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Influence of Zoroastrianism on Some Important Beliefs of Judaism and Christianity

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Influence of Zoroastrianism on Some Important Beliefs of Judaism and Christianity

In order to have a greater understanding of current religions, it is necessary to have an understanding of past religions, even those of ancient times. From as early as 4000 BCE when mythical
Egyptian gods were recorded, to the writings of the New Testament in the last half of the first century
AD, to rejection of several teachings and practices of the Roman Catholic Church by Martin Luther, older religious beliefs have influenced those that followed. Over time, whether from divine revelation or self-proclamation, humans came to new understandings or found disagreement with established religions or belief systems. One lesser known religion that has had major influence on modern Judaism and Christianity is Zoroastrianism. Zoroastrianism is credited by many researchers and scholars as the first religion to present the concepts of monotheism (one supreme god), dualism (the concepts of good and evil), the apocalypse when good triumphs over evil (Satan), and the conscious choice of good over evil in order to be admitted to heaven as opposed to being banished to hell.

As with most religions, Zoroastrianism has a founder, Zarathustra (from the Greek), also known as Zoroaster. Mary Boyce in her work, Zorastrians, Their Religious Beliefs and Practices, says
Zoroaster lived in the area of ancient Persia (which includes today's Iran), some time between 1700 and
1500 BCE, but other sources date is life as late as the 6th century BCE. According to Richard Foltz in his work, Spirituallity in the Land of the Noble, the oldest evidence of him can be found in portions of the Avesta (scriptures) known as the “Gathas”, poems or verses which are believed to be the preserved words of Zoroaster himself. There is general agreement that priests compiled the Zoroastrian religious books between 224 and 651 CE. Also around 224 CE, Ardashir I, of the Sasanian dynasty, defeated the
Parthians becoming the ruler of Persia. During the reign of one Sasanian ruler, Shapur I,
Zoroastrianism was made the state religion. After the Muslim invasion of 637 CE, however,
Zoroastrianism virtually disappeared. Some Zoroastrian followers fled the country, many settling in

India, where there is now the largest Zoroastrian community in the world. There are still about 30,000 who practice Zoroastrianism in Iran today.
Religious practices in Persia before Zoroaster, were similar to Hindhu beliefs reflected in the
Vedas, including worship of “deavas” representing the powers and forces of nature – sun, moon, stars, earth, water fire and winds. It is from this religious base that Zoroaster takes exception when, according to Boyce, a revelation finally came to him leading him to the presence of Ahura Mazda.
After Zoroaster's encounter with Ahura Mazda, he made a startling departure from accepted beliefs by proclaiming Ahura Mazda to be the one uncreated God, existing eternally, and creator of all else that is good. Foltz states that the Avesta identifies Ahura Mazda is elevated above all other deities.
He is “the decisive Lord”, whose judgments are binding upon gods and humans alike. Daevas and men are to be mindful that he (not other gods) is the force which will hold them accountable for their oaths and covenants.

This concept of monotheism later appears with the advent of Judaism, which, as recorded in the
Old Testament, considers Yahweh as creator of the universe, Lord of all the world, creating evil as well as good. "Yahweh, He is God in heaven above and on the earth below; there is no other" (Deuteronomy
4:39) and "Yahweh is God; there is no one else" (1 Kings 8:60). Most scholars agree that Zoroaster's concept of monotheism had a definite impact on the Jewish definition of Yahweh. From an historical perspective, Jews and other exiles had been driven from their homeland and were under Babylonian control until the Persian King, Cyrus, defeated the Babylonians in 539 BCE. Cyrus freed the Jews and encouraged them to return home to rebuild their places of worship. From the exile until the destruction of the second temple in Jerusalem in 70 CE, the Jewish religion developed several teachings not found in earlier texts including the establishment of Yahweh as the one Lord of the World.
Christianity, an even later developing religion, also includes monotheism, the belief in the one
God the father, creator of the universe, reigning forever over man, as in several New Testament passages: "there is no God but one" (1 Corinthians 8:4) and "Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God" (1 Timothy 1:17). Although there is some thought that the trinity (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) is a more complex form of monotheism, there is general agreement that the one true
God has a multiple personhood, as illustrated in new New Testament passages such as John 10:30, where Jesus says, "I and the Father are one."

A second major departure from the teachings of the Vedas was Zoroaster's teaching of dualism.
The ancient Hindhu belief system was characterized by the law of cause and effect, following the path of righteousness and the desire for liberation from the cycle of births and deaths. Zoroaster, however, posited that the one god, Ahura Mazda, represented “good” and was opposed by Angra Mainyu representing “bad”. According to Boyce, harsh experience had convinced the prophet that wisdom, justice and goodness were utterly separate by nature from wickedness and cruelty and that Ahura
Mazda and Angra Mainyu are two in thought, word and act, the good and the bad. The majority of scholars agree that Jews borrowed and completed their own doctrine of personified evil or Satan from
Zoroastrianism. Thus in Judaism, Yahweh represented the good and Satan, the bad. In Christianity too, the concept of dualism is the ruling belief. The good and evil concept appears in later Christian beliefs with the one God representing the good and the fallen angel (the devil/Satan) who rebelled against
God, representing the bad.

