Judaism Meets Zoroastrianism
by Lewis Loflin
Judaism and Zoroastrianism are both revealed religions and share a great deal in common. God imparts his revelation and pronounces his commandments to Zoroaster on "the Mountain of the Two Holy Communing Ones"; in the other Yahweh holds a similar communion with Moses on Sinai. According to jewishencyclodedia.com the points of resemblance between Zoroastrianism and Judaism are many. In both faiths God is omniscient, omnipresent, and eternal, and creator of the universe. God operates through and governs the universe with the use of angels and archangels. This presents a parallel to Yahweh that is found in the Old Testament. The Zoroastrianism Spenta Mainyu is the Christian "Holy Spirit."
Ahura Mazda's power is hampered by Ahriman (the Devil) and his host of demons. Their dominion like Satan's will be destroyed at the end of the world. The world is the Devil's domain. Zoroastrian eschatological teachings-the doctrines of a regenerate world, a perfect kingdom, the coming of a Messiah, the resurrection of the dead, and the life everlasting are nearly identical to Christianity.
Both are similar in their cosmological ideas. The six days of Creation in Genesis finds a parallel in the six periods of Creation described in the Zoroastrian scriptures. Mankind, according to each religion, is descended from a single couple, and Mashya (man) and Mashyana (women) are the Iranian Adam and Eve. Genesis has two Creation stories; the first man/women is created together, the second we have the Rib tradition. In the Bible the Flood story is nearly identical to an Avesta winter story.
It's a historic fact that the Jews and the Persians came in contact with each other. Most scholars believe that Judaism was strongly influenced by Zoroastrianism in views relating to angiology, demonology, and resurrection. Also the monotheistic conception of Yahweh may have been changed or influenced by being opposed to the dualism of the Persians.
The early Jews were not monotheists but henotheists or even outright polytheists. They had one central god but believed in other gods. "Thou shalt have no other gods before me" (Exodus 20:3). This was the tribal god, often bloodthirsty and murderous who not only (they claimed) ordered the killing of women and children, but also even directly murdered the first born of Egypt. Every tribe seemed to have their own god. This was no God of love or compassion, but a god of survival.
True monotheism would come later. In Isaiah 43:10, "Ye are my witnesses, saith the LORD, and my servant whom I have chosen: that ye may know and believe me, and understand that I am he: before me there was no God formed, neither shall there be after me..." (KJV)
This servant was Isaiah. Another servant is revealed in Isaiah 44:28, "That saith of Cyrus, He is my shepherd, and shall perform all my pleasure: even saying to Jerusalem, Thou shalt be built; and to the temple, Thy foundation shall be laid..."
And this most devastating statement in 45:1, "Thus saith the LORD to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I have holden..." Cyrus was the "anointed" or savior of Israel. Cyrus was a Zoroastrian. With the great Persian King Cyrus we have the first real monotheistic declarations in the Bible. This is the first expression of universalism. Isaiah also first introduces the idea not of false gods, but only one god.
God became a universal God of love: good, perfect, more remote, and identical to Ahura Mazda. It would be the missions of Nehemiah and Ezra backed by the Achaemenian Imperial Government's authority to make the Jews conform to more than the new ideal of monotheism.
Over half a century later we arrive at the Achaemenian King Artaxerxes whose name also appears in Hebrew Scriptures of Ezra (verses 7:7, 7:12). Artaxerxes followed the tradition of benevolence towards the Jews as set by his ancestors. He appointed Nehemiah one of his loyal servants to govern Jerusalem.
Ezra had been born and educated in Babylon and was also sent by Artaxerxes to see if the people of Judea would "be agreeable to the law of God" and "to teach in Israel statutes and ordinances" (Ezra 7:10-11), "For Ezra had prepared his heart to seek the law of the LORD, and to do it, and to teach in Israel statutes and judgments...Now this is the copy of the letter that the king Artaxerxes gave unto Ezra the priest, the scribe, even a scribe of the words of the commandments of the LORD, and of his statutes to Israel..."
