The Medes and Persians had roamed slowly over several hundred years from the steppes to the Iranian plateau but they had been preceded 1000 years before by earlier bands of Aryans who had found an opportunity to advance into the near east when the Sumerian Empire staggered just before Hammurabi, the Amorite, steadied the central power in Mesopotamia about 1700 BC. When this power then collapsed the Aryans wasted no time in advancing further.
The empires of Sumer and Akkad did not stretch politically to India but culturally they did to judge by artefacts found in the Indus valley. Strong states in the valley of the Tigris and Euphrates apparently extended a benign cultural stability to the east also. Their collapse therefore left a large gap vulnerable to the invaders from the north and east. Eventually the Kassites grew and spanned the Hittites, also Indo-European invaders.
Before the start of the last millennium BC, the Phrygians, Armenians, Thracians and Mycenaean Greeks had invaded the Aegean area and Asia Minor and eroded the Hittite empire. Like the Medes and Persians, the Greeks and the Philistines, all of these were Indo-Europeans. The Greeks knew of the Medes and Persians at an early date and they both appear in Greek mythology as Perseus and Medea.
Conceivably these Indo-European tribes were part of the same invasion, perhaps through the Caucasus to Anatolia where the Greeks moved west while the Medes and Persians moved east. In myth, Medea is associated with Colchis at the end of the Black Sea, in the Caucasus. Her uncle is Perses, mythical founder of the Persian nation, and her son, the mythical founder of the Medes, is Medus. Perseus cuts off the head of Medusa and fathers Perses by Andromeda.
In the early centuries of the last millennium BC the Semitic Assyrians under their clever and aggressive military leaders began to set up a universal state centred in Mesopotamia. The Assyrian king, Shalmaneser III, first mentions Parsua when recording his campaigns on his black obilisk of 843 BC. Shalmaneser also ravaged Mahi Dasht extracting tribute from 27 Persian chiefs as far as the land of the Medes.
The Assyrians linked together the Parsuans, the Medes and the Mannaeans suggesting that all were in the region of modern Iranian Kurdistan. Parsua was the next country to the east of Assyria in a line between Nineveh and Egbatana. The Medes were further away on the Iranian plateau up to the salt desert. The Medes were considered the more dangerous to the Assyrians and are mentioned constantly in records at the time of Ashurbanipal (668-627 BC).
The basis of the economy on the Iranian plateau at the beginning of the first millennium BC was the class of small landowners and stockholders who grew crops and reared horses and cattle (GHIRS-I). The social system was similar to that in Greece described by Homer. Barons or princes held single towns or small regions and ruled some nobles, some land-owning free men, some landless free men and same slaves.
These barons were forced to pay tribute to the Assyrians, whose records suggest that the Parsuans were a static population in the ninth and eighth centuries. The core culture of the Mesopotamian peoples was common, and this long static period as neighbours of the Assyrians would explain why Persians were not ignorant strangers or wild savages. They were familiar with the culture that they had been adjacent to for hundreds of years and became its descendants. Sometime in the 200 years after Shalmaneser III, the Persians migrated or were deported south east along the valleys of the Zagros Mountains until they settled in the ancient area called Elam. The decline of the Assyrians facilitated this move.
The eastern Medes remained free of Assyria and set up their own kingdom in 711 BC, under Huakhshathra Daiukku—Uaksatar to the Assyrians and Deioces to the Greeks. Sargon II (721-705 BC) had Daiukku transported to Syria as punishment for helping the king of Urartu (Ararat). Persian art, architecture and irrigation suggests at some stage they were subject to, or allies of, the kingdom of Urartu (Ararat), to the north of Assyria in the region of Lake Van. Urartian craftsmen seem to have sheltered in Media and influenced arts in the new kingdom. Another view is that a relative of Daiukku sought a confederacy with the eastern Medes, as a result of the punishment of his family, and this became the Median kingdom.
Sennacherib (692 BC) forced an alliance which included Parsua with other allies from around Elam, implying that Parsua was also in that area much nearer the gulf. Another of the allies was Anshan, the country that Cyrus the Great tells us his ancestors ruled, and a Kurash (Cyrus), king of Anshan, appears in the Assyrian records for 640 BC. Since Anshan was ruled by the kings of Elam until 692 BC, it looks as though the country of Anshan was obliged to be yielded up to the Persians who moved bodily from Parsua to Anshan renaming the land Pars (Fars). It looks almost like another Assyrian deportation, but deportations were of troublesome populations not allies, so we have to assume that the Persians continued their migration. The alternative is that Persians had settled in several different areas.
The desiccated Iranian plateau might not look too attractive compared with well watered valleys to either side, but Iranian princes owned the copper, iron and lapis lazuli mines and protected the Semitic merchants who plied the caravan routes to the east. The ancient center of Zoarastrianism seems to have been Bactria, a source of lapis lazuli, much valued by the Assyrians. The Medes controlled trade from the east through their town of Ragha, on their eastern border where caravans from east and west met to exchange and barter. The merchants traded in expensive goods like gold, silver, precious stones and rich clothes, so the princes who charged them for protection in crossing their lands were not badly off.
It is along this trade route that Zoroastrianism came west. Ragha was the center of dispersion of Zoroastrianism among the Medes, a fact that led to the belief that Zoroastrianism had been born there. It became a sort of Zoroastrian Mecca, Rome or Canterbury.
The extension of the skills of iron tool making and the associated demand in the eighth century gave southern Iran particularly an economic boost that contributed to the growth of Persian power. The Persians had the iron ore and gained the smelting and ironworking skills but important too was the value of readily available iron tools for cultivating the plateau and improving its productivity. The copper mines however remained important because iron did not immediately displace bronze and copper was preferred for everyday utensils and ornaments for a long time.
The Assyrians noted the plateau both as a potential danger and as a source of iron, copper and horses, and raided Iranian towns often, but usually the people had warning enough to take to the hills. When the Assyrians had taken what they wanted and departed, the people returned, rebuilt and carried on with life. The Assyrians, like the Egyptians, would boast on their stelae that a town had been razed and left lifeless, but it was rarely true.
And, the Iranians would resist, if they thought their chances were favourable. Their cavalry tactics were novel and effective, especially against the foot soldiers and chariots of the Assyrians in countryside too rugged for chariots. The Assyrians learnt about cavalry from the Persians and adapted just as the Han emperors of China had to learn from the mounted Huns and adapt to them.
The Achaemenids from the outset showed that they were experts in human psychology. They had moved through the country of the Elamites to settle in Anshan but seem not to have raised any animosity from them. The Elamite kingdom itself with its capital at Susa remained independent, but its decline gave the Persians a constant supply of educated servants for long afterwards as scribes, administrators and bureaucrats in the chancellery and royal palaces. The Elamites were an old and civilized nation, and the Achaemenids seem to have gained their support by giving them the impression that they were restoring their old kingdom. The Persians for everyday and for state occasions took to wearing the long flowing robes of the Elamites rather than the trousers and short tight tunic of the horseman. When attacked by the Assyrians the Elamite Kingdom sought assistance from the tougher Persians.
The second king of the eastern Medes however subjected the Persians about 700 BC, and ruled their cousins for about 100 years influencing them greatly. The king, Khshathrita, formed an alliance against the Assyrians with the Mannaeans, an Iranian tribe near the Caspian Sea, and the Scythians who rode in to plunder tha area often. But Esarhaddon subjugated the Medes again in 672 BC.
Khshathrita was killed fighting the Assyrians and another Huakhshathra (Cyaxeres to the Greeks) succeeded him, and reorganized the army. Ashurbanipal (668-627 BC) had come to power in Assyria and punished the western Medes again, boasting of destroying 75 towns. Later in his reign he wasted Elam permanently, effectively leaving it to revive as Persia, which he did not attack, placated by the diplomacy of Kurash who thought it was wise to donate large gifts to the Assyrian royal house.
When Ashurbanipal died, Cyaxares took his chance to ally with the Babylonians, Scythians and subject Medes against Assyria, and laid waste Ashur in 614 BC. In 612 BC, Nineveh and Nimrod fell, and in 610 BC, Harran too, and Assyria had gone for good. But the savage Scythians took over the kingdom of Urartu, devastated by the Assyrians, and used it as a base for plundering everywhere around for 28 years. From 590 BC, for five years, the Scythians and Lydians allied against the Medes, but eventually lost. The Scythians were driven back across the Caucasus and the Lydians were forced to accept the Halys river as the border with Media. The Medes had now replaced the Assyrians as the northern power in Mesopotamia. Urartu and Cappadocia were now in Media.
Cyaxeres was succeeded by Astyages (Greek. Ishtuwegu, Babylonian). Herodotus said Astyages ruled all of Asia beyond the Halys, and it might have been true as far as Bactria or at least a substantial way along the highway east from Ragha. Whoever ruled Media and Persia later seemed automatically to have control of the east as far as India, so it is a reasonable conclusion that Astyages ruled Zoroastrian people.
A World State and Religion
The archaeological record to date reveals negligible evidence for specifically Iranian culture. J Blenkinsopp, Persia and Torah (ed J W Watts)
The Persians were already acculurized to the Akkadian culture of the Two Rivers by the time they took on the Babylonian mantle. The Aramaean culture of Syria, at the beginning of the first millennium BC, was merging with the more warlike countries to the east, first the Assyrians and Babylonians, then the Persians and Scythians to form a world state with Aramaic as its language. By the eighth century BC, the Assyrians controlled the area. The spoken language of the Assyrian court and its bureaucracy was Aramaic—the lingua franca of the ancient near east.
The reasons for the spread of the Aramaic language were not only the expansion of the Aramaeans themselves into the Fertile Crescent, about the beginning of the first millennium BC. It coincided with the political expansion of the Assyrian Empire, with the consequent mixture of the political term “Assyrian” and the linguistic term “Aramaic speaker”. The Assyrian state had a policy of transfering populations, notably in the eighth century BC under Sargon II and Tiglath-Pileser III. Many defeated and captured people were moved, and Assyrians were also settled as colonists all over the ancient near east within the Assyrian hegemony. The use of the term “Assyrian” for “Aramaean” is even found in the sixth century AD when the Talmudic rabbis speak of their Aramaic alphabet as “Ashuri”.
The Aramaic language spoken and written all over the ANE came to be called Syriac in the West or Assyrian (Asori) in the East. In the second century AD, the satirist, Lucian of Samosata (in Syria), wrote a book in Greek, De Syria Dea (The Syrian Goddess). Lucian calls the people of Syria by the term Assyrian, and vice versa:
I who write am Assyrian.
He came to Syria, but the people beyond the Euphrates did not receive him.
The Greeks considered Aramaic as the Syrian language and called those who spoke it Syrians. The biblical “Aram” is Greek and Roman “Syria”. Aramaean speakers were Syrians, and later they seem often to have been identified with the Jews. Macrobius, a writer of the 5th century AD, and a pagan, wrote a book called Saturnalia which recalled a cult in which the Assyrii (Syrians) dedicated offerings to the sun in the village of Heliopolis (modern Baalbek). The Armenian author, Moses of Chorene, has “Asori” as a synonym of “Chaldaean” meaning Aramaean. Michael the Jacobite patriarch of Antioch (1166-99) says the Syriac language, Aramaic, is from Edessa (Urfa).
Dom Gregory Dix, in Jew and Greek, refers to Syrian culture and sees it as the source of ancient near eastern religion. He says that only two of the great “spiritual” religions of today, Confucianism and Buddhism, began outside of “Syriac” culture. He means by this Assyrian. He continues that the Persians were “heirs by adoption of the Syriac culture”. The Syriac culture was the Assyrian culture, and the language they spoke was Aramaean. The Persians were greatly influenced by the centuries they were in contact with the Assyrians but only adopted the Aramaean language about half way through the lifetime of their great empire, and not any Aramaean religion. Cyrus had his religion at the outset.
The general historical trend to the world state was not altered by the change of central power when the Persians became leaders after the Mesopotamians. The Persians had been students of the Assyrians in the several hundred years that they had taken to move into Iran, and they or their allies the Indo-European Scythians had been mercenaries of the Assyrians. The refined culture and science of the long established civilisations of Syria and Mesopotamia merged with the vigour and technical innovations of the warlike Aryan invaders from the north.
Dix writes that Zoroastrianism, Mithraism and the solar monotheism of Akhenaten “appear” to have been born under Syriac influence. Perhaps they would “appear” thus to a Catholic monk, who believed the myths of Moses, but “appear” betrays nothing other than an opinion. When the myths of the Jewish scriptures are recognized as fiction then Judaism can no longer rival Zoroastrianism in antiquity and proper priorities can be established.
The Assyrian God, Ashur
A world state was the way of enforcing stability and was obviously welcomed by most people, but especially trading peoples and those making specialized products for trade. Besides the use of military and administrative means of control, such empires depended on the propagation of a universal religion. The Assyrian universal state that the Persians took over, with the brief interlude of Babylon, had a god called Ashur (Asshur, Assur) who was depicted as a man rising from a winged solar disc and shooting a bow or offering a ring, often thought to be a diadem or coronet but probably symbolising a bond (like a wedding ring) or covenant such as we find often in the Hebrew scriptures. The Persian god, Ahuramazda, was depicted in a similar way as a man rising head and shoulders above a solar disc also offering a ring, or sometimes apparently a blessing.
Ahura is the Persian rendering of Vedic asura which is uncommonly like Ashur, though the Assyrian language was Semitic. J H Moulton, who knew something about these things, agreed with Dr Martin Gemoll who proposed in 1911 that Ahuramazda was the same god as Ashur.
John A Tvedtnes, in an article in J Near Eastern Studies 40 (1981) rejected the long-accepted statement of Herodotus (Histories 7.63) that “Syrian” was the Greek way of saying “Assyrian”. Tvedtnes proposed that Syria is derived from Hurri, an old Egyptian word for the Hurrians, which in Coptic would have changed to Suri. Richard N Frye says the vocalization of the word Syria and the supposed Middle Egyptian word “Suri” do not favour the hypothesis.
Both Tvedtnes and Frye can be right in a sense if Syrian equates with Assyrian as Herodotus says but both of them are at source the same as Hurrian. The Greeks first used the term Syrian at the beginning of the seventh century BC for the people of Cilicia and Cappadocia. Herodotus says that Syrians are called Cappadocians by the Persians. Cappadocia is in Anatolia not Assyria or Syria. It is the centre of the area settled by the tribes called Hurrians who were the same race as the Mitanni whose brief empire was centred in Syria, near Harran.
There seems probable philological connexions between Assyria, Syria, Surya (Indic sun), Assur, Asura, Ahura, Hurri and biblical Horites and Hivites. All might be connected with the sun or brightness, and Lordship, and perhaps hills and highlands, sun worship being often conducted in high places.
The Persian God, Ahuramazda
The solar nature of the disc is clear in the picture of Ashur offering the ring but, in the picture of him with a bow and in the picture of Ahuramazda, the ring is plainly a symbolic girdle, presumably the equivalent of the Zoroastrian Kusti girdle. Did Assyrians have the same custom of wearing a girdle as the Persians? A tasselled cord is plain on their depictions of people. Ahuramazda is said to wear the heavens as his Kusti girdle and in the depictions of him it will be the circle of the ecliptic, the circle of the zodiac. Since the Indians also wear a sacred cord, it seems that the Assyrians had adopted Aryan customs, presumably from an earlier Aryan invasion—perhaps the Hurrians or Mitanni.
The Goddess Ninni favours the king of the Lullubi with victory, handing over to him a ring symbolic of the divine contract or covenant. c 1800 BC
Already in the first century of the second millennium BC, the kings of Assyria were being called Ashur and were adopting the bow and arrows as a sign of office and the handed-over-ring as a sign of favour by gods and goddesses. A god called “Assara Mazas” has been noted in Assyrian lists of gods. Mazda appears in the names of Medes from about 700 BC.
Ashurbanipal took the hands of Sin and Ninku at Harran, according to a royal inscription. It echoes the practice of the monarch taking the hand of Bel Marduk at the Babylonian new year ceremonies and copied by Cyrus. These observations hint at syncretic tendencies in these religions, and it is interesting to speculate whether Bel-Marduk, the god of Babylon, had also begun to take on universal characteristics at this time.
Cyrus accused the king of Babylon of neglecting Marduk, the great universal god. Of course, Cyrus was intent on giving universal qualities to all of the principle gods of his conquests, and this was perhaps merely the start of it for Marduk, but the earlier Babylonian kings might have seen Marduk in a similar light. Berosus says Medes ruled Babylon for up to 200 years giving some credence to the idea, but Berosus was not reliable in his lists of kings.
The Assyrians, in the west, at any rate, seemed to regard Sin as a universal god. S W Holloway claims the “locally manufactured glyptics symbolizing the cult of Sin at Harran proliferated in the western arm of the Fertile Crescent” showing that the Assyrians must have been promoting the spread of the cult.
It is historically probable that the spread of the moon god cult of Harran by Assyria was a self-conscious act of imperial statecraft, designed to foster the acceptance of a cult whose pantheon was understood as protecting and legitimizing Assyrian interests in the West…
The equivalent of the cross, Constantine’s “in hoc signo vinces” for the Assyrian kings in the West was the lunar crescent of the moon god.
This lunar crescent symbol had been found by 1993 at fourteen stratified sites in Palestine and Transjordan—at Hazor, Tell Kosan, Tell es Samak, Megiddo and Tell Doshan, Samaria, Gezer, Tell en Nasbeh, Tell Jemmah, Horbat Uzza, Nebo and Taliwan. An unstratified example of a seal stamp was found at Gezer, showing a lunar crescent and a pendant star, datable by eponym to 649 BC and declared as belonging to Netanyahu, a name indicating the god Yehouah.
Religion was used for political purposes by ancient kings in the near east. Indeed, that probably is its purpose!
In reorganizing the cult, the king sought to bring the total life of the nation under the domain of the national deity. The king built a temple for the nation’s god and constructed a palace for himself as the god’s earthly regent. He established sanctuaries as cultic and administrative centers and created other structures for storage and security. He appointed private and other civil servants to implement royal policy, and deployed military personnel. He fixed the religious calendar and fulfilled the cultic duties of the head of state. Thus “religion was an arm of royal administration”.
Carl D Evans here summarises, in a few sentences, Gosta Ahlström’s Royal Administration and National Administration in Ancient Palestine, ending with a quotation from it that epitomizes the work and what should have been obvious to all historians. Yet, Steven W Holloway who has carefully studied the Assyrian cults in a biblical connexion declares that the Assyrian foreign service were not interested in the cultic practices of their vassals and their provinces, unless they might have political consequences.
Since it would be hard to know whether there was a political implication in cultic practices without first taking an interest in them, we can assume that they were interested in them all, initially, and only lost interest in those that offered no likely challenges. The Urartians or Chaldians in the hills to the north of the Assyrian steppes had shown they were a danger to the Assyrians who accordingly had a keen interest in stopping the Chaldians from using their temple to their god Chaldi at Musasir. A puppet king Urzana was appointed to Musasir with instructions not to let the officials and the king of Urartu use the temple.
Richard Frye of Harvard (The Heritage of Persia) thought the Persian kings had a concept of “One World” and the “fusion of all people and cultures” in one “Oecumen” was their important legacy, inherited by Alexander, the Romans and the Arabs. In ancient times “culture” essentially was religion.
Pacification by Transportation
Transportation of populations has long been used for pacification. In Egypt, at the time of Amenhotep II (1453-1419 BC) and Thutmose IV (1419-1386 BC), these pharaohs deported about 80,000 Canaanites, many from Gezer. Amenhotep III (1386-1349 BC) fortified Gezer and other cities in Palestine to hold the royal garrisons. He provided these cities with fine temples and palaces. The Canaanites will have been moved to outposts in Nubia or Libya, and Nubians or Libyans were probably moved into Canaan. So, the leaders of the native populations were removed and others were transported in to replace them.
In the eighth century, the Assyrians had a warrior leader, Tiglath-Pileser III, who proved to be a great pacifier of troublesome populations. His policy was to set up colonies, claiming to be saving the colonized people, then to deport the leading elements of a colony to another colony elsewhere. Thus the bulk of the population left behind were leaderless and lacked necessary skilled people and the clever and perhaps dangerous people who were uprooted were planted hundreds of miles away in the midst of a hostile population. Thus 65,000 Medes were deported to Diyala near modern Baghdad and were replaced by Aramaeans.
In Israel, Tiglath-Pileser deposed the native king and replaced him with a vassal called Saviour or Salvation (Hosea), proof that the action of the invader was presented as a deliverance (2 Kg 15:29-30). 2 Kings 17:3 tells us that later Hosea was paying tribute to Shalmaneser but eventually sought an alliance with Egypt and was deposed by the Assyrian king. When Sargon (Sharru-Kin) II captured Samaria (biblical Israel) he implemented the policy of transportation, moving 30,000 Israelites to other parts of the empire, some of them to Halah near Haran and Habor on the upper Euphrates, others to Rhages near Teheran, the “cities of the Medes” of 2 Kings.
He replaced them with people transported in from Cuthah in Babylonia and Avva, Hamath and Sepharvaim in Syria. These people incur the anger of the writer of 2 Kings for worshipping their own gods, despite them also taking up the worship of the native god, Yehouah. It seems a safe guess that the displaced ruling class of Israel did the same in the lands in which they settled in the Assyrian plains and Syria. They will therefore have taken up the worship of Ashur, who was the god of the earlier race of Indo-Europeans that ruled in Assyria. This might be why an apparently Semitic people, the Assyrians, seemed to worship a god of the Aryans, similar to Ahuramazda.
The Median prince Daiukku, called by Herodotus, Deioces, possibly founder of the kingdom of the Medes, was deported with his extended family to Syria. The tribes of the Medes were called “Bit” so-and-so, meaning the house of so-and-so, like the Semitic habit (“beth”, “beit”), so the House of Deioces was lost just as the ten houses of Israel were supposedly lost.
New waves of Indo-Europeans were crossing the Caucasus—the Cimmerians and the Scythians who lived by plunder. The Cimmerians entered Asia Minor and ended the kingdom of the Phrygians led by king Midas. However Ashurbanipal defeated and dispersed them into the general horde of Scythian invaders. These new bandits from the north promised to ally with the Medes to attack Nineveh but took advantage of the absence of the Median king to take over his country, which was then ruled by Scythians for possibly 30 years.
Using Media as a base the Scythians attacked Assyria, then rampaged on through Syria and Palestine, stopping at Egypt only because they were offered a lot of gold to go away. Biblical scholars like to think Jeremiah’s description (Jer 4:13) of chariots like whirlwinds and horses swifter than eagles refers specifically to the Scythians, but Jeremiah speaks only of the north, which is where any such danger to Palestine would be, and he is a poet of considerable imaginative invention. His is probably a poetic description of any fearful invader from the north, Yehouah wanted to inflict on His Chosen, but particularly suits the Scythians.
Graves, dated to later than the eighth century BC, are found in Luristan in the south of the Iranian plateau that are of keen horsemen because everything found in them is portable and much of the ornamentation of the graves were bronze bits and other accoutrements of horses. Furthermore, there is no sign of any towns in the same place that could correspond to these evidently nomadic people.
Among the grave relics are depictions of a goddess and a god rather like Ahuramazda. Perhaps the goddess was Anahita (Aramaiti?) who was later known to have been revered by Persians but perhaps was at the beginning too. The subjects of the artwork are remarkably cosmopolitan, including pictures typical of Assyria, Babylonia, Syria and Asia Minor. Belt plaques look typically Scythian. The cultural mix is what might be expected of the Scythians that had crossed the Caucasus, plundered and raided various peoples, and mixed with the Indo-European stock already present, the Medes and Persians.
Cyaxares, the Median leader, learnt the skills of the Scythians, threw off their yoke and started conquests of his own. The Assyrians had exhausted themselves with constant warfare over several centuries. Cyaxares allied with the Babylonians to defeat them and their Scythian mercenaries, and in 612 BC, Assyria disappeared from history as a world power. The authors of Ezekiel and Jeremiah, writing long after the event make their heroes “prophesy” that Assyria would be defeated by the Medes and sure enough it was!
The state of Urartu submitted to the Medes about the same time, and Lydia about 590 BC. The kings of the Medes had evidently already subdued the states to the east so their empire stretched from Anatolia almost to India with only Babylonia standing free in between.
In the middle period of Elamite history, the Anzanite dynasty rose to power after a two century dark age. From the fifth king in the line, Untash-Humban (1275-1240 BC), contemporary with Shalmaneser I of Assyria (c 1273-1244 BC), Elam increasingly faced the rising power of Assyria. Tukulti-Ninurta I of Assyria (c 1243-1207 BC) campaigned in the mountains north of Elam. The Elamites raided Babylonia, but the Assyrians asserted their power and the Anzanite dynasty came to an end. Shutruk-Nahhunte (c 1160 BC) founded a new dynasty, and Elam again grew in military status, just as Assyria declined. He captured Babylon and carried off to Susa the stela of the law of Hammurabi. But then Elamite power in Babylon was broken, and soon Elam was overrun by Nebuchadrezzar I, ending the Middle Elamite period (c 1100 BC).
Another dark age centuries long separate the Middle and Neo-Elamite periods, until Humban nugash is king of Elam, about 740 BC. Curiously there is a mirror of the earlier period with Assyria and Elam vying with each other for influence in Babylon. Campaigning from 692 BC to 639 BC, Ashurbanipal’s armies eventually destroyed Susa. It is around this time that the Persian rulers were established in Elam, possibly as a consequence of an Assyrian deportation of Persians to rule the troublesome province.
Cyrus the Great (559-530 BC)
Cyrus the Great in Elamite robe
Dom Gregory Dix says that Herodotus recognized the sudden rise to empire of the Persians under Cyrus in 550 BC as the turning point of Greek history. Second Isaiah saw him as God’s saviour of the world! If God’s chief prophet and the world’s first historian tell us that Cyrus was so important, why do modern theologians and modern historians ignore the man?
Cyrus recognized the importance of the older civilizations and wished to unite them in a world empire.
G M Cook
The Persians arrived in Parsumash, traditionally known as Anshan, sometime around 700 BC and Achaemenes founded a small kingdom nominally subject to Elam, an old country in terminal decline. Assyria had forced its choice of rulers on to the Elamites and the country was thoroughly divided between pro-Assyrian and anti-Assyrian factions. While the Scythians ruled Media, Achaemenes’ son, Teispes (Chishpish), took over the province of Fars or Parsa. Teispes was a diplomat and avoided the imbroglios of the great powers, but when he died, he divided his kingdom between his two sons. A gold tablet found at Egbatana (Hamadan) in 1920, where it must have been taken with Achaemenid archives during the empire, says:
This land of the Persians which I possess, provided with fine horses and good men, was given to me by the Great God Ahura Mazda. I am the king of this land. I pray that Ahura Mazda will help me.
Aryaramnes (640-590 BC) one of the sons of Teispes, was the author. This is the earliest mention of Ahura Mazda (Ahuramazda, Ormuzd). The parallel between the Persians migrating landless for a long time then being delivered by the grace of God into a wonderful land and the mythical journey of the Israelites into their land of milk and honey should not be missed. Both have the sound of deportation propaganda.
Ultimately the two branches of the family were to be united again under the more vigorous of the Achaemenid kings though there seemed to have been no bad feeling, the subject branch carrying on as governors of what was their own country, an early example of the generosity of the Achaemenids towards losers and perhaps the influence of the Zoroastrian religion.
In Zoroastrian mythology, the king converted by Zoroaster, Vistaspa, convinced now of the support of the Good God and committed to defeating the followers of the Evil Spirit—anyone who refused to submit—set out on the “Wars of Religion”. The blessing of Ahuramazda or perhaps the novelty of fanaticism kept the Zoroastrians winning. There is no historical record of any of this, unless they are stylised versions of the victories of Cyrus, but set down in the annals, they were to be an inspiration to religious maniacs for millennia.
The Zoroastrian tradition suggested by Vishtaspa’s “Wars of Religion” enjoined on the Persian monarchs an enthusiasm for Holy Wars. It glorified the dissemination of Zoroastrianism by the sword, and the Arabs later took their cue from it, as the founder of the Persian empire Cyrus (Kurash) the Great did immediately. Herodotus confirms that his epithet was justified—he was a noble king.
Historically, Cyrus the Great became a Zoroastrian at some time in his career, for at his death Zoroastrianism was the official religion of his empire, and the Magi had attained the monopoly of religion. It was the proper religion of the Medes and Persians, so that being a Zoroastrian meant being a Persian. The two became equivalent, religion and ethnicity being identified, as they later did in Judaism.
As a devoted Zoroastrian, Cyrus believed that his religious duty was to bring about the eschatological promises of Zoroastrianism through active warfare. If the universe was an epic struggle between the forces of Ahuramazda and the forces of evil, Cyrus saw his job as personally bringing about the victory of his god. As an extension of this, Cyrus would bring Zoroastrianism to all the peoples he conquered, but not by forcing them. Zoroastrianism recognized all the gods of other people—some were of Ahuramazda’s Good Creation, and some were of Ahriman’s Evil Creation. Cyrus distinguished between them on the basis of the resistance the worshippers of the god offered him.
A scholarly Parsi, Ruhi Muhsen Afnan (Zoroaster’s Influence on Anaxagoras, the Greek Tragedians, and Socrates, New York, 1969), shows that expansion of the Persian Empire under the Achaemenids was motivated by a “divine mission to offer mankind” a true belief, like the wars of Islam. These wars “were dominated by a religious fervor that must be taken into account” in the sudden emergence of Persia, just as the Arabs suddenly emerged with a divine militancy and conquered most of the world.
