Monday, December 11, 2006
Thus Spake Zarathustra
I've been reading up a bit on the ancient religion of Zoroastrianism in preparation for a sermon on the Three Magi next Sunday (cf. Matthew 2:1-12). For those of you not familiar with it, it is a monotheistic (or possibly dualistic) religion founded by the prophet Zoroaster around 1200 B.C. and practiced by the ancient Persians. It is still around today, practiced by the Parsi people of southern Asia (e.g. Iran, Pakistan & India).

It's really fascinating to see how similar this belief system is to Judaism and Christianity. The central beliefs of Zoroastrianism include:
  • The transcendental and universal God Ahura Mazda, the one uncreated Creator and to whom all worship is directed. He is described as the Eternal, the Pure, the Truth, the Lord of Wisdom, and the Father of Light.
  • That creation is attacked by violence and destruction. The resulting conflict involves the entire universe, including humanity, which has an active role to play in the conflict. Ahura Mazda will ultimately prevail, at which point time will end.
  • Active participation in life through good thoughts, words and deeds are necessary to ensure happiness and to keep evil at bay.
  • The free will to decide whether to perform good thoughts, words and deeds.
Precepts include:
  1. equality of all people
  2. respect, kindness to all living things
  3. the values of hard work, charity
  4. loyalty, faithfulness to family, country
Zoroastrianism also introduced concepts such as angels, demons, heaven/hell, the immortality of the soul, and the Last Judgment to Jewish thought before the time of Christ. In fact, some have speculated that the Pharisees, who were the first-century Jewish sect that had most strongly appropriated such beliefs, derived their name from the Parsi people group.

As a Christian, one can't help but wonder if all this is an instance of God planting seeds of his truth in other cultures and religions (just Paul describes in Acts 17:26-28). Did he communicate some of his nature to the ancient Persians through the prophet Zoroaster? Did he use this religion to teach the Jews further truths about himself (such as the influences listed above)? Was he preparing the way for Christ with these people by teaching them to already believe in One God of goodness, wisdom and light?

And what of the Magi? What does it mean that these followers of Zoroaster and worshippers of Ahura Mazda, the Lord of Wisdom, came to honor the Messiah of the Jews? Is there any significance to the fact that God chose to use a star (i.e. astrology) to communicate his message to these gentiles? Is it possible that this story was Matthew's way of telling us that God has always been at work among the Gentiles, that there is truth to be found even in other religions, and that now, with the coming of Jesus, he would begin to draw them closer to himself by means of those truths that they already have?

I don't know for sure right now. I'm just thinking out loud. It's intriguing.


posted by Mike Clawson at 12:05 AM | Permalink |


At 12/11/2006 11:03:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous

It's actually considered to be one of the oldest religions, if not the oldest, I believe.

Interesting fact: Freddie Mercury from Queen was a Zoroastrian.


At 12/11/2006 11:51:00 PM, Blogger Mike Clawson

Indeed, the time frame for Zoroaster is right around the same time as Moses, so they were both writing scriptures about a monotheistic Creator God during the same period of history and in the same general region of the world. That just makes the connections all the more intriguing IMO.