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Georg-August-Universität Göttingen

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Prof. Heinrich, 2018

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Georg-August-Universitaet Goettingen

Zarathustra, the Prophets, and the Christ

A Comparative Study


Table of Contents

Introduction. 1

1. Biographical Information regarding Zarathustra. 2

3. The Cosmology of Zarathustra and Fulfillment-Theology. 9

4. Zarathustra and the Prophetic Literature – Comparison. 11

6.  The Synoptic Gospels and the Message of Zarathustra. 14

7. Conclusion. 16

Bibliography. 17


Zarathustra, the Prophets, and the Christ

All biblical references taken from the ESV translation. All references to the Gathas, including the numbers indicating the stanza of the Ha, are based on the translation  by D. J. Irani (see bibliography).

Introduction
The purpose of this paper is to relate and compare the teachings of Zarathustra to the witness of the Old and New Testament, especially in reference to the center piece of Christian Theology, i.e. Jesus, the Christ. I will first seek to outline basic themes in the teachings of Zarathustra, and then summatively bring them into dialogue with sections of the Corpus of the Old Testament Literature
[JH1] , as well as the New Testament.

In order to approach this topic it is important to note that although the terms Zoroastrianism and Christianity are terms used to describe certain phenomena, the founders of the respective religion did never use these terms. Instead, these terms are actually used in reference to these founders, in order to indicate their importance.

In the case of Christianity, the term designates the centrality of Christ for the faith. In the case of Zoroastrianism, Zarathustra is the central figure, Zoroaster in Greek, and hence the name of the faith-movement derives its name from him. In its infancy, neither Christianity nor Zoroastrianism was an enclosed and static system that could be compared with one another via comparative religion, but both were rather prophetic movements in a certain point [JH2] in history, like the prophetic movements recorded in the Old Testament (Elijah, Jeremiah, etc.). The prophets of the Old Testament, according to the Scriptural record, [JH3] spoke and acted at a certain point in history, and Christ, according to the writer of the Letter to the Hebrews (Chapter 1, Verses 1 and 2), stood in direct chronological as well as prophetic succession to them.

Christ, according to the Early Christian understanding, which is reflected for instance in the above-mentioned Letter to the Hebrews as well as in the four gospels, is the last in line of a long lineage of prophets. Qua his own words, he did not come to “destroy the law, or the prophets […] but to fulfill.” (Matthew 5:17[JH4] ), in other words, he does not act against what was spoken before, but acts in continuity with the prophets, seeking to ‘fill out’[JH5]  their ministry.

And yet the corpus of the Old Testament in which the words and deeds of the Old Prophets are recorded, is not conclusive in a certain sense. It is not, nor would it even be possible, that all history that happened during the time of the prophets was recorded, but only that pertaining to the history of Israel. The writing of History, any historical writing, is selective.

Only those aspects that an editor deems important in reference to his cause are included in the writing of the history. A comparable New Testament parallel can be found in the book of the Acts of the Apostles. It is very clear that in these short twenty-eight chapters not all events of the very early church are included, as this would not be possible. Luke, the author of the book, only included certain aspects of the history.

He naturally was unable to include the aspects of which he, either due to geographical constraints or for some other reason, did not have any knowledge of. It is relatively futile to speculate why Zarathustra is not mentioned in the Old Testament. But it is possible that this is connected to the geographical distance between his area of influence and the area that is of main concern for the editors [JH6] of the O.....[read full text]

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More information regarding Zarathustra can be gathered through his hymns, the Gathas, as these reveal his inner aspirations as well as perceived mission. To these we shall now turn.


2. Zarathustra’s Gathas[JH13] 

The Gathas are poetic hymns addressed largely to Ahura Mazda, similar to the Psalms of the Old Testament, although different in style. Ahura Mazda is the primary denominator used in the hymns to address God: Ahura means “Life”, Mazda may be translated as “Wisdom”. This God, identified to be the ‘Creator’ (Yasna 29, Yasna 44, etc.) throughout the hymns, is continuously praised and petitioned by Zarathustra, in lieu of his quest to find an answer to the ethical dilemma, the rampant rule of wickedness and violence, of his time.

Zarathustra himself is elected in the process of petitioning [JH14] to be a teacher of wisdom and righteousness, for the sake of the betterment of the world. Aside from being addressed to Ahura Mazda and presenting information regarding Zoroaster, many of the hymns are also addressed to those who came to listen to the hymns.

