We have gained our point of vision, and from it have looked down on a broad and deep river of opinion flowing by us. We have seen that although the law of Moses was sustained by sanctions merely temporal, yet, under it, in the days of the Maccabees, there was a remarkable development of a mighty current of belief in a future life, in a resurrection of the body, and in eternal retributions. This river of opinion was broad and deep, and carried a nation in its current. It was derived from no abstract and unpractical speculations of philosophy, adapted only for the few. It flowed from simple and intense faith in God and his Word. It was a belief popular and powerful enough to rally a nation, and to sustain them in the intense struggles of a fierce and bloody religious war, and conduct them to victory and independence.

From this point of vision we are now to cast our eyes backward, and to trace this river of opinion to its sources. 

Two Opinions Possible.

As to these sources, two opinions are supposable. One, that the fountain-heads of the river are found in great events in the history of the Jewish nation and their ancestors, in their covenant relations to God, and in the habits of communion with him that distinguished their great leaders, rulers, and teachers, during the course of centuries.

Another view is that this river took its rise either in Egypt, or Persia, or Greece. But as the doctrine of the resurrection was not found in Egypt or in Greece, and as Greek philosophy was specially antagonistic to it, and as the doctrine of the resurrection of the body was a prominent element in the Persian theology, as set forth by Zoroaster, the great river which we have seen is traced back to its fountain-heads in Persia.

If any one would see an argument for this view set forth with great zeal and affluence of historic lore, he will find it in Mr. Alger’s learned work on a future life. He will find, at the same time, a very radical presentation of this view. Mr. Alger does not believe that the resurrection is a part of the true system of a future life as taught by Christ. Yet he concedes that it was taught by Paul and other writers of the New testament. But they had not yet been freed from the errors of Pharisaic teaching which had been corrupted by the Zoroastrian error of the resurrection as well as by other errors. By this erroneous teaching of the writers of the New Testament the Apostolic Church was led to adopt these errors of the Persianized-Pharisaic theology, and they have come down even to this age, and have pervaded the whole Church. Moreover, to eliminate them from true Christianity is the great work of the present age. In this work Mr. Alger has engaged with great zeal.

Those who have seen the Mississippi after the Missouri has entered it will have a striking illustration of Christianity after this Persian theology has entered it as represented by Mr. Alger. Before the Missouri enters, the Mississippi flows clear, pure, and tranquil; after it enters, the whole aspect of the river is changed. It is turbid with mud, and rushes with a fierce current, boiling, struggling, and almost frantic, in its downward course. As the Mississippi is entirely revolutionized by the Missouri, so (according to Mr. Alger) has Christianity been entirely revolutionized by the influx of this river of Persian-Zoroastric theology.

The True View

We do not adopt this view. We rather adopt the view first stated, that the river that we saw from our point of vision rose from the mountain-summits of God, in his providence and in his revealed Word. For this belief we propose to give historic reasons.

Persian Theology

But, before proceeding to do it, we shall say a few words on some points of this Persian theology. We shall not attempt to unfold the system as a whole. It will suffice for our present purpose to mention three noticeable points in which this Zoroastric system is the earliest on record in developing certain modes of thinking as to retribution, which have since appeared in various forms in the Church.

We refer to a doctrine of the purification and resurrection of wicked men after the judgment-day, also to a doctrine of the annihilation of some of the wicked – that is, wicked spirits – and, finally, to a doctrine of prayer for the dead.

The doctrine of the purification and restitution of the wicked was afterward stated, but on very different grounds, by Origen, at Alexandria; and on still different grounds, subsequently, by Theodore of Mopsuestia, as we shall show hereafter. 

The doctrine of annihilation in the system of Zoroaster is limited to Ahriman, and wicked spirits created by him. Afterward, a doctrine of annihilation was applied by Philo, and then by Irenaeus and others, to sinful men.

The doctrine of prayer for the dead is an important part of the Zoroastrian system. The twelfth Fargard of the Vendidad is almost entirely occupied in directions as to the prayers to be offered when any relatives of various degrees die. Twice as many prayers are enjoined for those who had died in sin as for the pure, and certain seasons of the year were regarded as times of special prayer and of peculiar success in the delivery of the souls of the dead from punishment.

Jewish Prayers for the Dead.

Nothing of this kind is prescribed in the Bible, and the first recorded instance of its being done by those who regarded the Bible as their supreme authority is found in the Maccabean war of independence. After a victory of Judas Maccabeus over Georgias, they found, on burying the dead, under the coats of every one that was slain, things consecrated to idols, an saw that for this cause they were slain. The historian then proceeds: “All men, therefore, praising the Lord, the righteous Judge, who had opened the things that were hid, betook themselves unto prayer, and besought him that the sin committed might be wholly blotted out. Moreover, the noble Judas exhorted the multitude to keep themselves free from sin, since they saw so manifestly the disastrous consequences of the sins of those who were slain. Moreover, he made a collection throughout his army, amounting to two thousand drachms of silver, and sent it to Jerusalem, to offer a sin-offering for them. In this he acted well and reverentially, in that he had respect unto the resurrection. For if he had not hoped that those who were slain would rise again, it would have been vain and profitless to pray for the dead. He also thus indicated his belief that glorious rewards were laid up for those who died a godly death. It was a holy and reverent thought. Wherefore, he made a propitiation for the dead, that they might be redeemed from their sins” (2 Macc. xii. 36-45).

