Or, Letting Skeptics Have A Taste Of Their Own Medicine

By "Antero"

One of the reasons I have become convinced of the superiority of Christian faith is that more I have studied the holy writings of other religions, the more I have seen how completely they would collapse if they were subjected to even a FRACTION of the kind of scholarly criticism that Bible has been showered with. The Book of the Books has been taking in, for two centuries, the worst that secular scholarship has had to offer while the books of other religions have gotten off relatively lightly. This is probably due to the unspoken fact that most unbelievers see only Christianity as a serious intellectual opponent among religions - others are simply not seen as even worth the effort.  

That, and the on-going debate between JP Holding and Richard Carrier in here,


has inspired me to put down this piece, "ad majorem Dei gloriam."

One of the most popular skeptical ideas is the theory that the Pentateuch is mostly or completely a post-exilic forgery. According to them, its real author was not Moses but rather some anonymous deceitful scribes in the times of king Josiah and scribe Ezra.

Another idea that skeptics like to confidently push forward is that the Zoroastrian religion of Persians influenced the religion of Israelites in various ways, beginning with their Babylonian exile.

Now I intend to make these two Bible-bashing ideas collide. It is an acceptable Biblical strategy to let your opponents annihilate each other (2 Chronicles 20:23).

My main point in this essay is simply this:

Skeptics, just like you like to lay the burden on believers to prove that this or that Torah passage is really of Mosaic origin and not some post-exilic forgery, SO IS YOUR BURDEN TO PROVE THAT THIS OR THAT AVESTAN PASSAGE IS NOT A LATE SASSANIAN FORGERY.

I will now show why this is a justifiable attitude - I will give Zoroastrian sources the same kind of treatment that skeptics ROUTINELY give to Biblical books. (Actually skeptics are often even much more hyper-critical towards the Scripture that I will be here on Avesta)


First I will establish the fact that there is a great vacuum of ignorance right in the beginning of Persian sources on Zoroastrianism - it has been said that the Achaemenid inscriptions do not know the Avesta, and the Avesta does not know the Achaemenid dynasty.

As Martin Schwartz admits (p. 666):

"(Avesta) is completely devoid of references to persons, institutions, or events of Achaemenian times. . The place names mentioned, apart from mythological geography, are all in Eastern Iran; it is as though Persia did not exist. Accordingly, as the canonization of the scripture took place long after the Achaemenian period, the lack of references to identifiable Achaemenian realia makes the Avesta an elusive source for the religion of Achaemenians in general and Persia in particular."

The main reason why some scholars have thought that (at least some parts of) Avesta are really ancient is an archaic language of such passages. However, this excuse has not stopped sceptics from late-dating Pentateuch (on the basis of language ALONE, all of Torah is clearly pre-exilic), so I won't let Avesta off the hook so easily either.

Quoting Richard Frye, one of the most respected experts on Persian history:

"Certain features of the language of the Gathas and the Younger Avesta as well are more archaic than corresponding features in Vedic Sanskrit (25), but this, of course, does not mean that the Gathas are therefore older in time than the Rig Veda, since as a parallel in Altaic languages, modern Mongolian in many features is "more archaic" than the oldest Turkish, and Arabic is in the same relation to Hebrew."

(from "The Heritage of Persia," 1962, p. 28)

Walter Henning agreed:

"On the date there have been, in essence, only two opinions. The Zoroastrian tradition has preserved a date which would put Zoroaster in the neighborhood of 600 B.C. Opinion is divided according to whether this traditional date is accepted as true or rejected.

". Those who reject the date seem to do so not so much because of reasoned arguments but out: of a vague feeling, the feeling that the Gathas of Zoroaster are old, old, ever so old as if 600 B.C. were not old enough for almost any thing! It was due to the same kind of vague feeling that earlier generations of scholars attributed, the Rig-Veda to the third millennium B.C. - an estimate that is thoroughly discredited nowadays. Of course, this feeling is not, as a rule, represented as such, but appears in the guise of specious reasoning. In the: case of Zoroaster we have to deal chiefly with two pleas one is a linguistic argument of such extraordinary feebleness that one is amazed at finding it seriously discussed at all; the other is the hitherto unsuccessful attempt to set the traditional date aside by showing that it is not a genuinely transmitted date, but one found by calculation in later times.

"The linguistic argument is this in comparison with the language of the Old Persian inscriptions the language of the Gathas is far less developed far closer to hypothetical Old Iranian therefore, the Gathas should be older than the oldest Old Persian inscriptions by more than a few decades. This argument would hold good only if the language of the Gathas were the same dialect, at an earlier stage, as Old Persian; but that is not the case and has never been claimed. It is notorious that the various dialects of one and the same language group develop at different speeds and in different directions, so that the comparison of two dialects can never lead to a relative date. Moreover, in Iranian the Eastern and Western dialects developed not merely in different but in opposite directions thus while the word endings disappeared in the West, they were well maintained in the East. From the point of view of comparative linguistics the Gathas could have been composed at a date far later than 600 B.C. "


The archaic language of Gathas was probably due to the fact that Zoroastrianism was born in the rustic Eastern Iran, far from the cultural centers of Indus Valley and Mesopotamia  - and also far from the Jewish exiles in Babylon.

Then, what then could be the clearest evidence that Persians could not have given any Zoroastrian ideas to Jews during their Babylonian exile?

Perhaps the fact that we do not possess any evidence of Cyrus himself being Zoroastrian. The first concrete proofs of the existence of Mazdaism outside Avesta itself are in the inscriptions of Darius, who does mention the deity "Ahura Mazda" - but does NOT mention the name of prophet Zoroaster. Neither does he make any detailed theological statements (like concerning the essential Zoroastrian idea of "Amesha Spentas") besides the simplistic idea of fighting for truth and opposing lie.

The scholars who date Zoroaster in the 6th century BC (like E. Herzfeld and F. Altheim) actually speculate that Darius' father Vishtaspa/Hystaspes might have been the first influential convert to Zoroastrianism.

M. Schwartz agrees (p. 684):

"Evidence is lacking for religion under the predecessors of Darius I. It is well known that Cyrus II "The Great" (559-529 B.C.), as part of his policy towards the peoples which came under his rule, restored the Temple at Jerusalem; he also restored the cults of Babylon, neglected by the defeated Nabonides, and, in a Babylonian description, declared himself a beloved servant of Marduk. What beliefs and practices were current among Cyrus's people is unknown."

Herodotus tells us how ordinary Achaemenian Persians buried their dead with wax, showing how Magian caste with its doctrines had no big (if any) influence on them. James Darmesteter comments:

 "If we pass now from dogma to practice, we find that the most important practice of the Avesta law was either disregarded by the Achmenian kings, or unknown to them. According to the Avesta burying corpses in the earth is one of the most heinous sins that can be committed; we know that under the Sassanians a prime minister, Seoses, paid with his life for an infraction of that law . Corpses were to be laid down on the summits of mountains, there to be devoured by birds and dogs; the exposure of corpses, was the most striking practice of Mazdean profession, and its adoption was the sign of conversion.

Now under the Achmenian rule, not only the burial of the dead was not forbidden, but it was the general practice. Persians, says Herodotus, bury their dead in the earth, after having coated them with wax. But Herodotus, immediately after stating that the Persians inter their dead, adds that the Magi do not follow the general practice, but lay the corpses down on the ground, to be devoured by birds. So what became a law for all people, whether laymen or priests, under the rule of the Sassanians, was only the custom of the Achmenians.

"7. There are other features of the Avesta religion which appear to have been foreign to Persia, but are attributed to the Magi. The hvatvdatha, the holiness of marriage between next of kin, even to incest, was unknown to Persia under Cambyses (Herod. III, 31), but it is highly praised in the Avesta, and was practised under the Sassanians (Agathias II, 31); in the times before the Sassanians it is mentioned only as a law of the Magi (Diog. Laert. Prooem. 6; Catullus, Carm. XC).]

Let this be compared to sceptical claims on how ordinary pre-exilic Israelites had no contact to Yahwist doctrines.

(See Appendix 1 at the end of the essay for more on this subject)

And here is a tidbit that would surely make Christ-mythers jubilant, if something similar were to he observed in the history of Christianity:

(Russell, pg. 49)

"Zoroaster himself is not mentioned in Achaemenian monuments, nor indeed is his name to be found in the inscriptions of the Sasanians, who were undoubtedly Zoroastrians."

There is also a great vacuum in the early Greek historiography concerning Zoroaster himself. Herodotus knows many details about the Magian caste of Persia, but he doesn't even hint at the existence of their supreme prophet and supposed law-giver! Neither does Xenophon mention him in his Cyropeadia or Anabasis. The earliest mention of Zoroaster in Western sources occurs in a 4th-century BC pseudepigraphic Platonic epistle (Alcibiades I, 122).

