Zurvanism

Zurvanism

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Zurvanism is a now-extinct branch of Zoroastrianism
Zoroastrianism
Zoroastrianism is a religion and philosophy based on the teachings of prophet Zoroaster and was formerly among the world's largest religions. It was probably founded some time before the 6th century BCE in Greater Iran.In Zoroastrianism, the Creator Ahura Mazda is all good, and no evil...

 that had the divinity Zurvan as its First Principle (primordial creator deity). Zurvanism is also known as Zurvanite Zoroastrianism.

In Zurvanism, Zurvan is the god of infinite time (and space) and is aka (“one", "alone”) deity of matter. Zurvan is the parent of the two opposites representing the good god Ahura Mazda
Ahura Mazda
Ahura Mazdā is the Avestan name for a divinity of the Old Iranian religion who was proclaimed the uncreated God by Zoroaster, the founder of Zoroastrianism...

 and the evil Angra Mainyu
Angra Mainyu
Angra Mainyu is the Avestan-language name of Zoroastrianism's hypostasis of the "destructive spirit". The Middle Persian equivalent is Ahriman.-In Zoroaster's revelation:...

. Zurvan is regarded as a neutral god; being without gender (neuter), passion, one whom there is no distinction between good or evil. Zurvan is also the god of destiny, light and darkness. Zurvan is a normalized rendition of the word, which in Middle Persian
Middle Persian
Middle Persian , indigenously known as "Pârsig" sometimes referred to as Pahlavi or Pehlevi, is the Middle Iranian language/ethnolect of Southwestern Iran that during Sassanid times became a prestige dialect and so came to be spoken in other regions as well. Middle Persian is classified as a...

 appears as either Zurvān, Zruvān or Zarvān. The Middle Persian name derives from Avestan zruvan-, "time" or "old age".

Zurvanites considered Ahura Mazda and Spenta Mainyu one of two equal-but-separate divinities under the primacy of Zurvan. The central Zurvanite belief made Ahura Mazda the middle god and Angra Mainyu the fallen twin brother.

Mazdeans consider the divinity of Ahura Mazda the transcendental creator. Their central belief makes Ahura Mazda the supreme god and Spenta Mainyu and Angra Mainyu twin brothers.

Origins and background


Although the details of the origin and development of Zurvanism remain murky (for a summary of the three opposing opinions, see
Ascent and acceptance below), it is generally accepted that Zurvanism was a branch of greater Zoroastrianism
Zoroastrianism
Zoroastrianism is a religion and philosophy based on the teachings of prophet Zoroaster and was formerly among the world's largest religions. It was probably founded some time before the 6th century BCE in Greater Iran.In Zoroastrianism, the Creator Ahura Mazda is all good, and no evil...

 (Boyce 1957:157-304); that the doctrine of Zurvan was a sacerdotal response to resolve a perceived inconsistency in the sacred texts (Zaehner, 1955, intro; See development of the "twin brother" doctrine below); and that this doctrine was probably introduced during the second half of the Achaemenid era (Henning, 1951; loc. Cit. Boyce 1957:157-304).

Zurvanism enjoyed royal sanction during the Sassanid era (226-651 CE) but no traces of it remain beyond the 10th century. Although Sassanid era Zurvanism was certainly influenced by Hellenic philosophy, whether Zoroastrian Zurvan was an adaptation of an antecedent or alien divinity of Time (Greek Chronos
Chronos
In Greek mythology, Chronos in pre-Socratic philosophical works is said to be the personification of time. His name in Greek means "time" and is alternatively spelled Chronus or Khronos.Chronos was imagined as an incorporeal god, serpentine in form, with three heads—those of a man, a bull, and...

) has not been conclusively established.

Non-Zoroastrian accounts of typically Zurvanite beliefs were the first traces of Zoroastrianism to reach the west, leading European scholars to conclude that Zoroastrianism was a monist
Monism
Monism is any philosophical view which holds that there is unity in a given field of inquiry. Accordingly, some philosophers may hold that the universe is one rather than dualistic or pluralistic...

 religion, an issue of much controversy among both scholars and contemporary practitioners of the faith.