Cyrus first refused to bow to the Medes and carefully planned to defeat them, thus merging the two strong Indo-European tribes of the plateau. Typically, he treated the defeated median king, Astyages, with generosity. Defeating the Medes gave him a ready made empire from Asia Minor to the Caspian Sea, with Babylonia ruling to the south. He moved his capital immediately from Persis to Egbatana, taking the royal archives with him.
Asia Minor, including the Ionian Greek cities, were subject to the wealthy kingdom of Lydia ruled by the legendary Croesus. Croesus was too rich and proud to bow to the upstart so was defeated in battle and had to yield to the new power in the near east. The Greek cities saw this as a chance of independence and also refused homage and were duly individually beaten or bribed into submission. Miletus was the only city to yield readily, and must have had some privileges as a reward. Herodotus notes the name Oromedan, a citizen of Cilicia about 540 BC, just about the time Cyrus subjected Anatolia. Oromedan is a Greek rendering of Ahuramazda.
So, from the earliest days of the Persian empire, Greeks were a part of it. They were soldiers, merchants and entrepreneurs and were vital to this very young country from its coming out into the world. It is childish school learning that depicts the Greeks as defenders of teutonic Europe against the Asian hordes. Greeks were serving in the armies of the Persians, and not just as infantry—as generals too.
Cyrus turned east to secure his boundaries there, facing India and perticularly the north east where armed bands from central Asia liked to gallop in to plunder. In each case of conquest, Cyrus allowed the defeated country to continue with its normal culture and practices, and left most of the officials in post. He knew he did not have enough trained men to administer all his conquered territories. It was a dangerous but necessary policy. Meanwhile he founded a college of seven Persian princes and later many more Persian nobles would be trained for colonial administration.
Cyrus was always astute enough to realize that most people he was conquering were far more cultured than his own, and made no attempt to impose a Persian “culture” nor was he interested in directly forcing the Persian religion on to others. He thought, though, that the universal god, Ahuramazda, was favouring him, his house and the Persian nation, and he was keen that people ahould see some god as universal so that the idea of a universal god would confer legitimacy on the idea of a universal king of kings on earth.
Cyrus still had a strong and rich country independent at the centre of his empire and decided it had to be made to submit. Chaldeans [†] were a Semitic people who invaded Southern Babylonia in the early centuries of the first millennium BC, while the Aramaeans occupied Syria. Chaldaea is first mentioned in the annals of the Assyrian king Ashurnasirpal II (883-859 BC). When they ruled Babylonia, after the Assyrians, they followed the practice of their predecessors, pacifying people by deportation including part of the Judahite [†] population, supposedly 10,000 nobles and craftsmen. It is doubtful that many, if any, of these people or their descendents willingly returned to Palestine, but the people who themselves were deported into Palestine by the Persians, a hundred or so years later, were nevertheless called the “Returners from Exile”.
Cyrus returned from the east in 539 BC determined to settle the Chaldaean question. Nabonidus (Nabunaid) (555-539 BC), was apparently a cultured but loopy king, interested in the worship of the god, Sin—neglecting Babylon’s principal god, Marduk, who symbolized the city as well as the faith of its people—and in archaeological research, and quite uninterested in warfare, which he left to his son, Belshazzar. Cyrus had a large army with Medes and Persians at the core but lots of soldiers of conquered nations in support. He needed no army. Babylon submitted and only a few days of token resistance came from the guard of the royal compound. As ever, Cyrus was generous to the defeated king and his family, but Nabonidus died a year later anyway. Cyrus joined in the public mourning.
The victory over Babylonia expressed all the facets of the policy of conciliation which Cyrus had followed until then. He presented himself not as a conqueror, but a liberator and the legitimate successor to the crown. He took the title of “King of Babylon, King of the Land”.
Cyrus made cylinder seals and inscribed tablets with declarations of his treament of and welcome by the Babylonians. He entered Babylon “amidst exulting shouts”. His victory was “desired to the joy of their hearts” and “him did they bless with joy”. Then, “Marduk the great Lord made the honourable hearts of the people of Babylon inclined towards me because I was daily mindful of his worship” “the inhabitants realized the satisfaction of their hearts desires” and “their sighs I hushed, their anger I appeased”.
If Cyrus said all of this regarding Marduk and the Babylonians, it is credible that a similar tactic should have been employed in respect of the Jews, and indeed many other people, the evidence of which is now lost. Cyrus claimed to have been visited in a dream by Yehouah, a god of the Hebrews, the people who lived in “Beyond the River”, the Assyrian province of “Eber-niri” (Persian “Abarnahara”). Yehouah declared he was of the Good Creation and asked to be worshipped in the land of Yehud. The Jewish scriptures, not an unbiased source, tells us that Cyrus sent the “Returners from Exile” there to introduce the proper worship of Yehouah in the Temple at Jerusalem.
Thus saith Yehouah to his messiah, to Cyrus, whose right hand I have holden, to subdue nations before him, and I will loose the loins of kings, to open before him the two leaved gates, and the gates shall not be shut.
Thus saith Cyrus king of Persia, Yehouah Elohim of heaven hath given me all the kingdoms of the earth; and he hath charged me to build him an house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah.
“Yehouah Elohim of heaven” means “Yehouah of the gods of heaven” not “The Lord God of heaven” as the dishonest translators will put it. For Indo-Europeans, the gods of heaven are the Daevas, the wicked gods derogated by Zoroaster. It seems the Persians saw all national gods as Daevas, but were ready to allow their worshippers to show by their deeds that they were really Yazatas, good spirits.
In fact no one, or very few volunteers went there and later kings were obliged to send deportees to shore up Jerusalem as a citadel against the Egyptians. It was set up as a temple City in which the people, a Nation of Priests, were privileged in return for their loyalty.
The Reverend Mills recognized that ancient politicians were sensible of propaganda. He comments on the propaganda of Cyrus: “All this piety was of course political” but still showed the Persian king as a man of faith. When Cyrus flooded the empire with these cylinder seals and inscriptions, he knew that they would be read by the literate and repeated by story tellers for a long time. He knew they would become the stuff of legends. Mills observes:
The empire was as complex in its religious types as it was vast in extent, and the amount of business entailed in administering it must have been phenomenal.
Beyond a question there existed a “Ministry of Public Worship”.
Rock face at Behistun showing the monumental inscription of Darius. From the drawing by Sir H C Rawlinson
The objective of this ministry was to make a show of restoring gods and temples to please the peoples of the nations, but it is utterly naïve to imagine that the “restoration” had no strings attached or was simply restoration of an ancient worship rather than its “improvement” in the sense of arranging it in a form more conducive to civil obedience. No subtle king could miss the chance to cast the restoration in a direction favourable to himself. As Mills says:
These Achaemenids were men of business and practical to the finest point.
Darius took the same line but was more keen on monumental inscriptions than Cyrus. His main legacy is the immense carved cliff face at Behistun but other inscriptions are at Persepolis, Naksh-i-Rustem, Elvend, Kerman, Susa, Suez, Van and Egbatana, as well as on seals, tablets, pillars, weights and vases. Mills points out that “what the great Iranian inscriptions said, all officers of the kings government must have known”.
Cyrus the Deliverer of Oppressed Peoples
The interesting thing was that Cyrus offered himself to the Babylonians as a deliverer or Saviour (in Greek, Soter), just as he did to the Judahites. He said Babylon’s god, Marduk-Bel, had chosen him, Cyrus, as a righteous king who would rule the world. To prove it he ritually took the god’s hand at the new year festivities, thus legitimising him in the official title of the Babylonian king—“king of the land” of Babylon. Marduk-Bel was offered to his own worshippers in a new light—as a god with a world outlook not merely a local one.
Cyrus told the Babylonians that earlier kings, like Nabonidus, had taken their gods from their rightful homes and he promised to “restore” them. Nabonidus had used exactly the same approach in Harran when he persuaded the people he deported to the town that the proper god of the city was Sin. Even then the policy was not new. An inscription of Hammurabi who rules in Babylon from 1792 to 1750 BC speaks of him restoring to its rightful place the god who favoured the city of Assur.
Persians called Cyrus “Father”, Greeks “Lord” or “Master”, and “Law-Giver”, and Jews called him “Messiah”. Greek writers like Aeschylus depict the Persian king as a god, and Curtius Rufus has a sycophant encouraging Alexander the Great to accept divine honours by assuring him the Persians had worshipped their kings among the gods. It was not true. They did not and no Persian king claimed to be a god, but they did like to depict themselves as god-like. They had a doctrine equivalent to the divine right of kings. The shah had divine authority. He was king by virtue of God’s will. He was God’s chosen one, and held his hand. Shahs were God’s regent on earth, and if that meant some people thought they were an angel of God, doubtless they would be hardly likely to send an envoy to correct their misconception. They showed themselves larger than men and, as it were, conversing with God. To justify it, they propagagted monotheism in the lands they conquered. The shah ruled with divine authority, and that authority was that of God—one single monotheistic God. For Persians, Ahuramazda was the only true god, and each subject nation had to have an equivalent of Ahuramazda to be able to confirm the shah as the King of Kings—the Shahanshah.
Historians like to say Cyrus had “no thought of” moulding conquered countries in a Persian mould. That was perhaps true and realistic, but Ahuramazda was always depicted as a god rising above the solar or equinoctial disc, implying that the Persians saw him as transcendental, and certainly Cyrus was interested in persuading people that the true god was universal in outlook. His purpose seems to have been practical and political rather than religious, but it was a policy that led to all the main patriarchal religions of today. Cyrus was the founder of the modern great religions!
His novel and clever policy of conquest was to be generous to defeated people. In his propaganda he painted himself as the saviour and legitimate ruler of a conquered country. This must have been such a shock to people who expected to be massacred by conquerors that they could only conclude it was true.
Cyrus’s religious policy was an extension of this practical policy—to make it seem to be God’s will, whoever the local god was. He reshaped the Marduks and Yehouahs as Ahuramazdas—transcendental gods, suns beyond suns. To do so, he “restored” the local gods, but the restoration was in a mould that suited a universal king. The “restored” god was willing to look beyond his traditional worshippers to a world scale to recognize a righteous king when it saw one and approve of him in the appropriate way.
He got people to believe his propaganda by transporting them to a country that he declared was their proper homeland, where they had to start anew from the facts the Persians provided. Cyrus was their saviour, so-and-so was their rightful god, the god recognized Cyrus as the saviour—“Go thee and do likewise” and we Persians will help you.
Cyrus “restored” Yehouah to Jerusalem and supposedly 40,000 worshippers of Yehouah—Jews, for that is the name of people who worship Yehouah wherever they come from—“returned” to Jerusalem. The truth seems to be that very few did. Into the third generation of captivity and having the privileges of a deported class, the Judeans are unlikely to have wanted to return.
In the Jewish scriptures, Cyrus is presented as a saviour and an agent of God—the Jewish god, Yehouah—and is even described as the messiah (the anointed). Yehouah had used the righteous but foreign king, Cyrus, to avenge the Jews against Babylon. We even find Yehouah shaking Cyrus by the hand (Isa 45:1) just as Bel had done:
Thus saith the Lord to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I have holden, to subdue nations before him.
Two separate gods, Marduk and Yehouah, of people who were enemies, Babylonians and Jews, saying kind things about a foreign prince, choosing him as a deliverer and taking him by the hand in proof. It all begins to look suspicious—like pro-Cyrus propaganda. Cyrus depicted himself as the benefactor of conquered peoples and the “restorer” of gods to their rightful place.
The leaders of the “returners” were Zerubabel, supposedly a member of the Jewish royal family, and Joshua, supposedly the descendant of a dynasty of High Priests. The name Joshua means “saviour!” They were accompanied by an assortment of Persian officials.
Is it not curious that Zerubabel, a Jewish leader, should have a distinctly Babylonian sounding name, and one that in “Zeru” suggests “Zara” (Zoro), the beginning of Zoroaster’s name, the latter part simply meaning Babylon? Zara pertains to the sun and seems to have connotations of “power” or “strength” and so “protecting” or “saving”. Zerubabel is the “saviour from Babylon”. The same is true of a later and more famous Jewish leader to “return”, Ezra, where again we have the characteristic consonants “ZR” appearing in a language which did not write vowels, so that it could equally be rendered as Zara—another saviour!
In fact, Zerubabel was the Tirshatha, the Persian governor, whose duty was to act on behalf of the king, Cyrus, and whose bogus Jewish royalty was to give him authority over the skeptical natives of Judah. He is also called Sheshbazzar which seems to mean “mighty power of the king” or “citadel of the king”.
The society of Jerusalem was a feudal class system based on aristocracies called “houses” of princes and nobles, rulers and elders. The Persian governor was the top official but then came the priestly houses, led by the High Priest, a hereditary position. Sacred objects supposedly stolen by Nebuchadnezzer from the temple in Jerusalem were returned by Cyrus, but Nebuchadnezzer would have melted down or broken up any valuables to make them easier to transport, and so these were new items given by Cyrus to furnish the new temple.
An Archetypal Returner
The Jewish scriptures have a remarkable clue that the Yehudim were not natives of the hill country but were from Babylon. It is the story of Abraham, supposedly the father of the Jewish race who in the legend travelled from Ur “of the Chaldees” to Judaea. Abraham was allegedly travelling about 2000 BC but the Chaldees did not exist then, it was the name of the neo-Babylonian empire at the time of the “exile” so Abraham is simply a symbolic “returner” shoved into the past anachronistically.
Historians, believing the bible rather than their inspection of the relevant documents, have said that Cyrus was kind to Jews because he found the Jewish God so impressive and akin to his own god, Ahuramazda. Most biblical scholars would not be interested in anything that cast any doubt upon the bible, and if it looked threatening, would denounce it as fraud or copying or anything else they could think off. Here the evidence is as clear as could be that Cyrus manipulated the worshippers of Yehouah that he had returned to Jerusalem, exactly as he had manipulated the worshippers of Marduk.
The Tomb of Cyrus
Before the exile, Judahites conceived of their anthropomorphic tribal God as a fertility and storm god. The earlier Yehouah had been a local god that the simple hill folk of Palestine could easily recognize. Most called him “Baal” their word for “Lord”. The Jews who “returned” worshipped a different Yehouah from those who had been originally deported. This Yehouah was a universal god like Ahuramazda, the Persian Most High God, who thought nothing of choosing a foreign prince as a Jewish messiah. He was good, perfect, remote and a God of righteous living—just like Ahuramazda. He was, however, also a vengeful god for those who did not live righteously. Naturally, since no one previously had known that Yehouah was like this, all of His earlier worshippers were sinners! That is why He had had His revenge, but now He had sent the Persian kings as His saviours.
Cyrus was killed on the eastern front in 530 BC and his body was laid embalmed in a tomb with a pitched roof typical of ancient Indo-European tombs. He was still there 200 years later and was seen by Alexander the Great. Evidently Cyrus was not exposed in a silent tower as the Zoroastrian religion requires, showing the Achaemenids were not strictly Zoroastrian or that this was a requirement introduced later.
Darius the Great (522-486 BC)
The son of Cyrus, Cambyses, a more ruthless man than his father completed the conquest of Egypt, ending traditional pharaonic rule for good. Following standard policy, Cambyses transported the ruling class of the Egyptians, including Pharaoh and his family, to Susa, but legitimized his rule by paying homage to the Egyptian gods. Then, so as to appear to the common people as a deliverer, he ordered the administration to introduce reforms to benefit them. While conquering Egypt he incidentally made several north African Greek colonies, like Libya and Cyrenaica to submit, thus bringing more of the Greek world into the Persian ambit.
In Egypt, Cambyses set up or sponsored a garrison of Jewish soldiers at Elephantine. According to a later letter, a temple to Yehouah had been set up here before the Persians came, and the polytheistic nature of the gods worshipped there besides Yehouah serves to confirm the idea. The name of Yehouah or Yeho as a god appears all over the Levant, not just in the Judaean hills, and even as far south as the Sinai, which is where Yehouah first appeared to Moses in the biblical myth. So the Semitic people of the Levant had Yehouah among their other gods and expatriate Semites in Egypt had apparently set up a temple for their devotional purposes. Perhaps, though, Cambyses tried to help the “returners” to Jerusalem by conscripting leaders of the Am ha-Eretz opponents of the new Yehouah temple and deporting them to Egypt where he allowed them to set up a temple to the traditional Yehouah and his heavenly court.
Cambyses was said to have disparaged the Egyptian gods and killed the Apis Bull, but inscriptions cast doubt on this. It seems to have been Egyptan and Greek propaganda, made possible because Cambyses was soon dead, either of suicide in the face of mass uprisings or, more likely from gangrene in an accidental wound caused by his own knife (Persian nobles all wore a knife) loosing its sheath and impaling him in the groin as he jumped on to his horse. A cousin of Cambyses, Darius, one of the seven Persian princes, seized power and, though faced with considerable opposition eventually put down the rebellions and re-united the vast Empire.
To mark his success, Darius built the large monument at Behistun between Egbatana and Kirimanshah. Ahuramazda or his fravashi, typically rising head and shoulders above a winged circlet, overlooks Darius treading over a usurper while eight other false kings trail behind in bonds. The inscription tells the story of the revolts but says “Ahura Mazda and the other gods helped me” confirming again that the Achaemenids did not consider Ahuramazda the only god, but the highest of them. Even Persis had been in revolt and Darius moved his capital to Persepolis. The dangers of the liberality of Cyrus had been proved and Darius determined to set up a much more formal and effective system of governance.
A Greek admiral was ordered to build a fleet in the head waters of the Indus and find a way to Egypt. He succeeded in 30 months. Darius wanted to secure the north and planned to invade Scythia via the Hellespont. In preparation he forced Byzantium to submit, conquered Thrace and Macedonia and moved a massive army across the Hellespont and the Danube on bridges of boats built by Ionian Greek engineers. He was ready to force the European Greeks to submit and the Athenians were happy to do so, but the Spartans objected.
Attempting to be assured of Athenian loyalty with a large bribe, the Persians came up against the paradox of democracy. The Athenians were now offended and sided with the Spartans. Meanwhile the Greeks of Ionia decided it was a good time to revolt and set up the Ionian league, supported by Athens, seizing Sardis, the Persian regional capital, except for its citadel. The Persians re-asserted themselves in 497 AD and treasure was taken and populations deported. Milesian Greeks were settled at the mouth of the Tigris where earlier the settlement of Aramaeans had helped to destabilize the country of Elam, allowing the Persians to take root. At Lesbos, young women were taken for the harems and young men were castrated, leaving the remaining women to satisfy themselves in unconventional ways.
Darius sent a fleet under a Median admiral to secure Athens. He captured the town of Eretria on Euboea and transported the citizens to Susa as slaves. They were settled at Arderikka and still spoke Greek in the first century AD, according to the supporters of Appollonius of Tyana. Their abduction was bad psychology for creative and perverse people like the Greeks and it only had the effect of again uniting them and allowing them to win the battle of Marathon (490 BC). Turning to a rebellion in Egypt, Darius died in 486 BC.
Marathon and Salamis are written off as ignominious failures for the Persians, who are depicted in history as fools and poltroons, but the inventive and creative Greeks lived on the mainland in Ionia, and were for long vassals of the Persians. All Greek achievements before the Persian wars were Ionian, and the Ionians taught the western Greeks seamanship and citizenship. The constitution of Athens took its main clauses from those of the Ionian cities. The talent, art, main population, wealth and commerce of the Greeks were in the eastern cities, while the Balkan cities were impoverished.
That, above all, is why the Persians were not unduly interested in European Greece, and the invasions of Darius and Xerxes were less aimed at conquest than to punish the western Greeks for helping the eastern Greeks in rebellion. If they hoped to subdue the western Greeks, the Persian kings failed, but those Greek cities who did not surrender as far south as Athens were razed, and Thrace was set up as a Persian buffer in Europe. When the independent Greeks defeated the Persians at Plataea, the spoils of victory were dedicated to Apollo at Delphi as “the spoils of the Persians, the Macedonians and the Thebans” so both Macedonians and Thebans were subject to the Persians and fought with them. The Persian empire therefore began in Europe, about forty miles from Athens. Macedonia was Persian for the first half of the Persian empire’s existence, and Thrace for even longer. Ionia remained a Persian colony, or in its sphere of influence.
The Persians lost some critical battles that the Greeks worked up in their propaganda, but the Persian kings considered that they had achieved most of their goals, and were able to keep the undefeated Greeks fighting each other for a hundred years until they exhausted themselves. Alexander was subject to Persian as well as Greek influences, a factor that might have been crucial to his success against the Persians.
From the time of Darius, the kings were laid in rock tombs. In his tomb inscriptions at Naqsh-i-Rustam, Darius praises Ahuramazda as creator of earth, sky, man and man’s happiness, and as the god who made Darius the king. The inscription lists people who were obedient to the king, through the favour of Ahuramazda, and it lists provinces where disturbances were qwelled, through the grace of Ahuramazda. On it, Darius says his law did not allow the strong to strike the weak. He then lists the buildings he has erected and concludes with a prayer for Ahuramazda and “the gods” to protect him, his dynasty and his inscriptions.
Darius’s inscriptions generally pray for Ahuramazda to protect the Royal House and the country from foreign armies, famine and the Lie. The “Lie” in Zoroastrianism is the equivalent of “sin” in Judaism—it is disobeying the word of God. The consequence of this in practical terms for Persian kings was that avoiding the baneful influence of the “Lie” meant, among other things, that the people would have to accept the Shahanshah as God’s regent on earth. Herodotus notes that Persians never prayed for personal benefit but only for benefits for Persia—they prayed for the good of the king, the people and the country.
The Legacy of Darius
Darius realized Cyrus had been too generous—in diplomacy generosity is often taken advantage of. The policy of the Great King as protector was continued but the individual kings were now effectively governed by the Satraps (Khshatrapavans)—“Protectors of the Kingdom”—a Persian noble. Darius divided the empire into twenty Satrapies to which he appointed his own loyal generals and Persian administrators, richly endowed with land and exempt from taxation. But there was no question of trying to force obedience by force of arms. The old diplomacy of Cyrus still had to be at the core but now Persians were to be the senior administrators.
Conquered lands were the property of the king, who had his lands surveyed, estimated their yields and levied a rent on what could be produced, then charged people rents for its use. So tribute or tax was technically a rent. Persians lived in their own land and so paid no rent. Satrapies and vassal states had to pay a fixed sum in talents of gold or silver to the Persian exchequer. The satrap stood alongside a local army commander and a local collector of taxes, all equal but independent and reporting only to Darius. Thus local power was divided. As extra safeguards, the satrap had an official secretary whose task was to record everything that the satrap did and report it to the emperor. Finally, Darius also appointed inspectors—“Ears of the King”—whose job was to call unexpectedly on any area official to check what he was doing. He had an independent small force of armed men to protect himself and enforce his actions if needs be.
The royal inscriptions of Persian kings often mentioned Truth or Order, and Justice, “arta” and “asha”, and “data” meaning law as the order (“arta”) brought to the world by the king’s will. The Iranian word for law “data” entered Hebrew and other Semitic languages of the ancient near east, at the time of the Persian conquest. Law was important to the Persians, and even Greeks said Persians were just. Famous stelae of law like that found in Babylon, together with the moral code of his own religion, inspired Darius to set down just laws. Persian judges held office for life as long as they were not corrupt. Two court systems operated in Babylon—and doubtless elsewhere—the local law based on local custom and practice, and the imperial law, the decrees of the shahanshah. Babylonian and Aramaic sources call imperial Persian judges “databar”. Rule by consent was still aimed for, and Darius hoped for rule by consent and thus to pass off his laws to local communities consensually under the guise of religious “restoration”. The great Persian scholar, A T Olmstead affirms that Darius meant to set a code of law for the whole empire, and more recently Thiery Petit noted that the actions of Darius in Egypt were only a part of an empire wide program of subtle legislation.
In Egypt, Darius had the rules and immunities granted by the pharaohs to the temples “codified” and made available in Demotic and Aramaic script. The Ptolemaic regime in Egypt was started by Alexander’s general, Ptolemy, only ten years after the defeat of the Persians. The Ptolemies were keen on preserving the written word, and began the collections of the Alexandrine library. The reverse of one Ptolemaic papyrus bearing the Demotic Chronicle, dated to the third century BC, carried an account of Darius setting up a commission of priests, sages and warriors to “codify” Egyptian law. It says it took 16 years to report. In fact, Diodorus Siculus had already given Darius credit for being one of the Egypt’s main lawgivers, and the Egyptian satrap, Arsames, had the same honour.
Curiously, the text specifies that Darius made made no innovations. Why should it make this point explicitly unless Darius was keen that no one should imagine he had done so? No codification of the law can be done while leaving it unchanged. The whole point of a code of law is that it should be systematic and therefore easier to use—law is codified for use, not as an idle pursuit, and it is hard to believe that practical rulers like the Persian shahs will have wanted to waste sixteen years on a project that would not give them some direct benefit. Someone must have suspected that the “codification” was indeed to make legal innovations, and so it must indeed, but the king was keen to stifle any such impression.
Cambysis had the reputation of having openly interfered with the Egyptian temples, and Darius wanted his own propaganda to counter any such thought by meretriciously proclaiming this shah had no intention of doing the same as his predecessor. Egyptians were not used to be subjects of foreigners, and many thought they had the wealth and power to declare UDI. In short, flagrant legal changes in a country that was notionally as powerful as its conqueror could have caused dangerous rebellion. A hand-picked commission of the good and the great taking sixteen years to report did just what any modern government commission does—it allowed plenty of time for tempers to cool, and changes to operate before any report emerged. But, if the changes made by Cambyses had been so badly received, why did Darius not simply reverse them, thus getting great kudos as a righter of wrongs? That is what he did not do. If Cambyses thought Egyptian laws were better for the Persians changed, Darius will have felt the same way. By making “no innovations”, Darius did not have to reverse the legal changes Cambyses had made. So, Diodorus tells us Darius “dealt with” the priests, by bribes and the delay in codifying the legal content of holy books.
The Persians were well aware people had their price, and the privileges of the priests would have been secured as long as they were cooperative. In the process of codification, many a clause will have been inserted favourable to Persian rule that no priest could object to if simply because no one knew the full corpus of religious law anyway! He also restored the Houses of Life, the schools and hospitals, attached to the temples. He was doing the same in Egypt as he did elsewhere. At Magnesia on the Meander river in Ionia, a satrap was rebuked for trying to curtail the privileges of the priests of Apollo. Persian kings, as in Jerusalem, were keen to have the priesthood on their side.
The introduction of a law book by a commissioner empowered for that purpose was not possible unless the central government approved of its contents. P Frei, Persia and Torah (Ed J W Watts)
Besides these legal and administrative reforms, Darius built a fine road network, only patches of which now remain. The Royal Road from Susa to Sardis in Asia Minor was 1600 miles long and could be traversed by caravan in 90 days, but post stations every 15 miles kept fresh relays of horses for the king’s couriers who could cover the distance in seven days. Such good roads and sound administration encouraged commerce.
The royal road was said to pass for its whole length “through country that is inhabited and safe”. This great highway made much of central Asia Minor accessible to Iranian colonists, who were attracted by its fertile river-valleys and wide plains. Noble fiefholders naturally had an interest in developing their estates, and this interest was quickened in them as Zoroastrians, for whom good cultivation of the land is a religious duty.
A Persian landowner in Lydia dwelling in a fortified manor house on his own estate, had armed retainers in his service, as well as slaves to work the land. His house was attacked by Greek raiders and a beacon was lit which brought a Persian neighbour to his aid, with his own body of fighting men, and some official forces also, and the marauders were driven off. The incident suggests a number of Persian estates in this, and doubtless other, fertile regions of western Asia Minor, with mutual support among the landowners and in general effective Persian vigilance and control.
Persian nobles must have brought skilled farmworkers with them from Iran, for still, in the fourth century AD, many villages scattered about Cappadocia were entirely inhabited by Iranians, descendants of the original colonists. Achaemenid armies were generally accompanied by women, and the long survival of some of these settlements must owe much to their being ethnically and culturally homogeneous, founded by Iranian families.
Another practical policy adopted by the Persians and useful to commerce and diplomacy alike was to use the popular and widespread language, Aramaean, rather than Persian as a lingua franca. Few people in the world at the dawn of the Achaemenid age knew Persian and, since it was not a written language, a special script now called Old Persian script was invented from Assyrian cuneiform script. The kings used it on inscriptions but for pragmatic reasons they used Aramaean otherwise, and helped to spread it as far as India.
Mesopotamian languages after the Sumerians were all Semitic and Aramaean was Syrian Semitic which gradually spread naturally then got a boost when the policy of transportation was introduced. Many Aramaean speakers were transported into the areas of Old Sumeria and Elam, as well as elsewhere, and it became the language everyone picked up a bit of, until it became the language everyone spoke. Significantly, the traditional script of the Hebrew language is this Aramaean script introduced by the Persians, and it differs from the Old Hebrew script used by the Samaritans.
A Persian Daric
The Persian empire above all improved commerce. The Persians introduced standard taxation, introduced coinage, first used by king Croesus of Lydia. Persian coinage did not catch on everywhere, so Darius introduced accurate weights and measures to ensure fair trading. They are however mentioned in the Jewish scriptures (1 Chr 29:7) where king David’s nobles offer Persian darics (adarkons, translated “drams” in KJV) for the upkeep of the temple. This is almost 500 years before darics were invented, but shows when and by whom the myth of David was written. Darics were gold coins but a lesser silver coin was called by a Babylonian word, segals—shekels.
