The Circle of Ancient Iranian Studies
Book 2. How Persia Created Judaism
Persian Influences I
The Later Persian Kings
Darius put his trust in the one good god of Zoroaster’s revelation. Ammianus Marcellinus, from earlier unnamed sources, says that Darius replaced the heads of the priesthood by seven more cautious holy men, after they had tried to usurp the throne. The whole story is probably propaganda, and actually the Magi who supported Darius in what was his own successful coup were rewarded. Either way, a board or commission of seven Magi were the supreme religious authorities and located in the Persian capital. They consecrated a Persian king when he succeeded to the throne and suppressed heresy.
Xerxes, who succeeded his father in 486 BC, desecrated the great temple of Marduk in Babylon, slaying a priest and carried off the huge statue of the god, which was said to be of solid gold. His purpose was political, to destroy the god who was traditionally the protector of Babylon and would serve as the focus of a separatist movement and revolt, but Xerxes had such confidence in Ahuramazda that he feared no reprisals from Marduk.
Xerxes proves that the Persian kings were religious zealots not pussy cats as Christians and Jews want us to believe from a reading of the bible. They rewarded collaboration and punished defiance. Herodotus and Cicero report that Xerxes destroyed the temples on the Acropolis. Many historians disbelieved it until the discovery of an inscription at Persepolis in which Xerxes boasts of his conquest of Greece, of his godliness in destroying the temples on the Acropolis in which the Greeks had worshipped devils, and in commanding them to worship them no longer:
There was a place in which devils were formerly worshipped. There, by the help of Ahura Mazda, I demolished that lair of the devils and I issued an edict, “You shall not worship devils.” And in the very place in which devils had once been worshipped, I piously and with Righteousness worshipped Ahura Mazda.
The Persians also destroyed the Greek temples at Branchidae, Naxos, Abae and other places not reported. They spared Delphi because the priests there advised the Greeks to yield to the Persians. In fact, the Greeks prevented Xerxes from conquering Europe, if that had been his aim, but the theology of Darius and Xerxes seems not to have altered to the time of Darius II, the king who intervened in the Peloponnesian War and died in 405 BC.
The religion’s centre of gravity shifted to Babylon in the fifth century. There the Magi would have come into direct contact with the cult of the god Marduk, who might have been the model for the revival of Mithras. The Zoroastrian holy men in Babylon also found themselves in the world’s capital of astrology. It was a superstition which at that time, and indeed for many centuries thereafter, could plausibly claim to be a scientific observation of the heavens, and thence the world. Chaldaean astromancy was taken up by the Magi.
The Jewish temple was “completed” (again!) between 445 BC and 417 BC, the Persian governors and priests in Jerusalem thereby causing a great schism in the worship of Yehouah. The native Israelites, the Samaritans who, under Persian coercion it seems, had accepted the law as the Torah, built their own temple on Mount Gerizim, and Jerusalem is insignificant in their Pentateuch. At a later date when the temple was established, the Persian tradition became the “orthodox” position of the Pharisees or Persian faction—Pharisee, Parsee, Parsi—which survived the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD as Rabbinism! The Sadducees were nothing to do with the original worship of Yehouah or they would have been Samaritans. They were a Hellenized faction that tried to reject Persian influences (“no resurrection, neither angel, nor spirit.” Acts 23:8) in favour of more civilized Greek practices.
In the wider empire, the administrative structures erected by Darius had been neglected and the Satraps were out of control and became local monarchs. Nehemiah’s building of the walls of Jerusalem sounds unlikely to have been authorized by the king of kings and might show that Nehemiah was preparing to declare UDI in Judah—whence the complaint from the Samaritan governor about this activity.
When Artaxerxes II came to the throne the empire was in turmoil. Bithynia, Caria, Lydia, Lycia, Pisidia, Pamphilia, Cilicia, all asserted their independence in Asia Minor and so did Cyprus, Syria and Phoenicia. Egypt was not to be left out and revolted, destroying the temple to Yehouah at Elephantine, evidently a symbol to them of Persian occupation. The temple serviced the garrison of Jewish soldiers pernmanently stationed there. Aramaic papyri discovered there prove that the colony was pro-Persian, the document being a copy of the inscription on the monument of Darius at Behistun. At this point, Ezra will have replaced Nehemiah in the true order of events.
Darius II’s son, Artaxerxes II, the king of the Anabasis, worships a Trinity: Ahura Mazda, Anahita (the Virgin, “Undefiled”), and Mithras. He promulgated the cult of the goddess, Anahita, and the empire was united from Sardis to Bactria under the cult of a Great Father and a Mother Goddess, who, together with Mithras, formed the trinity of father, mother and son. Traces persisted in Asia Minor until the time of Paul and helped Christianity to take root there so quickly. Roman sources give the source of western Mithraism as Cilicia in the south of Asia Minor, where Paul was traditionally born and brought up.
Anahita was the goddess of waters, and water was an element not to be defiled for Persians. Anahita will have retained her virginity by bathing in pure water, the message of the myth being that mortals should not defile a goddess. In a Greek myth, mentioned by Pausanias, Juno renewed her virginity by bathing in a magical fountain. Anahita was paradoxically identified with a Babylonian goddess and became Anaitis, a goddess who needed the restorative power of pure water, but was immensely popular. Aelian mentions a goddess who restored her virginity after every coitus by bathing in a fountain located between the upper Tigris and Euphrates, where Zoroastrians considered were some of their holy places. She must have been Anahita.