Iranian Zurvan is related to the Sanskrit word Sarva
Sarva
Sarva can refer to:* ', a Sanskrit word meaning all or everything and whole, complete.* ', meaning "archer", an epithet of the Vedic deity Rudra, and subsequently of the Hindu deity Shiva....

 and carries a similar semantic field in describing monistic deity.

Evidence of the cult


The earliest evidence of the cult of Zurvan is found in the History of Theology, attributed to Eudemus of Rhodes
Eudemus of Rhodes
Eudemus of Rhodes was an ancient Greek philosopher, and first historian of science who lived from ca. 370 BC until ca. 300 BC. He was one of Aristotle's most important pupils, editing his teacher's work and making it more easily accessible...

 (c. 370-300 BCE). As cited in Damascius
Damascius
Damascius , known as "the last of the Neoplatonists," was the last scholarch of the School of Athens. He was one of the pagan philosophers persecuted by Justinian in the early 6th century, and was forced for a time to seek refuge in the Persian court, before being allowed back into the empire...

's Difficulties and Solutions of First Principles (6th c. CE), Eudemus describes a sect of the Persians that considered Space/Time to be the primordial "father" of the rivals Oromasdes of Light and Arimanius of Darkness (Dhalla, 1932:331-332).

Most of what is known of Zurvanism during the Sassanid period is from contemporaneous Christian Armenian
Armenian language
The Armenian language is an Indo-European language spoken by the Armenian people. It is the official language of the Republic of Armenia as well as in the region of Nagorno-Karabakh. The language is also widely spoken by Armenian communities in the Armenian diaspora...

 and Syriac
Syriac language
Syriac is a dialect of Middle Aramaic that was once spoken across much of the Fertile Crescent. Having first appeared as a script in the 1st century AD after being spoken as an unwritten language for five centuries, Classical Syriac became a major literary language throughout the Middle East from...

 sources. The Kartir
Kartir
Kartir Hangirpe was a highly influential Zoroastrian high-priest of the late 3rd century CE and served as advisor to at least three Sassanid emperors....

 inscription at Ka'ba-i Zartosht and the edict of Mihr-Narse are the only contemporaneous native sources that reveal anything about Zurvanism, the latter being the only native evidence from that period that is frankly Zurvanite. The few other Persian language
Persian language
Persian is an Iranian language within the Indo-Iranian branch of the Indo-European languages. It is primarily spoken in Iran, Afghanistan, Tajikistan and countries which historically came under Persian influence...

 commentaries on the religion of the Sassanid period were all composed after the fall of the empire.

While the Armenian and Syriac sources depict the religion of the Sassanids as having been distinctly Zurvanite, the later native commentaries are primarily Mazdean and with only one exception (10th c. Denkard 9.30) do not mention Zurvan at all. Of the remaining so-called Pahlavi texts only two, the Mēnōg-i Khrad and the "Selections of Zatspram" (both 9th c.) reveal a Zurvanite tendency. The latter is considered to be the latest Zoroastrian text that provides any evidence of the cult of Zurvan. The foreign accounts of the Zurvanite father-of-twins doctrine is substantiated by only a single Persian language
Persian language
Persian is an Iranian language within the Indo-Iranian branch of the Indo-European languages. It is primarily spoken in Iran, Afghanistan, Tajikistan and countries which historically came under Persian influence...

 source, the Ulema-i Islam ("Doctors of Islam", 13th c.), that, notwithstanding the title, is evidently by a Zoroastrian.

There is no hint of any worship of Zurvan in any of the texts of the Avesta
Avesta
The Avesta is the primary collection of sacred texts of Zoroastrianism, composed in the Avestan language.-Early transmission:The texts of the Avesta — which are all in the Avestan language — were composed over the course of several hundred years. The most important portion, the Gathas,...

, even though the texts (as they exist today) are the result of a Sassanid era redaction. Zaehner proposes that this is because the individual Sassanid monarchs were not always Zurvanite and that Mazdean Zoroastrianism just happened to have the upper hand during the crucial period that the canon was finally written down (Zaehner, 1955:48; Duchesne-Guillemin, 1956:108). In the texts composed prior to the Sassanid period, Zurvan appears twice, as both an abstract concept and as a minor divinity, but there is no evidence of a cult. In Yasna
Yasna
Yasna is the name of the primary liturgical collection of texts of the Avesta as well as the name of the principal Zoroastrian act of worship at which those verses are recited. The Yasna, or Izeshne, is primarily the name of the ceremony in which the entire book is recited and appropriate...