Darius employed people in public works in mines, roadmaking and canal digging, drained swamps, spread useful animals and plants including domestic fowl and doves, promoted other useful activities in foodstuffs like the drying and pickling of fish so that it could be transported inland. They took pistachios to Aleppo, sesame to Egypt and rice to Mesopotamia. Persian kings were interested in public welfare. Later, the Greek kings continued this policy.
The standard of living rose throughout and was higher in the centres of Persia than it was in the Greek cities we so much admire. Partly this was because the greater volume of trade and enterprize took goods downmarket that had previously been the exclusive interest of the rich. More people benefited and standards as a whole rose. Banking boomed also. Banking had traditionally been the prerogative of the temples in, for eaxample Babylonia, but there were private bankers too. It was private banking that boomed, although the general swell of wellbeing spread so far as Greece and the temples of Delos, Delphi and Olympia all opened as banks based on Asian models. The role of the Temple of Jerusalem as a private bank in which the simple deposit their money as “corban” and the priesthood drew it out is well known!
Darius specified fair wages for workers and, since wages were often paid in kind, the values of standard goods were also specified so that the worker knew they were getting the right weight. Some serfs were tied to the estates but many were free and workers moved around in an extensive labour market. Tablets at Persepolis speak of workers from all over the empire. There must have been a labour exchange. There was certainly an imperial direct labour force working on palaces, temples and other large projects for the king. After 520 BC, Persian names are increasingly found in the city rolls of Babylonia, a result of the displacement of Persian smallholders from the plateau by the larger more efficiant estates.
Deportations continued and some were depicted as having been voluntary. Herodotus tells of Milesians transported from Ionia to the Persian gulf to establish sea-going routes to India and Egypt but little impression was made, perhaps simply because the wood to make ships was not readily available. The Peonians of Thrace were deported to Phrygia by Darius, but Herodotus says that many were shortly able to escape back home during an uprising encouraged by the Greeks.
Alexander used the same policy after the end of the Persian empire and, in the second century BC, it was still being used by the Parthians. Mithradates II transported Scythians into Seistan, now on the border of Iran and Afghanistan.
Respecting Gods of Vassals
All of the imperial powers that the Iranians met had a powerful national god. In Urartu—Khaldi, in Assyria—Assur, in Babylon—Marduk, in Elam—Humban. As Mary Boyce puts it: “This was the time of ethnic faiths, when every people honoured their own gods”. Maybe it was a reason that the Achaemenids adopted Zoroastrianism. It meant that generally an imperial state like Assyria would respect the gods of vassal states—the gods the vassal called upon as its witnesses to the vassalage treaty. The suzerain would make votive offerings to the gods of a subject people as a sign of good-will, most notably if they had surrendered rather than resisted.
Such “respect” did not mean that the imperial power would not impose its own gods on to people of countries it annexed into the empire rather than ruled as a colony, nor did it mean that the imperial power would not use diplomatic, cultural and propaganda campaigns to influence the attitudes of conquered or subject peoples in the colonies. They fully realized how much better it was to promote a sympathetic party in a nation than to batter it head-on with armies. Such methods were necessarily subtle because they would obviously not work if people realized they were being manipulated. These great conquering powers were not unsubtle—subtle enough to fool Jews and Christian scholars for millennia!
Western historians, especially Biblicists, persuade themselves that ruthless soldiers like the leaders of these imperial nations became pussy-cats when it came to religion. Out of pure kindness, they rebuilt temples, restored gods that had been suppressed, and returned plundered divine images stolen centuries before to the renovated temples. All in the hope the people would be grateful. It just does not hack. They knew human nature was more perverse than that. They did it, but the god restored and the ritual presented as proper were what suited the conquerors! And it is most unlikely that the restored priesthood were independent. They were agents of the conqueror.
Proof that the Persians were not tolerant in general is their treatment of their near neighbours, the friendly Elamites, non-Iranians who eventually were attacked for not worshipping Ahuramazda, and were punished severely for “hostility”. The Persians doubtless reached a point where they questioned the Elamites adherance to daeva gods, the people having been closely linked for a long time, but whatever the cause it shows that Persians were interested in other people taking up the worship of Ahuramazda.
A further example that Persians had no excessive respect for other people’s religions is given by Xerxes, who took over the kingdom when his father died in 486 BC. He had been satrap of Babylonia for ten years but, on accession, had to put down rebellions in Egypt, then one in his former satrapy of Babylonia. He put them down with ruthlessness and no religious niceties. In Babylonia he destroyed the temple at Esagila that Cyrus had endowed, and even destroyed the statue of Marduk! It had been the centre of the official religion and therefore of religious and state ceremonial, so it was a punishing blow.
Some scholars see in the action a new policy of intolerance, but the intolerance was of ingratitude or ineptitude by priests who had been granted favoured positions to make sure such rebellions never happened. Tolerance was always shown towards those who co-operated but not towards those who caused trouble. There was no change in policy because Xerxes otherwise continued to favour temples and priesthoods that remained loyal and did their job of keeping people obedient. Herodotus confirms this, saying that when Xerxes marched through Greece, he allowed the destruction of the temples of those who were hostile but respected those of people who submitted.
Destruction of temples is recorded only as a punitive measure after political provocation.
Darius Re-Writes History
The propagandizing inclination of the Persian rulers is well illustrated by Darius, who claims he defeated an impersonator of Cambyses’ brother to take the throne. The tale does not hold water. It is propaganda to cover his own murder of his cousin. The whole tale is written for everyone to read on the great monumant he erected at Behistun. It was also circulated widely in the regions.
Cambyses’ popular brother seems to have instituted a coup in his brother’s absence in Egypt, but Darius thought he was the better man, if coups were the order of the day, and so it proved. To cover his crime, Darius said Cambyses had murdered his brother before he left for Egypt, and that the uprising was led by an imposter, a magian called Bardiya (Greek, Smerdis) who looked like the dead prince and so pretended to be him, yet the imposter would have had to have fooled close family and courtiers. It is impossible. The man was who he claimed to be, and was really killed by Darius.
Cambyses therefore was blackened as a fratricide while Darius became a hero for righting an awful wrong. Boyce draws the parallel of the propagandists of Henry VII blackening the character of Richard III so successfully (with the help of Shakespeare) that the calumny has only recently been exposed. At Behistun, Darius followed the convention used by the Assyrians of attributing his success to the main god, here Ahuramazda, whose symbol floats above the scene, because the god recognized the victor as true and just—the upholder of Asha, righteousness. The example is clearly one of rationalization of the outcome. Darius had schemed and murdered, but for the greater good, it was necessary and right. His success proved that Ahuramazda approved. In the Zoroastrian scheme, misdeeds could be atoned for by a greater weight of good deeds, so Darius would escape with his soul in the balmy place by living righteously for the rest of his life.
Darius had six princes helping him in his plot and he set up them all as special advisers with great privileges. This by accident, or more likely intent, matched the six Amesha Spentas of Ahuramazda, showing again that the Shahanshah was the reflexion of God on earth. The kings from Darius were depicted on royal tombs supported by these six nobles, three on each side, and slightly to the back but looking toward the king.
King and God
The winged figure of Ahuramazda does not represent the god, but his grace or blessing, responsible for wealth and success. The figure in the winged ring often looks like a miniature of the king, often wearing the same kind of crown as Darius on his monuments, though sometimes it has an Assyrian crown. In the Avesta, god’s grace is called “khvarenah” (Median, farnah) and manifests itself as a falcon, just as Horus, also represented by a winged disc did in Egypt. The word for the sun, “hvar”, can be seen in khvarenah so presumably it was the benign warmth of the sun (showing perhaps the origins of the Iranians in colder climates).
When the sun makes his light shine… the invisible yazatas stand ready… They gather up that kvarenah, they store up that kvarenah, they distribute that kvarenah over the Ahura-created earth to prosper the world as Asha. Y 6:1
The sun is providing divine grace that the yazatas distribute. The figure on the disc might be the king rather than the god, thus symbolising the earthly manifestation of the god, or that, at any rate, is what Darius wanted to remind his subjects of. The Assyrian king had the title, “the sun god of the whole of mankind”, and Darius wanted to propagate the same idea. Of course, we have no idea now whether even the Persian people understood these symbols as the god, the king, the god’s fravashi or kvarenah or soul, and indeed these concepts seem to mingle to a degree even in the Avesta. Legally, the divine Ahuramazda could not be pictured, so if the image was not the king it had to be a representation of the grace of the god, but that could be pictured as the king! Simple folk and children might have seen it as god, but the magi would have known it was a symbol of one of his attributes. It is shown offering or accepting the divine ring, the bond or promise of god.
Plutarch says the Persian king by custom was “the image of God and preserver of all things”.
Prophecy as Propaganda
Evidence that the Persians were great propagandists, and used prophecy for propaganda purposes, comes from an oracle delivered to Nabonidus of Babylon about 553 BC. Cyrus had ruled about five years, and the discovery of the oracle shows that in the eight years from his accession to the time when he defeated Astyages the Mede, he was carefully preparing the ground for it. The oracle prophesied that in three years time the gods of Babylon would cause Cyrus to rise against the Medes and take them into bondage. Conceivably this oracle could have been propaganda after the event pandering to the Babylonians via their gods, and doubtless the Persians did this too, but scholars are sure this oracle preceded the event, so its aim was to predispose the Babylonian king to favour Cyrus in his uprising against the Medes. Nabonidus would have been glad to see the power of the Medes weakened, and would have been inclined anyway to favour the rebels, but Cyrus was making sure. Boyce comments:
It suggests that there were skilful Persian propagandists at work among the priests of Babylon, who had convinced them of the success of Cyrus’s planned uprising.
In other respects Cyrus prepared the ground too—by marrying into the Median royal family, Mandana, daughter of Astyages, by promoting Zoroastrianism, the religion of the Medes when Astyages might have favoured the older Iranian gods, and generally selling himsef to Median nobles as a man worth supporting, because many Medes were glad to accept his leadership.
The question that this use of prophecy to influence events raises is whether the prophets of the Jewish scriptures served the same role. Boyce speaks of the “widespread activities of of Cyrus’s agents” who were “gifted as well as bold men”, and she accepts that similar religious propaganda appears in the bible, citing Isaiah 40-48. Yehouah picked Cyrus (Isa 44:27-45:4,13) and the Chaldaeans and Babylonians are punished (43:14;47:14). In reality, they were not because they surrendered with no trouble. It was also not true that Cyrus conquered Egypt and Nubia (Isa 45:14). That Cyrus was called the messiah (God’s anointed) even though, as a gentile, he could not have been descended from David according to the myth, shows both that this was a newly coined word and that the legend of king David had not yet arisen so that the messiah was not yet associated with David. The passage was written by a Persian propagandist.
Though Cyrus is depicted as messiah, and historical errors occur, it does not necessarily mean that Cyrus had prepared the ground in advance, as he did with Nabonidus. He might have done, true, but the legend might with more likelihood have been built up later, when Babylon had been punished for its own rebellions and Egypt had long been conquered by Cambyses. The myth of the search for Cyrus’s decree looks as though it was invented for propaganda purposes at exactly this time. It was found! The same ploy was used regarding Deuteronomy, but they pretended the discovery of it was before the Babylonian conquest!
Boyce goes on to say:
To this striking usage, Second Isaiah joins startlingly original theological utterances… markedly Zoroastrian in charcter.
Plainly they were not original in Iran but Boyce means they were in scriptural terms. This originality in Judaism is what makes Isaiah such a notable prophet for Jews and Christians.
Since Genesis and the Psalms are later than second Isaiah, the idea of Yehouah as the creator appears here in the bible for the first time too. It is a main theme of Isaiah 40-48 even though it is not directly relevant to the objective of assuring the Jews of deliverance by Cyrus as the agent of Yehouah. The implied power of the god as the creator would help assure the Jews that the prophecies would be upheld, but the extent to which the prophet dwells on the creation story shows it was not familiar to the audience. It was a new and unrecognized message to the “returners”.
The fact that he claims it is old (Isa 40:12;28) is a familiar theme of this type of propaganda. The people were being “returned” to a land that they had never known, and were being told legends they had never heard but had to accept were those of their ancestors who had been unjustly deported. So, the stories had to be presented as the ancient legacy of the people. Morton Smith sees second Isaiah as drawing on a specific Gatha of the Avesta. Yasna 44 is the source.
In Yasna 44, Zoroaster asks Ahuramazda questions to which the god replies simply such as “I am” or “I do”. Isaiah only differs in that the talking is done by Yehouah rather than the prophet.
Tell me truly Lord, who in the beginning, at the creation was the father of Justice? GY 44.3.1-2
Rain justice you heavens… this I, Yehouah, have created. Isa 45:8
Who established the course of the sun and the stars? Through whom does the moon wax and wane? GY 44.3.3-5
Lift up your eyes to the heavens. Consider who created it all, led out the host one by one. Isa 40:26
What craftsman made light and darkness? GY 45:5.1-3
I am Yehouah. There is no other. I make the light. I create darkness. Isa 45:7
The passages in Isaiah are not merely translations of the Avesta but their relationship is too close to be coincidence. Someone has paraphrased the content of the Yasna for a different audience and purpose. Ahuramazda is the Zoroastrian creator, this being his main title, and this title is being given to the local Ahuramazda—God of the Heavens, identified with the Greek Zeus, just as Yehouah was.
The prophets Haggai and Zechariah began to urge the building of a temple in Jerusalem in the “second year of Darius”. We get the biblical story of the Edict of Cyrus being sought and found in Egbatana (Hamadan). It sounds like typical Persian cunning—an application of their popular technique of finding ancient documents that upheld their foreign policy. Whether the edict was original or not, it suited Darius to find it and uphold it. Ezra 5:1-6:10 explains that the priests were to be rewarded for offering sacrifices and praying for the life of the king and his sons. As Boyce rightly observes, “the king’s generosity had an obvious political ingredient”. Ezra 6:14-15 says the task was completed in four years. As for generosity, the cost was initially from tribute raised, a loss-leader, so to speak because when the tradition of obligatory sacrifice and tithes had been accepted, the temple became self-supporting, and indeed the centre for collecting tribute.
Religion as Propaganda
The cosmological teachings of Anaximander of Miletus show marked Zoroastrian influence, according to M L West (Early Greek Philosophy and the Orient, Oxford 1974). Anaximander lived just before Cyrus conquered Ionia, but Persian magi seem to have been propagandising before—the priests to the shrine of Apollo at Magnesia on the Meander welcomed the Persians and Cyrus rewarded the inhabitants of the town with tax breaks and freedom from forced labour. Satrapal coins issued at Tarsus in the fourth century BC bore the figure of a god in Persian dress identified in Aramaic letters as Nergal of Tarsus. Boyce considers this as odd and explains it as having “a propaganda purpose”. It was meant to induce Nergal’s worshippers to accept Persian rule “through this courtesy to their god”.
Strabo records a tradition that the temple of Zela in Pontus was set up for thanksgiving during Cyrus’s war against Lydia. Originally it was an artificial mount surrounded by a wall, typical of the sort of high open space favoured by Zoroastrians for worship. From then on, for a thousand years, Zoroastrian temples existed in Asia Minor.
After securing the east in several years of campaigning, during which his agents prepared the ground in Babylonia, raising dissention among the priests of Marduk who had been slighted by Nabonidus, who favoured the god Sin, Cyrus moved against Babylon. The whole of Chaldaea surrendered with little resistance! Syria, Palestine to the Brook of Egypt, and Elam all fell simultaeously as vassals of Babylonia.
In 1879 AD, a cylinder was found in Akkadian script, the usual writing of Babylonia, with 45 lines of an edict of Cyrus. The initial lines berate Nabonidus, but are incomplete. They speak of a weakling, dishonour, enmity, stopping the daily offering, presumably to Marduk, and instead offered daily hostility, all the dwelling places had become ruins and the people of Sumer and Akkad were like corpses.
He brought all of his people to ruin through servitude without rest. Because of their complaints, the lords of the gods became furiously angry and left their land. The gods, who dwelt among them, left their homes, in anger over his bringing into Babylon.
It seems Marduk took pity on his people and searched everywhere in all lands…
…for a righteous prince, after his own heart, whom he took by the hand. He called Cyrus, king of Anshan, by name. He appointed him to lordship over the whole world… Marduk, the great lord, looked joyously on the caring for his people, on his pious works and his righteous heart. To his city, Babylon, he caused him to go. He made him take the road to Babylon, going as a friend and companion at his side. His numerous troops, in unknown numbers, like the waters of a river, marched armed at his side. Without battle and conflict, he permitted him to enter Babylon. He spared his city, Babylon, a calamity. Nabonidus, the king, who did not fear him, he delivered into his hand. All the people of Babylon, Sumer, and Akkad, princes and governors, fell down before him and kissed his feet. They rejoiced in his sovereignty. Their faces shone. The lord, who by his power brings the dead to life, who amid destruction and injury had protected them, they joyously blessed him, honouring his name.
I am Cyrus, king of the world, the great king, the powerful king, king of Babylon… Eternal seed of royalty whose rule Bel and Nabu love, in whose administration they rejoice in their heart. When I made my triumphal entrance into Babylon, I took up my lordly residence in the royal palace with joy and rejoicing. Marduk, the great lord, moved the noble heart of the residents of Babylon to me, while I gave daily attention to his worship. My numerous troops marched peacefully into Babylon. In all Sumer and Akkad I permitted no enemy to enter. The needs of Babylon and of all its cities I gladly attended to… and the shameful yoke was removed from them. Their dwellings, which had fallen, I restored. I cleared out their ruins.
Marduk, the great lord, rejoiced in my pious deeds, and graciously blessed me, Cyrus, the king who worships him, and Cambyses, my own son, and all my troops, while we, before him, joyously praised his exalted godhead. …the gods, who resided in them, I brought back to their places, and caused them to dwell in a residence for all time. … by the command of Marduk, the great lord, I caused them to take up their dwelling in residences that gladdened the heart. May all the gods, whom I brought into their cities, pray daily before Bel and Nabu for long life for me, and may they speak a gracious word for me and say to Marduk, my lord, I permitted all to dwell in peace.
Another cylinder said that Cyrus rebuilt Esagila and Ezida, respectively the temples of Marduk and Nebo at Babylon and Borsippa. A long poem apparently by a priest of Esagila praises Cyrus and curses Nabonidus. Interestingly, the Seleucid king, Antiochus I, did exactly the same as Cyrus, restoring these two temples and making sure everyone knew about it. Cyrus told these defeated people that he ruled them through the wishes of their gods. Since Cyrus plainly did not believe that these gods were legitimate, being a believer in Ahurumazda, it has to be admitted that he was simply using the foreign gods to manipulate their worshippers. The next question is: Was the restoration genuine, or did he “restore” what suited the empire. Did he restore them in their previous rites and beliefs or did he change them in the process? The Jewish scriptures should be proof enough that he changed them utterly.
Supposedly, Cyrus allowed deported people to return home as the scriptures say (Ezra 6:3-5). Several different peoples are mentioned on the cylinder seals and it is assumed that each of them would have had similar promises to those given above or in the Jewish scriptures. Frightened Biblicists attribute the whole of this Persian imperial policy to the magnanimity of the Achaemenids, with no conditions or ulterior motives. They dare not accept that religion was used for the purpose of foreign policy, to control the subject people.
In the days before mass communication, it was mass communication! Few people would not go to their temple or place of worship on the prescribed occasions and hear the words of their god read out. The strategy of the Shahanshahs was to ensure that what they heard inculcated respect for the Great King, the god that had picked him out to rule the world, and the laws that they formulated and presented to the people. To be rewarded the people must be obedient, and to pay their tithes and taxes was a duty to god. People who did this were righteous. Just in case they were not, and proving the practical nature of the whole policy of retoration, is the fact that “restored” temples in frontier territories nearly always had an attached fortress!—in Jerusalem, what eventually became the Antonia Tower.
The belief in the universal dominion of a supreme god, the idea that a local deity, let us say, Koshar of Ugarit, reigns also over Crete and Memphis, changed the formula of homage but left intact its content. A new ruler received the lordship from each universal god simultaneously, and established his relations to each god separately as before.
E J Bickerman
The Persian kings paid dutiful homage to each local god as the universal god. They had control of the land in fact through conquest, but sought to confirm it in law—the law of God, whatever name he had locally. So, their policy was to restore what had previously been national gods that approved local rulers, as a universal god that approved the Persian rulers. Obviously, this was a long-term policy. It was winning the hearts and minds, and simple people had to be treated differently from clever ones. That was the purpose of deportation. Clever people were removed from their power base and given a power base elsewhere that they held contrary to the local people and only with the support of the empire. They were made princes and priests in a strange country to control the local people on behalf of the Great Kings. They were privileged but precarious. As Mary Boyce says:
It would have been impossible for the Persians to have imposed their own religion on the numerous and diverse peoples of the ancient lands they now ruled.
Cyrus and his descendants were not so crude. They did not impose their own religion, they generously “restored” the old one, using the proven method of deportation. But curiously enough, the old one had significant features of the Persian religion once restored. Boyce knows that Cyrus was an expert propagandist and there was no better propaganda than religious propaganda. The religious right in America know it still. Even liberal Presidents of the USA have to end every speech with the mantric words, “God Bless America”.
People of religious conviction are convinced that what is good for their god is good for everyone. Doubtless Persian kings felt the same way. Cyrus and Darius were not so foolish as to try to force people to worship an unknown god, but the Jewish scriptures testify to the fact that the restored god might not have been recognizable to the local population, despite a familar name and certain traditional trappings. Pace Bickerman, they rather changed the content of the old religions towards Zoroastrianism while leaving symbols intact.
Boyce, kow-towing, it seems, to the sensibilities of Jews and Christians, claims that what influence there was was “not official proselytizing” but only individuals “speaking ardently” about their Zoroastrian faith. No doubt there were such people too, but obviously imperial policy could hardly have been openly known without being self-defeating. It is perverse to say that Cyrus’s propagandists were unofficial amateur missionaries, and, once it is accepted that they were conducting an official policy, there is no further reason to draw the line at their use of religion as propaganda.
The Same in Egypt?
Why leave out Cambyses? No reason, despite the bad press he had from the Greeks and Egyptians. They claimed he was a madman who knifed the Apis bull and had destroyed Egyptian temples. It seems not to have been true. Though his soldiers had plundered them, he had quickly taken action to stop it and “restore” them. Like his father, Cambyses was keen to use religion. He restored the priesthood of Sais, presented libations for Osiris and venerated Neith, the goddess of the city. He also claimed he was a legitimate ruler of Egypt because his mother was the daughter of the Pharaoh that Psamtik III’s father had deposed. Royal inheritance in Egypt remained in the female line until this point in history.
The well-known letter from the priests of Yeb dated about 410 BC claims the temple to Yehouah there had been established before Cambyses. It agrees that Cambyses had destroyed Egypt’s temples but had spared Yehouah’s. The priests over a hundred years later probably accepted the falsehoods of the Egyptian priests as history. After Darius had succeeded him, the Persians had no interest in countering such propaganda. Darius was the legitimate successor of Cyrus. It is easy to see why the priests of Yeb did not want to admit their foundation by Cambyses.
That Cambyses, a man with a dishonourable reputation, had set up their own temple was denied by their claiming the temple to Yehouah had preceded his campaign and victory. Cambyses had intended to conquer Ethiopia but had failed. He will have left Jewish troops there to guard the border because Egyptians were unreliable, having just been defeated and resentful, and that will be when the Yeb temple was set up (524 BC). Since this is before the Jewish temple at Jerusalem had been established, and long before Ezra, the Jews of Yeb worshipped something closer to the original Canaanite Yehouah and his family.
Darius sent his Egyptian collaborator, Udja-Hor-Resenet to Egypt to “restore” the “Houses of Life” attached to the temples where the holy books, inscriptions and precedents were kept, and theology and medicine were studied. The layman who had a problem would come here for priestly advice. There was an important house of life at Edfu, a great temple dedicated to Horus. Edfu, from the Ptolemaic period that followed the Persian period, is the best preserved temple in all of Egypt, as it was covered in sand until recent times.
On one of the walls of the temple is engraved a list of the sacred books kept there. Along with the books on rules of the temple, inventories of the temple holdings, and religious calendars, there were numerous books on magic:
The Book of Appeasing Sekhmet, The Book of Magical Protection of the King in His Palace, Spell for Warding Off the Evil Eye, The Book of Repelling Crocodiles, The Book of Knowledge of the Secrets of the Laboratory, The Book of Knowing the Secret Forms of the God.
At the top of the hierarchy of priests was the high-priest, the sem priest, or “First Prophet of the God”. One of the titles of the priest Nebseni in the Book of the Dead is “president of the secrets of the temple”. He was a learned man, an elder of the temple, an accomplished administrator and politician. As in Judaism, only priests of the highest rank were permitted to enter each temple’s holy of holies and care for the “oracle”.
Bob Brier in Ancient Egyptian Magic tells us that a function of the priests was caring for the cult statues of the gods. Oracles were so called because they would nod their heads in answer to questions, and even talk. No one knows how this was done. Priests, called by the Greeks Stolists, offered the god food several times a day, clothed him in the morning and sealed the chamber in the evening.
The priests would interpret dreams, supply incantations, prayers, magic spells, amulets, charms, or love potions, dispense cures for illnesses, and counteract malevolent influences. The books were for priests, and were kept from the few laymen who could read, using hieroglyphs as a secret code long after they had ceased to be generally used, having been replaced by hieratic and demotic—just as the Christian priests wrote only in Latin to keep their knowledge from the uneducated. Why should the Persian king have been interested in Egyptian medicine, law or theology? In restoring these schools and libraries he had carte blanche to change what was written down to whatever suited him. Doubtless during the restoration, the priests will have found invaluable lost books! Should there be any doubt he also commanded that Egyptian law should be recorded. Egyptologists seem not often to consider whether the papyri they find are pseudepigraphs written by the Persians to further their own policies.
Historians must ask themselves whether this was pure altruism, kindness and concern for an alien culture or whether here was a chance to strengthen Persian rule through the religious base. We find Egyptian inscriptians that, just as the scriptures say that Yehouah put Cyrus in charge of the world, Ra made Darius king of Egypt. To curry favour with the priests, Darius restored to them the revenues that Cambyses had imposed upon them. He built a large new temple to Amun-Ra, the Egyptian god closest in nature to Ahuramazda, at the oasis of el-Khargeh, and signs of a widespread influence in such matter are found elsewhere. He also supported the cult of the Apis Bull. Finally, a letter to his Egyptian satrap tells him to intervene in the appointment of high priests, proving what ought to be obvious, that great emperors like Darius could not avoid interfering in hugely influential positions like the priesthood. It is plainly imperative that the holders of the posts most influential upon the views of the people had to be the king’s men.
Darius is properly Darayavahu. Yavahu is uncommonly like Yehouah (YHWH), and must have sounded similar. Vahu is the Iranian god of the wind, that became, like the Hebrew, to mean breath and so life, so Yavahu literally means the same as YHWH. Scholars admit the etymology of “DR” (“ZR”) is puzzling. Literally, “zara” refers to the action of sowing seed in the fields (Gen 26:12; Isa 37:30), and seems to be a Semitic root. So, Zara in Hebrew is seed. Yet it is used in different senses either through metaphor or through the introduction of the same word with a new usage.
It means “progeny” as a metaphor of seed—so by a remarkable coincidence, Darayavahu can be read in Hebrew meaning “seed (progeny) of Yehouah”, “seed of the living god”. Indeed it is virtually the same as Israel (seed, progeny of El) except that the general word for god, El, has been replaced by the specific Yehouah.
Curiously, zara denotes Yehouah’s establishing Israel in the land of Palestine in a future day in an interpretation of Israel (Jezreel) as suggested above.
And they shall hear Jezreel. And I will sow (ZR) her unto me in the earth; and I will have mercy upon her that had not obtained mercy; and I will say to them which were not my people, Thou art my people; and they shall say, Thou art my God. Hosea 2:22-23
Those returning under Darius could have been encouraged to read Israel as code for Darius, then it reads: “And they shall hear Darius…” And what is he doing? Adopting a people who are not his own people!
Oddly enough, sowing is scattering seed. These people that have been sown in the earth can just as easily be scattered. So it is also used in almost an opposite sense too, making it ideal as a poetic word that can be positive or negative according to the response of the people. Just the intention of the Persians. It is not surprising, then, that it is popular in “late” (post-exilic) works such as Hosea, Isaiah, Psalms, Job and Proverbs.
Having noted this it is perhaps hardly surprising that the same letters signify divine help, rescue or even salvation. In Ugaritic, DR (ZR) means “rescue” or “save”, appearing in personal names analogous to Joshua (Jesus), Hadididri (Hadad saves), Asarya (Yehouah saves), Isra (Salvation). Similarly ZR in the bible is used with the divine name (either El or Yah) to form Jewish proper names: Azarel, Azriel, Azariah and Ezra, but the “salvation” is downgraded to “help” in most translations. Merely to pray for “help” to a mighty god seems modest, unless it leads to salvation.
In the scriptures, the salvation is often from enemies in battle. Egypt will not “save” Judah and the prophet condemns reliance on it (Isa 30:7; 31:3). Chronicles, books usually put in the same school as Ezra and Nehemiah, is particularly emphatic of divine saving help. The Psalms too. Divine help to save the nation of Israel is a common theme in Isaiah (41:10, 13, 14; 44:2; 49:8; 59:7, 9)—through God’s aid, Israel will overcome her foes. Psalms makes it clear that the help is salvific, not merely assistance:
But the salvation of the righteous is of the Lord: he is their strength in the time of trouble. And the Lord shall help them, and deliver them: he shall deliver them from the wicked, and save them, because they trust in him. Ps 37:39-40
The parallels in these verses show that the help given is salvific. This was the intention of the Persian kings when they “restored” the gods and temples of their subjects. They wanted it to seem like a salvation and in their propaganda depicted it in no uncertain way as such. If the people, though, were ungrateful, the tables would turn.
