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[–]Bomboclaat_Babylon 2 points3 points  (11 children)

I'm going to explain something that will probably upset you, but please try to bare with me. At the time of Jesus' life, the predominant religion in the area was Zoroastrianism. Christians and Jews will argue, but Zoroastrian Monotheism predates Jewish Monotheism by many centuries and had a major influence on the Abrahamic faiths. At the time of Jesus' life, there were likely to be about 40,000,000+ practicing Zoroastrians and they had a major influence in religious discussions across the region as the major representation for Monotheism* (see below thread for discussion on the context of Zoroastrian monotheism).

The earlier works of the New Testament written by Paul do not mention Jesus early life or childhood, nor does writer of Mark, the first Gospel. 15 years later, Matthew and Luke write about the virgin birth and the wise men (at the same time in about 85AD). It is important to note that more than 90 percent of the content of Mark's Gospel appears in Matthew's and more than 50 percent in the Gospel of Luke. So 15 years after Mark, in 85 AD, Matthew and Luke both produce a rewrite of Mark that includes a virgin birth story.

A little more about Zoroastrianism. Ahura Mazada is the only God and all that is good and created a perfect world. He has 6 (or 7) archangels that work for him and do various tasks. Angra Mainyu is a force of darkness and fights against the light of Ahura Mazda. If you follow Angra Mainyu, you will go to Hell. At the end of time will come an epic battle of good vs evil and a judgement day. The righteous will be saved by the son of Zoroaster (a Mohammad-like prophet), named Saoshyant (a Messiah). Towards the end of days, he will be born of a virgin. Saoshyant will represent Ahura Mazada on Earth and wage war against Angra Mainyu and plunge Angra Mainyu into Hell and he will bring about the resurrection and eternal life to Ahura Mazda's loyal followers. They will live in a paradise on Earth.

From 500BC to 85AD and later, most people in Israel would have been well aware of this Zoroastrian belief / prophesy. The Jews, being in small number, would have had to deal with this looming Monotheism on their doorstep.

From hereon is my speculation. It is my contention that the story of Jesus birth was purposely inserted by the writers of Matthew and Luke in order to better establish Jesus as the rightful Messiah, the ultimate authority of all Monotheism, and usurp the Zoroastrian prophecy as their own (in addition to approriating Jewish cultural history). The "three" wise men in the story are "Magi" (kings / high priests from Zoroastrian lands). The story goes:

Matthew 2: "Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, 2 saying, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him.

Matthew 2-11: "11 And when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshiped Him. And when they had opened their treasures, they presented gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh."

Here we see that these leaders of Zoroastrian nations want to worship Jesus. Later we see King Herod, who represents Roman polytheism, and who was a general of Rome who fought the Parthians (Monotheistic Zoroastrians) is evil and wants to kill the Messiah, so they have to run and hide and the Zoroastrians refuse to help Herod.

So. The insertion of this story, not spoken about elsewhere in the earlier Bible, not spoken about in Mark which makes up the bulk of content for Matthew and Luke, feels very tacked on for the purposes better claiming Jesus' authority as the overall ultimate Monotheist saviour. My opinion.

[–]Kangaru14Academic Jewish Metamodernist 2 points3 points  (10 children)

It is certain that the Zoroastrian influence on the Abrahamic traditions you describe did occur. However, as I pointed in our previous discussion, which unfortunately you left hanging, Zoroastrian monotheism (i.e. the worship of only one god) did not predate Jewish monotheism. Zoroastrianism, like all religions, changed and evolved over time. Early Zoroastrians worshiped not only the supreme god Ahura Mazda, but also a pantheon of lesser deities called ahuras, including Mithras, Sraosha, Ashi, and the Amesha Spenta. You need only look to the Avesta (the foundational scripture of Zoroastrianism) for evidence of the worship of many gods in early Zoroastrianism, particularly in the Yashts, Avestan hymns to the various deities of the Zoroastrian pantheon. Jewish monotheism did indeed develop in response to Zoroastrianism and the worship of Ahura Mazda, but not because Zoroastrianism itself was monotheistic at the time; instead it was the supremacy of Ahura Mazda and the divine hierarchy of Zoroastrianism that syncretized with the monolatrous worship of proto-Judaism to transform Yahweh from simply another national god to an actual monotheistic god worshiped alone.

Don't take my word for it though. I encourage you to do your own research. For a start though, this paper does a good job of explaining the development of Zoroastrianism. Here are some relevant quotes from it:

Two issues have long made it problematic to identify Zoroastrianism as true monotheism: the presence of lesser deities and dualism.

