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Zoroastrian Heritage

Author: K. E. Eduljee



Aryans Western Views

Philology and Linguistics

Attempts to Unlock the Mysteries of the Zoroastrian Texts

Are the Aryans a Racial or National Group?


Racialization, Philology & Max Müller

Caucasians & Aryans

Language & Race

Appropriation of a Heritage & Indignity

Max Müller's Legacy

Problems & Bias in Reconstructing Aryan Prehistory

Suggested pre-reading:

» Aryans

» Post Classical Western Authors

Philology and Linguistics

Philology is the systematic study of the development and history of languages. Linguistics is the the study of the structure and development of a language and its relationship to other languages. Both philology and linguistics have been used to date works, construct the history of peoples, and to determine the so-called 'racial' connections between peoples.

Attempts to Unlock the Mysteries of the Zoroastrian Texts

The Zoroastrian scriptures and commentaries, the Avesta and Zand respectively, had faithfully been preserved by priests and the laity memorizing the passages in the original languages. Nevertheless, by the 1700s, knowledge of the older languages of the Avesta, had largely been lost. What remained were the memorized texts and rough translations of previous translations. These translations were influenced by the opinions of their day.

Around the time when western travellers and authors such as Anquetil du Perron (1731-1805) came across handwritten manuscripts of the Avesta, philology and linguistics had begun to emerge as disciplines. Western scholars enthusiastically began to reconstruct and retranslate the texts - a process that produced much debate and dissention. While considerable progress was made in uncovering the meaning of the Avestan texts, there is still considerable disagreement about the meaning of many Avestan words and passages. We may never recover the true meaning and wisdom of the older and more obscure passages.

On the one hand the technique of using knowledge of Sanskrit to understand the Avestan languages is clearly valid and has proved very valuable. On the other hand, however, the racial constructs employed by some philologists are full of bias and conjecture, and have resulted in great harm. These individuals, hungry to find some historical proof that European Christians were not Semites, but a separate and superior race, and that Christianity was not based on Semitic roots - appropriated the culture and history of the people of the Avesta, the Aryans, for their own ends. They have used the power of the written word and the credibility of scholarship to create the illusion of fact out of fiction.

Are the Aryans a Racial or National Group?

When western philologists published their conclusions about the Aryans of the Avesta and Rig Veda (the earliest Hindu scriptures), together with their racial constructs, they fed a speculative frenzy about the Aryan peoples - much of it based on the desire of some Europeans to claim superiority over non-Europeans who were thus worthy of colonization and subjugation, or by Christians to claim racial separation from the Jews and other Semites.


The racialization of the term Aryans, that is defining the word to mean a "race" of people and more specifically the "race" of so-called white-skinned people, otherwise erroneously known as Caucasians, has its roots in a construct by German anthropologist Christoph Meiners as outlined in his The Outline of History of Mankind (1785). The concept of "race" in his context does not just mean ethnicity or physical characteristics, but defines mental abilities, moral characteristics and superiority over other human beings. Meiners racialized human beings and then assigned them into races: Caucasians of whom the most racially pure were the "venerated... ancient Germans" and "Mongolians" who consisted of everyone else. He considered some Europeans to be impure "dirty whites". Meiners excluded Jews from the Caucasian race and ascribed to them instead a "permanently degenerate nature". Meiners claimed that Blacks (Negroes) felt less pain and lacked emotions since they had thick nerves; they had "no human (and) barely any animal feeling. In his book, he relates a story where a Black man, half way through the burning alive asked to smoke a pipe and smoked it like nothing was happening while he continued to burn. Blacks also had perverted sex drives according to Meiners while Whites had it just right.

In his 1853 Essay on the Inequality of the Human Races, French aristocrat Arthur de Gobineau (1816-82) further postulated that the "White" race represented a superior branch of humanity and that "Black", "White", and "Yellow" skins were natural barriers between the "races", a position he claimed was supported by the Bible. He believed that "race-mixing" violates those natural barriers and leads to chaos.

The racialization of people is the bedrock of racism.

