The exilic period begins at 597 B.C. when the first group of the Judeans were deported by the Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar to Babylonia and ends in the year 539-538 B.C. when Cyrus, the king of Persia conquered Babylonia, issued a rescript granting them the right to return to Jerusalem and rebuild their temple.1 Henceforth, the contact between the two nations and interaction between the two religions ensued. Many Jews were returned to Palestine and for two centuries remained under the Persian protection.
Darius (522-486 B.C.) divided his vast empire into twenty satrapies and Palestine remained part of the fifth satrapy, with the city of Damascus as its administrative center. For Palestine, Darius appointed one of the David's descendants, Zerubbabel (Sheshbazzar) as its governor, and ordered to comply fully with the Cyrus' decree to rebuild the Jerusalem's temple. Darius, whose era coincided with the Hebrew era of Prophets Ezra, Haggai and Zechariah, ordered all the treasures of Jerusalem that Nebuchadnezzar had taken to Babylonia, be retuned to Palestine (Ezra 6:1-11) for the reconstruction of the temple, that was finished in the sixth year of his reign (Ezra 6:15).
By the order of Artaxerxes I (Ardeshir I) (465-424 B.C.) the walls of Jerusalem were built, and two of the royal court officials, Nehemiah and Ezra were commissioned to compile the Judaic dispensation (445-393 B.C.). Finally reconstruction of the second temple was completed during the time of Artaxerxes II (400 B.C.).
Because of the Persian protection and favorable attitude of the Achaemenid Kings, the Jews entertained warm feelings thereafter for the Persians and this made them more receptive to their influence. 2 The vast difference between the preexilic and postexilic Judaic scriptures is so discernible that even Sigmund Freud contended that there could have been two Moses. But before addressing the influence of Zoroastrianism in the tenets of Judeans, it is imperative to have a better insight into the new Zoroastrianism as was perceived and practiced by the Persians at the time of the Babylonian Conquest. By reviewing the younger Avesta and Yashts, one realizes that at this era, the innovative teachings of Zarathushtra had been intermingled with the concepts of the earlier faith and some of his doctrinal views had been expanded and even altered beyond their originality.
The relevant issues are as follows:
The Israelites on the other hand, based on the preexilic writings had not developed eschatology. They rather believed in Sheol or an underground and desolate world where the good and bad after death will equally end up. Therefore the notions of judgement after death and reward of heaven and retribution of hell, were nonexistent in their tenets.
Yahweh was the covenant god of Israelites and did not have a universal status, the dualistic forces of good and evil, angelology and demonology were absent in their beliefs as reflected in the books of preexilic Judaism.
The Persian Influence
In regard to Persian influence, Frye unlike other authors does not accept that the notion of bridge of judgement in Talmudic 3 Judaism necessarily is a convincing evidence of the influence, as this has been more of a universal view. 4 But later he concludes that demon Asmdai in the Talmud and Asmodaios in the book of Tobit 5 is surely borrowed from the Iranians. 6 He explains that the name Asmodaios derives from the Avestan demon of wrath, Aesmo Daeva. Aesmo is Avestan for fury and Daeva "Demon". 7
Morton Smith of Columbia University finds similarities between the inscription of Cyrus in Babylon and IInd Isaiah 40-46 8 which he finds explained in Avestan texts. 9 Some of the parallels are noted by him are juxtaposed 10 and mentioned hereunder:
Considering the Mesopotamian roots of some of the Biblical events 11 12 those similarities certainly entertain the likelihood of the influence of the Cyrus' inscription in the relevant writings of IInd Isaiah.
Smith notes that before the time of Ilnd Isaiah, the notion "Yahweh created the world" plays little role in Hebrew literature. IInd Isaiah returns consistently to this doctrinal concept. He suggests the common source to be the Gathas of Zarathushtra Yasna 44, the chapter of creation. He finds that besides a peculiar style of IInd Isaiah, almost all the questions asked by Zarathushtra in Yasna 44:3-5 are asked or answered in IInd Isaiah with Yahweh replacing Ahura Mazda.13 Only some examples are mentioned below: 14
According to Ashtiyani, in the postexilic books, Yahweh despite remaining the covenant god of the Judeans, develops more or less a universal status. 15 Bagli notes that the term "righteousness" in all the first five books of the old Testament appears only once in Genesis and in the sixty books of holy scriptures it appears thirteen times. In contrast in IInd Isaiah alone, this term appears eight times. l6
Eschatology and Resurrection
Essentially immortality of the soul, judgement and rewards and punishments after death were not recognized by the preexilic Judeans. Zaehner notes that the preexilic view of Sheol, a shadowy and depersonalized existence that is the lot of men regardless of their actions during life, was suddenly abandoned and replaced by the notions of heaven and hell, rewards and punishments when the exiled Jews came in contact with the Persians 17 which later entered Christianity.
The Zoroastrians believed that the soul rises from the dead body and for three nights after death resides in the material world and then proceeds to the other world. This may be termed individual resurrection. Jesus Christ is also said to have risen from his sepulcher three days after crucifixion. 18 The later Zoroastrianism also predicates a collective resurrection (Rastakhiz) when all the dead will rise. 19
The concept of resurrection that was imbedded in parts of the early Hebrew scriptures as Exodus and Deuteronomy became vivid in writings of the postexilic prophets. 20 Daniel 12:2-13 refers to rising after death and receiving rewards. In Isaiah 26:19, the dead will rise again from the graves, the ground will give birth to the dead.
