Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Zoroastrianism's Influence on Judaism, Christianity and Islam

Most people know that Pagan religions existed before Christianity and Judaism, and that many of them contained familiar themes:  an underworld, a hero/god/savior born of a virgin, powers of magical healing, and a resurrection.  For instance, we know about the vegetation god Tammuz who resurrected for six months each year.  We know about gods like Thor, who ruled a specific part of nature (God of Thunder), and we know gods and goddesses like Attis, Inanna and Osiris could have inspired the Jesus resurrection story.  But which stories are verified to have influenced Judaism and Christianity?  Were all of these similar stories just coincidence?   Although there is a very good chance these ancient religions leaked into the modern religions, and I can think of a few ancient stories that in my opinion “just had to have been the origin of stories in the Bible,” it is difficult to find when such links occurred or prove they occurred. 

But there is one religion we know directly influenced the foundations of Judaism, Christianity and Islam.  It is the ancient religion of Zoroastrianism.  We can be certain that these following themes came from Zoroastrianism:  a war in the world between good and evil, God versus Satan, a warring of the human spirit between good and evil, and the idea of one god only (monotheism), with a hierarchy of angels and archangels underneath.  Additionally, the story of the “slaughter of the innocents,” the idea of a general resurrection, the wording “a present age of darkness with a coming age of light,” and the concept of a final judgment at the end of the world with a savior who will “come very soon,” all derive from Zoroastrianism.

How did the Israelites pick up these ideas?  An exile occurred in 597 B.C.E. and continued until 538 B.C.E.  Approximately 10,000 Israelites were sent into exile to Babylon where they were surrounded by Zoroastrian beliefs, and when they returned, their own writings took a sharp turn and emphasized all of these new themes.  Nearly all religious historians are in agreement that Zoroastrianism was the reason for these beliefs in Christianity, Judaism and Islam; of course, some fundamentalist Christian scholars disagree.  

Many Pagan religions believed in an underworld, with Hades as guard to keep people from escaping.  A very few dead people negotiated with Hades to return to earth, including Tammuz and several of his dead friends.  Hades, himself, was a god who “got the short end of the stick” and had to rule the underworld when three gods, Zeus, Poseidon and Hades drew straws.  Zeus became King of the Gods, Poseidon the Ruler of the Sea, and Hades the Lord of the Underworld. 

The Israelites had a similar underworld they called Sheol, which, in early writings, was just a vague, gloomy place where everyone went when they died, like other descriptions of underworlds.  It was thought that when people were buried, they fell into the Underworld and lived underground.  Stories as far back as when Sumerians lived spoke of gods visiting the Underworld, and the Underworld and Sheol were what the early Israelites believed in until they were exiled and decided a place of punishment for sinners was more exciting.  (The Bible has mistranslations, and the word Sheol is called Hell in a lot of Bibles, whether it was the gloomy place or the punishing pit of fire.)

The book of Daniel was written after the exile to Babylon.  It has the first description of a Hell as a direct opposite to Heaven.  Anyone can see how a story would improve with an arch-enemy and wars and fear put into it!  The Israelites did not admit they had just absorbed Pagan, Zoroastrian beliefs and called all these beliefs their own.

Does anyone wonder why most of us never heard of Zoroastrianism?  Here it is, one of the oldest religions in the world, and we know nothing about it.  But, a few of us will recognize the phrase (and book) “Thus Spake Zarathustra!”  The Prophet Zarathustra (which means “shining light”) also became known as Zoroaster.  The writings of Zoroaster are in the Gathas and date to 1300 B.C.E.  Many claim the religion is much older than that, some saying it goes back to 6350 B.C.E., but the “evidence” is not of a type that can be seen, so I am going by when the words were written down, because that would be the time period Zoroaster would have lived.  At 1300 B.C.E., it still puts Zoroastrianism as one of the most ancient religions, along with Hinduism.

Let us learn exactly what Zoroastrians believe.  Our Yahweh sounds like the descriptions of the “good” Zoroastrian god, law giver and judge, Ahura Mazda.  Ahura Mazda is the supreme creator and all that is good, but he is battled by the evil Angra Mainyu (our Satan), so there is this strong duality between good and evil.  Angra Mainyu is the evil god of snakes and scorpions, and Ahura Mazda is the god of all other animals.  Zoroastrians believe in seeking good and in doing good deeds, because the more good they do, the more good will be in the world, and one day evil will be destroyed.  They believe in a warring duality both in spiritual thoughts of the body and the warring of Ahura Mazda versus Angra Mainyu in the world.  There is only one god in Zoroastrianism; it is credited as being the first monotheistic religion, but there are many angels and arch angels working under Ahura Mazda.  They believe Ahura Mazda and his son, Saoshyant (which means Savior), will judge in next world and he will bring the end of evil.  Keep in mind all of this was written before any of these ideas appeared in Judaism and before Christianity existed.

No one wants to admit that their religion evolved from earlier religions, because it would negate their religion as chosen, special - the only true and right religion, with the writers being inspired by their god.  But credit should be given where credit is due:  the prophet Zoroaster founded most of the major, underlying concepts of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. 

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

The Death of My Gay Friend

I had a friend (we shall call him Kevin) who died a few months ago, at 25 years of age.  His cause of death is not mentioned, but I can assume it was either suicide, drug overdose, or a sudden illness.  His mother wrote that he, "went to bed and did not wake up," so at first I thought it could be a heart problem, but then I saw where one of her friends had talked about a different boy who "went to bed and did not wake up" and I see that Kevin's mother simply took and copied those words as her own so she would not have to explain what actually happened.   Certainly, I suspect it was suicide.

Kevin was gay and became a freethinker, and most likely an atheist.  He never achieved his academic goals, and I doubt he was employed.  His great intelligence was not being used, and I am sure it frustrated him.  He "met me" on YouTube in the comments section of a Human Rights video, and he supported me because he could tell from my exasperation at responding to a troll that I was new to the Internet.  It was so cute that he was taking care of me!  Later on, Kevin said he wished I were his grandma – I chuckled a bit because I didn’t think I was that elderly looking, and imagined myself more of a mom figure.  But the grandma persona was a real compliment and I wish I could have been his grandma too! 

His family was very religious and what I did not know until after his death is that he had a twin who is a born again fundamentalist Christian.  I did know he had family issues because of religion and because he was homosexual.  His mother seemed supportive of him, but also was very religious.  

His Facebook page has been turned into a Memorial page, and all the people say they will “See you in Heaven” and “I believe in the power of Jesus!”  It is funny how some of them probably told Kevin he would suffer in Hell when he was alive because he was gay, but once they missed him after his death, they wrote "Kevin will be waiting for us in Heaven.” 

The top of Kevin's page shows the flying spaghetti monster as his profile landscape picture (because they probably can’t change it).  Kevin knew who he was, but now that he has left, the comments have all become religious.  I do not respond to them because these people are grieving.  The mother is so sad and I am sure guilt plays a part in all of the family’s grief.  Yet they turn to one of the main causes of Kevin's turmoil – their religion.  For them, it is the strongest comfort they can have, and they do not see the contradiction in worshiping “the god who does all things and took their son away.”  I “like” their comments to give them support, and know there are times to fight religion and times to let people do what they need to do.  I miss Kevin too, and that is what his FB page is about now.

I grieved quite a bit myself, as I truly liked this young lad.  He will always be remembered, with his true personality and thoughts.  We had great conversations together.  I am thankful to have met him online and to have been his friend and “grandma!”