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The Zoroastrian Doctrine of the Freedom of the Will


By: Abraham Valentine Williams Jackson

April 22, 1920

A very brief oral report regarding the pre1iminary studies for this monograph was presented to the American Philosophical Society at its General Meeting in Philadelphia



I. Introduction -- Zoroastrian Philosophy and Free Will

The purpose of this Second Part is to study the significance of the doctrine of the freedom of the will in the quasidualistic creed of Zoroaster, first enunciated more than two thousand five hundred years ago, and incidentally to emphasize the interest which this old Zoroastrian teaching has for students of philosophy and religion [1].

By way of introduction it may be stated that in Zoroaster’s philosophical teachings the warring kingdoms of good and evil, light and darkness, right and wrong, personified respectively as Ormazd and Ahriman, or the ancient Persian God and Devil, are represented as in perpetual conflict. Yet, while these two antagonistic principles, which struggle for the mastery of the soul of man, are primeval and coeval in the universe, they are not coeternal, because Ormazd will triumph in the end and Ahriman will be annihilated forever. Man will help in bringing about this victory. (See Part I, pp 74.)

Man is Ormazd's own creature and belongs by birthright to the kingdom of good. But God has created him as a free agent, endowed with the power to choose, of his own volition, between that which is right and that which is wrong. Upon his choice, however, his own salvation and his share in the ultimate victory of good will depend. Every good deed that man does increases the power of good; every evil he commits augments the kingdom of evil. His weight thrown in either scale turns the balance in that direction. Hence man ought to choose the good and support the hosts of heaven in the struggle to conquer the legions of hell, thus bringing about the millennium, at which time the Saoshyant, or Savior, will appear, the resurrection of the dead and the final judgment will take place, 'the good kingdom, the wished-for kingdom' (Avestan: vohu xšatra, xšatra vairy) a will be established, and the world will be renovated and made perfect according to will (Av. Frašəma, vasna aəhuš, frašəm ahūm, frašotema, frašokərəti, etc.). See Part I, pp80.

Responsibility accordingly rests upon man, and, because of his freedom of choice, he will be held to strict accountability hereafter; it was, moreover, for the special purpose of guiding mankind toward the universal choice of right that Zoroaster believed himself to be sent by Ormazd on his mission as prophet.

Thus while Zoroaster’s creed, as portrayed in the sacred book of the Avesta, centuries before Christ, and further developed in the patristic Pahlavi literature of Sasanian times and later, is dualistic in its philosophy, it has strongly monotheistic tendencies in that it postulates, with optimistic hopefulness, the ultimate triumph of Ormazd; and it is distinctively ethical since it gives to the doctrine of dualism a moral value by placing responsibility upon man as a free agent [2]. After this general presentation by way of preface, we may take up and discuss in turn the Avestan and Pahlavi texts that touch upon the freedom of the will, supplementing these from later sources.


II. The Doctrine of Free Will in the Avesta

As for the Avesta, the ‘Holy Gathas,' or ‘Psalms of Zoroaster,’ are the oldest and most hallowed portion of the sacred texts. In certain stanzas of these, for example Yasna 45. 2; 30. 3-5, the inherent opposition and all pervading conflict between the two Primordial Spirits is clearly brought out; and it is explicitly stated, in Yasna 30.5, that from the beginning ‘the Wicked Spirit (Ahriman) chose (varatā) to do the worst things; the Holiest .Spirit (Ormazd), who wears the firmest heavens as a robe, chose Righteousness, and (so do those) who gladly will gratify Ahura Mazdah (Ormazd) by right deeds.’ The original choice made by the Primal Spirits thus forms the prototype and serves for an example to lead man in making his own choice.

This idea is more clearly expressed in the next Gatha (Ys.31.2), in which Zoroaster presents himself as the guide and master because, owing to the teachings of the wicked, ‘the better way to choose is not clear in view’ (noit urvāne advā aibi-deršta vahyā 2, Ys. 31. 2). He therefore exhorts his hearers to live ‘according to Righteousness,’ so as to win the reward of the Kingdom of Mazdah (stanza 6), whom he glorifies (7-8),[3] and then turns to the special subject of volition and choice. This, as I understand the next two stanzas (9-10), is presented first as a parable or allegory, under the guise of which the cow (an animal sacred in Zoroastrianism) is given the option to choose between the thrifty husbandman, who cares for the cattle, and the non-husbandman. The cow (unlike 'Buridan's ass' between the two bundles of hay, as familiar in the scholastic philosophy) makes the right choice at once without wavering; and then in the next two stanzas (11-12) man's freedom to determine and practise his own belief by word and deed, and thus decide his fate, is brought out. I therefore transliterate and translate all four stanzas.

Avesta, Yasna 31.9-12

  1. Θwǒi as Armaitiš Θwə a Gəuš Taša as xratuš
    mainyəuš Mazda Ahura hyat ahyai dadā paөam
    vāstryāt vā āite yə vā nǒit awhat vāstryo

  2. At hi ayā fravarəta vāstrim ahyai fšuyantəm
    ahurəm ašavanəm vaehəus fšənghim manaeho;
    noit Masdā avāstryo davascina humərətois haxštā.

  3. Hyat ne Mazda paourvim gaetasca va aresvaca va
    Twa manavha xratusca hyat astvantem dada ustanem
    Hyat syaotanaca senghasca yatra vareneng vasa dayete –

  4. Atra vacem baraiti maitahvaca va aresvaca va
    vidva va evidva va ahya zeredoca manawhaca,
    anus-haxs Armaitis mainyu peresaite yatra maeta.

  1. 'Thine was Armaiti (Harmony and genius of the earth), Thine was the Shaper of the cow, [4]
    the Wisdom of the Spirit, when Thou, Ahura Mazdah, gavest to her the way,
    to depend either upon the husbandman or upon him who is not a husbandman. [5]


  2. Then of these twain she chose for herself the cattle-raising husbandman,
    the furtherer of Good Thought, as righteous lord ".[6]
    nor does the one who is not a husbandman share in a good report even though he strive for it.

  3. Since Thou, O Mazdah, in the beginning didst shape [i.e. create] our beings and Consciences (Religion or Self, personified in plural), and our intelligences through Thine own thought, since Thou maddest life clothed with a body, since Thou maddest deeds and teachings whereby according to his will one may express his beliefs --

  4. Therefore lifts up his voice [alike] either the false speaker or the true speaker,
    he that knows or he that knows not, according to his heart and thought;
    [but] Armaiti, following ever after with the Spirit, inquires where faltering may be.'

