experienceunable to attain his wish, his flocks reduced in number, his following insignificantbeseeching him to behold and help if he can.29
Here is matter enough surely for musing! Vile men, e.g
. not known to be vile! Why cannot men be either one thing or another, decidedly good or decidedly evil? Why be evil and at the same time feign goodness? Alas! it is so advantageous sometimes to have the name of being good; so easy to slide into the false ways of hypocrisy, especially in times of exceptional religious enthusiasm. When in the first fervour of a new faith believers have all things in common, Ananiases and Sapphiras are sure to arise. Again, has Ahura any real power? Ahura's good-will is not doubted, and that is well; for when, as in the case of the author of the 73rd
Psalm, doubt arises in the mind whether God be indeed good even to the pure in heart, the feet are near to slipping.30
But Ahura's power seems open to grave question. As things stand, the Evil Spirit seems to be in the ascendency. Openly wicked men abound, hypocrisy is rampant, all around the settlements of the worshippers of Mazda is the dark world of demon-worship. How can this be, if Ahura's power to establish the kingdom of righteousness be equal to his will? The personal afflictions of which the poet complains help, of course, to make these doubts and perplexities more acute. If Ahura be powerful, why does he not protect his devoted servant from plunder, and give him the success his heart desires in the propagation of the faith? Natural questions raising abstruse problems out of experiences which repeat themselves in all ages.
The poet of the Gâthas seems to have regarded the conflict between good and evil as eternal. The doctrine of dualism enunciated in the 30th Yasna comes in as an answer to the question how the primæval world arose.31
According to that doctrine, evil always has been and always will be. It never had a beginning, and never will have an end. There might be a time when men were not, but there never was a time when the transcendent Evil Mind was not. The two antagonist minds are both represented as primæval.32
And the prospect for the future is not one of the final conversion of all the evil-minded to goodness, but of the final judgment of the inveterately wicked. The swallowing up of sin and sorrow in ultimate happiness, according to Mr. Mills, belongs to a later period. It is not Gâthic Zarathustrianism.33
Of Zarathustrianism, according to the Gâthas, I have endeavoured in the preceding statement to give a brief account. It remains to offer some observations on its general religious value, on its special contribution to the theory of the providential order, and on the influence which it has exerted on the subsequent history of religious thought.
The grand merit of this Persian religion is its thoroughgoing moral earnestness, its Hebrew passion for righteousness. In this respect Zoroaster is not unworthy to stand beside the prophets of Israel. As regards this fundamental characteristic, the meaning of the Gâthas, we are assured, remains unaffected by all the difficulties of syntax which make translation a hard task for experts.34
The poet on every page appears an ardent admirer of the Good Mind; a passionate lover of justice, truth, purity, and kindness. Mr. Mills, who has rendered an important service by translating his hymns into English, pronounces an opinion on their value which may well be accepted as authoritative. It is in these terms: So far as a claim to a high position among the curiosities of ancient moral lore is concerned, the reader may trust himself freely to the impression that he has before him an anthology which was probably composed with as fervent a desire to benefit the spiritual and moral natures of those to whom it was addressed as any which the world had yet seen.35
The Gâthic idea of God is the child of this intense ethical temper. The wise, good, beneficent Spirit called Ahura-mazda is a projection of the good mind which animates his worshipper. In our study of Buddhism we found, to our surprise, that his beautiful ethical ideal did not suggest to Buddha the conception of a Deity in which all he admired and sought to be was perfectly realised. The Persian prophet did not make this mistake. He saw in the good mind of man the immanence and operation of an absolute Good Mind. Hence his theology was as pure as his ethics. It was the bright reflection of a good conscience.
The antigod proclaimed in the doctrine of dualism had a similar origin. It was a device to protect the character of Ahura from taint, and to heighten the brightness of its light by contrast with darkness. It may be a failure as a theory, but it does credit to the moral sentiments of its promulgator. Had he been less deeply impressed with the radical irreconcilable distinction between good and evil, he might have found it easier to believe that God was one not two, and so have divided with Hebrew prophets the honour of giving to the world ethical monotheism.
Passing now to the doctrine of the two gods, I remark concerning it, in the first place, that in promulgating it the Persian prophet was dealing seriously with a radical problem, the origin of evil. Of moral evil I mean, for it does not appear from the Gâthas that physical evil occupied a very prominent place in their author's thoughts. The question of questions for him was, Why are all men not under law to the good? To be good seemed so reasonable, so natural, to one whose own mind was good, to love truth, justice, and mercy so easy, that he could not but wonder why any should be otherwise minded. Evil appeared to him so unnatural, so unaccountable, that he was forced to seek its fountain-head not in man, but in a transcendent causality even within the region of the divine. A more serious view of the matter it is impossible to conceive.
