Tekton Apologetics Ministries on the Pharisaic/Zoroastrian link

James Patrick Holding, writing for the Tekton Apologetics Ministries, has got guts, I’ll give him that. He takes on the evidence linking Zoroastrianism to the Pharisees, and tries to discredit it. His approach boils down to trying to manufacture some doubt about the timing, and who borrowed from whom, and he leaves out some very significant factors, but I think it’s still a brave effort on his part. He begins by admitting that there is some grounds for the connection.

I have chosen the title “close but no cigar” for this essay because of all the figures chosen by mythicists so far that I have looked at, old Zoro comes in closest to fitting their bill. Some of the things listed above are actually true and confirmed by scholarly literature — and a couple of them come from sources that Zoroastrian scholars suggest go back to a source predating Christianity.

He goes on to suggest that this connection is overstated, like “claiming a ‘100% increase’ in a salary that went from one dollar a year to two dollars,” but I think we’ll see that there’s a lot more to it than that.

Holding’s next argument is to try and shed some light doubt on the timing of Zoroaster’s life.

I usually start these by saying a little about the subjects themselves. A key issue seems to be, “When did Zoroaster actually live?” Interestingly enough there has even been a few “Zoroaster-mythers” who said (as Bultmann said of Jesus!) “nothing can be said” of the historical Zoroaster [Rose.IZ, 15]. J. M. Robertson, who also stumped for a mythical Jesus and a mythical Buddha, took up the Zoroaster-myth (to which a Zoroastrian scholar responded, “I have myself indeed divined and published the argument by which Mr. Robertson’s successors fifty years hence will irrefutably prove him a myth”) [Wat.Z, 11]. One Zoroastrian scholar did go along with the idea eventually, but died before he could justify his position. At any rate, most of the sources I consulted prefer a date around 600 B.C., though one scholar has suggested a date as early as 1700 BC [Yam.PB, 414].

The scholarship Holding is referring to dates back to the 1800’s. More recent studies of early Iran have come to somewhat different conclusions.

Plausible arguments place him anywhere from the 13th century BCE to just before the rise of the Achaemenid empire under Cyrus II the Great (q.v.) in the mid-6th century BCE, with the majority of scholars seeming to favor dates around 1000 BCE, which would place him as a contemporary, at least, of the later Vedic poets (see, e.g., Boyce, 1975-82, I, pp. 190-91; Duchesne-Guillemin, pp. 135-38; Gnoli, 1980, pp. 159-79; Henning; Hertel; Herzfeld; Jackson, 1896; Klima, 1959; Shahbazi, 1977 and 2002). [Emphasis mine]

1000 BC is plenty early enough to have a well-established Zoroastrian religion by the time the first Jewish exiles showed up in that part of the world in the early sixth century.

Holding continues:

Our main source for details on Zoro is the Avesta, a collection of sacred texts which was put in writing between 346-360 AD [Herz.ZW, 774] and of which we have manuscript copies only as early as the 13th century [Wat.Z, 56 — and note to conspiracy theorists: blame Alexander the Great and the Muslims for the destruction of Zoroastrian literature]. Some of the material probably comes from a time before the Christian era, but most of this is reckoned to be hymns and some basic information [Rose.IZ, 17] that was part of the oral tradition. The rest seems likely to have been added later, and for good reason, as Rose notes [ibid., 27]:

The incorporation of certain motifs into the Zoroastrian tradition in the ninth century CE could indicate the conscious attempt of the priesthood to exalt their prophet in the eyes of the faithful who may have been tempted to turn to other religions.

In other words, if we see a “Jesus-like” story in these texts, especially this late, we have a right to suspect borrowing — but in exactly the opposite way that Acharya supposes!

Does Persia have anything to do with Jerusalem? Zoro’s faith had an idea that sounds like, and probably is, bodily resurrection, though it is most clear only in AD-dated Z texts. Did the Jews “steal” this idea while under the thumb of the Persians? There is no direct evidence either way; the Persians may have got the ideas from the Jews, and from Ezekiel or Daniel.

Let me just note in passing that the hymns of Zoroaster are the prophet’s revelations, and not just some inconsequential singalong, as Holding seems to imply. But I want to focus on the main thrust of Holding’s argument above. Isn’t it marvelous? He realizes he cannot credibly deny the link between Judeo-Christianity and Zoroastrianism, so he tries to create some doubt about the dates and then accuses the Zoroastrians of stealing from the Jews and/or Christians! Gotta hand it to him, that is one clever ploy.

Fortunately, we have the tools we need to fan away the smoke and take down the mirrors. We have the principle that the truth is consistent with itself. Are Holding’s doubts justified? Is history more consistent with the idea that the Pharisees stole their ideas from the Christians, or with the idea that the Christians got their dogma from the Zoroastrians via the Pharisees?

First of all, let’s consider what happens when an established body of religious doctrine suddenly confronts a new and different body of doctrine. History gives us many examples: Martin Luther and the Catholics, Zoroaster and the Mithraists, Pentecostalism and traditional Christianity, etc. What typically happens? Do the leaders of the existing religion meekly and silently abdicate their authority and hand their pulpits over to the newcomers, or does each group develop as a separate body, with distinct sets of leaders, followers, doctrines, and practices?

It’s pretty much universal: the new religion grows up alongside the old. One or the other may die out eventually, but there’s inevitably a period where both religions exist side-by-side, in direct dialog with one another, if not outright conflict.

If Holding’s version is correct, then, we should find one flavor of Zoroastrianism, minus the distinctly Christian elements such as monotheism, final judgment, heaven, hell, angels, demons, and so on, existing prior to the time Zoroastrianism had to seriously confront Christianity, around the 9th century AD. Then when the Christianized version of Zoroastrianism arose, we ought to see the Zoroastrian religion split into two branches: one holding on to the older beliefs of traditional Zoroastrianism, and the other accepting new “revelations” that incorporated the distinctly Christian beliefs and practices into the faith. Needless to say, nothing in the historical record suggests that such a thing ever happened, nor was there any such report from the sixth century BC, during the Jewish Exile.

The alternative is that the Jews, a tribe of defeated, exiled polytheists, were brought into contact with Mithraism and Zoroastrianism, and saw an explanation for their God’s humiliating defeat: Zoroaster’s monotheism was correct and God was punishing them for having been polytheists. Meanwhile, back in Palestine, the remaining Jews remained polytheistic (or more accurately, henotheistic), following the established priesthood. Upon the return of the exiled, monotheistic Jews from Persia, these two groups would have been in conflict, with the former exiles preaching Zoroastrian ideas like resurrection, angels, demons, heaven, hell, judgment, etc, and the non-exiles denying them.

Is history consistent with this scenario? Absolutely. The Bible itself testifies that after the return from the Exile, the Jewish religion was split into two camps: the Sadducees, followers of the priestly order of Zadok (the original Mosaic religion), and the Pharisees, who in contrast to the Sadducees preached all of the Zoroastrian ideas listed above. What’s more, the name “Pharisee” gives us some insight into their origin and nature.

