The Zoroastrian Influence On Christianity

Once upon a time, an ineffable God named Ahura Mazda existed in “uncreated form”.  In other words, Ahura Mazda was eternally divine.  As worshipers of Ahura Mazda started to elaborate on how fantastic their deity was (circa 375 BCE), they realized there must be a trinity of goodness which emanated from him, so Mithra and Apam Napat were invented to fulfill this trinity.

Interestingly, Mithra held a judicial role (sounds like “he will come again to judge the living and the dead”), and was emanated from the sun.  In a later Gnostic sect, called the Manicheans, Mithra assumed the role of the “living spirit”.

Faravahar

*a depiction of a Fravashi, the guardian spirit

Ahura Mazda, being the infinitely good, wonderfully fantastic, (nearly) all-powerful God he was, created angel-like spirits to assist him in all his good-doings.  These angels were called yazatas.

By the time the material realm was created, Ahura Mazda was not the only supernatural being who exerted influence over it; he had an adversary named Angra Mainyu.  Like Ahura Mazda, Angra Mainyu emanated his own spirits, and predictably, Angra’s spirits were evil and absolutely unworthy of worship or any other reverence.  To the Zoroastrians, Angra Mainyu’s existence gave rise to all sin and misery in the universe.

As a result of the subsequent dualism which was fueled by the ongoing cosmic struggle between Ahura Mazda and Angra Mainyu, the material realm became characterized by imperfection.  Some humans even aided Angra Mainyu’s quest for cosmic supremacy; those humans who provided this aid were entirely unrighteous, and as a result of their crimes, would be destroyed.

As with any deity, Ahura Mazda had a logistics problem:  how would he propagate information to people so that they could understand the paradigm under which they lived?

Though this detail might present challenges for inferior Gods (hint: Angra Mainyu), it was absolutely no problem at all for the great-and-powerful Ahura Mazda.  Ahura sent one of his angels (yazatas) to clue in the human most spiritually prepared for revelation:  the 30-year old Zoroaster.  While Zoroaster was fetching water to use in a sacred ritual, angel Vohu Manah led Zoroaster to Ahura Mazda, where Ahura Mazda imparted onto Zoroaster true wisdom.

An interesting (and frankly embarrassing) curveball which was revealed to Zoroaster was that Ahura Mazda was not quite powerful enough to simply get rid of Angra Mainyu altogether; rather, this task would be accomplished with the help from humans in the material realm (evidently, the introduction of the material realm presented some challenges to Ahura’s ability to do away with the source of all bad things).

Like all religions, Zoroastrianism had rituals.  It’s primary ritual was called Padyab, which translates to “ritually clean”.  The steps of the Padyab were preceded by a prayer, and then included the following:

  1. Wet both hands to the wrists
  2. Wash face
  3. Wet right hand, wash right foot three times
  4. Wet right hand, wash left foot three times
  5. Wash both hands, and then wipe off hands and face with a clean towel

Like with Christianity, there were heresies associated with Ahura Mazda worship.  For example, like in the case of Gnostic Christianity, the Zurvans claimed that it was not Ahura Mazda who was the high God (monad); rather, it was Zurvan, who “emanated” Ahura Mazda and Angra Mainyu – compare that to the Gnostic myth, which claimed that the Monad first emanated Barbelo, and together (with their divine spark), they emanated a series of eternal angels (aeons); out of one of the Aeons (Sophia) emanated the source of all evil, Yaldabaoth, who emanated 12 archons, and together, they ruled the world.

The parallels between Christianity and its predecessor, Zoroastrianism are quite clear – the trinity, the dualism between good and evil, the evil spirits which the good God couldn’t quite get rid of, and the prophet who was revealed Gnosis (Jesus, then Paul).  Like in Gnostic religions, Zoroastrianism even had humans who would never qualify for Gnosis, perhaps because they were descendants of the evil Cain, as opposed to the wonderful Seth (that is how the Gnostics would have seen it, anyway).

