Zoroastrianism “may be a minor religion on the world scene today, but it has had a major impact on the world by way of the other monotheisms.” (15)
Monotheism: “the doctrine or belief that there is only one God.” (16)
My prior knowledge of Zoroastrianism was tied to the wise men (magi) who visited the child Jesus. The First Gospel of the Infancy of Jesus Christ (also known as Arabic Infancy Gospel or Syriac Infancy Gospel) which is part of the New Testament apocryphal writings, and is at least partially based on the Infancy Gospel of Thomas, and the Protoevangelium of James, includes the story of the wise men. In the third chapter of this gospel, it discusses the story of the wise men of the East that visit Jesus. (17) It does in many ways closely follow the story as found in the Gospel of Matthew, except it adds a piece of information not found in Matthew, that the wise men were sent to pay homage to the Christ child according to a prophecy of Zoroaster.
“Magi were the designated terms for the ancient Zoroastrian hereditary priesthood. According to Herodotus, Magi were one of six Median tribes and formed the priestly clan of the Zoroastrians. He adds that Magi were scholars, tutors, skilled dream interpreters, and gave very accurate prophecies of the future events. An integral part of the wisdom of the Magi was connected with heavenly lights/stars.” (20)
Not all scholars agree that the wise men that visited the Christ child were Zoroastrian Magi, but it certainly is one of the possibilities.
A study of who exactly the wise men were will make for a great Christmas or Epiphany themed blog entry later in the year! But for now, I will center on the theme of salvation in Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.
A tiny introduction to Zoroastrianism:
It is an Iranian (Persian) religion, “founded about 600 B.C.E. by Zoroaster, the principal beliefs of which are in the existence of a supreme deity, Ahura Mazda, and in a cosmic struggle between a spirit of good, Spenta Mainyu, and a spirit of evil, Angra Mainyu.” (18)
“Zoroastrians believed in one supreme God who created the heavens and the earth, who authored all that is good. They also believed in a spiritual adversary who authored evil. They believed in a coming redeemer, a prophet who would be sent by God to save mankind. They strictly forbade the worship of idols. They believed in angels and in devil spirits and in the eventual triumph of good over evil. They set forth a system of laws and ethics stressing a strict code of moral behavior.” (19)
“Judaism became immersed in the world of Zoroastrianism when Jerusalem’s leaders were carried off to captivity in Babylon in 587 B.C.E. The Jews remained there for about 50 years. Some who returned to Jerusalem were born there, so had known only that Babylonian culture. It is understandable that they brought back with them some of what they encountered there. They found some of the ideas there persuasive, and so began to mix some of those beliefs with those of Judaism. We could pay attention especially to the Hebrew Bible books of Ezra and Nehemiah in this regard, as well as Books of the Apocrypha.” (15)
I could write several blog entries just about Zoroastrianism, and it’s influence (or lack of influence, for not all scholars agree) on Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. But this blog entry centers on the aspects of salvation in each of the religions.
Salvation in Zoroastrianism:
Think the good thought, speak the good word, and do the good deed. Zoroastrians do not believe that human beings are born in sin, thus do not believe in the concept of original sin. (1 & 2)
Tenants of the Zoroastrian faith:
Truth. Zoroastrianism stresses truth more than anything else. Man is equipped through mental consciousness to discern truth from falsehood, and has the free will to choose between right and wrong.
Charity. “He who gives assistance to the poor acknowledges the kingdom of God.” – a line from a Zoroastrian prayer Yatha Ahu Vairyo.
Purity. Zoroastrianism puts value on purity – of both the body and the mind.
Dignity of labor. Hard work and the dignity of labor are emphasized in Zoroastrianism.
The heart of Zoroaster’s thought focused on the freedom of choice that human beings must exercise. (1 & 2)
Humans were charged with the responsibility of making moral choices between good and evil, but they had a natural affinity for the good. At the end of this life, they would be judged at the “bridge of the judge,” where the good would be sent to heaven and the evil to hell. (1 & 2)
Zoroastrians do not believe that human beings are born in sin. “They believe that there is potential for good as well as evil in every human being. There is a divine spark or essence in each of us. We should recognize it and utilize it to its fullest potential. This divine spark (known as one’s Fravashi or Farohar) is depicted in architecture as a bird with outstretched wings.” (1 & 2)
The goal of the religion of Zoroastrianism:
“To serve God, by good deeds towards others. To acquire and cultivate divine attributes, particularly “good mind and righteousness; to elevate themselves in harmony with God and to listen to God’s guiding voice within them.” (21)
“The case for a Judeo-Christian dependence on Zoroastrianism in its purely eschatological thinking is quite different. And not at all convincing, for apart from a few hints in the Gathas which we shall shortly be considering and a short passage in Yasht 19.80-90 in which a deathless existence in body and soul at the end of time is affirmed, we have no evidence as to what eschatological ideas the Zoroastrians had in the last four centuries before Christ. The eschatologies of the Pahlavi books, though agreeing in their broad outlines, differ very considerably in detail and emphasis; they do not correspond at all closely to the eschatological writings of the intertestimentary period nor to those of St. Paul and the apocalypse of St. John. They do, however, agree that there will be a general resurrection of the body as well as soul, but this idea would be the natural corollary to the survival of the soul as a moral entity, once that had been accepted, since both Jew and Zoroastrian regarded soul and body as being two aspects, ultimately inseparable, of the one human personality.” (3 & 5)
Salvation in Judaism:
“In Judaism, salvation is closely related to the idea of redemption, a saving from the states or circumstances that destroy the value of human existence. God as the universal spirit and Creator of the World, is the source of all salvation for mankind, provided we honor him by observing his precepts. So redemption or salvation depends on the human being himself. Judaism stresses that salvation cannot be obtained through anyone else or by just invoking a deity or believing in any outside power or influence.” (6)
In Judaism, salvation can be achieved by: Living a holy and righteous life dedicated to Yahweh, the God of Creation. Fast, worship, and celebrate during the appropriate holidays. (7)
Salvation is obtained “. . .through belief in God and Mitzvot (good deeds).” (21)
In traditional Judaism the blessings for obedience and the consequences for disobedience have effect in the here and now, not in the world to come. (8)
Jews do not believe in the doctrine of original sin.
