Print this page
Historical Text Archive © 1990 - 2017
Printer friendly version of: http://historicaltextarchive.com/sections.php?action=read&artid=754
Zoroastrianism & Christianity
By Jeff Howell
In the Gospel of Matthew’s account of the birth of Jesus, the writer records,
“After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea . . . Magi from the East came to
Jerusalem and asked, ‘Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw
his star in the east and have come to worship him.’” Later the text says that when the
Magi found the infant Jesus, “they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened
their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh.”
people in America, even non-Christians, are somewhat familiar with this scene. The
portrayal of the Magi or Wise Men surrounding the baby Jesus adorns many church
fronts during the Christmas season. Yet most people have no idea concerning the
importance of these Wise Men. Most Christians, Catholic or Protestant, do not know
that the religion of these men from the east provided the Christian religion with many of
it’s doctrinal truths and icons.
essay looks at the Iranian religion of Zoroastrianism and its effects on pre-exilic and post-exilic Judaism. The intermingling of these two monotheistic faiths
eventually gave rise to the largest monotheistic religion in the world, Christianity. This
paper approaches this topic with the presupposition that human religion is adaptive and
evolutionary. As adherents of one religion or ideology encounter those of other faiths,
as well as new political, social, or philosophical realities, changes will occur. This paper
proposes that while the people of Israel lived under the domination of the Babylonian
and then the Persian empires, their society and their religion underwent changes. Over
time, as Jews encountered the religion of Zoroastrianism, the faith of their Persian
masters which contained many similarities with Judaism, many of these Jews adopted
and adapted Zoroastrian tenets in order to make their religion suit their present needs.
Over the centuries following the exile, a new branch of Jewish theology arose, which in
turn gave rise to Christianity.2
As one popular religious writer recently put it:
Now I could see the flame of Zoroaster burning behind some of the most familiar
icons in Western faith-good and evil, heaven and hell-and I could see its
tensions flickering in the shadows of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam . . .
Zoroastrianism, I was beginning to think, may be the first light unto the nations, a
religion so tiny that its contributions to Western religion have long since been
consumed by other traditions, their origins long since forgotten.3
The wise men, or Magi, from the east, came not only to see the Messiah of the Jews,
but the possible World Redeemer (Saoshyant) of Zoroastrianism. Ironically, the Magi
came to see the center of Christendom their own theology had created.
To understand how Zoroastrianism infiltrated Judaism, and thus later
Christianity, the person and religion of Zoroaster must first be illuminated.
Zoroastrianism is the religion of Zoroaster or Zarathustra. Zoroaster is the Greek form
of Zarathustra which meant, “he who can manage camels.” Zoroaster lived on the
central Asian steppes of Iran at the beginning of the Iron Age in Iran, somewhere
between 1400 and 1000 B.C.E.4
Iran, during this period, was connected to Vedic India.
Vedic theology centered around polytheism. It viewed the gods as benevolent cosmic
beings and focused on the universal principle of Asha “that which ought to be.” The
adherents believed that the gods formed the world in seven stages (sky, water, earth,
plants, animals, man, and fire). Fire stood as the vital life force which gives warmth and
existence to all.5
The Iron Age brought the iron war chariots to the Iranian steppes, and allowed
roving bands of warriors to create havoc and mayhem. These chaotic times caused a
young priest named Zoroaster to contemplate on good and evil and the purpose of life.
While going through a religious ceremony down by a river, Zoroaster beheld a shining
entity named Vohu Manah (Good Purpose). This being led Zoroaster into the presence
of the supreme being, Ahura Mazda (Wise Lord), and other radiant personages. Ahura
Mazda instructed the young priest to move away from polytheism and into the way of
righteousness. Zoroaster became convinced that this being was “uncreated God,
existing eternally, and Creator of all else that is good, including all other beneficent
Ahura Mazda’s revelation imparted to Zoroaster consists of seventeen hymns
known as Gathas. The entire collection of Zoroastrian teachings is called the Avesta.
Besides the Gathas, the Avesta consists of other teachings inspired by Zoroaster’s
teachings. The Gathas are included in the liturgy know as the Yasnas (act of worship).
In these Yasnas, Zoroaster reveals that Ahura Mazda and the Amesha Spentas “holy
immortals,” which included Spenta Mainyu (Good or Holy Spirit), Vohu Manah( Good
Purpose), along with lesser deities, Yazatas, formed a seven-fold creation consisting of
sky, water, earth, vegetation, animals, mankind, and mind. It is through the Amesha
Spentas that Ahura Mazda approaches man. This God led Zoroaster to proclaim that
whoever gives heed to the message of Ahura Mazda and obeys him will attain
immortality. Through the aid of these divinities, man can help usher in Frasho-Kereti
(the restoration-making wonderful). The key doctrine for Zoroastrianism is that people
are to be concerned about good words, deeds, and thoughts.7
With a good God, why does evil seem to flourish? Zoroaster came to
understand that another uncreated force is active in the world, totally bent on evil and
resistance to Ahura Mazda. Angra Mainyu (Hostile or Evil Spirit), also known as
Whereas Ahura Mazda is dedicated to the good (asha), Ahriman is
dedicated to the druj (falsehood or lie). Like Ahura Mazda, Ahriman possesses a
hierarchy of evil forces that do his bidding and try to corrupt mankind and
It needs to be noted in this brief sketch that Zoroastrianism contains two key
doctrines that set it apart from the religions of its day and also sets the standard for
later monotheistic religions. One, Zoroastrianism emphasizes the equality of men and
women. Anyone, big or small, rich or poor, could possess salvation if they obeyed
Ahura Mazda and sought to live an ethical life. Two, the dualism of good and evil
forces, light and dark, angels and devils, represented a radical departure from the
prevalent monism and cyclical order of the world found in the surrounding religions.
