By: Robert Charles Zaehner
In Zoroastrianism, as the most religions, variations in theology and heresies are common. The most important of these is the Zurvanite/Zurvānism, a heresy which was developed in the late Achaemenian period.
During this period of time (6th to 4th centuries BCE), Zoroastrian had became the main religion, in Iran which was followed and promoted by the Achaemenian Emperors.
The basic heresy is the creation of the god Zurvan (Eternal Time) who begets his sons Ohrmazd and Ahriman. As Boyce (1979: 69) notes, "by declaring that Ohrmazd and Ahriman are brothers, the Zurvanites betrayed Zoroaster's fundamental doctrine that good and evil are utterly separate and distinct by origin and nature."
The name Zurvan means Time, and our knowledge of the heresy comes only from non-Zoroastrian sources. The heresy developed from the argument that if there were primal twins, then there must also have been a creator father and the only possible father was Zurvan.
Boyce argues that Zurvanism was a deeply entrenched heresy which was to later weaken Zoroastrianism in its struggles with Christianity and Islam, (Boyce, 1979, p. 69). It is also accepted that the heresy enjoyed Sassanian royal patronage, a fact which would help to explain its influence on many Gnostic faiths. The Zurvanite heresy disappeared some centuries after the invasion of Iran by Arab forces and arrival of Islam in Iran in the mid 7th century CE.
The cult of Zurvan appears to have had few rituals, as Zurvan was believed to have been a remote being, entrusting power in the world to Ohrmazd. The Zurvanite belief system produced no change in existing Zoroastrian worship.
THE VARIETIES OF ZURVANISM
The Pahlavi Books
The Pahlavi books, which were in the main written in the ninth century A.D., some three centuries after the fall of the Sassanian Empire and the extinction of the Zoroastrian religion as the official creed of the Iranian peoples, remain our principal source for the Zoroastrianism of the Sassanian period. They do not, however, give us any clear picture of the theological development and the gradual crystallization of the orthodox dualist position that must have taken place during this period. No hint is allowed to appear in them that throughout its silver age Zoroastrian dualism was carrying on a running fight with the Zurvanite heresy in one form or another. That such a fight did go on can only be discovered from the inscriptions and from the Christian and Manichaean polemics directed against the Zoroastrians. What the exact nature of this heresy was, is, then, extremely difficult to determine. Traces of it, however, survive in the Pahlavi books themselves, and one 'Zurvanite' treatise written in New Persian in the thirteenth century, incongruously known to us as the 'Ulama-yi Islam', 'The Doctors of Islam', still survives.
Of the Pahlavi books themselves by far the most important from the theological point of view is the Denkart, a corpus of religious knowledge that runs into nearly a thousand printed pages. The first two books and part of the third are no longer extant, but what remains of the third book is our most important source of Zoroastrian theology and religious science-for the Zoroastrins claimed that the full religious revelation contained in the Good Religion held the keys of the physical as well as the spiritual universe: it was an all-embracing 'gnosis' or 'science'. Of the remaining Pahlavi books two contain passages that are at least 'semi'-Zurvanite in tendency. These are the Menok-i Khrat, 'The Spirit of Wisdom', and the Selections of Zatspram.The first of these is an imaginary dialogue between a wise man and personified Wisdom. In places it shows a tendency towards fatalism which is foreign to Zoroastrian orthodoxy.
Priestly Brothers: Manushchihr and Zatsparam
In the ninth century, it would appear, the religious life and thought of the Zoroastrian community was dominated by two brothers, both of whom were high priest. The one was Manushchihr, High Priest of Shiraz and Kirman, the other Zatsparam, High Priest of Sirkan. Both brothers have left treatises dealing with the central doctrines of Zoroastrianism, and it is clear from Manushchihr's own Epistles, which are directed explicitly against his brother's innovations in the matter of purifactory rites, that he regarded him as little better than a Manichee. 'You should know,' Manushchihr writes to his brother, 'that were you to speak in the assembly of the Tughazghaz, you would find few to contradict you.' The Tughazghaz were not only a Turkish tribe, which was bad enough; they were also Manichee, which was very much worse. This was a serious accusation, and it is apparent from Zatsparam's own writings that the charge was not baseless. Zatsparam is Zurvanite to the extent that he at least recognized Zurvan, for him a highly personalized Infinite Time, as a principle independent of both Ohrmazd and Ahriman and as, in some sense, the arbiter between them. He was the last protagonist of a once powerful heresy; but the heresy is already a much diluted version of the original, for Zatsparam dare no longer affirm that Ohrmazd and Ahriman are originated beings deriving from Infinite Time which alone is uncreated.
