The Circle of Ancient Iranian Studies
Book 2. How Persia Created Judaism
The Universal God
The Universal God
The traditional view is that Cyrus and successive Persian kings of the sixth and fifth centuries BC were being religiously liberal in allowing the Jews to reconstruct their temple and its religion after they had been kindly returned from their exile in Babylon. But the religion of Yehouah, whose worshippers were called Jews, was remodelled thoroughly by the Persian world conquerors.
Their real aim was to spread the religion of Mazdayasnaism, or Ahuramazda worship, to consolidate their empire. Historians of the Persians often seem over eager to insist that the Persian kings had no wish to impose the religion of Ahuramazda on to subject people. The reason can only be to avoid any suggestion that Judaism might have been revealed by the Persian kings and not by Yehouah in person. They argue Persian kings would “restore” gods but not impose them. Why then did they destroy some gods?—though admittedly they called them daevas or devils, not gods. Note here the proper distinction held by Zoroastrians between devils and gods.
As Creator of good things, Ahuramazda was the creator of good gods—the gods considered good of foreign nations. Bad gods were, of course, created by the Evil Spirit. This is why the Persians cannot be assumed to have had a favourable or even neutral stance to foreign gods. In fact, the judgement was purely practical. When people opposed the forward march of the Persians their gods were of the Evil Creation. If they welcomed them, they were of the Good Creation.
The Persian kings would destroy when their opponents had offered strong resistance. Alexander had the same policy. The destruction of a people who resisted included destruction of their gods. But sanctuaries were destroyed in Babylon in 482 BC, long after Cyrus had conquered it bloodlessly. Xerxes declares on an inscription that he had destroyed a sanctuary of false gods and worshipped Ahuramazda instead. It shows that Persian kings had no sacred regard for the religions of subject people when they had reason to categorize their gods as devils.
It seems that the Persians had decided that god of the Jews was of the Good Creation and so could be treated with favoritism. The Jews therefore were permitted to make the universal religion in their own image, guided by Persian officials because it had to be a religion made up of the essential truths handed down to Zoroaster by Ahuramazda, albeit presented in a way adapted to the local god.
In the history of later Persia, the Jews were honoured under the Arsacids, the Jewish Exilarch being fourth in rank after tha king. Under the Sassanids, however, they came to be treated as Zoroastrian heretics. Both responses suggest an acceptance by Persians of a close relationship between Judaism and Zoroastrianism.
Jewish and Christian apologists are desperate to assert there is no direct evidence the Jewish religion is dependent on the Persian religion. They mean they have no statement that clearly declares it as such and, if they found one, they would ignore it as a forgery or an error. Scholars such as Gaster and Söderblum deny any Persian influence but they do not venture any alternative, or seek to explain why these ideas arrived in Judaism only after colonists “returned” from Persia.
The plain fact is that when Persian kings “restored” gods, the restoration was not to what they were—for which purpose most did not need any restoration. They were foisting their own god and Zoroastrian values on to defeated people but in the name of the local god, and to soften the pain, they offered them money and resources for new temples.
Persians offered the priesthoods in Babylon, Egypt, Elam, Sardis, Ionia and Judah support for the restoration of their religions. Cambyses (525-522 BC) had made attempts to reduce the financial incomes of the influential Egyptian temples, but Darius I (521-486 BC) commissioned the construction of temples including the temple in the el-Kharga oasis. The Egyptian official, Udjahorresne, who supported the Persians by suplying them with high born administrators, says the temple of Neith at Sais, of which he was a priest and should know, was restored.
After the Persian defeat at Marathon in 490 BC, the Egyptians rebelled in 486 BC, the beginning of a period of Egyptian unrest. Xerxes put the initial revolt down with great severity when he came to the throne (485 BC). He made his son, Achaemenes, Satrap, but he fomented more uprest with his cruelty. When Xerxes was assasinated (465 BC), the Egyptians revolted again, led by the son of Psammetichus III, prince Inaros, who became a legendary figure. The rebels were defeated and Inaros executed in 454 BC. Nehemiah was sent to restore the temple of Jerusalem about this time.
Few documents exist from this period, but the rest of the reign of Artaxerxes I (465-424 BC) was tranquil. Another uprising greeted Darius II (423-405 BC), and trouble brewed throughout his reign even though he tried through building projects to win over the Egyptians. It was this Darius, not Darius the Great, who is most likely the rebuilder or builder of the Jerusalem temple (417? BC).
Amyrtaios of Sais freed the delta in 404 BC. He was succeeded in 399 BC by Nepherites I of Mendes (399-393 BC) together with Psammuthis (393 BC) and Achoris (Hakor, 393-380 BC) who fortified Egypt against the Persian campaigns 385-383 BC. The Persians were defeated by Nectanebo I (380-362 BC) in 373 BC. Teos (Djedhor, 362-360 BC) followed briefly, then Nectanebo II (360-343 BC) staved off Artaxerxes III Ochus in 350 BC, but the Persian won in 343 BC setting up the Second Persian period that lasted until Alexander III of Macedonia, the Great.