Racialization, Philology & Max Müller

The racist speculations of Meiners and Gobineau were further justified by the so-called "science" some saw in the theories of philologists and linguists such as Max Müller (see note below*) - a theory that if languages were remotely connected by the presence of some words that are similar, then the people must have been connected "racially" in the distant past. A tool that had some credibility in establishing a connection between the peoples of the Avesta and Rig Veda was stretched to the limits of incredulity. The Aryans of the Vedas and the Avesta provided these individuals with a convenient group with whom to claim a racial connection leading to the racialization of the term "Aryans". Meiners' so-called Caucasians now had an additional racialized label, Aryans.

Caucasians & Aryans

Caucasians by definition have their origins in the Caucasus mountain region just west of the Southern Caspian Sea, a handy launching point for a mythical migration of Aryans to Europe. Essential to the maintenance of this construct was the elaborate justification that the Aryans of the Avesta and Vedas also originated in the Caucasus Mountains. Central Asia did not appear to suit their purpose. Some who fancied this notion but who were not satisfied that the Aryans had migrated to Europe from Asia, claimed that the Aryans were native to Germany and that one branch had migrated the other way, that is, from Europe to Asia.

It is quite amazing how an entirely bogus concept based on a fallacy - that blue-eyed, blond haired Europeans have their origin in the Caucasus mountain region - is still currently used as a demographic and racial term, Caucasians (as is the use of the term "Indians" for aboriginal North Americans).

Language & Race

The weakness of Max Müller's hypothesis of an automatic connection between language and so-called "race" can be seen today in observing that most of the people who speak English have no racial connection - they have linguistic hegemony but anthropological (racial) diversity. Language connections can be spread by conquest, the imposition of a language (and religion) by conquerors, and through commerce - as well as other possibilities.

There are additional considerations. People who migrate do not necessarily maintain their language over successive generations especially when they are in the minority. The Zoroastrians of Iran who migrated to India, soon adopted the language of the province in which they lived and over generations forgot their native tongue. Nevertheless, they maintained a measure of ethnic/racial (sic) separation from the host population even though they spoke the same language.

A significant number of Arabic words found their way into Zoroastrian religious lexicon and there is no claim anywhere that this points to a racial connection. The reason uniformly given is that this incursion of Arabic words into the Zoroastrian lexicon resulted in the years after the Arab conquest of Iran.

Appropriation of a Heritage & Indignity

One artificial construct regarding the Aryans has led to another and the facts have been skewed to fit this bias. At one extreme, Aryans had to have specific physical characteristics such as blonde hair and blue eyes - characteristics that would have excluded most, if not all, the original Aryans - a final indignity of the expropriation of their heritage.

There is no evidence whatsoever that the term Aryan is a racial term.

In the same manner that people from Iran are called Iranian, the Aryan people were the people of the Aryan nation, Airyana Vaeja - a relatively small country at its inception, and one that became the kingdom of Airan Vej, Airan and eventually Iran. The use of the word Aryan can be compared to the use of the word Iranian. The word Aryan is simply an older form of the word Iranian, and Iran is a multi-ethnic country.

Max Müller's Legacy

*Note: German born philologist and orientalist, Max Müller (1823-1900) is commonly identified as the first writer - European or otherwise - to speak of an Aryan "race". In 1848, he settled in Oxford England and never visited India. In 1853 and again in his 1861 lecture titled Science of Language, Müller referred to the Aryans as a "race of people". Even though Müller belatedly professed to backtrack from his racial assertions, unconvincingly saying that he had confined the use of "race" to mean "a group of tribes or peoples, an ethnic group" - it wasn't long before Müller's "Aryan race" was made synonymous with Meiners' and Gobineau's "white race" together with all of Meiners' and Gobineau's racist implications.

Müller wrote a laudatory preface to a book by French missionary Abbe Dubois (1765-1848), who wrote, " make a new race of the Hindus, one would have to undermine the very foundations of their civilization, religion and polity, and by turning them into atheists and barbarians. Having accomplished this terrible upheaval, we might then perhaps offer ourselves to them as lawgivers and religious teachers." In his preface to Dubois' book, Müller extols the author as being "remarkably free from theological prejudice".