Messiah and Kingdom of God
In the preexilic period, Messiah was only a title of honor granted to important people, and generally the holder of the title was regarded as a person close to Yahweh. During the postexilic era however, it became an especial title for the Lord's Messiah.
Fohrer 21 after a careful analysis concludes that all the sections relevant to the advent of Messiah have entered the holy book during the postexilic era, and IInd Isaiah is the prophet who in particular refers to the end of the world and coming of the Messiah. 22 It is generally accepted that the prophets of Israel after liberation from the Babylonian captivity, in order to generate hope and confidence among the demoralized Jews, introduced the Persian concepts of future hopes such as victory of good over evil, resurgence of Israel, resurrection, future life, heaven and hell and the Kingdom of God. Particularly as the Israelites in this era longed for the reestablishment of Kingdom of David, they developed the notion of Messiah and in effect envisioned the Kingdom of Yahweh in the form of the promised Messiah that was different from the earthly Kingdoms. 23 In other words the political hope of restored Jewish Kingdom headed by a "Meshiach Yahweh" came to be associated with the prophetic and apocalyptic vision of a Kingdom of God in the End of Days. 24 The prophets Heggai and Zechariah saw in Zerubbabel the possible fulfillment of this hope. 25 Thus, the concept of Kingdom of God, originally professed by Zarathushtra as "the chosen government", was eventually transferred through Judaism to Christianity and transformed into the "Kingdom of God". In Isaiah 42: 1-4, "the savior has the spirit of God and will not rest until he has established justice all over the world". Isaiah 11:6 after discussing the above adds after the coming of the Savior "world will live in peace, wolves will live in peace with lambs, and leopards will lie down to rest with goats". This notion is also reflected in Isaiah 62:25. Zechariah 4:14 even speaks of two saviors who are standing before Yahweh. Von Gall suggests that the writers of the book should have had the knowledge of two Zoroastrian saviors, of the later Avesta. Hoshidar and Hoshidar-mah.26 Some Authors contend that the three Magi who visited Jesus Christ at birth, were following the call for the future Saoshyant.
Angelology and Demonology
Another new development in the postexilic Judaism is belief in angels. Mills mentions that "the angelology of the oldest scriptures which was nearly as dim as their Sheol, became occupied with such figures as Michael and Gabriel 27 while the number seven attached to them is as conspicuous as is significant". 28 The seven postexilic angels (Gabriel, Michael, Raphael, Israfil, Israel, Uhiel and Uriel) are vividly reminiscent of the seven Amesha Spenta of the later Avesta.
Another striking finding is "the person of devil as Satan ceased to remain a general term and became a proper names" 29 and demonology began to develop. The struggle between the forces of good and evil, or light and darkness as reflected in the scrolls of Dead Sea reflects the Persian influence.
The Scrolls of Khirbet Qumran
Until 1947 information about the three Jewish sects, Essenes, Pharisees, and Sadducees were sketchy. Jewish historians as Philo 30 and Josephus 31 had reported about their customs and traditions, but even those reports at times were contradictory. For example according to Josephus, Essenes performed sacrifices in their ceremonies, but Philo reported that they had no sacrifices at all and instead demonstrated their piety by sanctifying their minds. 32
Essenes lived from the third century B.C. to first century A.D. in Palestine. The relations of Essenes, and Pharisees from whom many rabbis and teachers of the religion arose, had been already accepted by many authors. It was known that unlike the Sadducees (who were the rabbis and teachers of religion), Pharisees believed in life after death and heaven and hell. 33 The influence of Zoroastrianism in Pharisees is so conspicuous that some authors as Zaehner have called them "Farsis" or "Persians". It was also reported that Essenes believed in resurrection of the dead into new bodies. In fact Josephus claimed that they considered that the body was the prison house where the soul was temporarily confined until death. 34
The discovery of Khirbet Qumran scrolls in the caves of Dead Sea in 1947, shed light on the Essenes' tenets and practices. A French author, named Dupont Sommer, after reviewing the text of the scrolls, found many evidences of Zoroastrian influence. The common beliefs of the Essenes and Zoroastrians have been analyzed by different authors and reported as: 35
During the five centuries contact, interaction between the two traditions took place. The Jews under the Persian influence developed eschatology, angelology and demonology, and renewed hope for future in terms of victory of good over evil, advent of Messiah and establishing the Kingdom of Yahweh. Many of these doctrinal concepts, later were transferred to Christianity and Islam and the latter actually expanded them. The details of the bridge of judgement (Sarat), punishments of hell, and rewards of heaven, resurrection and return of the souls to the Source in the Koran are the best witness to this fact. Other Islamic views that are derived from Zoroastrianism are the five times daily prayers, 38 emphasis on wisdom, rejection of images, God, being a kind and merciful entity who is "the light of the heavens and the earth", and conceivably emphasis on helping the poor. It is interesting that although the prophet of Islam in Koran, is titled "the last Prophet", the concept of future savior was not however, entirely forgotten among all the Islamic sects. The Iranian Shiites believe in the last Imam who will come when the world is in disarray, and who will establish justice, order and tranquility.
© Daryoush Jahanian, M.D.
The Zoroastrian Doctrine
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This page was last updated on Friday, September 05, 2003.