Zoroastrianism, a unique religion which stresses the eternal
battle of good versus evil, has had a larger impact than its
small number of followers (100,000) would suggest. It is the
religion of one man who lived some 600 years before the birth of
Christ. His name was Zoroaster. The religiously fertile area of
Babylonia (modern Iraq and Iran) was his home.
The founder of Zoroastrianism was the man Zoroaster (a Greek
corruption of the old Iranian word Zarathushtra). His time and
place of birth are unknown, but it is generally believed that he
was born around 650 B.C. in Persia (present-day Iran). However,
as Richard Cavendish observed, there is much doubt as to when and
where Zoroaster was born:
The early history of Zoroastrianism is much in dispute. The
religion was founded by Zoroaster (the Greek form of his name,
which is Zarathushtra in Persian), but it is not certain when he
lived, where he lived or how much of later Zoroastrianism came
from him. Tradition puts him in western Iran in the sixth century
B.C., a little earlier than the Buddha in India, but it is now
thought that he lived in northeastern Iran, in the area on the
borders of modern Afghanistan and Turkmenistan. An alternative
theory dates him much earlier, somewhere in the period from 1700
to 1500 B.C., and places him in the plains of Central Asia,
perhaps before the first groups of Aryans moved south from the
plains into Iran and India (Richard Cavendish, The Great
Religions, New York: Arco Publishing Company, 1980, p. 125).
Tradition says that Zoroaster was the son of a camel merchant and
grew up at a time when his fellow Persians worshipped many gods.
While growing up he had a keen interest in religion, pondering
the mysteries of life. At an early age he became known for his
compassionate nature, especially toward the elderly.
Zoroaster had an excellent education, studying with some of the
best teachers in Persia. Yet he became restless, and at age 20 he
left his father and mother in a search for answers to life's
deepest questions. He would seek, from all those whom he met,
answers to his religious questions.
During this time of Zoroaster's religious quest, it is said he
used his medical ability to help heal those ravaged by the
ongoing wars. It was at age 30 that Zoroaster received
enlightenment. As the account goes, Zoroaster received a vision
on the banks of the Daitya River when a large figure appeared to
him. This personage identified himself as Vbhu Manah, or
"good thought. " This figure took Zoroaster into the
presence of the wise lord Ahura-Mazda, who instructed Zoroaster
in the true religion.
Zoroaster spent the next ten
years proclaiming his newly discovered truth but had little
success. The movement began to grow after Zoroaster converted a
prince named Vishtaspa, who helped propagate his new-found faith.
During the ensuing years the faith spread rapidly. Zoroastrian
tradi-tion records two holy wars which were fought over the
faith, the second of which took the life of Zoroaster at age 77.
However, though the prophet died, the faith remained alive.
Zoroastrianism quickly destroyed the magic and idol worship
prevalent then and established its own belief in one god, a
heaven, and a hell (see Maurice Rawlings, Life-Wish:
Reincarnation: Reality or Hoax, Nashville: Thomas Nelson Inc.,
1981, p. 63).
The Deification of Zoroaster
As is true with many religious leaders, the later disciples of
Zoroaster, far removed in time from their master, made him an
object of veneration. Thus, Zoroaster became an object of worship
along with the deity Ahura-Mazda. He is lauded in the following
Head of the two-footed race; the wisest of all beings in the
perfection of his holiness; the only one who can daunt evil (Max
Mueller, ed., Secret Books of the East, Oxford: Krishna Press,
1897-1910, 23:190, 229, 275).
The chieftainship of all things
was from Zoroaster; the completely good, the righteous Zoroaster
(Ibid., 5:88; 18:90).
Incomparable among mankind through his desire for righteousness,
and his understanding the means of defeating the destroyer, and
teaching creatures (Ibid., 37:241).
A heavenly radiance "came
down from the endless light" to the grandmother of Zoroaster
for his birth from a radiantly wonderful virgin mother (Ibid.,
He was pre-existent, 3,000 years
before his physical birth, and during the interval he remained
with the archangels equal to the archangels (Ibid., 47:21, 22,
Richard Cavendish sums up the present-day status of
The principal religions of the world count their adherents in the
millions, and on this scale it almost needs a microscope to see
Zoroastrianism at all. There are about 100,000 Zoroastrians in
India and Pakistan, where they are called Parsis. They do not
accept converts and their numbers are steadily diminishing. There
are also a few thousand Zoroastrians in Iran, and smaller
communities in North America, Britain, East Africa and Hong Kong.