According to Berosus, Artaxerxes II not only introduced the worship of Anahita but set up statues of his gods, in defiance of Zoroaster’s explicit command that God was to be represented only by the flames of a sacred fire. The king’s son, Artaxerxes III, rejected Anahita and worshipped only Ahuramazda and Mithras. An ambiguity in the cuneiform script of an inscription of Artaxerxes III at Persepolis would make it possible to argue that he regarded Father and Son as one person, suggesting that the attributes of Ahuramazda were being transferred to Mithras, and suggesting another identity of Zoroastrianism and Christianity.
The strange story in the book of Esther, was probably written in its present form about 100 BC, as most of the present Old Testament was. The Persian monarch, Ahasuerus (Xerxes), drops the queen, Vashti, and marries Esther, a Jewish woman. This alone is highly important. Neither Zoroastrianism nor Judaism permitted mixed marriages. The king must have regarded a Jewish woman as a Zoroastrian for the marriage to be legal! The implication here therefore is that Judaism and Mazdayasnaism were considered the same religion by the Persian prince and by the Jewish author. The closeness of the relationship between Israel and Persia is indicated by the Semitic words in the later, Pahlavic parts of the Avesta. No such intrusions are found in the Yashts and the Vendidad and obviously therefore not in the Gathas.
Esther’s cousin and foster-father, Mordecai, warns the Persian monarch that people are plotting against him. A Persian Grand Vizier, Haman, who opposes Mordecai, convinces the monarch to decree death against Mordecai and other Jews in his empire, selected by lot, on a certain date. Esther, intervenes, and the Grand Vizier is instead hanged (crucified?) and Mordecai is appointed Grand Vizier. Instead of being killed themselves, the Jews slay seventy-five thousand of their enemies.
The legend justifies a Jewish feast, the Feast of Lots, held at the Persian New Year. Yehouah has no role in the story, and the characters are all historically fictitious except for the king. Esther is the goddess Ishtar (Anahita). Mordecai means Marduk (Merodach), who we saw is Ahuramazda and therefore also Yehouah. Haman oddly enough is the king again in another guise (perhaps standing for the king of the old year) because the royal family name Achaemenides in Greek is Hakhamanish in Persian. The story is said to be based on a Persian tale about the shrewdness of Harem queens.
The description in the story of the parade through the streets in royal robes, and of mock combat, features in the Persian New Year celebrations, when the old year lost in mock combat to the New Year and was hanged or crucified. The Jews took this New Year celebration, like the rest of their religion, from the Persians and then had to find a reason for it—much as Christians found reasons for celebrating Pagan festivals as Christian holidays. Incidentally, the Persian and Jewish New years were at the spring equinox—Easter to us!
The Pagan Aryans seem to have divided the year into two seasons, a summer season from the spring equinox to the autumn equinox, and the winter from autumn to spring. The same practice is found in India, testifying to its Aryan origin. So, the Iranians had notable feasts in the spring and the autumn. The spring festival welcomed back the growth of herbage, and the autumn one was the Mithrakana, a harvest festival for the end of the current season and a fertility festival for the coming spring dedicated to Mithras. A sacrifice of a bull to Apollo was similarly made at the Athenian Bouphonia. It will be the source of the bull-slaying images in Roman Mithraism. However, since all domestic animals return to the Ox-soul, any could be used depending on the circumstances. With a different intention, it seems a bull was sacrificed to Anahita too, but here to promote human fertility. In Sasanian times, Mithrakana was the one time when the king could get drunk. Having settled, it seems they had two new years, one in the spring and one in the autumn, but they celebrated other festivals including the solstices. The Jews had different years too:
One the first day of Nisan is the beginning of the year for kings and festivals. On the first day of Elul is the beginning of the tithing of cattle. On the first day of Tishri for the beginning of years, and for the sabbatic years and the jubilee years, for the plants and the vegetables. On the first day of Shabat is the beginning of tree-fruit (Mishnah).
So the Jews had four new years, but the religious one in spring was the most important one in a theocracy, and Rosh ha-Shanah in the autumn preserved the old harvest festival, as the occasion when creation is judged by God. Zoroaster made the spring festival the important New Year for Zoroastrians, beginning on “No Roz,” New Day in Persian. In Zoroaster’s reforms the six seasonal feasts of the Pagan Iranian calendar were rededicated to the Amesha Spentas. A great fire festival was also held 100 days before the spring New Year and therfore in mid-winter, to nourish the sun and initiate his strengthening. The grand bonfire was also placed near a stream to warm its waters in anticipation of spring.
Some indications suggest that the Indians and Iranians saw the New Year as beginning in autumn, but since their festivals were all or mainly seasonal, they must have celebrated spring too. The Babylonian calendar began in Nisanu (Jewish, Nisan—March to April) at the corn harvest and required an “akitu” or ritual placing of the images of the gods from the temples to the outside of the city boundaries. It was therefore a festival full of pageantry lasting a week. The Persians seem to have copied the whole festival, although for them on the plateau it was at sowing time not harvest time, and they made it their New Year festival. The older autumn festival was rededicated to Mithras, the Babylonian festival to Shamash being held in October. A festival was also dedicated to Tiri in June when the festival of Tammuz was bewailed, because it was the start of the Babylonian dry season when plants died off in the heat. The link of Ishtar with both Tammuz and Nabu allowed the Iranians to see Tiri as Tammuz. All of this apparently preceded the reforms of Zoroaster, and were not among the Holy festivals he prescribed.