The importance of the doctrine embodied in stanzas 11 and 12, especially in the adjective vasa, 'according to one's will,' I pointed out as long ago as the year 1888 in A Hymn of Zoroaster, Yasna 31 (pp. 39, 41), making a reference likewise to Geldner's article in the Encyclopedia Britannica, which was then shortly to appear.[7] As I indicated in that monograph, Zoroaster wishes to show that Ormazd can rightly bring man to judgment since He has created him a free agent, allowing him to choose between two religions that stood respectively for the good and the bad, just as, in the passage quoted, the cow, also divinely created, was given a free choice which determined her future fate. 

According to the whole tenor of Zoroastrianism, moreover, there was no foreordination, except that creation at the outset was divided into that which was ormazd's by nature and that which was Ahriman’s. Ormazd never created anything that is evil; all that is wicked and baleful is the work of ‘the evil-creating (Av. duz-daman) Ahriman,' who seeks to mar everything that Ormazd has made. Numerous passages in the Avesta could be cited to prove the statement. In consequence of this primeval perversion ‘even the Demons (which were Ahriman’s creation) did not determine rightly between these two [Primal Spirits], since Deception came upon them as they were deliberating, so that they chose the Worst Thought and rushed over together to Aeshma (Passion) that they might bring bane upon the life of Man’ (Ys. 30. 6).[8] In consequence of their evil choice, perdition awaits them and their followers in contrast to the joys of the blest hereafter (e.g. Ys. 30. 9-11, etc.).

As to choice, furthermore, there seems to be contained in Yasna 48. 4 an implied intimation of free election, since it refers to the case of the one who makes his ‘Conscience’ (Religion, or Self, personified-Av. daena) sometimes better, sometimes worse, by his varying acts on different occasions. Such a man, after death, will not go directly either to heaven or to hell, but to a separate place (later called in Pahlavi hamestakan) intermediate between the two, there to abide until God in his wisdom gives final judgement.[9] This idea, as far as the effect on the ‘Conscience’ (Religion) hereafter is concerned, is found more fully amplified in a well-known Avestan later text (Yasht 22, from the Hatokht Nask), which describes how every good or bad deed done in this life is reflected in the ‘Conscience,’ personified as a lovely maiden or as a hideous hag, which comes to meet the soul after death in accordance with the actions it has performed. (See Part I, p 82.) But too much stress need not be laid on either of these passages in the present connection.

For the sake of greater completeness it may be added that the Gatha-Avestan word usen, 'at will, according to choice or desire’ (loc. sg. as adv.), may contain an allusion to volition in the passage Ys. 45. 9,ye ne usen corat spanca aspenca, Ormazd, ‘who has made weal and woe for us [hereafter] according to our choice’; and again in Ys. 44. 10, twa-istis usen Mazda,‘according to choice of Thy [future] good things, O Mazdah; but the matter is open to question and other translators prefer to apply the word usen to the will of Mazdah and not to that of man. There is elsewhere in the Gathas, moreover (Ys.50. II; 34. 15; cf. 43. I-2), in the word vasnii, ‘according to the will,’ an allusion to the will of Mazdah which man himself should follow to bring the world to perfection. In a later passage of the Avesta, Ys. 8. 6, a prayer furthermore is made that ‘the righteous may be ruling at will (vaso-xsatro), and the wicked may be not ruling at will (avaso xsatro).' There are likewise certain indirect implications of the idea of a moral choice in several passages which employ verbal forms from the roots var-, vm-, ‘wish, choose, will,’ as well as the  adjective anusant, ‘against the will, unwillingly.’[10] The locus classicus, however, on the freedom of the will is that translated above from the Gathas (Ys.31. 9-12).

In the Old Persian Cuneiform Inscriptions of Darius there are some fifty occurrences of the word vasna, ‘by the will,’ but always with reference to the will of God, since Darius emphasizes again and again that he is king Dei gratia ‘by the will of A(h)uramazda' (vasna Ahuramazdaha) -- and that everything which he does is done by His grace.[11] As the Old Persian Rock Records throw no special light on our subject we may turn next to the Pahlavi literature.


III. The Doctrine of Free Will in the Pahlavi Books

The Pahlavi, or Middle Persian, literature belongs to the period of the Sasanian Empire and the centuries directly following the Muhammadan conquest of Persia, thus dating roughly from the third to the tenth century A.D. This Zoroastrian patristic literature, as it may be called, consists largely of translations of Avestan texts and of writings on general religious subjects rather than on philosophical topics. For that reason there are fewer allusions to metaphysical questions than we might otherwise expect[12]; but the doctrine of the freedom of the will is implied throughout in the ethical writings of the followers of Zoroaster after the Arab conquest, and we know that this dogma was expressly branded as 'Magian' by their fatalistic conquerors, thus showing that it continued to prevail.[13] In the Pahlavi texts themselves, moreover, there are several direct as well as indirect references to the tenet.

In the first place, in the Bundahishn, which is an old Pahlavi work based on the Damdat Nask, one of the lost books of the original Avesta, there is directly indicated (in 2. 9-11) a choice made by the Fravashis-those preexisting spiritual counterparts, or guardian geniuses, who were the celestial prototypes of material creations afterward produced to leave for a time their heavenly state and assume a bodily existence on earth, in order to overcome finally the opposition of Ahriman and become ‘perfect and immortal in the future existence, for ever and everlasting.’[14] I mention this passage merely in order to point out that its conception of volition in the prenatal state may possibly have some bearing also in connection with the direct allusions to free will in the passages, which are immediately to be discussed.

One of these references is found, for example, in a Pahlavi work of the ninth century A.D. entitled Denkart, ‘Acts of the Religion.’ The compiling of this extensive compendium of matters relating to religion, customs, history, and the like, was begun somewhere about 820 A.D. by a noted high-priest of the Zoroastrians named Atur-farnbag, and was completed by another priest called Aturpat who was still living in 881 A.D.[15] The passage in question (Dk. 3. I74) occur in the earliest of the extant books, which make up the work (books I and 2 are missing), and forms a part of the general material brought together by the first of the two compilers, belonging, therefore, to the earlier half of the ninth century A.D. As the Pahlavi text is not easily accessible, I shall first transliterate it from the original, giving the Iranian equivalents of the ‘Auzvarishn’ Semitic forms (but including the latter, when they occur in parentheses) and adopting in general the traditional manner of reading; I shall then make a literal translation, preserving the crabbed style of the original, the awkwardness of which sometimes renders the Pahlavi difficult to interpret.