The Persians were happy to accept various goddesses as the equal of Anahita. Cyrus the Younger worshipped in a temple of Artemis whom he must have considered to be Anahita. Anahita became popular in Cappadocia and Armenia and the Romans destroyed temples to Anahita in Armenia centuries later. They were happy to accept Apollo as the equivalent of Mithras. Apparently, “the god Mithras” in Aramaic script is a pun on “all the gods” offering a possible explanation of why Mithras came to be so important and the equal of Ahuramazda in many places. The temple to the god Mithras was the temple to all the gods. Mithras was widely worshipped in Persia notably in Anatolia, being attested in Lydia, Phrygia, Cilicia and Taurus, Pontus and Commagene, but sites as far away as Bactria and even outside of Persia across the Black Sea in Crimea have been found.
Iranians were happy too to accept Marduk or Zeus as the local name for Ahuramazda, especially as Zeus Theos and Zeus Magistos. Persians would not have wanted to create dissension by having two local gods seen as the equal of Ahuramazda. If there were two candidates then one had to go. That is probably why El disappeared whereas Yehouah survived in Palestine. Ahuramazda was worshipped extensively in Lydia after the Persian conquest under the name Zeus. Alexander’s successors and the Romans would doubtless have re-Hellenized these temples of Zeus worship, but conceivably those who did not like the Hellenized version adopted Judaism. Asia Minor had a large population of Jews in Roman times.
In western Asia Minor records of “Persian” temples cease from the third century AD when they were suppressed by Christian edict, but still in the 6th century Khosrou I Anushirvan negotiated with a Byzantine emperor to have fire temples rebuilt in his domains, most probably in Cappadocia. The existence has been traced of Persian Sibyllists oracles, probably the first non-Greeks to adopt the genre of Sibylline oracles, through which they conveyed Persian prophecies and expectations. In time such oracles grew generally into longer poems, through which doctrine could be conveyed. It thus appears to have been through Persians of the western diaspora that Zoroastrianism made a powerful contribution to religion and thought in the Hellenistic world.
The Influence of “Exile”
Herodotus evidently had no knowledge of Yehouah and His remarkable chosen people, the Jews, or their ancient temple in Jerusalem when he wrote his histories about 480 BC, though even then the temple was supposedly nearly 500 years old! He did know of circumcision in the region, but this was a custom of the Egyptians and will only reflect Egyptian influence on Palestine through colonization. His history ended before Nehemiah, the Persian Eunuch, arrived as governor of Judah in 445 BC or Ezra, the priest, arrived in 428 BC, 397 BC or 417 BC (the date, year 7 of Artaxerxes might be of Artaxerxes II, or year 37 of Artaxerxes I has been corrupted, or, most probably, year 7 of Darius II was meant (417 BC)). It was only with Ezra that Judaism, with its famous law, was really founded, and the Jerusalem temple got any authority, even if other returners had already established the temple—and that is questionable.
The sign of Persian influence appears in Jeremiah. Rab-Mag was the chief of the Magi. The books of the Old Testament like 2 Chronicles, Ezra and Deutero-Isaiah betray a strong influence of Persia. Thus they even use the reigns of Persian kings as the basis of their chronology. Waterhouse (WAT-ZOR) says some passages “appear as much Persian as Hebraic.” The origins of Greek philosophy, which also emerged in the time of the Persians, must also be considered likely to have something to do with Zoroastrian ideas.
The Persian king Cyrus was seen by the Jews as a Saviour. He ordered the rebuilding of the Jerusalem Temple, as we know from inscriptions as well as the Old Testament and was much admired by the prophet, Isaiah. The end of 2 Chronicles has exactly the same verses as the beginning of Ezra:
Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom, and put it also in writing, saying, Thus saith Cyrus king of Persia, The Lord God of heaven hath given me all the kingdoms of the earth; and he hath charged me to build him an house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Who is there among you of all his people? his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem, which is in Judah, and build the house of the Lord God of Israel, he is the God which is in Jerusalem. (Ezra 1:1-3)
Cyrus in this citation does not simply say that Yehouah charged him to build him a house at Jerusalem, but the “God of Heaven,” none other than Ahuramazda, identified as Yehouah (Lord), but he then calls him (or the author of Ezra does) Yehouah (Lord) “God of Israel.” After the exile the “God of Israel,” Yehouah, has the title, the “God of Heaven” declaring him to be Ahuramazda. The Cyrus Vase found on a hill in Babylon confirms Cyrus in the same role in Babylon in its inscription:
The Great Lord Marduk regarded favourably the salvation, that is, the saviour of his people, his victorious work, and his righteous heart, going towards his city Babylon as a friend and companion at his side.
Scholars have tried to pretend that the reference to Marduk rather than Ahuramazda is a careless error, but, if so, it was extremely careless since these inscriptions were stamped on to thousands of clay objects with a cylinder seal. The vase inscription says Cyrus took Babylon without bloodshed and thus was Marduk pleased!