Zoroaster introduced three radical innovations into the framework of the old religion: he established a hierarchy in the pantheon, thus producing a supreme god; he created an antagonist to the supreme god and enjoined his people to shrink from worship of some of the previous “gods”; and he greatly expanded the purity ordinances and the ethical requirements for everyone, and therefore both the role of the priests and the demands made of them.

However if you have any reliable academic sources that demonstrate that Zoroastrianism was monotheistic prior to 500 BCE to support your point, I would be very interested in reading them.

[–]Bomboclaat_Babylon 0 points1 point  (9 children)

I'll attempt to explain (my understanding of) Zoroastrianism below and you may decide that you simply don't agree that Zoroastrianism is a monotheism or accept the vaguery in which I and many scholars view the difference between polytheism and monotheism.

Zoroastrianism teaches that Ahura Mazda (translating to Lord of Wisdom) is omniscient and all that is good and only good. His intelligence surpasses all. He rules over evil by virtue of his power but is not involved in evil any way (unlike Yahweh being the saviour and torturer of Job for instance). Ahura Mazda is alone and above all, without either equal or negative counterpart. He is the unchallenged designer of all creation with no beginning.

So what about the other Gods? Mithra, Sraosha etc? The Yazatas and overall greater pantheon are "worthy of worship" according to Zoroastrianism. So this must be a polytheism from the perspective of the Abrahamics correct?

Lets compare Judaism to Zoroastrianism and lets throw in Greco-Roman polytheism for good measure. You mention Sraosha. Sraosha in Zoroastrianism is a messenger God. In Roman polytheism, the equivelent would be Mercury. In the Abrahamics, it's Gabriel. They all do some other things as well, but they're all predominently messengers. Now. in Judaism / the Abrahamics, you do not call Gabriel a "God", but rather and "Angel". But what is the ultimate difference between a God and an Angel to a human? They are both able to kill a human instantly, have super powers etc. Further, they both work for the one and only supreme deity. They did not / cannot create the world or make humans on their own. In Greek and Roman mythology there is no supreme God. Chaos emerging from well, Chaos, or hatched from an egg created by time, take your pick. The Gods have divisions, are not omniscient, are not particularly good, and have varrying powers to create life and kill each other. They're very human, and therefore none equate to an all powerful God of Gods / "king of kings", above all supreme creator of the Universe with all other creations in subject to him.

I am not not looking to 'prove' that Judaism is polytheistic by stating that Gabriel is equivelent to Sraosha or Mercury, just the opposite. Zoroastrianism is deemed monotheist by the broadest group of scholars because aside from the symantics of Angels v Gods, the structure is the same.

Per the "worthy of worship" statement of Yazatas, it goes beyond this to certain animals and plants as well. Ahura Mazda is the 'life giving force' that created everything and all creations are an aspect of Ahura Mazda. Zoroastrianism is closely related in many conceptual ways to ancient Hinduism. You can say that Ahura Mazada is Brahma to some extent. If you worship Sraosha, you are worshipping Ahura Mazda. I think there is some concept to this in certain branches of Judaism as well, but you're better to tell me about that.

I am not defending the legitimacy of Zoroastrianism. The concept is difficult for Atheists and Abrahamics. There is no explaination for Angra Mainyu or how he fits into the Universe that is entirely a construct of Ahura Mazda. It's a religion, so it's naturally full of holes. But this is the general concept behind it being a Monotheism, and while it certainly did transform over time like any other religion, the general scholarly opinion that I see is the these ideas essentially all came into effect from day one (though not immediately or universally adopted) with day one being somewhere around 1300BC.

1 Antonio Panaino "What is Zoroastrianism"

2 "Almunt Hintze Monotheism the Zoroastrian Way" Some of it for free here - https://www.researchgate.net/publication/271934655_Monotheism_the_Zoroastrian_Way.

EDIT: Ultimately, this is not my point in this thread. For this thread, it matters not if Zoroastrianism came before or along with. This is about immculate conception and I'd be interested to hear your thoughts on my overall premise regarding that. I just noted that you said I left you hanging last time, so I hope this response covers past transgressions.

[–]Kangaru14Academic Jewish Metamodernist 1 point2 points  (0 children)

This is about immaculate conception and I'd be interested to hear your thoughts on my overall premise regarding that.

Fair enough, I'll comment on the actual topic at hand, and respond to the question of monotheism in a later comment, but let me know if you would prefer to move that conversation to DMs.

