Answers to Questions by Yair Davidiy
What is Zoroastrianism? Did Zarathustra influence Judaism, or Judaism Zoroastrianism?
There is a danger in learning about pagan religions since we are usually influenced by what we learn. God commands us to be careful in this matter:
[Deuteronomy 12:30] TAKE HEED TO THYSELF THAT THOU BE NOT SNARED BY FOLLOWING THEM, AFTER THAT THEY BE DESTROYED FROM BEFORE THEE; AND THAT THOU ENQUIRE NOT AFTER THEIR GODS, SAYING, HOW DID THESE NATIONS SERVE THEIR GODS? EVEN SO WILL I DO LIKEWISE.
Below are extracts and minor adaptations from an article I wrote some time ago, see:
"What Spake Zarathustra?" by Yair Davidiy
This is not a field I am at present concerned with BUT it is based on reasonably well-established findings and may be of value.
The founder of Zoroastrianism was called Zoroaster in Greek and Zarathustra in Persian. We understand Zarathustra to have been a Hebrew from the Lost Ten Tribes whose original intention was to reform the pagan practices of his fellow Israelites.
Zarathustra (ZOROASTER) first appeared in the east from the region of Hara and Bactria. His original doctrine was monotheistic and even Biblical in character (1). After Zoroaster's death, his religion was paganized in Iran by the Magi. The Magi were the Priestly Tribe of the Medes who at first were co-rulers with the Persians. The original message however had been Hebraic. Zoroaster, according to Iranian tradition,was taught by the prophet Jeremiah or by one of Jeremiah's pupils (2). Zoroaster himself had Scythian familial connections (3) though some reports identify him as an Israelite (4). There were Israelites among the Scythians so both versions may be correct.
Historically, "Zoroastrianism" is the term given to the ancient religion of Persia. At present there is a sect of people named “Parsees” in Iran and in India. These people descend from Persian followers of the Zoroastrian religion as it was at a later date. The religion of these people may now be quite different from what it originally was.
Ninian Smart (5), mentions four major Stages of development in Zoroastrianism:
1. The Religion of Zarathustra himself.
2. The religion of the Persian Achaemenean monarchs, Cyrus and Darius, who introduced elements that compromised the original monotheistic character.
3. The Arsacid (Parthian) and Sassanian dynasties: The Parthians were indifferent religiously and often inclined towards Judaism and Christianity. The Parthians were followed by the Sassanians who ruled Iran from 211 C.E. to 641 C.E. The Sassanians were ardent Zoroastrians. Under the Sassanians Zoroastrianism was revived and regulated and received the form we now know it by.
4. Modern Period.
The Zoroastrian Scriptures are known as the Avesta. The earliest section of the Avesta is known as the GATHAS.... Parts of the Gathas are attributed to Zarathustra himself and from these the original beliefs of Zarathustra may be reconstructed. The impression is that:
Zarathustra was a monotheist. He denounced other gods as devils. He emphasized opposition to the personification of evil or the Satan. He believed in Angels. His religion has been described as resting on four main points:
a. Worship Ahura-Mazda i.e. God Almighty.
b. Magnify the archangels.
c. Damn the demons.
d. Marry your nearest relative. [This could be an Iranian insertion].
Zarathustra according to the most commonly accepted sources lived in the period c. 630 - c. 550 BCE. He is said to have received his first vision around 600 BCE. At this same time the Ten Tribes had been exiled a century beforehand but Judah still existed as a state. In Judah there reigned King Josiah according to conventional dates around 640-609 BCE. Jeremiah was coeval with King Josiah. Zarathustra therefore lived at the time of King Josiah and Jeremiah the Prophet. Jeremiah the prophet, according to the Talmud, was sent by the King to the Lost Ten Tribes. Zarathustra had been born in an area of the Lost Ten Tribes and later moved to another area which was also a Lost Ten Tribes center. He had family connections to the Scythians whom we identify as also being at least in part identical with the Lost Ten Tribes (7). There are traditions that connect Zarathustra to Jeremiah the Prophet. The original doctrine of Zarathustra was similar to that of the Bible. We can therefore conclude that Zarathustra may well have been an Israelite.
Beliefs and Parallels with Scripture and Israel.
Scholars agree that there are similarities between the original doctrines of Zarathustra and the Bible but they claim that this is because the Bible was influenced by Zarathustra and not the other way around. We disagree. At all events parallels exist.
PARALLELS WITH THE BIBLE:
1. One God.
2. Resistance to evil.
3. Satan and Devils. Other gods = devils. Demonic forces.
4. Angels. Angels appointed over abstract principles.
5. Saoshian= Messiah.
6. Resurrection of the Dead.
7. Last Judgment.
8. Zarathustra was linked with Rhages in Media which was a Ten Tribes area and associated with the Tribe of Naphtali as mentioned in the apocryphal Book of Tobit ("Tobias" 1:1–2). Zarathustra later moved to Chorasmia and was active in Herat which was also a Ten Tribed area.