This would later bear even more fruit in Judaism and Christianity. 10
Anyone versed in the New Testament would easily recognize the core of
Zoroastrian doctrine. After his revelation from Ahura Mazda, Zoroaster proclaimed his
new faith to his countrymen. He declared that Ahriman corrupted the creation of Ahura
Mazda, and enticed men to believe lies. Thus, the good world is mixed with evil. Man
has to join the Amesha Spentas through good works, good thoughts, and good words.
Although eternal like Ahura Mazda, Ahriman is ignorant and destined to defeat. Upon
the death of the individual, their life is judged. The totality of their good and bad deeds
are weighed. Each person must cross the bridge of chinvat, the bridge of separation. If
one’s good deeds outweigh the bad, the bridge widens and the individual crosses into
Paradise, where Ahura Mazda dwells. If the totality of one’s life results in evil being
prevalent, then the bridge narrows to a razor’s edge, and the miscreant plunges into
hell, a place of darkness, torment, smoke, and misery. Ahriman rules this wasteland of
misery. If one’s good and bad remain equal, one goes to a gray existence,
experiencing neither joy nor sorrow.11
While Ahriman corrupted the creation of Ahura Mazda, it is Ahura Mazda who
possesses the final word. Hinted at in the Gathas, later Zoroastrian doctrine developed
the idea of the Saoshyant (one who brings benefit/world savior). Over the final three
millennia, three Saoshyants would be sent, each one born of a virgin. The virgin would
bathe in a sacred lake where Zoroaster’s seed had been hidden. The final Saoshyant
would come at the end of time and lead the righteous against Ahriman and his minions.
Evil will be conquered and the Saoshyant will usher Renovation (Frasho-Kereti). Ahura
Mazda’s creation will be restored.12
This cosmic drama will be concluded with a general resurrection (both good and
evil) and a final judgment. All mankind will be resurrected from the dead. Harkening
back to the Iranian trial by ordeal of molten metal, the righteous and the wicked will walk
through a river of molten metal. For the righteous, this ordeal will feel like a bath in
warm milk. For the wicked, this river of judgment will feel like burning lava. This river
will wash hell thoroughly. Ahriman and his hierarchy of spiritual forces will be
destroyed. There is still hope for the unrighteous. Hell, in the Zoroastrian view, is not
eternal. The wicked are cleansed by this ordeal, not annihilated. Thus, for even wicked
mankind, hell and final judgment are corrective. In the end, all creation will be united
with the ultimate source of good, Ahura Mazda.13
One can quickly see the parallels between Zoroastrianism and Christianity. A
brief catalog of shared concepts includes: a belief in God and Satan, a belief in angels
and demons, a belief in heaven and hell, a belief in individual judgment at death, a
belief in physical resurrection and the coming of a redeemer figure, and a belief that the
world will culminate in a final battle between good and evil.14
This begs the question, if Christianity has been deeply influenced by the faith of Zoroaster, whence did this
information come? The answer lies in the seed-bed of Christianity, Judaism.
Zoroastrianism remained primarily an Iranian faith for several centuries after its
founding. The religion of Zoroaster “entered history under the Achaemenids, who ruled
the Persian Empire (550-331 B.C.E.).15
The Persians and the people of Israel mingled
during this period. A calamity struck northern Israel in 722 B.C.E. through the
onslaught of the Assyrian Empire, based in Mesopotamia. Ten of the twelve tribes of
Israel disappeared from the “promised land” when the Assyrians deported and
scattered these conquered peoples. The Babylonians overthrew the Assyrian
hegemony a little more than a century later. The Babylonians then set their sights on
the remaining southern tribes (Judah and Benjamin). These tribes proved no match for
these invaders. The Babylonians removed to Babylon the last vestiges of the nation of
Israel through three deportation between 606 and 586 B.C.E. In anger over Jewish
resistance, the Babylonians destroyed the city of Jerusalem and the sacred temple of
Solomon. Eventually the Jews found new masters when the Persian Empire, under
Cyrus, conquered the Babylonians by 550. The Achaemenid kings practiced the
religion of Zoroastrianism.
The Achaemenid kings were devoted to their religion, and left behind
monuments proclaiming their allegiance to Ahura Mazda (also called Ormazd).
