From the earliest days, Zoroastrianism—the ancient religion of the Aryans, whose adherents worshiped Ahúrá Ma(n)zdá (“the GD of Genius; bright, boundless Mind/Spirit”) and his luminous angels (the brilliant aspects of Ahúrá Ma(n)zdá’s superb mind/spirit) who battled Añgrá Mainyü (the afflicted, gloomy mind/spirit) and his demonic frustrations—has played a central role in history of ancient religion and classical philosophy.
Zoroastrianism was known in the West for centuries. The wise figure of the ancient Aryan Prophet, Zaraþúshtrá and the Persian religion appeared in classical Greek sources; Zoroastrianism, in the persons of the 3 magi, wizards or wise men also appeared in the New Testament (Matthew 2:1–12,) and has fascinated and sparked the imaginations of European minds from Nietzsche to Wordsworth.
During the Jewish Enlightenment or Haskalah, of the late 18th and early 19th centuries, there were many reasons for the “enlightened” Jewish scholars known as maskilimto familiarize themselves with the ancient Aryan religion of the Persians.
The “Persian Period,” is a critical era in the biblical/Jewish history. Following the conquest of the Near East by the Zoroastrian King, Cyrus the Great in the 6th century B.C.E., Jews came under a Persian Zoroastrian dominion that lasted for centuries. Except for a brief interlude following the conquests by Alexander the Macedonian in the 4th century B.C.E., Babylonian Jews were subjects of successive ancient Iranian, Zoroastrian dynasties that together made up more than a millennium.
A number of important books of the Bible were written during this period. Moreover, the central work in the Jewish canon, the Babylonian Talmud, was produced close to the Zoroastrian Sassanid winter capital of Ctesiphon.
Babylonian Talmud contains many Indo-European/Persian loanwords and numerous references to Zoroastrian kings, religious leaders, and aspects of cultural and religious life in Iranian/Zoroastrian-ruled Mesopotamia.
Moreover, major Jewish beliefs NOT found in the Torah, that have developed in post-biblical times, such as those concerning the afterlife, angelology, the future Messiah, a great battle at the conclusion of time, the resurfacing of a new universe, the resurrection of the dead, and a new luminous future body, ALL appear in the Jewish lore only after the Jews came under the Persian Zoroastrian rule.
Yet, biblical apologists consisting mostly of Evangelical Christians, have an unshakeable faith that the Zoroastrian eschatology and angelology could not have possibly influenced the later biblical books and worldview. Neither can they accept the Zoroastrian influence on Greek thought as admitted by Greek philosophers themselves.
Hence, these biblical apologists disguised at times as scholars, have all along stubbornly insisted to lower the age of the ancient seer Zaraþúshtrá from 600 years before the Trojan wars (about 1700-1800 BCE as reported by almost all the ancient Greek writers;) to 600 or even 300-100 BCE. They have even suggested that Zaraþúshtrá was the accursed Palestinian servant of Nehemiah/Nəḥemyāh , the Jewish cup-bearer to Artaxerxes I, the 5th Achaemenid Persian king (465 BCE to 424 BCE.)
This pretty much explains why they so insist that Cyrus the Great, the Achaemenid or Parthian dynasties were not even Zoroastrians.
But none of such wishful sermons will change the FACT that the ideas of afterlife, angelology, and the Messiah are NOT to be found in the TORAH and ONLY appear in the Jewish lore during or after the PERSIAN PERIOD.
The Hungarian maskil Alexander Kohut, who among his other accomplishments edited and vastly expanded the classic 11th-century talmudic dictionary, the Arukh, and filled it with Persian etymologies, was fascinated by the Zoroastrian angelology and demonology and charted many correspondences between the Persian/Zoroastrian system and its Jewish counterpart.
The Austrian talmudist Isaac Hirsch Weiss listed a number of critical areas in which, he argued, the rabbis had adopted Persian practices. In other places Weiss claimed to have found signs of resistance—instances in which rabbis established practices specifically as a means of precluding certain “Persianisms” in practice and interpretation.
The most radical and colorful character involved in the exploration of Zoroastrianism was a sharp-tongued Galician maskil named Joshua Heschel Schorr. Schorr wanted to radically reform Judaism by subjecting it to the rules of logic and a rationalistic approach.