It seems most unlikely that Darius would not have used the coincidence of the sound of his name in his propaganda to the worshippers of Yehouah, that the Persians were building up as loyal subjects in Palestine. Darius sent another batch of “returners”, possibly writing the prophetic pseudepigraph Hosea and parts of Isaiah, both of which mean “salvation”.
Nehemiah and Ezra
Artaxerxes succeeded his father aged 18 when his father was murdered in a palace coup in 465 BC. In 458 BC, he abandoned Elamite as the language of the official records and introduced Aramaic. Doubtless the traditional Elamite scribes had been prepared for the change but more Persian scribes were being trained, initially in priestcraft, then specialising as scribes. These were all hereditary professions.
Under Artaxerxes, Megabyzes (Megabyxos, Bagabukhsha) was satrap of Abarnahara. he was a descendant of one of Darius’s six nobles and was married to the sister of Artaxerxes. He shielded the Athenians whom he had fought and defeated in Egypt, until he was ordered by the queen mother Amestris, to kill them. Feeling dishonoured to have to break his word, he rebelled, twice defeating the king’s forces until they came to a truce (c 450 BC).
In 444 BC, Artaxerxes sent Nehemiah to Jerusalem, instructed to bring the people into the fold of worship of Yehouah, a universal god of heaven. Morton Smith wrote:
He secured to the religion that double character—local as well as universal—which was to endure…
Boyce immediately notes that “Zoroastrianism itself had long had this double character”.
Nehemiah was the “cupbearer” to Artaxerxes (Neh 2:1). Since Artaxerxes, as a devout Zoroastrian, could not have touched let alone drunk from a ritually unclean cup, Nehemiah must himself have been a Zoroastrian. Pollution in the Zoroastrian scheme was the result of the Evil Spirit who caused “dust, stench, blight, disease, decay and death”. Devout people were obliged to stay clear of these noxious things to protect themselves as Ahuramazda’s good creation. The king particularly required this protection, and we can be sure that his servants had a duty to keep him pure.
The Zoroastrian priests had instituted a rigourous cleanliness code to protect the devout. Indeed, cupbearer to the king would hardly have been a menial position and Nehemiah must have been a Zoroastrian priest, not a mere servant. Nor would a mere servant have been sent to a colony with such an important position and task. Nehemiah introduced these same purity codes to the Jews, and devout ones live by them still, though they do not understand the reason for them. The point here is that Nehemiah could not have been a Jew himself, if he was the royal cupbearer, unless the religion of the Jews was Mazdayasnism by another name.
Ezra was sent too in 458 BC or 398 BC, from the bible which says year seven of the king, but there were two kings called Artaxerxes. Some think the number is corrupt and should be 37, making the year 428 BC, allowing for an apparently close association with Nehemiah. Or was it year seven of Darius II (417 BC), the name of the king having been mistaken from an association with Nehemiah?
He was the “scribe of the law of the God of Heaven”. For the Persians the god of heaven was Ahuramazda, but the title was interpreted to mean Yehouah. His duty was to write out god’s law to a people who supposedly had an extensive law of their own god. Ezra 7:11-26 reads out a copy of the letter that the king Artaxerxes gave him explaining the authority for his position. The letter emphasizes that people go only by their own free will, a statement that implies that it is not normally the case. One is led to ask why this case should be different.
And I, even I Artaxerxes the king, do make a decree to all the treasurers which are beyond the river, that whatsoever Ezra the priest, the scribe of the law of the God of heaven, shall require of you, it be done speedily, Unto an hundred talents of silver, and to an hundred measures of wheat, and to an hundred baths of wine, and to an hundred baths of oil, and salt without prescribing how much. Whatsoever is commanded by the God of heaven, let it be diligently done for the house of the God of heaven: for why should there be wrath against the realm of the king and his sons? Also we certify you, that touching any of the priests and Levites, singers, porters, Nethinims, or ministers of this house of God, it shall not be lawful to impose toll, tribute, or custom, upon them. And thou, Ezra, after the wisdom of thy God, that is in thine hand, set magistrates and judges, which may judge all the people that are beyond the river, all such as know the laws of thy God; and teach ye them that know them not. And whosoever will not do the law of thy God, and the law of the king, let judgment be executed speedily upon him, whether it be unto death, or to banishment, or to confiscation of goods, or to imprisonment.
The king addresses his order to “all the treasurers which are beyond the river”. Now “beyond the river” is of course the Persian province Abarnahara, the whole of the Levant beyond the Euphrates. Jews and Christians pretend it means “beyond the Jordan”, but how many rich treasurers are there in Palestine alone? The rest of it shows the king is purporting to placate the people, making sure there is no wrath against the king—it has a political purpose. But who benefits financially—the priests and temple officials who are exempt from taxes. Furthermore, Ezra was to enforce the law on “all the people that are beyond the river”, and enforce it with savage measures.
Ezra was told to teach people the law if they did not know it and he is considered to have been the instituter of the “Priestly Code” (P) of the Pentateuch. Its indebtedness to Zoroastrianism is plain but never observed upon. The “Holiness Code” of Leviticus 18 to 26 is a code of purity from pollution that again is evidently dependent on Zoroastrianism, though apologists will pretend otherwise when they are obliged to comment at all. Such a denial is “as preposterous as it is pointless”, to use West’s phrase.
Ezra also added the creation in Genesis 1:1-2:4a, the sophisticated one. Genesis 1 is strikingly Zoroastrian in two ways:
The active principle of creation is the spirit of God, just as Ahuramazda creates through the Good or Holy Spirit.
The creation in both was in seven stages, surely an astonishing coincidence, though the descriptions of the creations are different.
A puzzle is the absence in the Jewish scriptures of teachings of fate after death, individual judgement, heaven and hell. Death brings Sheol. Amos 9 and Psalms 139 extend Yehouah’s rule to Sheol but only in Isaiah 26:19 is there hope of a future after death, and that, as in Zoroastrianism, is resurrection not immortality as a spirit. Mary Boyce writes:
Since Zoroastrian apocalyptic finds its counterpart in Jewish and Christian eschatology, not disjointedly but as part of the same fixed scheme which is to be discerned in the Gathas, it is difficult not to concede to Zoroastrianism both priority and influence.
Quite so but Boyce inconsistently thinks the Jewish purity laws are “wholly Jewish”. The destruction of death (Isa 25:7-8) is a reflexion of the end of “limited time” in Zoroastrianism, when the evil creation is destroyed and the Evil Spirit is imprisoned forever. Judaism has Satan as an Evil Spirit, although he seems not to have an existence independent of Yehouah, and Yehouah claims to create both good and evil (Isa 45:7). Presumably Satan has his own inclination to create evil, independently of Yehouah, otherwise it is hard to see how he is such a trouble. That makes Judaism exactly equivalent to Zoroastrianism. What appear to be differences might be simply because we have two sources, neither of which is complete and both of which have had independent histories of compilation and redaction, so that they have evolved differences, but their identity at the centre is still obvious. Our knowledge of Jewish apocalyptic with the discovery and translation of the Dead Sea Scrolls shows that Judaism was much more dualistic than the scriptures suggest.
Darius II Favours Jerusalem
The Reverend Lawrence Heyworth Mills wrote to the Oxford Chronicle in June 1913:
“No one denies the solemn and critical facts of the identities in themselves considered: the Theology, Angelogy, Demonology, Soteriology, Virgin Birth, Immortality, Resurrection, Judgement, Chiliasm (Millennialism), Paradise, Heaven and Hell are rather more than less emphatically or repeatedly expressed in the Avesta than they are in Exilic pre-Christian Pharisaism.”
Professor Mills says that even if there had been no historical contact between Judaism and Persian religion, the closeness of these themes would demand their careful study by Christians and Jews believing their own religions to have been revealed, because He must have revealed them somewhere else too! He concludes:
“If the Divine Power saw fit to make use of the Persian religious system to educate his people… this should only awaken reverential thanksgiving.”
In fact the Jews were subjects of the Persian kings for 200 years, and the Jewish scriptures declare that a Persian priest called Ezra had to give the Jews a law!
Darius the Great put his trust in the one good god of Zoroaster’s revelation. Ammianus Marcellinus, from earlier unnamed sources, says that Darius replaced the heads of the priesthood by seven more cautious holy men, after they had tried to usurp the throne. The whole story is probably propaganda, and actually the Magi who supported Darius in what was his own successful coup were rewarded. Either way, a board or commission of seven Magi were the supreme religious authorities and located in the Persian capital. They consecrated a Persian king when he succeeded to the throne and suppressed heresy.
Xerxes, who succeeded his father in 486 BC, desecrated the great temple of Marduk in Babylon, slaying a priest and carried off the huge statue of the god, which was said to be of solid gold. His purpose was political, to destroy the god who was traditionally the protector of Babylon and would serve as the focus of a separatist movement and revolt, but Xerxes had such confidence in Ahuramazda that he feared no reprisals from Marduk.
Xerxes proves that the Persian kings were religious zealots not pussy cats as Christians and Jews want us to believe from a reading of the bible. They rewarded collaboration and punished defiance. Herodotus and Cicero report that Xerxes destroyed the temples on the Acropolis. Many historians disbelieved it until the discovery of an inscription at Persepolis in which Xerxes boasts of his conquest of Greece, of his godliness in destroying the temples on the Acropolis in which the Greeks had worshipped devils, and in commanding them to worship them no longer:
There was a place in which devils were formerly worshipped. There, by the help of Ahura Mazda, I demolished that lair of the devils and I issued an edict, “You shall not worship devils”. And in the very place in which devils had once been worshipped, I piously and with Righteousness worshipped Ahura Mazda.
The Persians also destroyed the Greek temples at Branchidae, Naxos, Abae and other places not reported. They spared Delphi because the priests there advised the Greeks to yield to the Persians. In fact, the Greeks prevented Xerxes from conquering Europe, if that had been his aim, but the theology of Darius and Xerxes seems not to have altered to the time of Darius II (423-405 BC), the king who succeeded Artaxerxes I (464-424 BC) after the short reigns of Xerxes II and Sogdianus (both 424 BC), intervened in the Peloponnesian War and died in 405 BC.
On the other hand, the Jewish temple was “completed” (again!) between 445 BC and 417 BC, most probably the latter date in the reign of Darius II. The Persian governors and priests in Jerusalem thereby caused a schism in the worship of Yehouah in the Hill Country. The native Israelites, the Samarians who, under Persian coercion it seems, had accepted the law as the Torah, built their own temple on Mount Gerizim, and Jerusalem is insignificant in their Pentateuch. At a later date when the temple was established, the Persian tradition became the “orthodox” position of the Pharisees or Persian faction—Pharisee, Parsee, Parsi—which survived the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD as Rabbinism! The Sadducees were nothing to do with the original worship of Yehouah or they would have been Samaritans. They were a Hellenized faction that tried to reject Persian influences (“no resurrection, neither angel, nor spirit” Acts 23:8) in favour of more civilized Greek practices.
Darius was a Babylonian by culture. Achaemenian kings took foreign wives but it was not common, the main wife was not usually foreign and others would have had to have converted or at least observed the Zoroastrian purity laws. The son of a Zoroastrian was regarded as fully Zoroastrian because it was the male seed that counted, the belief being that women were merely fertile land for the man’s seed. Jewish belief was the same, which is why only a man could “beget” and why childless women in the scriptures are described as barren, like a barren field. The Achaemenid kings were pious but practical men. Their foreign marriages were likely to have been diplomatic, and not for the generality to copy. Darius was the son of a Babylonian woman. Xerxes II was the heir but was murdered by Sogdianus, the son of one of Artaxerxes’ Babylonian courtesans, and Sogdianus was in turn killed by Darius II, another son of a Babylonian courtesan.
The royal line was no longer Persian but half Babylonian and influenced strongly by their Babylonian mothers and upbringing. Babylonian customs now began to assert themselves more strongly. So, the religion’s centre of gravity shifted to Babylon in the fifth century. There the Magi would have come into direct contact with the cult of the god Marduk, who might have been the model for the revival of Mithras, previously seen as the equal of Shamash. Achaemenian emperors up to Artaxerxes II, were solely devoted to Ahuramazda, never naming other deities, who were merely anonymous “other gods”, in their inscriptions. The Zoroastrian holy men in Babylon also found themselves in the world’s capital of astrology. It was a superstition which at that time, and indeed for many centuries thereafter, could plausibly claim to be a scientific observation of the heavens, and thence the world. Chaldaean astromancy was taken up by the Magi.
By blood, Darius II was half Babylonian, but would not have been the heir of Artaxerxes I unless his son Xerxes II had not been immediately killed. Darius killed the assassin and took the throne. He continued the Achaemenid interest in restoring religions, but he was particularly interested in preseving temple archives, doubtless a job of some practical value. As in the case of the first Darius helping out in the “Houses of Life” in Egypt, he could alter the transcriptions to suit Persian policy, and could doubtless find the odd missing tablets. He “restored” the temple of Eanna in Uruk and installed extensive archives. The records of the bank of Murashi cover half a century up to about 400 BC. It shows how cosmopolitan Babylonia was. It was policed by foreign garrisons stationed permanently in the country, so the Persian kings were taking no chances even in what was the centre of their empire.
Darius favoured the Jerusalem priesthood. A revealing scrap of papyrus written from Darius to Arsames, his long-serving Egyptian satrap in 419 BC, and found at Elephantine, ordered that the Jews of Elephantine must keep the Feast of Unleavened Bread for seven days. It is a surprising order for those brought up believing myth is history. Why was it necessary? These traditions were supposed to have been almost a millennium old even then. Apologists say the feast had been forbidden so it was not an order to Jews but to the satrap himself. Why then was it phrased as an order to the Jews that they must obey? The Jewish messanger was a man called Hananiah, a Babylonian name (Eanna) and the name, by another of those coincidences that litter biblical history, of the brother of Nehemiah. The Jews of Yeb were of the older polytheistic faith of the Canaanites, and it looks very much as though the priests of Jerusalem had the king’s support in bringing them into line with the practice in Jerusalem imposed by Nehemiah and Ezra.
A sandstone stele from Aswan dated itself precisely to June 458 BC. It records that the commander of the garrison at Syene had built a place of worship. Rather than an enclosed temple it might have been an enclosed space open to the massy heavens. In 408 BC, the Jewish military governor at Elephantine, probably a grandson of the man who built or restored a temple there, the command of the Syene garrison seems to have been inherited, colluded with the priests of Khnum to cut off the water supply from the Jewish garrison, then they destroyed the temple to Yahu. The satrap was absent at the time. Subsequently, the priests wrote to the Jerusalem priesthood and to the governor of Judah, Bagoas, for help in rebuilding the temple. It seems it never was given.
The whole events look suspicious. Arsames absents himself and a Persian military governor immediately helps to destroy a Jewish temple with the aid of Egyptian priests, even though Jews are loyal allies of the Persians, and this has been a Persian outpost manned by Jewish soldiers for a century. The truth must be that this older temple at Syene, being polytheistic, was an embarrassment to Persians and Jews and had to be ended. It is always presented as caused by the jealousy of the Egyptian priests, or their annoyance that the Jews would have been sacrificing sheep when the ram was the sacred animal of Khnum. Yet it was done with the help of the local Persian governor, and under a fancied policy of religious toleration in general and admiration for the Jews. It proves that there was no religious toleration in general. Religion was a policy option, and the kings had opted to support one temple to Yehouah—at Jerusalem.
Conscious Foreign Policy
All of it shows that the Persian kings were not naïvely interested in restoring alien cultures out of some exaggerated sense of altruism to defeated people. It was a conscious foreign policy to get political control of subject people who had every reason to be resentful. It was to preserve the Persian peace, the Iranian sense of universal order.
Garbini notes that the Demotic Chronicle of Egypt, a papyrus dated in the third century BC but speaking of the sixth and fifth centuries BC, takes the same attitude of the judgement of God on Egypt as the Deuteronomic History does on the Jews. It seems unlikely that a Jewish history should have inspired an Egyptian one, but not that Persian propaganda should have been used in Egypt as well as elsewhere. If this papyrus is accurately dated to the third century then it could be an edition of an earlier Persian work. The Persians will have done in Egypt what they did in Yehud, a finding with possibly profound consequences for Egyptology.
In his Egyptian inscriptions, Darius emphasizes “maat”, the Egyptian concept closest to “Asha”. Cyrus was the Messiah, the son of God, to the Jews, and Egyptian inscriptions declared that for Atum, Darius was “his son, his steward”, and that, “his person should be remembered beside his father, Atum”. Atum-Ra became the perfect equivalent of Ahuramazda, a hidden god behind the sun, who created the cosmos to be governed by “maat”. The sun rising each morning drove away the powers of darkness, symbolic of order driving away chaos. Rebellion is chaos, a product of the Evil Spirit, while order is good, an attribute of God.
A lesser parallel with what the Persians did in Jerusalem might have come to light in Asia Minor. A monument was found in 1973 declaring that the citizens of Orna had agreed to set up a cult of the god of Caunos, a nearby town. The god was to be called “the Lord the God of Caunos”, and seemed to be a local Apollo. They had sponsored a “house” for the god and specified sacrifices and endowments. Persians did not build “houses” for their gods because they felt they had the cosmos as their home, but they were happy to build temples for foreigners because they would then assemble there and provide the opportunity to hear the law. The monument specifies divine punishments for violating “this law” included being carried off to the “Abyss”.
Plainly this was not a Zoroastrian god, but had been granted certain Zoroastrian features, including an Iranian title of unknown meaning but used of Mithras. Mithras was guardian of the first watch of the day, sunrise, and Persian places of worship came to be called “Gates of Mithras”, an expression used by the Urartians. Zoroastrian worship always had to be done before noon, and this habit perhaps predisposed non-Iranians particularly to see Mithras as the visible face of Ahuramazda. It seems to be an early example of Apollo-Mithras syncretism, which was popular in the region a hundred years later and for many centuries thereafter.
It is curious too that the god is called the god “of Caunos” in some places and the god “of Orna” in others. Apparently a unifying formula, it is reminiscent of Yehouah being the god of Israel and of Judah. The scroll scholar, A Dupont-Sommer, said it showed the Persians had an office of state for overseeing and regularizing the religious affairs of subject people:
Not to impose on them Iranian divinities and cults but to ensure good order and security in a domain which in ancient societies was politically so important and often vexed.
Dupont-Sommer is sidelined nowadays mainly because Christians do not like his ideas about the Essenes and Christianity in interpreting the scrolls, but this insight shows him to be a perceptive man. The Persians had to approve the High Priest of any cult, and we can be sure he was not appointed purely for his piety. These were political appointments, and the practice of religion was a political act. The Reverend Professor Lawrence Mills detected a ministry or religious affairs, and Professor Boyce sees a chancellery department to deal with Zoroastrian foundations from at least the fourth century BC. It is difficult to see them as separate institutions.
The Universal God
The traditional view is that Cyrus and successive Persian kings of the sixth and fifth centuries BC were being religiously liberal in allowing the Jews to reconstruct their temple and its religion after they had been kindly returned from their exile in Babylon. But the religion of Yehouah, whose worshippers were called Jews, was remodelled thoroughly by the Persian world conquerors.
Their real aim was to spread the religion of Mazdayasnaism, or Ahuramazda worship, to consolidate their empire. Historians of the Persians often seem over eager to insist that the Persian kings had no wish to impose the religion of Ahuramazda on to subject people. The reason can only be to avoid any suggestion that Judaism might have been revealed by the Persian kings and not by Yehouah in person. They argue Persian kings would “restore” gods but not impose them. Why then did they destroy some gods?—though admittedly they called them daevas or devils, not gods. Note here the proper distinction held by Zoroastrians between devils and gods.
As Creator of good things, Ahuramazda was the creator of good gods—the gods considered good of foreign nations. Bad gods were, of course, created by the Evil Spirit. This is why the Persians cannot be assumed to have had a favourable or even neutral stance to foreign gods. In fact, the judgement was purely practical. When people opposed the forward march of the Persians their gods were of the Evil Creation. If they welcomed them, they were of the Good Creation.
The Persian kings would destroy when their opponents had offered strong resistance. Alexander had the same policy. The destruction of a people who resisted included destruction of their gods. But sanctuaries were destroyed in Babylon in 482 BC, long after Cyrus had conquered it bloodlessly. Xerxes declares on an inscription that he had destroyed a sanctuary of false gods and worshipped Ahuramazda instead. It shows that Persian kings had no sacred regard for the religions of subject people when they had reason to categorize their gods as devils.
It seems that the Persians had decided that god of the Jews was of the Good Creation and so could be treated with favoritism. The Jews therefore were permitted to make the universal religion in their own image, guided by Persian officials because it had to be a religion made up of the essential truths handed down to Zoroaster by Ahuramazda, albeit presented in a way adapted to the local god.
In the history of later Persia, the Jews were honoured under the Arsacids, the Jewish Exilarch being fourth in rank after tha king. Under the Sassanids, however, they came to be treated as Zoroastrian heretics. Both responses suggest an acceptance by Persians of a close relationship between Judaism and Zoroastrianism.
Jewish and Christian apologists are desperate to assert there is no direct evidence the Jewish religion is dependent on the Persian religion. They mean they have no statement that clearly declares it as such and, if they found one, they would ignore it as a forgery or an error. Scholars such as Gaster and Söderblum deny any Persian influence but they do not venture any alternative, or seek to explain why these ideas arrived in Judaism only after colonists “returned” from Persia.
The plain fact is that when Persian kings “restored” gods, the restoration was not to what they were—for which purpose most did not need any restoration. They were foisting their own god and Zoroastrian values on to defeated people but in the name of the local god, and to soften the pain, they offered them money and resources for new temples.
Persians offered the priesthoods in Babylon, Egypt, Elam, Sardis, Ionia and Judah support for the restoration of their religions. Cambyses (525-522 BC) had made attempts to reduce the financial incomes of the influential Egyptian temples, but Darius I (521-486 BC) took a meretricious interest in Egyptian culture, making sure of his reputation with the Egyptians for kind treatment, like Cyrus with the Babylonians and Jews. Darius had accompanied Cambyses to Egypt and lived there for some years. As shah, in 517 BC, he commissioned the construction of temples including the temple in the el-Kharga oasis. It succeeded so well, he was recognized in Egypt as a noble law-giver! The Egyptian official, Udjahorresne says the temple of Neith at Sais, of which he was a priest was restored. An inscription in the Vatican says he was summoned to Susa to support the Persians by nominating reliable educated Egyptian administrators, many of whom will have been priests, as the educated class.
After the Persian defeat at Marathon in 490 BC, the Egyptians rebelled in 486 BC, the beginning of a period of Egyptian unrest. Xerxes put the initial revolt down with great severity when he came to the throne (485 BC). He made his son, Achaemenes, Satrap, but he fomented more uprest with his cruelty. When Xerxes was assasinated (465 BC), the Egyptians revolted again, led by the son of Psammetichus III, prince Inaros, who became a legendary figure. The rebels were defeated and Inaros executed in 454 BC. Nehemiah was sent to restore the temple of Jerusalem about this time.
Few documents exist from this period, but the rest of the reign of Artaxerxes I (465-424 BC) was tranquil. Another uprising greeted Darius II (423-405 BC), and trouble brewed throughout his reign even though he tried, through building projects, to win over the Egyptians. It was this Darius, not Darius the Great, who is most likely the rebuilder or builder of the Jerusalem temple (417? BC).
Amyrtaios of Sais freed the delta in 404 BC. He was succeeded in 399 BC by Nepherites I of Mendes (399-393 BC) together with Psammuthis (393 BC) and Achoris (Hakor, 393-380 BC) who fortified Egypt against the Persian campaigns 385-383 BC. The Persians were defeated by Nectanebo I (380-362 BC) in 373 BC. Teos (Djedhor, 362-360 BC) followed briefly, then Nectanebo II (360-343 BC) staved off Artaxerxes III Ochus in 350 BC, but the Persian won in 343 BC setting up the Second Persian period that lasted until Alexander III of Macedonia, the Great.
The Persians were happy to accept various goddesses as the equal of Anahita. Cyrus the Younger worshipped in a temple of Artemis whom he must have considered to be Anahita. Anahita became popular in Cappadocia and Armenia and the Romans destroyed temples to Anahita in Armenia centuries later. Persians accepted Apollo as the equivalent of Mithras. Apparently, “the god Mithras” in Aramaic script is a pun on “all the gods” offering a possible explanation of why Mithras came to be so important and the equal of Ahuramazda in many places. The temple to the god Mithras was the temple to all the gods. Mithras was widely worshipped in Persia notably in Anatolia, being attested in Lydia, Phrygia, Cilicia and Taurus, Pontus and Commagene, but sites as far away as Bactria and even outside of Persia across the Black Sea in Crimea have been found.
Iranians were happy too to accept Marduk or Zeus as the local name for Ahuramazda, especially as Zeus Theos and Zeus Magistos. Persians would not have wanted to create dissension by having two local gods seen as the equal of Ahuramazda. If there were two candidates then one had to go. That is probably why El disappeared whereas Yehouah survived in Palestine. Ahuramazda was worshipped extensively in Lydia after the Persian conquest under the name Zeus. Alexander’s successors and the Romans would doubtless have re-Hellenized these temples of Zeus worship, but conceivably those who did not like the Hellenized version adopted Judaism. Asia Minor had a large population of Jews in Roman times.
In western Asia Minor records of “Persian” temples cease from the third century AD when they were suppressed by Christian edict, but still in the 6th century Khosrou I Anushirvan negotiated with a Byzantine emperor to have fire temples rebuilt in his domains, most probably in Cappadocia. The existence has been traced of Persian Sibyllists oracles, probably the first non-Greeks to adopt the genre of Sibylline oracles, through which they conveyed Persian prophecies and expectations. In time such oracles grew generally into longer poems, through which doctrine could be conveyed. It thus appears to have been through Persians of the western diaspora that Zoroastrianism made a powerful contribution to religion and thought in the Hellenistic world.
The Influence of “Exile”
Herodotus evidently had no knowledge of Yehouah and His remarkable chosen people, the Jews, or their ancient temple in Jerusalem when he wrote his histories about 450 BC, though even then the temple was supposedly 500 years old! He did know of circumcision in the region, but this was a custom of the Egyptians and will only reflect Egyptian influence on Palestine through colonization. His history ended before Nehemiah, the Persian Eunuch, arrived as governor of Judah in 445 BC or Ezra, the priest, arrived in 428 BC, 397 BC or 417 BC (the date, year 7 of Artaxerxes might be of Artaxerxes II, or year 37 of Artaxerxes I has been corrupted, or, most probably, year 7 of Darius II was meant (417 BC)). It was only with Ezra that Judaism, with its famous law, was really founded, and the Jerusalem temple got any authority, even if other returners had already established the temple—and that is questionable.
The sign of Persian influence appears in Jeremiah. Rab-Mag was the chief of the Magi. The books of the Old Testament like 2 Chronicles, Ezra and Deutero-Isaiah betray a strong influence of Persia. Thus they even use the reigns of Persian kings as the basis of their chronology. Waterhouse (WAT-ZOR) says some passages “appear as much Persian as Hebraic”. The origins of Greek philosophy, which also emerged in the time of the Persians, must also be considered likely to have something to do with Zoroastrian ideas.
The Persian king Cyrus was seen by the Jews as a Saviour. He ordered the rebuilding of the Jerusalem Temple, as we know from inscriptions as well as the Old Testament and was much admired by the prophet, Isaiah. The end of 2 Chronicles has exactly the same verses as the beginning of Ezra:
Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom, and put it also in writing, saying, Thus saith Cyrus king of Persia, The Lord God of heaven hath given me all the kingdoms of the earth; and he hath charged me to build him an house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Who is there among you of all his people? his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem, which is in Judah, and build the house of the Lord God of Israel, he is the God which is in Jerusalem. Ezra 1:1-3
Cyrus in this citation does not simply say that Yehouah charged him to build him a house at Jerusalem, but the “God of Heaven”, none other than Ahuramazda, identified as Yehouah (Lord), but he then calls him (or the author of Ezra does) Yehouah (Lord) “God of Israel”. After the exile the “God of Israel”, Yehouah, has the title, the “God of Heaven” declaring him to be Ahuramazda. The Cyrus Vase found on a hill in Babylon confirms Cyrus in the same role in Babylon in its inscription:
The Great Lord Marduk regarded favourably the salvation, that is, the saviour of his people, his victorious work, and his righteous heart, going towards his city Babylon as a friend and companion at his side.
Scholars have tried to pretend that the reference to Marduk rather than Ahuramazda is a careless error, but, if so, it was extremely careless since these inscriptions were stamped on to thousands of clay objects with a cylinder seal. The vase inscription says Cyrus took Babylon without bloodshed and thus was Marduk pleased!
Marduk the Great Lord made the honourable hearts of the people of Babylon incline to me because I was daily mindful of his worship… May all the gods whom I have brought into their cities pray daily before Bel and Nabu for long life for me… and speak to my Lord Marduk for Cyrus the king who fears thee and Cambyses his son.
As far as the Babylonians were concerned, and evidently Cyrus concurred, Marduk was Ahuramazda. Zoroastrianism was monotheistic. Ahuramazda was the only god, but there was nothing that proclaimed that Ahuramazda was god’s only name. Cyrus was happy to adapt all the “Great Lords” of his empire into the one Great Lord. All the king was doing in setting up a temple in Jerusalem was making Yehouah into Ahuramazda as well.