In Ezra 4:7, "And in the days of Artaxerxes wrote Bishlam, Mithredath, Tabeel, and the rest of their companions, unto Artaxerxes king of Persia; and the writing of the letter was written in the Syrian tongue, and interpreted in the Syrian tongue..." Everything was being done in Aramaic the official language of this part of the Persian Empire. By the first century when Jesus was born, everyone spoke Aramaic while Greek had become the language of commerce. Hebrew had been relegated to the Temple.
There are explicit indications of widespread religious conversion in Ezra 6:19-21 and Nehemiah 10:28-29, but why would Jews have to convert to Judaism? Nehemiah, chapter 8, discusses an event where Ezra read from the book of law which neither Hebrew speakers nor Aramaic speakers could understand - the words had to be translated by priests.
Ezra's major reform was the prohibition of foreign wives. Although marrying foreign wives had always been the most favored Jewish practice (including Moses), such marriages violate Zoroastrian law. The reality is better expressed in Judges 3:5-6, "And the children of Israel dwelt among the Canaanites, Hittites, and Amorites, and Perizzites, and Hivites, and Jebusites: And they took their daughters to be their wives, and gave their daughters to their sons..." There is no proof of any mass slaughter in Canaan and the "other gods" may have been edited in later.
When the Babylonians conquered Judah, they exiled the royal family, aristocrats, and upper classes. Most of the common people were left behind. When the 40,000 or so returned (many stayed behind), they rejected those they found that had intermarried with others. Many still considered themselves Jews, but were still rejected. They. Nonetheless the returning Jews separated themselves from others who became the Samarians. Strife began at once and divided the nation.
We are told Nehemiah, who followed the Zoroastrian purity code rigidly, was responsible for the transition of the Jewish purity code. The purity laws were no longer restricted to the Temple, but had to be exercised in 'the fields, the kitchen, the bed and the street (Boyce, History of Zoroastrianism Vol. II, p. 190). The Persian King Darius is our hero in the Book of Daniel.
Jews did keep circumcision, which doesn't exist in Zoroastrianism.
There is no devil in Judaism and never was. The term "devil" doesn't exist in the Old Testament. The term Satan appears 13 times in the Old Testament mainly in Job and in every case as a servant of God. But the late post-exile Zechariah 3:2 says, "And the LORD said unto Satan, The LORD rebuke thee, O Satan; even the LORD that hath chosen Jerusalem rebuke thee: is not this a brand plucked out of the fire?" This is as close to conflict as they come. The term Lucifer1 (light bearer?) occurs only in Isaiah 14:12, "How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! How art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations!" and I see nothing confrontational in this.
The New Testament is another matter. Satan appears 34 times while devil appears 57 times both used in the same context. No doubt Christianity is dualistic just like Zoroastrianism. Judaism did produce two dualistic cults: the apocalyptic sect that gave us the Dead Sea Scrolls, and the Gnostics that gave us many of the Nag Hammadi Gospels. Gnosticism was brooding, angry belief system that saw the world and flesh as evil and sought to destroy it to bring on some Kingdom of God in one form or another. Christianity for the most part evolved from these, in particular Apostles John and Paul.
It is also said John the Baptist (a cousin of Jesus?) was influenced by these Zoroastrian influenced end-times cults such as those that left writings such as the Dead Sea Scrolls. John was an enormous influence on Jesus.
The devil (Ahriman) was an evil spirit in Zoroastrianism and some claim that by the third century B.C., Zoroaster's monotheism was replaced with dualism in some areas. Manicheans developed from the Gnostic teachings of Mani, who taught that the flesh is evil and the spirit is good. He advocated denying the flesh to free the spirit and had an influence on early Christian saints in particular St. Augustine. Augustine was the father of Protestantism.
In summery, Zoroastrianism and the Persians were friendly with Judaism and caused profound changes. This interaction produced true monotheism, a more universal God, and imparted the strict purity laws into Judaism. But Judaism rejected Persian dualism of a devil that ruled world to be defeated by a god sent savior. God alone and no other rules the universe and earth. Under Judaism, this "Messiah" was be human and related to later period where the nation was under foreign rule, a military religious leader in the nationalist sense. Very important as well was both faiths followed high moral values of family, protecting the sick and helpless, and aversion to sexual perversion. Revelation and God's Commandments ruled all. Both would clash head on with Greece.
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