The Zoroastrian-Biblical Connections

By Daryoush Jahanian, M.D.

The exilic period begins at 597 B.C. when the first group of the Judeans were deported by the Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar to Babylonia and ends in the year 539-538 B.C. when Cyrus, the king of Persia conquered Babylonia, issued a rescript granting them the right to return to Jerusalem and rebuild their temple.1 Henceforth, the contact between the two nations and interaction between the two religions ensued. Many Jews were returned to Palestine and for two centuries remained under the Persian protection.

Darius (522-486 B.C.) divided his vast empire into twenty satrapies and Palestine remained part of the fifth satrapy, with the city of Damascus as its administrative center. For Palestine, Darius appointed one of the David's descendants, Zerubbabel (Sheshbazzar) as its governor, and ordered to comply fully with the Cyrus' decree to rebuild the Jerusalem's temple. Darius, whose era coincided with the Hebrew era of Prophets Ezra, Haggai and Zechariah, ordered all the treasures of Jerusalem that Nebuchadnezzar had taken to Babylonia, be retuned to Palestine (Ezra 6:1-11) for the reconstruction of the temple, that was finished in the sixth year of his reign (Ezra 6:15).

By the order of Artaxerxes I (Ardeshir I) (465-424 B.C.) the walls of Jerusalem were built, and two of the royal court officials, Nehemiah and Ezra were commissioned to compile the Judaic dispensation (445-393 B.C.). Finally reconstruction of the second temple was completed during the time of Artaxerxes II (400 B.C.).

Because of the Persian protection and favorable attitude of the Achaemenid Kings, the Jews entertained warm feelings thereafter for the Persians and this made them more receptive to their influence. 2 The vast difference between the preexilic and postexilic Judaic scriptures is so discernible that even Sigmund Freud contended that there could have been two Moses. But before addressing the influence of Zoroastrianism in the tenets of Judeans, it is imperative to have a better insight into the new Zoroastrianism as was perceived and practiced by the Persians at the time of the Babylonian Conquest. By reviewing the younger Avesta and Yashts, one realizes that at this era, the innovative teachings of Zarathushtra had been intermingled with the concepts of the earlier faith and some of his doctrinal views had been expanded and even altered beyond their originality.

The relevant issues are as follows:

The new Zoroastrianism at this era, believed in one universal God, Ahura Mazda. But the six divine attributes were often envisioned as separate entities, perhaps in the form of archangels that with Ahura Mazda at the center, at times illogically were called seven Amesha Spenta.

There was battle between the forces of good and evil, with the ultimate victory of good over evil. Those who sided with the forces of good, were supporting the Divine cause. The evil forces were regarded as anger, envy, lies and environmental pollution, etc. In effect the Zoroastrian followers had developed a form of angelology and demonology.

The Persians believed in liberty and freedom of choice, as reflected in the Gathas and the texts of later Avesta.

Another Zoroastrian concept was The Kingdom of God or chosen government, wherein all the virtuous men and women reside freely and choose leaders for their righteousness, and the oppressed will be rehabilitated. The goal was for everyone to work toward establishing the "chosen government" where good overcomes the evil.

They believed in immortality of soul, life after death, that the souls of the dead will be judged for their deeds of the past on the bridge of judgement (Chinovat), where they were guided by their conscience and judged by three angels (Mithra, Rashn, Sraosha), who were to differentiate them and determine the eternal dwellings of the two groups in heaven or hell.

Resurrection (Rastakhiz) or the end of the world, when the dead revive and the new world will have a fresh life and new beginning (Farsho Kerat or fresh act).

In the Gathas, Saoshyant is a general term and means benefactor. There are benefactors of the past, present and future, but no reference is made to any promised person who shall advent. The concept of future benefactors however at this time had been transformed into the savior of future who will perform the task of resurrection.

The Israelites on the other hand, based on the preexilic writings had not developed eschatology. They rather believed in Sheol or an underground and desolate world where the good and bad after death will equally end up. Therefore the notions of judgement after death and reward of heaven and retribution of hell, were nonexistent in their tenets.

Yahweh was the covenant god of Israelites and did not have a universal status, the dualistic forces of good and evil, angelology and demonology were absent in their beliefs as reflected in the books of preexilic Judaism.

