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The defensibility of Zoroastrian dualism


Contemporary philosophical discussion of religion neglects dualistic religions: although Manichaeism from time to time is accorded mention, Zoroastrianism, a more plausible form of religious dualism, is almost entirely ignored. We seek to change this state of affairs. To this end we (1) present the basic tenets of Zoroastrian dualism, (2) argue that objections to the Zoroastrian conception of God are less strong than typically imagined, (3) argue that objections to the Zoroastrian conception of the devil (and evil) are less strong than typically imagined, and (4) offer some brief concluding thoughts.

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1. On this, see Yuri Stayonov The Other God: Dualist Religions from Antiquity to the Cathar Heresy (New Haven CT: Yale University Press, 2000), 28, 112–113; R. C. Zaehner The Teachings of the Magi: A Compendium of Zoroastrian Beliefs (New York NY: Oxford University Press, 1976), 53–54.

2. Zaehner Teachings of the Magi, 99–100; Peter Clark Zoroastrianism: An Introduction to an Ancient Faith (Brighton: Sussex Academic Press, 2001), 77–82; Dēnkard VI, trans. Shaul Shaked as The Wisdom of the Sassanian Sages (Boulder CO: Westview Press, 1979), 9 (text 16), 13 (texts 25, 26), 27 (texts 71, 72), 31 (text 79), 35 (texts 88, 89), 39 (texts 94, 97), 41 (texts 100, 102).

3. See The Hymns of Zarathustra; Being a Translation of the Gāthās Together with an Introduction and Commentary by Jacques Duchene-Guillemin, trans. from the French by M. Henning (Boston MA: Beacon Press, 1952), 105 (Yasna 30, stanza 6).

4. Scholars are divided on whether or not Zoroaster himself conceived of Angra Mainyu as an uncreated evil spirit or as a fallen angel.

5. R. C. Zaehner The Dawn and Twilight of Zoroastrianism (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1961; repr. London: Phoenix Press, 2002), 176–177.

6. Mary Boyce Zoroastrians: Their Religious Beliefs and Practices (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 2001), 134–135.

7. Idem Textual Sources for the Study of Zoroastrianism (Chicago IL: The University of Chicago Press, 1984), 3.

8. English translations by various authors of all extant portions of this vast work can be found at Shaul Shaked's more recent and reliable translation of book VI of this work is based on his own critical edition of the text (see n. 2).

9. Boyce Textual Sources, 4.

10. We have consulted both Zaehner's translations of key passages of this work (in Teachings of the Magi) and Boyce's translations (in Textual Sources).

11. Translated by E. W. West in Max Müller (ed.) The Sacred Books of the East, XVII (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1882; repr. Delhi: Matilal Banarsidass, 1965).

12. Translated by E. W. West in Max Müller (ed.) The Sacred Books of the East, XXIV (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1885; repr. Delhi: Matilal Banarsidass, 1965).

13. Ibid. West's translation of this text is also on the web at Portions of it have been translated by Zaehner (see Teachings of the Magi) and Boyce (see Textual Sources). M. N. Dhalla has well summarized some of its more powerful arguments; see idem Zoroastrian Theology from the Earliest Times to the Present Day (New York NY: AMS Press, 1972 [orig. 1914]), 247–254.

14. Zaehner's Dawn and Twilight devotes five long chapters to explicating the high theology of the Pahlavi texts in considerable detail. We have profited much from his careful, serious, and learned exposition of these texts. We are also very indebted to Shaul Shaked's exposition of certain aspects of the teachings in the texts, particularly with respect to the esoteric doctrine (of some of them) concerning the ‘nonexistence’ of Angra Mainyu. On this see his fascinating essay, ‘Some notes on Ahriman, the evil spirit, and his creation’, reprinted in a collection of his essays entitled From Zoroastrian Iran to Islam: Studies in Religious History and Intercultural Contacts (Aldershot: Ashgate, 1995). Finally, we have learned a great deal from Dhalla's exposition of the teachings of the Pahlavi texts, particularly since he was a learned Zoroastrian high priest as thoroughly acquainted with Western thought as the more celebrated Hindu thinkers, Dasgupta, Radhakrishnan, and Matilal were, and so offers to the Western mind an insider's view of the Zoroastrian faith.