Using hyper-critical skeptical standards, this might be used as an evidence that in the 5th century BC, Magis had not yet adopted Zoroaster and his prophetic doctrines as their own, acting just merely as a sacrificial priestly caste in the manner of Indian Brahmins.


Making it even more improbable that Israelites might have just "borrowed" stuff from Magians, even if they had wanted or gotten an opportunity, Darmesteter points out that Magis actually jealously guarded their doctrines from outsiders:

"3. Pliny very often confounds Magism and Magia, Magians and Magicians. We know from Pliny, too, that Tiridates refused to initiate Nero into his art: but the cause was not, as he assumes, that it was 'a detestable, frivolous, and vain art,' but because Mazdean law forbids the holy knowledge to be revealed to laymen, much more to foreigners: (Yast IV, 10; cf. Philostrati Vita Soph. I, 10)."


Albert De Jong points out (p. 409) that "In theory, Zoroastrians are forbidden to have physical, personal or even commercial contacts with followers of other faiths."

Describing this practice of hostile secrecy, Greek church father Basil the Great related in his 258th letter to Epiphanius:

"They have used their own peculiar customs, not intermingling with other peoples. It is completely impossible to use reason with them, inasmuch as they have been taken by the devil, according to his will.

"For they have no books among them, nor teachers of religion, but they are educated in an unreasoning way, receiving the impiety by transmission from father to son.

"Now apart from these things - these are observed by all - they reject animal sacrifice as a defilement, (even) slaughtering through the hands of others the animals they need; they rave after unlawful (incestuous) marriages, and they consider fire to be god, etc. But sofar, no one of the Magi has told us any myths about their descent from Abraham; but they claim some Zarnouan (Zurvan?) as the ancestor of their race. Accordingly, I can write nothing more to your Honour about them."

If Basil could not get any detailed theology out of them, how could the Jews in exile have done any better?

Besides, Basil was describing the conditions of Magis ("the nation of the Magusaeans") in Roman-held Asia Minor, untouched by Sassanian reforms, in the late 4th century AD, and he certainly seemed to be unaware of the existence of any written Avesta.

(Let this be compared to sceptical theories that Jews in the Egyptian Elephantine colony were untouched by JEDP reforms.)

Armenian church father Eznik of Kolb confirms the observations of Basil (Russell, pg. 531) :

"the fifth-century Armenian writer Eznik of Kolb notes in his Elc alandocc "Refutation of Sects" that the Zoroastrians do not put their teachings in writing: Ew kcani end grovkc ccen sovin patren ztxmars "And since religion is not in writing, sometimes they say that and deceive by it, and sometimes they say this, and by the same mislead fools." (L. Maris, Ch. Mercier, Eznik de Kolb, De Deo, Patrologia Orientalis, Vol. 28, Fasc. 3, Paris, 1959 (Arm. Text), 472 para. 192).

De Jong cites an anecdote that shows how Zoroastrian doctrines were still being transmitted mainly orally even towards the end of the Sassanian era (pp. 72-73):

"possibly the most illuminating reference to Zoroastrian religious education has been found in the seventh-century Syriac life of Yeshu-Sabran (99). He was a former Zoroastrian converted to Christianity, who went in search of religious instruction. He therefore asked his Christian teachers to recite ten psalms to him and immediately repeated these texts loudly, while making strong movements with his head. He was then warned by his teacher not to do this, but to learn the scripture as the Christians do, by relying on texts."

Would those certain skeptics that make the equation "oral transmission = unreliable, flexible, prone to embellishments" when dealing with Gospels be prepared to do the same in here?

Finally, James Russell notices how even the medieval remnants of Zoroastrians in Armenia were continuing this practice (pg. 297):

"Iranian and Zoroastrian tradition stressed oral recitation and memorization rather than written records, particularly in the case of sacred texts, (57) and medieval records indicate that the Arewordik, a surviving remnant of the Armenian Zoroastrian community, (58) did indeed transmit religious learning orally from father to son."

Indeed, these fundamental bias against writing seem to echo still in the 10th-century Persian epic Shahnameh by Ferdowsi (Russell, pg. 289) :

"To a certain extent, the Iranians have always regarded writing as foreign and even demonic: the Sah-name attributes its invention to the divs."


One of the quite uncritically accepted Zoroastrian claims is that Alexander the Great destroyed most of Avesta and persecuted Zoroastrian priests. This is an extremely late legend (it appears in a 9th-century AD Pahlavi book Arda Viraz Namag) that is not supported in the slightest by Western sources that, on the contrary, describe how Alexander treated Persian culture with such respect that Greeks got annoyed by it.

As Richard Frye gently notes (The Golden Age of Persia, p. 19):

"The loss of ancient (Zoroastrian) writings is, for the most part, the result of lack of interest and any desire to preserve them, rather than any deliberate attempt to destroy or extirpate them. Writings may have perished in the burning of Persepolis by Alexander, but stories of deliberate destruction of unique manuscripts must be regarded with scepticism."

Jan Bremmer comments less gently (pg. 50):

"For the influence of Christianity in this period we probably also have another example. According to several Zoroastrian writings, the Greeks under Alexander the Great had destroyed not only a precious Achaemenid Avesta codex but also the other religious books, which had been written in 12,000 ox-hides. In fact, there is not a trace at all of these writings in the Achaemenid period, and the tradition seems to have been created in order to explain the absence of a Persian holy book in contrast to those of the Jews, Christians and Manichaeans. This lack of written religious tradition seems to have been first seriously felt precisely in the same period in which resurrection became an issue (61)."

Bible-bashing skeptics, however, usually accept this legend rather gullibly, for it is one of the few, shaky proofs for the early date of Avesta and its advanced doctrines, and thus for the hypothesis of OT-Zoroastrian borrowing.

Thus, the legend that Alexander destroyed most of Avesta, which was then handily re-arranged in the Sassanian times by Zoroastrian priests, is accepted by people who sneer at the idea that Pentateuch was really written by Moses and then suddenly discovered in the time of Josiah. Whatever happened to their skepticism?

It has been claimed that most Nasks, Avestan books, were lost due to the ravages of Alexander. The only information that we possess about these books is now contained in 9th-century Pahlavi commentaries like Bundahishn and Denkard - and yet, as this commentary of Denkard by James Darmesteter shows, lost books like "Sudgar Nask" contained clear references to the Sassanian period:

""The seventh fargard, T-ve-rato (Av. t ve urvata, Y31.1), is about the exhibition to Zartosht of the nature of the four periods in the Zoroastrian millennium (hazangrok zim, "thousand winters"). First, the golden, that in which Ohrmazd displayed the religion to Zartosht. Second, the silver, that in which Vishtasp received the religion from Zartosht. Third, the steel, the period within which the organizer of righteousness, Adurbad Mahraspandan, was born. Fourth, the period mingled with iron is this, in which is much propagation of the authority of the apostate and other villains {sartarno), along with destruction of the reign of religion, the weakening of every kind of goodness and virtue, and the departure of honour and wisdom from the countries of Iran. In the same period is a recital of the many perplexities and torments of the period for that desire (giryh) of the life of the good which consists in seemliness. Perfect is the excellence of Righteousness (Av. ashem vohu vahistem asti, Y27.14)."

"If this be a correct account of the contents or this fargard, the writer was evidently consulting a Pahlavi version of the Nask, composed during the later Sasanian times."


If some Biblical book would contain boo-boos like this, sceptics would late-date it without mercy! See below on the issue of post-Islamic Pahlavi commentaries.

The other quite uncritically accepted proof for the supposedly early date of Avestan corpus is the mention in Pliny's Natural History 30:2.4, saying that Hermippus (around 200 BC) had listed the contents of volumes attributed to Zoroaster in the library of Alexandria.

However, new studies by scholars like Roger Beck have seriously questioned whether this citation was really about Avesta or just some Hellenistic pseudepigraphical literature that went under the name of Zoroaster, much like equally spurious Hermetical corpus that went under the name of "Hermes Trismegistus."

De Jong cites Beck's work (Thus spake not Zarathustra: Zoroastrian pseudepigrapha of the Graeco-Roman world, an "Excursus" in M. Boyce and F. Grenet, A History of Zoroastrianism, Vol. 3 (Leiden: Brill, 1991), pp. 491-565.) and states (p. 317):

"Zoroaster's place in Greek and Latin literature can be discussed only briefly in the present context. There is a large amount of texts mentioning his name, but most of these are Greek and Roman literary fictions which are unconnected with Iran (apart from the name Zoroaster itself) . Similarly, the range of Zoroastrian pseudepigrapha is considerable, but with very few exceptions, owes nothing to Iranian literature or ideas. (2) The same is undoubtedly true of the famous two million lines of Zoroaster's writing that are said to have been catalogued in the library of Alexandria. (3) In spite of the obvious interest ofall the references to Zoroaster and his his writings, the possibility that they owed something to genuine contact with Iranians or genuine knowledge of Iranian religions is very slim."

