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The laws of Persia suffered no man to confine the motive of his sacrifices to any private or domestic interest. This was a fine way of attaching all private individuals' to the public good, by teaching them, that they ought never to sacrifice for themselves alone, but for the king and the whole state, wherein every man was comprehended with the rest of his fellow-citizens.
The Magi in Persia, were the guardians of all the ceremonies relating to their worship; and it was to them the peo ple had recourse, in order to be instructed therein, and to know on what days, to what gods, and after what manner they were to offer their sacrifices. As these Magi were all of one tribe, and that none but the son of a priest could pretend to the honour of the priesthood, they kept all their learning and knowledge, whether in religious or political concerns to themselves and their families; nor was it lawful for them to instruct any stranger in these matters, without the king's permission. It was granted in favour of Themistocles, a and was, according to Plutarch, a particular effect of the prince's great consideration for that distinguished person. This knowledge and skill in religious matters, which made Plato define magic, or the learning of the Magi, the art of worshipping the gods in a becoming manner, Sv Degareiav, gave the Magi great authority, both with the prince and people, who could offer no sacrifice without their presence and ministration.
₺ And before a prince in Persia could come to the crown, he was obliged to receive instruction for a certain time from some of the Magi, and to learn of them both the art of reigning, and that of worshipping the gods after a proper manner. Nor did he determine any important affair of the state, when he was upon the throne, without taking their advice and opinion beforehand; for which reason Pliny says, that even in his time they were looked upon in all the eastern countries as the masters and directors of princes, and of those who styled themselves the king of kings.
They were the sages, the philosophers, and men of learning in Persia, as the Gymnosophists and Brachmans were amongst the Indians, and the Druids among the Gauls. Their great reputation made people come from the most distant Countries to be instructed by them in philosophy and religion; and we are assured it was from them that Pythagoras borrowed the principles of that learning by which he acquired
a In Them. p. 126.
b Nec quisquam rex Persarum potest esse, qui non ante Magorum discipli nam scientianique perceperit. Cic. de Div. l. i. n 91.
c In tantum fastigii adolevi auctoritas Magorum) ut hodieque etiam in magna parte gentium prævaleat, et in oriente regum regibus imperet. Plin.
XXX. C. 1.
so much veneration and respect among the Greeks, excepting only his doctrine of transmigration, which he learned of the Egyptians, and by which he corrupted and debased the ancient doctrine of the Magi concerning the immortality of
It is generally agreed, that Zoroaster was the original author and founder of this sect; but authors are considerably di vided in their opinions about the time in which he lived. What Plinya says upon this head, may reasonably serve to reconcile that variety of opinions, as is very judiciously observed by Dr. Prideaux. We read in that author, that there were two persons named Zoroaster, between whose lives there might be the distance of 600 years. The first of them was the founder of the Magian sect, about the year of the world 2900; and the latter, who certainly flourished between the beginning of Cyrus's reign in the east, and the end of Darius's, son of Hystaspes, was the restorer and reformer of it.
Throughout all the eastern countries, idolatry was divided into two principal sects; that of the Sabeans, who, adored images; and that of the Magians, who worshipped fire. The former of these sects had its rise among the Chaldeans, who, from their knowledge of astronomy, and their particular application to the study of the seven planets, which they believed to be inhabited by so many intelligences, who were to those orbs what the soul of man is to his body; were induced to represent Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, Apollo, Mercury, Venus, and Diana, or the Moon, by so many images, or statues, in which they imagined those pretended intelligences, or deities, were as really present as in the planets themselves. In time, the number of their gods considerably increased; this image-worship from Chaldea spread itself throughout all the east; from thence passed into Egypt; and at length came among the Greeks, who propagated it through all the western nations.
To this sect of the Sabeans was diametrically opposite that of the Magians, which also took its rise in the same eastern countries. The Magians utterly abhorred images, and worshipped God only under the form of fire; looking upon that, on account of its purity, brightness, activity, subtilty, fecundity, and incorruptibility, as the most perfect symbol or representation of the Deity. They began first in Persia, and there and in India were the only places where this sect was propagated, and where they have remained even to this day. Their chief doctrine was that there were two princi ples; one the cause of all good, and the other the cause of all evil. The former is represented by light, and the other by darkness, as their truest symbols. The good god they
a Hist. Nat. 1. xxx. c. 1.
named Yazdan and Ormuzd, and the evil god Ahraman, The former is by the Greeks called Oromasdes, and the latter Arimanius. a And therefore when Xerxes prayed, that his enemies might always resolve to banish their best and bravest citizens, as the Athenians had Themistocles, he addressed his prayer to Arimanius, the evil god of the Persians, and not to Oromasdes, their good god.
Concerning these two gods, they had this difference of opinion; that whereas some held both of them to have been from all eternity; others contended, that the good god only was eternal, and the other was created. But they both agreed in this, that there will be a continual opposition between these two till the end of the world; that then the good god shall overcome the evil god, and that from thenceforward each of them shall have his peculiar world; that is, the good god, his world with all the good; and the evil god, his world with all the wicked.
The second Zoroaster, who lived in the time of Darius, undertoook to reform some articles in the religion of the Magian sect, which for several ages had been the predominant religion of the Medes and Persians; but since the death of Smerdis who usurped the throne, and his chief confederates, and the massacre of their adherents and followers, was fallen into great contempt. It is thought this reformer made his first appearance in Ecbatana.