72.10 Zurvan is invoked in the company of Space and Air (Vata-Vayu) and in Yasht 13.56, the plants grow in the manner Time has ordained according to the will of Ahura Mazda
Ahura Mazda
Ahura Mazdā is the Avestan name for a divinity of the Old Iranian religion who was proclaimed the uncreated God by Zoroaster, the founder of Zoroastrianism...

 and the Amesha Spenta
Amesha Spenta
' is an Avestan language term for a class of divine entities in Zoroastrianism, and literally means "Bounteous Immortal" The noun is amesha "immortal", and spenta "furthering, strengthening, bounteous, holy" is an adjective of it...

s. Two other references to Zurvan are also present in the Vendidad, but although these are late additions to the canon, they again do not establish any evidence of a cult. Zurvan does not appear in any listing of the Yazata
Yazata
Yazata is the Avestan language word for a Zoroastrian concept. The word has a wide range of meanings but generally signifies a divinity...

s (Dhalla, 1932).

Ascent and acceptance


The origins of the cult of Zurvan remain debated. One view (Zaehner, 1939; Duchesne-Guillemin, 1956; Zaehner 1955, intro) considers Zurvanism to have developed out of Zoroastrianism as a reaction to the liberalization of the late Achaemenid era form of the faith. Another opinion (Nyberg, 1931; Zaehner 1955, conclusion) proposes that Zurvan existed as a pre-Zoroastrian divinity that was incorporated into Zoroastrianism. The third view (Cumont and Schaeder; reiterated by Henning, 1951; Boyce 1957) is that Zurvanism is the product of the contact between Zoroastrianism and Babylonian/Byzantine religions (for a summary of opposing views see Boyce, 1957:304).

Certain however is that by the Sassanid
Sassanid Empire
The Sassanid Empire , known to its inhabitants as Ērānshahr and Ērān in Middle Persian and resulting in the New Persian terms Iranshahr and Iran , was the last pre-Islamic Persian Empire, ruled by the Sasanian Dynasty from 224 to 651...

 era (226–651 CE), the divinity "Infinite Time" was well established and enjoyed royal patronage. It was during the reign of Sassanid Emperor Shapur I
Shapur I
Shapur I or also known as Shapur I the Great was the second Sassanid King of the Second Persian Empire. The dates of his reign are commonly given as 240/42 - 270/72, but it is likely that he also reigned as co-regent prior to his father's death in 242 .-Early years:Shapur was the son of Ardashir I...

 (241-272) that Zurvanism appears to have developed as a cult and it was presumably in this period that Greek and Indic concepts were introduced to Zurvanite Zoroastrianism.

It is however not known whether Sassanid era Zurvanism and Mazdaism were separate sects, each with their own organization and priesthood, or simply two tendencies within the same body. That Mazdaism and Zurvanism competed for attention can been inferred from the works of Christian
Christian
A Christian is a person who adheres to Christianity, an Abrahamic, monotheistic religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth as recorded in the Canonical gospels and the letters of the New Testament...

 and Manichean polemicists, but the doctrinal incompatibilities were not so extreme "that they could not be reconciled under the broad aegis of an imperial church" (Boyce, 1957:308).

Decline and disappearance



Following the fall of the Sassanid Empire in the 7th century, Zoroastrianism was gradually supplanted by Islam. The former continued to exist but in an increasingly decimated state and the remaining Zoroastrians appear to have gradually returned to the Mazdean doctrine prescribed by Zoroaster in the Gathas
Gathas
The Gathas are 17 hymns believed to have been composed by Zarathusthra himself. They are the most sacred texts of the Zoroastrian faith.-Structure and organization:...

 (see also legacy, below). By the 10th century, Zurvanism had ceased to exist, leaving Mazdaism the sole remaining form of Zoroastrianism.

