An important Arabic source transmitted by Masʿūdī states that king Ardašīr I would have assumed a secret political act through which the whole length of the Parthian era was radically reduced. He would have taken this decision in order to avoid a situation in which the end of the millennium starting with a central moment in the life of Zoroaster (implicitly an era of Zoroaster) might fall in a period too close to the beginning of the Persian kingdom. In the course of this research, I will argue that this statement corresponds to a later invention, created after the fall of Sasanian Empire, in a dimension of depression and defeat stemming from the definitive installation of Islamic rule. It is implausible that the early Sasanians would have introduced such a pessimistic doctrine concerning their own fall in a period in which they started to build up the pillars of their imperial domination. Furthermore, the hypothesis of a deliberate cut of the passed time in order to delay the due course of time goes against the basic principles of the Mazdean conception of time, in which the slowing down of time’s arrow is a demonic act. Actually, only Ahreman would be interested in delaying the end of the 12,000-years millennial cycle, because with its term, his defeat would also be inevitably marked.These considerations imposed a revision of the date of Zoroaster from a new and different point of view and some figure connected with it. For this reason, the standard figure of 258 years before Alexander and its meaning became again an important matter of investigation. First, in this study, the reader will find a collection of arguments showing that it is impossible to presume, as some scholars did, that the Persians ignored the Seleucid era in itself, but also the true nature of the era of Zoroaster, and its direct connections with the Seleucid era. In fact, if, as usual, one starts to calculate backwards the alleged period of Zoroaster putting 258 years before one important moment in the life of Alexander, such as his death, or the death of Darius III or the invasion of Persia, etc., we must observe that the Persians, who established a clear synchronism between the Seleucid era (in its different versions and names) and the era of Zoroaster, had an idea which was radically different. Actually, they put the acme of Zoroaster’s life in correspondence with the beginning of the SE, i.e. 312/311 BCE, so that Alexander became a sort of demonic player whose life was framed in the 1st century BCE. This fact can better explain why Alexander was credited as a “Christian” in the later Pahlavi sources. But if the Persians created such a peculiar tradition, there was a good reason for it. Their intention was not that of cutting the right chronology out of a dramatic fear of the future, but it was because they had a strong theological and political determination in erasing the negative memory of the past Iranian defeat by the Greeks and Alexander, placing the acme of their prophet along a chronological scheme in which it was the starting moment of the new millennium. Thus, the new Zoroastrian era canceled Alexander, whose life was displaced by 258 years onwards, and fixed a period of victories in the name of the Sasanian dynasty. This artificial and ideological creation was probably fruit of a vision of time strongly rooted in millennial projections and in astrological categories (among which probably the doctrine of the Saturn / Jupiter conjunctions was remarkably important). Its development was reasonably favored by other chronological schemes in which the Seleucid era was meaningless, as in the case of the Chronicle of Nabonassar, which was well known even in Persia, thanks to the introduction of the Almagest, a work probably translated, at least in part, and where such a Chronicle was usually given in extenso and referred to for calculations. This artificial operation did not imply that the Persians really ignored the existence of other chronologies, such as those of the Seleucids, Parthians, etc., but simply that they promoted their own self-representation into future history, as a teleological marker or an emblem of their definitive future triumph. This operation was properly Persian and Mazdean, according to the theology developed by a leading circle within the Sasanian clergy and the royal family, yet we have no arguments underpinning the thesis that this chronological model was of early Zoroastrian derivation, or that Sogdian, Parthian, and other Zoroastrian clerical communities belonging to the rich variety of ethnic traditions in Iran would have accepted it as true. The Parthians would have probably never followed this scheme.This and other facts show that the arrangement of the Zoroastrian chronology around a millennium, initiated by Zoroaster’s acme and marked by the (anachronistic) arrival of Alexander, was foundational within a political project that presupposed the millennial success of the Persians until the final victory, a victory as much political as it should be religious and eschatological. For this reason, fear of future events was not at all the marker of the Sasanian Zoroastrian construction of historical time. The Mazdean millennium of Zoroaster was imagined as part of the three final chiliadic periods, in which there was no special room for apocalyptic expectations. These emerged with the defeat, as a progressive impulse in favor of a new and more positive attitude, suggesting a hope in the apokatastasis and a final regeneration of the whole of humanity being freed from sins and hell. The presence of contrasting visions and doctrines with the Zoroastrian theological schools generated contradictory expectations, and paved the way for negative myths, such as those connected to a fear of the future, whose roots do not belong to the atmosphere blowing on the upraised drafš of the early Sasanian forces, but to the sense of humiliation and despair of a later historical phase. In the framework of a reevaluation of the Persian “amnesia”, i.e. the problem concerning the oblivion in which apparently the history of past Western Iranian dynasties, such as the Medes and Persians, fell down, but also that of the Parthians, cannot be only explained in terms of amnestic processes inevitable in oral transmission. On the contrary, some of these phenomena partly reflect a deliberate selection made by a political and religious circle underpinning the teleological and imperial program of a new dynasty, such as the Sasanian one, which decided to frame the borders of a millennial project under the protection of Zoroaster. Although this choice marked the history of Zoroastrianism in late antiquity, the seal of this narration did not compellingly represent all the Zoroastrian traditions, which probably had diffeent chronologies and mythological settings. Thus, the traditional date of Zoroaster corresponds to a particular vision of history, in which the determination of the past was foundational for the pre-vision of the future, a future centered on Persia, the Sasanians and their clergy. We have no reason to assume that this important “tradition” was ancient and rooted into the ancestral folklore of the other Iranian and Zoroastrian tribes.

