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PostPosted: Mon 14 Dec 2009 - 02:24
PostPost subject: Influence of Zoroastrianism on Judaism and Christianity
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Influence of Zoroastrianism on Judaism and Christianity

"Now it was from this very creed of Zoroaster that the Jews derived all the angelology of their religion...the belief in a future state; of rewards and punishments, ...the soul's immortality, and the Last Judgment - all of them essential parts of the Zoroastrian scheme." From The Gnostics and Their Remains (London 1887) by King and Moore quoted at 607a in Peake's Bible Commentary.

FROM ENCYCLOPEDIA AMERICANA: "First, the figure of Satan, originally a servant of God, appointed by Him as His prosecutor, came more and more to resemble Ahriman, the enemy of God. Secondly, the figure of the Messiah, originally a future King of Israel who would save his people from oppression, evolved, in Deutero-Isaiah for instance, into a universal Savior very similar to the Iranian Saoshyant. Other points of comparison between Iran and Israel include the doctrine of the millennia; the Last Judgment; the heavenly book in which human actions are inscribed; the Resurrection; the final transformation of the earth; paradise on earth or in heaven; and hell." by J. Duchesne-Guillemin, University of Liege, Belgium


Fundamentally the Jews were polytheists. But whatever its date, the idea of the covenant tells us that the Israelites were not yet monotheists, since it only made sense in a polytheistic setting. God stated that there are many gods: "Thou shalt have no other gods before me"(Exodus 20:3). The full monotheistic conception of God came later (Isaiah 43:10-13, Jer 10:1-16). The second Isaiah juxtaposes the great Persian King Cyrus with the first monotheistic declarations in the Bible. The second Isaiah is the first expression of universalism which has no antecedent in the Bible, according to the Anchor Bible note at Isaiah 45. He also first introduces the idea of false gods - a fundamental and indispensable criteria for monotheism. A universal God determines that only one is worshiped; a tribal god, of necessity, implies polytheism since there are other tribes. Before the exile, God was a vengeful, bloodthirsty, and jealous anthropomorphic tribal God of fear. After the exile, He became a good, perfect, remote, and universal God of love: identical to Ahura-Mazda. It needed the subsequent missions of Nehemiah and Ezra backed by the Achaemenian Imperial Government's authority to make the Jews ruefully conform to the new ideal of monotheism.


In 397 B.C. Ezra, a courtier of the Persian king, was sent from Babylon "to teach in Israel statutes and ordinances" (Ezra 7:10). Ezra had been born and educated as a divine reader in Babylon and was sent by Artaxerxes to see if the people of Judea "be agreeable to the law of God". There are explicit indications of widespread religious conversion in Ezra 6:19-21 and Nehemiah 10:28-29, but why would Jews have to convert to Judaism? Nehemiah, chapter 8, discusses an event where Ezra read from the book of law which neither Hebrew speakers nor Aramaic speakers could understand - the words had to be translated by priests. What strange language could Ezra have been reading, Avestan maybe? Ezra's major reform was the prohibition of foreign wives. Although marrying foreign wives had always been the most favored Jewish practice, such marriages violate Zoroastrian law (e.g. Denkard, Book 3, ch 80). The alien nature of other laws to the Jews shows itself in the distinction between clean and unclean animals in Leviticus and Ezekial which was derived from the Vendidad, a Zoroastrian holy book, where alone it is explained. The purification rituals are identical in the Pentateuch and the older Vendidad. Von Gall in Brasileia tou Theou, 1926, gives a detailed catalog of Jewish laws taken from the Persians. Ezra also introduced the new festival of booths in the seventh month, which is of course the Zoroastrian holiday of Ayathrem. Finally, in about 400 B.C. the Old Testament was put in written form when Jerusalem was still under the power of the Persians.


The Jews greatly resisted the imposition of Zoroastrianism charading as Judaism. The construction of the temple designed by the great Persian king Cyrus for the Jews was delayed by both political and physical means. "The true Israelis" built their own temple on MT. Gerizim and wrote Jerusalem out of their Pentateuch. So, whatever the Persian governors and priests were doing in Jersusalem in the name of Judaism, it caused a great schism. The Sadducees, the 'purists', made up over 97% of the population and believed in "no resurrection, neither angel, nor spirit" (Acts 23:8) - in a word, no Persian ideas. The Pharisees or Persian faction - Pharisee, Parsee, Farsi - never numbered very high, not more than 6,000, although only Pharisaism survived the fall of Jerusalem in 70 A.D.


