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Boyce 1975 Zor Cult Fire

Boyce 1975 Zor Cult Fire

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On the Zoroastrian Temple Cult of FireAuthor(s): Mary BoyceSource:
Journal of the American Oriental Society,
Vol. 95, No. 3 (Jul. - Sep., 1975), pp. 454-465Published by:
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This is a review article of a comprehensive and valuable work by Dr. Klaus Schippmann on the fire temples of ancient Iran. In the article it is suggested that the study of such sanc- tuaries is more complex than has hitherto been supposed, because the existence of an image as well as a fire cult among the Zoroastrians meant that from Achaemenian times they had in fact two different types of sacred buildings, not readily distinguishable from one an- other. The image cult, introduced apparently in the 4th century B.C., lasted until suppres- sed by an iconoclastic movement under the Sasanians. It is argued that the cult of temple fires was instituted in opposition to this alien form of worship, probably also in the 4th cen- tury, and it is pointed out that no actual ruins of a fire temple have been convincingly iden- tified from before the Parthian period. The antecedents of the temple cult are sought in the older veneration of the hearth fire, and some of its developments are pursued in an at- tempt to provide a clearer background for the study of the archaeological remains. Final- ly from among the fairly numerous ruins of the Sasanian period those of the great temple of Adar GuSnasp are considered, and a new identification is offered of the site there of the fire sanctuary itself.
period before the 17th century A.D. makes it necessary to use every available source of evidence-from literature, philology, archaeology, numismatics, proper names, judicious comparisons with Vedic beliefs and practices --if one wishes to try to understand its doctrines and observances, and to trace their development. The cult of fire is at the heart of Zoroastrian devotional life, and has profound theological implications; and yet it has never been studied in detail by any Western scholar -partly no doubt because students of Zoroastrianism have always been few, but partly also because of the complexity of the subject and the difficulty of mastering the scattered data. This obstacle has now been greatly reduced through an important contribution by Dr. Klaus Schippmann, who with great care and labour has compiled an invaluable work on the fire temples of ancient Iran.1 In this he has brought together a mass of literary and archaeological material from diverse and often little- known sources. This copious matter he has set out clearly and systematically, with lengthy citations from the chief works (ancient and modern), and helpful photographs and sketch-plans of a number of excavated sites. The arrangement is made province by province; but there are also tables listing the material remains 1 Die iranischen Feuerheiligtiimer, Berlin-New York, 1971. chronologically according to era (Achaemenian, Parthian, Sasanian), as well as a full and accurate index, and detailed bibliography. The book thus constitutes a solid and admirable work of reference. Yet Dr. Schippmann has by no means been contented merely with compilation, however systematic and thorough. Himself an archaeo- logist, he has excavated at several of the sites concerned, and has visited almost all the ruins which he mentions in the book, travelling arduously the length and breadth of Iran. He is in a position, therefore, to make independ- ent observations of his own, and in doing so shows com- mendable judiciousness and scepticism. A tendency has long prevailed to characterize any and every pre-Islamic structure in Iran as a fire temple, and in many cases Dr. Schippmann demolishes such identifications, showing the greater likelihood that the ruin in question is that of a military post, watch tower or private dwelling. Having thus considerably reduced the list of putative fire temples, he then attempts to classify what seem to him the au- thentic remains and to trace the evolution of their architectural forms, revising in the light of new material the theories previously put forward by his own teacher, K. Erdmann, and the French scholars A. Godard and R. Ghirshman. Questions of structure are necessarily bound up with those of cult; and here as an archaeologist Dr. Schipp- mann has received little help from students of literature and theology, who have generally assumed both that the 454