It is by no means impossible that this spurious Zoroastrian pseudepigrapha that floated around in the Hellenistic world also influenced the report of Diogenes Laertius (around 200 AD) on Persian beliefs - or what people like Theopompus had said about them, for as de Jong points out (p. 228):

"There are some serious problems involved, which limit the use that can be made of such information, however: it is beyond doubt that Diogenes (Laertius) did not read all the authorities he quotes. He is often thought to have relied upon compilations of ideas and histories of philosophy that predate his own work."

If some skeptics can suggest that people like Suetonius or Tacitus were not relating us really reliable information about Jesus but were rather just repeating what they had heard others speak about him, then certainly the same doubt can be extended to Diogenes' report on what people like Theopompus had said.

In any case, de Jong substantially agrees with Jan Bremmer's (whom he cites) and JP Holding's interpretation of Diogenes' Theopompus quotation (pp. 327-28):

"Diogenes Laertius uses for the resurrection a term that means "come back to life" and is used, for instance, to refer to the incarnations of Epimenides (14). It stresses the return of the life-force rather than the resurrection of the deceased body. . If Plutarch's extract from Theopompus is reliable, Theopompus would have understood this resurrection as a taking place in a spiritual body."


Richard Frye emphasizes how unreliable the Persian history-writing before the Sassanian period (which began in 226 AD) was - let this be compared to a common skeptical attitude that even a modestly reliable history-writing in Israel begins only around the time of David and Solomon.

"For the Persians solid history begins with the Sasanians. What transpired before Ardashir is vague and legendary, a heroic age; but this does not mean that after Ardashir we escape myth and uncertainty, for what happened and what people believe should have happened are frequently confused even in that portion of Iran's history which is related by many different sources."

(from "The Heritage of Persia", pp. 207, 211, 219, 221-223, also available online here:


Then Frye describes the tendency of Sassanians to justify their present-day institutions with made-up historical precedents:

"Later Sasanian tradition, reported mainly in Arabic sources, traces the beginnings of all institutions of church and state back to Ardashir. He is the ruler who reinstated or resurrected the old Persian empire with its various institutions as well as the religion of Zoroaster which had been in eclipse under the Hellenistic kings and the Parthians. Apursam, the confidant of Ardashir, was credited with holding the office of prime minister (vuzurg framadar) while Tansar was the first chief mobad according to Arabic sources. The purpose of the later Sasanians in attributing an early origin for many offices was probably that they wished to seek authority for new developments by clauning that these were in fact not new, but dated from the beginning of the empire although they had fallen into decay. The antiquarian renaissance of the time of Chosroes I (6th century AD) is well known and will be discussed below, and this was probably the period when the reference of institutions back to Ardashir was made."

Wouldn't it make perfect sense to assume that this crudely revisionist policy would include even (or, especially) the scriptures of Zoroastrianism, the state-religion of the Sassanian empire?

Now, let us replace the king Josiah and scribe Ezra of the JEDP scheme with high priests Kartir (3rd century AD) and Adarbad Mahraspandan (4th century AD). As my sources will show, they could have well forged Avesta just like sceptics claim that huge portions of Pentateuch had been forged in the times of Josiah and Ezra.

They could have foisted several new doctrines (like resurrection) on their subjects at this point.

Richard Frye says:

"There is no indication that Tosar is to be identified with Kartir, but his activities, including making a new recension of the Avesta according to the Denkart would make a veritable Kartir of him. The inscriptions, however, are more reliable than literary sources and they tell only of Kartir, although a person called Tosar may have been active under Ardashir before Kartir came to the fore. Kartir must be the real founder of Zoroastrian orthodoxy under the early Sasanian kings. . Zoroastrianism for the classical writers was the epitome of the mysterious, Oriental cult. Yet Kartir and his followers laid the basis for Zoroastrian orthodoxy which probably opposed magic, demon worship, and the like as much as did Christian orthodoxy in the empire of the Caesars."

In her OWN quest to make the Zoroastrian theology to look coherent, even Mary Boyce has been ready to suggest the possibility of blatant interpolations, perpetrated by the Persian establishment, to Avesta in the Sassanian times. De Jong describes her theory (p. 67):

"This heresy (Zurvanism) grew very strong in the Sasanian period, where most kings and their subjects were Zurvanites, and it is to this period that Boyce assigns the Avestan references to Zurvan and related divinities (81). Nevertheless, she assigns the origin of Zurvanism to the Achaemenian period, largely on the basis of some Greek passages."

This is mighty convenient for Boyce, for the Greek knowledge on Persian theology was even at its best more or less confused - and in any case, de Jong points out that
"there is not a speck of evidence that suggests that Zurvanism was at any period, or in the mind of any Zoroastrian theologian, ever considered a heresy."

Frye speculates that the Sassanid Persians could have been influenced by the Christian concept of Canon - who knows what else they might have borrowed?

"Belief in divine revelation and the recording of that revelation in books was in the air, and the Christians, of course, were the most widespread propagators of the idea of 'Holy Writ'. It may have been because of the example of the Christians that the Zoroastrian church assembled and canonised its writings. Zoroastrian tradition claims that fragments of the Avesta were assembled and presumably written down in Arsacid times and again under Shapur I. The written Avesta of the early Sasanians must have been really a mnemonic device to aid the memory of the priests who usually recited the Avesta in a traditional Oriental manner.

"In the beginning of the fifth century the present Armenian alphabet was devised mainly to propagate the Christian religion in that land. Some have conjectured that the present Avestan alphabet was invented about the same time possibly as a forerunner or even as an imitation of the Armenian alphabet although the Avestan alphabet in phonetic completeness is more like the Devanagari alphabet of Sanskrit. It is not impossible to assume a religious motivation for the creation of this rather late alphabet which, as far as we know, was only used for texts of the Zoroastrian religion.

". It must be emphasized that we have no old manuscripts of the Avesta, none earlier than thirteenth or fourteenth century, but the existence of a written Avesta in Sasanian times much as we know it today seems assured in spite of the overwhelming importance of the oral tradition. "


(Indeed; if you should think that the Bible's historicity is not supported by enough manuscripts, you should consider the equivalent situation of the Avesta. Bremmer reports (pg. 47):

"However, our oldest Avestan manuscript dates from only AD 1288, and all extant manuscripts go back to a single Stammhandschrift of the ninth or tenth century. (38)" )

Other scholars have propounded similar ideas to those of Frye:

"Hutter's "Manichaeism in Iran in the Fourth Century" attempts to fill a hole in the history of the Manichaeans in Iran during the reign of King Sabuhr II (309-379) by examining the few original sources from this period. He claims that the writing of the Zoroastrian Avesta was in reaction to the writings of the Manichaeans and this gave the Zoroastrians a means to counter the growing Manichaean movement in Iran in the 4th century."

(Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2000.09.18 - R.E. Emmerick, W. Sundermann, P. Zieme, Studia Manichaica. IV. Internationaler Kongress zum Manichismus. Berlin: Akademie Verlag, 2000. Pp. xiv + 666. ISBN 3-05-003330-4. DM 198.)


J. Bremmer suggests the following theory (pg. 49):

"Rather strikingly, no other mention of resurrection in Iranian thought (after the Theopompus citation) can be found before the Sassanian period, when the belief in an afterlife and resurrection was evidently much discussed. It is against this background that we have to situate the well-known visions of the Sassanian high priest Kirdir (ca. 280 AD). Why, though, would resurrection, mentioned only incidentally in the whole of the Old and Young Avesta, have suddenly risen to such prominence? . We know that in the third and fourth centuries AD Christianity made great inroads in Iran. (60) It may well be that the Zoroastrian leader Kirdir decided to beat the Christians on their own terrain and "upvalued" the resurrection as mentioned in the Young Avesta. Such a development would at least explain internal Zoroastrian discussions about resurrection. Had belief in resurrection been an age-old and respected Zoroastrian dogma, this phenomenon would be much more difficult to understand."

Add to this the fact that many scholars readily admit that Sassanians might have copied material from other cultures to Avesta as well!