In total, there are 17 Haitis, or Hymns, with a total of 238 verses, divided into 5 sub-sections: Ahunavaiti, Ushtavaiti, Spenta Mainyu, Vohu Khshathra, and Vahishto Ishti. While the first sub-section, Ahunavaiti, contains the first seven Haitis, and the second and third section contain four each, the last two Haitis each just contain one Hymn.

Among these different sub-sections there is not always a clear thematic distinction. After having been written down by Zarathustra, the Hymns later came to be used, in a liturgical form, in a ceremony (cf. Irani, 5). The 17 Haitis, or Has, as they are also commonly called, will now be explored in more detail, for they function as the main source regarding the teachings of the prophet Zarathustra.

Most scholars seem to place Yasna[JH15]  (Hymn) 29 at the beginning of the Gathas, because of reasons internal to the text, although technically Yasna 28 is first. In order to understand these Gathas correctly, it is important to remember that they are not comprehensive theological treatises, and do not seek to provide an answer to all aspects of Zoroastrian theology, just as the same could not be said regarding the Old Testament prophets.

In fact, quite often the poetic imagery of the Hymns, comparable to that of the Psalms or any other poetry, seeks to much rather evoke a certain response within the hearer rather than to respond to a question he or she might have. It is hoped that the importance of this source justifies their elaborate treatment here.

Yasna 29 begins with a lamentation of Zarathustra and the ‘Soul of Creation’, in light of the destruction which has been caused by evil-doers in the land, and which obstructs the way towards living a peaceful life. The Soul of Creation could refer to humanity or creation as a whole here. Ahura Mazda then asks Asha, the Truth, who will amend this situation, but the response is that there is no one who can do so.

In response, Zarathustra petitions for protection of the righteous with the response that he himself is made the “protector and guide, for the welfare of the world and its diligent people” (6.)[JH16] . The Hymns of the Gathas are identified as a gift from God, just as the teachings therein contained, which are “for the well-being of the world and its righteous people.” [JH17] Zarathustra is said to have been the only one who listened to the teachings of Ahura Mazda (cf. 8.) [JH18] It[JH19]  ends by Zarathustra petitioning Ahura Mazda and his Spirit of Truth and Right[JH20]  to help him and to give him the authority and power to accomplish the goal of procuring peace and happiness to the world “[o]f which,Thou, O Lord, art indeed the first possessor”[JH21] .

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Man is called upon to be among those that make ‘the world progress towards perfection’ (9.); thinking is an aid in this process[JH27] . The commandments given by ‘the Wise Lord’ lead to happiness and pain: happiness for those that follow them, while pain is the result for those that reject them (11.).

In Yasna 31, the common themes of petitioning for help, devotion towards Ahura Mazda and announcement of teaching for the people are repeated. In Stanza 6 it is declared that he who teaches the message is of the best state, i.e. a particularly exalted position. There is an interesting parallel here to the teaching of Christ that those who hold and teach[JH28]  his commandments will be called ‘great in the kingdom of heaven’, (Matthew 5:19), whereas those that lead others, particularly children that believe in Christ, astray, will also suffer the consequences (Matthew 18:6; Mark 9:42; Luke 17:2).

In Yasna 32, the conflict between the good ones that follow the path of righteousness and of the evil ones that obstruct the way to flourishing is again expounded. The enemies of the Truth are threatened, warned and called ‘products of the Evil Mind’ (3.). One evil-doer, Yima, is mentioned by name (8.). According to corroborative information, he and his compatriots justified and promoted human and animal slaughter (Irani, 10), although in the Hymn itself, only the ‘sanctioning’ of the flesh of the Cow is mentioned, and it is not quite clear what is meant here.

Zarathustra proceeds with a message of warning towards the evil-doers (9.-16.).
In Yasna 33, Zarathustra again sings about Ahura Mazda, whom he calls Ratu, i.e. Judge, and says that he will judge everybody rightly (1.). At a certain point in the speech, the prophet desires to be blessed with a vision, presumably by Ahura Mazda, and to communicate with Him. He desires Ahura Mazda to ‘come hither to [him]’ (6.). Again, petitions for divine help are made, one of them asking for ‘grace’, in order to ‘make wide the vision of my mind; make manifest Thy everlasting attributes; Make known the blessings of Thy Kingdom of Heaven […]’ (13).

