Did Zoroastrianism Influence Judaism and Christianity?

I’ve seen some argue that Judaism borrowed the idea of a monotheistic God from Zoroastrianism, leaving behind their polytheistic roots, as well as some arguments that Zoroastrianism has their own form of the Eucharist, and foretold of a second coming; which the early Church seemingly borrowed. I was curious if anyone was knowledgeable on this and could share their wisdom. Cheers, and God bless. :slight_smile:

I believe both angels and cherubs originally came from the Zoroastrian religion. As I understand it, but I’m no specialist and I’m open to correction, a cherub was originally what would now be called a chimera, a being that was part human and part animal, like the centaurs of Greece (a human head and torso on a horse’s body) or like the gods of Egypt (animals’ heads on human bodies). The monuments that the Islamic State destroyed a week or two ago, depicting winged, human-headed lions, were an early prototype of the cherub.

I didn’t know about monotheism, though. On the contrary, it was my understanding that Zoroastrianism was a dualistic religion, with a god of good opposed to a god of evil, Mazda and Ormuzd.

A claim that has been brought up recently on another thread.

Is Catholicism Pagan?




In any case, it can be reasonably confirmed that Judaism was definitely monotheistic (i.e believed that there was only one God) by the time the Jews returned and established the Second Temple, an evolution from the henotheistic Israelite Yahwism of the pre-exilic era.

And even if we grant that the Jews were influenced into monotheism by the Zoroastrians, I see no issue with that, because if the Zoroastrians believe that there was only one God, well then, they were right and the exiles would have done well to learn from that.

Well, it does seem that the Jews were influenced in a number of ways by Zoroastrianism. (At the same time, there’s also the possibility - though this is a much-less studied area - that the Zoroastrians were influenced by the Jews as well.)

There is a Jewish tradition/legend which states that the Jews learned the names of the angels when they were in Babylon. Many scholars think that this legend has some truth in it: the developed angelology that appeared in post-exilic Judaism and Jewish apocalypticism and its rather dualistic worldview of good/light/truth vs. evil/darkness/lie were the Persian influences to Jewish thinking.

That being said, the Jews were not simple copycats. For example, Zoroastrianism teaches the existence of a god whom they call Ahura Mazda (aka Ohrmazd), who created the universe by means of six spirits, the Amesha Spentas (‘holy immortals’), who are themselves emanations or attributes of Ahura Mazda and/or who each represent one facet of creation. The Jews were apparently influenced by the concept of the Amesha Spentas: the elusive ‘angel/messenger of Yhwh’ and the ‘sons of God’ that show up from time to time in the earlier parts of the Bible became interpreted along the same lines as the Zoroastrian spirits. Where the development lies is that the Jews eventually went a step further than the Zoroastrians and ascribed to their angels distinct personalities: they were not simply personified abstract attributes of God (as the Amesha Spentas were), but beings in their own right.

Also, according to Zoroastrianism, the order of creation is continually threatened by a hostile entity named ‘The Lie’ or Angra Mainyu (aka Ahriman), who also has six evil spirits of his own - matching the six Immortals under Ahura Mazda. Since the beginning, Ahriman and Ahura Mazda continually fought each other for supremacy over creation: the good spirits under Ahura Mazda (ahura) and evil spirits under ‘The Lie’ (daeva) are continually fighting with each other, with the earth as their battleground. Humans who are caught in this struggle may choose who they would align themselves with.

Zoroastrians believe that Ahura Mazda will eventually win against ‘The Lie’ and its minions in the end of days, but it is also the responsibility of humans - who even then have the free will to choose whether they would ally themselves with Ahura Mazda or ‘The Lie’ - to support the good spirits in order to speed up this inevitable victory; humans can contribute to Ahura Mazda’s cause by avoiding evil and living good lives and performing religious observances.

You can notice the similarities here with Jewish apocalypticism (God vs. Satan/Belial locked in a protracted conflict in which God will eventually win) and the idea of free will. The difference however is that original Zoroastrianism was not strictly monotheist: it was more dualistic. Ahura Mazda and Ahriman are seen as coeval, equal entities (although in terms of power, Ahura Mazda was seen as the more powerful). The question of their origin is not raised at all in the texts; it is inferred is that the divide between good and evil had existed since the beginning. The text themselves are unclear: in some verses, both principles are said to have created the world, but in others, Ahura Mazda is the sole creator while Ahriman is responsible for marring said world.

This dualistic idea - as well as their perceived ‘polytheism’ due to their veneration of the yazatas, all the good spirits under Ahura Mazda - made Parsis, Zoroastrians who migrated to India, the target of condemnation by Christian missionaries. Then in 1862, a German scholar named Martin Haug proposed that Zoroastrians had actually corrupted Zoroaster’s original teachings; in his idea, Zoroaster originally preached a form of monotheism. Haug argued that Ahriman was but a mere product of Ahura Mazda, who alone is the supreme god. The ‘good’ twin of Ahriman spoken of in the scriptures is not Ahura Mazda himself according to Haug, but another spirit of his, Spenta Mainyu - who represents Ahura Mazda’s ‘creative’ aspect just as Ahriman represents the ‘destructive’ aspect. The Parsis liked Haug’s interpretation and took it up, and interestingly enough, it became the standard belief among modern-day Zoroastrians.