In addition, Christianity adopted these doctrines from Zoroastrianism: baptism, communion - the haoma ceremony, guardian angels, the heavenly journey of the soul, worship on Sunday, the celebration of Mithras' birthday on December 25th, celibate priests that mediate between man and God, the Trinity, Zvarnah - the idea that emanations from the sun are collected in the head and radiate in the form of nimbus and rays, and asha-arta, "the true prayer". Centuries later in Greece this became Logos or "true sentence" and like in Persia it was associated with fire. Mithraism is widely considered to be a syncretistic religion, that is: a combination of Persian, Babylonian and Greek influences. However, the Greek influence seems to be limited to the identification in Greece of Mithras with the Greek god Perseus. The Babylonian influence seems to have been limited to astrology. Perhaps, though, the Persian interest in astrology has been overlooked. Zoroastrians worshipped at alters on hills and had a whole class of professional Magi or priests who had lots of time on their hands to do astrological research. Rather than a syncretistic religion, it would be more proper to call Mithraism a Zoroastrian subcult.

The center of the Mithric cult was in Tarsus in Cilicia, Southeast Turkey. This is whence Paul, the founder of the Christian church, came from as a young man. Paul's insight on the road to Damascus was that instead of treating Jesus as a false savior, he could be identified as the true savior if combined with the new idea of "the second coming". That would cure the embarrassing fact that nothing had come of Jesus' time on earth. The rest was simple, Paul identified Jesus with Mithras and taught a modified Mithraism. That got Paul branded as a heretic by the true church and James the brother of Jesus. Eventually it cost Paul his life. However, the Mithric ideas were so generally attractive that they eventually won out.

Source: http://www.cais-soas.com/CAIS/Religi..._influence.htm


During the 7th and 6th centuries BC the ancient polytheistic religion of the Iranians was reformed and given new dimensions by the prophet Zoroaster (or Zarathusthra). Zoroaster's life dates have been traditionally given as (c. 628 - 551 BC), but many scholars argue for earlier dates. Linguistic evidence suggests that he was born in northeastern Iran, but the prophet's message was to spread throughout the Persian Empire. Adopted as the faith of the Persian kings, Zoroastrianism became the official religion of the Achaemenid empire and flourished under its successors, the Parthian and Sassanian empires. Its theology and cosmology may have influenced the development of Greek, later Jewish, Christian, and Muslim thought. The Muslim conquest of the 7th century AD marked the beginning of a steady decline of Zoroastrianism. Persecution resulted in the migration (about the 10th century) of the majority of Zoroastrians to India, where the Parsis of Bombay are their modern descendants.

The religion of ancient Iran was derived from that of the ancient Indo Europeans, or Aryans. The language of the earliest Zoroastrian writings is close to that of the Indian Vedas, and much of the mythology is recognizably the same. Two groups of gods were worshiped, the ahuras and the daevas. The worship of the ahuras (lords) may have reflected the practice of the pastoral upper classes, and tradition holds that Zoroaster was born into a family that worshiped only the ahuras. The message of the prophet, however, was that Ahura Mazda, the Wise Lord, was the sole creator and lord of the world and that the worship of the daevas was the worship of evil.

In Zoroaster's theology the Amesha Spentas, or Bountiful Immortals, were divine beings who acted essentially as agents of the power of Ahura Mazda; they were traditionally seven in number: Bounteous Spirit, Good Mind, Truth, Rightmindedness, Dominion, Health, and Life. The first of these, Spenta Mainyu, is of special importance in that he is paired with a "twin," Angra Mainyu, or Hostile Spirit. When given a choice between good and evil, or truth and the lie, Bounteous Spirit chose truth and Hostile Spirit the lie. Creation becomes a battleground, with the demoted ahuras invoked for the doing of good and the daevas enlisted by Angra Mainyu in the doing of evil. Nevertheless, Ahura Mazda has decreed that truth will triumph, and the old world will be destroyed by fire and a new creation instituted.

In the period following Zoroaster, for which little evidence remains, Zoroastrianism consolidated its position and spread throughout Iran. The rise of the southern Persians and Medes seems to have been accompanied by the reinstatement of many of the ahuras, although Ahura Mazda is still recognized as supreme god. Among the most important figures to revive at this time were Mithra (Mithraism), usually associated with the sun, and Anahita, associated with the waters and fertility. Ahura Mazda (who becomes Ormazd) becomes identified with Spenta Mainyu, and Angra Mainyu (Ahriman) remains his antagonist. Ahura Mazda has relinquished some of his absolute supremacy and appears to need the assistance of the lesser ahuras, particularly Mithra, who appears as mediator and protector of the created world.