Pahlavi Denkart 3.174.2

Hast (homanato) azato-kam andar (den) getik martom. Az-as Avastakik nam (Sem) ahvo-i ast-amond, yas[16] (zak-as) Zand xatai-i tanu-omand; va Datistan-i xatai xatayih azato-kam martom (ansuta)-i apar (madam) xes (nafsman) kam rayenitarih varzitarih.[17] Yas (zak-as) apar (madam) aparik getik-dahisno ne (la) angon xes (nafsman) kam xatai hand (homand) cigon xatai martom (ansuta) az Yazdan aevak-ac. Ne (la) aeto (ast) rayenitarih i apar (madam) ahvoi [18] cigon rayenitarih martom apar (madam) (valmansan) i (zak-i) tanu-omand be (bara) vijartano-i [19] az (min) menavadan Yazdan; pa (pavan) an (zak) menavadan-ac Yazdan xatai [20] ne (la) tanu-omand. Va azat-kam kartar Datar Auhrmazd va azat-kamih [21] xatayih i apar (madam) martom apar (madam) kam pa (pavan) partiraftano ne (la) patiraftano yasan (zakesan) kirfak va vanas; va cam Datar azat-kam...[22]

‘In the world man is [23] having-free-will (azato-kam)[24] Therefore occurs the Avestan name ahvo-i ast-omand (i.e. avhu astvant), “life which has a body,” the Zand [i.e. explanation] of which (is) “a lord having a body” (xatai-I tanu-omand)[25]; and the decision of a lord (is) the lordship of a man having free will in the purposing and performing of his own will.[26] Wherefore in the rest of the world-creation there are not such (angon) lords of their own will as the lord man, except God even alone. Nor is there, in this life, purposing like the purposing of man among those who have a body, with the exception of the spiritual God; and in regard to this, the spiritual God (is) a lord not having a body.[27] And the maker having free will (is) the Creator Ormazd; and the free will ship is the lord ship which (is) in man with regard to accepting (or) not accepting, according to his wi1l, those things which (are) virtues and vices; and the cause is the Creator who has free will….[28]

The general thought continued in this particular chapter of the Denkart, for more than a page, is to the effect that man, guided by conscience and intelligence, should choose to do right and not be misled by Ahriman to commit sin.[29]

The second Pahlavi work (or rather the Pazand-Sanskrit version of a Pahlavi text as yet discovered only in part)

which contains allusions to the doctrine of free will is the Shikand-gumanik Vijar, or Skand Vimanik Vicar,‘ Doubt dispelling Explanation.’ This controversial treatise is the nearest approach to a philosophical production that has survived from Pahlavi literature, and belongs apparently to the latter half of the ninth century A.D., as its author, Martan-farukh, son of Auharmazd-dat, a Zoroastrian, flourished about that period.[30]

The writer was a Mazdah-worshiping priest and a thorough dualist. He constantly upholds the Zoroastrian doctrine of the independent origin of evil, as contrasted with good, and polemizes against alleged or real inconsistencies in other religions which fail to explain how an all-good and all-powerful creator can allow the existence of evil.[31] The theory of the freedom of t h e will is inherently involved in his hypothesis, and the trend of his argument is that the all-good and all-wise Ormazd created neither Ahriman nor evil, which serve as a limitation to His divine will, but that Ahriman is responsible for deceiving and misleading man.[32] For this reason he points out what he considers to be inconsistencies in the Muhammadan and Christian presentation of free will, especially that of the rationalistic Muslim sect of the Mu'tazila, or Mu‘tazilites (‘Separatists, or Seceders').[33]

Thus, after arguing in detail (SVV, chap. II) concerning the view in the Koran with respect to the will of God, he concludes (SVV.II. 176): 'The inevitability of a rival of the will (kam)of God is manifest'-a statement which he supports by still further contentions-and then turns upon the Mu'tazilites, saying:

Pazand version of SVV.II. 280-281. Dit, ez esa kesa Mutzari xanend e purset; Ku Yazat hama mardum pa azat-kami[34] az bazaa paharextan az dozax buxtan o vahest jaminidan kam aya ne? Sanskrit version of SVV.II. 280-281. Dvitiyam ca, tebhyo ye Muthajarikah akarryante nanu prccheta: Yat Iajadasya samagram manusyan svatantrakamalya papat pariraksitum narakac ca sodhayitum svarge ca nayitum kamah kim va no?

Translation (cf. the parallel Skt. version). 'Again, you should ask of those whom they call Mutazalik (i.e. the Mu'tazilites) thus: Is it the desire of the Sacred Being (God) to preserve all mankind from wickedness through (their own) free will, to release them from hell, (and) make them proceed to heaven, or not?[35]

The Zoroastrian controversialist goes on to point out to his opponents that their title to glorify the divinity depends upon their answer, yes or no, to this proposition.

Later on, after seeking to refute various Christian tenets and ideas (SVV.15. 1-73), and noting 'the inconsistency of the statements derived from the scriptures of their high-priest' (referring apparently to St. Paul, who is mentioned shortly afterwards, in 15. 91), he argues that the logical outcome of the Christian views would result in an inconsistency, 'that the Jews slew the Messiah through the will of the Father' (I5. 76), and he proceeds to indicate some of the difficulties into which this construction of man's free will would lead the Christian, through failure to allow for the dualistic origin of the universe (15. 114) and Ahriman's power. Thus:

Pazand version of SVV.15. 77-84. Dit, anbasaniha awar azat-kami i ostya goet; Kuys mardum azat-kam dat hend. Edun aho i gunah i mardum kunnend azat-kami hast, vas azat-kami xat o mardum dat. A ham oi gunahkar sazet dastan ke bun vahan i gunah. Agar mardum gunah u bazaa pa azat-kami i xes kunend [ne][36] pa kam i Yazat!, a ser mar gurg gazdum xarawatar i gaza awazana i cihari-kunisni gunahu bazaa yasa azas hame rawet pa kadam azat-kami u ke gunah? Edunnica zahar i awazana i andar bes u aware urvar sardaga yasa ne azat-kami vahan ke bun dast?

