Resemblance Between Zoroastrianism and Judaism

Extracts from the Jewish Encyclopedia.

The points of resemblance between Zoroastrianism and Judaism, and hence also between the former and Christianity, are many and striking. Ahuramazda, the supreme lord of Iran, omniscient, omnipresent, and eternal, endowed with creative power, which he exercises especially through the medium of his Spenta Mainyu ("Holy Spirit"), and governing the universe through the instrumentality of angels and archangels, presents the nearest parallel to Yhwh that is found in antiquity.

But Ormuzd's power is hampered by his adversary, Ahriman, whose dominion, however, like Satan's, shall be destroyed at the end of the world. Zoroastrianism and Judaism present a number of resemblances to each other in their general systems of angelology and demonology, points of similarity which have been especially emphasized by the Jewish rabbinical scholars Schorr and Kohut and the Christian theologian Stave.

There are striking parallels between the two faiths and Christianity in their eschatological teachings-the doctrines of a regenerate world, a perfect kingdom, the coming of a Messiah, the resurrection of the dead, and the life everlasting.

Both Zoroastrianism and Judaism are revealed religions: in the one Ahuramazda imparts his revelation and pronounces his commandments to Zarathustra on "the Mountain of the Two Holy Communing Ones"; in the other Yhwh holds a similar communion with Moses on Sinai.

The Magian laws of purification, moreover, more particularly those practised to remove pollution incurred through contact with dead or unclean matter, are given in the Avestan Vendidad quite as elaborately as in the Levitical code, with which the Zoroastrian book has been compared.

The two religions agree in certain respects with regard to their cosmological ideas. The six days of Creation in Genesis find a parallel in the six periods of Creation described in the Zoroastrian scriptures. Mankind, according to each religion, is descended from a single couple, and Mashya (man) and Mashyana are the Iranian Adam (man) and Eve.

In the Bible a deluge destroys all people except a single righteous individual and his family; in the Avesta a winter depopulates the earth except in the Vara ("enclosure") of the blessed Yima.

In each case the earth is peopled anew with the best two of every kind, and is afterward divided into three realms. The three sons of Yima's successor Thraetaona, named Erij (Avesta, "Airya"), Selm (Avesta, "Sairima"), and Tur (Avesta, "Tura"), are the inheritors in the Persian account; Shem, Ham, and Japheth, in the Semiticstory.

Likenesses in minor matters, in certain details of ceremony and ritual, ideas of uncleanness, and the like, are to be noted, as well as parallels between Zoroaster and Moses as sacred lawgivers; and many of these resemblances are treated in the works referred to at the end of this article.

Causes of Analogies Uncertain

It is difficult to account for these analogies. It is known, of course, as a historic fact that the Jews and the Persians came in contact with each other at an early period in antiquity and remained in more or less close relation throughout their history (see Avesta; Media; Persia).

Most scholars, Jewish as well as non-Jewish, are of the opinion that Judaism was strongly influenced by Zoroastrianism in views relating to angelology and demonology, and probably also in the doctrine of the resurrection, as well as in eschatological ideas in general, and also that the monotheistic conception of Yhwh may have been quickened and strengthened by being opposed to the dualism or quasi-monotheism of the Persians.

But, on the other hand, the late James Darmesteter advocated exactly the opposite view, maintaining that early Persian thought was strongly influenced by Jewish ideas.

He insisted that the Avesta, as we have it, is of late origin and is much tinctured by foreign elements, especially those derived from Judaism, and also those taken from Neoplatonism through the writings of Philo Judaus. These views, put forward shortly before the French scholar's death in 1894, have been violently combated by specialists since that time, and can not be said to have met with decided favor on any side.

At the present time it is impossible to settle the question; the truth lies probably somewhere between the radical extremes, and it is possible that when knowledge of the Assyrian and Babylonian religion is more precise in certain details, additional light may be thrown on the problem of the source of these analogies, and may show the likelihood of a common influence at work upon both the Persian and Jewish cults.

Extract Jewish Encyclopdia 1904