Zarathushtra - (Zoroaster)

 

 

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Influence of Zoroastrianism on other religions

 

Although the teachings of prophet Zarathushtra were primarily spiritual, and substantially devoid of mythological and ritualistic beliefs, Zoroastrianism, the religion that was based on his teachings incorporated many aspects of pre-Zarathushtra traditions as well as novel and creative approaches to ritualism.

When Zoroastrian conquerors and kings, primarily Cyrus the Great and his descendants expanded the Persian Empire to include much of the known world at that time, inevitably Zoroastrians encountered people of other faiths. While Cyrus true to Zarathushtra's teachings, was very respectful of other beliefs and allowed them to flourish of their own accord, and even supported them; it was inevitable that Zoroastrianism as the dominant faith would influence the conquered peoples, perhaps more so than be influenced by them.

The priestly cast, namely the Magi, also did their utmost to influence other people and guide them to the path of righteousness and Asha. After all, this was a moral duty, (see Ahuna Vairya prayer), to teach others about the path of Asha, and to show them the light of Ahura Mazda, the Universal Divine.

In this exchange of thought and belief, what has obviously been transferred has been some of the visibly manifest aspects of the religion, namely rituals and myths. This is why when the influence of Zoroastrianism on Judaism and Christianity is studied, time and again we return to:

"First, the figure of Satan, originally a servant of God, appointed by Him as His prosecutor, came more and more to resemble Ahriman, the enemy of God. Secondly, the figure of the Messiah, originally a future King of Israel who would save his people from oppression, evolved, in Deutero-Isaiah for instance, into a universal Savior very similar to the Iranian Saoshyant. Other points of comparison between Iran and Israel include the doctrine of the millennia; the Last Judgment; the heavenly book in which human actions are inscribed; the Resurrection; the final transformation of the earth; paradise on earth or in heaven; and hell." by J. Duchesne-Guillemin

 

The following extensively lists quotations from other scholars to emphasis the same point, as well as to elaborate on many of these similarities. However, what is often missed in these comparisons is the effect that such overwhelming influence would have on shaping the faith, psyche and spiritual chemistry of the affected people. Namely, such infiltration of mythology and ritualism will inevitably define a framework of what is conceivable and possible vs. what was once inconceivable and consequently not part of the world conception of that people. Let us first study some of these quotations::

 

Frances Power Cobbe, Studies, new and old, of ethical and social subjects:

"Should we in a future world be permitted to hold high converse with the great departed, it may chance that in the Bactrian sage, who lived and taught almost before the dawn of history, we may find the spiritual patriarch, to whose lessons we have owed such a portion of our intellectual inheritance that we might hardly conceive what human belief would be now had Zarathushtra never existed."

 

A.V. Williams Jackson, Zoroastrian Studies:

"The typical passage is found in the Hūtokht Nask (Yt. 22. 1-36; and compares Vistūsp Yasht, Yt. 24. 53-64). For the first three nights after the breath has left the body the soul hovers about the lifeless frame and experiences joy or sorrow according to the deeds done in this life. On the dawn of the fourth day the soul takes fight from earth..."

Note: compare this to the crucifixion of Jesus on Good Friday, and his resurrection on Monday (the dawn of the fourth day).

"The author has attempted in his article in the Biblical World to show how much the Messiah-idea in Judaism and the Saoshyant-idea in Mazdaism, probably taught by Zarathushtra himself, resemble each other."

"The similarity between it (the Zoroastrian doctrine of the future life and the end of the world) and the Christian doctrine is striking and deserve more attention on the side of Christian theology, even though much has been written on this subject."

 

Rustom Masani, Zoroastrianism: The Religion of the Good Life:

" `To all good thoughts, words, and deeds (belongs) Paradise, so is it manifest to the pure.' This is the simple admonition given in the prayer Vispa Humata."

 

Joseph Campbell, The Hero with a thousand faces:

"Persian belief was reorganized by the prophet Zarathushtra according to a strict dualism of good and evil principles, light and dark, angels and devils. This crisis profoundly affected not only the Persians, but also the subject Hebrew beliefs, and thereby (centuries later) Christianity."

 

James Henry Breasted, The Dawn of Consciousness:

P. 345
"There is plenty of evidence that the post-exilic religious development of the Hebrews was affected by the teachings of Zarathushtra, and that among the international influences to which the development of Hebrew morals was exposed, we must include also the teachings of the great Medo-Persian Prophet."

P. 337
"It was not until the rise of the Chaldean power (Neo-Babylonian) in the 6th century B.C. and the subsequent supremacy of the Persians after Cyrus, that the Babylonians disclosed outstanding intellectual interests and their noble astronomers laid the foundations upon which the astronomical sciences of the Greeks was later built up.