Goal of the religion of Judaism:
“To celebrate LIFE! To fulfill the Covenant with God. Do good deeds. Help repair the world. Love God with all your heart. Strong social justice ethic.” (21)
Salvation in Christianity:
We have the need for salvation and Jesus is the one who provides it. Salvation is achieved “. . .through Christ’s Passion, Death, and Resurrection.” (14)
Salvation (also called deliverance or redemption) is the “saving [of] human beings from sin and its consequences, which include death and separation from God“ by Christ’s death, and resurrection, and the justification following this salvation. (9, 10, & 11)
Although there are differences in views among the multitude of Christian denominations about “sin and depravity (the sinful nature of humankind), justification (God’s means of removing the consequences of sin), and atonement (the forgiving or pardoning of sin through the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus)” (12) but the belief in Jesus as the Messiah and Savior are central to the beliefs in all of Christianity.
Most Christian denominations adhere to the belief of the concept of original sin.
Goal of the religion of Christianity:
“To love God and obey his commandments while creating a relationship with Jesus Christ and spreading the Gospel so that others may also be saved.” (14)
Salvation in Islam:
Salvation from sin is not necessary in Islam. They do not believe in original sin. Jesus’ death on the cross was not necessary for salvation. (13)
Salvation, in Islam is based upon a Person’s Good Works Outweighing Their Bad.
“Since Muslims do not recognize original sin, they see no need for salvation in the Christian sense. There is nothing to be saved from. Consequently, if there was no original sin, there is no need for a Savior. Salvation, in Islam, is based upon the deeds of a person.” (13)
In Islam, “people are saved by the will of Allah through obedience to his law, the Shari’ah. Consequently, in Islam, a person is to live a good life, pleasing God in all that they do. They are to submit to him and follow his commandments. Religion, to the Muslim, does not mean salvation from sin. Instead, it means following the right path, or the Shariah which mapped out by Islamic law. Islam cannot offer anyone assurance of salvation in this life. It is only at the Judgment Day that people will discover whether they have been accepted by Allah.” No forgiveness is necessary. There is no forgiveness for personal sin, forgiveness is something that Allah will give if he wishes. There is no offer of forgiveness based upon repentance. Only those whom Allah wishes to forgive are forgiven. (13)
Goal of the religion of Islam:
“Fulfill [the] gift and responsibility of this life through following the guidance of Holy Quran and Hadith, striving to serve mankind through compassion, justice, trustworthiness, and love for all of God’s creation.” (14).
I would venture to say that tenants of the Zoroastrian faith – truth, charity, purity, and dignity of labor are all accepted virtues in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam all have a belief in one God.
Zoroastrianism: “To serve God, by good deeds towards others. To acquire and cultivate divine attributes, particularly “ good mind and righteousness; to elevate themselves in harmony with God and to listen to God’s guiding voice within them.” (21) Freedom of choice.
Judaism: “To celebrate LIFE! To fulfill the Covenant with God. Do good deeds. Help repair the world. Love God with all your heart. Strong social justice ethic.” (21) Free will.
Christianity: “To love God and obey his commandments while creating a relationship with Jesus Christ and spreading the Gospel so that others may also be saved.” (14) Free will.
Islam: “Fulfill [the] gift and responsibility of this life through following the guidance of Holy Quran and Hadith, striving to serve mankind through compassion, justice, trustworthiness, and love for all of God’s creation.” (14) Free will.
☆ This blog entry is from my work in the World Religions course at Phillips Seminary that I am currently taking. ☆
5. R.C. Zaehner, The Dawn and Twilight of Zoroastrianism. G.P. Putnam’s Sons. New York. 1961. Pg. 57.
6. Ezekiel Isaac Malekar, THE SPEAKING TREE: Concept of Salvation In Judaism – Times Of India (archive.ph). 20 November 2004.
9. Definition of salvation in Christianity: Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd ed. 1989: “The saving of the soul; the deliverance from sin and its consequences.”
10. Murray, Michael J.; Rea, Michael (2012), “Philosophy and Christian Theology”, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
15. Clement Graham. WK 5 TEACHER TALK.docx. World Religions course at Phillips Theological Seminary.
17. “Arabic Infancy Gospel // 3.1. Manuscripts”.
MS 2: Florence, Biblioteca Laurenziana, codex orientalis 387 , fols. 2r–48v (from the year 1299 AD) via Wikizero – Syriac Infancy Gospel
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