cais1.gif (153930 bytes)

CAIS Persian Text.gif (34162 bytes)

CAIS

The Circle of Ancient Iranian Studies


 Persian Section.PNG (9914 bytes)


Home


About CAIS


Articles


Daily News


News Archive


Announcements


CAIS Seminars


Image Library


Copyright


Disclaimer


Submission


Search


Contact Us


Links


Facebook-Button.jpg (107165 bytes)




Iranian Religions: Zoroastrianism

Influence of Zoroastrianism on Judaism and Christianity


 

By Mark Willey

 

"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

 

MONOTHEISM

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.

 

EZRA, THE SUBVERTER OF JUDAISM

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.

 

SADDUCEES VS PHARISEES

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.

 

CHRISTIANITY AS A MITHRAIC CULT

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.

 

SOME REFERENCES

  1. Peake's Commentary on the Bible, Matthew Black and H.H. Rowley, ed., Revised edition, NY:Nelson 1982, section 607.

  2. Encyclopedia America, Danbury, CT, 1988, vol 29, pp. 813-815, article by J. Duchesne-Guillemin.

  3. Zarathustra, Philo, The Achaemenids and Israel, Lawrence Mills, Leipzig, 1903. Lawrence Mills was the brilliant American professor at Cambridge who not only translated much of the Avesta but published several books, including Our Own Religion in Ancient Persia, Chicago 1913, giving comprehensive examples of Persian words and ideas in the Bible. They have been reprinted.

  4. The Mysteries of Mithra, Franz Cumont, Chicago, 1903, also in Dover Books reprint.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Top of Page

my_Iran.jpg (13682 bytes)

"History is the Light on the Path to Future"

 

Persian_NOT_Farsi_by_Shapour_Suren-Pahlav_3D2.gif (177309 bytes)


 

Encyclopaedia Iranica


BIPS.jpg (15695 bytes)

The British Institute of Persian Studies


"Persepolis Reconstructed"

Persepolis_reconstructed2.jpg (36944 bytes)

Persepolis3D


The British Museum


The Royal

Asiatic Society


Persian_Gulf_Facebook.jpg (1935028 bytes)

The Persian Gulf

Facebook Page




Please use your "Back" button (top left) to return to the previous page

Copyright © 1998-2014 The Circle of Ancient Iranian Studies (CAIS)