The chief reformation he made in the Magian religion, was in the first principle of it. For whereas before they had held as a fundamental principle the existence of two supreme first causes; the first light, which was the author of all good; and the other darkness, the author of all evil; and that of the mixture of these two, as they were in a continual struggle with each other, all things were made; he introduced a principle superior to them both, one supreme God, who created both light and darkness; and who, out of these two principles, made all other things according to his own will and pleasure.
But to avoid making God the author of evil, his doctrine was, that there was one supreme Being, independent and self-existing from all eternity; that under him there were two angels; one the angel of light, who is the author of all good; and the other the angel of darkness, who is the author of all evil: that these two, out of the mixture of light and darkness, made all things that are; that they are in a perpetual struggle with each other; and that where the angel of light prevails, there good reigns; and that where the angel of darkness prevails, there evil takes place; that this struggle shall continue to the end of the world; that
a Plut. in Themist. p. 125.
then there shall be a general resurrection and a day of judgment, wherein all shall receive a just retribution according to their works. After which the angel of darkness and his disciples shall go into a world of their own, where they shall suffer in everlasting darkness the punishment of their evil deeds; and the angel of light and his disciples shall also go into a world of their own, where they shall receive in everlasting light the reward due unto their good deeds; that after this they shall remain separated for ever, and light and darkness be no more mixed together to all eternity. And all this the remainder of that sect, which is now in Persia and India, do, without any variation after so many ages, still hold even to this day.
It is needless to inform the reader, that almost all these tenets, though altered in many circumstances, do in general agree with the doctrine of the Holy Scriptures; with which it plainly appears the two Zoroasters were well acquainted, it being easy for both of them to have had an intercourse or personal acquaintance with the people of God; the first of them in Syria, where the Israelites had been long settled; the latter at Babylon, to which place the same people were carried captive, and where Zoroaster might have conversed with Daniel himself, who was in very great power and credit in the Persian court.
Another reformation, made by Zoroaster in the ancient Magian religion, was, that he caused temples to be built, wherein their sacred fire was carefully and constantly preserved; which he pretended himself to have brought down from heaven. Over this the priests kept a perpetual watch night and day, to prevent its being extinguished.
Whatever relates to the sect or religion of the Magians, the reader will find very largely and learnedly treated in Dean Prideaux's Connexion of the Old and New Testament, &c. from whence I have taken only a short extract.
THEIR MARRIAGES, AND THE MANNER OF BURYING
Having said so much of the religion of the eastern nations, which is an article I thought myself obliged to enlarge upon, because I look upon it as an essential part of their history, I shall be forced to treat of their other customs with the greater brevity; amongst which their marriages and burials are too material to be omitted.
"There is nothing more horrible, or that gives us a stronger idea of the profound darkness into which idolatry had plunged mankind, than the public prostitution of women at Babylon, which was not only authorized by law,but even com
a Herod. l, i, c. 199,
manded by the religion of the country, upon a certain annual festival, celebrated in honour of the goddess Venus, under the name of Mylitta, whose temple, by means of this infamous ceremony, became a brothel, or place of debauchery. a This wicked custom was still in being and very prevalent when the Israelites were carried captive to that criminal city; for which reason the prophet Jeremiah thought fit to caution and admonish them against so scandalous an abomination.
Nor had the Persians any better notion of the dignity and sanctity of the matrimonial institution than the Babylonians. I do not mean only with regard to that incredible multitude of wives and concubines, with which their kings filled their seraglios, and of which they were as jealous as if they had had but one wife, keeping them all shut up in separate apartments, under a strict guard of eunuchs, without suffering them to have any communication_with one another, much less with persons without doors. It strikes one with horror to read how far they carried their neglect and contempt of the most common laws of nature. Even incest with a sister was allowed amongst them by their laws, or at least authorized by their Magi, those pretended sages of Persia, as we have seen in the history of Cambyses. Nor did even a father respect his own daughter, or a mother the son of her own body. We read in Plutarch, that Parysatis, the mother of Artaxerxes Mnemon, who strove in all things to please the king her son, perceiving that he had conceived a violent passion for one of his own daughters called Atossa, was so far from opposing his unlawful desire, that she herself advised him to marry her, and make her his lawful wife, and laughed at the maxims and laws of the Grecians, which taught the contrary. For," says she to him, carrying her flattery to a monstrous excess, are not you yourself set by "God over the Persians, as the only law and rule of what " is becoming or unbecoming, virtuous or vicious?"
This detestable custom continued till the time of Alexander the Great, who, being become master of Persia, by the overthrow and death of Darius made an express law to suppress it. These enormities may serve to teach us from what an abyss the Gospel has delivered us; and how weak a barrier human wisdom is of itself against the most extravagant and abominable crimes.
I shall finish this article by saying a word or two upon their manner of burying the dead. e It was not the custom of the eastern nations, and especially of the Persians, to erect funeral piles for the dead, and to consume their bodies in the
c Philo lib. de Special. leg. p. 778. Diog. Laer in Procem. p. 6.
d In Artas. p. 1023
e Herod. i. ijì. c. 16.