The Persian Influence

In regard to Persian influence, Frye unlike other authors does not accept that the notion of bridge of judgement in Talmudic 3 Judaism necessarily is a convincing evidence of the influence, as this has been more of a universal view. 4 But later he concludes that demon Asmdai in the Talmud and Asmodaios in the book of Tobit 5 is surely borrowed from the Iranians. 6 He explains that the name Asmodaios derives from the Avestan demon of wrath, Aesmo Daeva. Aesmo is Avestan for fury and Daeva "Demon". 7

Morton Smith of Columbia University finds similarities between the inscription of Cyrus in Babylon and IInd Isaiah 40-46 8 which he finds explained in Avestan texts. 9 Some of the parallels are noted by him are juxtaposed 10 and mentioned hereunder:

In Cyrus' document the ruler is evil, Marduk (the Babylonian god) is angry; in Isaiah, the people are evil, Yahweh is angry.

Marduk scanned and pronounced Cyrus to become the ruler of all the world; Isaiah 46.2: I am Yahweh I have called upon you (Cyrus) in righteousness. I have taken you by the hand and kept you.

And he (Cyrus) did always endeavor to treat according to Justice; Isaiah 42.1: Cyrus will bring justice to the nation.

Marduk beheld with pleasure his (Cyrus') good deeds and his upright mind and ordered him to march against the city of Babylon; Isaiah 43.14: Yahweh will send Cyrus to Babylon.

Considering the Mesopotamian roots of some of the Biblical events 11 12 those similarities certainly entertain the likelihood of the influence of the Cyrus' inscription in the relevant writings of IInd Isaiah.

Smith notes that before the time of Ilnd Isaiah, the notion "Yahweh created the world" plays little role in Hebrew literature. IInd Isaiah returns consistently to this doctrinal concept. He suggests the common source to be the Gathas of Zarathushtra Yasna 44, the chapter of creation. He finds that besides a peculiar style of IInd Isaiah, almost all the questions asked by Zarathushtra in Yasna 44:3-5 are asked or answered in IInd Isaiah with Yahweh replacing Ahura Mazda.13 Only some examples are mentioned below: 14

Yasna 44.3:1-2, O' wise one, who was at its birth the original father of justice? Isaiah 45-8: let the skies rain down justice. ...

Yasna 44.3 :4-5, who made the routes of the sun and stars? by whom the moon waxes and wanes?; Isaiah 40:26 lift up your eyes on high and see who created these?

Yasna 44.4:1-3, who fixed the earth below and kept the sky above from falling?; Isaiah 40-12, who marked the heavens with a span, enclosed the dust of the earth in measure?

Yasna 44.5:1-3, what craftsman made light and darkness?; Isaiah 45:7, I form light and create darkness....

According to Ashtiyani, in the postexilic books, Yahweh despite remaining the covenant god of the Judeans, develops more or less a universal status. 15 Bagli notes that the term "righteousness" in all the first five books of the old Testament appears only once in Genesis and in the sixty books of holy scriptures it appears thirteen times. In contrast in IInd Isaiah alone, this term appears eight times. l6

Eschatology and Resurrection

Essentially immortality of the soul, judgement and rewards and punishments after death were not recognized by the preexilic Judeans. Zaehner notes that the preexilic view of Sheol, a shadowy and depersonalized existence that is the lot of men regardless of their actions during life, was suddenly abandoned and replaced by the notions of heaven and hell, rewards and punishments when the exiled Jews came in contact with the Persians 17 which later entered Christianity.

The Zoroastrians believed that the soul rises from the dead body and for three nights after death resides in the material world and then proceeds to the other world. This may be termed individual resurrection. Jesus Christ is also said to have risen from his sepulcher three days after crucifixion. 18 The later Zoroastrianism also predicates a collective resurrection (Rastakhiz) when all the dead will rise. 19

The concept of resurrection that was imbedded in parts of the early Hebrew scriptures as Exodus and Deuteronomy became vivid in writings of the postexilic prophets. 20 Daniel 12:2-13 refers to rising after death and receiving rewards. In Isaiah 26:19, the dead will rise again from the graves, the ground will give birth to the dead.

Messiah and Kingdom of God

In the preexilic period, Messiah was only a title of honor granted to important people, and generally the holder of the title was regarded as a person close to Yahweh. During the postexilic era however, it became an especial title for the Lord's Messiah.