In the last part, Zarathustra offers himself as an offering to Ahura Mazda, a concept which, according to D. J. Irani commentator, stands in stark contrast to the praxis of the traditional worshippers that the prophet mostly ministered to.

Yasna 34 again begins by Zarathustra dedicating himself to the service of Ahura Mazda (1). He asks to know the proper way of worship, which is “good thought, good word, good action” (13). Following this doctrine and tending Creation properly also has a positive effect on the health of the practitioner (14), and it is also because of this, that Zarathustra, in the concluding verse, again asks Ahura Mazda for the knowledge of his teaching and for the regeneration of “existence” (15).

This is the conclusion of the first sub-section of the 17 Hymns of Zarathustra, the Ahunavaiti. The second part, the next four Hymns, is called, as was mentioned above, the Ushtavaiti. Many of the themes of the earlier Yasnas are repeat.....

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In Yasna 46, Zarathustra laments because his message is rejected. It seems to have been sung during an early stage of his ministry (Irani, 11). Throughout the song, he expresses that “he who looks upon evil with tolerance is no other than evil.” (6.) The Karpans, who according to one scholar (Irani, 9), are members of a priestly caste, and the Kavis, who are princes, rulers, or chiefs of a tribe, are repudiated as they “have tyrannized over humanity” (11.). They shall suffer the consequences of their action when crossing the “Bridge of Judgment”.

Zarathustra continues to exhort the people to choose right over wrong in order to bring creation closer towards the “Great Renovation”, [JH30] a concept that is not more clearly described here, but likely entails the ethical renewal of the human society (19).

The third sub-section, Spenta Mainyu, also contains four Hymns, titled Yasnas 47-50.
Yasna 47 entails further petitions for the Spirit of Ahura Mazda to instruct and teach. This Spirit, that should not be conceived as a separate entity with a distinct personality (Irani, 12), is an affliction to the evil-doers, but not to the righteous.

All good things have been assigned to the good, but those that walk on the path of falsity shall reap destruction (5.). Ahura Mazda is the just one who gives to everyone his or her due (6.).

In Yasna 48, a time is envisioned when Truth will have defeated all Lie and full adoration of the Glory of Ahura Mazda may take place [JH31] (1.). The mind is understood as being the source of the behavior of the human as, for the evil-doers, ‘their words and deeds will reflect their sentiments (4).

Man is called upon to care for the land (5.), to abandon any ill-will and anger (7.), and good rulership is prayed for (5.). Those that diligently seek to better the earth are deemed ‘saviors of the earth’ (12.).

In Yasna 49, a certain man called Bandva is mentioned who, supposedly, has withstood the ministry of Zarathustra. He has been a ‘stubborn foe’ (1.), ‘impervious […] to the influence of the Good Mind’ (2.). Aside from that, common themes such as the petitioning for righteousness, the beneficial effect of the way of righteousness, and the judgment of Ahura Mazda, are repeated.

In Yasna 50, the last Hymn of Spenta Mainyu, addressed to Ahura Mazda, Zarathustra reiterates the theme of righteousness leading to blessedness.). As in the other Hymns, Zarathustra petitions for help (6.) and expresses his devotion towards the ca.....

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It would not be wrong, in this context to say that the Highest Being is Truth, Wisdom, Piety, the Good Mind, etc., and yet it would not do justice to the Zoroastrian cosmology to turn the two aspects around and call Truth, Wisdom, or any other aspect of the Divinity God – this, piety would not permit. This conception finds its partial parallel in the Old Testament concept of ‘Wisdom’ as explained in the book of Proverbs and in the New Testament in the Concept of ‘Logos’ in the Gospel of John.

In both cases, the two entities are conceived (or recognized?) as being at the same time with God and as being of God. As having their Source in God and as being the instrument through which the world has been made (Proverbs 8:22-31; John 1:1-3). The aspect of the Logos, which can variably be translated as Goodness, or maybe Good Mind, or Word, being that through which the world came into being, is also poetically described in the first chapters of Genesis.

Here, it is God who through his word creates the world and brings it into order (Genesis 1). The Logos term of the first century, the time when the Evangelist John was writing, sought to encapsulate in meaning the eternal and unchanging Qualities of God, i.e. primarily his goodness, but also his gentleness, faithfulness, kindness, justice, peacefulness, etc. This is in direct analogy to Zarathustra’s teaching: it is as if Plato, who was the first who explicitly described the Logos concept, and Zarathustra perceive the same entity.