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Zoroastrian Temple Cult of Fire temple cult of fire belonged to primitive Zoroastrianism, and that it provided its one form of public worship at all times. The only scholar seriously to challenge the first of these assumptions has been Stig Wikander, who produced strong arguments for holding that the temple cult of fire was unknown to the early Zoroastrians.2 His case has been strengthened since by the work of other scholars, who have produced additional material to show how much the Zoroastrian cult has in common with ancient Brahmanic observance, in which two temples were unknown. The Indo-Iranian religion was shaped, it seems, during millennia of wandering on the steppes of Inner Asia, and materially it was accordingly of extreme simplicity. Worship was offered the divine beings without aid of temples or altars or statues, and all that was needed for solemnizing the high rituals was a clean, flat piece of ground, which could be marked off by a ritually-drawn furrow. The offerings consecrated there were made not only to the invisible gods, but also to fire and water, which could properly be represented by the nearest domestic fire and household spring, although a ritual fire was always present within the precinct itself, burning in a low brazier.3 To judge from later practice, this ritual fire was either kindled for the occasion, or made of embers brought from the nearest hearth. The only continually- burning fire known to the Indo-Iranians was evidently the hearth fire, lit when a man set up his home and kept alight as long as he himself lived, a divinity within the house. This was tended with care and received regularly a threefold offering of dry wood, incense, and fat from the sacrificial animal. Such domestic fire could readily be carried in a pot during nomadic wanderings, to continue burning wherever the family pitched its tent. The cult of this god within the home was given a wider significance in time through the learned speculations of the Iranian priests, who held that of the seven creations which made up the material world that of fire, the last, informed the other animated ones, giving them their vital force. Without it there would be no life. This cosmic fire was held to be manifested both in the sun on high and in the flame on the lowly hearth, service of which could thus be regarded as the service also of a great world force. In his own teachings Zoroaster associated fire with one of the great divinities of his revelation, Asa ('Right-
See his Felzerpriester in Kleinasien und Iran, Luid, 1946.
The fire was placed in a low container within the ritual precinct because the celebrating priest himself sat cross-legged upon the ground. On the pagan background to the Zoroastrian cult see in detail Boyce, A History of Zoroastrianism (Handbuch der Orientalistik, I, ed. B. Spuler) Leiden, Vol. I, Ch. 6 (in the press). eousness' or 'Order'), and his followers were enjoined to pray always in its presence-either turned towards the sun or at their own hearths-the better to fix their thoughts on Asa and the virtue thus represented. No- where in the older part of the Avesta is there any allusion to fire enthroned apart in a special place. The first reference of this kind comes in the Vendiddd,4 a composite work whose final redaction was made after the Hellenistic period, possibly as late as the 1st or 2nd century
This temple cult of fire, once instituted, became much beloved by the Zoroastrians, but it has remained outside their basic observances, and their religious lives can well be carried on without it.5 Thus the Parsis of India managed for some 700 years with only one temple fire,6 and there must have been those among them, devout Zoroastrians, who maintained strict devotional lives without ever beholding it. It is indeed actually forbidden to celebrate any rituals in the presence of a temple fire other than those performed in its own service, and these are essentially the rites proper to the tending of a domestic fire,7 for the temple cult is that of the hearth fire raised to a new solemnity, and is something quite apart, there- fore, from the old priestly rites of worship. That venera- tion of the household fire set the pattern is shown in the Atas Niyayes, the Zoroastrian prayer to fire (uttered now in temple and home); for here in what is clearly one of the oldest sections8 the Fire itself is made to 4 Vd.8.81ff.
The only way in which the temple fire has been made essential to general Zoroastrian observance is that ash for the purification ceremonies (regalded as the basis of ritual life) must now be taken from an Atal Bahrdm, but the Pahlavi commentary on Vd.5.51 shows that formerly ash from a domestic fire (dtakhs i kadagig) was held to be equally proper.
See Firoze M. Kotwal, Some observations on the history of the Parsi Dar-i 3Mihr, BSOAS XXXVII, 1974, 664-669.
I.e., the offering of dry wood, incense and (formerly) the oblation of fat from a sacrificial animal, the dta{- zohr. On the temple rites today see J. J. Modi, The religious ceremonies and culstoms of the Parsees, 2nd. ed., Bombay, 1937, 218-226. On the fat-offering see Boyce, Ata?-zohr and Ab-zohr, JRAS 1966, 100-110. The Zoroastrians naturally offered veneration to the mys- terious ever-burning naptha fires found locally in Iran (see Zand-Akdsih, Iranian or Greater Bundahisn, translit. and transl. by B. T. Anklesaria, Bombay, 1956, XVIII. 23-24), but these were something quite distinct from their own wood-fed temple fires, with their established rituals of necessary service.
Ny. 5.14. For the text of the Atal Niydyc?, with 455
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