Mythos 51 – Dating Zarathustra’s Life

 

Ancient Central Asia Cultures

Both the eminent sindhologist Asko Parpola and the distinguished archaeologist J. P. Mallory place the locus of the division of Indo-Aryan from Iranian in the bronze age Bactria–Margiana Archaeological Complex (BMAC) culture of Central Asia that existed between 4,300 and 3,700 years ago.(1)J. P. Mallory (1989) In Search of the Indo-Europeans: Language, Archaeology, and Myth, Page 38f Parpola’s theory includes ‘Proto-Rigvedic’ Indo-Aryans migrating into in the Late Indus civilization from about 3,900 years ago, and corresponding to the distinctive Swat culture from about 3,700 years ago.(2)Asko Parpola (1999) “The formation of the Aryan branch of Indo-European,” in Roger Blench & Matthew Spriggs Archaeology and Language, Volume III: Artefacts, languages and texts Genetic studies into the human remain found at Andronovo archaeological sites indicate that during the Bronze and Iron Age, the people in the regions were blue-eyed or green-eyed, fair-skinned, and light-haired people,(3)Christine Keyser, et al. (2009) “Ancient DNA provides new insights into the history of south Siberian Kurgan people,” Human Genetics, Volume 126, Issue 3, Pages 395-410 which supports the generally accepted idea that the Andonovo culture was predominantly Indo-European.(4)Beckwith, Christopher I. (2009). Empires of the Silk Road: A History of Central Eurasia from the Bronze Age to the Present

guner_tepe_1

Ruins of Gonur Depe, from the BMAC region circa 2,500 BC

The Gathas are 17 hymns believed to have been composed by Zarathustra, also called Zoroaster, the philosopher of the Zoroastrian faith. Zarathustra is generally accepted as an authentic historical figure, but the period in which he lived remains in dispute. The traditional date originates in the period immediately following Alexander the Great’s conquest of the Achaemenid Empire around 2,350 years ago. The Seleucid kings who gained power following Alexander’s death instituted an ‘Age of Alexander’ as the new calendrical epoch. This did not appeal to the Zoroastrian priesthood who then attempted to establish an ‘Age of Zoroaster.’ To do so, they needed to establish when Zoroaster had lived, which they accomplished by counting back the length of known successive generations(5)A. Shapur Shahbazi (1977) “The ‘Traditional Date of Zoroaster’ Explained,” Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, Volume 40, Number 1, Pages 25–26 until they concluded that Zoroaster must have lived 258 years before Alexander.

Artists impression of Gonur circa 4,000 years ago.

Artists impression of Gonur circa 2,500 BC.

By a century ago, scholars such as Christian Bartholomae and Arthur Emanuel Christensen noted linguistic difficulties that the traditional date presented. The Old Avestan language of the Gathas is very close to the Sanskrit of the Ṛigveda, and therefore it seemed implausible that the Gathas and Ṛigveda could be more than a few centuries apart. This suggested a date for the oldest surviving portions of the Avesta of roughly around 3,000 years ago. Dates proposed in scholarly literature diverge widely, however generally fall between around 3,750 and 2,600 years ago. Classical writers such as Plutarch and Diogenes proposed dates earlier than 8,000 years ago.(6)Solomon Nigosian (1993) The Zoroastrian faith: tradition and modern research, Page 15 According the Roman historian Pliny both Aristotle and Eudoxus placed the life of Zarathustra 6,000 years before the life of Plato;(7)Pliny the Elder (79 AD), Natural History, xxx, 2 around 8,350 years ago.

References   [ + ]

1. J. P. Mallory (1989) In Search of the Indo-Europeans: Language, Archaeology, and Myth, Page 38f
2. Asko Parpola (1999) “The formation of the Aryan branch of Indo-European,” in Roger Blench & Matthew Spriggs Archaeology and Language, Volume III: Artefacts, languages and texts
3. Christine Keyser, et al. (2009) “Ancient DNA provides new insights into the history of south Siberian Kurgan people,” Human Genetics, Volume 126, Issue 3, Pages 395-410
4. Beckwith, Christopher I. (2009). Empires of the Silk Road: A History of Central Eurasia from the Bronze Age to the Present
5. A. Shapur Shahbazi (1977) “The ‘Traditional Date of Zoroaster’ Explained,” Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, Volume 40, Number 1, Pages 25–26
6. Solomon Nigosian (1993) The Zoroastrian faith: tradition and modern research, Page 15
7. Pliny the Elder (79 AD), Natural History, xxx, 2