Despite countless discussions, the date of Zoroaster remains a controversial problem. This is due to the fact that the testimony of the available sources is meagre, conflicting, and often ambiguous, for these are based on traditions which were put into writing long after the prophet is supposed to have lived, and contain both fictitious elements and the rationalizations of ancient savants. Of these traditions, the one now most widely accepted in the West is that which counts ‘258 years from Zoroaster till Alexander’. Formerly a number of distinguished scholars—among them Windischmann, Tiele, Geiger, Oldenberg, Bartholomae, Meyer, and Christensen—questioned the credibility of this tradition, arguing with cogent reasons that Zoroaster must be placed much earlier, probably at about 1000 b.c. In the second quarter of the present century, however, the late date gained credence, mainly on the ground that a precise figure transmitted by a people well known for their veracity must be based on historical facts. For a time this view almost came to prevail, primarily because outstanding authorities—such as Herzfeld, Taqizadeh, and Henning—gave it their support. But more recently, arguments in favour of an earlier date have again been advanced by a number of scholars. Yet the main difficulty remains, which is to explain, in the words of T. Burrow, ‘how this precise figure (i.e. 258) came to be adopted’. The purpose of the present article is to offer a solution to that problem, and to trace an older Iranian tradition that Zoroaster lived before 1000 b.c.
1 This article is dedicated to my teacher, Professor M. Boyce, as a token debt of gratitude for her encouragement, constructive criticism, and valuable help.