In Achaemenian times, Persian processions were led by an empty chariot drawn by white horses. It was for Ahuramazda. A similar habit is recorded in Urartu, but in Assyria, the chariot carried an image of the god, Ashur or Ishtar.
Herodotus says Persians had no temples, altars or statues of gods, and by Greek standards, that was true. Zoroastrian worship was al fresco—all altars in Persia being, usually in pairs, in open country—but, under the first Achaemenids, temples had appeared in Persia to preserve the sacred flame. Xenophon describes the procession, led by sun chariots, that took the sacrificial animals to the paired altars where they were sacrificed before the king.
The Iranians always used the winged disc which originated in Egypt as a symbol of Horus in the third millennium BC so Herodotus was only relatively correct about this, and from the time of Artaxerxes, statues of Anahita became popular. The many sun names like Surya, Asura, Ahura, Aura, Huar, Hor, Ra and words for gold (Aureus, Or) derived from its bright sun-like colour betray a common origin and perhaps the winged disc accompanied it. It spread through the near east in second millenium when Egypt was its most imperial. Standing for the pharaoh who was the sun god incarnate, it came to represent royalty and thence power. In Assyria a figure appears in the disc carrying a bow or a ring in one hand while saluting with the other. Bronze objects from Urartu had this symbol in a form thought close to that of Darius’s monument at Behistun, the earliest Persian example.
Artaxerxes II supervised the introduction of a new calendar, suggesting that he was consciously involved in religious innovation. The old calendar is unknown except that it had some intercalary days, and the original Persian names for the months had been changed to Babylonian names. The Babylonian calendar had been introduced into Egypt by Darius, and it seems that the modified calendar of Artaxerxes was based on the Babylonian one. The changes then might simply have been to change the names of the days and months to Zoroastrian ones, and possibly to fix some of the feast days. The Babylonian calendar had 360 days of twelve months of 30 days. It was obviously no accident that the number of days in a years equalled the number of degrees in a heavenly cycle. The shortfall from the full 365 days was made up by intercalation of the odd days. The Persian calendar was the same because Artaxerxes was reported to have had 360 concubines, one for each day of the year. Presumably his wives were intercalated!
In this scheme the months and even the days on the month had names taken from yazatas. The tenth month, December to January, was the month of Ahuramazda, but Mithras had the seventh month (September to October) when he had a great autumn festival.
Artaxerxes III was more ruthless and subjugated Egypt again and restored order in the empire. Isocrates appealed to the Greeks to stop squabbling and unite against the Persians. It was Philip of Macedon who heard this call. The Macedonians were not ethnically Greeks but had adopted Greek culture and were not exhausted by centuries of internal strife as the Greeks were. The Empire was looking strong under Artaxerxes III and the Athenians sought a separate peace though Philip wanted to stall. Safety necessitated that the Athenians be secured by conquest and so he and his son, Alexander, finished Athens off in 338 BC.
The last of the Persian kings was Darius III Codomannus (335-330 BC). Josephus says the Samaritan religion was reformed by someone called Manasseh at this time. Despite the antagonism between the Jews and the Samaritans, Nehemiah informs us that the noble priestly houses of Judah had many bonds of friendship with the Samaritan noble houses. According to 2 Kings 17, they had a religion of Yehouah but of other gods also. It sounds closer to the original religion of the Israelites.
In fact, the author of 2 Kings tells us that the Assyrians had carried off the inhabitants of Israel and replaced them by deportees from the north of Abarnahara, who brought in their own gods and so did not “fear the Lord.” The Assyrian king sent a priest of Yehouah to instruct the deportees in the religion of the land.
The puzzling aspect of it all is that these people were supposedly not Israelites, so why should they have been bound by Yehouah’s covenant with the Israelites? The truth is, of course, that not all the Israelites had been transported out by the Assyrians. Indeed, the story suggests that the Assyrian king was doing what Cyrus and Nabonidus did later—he sent a priest to train the natives in the proper worship of the “god of the land.” Here we might have the origin of the earliest stories of “return” in the bible—the “return” of Abraham and his family who came from just that part of the Assyrian empire.
They seemed to take only partial notice of their instructor, if we are to believe the scriptural account, for they continued to worship their own gods as well as Yehouah, doubtless, the gods of the fathers! As in Judah, it worked only partially, and the Assyrians did not keep power long enough to enforce it.
The Persians doubtless aimed to transform worship to the Lord of Heaven in Israel as well as Judah, but the Samaritans accepted it more readily having been primed by the work of the Assyrians. If the Samaritans more readily accepted the Torah and abandoned the old polytheism, there was no need for all the Persian propaganda that had to be published as prophetic pseudepigraphs to show the Am ha Eretz the error of their ways. Thus none of this got into the Samaritan bible.
