Discussion Responses (Religions of Ancient Iran Course)

Discussion Responses (Religions of Ancient Iran Course)

Please dedicate 1 page of writing to answer each of the 11 discussion prompts. I have also provided a peer’s sample answer. Please do not copy it but feel free to use it as inspiration. I have also attached the readings that you will need.

Week 2: After reading this week’s primary source texts, share your thoughts based on the following questions.

What concerns is the “Selected Admonitions” expressing? Who do you think is speaking through the textwhat role do the ‘ancient sages’ have? How does the text attempt to define identity? Look up any terms that are unclear and make a note of them.

What concerns is the extract from the Hadokht Nask expressing? What are the qualities or properties of “Order”? (Note on the translation: Skjrv is kind of a literalist, which makes his translations sometimes quite weird. His “bony world of the living” is basically the gtg. Also not that the end of each ‘answer’ has an ellipsis (…) where Skjrv is just indicating that the text is the same as the last four lines of stanza H1.7.)

Sample Answer:
The Selected Admonitions is expressing concerns regarding whether people are capable of distinguishing between a good or bad path, to not commit sins, and to be able to go to heaven. For instance, when people participate in things such as greed, desire, and judgment of others, it affects their ability to live pure lives. Moreover, the text emphasizes (pg.238 2nd point) people obtaining wisdom by understanding things such as them belonging to the good, not the bad or considering themselves the property of Ohrmazd and Amahraspands. Also, the text claims that individuals must follow rules such as marrying, getting an education, or working to practice the path of the den. I think that whoever is speaking is someone older whom many deem as wise in the teaching of the den. From the passage, the role of the ‘ancient sages’ is to aid and teach others about the good and bad things in society. Additionally, the Selected Admonitions defines identity by using rules to illustrate to individuals of what they believe is a central path for living peaceful lives without suffering. In the text, parents are headline figures that are held responsible for teaching their children religious rules before the age of fifteen, to aid them in their path for goodness.

The extract from the Hadokht Nask is expressing concerns about people not following orders that lead to good things. The qualities or properties of “Order” are emphasized by Ahura Mazda, who claims that people should praise the order to practice a path of good that will discard bad ones. The order allows individuals to not commit sins, especially by thinking positively about it in the morning, at night, and in the last moments of their lives. The qualities of the order encompass believing and appreciating its rules and beliefs. Additionally, Ahura Mazda claims to Zarathustra that when someone who beliefs in the “order” dies, they peacefully enjoy their passing and do not suffer because of their daena, who represents all their good deeds in their lifetimes.

Week 3: This week you’ve read the royal inscriptions of the Achaemenids and Sasanians.

Now go to www.livius.org/sources/content/achaemenid-royal-inscriptions/ (Links to an external site.) and browse the Achaemenid inscriptions online with images. Questions to answer: Where were the inscriptions made? What messages do they offer? Why did the kings inscribe them? For whom were they written?

Then browse the Sasanian rock reliefs at http://www.livius.org/articles/misc/sasanian-rock-reliefs/ (Links to an external site.), particularly nos. 50, 53, 55, 57, 60, 63, 73, 74, 80, and 81-84. Questions to answer: How do these reliefs portray the kings? What are the kings shown as doing? What symbols did the sculptors use, and why did they use them? Pay attention also to the locations where these reliefs were made. Did their locations have any special meaning? Find and identify the priest named Kartir (a.k.a. Kerdir).

Feel free to respond to your classmates’ opinions via the ‘reply’ function or take them into account in your own post.

Sample Answer:
The Achaemenid inscriptions were placed mostly in public domains in different forms including tablets, walls on high ground (such as mountains). These inscriptions were crucial in portraying the might and authority of the Achaemenid kings over their realm and citizens. By incorporating religious beliefs into these texts, the kings legitimized their rule of the empire and ensured that everyone could see them. Another significant aspect of their locations is that they were mostly built along trade routes – this was done so even merchants and travelers from other empires could observe these inscriptions. This achieved two goals: 1) It provided a sense of unity among the Achaemenid kingdom in the eyes of everyone (both insiders and outsiders), and 2) It validated the Zoroastrian faith. As it is mentioned in Jenny Rose’s book, another byproduct of such inscriptions was propaganda used to deter those who might have questioned the authority of the king or other enemies.

