If you’re looking for a head-scratching read, you might check out this Answers in Genesis article on Zoroastrianism. For background, Zoroastrianism is a religion that developed in the Middle East and first appeared in the historical record around 50o BCE. A monotheistic religion that focuses on a dualism between good and evil, many scholars believe that it had a significant affect on the development of Christianity.
While Satan does appear as a concept in the books that comprise the Old Testament, he is never set up with an opponent of God the way he is in early Christian writings. He is a bit player, and not at all powerful enough to oppose God (for more, see here and here). The tension in the books of Old Testament is not fundamentally between good and evil, but between God and his people.
Christianity is not some sort of natural continuation of Judaism. It is a completely different religion. Many scholars link some of the differences between Christianity and Judaism to the influence of Zoroastrianism on early Christian thought. This context—scholars’ belief that the early development of Christianity was influenced by Zoroastrianism—can make Answers in Genesis’ description of Zoroastrianism comical.
Consider, for example:
This religion [Zoroastrianism] obviously has aspects similar to Christianity and may have been influenced by events from Genesis forward as they were passed down from generation to generation.
The similarities between Zoroastrianism and Christianity are so large and glaring that Tom Chesko, the author of this Answers in Genesis article, cannot dismiss them—but because Zoroastrianism developed first, he cannot claim that it was influenced by Christianity. His solution is to assert that Zoroastrianism must have been passed down from Noah, generation by generation—it’s similar because it had the same source!
What makes this particularly odd is that even Abraham, who presumably could have received information passed down from Noah as well, did not inherit the aspects of Zoroastrianism that make it feel similar to Christianity. Indeed, when God approaches Abraham and makes his promise—“I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you”—he says nothing about an epic global struggle between good and evil.
If we are to believe Chesko, both Judaism and Zoroastrianism passed down pieces of truth from the days of Noah, and subsequently the early founders of Christianity somehow remembered the bits of truth Zoroastrianism had preserved (that Judaism had not)—-but not through any influence of Zoroastrianism.
There’s also this statement by Chesko:
Zoroastrianism is considered one of the world’s oldest monotheistic religions — the doctrine or belief that there is only one God. However, while Zoroastrians say they believe there is one supreme God whom they call Ahura Mazda, they also recognize another immortal deity, known as Angra Mainyu, who represents the epitome of evil. So using the traditional definition of monotheism, many religious scholars would say it is more accurate to describe this religion as polytheistic.
Chesko posits that Zoroastrianism is not truly monotheistic because it involves an evil entity in addition to its one supreme God. What is Christianity, then? There is Satan, and there are also angels and demons, none of which appear to die, and all of which have supernatural powers. If believing in the existence of more than one divine being makes a religion polytheistic, Christianity is polytheistic in spades.
There’s another issue, too. Years ago, when I was a teenager, my family hosted a Muslim international student. One day during a game of Chinese Checkers, this student referred to Christianity as polytheistic. My father objected, insisting that that was not the case. The conversation ballooned and the game went forgotten, but my father’s shock at the idea that anyone could think that Christians did not believe in one God stuck with me.
All of this is to say that I find Chesko’s insistence that Zoroastrianism must be polytheistic due to the existence of Angra Mainyu rather amusing.
As Christians, it is important to understand that when God created us in His image, He wrote monotheism into our “spiritual DNA.” In helping us to understand this reality, the Apostle Paul explains in the first two chapters of the book of Romans that the existence of only one true God is evident to everyone in one of two ways. First, it is evident by the creation around us: “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse” (Romans 1:20). …
In addition to this outward revelation found in the visible creation, people also possess an inward knowledge of God known as the conscience. Romans 2 says that people of the world who have never even read a Bible instinctively understand certain moral parameters because God has “the law written in their hearts” (Romans 2:15). So when one reads in Zoroastrian literature of two deities who exist side by side, we immediately know that error has entered into this religion. Since people are born with a monotheistic view of God, it is only when they suppress the truth — seen outwardly in the creation and felt inwardly by the conscience — that they become polytheistic.
According to God’s Word, people who believe in many gods are not displaying an earnest search for God, but are giving evidence of their rebellion against God
There is so much reading into people’s minds and motives going on here. So much. Consider the insistence that everyone who practices a polytheistic religion knows that it is false—the arrogance here is overwhelming.
There’s a lot about Christianity that makes more sense if you understand the religion as rising from an interplay between several different religious traditions. For example: if God is all-powerful, why doesn’t he just snap his fingers and remove Satan’s power? A Zoroastrian influence on early Christianity may offer insight: in Zoroastrianism, Ahura Mazda and Angra Mainyu exist in a sort of dualistic dichotomy, locked in struggle. Ahura Mazda is not all-powerful.
Finally, there’s this bit from Chesko’s article:
Americans might possibly meet someone living here who is practicing Zoroastrianism in its purest form. God is bringing many different unreached peoples from around the world to our own land. Under current immigration law, the United States often grants refugee status to those who are persecuted for their religious beliefs.
It’s heartening to know that evangelicals are standing by ready to convince individuals coming to the U.S. because they were persecuted for their religious beliefs in other countries to abandon those religious beliefs. Cool story.
One of the most interesting things I did when I left evangelical Christianity was to read scholarly work on the development of religion in general and Christianity in particular. I am a particular fan of Silberman and Finkelstein’s The Bible Unearthed, as well as anything by Bart Ehrman. Peter Brown’s Cult of the Saints is also fascinating.
I have a Patreon! Please support my writing!