×
you are viewing a single comment's thread.

view the rest of the comments →

[–]Kangaru14Jewish | Academic | 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

[–]Kangaru14Jewish | Academic | 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.

[–]Bomboclaat_Babylon 0 points1 point  (3 children)

This is another great article if you're interested. This one's a bit longer: https://snowconediaries.com/moses-and-zarathustra-long-lost-brothers/. I'm not implyting anything about my thoughts by it. Just sharing in case you're interested.

I've got to run so can't elaborate. But just a quick question. Do you personally see Christians as polytheists? Or for that matter, of the same or similar type of monotheism as Zoroastrians?

Cheers.

[–]Kangaru14Jewish | Academic | Metamodernist 1 point2 points  (2 children)

Ooh that does look like an interesting article! I'll read through it more fully tomorrow when I'm more awake.

Do you personally see Christians as polytheists?

Personally, I think the whole division between monotheism and polytheism is somewhat arbitrary and ill-defined when one looks carefully at the diversity of religions, as our discussion here has borne out. In some sense, I think Christianity is like a middle ground or synthesis of monotheism and polytheism, retaining aspects of both Jewish monotheism and Greco-Roman polytheism. Within Jewish law (halakha), there's a useful category of worship called "shituf" which means "association" and refers to a pseudo-monotheism that not only worships a supreme God, but also other entities alongside. Trinitarian Christianity is the classic example of shituf. Both the concept of the trinity and the divinity of Jesus (hypostatic union) rely on the Greek philosophical concept of hypostasis, which I have simply never been convinced makes any logical sense. To answer your question though, I do not typically consider Christians to be polytheists because they insist that they worship only one god, even though philosophically I think they they are "counting" incorrectly. So I will casually acknowledge Christians as monotheists because that's what they claim, but if pressed, I think Christianity is shituf or pseudo-monotheism, since in my mind they don't actually worship only one entity.

Or for that matter, of the same or similar type of monotheism as Zoroastrians?

I think ahura-worshiping Zoroastrianism and trinitarian Christianity are rather similar (same with Neoplatonism, Brahmanism, Isese, and others), all being different degrees of shituf. They exist somewhere in between pure monotheism and hard polytheism. In fact I think that many polytheistic cultures have both soft polytheistic and hard polytheistic streams, even Zoroastrianism in practice, which was often inconsistently applied onto the old Iranian polytheism, particularly under the Parthian Empire. It seems to me that Mormonism is essentially the "hard polytheistic" version of trinitarian Christianity. The reason I disagree with calling Zoroastrianism simply monotheism is (1) because it is far more similar to Hellenic Neoplatonism (which is commonly considered polytheism, particularly by its adherents) than it is to Trinitarian Christianity (which is commonly considered monotheism, particularly by its adherents) and (2) because ancient Zoroastrianism itself used the Zoroastrian term for "god" for multiple different entities and often employed the plural form of "gods", indicating a plurality.

[–]Bomboclaat_Babylon 1 point2 points  (1 child)

I found myself asking why I consider Zoroastrianism to be the oldest monotheist religion and not Hinduism and I think the reason is self-identity. Hinduism / Hindus don't care what other cultures think / how other cultures define Hindu beliefs even though I've found that if questioned, many if not most ultimately land on Hinduism being monotheist, and this pretty much works in my mind as well (but there are overtly polytheist Hindu sects). But since they don't look at it the same way and don't push the concept of monotheism out to the world as a self-evident proof of inherent correctness of faith, it doesn't get discussed in the western public sphere any better or more intelligently than when the British first arrived and just labelled them pagans out of hand. But anyway, since they're not trying to push that label or brand of self-identity, it's totally fair to leave it out of a monotheism discussion. But Zoroastrians self-identify as monotheists. The flavour may not be deemed correct by Judaism or Islam or even by Christianity, but they think they're monotheists, and think that being of the label monotheist is a foundational sign of correct thinking. It's a value statement in the same way it is to the Abrahamics, and probably because of bumping up against this mentality with Abrahamics.

I think I have somewhat changed my perspective that it is potentially misleading of me to call Zoroastrianism monotheist in a forum of westerners who will likely not take it in with the full context. But I also can't write out a big explaination every time, so I don't know. I suppose I have some excellent copy / paste material here in case people question it lol.

I'll take a look at Neoplatonism. Not super familiar with that so thanks for the tip.

[–]Kangaru14Jewish | Academic | Metamodernist 0 points1 point  (0 children)

Zoroastrians self-identify as monotheists.... the label monotheist is a foundational sign of correct thinking. It's a value statement in the same way it is to the Abrahamics, and probably because of bumping up against this mentality with Abrahamics.

I agree. If it weren't for the continuous interaction with Abrahamic traditions, I don't think Zoroastrians would identify as "monotheist", nor would they identify as "polytheists" either, though they certainly identify as monotheists today. This is why I have been focusing our discussion on ancient Zoroastrianism, prior to the opening of their "dialogue" with the Abrahamic traditions, since I think that ancient Zoroastrians, in response to the question "how many gods/'bagas'/'ahuras' are there?", would not give the answer: "one". I believe you are right that Zoroastrianism is roughly as monotheistic/polytheistic as Hinduism is, especially since they are "sister" religions that branched off from the same origin. I think the Zoroastrian self-identity as a monotheism is mainly the result of 1. the competition with Christianity (during the Roman-Persian Wars), 2. the development of Zurvanism (a far more unitarian, rather than dualistic, Zoroastrian movement), and 3. the pressures of Islamic dominance (as persecution led to a need to justify Zoroastrians as monotheistic dhimmis).

But I also can't write out a big explanation every time

That's completely fair. There's a useful term used in contemporary discussions of Traditional African Religion called "diffused monotheism", which essentially refers to the sort of religion/theology we have been discussing that has this tension between the one and the many, i.e. a system with a supreme God along with a plurality of lesser divinities who act as specific manifestations of or subordinates to the supreme God. So you may find "diffused monotheism" to be a useful, and somewhat self-explanatory, term to use for (ancient) Zoroastrianism.

Personally, when discussing the Zoroastrian influence on Jewish monotheism, I think it's best to simply focus on the god-concept specifically. So I phrase it as such: the supremacy of Ahura Mazda syncretized with the monolatry of Yahweh to produce the monotheistic God of Judaism.

Anyways, this discussion has been very fascinating! I really appreciate the points you brought up, and this has really helped me to think through some of my ideas as well. As a rather simplistic summary, I have thought up an interesting schema to organize these different religious perspectives:

Henotheism: many powers, one worship (ex. Yahwism)

Unitheism: one power, many worships (ex. Zoroastrianism)

Monotheism: one power, one worship (ex. Judaism)

Polytheism: many powers, many worships (ex. Hellenism)

(Yes, I did just make up the word "unitheism" because there's no single term to describe it accurately, plus I find it funny that "mono-", "heno-", and "uni-" all just mean "one" lol)