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Zoroastrianism

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  • E Bruce Brooks
    To: GPG Cc: Synoptic, WSW, et al On: Zoroastrianism From: Bruce I admit that the current Zoroastrianism discussion outruns my competence, and even my
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 11, 2009
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      To: GPG
      Cc: Synoptic, WSW, et al
      On: Zoroastrianism
      From: Bruce

      I admit that the current Zoroastrianism discussion outruns my competence,
      and even my imagination. But isn't the term "Zoroastrian" something of a red
      herring in the Jesus context? If we assume that Persian dualism or some
      analogue, (whatever its ultimate origins) was picked up by Jewish culture
      during the Exile, and subsequently developed in that new context, and
      perhaps continually nourished by ongoing contact with the Persian culture
      area, don't we have all we really need?

      There is another side to that particular coin, or so it seems to me. I find
      that classical Chinese culture was at one point also affected by dualist
      thinking, and more specifically, that it encountered that thinking through
      trade contacts with Bactria, first and last the great entrepĂ´t of the Asian
      world, but in the years before Alexander still part of the Eastern Iranian
      culture area (supposedly the home of Zoroaster, but let that pass). I see
      the yin/yang idea in its analytical dimension, which we do not meet as
      something present in Chinese theoretical thinking until the late 04c (late
      layers of the Dzwo Jwan), as deriving from contact with that source. Within
      a very short time after the Alexandrian conquest and Hellenization of
      Bactria (0329-0327), we get in the Chinese elite texts Greek, and
      specifically Platonic, echoes: nothing erudite, on the contrary, no more
      than little tidbits of tavern gossip, but unmistakably tavern gossip about
      cruxes in Greek thinking. On this subject I have written a small monograph
      which can still be purchased by enlightened readers today: do a Google
      search under Sino-Platonic Papers and sign up for a copy or two of #96. It
      seems to me that yin/yang dualism is part of the pre-Alexandrian influence
      of Bactria, and of trade in general, on Chinese thinking.

      As I read the evidence, snippets of Indian as well as Iranian thinking were
      available to Chinese traders at Bactria before 0329, and this lore too,
      having as it were made a right-angle turn at pre-Alexandrian Bactria, crops
      up in some of the same Chinese texts somewhere around the late middle 04c.

      Chinese traders, for whom (as Herodotus leads us to expect) Bactria was the
      end of their route as of the years around 0327 (having somewhat earlier made
      contact and left traces at Pazyryk, according to at least one apparently
      competent reading of the evidence), seem to have been more enterprising in
      the years following. They made a lefthand turn at Bactria, and having
      negotiated some still formidable terrain (the Mwodz comments acidly on the
      remarkable exertions people will make in search of profit), wound up in the
      vicinity of Taxila. The c0315 geography of Dzou Yen (if the scraps of
      evidence really do go back to him) already acknowledged China's position
      east of center, not *in* the center, of a larger world whose furthest
      reaches might be identified with northwest India. Not long after this (we
      are now in the early 03c), translated Indian terms begin appearing in
      Chinese texts.

      All this seems to make consecutive chronological sense. It has the further
      appealing trait that all the credible evidence, including Chinese trade
      goods, archaeologically recovered in Central Asia, and the Chinese sites at
      which some of those trade goods were manufactured, archaeologically
      recovered at various points along the north Chinese border. It implies a
      steadily increasing outward edge to trade-based Chinese contact with the
      non-Chinese world, over the 04c and 03c, and a modest but palpable cultural
      echo back in China. That the amount of information passing over this route
      steadily increased in amount and precision, no one (I should suppose) will
      venture to doubt who knows anything about Jang Chyen in Former Han, and the
      importation of Indian monastic Buddhism in Latter Han. Cultural contact not
      appearing in driblets, but operating in high gear.

      We can of course complete the triangle (not that triangles in their nature
      require to be completed) by noticing the strain of Indian renunciationism
      in, no, not the earliest Christianity, but, by a whisker, the *second*
      earliest Christianity.

      Bruce

      [E Bruce Brooks
      Warring States Project
      University of Massachusetts at Amherst]
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