Relief of Darius the Great and the captured rebels at Behistun with symbol of Ahuramazda prominent. From the drawing by Sir H C Rawlinson
The Persian and Jewish gods are described in identical terms. In Isaiah it is:
I have made the earth, and created man upon it: I, even my hands, have stretched out the heavens. Isa 45:12
The inscription of Darius at Behistun has:
A great god is Ahuramazda, who made the earth and the heaven yonder, and made man.
What is more, the scriptures agree with the Persian kings like Cyrus that the “Lord God of heaven hath given me all the kingdoms of the earth” because the Persian inscriptions state it clearly:
As Ahuramazda created this earth, he gave it over to me. Darius, Behistun
In Isaiah 45, the author is at pains to be clear that the god is explicitly Yehouah, the God of Israel, but that would not have fazed Cyrus or Darius who would nevertheless have seen God as Ahuramazda but, providing that his laws are obeyed, would not have been particular about what the locals called him. More important is Yehouah’s affirmation that, unlike Ahuramazda, he was the god of both light and dark, good and evil—probably the touch of a Maccabæan redactor’s pen:
I form the light and create the darkness, I make peace and create evil. Isa 45:7
After a lot more trouble, the plan began to work excellently under the Persians, but then broke down under the Greeks. The worshippers of Yehouah had become so convinced by the god set up by the Persians that they would not condone the gods of the Greeks, and the Maccabees—goaded by the Egyptians and Romans—insisted that the Jewish God was a jealous, vengeful and bloodthirsty God of fear to stir the Jews to rebellious protest against their Greeks enemies.
Nehemiah and Ezra
The Yehudim that returned came with the propaganda that Cyrus was restoring an old god when he was creating a temple to Ahuramazda, dressed in local habit. But the “returners” had to persuade the ordinary untaught and unskilled Israelites who were not transported and retained their original beliefs that the change was what they wanted. The locals in the Judaean hills did not recognize the new god and rejected him and his followers. They opposed Zerubabel and his “returners”.
The construction of the temple designed by the Persian king, Cyrus, was delayed by both political and physical means. These “Yehudim” that had not been exiled eventually built their own temple on Mount Gerizim and dismissed Jerusalem from their Pentateuch. They were the original Israelites but were dismissed as Samaritans and the “Men of the Land” or Am ha-Eretz, by the worshippers of the new Yehouah. Under the Greeks, further factionalism occurred, the pro-Greek faction placed in power becoming the Sadducees supposedly following the line of the temple priests named after the mythical Zadok (Greek, Sadduc) and rejecting Persian ideas, but the pro-Persian faction called themselves Hasids, the Pious Ones, before splintering into Pharisees (Persians) and Essenes (Saviours or Deliverers).
Eventually the Persian governor had to call the “returners” from exile to order for plotting, and work on the temple was suspended, if it had ever started, after only two years. Darius sternly ordered that the “returners” get to work on their task as decreed by Cyrus. He appointed a High Priest to stimulate events and will have sent a fresh batch of “returners” to motivate the others. The temple was supposedly finished in the sixth year of Darius, 516 AD.
About half a century later, Artaxerxes I put down another Egyptian revolt, even though the Egyptians were helped by their Athenian Greek allies, hoping to secure a reliable supply of wheat. The Greek fleet was soundly beaten, showing that their victory over Xerxes at Salamis was not through any intrinsic superiority. Nevertheless, Athens was now just reaching its peak under Perikles, and they forced important concessions from the Persians. The region of Asia Minor west of the Halys was demilitarized, giving the Greek Asian cities a lot of freedom and cultural exchange between Greece and Persia actually improved. Herodotus travelled and wrote his histories and Democritus, having met Babylonian scientists and mathematicians, worked out his atomic theory.
Between 445 and 397 BC, Artaxerxes was handing out Mesopotamian estates to Persian princes after transporting their owners, native Babylonians, to distant parts. At the same time, he was promoting the cult of the Magian priests at the expense of the native divinity Bel-Marduk. Doubtless some of these Babylonians were deported to Judea.
The biblical missions of Nehemiah and Ezra backed by the Achaemenian imperial government were to make the Canaanite population accept the idea of the universal god under the local name “Yehouah”. Artaxerxes had to send Nehemiah from Persia about 445 BC to make the Jews adopt the new god. His condition to the “returners” to retain the support of Persia was absolute loyalty, the condition placed upon all deportees. Nehemiah has a banquet for 150 rulers (Neh 5:17). Guests attending the Persian king’s banquets had to bathe and dress in white, and this must have been the requirement for Nehemiah’s banquet. This will have been the source of the Essenes’ rule of conduct at their meals, notionally attended as they were by the messiah, the king.
Ezra, another servant of the Persian king who had been born and educated as a divine reader in Babylon, was sent to Yehud from Babylon. Despite the temple supposedly having been built, it appears it had not—most of the natives of the hill counry did not want to change and were obstructing the foreign cult being imported. The king (Darius II not Artaxerxes) was concerned that the hill country must be pacified as neighbours and potential allies of the rebellious Egyptians.
He instructed Ezra to appoint magistrates and judges who would keep Judah in the laws of its new god, Yehouah. Ezra had to “to teach in Israel statutes and ordinances” (Ezra 7:10) and to see if the people of Judaea were “agreeable to the law of God”. Ezra laid down the law to a people already bound by the supposedly 1000 year old law of Moses! Had the Jews forgotten the law of Moses? Did they need to be taught civilisation by the Persians? He was not teaching any religion that the people of Judaea knew. It is a clear indication that the law of Moses was the law of Ezra.
In Nehemiah 8, Ezra read from the book of law which neither Hebrew speakers nor Aramaic speakers could understand—the words had to be translated by priests. What language was Ezra reading? Not Hebrew. What book of law was it? He was plainly reading laws from like the Vendidad. Widespread religious conversion occurs according to Ezra 6:19-21 and Nehemiah 10:28-29. Why would Jews need to convert to Judaism? What were they converting to? The answer is Zoroastrianism and the book being read was probably a Persian lawbook like the Vendidad written in Persian. According to a rabbinic legend, a gemara also attributes to Ezra the change from Hebrew script to the square Aramaic script.
The distinction between clean and unclean animals in Leviticus and Ezekiel was from the Vendidad, which explains it. The Vendidad purification rituals are identical in the Pentateuch and the—older—Vendidad. Ezra also introduced the new Festival of Booths in the seventh month, the Zoroastrian holiday of Ayathrem, and must have invented the scriptural myth to justify it. In about 400 BC, the Old Testament was put in written form when Jerusalem was still under the power of the Persians. Waterhouse truly writes:
There are so many things shared between the theologies of Persia and Israel that they cannot be assigned to general community of ideas.
Imprecise understanding of the laws being transmitted, their adaption to local circumstances and subsequent evolution under the Greeks and the Maccabees will allow for the differences between the Zoroastrian law and the Jewish law, but many remarkable similarities that remain testify to their common origin, and that cannot have been Jewish.
Zoroaster had subjected the Iranian tribal gods to the one Most High God, Ahuramazda. Ezra, at the behest of the Persian king, did the same in Yehud. Around 400 BC, with Jerusalem under the power of the Persians, Ezra and Nehemiah invented the Jewish scriptures. They wrote out Jewish mythology, incorporating a multitude of laws intended to make the Jewish gods into a single monotheistic god akin to Ahuramazda, and the Jews into a civilized people. Where any Persian concepts appear in the Jewish scriptures at a time before the captivity, they have been written anachronistically into the account by the post-exilic priesthood.
Judaism and Zoroastrianism
Zoroastrianism was the source of Jewish monotheism, brought from “exile” on the “return” (Isa 43:10-13; Jer 10:1-16). Even Christian scholars note that the concept of Ahuramazda is closer to that of the Jewish God than that of any other eastern religion. The old Israelites of the Palestinian hill country were not monotheists. Before it was remodelled by the Persians, Judaism was polytheistic. The Jewish god was a tribal god—one of many Semitic tribal gods, generally called Lord, which in Semitic languages is Baal or Bel. A tribal god, of necessity, implies polytheism since there are other tribes. The idea of the covenant with one tribe, the Israelites, implies polytheism. In it God commands:
Thou shalt have no other gods before me, Ex 20:3
admitting there were other gods. When the sages wrote down the holy books, they introduced ideas from Zoroastrianism. Spentas became angels and divas became demons (devils). Their tribal god became a universal God but one which still favoured his Chosen People.
In Judaism, Deutero-Isaiah contains the first monotheistic declarations in the Bible, the first expression of universalism which has no antecedent in it, approaching the monotheism and universalism of Zoroaster just when the Persian King Cyrus appears as an apparent saviour for the Jews! A universal God must be monotheistic because only he is worshipped. A local god is only one of many. The Persians introduced the idea of a perfect, loving, universal god—Ahuramazda by any other name—whose earthly presence and saviour was the king of kings, the king of the Persian Empire. Thucydides (460-399 BC, War 4:50), quoting the words of the Persian, Artaphernes, who was captured taking a message from the Persian king to Sparta, confirms the idea of the king as saviour:
The best of our many good customs is that we revere the king and worship him as the image of God, God who saves everything.
Over 100 Persian words appear in the Judaeo-Christian bible. One of the last words uttered by Jesus on the cross was Persian (Lk 23:43). After the Persian conquest, Jerusalem became a Persian city in many respects. The threefold division of Persian society is reflected in Israel—priests, princes and Israelites.
It is an obvious and pressing fact that much exilic matter is present in many places in our present so-called pre-exilic texts. We might indeed be imperatively forced to doubt the uninfluenced existence of any pre-exilic texts at all.
L H Mills
Ahuramazda and Yehouah
The Persian religion was as monotheistic as the Jewish religion it created—it wasn’t! Judaism was never monotheistic and still is not, just as Zoroastrianism, however it might have been conceived by the Prophet, never ever was monotheistic. The Persians passed on the identical idea that they had about Ahuramazda—that he was the Most High God. The old gods were declared to be demons—but demons are gods, if gods are supernatural entities. And if there were demons as wicked spirits, there had to be angels as good spirits helping the good god. They had different levels of powers.
“Ahu” means life and forms part of the word Ahura which seems to equate with “living”, an obvious association with the sun (surya, asura, ahura), especially for people from cold climates. Here is another link with Yehouah, also said to mean “living”, from its supposed similarity to the first person singular of “to be”. Thus both Yehouah and Ahuramazda were understood as “living gods”. The title of Yehouah as the “Ancient of Days” equates with “Zrvani akarane”, “eternal time”, the Persian god Zurvan.
Both the Jewish and the Zoroastrian gods were ultimately supreme, though temporarily were not. Ahuramazda had to battle with the Evil Spirit, Ahriman, throughout material history, and Yehouah had to battle with Satan. Satan, originally a servant of God, appointed by Him as His prosecutor, took on the role of Ahriman as the enemy of God. Satan is not equal in power to Yehouah, yet the supreme god cannot destroy the lesser one. This is effectively the relation between Ahuramazda and Angra Mainyu. The serpent in Genesis is considered to be Satan. Snakes in Zoroastrianism are of the Evil Creation and, according to the Vendidad, it is the first of the Evil Creation and so represents the face of evil in the material world!
The Zoroastrian scheme is more complete because it offers an explanation of the two spirits, but Yehouism does not. Mazdayasnaism has many lesser spirits just as Yehouism has its angels, but the Evil Spirit in Zoroastrianism is equal to Ahuramazda in all respects except foresight.
The attempt to solve the problem in Judaism and Christianity with the fall from grace is no answer. In Zoroastrianism, Asmodeus (Aesmadaeva) is an angry spirit (Y 28:7) that led to the fall of man (Y 30:3) by offering humanity the worst mind. Some are tempted, but those of good mind will defeat the demons in the end. Yehouism has Satan as a fallen angel, but angels are supposed only to be lesser spirits, so there is no explanation of why Yehouah does not simply finish him off. Moreover, Yehouah, like Ahuramazda had foresight, so knew that they would fall from grace when he made them, just as he knew Adam and Eve would. Yet he went ahead and created entities that he knew would fall into evil. That is just the same as creating evil, because there was no need to do it once he had foreseen it.
Judaism and Christianity want a single absolute God, but the legends they acquired in the Persian period are of two equal gods, and they consequntly get into theological tangles, that Zoroastrianism does not have. Indeed, to all intents and purposes, many Christian sects today believe in an original Evil Spirit equal to God, at least on the earthly plane.
Ahuramazda was the author only of good, whereas Yehouah has to be the author of both good and ill (Isa 45:7), the angels but also the demons, that have such power in the New Testament. Did the Jews believe that the evil spirits, Satan and the Baals, railed against in the scriptures, were actually created by Yehouah? Much of the scriptures show that they were equal gods to Yehouah and the favourite name of God in the bible is not simply Yehouah but Yehouah of the Gods! YHWH Elohim. In places in the bible “elohim” stands alone and is translated as “the gods”. Furthermore, the prophets consider tha Baals as real gods, not simply idols.
Any attempt to produce evil from somewhere outside of the control of Yehouah makes the Jews and Christians just as dualist as the Iranians. No one does, though Satan is often characterized as the “god of the world” while Yehouah is the “god of heaven”, especially by Christians, whose Gnosticism still shines through, as if they were equal gods with different realms. This is just a distortion of the Zoroastrian belief that the material world has been corrupted by the Evil Creation. But in Zoroastrianism, it was fundamentally still the creation of the Good God, not the Evil One. The Evil Spirit could only contend with the Good God on the material plane in Mazdaism, but in Yehouism the fight was continued on the heavenly or cosmic plane. Again the Zoroastrian cosmogony is more complete.
Ahuramazda is the Creator (Y 29:4), is omniscient (Y 31:13-14), is the lawgiver (Y 1:11), is a teacher (Y 31:5, 32:13), will establish a kingdom (Y 28:4) and is for the poor (Y 34:3):
O Mazda, Thine is the kingdom, and by it thous bestowest the highest of blessings on the right-living poor. Y 53:9
He is the friend, protector and strengthener and is unchangeable (Y 31:7), is the Judge (Y 43:4) and the day of Judgement (Y 43:5-6). He invites Zoroaster to proselytize:
With the tongue of thy mouth dost thou speak, that I might make all the living believers. Y 31:3
Herodotus says the Persians valued, almost above all, the fathering of children perhaps because the Persian nobility were a limited body of people. This would explain the biblical command to multiply, the reason being the same—that the “returners” were not populous, and the temple needed bodies to attend it and feed the priesthood who would collect the tribute. Along with it went a practical disdain of homosexuality, putting Persians and Jews at the opposite pole from Greeks and, under Christianity, rendering for two thousand years a natural aspect of sexuality as a sin.
Herodotus also tells us that the Medes and Persians did not make images of their gods or temples or altars. He is comparing the Persians with the Greeks who had a great fondness for elegant statues of gods and goddesses in equally elegant temples. Certain Achaemenid buildings are thought to have been fire temples, and open air altars with recesses apparently for the fires have been found, but the supposed temples remain doubtful. Herodotus adds that the Persians and Medes worshipped in the open air in high places or at the top of mountains and so addressed Ahuramazda in heaven directly, thus needing no temples, icons or statues.
Assyrian records show that no images were captured when Medes were defeated in battle or when Median towns surrendered. Persians made bas-reliefs rather than statues on their royal palaces sometimes of kings, their subjects and mythical animals but apparently not of gods. The typical winged fravashi image of Ahuramazda as found on the Behistun monument seems to belie Herodotus, but the monument was not, of course, a temple, and the Persians seem to have simply adopted the convention of the Assyrians for showing heavenly approval of their kings and the spirit of God as a witness to national inscriptions. This winged disc or figure seems not to have been for knee bending purposes.
Thus even the absence of the god Yehouah in representation is an inheritance from the Persians, though the scriptural descriptions of the temple suggest the Jews did have a representation or representations of their god in the Holy of Holies of the Jerusalem temple—it seems to have looked like the symbol of Ahuramazda on monuments!
Kings and Chronicles are considered pre-Persian, but the term “Cities of the Medes” appears twice in Kings. These books are about the succession of worthy and unworthy kings of Israel and Judah, but amid their lives and deaths appear no surmises about their ultimate destination—in heaven or hell. God is depicted as contending with a generally unreliable people who persistently fall into worshipping gods called Baals and Asherahs that are really devils. The Ten Commandments contains no mention of a Last Judgement.
The religion of the ancient Canaanites knew of no Last Judgement.
The future existence of souls after death was as dim in the pre-exilic bible as it was in the older Greek classics—in fact this latter, the Greek immortality, seems to show rather the more of animation.
L H Mills
In the bible, before the fall of Jerusalem, the concept of death was Sheol, a dark and dismal place with no memory of God. There is no clear mention of any hope of immortality before parts of second Isaiah that are obviously late. In the oldest Zoroastrian writings, the Gathas, dating to about 1000 BC, heaven—the Best Life—was already a reward for righteous living. After the Persian conquest the concepts of heaven and hell emerged in Judaism and the Jews had a doctrine of resurrection and judgement for all. The “dry bones” of Ezekiel recalls the Persian custom of leaving the dead to be picked by birds in towers, so that they do not defile the earth, after which they could be resurrected. Yasht 19:80f speaks of immortality beyond the end of time, and, the later, Pahlavi books agree on a general resurrection of the body as well as the soul at the End.
Zoroastrianism is the main document of our eschatology, a fact which should be taken everywhere for granted, as the slightest examination would confirm it.
L H Mills
The whole system of the Most High God, the angels, immortality, resurrection, judgement, heaven, hell and a saviour all appear in the Persian period when colonists in successive waves went to Palestine from places in Persia. There is no sign of such a sophisticated system before the Babylonian conquest, so it just arose with no native antecedents, or it had non-native antecedents.
From start to finish we have everywhere in Zoroastrianism, the main points of our eschatology. There was no other lore of the period of the oldest Avesta which so expressed the doctrines almost in modern terms.
L H Mills
2 Kings 22:8 and 22:13 purport to say that the book of the law was found in the reign of Josiah (622 BC) and that before then the Israelites, kings and priests had had no knowledge of the law. Even accepting it as it stands no traces of any previous law books of the Israelites could have remained, even if there had been some, so the Jewish religion could not have started until then, only 100 years before the Persians sent in colonists. It disproves the existence of literacy, and thereby disproves the existence of any grand temple. The temple would have had scribes to copy the holy books!
In fact, the book of the law was written by Persian colonists and retrojected into the reign of Josiah to give it some history, covering up the reality that it had been written by the “returners”.
Holy Spirits and Saviours
Ahuramazda has a Holy Spirit that sometimes seems to be him and at other times seems to be independent. This is identical to the Holy Spirit of Yehouah that has the same characteristics. It is not the only spirit of Ahuramazda however—there are six others, making seven in all. Yehouah has seven archangels. In the Book of Tobit the seven spirits appear at Ragha, the Zoroastrian Holy City, and one of them is called Raphael, the Jewish archangel! Tobit also has the name of an Avestan demon, Asmodeus. Zechariah 4:10 speaks of “these seven” that are the eyes of the Lord, and earlier had been the imagery of seven lampstands that appears again in Revelation. There again also are the seven spirits of God.
Mithras appears in the Talmud as Mittron (Metatron). This angel is not mentioned as such in the scripture but is seen as the “Angel of the Presence”, a role that Mithras seemed to have in Persian religion, possibly accounting for Mithras replacing Ahuramazda in the Persian religion that came west. The “Angel of the Presence” is God himself appearing in a form that can be looked upon by humans beings without terminal sunburn. He is also “one whose name is like that of his master”. “Who is like God?” is the meaning of the name Michael. It confirms what might have seemed plain anyway, that Michael is Mithras (Mica in Old Persian).
In Zoroastrianism, a spotless virgin conceives from the preserved semen of Zoroaster when she bathes in the lake where it has been preserved, and remains a virgin because she is not penetrated. She thus becomes the virgin mother of the last Saoshyant or saviour. This is according to the Bundahish which is late, but the elements of it can be seen in parts of the Avesta (Y 13:142, 19:92, 13:62) so, although alteration cannot be counted out, some similar legends existed in the earlier period.
The Jewish Messiah became a Saviour similar to the Iranian Saoshyant, in the shape of a future King of Israel who would save his people from oppression. Apologists try to make out that the Jewish idea of a Saviour did not come from Persia but came from their anguish of exile in Babylon and the covenant relationship they had with Yehouah that promised them his protection if they remain righteous. Yet the whole argument is manifestly anachronistic.
The writers of Matthew want to imply, through the introduction of the visiting Magi, that Jesus is the Saoshyant of the Zoroastrians, as well as the Christians. The Saoshyant:
…shall make the world progress unto perfection, and when it shall be never dying, nor decaying, never rotting, ever living ever useful, having power to fulfil all wishes, when the dead shall arise and immortal life shall come… Y 19:83
Compare this with Isaiah 26:19:
Thy dead men shall live, together with my dead body shall they arise. Awake and sing, ye that dwell in dust: for thy dew is as the dew of herbs, and the earth shall cast out the dead.
The Persians, like the post-exilic Jews, believed the soul remained with the body for three days—a dead person was not really dead until the fourth day when the soul had departed. This explains why Jesus was to rise on the third day. It also shows that the raising of Lazarus was an afterthought. The greatness of the miracle of raising Lazarus in the fourth gospel is that he had been dead for four days. His soul had departed and he was beyond recall. One would have thought that Jesus would have saved this exceptional miracle for himself.
In their religious habits, as described by Herodotus, the Persians were especially concerned with purity.
G M Cook
Here we have the origins of the Jewish purity laws. The cleanliness laws regarding animals given by Ezra to the Jews are recorded in Leviticus and Ezekiel where they are not explained. They are explained in the Vendidad. Purification rituals are identical in the Pentateuch and the older Vendidad. Von Gall in Brasileia tou Theou, 1926, catalogues the Jewish laws taken from the Persians.
The Jews would not burn their dead, supposedly because it was a desecration of the dead, but really because their teachers, the Persians, did not want to desecrate the flame. The Jewish priests could not even approach a grave, the defilement of death is so strong, and had to be buried in the front row of a cemetary so that their relatives did not have to pass other graves to visit those of their family. If the Jews considered dead bodies as so thoroughly unclean, why should they have been bothered about desecrating them by cremation? In common sense, such a vile pollution ought to be purified by fire, since fire was regarded as the ultimate purifier. What we have is an imperfect rationalization from the Persian refusal to contaminate fire.
The dead bodies of Jews were put into a sepulchre to decay, and later the bones were collected into ossuaries. The sepulcre or tomb served the same purpose as the Silent Towers of the Persians in which they left their dead to be picked by birds, so as not to contaminate any of the elements. In both cases, the soft parts of the dead body were allowed to disperse and the bones collected later. Both also treated the corpse with waxes or unguents but did not go so far as to embalm them, like the Egyptians.
The Persians would not burn sacrifices to Ahuramazda—that too desecrating the sacred flame. Zoroaster seems to have forbidden sacrifices anyway, but they never seem to have been successfully stopped. But pollution of the sacred living flame was not allowed. Sacrifices were not burnt but boiled in the open air to offer a sweet scent to God. Sure enough, offering a sweet savour to god rather than sacrificing also appears in the Jewish scriptures, and was followed by the Essenes into gospel times suggesting that sacrificing was a post-Persian adaptation, or perhaps a reversion to the ancient practice of the priests of Baal, from post-Alexandrine Greek influences.
Ministering to the sacred flame also seems to have gone in post-Persian times. Strabo describes the Magians of Cappadocia, where they were popular, ministrating to the sacred flame with bunches of herbs in their hands and with their mouths covered so as not to pollute it. The Magi had an important position in society but were not of the highest class and were not represented on Persian royal reliefs. Once the Persian ruling elite had been destroyed by Alexander, the Magians became more important in some of the former occupied lands of the Persians.
The Magians known to the Greeks and referred to by Herodotus, Plato, Strabo, and Plutarch, were not orthodox followers of the Persian prophet. They were the priests of certain religious colonies established in the west of Iran during the age of the Achaemenids, from Mesopotamia to the Aegean, and existing there up to the Christian epoch.A C Bouquet
Herodotus, writing about 450 BC, called the Magoi a “tribe” of the Medes, and Strabo called them a “tribe” of the Persians. Is it mere coincidence that the Levites are a “tribe” of the Israelites and end up as a Jewish priestly caste?—Jewish Magi! A tribe is a group pof people linked by blood—a clan—and both the Jewish and the Zoroastrian priesthoods were inherited. Both habitually wore white, whereas Iranian warriors wore purples, reds and other bright colours.
Few scholars would deny that the Jews had many of the central features of their religion from Zoroastrianism. They obtained from Zoroastrianism their beliefs in:
uncleanness and pollution;
angels and demons and their hierarchies—angelology and demonology;
the soul’s immortality;
the Last Judgment and the doctrine of the millennium;
rewards and punishments after death;
the heavenly book in which human actions are inscribed;
eschatology and resurrection;
the final purification of the earth;
a future state of a kingdom of God on earth;
The idea of a covenant with god was imposed on the “returners” from exile, who had to impose it on the native people of the Palestine hills. The Persians are repeatedly shown on their sculptures making covenants with Mazda or Marduk. Persian held covenant relationships to be binding as an aspect of truth and had Asha and Mithras to guard them. Both saviour and covenant came from the Persians, the saviour was Cyrus and the covenant was with Ahuramazda, the God of Heaven, renamed Yehouah for the Jews, whose representative on earth was the Persian king.
It is irrefutable that Judaism is a corruption of Zoroastrianism, and it ought to be widely taught as Professor Lawrence Mills repeatedly said a hundred years ago. That no attempt has been made by the Jewish and Christian religions, by teachers or by scholars, they are proved to be dishonest, and one can only conclude that they are intent on perpetuating the lies that their religions are original. If they are correct that there is one supreme God of goodness, they might be surprised to find he does not have the name they expect, and puts a greater value on truth than they do.
A Law for the Priests
Heavy taxation by the Persians impoverished the people of even rich countries like Babylonia. Herodotus, before about 480 BC, says the Babylonians were rendered so poor they had to prostitute their daughters. So, having a system of control of the population through the privileged class of priests was essential. The Babylonian priests brought astronomy to its peak under Persian rule, showing that they had plenty of money and time for arcane studies. The Jerusalem variety of holy spongers were equally privileged.
The law, for all its supposed basis in God’s justice, served as the mechanism by which the priests squeezed every last shekel out of the poor. The priests were entitled to:
every sin and trespass offering (Neh 18:9);
parts of other offerings (Lev 7:30-34);
the first fruits of the
the grape harvest,
the fig harvest,
the pomegranate harvest,
the olive harvest, and
the honey harvest (Dt 26:1);
in addition, “all the best of the oil and all the best of the vintage and corn” to make up between a sixtieth and a fortieth (Num 18:12);
of the remainder, a tenth had to be set aside for the lesser but more numerous temple functionaries called Levites, and the temples had to give a tenth of this to the priests (Num 18:20;
besides these, every twentieth loaf baked (Num 15:17);
every firstborn calf or its value in cash (Num 18:15);
a family’s first born son had to be “redeemed” at a month old by payment of 5 shekels (at least �50-100, about double in dollars) (Num 18:16)
of any animal killed for a family’s own consumption, “the shoulder, the two cheeks and the maw” (Dt 18:3);
a proportion of the wool sheared from a sheep;
any ox, ass, maidservant or manservant devoted to god (Num 18:14);
any restitution made for an injustice went to the priest when the person wronged could not recieve it (Num 5:5);
Just as in its daughter religion, Christianity, the tithes for the Jewish priests were extorted mainly by psychological power held by the priests through people’s fear of divine wrath. As it says in Ecclesiaticus:
Fear the Lord and honour the priest, and give him his portion, as it is commanded thee: the firstfruits, and the trespass offering, and the gift of the shoulders, and the sacrifice of sanctification, and the firstfruits of the holy things. Ecc 7:31
In the early days of the reformation, the people refused to co-operate because they rejected the Persian reforms, and Nehemiah and Malachi record them being taken to task (Mal 3:9; Neh 13:10). A few generations down the line when the reforms had taken root, prompt payment of the tithes was an important sign of piety! Attendance at church and rattling the platter or collection boxes with coinage plays the same role in Christianity. The apocryphal book of Judith tells us that the people were loathe to deny the priests their sanctified portions even during drought and famine (Jud 11:13)
Ezra’s major reform was the prohibition of “foreign” wives. The ethnic people of Judah were thoroughly mixed, and it was the policy of successive emperors to mix the populations even more. In legend, Solomon had been the son of a Hittite woman, Bathsheba. Both ethnic and religious mixed marriages had been the common practice among the small population of mixed people of the hill country, so why should Ezra have been uncommonly bothered about an age old habit?
For the people there were no racial rules but worship of Yehouah was the deciding factor concerning whether anyone was a Jew. “Jews” or “Yehudim” means worshippers of Yehouah. For “foreign” read non-Jewish and you realize Ezra’s complaint is that they are not worshippers of Yehouah. Ezra was not concerned about the racial purity of the people of Jerusalem but about their religious purity and the purity of the ruling caste of priests, the Jewish Magi. Marriages outside of Zoroastrianism violated Zoroastrian law (Denkard 3:80), so he purged from the priesthood any who could not prove that they were descended from purely Jewish families.
