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Ethics and Free Will > Zoroaster

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message 1: by Alan, Moderator and Author (last edited Jul 27, 2014 11:57AM) (new)

Alan Johnson (alanejohnson) | 3613 comments Mod
I posted the following today in the Zoroastrian History topic of the "Ancient Worlds" Goodreads group:

Interestingly, John Adams, second president of the United States, thought that "the Religion and Morals of Zoroaster" were "more transcendent" than that of Christianity. Adams to Thomas Jefferson, December 25, 1813, in The Adams-Jefferson Letters: The Complete Correspondence between Thomas Jefferson and Abigail and John Adams, ed. Lester J. Cappon (1959; repr., Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1987), 412. The historical background and teachings of Zoroaster are addressed on pages 131-38 (Kindle loc. 1631-99) of my First Philosophy and Human Ethics: A Rational Inquiry (Philosophia Publications, 2000). I discussed various primary and secondary sources on Zoroastrianism in some depth. I also set forth my own analysis of Zoroaster's Gathas, which I found to be ethically profound. On pages 136-40, I compared the original teachings of Zoroaster to Christianity and to various epigones of Zoroaster (Mithra, Mani, et al.). I concluded that "Zoroastrianism is, in its original conception, one of the most ethical religions that has arisen in human history." Although I have provided some online updates to this book, I have not found it necessary to modify my discussion of Zoroaster.


message 2: by Erick (last edited Sep 15, 2014 02:49PM) (new)

Erick (panoramicromantic) What was your opinion of the Hellenistic interaction with Zoroastrianism? Do you think that the pseudo-platonic dialogue Alcibiades and Plutarch gave fairly accurate witness to it? Is it possible to theorize that Cyrus and Darius were Zoroastrians, or were influenced by it directly? Is there evidence of it in the ethics of Cyrus?

I've read through the Gathas and some of the Pahlavi texts; as well as reading the relevant Hellenistic material. Zoroastrianism fascinates me, but scholars have been divided with regards to the dating of the sources. As a Christian, I do find the theory of a possible influence of Zoroastianism an interesting one. There certainly does seem to be some obvious parallels between it, the Essenic dead sea scrolls and early Christian writings.


message 3: by Alan, Moderator and Author (new)

Alan Johnson (alanejohnson) | 3613 comments Mod
Thank you for your post, Erick, and welcome to the group. You have the honor of being the 100th member of a group that started on June 16, 2014.

I researched and wrote the section on Zoroastrianism in my book almost twenty years ago and do not recall all the details of my research now. If I get a chance, I'll revisit it and report my thoughts. However, I am currently concentrating on researching and writing a book about Roger Williams (ca. 1603-83), which will probably also be of interest to you. See the "Roger Williams" topic in this group. Any comments that you or others have on any of these topics are welcome, whether they agree with my perspective or not.


message 4: by Erick (new)

Erick (panoramicromantic) Alan wrote: Any comments that you or others have on any of these topics are welcome, whether they agree with my perspective or not.

Thank you.


message 5: by Alan, Moderator and Author (new)

Alan Johnson (alanejohnson) | 3613 comments Mod
Alan wrote: "I researched and wrote the section on Zoroastrianism in my book almost twenty years ago and do not recall all the details of my research now. If I get a chance, I'll revisit it and report my thoughts."

I took a brief look at my earlier research this morning. I find that I researched and wrote the section on Zoroaster in First Philosophy and Human Ethics during 1999 and perhaps early 2000—about fifteen (not twenty) years ago. When I wrote First Philosophy and Human Ethics (published in June 2000), I was struck by the differences between Zoroaster's original teachings in his Gathas and the later modifications of his teachings in "Zoroastrianism" and still later offshoots of Zoroastrianism such as Mithraism. I thought—and still think—that Zoroaster's original teachings are superior to those of his epigones, though Zoroastrianism as currently practiced still includes (as I understand it) the core ideas of Zoroaster along with some relatively minor accretions. Mithraism, however, ended up contradicting Zoroaster's teachings in many respects. Some have argued that a similar modification of Jesus's teachings occurred at the hands of Paul and Augustine. However this may be, it was and is striking to me that the Gathas contained no doctrine of original sin and no doctrine of predestination. Women were considered equal to men, and marriage was not disparaged. Free will and ethical conduct were paramount. Zoroaster's teaching was not all that dissimilar to that of the Pelagian heresy that Augustine expelled forever from Christianity. All this is perhaps why John Adams, in his later years, thought that "the Religion and Morals of Zoroaster" were "more transcendent" than that of Christianity (citation in Post 1, above).

