Monday, August 22, 2011

Zoroastrian Precedents in Judaism, Christianity and Islam

Ancient Persian religion, Zoroastrianism (a religious system still found in some parts of India and Iran), was founded around 600 BCE, whose core was centered on fire and sacrifice.

"The word Zoroaster is by various authorities differently derived: Kircher furnishes one of the most interesting derivations when he seeks to show that it comes from TzURA = a figure, and TzIUR = to fashion, ASH = fire, and STR = hidden; from these he gets the words Zairaster = fashioning images of hidden fire; - or Tzuraster = the image of secret things. Others derive it from Chaldee and Greek words meaning "a contemplator of the Stars." -

Zoroaster's name denotes an astronomical/astrological aspect and a study of the hidden or secret fire.  

According to the Persian theology the universe is ruled by two great powers, Ormuzd or Ahura Mazda (God) and Ahrimana (Satan). The one represents light, the other darkness; the one is good, the other evil. Between these two powers there is perpetual war. The center of battle is man, each striving for his soul. God created man with a free will and discernment to choose between good and evil. Those who choose the good are rewarded with everlasting life in heaven; those who choose the evil are punished with endless misery in hell; while those in whom the good and evil are balanced pass into an intermediate state (purgatory), to remain until the last judgment.

To save mankind God sent a saviour in the person of Zoroaster with a divine revelation. Zarathrustra (or Zoroaster, in Greek/English) was a prophet from the kingdom of Bactria. Zoroaster's parents (Dukdaub and Pourushasp) were a normal marriedcouple. Zoroaster is described as laughing when he is born as well as having a visible, glowing aura about him: " (Zoroaster) had come into the posterity...who are Pourushasp, his father, and Dukdaub who is his mother. And also while he is being born and for the duration of life, he produced a radiance, glow, and brilliance from the place of his own abode..." Denkard Book 5 2:1-2

Zoroaster came out of seclusion at the age of 30 to begin his teachings (biblical Jesus is said to have done so as well at 30). He was shunned and ignored for 12 years until his religion was accepted by King Vishtaspa and reformed ancient Persian religion.

In Zoroastrianism, the figure of Satan resemble Ahrimana (father of darkness), the messiah is resembled by Saoshyant. Entities that surround Yahweh, such as his Wisdom and Spirit are comparable to the archangels escorting Ahura Mazda (father of light and goodness) and Spenta Mairiyu, respectively. Other borrowings are last judgement, the resurrection, the final transformation of the earth, paradise, ascent of Elisha into heaven (Arda Viraf - an ancient Persian sage).

He elevated the stature of Ahura Mazda to that of supreme god of goodness whereas the god Ahrimana became the ultimate embodiment of evil. This Zoroastrian dualism influenced the Judaic belief in the existence of HaShatan, the adversary of god YHVA (Yahwe). This later developed into the Christian Satan-Jehovah dichotomy.

The word ‘Yahwe’ has a number of correlations in other languages and dialects. In Vedic (proto–Sanskrit), the word ‘Yah’ means ‘he who’ indicating a logical connection to the later Hebrew. The word ‘Yahu’, ‘Yahva’ or ‘Yahvat’ is the feminine form of ‘Yahvi’. ‘Yavhati’ is found several times in the Rig Veda. Yahva meaning great, is applied to Soma, Agni and Indra. Agni is addressed as ‘O Yahva’ and was later borrowed by Jews from the Chaldeans although the Chaldean language cannot claim it to be originally its own. Chaldeans borrowed it from Indians in their mutual association.

Zoroaster taught his disciples a creed to:
  1. uphold the cause of goodness with ritual and moral behaviour since messianic deliverance laid ahead; and
  2. the resurrection of the dead and life everlasting after judgement.

The creed spread rapidly across Western Asia through Persian rule. This influenced Judaism and the Oriental (a geographical region in the east of the Mediterranean sea) mysteries, which became part of the setting of Christianity. It also influenced the concepts of Christian angels and the notion of hell fire.

The Teachings of Zoroaster

Asho Zoroaster used his wisdom and after years and years of research. He realized that the purpose of life on earth was to live a full life. To take responsibility for our action or our inaction. To strive for progress towards perfection.

