History 130C – Religions of Ancient Iran

This course is a review of major trends in the history of ancient Iranian religions or those religions which ancient Iranian beliefs and views have influenced, such as Zoroastrianism, Manichaeism and Mithraism.

Zoroastrianism is one of the oldest and earliest and least known religious traditions in the world which influenced Judaism, Mahayana Buddhism, Christianity and Islam. In antiquity its followers were numerous, but today there are less than 200,000 adherents of this faith mainly in Iran, India, and Southeast Asia and in the West. We will look at the doctrine of this faith which grew from its Indo-European and Indo-Iranian background in a historical context. The sacred hymns (Gathas) of the prophet of Zoroastrianism, i.e., Zarathushtra (Zoroaster) will be studied previewed. This will be followed by the study of Zoroastrianism in the historical period in the Achaemenid, Parthians, and the Sasanians period (600 BCE to 700 CE). The Achaemenid and Sasanian royal inscriptions, the Middle Persian texts, the Avesta along with the Greek, Syriac and Armenian sources will be studied. The course will also look question of cosmology, purity and pollution, burial, fate of the soul after death and apocalyptic tradition.

The course will also cover the prophet Mani and his Gnostic belief and its impact on world religions and history of Eurasia and that of Africa. Mani lived in the third century CE and he was able to preach his religion for a time in Sasanian Iran and India. His followers spread his message along the Silk Road and the Mediterranean region. We will study the relationship between Zoroastrianism and Manichaeism and point of contact, similarity and differences. We will also look at the Iranian components of Mithraism which became an important religious tradition in the Roman world.

Grading: The students are required to take a midterm and a final exam in an essay format. Each exam will be %50 of your grade.

  1. M. Tardieu, Manichaeism, University of Illinois Press, 2009.  -
  2. Michael Stausberg, Zarathustra and Zoroastrianism, Equinox, 2008.
  3. Mary, Boyce, Zoroastrians: Their Religious Beliefs and Practices, Routledge, 2 edition, 2001.
  4. Mary Boyce, Textual Sources for the Study of Zoroastrianism, University of Chicago Press (October 15, 1990)  .
  5. William W. Malandra, An Introduction to Ancient Iranian Religion: Readings from the Avesta and the Achaemenid Inscriptions/, University of Minnesota Press; Minnesota Archive Editions edition, 1983.

Week I. The Indo-Europeans, Indo-Iranian and their Religion (January):Who are the Indo-Europeans? Migration and models of movement; Tracing the path of the Indo-Iranians; The Bactria Margiana Archaeological Complex (BMAC); Soma and Fire; Sacred Hymns from the Veda: Soma, Kavi and Indra hymns; and the Avesta: Haoma and the hymn to the Kayanids. What is the Avesta? Hymns or Text?

Week II. Zarathushtra: The Prophet and Reformer (January)

READINGS: Boyce (TSSZ) Chapter 1 & 2; Boyce (ZRBP) Chapter 2; Stausberg 1 Zarathushtra’s time and homeland; The cultural setting; The Worldview of Zarathushtra as contained his Gathas; The old Gods and the new god(s); Continuity and reform; Ahuras and the Devas; Ahura Mazda and other gods

Week III. Zarathushtra & the Gathas and Beyond (January)

READINGS: Boyce (TSSZ) Chapter 1 & 2; Boyce (ZRBP) Chapter 2; Malandra Ch. 17; Stausberg 2 Sacred hymns: The prophet haunted by visions; The post Zarathushtra hymns: Yasna Haptanhaiti.

Week IV. The Cosmos, Creation and the End of Time (January)

READINGS: Boyce (TSSZ) Chapter 7; Boyce (ZRBP) Chapter 4; Malandra Chapter 6; Sources and approaches; The Avesta and the Bundahish; The Bovine and the First man: Gayomarth; Ahriman’s assault and the cosmic battle; the victory of good over evil and the end of time: The Zoroastrian Apocalypse and resurrection.

Week V. Zoroastrian Rituals: Purity, Pollution and Death (February)

READINGS: Boyce (TSSZ) Chapter 6; Malandra Chapter 15; Stausberg 4; Sources and approaches; Ahriman and his assault; Ohrmazd and his function; Zoroastrian rituals: from birth to death; pollutant matters; cleansing matters and rituals; laws for men, laws for women; the Dakhma and Tower of Silence; rituals for the soul of the dead.

Week VI. Zoroastrianism during the Achaemenid Period (February)

READINGS: Boyce (TSSZ) Chapter 10 (pp. 104-107); Boyce (ZRBP) Chapter 5; Malandra Chapters 3, 5, 6; Cyrus or Darius? Ahura Mazda and other Gods; Ritual and worship; Mithra, Anahita and Humban; Royal inscriptions: From Darius to Xerxes; The treasury tablets and Greek sources; Mihr Yasht and Anahit (Aban) Yasht.

Midterm (February)

Week VII. From Alexander to Islam: Zoroastrianism (February)

READINGS: Boyce (TSSZ) Chapter 10 (pp. 108-117); Boyce (ZRBP) Chapter 6 & 7; Alexander and the Magi; Fire and the Avesta; Codifying ritual and law (Widewdad / Vendidad); Purity and Pollution; Death and dying: From Sagdid to Dakhma: The fate of the soul; Heaven and hell; Ardashir I and the Zoroastrian foundation of the Empire; Tansar and Kerdir; Mazdak and heresy.

Week VIII. Zoroastrianism in the Sasanian Period (March)

READINGS: Boyce (TSSZ) Chapter 10 (pp. 108-117); Boyce (ZRBP) Chapter 8 & 9; Textual evidence for Zoroastrianism in the Sasanian period: The Bundahishn, Madayan ī Hazar Dadestan and other texts; Orthodoxy and heresy.

Week IX. Manichaeism in Late Antiquity (March)

READINGS: Tardieu; The life of Mani & Mesopotamia; texts, languages and visions; Manichaean beliefs; Cosmology and apocalypse

Week X. Readings in Manichaean Texts (March)

READINGS: Tardieu; Survey and readings in Manichaean texts; the Manichaean community in the East and the West; Mithraism in Armenia and the Mediterranean; What is Iranian in Mithraism?

  • History 130C – Religions of Ancient Iran image

    Professor: Touraj Daryaee
    Class Time: W 4:00-6:45
    Office Hours: MW 12:30-2:30 & By Appointment
    Office: Humanities 720B
    E-Mail: [email protected]
    Telephone: ext. 3673

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