If Zatsparam can be regarded as the last of the Zurvanites, Manushchihr saw himself as the very embodiment of orthodoxy, and his major work, the Datastan-i Denik, 'The religious Norm', can be regarded as an authoritative statement of orthodoxy. Equally orthodox in the dualist sense is the Shkand-Gumanik Vichar, an 'Analytical Treatise for the Dispelling of Doubts', by a certain Mardan-Farrukh who also flourished in the ninth century. This is in some ways that most interesting of all the Zoroastrian books since it presents a philosophical justification of Zoroastrian dualism in a more or less coherent form; and it further contains a detailed critique of the monotheistic creeds, Islam, Judaism, and Christianity as well as an attack on Zoroastrianism's dualistic rival, Manichaeanism.
Of the remaining Pahlavi books only the so-called Bundahishn need detain us. Bundahishn means 'original creation', and this indeed is one of the topics with which the book deals. Apart from this, however, it deals, somewhat cursorily, with a wide variety of topics ranging from Ahriman's attack on the good creation and the resurrection of the dead on the one hand to a discussion on the nature of plants, animals, etc., on the other.
The Influx of Greek and Indian Ideas
Such, then, are the main sources on which we must rely for our information on the Zoroastrianism of the Sassanian period. The 'orthodoxy' they reflect is that imposed on the Zoroastrian Church by Khusraw I. It is, however, not to be supposed that that monarch had eliminated all questionable doctrine from the corpus of writing in the Pahlavi tongue which constituted the Sassanian Avesta. This corpus, which probably bore little relation to what of the original Avesta had survived in the Avestan language, had already been heavily adulterated with extraneous material, and this material, once it had become embedded in it, passed off as having divine sanction. Shapur I, it will be recollected, had 'collected those writings from the Religion which were dispersed throughout India, the Byzantine Empire, and other lands, and which treated of medicine, astronomy, movement, time, space, substance, creation, becoming, passing away, qualitative change, logic, and other arts and sciences. These he added to the Avesta and commanded that a fair copy of all of them be deposited in the Royal Treasury; and he examined the possibility of basing every form of academic discipline on the Religion of the Worshippers of Mazdah.
Little is known of what 'writings from the Religion' can possibly have been circulating in India, but it is clear from the Denkart and the Shkand-Gumanik Vichar that Aristotelian philosophy had been adopted into the main stream of Zoroastrianism, and that this philosophy, on occasion, took on some very queer forms. We know from our Greek sources that some very curious works circulated under Zoroaster's name in the Hellenistic world, and that Zoroaster was supposed to have been the preceptor of Pythagoras whom he allegedly met in Babylon; and it can therefore be surmised that works circulating under Zoroaster's name might contain Pythagorean ideas. That this may have been so will come out in the sequel.
Dualist orthodoxy was first proclaimed by Karter shortly after the death of Shapur I, and in reasserting what he considered to be the principles of traditional dualism as against all watering-down of this 'true' doctrine, he singled out for attack not only the non-Iranian religions, but also the Zandiks. Who, precisely, were these Zandiks?
The 'Zandiks' and 'Dahris'
In Muhammadan times the word Zandik (in its Arabicized form Zindiq) continued to be used to indicate two classes of people who had only this in common, that they were recognized by neither Muslims, Christians, Jews, nor Zoroastrians, and that they were regarded by the Muslims as being particularly pernicious heretics, the shedding of whose blood was lawful. The two classes of heretic which the term covered were the Manichees on the one hand, and those materialists who believed in the eternity of the world and denied that there was a creator on the other. According to the Arab historian Mas'udi, the term was first used during the reign of Bahram I who-with the intervention of a reign lasting only one year-followed on Shapur I, that is to say, when the High Priest Karter was at the heigh of his power. The term Zandik was coined to denote all those who based their teaching on the Zand or 'commentary' on the Avesta rather than on the Avesta itself. The term was used both of the Manichees and of all those 'who believed in the eternity of the world and denied that it had been originated. In later times these two different types of Zandiks were differentiated, the Manichees being usually referred to simply as 'dualists', and the materialists as Dahris-dahr being the Arabic word for 'time'. The roots of both sects are, however, in Sassanian Persia, and long antedate the Muhammadan era.