Why the cult of Zurvan vanished (while Mazdaism did not) remains again an issue of scholarly debate. Arthur Christensen, one of the first proponents of the theory that Zurvanism was the state religion of the Sassanids, suggested that the rejection of Zurvanism in the post-conquest epoch was a response and reaction to the new authority of Islamic monotheism that brought about a deliberate reform of Zoroastrianism that aimed to establish a stronger orthodoxy (Boyce, 1957:305). Zaehner is of the opinion that the Zurvanite priesthood had a "strict orthodoxy which few could tolerate. Moreover, they interpreted the Prophet's message so dualistically that their God was made to appear very much less than all-powerful and all-wise. Reasonable as so absolute a dualism might appear from a purely intellectual point of view, it had neither the appeal of a real monotheism nor had it any mystical element with which to nourish its inner life." (Zaehner, 1961)

Another possible explanation postulated by Boyce (1957:308-309) is that Mazdaism and Zurvanism were divided regionally, that is, with Mazdaism being the predominant tendency in the regions to the north and east (Bactria
Bactria
Bactria and also appears in the Zend Avesta as Bukhdi. It is the ancient name of a historical region located between south of the Amu Darya and west of the Indus River...

, Margiana, and other satrapies closest to Zoroaster's homeland), while Zurvanism was prominent in regions to the south and west (closer to Babylonian and Greek influence). This is supported by Manichean evidence that indicates that 3rd century Mazdean Zoroastrianism had its stronghold in Parthia
Parthia
Parthia is a region of north-eastern Iran, best known for having been the political and cultural base of the Arsacid dynasty, rulers of the Parthian Empire....

, to the northeast. Following the fall of the Persian Empire, the south and west were relatively quickly assimilated under the banner of Islam, while the north and east remained independent for some time before these regions too were absorbed. (Boyce, 1957:308-309). This could also explain why Armenian/Syriac observations reveal a distinctly Zurvanite Zoroastrianism, and inversely, could explain the strong Greek
Byzantine Empire
The Byzantine Empire was the Eastern Roman Empire during the periods of Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages, centred on the capital of Constantinople. Known simply as the Roman Empire or Romania to its inhabitants and neighbours, the Empire was the direct continuation of the Ancient Roman State...

 and Babylon
Babylon
Babylon was an Akkadian city-state of ancient Mesopotamia, the remains of which are found in present-day Al Hillah, Babil Province, Iraq, about 85 kilometers south of Baghdad...

ian influence on Zurvanism (see types of Zurvanism, below).

The "twin brother" doctrine


"Classical Zurvanism" is the term coined by Zaehner (1955, intro) to denote the movement to explain the inconsistency of Zoroaster's description of the 'twin spirits' as they appear in Yasna 30.3-5 of the Avesta. According to Zaehner, this "Zurvanism proper" was "genuinely Iranian and Zoroastrian in that it sought to clarify the enigma of the twin spirits that Zoroaster left unsolved." (Zaehner, 1961)

As the priesthood sought to explain it, if the Malevolent Spirit (lit: Angra Mainyu
Angra Mainyu
Angra Mainyu is the Avestan-language name of Zoroastrianism's hypostasis of the "destructive spirit". The Middle Persian equivalent is Ahriman.-In Zoroaster's revelation:...

) and the Benevolent Spirit (Spenta Mainyu, identified with Ahura Mazda
Ahura Mazda
Ahura Mazdā is the Avestan name for a divinity of the Old Iranian religion who was proclaimed the uncreated God by Zoroaster, the founder of Zoroastrianism...

) were twins, then they must have had a "father", who must have existed before them. The priesthood settled on Zurvan - the hypostasis of (Infinite) Time - as being "the only possible 'Absolute' from whom the twins could proceed" and which was the source of good in the one and the source of evil in the other (Zaehner, 1961).

