Chapter 8

World Religions and Cults: Zoroastrianism

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Origins of Zoroastrianism

The founder of Zoroastrianism was a man named Zarathushtra, written in Greek as Zoroaster, from which comes the name Zoroastrianism. Most scholars say that Zoroaster lived around 650 years before Christ, though there is some debate as to precisely when and where he was born. One scholar in the field of world religions writes:

The early history of Zoroastrianism is much in dispute. The religion was founded by Zoroaster, but it is not certain when he lived, where he lived or how much of later Zoroastrianism came from him. Tradition puts him in western Iran in the sixth century BC, a little earlier than the Buddha in India, but it is now thought that he lived in northeastern Iran, in the area on the borders of modern Afghanistan and Turkmenistan. An alternate theory dates him much earlier, somewhere from 1700 to 1500 BC, and places him in the plains of central Asia, perhaps before the first groups of Aryans moved south from the plains into Iran and India.1

Church historian Dr. Philip Schaff wrote about 100 years ago regarding Zoroastrianism:

Zoroastrianism, or Fire-worship, is the ancient Persian religion, and traced to Zoroaster (Zarathustra), a priest in the temple of the Sun, who lived about BC 1300. It was the religion of Cyrus, Darius, Hystaspis, and Xerxes, and of the Wise Men from the East who came to worship the new-born Messiah at Bethlehem. . . . It is a system of dualism with a monad behind and possibly a reconciliation in prospect. Ormazd is the good principle (the sun, the light), and Ahriman is the evil principle (darkness, winter), who corresponds to the Devil of the Scriptures; yet both were created by Zerana-Akerana. They are in constant antagonism, and hosts of good and bad angels under their banners. There is an incessant war going on in heaven as well as on earth. At last Ormazd sends his prophet (a kind of Messiah) to convert mankind; then follows a general resurrection, and separation of the just from sinners . . . the followers of this religion worship with the face turned towards the sun or the fire upon the altar; hence they are called fire-worshipers.2

This religion obviously has aspects similar to Christianity and may have been influenced by events from Genesis forward as they were passed down from generation to generation.

The Zoroastrian View of God

Regardless, Zoroastrianism is considered one of the world’s oldest monotheistic religions — the doctrine or belief that there is only one God. However, while Zoroastrians say they believe there is one supreme God whom they call Ahura Mazda, they also recognize another immortal deity, known as Angra Mainyu, who represents the epitome of evil. So using the traditional definition of monotheism, many religious scholars would say it is more accurate to describe this religion as polytheistic. Polytheism is the belief or worship of more than one God, taken from the Greek word poly, meaning many and theos, meaning God. Polytheism is in contrast to the term monotheism, derived from the Greek word mono, meaning one.

As Christians, it is important to understand that when God created us in His image, He wrote monotheism into our “spiritual DNA.” In helping us to understand this reality, the Apostle Paul explains in the first two chapters of the book of Romans that the existence of only one true God is evident to everyone in one of two ways. First, it is evident by the creation around us: “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse” (Romans 1:20). 3 The Bible reminds us that everything God has created in this world — every leaf, every flower, every drop of water — bears the stamp, “Made by God.”

In addition to this outward revelation found in the visible creation, people also possess an inward knowledge of God known as the conscience. Romans 2 says that people of the world who have never even read a Bible instinctively understand certain moral parameters because God has “the law written in their hearts” (Romans 2:15). So when one reads in Zoroastrian literature of two deities who exist side by side, we immediately know that error has entered into this religion. Since people are born with a monotheistic view of God, it is only when they suppress the truth — seen outwardly in the creation and felt inwardly by the conscience — that they become polytheistic.

According to God’s Word, people who believe in many gods are not displaying an earnest search for God, but are giving evidence of their rebellion against God (Romans 1:21–23). Having traveled to many countries of the world to share the good news, I understand that there are individuals raised from birth in false religious systems like Zoroastrianism. Nevertheless, I have also witnessed that many people caught up in a polytheistic religion know that it is not true. Therefore, it is our responsibility as Christians to reason with them that there is only one God, who has revealed Himself in Jesus Christ.4 People who practice Zoroastrianism are lost, and like everyone else in this world, they need to receive the forgiveness found in Jesus Christ.

