- Religion and Philosophy
The Evolution of Satan - Part 2
In Part 1 of this study, we saw that the Old Testament picture of satan is simply an adversary, which can be an angel or a man. When refering to the satan that opposed Job, we see that he is simply fullfilling the role as an accuser and he is tightly under God's control with no free will or the ability to act without God's permission.
In 1 Chronicles we are told that Satan is inciting David to sin, yet the same event told in 2 Samuel says that it is God Himself who is stiring up David. Between these two accounts 500 years have passed and the second account occurs after the release of Israel from exile.
The purpose of this part is to show how the Zoroastrian religion of the Medes and Persians may be able to account for the above contradiction and the further evolution in Satan.
The Origins of Zoroastrianism
Zoroastrianism was the religion of the Medes and Persians during the time of the exile of Israel to Babylon. It was founded by the Prophet Zoroaster in ancient Iran some time between 1500-1200 BC, and emerged out of a prehistoric Indo-Iranian religious system. According to Zoroastrian tradition, Zoroaster was a reformer who exalted the deity of Wisdom, Ahura Mazda, to the status of Supreme Being and Creator, while demoting various other deities and rejecting certain rituals.
Zoroaster was born in either Northeast Iran or Southwest Afghanistan into a Bronze Age culture with a polytheistic religion, which included animal sacrifice and the ritual use of intoxicants. This religion was quite similar to the early forms of Hinduism in India. An example is the relation of the Zoroastrian word Ahura (Ahura Mazda) and the Vedic word Asura (meaning demon).
According to Zoroastrian belief, when Zoroaster was 30 years old, he went into the Daiti river to draw water for a Haoma ceremony; when he emerged, he received a vision of Vohu Manah (Good Mind). This vision radically transformed his view of the world, and he tried to teach this view to others. Zoroaster now believed in one creator God, teaching that only one God was worthy of worship. Furthermore, some of the deities of the old religion, the Daevas, appeared to delight in war and strife. Zoroaster said that these were evil spirits and were workers of Angra Mainyu or Ahriman, God's adversary.
Core Beliefs of Zoroastrianism
In Zoroastrianism, the Creator Ahura Mazda is all good, and no evil originates from Him. Thus, in Zoroastrianism good and evil have distinct sources, with evil (Ahriman) trying to destroy the creation of Mazda, and good trying to sustain it.
Mazda is not present in the world, and His creation is represented by the Amesha Spentas and the host of other Yazatas, through whom the works of God are evident to humanity, and through whom worship of Mazda is ultimately directed. Amesha Spentas are the 'divine sparks', the first six emanations of the Creator, through whom all subsequent creation was accomplished. A Yazata is a divine being that is considered worthy of worship. Ahura Mazda is the beginning and the end, the creator of everything that can and cannot be seen, the Eternal, the Pure and the only Truth.
Angra Mainyu is the evil spirit or evil mind and is identified with the daevas that deceive humankind and themselves. While in later Zoroastrianism, the daevas are demons, Zoroaster's view was that the daevas are "wrong gods" or "false gods" that are to be rejected, but they are not yet demons. These daevas are identified as the offspring, not of Angra Mainyu, but of akem manah, "evil thinking". Angra Mainyu induces the daevas to choose achistem manah, “worst thinking". Thus the concept is that Ahriman deceived the false gods and led them into evil.
The religion states that active participation in life through good thoughts, good words, and good deeds is necessary to ensure happiness and to keep chaos at bay. This active participation is a central element in Zoroaster's concept of free will. Ahura Mazda will ultimately prevail over the evil Angra Mainyu or Ahriman, at which point the universe will undergo a cosmic renovation and time will end. In the final renovation, all of creation, even the souls of the dead that were initially banished to "darkness", will be reunited in Ahura Mazda, returning to life in the undead form. At the end of time, a savior-figure (a Saoshyant) will bring about a final renovation of the world, in which the dead will be revived.
In summary, the similarities between Judaism and Zoroastrianism are:
Belief in a single non-created creator God
God is the beginning and the end.
Mankind's role is to fight evil and strive to influence the world for good.
At some time in the future, a saviour figure will arise who will bring about a renovation in the world in which the dead will rise.
However, Judaism does not support the idea of an evil spirit independent of and in opposition to God, call it Ahriman or Satan.
Influence on Israel
Whether Cyrus II was a Zoroastrian is subject to debate. It did, however, influence him to the extent that it became the non-imposing religion of his empire, and its beliefs later allowed Cyrus to free the Jews and allow them to return to Judea when the emperor took Babylon in 539 BC. Darius I was a devotee of Ahura Mazda. However, whether he was a follower of Zoroaster has not been conclusively established, since devotion to Ahura Mazda was at the time not necessarily an indication of an adherence to Zoroaster's teaching.
Due to the similarities between the two religions, it is not hard to see how ideas and beliefs were shared between the followers of both. According some scholars it is believed that key concepts of Zoroastrian have had influence on the Abrahamic religions. Thus they hold that Judaism refined its concept of monotheism and adopted features such as its eschatology (death, judgement, heaven and hell), angelology and demonology through contacts with Zoroastrianism.
Pre-exile to Babylon, Satan was simply an accuser of God's people whose place was still in Heaven. After the exile, with the influence of Ahriman on Israel's concept of Satan, he had now acquired the ability to lead people astray from God. We also have the beginnings of the idea of Satan deceiving a third of the angels which can be seen to be derived from the belief that Angra Mainyu induced the daevas to choose “worst thinking".
In the 400 years intertestamental period between the Old Testament and Jesus' ministry on Earth, the concept of Satan was developed further. Influenced by apocryphal writings, the concept of Satan as a fallen angel was introduced. Additionally the new ideas of Zoroastrian demonology, previously unknown to Judaism, were also enhanced under the influence of these writings, and demons also came to be understood as fallen angels.