Zoroastrianism is one of the oldest world religions. In fact, some have dated it as the world's oldest monotheism, although this supposition is by no means universally accepted. Accurately describing the age of this religion is very difficult, because there is some debate over when the prophet for who it is named, Zarathustra (in Greek, Zoroaster) actually lived. Speculation ranges from 6,000 to 600 B.C.E. What is known, however, is that for a period of approximately 1,000 years, Zoroastrianism was a very prominent religion, certainly the most powerful in the Middle East, perhaps the most powerful in the world. Over this period, which is generally held to have been from 549 B.C.E. to 642 C.E. (Zoroastrianism 574), it is known that Zoroastrianism communicated some of its traditional ideas to some of the adherents of Judaism (Flower 58). These were incorporated to some degree into the Jewish faith. However, because both Christianity and Islam were founded after Zoroastrianism, they were both influenced to a much greater degree, and tenets of faith that were originally found in Zoroastrianism were incorporated into Christianity and Islam on a very noticeable level. In fact, many aspects of Christianity and Islam that many people think typify these two religions have their roots in Zoroastrianism. The most notable of these aspects are the notions of dualism, judgement at death, heaven and hell, a savior born of a virgin, a final judgement, and resurrection. All of these concepts were originally taught in Zoroastrianism before Christianity and Islam existed (Zoroastrianism, 574). Therefore, it is evident that, by preceding Christianity and Islam, Zoroastrianism influenced both of these religions.

Zoroastrianism was a major religion before Christianity and Islam were founded. Although this is known, the actual beginnings of the religion are hard to pinpoint. Until recently, most modern scholars accepted a date of around 600 B.C.E. as a good estimate, but recently new research placed him around 1200 B.C.E. The Parsis (Persians), Zoroastrians who emigrated to India, traditionally place Zarathustra around 6,000 B.C.E. However, this is an estimate that is not taken to be very accurate by modern theologians (Zoroaster 573). To complicate matters further, followers of Zoroastrianism hold that Zarathustra was only renewing the practice of a faith that had already been practiced by the Aryans of Iran thousands of years before his coming. This belief holds that in the time of King Jashmed, Ahura Mazda (the Zoroastrian god) revealed the basic tenets of what was to become the Zoroastrian faith (Traditional 5). In any event, however, it is certain that by the year 549 B.C.E., Zoroastrianism had become a major world religion. It was Cyrus the Great, first ruler of the Persian empire, who ordained Zoroastrianism as the official religion of his state. It was this same Cyrus that liberated the Jews from the occupation they had suffered under the Babylonians, and, when the Jews returned to Jerusalem, then called Judaea by the rulers of Palestine, they took back with them the elements of Zoroastrianism that can today be found in all three of the monotheistic religions that came out of Judaism: Judaism itself, Christianity, and Islam (Flower 58). Furthermore, Zoroastrianism remained a major world religion for over 1,000 years afterwards, and when it was finally replaced as the dominant religion of the Middle East, it was by Islam. During this time, Zoroastrianism was the official faith of three world empires, which meant that its influence continued to have a significant effect on the world around it (Zoroastrianism 574). It is important to note that both Christianity and Islam were conceived during this period, which meant that they were both highly susceptible to the influence of Zoroastrianism during the period of their development (Zoroastrianism 574). For these reasons, it is clear that Zoroastrianism was in part a direct precursor to both Christianity and Islam.