The Pharisees claimed that their name came from the Hebrew word “peras,” meaning “separated,” as in “separatists”. There are a couple points to note about this attribution, however. First, “peras” does not mean “separated” in the sense of “set apart,” it means “divided, split.” It’s the word used for the name Perez (“because in his days there was a great earthquate and the earth divided“) and in the Law, for animals that “split the hoof”. If “Pharisee” came from “peras,” it wouldn’t mean “separatists” but “the Divided Ones.” But secondly and more importantly, this definition omits any mention of the fact that there’s a Hebrew (and Aramaic) word that’s very similar: “paras,” which means Persia. And the way you take a noun like “Persia” and turn it in to an adjective like “Persian” is to add the “ee” sound, in Hebrew and Aramaic: “Parasee” (or “Pharasee/Pharisee”, as the language evolved in later centuries).

So here we have a group of exiles returning from Persia, with a name that’s pretty much how you would say “Persian” in Aramaic, preaching Zoroastrian ideas in sharp contrast (not to mention conflict) with the doctrines being preached by the caretakers of the aboriginal Jewish Law of Moses. What’s more (as I recall from my Bible college days), the Pharisees and Sadducees disagreed regarding which books were Scripture: the Sadducees accepted only the Pentateuch, and all the rest were added to the Old Testament by the Persians, excuse me, I meant to say that in Aramaic, the Pharisees. Including, by the way, the book of Job.

Job is an interesting book. Unlike the other books in the Old Testament, it mentions no persons or places or tribes or other identifying features from the history and area of ancient Israel. Christian scholars (including Holding) explain this by claiming that Job is just a very old book, and refers to events and persons from long ago, before the other Old Testament accounts. That’s a rather shaky explanation, though, because the other OT accounts go all the way back to “In the beginning God created the heavens and earth,” and because none of the other OT books ever mention any of the persons, places, tribe, or other features of Job. Think of that! For all the stories of suffering and affliction that Israel’s faithful endured, it never occurred to any of them to make a comparison to Job’s story, or to draw comfort from its message. Does that sound plausible to you?

I have a theory, and I’d like to see it investigated some day: Job is a Persian story, and refers to Persian people, places, and ideas (including the idea of resurrection). Notice, too, that when Jesus tried to argue against the Sadducees regarding the resurrection, he did not appeal to Job, even in passing (Luke 22:23-32). And even Jesus, when looking for an Old Testament verse supporting resurrection, could come no closer than “I AM THE GOD OF ABRAHAM, AND THE GOD OF ISAAC, AND THE GOD OF JACOB”. If Jesus couldn’t find a better reference than that in the Law, you and I should just give up. (Ok, go ahead and look if you want to. I already did, and there’s no mention of any Zoroastrian ideas in the books of Moses.)

Jesus’ exchange with the Sadducees is also interesting because he drives home his point by saying “God is not the God of the dead, but of the living.” God is not the God of the dead? You mean that God’s not your God any more once you die? Or does that mean that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are not dead? But if they’re not dead, they can’t be resurrected, so how is that an argument for resurrection?

Jesus’ argument sounds like nonsense unless you happen to remember that the Sadducees were still polytheists. The reason why Jesus’ argument impressed people so much is because in the original religion taught by Moses, Yahweh was not the god of the dead, a god named “Mot” was. Jesus’ argument still does not give any scriptural/Mosaic basis for a doctrine of resurrection, but it was a very impressive way to sneak in an insinuation that the Sadducees’ polytheism contradicted their own scriptures.

So Holding rings a tad false when he tries to argue for a separation between Judaism and Zoroastrianism

Others argue that the Jewish idea of Satan is borrowed from Zoroastrianism. But Satan appears in Job, a very early book, and is nothing like the evil Zoro god Ahriman, who is a dualistic equal to Ohrmazd the good god, rather than a subordinate. Finally, it is significant that while the OT used plenty of Persian loanwords for governmental matters, they did not use any for religion [Yam.PB, 463]. The most we find is, I am told, the name of a Persian demon in the Book of Tobit!

It’s hardly surprising that, in adopting Zoroastrian ideas as “what Moses originally meant all along,” the Pharisees would use their own names and customize the doctrines to fit their own particular theological needs. (And what’s a Persian demon doing in Jewish writings, even in Tobit?) Holding neglects to mention the fact that Satan is largely missing from the oldest parts of the OT, and is absent from the Pentateuch entirely. He’s not even in the garden of Eden! Not according to the actual text anyway. Yes, he’s not God’s equal–the Pharisees likely had had enough of henotheism–but the Scriptural record is entirely consistent with the conclusion that he’s a character who wasn’t added to the Jewish religion until the Pharisees brought him back from Persia.

The rest of the page is a list of things that Zoroastrians believe that some have suggested were added into Judaism by the Pharisees. Holding’s response to each of these can be summed up in one or two statements: either “Yeah, that’s probably right,” or “I couldn’t find a reference for this one (so it must be ok to disbelieve it).” He does give reasonable evidence against one or two trivial points, but the main contribution of Zoroastrianism (resurrection, judgment, heaven, hell, salvation, apocalypse) are all true, as even Holding admits. He still maintains, however, that skeptics have failed to prove their case, because he couldn’t find the supporting references for a list given by one scholar.

It’s pretty clear to me, however, that the Old Testament record is overwhelmingly consistent with the conclusion that the doctrinal distinctives of Pharisaism are Persian imports, even without the “cleaning up” that the later Pharisees seem to have given the original OT texts, a point that Holding does not mention, let alone address. Given that he admits the main Zoroastrian contributions are valid, and that they’re not found in early OT texts, and that there is no early Zoroastrian religion that is known to lack these things (the way they’re missing from the Law of Moses, for instance), I’d say it’s pretty conclusive that the Pharisees were just what their name suggests. Persians.

23 Responses to “Tekton Apologetics Ministries on the Pharisaic/Zoroastrian link”

  1. Joel Says:

    I realise that the article heading is “Pharisaic/Zoroastrian link” and I read it as such with interest, but there is a thread throughout and then the implication speeled out that Christianity derives from Zoroastrianism (i.e. “he cannot credibly deny the link between Judeo-Christianity and Zoroastrianism”).

    Have you considered that the link need not be denied – the reason for this seeming link, might actually be stated in the NT?
    Matt 2:1 – “After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi[a] from the east came to Jerusalem”

    Who are the Magi? Zoroastrians
    Where do they come from? Persia
    Where is Persia? East

    This account just confirms something found elsewhere in the bible – that there were people of faith who are not necessarily Jews, they had some substantial awareness of a then ancient prophecy and this compelled them to make a journey to Jerusalem. Interestingly you reference another book that is all about this – the Book of Job. Job is held up as an ancient example of someone who serves the one true God, even though he was not an Israelite.