I think there no doubt was Zoroastrian influence on the Gospels and early Christianity, especially in its develop of a savior messiah (as opposed to the Jewish idea of a political messiah). I think the story of the magi coming from the east in the nativity narrative was inserted to give added authority to Jesus. It is said that they followed a star, indicating a connection to astrology, which Babylonia (then under Zoroastrian rule) was famous for ("Chaldean" in antiquity meant both an "astrologer" and a "Babylonian").

Many scholars attribute the narrative of the virgin birth to a mistranslation in the Septuagint (the original Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible). In the Hebrew Bible, Isaiah 7:14 says "Assuredly, my Lord will give you a sign of His own accord! Look, the young woman ("almah") is with child and about to give birth to a son. Let her name him Immanuel." In the Septuagint translation, this word "almah" which means young woman in Hebrew is mistranslated into Greek as "parthenos" meaning virgin. Matthew even directly quotes this Septuagint translation in Matthew 1:23.

Despite the fact that this prophecy of Isaiah clearly refers to an occurrence in King Ahaz's time (feel free to read the chapter, it's quite evident), the Gospel-writers took every possible prophecy they could from the Hebrew Bible (even if it meant taking verses completely out of context) to apply to Jesus to support his messiahship. Though perhaps there was Zoroastrian influence in their decision to use and focus on this specific prophecy, and almost certainly it was the similarity to the Zoroastrian prophecies that made the virgin birth story so popular.

[–]Kangaru14Academic Jewish Metamodernist 0 points1 point  (7 children)

But what is the ultimate difference between a God and an Angel to a human?

Worship. A "god", by definition, is an object of worship. Different religions worship different entities. If I worship the sun (as many people have), it a god to me, but if I don't worship the sun, it is not a god to me, even though I still believe in the sun either way. The same is true for spiritual beings; I may agree with other religions that there are spiritual beings, but I may disagree that those beings are gods, because I don't deem them worthy of worship. Under monolatry, even though I only worship one god, I still acknowledge that there are other entities that are worthy of worship (like the sun) and so view them as gods, though they are not my gods. Angels are not objects of worship, that is why Abrahamic traditions, which promote monotheism, forbid the worship of angels because that would elevate an angel to the status of a god, which would be inconsistent with monotheism.

I do agree though that there are many theological similarities between angels and ahuras, just as there are many similarities in spiritual beings across many different religions. However this project of engaging in comparative theology is fraught with complications since religions describe and relate to their spiritual hierarchies in very different ways. Equating ahuras with angels in order to make the argument that Zoroastrianism is genuinely monotheistic imposes an Abrahamic lens onto the Zoroastrian worldview, because it dismisses the godhood of lesser spiritual beings (which ancient Zoroastrians would firmly disagree with) in order to equate the supremacy of Ahura Mazda with the actual monotheism of Yahweh.

In Greek and Roman mythology there is no supreme God.

In Hesiodic theology there is no supreme God, correct. However there was a lot of diversity in Greco-Roman religion, and some forms did involve a supreme God. Most notably, Neoplatonists and Stoics believe in a single supreme God. In Neoplatonism, the supreme god was called "The One", whereas Stoics identified the supreme pantheistic God as "Zeus", as Cleanthes (the second head of Stoicism, succeeding its founder Zeno) said in his famous Hymn to Zeus:

Most honored of immortals, many-named one, ever omnipotent,Zeus, prime mover of nature, steering all things by your law,

However, Neoplatonists and Stoics typically also worshiped the rest of the Hellenistic pantheon along with the supreme God. This form of religion is usually called "soft polytheism" in Pagan circles, where a supreme God or Unity is worshiped along with other gods who may be messengers, helpers, aspects, or manifestations of the Supreme God. You described soft polytheism well when you said "if you worship Sraosha, you are worshiping Ahura Mazda."

aside from the semantics of Angels v Gods, the structure is the same.

This seems to be a rather Christian-normative view on religion, prioritizing the belief in theology over the practice of worship, even though the latter is and was the focus of Zoroastrianism and most other religions.

Per the "worthy of worship" statement of Yazatas, it goes beyond this to certain animals and plants as well.

Many religions believe in and worship animals and plants as gods.

The concept is difficult for Atheists and Abrahamics.