This dualist view eventually became the orthodox position. Its development may have owed much to the Magi, a hereditary priestly caste, although their role is unclear. From them, however, the Greco Roman world learned much of what it knew of the religion. An important reform movement, however, arose within Zoroastrianism - the movement around Zurvan. The Zurvanites posited a supreme god, Zurvan (Infinite Time), who had sacrificed for 1,000 years in order to gain offspring. At the end of that time he experienced momentary doubt, and from that doubt arose Ahriman; at the same time, Ormazd came into being because of the efficacy of the sacrifices. At the end of 3,000 years Ahriman crossed the void that separated them and attacked Ormazd. The two made a pact to limit the struggle, and Ahriman fell back into the abyss, where he lay for 3,000 years.

During that period Ormazd created the material and spiritual world; in retaliation, Ahriman called into being six demons and an opposing material world. In the next 3,000 year period Ahriman attempted to corrupt the creation of Ormazd; he was successful but was trapped in the world of light. The final period of 3,000 years was ushered in by the birth of Zoroaster, who revealed this struggle to man; the prophet is to be followed by three saviors, appearing at intervals of 1,000 years. At the appearance of the last, a day of judgment will occur, the drink of immortality will be offered to those who have fought against Ahriman, and a new creation will be established.

The sacred literature of Zoroastrianism is found in the Avesta, which was compiled sometime during the Sassanian period (224 - 640 AD) from much earlier materials. Only a portion of the Avesta remains, but the language of its earliest sections is extremely ancient, closely related to that of the Indian Vedas. These sections, the Gathas, are thought to be by Zoroaster himself. They are hymns and form the primary part of the Yasna, the central liturgy of the religion. Also contained in the Avesta are the Yashts, hymns to a number of the ahuras, and later in date than the Gathas. Finally comes the Videvdat, which is concerned with purity and ritual. A large body of commentary exists in Pahlavi, dating from the 9th century AD, which contains quotations from earlier material no longer extant.

The rituals of Zoroastrianism revolve around devotion to the good and the battle against the forces of evil. Fire plays a major role, being seen as the manifestation of the truth of Ahura Mazda, as preached by Zoroaster. Also important is the ritual drink, haoma, which is related to the Vedic soma.

Source: http://mb-soft.com/believe/txo/zoroastr.htm


Zoroastrianism, Judaism, and Christianity share so many features that it seems that there must be a connection between them. Does this connection really exist? If so, how did it happen? And how much of the similarity between these faiths is due simply to parallel evolution, rather than direct contact and influence? The simplest answer to the first question is, yes, there is a great deal of Zoroastrian influence on Judaism and Christianity, but the problem is that it is hard to document this exactly, at least in the early stages of Judaism. The evidence is there, but it is all "circumstantial" evidence and often does not stand up to the rigorous judgment of scholarship. Nevertheless, I will dare to present these ideas assertively, with the qualification that there will likely be no definite way to prove them either true or untrue.

In 586 BCE, the forces of the Babylonian Empire conquered the Jews, destroying their Temple and carrying off a proportion of the Jewish population into exile. The captives consisted especially of educated and upper-class people as well as the royal family. This "Babylonian captivity" lasted almost fifty years. In 539 BCE the Persians, under the leadership of the Achaemenid King Cyrus, conquered Babylon, and in 538 Cyrus issued a decree stating that the Jews would be allowed to return to their homeland. Not only were the Exiles released, but Cyrus, and to some extent his Achaemenid successors, also supported the rebuilding of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem. Cyrus' policy was motivated not only by his religious tolerance (he also encouraged other, pagan peoples to maintain their own religions) but by statesmanlike wisdom; people treated generously are less likely to rebel.

But not all the Jews wanted to go home. In the years of Exile, the adaptable Jewish people had established themselves in Mesopotamia, settling there and engaging in business and even politics. Many Jews, while remaining devout Jews, did not go back to their homeland. They carried on their lives in their new home, and as the Persian Empire consolidated its rule, some Jews even rose to high positions of service in the imperial court. It was during the end of the Exile, among the Jews now living in the Persian Empire, that the first significant contact was made between the Jewish and Iranian cultures. And it is evident in the Bible that Jewish thinking changed after the Exile. The question is then: are these changes the result of the cultural meeting of Jewish and Iranian thinkers, or are these changes due to the shock of Exile? During the Exile, Jews had to change not only how they worshipped, since they no longer had their temple or the animal sacrifices which had been at the center of their faith, but also how they thought about God. The Jewish concept of God as their tribal protector, who would save them from being conquered or exiled, had to undergo revision.