Marduk the Great Lord made the honourable hearts of the people of Babylon incline to me because I was daily mindful of his worship… May all the gods whom I have brought into their cities pray daily before Bel and Nabu for long life for me… and speak to my Lord Marduk for Cyrus the king who fears thee and Cambyses his son.
As far as the Babylonians were concerned, and evidently Cyrus concurred, Marduk was Ahuramazda. Zoroastrianism was monotheistic. Ahuramazda was the only god, but there was nothing that proclaimed that Ahuramazda was god’s only name. Cyrus was happy to adapt all the “Great Lords” of his empire into the one Great Lord. All the king was doing in setting up a temple in Jerusalem was making Yehouah into Ahuramazda as well.
The Persian and Jewish gods are described in identical terms. In Isaiah it is:
I have made the earth, and created man upon it: I, even my hands, have stretched out the heavens.
The inscription of Darius at Behistun has:
A great god is Ahuramazda, who made the earth and the heaven yonder, and made man.
What is more, the scriptures agree with the Persian kings like Cyrus that the “Lord God of heaven hath given me all the kingdoms of the earth” because the Persian inscriptions state it clearly:
As Ahuramazda created this earth, he gave it over to me. (Darius, Behistun)
In Isaiah 45, the author is at pains to be clear that the god is explicitly Yehouah, the God of Israel, but that would not have fazed Cyrus or Darius who would nevertheless have seen God as Ahuramazda but, providing that his laws are obeyed, would not have been particular about what the locals called him. More important is Yehouah’s affirmation that, unlike Ahuramazda, he was the god of both light and dark, good and evil—probably the touch of a Maccabæan redactor’s pen:
I form the light and create the darkness, I make peace and create evil.
After a lot more trouble, the plan began to work excellently under the Persians, but then broke down under the Greeks. The worshippers of Yehouah had become so convinced by the god set up by the Persians that they would not condone the gods of the Greeks, and the Maccabees—goaded by the Egyptians and Romans—insisted that the Jewish God was a jealous, vengeful and bloodthirsty God of fear to stir the Jews to rebellious protest against their Greeks enemies.
Nehemiah and Ezra
The Yehudim that returned came with the propaganda that Cyrus was restoring an old god when he was creating a temple to Ahuramazda, dressed in local habit. But the “returners” had to persuade the ordinary untaught and unskilled Israelites who were not transported and retained their original beliefs that the change was what they wanted. The locals in the Judaean hills did not recognize the new god and rejected him and his followers. They opposed Zerubabel and his “returners”.
The construction of the temple designed by the Persian king, Cyrus, was delayed by both political and physical means. These Yehudim that had not been exiled eventually built their own temple on Mount Gerizim and dismissed Jerusalem from their Pentateuch. They were the original Israelites but were dismissed as Samaritans and the “Men of the Land” or Am ha-Eretz, by the worshippers of the new Yehouah. Under the Greeks, further factionalism occurred, the pro-Greek faction placed in power becoming the Sadducees supposedly following the line of the temple priests named after the mythical Zadok (Greek, Sadduc) and rejecting Persian ideas, but the pro-Persian faction called themselves Hasids, the Pious Ones, before splintering into Pharisees (Persians) and Essenes (Saviours or Deliverers).
Eventually the Persian governor had to call the “returners” from exile to order for plotting, and work on the temple was suspended, if it had ever started, after only two years. Darius sternly ordered that the “returners” get to work on their task as decreed by Cyrus. He appointed a High Priest to stimulate events and will have sent a fresh batch of “returners” to motivate the others. The temple was supposedly finished in the sixth year of Darius, 516 AD.
About half a century later, Artaxerxes I put down another Egyptian revolt, even though the Egyptians were helped by their Athenian Greek allies, hoping to secure a reliable supply of wheat. The Greek fleet was soundly beaten, showing that their victory over Xerxes at Salamis was not through any intrinsic superiority. Nevertheless, Athens was now just reaching its peak under Perikles, and they forced important concessions from the Persians. The region of Asia Minor west of the Halys was demilitarized, giving the Greek Asian cities a lot of freedom and cultural exchange between Greece and Persia actually improved. Herodotus travelled and wrote his histories and Democritus, having met Babylonian scientists and mathematicians, worked out his atomic theory.
Between 445 and 397 BC, Artaxerxes was handing out Mesopotamian estates to Persian princes after transporting their owners, native Babylonians, to distant parts. At the same time, he was promoting the cult of the Magian priests at the expense of the native divinity Bel-Marduk. Doubtless some of these Babylonians were deported to Judea.
The biblical missions of Nehemiah and Ezra backed by the Achaemenian imperial government were to make the Canaanite population accept the idea of the universal god under the local name “Yehouah.” Artaxerxes had to send Nehemiah from Persia about 445 BC to make the Jews adopt the new god. His condition to the “returners” to retain the support of Persia was absolute loyalty, the condition placed upon all deportees. Nehemiah has a banquet for 150 rulers (Neh 5:17). Guests attending the Persian king’s banquets had to bathe and dress in white, and this must have been the requirement for Nehemiah’s banquet. This will have been the source of the Essenes’ rule of conduct at their meals, notionally attended as they were by the messiah, the king.