Archaeologist Henry Rawlinson found evidence of the Persian attachment to
Zoroastrianism on the trilingual inscription of Behisitun in 1835. Darius, the king who
followed Cyrus, inscribed on a massive cliff face, “By the grace of Ormazd (another
name for Ahura Mazda) I hold this empire . . . By the grace of Ormazd I am King . . .
Ormazd brought help to me . . . I prayed to Ormazd . . . May Ormazd be a friend to
While the Persian rulers worshiped Ahura Mazda and later some other deities,
they practiced religious toleration. The Jews were allowed to practice their religion.
Like Zoroastrianism, Judaism recognized revelation from a great prophet, Moses, and
emphasized moral behavior. Yet, new political, social, religious realities moved many of
the Jewish nation to revamp their faith and praxis. John Bright, a student of the
preeminent archaeologist and scholar, William F. Albright, commented on the effect this
new arena of politics, culture, and religion, had on Jews in exile. He suggested that the
exile forced Jews to question whether or not their God, Yahweh, was the source of their
trials. Was Yahweh adequate enough to answer their questions? Did the exile
somehow fit into “his” plans? Bright noted, “As horizons thus widened, faith required
some bolder, more universal restatement if it was to prove adequate.”17
how much Zoroastrianism came to overshadow Judaism and seep into Jewish thinking,
one must first possess an overview of pre-exilic Judaism.
The religion of Israel before the exile period possessed a very different outlook
than the one that emerged after the return. Based on the Torah, and the history books
such as Joshua and Samuel, ancient Judaism held a Mesopotamian view of the
Sheol served as the abode for all the dead, and it was a dark and murky
existence. The adherent to the law of Moses did not focus much on the existence of an
immortal soul or a heaven. For a Jew who lived during the time of David and Solomon
(tenth and eleventh century’s B.C.E.), death was the end. Angels sometimes appeared
in the early biblical narratives, but they always played a secondary role to Yahweh.
These references may have been later redactions. Some have even suggested that
many Jews were henotheists, with Yahweh being the chief of all the gods. Many Jews
did look for the coming of the Messiah, but this figure would only usher in a political
kingdom. He was not a player on the cosmic scale. 19
To further clarify the point, a few passages from the scriptures of this period
need to be quoted. In reference to the patriarch Abraham’s death, Genesis 25:8 says,
“Abraham breathed his last and died in a good old age, an old man full of years, and
was gathered to his people.” The focus for the Jew or Israelite was now, not an
elaborate afterlife. 20 Other biblical writers of the Old Testament period echoed the same sentiments.
The Psalmist advises in Psalm 146:4-5, “Do not put your trust in
princes, in mortals, in whom there is no help. When their breath departs, they return to
the earth; on that very day their plans perish.” Long suffering Job cries out in his misery
that whereas trees are cut down but put forth new life, not so for man.
But mortals die, and are laid low; humans expire, and where are they? As
waters fail from a lake, and a river wastes away and dries up, so mortals lie down
and do not rise again; until the heavens are no more, they will not awake or to be
roused out of their sleep. Oh that you would hide me in Sheol, that you would
conceal me until your wrath is passed. (Job 14:10-13) 21
Pre-exile Jews may have desired for life after death, but their scriptures point out that most did not hold to this view.
So why after generations of not looking for an afterlife, and not looking at life as
a dualism of good verses evil did many Jewish writers, Old Testament and the Inter-testamental period, alter their out look? Many scholars, surveyed for this study, argued
that the catalyst for change in Judaism came when the Jews encountered
Zoroastrianism while subjects of the Persian empire. In his study, Zoroastrianism and
Judaism, George William Carter surmised, “During all these years in which Judaism
was gradually assuming form the most intelligent and active members of the Jewish
race were brought into continued contact with the dominant peoples of the age
(Mordecai, Daniel, Esther, Nehemiah).” Carter further pointed out that Jewish habits
were influenced by their new environment, “it would have been strange indeed if their
religion had been unaffected.” While not directly transferring Zoroastrian beliefs into
their own, Carter proposed that “Jews took general conceptions form the Persians and
molded them in accordance with their own habits of mind.”22
Others have offered,
“There is plenty of evidence that the post-Exilic religious development of the Hebrews
was affected by the teaching of Zoroaster,” 23 and that concerning the similar ideas
between Zoroaster and later Jewish writers, “the ideas were indigenous to Iran...it is
hardly conceivable that some of the characteristic ideas and practices in Judaism,
Christianity, and Islam came into being without Zoroastrian influence.” 24
What kinds of teachings show up in later Old Testament and Inter-testamental
writings? The length constraints of this paper prevent a detailed analysis, but several
definitive examples will be given to show the change in Judaism influenced by
Zoroastrianism. One example can be found in the writings of II Isaiah (Isaiah 40-66).
Isaiah must have been alive sometime after the ascent of Persia. The Jews welcomed
the overthrow of the Babylonians and looked with approval on the religious tolerance
practiced by Cyrus and the later Achaemenid rulers. Cyrus allowed the Jews to return
to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple. II Isaiah goes so far to as to call Cyrus his Messiah
or “Anointed One” (Isaiah 45:1, 13). Cyrus would be one who would establish justice
and righteousness. One scholar who looked at Yasna 44 and several sections of Isaiah
(40, 44, 45) found striking parallels concerning the cosmology of Ahura Mazda and
Yahweh. Both passages ask a series of questions like “Who created the heavens?” In
the Yasna, the answer is Ahura Mazda. In the Isaiah passages, the answer is Yahweh.