This wasn’t the first time the Zoroastrians tackled the whole issue of the dualism in their religion and the difficulties it brought (for example: where did Ahura Mazda and Ahriman come from? Did somebody create them, or did they exist since ‘the beginning’?) During the early centuries AD, there was a branch of Zoroastrianism which believed in a single creator god called Zurvan (identified with Time/Fate) who prayed for offspring and was rewarded with twins, who became Ahura Mazda and Ahriman. This branch was called Zurvanism.

It is the concept of Ahriman, and the clear distinction between ‘good’ and ‘evil’ that probably influenced the idea of an evil entity who is opposed to God. Obviously the Jews could not accept any idea of this evil power being coeval with the one God, so the logical inference is that it was subordinate and inferior to God while still being a powerful entity - hence, a sort of angel. This is where the concept of the Chaoskampf - German for “struggle against chaos,” a common motif in myth where a god or hero slays a symbol of primeval Chaos, usually a sort of sea monster - already known to the Jews (in the form of stories of Yhwh slaying primeval monsters), came into play. What if this evil entity was one that God struck down when He subdued chaos long ago, in the beginning of time?

That wasn’t a Zoroastrian (Persian)-only thing. The human-animal (bulls with human heads, lions with human heads, lions with bull heads, etc.) guardian spirit was a common artistic/religious template in the Ancient Near East as a whole: the Egyptian sphinx is another famous example of that.

I didn’t know about monotheism, though. On the contrary, it was my understanding that Zoroastrianism was a dualistic religion, with a god of good opposed to a god of evil, Mazda and Ormuzd.

You’re right. As I mentioned in the last post, Zoroastrian monotheism is a relatively recent thing, engendered as a sort of reaction against Christian (usually Protestant) missionaries condemning them for the dualistic ideas in their scriptures and their veneration of the Amesha Spentas and other good spirits, which was construed as ‘polytheism’. That’s why some scholars even apply the term ‘Mazdaism’ for the ancient form of Zoroastrianism to distinguish it with the modern one. And there was also Zurvanism - which had actually disappeared by the 10th century.

Ahriman is not a separate god rivalling Mazda. He is a personification (a means of depicting) of the tendency that works against Ahura Mazda’s plan of creation.

Where a plan of creation exists, there also exists in theory the possibility of that plan failing to actualize, or to not actualize perfectly. How failure occurs is the difficult question, but it is usually put down to free will.

The point the theology is trying to make is that Mazda is not responsible for evil in the world. All evil is existence falling short of its intended perfection. In fact, Zoroastrianism denies that evil exits at all - it is anti-existence, or the failure of something to become fully what it should be.

This video is by a modern Zoroastrian who was a professor at the City College of New York. He was a student of Einstein. The first eight minutes explain Zoroastrian theory of evil youtube.com/watch?v=3S6y8AkFouc

The only dualist “Zoroastrianism” is Zurvanism.

Ahriman is the middle Persian name of the Avestan Angra mainyu (evil spirit). His opposite is Spenta Mainyu (good spirit), and not Ahura Mazda.
Ahura Mazda has no peer and generated Spenta Mainyu. He is the only thing which existed before generating other spirits.

Note that it is only creation which is threatened by Angra Mainyu. It only exists as a reactive power confined to the realm of creation, trying to corrupt it from the inside.

To hear better explanation from an actual Zoroastrian watch the video I linked earlier from 20:12.

Zurvanism isn’t even truly dualistic, because the single deity Zurvan engendered both Ahura Mazda and Ahriman. You might say it’s monistic.

Ahriman is the middle Persian name of the Avestan Angra mainyu (evil spirit). His opposite is Spenta Mainyu (good spirit), and not Ahura Mazda.
Ahura Mazda has no peer and generated Spenta Mainyu. He is the only thing which existed before generating other spirits.

Note that it is only creation which is threatened by Angra Mainyu. It only exists as a reactive power confined to the realm of creation, trying to corrupt it from the inside.

That’s the modern Zoroastrian explanation I was talking about.

The thing about the Spenta Mainyu is that while you do have a few references in the Gathas which seem to speak of it as being independent of Ahura Mazda (Yasht 13.12-13, 15.2-3), very often it’s more ambiguous: you could read the Spenta Mainyu as being simply an attribute of Ahura Mazda or an epithet of his / stand-in for him. (To Spenta Mainyu belongs the “good creation” (Yasna 57.17; Yasht 11.12; 13.76; 15.3, 43-44; Vendidad 3.20; 13.1-2, 5-6, 16); the stars are creatures of his (Yasna 1.11; 12.32).) It is only in the later texts like the Denkard (8th-10th century AD) that the Spenta Mainyu is explicitly distinguished from Ahura Mazda and presented as a creature of his.