The Zoroastrian View of Creation

Zoroastrians say that their supreme deity, Ahura Mazda, created the world. Their religions literature states:

In the beginning, there was nothing in the world except Ahura Mazda, the Wise Lord, who lived in the Endless Light. And the Evil Spirit, Ahriman, who lived in the Absolute Darkness. Between them lay only emptiness.

One day, Ahura Mazda decided to make different creations. First He shaped the sky made of metal, shining and bright. Second, He made the pure water. Third, the Wise Lord created the Earth, flat and round with no mountains and valleys. Fourth, He made the plants, moist and sweet with no bark or thorn. Fifth, he created the animals, big and small. Then he created the First Man, Gayomard, bright, tall, and handsome. And lastly, he created Fire and distributed it within the whole creation. The Wise Lord ordered Fire to serve the mankind in preparing food and overcoming cold.5

Anyone who has read the opening chapters of Genesis can quickly see that there are major differences between the creation account in Genesis and the creation story in Zoroastrian literature; however, there are a few vague similarities. Because of these similarities, some liberal scholars have argued that Zoroastrianism predates the biblical record of Genesis and influenced the writings of Moses.

Others argue that there was one common myth as to how the creation of the world took place, and with time it gave birth to many different creation accounts. This view is very similar to those of liberal scholars who point out that there are over 200 different flood accounts found in ancient cultures. From these, it is contended that the different (but sometimes similar) accounts reflect commonly held ancient myths, but not historical fact. Commenting on this fallacious argument, Ken Ham writes:

When I attended university in Australia (many years ago!), I remember one of my professors stating that there were Babylonian stories about a ood similar to the account in the Bible. Therefore he concluded, the Jews borrowed their “story” from the Babylonians! But I say it’s really the other way round! There are flood legends in cultures all over the world because there really was an actual global Flood — Noah’s Flood. As the account of the Flood was handed down (and particularly as people spread out around the world after the Tower of Babel), it was changed by many cultures. Yet many of these legends (including the Babylonian ones) have similar elements to the Bible’s account. Because the Bible is God’s inspired Word, it gives us the true account.6

This same line of reasoning could be used in helping to sort out the different (but sometimes similar) creation accounts. On the one hand, even if one subscribes to the earlier and much highly debated date that places Zoroaster 1,700 years before Christ, this does not change the fact that in the early chapters of Genesis, Moses is writing of historical events that took place approximately 4,000 years before Christ.

On the other hand, if one ascribes to the founding of Zoroastrianism held by most scholars to be the sixth century BC, the Bible still predates the writings of Zoroastrianism. Most historians and scholars, liberal and conservative alike, place the writing of the Torah (Genesis–Deuteronomy) between 1446 and 1406 BC. when Moses and the children of Israel wandered in the desert for 40 years.

This would mean that the Old Testament pre-dates the oral traditions of Zoroaster, later recorded in the Avesta (the offcial religious text of Zoroastrianism), by close to 900 years. Since the Bible predates the religious teachings of the false prophet Zoroaster, one should expect some similarities in Zoroastrianism and other ancient cultures concerning the creation of the world.

As with the Flood of Noah’s day, the different creation accounts began with one authoritative account written by God through Moses and later disseminated through the peoples of the world after the Tower of Babel (Genesis 10–11).

The Zoroastrian Source of Revelation

The false prophet Zoroaster, purportedly at the age of 30, received a vision that he recorded in the Avesta. He was drawing water from the Daiti River and supposedly saw a “Shining Being,” who called himself Vohu Manah. Most Zoroastrian scholars concur that this was an angel. According to Zoroaster, Vohu Manah led him into the presence of Ahura Mazda, the Zoroastrian god. This supposedly was the first in a series of visions in which Zoroaster asked questions and received answers from Ahura Mazda. The answers he received became the foundational tenets for the Zoroastrian faith. From these visions given uniquely to him, Zoroaster became the sole human author of the Zoroastrian religious literature.