Nehemiah 13:28 has it that the son of the Jewish High Priest, Joiada, married the daughter of Sanballet, the Samaritan governor, and so Nehemiah expelled him. Some commentators think that this young man reformed the Samaritan religion, introducing the Pentateuch and temple worship on Mount Gerizim, and so equates with the Manasseh of Josephus, though the dates are a century out. The Sanballat of Nehemiah is confirmed by letters from the temple at Elephantine dated 407 BC in which two sons are mentioned, each having a name ending in Iah, indicating that Sanballat worshipped Yehouah. This early date makes Josephus wrong, but Sanballat might have been a title so, there were probably successive ones.
The Samaritans murdered the Macedonian governor. Samaria was destroyed by Alexander in retaliation, and Alexander made Samaria into a military colony occuppied by Macedonian veterans. The Jews were delighted.
Alexander and the Persian Heritage
Persia and Greece were rivals to influence the world, Persia by a political empire and commerce and Greece by a cultural empire and commerce. Only political empires stop at boundaries so the Greek sphere and the Persian sphere always overlapped considerably, geographically in Asia Minor, but Greek traders, artisans, and soldiers and generals as mercenaries, moved around the Persian Empire. The Persian rulers were far sighted and sponsored Babylonian science. Naburimanni, an astronomer at the time of Darius, calculated tables of lunar eclipses that were more accurate than those of Ptolemy or even Copernicus.
Furthermore, Kidinnu, another astronomer in the fourth century BC, two centuries before Hipparchus, discovered the precession of the equinoxes and calculated the length of the year accurate to 7 minutes 16 seconds. The discovery of the precession of the equinoxes gave authority to the Persian view of the universal god as a sun beyond the sun—a god beyond the heavens that moved the heavens themselves! This became the basis of Platonic philosophy and the beliefs of the Mithraists.
After Alexander, the Persian religion was left with no political base, so information from earlier sources is especially valuable in knowing the nature of Zoroastrianism originally. Unfortunately, Magian ceremonies were held without anyone not of the faith permitted to observe, not at first for any reason of secrecy, but for purity reasons. Non-believers were impure, or at least likely to be impure. Greeks reporters were therefore dependent on what the Magi told them or translated for them from their sacred books. The Magi were keen on proselytizing, but they were subject to a government ministry which directed religious affairs, and this ministry will have had its own political agenda, doubtless with the syncretistic aims of making it easier for collaborating foreigners to associate with the True Belief.
The most important effect the Persians have had on the world is from their policy of creating new local cults on the model given by Zoroaster but based on an old existing cult. They set up the cult of Yehouah in the temple in Jerusalem based on the universal god, Ahuramazda. Their aim was to present the emperor, known as the “king of kings,” as the representative approved of the Universal God on earth. The Universal God was therefore the “king of the king of kings.” Yehouah has this very title (the Alenu Prayer), a title that we can hardly expect even liberal Persian kings to tolerate unless they were happy that Yehouah was Ahuramazda! The Jewish scriptures are copper plated evidence of the success of this Persian policy. Cyrus is incessantly praised.
The Rev G F McClear, sometime warden of St Augustine’s, Canterbury, writes in his New Testament History:
As subjects of the Persian kings, the Jews were eminent for their loyalty and good faith. While Egypt, Cyprus, Phoenicia, and other dependencies of the Persian crown, were frequently in rebellion, the Jews remained steadfast in their allegiance to the “Great King,” and increased rapidly alike in wealth and numbers.
This fidelity to the Persians even led Jaddua the High Priest to defy Alexander for a time. As Alexander approached, having seiged and razed Tyre, the priest was lucky enough to have a dream telling him to greet Alexander! He garlanded the city and went forth in his priestly finery to welcome the conqueror. Alexander was as shrewd as Cyrus, however, and fell prostrate before the priest in adoration at the holy name inscribed on his tiara (a Persian head dress), and declared he had seen it all in a vision. In fact, he must have been fully aware of the loyalty of the Jews and of the reasons for their loyalty. He offered to bestowe on the Jews any privilege they might select. McClear concludes:
They requested that the free enjoyment of their lives and liberties might be secured to them, as also to their brethren in Media and Babylonia…
Alexander agreed, but note that there were enough Jews not only in Babylonia but also at the heart of the Persian empire, in Media, to merit a special mention. These were the three lands whose gods, albeit of different names, the Persians certainly considered as “the God of Heaven”.
From these political manoeuvres came Judaism, Christianity and Islam, all the important patriarchal religions. The Persians and Greeks rather than the Jews and the Greeks were the founders of the western world.
Alexander’s burning and vandalism of Persepolis has always been considered inexplicable. He had read his history and Alexander aimed to do what Cyrus and Darius had done. He was always generous to enemies who yielded readily or caused him little trouble. He burnt Tyre for forcing him into a long seige but otherwise burning cities was out of character. The Persians had surrendered readily after their major defeat at Issus in 333 BC and Alexander’s campaign in the west.
Darius III repeatedly offered terms to Alexander, increasingly generous terms, virtually amounting to surrender, but Alexander refused. He overcame token resistance at Gaugamela and the Persians folded. He entered Persepolis and dallied there for four months, offering to train 3000 Persian princes in the techniques of the Greeks, before destroying the city. It seems so odd to some historians that they say it must have been an accident caused by drunken carousing, of which Alexander was fond. Was it a deliberate act of vandalism because the Greek scholars that Alexander took with him found the essence of Greek scholarhip already in the sacred writings of the Persians, showing the Greeks as well as the Jews were indebted to their enemies?