He discovered that there was One God and every thing was part of it. He called this God, Ahura Mazda. When he used these words separately, this meant that it is not a name but a description. Where Maz means Great and Entire and Da stands for Wisdom, while Ahura means Creation and Existence. Ahura Mazda created the Wisdom in Existence and from then on, the chain reaction has been responsible for the evolution in the ever-expanding universe, which is in an ever-changing state. Zoroaster did not believe that the world was made in seven days and did not want to put the blame of everything, good or bad on Ahura Mazda, for he said:
These, you, not Ahura Mazda
Wisdom and Knowledge (Mazda Ashem) also brings evil
Mind also is the best
That which strives to create good guidance
For you to be worthy
Mighty, satisfied, also worthy of praise
Gatha HA 28.9 (FR)

This he enumerated and today we know it as the Seven Sepentas. Am-Asha-Sepenta means the Laws (Sepenta) based on ever existing and everlasting (Am) Truth (Asha) or in other words the 'Eternal Truthful Laws'.

1. Vohu Mana - Good Mind. The mind, the brain, should be used in a good way and each one to their maximum capacity. This is the first step. It is the Wisdom, the wise mind, to which one has to refer to find out the Truth and to make decisions. In nature this wisdom is inbuilt and is limited to 'About Itself', what we call instinct. While we humans can acquire wisdom and, more important, unlike in nature, our wisdom is not limited to, 'About Ourselves', but we can acquire unlimited knowledge. Referring to Vohu-mana is a much more advanced stage of what scientists know as the Alpha state of the brain. Today with a little training a person can get into the Alpha state at will, memorize texts, solve problems and be a different person. Vohu-mana is a higher state and involves the use of a larger portion of the brain, for a longer period of time, which is normally idle. In opposition to Vohu-mana is Ahri-mana the Evil Mind. The same mind has two forces, the good and the evil. Zoroaster placed great emphasis on these two forces, which are equal in strength, but if the mind succumbs to the evil force the end result will be the opposite, the undesirable. People learned to fly but used it to wage war. They discovered the Atom but created the Atom Bomb. They conquered outer space and the first thing that came to the Ahri-mana was Star War. They are into genetic science and cloning and rightly fear the Ahri-mana.
2. Asha Vahista - Good Truth. The using of the mind in a Good way and to its maximum results in good discoveries, good inventions, good knowledge, the understanding of the natural laws. Zoroaster called these the good truth. The Good Truth is what is obtained through Vohu-mana and comprises of the Universal Truth, of knowledge about ourselves, of all that is around us; the laws of nature, the harmony in nature, human behavior, psychology, physiology, the knowledge about stars, galaxies and outer space. In nature it is limited to 'Self Truth' each element in nature knows itself, it knows what course it has to take to evolve, and this is called instinct. Humans can use their Vohu-mana and explore, have knowledge about everything around them and even cause changes in them.
3. Khash atra vairya - Good Guidance. The information, the truth, the discoveries, what do with them? People have to use them to make life better by making Good Rules, Good Laws, Good Products, and giving Good Guidance and Good Services. Khash atra vairya or Harmony in nature is in existence and takes its natural course. If we humans need to evolve and advance, we need to make use of the acquired Truth. With the increase in our knowledge of the natural laws, human behaviour, psychology, how the universe works and the peoples' role in it, they have to take the third step: They make their own laws and rules to conduct their worldly affairs in tune with these natural laws. Thus doing nothing to disrupt the harmony but instead evolving and advancing in harmony with the rest of the universe by choosing the Righteous path.
4. Spenta Armaiti - Lawful Desire. The result of Khash atra vairya is Righteousness. A righteous society is a paradise where people live in harmony with each other and with nature. Where there is no war, no pollution, no sickness, no lies, no thefts, no fear. When there is good guidance, there shall be lawful desire, love, harmony, peace and justice among men and in their relationship with the rest of the universe. It is this fourth stage which creates a Paradise or a Heaven, right here on earth.
5. Haurvatata - Perfection. In a Righteous society people have a chance to advance mentally, physically and spiritually. The result is perfection. Perfect doctors, perfect engineers, perfect musicians, perfect farmers, perfect poets, perfect athletes, perfect priests, perfection in all fields. It is in such an atmosphere of Spenta Armaiti that one will achieve Haurvatata, that is to become complete - mentally, physically and spiritually. In this stage one leads a normal day to day healthy life which is full of righteousness, justice, law, order, peace and is in tune with nature and the universal Truths of “Sophia perennis,” philosophia perennis,” “prisca theologia” and “religio perennis. One spends his life to achieve perfection in what one does best. This is the fifth stage, which can be easily achieved in a Righteous society, a Heavenly society.
6. Ameretat - Immortality, free from the fear of death. Perfection creates a mental stage in human life where one is free from the fear of death, free from the fear of the unknown. Thereby one does not belong to the material world but to a timeless, spaceless world where death has no meaning. Having achieved Haurvatata one becomes Ameretat (Immortality), but not in the physical sense. People are made of a substance that ages and every person including Zoroaster has died. It is at this stage that the final and seventh stage is attained.
7. Mazda Ahura or Ahura Mazda. Having attained perfection and lost the sense of fear, the final and seventh stage is attained and one understands and becomes one with the Wisdom in Creation, the Great Wisdom, the Power, the living Wisdom, the active, creative, expanding Force that keeps the universe in action and chain reaction, and the Creator of this Wisdom. Mazda Ahura is Wisdom in Existence or Creation and Ahura Mazda is the non-anthropomorphic Creator of Wisdom

