Zarathushtra (628-552 B.C.) founded Zoroastrianism, which was a prominent religious force and the official faith under the later Achaemenian Kings (465-331 B.C.) and during the Sassanian Empire (A.D. 224-641/2) in Persia. The conquest of Persia by the forces of Islam (A.D. 637-42) marked the end of Zoroastrianism as a major religion. Zarathushtra was born in the Persian city of Rhages to a noble family of modest means. He is best known for his teachings concerning the doctrine of dualism and the extistence of one supreme being, Ahura Mazda.
"Dualism" refers to the two spiritual sons of Ahura Mazda, the "Wise Lord" and "Ahriman," corresponding to the forces of good and evil, respectively. These two spirits are in constant contention throughout the universe. According to Zarathushtra, the great challenge facing each person is to choose one of the other as master. Zarathushtra prophesied that at the end of time, the Wise Lord would triumph and Ahura Mazda would admit all those who followed him into a realm of everlasting joy. The defeated followers of evil would be punished for their deeds in everlasting misery. These ideas would influence later debates in Judaism and Christianity about the nature of free will in a divinely ordered universe. The Judeo-Christian notion of hell, for instance, is Zoroastrian in origin. The idea that souls will be judged (and rewarded or punished accordingly) on the morality of their life seems to have been incorporated into the Jewish religion sometime between 400 and 300 B.C.
Dualism continues to be a popular explanation for the existence of evil throughout the world. Among Christians it has appeared in the form of Manichaeanism and the teachings of the Bogomils and the Albigensians (Cathari). Saint Augustine (A.D. 354-430), for instance, opposed the Manichaeans becasue he believed the notion of dualism denied human responsibility for original sin.
The biographical material about the author originally appeared on The Goodrich Room: Interactive Tour website.
Last modified April 13, 2016