In the east, Iran lost Arachosia and Gandhara under Seleucus I to the Indian Mauryan empire. These lands of ancient Iranian settlement, had been re-colonized in Achaemenid times. Inscriptions there from the third century BC were written in good Persian chancellery Aramaic. They also could speak Northwestern Prakrit, and these eastern Iranians will have passed Zoroastrianism into India where it inspired Mahayana Buddhism
In the second-third centuries AD, Bardesanes wrote of “the descendants of Persians who lived out of Persia” as being still numerous and maintaining their traditional customs in Egypt, Phrygia, and Galatia. Zoroastrian sanctuaries still existed in Asia Minor, the oldest being at Zela in Pontic Cappadocia, founded in the sixth century BC by Cyrus the Great or his generals. As the Iranians worshipped in high places, the sanctuary was on a hill, banked up higher and encircled by a wall. Later this was one of the temples to Anahita, frequently attested in Asia Minor, and which show the Persian influence there. In the fourth century AD, many villages in Cappadocia were still populated by Iranians.
Traces of them in Egypt are mainly names only, but a mithraion—presumably a Zoroastrian sanctuary—is mentioned from the third century BC in Fayoum, and “Basilios the Persian” practiced in his community some form of Zoroastrianism in the fourth century AD. Temples let expatriate Iranian communities keep their identity by offering them centers for religious and social life. They also attracted pilgrims for their annual feast-days, bringing together Iranians from elsewhere. Persian Sibyllist oracles were also known, conveying Persian prophecies and expectations.
Christians suppressed Persian temples in western Asia Minor when they gained power after the third century AD, but Khusrau I Anushirvan negotiated with a Byzantine emperor, as late as the sixth century, to have fire temples rebuilt, probably in Cappadocia.
Temple and Diaspora
The Persians seemed to have meant the Hebrew people to have been all of the nations of Abarnahara. The temple was set up in the Palestinian hill country but was meant to be for the whole satrapy. The plan never had the time to take hold before Alexander conquered the Persians—less than a century. The religion had caught hold, especially in the temple state which it financed, but it never had time to unite the various people of Abarnahara into an ethnos. The Jewish priesthood were left in charge of an immensely valuable asset, the temple and therefore the religion, and the wider ethnos of the Hebrews was identified with the Jews of Yehud. Paradoxically, all of those who worshipped Yehouah were now Jews (Yehudim) whether they had ever been associated with Yehud or not. Many had not. So, already at the start of the Hellenistic era, Jews were widespread in Abarnahara and even beyond.
The Persians had encouraged all of those Canaanites and Babylonians who were devoted to Ea, Yah, and Yehu to accept the primacy of the temple state, and had provided a history which explained why they should—the diaspora of Samaria—and why their religion had needed restoration—it had become corrupted through being separated from its cult centre. Thus worshippers of Yehouah everywhere were persuaded they had been led in apostasy and adopted the Persian line that they should join the “remnant” who had remained pure. In Babylonia and even in Iran, many people worshipped Ea and thus became Jews. Even at its outset, Judaism had a diaspora! Before long Phoenician Jews carried the religion into Carthage in north Africa and to large merchant cities in the Mediterranean like Rome.
Judaism was a worldwide phenomenon in a remarkably short time, but it was the Egyptian Ptolemies who stimulated the extension of the scriptures from the relatively short and simple legends left by the Persians when they offered to translate them into Greek to add them to the Alexandrine Library in the third century BC. Much of it was freshly written or extended by redactors working to a Ptolemaic, pro-Greek, anti-Seleucid Babylonian agenda, claiming that the Greek archives allowed them to vastly expand the sketchy notion of Moses, the Jews at first had.
In the second century BC, the Maccabees re-nationalised what had been intended as a universal religion by the Persians. They claimed, as usual, to be puritans trying to keep the religion free of the Hellenization that was supposed to have been forced on them. Needless to say, they were not, but continued the Hellenization, though the nationalization of the cult must have dismayed the more catholic Jews now spread out over the world and thoroughly Hellenized out of necessity. Their dismay became the basis of a newly universalistic Judaism. It was Christianity.
The justification of religious reform is often presented as the need to get back to a more original purer religion. The Persians pretended that their own utterly new set of laws called “The Law”, or now Deuteronomy, had been found and implemented by Josiah 200 years before. It was not true, but was written up in the propaganda history that they were preparing to give the new colony an identity. The Persian colonists were restoring the reforms that Josiah had already introduced but the apostates who had remained in the land, the Am ha Eretz, had undermined. Could any faithful worshipper of Yehouah contradict this?
Certain epigraphic changes dated to the time of Josiah are taken as evidence of the reality of Josiah’s reforms such as the preference for “yhw” in the south instead of the northern form “yw”. Unfortunately, the dating of everything in the Palestinian hills has been botched by the Albright school who refused to accept that anything happened after the exile. They dated everything as pre-exilic, leaving huge gaps in the strata and epigraphy after the supposed “Return”. Many inscriptions like these therefore have to be dated afresh and many will be found to be post-exilic, in the Persian period, when they were thought to have been pre-exilic and attributed to people like Josiah. So, the form “yhw” might be evidence of Persian not earlier Jewish reform.
Anyone who believes the biblical history must wince at Yehouah’s awful injustice to Josiah. He followed instructions to reform the apostate religion, did it successfully, then God sent the Jews into captivity anyway because it apparently was not enough to make up for the apostasy of Manasseh.