Ezra, another servant of the Persian king who had been born and educated as a divine reader in Babylon, was sent to Yehud from Babylon. Despite the temple supposedly having been built, it appears it had not—most of the natives of the hill counry did not want to change and were obstructing the foreign cult being imported. The king (Darius II not Artaxerxes) was concerned that the hill country must be pacified as neighbours and potential allies of the rebellious Egyptians.
He instructed Ezra to appoint magistrates and judges who would keep Judah in the laws of its new god, Yehouah. Ezra had to “to teach in Israel statutes and ordinances” (Ezra 7:10) and to see if the people of Judaea were “agreeable to the law of God”. Ezra laid down the law to a people already bound by the supposedly 1000 year old law of Moses! Had the Jews forgotten the law of Moses? Did they need to be taught civilisation by the Persians? He was not teaching any religion that the people of Judaea knew. It is a clear indication that the law of Moses was the law of Ezra.
In Nehemiah 8, 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 language was Ezra reading? Not Hebrew. What book of law was it? He was plainly reading laws from like the Vendidad. Widespread religious conversion occurs according to Ezra 6:19-21 and Nehemiah 10:28-29. Why would Jews need to convert to Judaism? What were they converting to? The answer is Zoroastrianism and the book being read was probably a Persian lawbook like the Vendidad written in Persian. According to a rabbinic legend, a gemara also attributes to Ezra the change from Hebrew script to the square Aramaic script.
The distinction between clean and unclean animals in Leviticus and Ezekiel was from the Vendidad, which explains it. The Vendidad purification rituals are identical in the Pentateuch and the older Vendidad. Ezra also introduced the new Festival of Booths in the seventh month, the Zoroastrian holiday of Ayathrem, and must have invented the scriptural myth to justify it. In about 400 BC, the Old Testament was put in written form when Jerusalem was still under the power of the Persians. Waterhouse truly writes:
There are so many things shared between the theologies of Persia and Israel that they cannot be assigned to general community of ideas.
Imprecise understanding of the laws being transmitted, their adaption to local circumstances and subsequent evolution under the Greeks and the Maccabees will allow for the differences between the Zoroastrian law and the Jewish law, but many remarkable similarities that remain testify to their common origin, and that cannot have been Jewish.
Zoroaster had subjected the Iranian tribal gods to the one Most High God, Ahuramazda. Ezra, at the behest of the Persian king, did the same in Yehud. Around 400 BC, with Jerusalem under the power of the Persians, Ezra and Nehemiah invented the Jewish scriptures. They wrote out Jewish mythology, incorporating a multitude of laws intended to make the Jewish gods into a single monotheistic god akin to Ahuramazda, and the Jews into a civilized people. Where any Persian concepts appear in the Jewish scriptures at a time before the captivity, they have been written anachronistically into the account by the post-exilic priesthood.
Judaism and Zoroastrianism
Zoroastrianism was the source of Jewish monotheism, brought from “exile” on the “return” (Isa 43:10-13; Jer 10:1-16). Even Christian scholars note that the concept of Ahuramazda is closer to that of the Jewish God than that of any other eastern religion. The old Israelites of the Palestinian hill country were not monotheists. Before it was remodelled by the Persians, Judaism was polytheistic. The Jewish god was a tribal god—one of many Semitic tribal gods, generally called Lord, which in Semitic languages is Baal or Bel. A tribal god, of necessity, implies polytheism since there are other tribes. The idea of the covenant with one tribe, the Israelites, implies polytheism. In it God commands:
Thou shalt have no other gods before me,
admitting there were other gods. When the sages wrote down the holy books, they introduced ideas from Zoroastrianism. Spentas became angels and divas became demons (devils). Their tribal god became a universal God but one which still favoured his Chosen People.
In Judaism, Deutero-Isaiah contains the first monotheistic declarations in the Bible, the first expression of universalism which has no antecedent in it, approaching the monotheism and universalism of Zoroaster just when the Persian King Cyrus appears as an apparent saviour for the Jews! A universal God must be monotheistic because only he is worshipped. A local god is only one of many. The Persians introduced the idea of a perfect, loving, universal god—Ahuramazda by any other name—whose earthly presence and saviour was the king of kings, the king of the Persian Empire. Thucydides (460-399 BC, War 4:50), quoting the words of the Persian, Artaphernes, who was captured taking a message from the Persian king to Sparta, confirms the idea of the king as saviour:
The best of our many good customs is that we revere the king and worship him as the image of God, God who saves everything.
Over 100 Persian words appear in the Judaeo-Christian bible. One of the last words uttered by Jesus on the cross was Persian (Lk 23:43). After the Persian conquest, Jerusalem became a Persian city in many respects. The threefold division of Persian society is reflected in Israel: priests, princes and Israelites.
It is an obvious and pressing fact that much exilic matter is present in many places in our present so-called pre-exilic texts. We might indeed be imperatively forced to doubt the uninfluenced existence of any pre-exilic texts at all.