The Zurvanite "twin brother" doctrine is also evident in Zurvanism's cosmogonical creation myth, that in its "classic" form, does not contradict the Mazdean model of the origin and evolution of the universe, which begins where the Zurvanite model ends. It may well be (as proposed by Cumont and Schaeder) that the Zurvanite cosmogony
Cosmogony
Cosmogony, or cosmogeny, is any scientific theory concerning the coming into existence or origin of the universe, or about how reality came to be. The word comes from the Greek κοσμογονία , from κόσμος "cosmos, the world", and the root of γίνομαι / γέγονα "to be born, come about"...

 was an adaptation of an antecedent Hellenic Chronos
Chronos
In Greek mythology, Chronos in pre-Socratic philosophical works is said to be the personification of time. His name in Greek means "time" and is alternatively spelled Chronus or Khronos.Chronos was imagined as an incorporeal god, serpentine in form, with three heads—those of a man, a bull, and...

 cosmogony that portrayed Infinite Time as the "Father of Time" (not to be confused with Cronus, a Titan and father of Zeus
Zeus
In the ancient Greek religion, Zeus was the "Father of Gods and men" who ruled the Olympians of Mount Olympus as a father ruled the family. He was the god of sky and thunder in Greek mythology. His Roman counterpart is Jupiter and his Etruscan counterpart is Tinia.Zeus was the child of Cronus...

) whom the Greeks equated with Oromasdes, i.e. Ohrmuzd/Ahura Mazda.

The "classic" Zurvanite model of creation, preserved only by non-Zoroastrian sources, proceeds as follows: In the beginning, the great God Zurvan existed alone. Desiring offspring that would create 'heaven and hell and everything in between,' Zurvan sacrificed for a thousand years. Towards the end of this period, androgyne Zurvan began to doubt the efficacy of sacrifice and in the moment of this doubt Ohrmuzd and Ahriman were conceived: Ohrmuzd for the sacrifice and Ahriman for the doubt. Upon realizing that twins were to be born, Zurvan resolved to grant the first-born sovereignty over creation. Ohrmuzd perceived Zurvan's decision, which He then communicated to His brother. Ahriman then preempted Ohrmuzd by ripping open the womb to emerge first. Reminded of the resolution to grant Ahriman sovereignty, Zurvan conceded, but limited kingship to a period of 9000 years, after which Ohrmuzd would rule for all eternity (Zaehner, 1955:419-428).

Christian and Manichean missionaries considered this doctrine to be exemplary of the Zoroastrian faith and it was these and similar texts that first reached the west. Corroborated by Anquetil-Duperron's "erroneous rendering" of Vendidad 19.9, these led to the late 18th century conclusion that Infinite Time was the first Principle of Zoroastrianism and Ohrmuzd was therefore only "the derivative and secondary character." Ironically, the fact that no Zoroastrian texts contained any hint of the born-of-Zurvan doctrine was considered to be evidence of a latter-day corruption of the original principles. The opinion that Zoroastrianism was so severely dualistic that it was, in fact, ditheistic or even tritheistic would be widely held until the late 19th century (Dhalla, 1932:490-492; cf. Boyce, 2002:687).

Zurvan's relatives (in other myths)


Most of the myths are believed Zurvan had a mother, An Naar, the lady of flames. He also loved a Hindu Goddess, Parvati. After Zurvan was born, An Naar died from giving birth.

Types of Zurvanism


According to Zaehner, the doctrine of the cult of Zurvan appears to have three schools of thought, each to a different degree influenced by alien philosophies: "materialist" Zurvanism, "aesthetic" Zurvanism and "fatalistic" Zurvanism. All three have "classical" Zurvanism as their foundation.

Aesthetic Zurvanism


Aesthetic Zurvanism, which was apparently not as popular as the materialistic kind, viewed Zurvan as undifferentiated Time, which, under the influence of desire, divided into reason (a male principle) and concupiscence (a female principle).

According to Duchesne-Guillemin, this division is "redolent of Gnosticism or – still better – of Indian cosmology." The parallels between Zurvan and Prajapati of Rig Veda 10.129 had been taken by Widengren to be evidence of a proto-Indo-Iranian Zurvan, but these arguments have since been dismissed (Duchesne-Guillemin, 1956). Nonetheless, there is a semblance of Zurvanite elements in Vedic texts, and as Zaehner puts it "Time, for the Indians, is the raw material, the material prima of all contingent being."