In First Philosophy and Human Ethics, I accepted the views of Mary Boyce that Zoroaster lived sometime between 1400 and 1200 BCE in a preliterate society somewhere in the steppes of central Asia and that the society in which Zoroaster lived eventually migrated southward into what is now Iran. Accordingly, Zoroastrianism is associated in recorded historical periods with Persia (now Iran). Were, then, Darius and Cyrus Zoroastrians? I haven't studied that question in any depth. Although I have read other works by Xenophon, I have not read his Education of Cyrus, which may contain the answer. I do note from the index to that work several references to the Magi, who apparently were Zoroastrian priests. However, a quick look at the text corresponding to some of these references indicates that this form of Zoroastrianism appears to be considerably different from that of Zoroaster—at least in Cyrus's understanding.

I concluded my discussion of Zoroaster in First Philosophy and Human Ethics by stating that "Zoroaster was a prophet of a philosophical kind" and that it was thus "not surprising that Plato referred respectfully to Zoroaster" in Alcibiades I 122A. In looking at this reference now, I see the association of Zoroaster with the Magi and perhaps with a version of Zoroastrianism that was not all that identical with Zoroaster's original teaching. I take no position regarding whether this dialogue was actually written by Plato.

I have not read Plutarch's discussion of Zoroaster or Zoroastrianism.

The foregoing are some of my thoughts regarding the questions you posed. For further discussion, see the page/location references to my First Philosophy and Human Ethics in Post 1, above.


message 6: by Erick (new)

Erick (panoramicromantic) I appreciate your response Alan. Very good information.


message 7: by Alan, Moderator and Author (last edited Sep 16, 2014 01:46PM) (new)

Alan Johnson (alanejohnson) | 3613 comments Mod
Thanks, Erick. I also have some follow-up on the question of the authorship of Alcibiades I. The "Straussians," who are usually quite meticulous in such matters (see Post 1 in the Leo Strauss (1899-1973) and the "Straussians" topic of this group), evidently hold that it is a genuine Platonic dialogue. See The Roots of Political Philosophy: Ten Forgotten Socratic Dialogues, ed. Thomas L. Pangle (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1987), which contains a translation of Alcibiades I by Carnes Lord at pages 175-221 and an interpretive essay, "On the Alcibiades I by Steven Forde at pages 222-39. Forde begins his essay as follows: "The Alcibiades I was held in the greatest esteem in the Platonic school of antiquity. There was a tradition in fact that placed the dialogue at the head of all of Plato's works, as the opening to the entire corpus; hence, perhaps, the traditional subtitle, 'On the Nature of Man.'" Ibid., 222. I am aware, of course, of the view of many scholars that the dialogue is spurious. Strauss himself often disagreed with scholarly conventional wisdom regarding the authenticity and interpretation of Platonic texts. I note that Alcibiades II is not included in the above-referenced volume, and I do not know how either Strauss or the so-called Straussians have viewed this dialogue.


message 8: by Alan, Moderator and Author (last edited Sep 16, 2014 01:59PM) (new)

Alan Johnson (alanejohnson) | 3613 comments Mod
Addendum to Post 7: Thomas Pangle's "Editor's Introduction" in The Roots of Political Philosophy, cited above, includes an in-depth scholarly discussion of the authenticity of Alcibiades I and some other Platonic dialogues included in that work. Pangle concludes that these dialogues are probably authentic. Ibid., 1-17.


message 9: by Erick (last edited Sep 18, 2014 02:08PM) (new)

Erick (panoramicromantic) Alan wrote: "Addendum to Post 7: Thomas Pangle's "Editor's Introduction" in The Roots of Political Philosophy, cited above, includes an in-depth scholarly discussion of the authenticity of Alcibiades..."