The Zoroastrians had the same distaste for the temptations of women as the Jews, to whom they gave it. A legitimate marriage in the Zoroastrian religion had to be between two Zoroastrians, performed by properly ordained Zoroastrian priests, and according to the Zoroastrian Ashirwad ceremony. The law given to the Jews was the same. To try to set up a pure religion, wives of the worshippers of Yehouah who worshipped some other god were banished.
For a Zoroastrian, illicit intercourse with a woman of a different religion was a dreadful sin, so heinous that the committer would not be resurrected at the End Time whatever good works they did in atonement. Consequently, men rarely did it. In the rare cases where they did, however, there was no excommunication—they would be punished in God’s Judgement. They were simply required not to pollute consecrated sites like fire temples.
If the woman became pregnant, several more sins might have been committed by the man. If she was menstrual, expiation of the sin by the man required extensive ritual cleansing. The Jews were taught the same neuroses about the uncleanness of menstruating females. If she was not menstruating, and not impregnated, the man still had to atone, because he had sinned by wasting semen—another sin that appears in the Jewish scriptures—onanism.
No law is specified for a Zoroastrian woman’s physical relationship with a non-Zoroastrian male, probably because, if the woman remained in the Zoroastrian community, the child would naturally be brought up as a Zoroastrian by his mother and her family, and would not if she left to stay with the Pagan man.
The Later Persian Kings
By the death of Darius II in 404 BC, the administrative structures erected by Darius the Great had been neglected. The satraps were out of control. They were local monarchs. When Darius II’s son, Artaxerxes II (404-358 BC), came to the throne the empire was in turmoil. Bithynia, Caria, Lydia, Lycia, Pisidia, Pamphilia, Cilicia, all asserted their independence in Asia Minor and so did Cyprus, Syria and Phœnicia. The Egyptians rebelled again under the Pharaoh Amyrteus and established home rule as the twenty eighth dynasty for sixty years. Now independent, the Egyptians destroyed the Persian military colony of Jews at Yeb and the Persian military colony of Arabs at Tell el Maskhuta, symbols to them of Persian occupation. Aramaic papyri discovered at Yeb prove that the colony was pro-Persian, one document being a copy of the inscription on the monument of Darius at Behistun.
Among the papyri were letters to Bagohi (governor of Yehud), and to Delaiah and Selamiah, sons of Sanballat, governor of Samaria (mentioned in Ezra-Nehemiah) which testify to the continuing existence of an unorthodox Jewish temple to the end of the fifth centuty. The temple serviced the garrison of Jewish soldiers pernmanently stationed there. At this point, Ezra will have replaced Nehemiah in the true order of events. What seems to have been another colony in the eastern delta of Qedarite Arabs (Tell el Maskhuta) has revealed a silver bowl inscribed to “Qainu bar Gashmu king of Qedar”. This Qainu seems to be son of “Geshem the Arabian” who was among those who opposed the plans for Jerusalem in the Jewish scriptures.
The pharaoh Nepherities I (399-393 BC) is the last king mentioned in the Elephantine letters, giving a close idea of when the Jewish colony was dispersed. To judge from an inscribed stone in Palestine, he even took back the coastal plain of Philistia, taking advantage of the civil war between the sons of Darius. The next pharaoh, Acoris, went further and, allied with the Cypriots, took control of Phœnicia. The Persian empire began to crumble as soon as the Jewish temple state was set up, but the Persians were not quite finished, yet.
Abrocammus, a new satrap of Abarnahara, with two others, Pharnabazus and Tithraustes, expelled the Egyptians from Abarnahara and restored the satrapy to Persia by 380 BC. The empire was teetering, however, and the instability was reflected in the fortunes of Palestine, which again succumbed to Egyptian incursions. Meanwhile the satraps also revolted. The Pharaoh, Nectanebo II (359-341 BC) was a thorn in the side of the Persians, fighting off the invasion of Artaxerxes III Ochus in 351 BC, then fomenting the rebellion in Phœnicia of king Tennes. Artaxerxes III Ochus (358-338 BC), however, was ruthless enough to to subjugate Egypt again, and he restored order in the empire. Artaxerxes reconquered Phœnicia in 345 BC, and sent the army under the rule of Bagoas, the satrap of Abarnahara, into Egypt which he conquered in 343 BC. Mazeus (Mazdi) was made satrap of Abarnahara, and held it until Alexander defeated the Persians. According to Josephus (Against Apion), the Jews rebelled in this time, presumably with the Phœnicians, and many were punished by expulsion to Hyrcania by the Caspian Sea, which was, or became, a center of Judaism.
Isocrates appealed to the Greeks to stop squabbling and unite against the Persians. It was Philip of Macedon who heard this call. The Macedonians were not ethnically Greeks but had adopted Greek culture and were not exhausted by centuries of internal strife as the Greeks were. The Empire was looking strong under Artaxerxes III and the Athenians sought a separate peace though Philip wanted to stall. Safety necessitated that the Athenians be secured by conquest and so he and his son, Alexander, finished Athens off in 338 BC. The Persians under Artaxerxes, the king of the Anabasis, brought the Greeks to heel with the peace treaty of 387 BC, called “the King’s Peace”, dictated to them in Sardis, the satrapal capital in the West.
Artaxexes the Great King deems it just that the cities of Asia Minor and Cyprus and a few other islands belong to him, that other Greek cities… be autonomous… Whoever does not accept this peace, I shall make war upon him… with ships and with money.
The Greek cities accepted it! Alexander of Macedon, who was brought up as a Greek but was not one, took revenge for the Greek ethnos 55 years later, destroying the Achaemenian Empire, saving Europe from humiliation, and earning the sobriquet, “Great”, for his services to European honour!
According to Berossos, the third century BC priest and historian of Babylon, the Persians began to worship statues in defiance of Zoroaster’s explicit command that God was to be represented only by the flames of a sacred fire.
After a long period of time, they began to worship statues in human form, this practice having been introduced by Artaxerxes, son of Darius… who was first to set up statues of Aphrodite Anaitis, at Babylon, Susa, Ecbatana, Persepolis, Bactria, Damascus and Sardis, thus suggesting to those communities the duty of worshipping them. Berosus
Artaxerxes was a reforming king, approving four changes to Zoroastrianism, permanently altering its nature. As the changes survived, they were evidently popular among the people and the Magi:
the Zoroastrian calendar, still used in Moslem Persia
the Zurvanite heresy, popular until the end of the Sasanian Empire
the temple cult of divine images, popular until the end of the Parthian Empire
the temple cult of fire, continuing until today among the Parsis.
In his promotion of divine images, Artaxerxes II no longer reserved his praise for Ahura Mazda, but worshipped a Trinity—Ahura Mazda, Anahita (the Virgin, “Undefiled” or “Immaculate”), and Mithras. Plutarch paints Artaxerxes as a timid man. Parysatis, his mother, the Babylonian wife of Darius, dominated her son, and her favouring traditional Babylonian religious expression is usually considered responsible for the changes of Artaxerxes. At Persepolis he inscribed:
I built this palace by the wills of Ahura Mazda, Anahita and Mithra. May Ahura Mazda, Mithra and Anahita protect me from the Lie.
Artaxerxes II had put a Trinity of gods in charge. He promulgated the cult of the goddess, Anahita, and the empire was united from Sardis to Bactria under the cult of a Great Father and a Mother Goddess, who, together with Mithras, formed the trinity of father, mother and son. Traces persisted in Asia Minor until the time of Paul and helped Christianity to take root there so quickly. Roman sources give the source of western Mithraism as Cilicia in the south of Asia Minor, where Paul was traditionally born and brought up.
Anahita was the goddess of waters, and water was an element not to be defiled for Persians. Anahita will have retained her virginity by bathing in pure water, the message of the myth being that mortals should not defile a goddess. In a Greek myth, mentioned by Pausanias, Juno renewed her virginity by bathing in a magical fountain. Anahita was paradoxically identified with a Babylonian goddess and became Anaitis, a goddess who needed the restorative power of pure water, but was immensely popular. Aelian mentions a goddess who restored her virginity after every coitus by bathing in a fountain located between the upper Tigris and Euphrates, where Zoroastrians considered were some of their holy places. She must have been Anahita.
Oleg Basirov notes that the classical writers Heraclitus of Ephesus (c 500 BC), Herodotus (c 490-445 BC), Cicero (54-44 BC), and Strabo (63 BC-19 AD) all agreed that the early Persian kings were aniconic in their worship, and had no built temples. Heraclitus admired this stance, ridiculing men who prayed to statues. Herodotus admired them for the same reasons. Cicero says
Persians considered representation of sacred statues in human form a wicked custom,
and that Xerxes thought the Athenians sacrilegious…
…to keep the gods, who dwell in the whole universe, shut up within walls
To counter the images being introduced, the orthodox Zoroastrians seem to have introduced or re-introduced the fire temples. The Magi obviously realized that aniconism was unpopular, or the people were unable to worship satisfactorily without some focus. Fire was a divine element that could provide the focus without actually being an image. It had come from Asha Vahishta—effectively piety or righteousness—and the old Iranian fire god, Atar, and had long been venerated as sacred by the Iranians, even being acceptable to the prophet. Zoroastrian qualities seem fluid, constantly flowing from one to another, and here is a spiritual element, flowing out of an abstract quality, and a physical element via an ancient god, which looks like a form of truth or arta again! Fire thus becomes the force of arta, order, truth, honesty, righteousness, literally the cosmic moral standard which regulates the good creation. No magus was likely to dissent, since the cultivation of permanent fires gave them additional work, and the whole distinguishing feature of the fire of a fire temple is that it is everlasting!
Inscribed above the mausoleum of Darius the Great, and copied by other shahs, the king is shown bowing before a fire burning on an alter. It is a scene which became symbolic of Persian culture common to Persian inscriptions, coins and seals. It shows the deep respect the Achaemenids had for for fire as a symbol of their spirituality. Deep fire holders have been found in Persia, like the ones shown. The fires were kept blazing permanently, except when a king died, when they were doused, and, according to Diodorus, new ones were ignited for the new shah. Scholars like Boyce have concluded that the new emphasis on fire temples, in the time of Artaxerxes II, were an orthodox backlash in opposition to the blasphemy of the Queen Mother and her sons.
For Artaxerxes’ brother, Cyrus, certainly promoted Anahita in the west. It begins to look as if the brothers were following their mother, Parysatis’s, lead in worshipping the goddess, presumably with the approval, if not the open support, of Darius. If this is so, Darius might well have been ready to let Yehouah, the Ahuramazda-like god being imposed on the Yehudim, retain his age old consort, Asherah. If so, she was erased later. The king’s son, Artaxerxes III, rejected Anahita and worshipped only Ahuramazda and Mithras. An ambiguity in the cuneiform script of an inscription of Artaxerxes III at Persepolis would make it possible to argue that he regarded Father and Son as one person, suggesting that the attributes of Ahuramazda were being transferred to Mithras, and suggesting another identity of Zoroastrianism and Christianity.
Regarding the Zurvanite heresy—the theme of a God of Time was fashionable in the Mediterranean in the last few centuries before the birth of Christ. Modern Zoroastrians, according to Rashna Ghadially on CAIS, think Zurvan was at first the God of Time in Phœnician tradition around the seventh and sixth centuries BC, and was brought into the Persian realm of religious thought around the reign of Artazerxes II in 400 BC. It equates Zurvan with Chronos whom many think was El, and Iao (Yehouah), a god of the year, who became a Gnostic god. Some scholars, such as S F G Brandon, think earlier Aryan invaders of the ANE, such as the Mitanni, had a God of Time, so the influence could have been from the Aryan tribes to the Semitic Canaanites.
A God of the Year is quite logically the father of two seasonal sons (and suns), the sun of the summer and the sun of the winter, one good and one evil, which is which depending on location. This dualism is characteristic of Persian religion, but some think it was introduced by the Zurvanism of the time of Artaxerxes. Brandon seems more correct. It seems to have been older in origin. It is a good explanation of the origin of dualism, and Zoroastrian dualism extends right back into the Gathas. It does not mean, of course, that there could not have been a resurgence of Zurvanism at this time.
The two principles were not equal, arta and druj, and therein was the problem. What seemed to differ was the emphasis. Ahura Mazda with arta would prevail, but needed the commitment of everyone good to eschew the Lie, so Zoroaster emphasized the need of people to do good deeds, whereas the Zurvanite approach placed the emphasis on destiny. If Ahura Mazda would prevail, then it was destiny and human endeavour was incidental. Each human must also have been destined to be good or a liar. It no longer seemed to offer any proper moral options. No doubt it was not so simple. The Essenes had the best of both worlds, and that might have been the Zurvanite approach. Essenes believed people were destined all right, but even destiny could be tipped at the edges by human will. A devil could not be made into a saint, but by yielding a little of his devilishness helped the victory of the Good. These marginal differences made all the difference in the End.
During the Sassanian era, Zurvanism flourished and Zurvan was accepted even by priests as a supreme God, though Ahuramazda remained the good God, and the chief God in religious practice.
The Calendar—Feasts and Dates
The Achaemenians originally had numbers instead of names for the days of the month. Artaxerxes II (405-359 BC) dedicated each day and month to a divine spirit (Y 16:3-6), and appointed a year of twelve months with thirty days each. Each month had four weeks, the first two of seven days and the last two of eight days. Saturday was “Shanbeh”, the same word as “Sabbath”. Four days were devoted to Dadvah (Creator) Ahuramazda, acknowledging Zurvan—the god of time or the year, considered to have four parts (perhaps the four quarterly festivals). Later, the first of the four days was named after Ohrmuzd, and the other three after him as Creator, Dai (Pahlavi for Dadvah). The three “Dai” days are distinguished by adding to each the name of the following day, eg “Daibe Adar”.
The twelve months also received dedications, which coincide with those of twelve of the days. The month names are first attested in Pahlavi (Middle-Persian). Names of the months in New-Persian are:
The year begins at the vernal equinox (Hamaspathmaidhaya, “Middle of Equal Paths”) on 1 Farvardin, about 21 March, the summer solstice is on 1 Tir, about 22 June, the autumnal equinox is on 1 Mehr, about 23 September, and the winter solstice is on 1 Dai, about 22 December.
Names of the days:
Avestan Pahlavi (Mid-Persian) New-Persian English
Dadvah Ahura Mazda Ohrmuzd Urmazd Creator Lord Mazda
Vohu Manah Vahman Bahman Good Thought
Asha Vahista Ardvahisht Ordibehesht Best Truth
Khshaetra Vairya Shahrevar Sharivar Desirable Dominion
Spenta Aramaiti Spendarmad Spandarmaz Holy Devotion
Haurvatat Hordad Khordad Wholeness
Amertat Amurdad Amordad Immortality
Dadvah Ahura Mazda Daipad Adar Daibe Azar Creator
Atar Adar Azar Fire
Apo Aban Aban Waters
Hvar Khshaeta Khvarshed Khur/Khir Sun
Mah Mah Mah Moon
Tishtrya Tir Tir Rain Star
Gaush Urvan Gosh Gush Bull Soul, Existence
Dadvah Ahura Mazda DaiPad Mihr Daibe Mehr Creator
Mithra Mihr Mehr Contract
Sraosha Srosh Sorush Hearkening
Rashnu Rashn Rashn Justice
Fravashyo Fravardin Farvardin Progress force
Verthraghna Vrahram Vrahram Victory
Raman Ram Ram Peace
Vata Vad Bad Wind
Dadvah Ahura Mazda Daipad Din Daibe Din Creator
Daena Din Din Inside Vision
Ashi Ard Ard (Ashi) Truth
Arshtat Ashtat Eshtad Justice
Asman Asman Asman Sky
Zam Zamyad Zamyad Earth
Mantra Spenda Mahraspand Mantraspand Holy Word
Anagranam Raochangha Angran Anaram Eternal Light
The Old Avestan calendar became the religious calendar of the followers of Zoroaster everywhere, including the communities in the south and west. The Pagan Aryans seem to have divided the year (yar) into two seasons, a summer season from the spring equinox to the autumn equinox, and the winter from autumn to spring. The same practice is found in India, testifying to its Aryan origin. The Vedic system, consisted of two equal parts, two ayanas, either divided at the solstices (“uttarayana” and “daksinayana”), or divided at the equinoxes (“devayana” and “pitryana”). In Iran, two festivals marked the beginning (“maidyoshahem”) and the middle of the year (“maidyarem”). Yasht 8:36 speaks of the whole of life watching after the end of the year for the heliacal rise (mid-July) of Tishtrya (Sirius, heralding the rainy season). And elsewhere in the Avesta, the season beginning at the “maidyarem” is described as “the cold bringer”, so it spans winter. “Maidyarem” would therefore be the autumn equinox, and the year began in spring (cf K R Cama). Tir, when Tishtrya rose, was the fourth month (June-July) and Ahuramazda the seventh (September-October), the beginning of the second half year (mid-year).
Today, the seventh month is Mihr which is a name of Mithras, suggesting that Ahurahmazda is Mithras! But even calling it Ahuramazda shows it was a name given to it in the period of the acceptance of Zoroastrianism. It cannot have been its original name. Seeing Ahuramazda as Mithravaruna, the compound noun uniting the two half year seasons into a single god of the year would logically account for the month Ahuramazda being at the mid-year, where the two half years join. It also means Ahuramazda is a multiple god, like the Hebrew Elohim, which means “gods”, and the Christian Trinity! The first day of each month was also called Ahuramazda, suggesting he was like Janus, the opener and closer, looking forward and back. That might imply that the Zoroastrian year originally began at the autumn equinox. Then, the vernal beginning was a later harmonisation with Babylonian practice. Even every week began with a day named after Ahuramazda, so every week began with a Lord’s day.
The feast of Baga, originally a pre-Zoroastrian and old Aryan feast consecrated to the sun god, was a great and popular festival in ancient Iran. It was connected with the worship of the oldest Aryan deities, called by the compound Bagamithra, who were noted as far back as the fourteenth century BC. Baga was identified in the Rig Veda as Varuna, the twin of Mithras, so Bagamithra means the two gods, but the Iranians came to see Mithras as the Baga, as if Bagamithra stood for Mithras with the title Baga. The festival’s place in the calendar must have been the month dedicated to Baga, and later to Mithras. It was called “Bagayadi” or “Bagayadish” and corresponded to the Babylonian month Tishritu, the patron of which was Shamash the Babylonian sun god, who according to Stuart Jones, is identified with Mithras on a tablet in the library of Assurbanipal. This month might have been that of the earlier Iranian New Year festival, when the year began at the autumnal equinox. So, “Bagayadi”, the same month as the later “Mithrakana” and the modern “mihragan” or “mihrjan”, was the feast of Baga, originally the autumnal equinox. The feast of Baga seems to have been celebrated for five days, and five days were intercalated at mid-year to make the year fully 365 days. Herodotus’s story of five days’ uproar after the Magi of Smerdis were killed, suggests it was at this feast.
In Babylon, long before under Hammurabi, the beginning of the civil year was transferred from Tishritu to Nisan, from autumn to spring. The first month of the Babylonian year, Nisan, could start between 24 March and 23 April, according to van der Spek and Mandermakers. So, the Babylonian year began at the vernal equinox when the Iranian year had its New Year at the autumnal equinox. But a calendar of the Babylonian type was adopted early by the south-western section of the Iranian people, who were influenced by the civilizations of Elam and Assyria-Babylon. At some stage, the Achaemenian kings fully adopted the Babylonian calendar, with its luni-solar year, and Babylonian month names, except perhaps in the beginning of the year. A compilation by Thompson, called Reports of the Magicians and Astrologers of Nineveh and Babylon, has a passage where two different dates, Nisan and Tishri, spring and autumn, are mentioned as the beginning of the year. When the Persians ruled in Babylon, there was confusion between the two systems, the compromise being the acceptance by the Persians of a religious and a civil year, as in the Babylonian and Jewish calendars.
Artaxerxes II supervised the introduction of a new calendar, suggesting that he was consciously involved in religious innovation. The old calendar already had some intercalary days, but the original Persian names for the months had been changed to Babylonian ones. The Babylonian calendar had been introduced into Egypt by Darius, and it seems that the modified calendar of Artaxerxes was based on the Babylonian one. The reform of the calendar was to adopt a regular solar year of twelve thirty day months, with five intercalated days, to change the names of the days and months to Zoroastrian ones, and possibly to fix some of the feast days. The calendar of the Essenes seems to reflect it.
The Babylonian calendar had 360 days of twelve months of 30 days. Contemporary Babylonian texts speak of months of thirty days, and even of a year of 6 60 day “months” in Babylon, perhaps an attempt at rationalisation to match their counting system. But Babylonian business documents kept months of standardised thirty days, though the religious calendar seems to have been a luni-solar one. It is no accident that the number of days in a year equalled the number of degrees in a heavenly cycle. The shortfall from the full 365 days was made up by intercalation of the odd days. The Persian calendar was the same because Artaxerxes was reported to have had 360 concubines, one for each day of the year. Presumably his wives were intercalated!
In this scheme, the months and even the days on the month had names taken from yazatas. The tenth month, December to January, was the month of Ahuramazda (as Creator, “Dadvah” or “Dai”), but Mithras had the seventh month (September to October) when he had the great autumn festival. The spring festival was the important New Year festival for Zoroastrians, beginning on “No Roz” (Norouz), New Day in Persian. The Babylonian calendar began in Nisanu (Jewish, Nisan—March to April) at the corn harvest and required an “akitu” or ritual placing of the images of the gods from the temples to the outside of the city boundaries. It was therefore a festival full of pageantry lasting a week. The Persians seem to have copied the whole festival, although for them on the plateau it was at sowing time not harvest time, and they made it their New Year festival. The six seasonal feasts of the Pagan Iranian calendar were rededicated to the Amesha Spentas.
So, the Persians took the ceremonial of their annual renewal festival from the Babylonians, though Old Iranian religion had celebrated the birth of Mithras (Mitra, Mihr, Mica). The Babylonians believed that order that came out of chaos with the defeat of the monster of chaos, Tiamat, by Marduk. Marduk was identified with Mithras. Disorder and chaos ruled at the beginning of the festival, then over its twelve days, representing the twelve months of the year, considered also to stand for twelve periods of long time (millennia), order was restored via bonfires, lights and a succession of rituals, processions and religious dramas. On one of the days chaos is mimicked by a reversal of the normal positions of people in society. Masters became servants, and servants masters. Mithraists took this celebration into Rome after the wars with Macedonia, where it merged with and modified the Saturnalia, the festival of an old rural fertility god. Here began the long-lived tradition of the Lord of Misrule with the coronation of a mock king. Lamps were lit to make the spirits of darkness flee.
The strange story in the book of Esther, was probably written in its present form about 100 BC, as most of the present Old Testament was. The Persian monarch, Ahasuerus (Xerxes), drops the queen, Vashti, and marries Esther, a Jewish woman. This alone is highly important. Neither Zoroastrianism nor Judaism permitted mixed marriages. The king must have regarded a Jewish woman as a Zoroastrian for the marriage to be legal! The implication here therefore is that Judaism and Mazdayasnaism were considered the same religion by the Persian prince and by the Jewish author. The closeness of the relationship between Israel and Persia is indicated by the Semitic words in the later, Pahlavic parts of the Avesta. No such intrusions are found in the Yashts and the Vendidad and obviously therefore not in the Gathas.
Esther’s cousin and foster-father, Mordecai (Marduk), warns the Persian monarch that people are plotting against him. A Persian Grand Vizier, Haman, who opposes Mordecai, convinces the monarch to decree death against Mordecai and other Jews in his empire, selected by lot, on a certain date. Esther, intervenes, and the Grand Vizier is instead hanged (crucified?—crucifixion was the Persian punishment) and Mordecai is appointed Grand Vizier. Instead of being killed themselves, the Jews slay seventy-five thousand of their enemies.
The legend justifies a Jewish feast, the Feast of Lots, held at the Persian New Year, celebrating the Jewish escape and the massacre of their enemies. Yehouah has no role in the story, and the characters are all historically fictitious except for the king. Esther is the goddess Ishtar (Anahita). Mordecai means Marduk (Merodach), who we saw is Ahuramazda and therefore also Yehouah. Haman oddly enough is the king again in another guise (perhaps standing for the king of the old year) because the royal family name Achaemenides in Greek is Hakhamanish in Persian. The story is said to be based on a Persian tale about the shrewdness of Harem queens.
The description in the story of the parade through the streets in royal robes, and of mock combat, features in the Persian New Year celebrations, when the old year lost in mock combat to the New Year and was hanged or crucified. The Jews took this New Year celebration, like the rest of their religion, from the Persians and then had to find a reason for it—much as Christians found reasons for celebrating Pagan festivals as Christian holidays. The Persian and Jewish New years were at the spring equinox—Easter (Esther) to us!
The older autumn festival was again dedicated to Mithras, the Babylonian festival to Shamash being held in October. At “Mithrakana” or “Mihragan”, kings distributed winter clothes. A festival was dedicated to Tiri in June when the festival of Tammuz was bewailed, because it was the start of the Babylonian dry season when plants died off in the heat. The link of Ishtar with both Tammuz and Nabu allowed the Iranians to see Tiri as Tammuz. At Tiragan people bathed in rivers. These were not among the Holy festivals Zoroaster prescribed. At the Adar-jashns they lit fires in their houses, and, at Sada, they lit mid-winter bonfires, to nourish the sun and initiate his strengthening. A grand bonfire was particularly placed near a stream to warm its waters in anticipation of spring.
“Sada” preserves the meaning of the festival, for it is “the hundredth”, the hundredth day from the end of the Zoroastrian winter—which had contracted from a full half year to only five months, from the beginning of Aban (October-November) to the end of Esfand (February-March). This uneven division of the holy year seemed to have given mystical significance to the numbers seven and five. Here too is a hint of the division of the year into pentacosts (fifties), winter neatly dividing into three of them. Summer did not divide so neatly, four pentacosts with a remainder of ten. The extra days might have been combined with the five intercalated days to give the New Year holy festival which needed twelve days to represent the twelve epochal millenia of Zoroastrian cosmic time.
The feast of “hamaspathmaidyem” was in the last days of Esfand, the end of the year. It was connected with a religious ceremony, perhaps including a remembrance of the dead. Originally at the end of the month Azar (November-December) and immediately before the month Dai (December-January), was a festival of the souls (fravashis) of the departed. It corresponds precisely with our All Souls and All Hallows eves. It must have been the original New Year feast at the end of the summer at the autumn equinox, but was transferred in its importance to the beginning of summer at the spring equinox.
So, the Iranians had notable feasts in the spring and the autumn. The spring festival welcomed back the growth of herbage, and the autumn one was the Mithrakana, a harvest festival for the end of the current season and a fertility festival for the coming spring dedicated to Mithras. A sacrifice of a bull to Apollo was made at the Athenian Bouphonia. It will be the practical source of the bull-slaying images in Roman Mithraism, though the myth accounting for it drew on the heavenly Perseus astride the bull Taurus. However, since all domestic animals return to the Ox-soul, any could be used for sacrifice depending on the circumstances. With a different intention, it seems a bull was sacrificed to Anahita too, but here to promote human fertility. In Sasanian times, Mithrakana was the one time when the king could get drunk. Having settled, it seems the Persians had two new years, one in the spring and one in the autumn, but they celebrated other festivals including the solstices. The Jews had different years too:
One the first day of Nisan is the beginning of the year for kings and festivals. On the first day of Elul is the beginning of the tithing of cattle. On the first day of Tishri for the beginning of years, and for the sabbatic years and the jubilee years, for the plants and the vegetables. On the first day of Shabat is the beginning of tree-fruit. Mishnah
So the Jews had four new years, but the religious one in spring was the most important one in a theocracy, and Rosh ha-Shanah in the autumn preserved the old harvest festival, as the occasion when creation is judged by God.
Herodotus says Persians had no temples, altars or statues of gods, and by Greek standards, that was true. In Achaemenian times, Persian processions were led by an empty chariot drawn by white horses. It was for Ahuramazda. A similar habit is recorded in Urartu, but in Assyria, the chariot carried an image of the god, Ashur or Ishtar. Zoroastrian worship was al fresco—all altars in Persia being, usually in pairs, in open country—but, under the first Achaemenids, temples had appeared in Persia to preserve the sacred flame. Xenophon describes the procession, led by sun chariots, that took the sacrificial animals to the paired altars where they were sacrificed before the king.
The Iranians always used the winged disc which originated in Egypt as a symbol of Horus in the third millennium BC so Herodotus was only relatively correct about this, and from the time of Artaxerxes, statues of Anahita became popular. The many sun names like Surya, Asura, Ahura, Aura, Huar, Hvar, Khor, Hor, Ra and words for gold (Aureus, Or), derived from its bright sun-like colour, betray a common origin and perhaps the winged disc accompanied it. Note that many of these words came to mean a “lord”, and the word “hero”, and names like Hercules will have the same origin, not to mention words like “har” meaning “high” or a “hill”.
The solar disc spread through the near east in the second millenium when Egypt was its most imperial. Standing for the pharaoh who was the sun god incarnate, it came to represent royalty and thence power. In Assyria a figure appears in the disc carrying a bow or a ring in one hand while saluting with the other. The Persians took the motif from the Assyrians. Yasht 19 explains the significance of Xvaranah, an Old Iranian divinity, represented as a raptor, who was adapted to stand for the fravashi of the king or, some think, Ahura Mazda himself. It therefore hovered over the king in symbolic scenes on inscriptions. Bronze objects from Urartu had this symbol in a form thought close to that of Darius’s monument at Behistun, the earliest Persian example. The word Hormuz (Ormuz, from Ahuramazda) still exists in use for the straits in the Persian Gulf, an island and a town.