Sanskrit version of SVV.15. 77-84. Dvitiyam ca anibaddhataya upari svatantrakamatve pravinataram nigadatai; Yat manusyah svatantrakamah dattah santi. Evam dosah papanam yan manusyah kurvanti svatantrakamiyah santi asau satantrakamatvam svayam manusyebhyo dadau. Tat sarvatra enam papakarinam yujyate parijnatum yo mulakaranam papasya. Cet manusyah papam dosam svatantrakamatvena nijena kurvanti [na][37] kamena Iajadasya <…>

Translation (cf. the parallel Skt. version). 'Again, he speaks inconsistently about the free will (azat-kamih) of the faithful, that mankind are produced (by Him) with free will. Thus the iniquity of the sin which mankind commit is freely willed, and the freedom of will (was) produced by Himself for mankind That (implies that) it is fitting to consider him likewise a sinner who is the original cause of sin. If mankind commit sin and wickedness by their own free will, [not][38] through the will of the sacred being (God), through what free will and what sin are the sin and wickedness of the lion, serpent, wolf, (and) scorpion-the stinging (and) slaying creatures -- which are the natural actions that ever proceed from them? So also, who (has) maintained the origin of the deadly poison which is in the Besh (herb) and other species of plants, the cause of which is not owing to free will?[39]

The point of martan-farukh's argument, if I understand the passage rightly in connection with the rest of his treatise and with the general theology of Zoroastrianism, is to show the failure of the Christian doctrine to take full cognizance of the limitation of the will of God (Ormazd) throughthe counter-will of the Evil Spirit (Ahriman).[40] According to Zoroastrianism, all noxious creatures and the poison existing in plants are due to the original creation of Ahriman, and are, therefore, predeterminately evil; while man was made naturally good, but was marred through the Evil Spirit’s powerful influence. It may be remarked that the writer himself in closing this section adds that ‘on this subject it is possible to speak abundantly (vasiha) for a summary compiled’ (15. 90).


IV - Muhammadan References to the Magians, or Zoroastrians, and Free Will

The fact that orthodox Mohammedans looked askance at the Magians, or Zoroastrians, and especially the priesthood, as being exponents of the doctrine of free will can readily be shown, and it has a particular bearing on the subject. In fact, within Islam itself, owing partially to Neo-Platonic and other influences, the free-will tenet gave rise to internal heretical sects. Thus in the religious and philosophic developments during the golden age of Islam in the earlier 'Abbasic period (749-847 A.D.) we have the Muslim schismatic factions of the Kadarites, or 'Partisans of Free Will,’ and their offshoot the Mu‘tazilites, ‘Separatists, or Seceders' (referred to above), both of which were fully tinctured with the doctrine of free determination as opposed to the fatalistic predestination of the Koran.[41]

The Kadarites, or Kadariyya (from Arabic kadr, ‘power’), were known by that name because they were exponents of the doctrine of man’s free will, and Professor E. G. Browne makes a particular allusion to the spurious Mohammedan tradition – al-Kadariyyatu Majau hadihi ‘L Ummati, ‘the Partisans of Free Will are the Magians of this Church.[42]  A similar citation may be quoted from the eleventh-century Arabic work of al-Baghdadi (d. 1037) entitled Al-Fark bain al-Firak, in which he says: ‘It is reported of the Prophet [i.e. Muhammad] that he condemned the Kadarites [for their free-will doctrine], calling them the Magians of this people.’[43]

The rationalistic Mu‘tazilites, particularly mentioned in the Pahlavi tractate quoted above (p. 232), were noted as recognizing man’s entire freedom of action,[44] and were therefore coupled with the Magians, as upholders of free will, in a passage by Isfarii’ini (eleventh century A.D.) translated by Tholuck, Ssufimm, p. 242, whose Latin version of the Arabic I here render, preserving the older spelling --

Isfara’ini (cod. Ms p. 86). ‘The Prophet applied the name of Magians to the upholders of free will, rightly enough. For the Magians ascribe a part of the things decreed to the will of God, and a part to that of the Devil (namely Ahriman); and if you are to believe them, the decrees of God come to pass at one time, and at another time those of the Devil.’ (And he adds:) ‘Herein, however, the Mutaselites (the disciples of W e 1 ben AttZi) are more to blame than the Magians, because the latter [the Magians] oppose the will of only a single person to the divine will, whereas the former [the Mutaselites] attribute no less to the choice of every gnat and flea than they do to the divine will.’[45]

Although the statement of Isfari’ini, strictly interpreted, is rather a polemic against the dualism of the Zoroastrians, we can hardly doubt that the doctrine of human free will was ascribed to them in the current Mohammedan view of the eleventh and twelfth centuries, as evidenced by the traditional saying already quoted.

Still another testimony in the same tenor of traditional denouncement of the Magian belief is found in a well-known Persian mystical work of the thirteenth century A.D. This poetical Sufi composition, the Gulshan-i Raz, ‘Rose bed of Mystery,’ is by the noted Mohammedan mystic Mahmd Shabistari (1250?-1320 A.D.). The Persian text with an English translation is accessible in an excellent edition by E. H. Whinfield, from which I quote the special passage denouncing free-will believers as ‘Magians (Fire worshipers)’ and ‘Gabars’ -- both names being applied to the Zoroastrians.[46]

Golshan-i Raz, 11.526529; 537-539

‘Thence like Stan you say “ Who is like unto me?“
Thence you say “ I myself have f r e e w i I 1 (md-ktiydr);
My body is the horse and my soul the rider,
The reins of the body are in the hand of the soul,
The entire direction thereof is given to me.”
Know you not that all this is the road of the Magiane (lit. Fire worshipers),
All these lies and deception come from illusive existence? …
Ask of your own state what this free-will (kadr) is,

And thence know who are the men of free will.

Every man whose faith is other than predestination
Is according to the Prophet even as a Gueber.[47]

Like as those Guebers speak of Yezdan and Aherman,

So these ignorant fools say “I” and “He.”’