Both are portrayed as the universal creator of all men. He concluded that Second
Isaiah relied on the Zoroastrian Yasna as a textual source. 25
Concerning these references in Second Isaiah, preeminent Zoroastrian scholar Mary Boyce concluded,
“The parallels with Zoroastrian doctrine and scripture are so striking that these verses
have been taken to represent the first imprint of that influence which Zoroastrianism
was to exert so powerfully on post-exilic Judaism. 26
It is during the Inter-testament period (400-1 B.C.E.) where the infiltration of
Zoroastrian doctrines are clearly seen. The book of Daniel bears all the marks of
Zoroastrian influence. Most scholars believe that Daniel wrote this work during the
Maccabean revolt against the Seleucid ruler Antiochus IV around 168 B.C.E.
Antiochus IV sought to force the Jews to deny their religious practices, and his atrocities
culminated in the sacrifice of a pig on the altar in the Temple. Daniel places the
revelations in the context of several Persian Kings (Cyrus and Darius are included). Yet
there is no mistake he is referring to Antiochus. Daniel calls Antiochus IV “the
abomination of desolation” (Daniel 9:27). Daniel takes several Zoroastrian doctrines
and places them in a Jewish context. He looks to the coming of the Anointed One, one
“like a Son of Man” who will come as a cosmic ruler and overcome evil (7:14-15, 9:26).
Christians see this as Jesus Christ. In Zoroastrian’s scheme, this is the final Saoshyant
(world redeemer). Daniel employs the dualism of the forces of good against evil, and
even gives names to two of the “good” angels of Yahweh, Michael and Gabriel (9:21,
12:1). Is this not an obvious borrowing from the naming of the forces of Ahura Mazda
and Ahriman? Whereas Jews before the exile viewed death as the end, and if there
was an afterlife, it was a murky existence of shadows, Daniel says there will be a
restoration and a physical resurrection at the end. Those who are righteous will
experience eternal life, those who have lived lives of evil will experience everlasting
shame and contempt (12:1-2). From books like these, it becomes clear that
Zoroastrian’s shadow falls heavily on later Jewish writers.
In the deuterocanonical books, also called the Apocrypha, 27 Zoroastrianism also
leaves its mark. These books were written between the fourth and first centuries
For example, in the book 2 Maccabees 7:9, those that defend the holy law of
God, even to the point of death, can expect resurrection. Later, in 12:44-45, prayers
and atonement for the dead are made so that they would experience the resurrection.
In 14:46, a Jew named Razi dies as a religious martyr in the face of overwhelming
numbers of unbelievers. In a sign of reproach, while wounded and dying, he hurls his
intestines at his enemies and asks God to give him back his entrails when he is
restored and resurrected.
Another example is found in Wisdom of Solomon. Chapter 3 details eternal
hope for the righteous and judgment for the wicked. The writer says in 3:2, the wicked
think the righteous have died, but their souls are in the hands of God. Their ultimate
hope is the promise of immortality. Also, in the Book of Tobit, set during the period of
the Assyrian captivity, more references to angelic beings (good and evil) are made.
Tobit is aided by the angel Raphael against the wicked demon Asmodeus (3:17, also
5:4) In 12:8, 15, Raphael warns Tobit and his son to do good and avoid evil. Raphael
states that his authority comes from the fact that he is one seven angels who stands
before Yahweh. Do not forget that Zoroastrianism says that there is a hierarchy of good
and evil angelic beings that aid Ahura Mazda. Whereas the canonical book of
Ecclesiastes states that death is all one can expect,29 the Wisdom of Solomon argues
pointedly that those that think death is the end deceive themselves (2:1-22). This
author writes with holy expectation, “for God created us for incorruption, and made us in
the image of his own eternity, but through the devil’s envy entered the world, and those
who belong to his company experience it. But the souls of the righteous are in the
hands of God, and no torment will ever touch them” (2:23-3:1).
