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Zarathushtra’s influence on Judaism

Copyright: @2013 John Easter.

Zarathushtra’s influence on Judaism

John Easter

This is a small topic briefly showing the strong Zoroastrian influence on Judaism and later Christianity by brining together different information and quotes not usually placed side by side.

The purpose of this is to show the close and intimate interconnections between these 3 traditions of spirituality. I think an open acceptance and deeper understanding of the vast importance of the Zoroastrian background can help to shed light and reveal a better understanding of Judaism & Christianity rather than take away anything from them.

Ancient Judaism, which taught an ethical monotheism but developed out of very harsh circumstances as reflected in the stories recorded in the Jewish Tanakh or Christian Old Testament, became heavily influenced by Zoroastrianism during the time period of the Achaemenian or first Iranian/Persian Empire and beyond. The Torah only refers to the first 5 books of the Tanakh which are said to be by Moses and is usually regarded as the most sacred section of the Tanakh.

This occurred about 500 years before the time of Jesus. Friendly relations, protection and influence would continue on during the Iranic Parthian Empire as well. By extension this includes Jesus who was a rabbi during the middle of the Parthian era.

When Emperor Cyrus of Iran, the first emperor of the Achaemenian Empire, took over Babylon he ended the exile and restrictions imposed on the Jewish people by the Babylonians and treated them with kindness as recorded in the Tanakh and in historical sources.

The Books of Isaiah & Ezrah in particular go as far as to call him a Messiah and a special servant of YHWH(Yahweh). However indirect it may be, this is the first hint of a possible, and even almost outright, identification of YHWH(Yahweh) with Ahura Mazda.

Although Emperor Cyrus treated all the different groups of the lands he took over fairly well, some scholars theorize that Emperor Cyrus gave the Jewish people more help in particular because he recognized them as fellow monotheists with a similar religion, even going as far as to give them gold and silver from his treasury to help them rebuild their temple that was destroyed by the Babylonians.

Through the strong friendly relations between the 2 groups, Zoroastrianism indirectly influenced the composition of the later books of the Tanakh, the Talmud, and later texts in a very positive way affecting the later Jewish traditions. The Kabbalah in particular has some very Zoroastrian like aspects.

The 10 Sephiroth(emanations), together with their 10 representative arch-angels, of the Ein Sof(the infinite or God) is indeed a comparable concept to the 7 Amesha Spentas (independent projections of God or high arch-angels) of Ahura Mazda. The main 7 arch-angels mentioned in the earlier Book of Enoch not included in the Tanakh, but in the later Christian Book of Revelation, also echoes the 7 Amesha Spentas.

Some important Kabbalistic or Jewish mystical texts include the Third Book of Enoch, the Sefer Yetzirah, both the Sepher Ha-Razim given to Noah and the Sefer Raziel HaMalakh given to Adam which are claimed to be transmitted by Raziel the Arch-angel, and the Zohar.

The 2 books said to be given by the angel Raziel, also called Galitzur, cover angelology and angelic magic and identify some of the names of the Greek gods & goddesses to be alternate names for some of the angels similar to the understanding of the yazatas/angels as the good powers or gods & goddesses under God in Zoroastrianism.

Specific correspondences, and possible identifications, between the Jewish angels and the Zoroastrian angels include Michael, together with the Primordial Metatron who appears to be the same being as Michael, with Mithra in the Mithra Yasht, and Gabriel in the Bible with Sraosha in the Gathas. The Primordial Metatron should not be confused with the human prophet Enoch in his ascended angelic form as Metatron, which is different.

However in one Kabbalistic source Metatron is described as Enoch’s angelic double that existed before Enoch. This is similar to the fravashis(guardian angels) being the higher angelic doubles of people in Zoroastrianism.

Correspondences between the Jewish demons and the Zoroastrian demons include the Daevas, the shining deities that chose to embrace evil, with the fallen angels and more specifically between Asmodeus, a demon king mentioned in many Jewish texts, with Aeshma, the daeva of wrath, rage, and fury who inspires brutality against man and animals alike, who is mentioned as early as in the Gathas.

Many affinities also appear in the ancient Apocrypha not included in the Tanakh/Bible such as the 3 Books of Enoch, the Book of Giants, the Book of Jubilees, the War Scroll and the Community Rule texts within the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Testament of Solomon, the Life of Adam and Eve, the Apocalypse of Abraham, the Book of Tobit, and many others. Also in later Jewish texts after the Talmud such as in the Midrash Vayosha and the Apocalypse of Zerubbabel.

The Jewish concept of Tzedakah(Righteousness/Justice) refers to doing what is right because it is right which is usually expressed in the form of charity and is very similar to the older Zoroastrian concept of Asha (Righteousness/Truth/Morality/Ethics/Art). The Jewish concept of Olam-Haba(World To Come) is heavily influenced by the older Zoroastrian concept in the Gathas for the restoration of the universe known as Frasho-Kereti(Making Wonderful, Excellent, Fresh).

It is true that the more harsh or tribal aspects of YHWH(Yahweh) start to mellow out and slowly fade away within the Tanakh in the books written after the time of the Persian contact where he also begins to be portrayed in a kinder and more Universal light.

Judaism was monotheist in its views of YHWH(Yahweh) and their idea of God was originally understood as the God of all people as purposely portrayed in the two metaphoric accounts of creation in the Book of Genesis which does utilize some parts from older Sumerian, Assyrian, and Babylonian lore for the narrative.