Ahuramazda and Yehouah
The Persian religion was as monotheistic as the Jewish religion it created—it wasn’t! Judaism was never monotheistic and still is not, just as Zoroastrianism, however it might have been conceived by the Prophet, never ever was monotheistic. The Persians passed on the identical idea that they had about Ahuramazda—that he was the Most High God. The old gods were declared to be demons—but demons are gods, if gods are supernatural entities. And if there were demons as wicked spirits, there had to be angels as good spirits helping the good god. They had different levels of powers.
“Ahu” means life and forms part of the word Ahura which seems to equate with “living,” an obvious association with the sun (surya, asura, ahura), especially for people from cold climates. Here is another link with Yehouah, also said to mean “living,” from its supposed similarity to the first person singula of “to be.” Thus both Yehouah and Ahuramazda were understood as “living gods.” The title of Yehouah as the “Ancient of Days” equates with “Zrvani akarane,” “eternal time,” the Persian god Zurvan.
Both the Jewish and the Zoroastrian gods were ultimately supreme, though temporarily were not. Ahuramazda had to battle with the Evil Spirit, Ahriman, throughout material history, and Yehouah had to battle with Satan. Satan, originally a servant of God, appointed by Him as His prosecutor, took on the role of Ahriman as the enemy of God. Satan is not equal in power to Yehouah, yet the supreme god cannot destroy the lesser one. This is effectively the relation between Ahuramazda and Angra Mainyu. The serpent in Genesis is considered to be Satan. Snakes in Zoroastrianism are of the Evil Creation and, according to the Vendidad, it is the first of the Evil Creation and so represents the face of evil in the material world!
The Zoroastrian scheme is more complete because it offers an explanation of the two spirits, but Yehouism does not. Mazdayasnaism has many lesser spirits just as Yehouism has its angels, but the Evil Spirit in Zoroastrianism is equal to Ahuramazda in all respects except foresight.
The attempt to solve the problem in Judaism and Christianity with the fall from grace is no answer. In Zoroastrianism, Asmodeus (Aesmadaeva) is an angry spirit (Y 28:7) that led to the fall of man (Y 30:3) by offering humanity the worst mind. Some are tempted, but those of good mind will defeat the demons in the end. Yehouism has Satan as a fallen angel, but angels are supposed only to be lesser spirits, so there is no explanation of why Yehouah does not simply finish him off. Moreover, Yehouah, like Ahuramazda had foresight, so knew that they would fall from grace when he made them, just as he knew Adam and Eve would. Yet he went ahead and created entities that he knew would fall into evil. That is just the same as creating evil, because there was no need to do it once he had foreseen it.
Judaism and Christianity want a single absolute God, but the legends they acquired in the Persian period are of two equal gods, and they consequntly get into theological tangles, that Zoroastrianism does not have. Indeed, to all intents and purposes, many Christian sects today believe in an original Evil Spirit equal to God, at least on the earthly plane.
Ahuramazda was the author only of good, whereas Yehouah has to be the author of both good and ill (Isa 45:7), the angels but also the demons, that have such power in the New Testament. Did the Jews believe that the evil spirits, Satan and the Baals, railed against in the scriptures, were actually created by Yehouah? Much of the scriptures show that they were equal gods to Yehouah and the favourite name of God in the bible is not simply Yehouah but Yehouah of the Gods! YHWH Elohim. In places in the bible “elohim” stands alone and is translated as “the gods”. Furthermore, the prophets consider tha Baals as real gods, not simply idols.
Any attempt to produce evil from somewhere outside of the control of Yehouah makes the Jews and Christians just as dualist as the Iranians. No one does, though Satan is often characterized as the “god of the world” while Yehouah is the “god of heaven”, especially by Christians, whose Gnosticism still shines through, as if they were equal gods with different realms. This is just a distortion of the Zoroastrian belief that the material world has been corrupted by the Evil Creation. But in Zoroastrianism, it was fundamentally still the creation of the Good God, not the Evil One. The Evil Spirit could only contend with the Good God on the material plane in Mazdaism, but in Yehouism the fight was continued on the heavenly or cosmic plane. Again the Zoroastrian cosmogony is more complete.
Ahuramazda is the Creator (Y 29:4), is omniscient (Y 31:13-14), is the lawgiver (Y 1:11), is a teacher (Y 31:5, 32:13), will establish a kingdom (Y 28:4) and is for the poor (Y 34:3):
O Mazda, Thine is the kingdom, and by it thous bestowest the highest of blessings on the right-living poor. (Y 53:9)
He is the friend, protector and strengthener and is unchangeable (Y 31:7), is the Judge (Y 43:4) and the day of Judgement (Y 43:5-6). He invites Zoroaster to proselytize:
With the tongue of thy mouth dost thou speak, that I might make all the living believers. (Y 31:3)
Herodotus says the Persians valued, almost above all, the fathering of children perhaps because the Persian nobility were a limited body of people. This would explain the biblical command to multiply, the reason being the same—that the “returners” were not populous, and the temple needed bodies to attend it and feed the priesthood who would collect the tribute. Along with it went a practical disdain of homosexuality, putting Persians and Jews at the opposite pole from Greeks and, under Christianity, rendering for two thousand years a natural aspect of sexuality as a sin.