Zoroastrianism clearly has had a large influence on Christianity. There are many aspects of Christianity that were not drawn from Judaism, although that religion was the major predecessor of Christianity. One of the most obvious tenets of Christianity that has its roots in Zoroastrianism is the concept of dualism. The Zoroastrian faith believes in two original spirits; Ahura Mazda, the Eternal and Uncreated, the Wise Lord, and Angra Mainyu, Uncreated but not Eternal, the Evil Spirit. This dualist nature is thought to have come from the fact the people of Zarathustra were invaded by nomads during the time of Zarathustra's life, and that he therefore had very strong sentiments on the nature of good and evil (Flower 56). From this basic concept springs many others, many of which are also found in Christianity. Zoroastrianism has a very clear notion of the concepts of heaven and hell. These were the realities that Ahura Mazda and Angra Mainyu had created for themselves. According to Zoroastrian belief, at the time of death, the dead are led over Chinvat Bridge. This is a bridge shaped like a sword that bridges this world and heaven. If the soul is worthy, then he or she is led across by a beautiful woman. If the soul is unworthy, then he or she is led across by an old hag, and when the soul is halfway across the bridge turns on its edge and the soul topples to hell (Flower 57). Zoroastrianism also teaches of a second judgement. Zoroastrian tradition holds that, after Zarathustra, there will come three more prophets born of a virgin, each of whom will become pregnant after bathing in a lake which preserves "the seed of the prophet" (Traditional 7). The last of these is to be the Saoshyant, or savior, who will bring about the final judgement. At this time, everyone will be resurrected (this is called Ristakhiz; Traditional 7) and judged a second time by Ahura Mazda, and the final battle between good and evil will take place. Some doctrines hold that the wicked will burn eternally in hell, but newer beliefs state that these may be purified in a river of molten metal and allowed to rejoin the new, idyllic Earth that is free of evil (Flower 56). All these are precursors to corresponding beliefs in Christianity. The notion of a savior being born of a virgin is obviously well known, as are the concepts of heaven and hell, judgement at death and also at a later day of Judgement, and the existence of evil. Evil as an independent force was an idea that had its roots in Zoroastrianism, and in particular the terrible events that Christianity holds will be unleashed by evil upon the world are thought to be taken almost directly from Zoroastrianism (Zoroastrianism, 575). In short, Christianity has been very visibly influenced by Zoroastrianism.

Islam has also been profoundly influenced by Zoroastrianism. Indeed, Zarathustra himself is counted as one of Allah's prophets by some Muslims, although this is not universally accepted (Zoroastrian 146). In any case, Zoroastrian concepts and beliefs are evident in Islamic practice and faith. One of the major contributions Zoroastrianism made to both Christianity and Islam was the notion of dualism, which held that evil was an active force in the world. Nowhere is this more evident than in the Muslim concept of jihad, or struggle. The most common use of this word is not to mean ‘holy war', as it has become common to assume in the occidental world, but rather it refers to a daily practice of upholding the practices and beliefs of Islam (Jihad 4-6). A major aspect of this is the inner struggle against the evil within oneself (Jihad 7). This refers to another interpretation of the Zoroastrian concept of dualism: dualism in Zoroastrianism has been seen as both a cosmic dualism, which refers to a universal conflict between Ahura Mazda and Angra Mainyu, and it has also been seen as a kind of spiritual dualism, which refers to the internal conflict in the nature of man, which is epitomized by the conflict between Angra Mainyu and Spenta Mainyu, who is the most powerful of the creations of Ahura Mazda (Flower 60). It is not clear which of these Zoroaster taught, but it certainly appears that the Islamic concept of jihad in its personal form reflects a concept of spiritual dualism, which of course had its roots in this concept of a struggle between good and evil which Zoroastrianism spread to Christianity and Islam (Zoroastrianism 575). Also significant is the fact that Islam differs remarkably from Judaism and, to a lesser extent, Christianity in matters dealing with conflict. Whereas Judaism as a religion has borne persecution and hardship at the hands of outside oppressors without, for the most part, fighting back, Islam holds that fighting in defense of one's country, community and faith is permissible (Jihad 9). This belief also most likely has its origins in Zoroastrianism, as in Zoroastrianism it is held that one must constantly fight against evil to further the cause of good. Zoroastrian belief holds that the world was created by Ahura Mazda, and that all the people on Earth are spirits who volunteered to assume the form of human beings to aid Mazda in his fight against Angra Mainyu. Thus, in Zoroastrianism the notion of actively battling evil is quite acceptable (Flower 56). Another similarity that Zoroastrianism holds in common with Islam is the need for ritual cleanliness (Flower 60). In Islam, the performance of ritual ablutions of all exposed skin with water or sand is necessary to purify the body so as not to defile the holy space that Muslims pray in (IslamiCity 1). Similarly, in Zoroastrianism it is important to maintain ritual cleanliness, which refers to spiritual as much as physical cleanliness (Flower 61). For example, only certain specific members of the Zoroastrian community are allowed to come into contact with a dead body (Traditional 4). This practice is not observed in Judaism or Christianity, and it is very likely that Islam adopted this practice from Zoroastrianism (Flower 61). These similarities show that Islam has been deeply influenced by Zoroastrianism.