The great Muhammadan theologian, Al-Ghazali, classifies the various philosophical schools into Dahris, naturalists, and theists. Of the Dahris he says:
'The first school, the Dahris, are one of the oldest sects. They deny the existence of a creator and disposer who is omniscient and omnipotent. They think that the world has always existed of itself and as it [now] is, without a creator; and that animals have always sprung from seed and seed from animals. So has it [always] been, and so will it be forever. These are the Zandiks.'
The Zandiks mentioned in Karter's great inscription, therefore, probably included both Manichees and materialists, and the 'commentary' or 'Zand' that at least the latter followed was probably to be found in those writings deriving from the Byzantine world which treated of movement, time, space, etc., and which were incorporated into the Avesta by Shapur I. In the Zoroastrian writings themselves these Dahris or Zandiks, who are equated with the Sophists, were felt to be un-Iranian. They must have constituted a hellenizing party which still claimed to be Zoroastrian, and which could defend its orthodoxy by saying that it was following authentic teachings of Zoroaster which, though lost in their original from when Persepolis was sacked by Alexander, had miraculously survived in a Greek translation; these translations had now been restored to their rightful place in the canon of the Avesta by the action of the king of kings.
Al-Jili, one of the later Muhammadan mystics, tells us that these same Dahris refrained from all acts of worship because, believing in the eternity of Time, they venerated it as God in his essence, as pure potentiality, and not as an actual creator. Jili, then, would have it that, beneath the materialism of the Dahris, there was a mystical element of pure contemplation of the Godhead in its essence; and, as we come to examine some of the more abstruse texts of the Denkart, we shall perhaps be disposed to agree with him. From the side of orthodox dualist Zoroastrianism, Mardan-Farrukh attacks the Dahris, but makes no allowance for any mystical element there may have been in their beliefs. For him they are out-and-out materialists.
'Different [from the atheists proper],' he says, 'are the atheists called Dahris. They give up their religious duties and make no effort to practise virtue: [rather] they indulge in endless discussion....They believe that Infinite Time is the first Principle of this world and of all the various changes and [re-]groupings to which its members and organs are subject as well as of the mutual opposition that exists between them and of their fusion with one another. [They believe too] that virtue goes unrewarded, that there is no punishment for sin, that heaven and hell do not exist, and that there is no one who has charge of [the rewarding of] virtue and [the punishment of] sin. [They believe too] that all things are material and that the spiritual does not exist.'
These were the 'Zandiks' or 'Dahris' whom Karter persecuted. This seems certain because Karter makes a point of affirming the very doctrines that the Zandiks deny. In no uncertain terms he bids the passer-by to remember that 'heaven exists and hell exists, and whoso is virtuous will go to heaven, and whoso is vicious will be cast into hell'. Since the Zandiks saw in Infinite Time the one ultimate and changeless principle from which all else proceeds, they must be considered as Zurvanite materialists. Their doctrines were almost certainly derived from those 'scientific' works which Shapur I had incorporated into the Avesta from Byzantium and India. Indeed, the idea that Time is the source of all things is perhaps derived from India rather than from the Hellenistic world. Already in the Maitri Upanishad (c. 500 BC?) we find Time identified with the supreme principle; and Time has two forms, the 'timeless', which is without parts, the eternal 'now', and time which is visible into parts as it is normally understood: the first is 'Time without form', the second the 'form' of Time.
From Time do contingent beings flow forth,
From Time too do they advance to growth;
In Time too do they return home.
Time, for the Indians, was not simply time as we understand it. As the Infinite it is the raw material, the materia prima, of all contingent being. As Being it is the source of all becoming: it is Infinite Time-Space and it becomes embodied in the universe, and 'this embodied Time is the ocean of creatures'. Ideas not unlike these reappear in the Denkart, and efforts, often not very successful, were made to adjust them to the exigencies of a dualist theology.