I have no particular opinion as to Alcibiades authenticity. I cited it as pseudonymous due to the overall opinion of scholars on the subject. The complete works cite it as most likely spurious. It's not that I have investigated those questions in depth myself. It may be genuine for all I know. It was common practice in those days for there to be many works that were composed pseudonymously; or, at least, partially pseudonymously. Given that it was common practice it is highly unlikely that any writer of note truly wrote every work ascribed to him. These are questions that come up with the Bible as well. Some of the critical points about Paul's epistles are valid, others are far from compelling.
I am not that familiar with Leo Strauss. I know he was a Socialist and a Zionist. I have cited him previously when making a point about the fact that Zionism was initially not only not religious, but, in point of fact, socialistic and atheistic. I may read him at some point. I have major issues with Zionism and my interest in philosophy is mainly of the metaphysical branch, not the ethical and political; but there are some exceptions.


message 10: by Alan, Moderator and Author (last edited Sep 18, 2014 02:51PM) (new)

Alan Johnson (alanejohnson) | 3613 comments Mod
Erick,

Leo Strauss was not a socialist. Most people in the academic world consider him quite right-wing, though I have doubts about that assessment. (I took one course from Strauss before he left the University of Chicago and took many courses from Joseph Cropsey and others associated with Strauss. I have also read most of Strauss's books.)

Strauss was a Zionist when he was young. You are probably correct that he was a secular rather than a religious Zionist. But he was never, to my knowledge, a socialist. He was quite anti-Communist, more so that befits the comfort level of academia. I believe he moderated his Zionism as he matured (I think he even mentioned that somewhere--don't remember where). He read and wrote about Christian and Islamic philosophers as well as Jewish and secular philosophers, and I don't think he can be identified as either in favor or against any religious group. He was secular, but in the philosophical sense, not in the Marxist sense. He abhorred Marx. He was Jewish, but he was not, in his maturity, observant.

The question of the authenticity of particular ancient writings is a difficult one. Each writing has to be considered on its own, without preconceptions, and the conclusions are necessarily often only tentative. Still, as Strauss observed, modern scholars often dismiss certain Platonic writings as spurious without adequate reasoning.

I am familiar with the issues regarding certain books of the New Testament. You are probably aware of Bart Ehrman, who started life as an evangelical Christian but became an agnostic. He has written and lectured extensively on the subject of the authorship of, for example, the Pauline epistles. You probably don't agree with him. I don't have any definite opinions about those matters, as it is not within my field of expertise. I have, however, become knowledgeable about seventeenth-century theology, especially Calvinism, in general, and the theology of Roger Williams in particular. My various posts in this group discuss some aspects of what I have learned.

Again, thank you for your comments, which are always welcome.

Alan


message 11: by Erick (last edited Sep 18, 2014 03:11PM) (new)

Erick (panoramicromantic) Alan,

I wasn't thinking that Strauss was a Marxist or a Communist as such. I really had in mind the teacher of Marx, Moses Hess. Theodore Herzl was a follower of Hess and Hess was a very early Zionist that also had his own brand of Socialism. In fact, he is one of the earliest socialists that can be named. Marx went off in his own direction from what he learned from Hess as far as I can tell. Most of the early Zionists subscribed to some brand of Socialism; David Bin Gurion is another example, apart from Hess and Herzl.

Yes, I am aware of Ehrman. He has his own cultic followers who have started their own religion believing they have the de facto interpretation of the bible. I find a lot of it very silly. I like Roger Williams quite a bit. I've read him and some of the writings of the English Levellers too. Freedom of conscience is a part of the reformation ideals I have been interested in. I've read Calvin's Institutes as well -not that I was that impressed with them. I will try to contribute to the other threads if I can.


message 12: by Alan, Moderator and Author (new)

Alan Johnson (alanejohnson) | 3613 comments Mod
I acknowledge that I don't know much about Strauss's involvement with Zionism in Germany before 1932. I have had, for more than a decade, a book entitled Leo Strauss: The Early Writings (1921-1932), trans. and ed. Michael Zank (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2002), which appears to get into those issues in depth, but I have not read it. What I can say with some confidence is that Strauss never, to my knowledge, indicated any sympathy for socialism after he left Germany in 1932 and, especially, after he relocated to the United States in 1937. It is certainly true that many of the persons who founded the state of Israel after World War II were secular socialists (which is quite ironic considering the fact that the Israeli government is currently driven by Orthodox Jewish concerns). But he was not one of those founders. By then he was in the United States. If he secretly sympathized with any kind of socialism after 1937, he kept it very well hidden. Although rumor has it that he voted for Stevenson over Ike during the 1950s presidential elections, I am not aware of any statement he made or action he took that could be construed as socialist in any accepted meaning of the term.

I disagree with Roger Williams's theology, but I agree with his views regarding separation of church and state and liberty of conscience. See my posts in the topic Roger Williams (ca. 1603-1683) in this group. Williams was the rare religious thinker who also had a deep sense of ethics and morality. In some ways, his morality transcended his theology, and he had a sincere compassion even for non-Christians (such as Native Americans), notwithstanding his acceptance of Calvin's doctrine of double predestination. As for Calvin, I have little time. He was instrumental in establishing the Genevan theocracy and was responsible for the execution of Servetus for heresy as well as criminal persecution of others who disagreed with Calvin on theological matters. I have written an extended section in the Appendix to my forthcoming book on Calvin's theocracy in Geneva.

