Yahweh worshipers appear to have acquired some Persian ideas after the Persians liberated the Yahweh priesthood around 539 BCE. With Judah under the authority of the Persian empire, Persian officials and their families and colonies of Persian merchants settled there. And with them were their Persian temples and priests. It appears that some of the cultural diffusion common in history was on its way in tiny Judah. Yahwists were adopting numerous Persian ideas such as a hierarchy of angels, demons in conflict, Satan as an evil force, reward and punishment after death, the immortality of the soul, the coming of a final judgment in a fiery ordeal, and resurrection. These were a part of Persia's Zoroastrian religion, said to have been accepted by some of Judah's common of people but resisted by the priesthood, the Sadducees, with their more rigorous adherence to Judaic ideology. (JewishEncyclopedia.com writes of points of resemblance between Zoroastrianism and Judaism as "many and striking.)
According to legend, Zoroastrianism had its origins in a prophet named Zoroaster (also known as Zarathustra). Modern scholars trying to date Zoroaster have put him in the 900s BCE. Traditionally he has been dated from 628 to 551 BCE. Legend has him as a cobbler in Bactria, once upon a time occupied by Iranians but today a part of Afghanistan and Tajikistan. The Jewish encyclopedia describes him as originally a Magian priest who "appears to have reformed or purified the creed of the Magi."
Legend holds that when Zoroaster was born his laugh scattered the evil spirits that had been hanging around him as they did around all people. Legend claims that Zoroaster grew up with a love of wisdom and righteousness, that when he was thirty he immersed himself in water during a spring religious festival and that he emerged in a state of purity and possessed a vision of a shining being who introduced himself as Good Purpose. According to the legend, Good Purpose took Zoroaster up a mountain to the great god, Mazda. And Zoroaster came down off the mountain with a message that he wished to preach to all humanity.
Legend describes Zoroaster as having had a vision of Mazda as all wise and the source of all justice and goodness, from which all other divine supporters of goodness emanated. Zoroaster perceived wickedness and cruelty as residing in Mazda's adversary: the Devil. Here, according to Zoroaster, was the answer to why righteous people suffered.
According to Zoroaster, when Mazda and the Devil first met, Mazda created life and the Devil created its opposite: death. Thereafter, according to Zoroaster, a struggle took place between Mazda and the Devil. Zoroaster described Mazda's goodness and creation of life as the force of light, and he described the Devil as the ruler of darkness, including the world of hell under the earth. Zoroaster described the Devil as the leader of the evil spirits that hovered in the air, tempting people to commit crime and sin. He described the Devil as also creating winter, ants, locusts, vermin, serpents, sodomy, menstruation and the other things ruined the paradise into which Mazda had placed the first humans.
According to Zoroaster, people in the great battle between Mazda and the Devil were responsible for choosing between right and wrong. Zoroaster called people to a rigid discipline to support Mazda's goodness. And he claimed that in this struggle between right and wrong, every man, woman and child had a guardian angel that was under Mazda's leadership – an angel that helped them achieve virtue.
According to legend, people ridiculed Zoroaster and persecuted him. But then a king was converted to Zoroaster's teachings, and the religion of Zoroaster spread. When this might have happened is unknown, for no Persian king mentioned Zoroaster in his inscriptions or mentioned supernatural beings that were unique to Zoroastrianism. And the early Zoroastrians left no records. Long after Zoroaster, Zoroastrian priests wanted to maintain their oral tradition, and they declared writing unfit for Zoroaster's holy words, but the Zoroastrian priesthood did leave a legend of Zoroaster's death. Zarathustra, they said, was consumed by a flash of lightning.
Zoroastrians did not see evil as inherent in nature or inherent in the human body. They saw nature as good because of Mazda's power. They thought Mazda stronger than the Devil and omnipotent except the temporary battle he was in with the Devil. Zoroastrianism held that Mazda's triumph was assured. They believed that the birth of Zoroaster was the beginning of a final epoch that was to last three thousand years. Zoroastrians believed that Mazda's message would be carried throughout the world (Good News) that the final epoch would end with the Last Judgment and the utter destruction of the Devil and all his forces of evil. They believed that with this ending would come a great resurrection of all good souls, the beginning of life anew, that all good people – the followers of Truth – would cross the bridge into Mazda's kingdom, free of decay, old age and death. (Here were the origins, it would seem, of what Christians would call Armageddon.)
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Copyright © 2016 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.