Origins of Zoroastrianism

Zoroastrianism is one of those religions categorized amongst the oldest religions in the world. It was named after its founder and foremost prophet, Zarathustra (Commonly known as Zoroaster). Zoroastrianism roots can be traced in Iran, (formerly Babylonia) thousands of years ago (historians and scholars vary the dates to fall approximately between 8000 to 700 BCE).

Zoroastrianism is also known to have been a dominant religion in ancient times with an estimation of approximately 40 million followers, though the numbers have significantly dwindled in the recent past to roughly 150,000 followers, mostly of Persian ethnicity. Another interesting fact linked to this ancient religion shrouded in mystery, is the fact that it was also the official religion of the Persian Empire for a little over one millennium (600 BCE-650 CE). It is also worth noting that the Sassanid Empire also subscribed to Zoroastrianism as its state religion between the 3rd and 7th century. (RELG:World~ Robert Van Vorst, p 206).

Basically, Zoroastrianism is a monotheistic religion with belief in one God whom adherents refer to as Ahura Mazda (Wise Lord) surrounded by divine beings (referred to as amesha spentas or divine mortals). Zoroastrians place their entire focus on Ahura Mazda, The All Good, Uncreated Creator, to whom all worship is ultimately directed.

Ahura Mazda is worshiped in fire temples where sacred fire burns continually as a symbol of the deity.

According to Zoroastrians, Ahura Mazda is the creator of everything that can be seen, He is the external, the pure, and the only truth. They believe that the world is a creation of God and is all good, and that any element of corruption in it is an effect of the bad. According to its founder Zarathustra,  the world-cosmos is a battlefield between good and evil forces and that the good (Ahura Mazda) shall ultimately triumph over evil (Angra-Mainyu).

Zoroastrians also believe there is a natural law that governs the entire universe in an orderly manner which they refer to as Asha. The concept of Asha also holds deep ethical ramifications that the Zoroastrians deem it as a key component in managing human relations. Honesty, Loyalty, Courage and Truth are seen as an expression of natural order (to mean Asha) and anything going against natural order is automatically deemed as Vice. Thus anyone going against natural order is seen as betraying Asha which basically then determines the eternal fate of such a  person.

Zoroastrians also believe in a  life guiding principle known as humata hakta huvesha which can loosely be defined as; to think good, to talk good, and to act good. That these are the divine expectations of being human.  More  information on the underlying concepts of this faith can be derived from the Avesta (the religion’s scriptural text from which Zoroastrianism draws its teachings from). The Avesta is to Zoroastrianism, what the bible is to Christianity.

Zoroastrianism Influence
This is one area that continues to draw a sharp never-ending debate from historians and scholars on how much influence if any, has Zoroastrianism had on most religions that have had some sort of contact with it. Zoroastrianism pre dates the Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Islam, and Christianity) hence the sharp debate on its influence on these religions. Even though its presence is not as common as the other major religions of the world today, many scholars hold a strong belief that the traditional Zoroastrianism played a major role in influencing some practices in Hinduism, Islam, New Temple Judaism as well as Christianity.’

Mary Boyce in her book titled “Zoroastrians: Their Religious Beliefs and Practices.” strongly vouches’ for Zoroastrianism as having played a major influence on not only religion but on the entire humanity. I quote her:” Zoroastrianism has probably had more influence on human life, directly and indirectly, than any other single faith”

Some sections of the camp that support the influence of Zoroastrianism on other religions argue that when Zoroastrianism was the state religion of Persia and the Sasanian Empire respectively, it must have exerted deep influence on some of the major religions of that time namely; Hellenism, Judaism, and Christianity which as a ripple effect, exerted more or less of the same sort of influence on other religions like Islam by virtue of being in the same cultural world. (The Wiley Blackwell Companion to Zoroastrianism p 491). In fact Winfred Corduan argues in his book (Neighboring Faiths; A Christian Introduction to World Religions p 131) that the Jewish Religious text referred to as the Talmud indicates that Jews brought back with them angels’ names from Babylon.

But even those that vehemently deny the effect that Zoroastrianism must have had on other religions are not totally honest in their view since there are areas that they partly admit to this influence but insist that it is negligible. Take for instance the book, Neighboring Faiths: A Christian Introduction to World Religions by Winfred Corduan where the author attempts to disapprove the effect that Zoroastrianism has had on other religions. However, I sense some contradictions in his argument where he states in the book by quoting scholarly sources that there are some religious concepts that Jews adopted during the period of exile in Babylonia directly linked to Zoroastrianism. Like the concepts of Angels, Satan, demons, and the apocalypse. Pardon me momentarily here, isn’t this the point which the author is trying to argue against? It doesn’t help much that the author tries to water down this argument by stating that scholarly support of this notion has eroded over the years, the point is that there is at least some evidence that points out there must have been some significant influence of Zoroastrianism on other religions.

Still on the same book, the author has outlined points punching holes on the notion that Zoroastrianism might have had some influence on other religions. In one of these points, he states that for Zoroastrianism to be said to have had some influence on say Judaism, there must have been sufficient opportunity for the Jews to absorb Zoroastrian doctrines. My question is, wasn’t there such an opportunity? Over five centuries of Jewish exile in Babylon must have been plenty opportunity to be influenced if you ask me. A typical example is the strong beliefs held by Zoroastrians in an ultimate resurrection, the final judgement, the torments of hell, and the delights of heaven-beliefs that gave clear echoes in the eschatology of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

Here is my take; Zoroastrianism is not one of those religions that you can simply wish away, at one point it was a state religion for two respective empires running thousands of years. For this simple reason, there can be no denying that it must have had some solid influences on most of the religions that it came into contact with and vice versa.
Even though its popularity has significantly dwindled over the years we must agree either fully or partially that Zoroastrianism played some role in influencing some of the modern day religions that came into contact with it.

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