The most interesting detail in Zoroastrianism, at least in my mind, is the ritualistic cleansing.  Obviously, most people would recognize the cleansing as a potential predecessor of the Christian baptism.  The 5-step component raises my suspicion that the secret 5-seal ritual in Sethian Christianity may have borrowed from this earlier Zoroastrian tradition.

The repeated application of the ritual is also reminiscent of the John the Baptist tradition, which likewise had repeat baptismal rites which served in an atonement function.

If one wishes to unwrap this link between the Zoroastrians and the John the Baptist sect, one needs look no further than the extant John the Baptist sect, which today calls themselves the Mandaeans.  They, like the Zoroastrians, are in roughly the same geographic area, Mesopotamia (Iran and Iraq).

The bridge connecting the Zoroastrians, the Mandaeans, and the Gnostics does not end with their geographies.   Like the Gnostics, the Mandaeans believed that there was a high God and the material realm, and they believe that material emerged from the world of darkness, where the soul was a product of the world of light.  Compare that to the Gnostic idea that the Logos was emanated from the divine light.

The Mandaeans have a Demiurge of their own, named Ptahil.  They believe the rulers of the world of darkness created demonic offspring who consider themselves the owners of the Seven (planets) and Twelve (Zodiac signs).  Mandaeanism, like both Gnostic and apostolic Christianity, prominently features the numbers seven and twelve; consider the parallel in the book of Revelation, which referenced the number seven 59 times, and the number twelve 22 times.

There is a recurring pattern with which one must grapple when they process these details about religions emerging within a few hundred years before and after common era:  why did so many religions have such a robust creation myth about the material realm?

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God

-The Gospel of John 1:1

The answer to this question is quite clear to anyone who is familiar with Greek philosophy:  religions had to answer why a God who is responsible for the Earth (and all its maladies) would be worthy of worship.  The solution to which so many religions arrived was that there must have been a malevolent or ignorant craftsman (Demiurge) who implemented this imperfect realm, and it was not this Demiurge, but rather, a higher God who is worthy of worship.  For the Christians, the Demiurge was Yaldabaoth, for the Mandaeans, it was Ptahil, and for the Zoroastrians, it was the dissection of  Ahura Mazda and Angra Mainyu.

But there is a subsequent question that follows this materialistic concern:  why is it that the Gnostic Christians came to adopt a similar worldview?  This matter is particularly strange when you consider that Christianity was supposedly derived from a Judean minister who was staked to a cross.

In fact, any solution to this evolutionary trajectory borders on the absurd if you presume that Jesus Christ existed and was persecuted by Pontius Pilate.  It is simply too much of a stretch to presume that the most educated and philosophically astute members of Alexandrian, Mesopotamian, and Roman society converted this Judean minister to the proxy in the stars that he seemingly became in the Sethian and Valentinian myths.

However, if you presume that these “Gnostic” myths preceded the mid-2nd century pre-Orthodox Christianity of Justin Martyr and Irenaeus, the narrative becomes much more economical – it was not the Gnostics who hijacked the pre-Orthodoxy; rather, it was the pre-Orthodoxy which hijacked Gnosticism.

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Author: Tim...Stepping Out

Tim Stepping Out

8 thoughts on “The Zoroastrian Influence On Christianity”

  1. … that wasn’t all they high jacked. ;o)

    I like your new site design, Tim, and looking forward to your book.

    PS have you read The Amazing Colossal Apostle: The Search for the Historical Paul? I am not quite half way through and it is quite fascinating.

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    1. Thanks Steve! Robert M Price is quite literally a national treasure. I’m pretty much on the same page as him, except for a tiny detail – he doesn’t believe Marcion had a Synoptic Gospel, and I think he did.

      He also has a book called The Case Against The Case for Christ, and he’ll be debating Bart Ehrman on Jesus’ historicity in October, which I’m really looking forward to!

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  2. Of course Christianity is original – must be, it’s in the bible.