Materialist Zurvanism


Materialist Zurvanism was influenced by the Aristotelian
Aristotle
Aristotle was a Greek philosopher and polymath, a student of Plato and teacher of Alexander the Great. His writings cover many subjects, including physics, metaphysics, poetry, theater, music, logic, rhetoric, linguistics, politics, government, ethics, biology, and zoology...

 and Empedoclean
Empedocles
Empedocles was a Greek pre-Socratic philosopher and a citizen of Agrigentum, a Greek city in Sicily. Empedocles' philosophy is best known for being the originator of the cosmogenic theory of the four Classical elements...

 view of "matter", and took "some very queer forms" (Zaehner, 1961).

While Zoroaster's Ormuzd created the universe with his thought, materialist Zurvanism challenged the concept that anything could be made out of nothing. This was a patently alien idea, discarding core Zoroastrian tenets in favor of the position that the spiritual world (including heaven and hell, reward and punishment) did not exist.

While the fundamental division of the material and spiritual was not altogether foreign to the Avesta
Avesta
The Avesta is the primary collection of sacred texts of Zoroastrianism, composed in the Avestan language.-Early transmission:The texts of the Avesta — which are all in the Avestan language — were composed over the course of several hundred years. The most important portion, the Gathas,...

 (Geti and Mainyu, middle Persian: menog, are terms in Mazdaist tradition, where Ahura Mazda is said to have created all first in its spiritual, then later in its material form), the material Zurvanites redefined menog to suit Aristotelian principles to mean that which did not (yet) have matter, or alternatively, that which was still the unformed primal matter. Even this is not necessarily a violation of orthodox Zoroastrian tradition since the divinity Vayu is present in the middle space between Ormuzd and Ahriman, the void separating the kingdoms of light and darkness.

Fatalistic Zurvanism


The doctrine of limited time (as allotted to Ahriman by Zurvan) implied that nothing could change this preordained course of the material universe, and the path of the astral bodies of the 'heavenly sphere' was representative of this preordained course. It followed that human destiny must then be decided by the constellations, stars and planets, who were divided between the good (the signs of the Zodiac) and the evil (the planets). "Ohrmazd allotted happiness to man, but if man did not receive it, it was owing to the extortion of these planets" (Menog-i Khirad 38.4-5). Fatalistic Zurvanism was evidently influenced by Chaldea
Chaldea
Chaldea or Chaldaea , from Greek , Chaldaia; Akkadian ; Hebrew כשדים, Kaśdim; Aramaic: ܟܐܠܕܘ, Kaldo) was a marshy land located in modern-day southern Iraq which came to briefly rule Babylon...

n astrology and perhaps also by Aristotle's theory of chance and fortune. The fact that Armenian and Syriac commentators translated "Zurvan" as "Fate" is highly suggestive.

Mistaken Identity


In his first manuscript of his book 'Zurvan', R C Zaehner incorrectly identified the Mithraic lion-headed deity with the representation of Zurvan. He later admits at the proof stage that this was a "positive mistake"; the lion-headed deity being a representation of the evil being deus Ahreimanius or Ahriman (Zaehner, 1972). However, this has not stopped the fallacy, which Zaehner attributes to Franz Cumont
Franz Cumont
Franz-Valéry-Marie Cumont was a Belgian archaeologist and historian, a philologist and student of epigraphy, who brought these often isolated specialties to bear on the syncretic mystery religions of Late Antiquity, notably Mithraism. Cumont was a graduate of the University of Ghent...

, proliferating on various websites.

The legacy of Zurvanism


No evidence of typically Zurvanite rituals or practices have been discovered and followers of the cult are widely believed to have had the same rituals and practices as Mazdean Zoroastrians did. This would have been acceptable to both factions since the fundamental Zurvanite doctrine of the twins did not preclude the worship of Ohrmuzd as the Creator (of all but Zurvan and Ahriman). Inversely, no obviously Zurvanite elements appear to have survived in modern Zoroastrianism.