ABĒBĪM “Fearless”. Who Was Afraid of the End of the Millennium? New Approaches to the Interpretation of the Traditional Date of Zoroaster

Antonio Panaino
Primo
Investigation
2022

Abstract

An important Arabic source transmitted by Masʿūdī states that king Ardašīr I would have assumed a secret political act through which the whole length of the Parthian era was radically reduced. He would have taken this decision in order to avoid a situation in which the end of the millennium starting with a central moment in the life of Zoroaster (implicitly an era of Zoroaster) might fall in a period too close to the beginning of the Persian kingdom. In the course of this research, I will argue that this statement corresponds to a later invention, created after the fall of Sasanian Empire, in a dimension of depression and defeat stemming from the definitive installation of Islamic rule. It is implausible that the early Sasanians would have introduced such a pessimistic doctrine concerning their own fall in a period in which they started to build up the pillars of their imperial domination. Furthermore, the hypothesis of a deliberate cut of the passed time in order to delay the due course of time goes against the basic principles of the Mazdean conception of time, in which the slowing down of time’s arrow is a demonic act. Actually, only Ahreman would be interested in delaying the end of the 12,000-years millennial cycle, because with its term, his defeat would also be inevitably marked.These considerations imposed a revision of the date of Zoroaster from a new and different point of view and some figure connected with it. For this reason, the standard figure of 258 years before Alexander and its meaning became again an important matter of investigation. First, in this study, the reader will find a collection of arguments showing that it is impossible to presume, as some scholars did, that the Persians ignored the Seleucid era in itself, but also the true nature of the era of Zoroaster, and its direct connections with the Seleucid era. In fact, if, as usual, one starts to calculate backwards the alleged period of Zoroaster putting 258 years before one important moment in the life of Alexander, such as his death, or the death of Darius III or the invasion of Persia, etc., we must observe that the Persians, who established a clear synchronism between the Seleucid era (in its different versions and names) and the era of Zoroaster, had an idea which was radically different. Actually, they put the acme of Zoroaster’s life in correspondence with the beginning of the SE, i.e. 312/311 BCE, so that Alexander became a sort of demonic player whose life was framed in the 1st century BCE. This fact can better explain why Alexander was credited as a “Christian” in the later Pahlavi sources. But if the Persians created such a peculiar tradition, there was a good reason for it. Their intention was not that of cutting the right chronology out of a dramatic fear of the future, but it was because they had a strong theological and political determination in erasing the negative memory of the past Iranian defeat by the Greeks and Alexander, placing the acme of their prophet along a chronological scheme in which it was the starting moment of the new millennium. Thus, the new Zoroastrian era canceled Alexander, whose life was displaced by 258 years onwards, and fixed a period of victories in the name of the Sasanian dynasty. This artificial and ideological creation was probably fruit of a vision of time strongly rooted in millennial projections and in astrological categories (among which probably the doctrine of the Saturn / Jupiter conjunctions was remarkably important). Its development was reasonably favored by other chronological schemes in which the Seleucid era was meaningless, as in the case of the Chronicle of Nabonassar, which was well known even in Persia, thanks to the introduction of the Almagest, a work probably translated, at least in part, and where