    So there is your “link” – if the Magi had shared knowledge of ancient prophecies, then it is not a stretch that they would also share knowledge of other ancient truths, hence the striking similarities.

    • Deacon Duncan Says:

      I think that definitely shows the presence of a Zoroastrian influence on Pharisaic thought around the time of the New Testament. This doesn’t establish that there was any such link on the Zoroastrian side, of course, merely that the New Testament writers were familiar with the concept of Persian magi being some sort of religious authority. And of course, the NT story says nothing about any ancient prophecies. The magi were just (allegedly) following a star that was currently appearing in their skies.

      What’s more compelling is the fact that the Parsee/Pharsee Jews coming back from Zoroastrian lands came back with religious beliefs that were consistent with Zoroastrian teachings and not with the Zadokite/Sadducean beliefs of the Jews that had not been exiled in foreign lands. But this, too, is attested to in the book of Acts.

      • Joel Says:

        First I really do appreciate your taking the time to reply. However, I was wondering if we could clear up a couple of points for the benefit of your readers.

        In your reply you say “And of course, the NT story says nothing about any ancient prophecies. The magi were just (allegedly) following a star that was currently appearing in their skies.”

        I’m afraid I could not agree with this statement. Please read those first 2 verses of Matthew 2. According to the account, the magi arrived in Jerusalem and asked “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east[a] and have come to worship Him.”

        Does this not strike you as odd?
        1) born King of the Jews
        – what is that to a Zoroastrian?

        2) We saw “HIS” star in the East
        – a specific reference, to a specific expected person, at a specific time, in a specific place does not imply a prophecy?

        3) And have come to worship him
        – again, some familiarity with the nature of this specific child is implied, surely?

        So I would suggest to you that the account quite specifically says the magi were following a prophetic line of enquiry.

        “This doesn’t establish that there was any such link on the Zoroastrian side, of course, merely that the New Testament writers were familiar with the concept of Persian magi being some sort of religious authority.”

        I would like to drill into that idea a little further. It interests me that we can “ESTABLISH…. that the New testament writers WERE familiar with this “concept”. Yet the obvious question is still – why does the NT writer choose Zoroastrian magi specifically as a Christian religious authority?

        Who is the target audience for this deception right at the beginning of the gospel account? Is this story going to appeal to a Jew? A Greek? A Roman? A North African? Surely it would only appeal “specifically” to a Zoroastrian? Why would a Christian need to do that? I have actually seen the argument that Matthew is trying to pitch Jesus as Saoshyant, but it seems awfully early in the day and an extremely narrow target.

        If I am understanding the view of Christianity you hold, although it has been embedded in an article about Pharasaic/Zoroastrian ties, I am slightly confused why you deny the link on both sides? On the one hand you claim the NT does NOT say the magi were responding to a prophecy – this is untrue. On another, there was apparently ALSO no link on the Zoroastrian side? It therefore all sounds quite pointless to me.

        Many put forward the idea that Persians and Jews were completely oblivious to each other until post-exile and this is also simply not true. The Persians and Jewish communities have a long history and had been living together for quite some time by then. There is and was such a thing as Jewish proselytes and to assume that the Persians and hence Zoroastrians would really have so little interest in their neighbours holy writings as to be completely unaware of bible prophecies, especially ones related to a long hoped for Messiah (Saoshyant), is truly skeptical in every sense of the word, since it is claimed that by the time of Babylons fall Jews could have made up as much as 20% of the population.

        Ah… but now we get to the real issue. The weight given to ANYTHING as long as it is not the bible.

        The idea that Zoroastrianism is the first monotheistic religion has been seized upon by bible skeptics, but it is not based on a shred of evidence so far as I can see. Zoroaster can be dated to perhaps 625BCE. The Jewish community in Persia is as old or older than that! Are we really to believe Zoroaster predates the Jewish oral traditions of Abraham and Moses? Seems just as likely that Zoroaster learned something from them! The point I really want to drive home, is that the Jewish identity was not as fuzzy as this line of argument would have you believe. The Jewish communities scattered around by whatever circumstance historically remain essentially Jewish.

        With the fall of Babylon is in 539BCE, we are not giving those enlightened revisionist post-exilic Pharisees and their new converts to Judaism an awful lot of time to rewrite their own history, discard oral tradition, rewrite the whole of holy scripture, add a few prophets, made up kings and apochrypha and THEN unite the entire nation under this “new” theology by 400BC when Judaism supposedly “really” arose! Its all the more remarkable when you consider how long it took Ezra and Nehemiah to motivate their people to finish their building work in the first place – hence the multiple Persian decrees which are a matter of historical record and coincide with the account in the bible. I also doubt that they had Microsoft Project swimlanes and a team of PM’s to help them either.

        And consider the time span we are talking about is about the same as from the protestant reformation until now – how many sects of Christianity have there been in that time? If you were to remodel an entire and scattered Jewish system in this way, does anyone really believe that this would not generate even more discord? A bit more variety than Saducee and Pharisee anyway.

        Instead, while some traditions and the influence of the Pharisees and other elements may change over time, as far as I can see we have a very clear theology of being Gods chosen people combined with the identity of being a JEW – children of Abraham.

        So on this point:
        “What’s more compelling is the fact that the Parsee/Pharsee Jews coming back from Zoroastrian lands came back with religious beliefs that were consistent with Zoroastrian teachings”

        I’m not sure I can find it more compelling or factual for the above stated reasons, or at least I do not accept it as plausible to th extent it reached into the whole of Jewish tradition, theology and writing so completely as some would have you believe.

      • Deacon Duncan Says:

        I’ll be glad to try and clear up what I can. First of all, can we agree about the actual words that are present in the text from Matthew? Specifically, can we agree that the text reports that the magi explicitly cited astrology as the source of their information, and that they made no mention of any prophet or prophecy as being the source of their information? I have to ask, because you appear to be citing this text as evidence that their information did not come from astrology, and that therefore some unknown and unmentioned prophecy must be the source of their information. I find that to be a very surprising argument to try and make, given the words of the text itself.

        It surely would not take any kind of supernatural prophecy to acquaint Persians with the existence of Jews who had been exiled among them for so many decades, nor is there anything remarkable about them being familiar with the existence of kings. You do direct my attention to one glaring flaw in Matthew’s story, which is that ancient Eastern astrologers did not operate the way Matthew describes them as behaving. Astrology is a scam, not a science, and certainly not a magical source of knowledge. To be successful, ancient astrologers had to master the art of making ambiguous predictions and retroactive fulfillments, much like astrologers today. The practice of astrology, then as now, simply does not allow astrologers to make such precisely-timed and specific predictions. So it is much more likely that Matthew is reporting a purely fictionalized story in order to appeal to the superstitions of those who believed that astrology was a legitimate, magical source of information.