Schorr saw Zoroastriansim simply as “ancient Aryan wizardry,” and see any parallel he found between the Zoroastrian Avesta and the Old Testament or Talmud was a sign of corruption in the Hebrew bible and a reason for excision and reform.
A system of nomenclature for angels in Jewish lore DID NOT EXIST prior to the Persian Zoroastrian period. We find for example, angels being named for the first time in the book of Daniel (a book compiled during the Persian exile).
The naming of angels is of great importance in the Zoroastrian religion (See Gathas of the Prophet, Yasna 51.22, 3rd rhymed verse line.) The Talmud itself relates that: “Shemot HaMal’akhim ‘Alu Lahem MiBavel” – “The names of the Angels arose from Babylon”.
The Talmud, in fact, goes to the extent of borrowing the names of many of angels in the Zoroastrian pantheon, such as: Mithrá/MiÞrá (called Metatron in the Talmud), Aæshm , the demon of wrath in Zoroastrianism, (called Ashmedai, the king of the Jewish demons in the Talmud), Añgrá, or Ahriman, the afflicted spirit in Zoroastrianism (called Agrat, queen of the demons and one of four angles of sacred prostitution who mates with archangel Samael in the Talmud), and many more…
In Zoroastrianism Ahriman’s frustrations are numerous and are referred to as dævs, demons or devils. Talmud reinterprets that and states that demons are more numerous than the dust of the earth; Masekhet Berakhot 6, Midrash Tehillim 17, Tanhuma, etc.
In Zoroastrianism throwing food, water and/or drink at night into the direction of north is considered sacrilege and a symbol of feeding the dævs. Masekhet Megillah 3 states that during the period of night, no one must offer or receive the hand of another (for fear of an evil spirit).
In the Zoroastrian Hádókht Nask; the soul’s journey after the physical death is through the moon, sun, star stations into the boundless lights; Midrash Tehillim contend that the righteous who dwell in Paradise are as luminous as the stars, etc.
The truth is that Torah or the five books of Moses, embrace a human-centered philosophy that combines the celebration of ethnic identity with an adherence to human-centered values and ideas. A fact that is not lost on the great Zoroastrian commentators of holy Denkart.
Torah if studied objectively has clearly a non-metaphysical approach, according to which the power of the Jewish spirit or stand is the embodied ONE GD in history. It is a religion of here and now, a common mythology of the Jewish people. Torah uses theistic language, but makes few if any metaphysical claims that non-believers would find objectionable.
Torah’s Judaism is arguably the paradigm example of the evolution of a culture and tradition that can embrace religiosity without faith in the afterlife or a world to come.
On the other hand, Zaraþúshtrá’s does NOT embrace a human-centered Philosophy in his poetic gathas or anywhere in the Avesta. Mortal Man is something that shall be overcome and developed into something far better and more luminous. Mortal Man is a rope, tied between beast and a god-like superb power—a bridge over an abyss … what is great in mortal man is that he is a bridge and not an end.
Zaraþúshtrá’s philosophy is all about the triumph of the will power, the triumph of the mind/spirit, the odyssey of the conscious force. The universe is not ruled by inexorable mechanical laws; instead it is governed by the power relations between limited and unbounded conscious energy, seer-will and mind/spirit (minoo.)[
And as the powers of mind/spirit are evermore unleashed; a new physical body, a new, splendid universe and a new age of unlimited and eternal progress will be born (frashö-kart.)
Gathas are the poetic visions, riddles and heartfelt prayers of an Indo-European genius, seer/prophet called Zaraþúshtrá who lived in ancient antiquity, most likely about 3700-3800 years ago; at a time that the ancient Aryans were still living in the Pontic-Caspian steppes and lofty mountains of the Central Asia. Even Akenaten, the father of monotheism as we know it; lived most likely few centuries after him.
The kind of monotheism that Zaraþúshtrá teaches; is that of the supreme force of genius, goodness and boundless mind/spirit at work in this and other universes, which is manifested in the ever fascinating odyssey of consciousness throughout various development stages and eternal progress.