Did Christianity Borrow from Zoroastrianism?
In a High School class in Fort Worth a teacher told his students that he has discovered the life of Jesus Christ is a myth copied from the life of Zoroaster. The claim is being made that Jesus was like Zoroaster in the following ways:
• Zoroaster was born of a virgin
• The name Zoroaster means “seed of the woman” and known as the “word in the flesh” or Logos
• He astonished wise men at an early age.
• Zoroaster was baptized in a river
• He went into the wilderness to be tempted by the evil one
• He restored the sight of a blind man and cast out demons
• Names of Zoroaster include: “the Word made Flesh” and “Logos”
• Zoroaster’s followers celebrated a sacred Eucharistic meal and had a holy grail
• He resurrected from the dead.
• Zoroaster’s followers expected a “second coming” of their prophet
Jesus is believed to be just a copy of Zoroaster.
In recent years many books, movies, and documentaries have attacked the historical Jesus of the Gospels as a fabrication of pagan religions. Dan Brown in his book The Da Vinci Code writes, “Nothing in Christianity is original.” Jesus is simply a make over of older pagan mysterious religions. Similar claims are made in Bill Maher’s Irreligious; James Coyman, Zeitgeist; Brian Flemming’s The God Who Wasn’t There and in the second season of The Story of God by actor Morgan Freeman
These mythicists portray and represent their claims as if they are scholars or backed by scholars. However, genuine scholars are the the same mind when it comes to the idea that Jesus is a mere copy of paganism. They completely reject the veracity of these assertions. Ben Witherington, a professor of New Testament studies, wrote, “not a single one of these authors and sources are experts in the Bible, Biblical history, the Ancient Near East, Egyptology, or any of the cognate fields…. they are not reliable sources of information about the origins of Christianity, Judaism, or much of anything else of relevance to this discussion.”
When considering the assertion that Christianity has borrowed from Zoroastrainism, fairness requires a quick look and understanding of this ancient religion. It was founded by Zoroaster. Which is the Greek equivalent of the Persian name Zarathustra. No one really knows the exact time and place of his birth. The guesses range from central Asia in 1700 BC to 650 BC in northeastern Iran.
Today, most adherents of Zoroastrianism live in India and Pakistan. Smaller groups are found in North America, Britain, East Africa and Hong Kong. Most have been persecuted out of Iran because are considered infidels by Islam.
Only a small portion of the Zoroastrianism Scriptures called the Avesta exist today. It is composed of three sections: 1) the Yasna containing the Gathas a group of five hymns; 2) the Yashts contain hymns to various deities; and 3) the Videvdat contain the law against the demons along with other codes and regulations.
The gods of Zoroastrianism are composed of Ahura-Mazda who is good and to be worshiped and the evil, Angra Mainya. Both have been co-equal powers from the beginning.
Zoroastrians worship of Ahura-Mazda involves fire at a Fire Temple. This fire represents enlightenment. In addition a central rite of Zoroastrian worship is the drinking haoma or soma in India. It has a hallucinogenic effects. At first Zoroaster was not an object of worship but in the later history of the religion some started to worship the founder.
Zoroastrians believe the way to heaven is by doing good works to please their god. Salvation is found by way of following the “three truths.” These are Good Thoughts, Good Words, and Good Deeds.
Their salvation is in contrast to New Testament Christianity. Which claims that “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast” (Ephesians 2:8,9).
Investigating the Parallel “Myths” Between Jesus and Zoroaster
Claim #1: Zoroaster was born of a virgin
Some assert that Zoroaster was born of a virgin and “immaculate conception by a ray of divine reason.” However, unlike the incarnation of Jesus, Zoroaster ’s “ray” was merely for the infusion of Zoroaster’s spirit, not his body. Additional information tells us that Zoroaster had a natural birth to a normal married couple Dukdaub and Pourushasp, his mother and father respectively (Denkard, Bk 5 2:1-2). “[Zoroaster] had come into the posterity…who are Pourushasp, his father, and Dukdaub who is his mother. And also while he is being born and for the duration of life, he produced a radiance, glow, and brilliance from the place of his own abode…” (Denkard, Bk 5 2:1-2) In addition, there is differing account of his birth. The god Ahura Mazda implants the soul of Zoroaster into the sacred Haoma plant and through the plant’s milk Zoroaster is born.