From this it may be seen that Zoroastrianism provided an influence on Christianity and Islam that, in all likelihood, was second only to Judaism, the religion from which these two grew. On the one hand, it is certain that the ties between Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, are very deep, as they are all descended from the prophet Abraham. On the other hand, elements exist in Christianity and Islam that were first seen in Zoroastrianism, and had no foundation in Judaism. Indeed, some of these elements are visible even in Judaism, a holdover from the time when Zoroastrianism was just becoming a major world religion and these ideas were communicated by world leaders to Jews who existed under their rule at one time or another (Flower 58). These elements comprise some of the most integral elements of these religions; indeed, some of them form in part the core component of the religion which is generally known, if sometimes misrepresented, by people of any given cultural background. Elements such as the dualism of good and evil have become the basis for a significant portion of the culture of the west. Elements that were first conceived in Zoroastrianism have, through the spread of Christianity into occidental culture, and by the spread of occidental culture across the globe, have been spread to effectively every part of the world. Zoroastrianism today is a religion with a very small number of adherents, spread across the Middle East and India; this alone could never have accounted for the ideas that can be found in all manner of Western culture, from pop culture to classical themes. Islam, also, has continued to flourish as a world religion, and is now widely practiced in many parts of the globe, including growing numbers in North America. In conclusion, there can be no doubt that Zoroastrianism has had a very profound influence on Islam and Christianity.

Works Researched

ArabNet - Palestine, History, Babylonian Captivity. Available: http://www.arab.net/Palestine/history/pe_babylonian.html Accessed April 3rd, 2000

Flower, Liz. The Elements of World Religions Rockport: Element Books 1997

iCity. Prayers - Salat - Ablution. Available: http://Islam.org/Mosque/salat/salat6.htm Accessed April 3rd, 2000

Jihad Explained Available: http://www.iiie.net/New_IIIE/Brochure-18.htm Accessed April 3rd, 2000

Oxtoby, Willard G. The Zoroastrian Tradition. In W. Oxtoby (Ed.) World religions: Western Traditions Don Mills: Oxford University Press 1996

Traditional Zoroastrianism: Tenets of the Religion. Available: http://www.ozemail.com.au/~zarathus/tenets33.html Accessed March 23rd, 2000

Zoroaster. In Hinnelis, John R. (Ed.) Penguin Dictionary of World religions, 2nd Edition London, England: Penguin Books 1997

Zoroastrianism. In Hinnelis, John R. (Ed.) Penguin Dictionary of World Religions, 2nd Edition London, England: Penguin Books 1997

Allow me to provide the Muslim point of view (or at least one of them). While there may be superficial similarities, I think that they end there. There are some major differences; and perhaps a more logical explanation for the phenomena.

Firstly, simply because one theory is similar to another does not necessarily mean that one actively copied or influenced the other. It is quite possible that, given the evidence, two theories converge on the same explanation; so it is an assumption, simply because there is a similarity in some aspects of the belief, that one influenced the other. For example, the Chinese also believe in the yin-yang duality; does that suggest that Zoroastrianism influenced Chinese thinking? The Mayans also believed in duality; therefore it seems that duality is either (a) inherently built into man's psyche or (b) is so obvious that people can reach the conclusion independently or (c) both. Most world views have a duality built in to them; Zoroastrianism was hardly the first.

Secondly, the Muslim belief is that Muhammad, the person most associated with Islam, was not the originator of the religion. Rather, God, over time, revealed the basic truth of the Universe to many Prophets; which may or may not have included Zoroaster. Unfortunately, these messages got distorted over time; and in the Qur'an, specific examples are given related to the Jews and Christian to this process of distortion of the original scripts. Muslims do believe that Jesus was a prophet, but not the Son of God. It's just that the message got distorted over time. What's unique about Muhammad was that the message has been accurately preserved.

Hence, there is a common source to many religions; one must be careful of the post hoc ergo propter hoc (happened after, therefore happened because of) logical error. Another explanation for similarities between religions is a common source for all of them.

Thirdly, the nature of the belief is inherently different. Yes, there is a duality in Islam. But it's a different type of duality. In Islam, Good or God are superior. God allows Satan to exist for there to be a test for mankind. But God did create Satan. In Zoroastrianism, the duality is much more even-handed.

Also, you can hardly call monotheism a minor difference. It is the distinguishing feature of Islam. Saying that one religion is influenced by another when the key precept is different is stretching it a bit ...

Further, there is no historical indication of an influence on Muhammad. The only one with Zoroastrian knowledge that was close to the Prophet was a man called Salman Al-Farsi (Salman the Persian). He was a Zoroastrian, but rejected it because of the polytheism, became Christian, stayed Christian until he heard about Muhammad, then became Muslim. This was very late in the piece, definitely during the Madinah period, after the basic tenets of the faith had been established.

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