But this short and easy solution will not bear reflection. Obvious defects at once suggest themselves.
In the first place, the theory assigns too absolute significance to Evil by finding its origin and even its permanent home in the sphere of the divine. It has indeed been questioned whether Zoroaster really did this, whether his so-called dualism was dualistic in principle; that is, whether the Evil Spirit was co-ordinate with the Good Spirit, and not rather subordinate, even his creature.36
But there is no trace of such a view in the Gâthas. The Good Spirit, as there conceived, could not create a spirit evil at the moment of his creation. He could only create a spirit who was at first good, then afterwards fell into evila being, i.e
. like Milton's Satan
. Such, however, is not the history of Ahriman as given in the Gâthas. He is evil from the beginning.
This idea of an absolute divine Evil is self-cancelling. It gives to Evil equal rights with the Good. If evil and good be alike divine, who is to decide between their claims? what ground is there for preferring either to the other? It comes to be a matter of liking, one man choosing the Good Spirit for his god, another the Evil Spirit, neither having a right to call in question the other's choice. So it results that a dualism created by the over-anxious assertion of moral distinctions turns into its opposite, and makes these distinctions purely relative and subjective.
The account given of man's relation to this divine dualism, though simple and satisfactory at first sight, breaks down on further examination. It is represented as a matter of choice, a decision as to religions, man and man, each individually for himself. The man of evil will, accordingly, chooses the Evil Spirit for his Divinity. But whence the evil will? Has the Evil Spirit waited till he was chosen before beginning to exert his malign influence, or has he been at work before in the soul of his worshipper predestining and disposing him to the bad preference? On the latter alternative, where is the freedom of will? If, on the other hand, the will be uncontrolled, and the choice perfectly deliberate and intelligent, a free preference of the worse mind by one who fully knows what he does, does this not involve a state of pravity which is final, leaving no room for change from the worse to the better mind, a sin against the Good Spirit which cannot be repented of or forgiven? Yet the Gâthic creed recognises the possibility of conversion.
The origin of evil cannot be explained so easily as the Persian sage imagined. The doctrine of the Twin Spirits raises more difficulties than it solves. Better leave the problem alone and confess that the origin of evil is a mystery. Or, if you will have a dualism, why not one such as Zoroaster's personal history might have suggested to him? One of the Gâthas obscurely hints at a temptation to a gross form of sensual indulgence.37
How near the tempted one was to the discovery that the real antithesis was not between two divine Spirits eternally antagonistic, but between spirit and flesh in man; between the law in the mind and the law in the members! This form of dualism may not, any more than the other, go to the root of the matter, or utter the final word on all questions relating to evil. But it at least points to a real, not an imaginary, antagonism. And by placing the dualism within rather than without it gets rid of the hard line of separation between good men and bad men, drawn by a theory which lays exclusive emphasis on the will. In the light of this internal dualism we see that men are not divisible into the perfectly good and the perfectly evil, but that all men are both good and evil in varying proportions. There is a law in the members even of a saint, and there is a law of the mind consenting to good even in the most abandoned transgressor. The fact once realised tends to breed humility and sympathy. The good man becomes less satisfied with himself, and more inclined to lenient judgment on his fellow-men. What an immense advance in self-knowledge is revealed by comparing the Gâthas with the seventh chapter of St. Paul's Epistle to the Romans, and what a contrast between the hard severe tone of the Persian hymns and the benignant kindly accent of the words, Considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted! Evil is not to be explained away by smooth phrases; but there is comfort in the thought that few commit that sin against the Holy Ghost which consists in a perfectly deliberate and intelligent preference of evil to good; that most sins are sins of ignorance and impulse committed by men who are carried headlong by desire or habit, and deluded by a show of good in things evil.
On the historic influence of the Persian theory, only a few sentences can be added. The religion of Zoroaster is almost extinct, its only adherents now being the Parsees in India, amounting to about one hundred and fifty thousand; an insignificant number compared with the four hundred millions professing Buddhism, and suggesting the thought that, with all its fair promise, this ancient faith must have had some inherent defect which foredoomed it to failure. It is not easy to believe that under the providential order a religion fitted to render important service to mankind would be allowed so completely to sink out of sight. The subsequent career of Zoroastrianism, while it was the religion of the Persian people, was not favourable to permanent influence and extensive prevalence. It developed into the worship of fire, and of the Haoma plant, and of spirits innumerable, of diverse grades, names, and functions, and into elaborate ceremonial for the purpose of securing ritual purity. Dualism widened out into a species of refined polytheism, and the ethical, supreme at first, became lost among the details of a sacerdotal system.