The most clear presentation of doctrines that bore the mark of Zoroaster, came
in the writings of the Qumram Community, popularly known as the Essenes. This
group, located primarily near the Dead Sea, existed between 200 B.C.E. and the
destruction of the Herodian Temple in 70 C.E. The Dead Sea scrolls, as their writings
came to be known, were discovered in caves around the the ruins of Qumram. In his
English translation of these sacred writings, G. Vermes noted that the Inter-testamental
period was a time of spiritual ferment that “culminated in a thorough examination and
reinterpretation of the fundamentals of the Jewish faith.” 30
Vermes pointed out that these religious zealots considered themselves the true
Israel and adherents “were expected to become proficient in the knowledge of the ‘two
spirits’ in which all men ‘walk’, the spirits of truth and falsehood, and learn how to
discriminate between them.” The Essenes were to be able to “recognize a ‘son of light’
or potential ‘son of light’, and how to distinguish a ‘son of Darkness’ belonging to the lot
of Belial” (another name for the Devil). 31
Thus in the writings of the Essenes, all the
doctrines of Zoroaster appear, and are now considered basic to Judaism and having no
precursor except the revelation of God. In the Community Rule, the adherents are
taught that God appointed a Prince of Light and an Angel of Darkness. Man had to
choose who to follow. Judgment was based on one’s choice. In other compositions
like the “War Rule,” the “Damascus Rule,” and the “Curses of Satan and his lot,” the full
gamut of Zoroastrian apocalyptic doctrines are explored. These writings announce the
coming of Messiah(s), an end time battle, the destruction of Satan and his followers,
and final judgment. 32
There were those in this period who maintained traditional Judaism, and rejected
the fantastic apocalyptic doctrines. 33
These would be represented in the New
Testament as the Sadducees “who say there is no resurrection” (Matthew 22:23, Luke
20:27). Yet, these apocalyptic doctrines found root in many hearts. The forerunners of
the New Testament Pharisees and the followers of Jesus held dear the doctrines of a
dualistic battle between God and Satan, the existence of angels and demons, the
coming of a Messiah, a general resurrection and final judgment, and a glorious
millennial age of peace. These doctrines, first preached by Zoroaster, over a
millennium before the New Testament era, would eventually be found in the sacred
writings of the early Christian writers.
From the evidence surveyed, it becomes clear that a connection exists between
Zoroastrianism and Judaism. This begs the question, with Jewish communities
scattered from eastern Iran to the Egyptian port of Alexandria, how were these
doctrines spread from Persia back to Palestine? In two separate articles, Richard Foltz
proposed that these ideas were spread by Zoroastrian and Jewish traders along the
Silk Route, a key trade route that stretched from the Mediterranean to China. Many
Jews lived in Persia and a large community resided in Babylon. Post-exilic Jews in
Persian lands took up commerce and maintained trade networks with relatives or fellow
countrymen in Judea and other parts of the empire. Thus, ideas and influences picked
by Jews in one area could be easily transmitted to another. Foltz remarked, “It is
beginning in the Persian period that a number of Iranian beliefs and concepts appear to
have worked their way into the religious tradition of the Judeans, a tradition that would
later evolve into Judaism.” Foltz further argued that it was no coincidence that Jewish
apocalyptic literature, like Daniel and Ezekiel, evolved in a Babylonian and Persian
All that remains in this analysis is to show early biblical Christianity and its
reliance on post-exilic and Inter-testamental ideas, which in turn evolved as Zoroastrian
ideas penetrated Judaism during the exile. For our purposes, it will be sufficient to look
at a few selected passages from the Gospels, the writings of Paul, and the book of
Revelation. To give one Gospel example, the account of Matthew demonstrates
(however unknowingly) the reach of Zoroastrianism into the life and teaching of Jesus
of Nazareth. In Matthew 1:21, an angel (named Gabriel in Luke’s account) tells the
Nazarene carpenter, Joseph, that Mary, his virgin bride-to-be, is with child, and would
give birth to one who would “save his people from their sins.” 35
Early on, the virgin born,
world redeemer (Saoshyant) theme is echoed. Obviously, Christianity differs from
Zoroastrianism in that Christians believe that Jesus died as a substitute for their sins.
Zoroastrianism does contain such a teaching, but the point is that Christians, and
earlier Jews, borrowed concepts from Zoroastrianism and shaped them to fit their
Throughout the chapters of Matthew, echoes of Zoroastrian doctrine can be
seen. In chapter two, the Magi (Zoroastrian priests) appear in order to pay homage.
Once again, an angel appears to Joseph and Mary and warns them to flee to Egypt to
escape being murdered by Herod the Great. This bloodthirsty tyrant would suffer no
rivals to the throne. Unbeknownst to Herod, this baby would serve as the ruler of the
cosmos, not just of Israel. Chapter three gives the account of John the Baptist of the
baptizing of Jesus. Just as Spenta Mainyu (the good or holy spirit) is the servant of
Ahura Mazda, the Holy Spirit descends from heaven and anoints Jesus for his mission.
Chapter four details Jesus being led into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit in
order to be tempted by the Devil. Jesus must make a choice between following God in
obedience (good thoughts, good deeds, good words) or following Satan. Jesus, as the
Messiah, succeeds. Skipping ahead to Matthew 16:13-23, the disciples of Jesus come
to realize he is the Messiah. Peter declares that Jesus is “the Messiah, the Son of the
living God” (16:16). Then upon hearing of Jesus’s upcoming death at the hands of the
religious leadership, Peter rebukes Jesus and says that he would not die. Jesus points
again to the dualistic battle that fills the cosmos. He reprimands Peter and says “Get
behind me, Satan! Your are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not
on divine things but human (meaning wicked) things.”
