Book Review of "Zoroastrian Ethics" by Maganlal Amritlal Buch M.A.

Author Information:

The author of this book, Maganlal A. Buch, was a fellow of the Seminar for Comparative Study of Religions in Baroda (a former independent state of modern India during British control of India). This book was completed in the year 1919.

General Thoughts:

I felt that this book gave a very good overview of the philosophy and mentality of the Zoroastrian religion and how it has evolved to the present day. This book is part of a series that seeks to compare and contrast different religions and their effects on society and civilization as a whole. I was very pleased with the detail of information as well the concise nature of the work. However I do feel that the Iranian Zoroastrian community was not involved in this work as all references to modern day Zoroastrians were to the Parsi community in India.

Zoroastrian Texts discussed in the Book:

Old Persian Period:

Avestan (i.e. Yasna, Gathas, Visperad, Yashta, Vendidad)

Although major sections of this text were destroyed during Alexander's conquest of the Acheamenid Persian Empire it still partially survives in the partitioned sections of the Yasna, Gathas, Visperad, Yashta, and the Vendidad. These writings belong to the Old Persian period and the Gathas may even predate the expansion of Aryan tribes to much of modern day Iran.

Middle Persian Period(i.e. Pahlavi, Parthian):

Andarz-i Atrepat-i Maraspandan

Written during the time of Hormazd Shapur, the grandson of the founder of the Sassanid Dynasty.

Arda-Viraf

Written in the 5th or 6th century A.D. This book gives a description of Heaven and Hell.

Ganj-i-Shayigan

Written during the rule of Noshirwan around 505 A.D., by his minister Vizorg-Meher. It distinguishes between permanent and temporary wealth and the path towards happiness.

Dinai-Menuki-i-Khrat

Written in the 6th century A.D. this text contains questions and answers on religion.

Shayast-la-Shayast

This text contains miscellaneous laws and customs regarding sin, impurities and religious ceremonies. It was probably written before the Muslim conquest (A.D. 636-651).

Shikand-Gumanik Vijar

Written towards the end of the 9th century A.D., this work attempts to prove that good and evil do not come from the same source and criticizes Christianity, Judaism, and Manichaenism.

Dinkard

Translating into “Acts of Religion”, this text is perhaps the greatest work on the Zoroastrian religion during the Middle Persian period. It was compiled by a high-priest during the 9th century and is a large collection of information regarding doctrines, costumes, traditions, and literature of the religion.

Dadistan-i-Dinik

Written some years before 881 A.D., this text contains 92 questions on religious subjects answered by a high priest.

Epistles of Manushchihar

Written around 881 A.D., this work gives some information about worshippers at the time.

Bundahishin

This text deals with the theory of an origin to existence, mythology, eschatology of the Zoroastrian faith and was written around 886 A.D.

Aiyadgari-i-Zariran

Translating in to “The memoir of Zarir” this text is referred in Ferdowsi's Shahnameh as a book that was created by a man from the Dehkan family who was fond of history who called upon old Mobeds from all over Iran to recite all their historical knowledge and this book is the collection of all those stories.

Bahman Yasht

Written after the Arab invasion of Iran, this book professes to be a conversation between Ahura Mazda and Zoroaster (Zartosht) about the future of the Iranian nation.

Desutir

A collection of different Persian prophets who flourished from the time of Mahabad to the 5th Sassan. Written in a language different from Avestan or Pahlavi.

Modern Persian:

Sad-dar

Written in modern Persian during the 1st part of the 16th century this book deals with various religious duties and customs. It could potentially be derived from works much earlier than the 16th century.

Claims Made in the Book:

Fascinating Quotes:

Final Thoughts:

This book was a surprise to me. I did not expect such detailed information from such a small book. But in the end I found it a pleasure to read and I highly recommend it to anyone who is interested in learning about the Zoroastrian religion. I do think however more could have been written about the comparisons of Zoroastrian philosophy with that of other religions, and furthermore the effects of the religion on the Persian population throughout various time periods. It seems to me that the Avestan period was the height of the religion, which also corresponded with the height of the Acheamenid Persian Empire. However it is important to note that even with the fall of the Acheamenid empire by Alexander and the fall of the Sassanid Empire by the Arabs Zoroastrianism never quite disappeared, although there were plenty of converts after both collapses. But perhaps more importantly this book reveals the quite ancient origin of the religion with its focus on the importance of shepherd dogs, cattle, and sanitization. I am not sure what the original motivation of this book was. It was part of a series to understand the social effects of religion, but why was this done? I can only assume it was to possibly come up with a foundation for a new better religion, or perhaps to question the need for one in an industrializing India. I personally believe that religions cannot survive in the modern era because modern complexities cannot be simplified into basic laws for people to follow, but if you happen to live in a rural area with plenty of farmland I can see doctrines like this being able to manage a civilization for some time. That being said, the Zoroastrian motive of "Good Thoughts, Good Deeds, Good Words" will always be applicable to civilized life.