Whatever R.C. Zaehner might have thought about the relationship between Zoroastrianism and Judaism, he also strongly propounded the theory that Avestan compilers had adopted alien ideas and declared them as old Iranian doctrines:


"Such, then, are the main sources on which we must rely for our information on the Zoroastrianism of the Sassanian period. The 'orthodoxy' they reflect is that imposed on the Zoroastrian Church by Khusraw I. It is, however, not to be supposed that that monarch had eliminated all questionable doctrine from the corpus of writing in the pahlavi tongue which constituted the Sassanian Avesta. This corpus, which probably bore little relation to what of the original Avesta had survived in the Avestan language, had already been heavily adulterated with extraneous material, and this material, once it had become embedded in it, passed off as having divine sanction. Shapur I, it will be recollected, had 'collected those writings from the Religion which were dispersed throughout India, the Byzantine Empire, and other lands, and which treated of medicine, astronomy, movement, time, space, substance, creation, becoming, passing away, qualitative change, logic, and other arts and sciences. These he added to the Avesta and commanded that a fair copy of all of them be deposited in the Royal Treasury; and he examined the possibility of basing every form of academic discipline on the Religion of the Worshippers of Mazdah."

Zaehner is otherwise correct, but he was subscribing to the legend that Alexander the Great had destroyed "the original Avesta", whereas it is quite obvious that Sassanian theologians often simply took and "baptized" non-Iranian ideas, using the Alexander story as an excuse that they were simply re-possessing old Avestan doctrines that had been scattered around the world.

Massoume Price describes this non-Iranian material circulating under the name of Zoroaster in Sassanian times:

"According to Dinkard, the Zoroastrian canon in Pahlavi, Book IV, "all knowledge and sciences was received by Zoroaster from Ahura Mazda and transmitted through Avesta. Destruction of Persia by Alexander dispersed the texts throughout the world. The Greeks, the Egyptians derived all their knowledge and science from these dispersed texts. Subsequently Sassanian emperors took it upon themselves to collect all these texts from all over". The sources name Byzantium, India and China as the main centers where book collecting was taking place.

. The Book of Nativities (Kitab al-Mawalid) was a five part astronomical work that was translated from Pahlavi into Arabic in 750. It was ascribed to Zoroaster and according to the Iranian historian Sa'id ibn-Khurasan-Khurreh, "it was translated by Mahankard, an Iranian scholar from among the books of Zoroaster". "


(On the basis of his name, Mahankard probably wasn't a Muslim but a Zoroastrian scholar.)


Richard Frye notes that the Zoroastrian orthodoxy was not actually totally formalized until after the Islamic conquest of Persia, thus making even ISLAMIC influence on Avesta possible!

Before that, there was lots of liberalism in theological beliefs (orthodoxy) just as long as ceremonial rites were performed correctly (orthopraxy):

"The question of heresies within the Zoroastrian religion is complicated because our Pahlavi sources are all post-Islamic in date, when the minority religious communities of the Zoroastrians were more concerned with correct beliefs than in Sasanian times when the religion was upheld by the state. I believe that orthopraxy was more important than orthodoxy under the Sasanians and Zurvanism, or time speculation, was not a heresy in the same manner as Mazdakism, which was a threat to the practices and the organisation of society as well as the church."


In other words, as long as you didn't disturb the political status quo, the officials of Sassanian Persia didn't pay much attention to your beliefs and it was the later Pahlavi commentators that really created the Zoroastrian dogma we know today.

Zaehner also points out that we have no certain way of knowing just what Avestan passages are "original" and what just Pahlavi additions:

"What the Zandiks appear to have done was to single out those passages from the 'Avesta' and Zand which suited their purposes, and to have ignored the ancient traditional doctrines altogether. This would be all the easier for them to do in that there never seems to have been any clear dividing-line between what was 'Avesta', that is, the 'received text' of revelation, and what was Zand or 'commentary', the two together being known to the Muslims indifferently as the Avesta u Zand or the Zand u Avesta which was later to appear in European languages as Zend-Avesta. "


Others have also seen non-Iranian influences in post-Islamic Pahlavi commentaries like Denkart, which in turn are our source on much that we know about Sassanian Avestan doctrines (J. De Menasce, pp. 545, 559-560):

"The (book IV of the Denkart) begins with a sort of philosophical exposition of the "procession" of  the Amesa Spenta in terms reminiscent of Neoplatonism .

"The systematic treatment of ethics is conducted along more rigorous lines; here also the ideas are traditional, but the tabulation of virtues and vies is borrowed largely from the peripatetic school. There are grounds for the belief that this borrowing is not of recent date but can be traced to the lost Nasks of Avesta, as is suggested by the rich miscellany of ethical learning which makes up Book VI of the Denkart. "

In other words, the "lost Nasks" of Avesta (supposedly destroyed by Alexander) were already influenced by Greek ideas. You may compare this to claims that Christian ideas on Trinity were influenced by Greek philosophy.

In our days, even liberal Zoroastrian scholars like Dr. Ali Jafarey are ready to admit the heavy-handed Avestan revisionism:

"(f) Regarding the "ordeal of molten metal," all I have to add to what Mr. Ardeshir Mehta and Mr. Farshid Bakhtiari have said, is that when LOGIC fails to convince the minority *intellectuals*; miracle, magic and trickery are employed to dupe the majority simple to force and enforce the issue. Did (the high priest) Adurbad undergo the ordeal? I do not believe it. He had all the power, all the resources to suppress any opposition-a power the Sassanians employed to brutally crush all those who opposed them. Adurbad did not need any stunt. He lived in the 4th century CE of the Sassanian supremacy. The "miracle" ascribed to him was written 500 years later in the Pahlavi books. We know that these books were written/rewritten during the Islamic period of utter depression for Zoroastrians-enough to make a mountain of mole to keep the laity from going over on the other dominating side, also very rich by that time in miracle stories.


"In fact the entire Khordeh Avesta is made up of "cut and paste" from other parts of the Avesta, including the Gathas plus additions of Pazend pieces. It is not an original scripture. Although ascribed to Adarbad Mahraspandan of the Sassanian period, a closer look into scriptural chronology and lingual structure shows that it is a collection made after the 9th century CE during the Islamic period of Zoroastrian decentralization and decadence. It was devised to keep the flickering flame burning and never to SUPPLANT the Gathas or other guiding parts of the Avesta. It has done so simply because of the ignorance of the chanters by rote. The Khordeh Avesta still does not have a standard edition. Each edition differs from the other -- from six to 89 prayers! The entire Khordeh Avesta, ranging from 6,500 to 20,000 words in its different editions, has only 204 -- only two hundred and four -- words from the Gathas and the Haptanghaiti of 6,813 words!!! I have a 30-page research essay on it in Persian.



We shall now briefly deal with some of the contents of Avesta itself.

James Darmesteter showed that there are in allusions in some parts in Avesta (Avesta ITSELF, not later commentaries like Denkard), to 4th century AD Manichaeans and even 6th century AD Mazdakians (Zoroastrianism was not really plagued by "heretics" until Mani):

"There are two passages in the Venddd which seem to contain internal evidence of their date, and in both cases it points to Sassanian times, nay, the second of them points to the age of Manicheism. The first is found in the eighteenth Fargard ( 10): Ahura Mazda, while cursing those who teach a wrong law, exclaims:

'And he who would set that man at liberty, when bound in prison, does no better deed than if he should flay a man alive and cut off his head.'

This anathema indicates a time when Mazdeism was a state religion and had to fight against heresy; it must, therefore, belong to Sassanian times.

... However it may be with regard to the foregoing passage, it is difficult not to see a direct allusion to Manicheism in lines like the following (IV, 47 seq.):

'Verily I say it unto thee, O Spitama Zarathustra! the man who has a wife is far above him who begets no sons; he who keeps a house is far above him who has none; he who has children is far above the childless man, he who has riches is far above him who has none.

'And of two men, he who fills himself with meat is filled with the good spirit much more than he who does not so; the latter is all but dead; the former is above him by the worth of an Asperena, by the worth of a sheep, by the worth of an ox, by the worth of a man.

'It is this man that can strive against the onsets of Astvdhtu; that can strive against the self-moving arrow; that can strive against the winter fiend, with thinnest garment on; that can strive against the wicked tyrant and smite him on the head; it is this man that can strive against the ungodly Ashemaogha[2] who does not eat[3].'

2. Ashemaogha, 'the confounder of Asha' (see IV, 37), is the name of the fiends and of the heretics. The Parsis distinguish two sorts of Ashemaoghas, the deceiver and the deceived; the deceiver, while alive, is margarzn, {footnote p. xli} worthy of death,' and after death is a darvand (a fiend, or one of the damned); the deceived one is only margarzn.

3. The Pahlavi translation illustrates the words 'who does not eat' by the gloss, 'like Mazdak, son of Bmdd,' which proves that this part of the commentary is posterior to, or contemporary with the, crushing of the Mazdakian sect (in the first years of Khosrav Ansharvn, about 531). The words 'against the wicked tyrant' are explained by the gloss, 'like Zarvndd;' may it not be Kobd, the heretic king, or 'Yazdgard the sinner,' the scorner of the Magi?]


This would be an equivalent of some Torah passages alluding to the schools of Sadducees and Pharisees! Sceptics would late-date it in a twinkling of an eye.