Herodotus also tells us that the Medes and Persians did not make images of their gods or temples or altars. He is comparing the Persians with the Greeks who had a great fondness for elegant statues of gods and goddesses in equally elegant temples. Certain Achaemenid buildings are thought to have been fire temples, and open air altars with recesses apparently for the fires have been found, but the supposed temples remain doubtful. Herodotus adds that the Persians and Medes worshipped in the open air in high places or at the top of mountains and so addressed Ahuramazda in heaven directly, thus needing no temples, icons or statues.
Assyrian records show that no images were captured when Medes were defeated in battle or when Median towns surrendered. Persians made bas-reliefs rather than statues on their royal palaces sometimes of kings, their subjects and mythical animals but apparently not of gods. The typical winged fravashi image of Ahuramazda as found on the Behistun monument seems to belie Herodotus, but the monument was not, of course, a temple, and the Persians seem to have simply adopted the convention of the Assyrians for showing heavenly approval of their kings and the spirit of God as a witness to national inscriptions. This winged disc or figure seems not to have been for knee bending purposes.
Thus even the absence of the god Yehouah in representation is an inheritance from the Persians, though the scriptural descriptions of the temple suggest the Jews did have a representation or representations of their god in the Holy of Holies of the Jerusalem temple—it seems to have looked like the symbol of Ahuramazda on monuments!
Kings and Chronicles are considered pre-Persian, but the term “Cities of the Medes” appears twice in Kings. These books are about the succession of worthy and unworthy kings of Israel and Judah, but amid their lives and deaths appear no surmises about their ultimate destination—in heaven or hell. God is depicted as contending with a generally unreliable people who persistently fall into worshipping gods called Baals and Asherahs that are really devils. The Ten Commandments contains no mention of a Last Judgement.
The religion of the ancient Canaanites knew of no Last Judgement.
The future existence of souls after death was as dim in the pre-exilic bible as it was in the older Greek classics—in fact this latter, the Greek immortality, seems to show rather the more of animation.
Before the fall of Jerusalem the concept of death was Sheol, a dark and dismal place with no memory of God. There is no clear mention of any hope of immortality before parts of second Isaiah that are obviously late. In the oldest Zoroastrian writings, the Gathas, dating to about 1000 BC, heaven—the Best Life—was already a reward for righteous living. After the Persian conquest the concepts of heaven and hell emerged in Judaism and the Jews had a doctrine of resurrection and judgement for all. The “dry bones” of Ezekiel recalls the Persian custom of leaving the dead to be picked by birds in towers, so that they do not defile the earth, after which they could be resurrected.
Zoroastrianism is the main document of our eschatology, a fact which should be taken everywhere for granted, as the slightest examination would confirm it.
The whole system of the Most High God, the angels, immortality, resurrection, judgement, heaven, hell and a saviour all appear in the Persian period when colonists in successive waves went to Palestine from places in Persia. There is no sign of such a sophisticated system before the Babylonian conquest, so it just arose with no native antecedents, or it had non-native antecedents.
From start to finish we have everywhere in Zoroastrianism, the main points of our eschatology. There was no other lore of the period of the oldest Avesta which so expressed the doctrines almost in modern terms.
2 Kings 22:8 and 22:13 purport to say that the book of the law was found in the reign of Josiah (622 BC) and that before then the Israelites, kings and priests had had no knowledge of the law. Even accepting it as it stands no traces of any previous law books of the Israelites could have remained, even if there had been some, so the Jewish religion could not have started until then, only 100 years before the Persians sent in colonists. It disproves the existence of literacy, and thereby disproves the existence of any grand temple. The temple would have had scribes to copy the holy books!
In fact, the book of the law was written by Persian colonists and retrojected into the reign of Josiah to give it some history, covering up the reality that it had been written by the “returners”.
Holy Spirits and Saviours
Ahuramazda has a Holy Spirit that sometimes seems to be him and at other times seems to be independent. This is identical to the Holy Spirit of Yehouah that has the same characteristics. It is not the only spirit of Ahuramazda however—there are six others, making seven in all. Yehouah has seven archangels. In the Book of Tobit the seven spirits appear at Ragha, the Zoroastrian Holy City, and one of them is called Raphael, the Jewish archangel! Tobit also has the name of an Avestan demon, Asmodeus. Zechariah 4:10 speaks of “these seven” that are the eyes of the Lord, and earlier had been the imagery of seven lampstands that appears again in Revelation. There again also are the seven spirits of God.
Mithras appears in the Talmud as Mittron (Metatron). This angel is not mentioned as such in the scripture but is seen as the “Angel of the Presence”, a role that Mithras seemed to have in Persian religion, possibly accounting for Mithras replacing Ahuramazda in the Persian religion that came west. The “Angel of the Presence” is God himself appearing in a form that can be looked upon by humans beings without terminal sunburn. He is also “one whose name is like that of his master”. “Who is like God?” is the meaning of the name Michael. It confirms what might have seemed plain anyway, that Michael is Mithras.