Jesus’ virgin birth is unique. Raymond Brown concludes that “No search for parallels has given us a truly satisfactory explanation of how early Christians happened upon the idea of a virginal conception…” William Craig informs his readers that “The Gospel stories of Jesus’ virginal conception are, in fact, without parallel in the ancient Near East.”
Claim #2: In Zoroaster’s youth he astounded wise men with his wisdom
When Zoroaster was only seven he was given to be raised by a wise man. He debated and confused a group of occultist, magicians, sorcerers, and necromancers. They had him imprisoned but let him go after he made legs regrow on a horse.
The closest comparison is when Jesus amazed the Jewish scholars at the Temple when only age twelve (Luke 2:41-50).
Claim #3: The name Zoroaster means “seed of the woman” and His names include: “the Word made Flesh” and “Logos”
It cannot be found anywhere in the ancient writings or Zoroastrian text which give the names of “Logos” or “the Word made flesh” to Zoroaster. His Persian name, Zarthustra, is derived from zareta, meaning old or feeble, and ustra, meaning camel. It means “old, feeble camel” not “seed of woman.” Jesus is referred to in John 1:1 as the “Word” from the Greek logos. And in verse fourteen “the Word became flesh.” In Genesis 3:15 the seed of woman is used to identify Jesus
Claim #4: Zoroaster was baptized in a river
At age thirty, Jesus was baptized in the Jordan River by John (Matt. 3).
According to some claims, Zoroaster was also baptized by water and by fire and a holy wind. No texts exist to support this assertion. However, the closest Zoroaster comes to being baptized is that it is said that he received a revelation on the bank of a river, which Zoroaster later crosses.
Claim #5: Zoroaster began his ministry at age 30, like Jesus
Luke 3:23 informs us that Jesus began his ministry at age thirty.
Zoroaster is claimed to have begun his teachings at age thirty when he came out of seclusion. Even today Iranian men come to wisdom at this age.
Claim #6: Zoroaster went into the wilderness to be tempted by the evil one
The place of temptation is never mentioned in regard to Zoroaster. The temptation is from one of the demons sent by the evil god Angra Mainyu to implore Zoroaster to give up his loyalty to Zhura Mazda. As far as going into the wilderness to be tempted is concerned, the place of his temptation is never mentioned. “Again to him said the Maker of the evil world, Angra Mainyu: ‘Do not destroy my creatures, O holy Zarathushtra… Renounce the good Religion of the worshippers of Mazda, and thou shalt gain such a boon as…the ruler of the nations’”‘ (Vendidad Fargad 19:6). This story was only discovered in the Vendiddad dated some 200 to 600 yeas after the time of Jesus. Furthermore, Jesus was only tempted by Satan for forty days while Zoroaster was tempted by the demon J. Buiti for a decade.
Claim #7: Zoroaster restored the sight of a blind man and cast out demons
Jesus and his disciples were able to cast out demons. Yet there is not evidence that Zoroaster every cast out demon possessed people. A document from the 900 AD tells of Zoroaster putting drops of lemon juice in a blind man’s eyes to restore his sight. Again this story is far too late to have been borrowed by Christianity.
Claim #8: Zoroaster’s followers celebrated a sacred Eucharistic meal and he had a sacred cup or grail
Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper for a memorial of his death (1 Cor. 11;17ff). There is nothing in Zoroastrianism parallel to this. The only juice drank is from the haoma plant to induce a hallucinogenic condition. The Gospel’s never speak of Jesus having a scared cup or holy grail. This is a non-Biblical medieval legend. Even so, nothing in Zoroastrian text tell of Zoroaster having a sacred cup or grail.
Claim #9: Zoroaster Resurrected from the Dead
Jesus was crucified by the authority of the Roman governor Pontus Pilate at the instigation of the Jewish leadership. He arose three days after His death and burial.