These seven stages are said to be the natural stages of growth, applicable to the whole life. A right choice will create a Heaven and a wrong choice will create a Hell, here on this very Earth. Zoroaster’s concept of Heaven and Hell are both Earthly.

These stages are in tune with the practical day to day living of a normal life, there is no call for renunciation, penance or disruption of ordinary day to day living. One has only to guide and channel his daily activities in accordance with the Eternal Law. Zoroaster himself lived a normal life and had a wife and six children. Moreover all these stages are attainable in one life period and do not require reincarnation. Zoroaster never said he had reincarnated nor promised to come back.


Zoroastrian Precedents in Judaism, Christianity and Islam

1. The Zoroaster way of life had no statues or temples to replace it with, so when Herodotus passed through the Persian Empire this is what he recorded. "The following are certain Persian customs, which I can describe from personal knowledge. The erection of statues, temples, and alters is not an accepted practice among them, and anyone who does such a thing is considered a fool, because, presumably, the Persian religion is not anthropomorphic like the Greeks...."

He further states: "As for ceremonial, when they offer sacrifice to the deities I mentioned, they erect no altar and kindle no fire; libation, the flute music, the garlands, the sprinkled meal - all these things, familiar to us, they have no use for; but before a ceremony a man sticks a spray of leaves, usually myrtle leaves, into his head-dress, takes his victim to some open place and invokes the deity to whom he wishes to sacrifice. The actual worshipper is not permitted to pray for any personal or private blessing, but only for the king and the general good of the community, of which he is himself, a part. When he has cut up the animal and cooked it, he makes a little heap of the softest green stuff he can find, preferably clover, and lays all the meat upon it. This done, a Magus utters an incantation over it in a form of words which is supposed to recount the Birth of the gods. Then after a short interval the worshipper removes the flesh and does what he pleases with it". This is the forerunner to what one finds in Islam today.

'Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness, to be tempted by the devil.' (Matthew 4:1) The use of the Three gifts of the Magis - Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh - Vohu-mana, Asha Vahista and Shahrivar was to be put to a test, so although this test lasted 40 days (Mark 1:13, Matthew 4: 2, Luke 4:2) it comprised of only three questions. (Matthew 4:3-11 and Luke 4:3-13). The test was from what he had learned from the Scriptures given to him by the Zarathushties (Magi’s).