Despite its comparative poverty in numbers, however,
Zoroastrianism is enormously rich in ideas, which have had an
influence far beyond its own ranks (Richard Cavendish, op. cit.,
Because of the influence it exerts, Zoroastrianism is still a
religion to be reckoned with.
The sacred scripture of the Zoroastrians is known as the Avesta,
originally written in an old Iranian language called Avestan. Of
the original work only a small fraction has survived, with the
total size about one-tenth that of the Bible. The Avesta contains
hymns, prayers and ritual instruction. It is divided into three
major sections, the oldest of which is called Yasna.
Within the Yasna there is a group
of five hymns known as the Gathas, which are composed in a more
archaic dialect than the remainder of the Avesta. These hymns are
generally assumed to be the closest account we have of the very
words of Zoroaster.
The Gathas stress the lordship of Ahura-Mazda as the only supreme
God, along with an exhortation to righteous living. The Gathas
also reveal that the righteous will receive a reward at the end
of this present age.
The second major section is
called the Yashts and contains hymns to various deities. The
third section is known as the Vind_v_t (or Vend_d_d) and is a
section written much later, containing the law against the demons
along with other codes and regulations.
The priests of Zoroastrianism are called magi and use magic in
their communion with God. This is the source for our English word
According to Zoroaster, there is one true deity to be worshipped.
His name is Ahura-Mazda (wise lord). The opening lines of the
Avesta exalt this deity:
Ahura-Mazda, the creator, radiant, glorious, greatest and best,
most beautiful, most firm, wisest, most perfect, the most
bounteous spirit! (Max Mueller, ed., op. cit., 31:195-196).
The Gathas attribute the following characteristics to
Ahura-Mazda: Creator: (Yasna, 31:7, 11; 44:7; 50:11; 51:7.)
All-seeing: (Yasna, 31:13; 44:2.)
All-knowing: (Yasna, 31:13; 453; 48:2-3.)
Most mighty, greatest: (Yasna, 28:5; 33:11; 45:6.1 Friendly:
(Yasna, 31:21; 44:2; 4:2.)
Father of justice or Right, Asha: (Yasna, 44:3; 47:2.)
Father of Good Mind, Vbhu Manah: (Yasna, 31:8; 45:4.) Beneficent,
hudae: (Yasna, 45:6; 48:3.)
Bountiful, spenta: (Yasna, 43:4, 5, 7, 9, 11, 13, 15; 44:2; 45:5;
46:9; 48:3; 51:10.)
Most bountiful spirit, spenishta mainyu: (Yasna, 30:5.)
Although Ahura-Mazda is the supreme deity, he is opposed by
another powerful force known as Angra Mainyu, or Ahriman,
"the bad spirit." From the beginning of existence these
two antagonistic spirits have been at odds with each other:
Now the two primal Spirits, who revealed themselves in vision as
Twins, are the Better and the Bad in thought and word and action.
And between these two the wise once chose aright, the foolish not
so. And when these twain Spirits came together in the beginning,
they established Life and Not-Life, and that at the last the
Worst Existence (Hell) shall be to the followers of the Lie, but
the Best Thought (Paradise) to him that follows Right. Of these
twain Spirits he that followed the Lie chose doing the worst
things; the holiest Spirit chose Right (James Hope Moulton, Early
Zoroastrianism, London: Constable and Company, 1913, Yasna
30:3-5, p. 349).
These two powers have been co-equal from the beginning of time
and will continue to battle each other until the end of the
world. As Zoroastrian doctrine developed, both Ahura-Mazda and
Angra Mainyu were given seven attributes (known as the
Amesha-stentas) which were corresponding opposites:
Ahura-Mazda Angra Mainyu
Ahura-Mazda (God of light, Angra Mainyu (Prince of darkness)
Asha (right, justice) Drui (falsehood)
Vbhu monah (good mind) Akem (evil mind)
Kshathra (power) Dush-kshathra (cowardice)
Armaiti (love) Taromaiti (false pretense)
Haurvatat (health) Avetat (misery)
Ameretat (immortality) Merethyn (annihilation)
Zoroastrianism was one of the earliest religions to teach an
ultimate triumph of good over evil. There would be punishment in
the end for the wicked and reward for the righteous. The
following portions of the Gathas present this doctrine:
Yasna 30:2, 4, 9-11; 31:8,19; 32:6, 15; 33:3, 5; 43:12; 45:7;
46:12; 48:4; 51:6; 53:7-9
Influence Upon Other Religions
One of the claims made by some religious scholars is that
Zoroastrianism has had a profound effect in shaping the doctrines
of three major religions: Judaism, Islam and Christianity
Consider the following assertions:
The importance of Zoroastrianism has always been qualitative
rather than quantitative. Its highest significance lies in the
influence it has exercised on the development of at least three
other great religions. First, it made contributions to Judaism,
for between 538 B.C. (when the Persians under Cyrus captured
Babylonia and set free the Jews exiled in that land) and 330 B.C.