Fohrer 21 after a careful analysis concludes that all the sections relevant to the advent of Messiah have entered the holy book during the postexilic era, and IInd Isaiah is the prophet who in particular refers to the end of the world and coming of the Messiah. 22 It is generally accepted that the prophets of Israel after liberation from the Babylonian captivity, in order to generate hope and confidence among the demoralized Jews, introduced the Persian concepts of future hopes such as victory of good over evil, resurgence of Israel, resurrection, future life, heaven and hell and the Kingdom of God. Particularly as the Israelites in this era longed for the reestablishment of Kingdom of David, they developed the notion of Messiah and in effect envisioned the Kingdom of Yahweh in the form of the promised Messiah that was different from the earthly Kingdoms. 23 In other words the political hope of restored Jewish Kingdom headed by a "Meshiach Yahweh" came to be associated with the prophetic and apocalyptic vision of a Kingdom of God in the End of Days. 24 The prophets Heggai and Zechariah saw in Zerubbabel the possible fulfillment of this hope. 25 Thus, the concept of Kingdom of God, originally professed by Zarathushtra as "the chosen government", was eventually transferred through Judaism to Christianity and transformed into the "Kingdom of God". In Isaiah 42: 1-4, "the savior has the spirit of God and will not rest until he has established justice all over the world". Isaiah 11:6 after discussing the above adds after the coming of the Savior "world will live in peace, wolves will live in peace with lambs, and leopards will lie down to rest with goats". This notion is also reflected in Isaiah 62:25. Zechariah 4:14 even speaks of two saviors who are standing before Yahweh. Von Gall suggests that the writers of the book should have had the knowledge of two Zoroastrian saviors, of the later Avesta. Hoshidar and Hoshidar-mah.26 Some Authors contend that the three Magi who visited Jesus Christ at birth, were following the call for the future Saoshyant.

Angelology and Demonology

Another new development in the postexilic Judaism is belief in angels. Mills mentions that "the angelology of the oldest scriptures which was nearly as dim as their Sheol, became occupied with such figures as Michael and Gabriel 27 while the number seven attached to them is as conspicuous as is significant". 28 The seven postexilic angels (Gabriel, Michael, Raphael, Israfil, Israel, Uhiel and Uriel) are vividly reminiscent of the seven Amesha Spenta of the later Avesta.

Another striking finding is "the person of devil as Satan ceased to remain a general term and became a proper names" 29 and demonology began to develop. The struggle between the forces of good and evil, or light and darkness as reflected in the scrolls of Dead Sea reflects the Persian influence.

The Scrolls of Khirbet Qumran

Until 1947 information about the three Jewish sects, Essenes, Pharisees, and Sadducees were sketchy. Jewish historians as Philo 30 and Josephus 31 had reported about their customs and traditions, but even those reports at times were contradictory. For example according to Josephus, Essenes performed sacrifices in their ceremonies, but Philo reported that they had no sacrifices at all and instead demonstrated their piety by sanctifying their minds. 32

Essenes lived from the third century B.C. to first century A.D. in Palestine. The relations of Essenes, and Pharisees from whom many rabbis and teachers of the religion arose, had been already accepted by many authors. It was known that unlike the Sadducees (who were the rabbis and teachers of religion), Pharisees believed in life after death and heaven and hell. 33 The influence of Zoroastrianism in Pharisees is so conspicuous that some authors as Zaehner have called them "Farsis" or "Persians". It was also reported that Essenes believed in resurrection of the dead into new bodies. In fact Josephus claimed that they considered that the body was the prison house where the soul was temporarily confined until death. 34

The discovery of Khirbet Qumran scrolls in the caves of Dead Sea in 1947, shed light on the Essenes' tenets and practices. A French author, named Dupont Sommer, after reviewing the text of the scrolls, found many evidences of Zoroastrian influence. The common beliefs of the Essenes and Zoroastrians have been analyzed by different authors and reported as: 35

Prohibition of sacrifices in the rituals: In the sect's chapter of worship, one finds that they had substituted the ritual of dedicating meat and fat to the fire, with the expression of devotion to God by genuine prayers of the lips, to tread the path of justice and perfection to receive the divine blessings.