The Sassanian reliefs share a common theme in portraying the king as a source of power and stability for the Sassanid empire. In these reliefs also tell a story of the strength and legitimacy of the kings in the eyes of the Ahuramazda. This notion is symbolized when they receive and exchange offerings with Ahuramazda, which underlines their blessing to rule the empire. Moreover, these reliefs unveil the battle stories of the Sassanian kings and as with the Achaemenids, they also serve the purpose of publicly advocating the unity of the empire. The locations of these sculptures are also mostly on high ground carved on mountains, and they are located next to major routes between cities. Lastly, Kartir was an eminent Zoroastrian priest who is depicted in many of the reliefs standing by or behind the king. For example, in Naqshe-Rostam, he is standing to the right side of Shapur. Kartir was an important unifying factor between the rule of the king and the promotion of Zoroastrianism – the two pillars that held the empire together.

Week 4: 1. In the first text (Gizistag Abalish), who is the Mowbed and who was Ohrmazd? Out of the seven questions asked, which one was most intriguing to you? Why? What were the implications of the Mowbeds answer?

2. Do you think the metaphors the Mowbed utilizes, for example the kusti, are still applicable to todays society?

3. In the second text (Arda Wiraz Namag) there are multiple descriptions/examples of souls which the Righteous Wiraz has seen. What are some examples of the souls mentioned and why do you think the author provided these many examples?

Sample Answer:
1. Mowbed is the high priest, who answers Abalishs seven questions. Ohrmazd is similar to Ahura Mazda because individuals perceive him as a powerful God figure. Mowbed claims that Ohrmazd created water and fire, thus illustrating the power that Ohrmazd possesses. Out of the seven questions, I found the third question interesting. In the third question, Mowbed is asked whether Ohrmazd or Ahrimen should be perceived as negative figures because they punish human beings for their sins. Mowbeds answer is intriguing because I can understand what he is trying to say, although his statement may sound harsh to others. To elaborate, Mowbed claims that someone such as a father knows what is best for their family, even if sometimes their actions might seem cruel or inhuman. Mowbed demonstrates fathers and almighty figures representing wise and friends who wish them well in people’s lives. I grew up in a Christian family, so in a way, I can understand how God or other religious figures punish those who commit crimes, not to hurt them but rather to direct them to the good/right path.

2. I think the metaphors that the Mowbed utilizes in some way, can be applied to society. For instance, the metaphor of a child being bitten by a snake and a father later cutting off the childs finger to stop the poison from spreading illustrates the types of parents that might exist in society. For instance, some parents can judge and perceive other parents, as heartless because of the decisions that they enforced on their children. Additionally, the kusti has two sides, which could be a metaphor for individuals’ identities. To elaborate, on one side people want to do good things and on the other side, they are tempted to participate in bad things, which applies to the choices that individuals make in society today.

3. Some of the souls mentioned, resided in Hammistagan, in which they were in this place because they committed the same amount of good deeds and sins. Mowbed also saw the souls of women that had many good thoughts and deeds. These women were in this particular place because they worshipped the Gods and were submissive to their husbands. On the other hand, there was a place where souls of women were given bowls of excrement to eat, which was a punishment for them not following the right path of a good woman. A good woman was someone who obeyed their husbands and didn’t sleep with other men. Another soul mentioned, was a man that was cruelly being killed because he killed others on Earth. Overall, I think the author provided various examples of souls to demonstrate the beliefs of individuals, that if you committed sins and did not believe in God, they would be punished in the afterlife. The author illustrates souls that followed the path of the Gods and live peacefully in the afterlife. To add more, the author showed how human actions and beliefs can lead to horrible consequences. The author illustrated different types of people through the examples of the souls, some that were somewhat good, somewhat evil, completely good, or completely evil. Furthermore, the text incorporates prominent beliefs that many have today, such as of abortion. Women who abort their child  are deeply tortured in the afterlife because they are believe to be killing a life.