It would seem certain that at the time of this influx of Greek and Indian ideas into Sassanian Zoroastrianism, Zurvanism in its mythological form already existed; otherwise Mani's choice of Zurvan rather than Ohrmazd to represent his own 'Father of Greatness' would be inexplicable. Zurvan, then, already conceived of as infinite Time-Space, the whole intelligible universe from whom a good and an evil daemon proceed, or who gives birth to light and darkness before these-Zurvan, already referred to in the Avesta as the 'Infinite'-must inevitably have coalesced with the more abstract concept of infinite Time-Space as primal matter, the ultimate source of all things, which the Iranians probably derived from India, and which they combined with the Aristotelian key concepts of matter and form, potentiality and actuality.
'Classical' and Materialist Zurvanism
The two types of Zurvanism, however, were originally quite distinct and derived from quite different sources. Mythological Zurvanism starts as an attempt to explain what Zoroaster could have possibly meant when he said that the Holy and Destructive Spirits were twins. It picks on the Infinite (Time or Space) as being the only possible 'Absolute' from which the twins could proceed: it is the source of the good in the one and the evil of the other, of light and of darkness in which they respectively have their beings. It elevates Zurvan or Infinite Time to the status of father of the spirits of good and evil, the father of light and darkness. It thereby makes Ohrmazd, now identified with Zoroaster's Holy Spirit, subordinate to Zurvan-Zurvan himself remaining a shadowy figure over against which the cosmic drama plays itself out.
Materialist Zurvanism, the religion of the Zandiks, however, is quite different from this. Its leading idea, namely, that infinite Time-Space which is itself without form, though the source of all that has form, is probably of Indian origin, but the philosophical development of the idea is worked out along Aristotelian lines. The whole thing, as the Denkart says, is un-Iranian. Both types of Zurvanism, however, present a direct challenge to the orthodox dualism, and both challenge it where it is weakest-in its conception of a godhead which, though perfectly good, is nonetheless limited by a positive power of evil. Zurvanism brings a new dimension into Zoroastrianism-the dimension of an eternity which is not simply infinite duration, but a condition that is beyond space and time, and which, being itself a state of perfect rest, must also be the source from which all movement and all action proceed. Orthodoxy tried to wrestle with this problem and offered not one but many solutions. The result was that in the end their rigid dualism gave way to an unsure 'trialism' in which there were not to principles only, but three-Ohrmazd, the good God, Ahriman, the Devil, and a neutral principle of primal matter, infinite Time-Space which is beyond good and evil and possessed of neither intelligence nor will.
As we have had occasion to say time and time again, Zoroaster's God creates ex nihilo- he thinks the world into existence. In the words of another prophet he says: 'Be,' and it is. Both the Greeks and the Indians, however, accepted it as axiomatic that nothing can arise out of nothing. Either, then, God emanates both the intelligible and sensible orders from himself, or he gives form to an eternally existing primal matter. It was the latter view that predominated in Sassanian orthodoxy, and we find it explicitly stated that 'no form can be brought into being from not-being, nor can it be made to return thither. Creation is no longer a philosophically respectable idea: the Prophet's insight had been forgotten, and the Sassanian theologians became the victims of two alien philosophies which had no roots in Iran.
For, since the initiative of Shapur I, orthodoxy was in no position utterly to reject the new philosophy which had been grafted on to the restored Avesta; it could only seek to combine it with its own dualism as best it could. It is quite true that under Shapur II, Aturpat, son of Mahraspand, once that he had defeated his rivals, did his utmost to re-establish a more simple dulist belief in which the purely philosophical element was minimized; for, to judge from the extant sayings attributed to him, his emphasis was primarily on practical morality, and it would seem that only under Khusraw I was a balance struck between faith and reason. Khusraw certainly regarded faith in the revealed texts as being primary, but he also demanded that faith should be substantiated by reason. Should the two appear to conflict, then the decision rested with the authority of the college of Magi; they would have to decide how the various portions of the reconstituted Pahlavi Avesta, which presumably still contained the foreign material introduced by Shapur I, were to be interpreted and how they were to be reconciled.