Of course, as Christians, we know that Satan describes himself as “an angel of light” and that he uses fallen angels to communicate false doctrine (2 Corinthians 11:13–15; 1 Timothy 4:1). Typical in virtually every religious cult, there is some vision, some angelic messenger, or some revelation, usually given to a single person. I find it interesting that Zoroaster’s method of enlightenment was very similar to Mohammed’s enlightenment in Islam. Mohammed also supposedly received a vision from an angel, and this “revelation” became Islam’s religious text, the Quran.

In both Zoroastrianism and Islam, the source of the religious revelation that is held to be authoritative is given to just one man, and in both instances it is given by an angel. By comparison, the revelation found and recorded in the Bible is so very different.

One of the amazing facts about the Bible is that although it was written by a wide diversity of authors (as many as 40), over a period of 1,600 years, from many different locations and under a wide variety of conditions, the Bible is uniquely one book, not merely a collection of 66 books.

The authors of the Bible lived in a variety of cultures, had different life experiences, and often were quite different in their personal make-up. They wrote their material from three continents (Africa, Asia, and Europe), in very diverse places — Moses in a desert, Solomon in a palace, Paul in a prison, John in exile, etc. — while employing three languages in their writings (Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek). In addition, they represented a wide variety of backgrounds and professions. For instance, Moses was a political leader; Joshua a military leader; David a shepherd; Nehemiah a cupbearer; Solomon a king; Amos a herdsman; Daniel a prime minister; Matthew a tax collector; Luke a medical doctor; Paul a rabbi; and Peter a fisherman. And what is so amazing is that while most of the human authors never met each other and were unfamiliar with each other’s writings, the Bible is still a unified whole, without a single contradiction! There is a perfect unity that runs from Genesis to Revelation. The only explanation is that the Bible is the Word of God. The only explanation is that behind the 40 human authors, there was one Divine Author, God the Holy Spirit.7

The Zoroastrian View of Good and Evil

Zoroastrianism teaches that there is a cosmic dualism that is unfolding in the universe. Cosmic dualism is a term used to summarize Zoroaster’s belief that there is an ongoing battle, an ongoing tension, between good and evil. The “good power” is represented in their supreme being, Ahura Mazda, while the “evil power” is represented in Angra Mainyu. They believe that Ahura Mazda is responsible for the best in the world, while Angra Mainyu, existing alongside their supreme deity, infiltrates the universe with evil, making it impure. Therefore, Zoroastrians would attribute aging, sickess, famine, natural disasters, and death to this evil power. Zoroastrianism teaches that these two co-equal powers existed side by side from the beginning of time.8 Furthermore, this "cosmic dualism" is reflected in man’s “moral dualism” where he too makes both good and evil choices.

Of course, this teaching of moral dualism is contradictory to the revelation of God found in the Bible. When God created the world, “God saw everything that He had made, and indeed it was very good” (Genesis 1:31). The Bible is clear that all of God’s creation was very good, but sin entered into His creation through both the fall of Satan and the Fall of man.9 The Bible does not present two cosmic powers dueling against each other from the beginning. There is one sovereign God who rules and reigns, who at a point in time made both angels and men with the capacity to choose. One-third of the angels (now called demons) rebelled, as did all of humanity since Adam (Revelation 12:4; Romans 5:12). The one true God of the Bible is very clear that it was not some cosmic evil force that brought aging, sickness, famine, natural disasters, and death into this world; it was man’s sin (Romans 8:20–22). The Zoroastrian good god Ahura Mazda is co-eternal to the evil god Angra Mainyu. By contrast, the God of the Bible is sovereign over all. Furthermore, Satan is not the opposite of God; rather he is a created being and has limited power and, by God’s grace, limited time (Ezekiel 28:15; Job 1:12).

The Zoroastrian View of Salvation

Zoroastrianism teaches that man has a free will, and in the end he will be rewarded for his choices. Ahura Mazda, the “good power,” is perfect and abides in heaven, as will all who live righteously. Alongside this “good power” is Angra Mainyu, the “evil power,” who is wicked and dwells in the depths of hell, as will all who live wickedly. Zoroastrianism teaches that when a person dies he goes to heaven or hell depending on his deeds during his lifetime.10 This religion is really no different from all the different “isms” found around the world: Confucianism, Mohammedism, Taoism, Sikhism, or Shintoism. All these religions teach that people are ultimately received by a Supreme Being or into some afterlife on the basis of what they have accomplished.