Week 5: 1. Throughout the Dnkard, there are many people who encounter the dn, such as Gayomard, Mashi, Mashyani, Siyamag,  Hoshang, Tahmuraf, Jamshed, Fredon, Uzaw, Karasp, and the Kays. Summarize one of these encounters and explain its significance to those individuals.

2. In the Dnkard, check the section titled “Zarathustra receives the dn from Ohrmazd”. Was Zarathustra the first to receive the Word? If not then why havent we heard the names of those who came before Zarathustra?

3. In the Rivyat accompanying the Ddestn Dng, what does Gahambar refer to, and why is the idea of making an offering significant? How is the performance of worship described in terms of following the guidelines of Ohrmazd and what does fire symbolize both in value and with respect to the creation of the world?

Sample Answer:
1. The encounter of the den allowed Jamshd to become a priest, warrior, husbandmen, and artisan. Jamshd was able to expand the world by being part of the four classes of the dn and following the directions of Ohrmazd. The dn is important in Jamshd life because it allowed him to become a mighty figure with great qualities. Encountering the den, led to Jam making the world a better place by helping those in need. Moreover, through the revelations of the den, Jam was able to become a great ruler, who provided supplies and food for his people. Jam made the world more prosperous, in which he made sure that individuals would not suffer, starve, or harmed by others.

2. Zarathustra was not the first to receive the Word. At the beginning of the text, it is describe that Gaymard is the first man who received the word. I think we havent heard the names of those that came before Zarathustra because there might have been struggles for leadership, in terms of who understood the Word more. Furthermore, Zarathustra was entirely taught the den, as opposed to other leaders . To add more, Zarathustra was able to later informed the Word of the den to others.

3. Gahambar refers to a celebration that individuals participate in. People celebrate Gahambar as a community, which means that the good deeds of all of them are joined together, rather than merely focusing on one persons deeds. The offering symbolizes people making an offering before they participate in good deeds. Also, the offering provides people with signs that direct them in understanding to what each of their offerings means. Ormazd claimed that individuals would go to heaven if they worship him. To add more, he sets up rules on what age men can start performing worship (8 years and older). Besides, Ormazd specifies rules for women, such as them not needing to perform in the fire if they participated in worship. Ormazd claims that women are not allowed in the fire sanctuary. Overall, Ormazd lays guidelines of the things people could or could not celebrate and who could or could not worship. Fire symbolized the ordering of the world, in which people were protected and given opportunities to live peaceful lives. To elaborate, the lighting of the fire aided the creation of the world by protecting it from evil spirits that would disrupt the lives of individuals.

Week 6: 1. In the Qesse-ya Sanjan, there are details of the Parsis journey from Iran to India. Explain the route of this journey and its significance. Why did this group of Zoroastrians leave Iran? How does their religion play a role in finding their new location? How can one explain the negotiation between Raja Jdi Rna and the Dastur?
2. Discuss the importance and significance of the fire Irn Shh. Where and how was it carried across history as specified in Qesse-ye Sanjan?
3. In lecture, there is discussion about how we should understand the primary texts / insider texts. How did you interact with the Qesse-ye Sanjan? When reading, did you approach it as more of a historical account, a mythical origin story, or the Parsis’ own reflective story?

Sample Answer:
1. This group of Zoroastrians left Iran 1000 years after Zoroaster fleeing persecution from “infidels”, who overthrew the throne and left Iran in ruin. The group first fled to Kuhestan for 100 years, but then a wise man suggested relocation to Hormuz to provide further protection from infidels.  After 15 years in Hormuz, a dastur suggested departure from those lands, so the group embarked via ship towards India. They first came upon Dib, where they stayed for 19 years. At that point, a wise sage received an omen that the party should relocate once again. They set off for Gujarat, but encountered a storm along the route. The group prayed throughout the storm and asked Ahura Mazda to save them, promising that wherever they landed, they would erect a fire temple. They eventually landed in the land of Raja Jadi Rana, who provided them with land and asylum after quizzing the dastur on the Zoroastrian religious customs and providing some guidelines for the community geared toward assimilation into Indian society.  The entire path of the Parsis was guided by religion: they originally left Iran for religious reasons, and every stop they made along the way was divinely selected. Furthermore, the group literally let Ahura Mazda guide them to their final destination in Sanjan, indicating that their arrival there was divinely sanctioned.

