‘Tis the season to be jolly! From now until New Year’s Day, the merriment typically continues unabated.
Between the gift-giving and spiked eggnog, some folks set aside a few moments so the reason for the season can be considered. Chances are that Jesus Christ and, more generally, the Christian tradition enter the equation.
Wandering minds should instead focus on the Prophet Zoroaster and his religion. It is, after all, the grandfather of Christendom.
Zoroastrianism is perhaps the smallest major religion in America, but do not allow its, minuscule, numbers to fool you; big things indeed arrive in small packages. Without the, Zoroastrian creed, whose followers are called ‘Parsees’ throughout India, you can forget about the movements that gave way to Christmas trees and mistletoe.
Founded in Persia circa the sixth century BCE, Zoroastrianism is our world’s first known monotheistic belief system. It strongly influenced the original Abrahamic religion: Judaism.
“In Zoroastrian eschatology there is much which has become familiar from reading the Jewish and Christian testaments: heaven, hell, redemption, the promise of a Sashoyant (Messiah), the existence of an evil spirit...and ---- most striking of all ---- the prospect of a final battle for the salvation of man at ‘the end of time’,” The Guardian’s John Palmer wrote in 2010.
Zoroastrian theology considers humankind to be caught between the promise of Ahura Mazda -- a loving, peaceful god -- and the clutches of Angra Mainyu -- creation’s source of villainy.
Zoroaster scored a landmark in tolerance for ancient religions. Recognizing other theologies as perfectly valid so long as they upheld the inherent dignity of human beings, proselytizing was sternly forbidden and personal achievement made paramount.
Today, Zoroastrians are a dwindling community due to reproduction not being treated as a paramount theme. Being a good man or woman remains everything. At the same time, intermarriage is frowned upon. Parsees mandate that a child have two Zoroastrian parents. Otherwise, only patrilineal ancestry is needed. Even then, no exceptions are made for those without a Zoroastrian father.
Such strict rules mean that Zoroastrianism might, within a few centuries, vanish.
However, once upon a time -- that of Cyrus the Great, to be precise -- Zoroastrianism was the power player of Mideastern religiosity.
So powerful and benevolent was it that, if not for Zoroastrians, the Hebrews might have become extinct during their Babylonian captivity. Cyrus liberated them and Darius, who assumed the throne afterward, bankrolled their homecoming to Jerusalem, where his money provided for the Temple’s reconstruction.
Around this time, the Prophets Ezra and Nehemiah revamped ages-old Hebraic religious practices. They devised a more rigid, explicitly monotheistic doctrine. It comported, in several key respects, with the fundamentals of Zoroastrianism. The Prophet Isaiah took things a step further: He declared Cyrus a messianic figure ordained by no less than Yahweh.
The feverish, apoplectic claims of John in his Christian recruitment drive can be traced back to those world’s end visions laid out in the Dead Sea Scrolls. These scrolls, meanwhile, depict happenings which were inspired by Zoroastrian stories laying out the ultimate battle of good-versus-evil; a contest from which good -- namely God -- emerges victorious.
Just think of how little credit the Zoroastrians get for carrying on the tradition which gave rise to Judeo-Christianity! In all fairness, their size has become, minuscule, to the point that, finding them is a chore.
Eventually, Zoroastrian Persia was slashed and dashed by a warlike, yet conversion-friendly creed: Islam.,
A handful of Zoroastrians, who face discrimination beyond what most Americans can encompass, still stick it out in Iran -- formerly Persia. Many more sought refuge across India and have lived there since the tenth century. Some immigrated to the United States, where they enjoy high standards of living, tempered by scant opportunities for in-group marriage.
For a people who have persisted against all odds, hopefully a way will be found to pass the torch so future generations might be guided.
Meanwhile, let us all remember the true reason for Christmastime. Recede far enough into history and you will find not Jesus Christ, but Zoroaster.
Joseph Cotto is a historical and social journalist, and writes about politics, economics and social issues. Email him at email@example.com