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Probe Ministries > Q & A: Probe Answers Our Email > Cults and World Religions > "Did Christianity Really Come From Zoroastrianism?"


"Did Christianity Really Come From Zoroastrianism?" Print E-mail

I am a Christian and have been one all of my life. I am moderately well versed in apologetics. As far as I can tell, as of now, there is only one real argument against Christianity and that comes from Zoroastrianism. I do not know how much you know about this religion, but it was founded by someone called Zoroaster or Zarathushtra who was born around 1200 BC and has a holy text called the "avesta." It used to be one of the most popular religions in the world, but has since dwindled down to about 140,000 members, most in India.

The argument that people make is that the Jewish ideal of a savior comes from Zoroastrianism, apparently there is a strong savior figure in Zoroastrianism that will die, become resurrected, and then judge the dead. People claim that when the Jews were taken in Babylon they were exposed to this faith and adopted parts of it as their own; they say this explains why the idea of a savior figure emerges in the parts of the Bible that were written during or after the Jews' stay in Babylon. People will then go on to say that Zoroastianism developed many cults, particularly among Romans, about the time of Jesus that claimed a divine figure will come to earth and defeat "the bull" or something like Satan or the devil, and then judge everyone. These people claim that this made the acceptance of Jesus much more likely and also point out that the three wisemen that went to see Jesus were called "magi" which is a priest in Zoroastrianism. One of the tenants of Zoroastrianism says that the savior figure will be found by following a certain star, which is what the three wisemen did. Also Zoroastrianism seems to hint that the savior will be born by a virgin (but I am not sure of that).

People would claim that the prophecies that are fulfilled in the New Testament are added in by the authors and would counter the martyrdom of the authors as evidence for belief by saying that they eventually grew to believe it, which is possible according to modern day psychology. They would then say that Jesus was either made up, or a historical figure that happened to be very intelligent but also insane in a way that was not apparent to people around him. A very unlikely event, but one that must be used to explain something amazing as the spread of Christianity according to them.

Now I have of course not cited any evidence for my references on the argument for Zoroastrianism leading to Christianity which is because much of what I have learned is from people who I think reference A History of Zoroastrianism by Mary Boyce. I have not read that book (it is in two volumes I believe), so I cannot judge its arguments, but from a purely historical point of view, if Zoroastrianism really said all the aforementioned material before Jesus was around and then it traveled to Babylon, it does seem like a good argument against Christianity.

I must admit that there some things wrong with this theory, one is that Zoroastrianism is very big about purification by fire, which Christianity never mentions, although it would be possible to think that Zoroastrianism was diluted by the time it got to Babylon and Christianity also does talk about hell being very fiery. I do not know how much of the language the avesta is written in we can actually translate, maybe all, maybe not that much. And I also am well aware of people distorting facts to suit their own purpose and I have no idea how respected Mary Boyce is among historians. I would also like you to check out the web page www.geocities.com/Pentagon/6315/religion/zoro.html as it argues that Christianity is the result of a cult and cites sources.

Please tell me your thoughts on this matter and on any other argument that Christianity resulted from cults or other religions; it has been pulling at my heart for a while.

Thanks so much for writing! The argument that Judaism/Christianity borrowed from Zoroastrianism is, as yet, unproven. In fact, if any borrowing was done, it was quite possibly the other way around (i.e. Zoroastrianism borrowed from Judaism/Christianity).

In the first place, the evidence actually indicates that Zoroaster wasn't even born until about the time of the Babylonian Captivity. Kenneth Boa states that his dates are sometimes given as 628-551 B.C. (Cults, World Religions and the Occult [Illinois: Victor Books, 1990], 45). Other scholars give similar, though not identical, dates (e.g. Herzfeld, 570-500 B.C.; Jackson, 660-583 B.C - see W.S. Lasor, "Zoroastrianism," in Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, ed. Walter Elwell [Michigan: Baker Book House, 1984], 1202). If these dates are even relatively accurate then it is quite possible that Judaism did not borrow from Zoroastrianism. Rather, it may actually have been Zoroaster who borrowed from the religion of the Jewish captives in Babylon.

It is certainly true that Zoroaster spoke of such things as "... the coming of a savior and the resurrection of the body," etc. (Ibid., 44). But he may have borrowed these ideas from the Jewish captives in Babylon. Indeed, it appears that all of these ideas can be found in the Jewish Scriptures PRIOR to the Babylonian Captivity.