2. The Zoroastrians left Iran carrying the sacred fire, Iran Shah. At each stop they made, the first tasks done were to erect a fire temple and install the Iran Shah there.  Eventually, the Iran Shah was installed into the fire temple erected at Sanjan, as was promised to Ahura Mazda during the storm that led the Zoroastrians there. This fire was carefully tended to and never allowed to go out at any point from the time the Zoroastrians left Iran to the time it was installed in Sanjan. Fire is a major symbol of the Zoroastrian religion, and its persistence throughout this entire journey is symbolic of the perseverance and dedication of the original Parsis to their faith. The continued burning of the fire is a tangible manifestation of their continual dedication to Ahura Mazda and to sticking to their convictions. The fire could also symbolize hope, as it provided a physical reminder to the Zoroastrians on their journey that Ahura Mazda was still with them, and that the hardship they were enduring for the religion’s sake was worth it.

3. I think the Qesse-ye Sanjan is much more about the Parsi understanding of identity than any historical or mythological significance.  As was discussed in lecture, we do not really know the historical accuracy of the text, and so it is a rather futile pursuit to try to interpret this as an exact historical timeline of the beginning of the Parsis as a group.  While there is a mythological component to the text, its structure indicates that it written mainly for Parsis as an account of where they came from, and what their identity means. I approached the text as a way to understand that self-identity, and as a means to understand the relationship between heritage, religion, and personal convictions within it. The Qesse-ye Sanjan is  above  all a testament to  the dedication, perseverance, and piety of the original Parsis, and it is thus  more a tale about heritage and cultural pride than anything else.

Week 7: 1. How would you describe the relationship between Mani and Shapur I? Under what circumstances did Mani and Shapur I meet for the first time and what was its significance?

2. Why did Mani join one of the baptists sects in Mesopotamia? And why did he oppose the rituals of the baptisms and ablutions? How did the revelation of his Syzygos play a role in these oppositions?

3. What are the three paths for the soul at death in Manis eschatology? (p.19)

Sample Answer:
1. Mani and Shapur I had a very mutually beneficial relationship, starting around 242 when Shapur took the throne. Shapur I met Mani while he was intending to expand the Iranian rule. This is important because this goal is what led him to be so accepting of Mani and his faith system, despite its many differences with Zoroastrianism,  he believed that Mani could help him do so because his religion related to the belief systems of the places he wanted to expand into. Because of this, he was allowed to minister and practice freely throughout Shapur I’s reign.

2. Mani joined one of the Baptist sects in Mesopotamia, the Elchasaites,  founded by Elchasai(os) in hopes of obeying a vision that his father had received from what he believed was a divine being, instructing him to be vegetarian and abstaining from sex. His father took him to join the Baptists when he was four, and he stayed and continued to practice with them until he turned twenty-four. He opposed things like the washing of vegetables (ablutions) and baptisms because he believed that doing so destroyed/ harmed the light particles contained in the objects or people being washed. Some of this was influenced by Elchasai who had had a vision telling him something similar about bathing. He received a vision/ revelation from a heavenly twin (syzgos) when he was twelve and twenty-four, telling him of his divine calling, how was the continuation of various prophets, and to leave the Elchasaites and minister independently. This opposed much of what the Baptists were preaching and led to disagreements.

3. In Manichean ideology, there are three paths for the soul after death, each one is based on how the person acted in their life. The worst sinners who are beyond redemption are damned to Hell eternally, until the end of time, where they will die and the darkness will be sealed. The souls who are neither beyond redemtion or part of the elect are reborn into different bodies and given another chance at being saved. The souls of the elect, descend up the pillar of Glory, to the moon, where they wait for the Father to finally destroy darkness and show them his image.

Week 9: 1. How does the Talmud depict Shapur I? How does this relate to his portrayal in the Dnkard?
2. What are some of the ways Shapur I became a religious authority among both Rabbis and Persians during his rule?
3. The Shkand Gmng Wizr begins with Concerning the contradictions and vile utterances of the First Scripture. What contradictions are mentioned and examined in the text?