Alexander and the Persian Heritage
Darius III at Issus
Bagoas poisoned Ochus in 338 BC, then after the short reign of Arses (338-337 BC), Darius III Kodomanes (Codomannus) (335-330 BC) became the last of the Persian shahs whom Alexander defeated in 333 BC, when he fled and was killed in 330 BC. While he was seiging Tyre, Alexander had to suppress a revolt in Samaria. Josephus says the Samarian religion was reformed by someone called Manasseh at this time. Despite the antagonism between the Jews and the Samarians, Nehemiah informs us that the noble priestly houses of Judah had many bonds of friendship with the Samarian noble houses. According to 2 Kings 17, they had a religion of Yehouah but of other gods also. It sounds closer to the original religion of the Israelites.
In fact, the author of 2 Kings tells us that the Assyrians had carried off the inhabitants of Israel and replaced them by deportees from the north of Abarnahara, who brought in their own gods and so did not “fear the Lord”. The Assyrian king sent a priest of Yehouah to instruct the deportees in the religion of the land.
The puzzling aspect of it all is that these people were supposedly not Israelites, so why should they have been bound by Yehouah’s covenant with the Israelites? The truth is, of course, that not all the Israelites had been transported out by the Assyrians. Indeed, the story suggests that the Assyrian king was doing what Cyrus and Nabonidus did later—he sent a priest to train the natives in the proper worship of the “god of the land”. Here we might have the origin of the earliest stories of “return” in the bible—the “return” of Abraham and his family who came from just that part of the Assyrian empire.
They seemed to take only partial notice of their instructor, if we are to believe the scriptural account, for they continued to worship their own gods as well as Yehouah, doubtless, the gods of the fathers! As in Judah, it worked only partially, and the Assyrians did not keep power long enough to enforce it.
The Persians doubtless aimed to transform worship to the Lord of Heaven in Israel as well as Judah, but the Samarians accepted it more readily having been primed by the work of the Assyrians. If the Samarians more readily accepted the Torah and abandoned the old polytheism, there was no need for all the Persian propaganda that had to be published as prophetic pseudepigraphs to show the Am ha Eretz the error of their ways. Thus none of this got into the Samaritan bible.
Nehemiah 13:28 has it that the son of the Jewish High Priest, Joiada, married the daughter of Sanballet, the Samarian governor, and so Nehemiah expelled him. Some commentators think that this young man reformed the Samarian religion, introducing the Pentateuch and temple worship on Mount Gerizim, and so equates with the Manasseh of Josephus, though the dates are a century out. The Sanballat of Nehemiah is confirmed by letters from the temple at Elephantine dated 407 BC in which two sons are mentioned, each having a name ending in Iah, indicating that Sanballat worshipped Yehouah. This early date makes Josephus wrong, but Sanballat might have been a title so, there were probably successive ones.
The Samarians murdered the Macedonian governor. Samaria was destroyed by Alexander in retaliation, and Alexander made Samaria into a military colony occuppied by Macedonian veterans. The Jews were delighted.
Alexander at Issus
Persia and Greece were rivals to influence the world, Persia by a political empire and commerce and Greece by a cultural empire and commerce. Only political empires stop at boundaries so the Greek sphere and the Persian sphere always overlapped considerably, geographically in Asia Minor, but Greek traders, artisans, and soldiers and generals as mercenaries, moved around the Persian Empire. The Persian rulers were far sighted and sponsored Babylonian science. Naburimanni, an astronomer at the time of Darius, calculated tables of lunar eclipses that were more accurate than those of Ptolemy or even Copernicus.
Furthermore, Kidinnu, another astronomer in the fourth century BC, two centuries before Hipparchus, discovered the precession of the equinoxes and calculated the length of the year accurate to 7 minutes 16 seconds. The discovery of the precession of the equinoxes gave authority to the Persian view of the universal god as a sun beyond the sun—a god beyond the heavens that moved the heavens themselves! This became the basis of Platonic philosophy and the beliefs of the Mithraists.
After Alexander, the Persian religion was left with no political base, so information from earlier sources is especially valuable in knowing the nature of Zoroastrianism originally. Unfortunately, Magian ceremonies were held without anyone not of the faith permitted to observe, not at first for any reason of secrecy, but for purity reasons. Non-believers were impure, or at least likely to be impure. Greeks reporters were therefore dependent on what the Magi told them or translated for them from their sacred books. The Magi were keen on proselytizing, but they were subject to a government ministry which directed religious affairs, and this ministry will have had its own political agenda, doubtless with the syncretistic aims of making it easier for collaborating foreigners to associate with the True Belief.
The most important effect the Persians have had on the world is from their policy of creating new local cults on the model given by Zoroaster but based on an old existing cult. They set up the cult of Yehouah in the temple in Jerusalem based on the universal god, Ahuramazda. Their aim was to present the emperor, known as the “king of kings”, as the representative approved of the Universal God on earth. The Universal God was therefore the “king of the king of kings”. Yehouah has this very title (the Alenu Prayer), a title that we can hardly expect even liberal Persian kings to tolerate unless they were happy that Yehouah was Ahuramazda! The Jewish scriptures are copper plated evidence of the success of this Persian policy. Cyrus is incessantly praised.
The Rev G F McClear, sometime warden of St Augustine’s, Canterbury, writes in his New Testament History:
As subjects of the Persian kings, the Jews were eminent for their loyalty and good faith. While Egypt, Cyprus, Phoenicia, and other dependencies of the Persian crown, were frequently in rebellion, the Jews remained steadfast in their allegiance to the “Great King”, and increased rapidly alike in wealth and numbers.
This fidelity to the Persians even led Jaddua the High Priest to defy Alexander for a time. As Alexander approached, having seiged and razed Tyre, the priest was lucky enough to have a dream telling him to greet Alexander! He garlanded the city and went forth in his priestly finery to welcome the conqueror. Alexander was as shrewd as Cyrus, however, and fell prostrate before the priest in adoration at the holy name inscribed on his tiara (a Persian head dress), and declared he had seen it all in a vision. In fact, he must have been fully aware of the loyalty of the Jews and of the reasons for their loyalty. He offered to bestowe on the Jews any privilege they might select. McClear concludes:
They requested that the free enjoyment of their lives and liberties might be secured to them, as also to their brethren in Media and Babylonia…
Alexander agreed, but note that there were enough Jews not only in Babylonia but also at the heart of the Persian empire, in Media, to merit a special mention. These were the three lands whose gods, albeit of different names, the Persians certainly considered as “the God of Heaven”.
From these political manoeuvres came Judaism, Christianity and Islam, all the important patriarchal religions. The Persians and Greeks rather than the Jews and the Greeks were the founders of the western world.
Alexander’s burning and vandalism of Persepolis has always been considered inexplicable. He had read his history and Alexander aimed to do what Cyrus and Darius had done. He was always generous to enemies who yielded readily or caused him little trouble. He burnt Tyre for forcing him into a long seige but otherwise burning cities was out of character. The Persians had surrendered readily after their major defeat at Issus in 333 BC and Alexander’s campaign in the west.
A mosaic recovered from Pompeii dating from the first C BC showing Alexander on horseback to the left, partly obscured by damage, fighting his way through to the Persian king Darius III on his chariot to the right at the battle of Issus.
Darius III repeatedly offered terms to Alexander, increasingly generous terms, virtually amounting to surrender, but Alexander refused. He overcame token resistance at Gaugamela and the Persians folded. He entered Persepolis and dallied there for four months, offering to train 3000 Persian princes in the techniques of the Greeks, before destroying the city. It seems so odd to some historians that they say it must have been an accident caused by drunken carousing, of which Alexander was fond. Was it a deliberate act of vandalism because the Greek scholars that Alexander took with him found the essence of Greek scholarship already in the sacred writings of the Persians, showing the Greeks as well as the Jews were indebted to their enemies?
In the east, Iran lost Arachosia and Gandhara under Seleucus I to the Indian Mauryan empire. These lands of ancient Iranian settlement, had been re-colonized in Achaemenid times. Inscriptions there from the third century BC were written in good Persian chancellery Aramaic. They also could speak Northwestern Prakrit, and these eastern Iranians will have passed Zoroastrianism into India where it inspired Mahayana Buddhism
In the second-third centuries AD, Bardesanes wrote of “the descendants of Persians who lived out of Persia” as being still numerous and maintaining their traditional customs in Egypt, Phrygia, and Galatia. Zoroastrian sanctuaries still existed in Asia Minor, the oldest being at Zela in Pontic Cappadocia, founded in the sixth century BC by Cyrus the Great or his generals. As the Iranians worshipped in high places, the sanctuary was on a hill, banked up higher and encircled by a wall. Later this was one of the temples to Anahita, frequently attested in Asia Minor, and which show the Persian influence there. In the fourth century AD, many villages in Cappadocia were still populated by Iranians.
Traces of them in Egypt are mainly names only, but a mithraion—presumably a Zoroastrian sanctuary—is mentioned from the third century BC in Fayoum, and “Basilios the Persian” practiced in his community some form of Zoroastrianism in the fourth century AD. Temples let expatriate Iranian communities keep their identity by offering them centers for religious and social life. They also attracted pilgrims for their annual feast-days, bringing together Iranians from elsewhere. Persian Sibyllist oracles were also known, conveying Persian prophecies and expectations.
Christians suppressed Persian temples in western Asia Minor when they gained power after the third century AD, but Khusrau I Anushirvan negotiated with a Byzantine emperor, as late as the sixth century, to have fire temples rebuilt, probably in Cappadocia.
Temple and Diaspora
The Persians seemed to have meant the Hebrew people to have been all of the nations of Abarnahara. The temple was set up in the Palestinian hill country but was meant to be for the whole satrapy. The plan never had the time to take hold before Alexander conquered the Persians—less than a century. The religion had caught hold, especially in the temple state which it financed, but it never had time to unite the various people of Abarnahara into an ethnos. The Jewish priesthood were left in charge of an immensely valuable asset, the temple and therefore the religion, and the wider ethnos of the Hebrews was identified with the Jews of Yehud. Paradoxically, all of those who worshipped Yehouah were now Jews (Yehudim) whether they had ever been associated with Yehud or not. Many had not. So, already at the start of the Hellenistic era, Jews were widespread in Abarnahara and even beyond.
The Persians had encouraged all of those Canaanites and Babylonians who were devoted to Ea, Yah, and Yehu to accept the primacy of the temple state, and had provided a history which explained why they should—the diaspora of Samaria—and why their religion had needed restoration—it had become corrupted through being separated from its cult centre. Thus worshippers of Yehouah everywhere were persuaded they had been led in apostasy and adopted the Persian line that they should join the “remnant” who had remained pure. In Babylonia and even in Iran, many people worshipped Ea and thus became Jews. Even at its outset, Judaism had a diaspora! Before long Phoenician Jews carried the religion into Carthage in north Africa and to large merchant cities in the Mediterranean like Rome.
Judaism was a worldwide phenomenon in a remarkably short time, but it was the Egyptian Ptolemies who stimulated the extension of the scriptures from the relatively short and simple legends left by the Persians when they offered to translate them into Greek to add them to the Alexandrine Library in the third century BC. Much of it was freshly written or extended by redactors working to a Ptolemaic, pro-Greek, anti-Seleucid Babylonian agenda, claiming that the Greek archives allowed them to vastly expand the sketchy notion of Moses, the Jews at first had.
In the second century BC, the Maccabees re-nationalised what had been intended as a universal religion by the Persians. They claimed, as usual, to be puritans trying to keep the religion free of the Hellenization that was supposed to have been forced on them. Needless to say, they were not, but continued the Hellenization, though the nationalization of the cult must have dismayed the more catholic Jews now spread out over the world and thoroughly Hellenized out of necessity. Their dismay became the basis of a newly universalistic Judaism. It was Christianity.
The justification of religious reform is often presented as the need to get back to a more original purer religion. The Persians pretended that their own utterly new set of laws called “The Law”, or now Deuteronomy, had been found and implemented by Josiah 200 years before. It was not true, but was written up in the propaganda history that they were preparing to give the new colony an identity. The Persian colonists were restoring the reforms that Josiah had already introduced but the apostates who had remained in the land, the Am ha Eretz, had undermined. Could any faithful worshipper of Yehouah contradict this?
Certain epigraphic changes dated to the time of Josiah are taken as evidence of the reality of Josiah’s reforms such as the preference for “yhw” in the south instead of the northern form “yw”. Unfortunately, the dating of everything in the Palestinian hills has been botched by the Albright school who refused to accept that anything happened after the exile. They dated everything as pre-exilic, leaving huge gaps in the strata and epigraphy after the supposed “Return”. Many inscriptions like these therefore have to be dated afresh and many will be found to be post-exilic, in the Persian period, when they were thought to have been pre-exilic and attributed to people like Josiah. So, the form “yhw” might be evidence of Persian not earlier Jewish reform.
Anyone who believes the biblical history must wince at Yehouah’s awful injustice to Josiah. He followed instructions to reform the apostate religion, did it successfully, then God sent the Jews into captivity anyway because it apparently was not enough to make up for the apostasy of Manasseh.
Significant archaeological changes usually accompany a conquest or major regime change, they rarely occur with no strong cultural reason accompanying them. While, it is not impossible that Josiah effected a significant reform, it looks unlikely with the record of deviant rulers in both Israel and Judah, and when a clear reason for archaeological changes immediately follows when the Persians send colonists to take over. Indeed, the archaological boundary that ought to be obvious is when the “Returners” return! Even in the biblical scheme of things that ought to be the obvious archaeological break point.
In any case, Josiah never succeeded in centralising the cult in Jerusalem, though it was supposed to have been an important aim, yet that is precisely what the Persians did, albeit not in the times of Cyrus and Darius I as the tendentious biblical history makes out, but in the time of Darius II, who in fact is the biblical Darius, not Darius the Great. An ostracon found at Arad refers to a local “temple of Yehouah”. Curiously, an honest and iconoclastic investigator, like Garbini, who willingly accepts that the crux of Jewish history was the “Return”, can sneer at those (“though of course there are not many of them”) who argue that only the Persian institution of Judaism makes historical sense out of the confusion caused by the spurious history in the bible.
Syncretism and Temple States
Massoume Price in The Iranian confirms that Zoroastrianism made a place for certain foreign gods as helpers of Ahuramazda. The ruling principle was the advancement of reliable communities and the punishment of disloyal ones. Persian kings were ruthless with rebellions, including ones by the Persian satraps and members of the royal household. Groups which rebelled were punished irrespective of race or religion. The Jews were usually loyal and so were prosperous.
Other temple communities were set up besides the Jewish one—Cyprus, Cilicia, Lycia and other places in Asia Minor had their own temple states. Even such remote tribes as the Arabs, Colchians, Ethiopians and Sakai had. The Achaemenian administration allowed them all to keep their religions with apparently little interference but had a chancellery minister of religions, and it is inconceivable that he did not aim to regularize worship to suit imperial policy. The case of Egypt is revealing how discreet the Persians were. Egypt was under Persian domination from 525 BC to about 405 BC, and then from 343 BC to 332 BC. The Egyptians rebelled several times, and Egyptologists think the shahs from Xerxes were disillusioned by Egypt, and paid it little attention. Egyptian civilization was assumed to have continued essentially unaffected by the Persian conquest, and the lack of Persian material evidence in Egypt was taken to corroborate the idea.
A remarkable find in the Western Desert in Egypt shows that the Persians had a policy of regional development. South of the Khargeh Oasis, in the region of Dush, Michel Wittmann excavated an entire buried village at Ayn Manâwîr, assiduously publishing reports every year. Its water came from more than ten qanats (Persian underground canals) discovered there. Perhaps it was intended as a temple state, the temple of Hibis having been built there by Darius, and an undiscovered temple of Osiris was also unearthed. In the temple of Osiris were found hundreds of precisely dated archival ostraca written in demotic. Archaeological and written sources were found together, allowing the texts to date the pottery exactly. The documents themselves are private contracts, drawn up among Egyptians. Not a single Iranian or Persian personal name has yet been found in them, though they are dated by the regnal years of Xerxes, Artaxerxes and Darius, probably Darius II. Thus, the documentation of Ayn Manâwîr covers the entire fifth century BC, which is now particularly well documented. Moreover, for the first time, specialists can certainly date qanats to the Achaemenid period. Previously, qanats were known from the Hellenistic historian Polybius, who writes about Iran:
In this region of which I speak, there is no water visible on the surface, but even in the desert there are a number of underground channels communicating with wells unknown to those not acquainted with the country… At the time when the Persians were the rulers of Asia they gave to those who conveyed a supply of water to places previously unirrigated the right of cultivating the land for five generations… people incurred great expense and trouble making underground channels reaching a long distance. Histories, 10:28:2f
Polybius explicitly credits the shah’s governments with a plan of stimulating regional development. For investing money and labour in bringing the land under cultivation, local communities had free use of it for five generations. Unlike the Babylonian administrators, the Persians were keenly interested in what went on in the empire, but they were astonishingly discreet about it.
Ayn Manâwîr is a village that was created by the Persians, and using a technology that only they had, the qanat, but were happy to share. Surveys show that other nearby sites also had water supplied by the same method at that time. Together with the temple built by Darius, the archaeology suggests a grand plan of regional development. It is reminiscent of the Persian planning of the temple state of Yehud. Ultimately the purpose was trust, control, and improved economics, to make for good governance and a flow of taxes into the regional treasuries, the very aims of the temple states.
Persians occupied the highest positions in each temple state, giving them control of the cultural, legal and administrative traditions of the conquered nations. Nominally, these ethnic and religious minorities followed their own legal code in personal matters such as marriage and family law. The conquered people were given land allotments in exchange for taxes and military service. Among these settlers were all groups such as Babylonians, Aramaeans, Jews, Indians and Sakai. In Susa itself, besides the local population and the Persians, there were large numbers of Babylonians, Egyptians, Jews and Greeks.
After the conquest of the Achaemenian empire by Alexander, the Seleucid Greeks and Parthians followed the same policies. All the main cities had Persian, Aramaean, Babylonian, Greek, Christian and Jewish temples. The Jewish chronicles mention the Parthian period as one of the best in their history. Jews enjoyed a long period of peace and had close contacts with the government. Centers of Jewish life in the Parthian empire were in Mesopotamia at Nisibis and Nehardea. A representative called the “exilarch” represented the Jewish minority at court and also carried out functions of a political-administrative nature. Jews took an active part in organizing the silk trade, supported by the kings and started a community in China.
Philo and Flavius Josephus documented the earlier relations between Jews and Parthians. The Jews took part in the rebellions against Trajan in Mesopotamia (116 AD), adding to their unpopularity in the Roman world after the Jewish War of 66-70 AD, and shortly, in 132-135 AD, they were to rebel under Bar Kosiba and finish up evicted from Jerusalem, taking many Jewish refugees into the Parthian empire.
In the reign of the Sassanid dynasty from 205 AD until the conquest of the Muslims in 651 AD, oppression of rival religions to Zoroastrianism began. Kidir, the chief Mobad (priest) under King Bahram II (276-293 AD), promoted Zoroastrianism in the empire and persecuted other religions. He declared:
The false doctrines of Ahriman and of the idols suffered great blows and lost credibility. The Jews (Yahud), Buddhists (Shaman), Hindus (Brahman), Nazarenes (Nasara), Christians (Kristiyan), Baptists (Makdag) and Manichaeans (Zandik) were smashed in the empire, their idols destroyed, and the habitations of the idols annihilated and turned into abodes and seats of the gods.
All of these were religions that had been regarded as Juddin, acceptable, in earlier times, and had syncretized enormously with Zoroastrianism.
It is a curious revelation that a large number of Jews, in spite of the freedom given by Cyrus, refused then to return to Palestine, as they refuse today, and Jewish scholars tell us that those who remained in Babylonia looked on themselves as the pick of the Jewry. The 87th psalm when it is unravelled, is a protest that the Lord counts a man born at Babylon as much a Jew as a child of Jerusalem. Jewish learning flourished there, and one of the rabbis lays it down that to live in Babylon is the same as to live in the Holy Land.T R Glover
Judaism was the religion of the Juddin, a syncretic religion for cooperative people set up by the Persians. Yehud was set up as the center of it, and their presence elsewhere was explained by the Babylonian captivity. Few of them wanted to return to a place they had never known, but they accepted Yehud as their origin, the Temple priesthood as their leaders, and the myths planted by the Persians as their own. By the time of the Sassanids, they had forgotten or abandoned the earlier policy of syncretism in the fear that the children were overwhelming the parent.
Persia and the Essenes
Habakkuk Scroll from the caves at Qumran
Zoroastrian parallels with the Qumran documents are huge. The Damascus Document condemns those who enter the New Covenant but then leave to join the Liar. The Habakkuk Commentary enlarges on the theme of the Liar, telling of trouble within the community when the Liar secedes from the order and comes into conflict with the Teacher of Righteousness. In 2 Corinthians 11:31, Paul is insistent that he “does not lie” apparently answering an unpleasant criticism of him. The choice of language in these instances stems from Zoroaster.
The Qumran Community was an apocalyptic sect. They were expecting the end of the world just like Zoroaster. The Jewish messianic ideal of a Deliverer came from Persia. The Enoch Literature is Persian of about the fourth century BC. Apocalypticism seems to owe everything to Persia and the flavour of Persian religion on Judaism stems largely from the apocalyptic writers. The Qumran library proves that Apocalypticism was a considerable movement in Judaism not merely a fringe interest. Christian theologians used to believe that the anticipation of God’s kingdom to come was uniquely Jesus’s message. Now we see it was hundreds of years old, had come out of Persia with Cyrus’s “returners” and had been perpetuated by the Essenes.
A dualistic doctrine was almost unknown to the Jews. Jacques Duchesne-Guillemin notes, in the Encyclopaedia Iranica, that the doctrine of two spirits was only sporadically attested in Jewish literature. In Judaism, the spirits under God’s command were not always good. God sent an evil spirit between Abimelech and the citizens of Shechem, and Saul was troubled by an evil spirit after the “spirit of God”, and presumably therefore good, departed from him.
The Qumran documents speak of Good and Evil, Light and Dark, the Way of Darkness and the Way of Light, the Spirit of Darkness and the Spirit of Light, The Children of Darkness and the Children of Light, Truth is Light, Falsehood is Darkness. The Teacher of Righteousness is opposed by Belial, the Demon of Evil. The Way of Good leads to salvation, the Way of Evil leads to torment. Of the four gospels, John reflects this terminology most accurately showing its Essene links. Good and the evil spirits are opposed to each other, in apocryphal, Christian, and rabbinical work. In the apocryphal Gospel of Judas (second century AD), three spirits appear!—the spirits of truth and error that serve men, and “in their midst is the spirit of intelligence, able to turn wherever he chooses”. In Hermas, the holy spirit and the evil spirit dwell together in man. But, the Manual of Discipline (Community Rule) of the Dead Sea Scrolls has a short account of the two spirits. The fact that God created all things is followed by, “God created all things”, then:
He created man to have dominion over the world and made for him two spirits, that he might walk by them until the appointed time of his visitation. They are the spirits of truth and error. In the abode of light are the origins of truth, and from the source of darkness are the origins of error. In the hand of the prince of lights is dominion over all sons of righteousness. In the ways of light they walk. And in the hand of the angel of darkness is all dominion over the sons of error. And in the ways of darkness they walk. And by the angel of darkness is the straying of all the sons of righteousness, and all their sin and their iniquities and their guilt, and the transgressions of their works in his dominion… But God in the mysteries of his understanding and in his glorious wisdom has ordained a period for the rule of error, and in the appointed time of punishment he will destroy it forever. And then shall come out forever the truth of the world.
These words call to mind the Zoroastrian doctrine of the two spirits, as embodied in the ethical and eschatological dualism of the Gathas. But the Qumran works are not slavishly gathic in origin. Thus the good and evil spirits are identified with with light and darkness respectively, a later doctrine. The critical difference is that, in the Gathas, Zoroastrian doctrine specifies free choice, but the Qumran sectarians seemed to believe in predestination. Now the thesis presented on these pages is that Judaism was a religion imposed on the people of Canaan by the Persians, to oblige them to be obedient to the Shahanshah. Obedience cannot involve choice, so the imposed religion could not be the same as the Zoroastrian religion of the Persians themselves, which did. Thus one vital difference between the religion of the masters and the religion they imposed on their subjects was this very matter of free choice. The subjects had none. They were obliged to accept what God had prescribed for them, and to disobey it was eternal death and torture. It seems that the Gospel of Judas was making an attempt to reintroduce the ideal of choice with its the notion of the third spirit of intelligence.
Duchesne-Guillemin explains that the identity of the spirits with light and darkness is an invention of Zurvanism, usually considered to be a later development of Mazdayasnaism. The Zurvanists held that the two spirits, Ohrmuzd (light) and Ahriman (dark), were created by a supreme God of time, Zurvan. Zurvanism prevailed in Iranian religions in the first century BC when the Essenes were active. Along with this change, predestination replaced free choice. Josephus wrote:
The sect of the Essenes holds that Destiny is master of all things and that nothing happens to men but what has been decreed by it.
The Dead Sea Scrolls generally confirms this, clearly regarding life as a lottery:
According to each man’s inheritance in truth he does right, and so he hates error, but according to his possession in the lot of error he does wickedly in it, and so he abhors truth.
Thou has cast for man an eternal lot.
But they seemed to try to square the circle by making choice possible too in that by choosing righteousness, men could overcome the destiny written for them.
Duchesne-Guillemin goes on to say that the Middle Persian word “menog” has meanings strikingly similar to the meanings of the Hebrew word “ruach”, used in the sectarian documents for:
the two spirits,
the two opposing forces in man,
various other human characteristics or abilities.
Apparently citing R C Zaehner’s Zurvan, a Zoroastrian Dilemma, Duchesne-Guillemin writes:
The complex of notions associated with the idea of “menog” forms part of a coherent system in Iran, and stands in complementary opposition to the term “getig”, while in Judaism the development… never comes to form anything like a coherent system.
Ahuramazda had forethought whereas Ahriman had none, the only distinction between them. Ohrmuzd knew the destiny of the world but his opposite did not. A description of God in the scrolls is El de’oth, the God of knowledge, suggestive of the origins of Gnosticism. A fifth century Armenian creation myth has Zurvan addressing Ahriman with the words:
I have made Ohrmuzd reign above thee.
Some such justification must have been used to make Ahuramazda into the God of the spirit (menog) while Ahriman remained the god of the material world (getig), thus cementing the base of Gnosis.
At Qumran, the present age is dominated by the evil spirit:
So shall they do year by year all the days of the dominion of Belial… And [the world] has wallowed in the ways of wickedness in the dominion of error until the appointed time of judgment which has been decreed.
There is also a single allusion to belief in physical resurrection, a Zoroastrian doctrine, in the Qumran scrolls, in hymn 17:
For the sake of Thy glory Thou hast purified man of sin… that… he may partake of the lot of Thy Holy Ones. Bodies gnawed by worms may be raised from the dust to the counsel [of Thy truth]… that he may stand before Thee with the everlasting host.
Philo is thought to have been close to the Essenes and their brothers and sisters, the Therapeutae. Yet, Philo’s religious allegories are considered to have been influenced by the Gathas, with which they have significant similarities. The six Dunameis of Philo, sort of angelic rays of god linking him with the world, are the Amesha Spentas. They fill the world with God’s presence and keep it in harmony. He calls them the six Cities of Refuge, which links the concept with the romance of Joseph and Aseneth, Aseneth being interpreted as meaning “City of Refuge” after her return from apostasy to the Jewish god.
Philo was influenced by Persia just as the Essenes were, though western scholars in their usual arrogance have tried to make out that the Persians were influenced by Philo! Mills was more honest:
Philo drank in his Iranian lore from pages of his exilic Bible, or from the Bible books which were as yet detached, and which not only recorded Iranian edicts from Persian kings, but which themselves were half made up of Jewish-Persian history. MIL-ZPAI
When God says: “Let us make man”, (Gen 1:26) Philo rationalizes the “us” as God addressing his Dunameis. Philo made the creative instrument of god, the Logos, as an aspect of the Father, but there were other Logoi who had roles akin to those of the Amesha Spentas. Plato had the same idea, god leaving the creation to a craftsman, the Demiurgos. There is not the least reason why these ideas should not have derived from Persian religion.
The Essenes used a solar calendar of twelve months of 30 days. The Persians used a similar calendar, the difference only being that the remaining five days were all collected together in the manner of the Egyptians rather than the Essenes. The year started at different dates for different purposes, just as the Jews had a religious year and a commercial year starting at different times in the year. The Persian reformed calendar is thought to have been introduced in 441 BC (or 481 BC). So, Ezra or Nehemiah could have brought it as part of their reforms to Yehud.
The Persians considered leprosy a severe punishment for falsehood, for “lying against the sun”—breaking a promise. The Essenes might have used the same terminology, regarding the Jerusalem priesthood as breaking their promises given to God, and therefore being called lepers.
Christianity as a Mithraic Cult
Christianity adopted these doctrines from the pro-Persian factions—baptism, communion (the haoma ceremony), guardian angels, the heavenly journey of the soul, worship on Sunday, the celebration of Mithras’ birthday on December 25th, celibate priests that mediate between man and God, the Trinity, Zvarnah—the idea that emanations from the sun are collected in the head and radiate in the form of nimbus and rays, and asha-arta, “the true prayer”. Centuries later in Greece this became Logos or “true sentence” and like in Persia it was associated with fire.