The Zandik Ontology and Metaphysics
What the Zandiks appear to have done was to single out those passages from the 'Avesta' and Zand which suited their purposes, and to have ignored the ancient traditional doctrines altogether. This would be all the easier for them to do in that there never seems to have been any clear dividing-line between what was 'Avesta', that is, the 'received text' of revelation, and what was Zand or 'commentary', the two together being known to the Muslims indifferently as the Avesta u Zand or the Zand u Avesta which was later to appear in European languages as Zend-Avesta. These Zandiks or Zurvanite materialists, in fact, wholly denied three Zoroastrian dogmas, that is, the existence of a good God and an Evil Spirit, the freedom of the human will to choose between good and evil, and the rewarding and punishment of individual souls according to their good and evil deeds. Moreover, they also believed that 'all things are material and that the spiritual does not exist'.
Menok and Geteh
The Pahlavi words for 'spiritual' and 'material' are, in this context, menok and geteh, and they derive from the Avestan words mainyu and gaethya. Mainyu derives from the same root as Latin mens and our own mind: it is what thinks, chooses, and wills-what distinguishes the purely spiritual gods as well as man from all the rest of creation. Gaethya derives from a root gay-, jay-, meaning 'to live'; it means anything that is possessed of physical life, and since all material things were regarded by the Zoroastrians of the 'catholic' period as being in some sense alive, gaethya came to mean 'material'. The two words, then, corresponded exactly to what is called 'spiritual' and 'material' in other Near Eastern religions.
With the introduction of Aristotelian terminology, however, these simple religious concepts became confused. 'Matter', for Aristotle, was of itself so nebulous a concept that it could hardly be said to exist at all until it received 'form'. Thus the classic pair of opposites is, for him, not matter and spirit, but matter and form. It is true that the Iranians found suitable words other than menok and geteh to express these ideas, but they re-deifined menok and geteh in accordance with Aristotelian principles. Because the menok or spiritual side of man which included mind, will, and consciousness, was regarded as being immaterial, the word was re-defined as meaning a single, uncompounded substance without parts, invisible and intangible; and because Aristotle's 'matter' was also invisible and intangible, 'matter' in its primary unformed state was also described as menok. Thus there are three forms of menok existence, the two menoks or 'spirit' of orthodox theology, neither of which is the material cause of the material and physical world, and a third menok, which is the totally unformed primal matter of Aristotelian philosophy, the unseen source of all material things. The Armenian historian, Eznik of Kolb, noticed this discrepancy and pointed out that the Zoroastrians were divided into sects, and that among them there were some who admitted two principles only while others accepted three. In fact, even the fully orthodox account of the creation admits the existence of a third entity between Ohrmazd who dwells on high in the light and Ahriman who prowls below in the darkness: this entity is the Void, otherwise called Vay; and 'Vay' is simply the Pahlavi form of the ancient god Vayu used now to mean the 'atmosphere' that separates the heavenly lights above from the infernal darkness below. To this mythological account of the creation we shall have to return once we have considered the various philosophical interpretations of creation preserved in the Denkart. Some of these come perilously near to the position of the Zandiks or materialist Zurvanites.
Menok, we learn, used in the quite new sense of invisible and intangible primal matter, is uncompounded, and devoid of parts; it is called ras, the 'wheel'. The 'wheel' seems rather an odd name to apply to what Aristotle would have called 'primal matter' and calls for some explanation. It is, however, the word used elsewhere for the 'wheel' of heaven, the heavenly sphere in which the whole material creation is contained. This 'heavenly sphere' or firmament is thought of as comprising the whole material creation; it is the macrocosm in the image of which man, the microcosm, is made; it is the universe as it is when fully formed, the 'world' or geteh.
