The subject of Zarathustra’s time, the seer-prophet of ancient Indo-Iranians has been a very contentious issue in the field of ancient Iranian studies. Some western academics have literally called that “an embarrassment of long standing” to the field of Zoroastrian studies. We have few, well-known, western scholars that are adamant that Zarathustra never existed, and is only a mythical figure! The uncertainty over the timing of Zarathustra has also been a favorite topic of polemics/vicious attacks against Zoroastrianism.
However, the uncertainty over the historical authenticity and time of the ancient Indo-Iranian poet-prophet is something that is NOT unique to Zoroastrianism and applies to all other ancient religions.
For example, there is no real historical evidence, archaeological find/s, ancient document/s, or irrefutable material evidence concerning the existence and exact time of Biblical Patriarchs such as Noah, Abraham, Isaac and ….
Although, the story of a great flood appears in several mythologies including the Babylonian Epic of Gilgamesh, and there is regional, geological evidence for the possible occurrence of a major flood in Mesopotamia and parts of Asia Minor approximately around 5000 BCE, there is NO evidence whatsoever that a great flood once covered the entire planet earth. Also, we have NO evidence that Noah was an actual historical figure and has ever existed.
Based on archaeological records, we know for sure that Akhenaten, Sethi I, Ramesses II did exist and were Pharaohs of ancient Egypt, but there is no archaeological or other concrete historical evidence outside the Hebrew Bible that Exodus for example took place or Moses was a real historical figure who changed the history of the ancient world.
For atheist scholars and historians, Moses of the Hebrew Bible and Quran is only a myth. At best, they are willing to accept the possibility that a Moses like figure might have existed circa 13th century BCE.
Therefore, it is fair to conclude that challenges concerning historical authenticity of great figures and/or events in ancient, sacred literature are not unique to Zoroastrianism and/or ancient Indo-European poetics but apply to all ancient religions!
Now let’s talk about the timing of the poet-prophet of ancient Indo-Europeans according to traditional Zoroastrian chronology.
According to Zoroastrian tradition, there is a boundless time (time without shores, a-karnæ,) that is specific to Immortals, and there is a limited time of 12000 years. The purpose of the limited time, also known as darghö khvaedá.tahæ (long, self-sustaining, god ages) is to trap and undo all flaws, deficiencies, and evil throughout its cycles.
The god-ages of finite time are divided into 4 world ages of 3000 years each. The last 6000 years are a tumultuous period of gümîzešn “mixture,” where light and darkness, brilliance and dullness, goodness and vileness, purity and contamination are mixed and are in constant battle.
Accordingly, the bard/prophet Zarathustra was born toward the end of the third age and right before the 4th age. The ancient Süd-gar commentary of Yasna 31 of the poetic gathas/songs provides us with an invaluable clue concerning the 4 world ages!
The Süd.gar commentary elaborates on the gathic verse: yá zī áitī. jə̄ṇg.hati.čá “Things that were/are, and things that have yet come to pass,”
and informs us of 4 ages of gold, hard, strong metal, bronze, and iron. The last age of iron represents a special time of turbulence and decadence.
The myth could go back to ancient Indo-European times, as we find the same concept in ancient Greek, Hesiod’s ages of Man, and the 4 world ages in Vedic tradition. Of course, the Süd-gar commentary, as it has reached us in middle Iranian form in 9th Century of CE, focuses on the classification of the last 4000 years of limited time. But the 4 ages of gold, hard, strong metal, bronze, and iron must have applied respectively to each of the 4 world ages of 3000 years each.
During the last 3000 years a cycle of defeats and victories for Airyas/noble ones is expected. At the end of each millennium, a son of seer-prophet Zarathustra, born from his seed preserved in the lake Kąsaoya will appear.
The first coming inspired teacher/leader will be Ushidar (Avestan Uxšyaṯ.ərəta,) the second will be Ušidar.māh (Avestan Uxšyaṯ.nəmah,) and the 3rd appearing at the end of the Finite Time will be Söšyāns (Avestan saôšyąs, also known as Astuuaṯ.ərəta.)
During the last 57 god years of the final age of finite time, Saôšyąs will herald the Eternal Spring, the resurrection of the dead (rastākhiz,) the eradication of all flaws, deficiencies from material existence, the final, victorious judgment, and the preparation of the Deathless Body, clothed in Light, (tan e passin. future body that will come to pass.)
Traditional Zoroastrian chronology is based on world ages that are essentially allegorical. The literal reconciliation of these cosmic ages with classical antiquity, as it was done so by editors of Bün-dahishn (the Book of Creation) in 9th century CE, naturally causes unresolvable inconsistencies.