From the point of view of modern Zoroastrianism (which is today synonymous with Mazdaism), the cult of Zurvan is a dilemma that many would wish didn't exist. While the cult of Zurvan has no legacy that could not have reached modern Zoroastrianism by other means, the sheer force of Zurvanism's overt dualism still finds an echo in western scholarship. The incompatibility of Zurvanite dualism with the strongly monotheistic modern Zoroastrianism has left present-day Zoroastrians with the option of either ignoring that Zurvanism ever existed or that its precepts were downright heretical.
One such sacrilege is considered to be the Zurvanite interpretation of Yasna 30.3-5, which gives Zurvanism its "twin brother" (born of Zurvan) doctrine. It revokes Zoroaster's own characterization of Ahura Mazda
Ahura Mazda
Ahura Mazdā is the Avestan name for a divinity of the Old Iranian religion who was proclaimed the uncreated God by Zoroaster, the founder of Zoroastrianism...

 as the one uncreated God (Yasna 45.2) and the omniscient Creator of all (Yasna 44.7). Zoroaster's doctrine of an uncreated God is also evident in Yasna 30.3, in the same passage that is the exogenesis of the "twin brother" principle.
The pessimism evident in Zurvanite fatalism is a stark contradiction of essentially optimistic Mazdaism and is a direct violation of what is perhaps Zoroaster's greatest contribution to religious philosophy: the concept of a free will
Free will
"To make my own decisions whether I am successful or not due to uncontrollable forces" -Troy MorrisonA pragmatic definition of free willFree will is the ability of agents to make choices free from certain kinds of constraints. The existence of free will and its exact nature and definition have long...

. In Yasna 45.9, Ahura Mazda "has left to men's wills" to choose between doing good and doing evil. By leaving destiny in the hands of fate, the cult of Zurvan distanced itself from the most sacred of Zoroastrian tenets: that of the efficacy of good thoughts, good words and good deeds.

That the Zurvanite view of creation was an apostasy even for medieval Zoroastrians is apparent from the 10th century Denkard
Denkard
The Dēnkard or Dēnkart is a 10th century compendium of the Mazdaen Zoroastrian beliefs and customs. The Denkard is to a great extent an "Encyclopedia of Mazdaism" and is a most valuable source of information on the religion...

, which in a commentary on Yasna 30.3-5 turns what the Zurvanites considered the words of the prophet into Zoroaster recalling "a proclamation of the Demon of Envy to mankind that Ohrmuzd and Ahriman were two in one womb." (Denkard 9.30.4). Zaehner considers this passage of the Denkard to be an ingenious misinterpretation of Yasna 30.

That Zurvanism is altogether considered the heresy is however remarkable since the strict dualism that was implicit to the cult was more in line with the dualism alluded to in Zoroaster's own Gathas
Gathas
The Gathas are 17 hymns believed to have been composed by Zarathusthra himself. They are the most sacred texts of the Zoroastrian faith.-Structure and organization:...

 than with the polytheistic rationalizations of natural phenomena that Zoroastrianism had almost become by the end of the Achaemenid period. The fundamental goal of "classical Zurvanism" to bring the doctrine of the "twin spirits" in accord with what was otherwise understood of Zoroaster's teaching may have been excessive, but (according to Zaehner) it was not altogether misguided. In noting the emergence of an overtly dualistic doctrine during the Sassanid period, Zaehner (1961) asserted that
[there must] have been a party within the Zoroastrian community which regarded the strict dualism between Truth and the Lie, the Holy Spirit and the Destructive Spirit, as being the essence of the Prophet's message. Otherwise the re-emergence of this strictly dualist form of Zoroastrianism some six centuries after the collapse of the Achaemenian Empire could not be readily explained. There must have been a zealous minority that busied itself with defining what they considered the Prophet's true message to be; there must have been an 'orthodox' party within the 'Church'. This minority, concerned now with theology no less than with ritual, would be found among the Magi, and it is, in fact, to the Magi that Aristotle and other early Greek writers attribute the fully dualist doctrine of two independent principles - Oromasdes and Areimanios. Further, the founder of the Magian order was now said to be Zoroaster himself. The fall of the Achaemenian Empire, however, must have been disastrous for the Zoroastrian religion, and the fact that the Magi were able to retain as much as they did and restore it in a form that was not too strikingly different from the Prophet's original message after the lapse of some 600 years proves their devotion to his memory. It is, indeed, true to say that the Zoroastrian orthodoxy of the Sassanian period is nearer to the spirit of Zoroaster than is the thinly disguised polytheism of the Yashts.