"The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia" tells us more about these "heretics" and their relation to the date of Avesta:

"The fact that in both the Yasna and the Vendidad heretics (zanda) are mentioned who preferred the commentary (zand) on the Avesta to the Avesta itself, is a sign of late date. Names of certain persons found in the Avesta (e.g. Atare-pata, a Dastur who lived under Hormuzd I, 273 AD, and Rastare-Yaghenti, whom the Dinkart identifies with the chief Mobed of Sapor II, 309-379 AD, Aderpad Marespand, and who, according to the Patet, section 28, "purified" the revelation made to Zoroaster, i.e. revised the text of the earlier parts of the Avesta) enable us to prove that certain portions of the work as we now have it were composed as late as near the end of the 4th century of our era."


Another sign of late-date: Avesta contains allusions to Buddhism as a competitor of Mazdaism in Central Asia.

1. From the region of the north, from the regions of the north 1, forth rushed Angra Mainyu, the deadly, the Daeva of the Daevas 2. And thus spake the evil-doer Angra Mainyu, the deadly: 'Druj, rush down and kill him,' O holy Zarathushtra! The Druj came rushing along, the demon Buiti 3, who is deceiving, unseen death 4.

(This is incidentally from the very same story that sceptics claim to parallel with the story of Jesus' temptation by Satan)

Commentary: "3. Buiti is identified by the Greater Bundahishn with the Bt, the idol, worshipped by Budasp (a corruption of Bodhisativa). Buiti [Buddha] would be therefore a personification of Buddhism, which was flourishing in Eastern Iran in the two centuries before and after Christ. Buidhi (Vd11.9 may be another and more correct pronunciation of Bodhi. "


I will now give special attention on two Avestan hymns, Zamyad Yasht (hymn to the earth) and Frawardin Yasht (hymn to protective deities), plus one point in Avestan legal code (Vendidad), for they would seem to contain the clearest allusions on belief in the physical resurrection in all of Avesta.

(In Frawardin Yasht 129., Zamyad Yasht 89. and Vendidad Fargard 18:51)

I will show that they contain so strong allusions to post-Achaemenian times that sceptics would immediately late-date them, had they been Biblical psalms instead.

(Many, many psalms were confidently dated to the Maccabean era until Qumran findings made such notions totally inplausible)

First, Zamyad Yasht contains allusions to Turanian invasions into Iranian (Aryan) lands. They are even portrayed as attempting to seize the crown of Iran:

Zamyad Yasht:

We sacrifice unto the awful (kingly) Glory, that cannot be forcibly seized, made by Mazda ....
Which the Turanian ruffian Frangrasyan tried to seize in the sea Vouru-Kasha. He stripped himself naked, wishing to seize that Glory that belongs to the Aryan nations, born and unborn, and to the holy Zarathushtra. But the Glory escaped, the Glory fled away, the Glory changed its seat, and an arm of the sea Vouru-Kasha was produced, namely, that lake that is called Lake Husravah.
Then the most crafty Turanian Frangrasyan rushed out of the sea Vouru-Kasha, O Spitama Zarathushtra! thinking evil thoughts: '.... I have not been able to conquer the Glory that belongs to the Aryan nations, born and unborn, and to the holy Zarathushtra.


"Turanian" (that is, Central Asian, Altaic, non-Iranian) tribes did not become this powerful until the invasion of Hephtalite Huns to Eastern Persia in the 4th and 5th century AD.

It is unlikely that Persians even possessed such imperial mythology of "kingly glory" (farnah) before the Achaemenian dynasty, and Achaemenians were never seriously threatened by Central Asian nomads, so it is logical to date this Yasht to a Sassanian period, as an answer to the challenge of Hephtalite Huns.

This Yasht also shows such imperious contempt towards "non-Aryan" (non-Iranian) nations that is unlikely to have developed before the birth of a great Persian empire:

68. And there comes with him a horse's strength, there comes with him a camel's strength, there comes with him a man's strength, there comes with him the kingly Glory: and there is in him, O holy Zarathushtra! so much of kingly Glory as might extinguish at once all the non-Aryan nations.

This xenophobia also proves that Zamyad Yasht comes from a different era than the early Gathas, which do not share this anti-Turanian attitude (see Ushtavaiti Gatha 46:12).

Both Zamyad and Frawardin Yasht may even mention Huns by name (Hunus, "hiniwy") and anachronistically portrays the mythical king Vishtaspa fighting against them:

Zamyad Yasht  83:
We sacrifice unto the awful kingly Glory, made by Mazda ....
That clave unto king Vistaspa, so that he thought according to the Law, spake according to the Law, and did according to the Law; so that he professed that Law, destroying his foes and causing the Daevas to retire.
Who, driving the Druj before him, sought wide room for the holy religion; who, driving the Druj before him, made wide room for the holy religion; who made himself the arm and support of this law of Ahura, of this law of Zarathushtra;
Who took her, standing bound, from the hands of the Hunus, and established her to sit in the middle [of the world], high ruling, never falling back, holy, nourished with plenty of cattle and pastures, blessed with plenty of cattle and pastures.

Frawardin Yasht:

99. We worship the Fravashi of the holy king Vistaspa; the gallant one, who was the incarnate Word, the mighty-speared, and lordly one; who, driving the Druj before him, sought wide room for the holy religion; who, driving the Druj before him, made wide room for the holy religion, who made himself the arm and support of this law of Ahura, of this law of Zarathushtra.

100. Who took her, standing bound, from the hands of the Hunus, and established her to sit in the middle [of the world], high ruling, never falling back, holy, nourished with plenty of cattle and pastures, blessed with plenty of cattle and pastures.

Here we could also easily find a "synoptic problem"- two Yashts blatantly copying each other.

Second, Frawardin Yasht contains allusions to Buddhism:

Frawardin Yasht 16. 'Through their brightness and glory a man is born who is a chief in assemblies and meetings, who listens well to the (holy) words, whom Wisdom holds dear, and who returns a victor from discussions with Gaotema, the heretic.


"The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia" comments on this:

"Mention of controversies with Gautama, Buddha's disciples (Yasht XIII, 16) who probably reached Persia in the 2nd century BC, is another indication of date."


Frawardin Yasht 89. Who was the first Priest, the first Warrior, the first Plougher of the ground; who first took the turning of the wheel5 from the hands of the Daeva and of the cold-hearted man; who first in the material world pronounced the praise of Asha, thus bringing the Daevas to naught, and confessed himself a worshipper of Mazda, a follower of Zarathushtra, one who hates the Daevas, and obeys the laws of Ahura.

Darmesteter's Commentary:

"5. The wheel of sovereignty (?); cf. Yt10.67; this expression smacks of Buddhism."

Frawardin Yasht also contains references to those "Ashemaogha"-heretics that Darmesteter noticed:

105. We worship the Fravashi of the holy Mathravaka, the son of Simaezhi, the Aethrapati, the Hamidhpati, who was able to smite down most of the evil, unfaithful Ashemaoghas, that shout the hymns, and acknowledge no lord and no master, the dreadful ones whose Fravashis are to be broken; to withstand the evil done by the faithful.

They "shout hymns" AND "acknowledge no lord and master" - there was no other group in Iran until anarchistic Manichaeans that fitted both these descriptions.

In the same manner, Vendidad's Fargard 18 shows these "ashemaoghas" as priestly competitors of Magians, supporting Hutter's theory on Avesta's codification in the 4th century AD as a response to the Manichaean challenge:

"11. 'For the blessing uttered by a wicked, ungodly Ashemaogha does not go past the mouth (of the blesser); the blessing of two Ashemaoghas13 does not go past the tongue; the blessing of three13 is nothing; the blessing of four13 turns to self-cursing.

12. 'Whosoever should give to a wicked, ungodly Ashemaogha either some Haoma prepared, or some Myazda consecrated with blessings, does no better deed than if he should lead a thousand horse against the boroughs of the worshippers of Mazda, and should slaughter the men thereof, and drive off the cattle as plunder. "



And now, let me end this treatise by repeating my assertion from the beginning of this essay:


I hereby challenge you to take some non-Gathic Avestan passage with advanced eschatology and conclusively prove that it dates from a pre-Christian era.

"Pre-Islamic Iranian Thought" by Alessandro Bausani, http://www.muslimphilosophy.com/hmp/6.htm

The Rise and Fall of the Afterlife: The 1995 Read-Tuckwell Lectures at the University of Bristol (2001) by Jan. N. Bremmer

Sacred Books of the East, Volume 4. Oxford University Press, 1880. http://www.hinduwebsite.com/sacredscripts/zoroscripts/venindex.htm

The Heritage of Persia (1962), by Richard N. Frye. http://www.iranchamber.com/history/articles/emperor_ardeshir_history1.php

The Golden Age of Persia (1975), by Richard N. Frye,

Zoroaster - Politician or Witch Doctor? (Lectures by Walter B. Henning) http://www.vohuman.org/Library/Zoroaster%20%E2%80%93%20Politician%20or%20Witch%20Doctor%20(lecture%203%20of%203).htm

Traditions of the Magi - Zoroastrianism in Greek and Latin Literature (1997) by Albert de Jong.