Further research would undoubtedly result in finding kindred passages in other writings on the subject and thus add to the testimony already given.[48] In the meantime, however, it would be well, in connection with the general question of the Zoroastrian doctrine of free will and the beginnings of Muslim philosophy, to draw attention here to a fact which has not previously been stressed by scholars.

In the early period of Islam, during the latter part of the seventh century A.D., among the pioneer Muslim schismatic maintaining the doctrine of free will was Ma'bad al-Juhani, who died in 699 A.D. Some account of him is given in the Arabic work of Makrizi (1364-1442 A.D.), which is commonly called Khitat, 'Survey.' A statement is there made that Ma'bad imbibed this doctrine from Abii Yiinas Snsiiyh (Sansiiya, Sinbiiya, Sanbawaih -- or however the manuscript variants of the name are to be read), who was certainly of Persian origin. The particular statement in Makrizi's notice of Ma'bad's attitude on the matter of free will and predestination (cf. Arab. kadr, lit. 'power, decree') reads as follows –

Makrizi , Khigt, vol. 4, p. 181.[49] 'Ma'bad took this doctrine [about kadr] from a man of the Asawirat named Abii Yiinas Snsuyh (Sansiiya, Sinbiiya, Sanbawaih?)[50] who was called al-Aswari.'

In whatever manner the name Snsuyh of this teacher of Ma'bad is to be read, it is certainly of Persian origin, as scholars have noted.[51] The attribute Aswari, moreover, is a derivative from Persian aswar, 'horseman, knight, chevalier,' and was applicable also to the party called Asawirat, who had come from Fars in Persia and settled in Basra after having lived in Syria.[52]

It should be remarked here, furthermore, that this Abii Yiinas al-Aswari (without including Snsiiyh in the name) is referred to still earlier by the siue of Ma'bad al-Juhani, in connection with the free-will heresy, by al-Shahrastani (1086-1153 A.D.), Book of the Religious and Philosophical Sects, part I, Arabic text, p. 17, 1. 13; cf. German translation by Th. Haarbrucker, vol. I, p. 25.

I have thus far been unable to find anything more definite about Snsuyh or S(h)nbuyh in the Oriental works which I have consulted, but others may be led to join in the quest, because the matter is of interest in connection with the topic in hand. This is all the more true because scholars have previously (and, no doubt, rightly in the main) laid the chief emphasis on the side of Christian and Neo-Platonic influence upon the heretical free-will movement in Islam.[53] I am not a specialist in Muhammadan philosophy, and it may, therefore, be hazardous to offer any conjecture on the subject; still, I should like at least to draw the attention of those who may be working in that particular line to the possibility of laying more stress on the influence of the Zoroastrian doctrine of free will, which has been shown to have been current in the atmosphere at the time.[54]

V - A Syriac and a Presumable Pahlavi Reference Pointing
To the Doctrine in Sasanian Times (226-651 A.D.)

For the sake of greater completeness notice should be taken of two additional references (though there may be more) that allude directly or indirectly to the free-will tenet in Sasanian times (226-651 A.D.). The one is of major importance, because it has claims to going back to a Pahlavi original, though extant only in a Persian version. The other is of less significance and is only incidental, but it is preserved in an old Syiac source.

We may take the latter and less important first. There is a very general, incidental allusion to free will in the brief philosophical introduction to a treatise on logic by Paul the Persian, addressed to the Sasanian monarch Khusrau (I) Anushirwan, who ruled 531-579 A.D. This scholar, who flourished at the court of the greatest of the Sasanian Zoroastrian kings, was a Christian who may have studied Greek philosophy in the schools of Nisibis and Gundeshapur in the first half of the sixth century A.D. He is probably the same as Paul of Basra, the Metropolitan of Nisibis (died 571 A.D.), and hence is spoken of as being of the Dair-i Shahr, ‘Monastery of the City,’ meaning most probably the ecclesiastical headquarters at Nisibis.[55] For that reason he would have been acquainted with the metaphysical discussions of the period. In the preface to his Syriac treatise on Logic, when addressing King Khusrau on the province of philosophy, he says, in the midst of a philosophic passage :-

‘There are some who say that men are of free will (b’nai Khiri, lit. ‘children of the free’); and there are others who contradict this.’[56]

The whole context shows that the writer has the free-will doctrine in mind; but too much stress cannot be laid on so incidental an allusion, aside from the fact that the words were addressed to a king who was a Zoroastrian by faith.

The second citation, which will now be presented, is of importance because it purports to go back to a Pahlavi original, if we accept the latter’s authenticity. This passage is found in the alleged letter of the Zoroastrian high priest Tansar, a renowned ecclesiastic at the court of the Sasanian king Ardashir (226-241 A.D.), himself a Zoroastrian and the founder of the Sasanian Empire.

This epistle claims to be a communication sent by Tansar, early in the third century A.D., to the local Persian ruler of Tabaristan, in order to win his allegiance to the new emperor Ardashir. The original document, which must have been written in the current Pahlavi of the period, is no longer extant, and the Arabic translation of it made by Ibn Mukaffa‘ (d. 757 A.D.) has also disappeared; but a Persian rendering, made from the Arabic by Muhammad b. al-Hasan b. Asfandiyar about the year 1210 A.D., has been preserved. We thus have the document only at third hand from the alleged original, with the possibility of an early missing link besides. Nevertheless, it has a traditional value that must not be overlooked when giving it consideration.

The attention of scholars was first prominently called to this epistle by James Darmesteter, in his ‘Lettre de Tansar au roi de Tabaristan,’ in Journal Asiatique, 9. serie, tome 3, pp. 185-250, 502- 555, Paris, 1894. In that particular number of the journal an edition of the text of the Persian version was issued by Ahmed-Bey Agaeff (a young Musulman student from the Caucasus who was a pupil of Darmesteter at Paris in 1892), together with a French translation, revised in 1893 by M. Ferte, of the French Consulate in Teheran, and accompanied by notes from the hand of

Darmesteter, under whose editorial supervision the whole article appeared in 1894. It is proper to add that there has been considerable skepticism on the part of the Parsi scholars of Bombay, as well as others, in regard to accepting the document as genuine[57]; and Darmesteter himself admitted that there may be certain interpolations or additions in its present form[58]; but the particular passage on free will I here translate from the Persian, giving it for what its traditional value may be, as stated above.