Why Should I Care about Zoroastrianism?

Why should you care about a subject that most of us can hardly pronounce? We should care because God has called us to reach the world for Christ, and tens of millions of people are trapped either directly or indirectly in this false religion of Zoroastrianism. Jesus Christ commissioned His followers to “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15).

The U.S. Center for World Mission is an organization that, among other endeavors, catalogues all of the unreached people groups in the world. It continually stresses to Christians living in the West that most people who need to hear the gospel of Jesus Christ are located in the part of the world that missiologists refer to as the 10/40 window. The 10/40 window can be defined simply as, “the rectangular area of North Africa, the Middle East, and Asia, approximately between 10 degrees north and 40 degrees north latitude. This section of the world is often called ‘The Resistant Belt’ and includes the majority of the world’s Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists.”11

While this geographical region of the world comprises only about one-third of earth’s total land area, nearly two-thirds of the world’s people reside here. Included in this mass of humanity are the majority of those who practice Zoroastrianism. People groups found in India, Iran, Afghanistan, and Azerbaijan currently practice pure, undiluted Zoroastrianism. But there are also tens of millions who do not necessarily practice Zoroastrianism in its purest form, but who have adopted aspects of this cultish religion.

For instance, when describing the 650,000 Yazidi people of Iraq, many of whom have been attacked and slaughtered by ISIS,12 12 Dan Scribner of the U.S. Center for World Mission writes: “The Yazidi people follow an old religion which has remnants of Zoroastrianism, Hinduism, Judaism, and Christianity.”13 Those practicing the purest expression of Zoroastrianism number approximately 11,000 in the United States and approximately 300,000 worldwide. However, those practicing component parts of Zoroastrianism, mixed in with some other religion, number in the millions.

Americans might possibly meet someone living here who is practicing Zoroastrianism in its purest form.14 God is bringing many different unreached peoples from around the world to our own land. Under current immigration law, the United States often grants refugee status to those who are persecuted for their religious beliefs.15 This includes a people group known as the Parsis, who originate from the Bombay region of India and practice Zoroastrianism.16 In addition, many of the Kurdish people of Turkey, Syria, Iraq, and Iran trace their religious roots to Zoroastrianism. Most Kurds in these nations are only nominally Muslims, of the Sunni branch.17 “It has been said that Kurds hold their Islam lightly, due to several factors, one being that many Kurds still feel some connection with the ancient Zoroastrian faith. They feel it is an original Kurdish spirituality that far predates the seventh century AD arrival of Muhammad.”18 Overall, as more and more of the peoples from countries found in the 10/40 window come and take up residence in our own nation, we will meet an increasing number of individuals who embrace Zoroastrianism.

Increasingly, Christians in America who are faithful to share the gospel are discovering that religious beliefs once foreign to us have now moved into the American religious landscape. I recently baptized three individuals from India who have come to faith in Jesus Christ. Witnessing their conversions has heightened my awareness of other people from India who live in our community. India currently has a population of 1.3 billion people, and it is expected to pass China in population growth by 2025.19 If Christ has not returned by that time, there will be more people from India alive on planet Earth than any other single people group. Being aware of this phenomena is important, because India is the primary nation where Zoroastrianism has been syncretized into Hinduism and the other religions found there.

According to Operation World, Hinduism is the principal religious faith of India, practiced by nearly 1 billion people living there.20 So when you speak to Hindu people living here in America, you may be talking to people who knowingly or unknowingly embrace a number of the tenets of Zoroastrianism.

In addition, since Zoroastrianism has often been syncretized into many other world religions, and with the East moving West, being able to understand the beliefs of this false religion will better equip a Christian to win these people to Christ. All these factors combined should be enough motivation for any believer who takes the Great Commission seriously to want to reach a Zorastrian with the gospel.

Reaching a Zoroastrian with the Gospel

While there seems to be endless other issues in the Zoroastrianism cult that one could examine, like the manner in which they bury their dead, the so-called fire temples they worship in, or the allegiance they give to their seven archangels, to name just a few of dozens of topics we could have covered, we have nonetheless examined the principal components of Zoroastrianism. As in the study of any religious cult, what is critically important is not necessarily knowing every point of doctrine the religious cult ascribes to, but at least knowing the major points in order to be able to springboard into a discussion of the truth.