such a Chronicle was usually given in extenso and referred to for calculations. This artificial operation did not imply that the Persians really ignored the existence of other chronologies, such as those of the Seleucids, Parthians, etc., but simply that they promoted their own self-representation into future history, as a teleological marker or an emblem of their definitive future triumph. This operation was properly Persian and Mazdean, according to the theology developed by a leading circle within the Sasanian clergy and the royal family, yet we have no arguments underpinning the thesis that this chronological model was of early Zoroastrian derivation, or that Sogdian, Parthian, and other Zoroastrian clerical communities belonging to the rich variety of ethnic traditions in Iran would have accepted it as true. The Parthians would have probably never followed this scheme.This and other facts show that the arrangement of the Zoroastrian chronology around a millennium, initiated by Zoroaster’s acme and marked by the (anachronistic) arrival of Alexander, was foundational within a political project that presupposed the millennial success of the Persians until the final victory, a victory as much political as it should be religious and eschatological. For this reason, fear of future events was not at all the marker of the Sasanian Zoroastrian construction of historical time. The Mazdean millennium of Zoroaster was imagined as part of the three final chiliadic periods, in which there was no special room for apocalyptic expectations. These emerged with the defeat, as a progressive impulse in favor of a new and more positive attitude, suggesting a hope in the apokatastasis and a final regeneration of the whole of humanity being freed from sins and hell. The presence of contrasting visions and doctrines with the Zoroastrian theological schools generated contradictory expectations, and paved the way for negative myths, such as those connected to a fear of the future, whose roots do not belong to the atmosphere blowing on the upraised drafš of the early Sasanian forces, but to the sense of humiliation and despair of a later historical phase. In the framework of a reevaluation of the Persian “amnesia”, i.e. the problem concerning the oblivion in which apparently the history of past Western Iranian dynasties, such as the Medes and Persians, fell down, but also that of the Parthians, cannot be only explained in terms of amnestic processes inevitable in oral transmission. On the contrary, some of these phenomena partly reflect a deliberate selection made by a political and religious circle underpinning the teleological and imperial program of a new dynasty, such as the Sasanian one, which decided to frame the borders of a millennial project under the protection of Zoroaster. Although this choice marked the history of Zoroastrianism in late antiquity, the seal of this narration did not compellingly represent all the Zoroastrian traditions, which probably had diffeent chronologies and mythological settings. Thus, the traditional date of Zoroaster corresponds to a particular vision of history, in which the determination of the past was foundational for the pre-vision of the future, a future centered on Persia, the Sasanians and their clergy. We have no reason to assume that this important “tradition” was ancient and rooted into the ancestral folklore of the other Iranian and Zoroastrian tribes.
174
978-88-5757-912-2
Antonio Panaino
File in questo prodotto:
Eventuali allegati, non sono esposti

I documenti in IRIS sono protetti da copyright e tutti i diritti sono riservati, salvo diversa indicazione.

Utilizza questo identificativo per citare o creare un link a questo documento: https://hdl.handle.net/11585/893723
 Attenzione

Attenzione! I dati visualizzati non sono stati sottoposti a validazione da parte dell'ateneo

Citazioni
  • ???jsp.display-item.citation.pmc??? ND
  • Scopus ND
  • ???jsp.display-item.citation.isi??? ND
social impact