In Zoroastrianism, a spotless virgin conceives from the preserved semen of Zoroaster when she bathes in the lake where it has been preserved, and remains a virgin because she is not penetrated. She thus becomes the virgin mother of the last Saoshyant or saviour. This is according to the Bundahish which is late, but the elements of it can be seen in parts of the Avesta (Y 13:142, 19:92, 13:62) so, although alteration cannot be counted out, some similar legends existed in the earlier period.
The Jewish Messiah became a Saviour similar to the Iranian Saoshyant, in the shape of a future King of Israel who would save his people from oppression. Apologists try to make out that the Jewish idea of a Saviour did not come from Persia but came from their anguish of exile in Babylon and the covenant relationship they had with Yehouah that promised them his protection if they remain righteous. Yet the whole argument is manifestly anachronistic.
The writers of the gospel of Matthew want to imply, through the introduction of the visiting Magi, that Jesus is the Saoshyant of the Zoroastrians, as well as the Christians. The Saoshyant:
…shall make the world progress unto perfection, and when it shall be never dying, nor decaying, never rotting, ever living ever useful, having power to fulfil all wishes, when the dead shall arise and immortal life shall come… (Y 19:83).
Compare this with Isaiah 26:19:
Thy dead men shall live, together with my dead body shall they arise. Awake and sing, ye that dwell in dust: for thy dew is as the dew of herbs, and the earth shall cast out the dead.
The Persians, like the post-exilic Jews, believed the soul remained with the body for three days—a dead person was not really dead until the fourth day when the soul had departed. This explains why Jesus was to rise on the third day. It also shows that the raising of Lazarus was an afterthought. The greatness of the miracle of raising Lazarus in the fourth gospel is that he had been dead for four days. His soul had departed and he was beyond recall. One would have thought that Jesus would have saved this exceptional miracle for himself.
In their religious habits, as described by Herodotus, the Persians were especially concerned with purity.
Here we have the origins of the Jewish purity laws. The cleanliness laws regarding animals given by Ezra to the Jews are recorded in Leviticus and Ezekiel where they are not explained. They are explained in the Vendidad. Purification rituals are identical in the Pentateuch and the older Vendidad. Von Gall in Brasileia tou Theou, 1926, catalogues the Jewish laws taken from the Persians.
The Jews would not burn their dead, supposedly because it was a desecration of the dead, but really because their teachers, the Persians, did not want to desecrate the flame. The Jewish priests could not even approach a grave, the defilement of death is so strong, and had to be buried in the front row of a cemetary so that their relatives did not have to pass other graves to visit those of their family. If the Jews considered dead bodies as so thoroughly unclean, why should they have been bothered about desecrating them by cremation? In common sense, such a vile pollution ought to be purified by fire, since fire was regarded as the ultimate purifier. What we have is an imperfect rationalization from the Persian refusal to contaminate fire.
The dead bodies of Jews were put into a sepulchre to decay, and later the bones were collected into ossuaries. The sepulcre or tomb served the same purpose as the Silent Towers of the Persians in which they left their dead to be picked by birds, so as not to contaminate any of the elements. In both cases, the soft parts of the dead body were allowed to disperse and the bones collected later. Both also treated the corpse with waxes or unguents but did not go so far as to embalm them, like the Egyptians.
The Persians would not burn sacrifices to Ahuramazda—that too desecrating the sacred flame. Zoroaster seems to have forbidden sacrifices anyway, but they never seem to have been successfully stopped. But pollution of the sacred living flame was not allowed. Sacrifices were not burnt but boiled in the open air to offer a sweet scent to God. Sure enough, offering a sweet savour to god rather than sacrificing also appears in the Jewish scriptures, and was followed by the Essenes into gospel times suggesting that sacrificing was a post-Persian adaptation, or perhaps a reversion to the ancient practice of the priests of Baal, from post-Alexandrine Greek influences.
Ministering to the sacred flame also seems to have gone in post-Persian times. Strabo describes the Magians of Cappadocia, where they were popular, ministrating to the sacred flame with bunches of herbs in their hands and with their mouths covered so as not to pollute it. The Magi had an important position in society but were not of the highest class and were not represented on Persian royal reliefs. Once the Persian ruling elite had been destroyed by Alexander, the Magians became more important in some of the former occupied lands of the Persians.
The Magians known to the Greeks and referred to by Herodotus, Plato, Strabo, and Plutarch, were not orthodox followers of the Persian prophet. They were the priests of certain religious colonies established in the west of Iran during the age of the Achaemenids, from Mesopotamia to the Aegean, and existing there up to the Christian epoch.
Herodotus, writing about 450 BC, called the Magoi a “tribe” of the Medes, and Strabo called them a “tribe” of the Persians. Is it mere coincidence that the Levites are a “tribe” of the Israelites and end up as a Jewish priestly caste?—Jewish Magi! A tribe is a group pof people linked by blood—a clan—and both the Jewish and the Zoroastrian priesthoods were inherited. Both habitually wore white, whereas Iranian warriors wore purples, reds and other bright colours.