    Eventually they will discover among the Dead Sea Scrolls a 2nd century Essene script for a tragic comedy that John Cleese will then be forced to admit was used as the basis for Life of Brian .

    Price /Ehrman sounds like one of the best debates ever!

    By the way, Tim, the title of your Gravitar is worded in such a way it reads timsteppin gout.

    Is this because of too much wine?
    😉

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    1. Most characters in religion follow the Superman/Lex Luthor pattern – Jesus, Ahura Mazda, etc all had their significantly weaker adversary who might be able to pull some kind of lever which causes everything to fall to pieces. It certainly is a good script!

      I’m looking forward to the Price/Ehrman debate, as well. It will be great.

      Thanks for the heads-up about my gout! Ha ha. I’m not ashamed to admit I’ve partaken in a glass or two…I occasionally make my own wine as well – I’ve got 2 gallons that are about to finish fermenting soon.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Zoroastrianism is far older than 375 BCE. Cyrus the Great was a Zoroastrian and he died in 530 BCE. From what I understand it`s first seeds were in the Indo-Iranians, and therefore pre-dates Judiasm by centuries.

    What I find most interesting is the End Times prophecy where the Saoshyant (the saviour figure who is referred to as the World Renovator and Victorious Benefactor) will defeat “the evil of the progeny of the biped” and establish the Kingdom of Good Thought (righteousness).

    He shall be the victorious Benefactor (Saoshyant) by name and World-renovator [Astavat-ereta] by name. He is Benefactor because he will benefit the entire physical world; he is World- renovator because he will establish the physical living existence indestructible. He will oppose the evil of the progeny of the biped and withstand the enmity produced by the faithful.’ ( Yast 13.129)

    This narrative is lifted entirely by Christianity.

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      1. Ahhh, apologies. The Trinity is interesting. I was looking into it a few weeks ago and made these notes

        In the Egyptian ” Hymn to Amun” it’s written:

        ‘No god came into being before him (Amun)’ and that ‘All gods are three: Amun, Re and Ptah, and there is no second to them. Hidden is his name as Amon, he is Re in face, and his body is Ptah.’

        In Buddhism the Trikāya doctrine says that a Buddha has three kāyas or bodies (from wiki):

        1. The Dharmakāya or Truth body which embodies the very principle of enlightenment and knows no limits or boundaries;
        2. The Sambhogakāya or body of mutual enjoyment which is a body of bliss or clear light manifestation;
        3. The Nirmāṇakāya or created body which manifests in time and space.

        Toaists treach of The Three Pure Ones who are regarded as the pure and singular manifestation of the Tao and the origin of all sentient beings. They are also called the Three Pure Pellucid Ones, the Three Pristine Ones, the Three Divine Teachers, the Three Clarities, or the Three Purities.

        In Hinduism, the trinity (Trimūrti, or The Three Forms) is of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. These three-in-one are called “the Hindu triad” or the “Great Trinity”

        In the Hindu Puranas there is this passage:

        ‘O ye three Lords! know that I recognise only one God. Inform me, therefore, which of you is the true divinity, that I may address to him alone my adorations.’

        In response, the three-gods-in-one (Brahma, Vishnu, and Siva [or Shiva]), replied,

        ‘Learn, O devotee, that there is no real distinction between us. What to you appears such is only the semblance. The single being appears under three forms by the acts of creation, preservation, and destruction, but he is one.’

        And the concept is found with the Greeks. Aristotle wrote:

        ‘All things are three, and thrice is all: and let us use this number in the worship of the gods; for, as the Pythagoreans say, everything and all things are bounded by threes, for the end, the middle and the beginning have this number in everything, and these compose the number of the Trinity'”.

        Thomas Dennis Rock wrote in his book, The Mystical Woman and the Cities of the Nations, 1867 (Pg. 22-23)

        “The ancient Babylonians recognised the doctrine of a trinity, or three persons in one god— as appears from a composite god with three heads forming part of their mythology, and the use of the equilateral triangle, also, as an emblem of such trinity in unity”

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