(when the Persian Empire was destroyed by Alexander) the Jews
were directly under the suzerainty of the Zoroastrians. And it
was from the suzerains that the Jews first learnt to believe in
an Ahriman, a personal devil, whom they called in Hebrew, Satan.
Possibly from them, too, the Jews first learnt to believe in a
heaven and hell, and in a judgment Day for each individual (Lewis
Browne, This Believing World, New York: MacMillan Company, 1926,
pp. 216, 217).
Influence on the Bible
Of all the other nine extra-Biblical living religions,
Zoroastrianism is the only one from which a definite religious
belief has been borrowed and included in the Bible. Consistently
throughout the Old Testament down to and including the Isaiah of
the Exile, the ultimate source of everything, including evil, is
represented as the God Jehovah. But a distinct change took place
after the Exile. A comparison of two parallel accounts of a
certain experience of King David will show that a post-exilic
document (1 Chronicles 21:1) substitutes "Satan" for
"Jehovah" in the pre-exilic account (2 Samuel 24:1).
Thus Satan is not an original feature of the Bible, but was
introduced from Zoroastrianism.
Perhaps certain other innovations besides the idea of a Satan
were adopted from Zoroastrianism by the Hebrews after they had
come into direct contact with that religion in the Babylonian
Exile: for example, the ideas of an elaborate angelology and
demonology, of a great Saviour or Deliverer to come, of a final
resurrection and divine judgment, and a definitely picturable
future life. Certainly Jesus' word "Paradise" (Greek,
paradeisos, Luke 23:43) was, at least etymologically, derived
form Persian origin (Avestan, pairidaeza) (Robert E. Hume, The
World's Living Religions, New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, rev.
ed., 1959, p. 200).
Although many teach that Zoroastrianism has had a profound
influence upon the teachings of the Bible, we believe this is not
the case at all. In other works (Answers, Reasons) we have
demonstrated that Christianity is not a man-made religion, as
many assume, but it is rather the one true faith supernaturally
revealed by the true and living God. The Bible claims to be God's
unique revelation of Himself, and we have shown the evidence that
leads one in that direction. If this be true, then the practices
of other religions, including Zoroastrianism, could not have
affected Biblical doctrine as is claimed. Those who claim
Zoroastrianism has had an effect on the Bible begin with the
inherent assumption that the Old Testament was written later than
the traditional evidence shows. Many books, such as the
Pentateuch (Genesis-Deuteronomy), job and Isaiah chapters 40-66,
are wrongly dated during or after the exile (ca 536 B.C.) instead
of as early as 1300 B.C. Consequently, when these concepts appear
in certain biblical books, they are given a late date because
they are already assumed to have been influenced by other
In More Evidence That Demands a
Verdict (written by josh McDowell), we see that these assumptions
of the late dating of the Old Testament are anything but assured.
If one accepts the traditional dating of the Old Testament, then
the proverbial shoe is on the other foot. It is not
Zoroastrianism that influenced biblical doctrine when the Jews
were in exile under Persian rule; it is the Bible that influenced
Zoroastrianism! Moreover, the ideas that are supposed to have
influenced New Testament doctrine (resurrection, final judgment,
a messiah) were either taught in the Old Testament before the
rise of Zoroastrianism or come from later Zoroastrian teachings
which first appeared after the birth of Christ. Therefore, we
strongly believe if there was any influencing on one by the
other, it is Zoroastrianism that has been influenced by the
Bible, not the opposite.
Zoroastrianism and Christianity
Although Zoroastrianism has been thought to have exerted an
influence over some of the beliefs of Christianity, there is much
in Zoroastrianism that is incompatible with Christianity.