26 So the God of Israel stirred up the spirit of Pul, king of Assyria, even the spirit of Tilgath-pilneser king of Assyria, and he carried them away into exile, namely the Reubenites, the Gadites and the half-tribe of Manasseh, and brought them to Halah, Habor, Hara and to the river of Gozan, to this day.
Hara (otherwise known as “Aria”) is another name for Herat.
9. The Essenes were a later Jewish sect in Qumran by the Dead Sea. There were Parallels between the doctrines of Zoroaster and Essene teachings. The Essenes however were not influenced by Zoroastrianism but rather both developed from a common Hebraic source.
M. Coventsky (9):
"Many experts contend that the emphasis in post-exilic Judaism on rewards and punishment, heaven and hell, the struggle between the forces of good and evil, and the notion of an individual afterlife were derived from Zoroastrianism. There is a striking similarity between the Manual of Discipline, of the Dead Sea community, and Zoroastrianism, regarding the problem of evil. But other scholars maintain that there is enough in Pharisaic Judaism to justify the search for origins of these ideas with Palestinian tradition specifically, or even exclusively."
10. The father of Zarathustra was Pourushapa. This name has been explained to be derived from "Purushain" (Sanskrit), which means man and "Aspa", which means a horse. "Aspa" however is derived from the root "asep" which is also found in names from Scythian areas and associated with the Hebrew name "Joseph" (10, see also Haynman).
12. Many scholars (e.g. Franz Altheim, Boyce, Morton Smith) have analysed passages of the Gathas and found parallels in language, style, and content with Biblical passages especially those of Isaiah.
Morton Smith saw a parallel between Isaiah and a specific Gatha of the Avesta:
From Morton Smith:
Yasna 44. In Yasna 44, Zoroaster asks Ahuramazda questions to which the god replies simply such as "I am" or "I do." Isaiah has similar passages. Tell me truly Lord, who in the beginning, at the creation was the father of Justice? (GY 44.3.1-2) Rain justice you heavens & this I, Y…, have created. (Isa 45:8) Who established the course of the sun and the stars? Through whom does the moon wax and wane? (GY 44.3.3-5). Lift up your eyes to the heavens. Consider who created it all, led out the host one by one. (Isa 40:26) What craftsman made light and darkness? (GY 45:5.1-3) I am Y…. There is no other. I make the light. I create darkness. (Isa 45:7)13.
Brinette also points out that,
Nehemiah was the "cupbearer" to Artaxerxes (Neh 2:1). Since Artaxerxes, as a devout Zoroastrian, could not have touched let alone drunk from a ritually unclean cup, Nehemiah must himself have been [considered the same as] a Zoroastrian. Pollution in the Zoroastrian scheme was the result of the Evil Spirit who caused "dust, stench, blight, disease, decay and death." Devout people were obliged to stay clear of these noxious things to protect themselves as Ahuramazda's good creation. The king particularly required this protection, and we can be sure that his servants had a duty to keep him pure.
In other words, in the eyes of Artaxerxes, Nehemiah the Israelite must have been considered ritually according to the type of Zoroastrianism he held by.
The "Holiness Code" of Leviticus 18 to 26 is a code of purity from pollution that has similarities with practices of Zoroastrianism.
Brinette notes that:
Darius favored the Jerusalem priesthood. A revealing scrap of papyrus written from Darius to Arsames, his long-serving Egyptian satrap in 419 BC, and found at Elephantine, ordered that the Jews of Elephantine must keep the Feast of Unleavened Bread for seven days.
1. Franz Altheim, "Alexander und Asien", Germany 1953, p.13.
Mary Boyce, "A History of Zoroastrianism Leiden/Koln1975, p.195.
2. Josef HOROVITZ, "Hebrew Iranian Synchronism," Bombay 1931, p.12ff.
3. Gherardo GNOLI, "Zoroaster's Time and Homeland. A Study on the Origins of Mazdaism," Naples, Italy 1980, p.96.
5. Ninian Smart, "The Religious experience of Mankind", NY, 1969, p.241.
6. E. Herzfeld, "Zoroaster and His World" 1947;
R. C. Zaehner, "The Dawn and Twilight of Zoroastrianism", 1961.
7. "The Tribes" by Yair Davidiy.
8. "Ephraim" by Yair Davidiy.
9. Milton COVENSKY, "The Ancient Near Eastern Tradition", NY, 1966.
11. Le Comte de GOBINEAU, "Histoire des Perses", Paris 1869.
BRINETTE, Jean-Claude , "Religion in Ancient Persia."
HAYNMAN, Irma. "The Syncretic Creed of Hellenized Jews From Tanais (Northern Black Sea Region,” in "Proceedings of the Eleventh World Congress of Jewish Studies; Division B: The History of the Jewish People; Volume 1, Second Temple Period To Modern Times,” World Union of Jewish Studies,