Matter, however, can neither be created nor destroyed; hence, primal matter, which is one, devoid of parts, and lacking all form, is also called ras, the 'wheel'. Itself eternal, it is the source of all becoming. It is infinite Time-Space, the Zurvan Akarana mentioned in the Avesta. Space is the pre-condition of matter, and Time is its eternity, and without infinite Time-Space there could have been no creation. The word 'creation', of course, implies a creator and in most of the cosmological passages in the Denkart Ohrmazd appear as the creator who fashions forth his creation from primal matter; he gives form to the formless Time-Space continuum. There are, however, two passages in which no reference at all is made to a creator; the whole process of creation is represented as an automatic process of 'becoming' from a unitary, infinite and eternal Time-Space. Time-Space is the primal 'matter' from which all 'becoming' proceeds. 'Becoming' is perhaps not the best translation of the word bavishn which seems to stand for a state of indeterminate being from which the whole evolutionary process starts, for it is also called the 'seed' and the 'seed of seeds'. Even so it is posterior to Time-Space and originates from it. The whole process of evolution from primal matter (Time-Space) to the fully developed universe is seen as taking place in four stages. These are called 'becoming', the 'process of becoming', the 'stabilization of becoming', and finally the 'world', geteh. This scheme of things, which makes no mention of a creator God is, of course, wholly un-Zoroastrian; it is a purely materialistic and mechanistic interpretation of the universe, yet it lays claim to scriptural authority, for it uses phrase 'as is said in the Religion'. This 'Religion' is obviously not the Avesta as we know it; it can only refer to the Graeco-Indian writings imported into the Sassanian Avestan by Shapur.
This fourfold scheme of evolution, however, whatever its source, is repeated again and again in the Denkart, and efforts are made to fit it into a strictly dualist framework. The three stages that precede the emergence of the fully differentiated cosmos-becoming, the process of becoming, and the stabilization of becoming-are elsewhere equated respectively with two of the four 'natural properties', the hot and the moist; with the four elements (fire, air, water, and earth); and with organic life as manifested in animals and men. Again, 'becoming', that is, the hot and the moist, is called 'primal matter', 'unformed and the origin of all material forms'; the 'process of becoming', that is, the four elements, is 'mediary matter' or 'potential form', while the 'stabilization of becoming', defined as 'form detached from matter', is 'ultimate matter'.
To make confusion worse confounded the 'process of becoming' is also called the 'first form' and the 'stabilization of becoming' the 'second form', while living creatures are termed the 'third form'. 'Matter' and 'form' are, of course, basic to Aristotle's philosophy, but in the Denkart the author rarely seems to understand what the terms mean and uses them in an exceedingly arbitary way. The terminology is Aristotelian, but the evolutionary cosmogony we meet with seems to be peculiar to the Denkart. In substance it would seem to be nearer to Indian thought and particularly to the Maitri Upanishad, which also distinguishes three stages in the evolutionary process, than it is to Aristotle.
The two passages from the Denkart from which we have drawn these curious evolutionary ideas are thus almost indistinguishable from the mechanistic materialism of the Zandiks, for they are concerned exclusively with the development of the material world, and say nothing at all about spirit. Only in the last sentence of each is any reference made to good and evil. 'From the world (geteh),' we read, '[proceed] specific things and persons together with their respective operations, or, as the Religion says: "From the world proceeded that which grew together within both the two Spirits -righteousness and unrighteousness-"'. This, presumably, is a concession to traditional orthodoxy, but it is a strange one; for, though it mentions the 'two Spirits', that is, Ohrmazd and Ahriman (though not a word was said of them in what went before), it implies that good and evil, righteousness and unrighteousness, too, proceed naturally from the now fully differentiated and individuated material 'world'. We are moving in a circle of ideas in which Ohrmazd and Ahriman find no natural place.
The Dualist Interpretation of Evolution
Now, in Greek physics the four primary properties are the hot, the cold, the moist, and the dry; yet the stage called 'becoming' in our texts is equated with the hot and the moist only. Why, one wonders, should this be? The reason can only be that, in the Iranian tradition, Ohrmazd was identified with the hot and the moist, Ahriman with the cold and the dry, for 'the substance of Ohrmazd is hot and moist, bright, sweet-smelling, and light', while that of Ahriman is 'cold and dry, heavy, dark, and stinking'. So, when orthodoxy attempted to adapt the purely physical account of the evolution of the universe which they imported from Byzantium or India to their own way of thinking, they excised the cold and the dry from the group of the natural properties because they were considered to constitute the substance of Ahriman -and the material world is created by Ohrmazd, not by Ahriman. Further, of the four elements it is the air which is hot and moist according to Aristotle, and the air or wind is identical with the ancient god Vayu who, in the orthodox cosmology, has become the Void which separates the kingdom of light from the kingdom of darkness; and this Void is the raw material from which Ohrmazd forms the material universe.
