Did Zoroastrianism influence Christianity?

There are many subjects on which I would enjoy commenting, but I have determined to keep this Blog as a travel blog pertaining primarily to biblically related sites. And, I don’t have time to take care of another blog.

We had a comment on The Persian background of Iran that needs some comment. Our reader says,

And incidentally, there’s much more of Iran in the bible. The original “apple” was actually a pomegranate — which comes from Iran, for example. Mithraism, a Persian religion, was the basis for the celebtration of Christmass. The whole concept of hell and heaven and angles was introduced from Zoroastrianism into Judaism and then Christianity.

The Bible does not speak of an “apple” in the Garden of Eden. In Genesis 3:3 and 3:6 we are told that Adam and Eve had been told not to eat “from the fruit of the tree which is in the middle of the garden.” The fruit was good for food. Earlier, in Genesis 1:29 we are told that God gave man “every tree which has fruit yielding seed, it shall be food for you.” The Hebrew words are the same for fruit, tree, and food in both Genesis 1 and Genesis 2. We certainly do not know that the fruit was pomegranate.

The issue of whether Judaism and Christianity have borrowed some basic concept from Zoroastrianism is debatable. Notice the comment by Lewis and Travis in Religious Traditions of the World (Zondervan, 1991).

The relation between Zoroastrianism and the chief monotheistic religions, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, is debated. Part of the problem is due to the fact that the collection of Zoroastrian teaching was not completed until the fourth century C.E. [A.D.], leaving in some doubt who may have influenced whom in such matters as angels, resurrection, and eschatology. (57)

If one takes the New Testament as the complete and final revelation of the will of God for man, as I do, any changes in doctrine after New Testament times must be considered as departures from the faith. The argument goes something like this:

  • The New Testament is the completed revelation of the mind of God to man (Ephesians 3:1-7; 1 Corinthians 2:6-13; Ephesians 4:5; Jude 1:3; Romans 1:16; I Corinthians 1:21, et al.). The Scripture is the inspired word of God (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
  • Jesus is God (John 1:1; Hebrews 1:8; Colossians 1:15-17). He became flesh (John 1:14). He died on the cross for the sins of mankind (1 Corinthians 1:23; 2:2, 8; 15:3-4; Hebrews 9:28; Acts 2:36; 4:10).
  • The Bible warns about going beyond this teaching (1 John 4:1; Galatians 1:6-8; 2 John 1:9-11).

It is true that Mithraism was a significant competitor of Christianity in the second century Roman Empire. It was one of the favorite mystery religions of the Roman soldiers. At Caesarea Maritima on the Mediterranean coast, in one of the substructures of a public building, evidence has been found indicating that one of the vaults served as a Mithraeum in the early 2nd century A.D.

Building at Caesarea Maritima converted to a Mithraeum in the early 2nd century A.D. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Building at Caesarea Maritima converted to a Mithraeum in the early 2nd century A.D. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Christmas, as a religious holiday, is not known in the New Testament. In this case we must say that later Christianity borrowed aspects of it from pagan sources. See my article on The Truth About Christmas here for more details.

If you are interested in a complete study about the relation between Persia and the Bible, I suggest Edwin M. Yamauchi’s Persia and the Bible with foreword by Donald J. Wiseman) Baker, 1990.

Yamauchi tells us that “the central cult image of Mithraism was the statue of the tauroctony or depiction of Mithras slaying the bull.” He says over 500 representations of this image have been found. Here is one I photographed in the Britism Museum.

The Sun-god Mithras slaying a bull. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins in the British Museum.

The Sun-god Mithras slaying a bull. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins in the British Museum.

4 responses to “Did Zoroastrianism influence Christianity?

  1. Pingback: Bethlehem and the birth of Jesus – Index of articles | Ferrell's Travel Blog

  2. Pingback: Index of articles on Bethlehem and the Birth of Jesus | Ferrell's Travel Blog

  3. Pingback: Previous posts relating to the birth of Jesus and Christmas | Ferrell's Travel Blog

  4. Pingback: Did Zoroastrianism influence Christianity? « Parsis, Iranis, Zarathushtis - ALL Under One Roof

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