Imperial Antiquity

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When the migration of the Iranians took place it is difficult to determine, but probably between fifteen hundred and two thousand years before our era, although it may have been even five hundred years earlier than that. All theories as to their movements before their authentic history begins are based on conjecture and speculation, which it is not profitable to pursue, since we can settle nothing in the present state of our knowledge.

It is very singular that the Iranians should have had, after their migrations and settlements, religious ideas and systems so different from those of the Hindus, considering that they had common ancestors. The Iranians, including the Medes as well as Persians, accepted Zoroaster as their prophet and teacher, and the Zend-Avesta as their sacred books, and worshipped one Supreme Deity, whom they called Ahura-Mazda (Ormazd),--the Lord Omniscient,--and thus were monotheists; while the Hindus were practically poly-theists, governed by a sacerdotal caste, who imposed gloomy austerities and sacrifices, although it would seem that the older Vedistic hymns of the Hindus were theistic in spirit. The Magi--the priests of the Iranians--differed widely in their religious views from the Brahmans, inculcating a higher morality and a loftier theological creed, worshipping the Supreme Being without temples or shrines or images, although their religion ultimately degenerated into a worship of the powers of Nature, as the recognition of Mithra the sun-god and the mysterious fire-altars would seem to indicate. But even in spite of the corruptions introduced by the Magi when they became a powerful sacerdotal body, their doctrine remained purer and more elevated than the religions of the surrounding nations.

While the Iranians worshipped a supreme deity of goodness, they also recognized a supreme deity of evil, both ruling the world--in perpetual conflict--by unnumbered angels, good and evil; but the final triumph of the good was a conspicuous article of their faith. In close logical connection with this recognition of a supreme power in the universe was the belief of a future state and of future rewards and punishments, without which belief there can be, in my opinion, no high morality, as men are constituted.

In process of time the priests of the Zoroastrian faith became unduly powerful, and enslaved the people by many superstitions, such as the multiplication of rites and ceremonies and the interpretation of dreams and omens. They united spiritual with temporal authority, as a powerful priesthood is apt to do,--a fact which the Christian priesthood of the Middle Ages made evident in the Occidental world.

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