The God of Zoroastrianism is
similar to the God revealed in the Bible; however, there are some
major differences. Ahura-Mazda is not an all-powerful God but is
only equal in strength to Angra Mainyu. They are co-equal and
According to the Bible, God is the only all-powerful Being, with
His archenemy, Satan, a created being.
"'You are My witnesses; declares the Lord, 'And My servant
whom I have chosen, in order that you may know and believe Me,
and understand that I am He"' (Isaiah 43:10, NASB). Speaking
of Satan, the Scripture says, "You were blameless in your
ways from the day you were created, until unrighteousness was
found in you" (Ezekiel 28:15, NASB).
Satan is not the opposite of God, for he is neither all-powerful
nor eternal. (See our previous volume in this series,
Understanding the Occult, on the character and abilities of
Zoroastrianism believes that a
person earns favor with God by his good works. There is no answer
to the sin problem of mankind, for the difference between a good
man and a bad man is considered to be only relative. According to
the Bible, there is no one who is good enough on his own to make
it to heaven. This is why Jesus Christ had to die on the cross,
to solve the problem of sin. The Bible makes this very clear:
As it is written, There is none righteous, not even one (Romans
3:10, NASB). For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of
God (Romans 3:23, NASB).
For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is
eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 6:23, NASB).
For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of
yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that
no one should boast (Ephesians 2:8, 9, NASB).
He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in
righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of
regeneration, and renewing by the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:5, NASB).
The practice of Zoroastrianism involves much that is occultic and
superstitious, something resoundingly condemned in the Scripture.
The practice of drinking haoma (soma in India), a hallucinogenic,
has become a central rite in Zoroastrian worship.
Any type of involvement in occultic practices is strongly
forbidden by the Bible. "There shall not be found among you
anyone who makes his son or his daughter pass through the fire,
one who interprets omens, or a sorcerer, or one who casts out a
spell, or a medium, or a spiritist, or one who calls up the dead.
For whoever does these things is detestable to the Lord; and
because of these detestable things the Lord your God will drive
them out before you" (Deuteronomy 18:10-12, NASB).
Worship in Zoroastrianism is legalistic and impersonal,
reflecting the view of its impersonal god, Ahura-Mazda. In
Christianity, God is to be worshipped personally with all one's
heart, since His nature is personal.
Psalm 100 reflects the proper attitude with which to approach the
God of the Bible. "Shout joyfully to the Lord, all the
earth. Serve the Lord with gladness; come before Him with joyful
singing. Know that the Lord Himself is God; it is He who has made
us, and not we ourselves; we are His people and the sheep of His
pasture. Enter His gates with thanksgiving, and His courts with
praise. Give thanks to Him; bless His name. For the Lord is good;
His lovingkindness is everlasting, and His faithfulness to all
generations" (Psalm 100, NASB).
Zoroastrianism may resemble something of Christianity on the
surface, but a close comparison of the two will reveal the
contradictory differences between them.
Ahura-Mazda -The supreme deity, creator of the world, the
principle of good.
Amesba-Spenta-One of the seven archangels.
Angra Mainyu-The evil creator, archenemy of Ahura-Mazda.
Avesta-The sacred scriptures of Zoroastrianism.
Dakhmas -The towers of silence where the Zoroastrians dispose of
their dead by leaving the bodies partially uncovered to be eaten
by vultures. This practice keeps the soil and water from being
contaminated with dead flesh.
Fire Temple -The place where fire worship is carried on. An
important practice in present-day Zoroastrianism.
Gabras -The name given Zoroastrians by Muslims. The term denotes
Vivedat (Venidad) -A portion of the Avesta containing magic
spells and prescriptions for purification.
Vohu Manah -the archangel also known as good thought.
Yasna -The most important portion of the Avesta, Zoroastrianism's
Zend-Avesta -A third century A.D. commentary on the Zoroastrian
scriptures (Avesta) is known as the Zend. The combining of the
two is called the Zend-Avesta.
Browne, Lewis, This Believing World, New York: MacMillan Company,
Cavendish, Richard, The Great Religions, New York: Arco
Publishing Company, 1980.
Hume, Robert E., The World's Living Religions, New York: Charles
Scribner's Sons, rev. ed., 1959.
Moulton, James Hope, Early Zoroastrianism, London: Constable and
Mueller, Max, ed., Sacred Books of the East, Oxford: Krishna
Rawlings, Maurice, Life-Wish: Reincarnation: Reality or Hoax,
Nashville: Thomas Nelson Inc., 1981.