Calvin did not believe in freedom of conscience. Although some of Luther's early writings supported liberty of conscience and separation of church and state, he later backslid from that position in significant ways. Unlike Roger Williams, both Luther and Calvin taught that government should be involved with religion.


message 13: by Erick (last edited Sep 18, 2014 05:15PM) (new)

Erick (panoramicromantic) Alan wrote: "Calvin did not believe in freedom of conscience. Although some of Luther's early writings supported liberty of conscience and separation of church and state, he later backslid from that position in significant ways. Unlike Roger Williams, both Luther and Calvin taught that government should be involved with religion. "

That's one of my major issues with both reformers. Freedom of conscience was a consistent theme with the radical reformers however (e.g. Schwenckfeld, Weigel and various Anabaptists and others). It was a theme that carried over into England and the 17th century Puritans. John Murton, one of the earliest Baptists, was a notable early proponent in England. His tract on freedom of religion influenced Williams. From what I can tell, the Levellers appear to have been influenced by Williams. His tract on religious liberty was published before the Leveller tracts and the Putney debates. There are notable similarities between the two. At least initially, Cromwell supported religious liberty (except for Catholics obviously); but as time went on his support waned.


message 14: by Alan, Moderator and Author (last edited Sep 18, 2014 07:31PM) (new)

Alan Johnson (alanejohnson) | 3613 comments Mod
Yes, the Anabaptists were among the few who supported liberty of conscience before Roger Williams. Most Puritans at the time of the first English Civil War did not, however, support complete religious freedom and wanted merely to take over the Church of England. James E. Ernst argued in the 1930s that Williams changed the discourse in England during his first visit (1643-44), both with his writings and in his discussions with those who later espoused his ideas in England, including some of the Levellers. I have spent much of the last two years researching all this and am devoting two of the chapters in my forthcoming book to Williams's involvement with and influence on revolutionary and Interregnum England. He ended up opposing both Presbyterians and Congregationalists/Independents (led by Cromwell), because these groups still did not support complete freedom of conscience and separation of church and state. His friends Henry Vane and John Milton (with significant qualifications) as well as some of the Baptists carried on Williams's ideas, but they lost out, especially after the Restoration.


message 15: by Erick (new)

Erick (panoramicromantic) Alan wrote: " Most Puritans at the time of the first English Civil War did not, however, support complete religious freedom and wanted merely to take over the Church of England."

Puritanism is tough to nail down. Some amount of pro-Anglicanism, anti-Anglicanism and Anglican ambivalence was found among the Puritans. Some latitudinarian theologians among the Anglican church membership were more open to free exercise of religious principles as well. Notable among those were the Cambridge Platonists. Of course, these same ideas were being discussed by the Hartlib circle, which was largely Puritan. The Levellers were made up of Puritans too. As you mentioned, Milton and Vane were Puritans as well. My notion of the Puritans has changed over time. It was not an organized movement and there was much dissension among Puritans about practical application of religion

Alan wrote: "I have spent much of the last two years researching all this and am devoting two of the chapters in my forthcoming book to Williams's involvement with and influence on revolutionary and Interregnum England. He ended up opposing both Presbyterians and Congregationalists/Independents (led by Cromwell), because these groups still did not support complete freedom of conscience and separation of church and state. His friends Henry Vane and John Milton (with significant qualifications) as well as some of the Baptists carried on Williams's ideas, but they lost out, especially after the Restoration. "

Sounds very interesting. The Presbyterians were abhorred by most other denominations in England. They were the most tyrannical lot from what I can tell.


message 16: by Alan, Moderator and Author (new)

Alan Johnson (alanejohnson) | 3613 comments Mod
Yes, the Puritans became divided into several different camps.

I'm glad you joined this group, Erick. It's interesting that someone else has studied some of the same history that I have studied.


message 17: by Erick (new)

Erick (panoramicromantic) Alan wrote: "Yes, the Puritans became divided into several different camps.

I'm glad you joined this group, Erick. It's interesting that someone else has studied some of the same history that I have studied."


Thank you. I'm glad too. My interests are rather discursive, but since I don't read a lot of fiction, it leaves only the study of history and ideas.


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