Abraham, Moses, and other ancient Hebrew Prophets were indeed early monotheists that tried to do what was right independently before the Jewish people met with the Zoroastrian Persians. Such insights appear independently all over the world including China, Africa, North America, and other areas.

However their moral or law system, while claimed to come directly from God, was made by men and was more so based on what was good for their own tribe or tribes in order to survive as a group which reflected the basic, and also harsh, manmade rules to help with the necessities of life for the times. Similar to neighboring groups.

This is the reason for the strange seeming and extremely harsh attributes of YHWH(Yahweh) in the Tanakh or Old Testament that don’t seem compatible with the idea of God as all loving and universal. This doesn’t mean that the texts are all untrue or that God is bad but that they should be recognized for the times and circumstances that they were written down in and reflect.

The religion and the language of the early Jewish tribes shares some general similarities with the religion and language of their ancient close cousins, the various Canaanite tribes such as the Phoenicians and many other groups. The Canaanite groups were the main polytheists and pagans the Jewish tribes always tried to strongly distance themselves from within the Tanakh/Bible.

Both to maintain their uniqueness as a distinct monotheist group and because they were against some of the Canaanite’s horrible practices of human and child sacrifice to their gods and it being associated with YHWH(Yahweh). (The story of Abraham and Isaac in the Book of Genesis might represent that.)

The Hebrew language and its variants, together with the other Canaanite languages represented by texts such as the Ugaritic Baal Cycle about Hadad’s battles with competing gods, are within the North-West Semitic group of the Semitic language family, which in turn is part of the larger Afro-Asiatic language family, which includes ancient Egyptian and various language families throughout North Africa.

Other major groups within the Semitic family include East Semitic, represented by groups such as the Akkadians(Assyrians & Babylonians) in texts such as the Enuma Elish about Marduk’s battle with Tiamat and the Epic of Gilgamesh, and Central Semitic, mostly represented by the Arabs in texts such as ancient Arabic pagan poetry and in the later Islamic stories within the Arabian book called 1001 Nights.

Relevant quotes

“Despite the apparent differences between Zoroastrian and Judaic religious vision, they shared the unifying focus of the monotheistic rule of one supreme Creator-God” “their prolonged intercourse in the wake of the Babylonian exile was conditioned by what is usually described as mutual religious sympathy.”
-The Other God: Dualist Religions from Antiquity to the Cathar Heresy p. 55 by Yuri Stoyanov

“in fact Jews had ample opportunity to familiarize themselves with the essentials of Zoroastrianism. For some two centuries Judaea formed part of the vast Achaemenian empire, while the large Jewish diaspora also lived within the bounds of the empire. Achaemenian rule was relatively benign, and was recognized by Jews to be so:

whereas there is plenty of Jewish propaganda against Babylonian and Seluecid and Roman rule, there is not a single Jewish text, biblical or rabbinic, directed against Persian rule. Moreover, already in Achaemenian times there was a certain affinity between Jewish and Iranian religion.”
-Cosmos, Chaos & the World to Come: The Ancient Roots of Apocalyptic Faith p. 220 by Norman Cohn

“The earliest evidence of the entrance of Persian words into the language of the Israelites is found in the Bible. The post-exilic portions, Hebrew as well as Aramaic, contain besides many Persian proper names and titles, a number of nouns (as “dat” = “law”; “genez” = “treasure”; “pardes” = “park”) which came into permanent use at the time of the Achaemenid Empire.”

“a large number of Persian words found their way into the language of daily intercourse and into that of the schools, a fact which is attested by the numerous Persian derivatives in the Babylonian Talmud.”
-Judeo-Persian article on Wikipedia

“Following the conquest of the Near East by the Zoroastrian King, Cyrus the Great in the 6th century B.C.E., Jews came under a Persian Zoroastrian dominion that lasted for centuries.

Babylonian Jews were subjects of successive ancient Iranian, Zoroastrian dynasties that together made up more than a millennium.

A number of important books of the Bible were written during this period. Moreover, the central work in the Jewish canon, the Babylonian Talmud, was produced close to the Zoroastrian Sassanid winter capital of Ctesiphon.

Babylonian Talmud contains many Indo-European/Persian loanwords and numerous references to Zoroastrian kings, religious leaders, and aspects of cultural and religious life in Iranian/Zoroastrian-ruled Mesopotamia.

The Talmud itself relates that: “Shemot HaMal’akhim ‘Alu Lahem MiBavel” – “The names of the Angels arose from Babylon”. The Talmud, in fact, goes to the extent of borrowing the names of many of angels in the Zoroastrian pantheon, such as: Mithrá/MiÞrá (called Metatron in the Talmud), Aæshm , the demon of wrath in Zoroastrianism, (called Ashmedai, the king of the Jewish demons in the Talmud),

Yet, biblical apologists consisting mostly of Evangelical Christians, have an unshakeable faith that the Zoroastrian eschatology and angelology could not have possibly influenced the later biblical books and worldview. Neither can they accept the Zoroastrian influence on Greek thought as admitted by Greek philosophers themselves.

Hence, these biblical apologists disguised at times as scholars, have all along stubbornly insisted to lower the age of the ancient seer Zaraþúshtrá from 600 years before the Trojan wars (about 1700-1800 BCE as reported by almost all the ancient Greek writers;) to 600 or even 300-100 BCE.”
-The time of Zoroaster/Zarathúshtrá and the Zoroastrian influence upon biblical worldview by Ardeshir Farahmand