        And of course, from a purely scientific perspective, we know that stars do not, in fact, behave the way Matthew describes them as behaving. You can’t “follow a star” from Jerusalem to a specific house in Bethlehem—they’re too far away, and the earth rotates (a fact which Matthew seems unaware of). Also, the only stars that appear and disappear are novas and supernovas, and if there were a nova 2,000 years ago bright enough to be seen from Persia to Jerusalem, we should be able to find the remnants of it in the skies today. (Some people have also suggested that the “star” might have been a comet, however that’s unlikely because ancient astrologers regarded comets as ill omens and bad luck, which would make it doubly unlikely that any of them would have regarded one as the sign of a newborn king deserving of worship.)

        And, at the risk of going off on yet one more tangent, have you noticed that when the magi arrive in Judaea (according to Matthew) the first thing they do is consult with the king, who then consults with the rabbis, who then consult the prophecies? That’s rather a roundabout way to drag prophecies into the story, if you ask me. Matthew, perhaps more than any other writer, loves to cite prophecies. It seems implausible to suggest he would have passed up an opportunity to portray the OT prophecies as having influenced foreign “wise men” directly, if indeed prophecy had been their primary motivation in travelling to Jerusalem.

        So honestly, I don’t know how it could be any more obvious that Matthew 2 makes no reference, direct or indirect, to any Jewish prophecies influencing the magi prior to their alleged meeting with King Herod. Even granted that Matthew’s story was fictitious, whether invented by himself or someone else, there is still no indication that it even occurred to him to suggest that Jewish scriptures were known and believed by Persian astrologers.

      • Deacon Duncan Says:

        As to some of your other points, I would offer some counter evidence, including evidence Zoroastrianism dates back 1200 years or more before Christ. As for Zoroaster predating Moses and Abraham, no he didn’t, which is why the writings of Moses are so lacking in Zoroastrian influences. Notice, for example, that when Jesus tried to find Zoroastrian/Pharisaic-style resurrection in the Law of Moses, the closest he could come was a verse that said “I am the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” Hardly a resounding exposition of resurrection and judgment! If you want to find clear declarations of Zoroastrian-style eschatology, you have to look to the Parsee/Pharisee Scriptures (which were not accepted as Scripture by the original Zadokite/Sadducee Jews that remained in Judea during the Exile).

        As to who Matthew’s intended audience may have been, I think the answer can be found by looking at all the Scriptures he quotes, including the Parsee/Pharisee books. Zoroastrian culture was part of Persian culture, and by osmosis, of Parsee/Pharisee culture. Matthew’s target audience was people who were familiar with that culture and those Scriptures, as is shown by his frequent appeals to them. Given the very clear Parsee/Pharisee flavor of Matthew’s Gospel, it is entirely consistent for him to pick Zoroastrians, as the Parsee/Pharisee’s most familiar representatives of pagan religion, in his story about “wise men from the East” endorsing his new religion.

        Also, just to clarify, I am not saying that Zoroastrians were ignorant of Jewish culture and religion. When I say that Matthew’s story shows familiarity with Zoroastrianism on the Parsee/Pharisee side, but not the converse on the Zoroastrian side, I’m just pointing out that there’s no record in Zoroastrian history of any Zoroastrian magi making a major astrological discovery about the birth of a new Jewish king in fulfillment of some ancient Jewish prophecy. The whole story, including the bits that would have had to have happened in Persia, exists only in the literary history of early Christianity. This, too, is consistent with the conclusion that Matthew’s story was a fictional invention.

        I notice you seem skeptical about how much progress a religion can reasonably accomplish in just over a century, and I wonder if you have considered applying those same doubts to the history of the early church? How many centuries do you think are required in order for a new religion to produce a complete canon of Scripture? 🙂 I think I should point out, though, that you’re a bit optimistic about how much the Pharisees really accomplished by 400 BCE, considering that the Sadducees were still around four centuries later. I would also refer you to a good textual history of the Old Testament for an overview of how long it really took to finish fixing the text of the Old Testament.

        And by the way, I don’t know of anybody who is seriously suggesting that the Parsee/Pharisee Jews had to “rewrite their own history, discard oral tradition, rewrite the whole of holy scripture, add a few prophets, made up kings and apochrypha and THEN unite the entire nation under this “new” theology by 400BC.” Religions don’t work that way; rather, they take what was there before, and subtly adapt it to suit new conditions and beliefs. A good example of this is the opening of the book of Genesis, which very clearly says that gods (“elohim”) created man in their own image, male and female. No problem at all for henotheistic Jews who believed in male and female gods (as the Old Testament itself frequently records). But obviously a big problem for Zoroastrian-influenced Parsee/Pharisees.

        Did they simply throw away the story and invent a new one to take its place? No, too much work. All you need to do to fix it is decide that “Elohim”—the plural form of the Hebrew word for “god”—is actually one of the names of God. Never mind that Moses, who supposedly wrote it, was allegedly given a different name to use, by no less than Yahweh himself. And never mind that giving God a new name of “Gods,” in a polytheistic culture, when you want to teach monotheism, is like naming your daughter “Whore” when you want to teach sexual purity (and respect for women!). Ignore all that. Just call “Elohim” one of the names of God, and change a few pronouns, and you get to keep all the old Scriptures with only a few signs that they’ve been tampered with. Piece of cake. You only have to convince people who want to believe, after all.

        And finally, with regard to the number of schisms within Judaism during the post-Exilic period, I think it’s fairly comparable to the number of divisions that early Christianity experienced. The post-Reformation period is atypical in religious history in that it produced a number of schisms that have not been seen in other religions before or since. That, however, is because one of the unique developments of the Reformation is the idea of sola scriptura, which overthrew ecclestiastical authority in favor of the authority of one’s own personal understanding of the Bible. Pharisaism did not teach sola scriptura—far from it!—and so did not have a similar number of divisions.

  2. Joel Says:

     It has been good to explore this issue, so I just want to say before this comment that I think it has been well covered and I leave it to you whether you want to make yours the final word, or touch on any more questions. Please note that I do only re-quote you to keep my responses organised in their context! Thanks.

    “can we agree about the actual words that are present in the text from Matthew? Specifically, can we agree that the text reports that the magi explicitly cited astrology as the source of their information, and that they made no mention of any prophet or prophecy as being the source of their information? you appear to be citing this text as evidence that their information did not come from astrology, and that therefore some unknown and unmentioned prophecy must be the source of their information. I find that to be a very surprising argument to try and make, given the words of the text itself.”

    I don’t think we are going to agree on this text, because I am not sold on the explicitly astrology interpretation. I do take from the account that they beheld and followed a star and that they were Zoroastrian Magi, so I do assume that they were accustomed to looking for and reading stars. The problems for me with your argument about this text are again – 1) why would Zoroastrian Magi be searching for a “king of the Jews”? 2) How would this information be extracted from the star? 3) If there were no “prophecy” involved, the gospel writer would surely not appeal to occult astrology as an “authority”? I think the implication is clearly an awareness of the “prophesied” or “foretold” King of the Jews? Keep in mind that Matthew is the gospel that so frequently references various bible pictures and relates them to “fulfilment”

    “It surely would not take any kind of supernatural prophecy to acquaint Persians with the existence of Jews who had been exiled among them for so many decades, nor is there anything remarkable about them being familiar with the existence of kings.”