One should never be intimidated by the “strangeness” of so many new religions entering America. People are people, usually looking for meaning in life, and trying to find some way in which to relieve a guilty conscience. Never forget that no matter what people may tell you about their so-called god or even multiple gods, you can still appeal to what Christian theologians refer to as general revelation.

General revelation is that truth that God has revealed about Himself to all people, wherever one may live in the world. People outwardly are able to understand that there is one Creator God who made the world we live in. God’s fingerprints are all over His creation, and God wrote His moral dictates on each person’s heart (Psalm 19:1–6; Acts 14:17; Romans 1:20, 2:14–15). God’s laws are a reflection of God’s character, which is why man innately knows what is right and wrong, and what is just and unjust. Certainly, people can sin against their conscience and develop a calloused conscience (1 Timothy 4:2; Titus 1:5; Hebrews 10:22), but they still know that they have sinned against a holy God (Romans 1:32). Our responsibility remains the same, and that is to make a defense for the truth found in the Bible. We are to share the forgiveness that is offered in Jesus Christ.

Remember, most other major religions in the world, including Zoroastrianism, claim that a person can achieve, on his own, some kind of afterlife by how he lives. However, the Bible alone teaches man cannot save himself, because the penalty for sin is death (Romans 6:23).

If You Have Been Influenced by Zoroastrianism

We have good news to share, how God in Christ took that death penalty for us, when He became a man and died on the Cross in our place (2 Corinthians 5:19). Jesus Christ then proved His sinless perfection, and therefore His ability to take our punishment as a sinless person, when He was raised from the dead (Romans 1:4, 4:25). The message of the Bible is that no one can possibly earn salvation, but each one must receive salvation by placing his or her faith in Jesus Christ alone (Ephesians 2:8–9).

God does not spell salvation “DO” - and God does not spell salvation “DON’T” - God spells salvation “DONE” (John 19:30). For this reason, with kindness and compassion, knowing that the Holy Spirit works with us as we share this message of forgiveness (John 16:8), we can boldly declare that Jesus Christ is the only way to heaven. We must never forget that Christ did not claim to be a good way to God. He did not even claim to be the best way to God. He claimed to be the only way to the Father (John 14:6).

Wherever you go in this country or this world, people need forgiveness. People need release from the wrong things they have done and the relief that only a clear conscience can bring. As Bible-believing Christians, we have the only message that both works and is true (Acts 4:12).

So look around the community you live in. You will probably find someone from Iran or Iraq or India or some place that either knowingly or unknowingly has embraced some tenet of Zoroastrianism. Share the good news of Christ with them.

Possibly before reading this chapter you were under the impression that your good deeds could save you, or at least they helped to save you. But maybe now you understand that it is only by the gospel, defined as the death, burial, and Resurrection of Christ, that you can be forgiven (1 Corinthians 15:1–3; Romans 1:16). It really does not matter what you may be guilty of in your past. God can forgive you, and He will forgive you, but He will only forgive you if you will call on His Son Jesus Christ to save you (Romans 10:13) I invite you to do that right now.

Summary of Zoroastrian Beliefs

Doctrine

Zoroastrian Teaching

God

Ahura Mazda is the supreme god who is worshiped, but there is also another immortal deity who represents evil, Angra Mainyu.

Authority/Revelation

The Avesta is the scriptural record of the revelation announced by the prophet Zoroaster. Various sects hold to different sections as authoritative.

Man

The first man was created by Ahura Mazda, but evil entered the universe and corrupted man; man must use his free will to choose to do good.

Sin

Sin has physical and spiritual aspects and is not well-defined apart from doing good or evil.

Salvation

Those who do good deeds can earn their salvation; there is no concept of a mediator or Savior though all will ultimately be purged of sin to be in heaven.

Creation

Ahura Mazda is eternal and created the universe, including earth, plants, animals, and humans in a way that echoes Genesis.

World Religions and Cults Volume 2

This eye-opening volume deals with many Eastern religions like Hinduism, Taoism, New Age, Sikhism, Confucianism, Shinto, and Buddhism, as well as other pagan-based systems.