Significant archaeological changes usually accompany a conquest or major regime change, they rarely occur with no strong cultural reason accompanying them. While, it is not impossible that Josiah effected a significant reform, it looks unlikely with the record of deviant rulers in both Israel and Judah, and when a clear reason for archaeological changes immediately follows when the Persians send colonists to take over. Indeed, the archaological boundary that ought to be obvious is when the “Returners” return! Even in the biblical scheme of things that ought to be the obvious archaeological break point.
In any case, Josiah never succeeded in centralising the cult in Jerusalem, though it was supposed to have been an important aim, yet that is precisely what the Persians did, albeit not in the times of Cyrus and Darius I as the tendentious biblical history makes out, but in the time of Darius II, who in fact is the biblical Darius, not Darius the Great. An ostracon found at Arad refers to a local “temple of Yehouah”. Curiously, an honest and iconoclastic investigator, like Garbini, who willingly accepts that the crux of Jewish history was the “Return”, can sneer at those (“though of course there are not many of them”) who argue that only the Persian institution of Judaism makes historical sense out of the confusion caused by the spurious history in the bible.
Syncretism and Temple States
Massoume Price in The Iranian confirms that Zoroastrianism made a place for certain foreign gods as helpers of Ahuramazda. The ruling principle was the advancement of reliable communities and the punishment of disloyal ones. Persian kings were ruthless with rebellions including ones by the Persian satraps and members of the royal household. Groups which rebelled were punished irrespective of race or religion. The Jews were usually loyal and so were prosperous.
Other temple communities were set up besides the Jewish one—Cyprus, Cilicia, Lycia and other places in Asia Minor had their own temple states. Even such remote tribes as the Arabs, Colchians, Ethiopians and Sakai had. The Achaemenian administration allowed them all to keep their religions with apparently little interference but had a chancellery minister of religions, and it is inconceivable that he did not aim to regularize worship to suit imperial policy.
Persians occupied the highest positions in each temple state, giving them control of the cultural, legal and administrative traditions of the conquered nations. Nominally, these ethnic and religious minorities followed their own legal code in personal matters such as marriage and family law. The conquered people were given land allotments in exchange for taxes and military service. Among these settlers were all groups such as Babylonians, Aramaeans, Jews, Indians and Sakai. In Susa itself, besides the local population and the Persians, there were large numbers of Babylonians, Egyptians, Jews and Greeks.
After the conquest of the Achaemenian empire by Alexander, the Seleucid Greeks and Parthians followed the same policies. All the main cities had Persian, Aramaean, Babylonian, Greek, Christian and Jewish temples. The Jewish chronicles mention the Parthian period as one of the best in their history. Jews enjoyed a long period of peace and had close contacts with the government. Centers of Jewish life in the Parthian empire were in Mesopotamia at Nisibis and Nehardea. A representative called the “exilarch” represented the Jewish minority at court and also carried out functions of a political-administrative nature. Jews took an active part in organizing the silk trade, supported by the kings and started a community in China.
Philo and Flavius Josephus documented the earlier relations between Jews and Parthians. The Jews took part in the rebellions against Trajan in Mesopotamia (116 AD), adding to their unpopularity in the Roman world after the Jewish War of 66-70 AD, and shortly, in 132-135 AD, they were to rebel under Bar Kosiba and finish up evicted from Judaea, taking many Jewish refugees into the Parthian empire.
In the reign of the Sassanid dynasty from 205 AD until the conquest of the Muslims in 651 AD, oppression of rival religions to Zoroastrianism began. Kidir, the chief Mobad (priest) under King Bahram II (276-293 AD), promoted Zoroastrianism in the empire and persecuted other religions. He declared:
The false doctrines of Ahriman and of the idols suffered great blows and lost credibility. The Jews (Yahud), Buddhists (Shaman), Hindus (Brahman), Nazarenes (Nasara), Christians (Kristiyan), Baptists (Makdag) and Manichaeans (Zandik) were smashed in the empire, their idols destroyed, and the habitations of the idols annihilated and turned into abodes and seats of the gods.
All of these were religions that had been regarded as Juddin, acceptable, in earlier times, and had syncretized enormously with Zoroastrianism. The Sassanids had forgotten or abandoned the earlier policy of syncretism in the fear that the children were overwhelming the parent.
Persia and the Essenes
Zoroastrian parallels with the Qumran documents are huge. The Damascus Document condemns those who enter the New Covenant but then leave to join the Liar. The Habakkuk Commentary enlarges on the theme of the Liar, telling of trouble within the community when the Liar secedes from the order and comes into conflict with the Teacher of Righteousness. In 2 Corinthians 11:31, Paul is insistent that he “does not lie” apparently answering an unpleasant criticism of him. The choice of language in these instances stems from Zoroaster.
The Qumran Community was an apocalyptic sect. They were expecting the end of the world just like Zoroaster. The Jewish messianic ideal of a Deliverer came from Persia. The Enoch Literature is Persian of about the fourth century BC. Apocalypticism seems to owe everything to Persia and the flavour of Persian religion on Judaism stems largely from the apocalyptic writers. The Qumran library proves that Apocalypticism was a considerable movement in Judaism not merely a fringe interest. Christian theologians used to believe that the anticipation of God’s kingdom to come was uniquely Jesus’s message. Now we see it was hundreds of years old, had come out of Persia with Cyrus’s “returners” and had been perpetuated by the Essenes.