    “the King of the Jews” at a time when there was no “King of the Jews” implies a specific expectation, not an awareness that Jews existed and might have a King at some point. Also, as mentioned, Persians would have little reason to be so very interested in this king. The ONLY reason this story would have any point to it, is if these magi had this kind of awareness. Otherwise the story would just raise the very questions we are asking now.

    “You do direct my attention to one glaring flaw in Matthews story, which is that ancient Eastern astrologers did not operate the way Matthew describes them as behaving. Astrology is a scam, not a science, and certainly not a magical source of knowledge.”

    Precisely, but the flaw is in believing that Matthew was using astrology as an authority, not with the story itself.

    “To be successful, ancient astrologers had to master the art of making ambiguous predictions and retroactive fulfillments, much like astrologers today. The practice of astrology, then as now, simply does not allow astrologers to make such precisely-timed and specific predictions.”

    Exactly right

    “So it is much more likely that Matthew is reporting a purely fictionalized story in order to appeal to the superstitions of those who believed that astrology was a legitimate, magical source of information.”

    I actually find that assertion unlikely. Astrology would not be an acceptable source of authority to early Christians. As reported in Acts 19:19, a congregation burned all of their books on spiritism. There are Christians who to this day attempt to clear such things from their lives because they understand this, so I don’t credit the idea that early (especially early Jewish) christians would find this detail appealing if it were not simply matter of fact. The gospels seem to me concerned with one thing – testimony about the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. Christianity was not for the masses in that 1st century, there was no ecclesiastical authority and a “convert” was most likely going to bring some hardship upon themselves, so such a deception would not serve anyone.

    “from a purely scientific perspective, we know that stars do not, in fact, behave the way Matthew describes them as behaving”
    “You can’t follow a star from Jerusalem to a specific house in Bethlehem”

    Precisely – this is not recently unlocked knowledge – I am sure that Matthew would have known this as well. As to your point that Matthew is “evidently” unaware the Earth rotates, that could well be the case, but your assumption is that he believes the star was immobile in the sky – clearly if you read the text, the author does not believe that at all.

    “have you noticed that when the magi arrive in Judaea (according to Matthew) the first thing they do is consult with the king, who then consults with the rabbis, who then consult the prophecies? That’s rather a roundabout way to drag prophecies into the story, if you ask me.”

    Or it could be that this is actually what happened, but at least we have now established that the earlier text in Matthew explicitly implies a prophecy. Luckily for the gospel writer, this sort of megalomaniacal activity would not be described as uncharacteristic for the reigning monarch at the time. This guy killed his own children because he was so paranoid – as history attests. I only believe that so many conveniences are possible when I am trying to determine the truth of something.

    “Matthew, perhaps more than any other writer, loves to cite prophecies. It seems implausible to suggest he would have passed up an opportunity to portray the OT prophecies as having influenced foreign wise men directly, if indeed prophecy had been their primary motivation in travelling to Jerusalem.”

    I think to be fair, as you just mentioned, he used the opportunity to describe how Herod had the priests search for this prophecy. There would seem little point in duplicating effort within one chapter?

    “So honestly, I don’t know how it could be any more obvious”

    I’m afraid in that we both have the same quandry 🙂

    “evidence Zoroastrianism dates back 1200 years or more before Christ.”

    Following the link to the BBC article, it makes the statement that “evidence is accumulating”, but unfortunately does not offer evidence, a hint at, description of such evidence, nor links to any. 1000BC seems always to be considered a liberal estimate in any information I have read and seems more often, even within Zoroastrian tradition to be dated approx 600BC. I think the evidence that Judaism dates back much further than that is substantial, although skeptics continue to question the “type” of Judaism. I saw the mention of linguistic evidence, which seems to be that some of the writings attributed to Zoroaster are in an ancient Eastern Iranian language. I tried to research it a little, but I think the fairest thing to say is that the evidence is mixed and inconclusive. What I read about this early material seemed to also be creating a bridge to Zoroaster borrowing from Hinduism. It is just too difficult to determine the truth when scholars are reaching for an earlier date than even adherent tradition holds.

    “As for Zoroaster predating Moses and Abraham, no he didn’t”

    Having established that we both believe this same thing, I would be interested in your understanding of the following:

    “which is why the writings of Moses are so lacking in Zoroastrian influences”

    Ah, but surely you cannot believe that? I would of course not call them Zoroastrian influences. Look at the overall arguments for Zoroastrian influence which amazingly I have seen to include – monotheism, ritual purification, clean and unclean animals, marriage, priesthood, resurrection, saviour – in short Zoroastrianism is claimed to be THE root, THE source of all biblical teaching.

    Abraham and Moses pre-date Zoroaster. I submit that it almost stands to reason the writings in Genesis and the Penteteuch as a whole also predate Zoroaster and describe at a minimum a conflict between 1 true god and 1 evil/opposing power, Enoch, Abraham, Noah and others as communicating with/walking with 1 true God, a first and generally understood marriage between 1 man and 1 woman, awareness of clean and unclean animals (e.g. Noah) and awareness of a saviour. The book of Exodus has ritual purification, clean/unclean animals. The book of Leviticus establishes the laws of the priesthood.

    But of course, the much used trump card is supposedly the “resurrection”. However the claim that ancient Judaism had no concept of this is quite simply fallacious. For one thing, the book of Genesis describes the Enoch caught away into heaven / “taken” – i.e. the idea being that he was not believed to have “died”.

    Straying outside the penteteuch, the same thing is described for Elijah in 2nd Kings and there are no less than 3 resurrections described in 1 and 2 Kings. 1 Samuel 2:6 is suggestive of raising up from the grave. Several Psalms indicate a concept of resurrection (e.g. Psalms 49:15)

    In addition I would add that the book of Job which certainly predates Persian influence on Judaism and its source is not Zoroastrian. The book of Job details a concept of resurrection AND of a saviour in Job 19:25,26. Job 14:15 also has the strong suggestion of resurrection.

    “Notice, for example, that when Jesus tried to find Zoroastrian/Pharisaic-style resurrection in the Law of Moses, the closest he could come was a verse that said ‘I am the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.’ Hardly a resounding exposition of resurrection and judgment!”

    I think you perhaps do not appreciate that aside from giving the Saducees a direct answer to their question, it would not have been terribly useful if Jesus had quoted a passage of scripture that described resurrection and said “there you go”, because by definition Saducees did not accept the resurrection in scripture. Hence their reasoning through the 7 husbands and 1 wife dilemma, which using their own logic they felt could not be resolved. Instead, Jesus quotes Gods first address to Moses in the PRESENT tense, i.e. God did not say “I HAVE BEEN”, or “I WAS”, he said “I AM the God of…”. He uses a logical argument against them and it came from the very foundation of their own faith – Moses, not from another prophet.