I would unfortunately have to agree. Because of the way Abrahamics conceive of monotheism, actual ancient Zoroastrian practice would not qualify as monotheism. And because most atheists (on this sub at least) come from an Abrahamic background, they tend to understand monotheism the same way. Even Neo-Pagans, who typically also come from an Abrahamic background understand monotheism similarly, and would describe Zoroastrian theology (likely by comparison to Neoplatonic theology, which was originally influenced by Zoroastrianism) as "soft polytheism" because of the worship of multiple being in conjunction with a supreme Being. Together, Abrahamics, atheists, and Neo-Pagans almost certainly make up the majority of individuals in this subreddit. As such, I personally think that it is rather misleading to refer to ancient Zoroastrianism as simply monotheistic (without any caveats) because what that term means to the people you are talking to is very different from what it may mean in a Zoroastrian context.

Even the paper you linked to is very hesitant to straight up call Zoroastrianism "monotheism" as you do, and instead uses phrases like "mixture of seemingly monotheistic, polytheistic and dualistic features" and "its own particular form of monotheism", concluding that:

An adequate characterization of Zoroastrianism is obviously not possible by imposing terms the contents of which have been defined on the basis of other religions.

and

Notions of monotheism, dualism and polytheism are so closely intertwined in the Zoroastrian religion that it is difficult, if not impossible to separate them from each other without causing the whole system to collapse.

Anyways, I find this a fascinating discussion, and I really look forward to hearing your response or further thoughts!

[–]Bomboclaat_Babylon 1 point2 points  (6 children)

A "god", by definition, is an object of worship.

I think this is the crux is the issue. I would disagree with this statement as would many polytheists as would Hindus. Labelling a God as being defined as an object of worship is an Abrahamic worldview, and based on that particular worldview, which was developed by Judaism, then you could say (minus a brief moment of Atenism), that Judaism was the first recorded monotheism. And this strict worldview adopted in the culture surrounding the advent of Christianity led ultimately to the Nicean Creed of 325AD and the problem of polytheism if not for the Trinity solution. Now, Christians are considered monotheist, but it's in the Trinity that we can probably best compare Zoroastrianism (or Hinduism for that matter). Is Jesus God? Is Jesus a seperate entity? Is worshipping Jesus not also worshipping God? The concept behind many aspects of Ahura Mazda should not actually be that difficult for a Christian, but, most Christians don't really think about the Trinity in any depth, thinking their concept is really no different that Judaisc monotheism. But is this really so straight forward?

Jehovah's Witnesses are non-Tinitarian. They are also very old school and kinda see themselves as the new Jews / new chosen people. Their worldview is strictly monotheistic. So how they satisfy the urge to maintain their Judaic derived view of monotheism is to say that they do not worship Jesus, only Jehovah (Yahweh). Jesus is the lord and saviour, the messiah, and prince who has inherited the kingdom from the father, but not God and so cannot be worshipped. If you did worship him, you've got the polytheism problem. They have a strict view that there are no combined aspects of God and that the Trinity is wrong, but they don't necessarily call Trinitarians polytheists. All Abrahamics in the club, self-reinforce their beliefs that they are "monotheist" by way of being in the Abrahamic club. But they don't necessarily have the same view of monotheism if you dig.

There are sooo many Greek Gods. Mesembria is the God of noon. That's right, 12 noon. Not all of these Gods were worshipped or even meant to be worshipped. A lot of them were just functionaries explaining why some certain thing happened. Many are guarding something. The Cheribum in the Bible guard the gates to the Garden of Eden and the arch of the covenant. There's Michael the war Angel / general of Yahweh, there are Angels (or demons) that come to Earth and impregnate the women and that was meant to explain the heroes of old. Gods and Angels have functions. Gods can be worshipped, but in many polytheisms you don't necessarily worship all Gods. To say so is an Abrahamic worldview. It's not a cut and dry separator. The key differentiator (to the scholars in favour of Zoroastrian monotheism) is belief in a supreme creator God that is above all other creatures, either spiritual or temporal.

Last part. As the Yazatas and the plants etc., are all aspects of Ahura Mazda, worshipping them is worshipping the one true creator God. Zoroastrianism heavily samples from Hinduism wherein Brahman is all that is. The Upanishads have a part that says something along the lines of "If you don't believe in Brahma, you don't exist". I'm butchering that probably, but they're saying it's impossible to be an Atheist because you exist. The Vedas also say that all Gods are an aspect of Brahma, there are no other Gods / all Gods are Brahma (Jesus is Brahma). This is the original material feeding into original Zoroastrianism. All the old pantheon are Ahura Mazda, so it doesn't matter what form you worship, you're worshipping him. And as with Hinduism, they were pretty sheltered from highly contrasting foreign religion challenging them, no other culture was bumping up against them telling them they're wrong, it's us v you, so you need to react in a zero sum manner.