Few scholars would deny that the Jews had many of the central features of their religion from Zoroastrianism. They obtained from Zoroastrianism their beliefs in:
The idea of a covenant with god was imposed on the “returners” from exile, who had to impose it on the native people of the Palestine hills. The Persians are repeatedly shown on their sculptures making covenants with Mazda or Marduk. Persian held covenant relationships to be binding as an aspect of truth and had Asha and Mithras to guard them. Both saviour and covenant came from the Persians, the saviour was Cyrus and the covenant was with Ahuramazda, the God of Heaven, renamed Yehouah for the Jews, whose representative on earth was the Persian king.
It is irrefutable that Judaism is a corruption of Zoroastrianism, and it ought to be widely taught as Professor Lawrence Mills repeatedly said a hundred years ago. That no attempt has been made by the Jewish and Christian religions, by teachers or by scholars, they are proved to be dishonest, and one can only conclude that they are intent on perpetuating the lies that their religions are original. If they are correct that there is one supreme God of goodness, they might be surprised to find he does not have the name they expect, and puts a greater value on truth than they do.
A Law for the Priests
Heavy taxation by the Persians impoverished the people of even rich countries like Babylonia. Herodotus, before about 480 BC, says the Babylonians were rendered so poor they had to prostitute their daughters. So, having a system of control of the population through the privileged class of priests was essential. The Babylonian priests brought astronomy to its peak under Persian rule, showing that they had plenty of money and time for arcane studies. The Jerusalem variety of holy spongers were equally privileged.
The law, for all its supposed basis in God’s justice, served as the mechanism by which the priests squeezed every last shekel out of the poor. The priests were entitled to:
Just as in its daughter religion, Christianity, the tithes for the Jewish priests were extorted mainly by psychological power held by the priests through people’s fear of divine wrath. As it says in Ecclesiaticus:
Fear the Lord and honour the priest, and give him his portion, as it is commanded thee: the firstfruits, and the trespass offering, and the gift of the shoulders, and the sacrifice of sanctification, and the firstfruits of the holy things.
In the early days of the reformation, the people refused to co-operate because they rejected the Persian reforms, and Nehemiah and Malachi record them being taken to task (Mal 3:9; Neh 13:10). A few generations down the line when the reforms had taken root, prompt payment of the tithes was an important sign of piety! Attendance at church and rattling the platter or collection boxes with coinage plays the same role in Christianity. The apocryphal book of Judith tells us that the people were loathe to deny the priests their sanctified portions even during drought and famine (Jud 11:13)
Ezra’s major reform was the prohibition of “foreign” wives. The ethnic people of Judah were thoroughly mixed, and it was the policy of successive emperors to mix the populations even more. In legend, Solomon had been the son of a Hittite woman, Bathsheba. Both ethnic and religious mixed marriages had been the common practice among the small population of mixed people of the hill country, so why should Ezra have been uncommonly bothered about an age old habit?
For the people there were no racial rules but worship of Yehouah was the deciding factor concerning whether anyone was a Jew. “Jews” or “Yehudim” means worshippers of Yehouah. For “foreign” read non-Jewish and you realize Ezra’s complaint is that they are not worshippers of Yehouah. Ezra was not concerned about the racial purity of the people of Jerusalem but about their religious purity and the purity of the ruling caste of priests, the Jewish Magi. Marriages outside of Zoroastrianism violated Zoroastrian law (Denkard 3:80), so he purged from the priesthood any who could not prove that they were descended from purely Jewish families.
The Zoroastrians had the same distaste for the temptations of women as the Jews, to whom they gave it. A legitimate marriage in the Zoroastrian religion had to be between two Zoroastrians, performed by properly ordained Zoroastrian priests, and according to the Zoroastrian Ashirwad ceremony. The law given to the Jews was the same. To try to set up a pure religion, wives of the worshippers of Yehouah who worshipped some other god were banished.
For a Zoroastrian, illicit intercourse with a woman of a different religion was a dreadful sin, so heinous that the committer would not be resurrected at the End Time whatever good works they did in atonement. Consequently, men rarely did it. In the rare cases where they did, however, there was no excommunication—they would be punished in God’s Judgement. They were simply required not to pollute consecrated sites like fire temples.
If the woman became pregnant, several more sins might have been committed by the man. If she was menstrual, expiation of the sin by the man required extensive ritual cleansing. The Jews were taught the same neuroses about the uncleanness of menstruating females. If she was not menstruating, and not impregnated, the man still had to atone, because he had sinned by wasting semen—another sin that appears in the Jewish scriptures—onanism.
No law is specified for a Zoroastrian woman’s physical relationship with a non-Zoroastrian male, probably because, if the woman remained in the Zoroastrian community, the child would naturally be brought up as a Zoroastrian by his mother and her family, and would not if she left to stay with the Pagan man.
Copyright © 1998-2014 The Circle of Ancient Iranian Studies (CAIS)