Since some people in this group have expressed interest in the
question of Zoroastrian influence on Jewish-Christian tradition, I
have prepared a digest of some passages from the book by Norman
Cohn, COSMOS, CHAOS AND THE WORLD TO COME, 1993, that I mentioned
The question of dualism is very interesting in the context of
Gnosticism. It is generally believed that both Zoroastrianism and
Gnosticism are dualistic. Both views can be challenged. There are
some scholars who believe that the original ideas of
Zoroaster/Zarathustra were not dualistic at all, and that dualism
came later in the tradition.
In any case, many varieties of Gnosticism can probably be described
as dualistic. This is not to say that Gnostics are more dualistic
than the Orthodox Christians. Gnostic dualism is simply more honest
and open. With the Orthodox, dualism is more under the surface,
because they usually avoid philosophical investigation into their
Yet, it is also clear, especially from the Naj Hammadi Gnostic
Gospels, that some Gnostics were not dualistic at all. Whatever
dualism is common to the Gnostics, it probably came to them (as
well as to the Jewish tradition in general) from Babylon.
I will summarise some of Cohn's arguments and give some of his
Cohn doesn't really claim any great new discoveries. His book is a
concise summary of research in this area. His achievement, I
believe, is that as _a generalist_ he managed to cross many narrow
boundaries that usually constrain narrow specialists. He surveyed
scholarship in a number of different fields and brought together a
very credible general theory of cross-influence.
The question of Zoroastrian influence on the Jews takes up only a
small part of the book. The main theme of the book is the analysis
of combat myths in different ancient cultures. He tries to trace
lines from them to _religious dualism_ in general, and hence,
millenarianism. His earlier book, IN PURSUIT OF THE MILLENNIUM, was
very influential and widely read in academic circles.
His argument is basically that the ancient Jewish abrahamic
religion was directly affected and significantly transformed by
Persian influence, mostly in the Hellenistic era.
The main vehicles of that influence were Jewish Apocalypses, in
Daniel (the last-written book of the Old Testament), and in Second
Isaiah (the scholars see the Book of Isaiah as written in about 4
stages), but especially BOOK OF JUBILEES, and 1 ENOCH.
The latter is almost forgotten now, but it was a major influence on
the Hellenistic Judaism and Christianity. Qumran (the Dead Sea
Scrolls) community possessed no less than 11 copies of it (p.176.
I give page citations in Cohn's book). Our only present-day
complete copy of 1 ENOCH comes from the Ethiopian Church. It
disappeared (was lost) elsewhere and otherwise survives only in
Cohn also devotes some space to analyzing the Devil. He says that
the Serpent in the Garden of Eden wasn't really the Devil as we
know it. In ancient sense he was only _one_ of the angels, or
simply a subtle beast (Cohn provides further references for this
view). The dualistic _Enemy of God_ only appears in the BOOK OF
JUBILEES as Mastema.
In this Mastema one meets, for the first time in a Jewish
context, with a supernatural being who is a personification of
enmity to God and of active opposition to God's plan for the
world - in fact with that terrible power who, as the Devil,
was to play so large a part in Christian experience. (p.182)
Cohn is convincing when he draws connecting lines between Qumran
and Christianity. He says that Qumran was a hot-bed of crypto-
It is interesting that, according to Cohn, Judaism was influenced
primarily by Zurvanism, an odd version of Zoroastrianism that
became state religion under the Achaemenids from Darius the Great
Cohn details the many common elements of Zurvanism and Jewish
Apocalyptic tradition (pp.221-222). He concludes,
...the similarities between Zoroastrianism and the notions
that one finds in the Jewish apocalypses are too remarkable to
be explained by coincidence. (p.222)
He says further,
It has often been objected - and continues to be objected
right down to the present day - that Jews cannot have known
much about Zoroastrianism, as the _Avesta_ was not written
down before the fifth or sixth century AD. However, the
argument is not valid: in fact Jews had ample opportunity to
familiarise themselves with the essentials of Zoroastrianism.
The Jews had great affinity with the Persians.
...whereas there is plenty of Jewish propaganda against
Babylon and Greece and Rome, there is not a single Jewish
text, biblical or rabbinic, directed against the Persians.
Also Cohn talks about specific Zoroastrian texts _in Greek_ that
were common in the Hellenistic world: Persian Sibylline oracles,
such as _the Oracles of Hystaspes_ that is known to us in some
detail. Earlier he proved that _Vahman Yasht_ has clearly
influenced The Book of Daniel.
Finally, some sources.
Cohn is using S. Shaked, IRANIAN INFLUENCE ON JUDAISM: FIRST
CENTURY BCE TO SECOND CENTURY CE, in Cambridge History of Judaism,
1, 1984, pp 308-25.
Also, M. Boyce, PERSIAN RELIGION IN THE ACHAEMENID AGE, ibid.
M. Boyce, HISTORY OF ZOROASTRIANISM, 3, LEIDEN, 1991, CH, 11.
Cohn provides a lot more references. He notes that these ideas
about connection between Zoroastrianism and Judeo-Christian
tradition were first advanced from 1771 on, when Zend-Avesta
(Zoroastrian holy book) first appeared in the West, brought out by
the famous French traveller Abraham-Hyacinthe Anquetil-Duperron.