Saoshyant

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SAOSHYANT

SAOSHYANT . The Avestan term saoshyant ("future benefactor"; MPers., sōshans ) designates the savior of the world, who will arrive at a future time to redeem humankind. The concept of the future savior is one of the fundamental notions of Zoroastrianism, together with that of dualism; it appears as early as in the Gāthās. Zarathushtra (Zoroaster), as prophet of the religion, is himself a Saoshyant, one who performs his works for the Frashōkereti, the end of the present state of the world, when existence will be "rehabilitated" and "made splendid."

Later Zoroastrian tradition developed this notion into a true eschatological myth and expanded the number of Saoshyants from one to three. All the saviors are born from the seed of Zarathushtra, which is preserved through the ages in Lake Kansaoya (identified with present-day Lake Helmand, in Seistan, Iran), protected by 99,999 fravashi s, or guardian spirits. The greatest of the awaited Saoshyants, the victorious Astvatereta ("he who embodies truth"), the son of the Vīspataurvairī ("she who conquers all"), is the third, who will make existence splendid; he appears in Yashts 19. Upon his arrival humankind will no longer be subject to old age, death, or corruption, and will be granted unlimited power. At that time the dead will be resurrected, and the living will be immortal and indestructible. Brandishing the weapon with which he kills the powerful enemies of the world of truth (that is, the world of the spirit, and of asha ), Astvatereta will look upon the whole of corporeal existence and render it imperishable. He and his comrades will engage in a great battle with the forces of evil, which will be destroyed.

The name Astvatereta is clearly the result of theological speculation (Kellens, 1974), as are those of his two brothers, Ukhshyatereta, "he who makes truth grow," and Ukhshyatnemah, "he who makes reverence grow"; the names of the three virgins (Yashts 13) who are impregnated with the seed of Zarathushtra when they bathe in Lake Kansaoya and give birth to the Saoshyants, are equally speculative. Each of these Saoshyants will arrive in the last three millenia, initiating a new age and a new cycle of existence; Astvatereta will appear in the third and final millennium to save humankind.

The doctrine of the future savior had already taken shape in the Achaemenid period (sixth to fourth centuries bce). It was not, perhaps, the principal element in the formation of the messianic idea, but it was certainly a determining factor, one that enjoyed great success in the Hellenistic period beyond the confines of the Iranian world. A similar concept, that of the future Buddha, Maitreya, was most likely indebted to it, and Christian messianism can trace its roots to the same source.

See Also

Frashōkereti.

Bibliography

Boyce, Mary. A History of Zoroastrianism, vol. 1. Leiden, 1975.

Duchesne-Guillemin, Jacques. La religion de l'Iran ancien. Paris, 1962.

Herzfeld, Ernst. Zoroaster and His World. Princeton, 1947.

Kellens, Jean. "Saošiiat-." Studia Iranica 3 (1974): 187209.

Messina, Giuseppe. I Magi a Betlemme e una predizione di Zoroastro. Rome, 1933.

Molé, Marijan. Culte, mythe et cosmologie dans l'Iran ancien. Paris, 1963.

Nyberg, H. S. Irans forntida religioner. Stockholm, 1937. Translated as Die Religionen des alten Iran (1938; 2d ed., Osnabrück, 1966).

Widengren, Geo. Die Religionen Irans. Stuttgart, 1965. Translated as Les religions de l'Iran (Paris, 1968).

Widengren, Geo. "Leitende Ideen und Quellen der iranischen Apokalyptik." In Apocalypticism in the Mediterranean World and the Near East. Tübingen, 1989.

Gherardo Gnoli (1987)

Translated from Italian by Roger DeGaris