The appealing Zoroastrian doctrine that light stood for goodness and darkness for evil, had apparently spread to Palestine before the age of Qumran texts and had been accepted by all the sects. 36 The review of the Qumran Scrolls also reveals that the Essenes believed in a constant struggle between the forces of good and evil. One of the texts is conspicuously close to the teachings of Zarathushtra: "God created man to rule the world and granted him two spirits of evil and righteousness that are with him to the moment of judgement. From the fountain of light the righteous generation, and from the source of darkness the malicious and wicked men will come to existence. The ruler of the light is in control of the realm of righteous sons who proceed in the illumined path, and the other Kingdom is governed by the angel of darkness, where the sons of evil tread the dim path. All men originate from these two spirits and tread their paths. But God in His wisdom has determined the day when the followers of untruth are destroyed and righteousness prevails in the world".

The above passage is reminiscent of Yasna 30, and in particular, the last two sentences that reflect the "freedom of choice" and "hope for the victory of righteousness" have striking resemblance to the pristine teachings of Zarathushtra in the Gathas.

Belief in righteousness, justice and order and prohibition of lies which form the foundation of the Zoroastrian doctrine.

The Essenes believed in freedom of choice as Zoroastrians did, and they professed everyone should choose his path freely. This concept reflects the Zoroastrian influence, as in the original Judaism, it was Yahweh who would choose his people and grant them the blessing of being the chosen.

In contrast to a common belief that wisdom belongs to God, they believed in wisdom of man as well, and expressed interest in philosophy. In the Zoroastrian doctrine, wisdom is the source of all good deeds and only the wise will choose aright.

Contrary to the original Judaism, the scrolls do not superscribe vengeance, instead they emphasize love, good deeds and justice. The Essenes believed in three principles of love of beneficence, love of mankind and love of justice.

Particular attention was given to cleanness and general sanitation. The Essenes took a daily bath in cold water and like the Zoroastrians wore a clean white attire.

The Judeans did not believe in the immortality of soul and the concepts of eschatology generally were not accepted by them even after Christianity. But the Essenes believed in the immortality of body and soul and they regarded the body as the prison house where the soul was confined temporarily, and finally when departed would ascend high. The sect of Qumran also held as an opinion that the souls of righteous will have eternal life, likewise in the new Zoroastrianism Fravashi (the Divine essence) of all men belonged to God and after death returned to the Source.

The Essenes also believed in the final day of Judgement, rewards and retributions.

Their belief in the advent of Messiah resembles the concept of Saoshyant in the new Zoroastrianism.

In the morning prayer, the Qumran sect revered the dawn, sun and light which illustrates the Persian influence. Josephus even goes further by suggesting that the Essenes engaged in some form of sun worship.37


During the five centuries contact, interaction between the two traditions took place. The Jews under the Persian influence developed eschatology, angelology and demonology, and renewed hope for future in terms of victory of good over evil, advent of Messiah and establishing the Kingdom of Yahweh. Many of these doctrinal concepts, later were transferred to Christianity and Islam and the latter actually expanded them. The details of the bridge of judgement (Sarat), punishments of hell, and rewards of heaven, resurrection and return of the souls to the Source in the Koran are the best witness to this fact. Other Islamic views that are derived from Zoroastrianism are the five times daily prayers, 38 emphasis on wisdom, rejection of images, God, being a kind and merciful entity who is "the light of the heavens and the earth", and conceivably emphasis on helping the poor. It is interesting that although the prophet of Islam in Koran, is titled "the last Prophet", the concept of future savior was not however, entirely forgotten among all the Islamic sects. The Iranian Shiites believe in the last Imam who will come when the world is in disarray, and who will establish justice, order and tranquility.



Encyclopedia of Religion. Edited by Vergilius Ferm, 1981, p. 82.

Boyce M. Zoroastrians, Their Beliefs and Practices. Rautledge & Kegan Paul, 1979, p. 51 & 52.

Talmud is an encyclopedia of Jewish tradition supplementing the old Testament. Its origins go back to the close of the old Testament canon and it reached the final stages of development at the end of the fifth century.

Frye R., 'Qumran and Iran: The State of Studier of Christianity, Judaism and Other Greco-Roman Cults", p. 2, note 1. Leiden: E. J. Bribl 1968.

