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on 14 January 2000
It seems extraordinary that Zoroastrianism is so unfamiliar to most people. There has been an active, if small, Zoroastrian community in Britain for well over a hundred years, and Zoroastrianism is one of the religions involved in inter-faith activities here; historically, it seems to have had a significant influence on post-exilic Judaism and through it on Christianity. Yet few people know much about it, and very little material is available in this country for those who want to find out more. Peter Clark's book offers a clear and well-signposted way into this ancient, complex and fascinating faith.
The book traces the history of Zoroastrianism from the prophet Zarathushtra himself through some three and a half thousand years of vicissitudes. The unique nature of its beliefs, the unfamiliarity of many of its ideas, and the long development which has resulted in successive interpretations and elaborations of the prophet's original teachings, can sometimes seem daunting, but the author presents them with a clarity which makes them accessible to the non-specialist reader. He makes one understand the remarkable tenacity that sustained Zoroastrians through persecution and the migration which split them into two groups, the Parsis who settled in western India and flourished there and the Iranis who remained in Iran and survive there to this day in spite of hardship.
The later chapters deal with Zoroastrianism today and present a picture of what it is like to be a Zoroastrian in the modern world, where an ancient faith has had to cope with the impact of Western influence. The author articulates the ideas which underpin the life of the community: ethics, rites of passage, a diverse experience of prayer and ritual, the position of women, and the disputed questions of conversion and intermarriage, ending with a look at possible future developments. Although slightly marred by a scattering of misprints, the book gives a sympathetic and vivid account of a system of beliefs and practices which is not just a relic of the past but the religion of a living and lively faith community.
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