15. See on this, Surandranath Dasgupta A History of Indian Philosophy, I (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1922; repr. Delhi: Matilal Banarsidass, 1975), 452–453.

16. On this, see On the Principles of Nature, Timothy McDermott (tr.), in Aquinas: Selected Philosophical Writings (New York NY: Oxford University Press, 1993), 70–71.

17. See Karl Barth Church Dogmatics, III, The Doctrine of Creation, G. W. Bromiley and R. J. Ehrlich (trs) (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1960), 520–531.

18. Ibid., 531.

19. Ibid., 520.

20. Boyce translation Textual Sources, 102.

21. Suarez Disputationes Metaphysicae, disputation 21, sec. 1, § 14, trans. Alfred J. Freddoso as On Creation, Conservation, and Concurrence (South Bend IN: St Augustine's Press, 2001), 116.

22. See on this De Veritate, q. 21, a. 2, trans. Robert S. Schmidt as Truth, III (Chicago IL: Henry Regnery, 1954), 10–11.

23. See on this, Aquinas Summa Theologiae, I–I, q. 48, a. 1.

24. See on this Eleonore Stump and Norman Kretzmann ‘Being and goodness’, in Scott MacDonald (ed.) Being and Goodness: The Concept of the Good in Metaphysics and Philosophical Theology (Ithaca NY: Cornell University Press, 1991), 110–111.

25. Richard Swinburne ‘A theodicy of heaven and hell’, in Alfred J. Freddoso (ed.) The Existence and Nature of God (Notre Dame IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1983).

26. For an excellent article on the problems posed by the existence of seemingly positive evils for the Augustinian doctrine that evil is a privation that has no efficient cause or essence, see Jorge J. E. Gracia ‘Evil and the transcendentality of goodness: Suarez's solution to the problem of positive evils’, in MacDonald Being and Goodness, 151–176.

27. See the Bundahishn, ch. 1, §6, in Zaehner Teachings of the Magi.

28. Shaked Zoroastrian Iran to Islam, ch. 3, 233.

29. Zaehner Dawn and Twilight, 315–326; Mānūśkihar, ch. 37, 112–116 in West Sacred Books, XVII.

30. See the injunction of the Sassanian Zoroastrian high priest Adhurbādh, ‘Do good simply because it is good. Goodness is a real good, since even evil men extol it’; Zaehner Teachings of the Magi, 113.

31. Clark Zoroastrianism, 30–31.

32. There is evidence that Zoroaster himself held this doctrine. See Yasna 30, stanza 5, 105 in Henning Hymns of Zarathustra.

33. Zoroastrianism's insistence that human beings must have libertarian freedom in order to have moral duties has been stressed by many scholars, e.g. Stayanov The Other God, 24; Zaehner Dawn and Twilight, 271–273.

34. Leibniz ‘A letter on freedom’, in G. H. R. Parkinson (ed.) Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz: Philosophical Writings (London: J. M. Dent & Sons, 1973), 112–114.

35. A perfectly good being is a being that essentially possesses all good-making qualities to the highest possible degree, and is incapable of losing any of these to any degree, or of acquiring bad-making properties. An essentially good being that is not perfectly good would not have all good-making properties to the highest degree, or would be capable of losing some of those properties, or of acquiring bad-making properties.

36. See Siskand-Gümānīk Vigār, in West Sacred Books, XXIV, ch. 7, sec. 124, 161–162, and ch. 11, sec. 177, 187–188.

37. See Siskand-Gümānīk Vigār, in West Sacred Books, XXIV, ch. 11, sec. 45, 177.

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