Tansar’s Letter, ofi. cd. pp. 247-248, 553. ‘Know that whosoever renounces choice (talab, i.e. free will)[59] and relies on fate and predestination (kada u kadr), debases and dishonors himself; and that whosoever engages in free research (takapuy) and choice (talab), denying fate and predestination, is ignorant and conceited. The wise man should take the middle way between choice and predestination (talab u kadr) and not be satisfied with one [alone]. For the reason that predestination and choice are two bales of a traveler’s goods on the back of his animal. If one of these two happens to be heavier and the other lighter, the goods will fall to the ground, the animal’s back will be broken, and the traveler will be embarrassed and fail to reach his destination. But if the two bales are equal, the traveler will suffer no embarrassment, his animal will be comfortable, and he will arrive at his destination.’

Immediately following this simile, which serves to indicate the relations between individual choice and predestination, an anecdote is added which describes the misfortune that befell a king who resigned himself to fate alone. This anecdote is regarded by Darmesteter (09. cit. pp. 189-190) as an interpolation, and it may be so; but there seems to me to be no good reason for believing that the basic paragraph on free *ll, which called it forth, was not in the original source. Yet the late Professor L. H. Mills regarded the whole passage on predestination and free will as belonging to the Arabic period, and was inclined, like some of the Pard scholars referred to above, to look askance at the antiquity of the entire epistle.[60] 

VI - Modern Zoroastrianism and Free Will

The doctrine of free will is a tenet still recognized by the Zoroastrians today, as certain of the writings of their priests and laity well show.[61] It may justly be added, moreover, that although, owing to various changes and vicissitudes, there remain in the world only a small number of followers of the ancient creed of Zoroaster-about eleven thousand in Persia and something over a hundred thousand in India-these two faithful communities of Parsis and ’Gabars’ prove, by their high ethical standards and their practice in life, how steadfastly they have maintained the historic doctrine of their religion, which teaches man’s free choice between right and wrong and which lays upon him the responsibility of accounting for that choice in the life hereafter.[62]


VII - Conclusion

Enough has been shown, I trust, by the material presented in this monograph, to justify the hope, expressed at the outset, that students of philosophy and religion may be led to give further consideration to the old Zoroastrian teachings on the subject of free will as contained in the sacred books and literature of the faith of the Prophet of Ancient Iran



[1] A very brief oral report regarding the pre1iminary studies for this monograph was presented to the American Philosophical Society at its General Meeting in Philadelphia, April 22, 1920.

[2] On the whole subject in general, with references and bibliographical lists, see above, Part I, Chapter VIII.

[3] The words capitalized, ‘Righteousness,’ ‘Kingdom,’ represent abstracts personified in the original Avestan.

[4] Armaiti is a feminine archangel, personified as guardian of the earth; hence her association with Geush Tashan, 'Shaper of the cow,' or Ormazd's creative activity taking form through the Wisdom of the Spirit. The concept of kine in general is here represented by the feminine pronoun ahyai in the dat. sg.

[5] On the infinitive aite see Bartholomae, Air Wb. 363. Lit. 'to go to (from), i.e. depend upon.

[6] There is probably a subtle sense in the choice of the words ahurm aJnvnnm as implying 'Ahura the Righteous, the promoter of Vohu Manah ' (archangel of Good Thought personified).

[7] See Jackson, A Hymn of Zoroaster, Yasna 31, pp. 39, 41, Stuttgart, 1888; and compare Geldner, art. 'Zoroaster' in Encyclop. Brit. 9 ed. (1888), 28.882 = 11 ed. ( I ~ I I ) , 28. 1042. It may be noted in passing that in 1873 Spiegel, in Erdnische Alterthumskunde, 2. 146, incidentally referred to the Zoroastrian doctrine of free will, but added no comment or references.

[8] Aeshma is one of the arch-fiends, or daevas (cf. Part I, p 56 above), and the demons began their wicked plots by seeking to destroy the life of the first man, Gaya Maretan.

[9] See, for example, the translation by Geldner in Kuhn's Zeitschrift, 30. 525, 530; Bartholomae, Die Gathas 'subersetzt, pp. 89, 92, 93 n. 4, Strasburg, 1905; Moulton, Early Zoroastrianism, p. 378, London, 1913; and consult especially, as later, Pavry, Zoroastrian Doctrine of a Future Life, 32, 50, 74 n. 9, 90-91,93 n. 119, 113.

[10] See Bartholomae, Air Wb .1360-1,1381-2,129.

[11] In one passage, however (Dar. Pers. d. 9-10 ==H. 9-10), we find vasna Ahuramazdhaha manaca Darayavahaus, ‘by the will of A(h)uramazda and of me, Darius , (the land fears no enemy).

[12] Cf. L. C. Casartelli, Philosophy of :he Mazdayasnian Religion under the Sassanids, transl. by F. J. J. Jamasp Asa, pp. 143, 145, Bombay, 1889.

[13] See some of the Muhammadan citations given below.

[14] See translation by E. W. West in SBE. 5. 14; and for the text of the Indian recension of the Bundahishn consult the editions by N. L. Westergaard, Bund. pp. 7-8, Copenhagen, 1851; F. Justi, Bund. pp. 7-8, Leipzig, 1868; M. N. Unvalla, B u n d . pp. 8-9, Bombay, 1897; E. K. Antia, Pazend Texts, p. 20, Bombay, 1909; and especially the photozincographed copy of the Iranian recension, ed. T.D. and B. T. Anklesaria, p. 38-39, Bombay, 1908.

[15] Cf. E. W. West, ‘Pahlavi Literature,’ in Geiger and Kuhn, Crundrissder iranischen Philologie, 2. 91; and id. in SBE. 37. introd. p. xxxii - xxxiii.

[16] Instead of yas, yasan, which occur in Pazand texts (cf. SVV. p. 233 below), we might read kes, kesan, as in Turfan Pahlavi.

[17] Throughout I have divided the sentences according to the best of my judgment and have added marks of punctuation. The original text has, of course, no signs of punctuation, and has nothing to indicate divisions in this passage except that a new paragraph is marked as beginning at Va azat-kam, toward the end of the portion here transliterated.

[18] Thus Ms. S, while Ms. M has ahvoo.

[19] Ms. M has jartano or cartano, without the prefix.