The Denkart is by no means a consistent whole; least of all is it so in its description of the origins of the universe. Because this is so, we are able to register the modifications that a purely mechanistic and atheistic doctrine which was incongruously grafted on to the Avesta, underwent at the hands of the orthodox. The fourfold evolutionary scheme is accepted, but it is no longer an authomatic process. It is controlled and directed by Ohrmazd. The re-definition of menok as meaning not only the traditional 'spirit', intellect, and will', but also all that is beyond the physical senses, that is, primal matter as understood by Aristotle, is accepted; but the world no longer proceeds automatically from this primal matter which is the Time-Space continuum, but is formed by Ohrmazd in the same way that a diadem is fashioned out of gold by a goldsmith, or a spade out of iron by an iron-founder. Ras, that is, primal matter and the embodiment of Time-Space, now appears as the 'implement' which Ohrmazd wields against his eternal enemy. The material world was drawn forth from the unseen 'to strive against the author of disorderly movement (oshtapak), that is, to repel the Adversary of creation; and this has as its corollary an eternal increase in well-being. This is what it was created for.... No action undertaken by any material creature exists which is not aimed at the repulse of the author of disorderly movement. Creation, then, is God's reasoned reaction against the attack he foresees must come from the opposing side. The evolutionary process is now no longer a purely automatic process of development inherent in the very nature of matter. The 'seed' or first origin of the material world is now not from the ras or Time-Space continuum: it results 'from the creative activity of the Creator through the instrumentality of the power of Time-Space'. Time-Space is thus the instrument which God uses to bring his enemy into the open. What is more, eternal Time-Space is now identified not simply with primal matter but with the Endless Light which is Ohrmazd's eternal habitat; and creation, in its various stages, is thus seen as an ever-diminishing reflection of the divine light.
A Zurvanite View of Evolution
Similar ideas are developed on more strictly dualist lines in another passage in the Denkart. Here the menok or invisible world in general is described as being single and uncompounded; but within this unity, it appears, the basic polarity of light and darkness is latently present, and this polarity also includes the polarity of life and death. Through God's creative activity, creation emerges from its pristine unity into a multiplicity of compound beings, 'visible and tangible', and these again will return to their source. The original unity, however, becomes differentiated into the four natural properties of hot, moist, cold, and dry-the hot and the moist being the principle of life, and the cold and the dry being the principle of death; and it is the mere fact that the hot and the moist are naturally alive that enables them to develop in material form. The cold and the dry are sterile by nature and cannot develop any living organism. What appear to be physical manifestations of evil and were traditionally so in earlier Zoroastrianism -wolves, serpents, and heretics, for example -are rather physical manifestations of the original light possessed by an evil spirit: they are the garments put on by the demons. Now, this would appear to be almost exactly the theory of creation which Eudemus of Rhodes attributed to the Magi; for, according to him, the Magi called the whole intelligible universe (which is a unity) Space or Time, and from this unity either a good god and evil demon proceeded, or light and darkness before these. Similarly, in our Denkart passage the menok, defined as 'uncompounded' (a-ham-but), 'single' (evtak), 'invisible and intangible', divides into the menok of light and that of darkness, the first being the principle of life and the second of death. Light, life, hot and moist we know to be of the substance of Ohrmazd, and darkness, death, cold and dry are no less of the substance of Ahriman. Both, then, according to this account, proceed from the single, undifferentiated menok which we have encountered elsewhere as the ras, primal matter or Space-Time. The dualism between the two opposing Spirits is there all right, but it is a dualism that proceeds from the primal unity. This is the Zurvanite heresy in philosophical disguise.
The Three Types of Zurvanism
We have seen that three types of Zurvanism were combated in Sassanian times. First there were the Zandiks, Zurvanite materialists who derived all creation from infinite Space-Time, who denied heaven and hell, did not believe in rewards and punishments, and did not admit the existence of the spiritual world. With these we are now familiar. Secondly there were the straight fatalists, and lastly the Zurvanites proper who regarded Infinite Time, in its personification as the god Zurvan, as being the father of the twin Spirits of good and evil, Ohrmazd and Ahriman.