In History of Ancient Sanskrit Literature (1860), Müller wrote, "History seems to teach that the whole human race required a gradual education before, in the fullness of time, it could be admitted to the truths of Christianity. All the fallacies of human reason had to be exhausted, before the light of a high truth could meet with ready acceptance." In a letter to his wife Georgina, published in The Life and Letters of Right Honourable Friedrich Max Müller (1902) edited by Georgina Müller, Müller wrote, "The translation of the Veda will hereafter tell to a great extent on the fate of India and on the growth of millions of souls in that country. It is the root of their religion, and to show them what the root is, I feel sure, is the only way of uprooting all that has sprung from it during the last 3,000 years." Müller wrote to the Duke of Argyll, then British Secretary of Education, "India has been conquered once, but India must be conquered again, and that second conquest should be a conquest by education." It is within this context that Müller published his series, The Sacred Books of the East that included the Hindu Vedas and the Zoroastrian Avesta. Müller had scant respect for these texts. In another letter published by his wife he lists the superiority of one religious text over another, starting with the New Testament and Koran as the top two and several texts later ending with the Vedas and Avesta as the most inferior. (Source: Wikiquote)

French socialist and professor of anthropology at the University of Montpellier, Vacher de Lapouge (1854-1936) in his 1899 book L'Aryen et son rôle social (The Aryan and his Social Role), theorized that the superior Aryan race could be identified anthropologically by using the cephalic index (a measure of head shape), stating that the long-headed "dolichocephalic-blond" Europeans, characteristically found in northern Europe, were natural leaders, destined to rule over more "brachiocephalic" (short headed) peoples. The German origin of the Aryans was especially promoted by the archaeologist Gustaf Kossinna (1858-1931) deeply influencing Nazi ideology, who held Carl Schuchhardt (1859-1943) to be their official Nazi pre-historian.

The appropriation, theft and debasement of true Aryan identity did not stop with philologists, Nazis and other racists. Helena Blavatsky, a co-founder of the Theosophical movement expounded the fantastic notion that "The Aryan races, now varying from dark brown, almost black, red-brown-yellow, down to the whitest creamy colour," are all part of "the Fifth Root-Race", and (dear reader, the best is yet to come) "spring from one single progenitor," who "lived over 18,000,000 years ago, and also 850,000 years ago - at the time of the sinking of the last remnants of the great continent of Atlantis!"

Regrettably, the legacy of Max Müller is that racialization (and by consequence racism) is latent in philology today.

Problems & Bias in Reconstructing Aryan Prehistory

Paradoxically, there is a problem with western reconstruction of Aryan prehistory that emerges from the bias of an another camp and establishment in western scholarship.

Archaeological findings are often used to make categorical statements about the prehistory of a region and this is particularly true in the reconstruction of the prehistory of Central Asia and the Pamir region - the heartland of Aryan prehistory.

On the one hand, extremely poor and destructive archaeological techniques have been used by Russian and other western archaeologists, and on the other hand there is a strong bias amongst western archaeologists and historians in maintaining the Biblical lands as the cradle of civilization.

When Raphael Pumpelly (1837-1923). a geologist from New York, proposed that Central Asia might be a cradle of civilization rather than Sumer and Mesopotamia, he and his theories were largely ignored by the western archaeological establishment - even after Pumpelly conducted archaeological excavations in what is today Turkmenistan and produced evidence of an early civilization. Pumpelly was trying to tell the world that under the mounds - the tepes or depes that dotted the landscapes in the lower reaches of the Kopet Dag mountains - was evidence of a forgotten civilization and history waiting to be discovered. It was a history that would not be found in western history books, but in Zoroastrian and Hindu religious texts: the Avesta and Rig Veda.

When archaeologists categorically assign a historical time period or era based on incomplete archaeological findings from a particular area, they give the false impression that their assignment of time periods form the history of that region. They do not.

Time periods assigned to archaeological findings at best indicate the earliest findings uncovered so far. New discoveries, discoveries yet to be made, and evidence that has been destroyed completely, make the use of words such as 'the earliest' hazardous. Further, civilizations do not appear out of thin air on a particular date in history. They take time to develop - perhaps thousands of years.

The focus on written history by Greek and western writers has diminished the role of oral history from other parts of the world. These writers consider eastern oral history to be more myth than history. The history in the Avesta for instance is primarily an oral history that was later put down into writing. There is a predisposed bias to discounting the accounts in the Avesta as myth even though the Avesta contains some of the earliest literature known to humankind.

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Further reading:

» Aryan Prehistory

» Aryan Homeland in Scripture

» Aryan Homeland Location

» Aryan Religions

» Aryan Trade

» Western Views on Aryans

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