All the information about the death and so-called resurrection of Zoroaster comes from material which is centuries older than Christianity. In one account Zoroaster was killed by a wizard when he was seventy-seven. Another claims he was murdered by Turanian invaders on one of his temple altars. He was never resurrected from the dead and his death is never said to involve atonement for sin.
The idea of a resurrection did not originate with Zoroaster or Zoroastrianism. The resurrection of the body was taught long before Zoroaster was born. Job said, “for I know that my Redeemer lives, And He shall stand at last on the earth; And after my skin is destroyed, this I know, That in my flesh I shall see God, Whom I shall see for myself, And my eyes shall behold, and not another. How my heart yearns within me!” (Job 19:25-27). 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).
Claim #10: Zoroaster’s followers expected a “second coming” of their prophet
Modern day Zoroastrians believe that in 2341 a virgin-born savior will return and begin his ministry at age thirty. The world will experience a golden age at this time. The religion is confused over whether this will be Zoroaster or one of his descendants.
Again all this information post-dates Christianity and it is more likely that the followers of Zoroastrianism borrowed the teachings of the Bible on the Second Coming of Jesus instead of the other way around.
Dispelling the Myth of the Myth
Where did the myth of Christianity borrowing from Zoroastrianism originate? Most of the text and information about Zoroaster comes from material which was written after the time of the Gospels. It stands to reason that Christianity could not have borrowed from Zoroastrian text. It is far more likely that Zoroastrians borrowed and adapted the life of Jesus and applied it to Zoroaster. Zoroastrianism borrowed freely from the polytheistic faiths of the region. Mithra, for example, was a Persian god who found a prominent role in Zoroastrianism. Mithra’s Hindu counterpart is the god Mitra.
The Persians may have got the ideas from the Jews, and from Ezekiel or Daniel. Daniel was even part of the Persian government (Daniel 6). The Jews most likely influenced the Zoroastrians.
“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). The only source for Zarathustra’s teachings is the Avesta. Avesta, a collection of sacred texts which was put in writing between 346-360 AD and of which we have manuscript copies only as early as the 13th century. The Law of Moses Mosaic, the Psalms of David and many of the prophets wrote long before Zoroaster was even born.
Therefore, these so-called parallels were written long after the first century. By the end of the first century AD the writings of the New Testament had been completed. Furthermore, the differences between Christianity and Zoroastrianism is far greater than the similarities. Professor Craig Keener stated “when you make the comparisons,” between the historical Jesus and the claims made by mythicists, “you end up with a whole lot more differences than you do similarities.”
Many bona fide scholars of ancient history and/or the Gospels have rejected this myth that Christianity created the myth of Jesus by borrowing from the life of Zoroaster. Most of the myths about Zoroaster are not found in the sacred test, the Avesta. Jesus life and death and resurrection is not a myth. T.N.D Mettinger of Lund University comments that “There is, as far as I am aware, no prima facie evidence that the death and resurrection of Jesus is a mythological construct…” As a literary critic, C.S Lewis, affirmed “all I am in private life is a literary critic and historian, that’s my job. And I am prepared to say on that basis if anyone thinks the Gospels are either legend or novels, then that person is simply showing his incompetence as a literary critic. I’ve read a great many novels and I know a fair amount about the legends that grew up among early people, and I know perfectly well the Gospels are not that kind of stuff.”
Jesus was a historical figure in the first century not a myth. Paul Maier, a former Professor of Ancient History, “The total evidence so overpowering, so absolute that only the shallowest of intellects would dare to deny Jesus’ existence.” Extra Biblical ancient sources, such as, the Talmud, Josephus, Tacitus, Pliny the Younger, etc. all attested to the historicity of Jesus.
The claims of parallels between the life of Jesus and Zoroaster is exaggerated, taken out of context, or fabrications by dishonest “scholars”. The sources of these claims post date the New Treatment by hundreds of years. A stronger argument can be made for Zoroastrianism borrowing from Christianity. The most significant difference between Zoroaster and Jesus is the motive for Jesus’ coming to earth and dying and resurrecting. Professor Robert Grant suggests that “Jesus introduced a very singular innovation. For he also claimed that he himself could forgive sins… Jesus lived his last days, and died, in the belief that his death was destined to save the human race.”
– Daniel R. Vess