Even in this case, we do not affirm that the noble Judas Maccabeus was, of course, under the influence of Persian theology. Believing firmly, with his whole army, in a future life and in a coming resurrection, he could not endure the thought that any who had died in battle for their country should perish; and, therefore, he and his army resorted to prayer and propitiation in behalf of the slain. In our more advanced age, and during our civil war, it seemed to be assumed by perhaps the majority, that all who died fighting for their country would go to heaven, of course. They seemed to regard it as the ancient Church did – a baptism of blood in the case of martyrs. Of course, there was no resort to prayer and propitiation, as in the army of Judas Maccabeus, in a less enlightened age.

Annihilation of Ahriman, and Purification of Wicked Men.

We have stated it as the Zoroastric doctrine that Ahriman and his evil spirits are to be annihilated, and that sinful men are to be purified and restored, after adequate punishment.

Scholars Differ.

We are aware that there seems to be some diversity of opinion on both these points among scholars. Prof. Whitney, in the article on the Avesta, in his “Oriental and Linguistic Studies,” p. 186, says that the good are supposed by the Zoroastrians to go to the paradise of the holy and benevolent gods. “The souls of the unbelieving and the evil-doers, however, were not deemed worth of that blessedness, and were thought, so it seemed, to be destroyed with the body.” So eminent a scholar would not say this without some evidence, to himself, at least, of its truth. But we have been unable to find any such evidence, and there seems to be decided proof, which we shall soon adduce, that the ultimate purification and restoration of wicked men was the real Zoroastric doctrine.

In like manner we found Mr. Alger and J. F. Clarke asserting, in the strongest terms, the final purification and restoration of Ahriman, the great centre and head of evil. We were quite interested in this as a seeming anticipation of Origen’s doctrine of the ultimate conversion and restoration of the devil. But, on looking for evidence of the truth of the statement, we were unable to find any; and, on the other hand, we found, in the supreme authority, decisive statements affirming his annihilation with his angels.

The Avesta.

The Avesta, as translated by Spiegel, contains the doctrine of the resurrection, and of the ultimate purification of all men. But it decisively represents Ahriman and his evil spirits as annihilated. In the Khordah-Avesta, Patet Erani 1st, this profession is made: “I am wholly without doubt in the coming of the resurrection of the later body, in an invariable recompense of good deeds and their reward, and of bad deeds and their punishment, as well as in the continuance of Paradise, in the annihilation of hell and Ahriman and the Devas; that the god Ormuzed will at last be victorious, and Ahriman will perish, together with the Devas and the offshoots of darkness (Spiegel, vol. iii., p. 163). In the Khordah-Avesta, Nanmetaisne 7th, occurs this doxology: “Praise to the Overseer, the Lord who rewards those who accomplish good deeds according to his own wish, purifies, at last, the obedient, and at last purifies even the wicked out of hell” (Spiegel, vol. iii., p. 15). This passage, as quoted by J. F. Clarke, in his work on “The Ten Great Religions,” would lead to the conclusion that even Ahriman himself was to be purified out of hell, and not annihilated, as is elsewhere stated. But this is owing to a single error in quotation. In every other case he quotes Bleek’s translation of Spiegel exactly. In this case he quotes him (p. 190) as translating thus: “who purifies even the wicked one of hell,” instead of “who purifies even the wicked out of hell.” “The wicked one of hell” is of course Ahriman, who is elsewhere said to be annihilated. I am aware that this doctrine of the purification of the wicked out of hell is not found in the oldest portions of the Avesta, but in those parts of the Khordah-Avesta which are not in the Avestan dialect, but in Parsec, and were, as Spiegel states (vol. iii., p.2), written in a comparatively modern period.

The doctrine of the resurrection, however, occurs in the older portions of the Avesta, if those parts that teach it are not interpolations, as some suggest. But there is, on the whole, good reason to believe that these portions are genuine, and that the doctrine of the resurrection was an early, if not an original, part of the system of Zoroaster. The purification of the wicked out of hell was also probably introduced very early into the system.

Mr. Clarke’s Authorities.

Mr. Clarke, in his statement of the purification of Ahriman, follow Rhode, who relies on the Bundehesh and the later writings of the Parsees. The same seems to be true of Mr. Alger. In order to ascertain whether the Bundehesh does thus contradict the Avesta, I requested Prof. Abbott, of Cambridge, to consult the most recent authorities on the point. From his reply to me I take the following statements, which seem to be decisive.

Professor Abbott’s Statements.

“The statement that the Bundehesh teaches the final conversion or purification of Ahriman (Angro Mainyus) is founded, I believe, solely on the translation of Anquetil du Perron, afterward Germanized by Kleuker. The doctrine does not appear in the translations of Spiegel and Windischman, whose authority is, of course, much higher than that of Anquetil. Those who have maintained the conversion of Ahriman as a Zoroastrian doctrine have relied mainly on Rhode, who, in addition to the Bundehesh, cites the Yasna (Izeschne, in Anquetil and Kleuker). But this proof disappears in Spiegel’s translation. Nor is there any proof of it in the Zemyad Yasht (Yasht, xix., Khordah-Avesta, xxxv.), to which Miss Cobbe refers. In the Sadder Bundehesh, the annihilation of Ahriman is expressly taught in connection with the doctrine of the redemption of the wicked from hell, after long and severe punishment.” These statements are all decisively sustained by quotations from Windischman and Spiegel, which we have not room to introduce.

The Conclusion.

The positive statements of the Avesta must, therefore, stand uncontradicted by the Bundehesh, as the true Zoroastrian doctrine. Wicked men are at last to be purified out of hell; Ahriman and his angels are to be finally annihilated.

We shall make other statements as to the theology of Zoroaster as we proceed, to prove that the Jewish system which we have set forth did not originate in Persia, but was the natural development and result of (1) great facts in the history of the Jews, and of (2) the peculiar and unexampled habits of their leaders of communion with God, and of (3) the covenant relations of the Jews and their ancestors to God.




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