A dualistic doctrine was almost unknown to the Jews. Jacques Duchesne-Guillemin notes, in the Encyclopaedia Iranica, that the doctrine of two spirits was only sporadically attested in Jewish literature, though the spirits under God’s command were not always good and benevolent. God sent an evil spirit between Abimelech and the citizens of Shechem, and Saul was troubled by an “evil spirit” after the “spirit of God” departed from him.
The Qumran documents speak of Good and Evil, Light and Dark, the Way of Darkness and the Way of Light, the Spirit of Darkness and the Spirit of Light, The Children of Darkness and the Children of Light, Truth is Light, Falsehood is Darkness. The Teacher of Righteousness is opposed by Belial, the Demon of Evil. The Way of Good leads to salvation, the Way of Evil leads to torment. Of the four gospels, John reflects this terminology most accurately showing its Essene links.
The Manual of Discipline (or Community Rule) found among the Qumran documents includes a treatise on the two spirits as propounded by the Qumran sect, founded in the mid-second century BC.
God created all things, then:
He created man to have dominion over the world and made for him two spirits, that he might walk by them until the appointed time of his visitation. They are the spirits of truth and error. In the abode of light are the origins of truth, and from the source of darkness are the origins of error. In the hand of the prince of lights is dominion over all sons of righteousness. In the ways of light they walk. And in the hand of the angel of darkness is all dominion over the sons of error. And in the ways of darkness they walk. And by the angel of darkness is the straying of all the sons of righteousness, and all their sin and their iniquities and their guilt, and the transgressions of their works in his dominion… But God in the mysteries of his understanding and in his glorious wisdom has ordained a period for the rule of error, and in the appointed time of punishment he will destroy it forever. And then shall come out forever the truth of the world.
These words are reminiscent of the Zoroastrian doctrine of the two spirits, as embodied in the ethical and eschatological dualism of the Gathas. The Jewish document differs from Iranian doctrine on one important point: specifiying predestination, rather than the free choice of Zoroastrian theology. The essential Gathic emphasis on the role of the two spirits in the drama of choice was so alien to the Jewish milieu that it could be accommodated only through conception of the third spirit.
In apocryphal, Christian, and rabbinical literature the good and the evil spirits are also opposed to each other. In the apocryphal Gospel of Judas (second century AD) the spirits of truth and error that serve men are mentioned, as well as a third spirit personifying the ability to choose: “and in the midst is the Spirit of intelligence, who is able to turn wherever he chooses.” In most texts, only good and evil spirits are named, as in John’s gospel. In the Gnostic treatise, Hermas, the holy spirit and the evil spirit dwell together in man.
The opposition between predestination and free choice, the identification of the spirits with light and darkness, and the claim that the two spirits were created by God are all features of the Zurvanite myth of a god of time or destiny, father of Ohrmazd (light) and Ahriman (dark). As this kind of theology prevailed in Iranian religions in the period of the New Covenant Jewish community at Damascus (first century BC), it is more likely than the ancient Gathic theology to have been known to the Qumran sect.
This conclusion is borne out by Flavius Josephus’s report:
The sect of the Essenes holds that Destiny is master of all things and that nothing happens to men but what has been decreed by it.
In the Dead Sea scrolls several references to casting lots provide further corroborative evidence:
According to each man’s inheritance in truth he does right, and so he hates error, but according to his possession in the lot of error he does wickedly in it, and so he abhors truth.
Thou has cast for man an eternal lot.
Ohrmazd is said to be all-knowing, Ahriman ignorant (meaning that Ormazd had foresight, but Ahriman did not) and, in the scrolls, God is “El de’oth,” “the God of knowledge.” In the creation myth recorded by the Armenian Eznik, in the fifth century, Zurvan says to Ahriman “I have made Ohrmazd reign above thee,” which seems to have been interpreted as meaning that Ohrmazd reigned in the spirit, but Ahriman in this world. This belief, perhaps transmitted via Essenism, meant this world was evil, as the Gnostics believed, a Vale of Woe to be endured as a test of worth, but ultimately to be destroyed.
At Qumran the present age is dominated by the evil spirit:
So shall they do year by year all the days of the dominion of Belial… And [the world] has wallowed in the ways of wickedness in the dominion of error until the appointed time of judgment which has been decreed.
The Scrolls, in hymn 17, also have an allusion to physical resurrection, a Zoroastrian doctrine:
For the sake of Thy glory Thou hast purified man of sin… that… he may partake of the lot of Thy Holy Ones; bodies gnawed by worms may be raised from the dust to the counsel [of Thy truth]… that he may stand before Thee with the everlasting host.
Philo is thought to have been close to the Essenes and their brothers and sisters, the Therapeutae. Yet, Philo’s religious allegories are considered to have been influenced by the Gathas, with which they have significant similarities. The six Dunameis of Philo, sort of angelic rays of god linking him with the world, are the Amesha Spentas. They fill the world with God’s presence and keep it in harmony. He calls them the six Cities of Refuge, which links the concept with the romance of Joseph and Aseneth, Aseneth being interpreted as meaning “City of Refuge” after her return from apostasy to the Jewish god.