    “If you want to find clear declarations of Zoroastrian-style eschatology, you have to look to the Parsee/Pharisee Scriptures (which were not accepted as Scripture by the original Zadokite/Sadducee Jews that remained in Judea during the Exile).”

    Well one would expect to find Zoroastrian influence on the Pharisees perhaps, but I still do not clearly see how you resolve the many such concepts which are themes of earlier scripture and the prophets.

    “I am not saying that Zoroastrians were ignorant of Jewish culture and religion. When I say that Matthews story shows familiarity with Zoroastrianism on the Parsee/Pharisee side, but not the converse on the Zoroastrian side, I’m just pointing out that theres no record in Zoroastrian history of any Zoroastrian magi making a major astrological discovery about the birth of a new Jewish king in fulfillment of some ancient Jewish prophecy. The whole story, including the bits that would have had to have happened in Persia, exists only in the literary history of early Christianity. This, too, is consistent with the conclusion that Matthews story was a fictional invention.”

    I think to be fair the Zoroastrian magi could have literally been ANYBODY. I should not expect to find such a record and I do not believe it would have been an astrological discovery in any case. It is as you say, the story is a Christian one and standalone – there will and probably can be no real proof one way or another, but I have already stated why I believe the story is in there.

    “I notice you seem skeptical about how much progress a religion can reasonably accomplish in just over a century”

    Not really, but I am pretty skeptical of the scale of revision required for your scenario, when plenty of evidence has been found that the bible is essentially unchanged from antiquity. You don’t seem to accept the implications of Judaism being so strongly influenced by Persia as you suppose. Pretty much all scripture would need to re-written by the Pharisees to suit the so-called Persian agenda. It is untenable given the number, history and oral tradition of so many bible books.

    “I would also refer you to a good textual history of the Old Testament for an overview of how long it really took to finish fixing the text of the Old Testament.”

    If this is from the same types of sources that try to date Daniel in the post Maccabean – no thanks. The condition and agreement of the OT text is well attested to.

    “And by the way, I don’t know of anybody who is seriously suggesting that the Parsee/Pharisee Jews had to rewrite their own history, discard oral tradition, rewrite the whole of holy scripture, add a few prophets, made up kings and apochrypha”

    Well, if you want to “insert” the alleged Zoroastrian influences I listed above and “redact” the polytheistic pagan stuff you allege was there, then you most certainly do.

    “Religions don’t work that way; rather, they take what was there before, and subtly adapt it to suit new conditions and beliefs.”

    While that is partially true, again we are not talking about a few isolated ideas borrowed here and there. In response to your example, I again find myself in difficulty trying to resolve the discrepancies. If the Jews were truly polytheistic for all that time as is claimed, then WHY do you suppose that the entirety of old testament from Exodus through to Malachi is so down on them? Do you propose that it was ENTIRELY rewritten by Persian schills? Why does scripture not spend more time praising the Baal and Asherah? No, instead it says the people turned away to these other gods. SO … for the Persians to reverse engineer all this self condemnation would be a very complex task. You are talking about the REASON the Israelites were in the promised land, their ancestry, their monarchy (they are even condemned by Samuel for wanting a KING). And pretty much EVERY SINGLE Hebrew prophet delivers the same types of messages in different times – so what I am asking is how anyone can conceivably claim that these scriptures 1) were revised to incorporate Zoroastrian views in a short time frame, but 2) were not revised to include Zoroastrian influence in a short time frame, because religions don’t work that way. It seems like you want the same result no matter which way it blows.

    And if we are citing Genesis it clearly says ‘In the image of “Elohim” ->hehe<- created them.'
    Elohim is the plural form, but clearly the entity is singular. Male and female are separate, but "He" is not, so it is not really as you suggest. I don't read Hebrew nor do I understand their thought process, but I can only suppose that using the plural form is the most suitable for a deity, who is much more than a He

    "And finally, with regard to the number of schisms within Judaism during the post-Exilic period, I think it's fairly comparable to the number of divisions that early Christianity experienced …… Pharisaism did not teach sola scriptura far from it! and so did not have a similar number of divisions."

    The point I was trying to make is that the divisions SHOULD have been something like the Christian reformation period when you are making the claim that oral and written tradition were pulled from underneath an society with roots as strong as the Jews, notwithstanding the influence of a 2 generation exile in pagan Babylon! By the first century, there were only 4 real sects of Judaism – I don't think that is a very likely outcome.

    Thank you again for your comments and being a good host!

    • Deacon Duncan Says:

      Thanks to you too. I think I will address some of your points, starting with this one:

      I am not sold on the explicitly astrology interpretation… I do take from the account that they beheld and followed a star and that they were Zoroastrian Magi, so I do assume that they were accustomed to looking for and reading stars. The problems for me with your argument about this text are again – 1) why would Zoroastrian Magi be searching for a “king of the Jews”? 2) How would this information be extracted from the star? 3) If there were no “prophecy” involved, the gospel writer would surely not appeal to occult astrology as an “authority”?

      Why not? James invoked the witness of demons, in James 2:19, as a testimony to monotheism. And I’m sure you can think of other examples in Scripture that portray God as compelling testimony even from His enemies. It’s certainly not anything unheard of or frowned upon as long as the overall import is to give glory to God. Early Christians believed these things were real, even when they believed them to be forbidden or sinful, and they had no objections to God exercising His dominion over them.

      But back to the immediate question: the reason Zoroastrian astrologers would be searching for a king of the Jews, according to the explicit text of Matthew’s story, is because they saw his star. That’s what astrology is: the practice of discerning (or claiming to discern) information about significant earthly events through the observation of celestial phenomena. This obviously includes discerning significant information about significant people such as kings and priests and so on. Foretelling the rise of a new king would be right up their alley, or at least it would fit well in the story Matthew wants to tell.

      You ask how such information could be extracted from a star, but pick up any horoscope and tell me how any of the information therein could be extracted from observation of the stars. You know and I know that astrology is bogus, but astrologers don’t know that, or at least don’t admit knowing that.

      What’s more interesting is that Matthew does not appear to know that either. He presents his story as though it were perfectly reasonable for wise men from the East to be able to look at a star and know that its appearance portends the birth of a new Jewish king. In Matthew’s text, the observation of the star is the reason—the ONLY reason—given for why they think a new king has been born. Alleged knowledge of significant earthly events, obtained by observation of celestial phenomena. Astrology. As far as Matthew is concerned, this is legit supernatural divination, even if it’s contrary to God’s commandment. His story takes it for granted that a real astrologer would be capable of predicting significant world events through astrology, and thus real magi would be able to “read” the birth of Jesus just by looking at the stars.