Thus, - according to Zaehner - while the direction that the Sassanids took was not altogether at odds with the spirit of the Gathas, the extreme dualism that accompanied a divinity that was remote and inaccessible made the faith less than attractive. Zurvanism was then truly heretical only in the sense that it weakened the appeal of Zoroastrianism.

Nonetheless, that Zurvanism was the predominant brand of Zoroastrianism during the cataclysmic years just prior to the fall of the empire, is, according to Duchesne-Guillemin, evident in the degree of influence that Zurvanism (but not Mazdaism) would have on the Iranian brand of Shi'a Islam
Shi'a Islam
Shia Islam is the second largest denomination of Islam. The followers of Shia Islam are called Shi'ites or Shias. "Shia" is the short form of the historic phrase Shīʻatu ʻAlī , meaning "followers of Ali", "faction of Ali", or "party of Ali".Like other schools of thought in Islam, Shia Islam is...

. Writing in the historical present, he notes that "under Chosrau II
Khosrau II
250px|thumb|Khosrau II 250px|thumb|Khosrau II 250px|thumb|Khosrau II (Khosrow II, Chosroes II, or Xosrov II in classical sources, sometimes called Parvez, "the Ever Victorious" – (in Persian: خسرو پرویز), was the twenty-second Sassanid King of Persia, reigning from 590 to 628...

 (r. 590-628) and his successors, all kinds of superstitions tend to overwhelm the Mazdean religion, which gradually disintegrates, thus preparing the triumph of Islam." Thus, "what will survive in popular conscience under the Muslim varnish is not Mazdeism: it is Zervanite fatalism, well attested in Persian literature" (Duchesne-Guillemin, 1956:109). This is also a thought expressed by Zaehner, who observes that Ferdowsi
Ferdowsi
Ferdowsi was a highly revered Persian poet. He was the author of the Shahnameh, the national epic of Iran and related societies.The Shahnameh was originally composed by Ferdowsi for the princes of the Samanid dynasty, who were responsible for a revival of Persian cultural traditions after the...

, in his Shahnameh
Shahnameh
The Shahnameh or Shah-nama is a long epic poem written by the Persian poet Ferdowsi between c.977 and 1010 AD and is the national epic of Iran and related societies...

, "expounds views which seem to be an epitome of popular Zervanite doctrine" (Zaehner, 1955:241). Thus, according to Zaehner and Duchesne-Guillemin, Zurvanism's pessimistic fatalism was a formative influence on the Iranian psyche, paving the way (as it were) for the rapid adoption of Shi'a philosophy during the Safavid
Safavid dynasty
The Safavid dynasty was one of the most significant ruling dynasties of Iran. They ruled one of the greatest Persian empires since the Muslim conquest of Persia and established the Twelver school of Shi'a Islam as the official religion of their empire, marking one of the most important turning...

 era.
According to Zaehner and Shaki, in Middle Persian texts of the 9th century, Dahri (from Ar.-Persian dahr, time, eternity) is the appellative term for adherents of the Zurvanite doctrine that the universe derived from Infinite Time. The later Persian and Arabic literature, the term would come to be a derogatory term for 'atheist' or 'materialist'. The term also appears - in conjunction with other terms for skeptics – in Denkard 3.225 and in the Skand-gumanig wizar where "one who says god is not, who are called dahari, and consider themselves to be delivered from religious discipline and the toil of performing meritorious deeds" (Shaki, 2002:587-588).

Further reading

  • Yasna 30 translated by Christian Bartholomae. In
  • The 'Ulema-i Islam. In
  • The Selections of 'Zadspram' as translated by Edward William West
    Edward William West
    Edward William West , usually styled E. W. West, was a scholarly English engineer, orientalist, and translator of Zoroastrian texts. He was educated at King's College London. He prepared five volumes of Pahlavi texts for Prof. Max Müller's monumental Sacred Books of the East series, published from...

    . In
  • Denkard 9.30 as translated by Edward William West
    Edward William West
    Edward William West , usually styled E. W. West, was a scholarly English engineer, orientalist, and translator of Zoroastrian texts. He was educated at King's College London. He prepared five volumes of Pahlavi texts for Prof. Max Müller's monumental Sacred Books of the East series, published from...

    . In
  • The Kartir Inscription as translated by David Niel MacKenzie. In