[20] Ms. M adds be (bard), an adverb or verbal prefix, and has hand (homand) after tanu-omand; cf. Ms. S, footnote 2 in Sunjana's edition.

[21] Ms. S has azat-kamkih.

[22] For the text of this passage see the edition (S) by P. D. B. Sunjana, The Dinkard, Bombay, 1883, vol. 4, p. 210 (Pahlavi text), pp. 250-251 (Pazand transliteration), pp. 268-269 (very free English paraphrase); and consult the edition (M) by D. M. Madan, The Pahlavi Dinkard, Bombay, 1911, part I, pp. 186-187, the text of which has been here compared and the principal variants noted.

[23] The Pahlavi word homanato, which is traditionally thus transliterated and has been much discussed by scholars (e.g. Bartholomae, in Sitzb. Heidelberg. Ak. Wiss. 1916, Abhandl. 9, p. 49-50), is certainly to be read hast or ast, as above. Both of these latter forms are found likewise in inscriptional Pahlavi, see E. Herzfeld, Paikuli, 2. 56, 57, Nos. 3,10. This ideographic word occurs regularly at the beginning of the various sections of Book Third of the Denkart, and is evidently an emphatic usage of the verb ‘to be’ in asseverative affirmation at the opening of a sentence-‘assuredly is.’ We may compare the usage in later Persian, e.g. Jalal ad-din Rumi's Divan-I Shams-I Tabriz, ed. and tr. R. A. Nicholson, p. 114- 15, where an emphatic verse begins: Hast Salahi dil u din surat-i dn Turk yakin, ‘Assuredly is Salahi dil u din the image of that Fair One.’ West and Haug, Glossary and Index of the Book of Arda Viraf , p. 56, likewise render the Pahlavi ideogram by ‘is’; but P. D. B. Sunjana, Dinkard, vol. 3, p. 268, and throughout, prefers ‘be it known.’ Observe that in a secondary position the auxiliary verb ‘is’ appears a few lines afterwards in this passage as a e t o (- ast).

[24] The Pahlavi adjective for ‘having free will,’ azat(o)-kam, is transcribedin Pazandas ajato-kamor elsewhere as azat-kam; the first member of the compound is equivalent to Avestan azata, ‘inborn, innate, free, noble,’ Persian azad (cf. Armen. loan-word azat, ‘noble’).

[25] Regarding this ‘explanation’ by the old glossator see Casartelli, Philosophy of the Mazdayasnian Religion, p. 143.

[26] I have translated Phl. rayenitarih by ‘purposing,’ though it may contain the idea of ‘impulse.’ It is an abstract derived from the verb yarenitan, ‘to impel, advance, expedite, continue, conclude’ (West and Haug, Glossary, p. 131),and is given as ‘the act of putting in motion, continuance, government’ by S. D. Bharucha, Pahlavi Glossary, p. 259, Bombay, 1912; see furthermore Jamasp-Asana and West, Shikand-gumanik Vijar, p. 265b, Bombay, 1887. Cf., later, also Bartholomae, Sitzb. Heidelberg. Ak. 1918,Abhandlung 14, p. 35-36.

[27] Such appears to be the literal sense of a not too easy sentence.

[28] This last sentence is somewhat difficult, but, as I understand it, in assigning to Ormazd the attribute of ‘having free will,’ it makes him the cause of man’s free will. Observe that azat-kam, here as throughout, is an adjective; there is no variant here like azat-kamith. ‘freewillship.’ The Phl. word cam or cim, Paz. c e m ,cf. Pers. cam, denotes ‘meaning, reason, cause, purpose, aim,’ and is variously glossed in the Sanskrit version of the Pahlavi treatise shikand gumanik Vijaras Skt. hetu, karana,artha (see ed. Jamasp-Asana and West, p. 239).

[29] A somewhat similar idea is implied in Dk. 3.77.2 and 3. I16. 2-4 (cf. Sunjana, vol. 2, pp. 77, 83, tr. 85; vol. 3, pp. 129, 145, tr. 152; ed. Madan, vol. I, pp. 68, 112).

[30] See West, in Grundriss d. iran Philol 2. 106-107.

[31] An excellent analysis of the Shikand-gumanikVijar (svv.) will be found in M. N. Dhalla, Zoroastrian Theology, p. 247-254, New York, 1914.

[32] See,for example, SVV. I. 6; 3. 6; 3. II; 8. 52-57; 10. 17-27; transl. West, in SBE. 24. 117,124-125, 155-156,166-167.

[33] Sharastani treats of the Mu‘tazilites, see Haarbrucker's transl. I. 41-88 (including their sub-sects);  compare also al-Baghdadi, tr. Seelye, p. 116-210. Consult, furthermore, Max Horten, Die losophischen Problemeder spekulativen Theologie im Islam, p. 5-16, Bonn, 1910, and compare E. G. Browne, Lit. Hist. of Persia, I. 281-283; cf. also note 41 below.

[34] MSS. have Paz.awat-kami through misreading of Phl. azadt (or azat)-kami, cf. Skt. Version svatantra-kamataya. Furthermore, instead of Paz. bazaa of the text here and below (cf. Skt. version papat, papam) better read bazag (or bazag) which occurs frequently in Turfan Pahlavi, with the meaning 'evil deed, wickedness, sin.' The edition, used here and below, of the Pazandtext and Sanskrit version is that of Hoshang Dastur Jamaspji Jamasp-Asanaand E. W. West, Shikand Gumanik Vijar, Bombay, 1887, p. 107.

[35] (The words in parentheses are inserted for the purpose of making the literal translation somewhat more idiomatic in English.) Compare tranal. West, in SBE. 24. 195.

[36] Both the Paz. and Skt. versions have ne, na, 'not,' which West omits in translation, thus following the Paz. manuscript JE, in which the negative is lacking.

[37] See note 33.

[38] See note 33.

[39] For text see Jamasp-Asana and West, op. cit. p. 159-160, cf. transl. West, SBE. 24. 236.

[40] Cf. SVV.3.6; 3. II.

[41] Among numerous other references to this subject, consult E. G. Browne, Literary History of Persia, I. 279-290, London and New York, 1902; D. B. Macdonald, Development of Muslim Theology, p. 127-132, New York, 1903; Mm. K. C. Seelye, Moslem schism.^ and Sects, p. 116-210, New York, 1920 (a translation of al-Baghdadi’s account). 