Sample Answer:
1. The Talmud depicts Shapur 1 as an authority figure, who understands and supports, the knowledge and leadership of Rabbis. He is shown as aksing the Rabbis for information and labeling them as wise. This is meant to portray an image of the grandness/ importance of Rabinnic knowledge. In the Dnkard, Shapur 1 is shown in a similar way, as praising the religious knowledge of other communities. The Dnkard shows Shapur as compiling both Iranian and non-Iranian knowledge within the Avesta. Both of these portrayals show him as being open towards ideas that are foreign, though the Talmud focuses more specifically on religious ideas, while the Dnkard speaks about both religious and non-religious forms of foreign knowledge.

2. Shapur 1 became a religious authority figure to Rabbis and Persians because he was able to manage a complicated age where a multitude of varied religious communities lived under the authority of a different religion. Part of his authority came from the fact that he added a multitude of philosophical, medical, and other writings from various communities to the Avesta. This text not only appeased other non-mazdean religious communities, because of the fact that Shapur 1 was openly in support of their opinions, but it also allowed Persian elites to have access/ control of a vast amount of information.

3. The Shkand Gmng Wizr examines contradictions found in Jewish scripture. It specifically speaks about contradictions that the author finds with the nature of God, for instance, whether or not he actually created light, and that the author found it ridiculous that God was angry at dam and Hauua, for disobeying him. Overall, the main goal of the text is to prove that despite the fact that the text mentions that God is merciful, Omnipotent, and wise, the author points out contradictions within the language of the text, including what it states that God said, in order to prove that the Jewish God cannot actually be defined by these characteristics.

Week 10: 1. How does the Yasna suggest the frawarn be performed and for what purpose? How might the ritual of faith declaration factor into community building in Zoroastrian societies?

2. In Yasna 9, what are the requests that Zarathustra makes of Hoama, and what are some of the rewards and prizes that were given to the men who pressed the Hoama plant?

3. In the first sections of the Yasna, name some of the things which are sacrificed for/asked for that are repeated throughout the different sections? To whom are sacrifices made and for what purpose?

Sample Answer:
1. In Yasna 12: Progression of faith (frawarn), the Yasna, regards the reader to profess their devotion to Zoroastrianism by denouncing the Old Gods (Gods from other religions and considered evil spirits in Zoroastrianism) and to attribute Ahura Mazda and the Order to be the binding force and system in the universe of good. The text also mentions choosing to perform rituals and sacrifices to Ahura Mazda. The ritual of faith declaring, such as initiation or Navjote, factors into community building when new members into the full faith must abide by the instructions and participate in traditional practices including performing rituals.
2. In Yasna 9, Haoma, as a deity, explains to Zarathustra instances where the Haoma rituals have helped Zoroastrians. The rituals give the rewards of having good farming and strong healthy herds, being able to destroy evil spirits, sons and fighting evil spirits, and the birth of Zarathustra. Zarathustra requests Haoma to assist him in overcoming obstacles and fighting evil spirits. He also requests breathing space, health, long life, overcoming the Lie, and to give strength and wisdom.
3. In the first sections of the Yasna, the rituals and sacrifices mentioned are for sacrificing Haoma rituals and other rituals for preserving and abiding by the Order. Rituals are done with the fire and during certain hours during the day and sacrificed to Haoma, the Orderly times of the day or year, deities that represent elements, angels, gods, and the good elements of the physical world. These sacrifices are for giving the strength to overcome obstacles and conquering the Lie. Rituals are also for maintaining cosmic order in the spiritual and physical world.

Week 11: 1. What was the importance of alms in the Manichaean tradition? What types of sources do we have for this information, and what possible biases could they include?

2. What are the five signs? What do they represent and how were they involved in Manichaean ritual practice?

Sample Answer:
1. The importance of alms in the Manichaean tradition is found in both the laity hearers, and the clergy elect. The alms are prepared by the hearers since they handle the food and processing of the physical world so the elect do not need to since there is damage of light particles. The elect then eats the alms and are able to process the light particles which would help in the ascension of their soul to the realm of light. We have limited minimal sources and information about Manichaeism and some of it is in the lens of Manichaean followers and writers who show the religion and beliefs in primary sources. Some secondary sources are from scholars such as Al-Biruni, who note their observances of the religion. The Cologne Mani Codex describes Mani and the Tebessa Codex has a biblical justification for Manichaean beliefs. Augustine has a bias against the religion as he indicates the flaws in the belief logic. These various sources have different perspectives where the origin of the sources indicates a bias.