The first symbolic test for biblical Jesus was with regard to Vohu-mana, the use of the power of his mind in the righteous way. They wanted the use of the brain limited to earning bread. But biblical Jesus says that the mind should not be used just to feed oneself, instead it should be used in the Vohu way as desired by God. Next his Asha Vahista (knowledge, Truth) was tested, a test with regard to the Natural law - the law of gravity. When he was taken to the pinnacle of temple. He knew science, the truth and that the force of gravity will pull him down and no angel can stop it. The final test was on Shahrivar (making good rules). He was given the choice of making bad laws and reaping the advantage but he chose to make the Righteous Law. Biblical Jesus rejected the offer and said one should serve the righteous law of God. He used the three gifts (Vohu-mana, Asha Vahishta and Shahrivar) successfully.

Zoroastrianism placed humans on a footing never before known to these scribes and wherever the Zoroastrianists ventured they left their signature, their mark, in history in a symbolic way, by way of the figure seventy-two. The seventy-two parts of Avesta, the seventy-two parts in the feathers of the Fravahar at Takth e Jamshid (Persepolis) which is above the head of Daryush and now in the Bible in Luke 10 it has been left for those that can recognize it. 'After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others, and sent them on ahead of him, two by two, into every town and place where he himself was about to come.' (Luke 10:1), although most current Bibles have changed it to 70. 'The seventy-two returned with joy, saying, "Lord even the demons are subject to us in your name!" (Luke 10:17)

2. One Supreme Deity - Herodotus says the Persian God was a non-anthropomorphic God unlike that of the Greeks and Romans and now Christians. It was not confined to the temple nor needed any sacrifice. God for ancient Zarathushtian was a force in nature, which encompassed the whole universe, something that the whole system was made up of, something, which we humans are also, part of. No shape or form or symbol was ascribed to Ahura Mazda. Every human being can be one with Ahura Mazda if he follows the seven steps called Am Asha Sepantas, the Eternal Law.

"The erection of statues, temples, and alters is not a acceptable practice among them (Persians), and anyone who does such a thing is considered a fool, because the Persian religion is not anthropomorphic like the Greek. .... they erect no alter and kindle no fire; the libation, the flute music, the garland, the sprinkled meal - all these familiar to us, they have no use for. " These kind of precepts are found in Isam. 

Spirituality is not the only road to God. One has to progress in all directions - Mental, Physical and Spiritual.

3. Heaven and Hell - The concept of Heaven arises from Spenta Armainti a righteous society, which is not in the skies and beyond the clouds, but on earth. It is a home, a neighbourhood, a community, a society, a country, a place which has to be created by our righteous thoughts, words and deeds, and is the fruit of Vohu-mana.

The word Paradise was derived from the Greek word ‘Pari Daiza’ and meant circular enclosure, behind which in ancient Persian, the Zoroastrianists, created beautiful gardens which they called ‘Ferdows.’ It was originally introduced by Xenophon in his ‘Oeconomicus’, where he relates how Kurosh brother of King Ardeshir personally conducted Lysander the Greek General, round his Paradise at Sardis. Xenophon writes, "....Lysander was full of admiration for the beauty of the trees, the accuracy of their spacing, the straightness of their rows, the regularity of the angles and the multitude of their scents...’. The creation of such a place was possible because the Zoroastrianists had used their Vohu-mana and learned the secrets of the plants, and used it to create these beautiful gardens. The system of planting would today be categorized under scientific farming.

The human mind, Mana, can at the same time be used in a Ahri or bad way, and is called Ahri-Mana. The net result of such use will be the creation on Hell on earth. Enmity, war, famine, sickness and conflict with the laws of nature are a result of Ahri-mana. The wrong use of knowledge upsets the balance in nature and creates difficulties. The constant conflicts in large and small pockets around the world create hell. The social and economic systems, which exploit human and natural resources all create hell. So Hell is not under the ground, no horned devils, no snakes or fire await us after our death, but hell exists on earth, and we create it with our Ahri-mana and live with the difficulties while we are alive.

This was the original concept of Heaven and Hell in Zoroaster’s teachings. Today most religious scholars agree that heaven and hell have come to other religions through Zoroastrianism.

Later the Arabic Moslems who conquered Persia repeated the same exercise of burning the books, because they believed all that people needed to know was given by God in the Koran. They did not allow the people under their rule to learn any thing but the Koran. Thus, Vohumana was out of use for a second time, this time by the power of the sword. Wrong concepts started creeping into Zoroastrianism, among them was the concept of the heaven and hell after death and away from the earth.