You might say that the ambiguity about whether Zoroaster or the early ‘Zoroastrians’/Mazdaists believed in a form of monotheism or a sort of dualism might have already existed earlier (some scholars even say that both ideas are paradoxically found - yet not fully-developed - in the earlier texts like the Gathas), which is why Zurvanism came to exist in the first place.

  1. Yes, there are two fundamental spirits, twins yə̄mā] which are renowned to be in conflict. In thought and in word, in action, they are two: the good and the bad. And between these, the beneficent have correctly chosen, and not the maleficent.
  2. Furthermore, when these two spirits first came together, they created life and death, and how, at the end, the worst existence shall be for the deceitful but the best thinking for the truthful person.
  3. Of these two Spirits, the deceitful chose to bring in realization of the worst things. (But) the very virtuous spirit mainyuš spə̄ništō = Spenta Mainyu], who is clothed in the hardest stones, chose the truth, and (so shall those) who shall satisfy the Wise Lord Ahura Mazda] continuously by truthful actions.
  4. The gods daēvā] did not at all choose correctly between these two, since the deceptive one approached them as they were deliberating. Since they chose the worst thought, they then rushed into fury, with which they have afflicted the world and mankind.

(Yasna 30.3-6)

So you are saying that Spenta Mainyu is implicitly described as separate from Ahura Mazda in the early texts (quite strongly implied), and then explicity made made separate in latter texts; but because of some ambiguities you decide to support the least probable, and least textually justifiable, option that Zoroastrianism was dualist at the start?

Besides, we are going about this whole thing wrongly. Zoroastrianism doesn’t have a concept of God in the same way as Abrahamic faiths, because it isn’t one. It is more similar to Indian religion, where one God has sub-gods as manifestations of if attributes. Ahura Mazda is perhaps more similar to Brahma. Hence Spenta Mainyu can appear as an attribute of the God-principle - specifically, the principle of good thought.

As for why Zurvanism appeared, it was likely due to a wide array of factors. Surely the purging of the Zoroastrian clergy and libraries by Alexander the Great had a lot to do with the religion finding itself in a temporary state of confusion. Not to speak of the Islamic period and the migrations to India.

Anyway, heresies appear. Lutheranism didn’t appear because there were inherent ambiguities in Catholicism.

Ahura Mazda means wise lord.

Angra Mainyu means bad, or worst, thought.

Spenta Mainyu means good, or best, thought.

Clearly the latter two have an opposite relation, and are of a similar kind. This has nothing to do with modern theories invented by 19th century missionaries. It is a matter of linguistics.

It is also a matter of linguistics that ahriman is the middle Persian rendering of the avestan term angra mainyu, while spenta mainyu is rendered as Ameshaspand. None of this was invented by missionaries, it has nothing to do with modern theories.

The distinction is clear already in the avestan period that good mentality opposes bad mentality, and that good mentality is some sort of subordinate to God. Thus, God is logically prior to the mentalities. There is never any mention of god to which bad mentality is subordinate to, and we have no grounds for elevating angra mainyu/ahriman to a god on a level with Ahura Mazda.

Actually, mainyu has a broader meaning than just ‘thought’: it is ‘spirit’, ‘mentality’, ‘thinking’, ‘inspiration’. Ahuramazda is also a mainyu: in the Vendidad and the Yashts for example, Zoroaster calls Ahuramazda mainyô spênishta dâtare gaêthanãm astvaitinãm ashâum “most beneficent/bountiful/holy spirit, truthful creator of the material world” and spênishtâ mainyû mazdâ “most beneficent/bountiful/holy spirit, Mazda (the Wise/Wisdom)” (Yasna 33.12; 43.2; 51.7).

Yes, you are right. Mainyu has a much more complex meaning than simply mind. Mainyo Spenishta is just another variant rendering of Spenta Mainyu. It is identified with Ahura Mazda because it is a property of Him, and an aspect which can be understood in separate due to its soecific role and character. It is “cosubstantial” with Mazda, so to speak.

Taken from zoroastrian.org.uk/vohuman/Article/Spenta%20Mainyu.htm

“Should one take all these instances one by one and at the same time, take into consideration the adjoining stanzas as well as the relative song, one would realize that the Gathas depict spenta mainyu as the subtle divine faculty of the continuous creation and expansion plan of Ahura Mazda. Zarathushtra, in his quest for truth, discovers that it is the “spenta mainyu” aspect of the Supreme Being that fashioned the joy-bringing world (S 12:7=Y 47:3). Above all, it was through spenishta mainyu that God “created the wondrous wisdom of good mind by means of righteousness.” (S 8:2=Y 43:2). In fact the entire quest enlightens Zarathushtra to realize that God is not simply spenta but spenishta, the most progressive (S 7:4,5,7,9,11,13,15=Y 43:4, 5, 7, 9, 11, 13, 15). It made him realize his own self (S 8:7=Y 43:7) and know that the purpose of his acquiring knowledge was in quest of righteousness. (S 7:9=Y 43:9).”

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