The Star of the Magi

Courtney Roberts, M.A.

       Common Ground      Zoroaster & the Origins of Western Monotheism       
this page you will find audio files and graphics from my lecture series at All Souls UU in Manhattan, June 7th-21st, 2009.

1) June 7th: Who was Zoroaster? The Man in the Gathas



Sources And Links

Avesta – Zoroastrian Archives

Vohuman. Org:


New World Encyclopedia:

Shapero, Hannah, The Light of the Sacred Fire:

Persian Zoroastrianism Influences on Greek Philosophy & Culture:

West, M.L., 1999, The East Face of Helicon: West Asiatic Elements in Greek Poetry and Myth, Oxford University Press                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Duchesne-Guillemin, Jacques,  ‘Persian Influence on Greek Thought – Iran & Greek Philosophy’                                                                                                                                       A. D. Nock (1929), "Studien zum antiken Synkretismus aus Iran und Griechenland by R. Reitzenstein, H. H. Schaeder, Fr. Saxl", The Journal of Hellenic Studies 49 (1), p.    111-116 [111].

Dating Zoroaster - Relevant Sources - Wikipedia, Zoroaster - Always a good starting place.

Shahbazi, A. Shapur (1977), "The 'Traditional Date of Zoroaster' Explained", Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies 40 (1): 25–35 



The Gathas In English Translation Translated by L. H. Mills (from Sacred Books of the East, American Edition, 1898)

Yasna 29 of the Ahunavaiti Gatha  “1. Unto you wailed the Ox-soul, "For whom did ye fashion me? Who created me? Violence and rapine (and) savagery hath oppressed me, and outrage and might.  I have no other herdsman than you; prepare for me then the blessings of pasture.  2. Then the Ox-Creator asked of the Right:  "Hast thou a judge for the Ox, that ye may be able to appoint him zealous tendance as well as fodder?  Whom do ye will to be his lord, who may drive off violence together with the followers of the Lie?"

 Yasna 30: 3-9   3. Now the two primal Spirits, who reveal themselves in vision as Twins, are the Better and the Bad, in thought and word and action.  And between these two the wise ones choose aright, the foolish not so.

4. And when these twain Spirits came together in the beginning, they created Life and Not-Life, and that at the last Worst Existence shall be to the followers of the Lie, but the Best Existence to him that follows Right, he that clothes him with the massy heavens as a garment. So likewise they that are fain to please Ahura Mazda by dutiful actions.     6. Between these twain the Daevas also chose not aright, for infatuation came upon them as they took counsel together, so that they chose the Worst Thought. Then they rushed together to Violence, that they might enfeeble the world of men.

7. And to him (i.e. mankind) came Dominion, and Good Mind, and Right and Piety gave continued life to their bodies and indestructibility,…

Yasna 30:2  Hear with your ears the best things; look upon them with clear-seeing thought, for decision between the two Beliefs, each man for himself before the Great consummation

Yasna 31:11:  When Thou, O Mazda, in the beginning didst create the Individual and the Individuality, through Thy Spirit, and powers of understanding - when Thou didst make life clothed with the body, when (Thou madest) actions and teachings, whereby one may exercise one's convictions at one's free-will; 

Yasna 30:11 Liars and wicked persons shall face age long punishment but the pious and righteous ones shall enjoy ever-lasting prosperity.

Yasna: 48:9  When shall I know whether ye have power, O Mazda and Right, over everyone whose destructiveness is a menace to me? Let the revelation of Good Thought be confirmed unto me; the future deliverer should know how his own destiny shall be.

Yasna 53:2  Then let them seek the pleasure of Mazda with thoughts, words, and actions, unto him praise gladly, and seek his worship, even Kava Vishtaspa, and Zarathushtra's son, the Spitamid, with Frashaoshtra, making straight the paths for the Religion of the future Deliverer which Ahura ordained. 

Chapter XXXIII of the Greater Bundahisn ends with this reminder of how these millennial sons of Zoroaster will come about:  “36. As regards these three sons of Zartosht, such as Aushedar, Aushedar- mah, and Soshyant, one says, ‘Before Zartosht wedded, they had consigned the glory (khwarrah) of Zartosht for preservation, in the sea Kayansah to the glory of the water, that is to the Yazad Anahit.’  37. They say ‘Even now they are seeing three lamps glowing at night in the bottom of the sea. And each one of them will arrive when it is their own cycle.

38. It will so happen that a virgin will go to the water of Kayansah in order to wash her head; the glory (kwarrah) will mingle within her body, and she will be pregnant.  They will one-by-one be born, thus in their own cycle.”