2. The five signs are related to the First Man and the five lessons and mysteries. Mani explains that they represent the first peace from the gods and angels that was given to the First Man to fight darkness, the first right hand which was given by the Mother of Life, the first kiss given by the Mother of Life and being embraced by all the gods, the first salutation is honoring of god by the First Man, and the first laying on hands is given by the Mother of Life to the First Man to arm him against fighting darkness. Mani explains that these are important in the struggle against darkness and bring peace into the world. Mani explains that people choose their church through following these five lessons by joining the elect and following the actions of the other five signs, such as receiving the right hand and approaching the church, to confront the Light Form.

Week 12: 1. According to the inscriptions of Kerdir, how does Kerdir receive some of his titles/ranks? What is the significance of these inscriptions and for what purpose were they written?

2. In Mani’s “ten advantages of the Manichaean religion” text (text 91 of Manichaean texts from the Roman Empire), what do the reasons he gives tell you about his views regarding other religions/churches?

Sample Answer:
1. According to the inscriptions of Kerdr, Kerdr, during his career, received numerous titles. Under the rule of Shabuhr I, Kerdr received the title of religious teacher for his work establishing victorious fires, under the rule of Ohrmazd I, he was labeled the High priest of Ohrmazd when Ohrmazd I ascended the throne after his father dies. Under Warahrn II, he was given the title of Kerdr, high priest of Ohrmazd, whose soul was saved by Warahrn, for his role in increasing Mazda worship in Iran and “striking down” other religions. All of these titles were written on official documents during the time. The purpose of these inscriptions were to display Kerdr’s accomplishments and to remind the reader to continue to follow the gods in the way that he did.

2. In Mani’s “The Ten Advantages of the Manichean Religion”, Mani makes clear that he believes that all other religions are lesser than his for a few reasons. The main reasons are that the other religions established their texts and churches in a way where the texts could be misinterpreted, and the churches were not suited for all cities and areas. He believes that part of this is that many of the other churches started after the person who began it died, however, Mani, at the time, was still alive to run his church.

Week 14: 1. What might the contrast between the female demonic spirits and the (good) female deities tell us about Zoroastrian expectations for women?

2. What are the seven material creations of Ahura Mazda, and what are their roles in regard to purity/impurity and ritual?

3. What is the covenant established between Ahura Mazda and his created human beings, and what function does it serve?

Sample Answer:
1. There are heavy differences between the explanation of good and bad female spirits in Zoroastrianism is that the demonic spirits are described as lustful, specifically as causing men to lust after them, and as unsubmissive. Good female deities however are seen as good companions, faithful, and following the orders of their husbands. These display to the reader the expectations that women, in order to help maintain order, should listen to and follow their husbands, not cheat, and behave in a pure, non-sexual way. It displays the fears of female sexuality, and the belief that a highly sexual woman would distract men from their duties, therefore, women were expected to behave in a less sexual way.

2. The seven material creations of Ahura Mazda are fire, water, plants, metal, earth, animals, and humans. These creations were seen as needed to be protected from pollution. Humans had the role of maintaining purity through ritual, like cleansings with unconsecrated bull’s urine. Humans also had to work to maintain the purity of the other six creations, by doing certain actions, for instance, keeping these elements away from unpure people and other impure objects, like dead matter.

3. The convenent established between Ahura Mazda and the human race is that humans would live on earth and work to maintain order, but despite having immortal souls, while on Earth, they would not have immortal bodies yet. Humans would gain immortal bodies after death. The purpose of this covenant would be for humankind to work with/ for the gods for the purpose of ultimately retaining purity, and order, and vanquishing the lie and Drug, humanity would fight the lie on the human plane while the gods worked to vanquish evil in the spiritual plane. Both were needed in order to turn the cosmological war for control in the god’s favor.