[42] Browne, Lit. Hist. I.  282; H. Steiner, Die Mu‘taziliten, p. 28 and n. 3. Leipzig, 1865.

[43] See Mrs. K. C. Seelye, Moslem Schisms and Sects, p. 22.

[44] Cf. R Dozy, Histoire & l’islamisme, tr. Chauvin, p. 205, Leyden-Paris, 1879; Browne, Lit. Hist. I. 287.

[45] See F. A. D. Tholuck, Ssufismus, sive Theosophia Persarum Pantheistica, p.242, Berlin, 1821. Concerning Wasil ibn ‘Ata (Wassel ben Atta), as founder of the rationalistic school of the Mu‘tazilites, see C. Huart, History of Arabic Literature, pp. 62,63, New York, 195; Browne, 09. Cit. I. 281.

[46] See E. H. Whinfield, Gulshan i Raq the Mystic Rose Garen, London, 1880 (Persian text, p. 32, ll. 526-529; Eng. transl. p. 53-54); cf. E. G. Browne, Persian Literature under Tatar Dominion, pp. 146-149, Cambridge, 1920.

[47] Alluding to the tradition (hadith) as to Koran, Sara 22. 17, referred to above.

[48] Recall, for example, that A. von Kremer, Kulturgeschichte des Orients, Vienna, 1877, 2. 413, observes that after Islam became established in Persia there was opposition to the Mu'tazilite view of free will, giving rise to factions as mentioned by Shahrastani, I. 89-94.

[49] See Cairo edition of Makrizi, Khitat, vol. 4, p. 181, 11. 25-27, A.H. 1326 = A.D. 1908.

[50] An edition of Makrizi older than the one just cited also reads Snsiiyh. S. de Sacy, Religion des Druses, introd. p. x, Paris, 1838, gives 'Senbawaih,' but observes (note 3) that the manuscripts are not in accord on the orthography of the name, which he says is certainly a Persian name, of the same category as 'Bowaih, Sibewaih'; he refers likewise to E. Pocock, Specimen historie Arabum, ed. J. White, Oxford, 1806, 4. 213. Kremer, Gesch. Streifjsuge, p. 9, n. I, gives the name as 'Senbujeh'; Browne, Lit. Hist. Persia, I. 282, follows with 'Sinbiiya.' It may be noted indirectly that a name 'Shunbawaih' or 'Shanbawaih' is found in adh-Dhahabi, el-Mechtabi, ed. P. de Jong, p. 284, Leyden, 1881.

[51] See the references in the preceding note.

[52] See Lane-Poole, Arabic-English Dictionary, 2. 757, S.V. al-khadarim, and 4. 1465, S.V. Iswar. Uswar; moreover, al-Iswar is applied elsewhere (Dict. Muhit) to a party of the Mu'tazilites.

[53] Consult, for example, A. von Kremer, Kulturgeschichtliche Streifzuge auf dem Gebiet des Islams, p. 7-9, Leipzig, 1873; H. Steiner, Die Mu'tasiliten, p. 55-80, Leipzig, 1865; and compare Browne, Lit. Hist. Persia, I. 281-288, especially p. 288. See furthermore Max Horten, Dic. Philosophic des Islam, p. 200-203, Munich, 1924, who, however, recognizes the Persian influence likewise, pp. 30, 134.

[54] The modern Shi‘ite doctrine on free will, current in Persia, is said to follow in many respects that of the Mu‘tazilites (see Browne, Lit. Hist. Pcrs. I. 283); compare further on this subject the extract from a Persian manual on the ‘Beliefs of the Shi‘a’ (written before the middle of the nineteenth century) as translated by Browne, Persian Literature in Modern Times, p. 386, cf. 381.

[55] See J. P. N. Land, Anecdota Syriaca, vol. 4, Leyden, 1875, Scholia, p. 99-100; L. C. Casartelli, Philosophy of the Mazdayasniun Religion under the Sassanids, pp. 1-2, 143; J. Labourt, Le Christianisme dans l’empire perse, p. 166-169, n. 3, Paris, 1904.

[56] Pauli Persae Lugua, ed. Land, Anecdota Syriaca, vol. 4, fol. 56r (p. 2, 1. 18); tr. p. 3, l, I, where the phrase is rendered ‘sunt qui dicant homines liberos esse voluntate’; cf. also Casartelli, philosophy of the Mazdayasnian Religion, p. I.

[57] For example, Darab D. P. Sanjana, Tansar’s Alleged Pahlavi Letter, from the Standpoint of M. J. Darmesteter, p. 1-16, Leipzig (Harrassowitz), 1898; id., Observations on Darmesteter’s Theory regarding Tansar’s Letter, p. 1-31, Leipzig, 1898; Jivanji J. Modi, ‘The Antiquity of the Avesta,’ in Journ. Bombay Branch R. A. S. 19. 263-275, Bombay, 1896 (reprinted in the same author’s Asiatic Paws, p. 111-123, Bombay, 195); L. H. Mills, Zarathushtra, Philo, the Achaemenids, and Israel, pp. 21-26,6163, Chicago, 1906.

[58] Darmesteter, op. cit. pp. 189-190.

[59] Steingass, Pers. Dict. p. 817b, gives among other meanings for talab, ‘desiring, inquiry, search, quest’; the context above shows that it is also equivalent to ‘free will,’ as opposed to Kadr, ‘fate, predestination.’ Darmesteter-Agaeff, op. cit. in JA. 1894, p. 553, give alternately ‘effort personnel, libre recherche, libre arbitre,’ when translating into French, thus showing that the word talab indicates individual choice.

[60] Mills, op. cit, pp. xi, 61-67; and compare the articles by D. D. P. Sanjara and by J. J. Madi referred to above in note 17.

[61] Cf. Rustamji E. D. P. Sanjana, ZUY&W~&U and Zurdhushtrianism in the Avesta, pp. 130, 150, 154, Leipzig, 1906; idem, The Parsi Book of Books, the Zend-Avestu, pp. 208,216-217,250, Bombay [I925]: M. N. Dhalla; Zoroastrian Theology, p. 24, New York, 1914; N. F. Bilimoria, Zoroastrianism in the Light of Theosophy, pp. 172, 187, Bombay, 1899.

[62] Compare also Part I, p 74, above.



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