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A reader writes

Long ago, when I was a kid, I remember playing a historical video game which in its descriptions of ancient cultures mentioned a religion named 'zoroastrianism' (I think thats how its spelled), and it said that that religion influenced judiaism, christianity and islam. Needless to say it bothered me (as I was a christian protestant, now I'm Catholic). But I forgot about it in time. Flash forward to just a few years ago, I'm playing another historical game, which also mentions the same thing, and again it bothers me (this time more so, because I am older and can think about the repercussions of what that would mean if it were true). While I just tossed it off as nothing, since then I have accidently bumped into that concept several times. Anything from reading some where that Christians and jews got the concept of angels from Zoroastrianism, including the whole 'lucifer's rebellion against God' (because supposedly they have a story like that too..?) to just recently, the very concept of Christ vs. Satan. The recent thing went like this: Just a few days ago, I was watching a program on the history channel (which is so full of 'history'), about the end of the world. Some where in there it mentioned that some scholars (key word there is 'some') believed that Zoroastrianism had an influence on Judiasm, and therefore Christianity. It said that when the Jews were forced into exile in persia they were 'influenced' by the 'intense religious drama' of Zoroastrianism. Namely the whole good vs evil saga, and that the Christ vs Satan idea was just a continuation of this belief.I don't know how exactly a very strict, self dogma protecting religion like Judaism, which pre-existed Zoroastrianism by over 1,000 years (more like 1500 yrs), was some how influenced, by actual religious ideas, not just symbols of, that pagan religion.

So my point is this: what the heck is going on?! I dont believe that stuff is true, but it bothers me none the less. So is there a real link between Zoroastrianism and Christianity/Judaism? Is there one? Were the Zorastri-whatevers even monotheists? Is it not possible they borrowed from our religion, not vice-versa? Is there even any real similarities between the 3 religions? Or is this just another attempt by some to undermine Christianity by linking it to a pagan religion, as they used to do in the 1800's (and still try to do today)?

Please help me with this question Mark, I would just like to put this thing to rest, so that I can have peace of mind, and not be haunted by this thing in the future.

Hmmm.... It seems to me there are a couple of things at issue here. The first thing is not "Did Zoroastrianism influence Judaism (and thus Christianity)?" but "Has anything pagan influenced Judaism (and thus Christianity)?" The answer to that is "Yes".

And the follow up question is "So what?" :)

Pre-Christian paganism is the matrix in which pre-Christian Judaism arose. From it Judaism borrowed all sorts of ideas such as, for instance, the use of arks (or more crudely "covenant boxes"), temples, kings, legal codes and saying "Please pass the salt". The fact that Jews did this no more eliminates the element of God's supernatural revelation from the old covenant than the fact that Socrates also ate dinner with his friends drains the Last Supper of all meaning. The central lesson of the Incarnation is that a) God reveals himself in a human way and b) he is the God of the Gentiles too. So if the Gentiles intuited a few religious ideas before Israel (for instance, life after death for the Egyptians, monotheism for Akhenaten, the concept of the Logos for Platonism, the notion of sacrifice from virtually all pre-Judaic paganism) that doesn't mean Israel's faith is shown to be bogus. It merely means that Israel incorporated real religious truth into its ongoing process of pre-Christian revelation from yet another a Gentile source. And, of course, the exchange goes both ways. It's just as possible that Zoroastrianism borrows a huge amount from the Jews. It's notable that Zoroastrianism doesn't turn up in the historic record until almost exactly the hour at which Jews are exiled into the lands where Zoroastrianism arises.

In the specific case of Zoroastrianism, I'm highly dubious that the "scholars" vaguely alluded to on TeeVee really know all that much about the actual connections between it and Judaism. Any fool can speculate and notice parallels here and there, but trying to draw "cause and effect" relationship is pretty dubious stuff when you are talking about such a broad concept as angels/spirit beings etc. or (more broadly still) the "war between good and evil".

In short, what religious culture does *not* have a concept of the war between good and evil? That's one of the essential human things that *all* religions ponder. The notion that the Jews (who had, after all, just witnessed the slaughter and deportation of their nation) did not have a concept of good and evil till the Zoroastrians pointed it out to them is something only a TV scholar could say. :)

Dittos for angels. The text of Israel's founding stories makes no sense apart from the idea that figures like Abraham, Jacob, Moses and David who *long* predate the sojourn in Babylon believed in the reality of angels. And angels aren't that hard of an idea to buy (or conceive of on their own). I suspect that it is nearer the mark to say that belief in some sort of spiritual beings who periodically intervene in human affairs was endemic everywhere in the ancient world and that the unique Jewish contribution was the conviction that, while such beings existed, there were not gods but servants of the one God.

In the same way, the perception of the existence of malicious spiritual beings seems to be everywhere in antiquity. It takes a while for Judaism and Christianity to get a taxonomy straight and work out an angelology and demonology, but the notion that Judaism first figure out the existence of evil beings from Zoroastrians seems to me to make a complete hash of the core religious narrative of all Israel: the Exodus. That this narrative obviously predates the Babylonian Captivity seems to me to be obvious. And this narrative is nothing if not a story of spiritual warfare between God and the "gods of Egypt" (i.e., real, evil beings whom God defeats in a methodical manner by attacking the symbols which represent them).

It is true that real development happens in pre-Christian Jewish understanding. "Satan" in the book of Job is not clearly seen as a fallen angel, but more as a sort of prosecuting attorney in the court of heaven. Zoroastrianism, for all I know, could have prompted further reflection among Jews on *why* there is a prosecutor in heaven and other stories such as that of the serpent in Genesis or the prophecy regarding the fall of "Lucifer" in Isaiah (14?) may also have contributed to spurring Israel (and the early Church) to pondering the nature of evil. But if there was really all that big a debt you'd kind of think somebody would have noticed it and mentioned it in the actual Scriptures.

Bottom line: God is ultimately in charge of the process of revelation. If Zoroastrian ideas influenced Judaism (an assertion not at all in evidence since it's just as possible Judaism heavily influence Zoroastrianism) then all it means is that God chose some Gentile religious thinkers as the means to reveal certain ideas to Israel.

I hope that helps.


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