The direct influence of Persian dualism has been supposed to be traceable specially in two quarters: in the later religious ideas of the Hebrews, and in the Manichæan religion which made its appearance in the third century of our era. As to the latter, to speak of it first, the main interest it possesses for us is the hold which it took of the youthful mind of Augustine, and the influence which through him it has exercised on Christian theology. It used to be regarded as certain that the religion of Mani was a revival of Zoroastrianism modified by Christianity. Recent investigation, however, has brought about a change of view; and the theory now in favour is that the basis of Manichæism is to be sought in the old Babylonian religion; that it is a Semitic growth with a mixture of Persian and Christian elements. It resembles Zoroastrianism in so far as it also teaches a dualistic theory of the universe. But the Manichæan dualism is not ethical, but physical. The great antithesis in the creed of Mani is that between light and darkness, not as emblems of good and evil, but as themselves good and evil. Religious knowledge consists in the knowledge of nature and its elements, and redemption in a physical separation of the light elements from the darkness. Human nature belongs mainly to the realm of darkness, while not without some sparks of light. The ethics of the system are ascetic, inculcating abstinence from all that belongs to the dark region, such as fleshly desire. However repulsive to us this strange religious conglomerate may appear, it must have met the mood of the time, for it spread rapidly, and became one of the great religions of the period.38
Going back now to the alleged influence of Persian thought on the religious ideas of Israel after the period of the Exile: the chief instance of this has been found in the conception of Satan
. Satan has been supposed to be Ahriman transferred from Persia to Palestine. It is a plausible but by no means indisputable hypothesis. The question is mixed up with critical theories as to the dates of those Old Testament books in which Satan occurs as a personal designation. These are Job, Zechariah, and I Chronicles. If these books were written during or after the Exile, the Persian origin of the Satan idea would be at least possible. But even among critics of the freest type there is diversity of opinion as to their dates. Thus Renan places the Book of Job as far back as the eighth century B.C.
He is equally decided as to the non-identity of Satan with Ahriman, giving as his reason that Satan does nothing except by the order of God, that he is simply an angel of a more malign character than the rest; sly, and inclined to slander; by no means to be identified with the genius of evil existing and acting independently.39
More significant, perhaps, is the function assigned to Satan in I Chronicles. He there performs an act which in an earlier book, 2 Samuel, is ascribed to God. In Samuel Jehovah tempts David to number the people, in Chronicles Jehovah's place is taken by Satan.40
It is a ready suggestion that the Chronicler, writing at the close of the Persian period of Jewish history, made the alteration under the influence of Persian ideas as to what it was fit that God should do. To tempt men to evil was not, from the Persian point of view, suitable work for the Good Spirit; such a malign function properly belonged to his rival. That familiarity with Persian ways of thinking gave rise to the scruples betrayed in the alteration made on the older narrative is an allowable conjecture.
However they are to be explained, the scruples manifestly existed, and this is the thing of chief interest for us. We see here, if not Persian dualism, at all events a species of dualism originating in a feeling kindred to that which gave rise to the doctrine of the Twin Spirits. The Chronicler's feeling obviously was that to tempt is an evil work which may not be ascribed to God. The feeling represents an advance in some respects on the older less scrupulous way of thinking, which would have found no stumbling-block in the robust prophetic sentiment, I form the light and create darkness; I make peace and create evil.41
The scruple of the later time grew out of an intensified sense of moral distinctions: wherever this sense becomes acute, dualism in some form is likely to reappear. Hence we are not done with dualism even yet. Though the Zoroastrian religion is all but extinct, its conception of an antigod is not a thing of the distant past. As we shall see, at a later stage in our course, it is being revived under a new form in our own time.42
There is much in the world to tempt one who believes in a good God to take up with the dualistic hypothesis. Yet surely it cannot be the last word. The broad strong creed contained in the prophetic oracle above cited expresses, not only the rough belief of an unrefined moral consciousness, but also the ultimate conviction in which alone the heart can find rest. Perhaps the prophet had the Persian dualism in view when he made the bold declaration. While respecting the moral earnestness in which that dualism had its source, he deemed it, we may suppose, only a half truth, and therefore supplied the needed correction by representing God as the creator both of light and of darkness. However hard to hold, this is the true creed. The dominion of the world cannot be divided between two, whether we call them Ormuzd and Ahriman, Jehovah and Satan, God and Devil, or by any other names. God must be God over all, and His providence must be all-embracing.