Zoroastrian Literature After the Muslim Conquest, The Cambridge History of Iran, Volume 4 (1975), by J. De Menasce.

"Astrology & Astronomy in Iran and Ancient Mesopotamia" by Massoume Price, December 2001. http://www.iranchamber.com/culture/articles/astrology_astronomy_iran_mesopotamia.php

Zoroastrianism in Armenia, (Harvard University Press, 1987), by James R. Russell

The religion of Achaemenian Iran, The Cambridge History of Iran, Volume 2. (1985) by Martin Schwartz. 

Entry for 'PERSIAN LANGUAGE AND LITERATURE (ANCIENT), International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915), by W. St. Clair Tisdall. http://www.searchgodsword.org/enc/isb/view.cgi?number=T6821

The Dawn and Twilight of Zoroastrianism (1961), by R.C. Zaehner. http://www.farvardyn.com/zurvan.php



We have seen that the masses of Zoroastrian Iran practised quite a different religion than the separate Magian elite. (This means that sociological chances of Avestan doctrines being borrowed into the Bible grow dimmer and dimmer.)

According to Prof. Alessandro Bausani,

"Heresy (as it happened first with Manichaeism supported at its beginnings by King Shahpur, 241272 A. D., and then with communistic Mazdakism, favoured by King Kawat, 488531) was sometimes a useful pretext for the warrior caste of the kings  a caste that seemed to possess its own religious tradition different from that of the priestly caste  to escape the excessive power of the Magi. The discontentment hidden under the outwardly uniform orthodoxy, the unbearable poverty of the peasants, never totally imbued with the religion of the elite, and no doubt possessing their own religious customs and traditions practically unknown to us, and the struggle between Throne and Altar, were some of the causes that rendered the conquest of Iran by the Arabs so astonishingly easy."


And it was only after the Islamic conquest, around the 9th century AD, that Zoroastrian scholars finally put together a consistent catechism for the remaining members of the old religion to follow, much like Talmudic scholars created a largely new religion of Rabbinic Judaism after the destruction of Jerusalem by Romans.

Comparison to Talmud seems quite apt: say, we have about as little reason to believe that the regulations of Vendidad derive originally from Zarathustra as that Talmud really transmits doctrines of Moses to us. 

As Glenn Miller points out, Talmudic sages did not hesitate to declare that Israelites of earlier times had faithfully subscribed to doctrines that had actually been invented later (Miller quoting John Meier) :

"More recently, Jewish scholars like Jacob Neusner and Shaye Cohen, as well as Christian scholars like E. P. Sanders and Anthony Saldarini, have urged greater caution in the use of rabbinic literature to delineate the very different conditions of Judaism in pre-70 Palestine."


In the likewise manner, we should be cautious when using Avesta to determine what Persians in the pre-Christian centuries really believed in.

James Russell theorizes that Armenians may have preserved us some notions on the nature of Iranian religions before Sassanian and post-Islamic reforms:

(Pg. 11-12)

"At the time of Ananikean's writing (early 20th century) it was generally considered that the only "pure" Zoroastrianism was of the iconoclastic Sasanians (their depiction of Ahura Mazda as a human figure on bas-reliefs is conveniently forgotten), with their cult purged of foreign influences (the worship of Anahita nonwithstanding) and their theology true to the teachings of Zarathustra (despite evidence to the effect that the Zurvanite heresy was professed by the higher officials of the state). On the basis of this spurious understanding, fostered partly by the Sasanians themselves (who accorded credit, however, for the first compilation of the texts of the Avesta to a Parthian predecessor, Valaxs (28) ), and partly also by Zoroastrians and Westerners of the nineteenth century who sought to purge the Good Religion of what they perceived as barbaric and polytheistic accretions, the religion of the Parthians was dismissed as a form of Hellenistic syncretism rather than authentic Zoroastrianism, and the religion of the Armenians, which shows close similarities to the Parthian type, was likewise denigrated.

"The influence of such prevailing attitudes prevented Ananikean from considering the pre-Christian religion of Armenia as a form of Zoroastrianism whose assimilation of non-Zoroastrian aspects, both Iranian and non-Iranian, illuminate the character of the Faith as it was anciently practised, rather than obscure it."

(pg. 297)

"In Ch. 5 it was noted that most Armenian writers draw a careful distinction between the Pth. or Middle Atropatenian, NW Middle Iranian form of the name of the Creator, Ahura Mazda, Aramazd, and the Middle Persian form Ormizd (Phl. Ohrmazd). The former is the name of the Zoroastrian God whom their ancestors worshipped; the latter is the god of the militant, iconoclastic Sasanian church."

Now, for example, it would seem that in spite of some Zoroastrian theories about celestial afterlife, ordinary ancient Iranians entertained Hades-like ideas about the underworld - remember, according to Herodotus they did not follow Magian burial-rules in the Achaemenian times. This would have been the general attitude in Zoroastrian Armenia (before its conversion to Christianity around 300 AD) as well.

Naturally Iranian beliefs could not have then acted as an inspiration for post-exilic Israelites to abandon their older notions about Sheol.

Spenta Armaiti, one of the six Amesha Spentas (bounteous immortals) of Ahura Mazda, was the angelic genius of the earth in later Zoroastrian theology, but originally she was probably just a personification of Mother Earth.

Russell, pg. 323-5:

"Zoroastrians consider death an unqualified evil, and inhumation of a dead body in a grave must therefore defile Armaiti, who is both identical with and guardian over the earth; according to the Videvdat, 3.8-9, graves and daxmas grieve the divinity.  Zoroastrianism did not conceive of Armaiti as ruler of the underworld, for the proper place for the departed soul was either heaven in the sky, purgatory, or hell. Armaiti, being wholly good, cannot have had any association with hell, but we do find the grave referred to as "the darkness of Spenta Armaiti." (7) Yet it seems that most classes of society in both Armenia and Iran practised both burial and the theologically sanctioned method of exposure of a corpse until the end of the Sasanian period. It seems that there was connected with the practice of burial also the belief that Armaiti was indeed the guardian and ruler of the dead; this idea may have originated in as a fusion of Zoroastrian belief in Spenta Armaiti as guardian of the earth with ancient beliefs according to which earth was the entrance-way to the underworld.

Armenian Sandaramet

"In the Armenian translation of the Bible is attested the word sandaramet-k, meaning "Hades or the underworld (Gk. Hades, ge kato)", and a derivative adjective, sandarametakan. (8) . But sandaramet originally meant, presumably, the earth, in which men's remains lie rather than the spaces below the earth in which their souls were believed to sleep or wander.

. Meillet long ago suggested that Spandaramet must be a Northwest Middle-Iranian form of the name Spenta Armaiti, while sandaramet-k is a loan-word from Southwest Iranian, possibly Old Persian . The use of sandaramet-k as a common noun meaning "underworld" indicates that that the earth was regarded as the abode of the dead at the time when this term was introduced into Armenian. Although such a belief was undoubtedly persistent in later ages, such an explicit statement of it argues an archaic date, and we note that the Armenian does not have the neutral meaning of "earth" which is found in the Pahlavi literature, where, besides, a derivative of the Avestan is used and not a Southwest Iranian form: spandarmad zamig "Spandarmad, the earth". (19) It is likely that Sandaramet was seen as a divinity of the underworld, ruler of the kingdom of the dead, through a fusion of Zoroastrian and archaic beliefs as suggested above, and that the name came later to mean "the underworld" generally, without referring to a supernatural being."

(pg. 332)

"During his interrogation of St. Gregory the Illuminator on the nature of Christian faith, King Tiridates III asks: "And who might this Christ be? Show me, that I may know, the one who might be the recompenser of your labours, whom you call Creator. Might he be a sahapet of the tombs whom you desire to reach, or is he the releaser of your imprisoning bonds?" (58) In the dramatic exchange presented by Agathangelos, the Illuminator replies to this sarcastic challenge by replying that Christ is indeed the sahapet and pahapan "guardian" of the tombs, to which He descended voluntarily. (59)

. The sahapet of the tombs, the ruler of the underworld, would be that divinity identified with and dwelling in the earth, with its darkness as well as its bounty at once funereal and Dionysian: Spandaramet."

(pg. 342, 343-44)

"For all the chilling forms of the demons on earth and the similar forms they assume in hell, the Armenian conception of Heaven, or at least of the afterlife, does not seem to have been very much brighter in many cases, and reflects the archaic belief in a dim, chthonian place of shades.

