The Iranian Jewish community is one of the oldest in the world, having descended from the Jews who remained in the region following the Babylonian captivity under Cyrus the Great. For many centuries, a large and flourishing Jewish community existed in Esfahan. In fact, Esfahan itself came into being when the town of Yahudiyeh ("Jewish city"), merged with Jay. Over the centuries, the Jews of Iran became physically, culturally, and linguistically indistinguishable from the non-Jewish population. They are predominantly urban and by the 1970s were concentrated in Tehran, Esfahan and Shiraz. The Constitution of 1979 recognizes the Jews as an official religious minority and accords them

Synagogues in the Jewish district of Esfahan do not have any particular architectural or decorative attractions, but they are easily distinguished by high lanterns on their roofs.


Zoroastrians also believe in the appearance of the last savior, called Sosayant, and in the final judgment day with the resurrection of all who have died. Yazd is the most important Zoroastrian center in modern Iran. Although there are practically no Zoroastrians in Esfahan now, the remains of a fire temple on the city's outskirts (pi45) bear witness to their presence here in earlier periods.

Mithraism There are no followers of Mithra in Iran anymore, but the traces of this ancient cult are numerous, and the

Synagogues in the Jewish district of Esfahan do not have any particular architectural or decorative attractions, but they are easily distinguished by high lanterns on their roofs.

Mithraist cave of Niasar

Embroidered cross showing (ppJ92-193) is only a single

Jesus and symbols ol lour .

the right to elect a represen- apostles is on display at the example. Mithraism was the tative to the Majles. Among National Museum in Tehran, worship of the ancient Indo-

the most important Jewish shrines in Iran are Esther and Mordecai in Hamadan and Prophet Daniel in Susa.

Zoroastrians As in the case of Christians and Jews, Zoroastrians in Iran are recognized as an official religious minority. They are permitted to elect one representative to the Majles and ,mm, generally enjoy the same civil liberties as Muslims. Zoroastrians believe in One Supreme God, called Ahuramazda, who is opposed by Ahriman, an embodiment of evil. Every human being must cooperate with God to defeat evil and bring the world to perfection. This can be achieved by good thought, good word, and good deed. After death, the immortal soul of the departed person is judged according to all the good deeds done by him or her in this world. The soul then enjoys the pleasures of paradise or undergoes the tortures of hell.

A repetitive motif in Zoroastrian art, the figure

Iranian god of light, Mithra. Mithraism had a great impact on Zoroastrianism, Buddhism, and Christianity. Mithra's followers celebrated December 25 as the date of Mithra's birth. Because Mithra was associated with the sun, Sunday was chosen as the day of his worship. Among the ceremonies of the Mithraist cult were baptism in holy water and partaking of a sacred meal of bread and wine. The most important ritual was the offarv'a har symbolized "the slaying of the bull, a reenact-royai fortune. ment 0f Mithra's killing of the cosmic bull of creation, which symbolized the conquest over evil and death. After passing several ordeals, the converts were "reborn" in Mithra. There were seven grades of initiation into the cult, completion of which conferred immortality. For a long time, Mithra was widely worshipped in the Roman Empire, though whether it was the same cult as in Iran is still unclear.

The picture by Nicholas Roerich shows Zoroaster as the painter imagined him.
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