Sacred Texts  Gnosticism  Index  Previous  Next 
Buy this Book at

The Gnostics and Their Remains, by Charles William King, [1887], at


The Zendavesta, literally "text and comment," is the doctrine of Zoroaster (Zarathrustra), comprised in eight parts, written at different periods, but of which the earliest have been assigned to the date of B.C. 1200-1000. In its present form it was collected by Ardeshir, the founder of the Sassanian dynasty, from oral tradition, at the time when he re-established the ancient religion of Persia.

In this revelation the Supreme Being is called "Boundless Time" (Zarvana Akarana), because to him no beginning can be assigned; he is so surrounded by his own glory, and so far exalted beyond all human comprehension, that he can only be the object of silent veneration. The beginning of creation was made by means of Emanations. The first emanation of the Eternal One was Light, whence issued Ormuzd (Ahuramazda), the King of Light. Ormuzd is styled the Firstborn of Boundless Time; and the "Ferouer" of him, or Pre-existing Soul (type or idea in Platonic phrase), had existed from all eternity within the primitive Light. By means of his "Word," Ormuzd created the pure world of which he is the preserver and the

p. 30

judge. Next, he created in his own image the six Amshaspands, who stand about his throne, and are his agents with the lower spirits, and with mankind, whose prayers they offer up to him, and to whom they serve for models of perfection. These Amshaspands, of whom Ormuzd is the first, thus making up the mystic number seven, are of both sexes, and the Gnostics adopted them, as we shall see further on, into their own systems, with the same distinction of sex. The next series of emanations were the Izeds, twenty-eight in number, of whom Mithras is the chief. Like the superior order, they watch over the purity and happiness of the world, of which they are the genii and guardians. The principal names amongst them are Vohu-mano, Mazda, Asha, Vayu (Ventus), Geusurvi (Soul of the Earth), Sraosha (who exactly answers, in point of duties, to the Grecian Hermes and Jewish Gabriel, for he carries the mandates of Ormuzd, and conveys up to him the souls of the righteous).

The third series, the Ferouers, are in number infinite. These are the Thoughts or "Ideas" conceived in the mind of Ormuzd before he proceeded to the creation of things. They are the protectors of mankind during this mortal life, and will purify their souls on the Day of the Resurrection.

The creation of these chiefs, with their angelic hosts, had become necessary. Ahriman, the Second-born of the Eternal One--like Ormuzd, an emanation from the Primal Light, and equally pure, but ambitious and full of pride--had become jealous of the Firstborn. On this account the Supreme Being condemned him to inhabit for twelve thousand years the space that is illumined by no ray of light--the black empire of Darkness. This interval will suffice to decide the struggle between Light and Darkness, between Good and Evil. Ahriman, in order to oppose his rival, created in his turn three series of evil spirits, corresponding in number, and antagonistic in office, to each one of the good, and, like them, male and female. The first series is that of the Arch-Devs, chained each one to his respective planet, and of whom the chief is Astomogt, "the two-footed Serpent of lies." These Devs are the authors of all evil, both physical and moral, throughout the universe.

Ormuzd, after a reign of three thousand years, then created

p. 31

the Animal World in six periods, creating first light--a faint image of the Light celestial--then water, earth, plants, beasts, and lastly, man. Ahriman had concurred in the creation of earth and water, for Darkness being already inherent in these two elements, Ormuzd was unable to exclude its nature from them.

Ormuzd had produced by his Word a being the type and source of universal life for all creation; this being was called Life, or the Bull (the same word in Zend stands for both). This creature Ahriman contrived to destroy, but out of its scattered seed Ormuzd, through the agency of the Amshaspand Saphandomad (Wisdom), formed the first human pair, Meschia and Meschiane. This couple Ahriman, by a bribe of fruits and milk, succeeded in corrupting, having gained over the female first. Then, to all the good animals made by Ormuzd, he opposed, by his own creation, as many mischievous and venomous ones. The struggle still goes on; the Power of Darkness often is the superior, but the pure souls are assisted and defended by the good genii, and will ultimately triumph. For when things shall seem at their worst, and Evil all-powerful in the creation, three prophets shall appear and restore the lost Light. One of these, Sosioch, shall regenerate the world and restore it to its pristine excellence. Then comes the general Resurrection, when the good shall immediately enter into this happy abode--the regenerated earth, and Ahriman, together with his angels and the wicked, be purified by immersion in a lake of molten metal, so as to render them fitting members of the new kingdom. Thenceforth all will enjoy unchangeable happiness, and, headed by Sosioch, ever sing the praises of the Eternal One.

The religion of Zoroaster was a reformed version of the ancient creed held by the inhabitants of Eritene in Bactria. For it is probable that the first gods of the Aryan race before it split into Indian and Zend, were the powers of Nature, Indra, thunder, Mithra, sunlight, Vayu, wind, Agni, fire, Armaiti, earth, Soma, intoxication. The worship of the last may have been the source of the Dionysia, introduced from India, as the Greeks themselves always asserted. These powers were called Ahuras and Devas indifferently; but Zoroaster reduced all these

p. 32

powers to the secondary rank of angels, and used the name Devas in a bad sense only. The Zoroastrian was the established religion of the Persians at the time when they conquered Assyria; and to a great extent it superseded the material idolatry of the Babylonians, whose gods Darius and Xerxes melted down without any scruple. But Matter is of opinion that the College of Magi, established long before the Persian conquest of Babylon, accepted the new religion upon the change of masters, retaining nothing of the old besides Astrology and Divination.

It must not be forgotten how large a portion of the Jewish captivity remained permanently in Assyria--only two tribes, Judah and Levi, having been sent back to Jerusalem by Cyrus; and Babylon long continued the seat of a most flourishing Rabbinical school, whilst Judea itself, down to the time of the Macedonian conquest, remained a province of the Persian Empire. How important a part of the Persian population at a much later period were either Jews, or under Jewish influence, appears from the very remarkable assertion of Josephus, "that his nation were encouraged to brave all extremities in their final struggle against the power of Rome by the confident expectation of aid from their brethren beyond the Euphrates." And three centuries later Ammianus notices that Julian's invading army came upon a city entirely inhabited by Jews in the very centre of Persia. After the captivity, the principal literary establishments of the Jews appear to have been seated in central Asia. The schools of Nahardea, of Sora, of Punbiditha, were at least as famous as the schools of Palestine (cf. Jos. Ant. xviii. 12). The latter even appear to have paid a sort of filial deference to these foundations: the Chaldee version of the Pentateuch, made by Onkelos of Babylon, was accepted as the authorised version by all the Jews living in Palestine; and the Rabbi Hillel, coming from that capital to Jerusalem, was received by the doctors of the Holy City as an ornament of the same national school, and this only a few years before the birth of Christ. From all these circumstances it is easy to perceive how much of the Zoroastrian element may have pervaded the Jewish religion at the time of the promulgation of Christianity, when its principal teachers

p. 33

were the Pharisees or "separatists," if, indeed, their doctors did not actually get their appellation from the word Pharsi, "Persian"--an etymology that has something to recommend it. These doctrines, as then taught, are set forth in the Kabbala, or "Traditions," so called from Kabbal, "to receive"--the main features of which shall be sketched in the following sections.

Next: The Kabbala and the Talmud