. Armenian concepts of the next world for all but royalty, who would, presumably, have been assured of good hunting, seem so bleak that it is little wonder the ancestors required the continuous attentions of the living and enjoyed interfering in the affairs of the world they had left. Offerings placed upon graves, restrictions against spilling water on the ground at night, and, of course, burial itself indicate that the belief in a subterranean kingdom of the dead persisted through Zoroastrian times into the Christian era, despite the teachings of both religions concerning Heaven."

Even at the funerals of Iranian kings, Avestan rules were often very absent:

(pg. 337-8)

"Both Achaemenian and Sasanian monarchs were buried in tombs, although no archaeological evidence has of such tombs has for the latter period has yet come to light, and Sasanian laws of the fifth century prescribed severe penalties for the internment of corpses in the earth. (90)"

. Mass sacrifices were carried out at the funerals of great men, presumably in accordance with a belief that dead slaves and animals continued to serve their master in the next world. Xorenaci relates that at the funeral of Artases I (king of Armenia, 2nd century BC) "there were many killings, according to the customs of the heathens".

(pg. 118, 143)

"The Parthian king Vologases III (148-192 AD) installed his son Pacorus on the throne of Armenia, but the latter was deposed scarcely three years later by the invading Romans, who restored the crown to Sohaemus. Pacorus appears to have been taken as a hostage to Rome, for he dedicated there a funerary altar to his brother Mithradates, calling himself Aurelius Pakoros Basileus Megales Armenias and invoking "the gods beneath the earth." (23)

. The "gods" referred to may be Greco-Roman, but more likely the yazata Spenta Armaiti is meant, with other chthonic divinities. It is known that that the Armenian Orontids buried their dead at Angl, site of the shrine of Torkc, equated with the Mesopotamian Nergal, lord of the underworld."



The Cyrus Cylinder would indicate that Cyrus was a polytheist pure and simple. In this only document that we have from Cyrus himself, he doesn't seem to show any Zoroastrian consciousness - then how could he had possibly made Jews adopt something that he himself did not subscribe to?

Here's the Cyrus cylinder text online - no sign of Zoroaster or his doctrines anywhere:


Indeed, Schwartz also gives us examples on how once Persians got into touch with other cultures, they began immediately to adopt alien religious ideas (p. 691-692):

"Herodotus further informs us that after the crossing of the Strymon, which the Magi propitiated by sacrificing white horses, nine local boys and girls were buried at a place called Nine Ways, and that burial alive was a Persian practice;

(My note: this also shows how well the story about Daniel in the den of lions reflected actual 6th-century BC culture!)

"further we learn that Xerxes' wife Amestris in her old age supposedly had seven pairs of Persians killed in this manner as a thank-offering to a subterranean deity. A.D.H. Bivar has seen this divinity as related to the Babylonian underworld god Nergal (1). I would note in this connection the possible significance of the fact that seven couples were sacrificed; compare on the one hand the seven stages of the descent of Inanna into the underworld into the presence of Ereshkigal, consort of Nergal, and on the other hand the Babylonian doctrine of seven heavens (reflected in the construction of Deioces' palace at Ecbatana, as described by Herodotus (1.98)). (2)"

Besides these theories, it is widely acknowledged that the astrological ideas and star-worship that the non-Gathic Avesta is filled with are due to Mesopotamian influences, thus making even more impossible to date it to a pre-Achaemenian period.

James Russell describes how some of these influences that made their way to Avestan religion (pg. 290, 291-292) :

"The cult of Nabu, or Nebo, survived in Sasanian Mesopotamia: a martyrology preserved in Syriac relates that Sabuhr II (A.D. 309-379) commanded a general named Mucain to abandon Christianity and to worship Nebo and other gods. (7) As his Semitic name indicates, Mucain was most likely neither an Iranian or a Zoroastrian, and the Sasanian king was therefore probably not referring to Tir, the Zoroastrian yazata he himself worshipped.

. The name Tir is nowhere to be found in the Avesta, (9) yet this yazata is extremely prominent in Zoroastrianism. The fourth month and the thirteenth day of each month bear his name, and theophoric names with Tir- are numerous in Iranian. (10) These show that Tir was a divinity of importance in Achaemenian times:

. It seems that the cult of Nabu was adopted by the Western Iranians, who assimilated Nabu to their own, probably minor, stellar divinity Tir.

. In order for Tir(i) to be worshipped by Zoroastrians, it was necessary to that he be somehow equated with an Avestan divinity, Tistrya. (16) Tistrya is identified with the star Sirius and is pictured in the Avesta as bringing rain and fighting Apaosha, the demonic personification of drought; (17) none of these functions are shared by Tir, but Nabu as the planet Mercury was associated with the coming of "life-giving rain and flood" in Babylonia, and Tirikana- was a rain-festival. This important function thus linked Tiri-Nabu and Tistrya. (18)



It might be worth noting that just like it has been claimed that the OT conception of Satan "evolved" under the influence of Zoroastrianism, scholars also think that the image of the Persian devil evolved as well between the time of Gathas, later Avesta, and Pahlavi commentaries.

M. Schwartz, p. 681:

"Angra Mainyu is named but once in the Gathas (Yasna 45:2; the variant Aka Mainyu "The Evil Spirit" occurs at Yasna 35:2) but is exceedingly common in later texts. . The Avesta does not oppose Angra Mainyu directly against Ahura Mazda except in the last chapter of the Videvdad, where it is said that the former created 99,999 diseases against the latter. This has been seen as possibly due to a specifically Magian simplification of the original Zarathushtrian doctrine opposing Angra Mainyu to Spenta Mainyu rather than directly to Ahura Mazda."

Doesn't this look like skeptic claims that OT does not originally portray Satan as a direct enemy of God?

Until the reformations in the 3rd and 4th centuries AD, the role of devil Ahriman in Iranian religions seems to have been far from crystal-clear:

James Russell, pg. 438-440:

"From earliest times to the very end of Sasanian dynasty and later, the worship of the daevas as gods by non-Zoroastrians, as in Sogdia, together with the propitiation of the devs as demons by nominally Zoroastrian practitioners of black magic, persisted throughout the Iranian world, despite the best efforts of kings and clerics to eradicate it.

. (Xerxes') own wife, Amestris, is said to have buried alive fourteen Persian boys of distinguished family in order to propitiate the god of the underworld; the Magi buried alive nine boys and nine girls during the Persian invasion of Greece. (7) Although Angra Mainyu receives the epipthet khthnios "of the earth (or underworld)" in Hippolytus, (8) it is unlikely that Amestris of the Magi were performing black magic in a Zoroastrian context; at this early period, it is probable that they were practising the rituals of the elder gods. Perhaps the Armenians adopted from Old Persian a term sandaramet meaning "underworld" generally, without specific reference to the Zoroastrian yazata Spandarmad (Av. Spenta Armaiti). (9) It seems that there still existed in Achaemenian times the pre-Zoroastrian conception of an underworld of shades, to be distinguished from the Zoroastrian after-life of rewards and punishments.

. The ruler of the pagan underworld was probably Yima (Skt. Yama), who may be the adam- siw zwn "person beneath the earth" to whom certain Zoroastrians of the community of Sarifabad, near Yazd, offer the propitiatory sacrifice of a black hen - black being the colour of evil. (11) We have suggested (12) that the image of Zahhk in Shah-Name may come from an original conception of Yima based upon the Mesopotamian Nergal; one recalls that in the Persian epic youths were sacrificed and their brains devoured by Zahhk."

"In the Parthian period, Plutarch states explicitly that Persians (to be understood as Iranians generally) make apotropaic offerings to both Oromazes and Areimanios (i.e., Ahura Mazda and Angra Mainyu). For the rites of the latter, they pound an herb called omomi, invoke Hades and darkness, mix the herb with the blood of a slaughtered wolf and throw it away in a sunless place. (13) . According to Clement of Alexandria, the Magi boasted that they could bring demons under their power and compel evil spirits to serve them. (16) This may be compared to the boasting of the youthful monster Snvidhka in Yt. 19.43-4, who promises to harness both Angra Mainyu and Spenta Mainyu to his chariot when he grows up.

. The Denkard describes rites of praise and propitiation of Ahriman and the demons which were conducted in darkness and secrecy. (18) It would appear that in the Sasanian period and later, there existed both sorcery for the purpose of power or propitiation, based upon the perversion of Zoroastrian doctrine and ritual, and also a form of the older, non-Zoroastrian daeva-worship."

(pg. 346)

"In Iran, too, cults varying from the heterodox to the demonic (from a Zoroastrian point of view) flourished through Sasanian times, despite the periodic persecution of their followers by Kartir and others. One recalls that the naxarar structure of Armenian and Parthian society, a flexible and often volatile alliance of local dynasts, was ill-suited to a centralised religious bureaucracy capable of such inquisitions, and greater accommondation of the heterodox was necessary."