      Meanwhile, where is the prophecy that predicts a new star will appear in the sky to announce the birth of the king of the Jews? There is no such prophecy. Even if we assume, for the sake of argument, that the Persians did study Old Testament prophecies (and believe them!), there is no prophetic reason for them to associate any particular star with any particular king. Even granting your assumption that the Persians were relying on the Old Testament to tell them about a king of the Jews, there’s still nothing there about any star. Astrology, which Matthew apparently regards as a legit source of knowledge, is the only possible connection between their observation of the star and their conclusion that a new king had been born. Yet, as you correctly point out, a star is not capable of imparting that information to them. Astrology can’t tell them and the Bible doesn’t tell them, so they could not have known. Matthew’s story is simply false.

    • Deacon Duncan Says:

      Continuing…

      “the King of the Jews” at a time when there was no “King of the Jews” implies a specific expectation, not an awareness that Jews existed and might have a King at some point. Also, as mentioned, Persians would have little reason to be so very interested in this king. The ONLY reason this story would have any point to it, is if these magi had this kind of awareness. Otherwise the story would just raise the very questions we are asking now.

      The verse (Matt. 2:2) does not say “THE King of the Jews,” it says “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews?” Saying that “THE King of the Jews” must imply a specific reference to a specific, prophesied king would seem to be reading into the verse a lot more than Matthew wrote there. You are correct, however, that the Persians would have little reason to be interested in a Jewish king. As pagan astrologers, they would have equally little reason to be interested in Jewish holy books. And, being Persians, they probably would have considered Herod to be king of the Jews, and would logically have begun their inquiry at the palace, instead of wandering around the countryside trying to “follow” a star. Matthew’s story is extremely implausible, historically.

      You are also likely correct that this story has a point. That’s really rather the problem here: Matthew wants to make a point about Jesus being hailed as king even by foreigners, and his desire to make that point overwhelms any concerns he might have had regarding historical accuracy, prophetic fidelity, or the actual workings of astrology.

    • Deacon Duncan Says:

      …the flaw is in believing that Matthew was using astrology as an authority, not with the story itself.

      I think this is the crux of your issue: you are making some highly specific and highly technical assumptions about what constitutes an authority, what constitutes an appeal to that authority, and what circumstances are required before someone would be willing to make such an appeal. This seems to me to be a rather contrived way of arriving at a desired solution. And it doesn’t fit the facts.

      First of all, as I’ve already mentioned, early Christians had no qualms about appealing to demons to testify on behalf of monotheism (James 2:19), to pagan poets (Acts 17:28), to apocryphal scriptures (Jude 9 and 14), and so on. And how many times do the gospels report demons calling Jesus the Son of God as he was casting them out? That would also be an “appeal to the authority of demons” (by the standards you propose here), and the Gospels do that many places.

      Secondly, a mention is not an endorsement. Exodus 7 and following, for example, claims that Egyptian magicians, using occult magic, were able to reproduce many of the same miracles Moses performed in the famous Ten Plagues. This does not constitute an Old Testament endorsement of occult magic, but it does presume that occult magic works as well as holy miracles, at least some of the time. Early Christians believed in the supernatural, and they believed that supernatural stuff worked. The idea that astrology might be a genuine occult practice wouldn’t even raise eyebrows in New Testament times.

      But most importantly, whatever objections you might raise against Matthew giving any kind of substantive mention of astrology, those same objections are a much stronger argument against pagan astrologers promoting Jewish prophecies. After all, Matthew’s story clearly benefits Judeo-Christian apologetics: he not only gets to claim international acknowledgement of Jesus as King of the Jews, right from birth, but he also gets to claim that his God is able to command even the very stars, and through them, the pagan priest/astrologers of powerful foreign empires. That’s a noticeably one-sided transaction. It’s easy to see why Matthew would want that to happen, because it’s all to the benefit of his religion, and puts the astrologers to shame as helpless puppets of the One True God they fail to follow.

      From the pagan astrologer’s point of view, however, everything that is a win for Matthew’s religion is a corresponding loss for their own. They are the priesthood of their religious practice; Judaism is the competition. Your version of the story would have them not merely mentioning a competing religion, not merely endorsing it, but actually journeying a great distance to bring tribute and worship to Matthew’s God. And what do they receive in return for betraying their own faith and submitting to Matthew’s? Nothing. They don’t become Christians, as far as Matthew reports, so they can’t claim even a spiritual reward. The benefit belongs exclusively to Matthew’s religion, not to theirs.

      What’s more, from the Persian perspective, Judaism was the religion of a conquered people, analogous to how American Christians would view the religious beliefs of the Sioux and Navaho and so on. For a Persian astrologer to journey all the way to Palestine to worship a Jewish God would be like a Catholic priest in the 1800’s going to Mesa Verde to worship the Great Spirit. Yet the astrologers in Matthew’s story say, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him.” That goes way beyond any “authority” Matthew might be lending astrology merely by assuming it actually worked. If it’s even questionable whether Matthew would do such a thing, it’s inconceivable that pagan astrologers would. There would be no point. They’d be endorsing a competing religion at the expense of their own.

      So no, Matthew may have assumed that occult stuff is real (as many Christians do today), but that doesn’t mean he’s endorsing it or assigning to it any undue authority. If anybody in this story is behaving contrary to their religion, it’s the pagan astrologers, and their betrayal of their religion is far less plausible than any presumed compromises Matthew could be accused of. The objections you raise, applied consistently to all the characters in the story, are strong evidence against the veracity of Matthew’s claims.

    • Deacon Duncan Says:

      Astrology would not be an acceptable source of authority to early Christians. As reported in Acts 19:19, a congregation burned all of their books on spiritism. There are Christians who to this day attempt to clear such things from their lives because they understand this, so I don’t credit the idea that early (especially early Jewish) christians would find this detail appealing if it were not simply matter of fact. The gospels seem to me concerned with one thing – testimony about the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. Christianity was not for the masses in that 1st century, there was no ecclesiastical authority and a “convert” was most likely going to bring some hardship upon themselves, so such a deception would not serve anyone.

      The congregation in Acts 19 burned their books relating to the “occult arts” precisely because they, like Matthew, believed that occult religious practices had some kind of magical supernatural power. There are Christians today who, like Matthew, pass on stories in which the occult is portrayed as really working, and they do it for the same reason Matthew did: to show Christianity somehow superior to occult powers. If you want to call that “appealing to an acceptable authority” or not, that’s up to you, but Christians have always done it and still do today. Or at least, those who believe in the supernatural do. There are liberal Christians today who do not believe any of that is really real, and not coincidentally, they do not burn occult books, because what would be the point? You might as well burn Aesop’s fables or any other work of fiction.

      Matthew clearly believes that astrology has some kind of magical power to reveal events on earth through observation of the heavens, and he clearly presents the story of the magi as a legitimate testimony to Jesus being King of the Jews. Nowhere does he even remotely suggest that their endorsement should be regarded as untrustworthy just because it comes from a pagan, occult authority. Quite the contrary. Which means, according to your scenario, that Matthew does regard the magi’s occult arts as being a legitimate source of supernaturally-acquired information (especially in the absence of any Jewish prophecy indicating that a specific star would appear to announce the birth of a specific king). Matthew does not condone the practice of astrology, as the Ephesian believers did not condone the practice of magic. Both Matthew and the Ephesians, however, believed that the occult was real, and had no problems referring to it as real. Otherwise, Matthew would have told us where the magi really got their information, and the Ephesians would have seen no need to burn the books.