Moreover, John seems to imply that Jesus, the Christ, himself is the living embodiment of these eternal and unchanging qualities, that is, he is Piety, Truthfulness, Goodness, Kindness, Justice, Fidelity, Peacefulness, etc. in personae. Throughout the Gospel of John, the Christ, who has traditionally been called the ‘Wisdom of God’ also describes himself as being the ‘Light’, the ‘Truth’, the ‘Way’, and hence it would make coherent sense to replace the word ‘Logos’ in the first chapter of John with those words.

And again, the coherence between Zarathustra’s experience, as expressed in his Hymns, and the message of the Gospel of John, whether formulated in direct knowledge of Zoroastrianism or not, is striking. Christ, then, according to the message of John the Evangelist, would be the One in whom the entities that Zarathustra eulogistically exalted and invoked, such as the Spirit of Truth, or the Spirit of Righteousness, are embodied.

From a human perspective, and this is often times recognized even by those who would not deem themselves ‘Christian’, Christ is someone that quasi lived the ideals of the Zoroastrian religion, i.e. he was, according to the picture conveyed in the Gospels and to the extent which this is perceptible from an outside perspective, a human being that had ‘good thoughts, good words, good actions’.

Here again it is possible to discern continuity between the message of Za.....

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If Israel was not walking on the path of righteousness, then they were not walking in the way that they had committed themselves to walk in, and thus, judgment is the result (see, for instance, Deu. 5, 29, Hos. 1,2 etc.). Secondly, most of prophets make specific, futuristic declarations regarding the result of the rejection of their message, i.e. they foretell future events that will ensue if the people do not respond positively to their message (or sometimes even that will occur regardless of the response, e.g. Zachariah).

For Zarathustra, the destruction on the evil-doers is generic and a direct result of their swaying from Truth, from Righteousness, (although God is still invoked as judge, see, for instance, Yasna 31,8, Yasna 33,1). It is not tied to a special, ethnically defined position of the people that he preaches to[JH36]  as it is in the case for some of the prophets, and the destruction that ensues is not specifically elaborated and described.

Nevertheless, the central thrust of the message of the prophets and that of Zarathustra is still identical: repent, and “seek good, and not evil, that you may live; […] hate evil, and love good, and establish justice in the gate” (Amos, 5,14-15). Thirdly, and lastly, the theme of immortality as a result of upright living is not mentioned in the prophetic literature.

The judgment that is mentioned by the prophets is this-worldly, and is thus not very concerned with the after-life of the addressees. Additionally, and this could almost be mentioned as a fourth aspect, the eternal qualities of God, such as Truth and Righteousness, that are hypostasized in the proclamation of Zarathustra, are also not mentioned as abstract qualities in the declaration of the prophets.

Partly this might be due to linguistic reasons: the Hebrew tongue normally speaks of abstract entities only in a metaphorical manner. The word for mercy and compassion, for instance, in Hebrew (ra-cha-min) derives from the term re-chem, the word used for the womb[JH37] [JH38] . Also, while Zarathustra petitions to the Holy Spirit, to Truth, to Piety, etc. as he does to Ahura Mazda, in the case of the prophets it is the Holy Spirit itself which is claimed by the prophets to speak through them, as invoked by the frequent utterance: The Holy Spirit came to me…(e.g. Jeremiah 1:4, Ezekiel 6:1, Micah 1:1, etc.).[JH39]  In the Gospel of John, however, which is the Gospel that was written to a culture influenced by Greek philosophy, these ‘abstractions’ are explicitly mentioned (see above) and not just metaphorically implied (Truth, Logos/Goodness, etc.). Thus, while in Zarathustra’s case, he petitions to the Holy Spirit and for the Holy Spirit, in the case of the Prophets, the Holy Spirit is claimed to speak directly through them.

An important question is whether the Truth, the Righteousness, the Piety in Zarathustra’s theology can be identified with the Holy Spirit. If this is the case, and the Holy Spirit is essentially identical with Truth - or is at least the Spirit of Truth, etc. -, then perception[JH40]  would cohere with the perception that seems to be implied in the New Testament in the Gospel of John: Christ, the Truth, etc., imparts His Spirit, the Holy Spi.....

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