I believe that both factors are present, inspiring the changes in post-exilic Judaism: not only the Jews thinking new thoughts about God and humanity, but also contact with the Zoroastrian religion of the Persian Empire. But then another question arises: how did the ancient Jews learn about Zoroastrianism? It is highly unlikely that Jewish scholars and thinkers ever directly encountered Zoroastrian scriptures such as the Gathas (the founding text of the Zoroastrian faith, attributed to the Prophet Zarathushtra himself) or the Yashts (hymns of praise to various intermediate deities and guardian spirits, adapted from pre- Zarathushtrian mythology). The priestly usage and archaic language of the Avesta scriptures would be a barrier to Jews. But most of Zoroastrianism, known and practiced among the people, existed in oral tradition: through word of mouth, not by the study of written scriptures. This oral tradition included stories about God, the Creation, the ethical and cosmic conflict of Good and Evil, the divine Judgment and the end of the world. The tradition would also include the well-known Zoroastrian symbolism of fire, light and darkness, as well as stories and prayers about the yazatas or intermediate spiritual beings and the Prophet Zarathushtra. These are all elements of what might be called "classic" Zoroastrianism (as it developed from the "primal" Zoroastrianism of the Gathas).

This is how the Jews encountered Zoroastrianism - in private dialogues and political and civic experience, rather than in formal religious studies. And as the Jewish religion was re-made after the catastrophe of the Exile, these Zoroastrian teachings began to filter into the Jewish religious culture. There are some venturesome scholars who say that the Jewish idea of monotheism was inspired by contact with Zoroastrian monotheism. While it is true that Jewish monotheistic ideas did change after the Exile, I do not believe that it was Zoroastrian contact which inspired this change. Rather, it was the fact of the Exile itself. Jewish thinkers and prophets even before the Exile were hinting at a concept of One God who was greater than just an ethnic divinity. When the Captivity threw these thinkers into a foreign culture, away from their divinely appointed homeland, it was necessary to broaden their idea of God to a more universal and abstract deity, who could be worshipped with praise and moral actions rather than animal sacrifices and liturgies. The concept of a single God whom all nations would eventually worship evolved among a conquered and exiled people no longer assured of their divinely protected status.

The Gathas of Zarathushtra, which may pre-date Cyrus by almost a thousand years, do describe God in universalist and abstract terms, but by the time of the Jewish contact, it is unclear just what type of monotheism was believed in the Zoroastrian community. Was it a true monotheism which worships only One God, to whom all other gods are either evil demons or simply non- existent? This seems to be the monotheism of Zarathushtra, but not of the Achaemenid kings of the Persian Empire, who were able to incorporate the veneration of subordinate divinities into their worship, as long as these subordinates were recognized as creations of the One God and not gods in their own right. The Jews, as we will see, would recognize angels as semi-divine intermediaries, but would not go so far as the Zoroastrians in honoring those intermediaries with hymns of praise such as the Yashts.

One of the most important differences between Jewish monotheism and Zoroastrian monotheism is that Jews recognize the one God as the source of both good and evil, light and darkness, while Zoroastrians, during all the phases of their long theological history, think of God only as the source of Good, with Evil as a separate principle. There is a famous passage in Second Isaiah, composed during or after the Exile, which is sometimes cited as a Jewish rebuke to the Zoroastrian idea of a dualistic God: "I am YHVH, unrivalled: I form the light and create the dark. I make good fortune and create calamity, it is I, YHVH, who do all this." (Isaiah 45:7) This passage, which is a major source for Jewish speculation on the source of good and evil in the world, denies the Zoroastrian idea of a God who is the source only of "good" and favorable things.

Therefore I would not say that contact with Zoroastrian monotheism influenced Jewish monotheism. The philosophical minds of the two cultures may indeed have recognized each other as fellow monotheists, but this central Jewish doctrine is one which was not learned from the Zoroastrians. It grew from the original monotheistic revelation attributed to Moses, just as Zoroastrian monotheism grew from the revelation of Zarathushtra (who may indeed have been roughly contemporary, though completely unconnected, with Moses). These were two parallel journeys towards understanding of one God.

There are other developments, however, in the Jewish faith which are much more easily connected with Zoroastrian ideas. One of the most visible changes after the Exile is the emergence of a Jewish idea of Heaven, Hell, and the afterlife. Before the Exile and Persian contact, Jews believed that the souls of the dead went to a dull, Hades-like place called "Sheol." After the Exile, the idea of a moralized afterlife, with heavenly rewards for the good and hellish punishment for the evil, appear in Judaism. One of the words for "heaven" in the Bible is Paradise - and this word, from the ancient Iranian words pairi-daeza, "enclosed garden," is one of the very few definite Persian loan-words in the Bible. This moral view of the afterlife is characteristic of Zarathushtrian teaching from its very beginning in the Gathas.