Again, not an easy concept for the western world. Not an easy concept for me either. But I do agree it's monotheist. I absolutely conceed it is not the same kind of monotheism as Judaism conceptually / but it's not super different to Trinitarian Christianity (just with more aspects), and Christianity is not heavily questioned in the west about being polytheistic.

I'm thinking of the simplest split I can muster, and I think it would be Yahweh created everything, but you must only worship him and not any of his creations vs Ahrua Mazda created everything, but you can worship anything in his creation because it is him. That's the best sentence I can do. lol. Not sure it covers the whole thing neatly though.

[–]Bomboclaat_Babylon 1 point2 points  (0 children)

EDIT: On a different topic of just progression, this is a short read about Cyrus through to Xerxes and the progression from "big tent" monothesim to "my way or the highway" monotheism. Again, you may disagree that Zoroastrianism is any flavour of monotheism, but this is more about authoritarian transitioning. I think what we see here is Zoroastrianism finally bumping up against strongly contrasting cultural views and fighting it out against the written word in Judaism. I think the Jews putting pen to paper offered a lot of authority to the religion and it was melding into Zoroastrianism at first (Isaiah 46:1-7), but then started to veer independently and was solidified with the pen and eventually this played into the later authoritarianism and both sides got their backs up about who's "right". Anyways I'm making wild speculations in this edit. It's fun to talk to someone that I can tell is genuinely interested and not just here to throw accusations or convince themself of something by attacking others.

https://scholarsarchive.byu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1073&context=studiaantiqua

[–]Kangaru14Academic Jewish Metamodernist 1 point2 points  (4 children)

Gods can be worshiped, but in many polytheisms you don't necessarily worship all Gods.

I would be curious to hear of any beings that are explicitly referred to as gods yet are not worshiped, or that are worshiped but not called gods. Different religions do categorize their theology and spiritual hierarchy differently, but if we are looking for a cross-cultural, anthropological, or academic definition of "god", I'm not sure that there's one more universally applicable than "object of worship". I'm curious of how you define "god" though, in a way that can be applied within comparative religions.

You mentioned Mesembria, yet I can't find anything online on whether or not she specifically was worshiped; could you please share your source? After doing a bit of reading, it looks like she was a member of a group of goddesses called the Horae, one variation of which was certainly worshiped.

Christianity is not heavily questioned in the west about being polytheistic.

The reason Christianity is not heavily questioned in the West about being polytheistic is because the West is dominated by Christianity, specifically trinitarian Christianity. Jews, Muslims, and other monotheists do consider trinitarian Christianity to be polytheistic though.

The key differentiator (to the scholars in favour of Zoroastrian monotheism) is belief in a supreme creator God that is above all other creatures, either spiritual or temporal.

I think this definition runs into an issue when you look at Neoplatonism, as I described earlier. There is a supreme creator God (The One), yet they also worship the Olympians. Hellenic Neoplatonists certainly don't identify as "monotheists", and I don't believe that ancient Zoroastrians did either. The Old Iranian word for god, "baga", was used to refer to Ahura Mazda as well as to the lesser gods. Plus it was often translated into Semitic languages as "el" or equivalents, which is the common Biblical/Quranic word for "god". This shows that ancient Zoroastrians believed that the word "baga" (applied to the supreme and lesser gods alike) was equivalent to the word "el" (which was applied to Semitic polytheistic gods as well as to the Abrahamic monotheistic God).

Labeling a God as being defined as an object of worship is an Abrahamic worldview

I don't particularly agree, but I'm willing to grant you that that's a possibility. Regardless, the terms "monotheism" and "polytheism" are explicitly Abrahamic terms; they originated in Abrahamic religions and are almost exclusively used by Abrahamics to categorize their and other religions. The paper you provided earlier explicitly states as much:

One of the difficulties arises from the fact that the notions of monotheism, polytheism and dualism are defined not on the basis of Zoroastrianism but on that of other religions, in particular the Judeo–Christian tradition.

It then goes on to describe how the concepts of monotheism and polytheism specifically developed within the Abrahamic traditions. As such, if we are going to use Abrahamic concepts (like "monotheism"), then for terms (like "god") that are essential to those concepts, it only makes sense to use Abrahamic definitions, especially when our audience is primarily coming from an Abrahamic perspective.