 

John Gray, Near Eastern Mythology:

p. 16
"The Persians had their own mythology, or rather their own conception of the natural and supernatural order, formulated by the religion of Zarathushtra. this cosmic philosophy, influenced by Babylonian astronomy, had an effect on late Jewish thought and Messianic expectations."

P. 127
"The development of the concept of Satan as the personal power of evil, who had his counterpart in the archangel Michael, the champion of cause of man in God's purpose of creation, was probably developed under the influence of Persian Zoroastrian belief in the two conflicting spirits of good and evil...."

 

Ninian Smart & Richard D. Hecht, Sacred texts of the world - A universal anthology:

"The (Zoroastrian) dualism between good and evil was to have an impact upon ancient Israel, Judaism, Christianity and Islam."

 

R.C. Zaehner, The Dawn & Twilight of Zoroastrianism:

P. 20
"Meanwhile in her encounters with the Medes and Persians, Israel had found a kindred monotheistic creed in the religion of Prophet Zarathushtra, and one of her own Prophets, Isaiah, did not hesitate to salute Cyrus, her liberator, as the Lord's anointed. From this religion too she learnt teachings concerning the afterlife altogether more congenial to her soul than had been the gloomy prospect offered her by her own tradition, teachings to which she had been a stranger before."

P. 51-52
"An almost exact parallel to this solution of evil is to be found in the Manual of Discipline, perhaps the most interesting document of the Dead Sea sect of Qumran. That Judaism was deeply influenced by Zoroastrianism during and after the Babylonian captivity can scarcely be questioned, and the extraordinary likeness between the Dead Sea text and the Gathic conception of the nature and origin of evil, as we understand it, would seem to point to direct borrowing on the Jewish side."

P. 57
"Zarathushtra's doctrine of rewards and punishment, of an eternity of bliss and an eternity of woe allotted to good and evil men in another life beyond the grave is so strikingly similar to Christian teaching that we cannot fail to ask whether here at least there is not a direct influence at work. The answer is surely `Yes', for the similarities are so great and the historical context is so neatly apposite that it would be carrying skepticism altogether too far to refuse to draw the obvious conclusion."

P. 58
"Thus from the moment the Jews first made contact with the Iranians they took over the typical Zoroastrian doctrine of an individual afterlife in which rewards are to be enjoyed and punishments endured. This Zoroastrian hope gained ever surer ground during the inter-testamentary period, and by the time of Christ it was upheld by the Pharisees, whose very name some scholars have interpreted as meaning `Persian', that is, the sect most open to Persian influence."

P. 171
"One is tempted to say that all that was vital in Zarathushtra's message passed into Christianity through the Jewish exiles."

P. 172
"It is impossible to revive a religion once the well-springs of the original revelation have been allowed to dry up, and once the sacred language itself has become so sacred that it is no longer understood even by those who set themselves up as its official interpreters."

 

Paul William Roberts, In Search of the birth of Jesus - The Real Journey of the Magi:

"Without Zarathushtra there would be no Christ. He was the bridge, and the Romans burnt it...."

 

Leo Trepp, A History of the Jewish Experience

P. 54
"How did the idea of two opposing forces (Satan & God) originate? It too is the result of conditions during the Hellenistic age, a period when ideas were exchanged widely among various religions and nations. The principle of dualism came from Zoroastrianism, .... This idea spread through the wide open Hellenistic world; the controversy between God and Satan is its reflection in Judaism."

P. 55
"....The people have a heavenly representative, a guardian angel. This is a new concept of Zoroastrian origin. Previously the term `Malakh', angel, simply meant messenger of God."

 

John R. Hinnells, Persian Mythology

"It is thought by many that this doctrine `Zoroastrianism' was a source of influence for both Eastern and Western beliefs - Hinduism and Buddhism in the East, and Judaism and Christianity in the West."

 

As mentioned earlier, while it is obvious that such influence had considerably affected the recipients culturally, the more overwhelming and significant influence is often overlooked.

Zoroastrianism, through its cultural and socio-political influence carried the seed of a world conception that was previously non-existent and even inconceivable to the affected people, namely the existence of a monotheistic divinity, which is all good, and all light. A divinity who created a dualistic physicality which for its very existence required dual aspects, for each aspect is only definable and may be experienced in the full context of itself vs. its opposite. And finally a conception that gives our lives purpose and meaning, namely being progressive and working for the Good.

Effectively, this Zoroastrian influence generated a major paradigm shift in the people's thoughts at that time and for generations since. It is therefore quite justifiable to claim that Zarathushtra's world conception and teachings have affected the Western thought and civilization both directly and indirectly.

 

Š Shahriar Shahriari
July 1997,
Vancouver, Canada.


Please also see:

The following is a list of some articles on the Internet on this subject.

If there are any articles that are worthy of being included here, please forward their address.

 


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