Boyce explains that Zoroaster was the first to teach the doctrines of an individual judgment,
Heaven and Hell, the future resurrection of the body, the general Last Judgment, and life everlasting for the reunited soul and body. Zoroaster taught that when the world was created it was wholly good.
According to Zoroastrian myths, Angra Mainyu attacked the world and blighted all the good creation.
Ahura Mazda and the other divine beings rallied their forces to turn the malicious acts to benefit. Thus, after Angra Mainyu's first attack the world was no longer wholly good, but a blend of good and evil.
Angra Mainyu continued to attack, but, according to Zoroaster's new revelation, mankind shared the common purpose of gradually overcoming evil and restoring the world to its original perfect state. The glorious moment when this will be achieved is called 'Frashokereti'. When Frahokeriti occurs, history would cease and evil would then be utterly destroyed. Ahura Mazda and men and women will then live together forever in perfect untroubled goodness and peace. Ahura Mazda will then offer up the last sacrifice (after which death will be no more), and will confer immortality on the resurrected bodies of all the blessed.

Zoroaster's teaching of the beginning and end to human history is a profound break with earlier ideas which posited that the process of life, once started, was expected to continue forever if men and gods both did their part. Thus, the earlier concept of time as a never-ending circle was changed by
Zoroaster to the concept of time as linear, with a beginning and end. In both Judaism and Christianity, the end times (apocalypse) is a belief held today. Zoroaster also taught that there would be a messiah or savior figure, Saoshyant (“one who will bring benefit”), who would bring about the final renovation of the world, a concept that parallels with the messiah/savior figures in Judaism and Christianity. In
Judaism, one day the Messiah will appear on earth and there will be a day of judgment, the dead shall be called to life everlasting; the universe is not eternal, but was created by and will be destroyed by
God. In Christianity, there is a belief in the end of times where awaits the Last Judgment when the dead shall rise again, and the redeemed will enjoy life everlasting. Jesus also taught about the final judgment after resurrection and consignment of those found worthy into eternal heaven and delivery into an internal hell for those found unfit for heaven.

Related to the end times (apocalypse), is Zoroaster's perception that man must choose good over evil to be granted immortality by Ahura Mazda. Foltz states that, Zoroaster's concept of Ahura Mazda was not only as the Creator force, but he also attributed a purposefulness to Creation not present in earlier religious thought. Zoroaster's ethics emphasized human choice. Both good (asha) and bad (drug) existed in the world and it was up to the individual to take a position and actively embrace one or the other. Boyce states that Zoroaster seems to have been the first to articulate fully the notion of judgment upon death, where each person's good deeds would be weighed against their evil ones, following which the good people would ascend to the heaven presided over by Ahura Mazda and evil-doers would descend to a hell of suffering ruled by Angra Mainyu. Boyce states that this judgment, according to myth, occurred at Mount Hara on the fourth day after death. The deceased would cross a bridge. For the good, the bridge would grow wide and easy to cross, whereas for the evil it would become as narrow as a blade. The good would be met by a beautiful female spirit, Daena, who would accompany them to heaven. Wrongdoers would find a horrible, smelly hag, who would force them to plunge over the edge into the gaping mouth of hell. This concept of choice of good over evil appears in Judaism where, upon death, the soul goes to heaven (or to hell first if it has been sinful), and that one day the
Messiah will appear on earth and there will be a day of judgment, and the dead shall be called to life everlasting. In Christianity, upon death and according to its earthly deeds and its acceptance of the
Christian Faith, the soul enters heaven, purgatory (in some Christian sects) or hell. There it awaits the
Last Judgment when the dead shall rise again, the redeemed to enjoy life everlasting and the unsaved to suffer eternally. In both Judaism and Christianity, man must choose between good and evil (sin).
According to most scholars, this concept had its origin in Zoroaster's teachings.

What has been described here will no doubt seem familiar to many readers. The beliefs discussed appeared in Zoroastrianism first, and only later in other religions such as Judaism and
Christianity. The personification of an all-powerful creator god (Ahura Mazda) who is purely good, the personification of evil in the opposing being (Angra Mainyu), the judgment of the dead based on their choices while living, the expectation of a savior and a final cataclysmic battle in which good will ultimately triumph are all ideas that Judaism and Christianity acquired either directly or indirectly from

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