Tobit, an apocryphal book, probably composed originally in Aramaic 200 B.C. by pious Egyptian Jew. Tobit, who was exiled to Ninevah, it mentions Persian cities of Media, Ecbatana and Rhages.

Frye R., Qumran and Iran, p. 170.

Forsee G. L. Zoroaster and Isaiah, microfilm 1984, p. 30-31.

The book of Isaiah has been divided in three books. This division is not accepted by the traditional Jews.

The first Isaiah born in Jerusalem about 765 B.C. Isaiah I includes Chapter 1-39, however they may be the work of different eras. Chapters 1-12 represents a combination of number of collections. Isaiah 24-27 is a production of the later Persian and early Creek era. Chapters 36 to 39 have been taken directly from II Kings 18:13-20:18.

Duetero Isaiah (Isaiah II) coincides with Cyrus and suggests a date 550-538 B.C. It comprises Chapters 40-55 and are the work of an anonymous prophet-poet.

Trite Isaiah (Isaiah 111), chapters 56-66 have diverse origin. They were written by authors unknown, working between 525475 B.C. Some of the material may be derived from a period even later than these times (375-250 B.C.)

Smith M., IInd Isaiah and the Persians, Journal for American Oriental Studies, 83 (1963) p. 415-421.

Forsee G. L., Zoroaster and Isaiah, microfilm 1984, p. 43-44.

Pritchard, J. B.: The Ancient Near East, Volume 1, Princeton University Press, 1958, p. 28-30, The Sumerian Great Deluge.

Pritchard, J. B.: The Ancient Near East, Volume 1, Princeton University Press, 1958, p. 85-86, The events surrounding the birth of Sargon, the Akkadian King has a striking resemblance to the birth of Moses.

Forsee G. L., Zoroaster and Isaiah, microfilm 1984, p. 47-48.

Smith M., IInd Isaiah and the Persians, Journal for American Oriental Studies, 83 (1963)1,. 419.

Ashtiyani J., A Research in Judaism, p. 268 in Persian.

Bagli J., Zoroastrianism and Judaism, The Interaction Between Two Great Traditions, p. 17.

Zaehner R. C., The Dawn and Twilight of Zoroastrianism, Putnam and Sons, N.Y., 1961, p. 59.

Bamji Sh., The Influence of Zoroastrianish on Judaism and Christianity, microfilm, Dec. 3, 1989, p. 19.

Bamji Sh., The Influence of Zoroastrianish on Judaism and Christianity, microfilm, Dec. 3, 1989, p. 19.

Bagli J., Zoroastrian and Judaism, The Interaction Between Two Great Traditions, p. 17.

Fohrer G., Geschichte der Israel.

Ashtiyani J., A Research in Judaism, p. 366, in Persian.

Ashtiyani J., A Research in Judaism, p. 465-366, in Persian.

Encyclopedia of Religion, Edited by Vergilius Ferm, Philosophical Library, 1981, p. 485.

Encyclopedia of Religion, Edited by Vergilius Ferm, Philosophical Library, 1981, p. 485.

Von Gall A., quoted from A Research in Judaism, p. 367 in Persian by J. Ashtiyani.

Michael (Daniel 10:21), Gabriel (David 9:21).

Mills L. H.: Zarathushtra, Philo, The Achaemenids and Israel, A.M.S. Press, New York, 1977, p. 436.

Mills L. H.: Zarathushtra, Philo, The Achaemenids and Israel, A.M.S. Press, New York, 1977, p. 436.

Judaeus Philo (30 B.C.-50 A.D.), Jewish philosopher and historian, A native of Alexandria, Egypt.

Flavius Josephus (37-100 A.D.) A Jewish writer and historian.

Golb N., Who Wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls?, Simon and Schuster, 1995, p. 6.

Ashtiyani J., A Research in Judaism, p. 260, in Persian.

Golb N., Who Wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls?, Simon and Schuster, 1995, p. 5-6.

Ashtiyani J., A Research in Christianity, in Persian. p. 124-126.

Golb N., Who Wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls?, Simon and Schuster, 1995, p. 81.

Golb N., Who Wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls?. Simon and Schuster, 1995, p. 81.

Boyce M., The Contribution of Zoroastrianism To the Great World Religions, transcript of lecture, p.12.