The Magi series – II. The Magi – Zoroaster meets Yahweh

It seemed an impossible task when Daniel was made the chief of the “wise men” (Daniel 2:27 *rab-mag* = “chief of the Magi” Daniel 4:9) in Babylon, an office which apparently was carried through to Persia..  After all, he was a monotheist (one God) who now was in charge of the keepers of the empire’s religion, which one would expect had a multi-god pantheon.  How difficult his work must have been!

What about the accounts in Daniel, Ezra and Nehemiah where the kings of Persia referred to “the one God” and “the Most High God” (for example, Daniel 6:25-27; Ezra 1:2-4)?  If they worshipped a pantheon, would it not be most unusual to have such an exclusive confession of an One Supreme God (“He is the Living God”)?  Were these accounts merely tailored by the Biblical authors to promote a monotheistic view?  Yet Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, and Darius, king of Persia, experienced the power of a God who stepped into their histories without apology or need for permission from any other god.

In researching for *Creation’s Ballet for Jesus,* I was surprised by Persia’s national religion during the time of Daniel to Ezra and Nehemiah: Zoroastrianism which, at least in the beginning, was monotheistic.  In it all other gods were demoted, leaving only one uncreated Creator, Ahura Mazda (“the Wise Lord”), the only One worthy of worship, Who with his seven Spentas created the material and the spiritual universe.  Through His holy spirit, the Spenta Mainyu, He created the world, mankind and all that is good in it; through the six other spirits, the Amesha Spentas (“holy immortals”), the rest of universe was created.  Ahura was the source of “The Truth” (“asa”), but He was not necessarily omnipotent (all-powerful), and was referred to as “the Better.”

His creation of law, order and truth was threatened by an inferior god, Angra Mainyu, a creature perhaps above the Spentas or parallel to Spenta Mainyu, who by free will chose evil and therefore was responsible for “The Lie” (“druj”), and who seemed to have creative ability as well, only he created the negative things.  The conflict between “The Truth” and “The Lie” (good and evil) was carried out not by these gods personally, but by their respective creations.  Although Ahura would ultimately win and this dualism would cease, the outcome depended heavily upon mankind who by its support could speed up the inevitable victory of the good.

Each human was given “free will” to choose which side he/she would be on, which once made could not be reversed.  The follower of “The Truth” (the “ashavan”) must avoid lies, support the poor, perform several kinds of sacrifices, and so on, thereby achieving integrity and immortality.  “The Truth” was portrayed by the ordered society of the herdsmen and farmers, “The Lie” by the thieving and destructive nomads.

There would be a Last Judgment, where those who followed “The Lie” would be condemned both by their conscience and then by Ahura to Hell and those of “The Truth” would enter Heaven.

So it was no stretch of credulity when the kings would refer to “a Most High God” and “the Living God.”  Sadly the monotheism gradually devolved into a three god troika, and then became more of a pantheon.  However, by the time of Jesus, the old Zoroastrianism possibly had a resurgence.

This religion on the surface had many similarities to the worship of Jehovah, yet there also were glaring differences, notably in the area of forgiveness, grace, mercy, and conversion.  One had to hope that the abundance of one’s “good deeds, good words and good thoughts” would be greater than the negative in their lives.  There was none of the idea behind Leviticus 17:11,  “For the Life of the flesh is in the Blood; and *I [God] have given it for you upon the altar* to make atonement for your souls; for it is the Blood that makes atonement, by reason of the Life.”

It is easy to see why the synagogue, with its emphasis on weekly reading portions of Moses and the prophets and on teaching, rose to such importance during this time of the captivity, especially since there was no access to a personal copy of the written divine Scripture.  The essential differences had to be constantly held in front of the Jews lest they lost the treasure which the Old Testament held.

Still, Zoroastrian’s common ground of monotheism (along with the significant differences) would provide Daniel much fertile ground for productive discussions with those who were under his charge.  At the same time the Magi would have a genuine curiosity as to what the Old Testament had to say in contrast to the Persian religion.

Next: Astrology/Astronomy and a Living Prophet


Austin Becker
Curious about your sources for Zoroastrianism. I’ve never seen anything to the effect of it being monotheistic, tritheistic, or polytheistic. It is a dualistic religion. Angra Mainyu/Ahriman is seen as an evil god of equal power to Ahura Mazda.

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These are two among others. It seems that yes Zoroastrianism was dualistic as Judeo-Christian might be called dualistic, but in all three religions, there is/was one supreme God.

Austin Becker
James Lindemann, Christianity is not dualistic. Only the Gnostic heresy was dualistic. Zoroastrianism is not monotheistic, but henotheistic. They believe in two gods, but only worship the one. Your sources are simplistic. They might be useful for the ignorant who simply desire a simple introduction to Zoroastrianism. They are not sufficient for making bold assertions about the nature of the religion.

James Lindemann
Austin Becker
Ahura Mazda (“the Wise Lord”)
his seven Spentas
Spenta Mainyu,
Amesha Spentas (“holy immortals”)
Angra Mainyu

So what is the difference between Spenta Mainyu and Angra Mainyu? What is the meaning when both are referred to as “Mainyu” – is this a similarity of class?  I tend to refer to CS Lewis’ Screwtape Letters, where he remarks that Satan is not the equal of God, but rather the equal of perhaps Gabriel. Ultimately it seems to be a conclusion that ultimately Angra Mainyu will be defeated and sent to Hell – it cannot be an expectation unless the condemning God is greater than Angra.

The use of “dualism” was simply following your lead. Sorry to have mentioned it.

A point of this post was simply to identify that rather than Daniel’s leadership challenged against a pantheon of gods, what happened at his time was that there was enough of a similarity between the religions, that there could be productive discussion between the leader and those who were his charge. But at the same time it was also the reason why the synagogue arose, because there was enough of a similarity to confuse the Jewish congregation, therefore the synagogue was a tool to keep them mindful of the danger, especially when the Jewish history was one of syncretism which led to the captivity in the first place.

I really had and have no desire to get into the religion any deeper than to identify these two points.



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