Mithraism is widely considered to be a syncretistic religion, that is, a combination of Persian, Babylonian and Greek influences. However, the Greek influence seems to be limited to the identification in Greece of Mithras with the Greek god Perseus. The Babylonian influence is said to have been astrology, but the Persians were also interested in astrology. Zoroastrians worshipped at altars on hills and had a whole class of professional Magi or priests who had lots of time on their hands to do astrological research.
Rather than a syncretistic religion, it would be more proper to call Mithraism a Zoroastrian subcult or heresy. The center of the Mithraic cult was in Tarsus in Cilicia, Southeast Turkey. This is whence Paul, the founder of the Christian church, came as a young man. By one of the perpetual coincidences of Christianity, the popular festival of the Mysteries of Mithras were celebrated at the spring equinox.
The New Testament was written, 300 years after the Persian empire, yet it is remarkably Persian in some of its crucial terms.
“King of Kings” and “Lord of Lords” were Persian titles for their Shahanshah—literally, King of Kings
Paul insisted that the women of Corinth should wear a veil in church, but he called it an “exousia” or an “authority”. This was the name of the veil worn by Persian women to show they were under the authority of their father or husband.
The agent of the Persian king was the “man sent” by him—his “apostle!” Only the man sent directly from the court of the Shah at Susa could override the authority of the satrap. In this sense Ezra was certainly an apostle.
John’s gospel calls an official, refered to as a centurion in Luke and a Chiliarch (colonel) in Matthew, a Basilikos, or a “Royal”, a Persian rank.
Paul’s insight on the road to Damascus was that instead of treating Jesus as a false saviour, he could be identified as the true saviour if combined with the new idea of “the second coming”. That would cure the embarrassing fact that nothing had come of Jesus’s time on earth. The rest was simple, Paul identified Jesus with Mithras and taught a modified Mithraism. That got Paul branded as a heretic by the Jerusalem church and James the brother of Jesus. Mithraic ideas were so generally attractive that they eventually won out.
In 2 Corinthians 11:12-15, Paul criticizes the archapostles as disguising themselves as “Servants of Righteousness” and uses the sentence “Satan disguises himself as an Angel of Light” both betraying Qumran and therefore Persian influence and apparently deliberately used against the upholders of the Community tradition.
If Ahuramazda originally created two spirits, rather than simply being one of them created by Zurvan, he is responsible for evil in the world. He cannot be a purely good god, though the later development of the religion identified Ahuramazda with the Good Spirit. Christians like to think that their Father god, in heaven is purely good too, but they do not read their bibles. Amos asks:
Shall evil befall a city and Yehouah hath not done it?
The author of 1 Kings says it is Yehouah’s will to send a lying spirit into the mouths of 400 prophets.
Christians like to say that Zoroastrianism is dualist unlike their own monotheism, yet there is not the least difference in practice between them, and to invent doctrinal differences is pure sophistry. Judaism and Christianity postulate a good god opposed by an evil god but ultimately the good will triumph. All forms of Zoroastrianism are the same. However the good and evil came about is irrelevant. The fact that good will triumph is the encouragement to people to be good and finish up on the winning side, otherwise the three systems are entirely dualist in practice and everyone, as Zoroaster says, has an equal choice between choosing good or choosing evil.
Zoroaster accepted fire as the symbol of the divine, as the ultimate purifying agent. Jews and Christians can have no objection to this symbolism. Deuteronomy declares:
For the Lord thy God is a consuming fire, even a jealous God. Dt 4:24; 9:3
And to remind Christians Hebrews repeats it:
For our God is a consuming fire. Heb 12:29
Moreover, if Mithras, seen as the Holy spirit and also the sun, took on the attributes of Ahuramazda as a god beyond the sun, then the Jews must accept that at the time of Ezekiel and later still, if the Essenes are to be considered, themselves worshipped the sun:
He brought me into the inner court of the Lord’s house, and, behold, at the door of the temple of the Lord, between the porch and the altar, were about five and twenty men, with their backs toward the temple of the Lord, and their faces toward the east; and they worshipped the sun toward the east. Ezek 8:16
Christians have no need to feel superior because their most famous apostle essentially did the same:
Peter went up upon the housetop to pray about the sixth hour. Acts 10:9
The time given is noon, so Peter is praying at the highest station of the sun, a meaningful time for him to pray as it was to the Essenes, but otherwise an add place and time to pray. And it was so hot it gave him hallucinations. Elsewhere (Acts 3:1), the “hour of prayer” is the ninth hour. It seems likely that the Essenes marked each of the stations of the sun with hymns and prayers.
When, in his letters, Paul speaks of the third heaven:
I knew a man in Christ above fourteen years ago, (whether in the body, I cannot tell; or whether out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;) such an one caught up to the third heaven, 2 Cor 12:2
he is suggesting that there were different levels to the cosmos below the highest heaven. The Persians thought that there were seven levels or zones to the world, the seventh being the highest, whence our expression that bliss is being in seventh heaven.
If Christianity was revealed, it is time Christians found out properly when it was and who by.
The Rise of Persian Power
I will not dispute whether those ancient tales be true, of Io and Helen, and the like, which one or another have called the sources of the war between the Hellenes and the barbarians of Asia, but I will begin with those wrongs whereof I myself have knowledge. In the days of Sadyattes, king of Lydia, and his son Alyattes, there was war between Lydia and Miletus. And Croesus, the son of Alyattes, made himself master of the lands which are bounded by the river Halys, and he waxed in power and wealth, so that there was none like to him. To him came Solon, the Athenian, but would not hail him as the happiest of all men, saying that none may be called happy until his life’s end.
Thereafter trouble fell upon Croesus by the slaying of his son when he was a-hunting. Then Cyrus the Persian rose up and made himself master of the Medes and Persians, and Croesus, fearing his power, was fain to go up against him, being deceived by an oracle, but first he sought to make alliance with the chief of the states of Hellas. In those days, Pisistratus was despot of Athens, but Sparta was mighty, by the laws of Lycurgus. Therefore Croesus sent envoys to the Spartans to make alliance with them, which was done very willingly. But when Croesus went up against Cyrus, his army was put to flight, and Cyrus besieged him in the city of Sardis, and took it, and made himself lord of Lydia. He would have slain Croesus, but, finding him wise and pious, he made him his counsellor.
Now, this Cyrus had before overthrown the Median king, Astyages, whose daughter was his own mother. For her father, fearing a dream, wedded her to a Persian, and when she bore a child, he gave order for its slaying. But the babe was taken away and brought up by a herdsman of the hill-folk. But in course of time the truth became known to Astyages, and to Harpagus, the officer who had been bidden to slay the babe, and to Cyrus himself. Then Harpagus, fearing the wrath of Astyages, bade Cyrus gather together the Persians—who in those days were a hardy people of the mountains—and made himself king over the Medians, which things Cyrus did, overthrowing his grandfather Astyages. And in this wise began the dominion of the Persians.
The Ionian cities of Asia were zealous to make alliance with Cyrus when he had overthrown Croesus. But he held them of little account, and threatened them, and the Lacedæmonians also, who sent him messengers warning him to let the Ionians alone. And he sent Harpagus against the cities of the Ionians, of whom certain Phocæans and Teians sailed away to Rhegium and Abdera rather than become the slaves of the barbarians, but the rest, though they fought valiantly enough, were brought to submission by Harpagus.
While Harpagus was completing the subjugation of the West, Cyrus was making conquest of Upper Asia, and overthrew the kingdom of Assyria, of which the chief city was Babylon, a very wonderful city, wherein there had ruled two famous queens, Semiramis and Nitocris. Now, this queen had made the city wondrous strong by the craft of engineers, yet Cyrus took it by a shrewd device, drawing off the water of the river so as to gain a passage. Thus Babylon also fell under the sway of the Persian. But when Cyrus would have made war upon Tomyris, the queen of the Massagetæ, who dwelt to the eastward, there was a very great battle, and Cyrus himself was slain and the most part of his host. And Cambyses, his son, reigned in his stead.
Wars of Egypt and Persia
Cambyses set out to conquer Egypt, taking in his army certain of the Greeks. But of all that I shall tell about that land, the most was told to me by the priests whom I myself visited at Memphis and Thebes and Heliopolis. They account themselves the most ancient of peoples. If the Ionians are right, who reckon that Egypt is only the Nile Delta, this could not be. But I reckon that the whole Egyptian territory is. Egypt, from the cataracts and Elephantiné down to the sea, parted into the Asiatic part and the Libyan part by the Nile.
For the causes of the rising and falling of the Nile, the reasons that men give are of no account. And of the sources whence the river springs are strange stories told of which I say not whether they be true or false: but the course of it is known for four months’ journey by land and water, and in my opinion it is a river comparable to the Ister.
The priests tell that the first ruler of Egypt was Menes, and after him were three hundred and thirty kings, counting one queen, who was called Nitocris. After them came Sesostris, who carried his conquest as far as the Thracians and Scythians, and later was Rhampsinitus, who married his daughter to the clever thief who robbed his treasure-house, and after him Cheops, who built the pyramid, drawing the stones from the Arabian mountain down to the Nile. Chephren also, and Mycerinus built pyramids, and the Greeks have a story—which is not true—that another was built by Rhodopis. And in the reign of Sethon, Egypt was invaded by Sennacherib the Assyrian, whose army’s bowstrings were eaten by field-mice.
A thing more wonderful than the pyramids is the labyrinth near Lake Moeris, and still more wonderful is Lake Moeris itself, all which were made by the twelve kings who ruled at once after Sethon. And after them, Psammetichus made himself the monarch, and after him his great grandson Apries prospered greatly, till he was overthrown by Amasis. And Amasis also prospered, and showed favour to the Greeks. But for whatever reason, in his day Cambyses made his expedition against Egypt, invading it just when Amasis had died, and his son Psammenitus was reigning.
Cambyses put the Egyptian army to rout in a great battle, and conquered the country, making Psammenitus prisoner. Yet he would have set him up as governor of the province, according to the Persian custom, but that Psammenitus was stirred up to revolt, and, being discovered, was put to death. Thereafter Cambyses would have made war upon Carthage, but that the Phoenicians would not aid him, and against the Ethiopians, who are called “long-lived”, but his army could get no food, and against the Ammonians, but the troops that went were seen no more.
Now, madness came upon Cambyses, and he died, having committed many crimes, among which was the slaying of his brother Smerdis. And there rose up one among the Magi who pretended to be Smerdis, and was proclaimed king. But this false Smerdis was one whose ears had been cut off, and he was thus found out by one of his wives, the daughter of a Persian nobleman, Otanes. Then seven nobles conspired together, since they would not be ruled over by one of the Magi, and having determined that it was best to have one man for ruler, rather than the rule of the people or of the nobles, they slew Smerdis and made Darius, the son of Hystaspes, their king.
Then Darius divided the Persian empire into twenty satrapies, whereof each one paid its own tribute, save Persia itself, and he was lord of all Asia, and Egypt also.
In the days of Cambyses, Polycrates was despot of Samos, being the first who ever thought to make himself a ruler of the seas. And he had prospered marvellously. But Oroetes, the satrap of Sardis, compassed his death by foul treachery, and wrought many other crimes, whom Darius in turn put to death by guile, fearing to make open war upon him. And not long afterwards, he sent Otanes to make conquest of Samos. And during the same days there was a revolt of the Babylonians, and Darius went up against Babylon, yet for twenty months he could not take it. Howbeit, it was taken by the act of Zopyrus, who, having mutilated himself, went to the Babylonians and told them that Darius had thus evilly entreated him, and so winning their trust, he made easy entry for the Persian army, and so Babylon was taken the second time.
Persian Arms in Europe
Now, Darius was minded to make conquest of the Scythians—concerning which people, and the lands beyond those which they inhabit, there are many marvels told, as of a bald-headed folk called Argippæi, and the Arimaspians or one-eyed people, and the Hyperborean land where the air is full of feathers. Of these lands are legends only, nothing is known. But concerning the earth’s surface, this much is known, that Libya is surrounded by water, certain Phoenicians having sailed round it. And of the unknown regions of Asia much was searched out by order of Darius.
The Scythians themselves have no cities, but there are great rivers in Scythia, whereof the Ister is the greatest of all known streams, being greater even than the Nile, if we reckon its tributaries. The great god of the Scythians is Ares, and their war customs are savage exceedingly, and all their ways barbarous. Against this folk Darius resolved to march.
His plan was to convey his army across the Bosphorus on a bridge of boats, while the Ionian fleet should sail up to the Ister and bridge that, and await him. So he crossed the Bosphorus and marched through Thrace, subduing on his way the Getse, who believe that there is no true death. But when he passed the Ister, he would have taken the Ionians along with him, but by counsel of Coes of Mitylene, he resolved to leave them in charge of the bridge, giving order that, after sixty days, they might depart home, but no sooner.
Then the Scythians, fearing that they could not match the great king’s army, summoned the other barbaric peoples to their aid, among whom were the Sauromatians, who are fabled to be the offspring of the Amazons. And some were willing, but others not. Therefore the Scythians retired before Darius, first towards those peoples who would not come to their help, and so enticed him into desert regions, yet would in no wise come to battle with him.
Now, at length, Darius found himself in so evil a plight that he began to march back to the Ister. And certain Scythians came to the Ionians, and counselled them to destroy the bridge, the sixty days being passed. And this Miltiades, the Athenian despot of the Chersonese, would have had them do, so that Darius might perish with all his army, but Histiæus of Miletus dissuaded them, because the rule of the despots was upheld by Darius. And thus the Persian army was saved, Megabazus being left in Europe to subdue the Hellespontines. When Megabazus had subdued many of the Thracian peoples, who, indeed, lack only union with each other to make them the mightiest of all nations, he sent an embassy to Amyntas, the king of Macedon, to demand earth and water. But because those envoys insulted the ladies of the court, Alexander, the son of Amyntas, slew them all, and of them or all their train was never aught heard more.
Now Darius, with fair words, bade Histiseus of Miletus abide with him at the royal town of Susa. Then Aristagoras, the brother of Histiæus, having failed in an attempt to subdue Naxos, and fearing both Artaphernes, the satrap of Sardis, and the Persian general Megabazus, with whom he had quarrelled, sought to stir up a revolt of the Ionian cities, being incited thereto by secret messages from Histiseus.
To this end, he sought alliance with the Lacedæmonians, but they would have nothing to do with him, deeming the venture too remote. Then he went to Athens, whence the sons of Pisistratus had been driven forth just before. For Hipparchus had been slain by Harmodius and Aristogiton, and afterwards Hippias would hardly have been expelled but that his enemies captured his children and so could make with him what terms they chose. But the Pisistratidse having been expelled, the city grew in might, and changes were made in the government of it by Cleisthenes the Alcmæonid. But the party that was against Cleisthenes got aid from Cleomenes of Sparta, yet the party of Cleisthenes won.
Then, since they reckoned that there would be war with Sparta, the Athenians had sought friendship with Artaphernes at Sardis, but since he demanded earth and water they broke off. But because Athens was waxing in strength, the Spartans bethought them of restoring the despotism of the Pisistratidæ. But Sosicles, the Corinthian, dissuaded the allies of Sparta from taking part in so evil a deed. Then Hippias sought to stir up against the Athenians the ill-will of Artaphernes, who bade them take back the Pisistratidæ, which they would not do.
Therefore, when Aristagoras came thither, the Athenians were readily persuaded to promise him aid. And he, having gathered the troops of the Ionians, who were at one with him, marched with them and the Athenians against Sardis and took the city, which by a chance was set on fire. But after that the Athenians refused further help to the Ionians, who were worsted by the Persians. But the ruin of the Ionians was at the sea-fight of Lade, where the men of Chios fought stoutly, but they of Samos and Lesbos deserting, there was a great rout.
Marathon and Thermopylæ
Thereafter King Darius, being very wroth with the Athenians for their share in the burning of Sardis, sent a great army across the Hellespont to march through Thrace against Athens, under his young kinsman Mardonius. But disaster befell these at the hands of the Thracians, and the fleet that was to aid them was shattered in a storm, so that they returned to Asia without honour. Then Darius sent envoys to demand earth and water from the Greek states, and of the islanders the most gave them, and some also of the cities on the mainland, and among these were the Aeginetans, who were at feud with Athens.
But of those who would not give the earth and water were the Eretrians of Eubcea. So Darius sent a great armament by sea against Eretria and Athens, led by Datis and Artaphernes, which sailed first against Eretria. The Athenians, indeed, sent aid, but when they found that the counsels of the Eretrians were divided, so that no firm stand might be made, they withdrew. Nevertheless, the Eretrians fought valiantly behind their walls, till they were betrayed on the seventh day. But the Persians, counselled by Hippias, sailed to the bay of Marathon.
Then the Athenians sent the strong runner Pheidippides to call upon the Spartans for aid, who promised it, yet for sacred reasons would not move until the full moon. So the Athenian host had none to aid them save the loyal Platæans, valiant though few. Yet in the council of their generals the word of Miltiades was given for battle, whereto the rest consented. Then the Athenians and Platæans, being drawn up in a long line, charged across the plain nigh a mile, running upon the masses of the Persians, and, breaking them upon the wings, turned and routed the centre also after long fighting, and drove them down to the ships, slaying as they went, and of the ships they took seven. And of the barbarians there fell 6,400 men, and of the Athenians, 192. But as for the story that the Alcmæonidæ hoisted a friendly signal to the Persians, I credit it not at all.
Now, Darius was very wroth with the Greeks when he heard of these things, and made preparation for a mighty armament to overthrow the Greeks, and also the Egyptians, who revolted soon afterwards. But he died before he was ready, and Xerxes, his son, reigned in his stead. Then, having first crushed the Egyptians, he, being ruled by Mardonius, gathered a council and declared his intent of marching against the Hellenes, which resolution was commended by Mardonius, but Artabanus, the king’s uncle, spoke wise words of warning. Then Xerxes would have changed his mind, but for a dream which came to him twice, and to Artabanus also, threatening disaster if he ceased from his project, so that Artabanus was won over to favour it.
Then Xerxes made vast provision for his invasion for the building of a bridge over the Hellespont, and the cutting of a canal through the peninsula of Athos, where the fleet of Mardonius had been shattered. And from all parts of his huge empire he mustered his hosts first in Cappadocia, and marched thence by way of Sardis to the Hellespont. And because, when the bridge was a building, a great storm wrecked it, he bade flog the naughty waves of the sea. Then, the bridge being finished, he passed over with his host, which took seven days to accomplish.
And when they were come to Doriscus he numbered them, and found them to be 1,700,000 men, besides his fleets. And in the fleet were 1,207 great ships, manned chiefly by the Phoenicians and the Greeks of Asia, having also Persian and Scythian fighting men on board. But when Demaratus, an exiled king of Sparta, warned Xerxes of the valour of all the Greeks, but chiefly of the Spartans, who would give battle, however few they might be, against any foe, however many, his words seemed to Xerxes a jest, seeing how huge his own army was.
Now, Xerxes had sent to many of the Greek states heralds to demand earth and water, which many had given, but to Athens and Sparta he had not sent, because there the heralds of his father Darius had been evilly entreated. And if it had not been for the resolution of the Athenians at this time, all Hellas would have been forced to submit to the Great King, for they, in despite of threatening oracles, held fast to their defiance, being urged thereto by Themistocles, who showed them how those oracles must mean that, although they would suffer evil things, they would be victorious by means of wooden bulwarks, which is to say, ships, and thus they were encouraged to rely upon building and manning a mighty fleet. And all the other cities of Greece resolved to stand by them, except the Argives, who would not submit to the leadership of the Spartans. And in like manner Gelon, the despot of Syracuse in Sicily, would not send aid unless he were accepted as leader. Nor were the men of Thessaly willing to join, since the other Greeks could not help them to guard Thessaly itself, as the pass of Tempe could be turned.
Therefore the Greeks resolved to make their stand at Thermopylæ on land, and at the strait of Artemisium by sea. But at the strong pass of Thermopylæ only a small force was gathered to hold the barbarians in check, there being of the Spartans themselves only 300, commanded by the king Leonidas. And when the Persians had come thither and sought to storm the pass, they were beaten back with ease, until a track was found by which they might take the defenders in the rear. Then Leonidas bade the rest of the army depart except his Spartans. But the Thespians also would not go, and then those Spartans and Thespians went out into the open and died gloriously.
Destruction of the Persian Hosts
During these same days the Greek fleet at Artemisium fought three several engagements with the Persian fleet, in which neither side had much the better. And thereafter the Greek fleet withdrew, but was persuaded to remain undispersed in the bay of Salamis. The Peloponnesians were no longer minded to attempt the defence of Attica, but to fortify their isthmus, so that the Athenians had no choice but either to submit or to evacuate Athens, removing their families and their goods to Troezen or Aegina or Salamis. In the fleet, their contingent was by far the largest and best, but the commanding admiral was the Spartan Eurybiades. Then the Persians, passing through Boeotia, but, being dispersed before Delphi by thunderbolts and other portents, took possession of Athens, after a fierce fight with the garrison in the Acropolis.
Then the rest of the Greek fleet was fain to withdraw from Salamis, and look to the safety of the Peloponnese only. But Themistocles warned them that if they did so, the Athenians would leave them and sail to new lands and make themselves a new Athens, and thus the fleet was persuaded to hold together at Salamis. Yet he did not trust only to their goodwill, but sent a messenger to the Persian fleet that the way of retreat might be intercepted. For the Persian fleet had gathered at Phalerum, and now looked to overwhelm the Grecian fleet altogether, despite the council of Queen Artemisia of Halicarnassus, who would have had them not fight by sea at all. When Aristides, called the Just, the great rival of Themistocles, came to the Greeks with the news that their retreat by sea was cut off, then they were no longer divided, but resolved to fight it out.
In the battle, the Aeginetans and the Athenians did the best of all the Greeks, and Themistocles best among the commanders, nor was ever any fleet more utterly put to rout than that of the Persians, among whom Queen Artemisia won praise unmerited. As for King Xerxes, panic seized him when he saw the disaster to his fleet, and he made haste to flee. He consented, however, to leave Mardonius behind with 300,000 troops in Thessaly, he being still assured that he could crush the Greeks. And it was well for him that Themistocles was over-ruled in his desire to pursue and annihilate the fleet, then sail to the Hellespont and destroy the bridge.
When the winter and spring were passed, Mardonius marched from Thessaly and again occupied Athens, which the Athenians had again evacuated, the Spartans having failed to send succour. But when at length the Lacedæmonians, fearing to lose the Athenian fleet, sent forth an army, the Persians fell back to Boeotia. So the Greek hosts gathered near Platæa to the number of 108,000 men, but the troops of Mardonius were about 350,000. Yet, by reason of doubtful auguries, both armies held back, till Mardonius resolved to attack, whereof warning was brought to the Athenians by Alexander of Macedon. But when the Spartan Pausanias, the general of the Greeks, heard of this, he did what caused no little wonder, for he proposed that the Athenians instead of the Lacedæmonians should face the picked troops of the Persians, as having fought them at Marathon. But Mardonius, seeing them move, moved his picked troops also. Then Mardonius sent some light horse against the Greeks by a fountain whence flowed the water for the army, which, becoming choked, it was needful to move to a new position. But the move being made by night, most of the allies withdrew into the town. But the Spartans, and Tegeans and Athenians, perceiving this, held each their ground till dawn.
Now, in the morning the picked Persian troops fell on the Spartans, and their Grecian allies attacked the Athenians. But, Mardonius being slain, the Persians fled to their camp, which was stormed by the Spartans and Tegeans, and the Athenians, who also had routed their foes, and there the barbarians were slaughtered, so that of 300,000 men not 3,000 were left alive. But Artabazus, who, before the battle, had withdrawn with 40,000 men, escaped by forced marches to the Hellespont.
And on that same day was fought another fight by sea at Mycale in Ionia, where also the barbarians were utterly routed, for the fleet had sailed thither. And thence the Greeks sailed to Sestos, captured the place, and so went home.
Hammerton’s Epitome of Herodotus’s History
The Persians according to Herodotus
The Persians have no images of gods, no temples nor altars, and consider them a sign of folly. This comes from their not believing in gods to have the same nature with men, as the Greeks imagine.
They ascend the summits of the loftiest mountains, and there offer sacrifice to Zeus, the name they give to the whole circuit of the firmament. They likewise offer to the sun, to the moon, to fire, and to the winds. These are the only gods whose worship has come down to them from ancient times. Later they began the worship of Aphrodite, which they borrowed from the Arabians and Assyrians. Mylitta is the name by which the Assyrians know this goddess, which the Arabians call Alitta, and the Persians Mitra.
The Persians offer sacrifice to these gods not by raising an alter, lighting a fire, pouring libations, there is no sound of the flute, no putting on the chaplets, no consecrated barley-cake. Whoever wishes to sacrifice brings a victim to a spot of ground which is pure from pollution, and there calls upon the name of the god to be offered the sacrifice. They encircle their turban with a myrtle wreath.
The sacrificer is not allowed to pray for blessings on himself alone, but he prays for the welfare of the king, and of the whole Persian people, among whom he is of necessity included. He cuts the victim into pieces, and having boiled the flesh, lays it out upon the softest grass that he can find, trefoil especially. It is not lawful to offer sacrifice unless there is a Magus present. When all is ready, one of the Magi comes forward and chants a hymn, which recounts the origin of the gods. After waiting a short time the sacrificer carries the flesh of the victim away with him, and makes whatever use of it he pleases.
Of all the days of the year, the one which they celebrate most is their birthday. They have the board furnished on that day with an ampler supply than common. The richer Persians cause an ox, a horse, a camel, and an ass to be baked whole and so served up to them. The poorer classes use instead the smaller kinds of cattle.
They eat little solid food but abundance of dessert, which is set on table a few dishes at a time. They are very fond of wine, and drink it in large quantities. To vomit or obey natural calls in the presence of another is forbidden among them.
They deliberate upon affairs of weight when they are drunk, and then on the morrow, when they are sober, the decision to which they came the night before is put before them by the master of the house in which it was made. If it is then approved of, they can act on it. If not they set it aside. If they are sober at their first deliberation, they reconsider the matter under the influence of wine.
When they meet each other in the streets, persons of equal rank, instead of speaking, kiss each other on the lips. Where one is a little inferior to the other, the kiss is given on the cheek. Where the difference of rank is great, the inferior prostrates himself upon the ground.
Of nations, they honour most their nearest neighbours whom they esteem next to themselves. Those who live beyond these they honour in the second degree, and so with the remainder, the further they are removed, the less the esteem in which they hold them. They look upon themselves as superior in all aspects to the rest of mankind, regarding others as approaching to excellence in proportion as they dwell nearer to them, whence it comes to pass that those who are the farthest off must be the most degraded of mankind.
Under the dominion of the Medes, the several nations of the empire exercized authority over each other in this order. The Medes were lords over all, and governed nations upon their borders, who in their turn governed the states beyond, who likewise bore rule over the nations which adjoined on them. And this is the order which the Persians also follow in their distribution of honour, for, like the Medes, they have a progressive scale of administration and government.
No nation so readily adopts foreign customs as the Persians. They have taken the dress of the Medes, considering it superior to their own, and in war they wear the Egyptian breastplate. As soon as they hear of any luxury, they instantly make it their own, and hence, among other novelties, they have learned pederasty from the Greeks. Each of them has several wives and a still larger number of concubines. Next to prowess in arms, the greatest proof of manly excellence is to be father of many sons. Every year the king sends rich gifts to the man who can show the largest number, for they hold that number is strength.
Their sons are carefully instructed from their fifth to their twentieth year, in three things alone—to ride, to draw the bow, and to speak the truth. Until their fifth year they are not allowed to come into the sight of their father, but pass their lives with the women. This is done that, if the child dies young, the father may not be afflicted by its loss.
It is a wise rule, as also is the following—that the king shall not put any one to death for a single fault, and that none of the Persians shall visit a single fault in a slave with any extreme penalty, but in every case the services of the offender shall be set against his misdoings, and, if the latter be found to outweigh the former, the aggrieved party shall then proceed to punishment.
The Persians maintain that never yet did any one kill his own father or mother. In cases where they do, they are sure that, at bottom, the child would be found to be either a changeling or the fruit of adultery, for it is not likely that the real father should perish by the hands of his child.
They hold it unlawful to talk of any thing which it is unlawful to do. The most disgraceful thing in the world is to tell a lie, and the next worse, to owe a debt, because among other reasons, the debtor is obliged to tell lies.
A Persian with leprosy is not allowed to enter a city, or to have any dealings with other Persians. He must, they say, have sinned against the sun. Foreigners attacked by this disorder, are forced to leave the country, even white pigeons are often driven away, as guilty of the same offense.
They never defile a river with the secretions of their bodies, nor even wash their hands in one, nor will they allow others to do so, as they have a great reverence for rivers.
There is another peculiarity, which the Persians themselves have never noticed. Their names, which are expressive of some bodily or mental excellence, all end with the same letter—the letter which is called San by the Dorians, and Sigma by the Ionians. Any one who examines will find that the Persian names, one and all without exception, end with this letter.
Another custom is spoken of with reserve, and not openly, concerning their dead. The body of a male Persian is never buried, until it has been torn either by a dog or a bird or prey. The Magi have this custom beyond a doubt, for they practice it without any concealment. The dead bodies are covered with wax, and then buried in the ground.
The Magi are a very peculiar race, differing entirely from the Egyptian priests, and indeed from all other men whatsoever. The Egyptian priests make it a point of religion not to kill any live animals except those which they offer in sacrifice. The Magi, on the contrary, kill animals of all kinds with their own hands, excepting dogs and men. They seem to take a delight in the employment, and kill, as readily as they do other animals, ants and snakes, and such like flying or creeping things. Since this has always been their custom, let them keep to it.
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