How could the Persian demonology have influenced the Biblical concept of Satan if it itself was clearly still evolving out of voodoo-esque ideas in the pre-Sassanian centuries? This seems to have been the level of Mazdaism as practiced by masses, and the more complicated forms of Zoroastrian doctrine, as found in the Avesta, were the property of an exclusive Magian caste that was emphatically NOT eager to perform missionary work among foreigners.

Besides, even these more advanced Magian doctrines were themselves severely contaminated by Zurvanistic fatalism that would have actually much more probably influenced heretical Gnostic sects instead of Biblical authors.

By establishing an independent area of operation for the devil Ahriman, by making him capable of creating things of his own (unlike the fundamentally uncreative Biblical Satan, who can only abuse and pervert the creations of YHWH), Zoroastrianism might have been a fertile breeding-ground for Gnosticism, and some scholars have observed this as well:

""In oriental (Persian) dualism," says Professor Bousset, "it is within this material world that the good and the evil powers are at war, and this world beneath the stars is by no means conceived as entirely subject to evil. Gnosticism has combined the two, the Greek opposition between spirit and matter, and the sharp Zoroastrian dualism, which, where the Greek mind conceived of a higher and a lower world, saw instead two hostile worlds standing in contrast to each other like light and darkness. And out of the combination of these two dualisms arose the teaching of Gnosticism with its thoroughgoing pessimism and its fundamental asceticism" ("Gnosticism," in Encyclopedia Brit, 11th edition, XII, 154)."


"We must also reject the theory that this degradation of the planetary deities into daemons is due to the influence of Hebrew monotheism, for almost all the Gnostic sects take up a definitely hostile attitude towards the Jewish religion, and almost always the highest divinity among the Seven is actually the creator-God of the Old Testament. There remains, then, only one religion which can be used as an explanation, namely the Persian, which in fact fulfils all the necessary conditions.
"A combination of the Babylonian with the Persian religion could only be effected by the degradation of the Babylonian deities into half-divine, half-daemonic beings, infinitely remote from the supreme God of light and of heaven, or even into powers of darkness. Even the characteristic dualism of Gnosticism has already proved to be in part of Iranian origin; and now it becomes clear how from that mingling of late Greek and Persian dualism the idea could arise that these seven half-daemonic powers are the creators or rulers of this material world, which is separated infinitely from the light-world of the good God. Definite confirmation of this conjecture is afforded us by later sources of the Iranian religion, in which we likewise meet with the characteristic fundamental doctrine of Gnosticism. Thus the Bundahish (iii. 25, v. 1) is able to inform us that in the primeval strife of Satan against the light-world, seven hostile powers were captured and set as constellations in the heavens, where they are guarded by good star-powers and prevented from doing harm."


The most developed and famous form of Iranian Gnosticism would be naturally Manichaenism, and Samuel Lieu describes how the simplistic Zoroastrian theory that some harmful animals (like flies) were fundamentally "evil" creations of Ahriman could be utilized by it, taking the idea to its "logical conclusion":

(Manichaeism in the Later Roman Empire and the Medieval China, by S. Lieu, pg.188-9)

"In one of Augustine's homilies we have an excellent illustration of how Manichaean preacher could capitalise on a mundane situation to make a theological point on the evil nature of creation. A Catholic was once greatly troubled by flies and confessed to a Manichaean who chanced upon him that he could not tolerate flies and hated them exceedingly. The Manichaean asked him, "Who made them?". Since he was suffering intensely from the flies, the Catholic dared not say, "God made them," even though as a Catholic this was expected of him. The Manichaean, who was clearly working through a stock of prepared questions, immediately asked: "If God did not make them, who made them?". "To tell you the truth, I believe that the Devil made the flies." The Manichaean came out with another prepared question, "If the Devil made the flies, as you seem to me to be saying, who made the bee which is slightly larger than the fly?". The bemused Catholic had little choice but to admit that the Devil also made the bee. From the bee the Manichaean led him to the locust, from the locust to the lizard and from the lizard to the bird, sheep, cow, elephant and finally man. He even managed to persuade him that it was the Devil who made man. "Poor fellow," remarked Augustine, "being troubled with flies he had himself become a fly as the name Beelzebub means "Lord of the Flies"." (167)"

And even within official Sassanian Zoroastrianism, Zurvanists propounded the notion that Ahuramazda and Ahriman were originally twins, both spawned by the primordial deity Zurvan ("The Eternal Time," similar to Kronos, the father of all gods among the Greeks).

At this point, let us recall that according to the latest scholarship (de Jong) "there is not a speck of evidence that suggests that Zurvanism was at any period, or in the mind of any Zoroastrian theologian, ever considered a heresy." In other words, it was rather mainstream stuff instead.

For example, already in that one original mention of Evil Spirit in the Gathas, he is presented as more or less equal TWIN of the Good Spirit:

"45:2. I will speak of the Spirits twain at the first beginning of the world, of whom the holier spoke thus to the enemy: "Neither thought, nor teachings, nor wills, nor beliefs, nor words, nor deeds, nor selfs, nor souls of us twain agree"."


(We are unfortunately not yet totally through with this dualistic doctrine, since (for example) the Mormons teach that Jesus and Lucifer were originally celestial brothers!)

Also, in this famous letter to Christian Armenians in around 450 AD, the official representative of the Sassanian state, vizier Mihrnarseh, preaches obvious Zurvanism as the orthodox Persian faith that he expects the Armenians to return to:

www.sasanika.com/pdf/Armenian letter.pdf (Letter from History of Vardan and the Armenian War)

"For before heaven and earth existed the great god Zrvan sacrificed for a thousand years and said: 'Perhaps I shall have a son, Ormizd by name, who will create heaven and earth.' And he conceived two in his belly, one from making sacrifice and one from saying 'perhaps.' When he knew that there were two in his belly, he said: 'To the one who emerges first I shall give my rule.'
"But the one who had been conceived from his doubt tore open the belly and came out. Zrvan said to him: 'Who are you?' He said: 'I am your son Ormizd.' Zrvan said to him: 'My son is luminous and sweet-smelling, you are gloomy and evil-loving.' And when he had wept very bitterly, he game him his rule for a thousand years.
"When he begat the other son he called him Ormizd. He took the rule from Arhmn and gave it to Ormizd, saying to him: 'Up to now I sacrificed to you, now do you sacrifice to me.' And Ormizd created heaven and earth, but Arhmn worked evil in opposition."

Zaehner describes the absurdity of Zurvanism in the eyes of non-Zoroastrians:

"In the Zurvanism presented to us by the non-Zoroastrian sources, however, Ohrmazd is neither omnipotent nor omniscient: he is not even capable of looking after his own interests. Thus he gratuitously reveals to Ahriman the secret that whichever of the twins will first present himself to their father, Zurvan, will receive the kingdom. Again, after creating heaven and earth, he can think of no way of illuminating them and has to be instructed on how to do this by a demon who is a renegade from Ahriman's camp. Similarly, Ahriman who is an evil substance for the orthodox, is, for the Zurvanites, evil by choice. He chooses the sinister weapon offered to him by Zurvan, 'like unto fire, blazing, harassing all creatures, that hath the very substance of concupiscence (Az)', and himself boasts that' "it is not that I cannot create anything good, but that I will not." And that he might give effect to his words, he created the peacock.'
"This is a genuine, and a fundamental, difference between Zurvanism and orthodoxy, and a Christian convert from Zoroastrianism can thus taunt his inquisitors with these words: 'Should we, then, try to please Ahriman who, according to what you yourselves say, appears wise, knowing, and mighty from his works, just as Ohrmazd appears weak and stupid, for he could create nothing till he had learnt from the disciples of Ahriman.'


Russell shows how Zurvanism could have worked as an inspiration for those Gnostics who considered this world to be the realm of an inferior, evil creator-god (pg. 440):

"A heresy of Zoroastrianism which was very widespread in Persia from Achaemenian times, Zurvanism, (20) deprived Ahura Mazda of his omniscience . According to one Zurvanite myth, Ahura Mazda acquired the knowledge of how to create light from a demon named Mahm, who learned the secret from the Evil Spirit. Syrian and Armenian polemicists of the period claimed that "priests of this sect" (i.e., the Zurvanite Zoroastrians) offered sacrifices annually to Mahm, and chided Zoroastrians for persecuting worshippers of demons when they were no better themselves. (21) The Manichaeans also ridiculed the Zurvanites for this practice. (22) No reference to Mahm as a being is known in surviving Zoroastrian literature."

Now, if there were a Christian equivalent for all this, imagine what sort of revisionist conspiracy Dan Brown ("Da Vinci Code") might make out of it! Demon Mahm exorcised out of the canonical writings.