Philo was influenced by Persia just as the Essenes were, though western scholars in their usual arrogance have tried to make out that the Persians were influenced by Philo! Mills was more honest:
Philo drank in his Iranian lore from pages of his exilic Bible, or from the Bible books which were as yet detached, and which not only recorded Iranian edicts from Persian kings, but which themselves were half made up of Jewish-Persian history. (MIL-ZPAI)
When God says: “Let us make man,” (Gen 1:26) Philo rationalizes the “us” as God addressing his Dunameis. Philo made the creative instrument of god, the Logos, as an aspect of the Father, but there were other Logoi who had roles akin to those of the Amesha Spentas. Plato had the same idea, god leaving the creation to a craftsman, the Demiurgos. There is not the least reason why these ideas should not have derived from Persian religion.
The Essenes used a solar calendar of twelve months of 30 days. The Persians used a similar calendar, the difference only being that the remaining five days were all collected together in the manner of the Egyptians rather than the Essenes. The year started at different dates for different purposes, just as the Jews had a religious year and a commercial year starting at different times in the year. The Persian reformed calendar is thought to have been introduced in 441 BC (or 481 BC). So, Ezra or Nehemiah could have brought it as part of their reforms to Yehud.
The Persians considered leprosy a severe punishment for falsehood, for “lying against the sun”—breaking a promise. The Essenes might have used the same terminology, regarding the Jerusalem priesthood as breaking their promises given to God, and therefore being called lepers.
Christianity as a Mithraic Cult
Christianity adopted these doctrines from the pro-Persian factions—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 is said to have been astrology, but the Persians were also interested in astrology. Zoroastrians worshipped at altars 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 or heresy. The center of the Mithraic cult was in Tarsus in Cilicia, Southeast Turkey. This is whence Paul, the founder of the Christian church, came as a young man. By one of the perpetual coincidences of Christianity, the popular festival of the Mysteries of Mithras were celebrated at the spring equinox.
The New Testament was written, 300 years before the Persian empire had scuttled from Alexander, yet it is remarkably Persian in some of its crucial terms.
Paul’s insight on the road to Damascus was that instead of treating Jesus as a false saviour, he could be identified as the true saviour if combined with the new idea of “the second coming”. That would cure the embarrassing fact that nothing had come of Jesus’s 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. Mithraic ideas were so generally attractive that they eventually won out.
In 2 Corinthians 11:12-15, Paul criticizes the archapostles as disguising themselves as “Servants of Righteousness” and uses the sentence “Satan disguises himself as an Angel of Light” both betraying Qumran and therefore Persian influence and apparently deliberately used against the upholders of the Community tradition.
If Ahuramazda originally created two spirits, rather than simply being one of them created by Zurvan, he is responsible for evil in the world. He cannot be a purely good god, though the later development of the religion identified Ahuramazda with the Good Spirit. Christians like to think that their Father god, in heaven is purely good too, but they do not read their bibles. Amos asks:
Shall evil befall a city and Yehouah hath not done it?
The author of 1 Kings says it is Yehouah’s will to send a lying spirit into the mouths of 400 prophets.
Christians like to say that Zoroastrianism is dualist unlike their own monotheism, yet there is not the least difference in practice between them, and to invent doctrinal differences is pure sophistry. Judaism and Christianity postulate a good god opposed by an evil god but ultimately the good will triumph. All forms of Zoroastrianism are the same. However the good and evil came about is irrelevant. The fact that good will triumph is the encouragement to people to be good and finish up on the winning side, otherwise the three systems are entirely dualist in practice and everyone, as Zoroaster says, has an equal choice between choosing good or choosing evil.
Zoroaster accepted fire as the symbol of the divine, as the ultimate purifying agent. Jews and Christians can have no objection to this symbolism. Deuteronomy declares:
For the Lord thy God is a consuming fire, even a jealous God.
And to remind Christians Hebrews repeats it:
For our God is a consuming fire.
Moreover, if Mithras, seen as the Holy spirit and also the sun, took on the attributes of Ahuramazda as a god beyond the sun, then the Jews must accept that at the time of Ezekiel and later still, if the Essenes are to be considered, themselves worshipped the sun:
He brought me into the inner court of the Lord’s house, and, behold, at the door of the temple of the Lord, between the porch and the altar, were about five and twenty men, with their backs toward the temple of the Lord, and their faces toward the east; and they worshipped the sun toward the east.
Christians have no need to feel superior because their most famous apostle essentially did the same:
Peter went up upon the housetop to pray about the sixth hour.
The time given is noon, so Peter is praying at the highest station of the sun, a meaningful time for him to pray as it was to the Essenes, but otherwise an add place and time to pray. And it was so hot it gave him hallucinations. Elsewhere (Acts 3:1), the “hour of prayer” is the ninth hour. It seems likely that the Essenes marked each of the stations of the sun with hymns and prayers.
When, in his letters, Paul speaks of the third heaven:
I knew a man in Christ above fourteen years ago, (whether in the body, I cannot tell; or whether out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;) such an one caught up to the third heaven,
he is suggesting that there were different levels to the cosmos below the highest heaven. The Persians thought that there were seven levels or zones to the world, the seventh being the highest, whence our expression that bliss is being in seventh heaven.
If Christianity was revealed, it is time Christians found out properly when it was and who by.
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