It is also thought that the Jewish idea of a coming Savior, or Messiah, was influenced by Zoroastrian messianism. Already in the book of Second Isaiah, possibly written during the Exile, the prophet speaks of a Savior who would come to rescue the Jewish people: a benefactor, "anointed" by God to fulfill his role (the word "messiah" means "anointed one"). In many verses, he identifies Cyrus the liberator as that Messiah. The growth of messianic ideas is parallel in both Jewish and Iranian thought. Zarathushtra, in his Gathas, describes a saoshyant (savior) as anyone who is a benefactor of the people. Similarly in Jewish prophecy, the Messiah is not a single special Savior but anyone who does great things for the Jewish people - even if that person is a Persian King. But as both Persian and Jewish savior-mythology evolve, the Saoshyant - and the Messiah - take on a special, individual, almost divine quality which will be very important in the birth of Christianity.

The conquests of Alexander of Macedon in the fourth century BCE created the first "global" culture (at least for the Western world) in which people, goods, and ideas could circulate from southern Europe, through the Middle East, all the way to Iran and India, and vice versa. It was in this cosmopolitan, Hellenistic world that Jews and Persians had further contact, and the Zoroastrian influence on Judaism became much stronger. This influence is clearly visible in the later Jewish writings such as the Book of Daniel and the books of the Maccabees, which were written in the second century BCE.

An interesting Biblical account of Zoroastrian-Jewish contact, as well as an early attestation of Middle Eastern petroleum, appears in the Second Book of the Maccabees (which is not found in Jewish Bibles, only in Catholic Christian ones). This document dates from about 124 BCE, which places it among the latest books of the Old Testament - so late that the Jewish canon does not recognize it. In the first chapter of this book, there is a story of how the Jewish altar fire was restored to the Temple after the Captivity. Jewish Temple practice required a continuously burning flame at the altar (Exodus 27:20) though this flame did not have the special "iconic" quality of the Zoroastrian sacred fire. Nevertheless, during the restoration of the Jewish temple, this story arose and is repeated in the Book of the Maccabees, four hundred years later: "When the matter (restoring the fire) became known and the king of the Persians heard that in the place where the exiled priests had hidden the fire a liquid had appeared, with which Nehemiah and his people had purified the materials of the sacrifice, the king, after verifying the facts, had the place enclosed and pronounced sacred." (2 Maccabees 1:33-34) This shows that at least at the time of the composition of 2 Maccabees, the Jewish writers were aware of the Zoroastrian reverence for fire - and also that, if the story is true, the Zoroastrians saw and respected similarities in practice between their own religion and that of the Jews. The fiery liquid cited here is petroleum, called "naphtha," a word which arises from a combination of Persian and Hebrew words.

The Iranian influence continues to be evident in Jewish writings from what is known as the "inter-testamental" period, that is, after the last canonical book of the Old Testament and before Christianity and the composition of the New Testament. This covers an era between about 150 BCE to 100 CE. These Jewish inter-testamental writings describe a complicated hierarchy of angelic beings, in an echo of the Zoroastrian concept of the holy court of the Yazatas. The Jewish idea of seven chief archangels probably has its inspiration in the seven Amesha Spentas, the highest guardian spirits of Zoroastrian belief. Jews had their own ideas of angels long before they encountered Zoroastrianism; angels were nameless, impersonal representatives of God's message and action. But after the Exile, Jewish angels gain names and personalities, and also are spoken of as guardians of various natural phenomena, just like the Zoroastrian yazatas. The Jewish and Christian idea of a personal "guardian angel" may also have been inspired by the Zoroastrian figure of the fravashi, the divine guardian-spirit of each individual human being.

Zoroastrian influence on Judaism is also evident in the evolution of Jewish ideas about good, evil, and the End of Time. The original statement of the famous Zoroastrian dualism of good and evil is found in the Gathas, where Zarathushtra describes the two conflicting principles of good and evil in what might be called psychological, or ethical terms. Human beings are faced with the existence of good and evil within themselves - he describes these principles as the "beneficent" and the "hostile" spirits - and everyone must make the choice for Good in order to follow God's will.

But by the Hellenistic era, Zoroastrianism had already developed its doctrine of "cosmic dualism" - the idea that the entire Universe is a battlefield between the One Good God, Ahura Mazda, and the separate Spirit of Evil, Ahriman. This view of dualism is a symbolic transformation, and an expansion, of the more psychologically based teaching of Zarathushtra that good and evil are ethical choices and states of mind.


Source: http://www.pyracantha.com/zjc3.html

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