In Matthew 22:23-33, Jesus is challenged by the Sadducees who represented
classic Judaism. They rejected angels and the resurrection, they asked Jesus a riddle
concerning a woman who married seven times and was widowed seven times. In the
resurrection, who could claim her as a wife? Jesus rebukes the Sadducees for not
knowing the scriptures or God’s power. He refers to Moses and the burning bush
episode in Exodus 3, where God says that he IS (present tense) the God of Abraham,
Isaac, and Jacob. Jesus says God is God of the living, not of the dead (22:32).
A final passage 36 that will be addressed concerns the trial of Jesus in Matthew
26. The religious leadership brings Jesus up on charges and demands him to reveal if
he is the Messiah. He responds by quoting Daniel 7:13, a passage that states that a
cosmic redeemer will come and rule the world. The text of Matthew reads, “From now
on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the
clouds of heaven” (Matthew 26:64). This sends the religious leadership into a mad
frenzy, and Jesus is eventually handed over to the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, for
crucifixion. All through Matthew, Jesus makes it clear that the world is in a cosmic
struggle between God and the Devil, He is the Messiah/Redeemer, He will judge all
men, and He will usher in a time of renewal and resurrection; all foundation stones of
Zoroastrian belief. Early Christians (as well as the Essenes) built their theology on a
foundation of popular Jewish theology, both of which harken back to Persia and
Christianity was taken out of its Jewish context by Paul of Tarsus, and spread
throughout the Roman world. A former Pharisee (a Jewish sect that believed in angels
and the resurrection, Acts 22:6-10), Paul wrote and preached that Jesus is the
resurrected cosmic savior who will resurrect and judge all men (1 Thessalonians 4:15-17; 2 Thessalonians 1:7-10; 1 Corinthians 15:51-52; 2 Timothy 4:1). He claims that
Satan (Paul called him “the ruler of the power of the air” in Ephesians 2:2) will rise up
against God and lead one last great apostasy, but Satan and his followers will be
destroyed in the second coming of Jesus (2 Thessalonians 2:1-10). Paul, while in
captivity, stressed in Philippians 1:23 that he desired to die and go be with Christ, thus
death is not the end. In all of this, Paul builds on a long Jewish tradition that reaches all
the way back to the teachings of Zoroaster.
Finally, we must take a brief look at the book of Revelation (Greek,
“apocalypse”). Scholars dispute over the time this book was written, some favoring an
earlier period near the time of Nero, while other favor a late date, close to the end of the
first century C.E. Either way, both are in agreement concerning the nature of the book.
Revelation is much like Daniel, an apocalyptic book, it looks to the culmination of God’s
plans, the end of time as we know it, the end of a sin stained universe. The writer John
sees a vision of God in chapter 4. God is covered in effulgent glory and surrounded by
a host of angelic beings who continually praise him and do his bidding. The Lamb (the
glorified Jesus) unleashes his wrath on the sinful world, all the while calling for people
to repent and turn to him and righteousness (chapter 6). The following chapters contain
a litany of miraculous signs, the rise of the anti-Christ (the son of Satan), and righteous
suffering. By the end of the book (chapters 19 and 20), Jesus commences the final
battle between he and his followers and Satan and his minions. The heavenly host
defeats Satan, and God casts Satan and his hordes into an eternal, fiery pit. In
chapters 21 and 22, God restores the universe and rejoices with his people, who in turn
bask in his glory. In 21:3b-4, the poignant words are uttered, “and God himself will be
with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and
crying will be no more, for the first things have passed away. And the one who was
seated on the throne said, ‘See, I am making all things new.’” The promise given to
these suffering Christians in the first century C.E. owes much of its impetus to a
suffering priest who lived in Iran a millennium before.
Is this all just a historical exercise, or are there some conclusions that can be
drawn from this study of Zoroastrianism? The evidence makes it abundantly clear that
the three major monotheistic religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam 38 owe much of its
existence to a common source. Thus, should not unity (where it can be found) be
stressed more than division. Is it not senseless to shun or persecute others whose
traditions may be different in the face of the reality that all of these traditions have
evolved and adapted over time from common backgrounds? This study has made it
obvious that while doctrinal difficulties may never be resolved among these three faiths,
respect and tolerance needs to be practiced. Like Cain and Abel, all three are sons of
the same father. While the world now views Zoroastrianism as a small minor religion,
existing in isolated pockets in Iran and India, its flame ignited the spark of the Judeo-Christian faith and ethic that shaped western civilization.
1 Matthew 2:1-2, 11, The Holy Bible. New International
Version. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1984.
2 Mary Boyce, Zoroastrianism: Their Religious Beliefs
and Practices (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1979, 1987), 1; John R.
Hinnells, Persian Mythology (New York: Peter Bedrick Books, 1973, 1985),
64; Anchor Bible Dictionary, Vol. 6, s.v. “Zoroastrianism.” Many
other sources consulted proposed the same conclusion.
3 Bruce Feiler, Where God Was Born: A Journey By Land
to the Roots of Religion (New York: William Morrow, 2005), 293.
4 There is a competing view about the chronology of
Zoroaster. This view states that Zoroaster did not appear in Iran until the
seventh century B.C.E. Mary Boice and the writer in the Anchor Bible
Dictionary takes the earlier view.