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Footnotes

  1. Richard Cavendish, The Great Religions (New York: Arco Publishing Company, 1980), 125.
  2. Philip Schaff, Theological Propaedeutic (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons Publisher, 1904), 49–50.
  3. Scripture in this chapter is from the New King James Version of the Bible.
  4. For some timeless lessons on how to reason with polytheistic people, study the Apostle Paul’s interchange with the people of Athens on Mars Hill (Acts 17:16–34).
  5. This creation account is taken from the book of Creation, the Bundahishn, dating from the sixth century AD. While this book draws on the Avesta, the official sacred text used by Zoroastrians, because it reflects Zoroastrian scripture, today it is also considered authoritative by those in this cultish religion. Zorastriankids.com/creation.html.
  6. Ken Ham, Blog, January 27, 2014, answersingenesis.org/blogs/ken-ham/2014/01/27/was-noahs-ark-round/.
  7. “Why Is the Bible Unique,” Dr. Carl J. Broggi, 53, found in Ken Ham and Bodie Hodge, eds., How Do We Know The Bible Is True, Volume 2 (Green Forest, AR: Master Books, 2012).
  8. For a helpful discussion on this topic with direct quotations from their religious writings, see Early Zoroastrianism by James Hope Moulton (London: Constable and Company, 1913), 344–349.
  9. To study the fall of Satan, read Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28. To study the Fall of man, read Genesis 3.
  10. The above summary of these doctrines can be found in the following Zoroastrian scripture, Yasna 30:2, 4, 9-11; 31:8, 9; 43:12; 46:12; 51:6; 53:7-9. The Yasna is considered by Zoroastrians to be the most important portion of the Avesta.
  11. “What is the 10/40 Window?” by the Joshua Project, a ministry of the U.S. Center for World Mission.
  12. The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), also translated as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), and known too by the self-proclaimed title of Islamic State (IS), is a Sunni, extremist, jihadist rebel group controlling territory in Iraq, Syria, eastern Libya, the Sinai Peninsula of Egypt, parts of Pakistan, and parts of India.
  13. Dan Scribner, newsletter of the U.S. Center for World Mission, June 9, 2014.
  14. According to the Federation of Zoroastrian Associations of North America, this number is small, estimated at approximately 11,000. For a demographic breakdown for North American, go to www.fezana.org.
  15. For a helpful article explaining the 1951 United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees which the United States bases its immigration policy on, see the University of Minnesota’s Human Rights Library article on “Study Guide: The Rights of Refugees,” Human Rights Education Associates 2003, http://www1.umn.edu/humanrts/edumat/studyguides/refugees.htm.
  16. The Parsis, whose name means “Persians,” are descended from Persian Zoroastrians, having immigrated to India in the last century to avoid religious persecution by the Muslims. They live chiefly in Bombay and in a few towns and villages mostly to the north of Bombay, but also in places like Karachi (Pakistan), Bangalore (Karnataka, India), and now in the United States.
  17. Shiite Muslims are known for persecuting Sunni Muslims. The Sunni branch believes that the first four caliphs — Mohammed’s successors — rightfully took his place as legitimate religious leaders of Muslims. Shiites, in contrast, believe that only the heirs of the fourth caliph, Ali, are the legitimate successors of Mohammed. See more at historynewsnetwork.org/article/934.
  18. US Center for World Mission, article, “The Kurds” at www.http://joshuaproject.net/peoplegroups.
  19. “India to Pass China in Population” by Sam Roberts, New York Times, December 15, 2009
  20. Operation World is a wonderful resource to help Christians understand the religious climate of every nation in order to intelligently pray for the unevangelized. Their website (operationworld.org) indicates that the world’s least-evangelized peoples are concentrated in India. Of 159 people groups of over 1 million people, 133 are unreached. Hundreds more groups of fewer than 1 million are unreached. Also, 953 ethnic groups have populations greater than 10,000; of these, 205 have no church and little to no outreach from Christians. About 700,000 of these people practice pure Zoroastrianism. However, nearly one billion people practice some form of Hinduism in which you will find components of Zoroastrianism. Only about 2.2 percent of the population is considered to be evangelical Christians.

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