Both the orthodox and the Zurvanite heretics regarded creation as being a limitation of infinite space and infinite time. Primal matter is reduced to an orderly cosmos, and this is the embodiment of limited time and space. Thus the cosmos is a living organism bounded by the heavenly sphere which, being itself limited time-space, controls all that is within it, for it is the soul of the world. All that takes place in the twelve thousand years which is the life-span allotted to this material creation, is, then, controlled by the sphere, and by the twelve constellations and the seven planets that inhabit it. Human destiny, then, must be in the hands of these astral powers. This was the second Zurvanite heresy -astrological fatalism- and it, too, ran directly counter to the Prophet's clear affirmation of the absolute freedom of the human will. Like all things, however, in this state of mixture of good and evil, the luminaries are divided between the good god and his enemy: the constellations or Signs of the Zodiac are on the side of Ohrmazd, whereas the planets are literally the spawn of Satan. Whatever good Ohrmazd transmits to his creatures through the constellations risks being interpreted by the malevolence of the planets and being redistributed unjustly.
'The twelve Signs of the Zodiac... are the twelve commanders on the side of Ohrmazd, and the seven planets are said to be the seven commanders on the side of Ahriman. And the seven planets oppress all creation and deliver it over to death and all manner of evil: for the twelve Signs of the Zodiac and the seven planets rule the fate of the world and direct it'.
Of the Pahlavi books that have come down to us it is the Menok i Khrat that shows the most pronounced fatalist tendencies. The orthodox themselves did not deny that one's earthly condition was ruled by fate; what they did deny was that fate could affect moral action on which man's ultimate salvation or damnation depended; these rested squarely in man's own hands. In places the Menok i Khrat comes perilously near to denying this. Fate not only determines one's earthly lot, but also one's character.
'Though [one be armed] with the valour and strength of wisdom and knowledge, yet it is not possible to strive against fate. For once a thing is fated and comes true, whether for good or the reverse, the wise man goes astray in his work, and the man of wrong knowledge becomes clever at his work; the coward becomes brave, and the brave man becomes cowardly; the energetic man becomes a sluggard, and the sluggard energetic: for, for everything that has been fated, a fit occasion arises which sweeps away all other things. [So too] when fate helps a slothful, wrong-minded, and evil man, his sloth becomes like energy, and his wrong-mindedness like wisdom, and his evil like good: and when fate opposes a wise, decent, and good man, his wisdom is turned to unwisdom and foolishness, his decency to wrong-mindedness; and his knowledge, manliness, and decency appear of no account.'
Such were the views of the Zurvanite fatalists against which the High Priest Aturpat, son of Mahraspand, struggled during the reign of Shapur II; but though he won his battle and saved the doctrine of free will for Zoroastrianism, fatalism, in the long run, triumphed over its rival; for, with the coming of Islam to Iran, it found a ready really ally, and Firdausi himself, who did more than any other man to revive the glories of their Zoroastrian past in the minds of his fellow-countrymen, paints a picture of Zoroastrianism that in no way reflects the spirit of hopeful free enterprise that is characteristic of all phases of that religion; rather he shows us a universe inexorably ruled by an ineluctable fate, subject to the revolving heavens and a pitiless Time in which all man's striving and all his heroism crumble away to dust.
Zurvanism proper, it would appear, did not receive official sanction until the reign of Yazdgird II, although it must have existed as early as the fourth century BC as the testimony of Eudemus shows. It was a heresy which, unlike the Zurvanite materialism we have discussed, originally owed nothing to the foreign accretions introduced by Shapur I. It was genuinely Iranian and Zoroastrian in that it sought to clarify the enigma of the twin Spirits which Zoroaster had left unresolved. If the Holy and Destructive Spirits, or Ohrmazd and Ahriman, as they had now become, were indeed twins, then they must have had a father; and this father, according to the Zurvanites, was Zurvan, the Zurvan Akarana of the Avesta, Infinite Time personified.
The myth of the two primeval twins who are born of Infinite Time is only attested in non-Zoroastrian and Anti-Zoroastrian sources: only the late 'Ulama-yi Islam among the Zoroastrian sources preserves it in a modified form. Among the Pahlavi books Zurvan appears as a god, and not a simply as the principle of Infinite Time, in both Zatsparam and the Menok i Khrat; he is also given a brief notice in the Bundahishn catalogue of deities. In the Denkart he never appears under his own name, but is simply referred to as 'infinite time' (zaman i akanarak).