A quest to find the most influential religious teacher in the ancient world: Zarathustra.
IN SEARCH OF ZARATHUSTRA is a quest to trace the influence of the prophet the Greeks called Zoroaster and considered the greatest religious legislator of the ancient world. Long before the first Hebrew temple, the birth of Christ or the mission of Muhammad, Zarathustra had taught of a single universal god, of the battle between Good and Evil, of the Devil, Heaven and Hell, and of an eventual end to the world.
Over several decades, Paul Kriwaczek, an award-winning television producer, has cast his eye across Europe and Central Asia, from Hadrian's Wall to the Oxus river, from the Pyrenees to the Hindu Kush.
Passing via Nietzsche's interpretation of Zarathustra for a post-religious age, the Cathars of 13th-century France, the Bulgars of 9th-century Balkans, and the prophet Mani's revision of Zarathustra's message in the later Persian empire, Paul Kriwaczek then explores the religion of Mithras - before going back past Alexander the Great's destruction of the Persian Empire, and the era of the great Persian kings Cyrus and Darius in the 6th century BC, to the beginning of the first pre-Christian millennium.
Hidden by the looming shadows of Christianity, Judaism and Islam, Zoroastrianism seems a largely forgotten religion today. Yet this ancient tradition so powerfully influenced these other three faith groups that they would not exist in their present state if not for the teachings of Zarathustra, the prophet of Zoroastrianism. Kriwaczek's lively and fast-paced study offers a unique view of Zarathustra's impact on Western religious history. Beginning in present-day Iran (the Persia where Zarathustra first began his teaching around 1200 B.C.), he participates in New Year festivities that demonstrate that pre-Islamic Iranian mythology and religious customs exist in uneasy alliance with contemporary Islamic practices. Kriwaczek then sets off on a backward travelogue, examining the significance of Zarathustra for Nietzsche in the 19th century, the Cathars of the Middle Ages and Hellenistic and Jewish thought from the third through the first centuries B.C. The prophet's teachings, recorded in the Avesta, offer a dualistic view of the world, a dualism that can be seen in the apocalyptic visions of the Book of Daniel and in the Dead Sea Scrolls. Zoroastrianism also featured divisions of heavenly beings, each lined up on one side or the other, supporting either darkness or light. In both Christianity and Islam, the influence of Zoroastrianism can be clearly seen in the pantheon of heavenly beings arranged in hierarchical fashion according to degrees of goodness or evil. This is the best and most thorough survey of Zoroastrianism, and its prophet Zarathustra, to date.