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From a review by Peter Brown in the New York Review of Books of “The Nativist Prophets of Early Islamic Iran: Rural Revolt and Local Zoroastrianism” by Patricia Crone (Cambridge University Press):

…As [Crone] presents it, Zoroastrianism as practiced preserved one basic principle: the world was good. It was good because it was suffused with an energy of light that was a direct continuation of the energy of God himself. As Crone puts it with memorable crispness: to Zoroastrians, the light of the sun and of the holy fires that they worshiped was not a symbol—it was a sample. It was a living piece of God. A world permeated with so precious a substance had to be kept pure. The safety of a divine order, fully present in the here and now, was at stake in every aspect of nature and of human society.

This amounted to a call to action. A Zoroastrian was a militant for the right order of things. Given the ravages of a constant, opposing force of evil, the order of things had to be defended and restored by means of constant efforts of reform. The world demanded not flight but perpetual vigilance, even social engineering. Only in this way would creation recover its original, undamaged radiance. It would shine again like gold, “excellent, without decay.”

And the Zoroastrians of the villages had no doubt as to how this radiance would be restored—by community of property combined with equal access to women. To outside observers, Christian or Muslim, this seemed either hilarious or obscene: “abstemious wife-sharing is always reported as if it were a merry free-for-all.” But this was not how the villagers saw it. What mattered for them was how to keep together the precious deposit of family land. For family land to break up; for each portion to follow a separate household; worse than that, for these portions to be irrevocably lost to outsiders, through the violence of the powerful and the pressure of agrarian debt: this was the sure way to impoverishment and the death of the village. Polyandrous marriage was the solution. For the Zoroastrians of the village, only a community of women could maintain the divine integrity of the land.

In reflecting on these topics, many Zoroastrians proved themselves to be far from boneheads. They examined the origins of private property with considerable moral rigor. They claimed that private property had been caused by the cold, life-denying impulse of “desire”—by an antisocial lust for land. They also denounced the swaggering “resource polygyny” of the nobility—the corralling of women as wives and concubines at the expense of potential non-noble spouses. Both desires caused “envy.” And envy lay at the root of the conflicts that destroyed the harmony of God’s creation. This was what a shadowy intellectual, Zardūsht son of Khrōsak, had thought already in the mid-third century. These ideas were taken up by Mazdak in the 530s. As a result of the preaching of Mazdak, a protracted jacquerie rocked the Iranian plateau. The villagers emptied the granaries and the harems of the nobility, until the Mazdakites were suppressed with exemplary (and much-praised) savagery by the great shah Khosrau I (531–579).


(The Associated Press runs an article on this event, annually—as they should. Click here for the 2013 story, as posted at Huffington Post, which features 24 pictures and a video called “Learn About Zoroastrianism.” Following is the AP story from 2010…)

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Iranians celebrate ancient Persian fire fest
The Associated Press

Sunday, January 31, 2010; 12:17 PM

CHAM, Iran — Thousands of Iranians gathered at dusk against a snowy mountain backdrop to light giant bonfires in an ancient mid-winter festival dating back to Iran’s pre-Islamic past that is drawing new interest from Muslims.

Saturday’s celebration was the first in which the dwindling remnants of Iran’s once plentiful Zoroastrian religious minority were joined by thousands of Muslims, reflecting a growing interest in the strict Islamic society for the country’s ancient traditions.

The festival, known as Sadeh, celebrates the discovery of fire and its ability to banish the cold and dark, and it is held in the frigid depths of winter.

Sadeh was the national festival of ancient Persia when Zoroastrianism was the dominant religion, before the conquest of Islam in the 7th century. Now it is mostly celebrated just in the homes and temples of Iran’s 60,000 remaining Zoroastrians.

Recently, however, there has been an upsurge of interest among Iranian Muslims – more than 90 percent of the population – in their ancient heritage, when vast Persian empires held sway over much of central Asia and fought Greek warriors and Roman legions.

“I’m proud of Sadeh because it is part of Iran’s cultural heritage,” said Mohammed Saleh Khalili, a Muslim Iranian who traveled from Meibod, a town in central Iran, to join the celebrations. “Once it was a national festival and for centuries it has been restricted to Zoroastrians but there is no reason why Muslim Iranians shouldn’t celebrate the event.”

Zoroastrianism is a monotheistic religion predating Christianity and Islam and is believed to have influenced those faiths – and Judaism as well – being one of the first religions with a strong notion of good and evil.
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