For instance, even if we grant the contention of the person who wrote the web article you referred me to, that Isaiah offers the first, full monotheistic conception of God (e.g. Isaiah 43:10-13), it by no means follows that Isaiah borrowed this conception from Zoroastrianism! Indeed, Isaiah wrote his book BEFORE Zoroaster was even born! The period in which Isaiah was writing was roughly that of 740-680 B.C. Thus, if there was any borrowing, it was Zoroaster borrowing from Isaiah--not vice-versa. Besides this, LaSor argues that Zoroaster was not a true monotheist anyway, but a polytheist. At most he was a dualist: "He exalted Ahura Mazda...as supreme among the gods...and viewed the world as an agelong struggle between Ahura Mazda and Angra Mainyu" (Ibid., 1202).

In addition, the coming of a savior is promised as early as Gen. 3:15 in the Bible. This was long before the birth of Zoroaster. Genesis was probably written between 1450-1410 B.C. And there are numerous other Messianic prophecies before the Babylonian Captivity (e.g. in Numbers 24:17 (Law); Psalm 22--especially v. 1, 7-8, 14-18 (writings); Isaiah 52:12-53:12 (Prophets)). All of these prophecies were given BEFORE the birth of Zoroaster and the development of Zoroastrianism. Thus, we need not think that Judaism/Christianity borrowed the idea of a Savior from Zoroastrianism; likely it was just the reverse.

The resurrection of the body seems clearly alluded to in Job 19:25-27. Although this book may have been written during the time of Solomon (approx. 965 B.C.), the events themselves are almost certainly from the patriarchal period (approx. 2000 B.C.). Additionally, Psalm 16:10, written by David long before the Babylonian Captivity also alludes to the physical resurrection of the Messiah (see Acts 2:25-32). Thus, the idea of bodily resurrection (including the resurrection of the Messiah) would seem to predate the advent of Zoroastrianism.

Finally, angels are mentioned in the Bible frequently in Genesis (e.g. 3:24; 19:1; 28:12; etc). Thus, the biblical doctrine of angels is also prior to the beginning of Zoroastrianism.

As for the NT authors adding in Messianic prophecies after the fact, it is simply false. For example, a copy of the text of Isaiah, dating to around the 2nd cent. B.C., was found among the Dead Sea Scrolls. This copy of Isaiah is thus PRIOR to the birth of Christ. The prophecies are genuine. Not only this, they also predate the origin of Zoroastrianism as I mentioned previously.

As for Jesus being either unhistorical or insane, both conjectures are entirely without merit. The first flies in the face of an immense amount of information from both ancient Christian and non-Christian sources that were roughly contemporary to Jesus. For instance, aside from the NT and early Christian writers, there are references to Jesus in the Talmud, Josephus, Tacitus, Pliny the Younger, etc. The second notion, that Jesus was insane, is pure speculation with virtually no evidence whatsoever to support it. People say all sorts of strange things, but the evidence in support of these theories is flimsy in the extreme. And the evidence against such ideas is truly overwhelming.

I hope this sets your mind at rest a little. The ties between Judaism/Christianity and Zoroastrianism are certainly interesting, but the evidence is insufficient to say that the former borrowed from the latter. Indeed, if any borrowing was done, it was likely Zoroastrianism borrowing from Judaism/Christianity.

God bless you,

Michael Gleghorn
Probe Ministries

I thank you for answering my question. I would just like to add to that response, which detailed how the Jews did not "steal" from Zoroastrianism, that in Deuteronomy 18:10 the Jews are forbidden to have anyone "pass through fire," a practice that Zoroastrianism used and adopted. The passage goes on to say that they are forbidden to do many things that the other pagan cults did, such as the Zoroastrians. That would suggest that the adoption of Zoroastrian traditions would be unlikely considering that they were forbidden to have anything to do with them.

Thanks, ______, for this addendum!

Sue Bohlin
Probe Ministries

 


About the Author

Michael GleghornMichael Gleghorn is a research associate with Probe Ministries. He earned a B.A. in psychology from Baylor University and a Th.M. in systematic theology from Dallas Theological Seminary. He is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in theology from Dallas Theological Seminary. Before coming on staff with Probe, Michael taught history and theology at Christway Academy in Duncanville, Texas. Michael and his wife Hannah have two children. His personal website is michaelgleghorn.com.

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