The calculation of 258 years before Alexander, as the so-called traditional timing of Zarathustra, first appearing 3 centuries after the arab conquest, is the result of such a flawed approach and has been calculated as follows: Accordingly, the 4th and final age of limited time commences with the acceptance of Zarathustra’s vision by Vištáspá, the last of kávis, (seer-sages of ancient Indo-Europeans and the great patron of Zarathustra.) 90 years goes to Vištáspá, 112 years to Wahuman ī Spand-dādān, 30 years to Humāy ī Wahuman duxt, 12 years goes to Dārāy ī Cihrzādān or Darius the Great of the Achaemenid dynasty, 14 years to Dārāy ī Dārāyān, the last of the Achaemenids, and 14 years to Alexander the Macedonian.
The sum of years from Vištáspá, the last of kávis, (seer-sages of ancient Indo-Europeans and the great patron of Zarathustra,) up to Alexander equals 258 years, and this “258 years was taken as the established date for Zarathustra according to the editors of the Indian of Bün-dahishn (the Book of Creation.)
The chronology continues with 284 years for Arsacid dynasty, and 460 for the Sassanid dynasty that concludes the first millennium of the 4th age.
The model employed by the editors of Bün-dahishn circa 9th CE, hardly inspires any confidence in respect to its historicity. It can NOT even be called traditional, since within the entire Avesta (sacred literature of ancient Zoroastrianism) there is Only mention of the heroes and sages of ancient Indo-European or early Indo-Iranian (Airya) period, and absolutely NO mention of a single Achaemenid king.
Furthermore, the society depicted in the poetic gathas /songs of Zarathustra, most closely resembles the Sintashta Culture and Arkaim Archaeological site in Southern Ural Mountains associated with Proto or Very Early Indo-Iranians. Also, the geographical locus of the Younger Avesta (Vendidad,) is the towering Hindu Kush Mountain Ranges and the World of Oxus Civilization in Central Asia/Northern Afghanistan.
All the Avestan place references are located among the world’s highest mountains, stretching from southeastern Tajikistan’s Pamir Mountains into Towering Hindu Kush Mountain Range in modern-day Afghanistan, and further west into Eastern Iran.
The authentic traditional Zoroastrian account simply puts the birth of the inspired poet-prophet Zarathustra, at the end of 3rd age of limited time, and before the commencement of the 4th age.
If we take the clue of the ancient Süd-gar commentary and apply the comparative Indo-European myths concerning the prophecy of “things that were/are, and things that have yet come to pass,” yá zī áitī. jə̄ṇg.hati.čá, the poet-prophet of the gathas/sacred songs was born at the end of the bronze age, and before the early Iron age. Here, we have a great possibility the ancient myth could meet the historical reality.
The early Iron age Yaz culture, (located in modern-day northern Afghanistan, Turkmenistan,) known for its practice of the Zoroastrian sky burial, is the first ever ancient culture associated with Zoroastrianism. The timing of the Yaz Culture in the early iron Age could only mean that Zoroastrianism must have been founded earlier in the late Bronze age circa 1750-1700 BCE.
Another hint/evidence could be the term aiiaŋhá in the poetic gathas/songs of Zarathustra. In later times, aiiaŋhá refers to Iron. But in the archaic Indo-European language of the poetic gathas, aiiaŋhá refers to copper/bronze, transformation/transmutation of metals, and fiery trial by molten metal. This is indicative of a time that there was no word for Iron among Indo-Europeans.
Among Greek sources, Xanthus of Lydia, is the first person on record to write in Greek about Zarathustra and aspects of the ancient Iranian religion. According to Xanthus/Xanthos, the seer-prophet of ancient Iranian religion lived 6,000 years before Xerxes’ crossing of the Hellenspont or Dardanelles strait. Xerxes’ Greek campaign happened 480-479 BCE and 6000 years before that translates into 6480 BCE.
Greek Philosopher, Plutarch living circa 45-120 CE, assigns a date of 5,000 years before the Trojan war for Zarathustra. However, if 5000 years is a misreading for 500 years, (Trojan wars took place circa 1194-1184 BCE,) we arrive again at circa 1700 BCE or in the period of the late Bronze Age.
That timing of late bronze age appears to be the most likely period for the composition of the archaic language, and poetics of the gathas/songs (a true masterpiece of ancient Indo-European religious poetry.) Late Bronze age could very well be the period where the allegorical myths of the cosmic Zoroastrian calendar meet historical reality concerning the bard-prophet of yore.