It is of significance to note that heaven and hell do not feature in the Hebrew Scriptures, being purely New Testament concepts. The very word ‘hell’ was taken from the Indo-European goddess of the underworld, Hel.

Hell is according to many religious beliefs about the afterlife, a place of torment, of great weeping and gnashing of teeth. The English word 'hell' comes from the Norse 'Hel', which originally referred to the goddess of the Norse underworld. In most religions' conception of Hell, evildoers will suffer eternally in Hell after their death or they will pay for their bad deeds in hell before reincarnations.

Hell exists in the Christian popular imagination. It has its origins in Hellenized Christianity. Judaism, at least initially, believed in Sheol, a shadowy existence to which all were sent indiscriminately. Sheol may have been little more than a poetic metaphor for death, not really an afterlife at all. In any case, the afterlife was much less important in ancient Judaism than it is for many Christian groups today; indeed, the same can be said for modern Judaism as well.

The Hebrew ‘Sheol’ was translated in the Septuagint as 'Hades’, which means both the ancient Greek abode of the dead and the god of that underworld. Haidou was the genitive form of the word, meaning "the house of Hades". Haides was ‘origin', the name for the underworld in Greek mythology comprises the collected legends of Greek gods and goddesses and ancient heroes and heroines, originally created and spread within an oral-poetic tradition. 

‘Gehenna’ is a word tracing to Greek, ultimately from Hebrew Gai-Ben-Hinnom meaning “Valley of the Son of Hinnom” and is still called Gai Be', from the Valley of Ge-Hinnom, a valley near Jerusalem used as a landfill. Hebrew landfills were very unsanitary and unpleasant when compared to modern landfills. The Hebrew places were filled with rotting garbage and the Hebrews would periodically burn them down. However, by that point they were generally so large that they would burn for weeks or even months. In other words they were fiery mountains of garbage. The early Christian teaching was that the damned would be burnt in the valley just as the garbage was.

Gehenna is fairly well defined in rabbinic literature. In Judaism, Gehenna, while certainly a terribly unpleasant place, is not hell. The overwhelming majority of Rabbinic thought maintains that people are not tortured in hell forever; the longest that one can be there is said to be 12 months. Some consider it a spiritual forge where the soul is purified for its eventual ascent to Gan Eden (Heaven), where all imperfections are purged.

4. The Messiah - Ancient Zoroastrianism did not have this element, Zoroaster never claimed that he would come back. He gave the guideline, his principle of the seven Am Asha Sepantas, and every one was to be a Messiah for himself.

5. Resurrection and the Final Judgement - Reincarnation, Resurrection and the Final Judgement are as alien to Zoroaster’s teaching as are Heaven and Hell. The aim of life is perfection (Khordad) and this can be achieved in one lifetime there is no piece meal system. The reward of good and bad is realized while you still live.

6. Angels - in Zoroastrianism, angels or "bountiful immortals" were divine beings that were aspects of Ahura Mazda. The angels - "messengers" in Hebrew tradition - acquired the wings depicted on guardian deities in Assyrian and Babylonian tradition, and many of the spiritual powers of these divinities. The Bene Elohim of Genesis evolved into an elaborate pantheon of warring angels.

Angels came late into Jewish theology, generally from the non-Jewish myths of the East. The early books of the Bible speak of some vague heavenly beings called malochim (singular, malach). Although malach is usually translated angel, its literal meaning is messenger."- Harry Gersh, The Sacred Books of the Jews.

"The angel of the LORD found Hagar near a spring in the desert; it was the spring that is beside the road to Shur."- Genesis 16:7.

Zoroastrianism all but disappeared in Persia after the Muslim invasion of 637 CE. A few thousands survive in remote villages in Iran. Many of them fled to India in the 8th century CE as the Muslims conquered Persia. The descendants of these refugees live mainly in Bombay and are called Parsees. The few thousand who remained in Persia have had a tough time ever since. Many Zoroastrians converted to the Baha'i Faith with the belief that Baha'u'llah, the Prophet of the Baha'i Faith, was the fulfillment of Zoroastrianism.

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