5 Ibid, 293; Mary Boyce, Zoroastrianism, 2; Anchor
Bible Commentary, “Zoroastrianism.”
6 Mary Boyce, Zoroastrianism, 17, 20.
7 S. A. Nigosian, The Zoroastrian Faith: Tradition
and Modern Research (Montreal, Canada.:McGill's-Queen's University Press,
1993), 91; Anchor Bible Dictionary, “Zoroastrianism,” 1170; Mary
Boyce, Textual Sources for the Study of Zoroastrianism (Chicago: Univ. Of
Chicago Press, 1984), 1-2.
8 In the later Iranian language of Pahlavi, Angra Mainyu
is called Ahriman. This is the name that will be used for this paper.
9 2.2.2 Verses from Yasna 30 and 2.2.3 Verses from Yasna
45, in Mary Boyce, Textual Sources for the Study of Zoroastrianism, 35-36.
10 Bruce Feiler, Where God Was Born, 286; Joseph
Campbell, The Hero with a Thousand Faces (New York: Pantheon, 1949),
Footnote 29, 348; Joseph Campbell, The Masks of God: Occidental Mythology
(New York: Penguin, 1964), 190.
11 Mary Boyce, Zoroastrianism, 25-27.
12 Ibid, 42; Anchor Bible Dictionary,
“Zoroastrianism,” 1171; S. A. Nigosian, The Zoroastrian Faith, 93.
13 John Hinnells, Persian Mythology, 65, 70;
Mary Boyce, Zoroastrianism, 28; “Zoroastrianism: A Short Overview.”
Online Site. Found at http://www.duke.edu/~jds17/zoroast.html.
14 S. A. Nigosian, The Zoroastrian Faith, 97.
15 Anchor Bible Dictionary,
16 J. N. Fradenburgh, Living Religions: Or Great
Religions of the Orient (New York: Phillips and Hunt, 1888), 374.
Fradenburgh held a PhD and was a member of the American Oriental Society.
17 John Bright, A History of Israel, 4th
Ed. (Louisville, Ky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2000), 355.
18 James Tabor, “Ancient Judaism: What the
Bible Says about Death, Afterlife, and the Future,” in The Jewish Roman
World of Jesus. Online: http://www.religiousstudies.uncc.edu/jdtabor/future.html.
20 Genesis 25:8, The Holy Bible containing the Old
and New Testaments with the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical Books, New Revised
Standard Version (New York: Oxford University Press).
21 Psalm 146:4-5, Job 14:10-13, The Holy Bible, New
Revised Standard Version.
22 George William Carter, Zoroastrianism and Judaism,
23 James Henry Breasted, The Dawn of Conscience
(New York: Scribner's, 1939), 346.
24 S. A. Nigosian, The Zoroastrian Faith, 97.
Other sources that make this point: Rustom Masani, Zoroastrianism: The
Religion of the Good Life (New York: MacMillan Co., 1968), 18-19; John
Bowker, God: A Brief History (New York: DK Publishing, 2002), 196; A.V.
Williams Jackson, Zoroaster: The Prophet of Ancient Iran (London:
MacMillan Co., 1888), 142, and Zoroastrian Studies: The Iranian Religion and
Various Monographs (New York: Columbia Univ. Press, 1928), 3-4, 206; John
Bright, A History of Israel, 448, 450; Michael Grant. The History of
Ancient Israel (New York: Scribner's, 1984), 214, 219; Frederick J. Murphy, The
Religious World of Jesus: An Introduction to Second Temple Judaism
(Nashville; Abingdon Press, 1991), 166;
25 Morton Smith, “II Isaiah and the Persians” Journal
of the American Oriental Society, 83, No. 4 (September-December, 1963),
26 Mary Boyce, Zoroastrianism, 52.
27 All references from the Apocrypha come from The
Holy Bible, New Revised Version.
28 Anchor Bible Dictionary, Vol 1, s.v.
29 Most scholars are convinced that this book was
written in the third century B.C.E. See Anchor Bible Dictionary, Vol. 2,
s.v. “Ecclesiastes.” The author's outlook came in line with much of the
pre-exilic view of life.
30 G. Vermes, Dead Sea Scrolls in English, 3rd
Ed. (New York, Penguin, 1987), xvi.
31 Ibid, 3.
32 Ibid, a sample of these can found on pages 52-54,
64-66, 86, 105, 118-119, 122, 161, 300-301.
33 See the Wisdom of Jesus, Son of Sirach 10:11,
34 Richard Foltz, “Judaism and the Silk Route,” The
History Teacher, 32, no. 1 (November, 1998), 10-12; “The Role of Central
Asian Peoples in the Spread of World Religions,” Paper presented at Interactions:
Regional Studies, Global Processes, and Historical Analysis” Library of
Congress, Washington D.C., February 28-March 3, 2001, Online document, http://www.historycooperative.org/proceedings,interactions/foltz.html.
Richard Foltz works at the University of Florida.
35 All New Testament references are from The Holy
Bible, New Revised Standard Version.
