The Wiley Blackwell Companion to Zoroastrianism, edited by M. Stausberg and Y. S-D. Vevaina with Anna Tessmann. Malden,
Mass./Oxford: Wiley Blackwell, 2015. Pp. 668.
This book review originally appeared in the FEZANA Journal Winter 2015 Issue and is published here with prior permission.
REVIEW BY JESSE S. PALSETIA
The Companion highlights the contributions of some thirty-three scholars in the areas of religion and history on Zoroastrianism. The editors identify the central problema that has inspired this volume in noting what they believe to be a precipitous decline in the study of Zoroastrianism within the comparative and historical study of religions since perhaps the late nineteenth century, and this volume’s attempt to ‘redress this situation’ by presenting a comprehensive study of the present-day scholarship on Zoroastrian. The number of scholars dedicated to the study of Zoroastrianism and Parsi history, including as compiled in this volume, might well contradict the editors’ raison de produire of this volume.
In any case, the volume offers a wealth of scholarship on Zoroastrianism from a gamut of scholars. The editors claim to present no single overarching view of Zoroastrianism or its definition; but rather to highlight the scholarship and breadth of studies dedicated to the subject. Indeed, the editors deliberately do not seek to offer a definitive definition of Zoroastrianism; but rather see the ‘essential’ nature of Zoroastrianism and its scholarship, to be found in the diversity of scholarly and other ‘voices’, and with no single authoritative voice pronouncing on what Zoroastrianism is. At the same time, the editors provide their own definition of Zoroastrianism as a complex network of dynamic on-going re-creations that its makers—believers and practitioners—are situated within, continually engaged with, and often contesting. The editors’ caution reflects the historical reality of Zoroastrianism’s long, fragmented and reconstructed history, traditions and scholarship.
The arrangement of the chapters and their subject matter reflect the eclectic approach of the editors and contributors to provide a breadth of perspective aimed towards shaping a fulsome view and scholarly understanding of Zoroastrianism.
PART I “ZARATHUSTRA REVISITED” Includes articles by Frantz Grenet, and Almut Hintze that recreate the historical geographical and linguistic landscape of Zarathustra’s time respectively. This format seeks, as the editors suggest, to avoid making Zarathustra, ‘traditionally held to be the founder or prophet of the religion’ the central focus of early Zoroastrianism’s history and nature, and thereby relegating the great corpus of works and history after Zarathustra as a ‘mere footnote to Zarathustra’ (xiv). While tradition holds the prophet Zarathustra to be the author of the five Gatha hymns that are the central kernel of Zoroastrianism, the Companion presents interpretations and understandings of Zarathustra and the cultural landscape of the Gathas by the four scholars Helmut Humback, Jean Kellens, Martin Schwartz, and Prods Oktor Skjærvø. While the question of who was Zarathustra and was he the ‘author’ of the Gathas, the editors note, is a contentious question, the four scholars present a picture of an ancient and complex culture that gave rise to a unique vision of the divine and human’s place in society. Stausberg completes Part I with his own interpretation of the historical and culture significance of Zarathustra and his memes since his time and over the millennia.
PART II “PERIODS, REGIONS, AND CONTEXTS” examines the historical settings of Iran, Central Asia, India, and the Far East where Zoroastrianism and its adherents spread and formed communities, with articles by Albert de Jong, Touraj Daryaee, Frantz Grenet, Takeshi Aoki, John R. Hinnells, and Michael Stausberg. The articles offer some fascinating insights into the adaptability of Zoroastrianism and its adherents in various geographical settings over millennia into the Common Era. Indeed, if anything militates against any single definition or normative model of what Zoroastrianism or the typical Zoroastrian community are, the articles detail the historical evolution of Zoroastrian identities. Zoroastrianism emerged as a global religion and unique regional expression comparable to every other great world religion and culture. From the spread of Zoroastrianism from Eastern Afghanistan and Iran to Central Asia, India, and the Far East via both the Silk Road and the seaborne trade, unique Zoroastrian Diasporas formed that created novel cultures, communities, and organizational and material infrastructures and networks.
PART III “STRUCTURES, DISCOURSES, AND DIMENSIONS” examines the theologies, cosmologies, myths, gender identity, and law within Zoroastrianism. Vevaina, Antonio Panaino, Carlo Cereti, Jenny Rose, Maria Macuch, and Mitra Sharafi note various aspects of Zoroastrian and Parsi culture. Once again, Vevaina sets the tone to not simply describe features of Zoroastrianism, such as its deities and their attributes, but rather to provide a sense of the theological culture and nature of Zoroastrianism. The other articles further develop the mythological, gendered and legal nature of Zoroastrianism over the centuries and among its adherents.
PART IV “PRACTICES AND SITES” examines the ethics, prayers, ideas of purity and pollution, rituals, festivals and religious structures of Zoroastrians and the Parsis with articles by Alberto Cantera, Firoze Kotwal, Philip Kreyenbroek, Alan Williams, Michael Stausberg, Ramiyar Karanjia, Jenny Rose, and Jamsheed Choksy. Many interesting details on the state and evolution of Zoroastrian traditions, practices, and perceptions of both are noted from scholarly and religious outlooks of the authors.
PART V “INTERSECTIONS” examines the historical linkages between religious traditions from the Avestan and Vedic period, Zoroastrianism’s connections to Judaism, the Classical World, Ancient Rome, early Christianity, and influences and relations with Manichaeism, Islam, Yezidi and Yarsan traditions, and the Bahā’ī Faith. Articles by P.O Skjærvø, Yaakov Elman and Shai Secunda, Martin L. West, Richard Gordon, Marco Frenschkowski, Manfred Hutter, Shaul Shaked, Philip Kreyenbroek, and Moojan Momen follow a historical timeline based on Zoroastrianism’s contact with the other religions and cultures. The articles highlight the long antiquity, intense interactions and influences of Zoroastrianism on other faiths, and the fascination of the latter for not only the ‘Good Religion,’ as pre-modern Zoroastrian sources referred to it, but also the Great Religion.
PART VI “PRIMARY SOURCES” includes a summary of the primary sources on the research on Zoroastrianism in Avestan and Pahlavi, and New Persian and Gujarati as noted by Miguel Ángel Andrés-Toledo and Daniel Sheffield respectively. The chapter provides a summary of the well-known and less known texts. The chapter highlights the great foundations from which scholarly research and understanding of Zoroastrianism and Parsi studies depend and emanate, and the fragility of the preservation and loss of textual sources and knowledge. The Companion forms a highly valuable work and marshalling of major ideas by some leading scholars in the field on Zoroastrian and Parsi studies. The breadth of its focus achieves the editors’ goal: to provide a broad understanding of the religion, and account for the historical, religious, cultural, and intellectual factors that shaped Zoroastrianism.
Jesse Palsetia is Associate Professor, University of Guelph, Canada firstname.lastname@example.org
FEZANA Editor’s Comment: This is the first book of its kind; which assembles almost all senior scholars working on Zoroastrianism and presents many different angles in a systematic manner. This volume will be of value to the NA Zoroastrian community interested in scholarship on Zoroastrianism. A book for all associations to have in their libraries. Yuhan Sohrab-Dinshaw Vevaina is faculty at the Religious Studies Dept, Lecturer : Zoroastrianism and Ancient and Late Antique, Stanford Universtiy, FEZANA and the North American Associaitons and some individaul community members in India and NA have been supporting the teaching position of Vevaina at Stanford since 2010 till 2016. Additional funding could support the position for three more years. beyond 2016