 Week II - June 14th, 2009


Jerusalem's Debt

to the Persians All Souls II_0001.wma

The Influence of the Persian Religion

in Judea

in the Second Temple & Hellenistic Periods



Jerusalem’s Debt to the Persians

Judea in the 2nd Temple/Persian Period

 The Persian Emperor Cyrus the Great in the Old Testament: His emancipation of the Jews and order to rebuild the temple: 2 Chronicles 36:22, 23; Ezra 1; 3:7; 4:3; 5:13,14; 6:3

‘Prophecies’ in Isaiah that are interpreted as referring to Cyrus: 13:17-22; 21:2; 41:2; 44:28; 45:1-4,13; 46:11

 Jahanian, Darius. ‘Zoroastrianism and Biblical Connections,’ 1994, available at 

 For more information on how the colony of Yehud fit into Persia’s overall plans:  

Berquist, Jon  L. Judaism in Persia’s Shadow: A Social and Historical Approach. Eugene, Ore.: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 1995

Grabbe, Lester L. Judaic Religion in the Second Temple Period: Belief and Practice from the Exile to Yavneh. London: Routledge, 2000.

Olmstead, A.T. History of the Persian Empire. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1948

Eddy, Samuel K. The King Is Dead: Studies in the Near Eastern Resistance to Hellenism, 334-31 B. C. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1961.


This distinction between El and Yahweh, with Yahweh as one god among the divine cabinet, or pantheon, still survives throughout the Old Testament, where it is often hidden in translation within the different names of God.  For instance:  Deuteronomy, Ch. 32, vs. 8-9:  Here, the Most High divides up the peoples among the council of gods, and the LORD’s (Yahweh’s) portion is Israel.  Psalm 82: Yahweh rises in the congregation of the gods and upbraids them.  1st Kings, Ch. 22: Describes how the King of Judah, after listening to four hundred Israeli prophets speak for the Lord, cries out in frustration ‘ Is there not here a prophet of the LORD (Yahweh) besides, that we might inquire of him?  (22:1-7)

In the famous Cyrus cylinder, Cyrus describes how he returned many different peoples to their homelands, and many gods back to their native sanctuaries, without specifically mentioning the Judeans and their god as he does in the Biblical version:

"…to Asshur and Susa, Agade, Eshunak, Zamban, Meternu, Deri, with the territory of the land of Qutu, the cities on the other side of the Tigris, whose sites were of ancient foundation the gods who resided in them, I brought back to their places, and caused them to dwell in aresidence for all time and the gods of Sumer and Akkad whom Nabonidus, to the anger of the lord of the gods, had brought into Babylon – 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 Bêl and Nabû for long life for me, and may they speak a gracious word for me and say to Marduk, my lord, "May Cyrus, the king who worships you, and Cambyses, his son, … "(Translation adapted from Rogers, R.W., 1912 and Hanson, K.C., 1994)

Trotter, James M., Reading Hosea in Achaemenid Yehud. Journal for the Study of the Old Testament Supplement Series 328.  London: Sheffield Academic Press, 2001.

According to Trotter, pg. 100: ‘The future hope of Deutero-Isaiah…  did not lie in the restoration of the Davidic monarchy.  In fact, such an idea is never mentioned in Isaiah 40-55.  Rather, Deutero-Isaiah saw the Persian empire, and Cyrus II, in particular, as the tool of Yahweh for the future of the people (Isa. 44:28; 45.1-14).’  Also, according to Berquist, Jon L., 1995, pg. 3:‘Deutero-Isaiah was not pro-nationalist or pro-Davidic; he was pro-Persian, with the argument that the fortunes of the Babylonian Jews, if not all Jews, would be best under Persian rule.’


Edelman, Diana V. (editor). The Triumph of Elohim: From Yahwisms to Judaisms. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1996.

Edelman discusses Persian influences on the religious development of Judaism in the Introduction to this work.  James Trotter summarizes her ideas as follows: `‘The significant change occurred, according to Edelman, during the occupation by the Assyrians and Babylonians when Yahweh, like the deities of other conquered states, was demoted to the status of a second-tier deity in the imperial system.  Subsequently, in the transition to Achaemenid rule, the various state deities came to be identified as local expressions of the high god of the empire, Ahura Mazda.  This identification was accomplished by use of the abstract term ‘God of heaven’, in Hebrew…as the designation for the head of the imperial pantheon.  She posits the influence of Zoroastrianism in the Achaemenid empire as the source for the convergence of a variety of divine manifestations into a single, male, high god and the demotion of the various specialists and messenger deities to the status of messengers or angels. This subsequently developed into an exclusive monotheism in Jewish circles in the Hellenistic period.  Although this outline needs refinement and further research, it provides the most useful proposal regarding the most likely line of development at this point in the history of research.’  (Trotter, 2001, 137)

  Souls Zoroaster 3.wma

Week 3 - June 21st, 2009

The Influence of Persian Zoroastrianism on

Early Christianity & Islam








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