36 We could also refer to Matthew 25:31-46 where Jesus
talks of the final judgment where he will separate the sheep (those that follow
him) and the goats (those that do not). He will reward the righteous with
everlasting life and the unrighteous with everlasting punishment.
37 Richard Hooker, “Early Christian Backgrounds,” World
Civilizations, Online Site, http://www.wsu.edu:8080/~dee/CHRIST/BACK.HTM.
Richard Hooker is in the History Department at Washington State University.
38 Brevity prevented a detailed analysis of the
connection between Islam and Zoroastrianism. Yet, the parallels are clear. Islam
ties itself to the earlier monotheistic faiths of Judaism and Christianity. The
Qu'ran places Islam as the pinnacle of God's revelation (revealed to Muhammad)
that started through prophets like Adam, Abraham, and Jesus. Islam borrows many
of its doctrines (choosing good or evil as a path, good and evil angels, final
judgment, heaven and hell, etc.) from these two faiths who in turn borrowed them
Anchor Bible Dictionary, 6 Vol. New York: Doubleday, 1996.
Bowker, John. God: A Brief History. New York: DK Publishing, 2002.
Boyce, Mary. Textual Sources for the Study of Zoroastrianism. Chicago: University of
Chicago Press, 1984.
__________. Zoroastrians: Their Religious Beliefs and Practices. London: Routledge
and Kegan Paul, 1979, 1987.
Breasted, James Henry. The Dawn of Conscience. New York: Charles Scribner’s
Bright, John. A History of Israel, 4th Edition. Louisville,
Ky: Westminster John Knox
Campbell, Joseph. The Hero with a Thousand Faces. New York: Pantheon, 1949.
__________. The Masks of God: Occidental Mythology. New York: Penguin, 1964.
Carter, George William. Zoroastrianism and Judaism. Boston: Richard
Badger/Gorham Press, 1918. Reprint (Kessinger Publishing).
Dhalla, M. N. History of Zoroastrianism. New York: Oxford, 1938. Joseph Peterson,
Online edition, http://www.avesta.org/dhalla/dhalla1.htm#contents
__________. Zoroastrian Theology: From the Earliest Times to the Present Day. New
York: AMS Press, 1972 (reprint of 1914 book).
Duchesne-Guillemin, Jacque, translator. The Hymns of Zarathustra. London: John
Feiler, Bruce. Where God Was Born: A Journey By Land to the Roots of Religion. New
York: William Morrow, 2005.
Fradenburgh, J. N. Living Religions: Or The Great Religions of the Orient. New York:
Phillips and Hunt, 1888.
Foltz, Richard. “Judaism and the Silk Route,” The History Teacher, 32, No. 1
(November, 1998), 9-16.
__________. “The Role of Central Asian Peoples in the Spread of World Religions.” Paper presented at Interactions: Regional Global Processes, and History
Analysis, Library of Congress, Washington D. C., February 28-March 23, 2001.
Online Site. Found at
Grant, Michael. This History of Ancient Israel. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons,
Hinnells, John R. Persian Mythology. New York: Peter Bedrick Books, 1973, 1985.
The Holy Bible. New International Version. Grand Rapids, Michigan:
The Holy Bible: Containing the Old and New Testaments with the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical Books. New Revised Standard Version. New
York: Oxford University Press, 1989.
Hooker, Richard. “Early Christianity Backgrounds,” in World Civilizations. Online Site.
Found at http://www.wsu.edu:8080/~dee/CHRIST/BACK.HTM.
Jackson, A.V. Williams. “The Moral and Ethical Teachings of the Ancient Zoroastrian
Religion,” International Journal of Ethics, 7, No. 1 (October, 1896), 55-62.
__________. Zoroastrian Studies: The Iranian Religion and Various Monographs. New
York: Columbia University Press, 1928.
__________. Zoroaster: The Prophet of Ancient Iran. London: MacMillian and Co.,
Masani, Rustom. Zoroastrianism: The Religion of the Good Life. New York: MacMillian
Murphy, Frederick J. The Religious World of Jesus: An Introduction to Second Temple
Palestinian Judaism. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1991.
Nigosian, S. A. The Zoroastrian Faith: Tradition and Modern Research. Montreal,
Canada: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1993.
Smart, Ninian. The World’s Religions: Old Traditions and Modern Transformations.
London: Cambridge University Press, 1989.
Smith, Morton. “II Isaiah and the Persians,” Journal of the American Oriental Society,
83, no. 4 (September-December, 1963), 415-421.
Tabor, James. “Ancient Judaism: What the Bible Says about Death, Afterlife, and the
Future,” in The Jewish Roman World of Jesus. Online site. Found at
Vermes, G. Dead Sea Scrolls in English, 3rd Ed. New York: Penguin, 1987
Zaehner, Robert Charles. Concordant Discord: The Interdependence of Faiths Being
Gifford Lectures on Natural Religion Delivered at St. Andrews in 1967-1979.
Clarendon Press, 1970
“Zoroastrianism: A Short Overview.” Online Site. Found at http://www.duke.edu/~jds17/zoroast.html.