    • Deacon Duncan Says:

      “from a purely scientific perspective, we know that stars do not, in fact, behave the way Matthew describes them as behaving”
      “You can’t follow a star from Jerusalem to a specific house in Bethlehem”

      Precisely – this is not recently unlocked knowledge – I am sure that Matthew would have known this as well. As to your point that Matthew is “evidently” unaware the Earth rotates, that could well be the case, but your assumption is that he believes the star was immobile in the sky – clearly if you read the text, the author does not believe that at all.

      Let’s review the text. Matthew 2:9 says “After hearing the king, they went their way; and the star, which they had seen in the east, went on before them until it came and stood over the place where the Child was.” Now, due to the rotation of the earth, stars appear to move in great arcs across the sky, from east to west (for stars that pass directly overhead at least). Bethlehem is about a 2-hour walk from Jerusalem, so if you do the math, you can calculate that the stars would move about 30 degrees during that time. But they’d be moving roughly westward, not southward, and Bethlehem is south-by-southwest from Jerusalem. So the direction is wrong. And then, according to Matthew, it came to a stop over the exact house in Bethlehem where Jesus was currently residing. So the mechanics are wrong too. Stars “move” because the earth is turning. To “stop” the stars, you’d need to stop the rotation of the earth. But that of course would stop all the stars.

      Now, would Matthew know anything about the actual mechanics of apparent stellar motion? Bill O’Reilly recently embarrassed himself by claiming on his TV show that “tides come in, tides go out, nobody can explain that,” even though we’ve known for centuries exactly how lunar gravity affects terrestrial tides. There are people who inexplicably fail to know the common scientific facts that “everybody” knows, especially if they’re prone to explain everything as the result of supernatural forces acting in mysterious, magical ways. Even if there were a number of philosophers and astronomers in ancient Greece and Egypt who knew that the earth was round and that it rotates on its axis, there were plenty of people (then as now) who preferred religious interpretations over scientific observations.

      Matthew more than likely believed that the sky was a “firmament” to which God affixed millions of tiny lights to mark the seasons, like it says in Genesis. He probably believed that the earth was standing still and that God was making the little lights in the sky move relative to the earth. Given that sort of cosmology, it’s easy to see how he might mistakenly believe God could just make one more light and let it move independently from the others. In fact, if you assume the sky is just some sort of dome above the clouds, you could almost believe the little lights were close enough to tell which house some particular star was standing over. Matthew’s story makes perfect sense, in the context of a mythological flat-earth worldview.

      We can’t necessarily fault him for his pre-scientific concept of the universe, but his misconceptions do provide us with a plausible explanation for why he thought he could get away with telling a story so clearly fictitious. He failed to recognize that astrology is a complete fraud, and he failed to understand elementary celestial mechanics, and he failed to realize that stars are simply too far away for anyone to be able to tell which individual house one of them might over. So he passed on a myth about astrology magically informing some Persians that the King of the Jews was born, despite the part about stars that move from north to south, and come to a stop over individual houses. He simply didn’t know any better, and his ignorance became part of his gospel.

    • Deacon Duncan Says:

      “have you noticed that when the magi arrive in Judaea (according to Matthew) the first thing they do is consult with the king, who then consults with the rabbis, who then consult the prophecies? That’s rather a roundabout way to drag prophecies into the story, if you ask me.”

      Or it could be that this is actually what happened, but at least we have now established that the earlier text in Matthew explicitly implies a prophecy. Luckily for the gospel writer, this sort of megalomaniacal activity would not be described as uncharacteristic for the reigning monarch at the time. This guy killed his own children because he was so paranoid – as history attests. I only believe that so many conveniences are possible when I am trying to determine the truth of something.

      “Explicitly implies”? 🙂

      By the way, I found another counter-example to your claim that Christian writers would never “appeal” to the authority of occult powers.

      Acts 16:16-19New American Standard Bible (NASB)

      16 It happened that as we were going to the place of prayer, a slave-girl having a spirit of divination met us, who was bringing her masters much profit by fortune-telling. 17 Following after Paul and us, she kept crying out, saying, “These men are bond-servants of the Most High God, who are proclaiming to you the way of salvation.” 18 She continued doing this for many days. But Paul was greatly annoyed, and turned and said to the spirit, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her!” And it came out at that very moment.

      19 But when her masters saw that their hope of profit was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the market place before the authorities…

      So, again, we have not established that Matthew is implying any kind of missing Hebrew prophecy about a star announcing the birth of “the King of the Jews.” Matthew, like other writers of Scripture, believed that occult powers were real and were a source of magically-obtained information, and just like Luke, was more than happy to portray these occult powers as giving people information confirming the alleged truth of the Christian story.

    • Deacon Duncan Says:

      “Matthew, perhaps more than any other writer, loves to cite prophecies. It seems implausible to suggest he would have passed up an opportunity to portray the OT prophecies as having influenced foreign wise men directly, if indeed prophecy had been their primary motivation in travelling to Jerusalem.”

      I think to be fair, as you just mentioned, he used the opportunity to describe how Herod had the priests search for this prophecy. There would seem little point in duplicating effort within one chapter?

      There would be no duplicate effort. Magi reading a prophecy in Persia, and believing it, would not in any way duplicate priests in Jerusalem looking up a different prophecy. And clearly, even if you assume the magi were motivated by some Jewish prophecy, it would necessarily be a different prophecy than the one that identified Bethlehem as the place to look for any “King of the Jews.” Otherwise the magi would not have needed to ask Herod to have the priests look it up for them. They’d have already had it.

      “So honestly, I don’t know how it could be any more obvious”

      I’m afraid in that we both have the same quandry 🙂

      Oh, I can easily tell you how Matthew could have made your point more obvious, had he indeed intended to. He could have written, “Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, ‘Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east, and we remembered that this star was spoken of by the Jewish prophet [some prophet], who said, [some quoted prophecy]. And lo, by our occult arts, we could have known nothing concerning this, yet by our study of your Jewish Scriptures we have learned that this star is the herald of the birth of a great King, the King of the Jews, and have come to worship Him.’”

      That’s how he could have made it more obvious. And conversely, if he were trying to tell us that the magi were making their journey because they saw a star indicating the birth of a new king, the most straightforward and obvious way to do it would be to say, “Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, ‘Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him.’” Short and to the point and not at all unclear, really. Why did they think a new king had been born? They explictly say why. “For we saw his star.” They’re astrologers, they saw a star, they interpreted the star as meaning a new king was born, and so they came.

      None of this actually happened, of course—astrology doesn’t really work, and Persian Zoroastrian priests wouldn’t worship a Jewish king even if it did. But Matthew is quite clear in the intent of his narrative. He wants us to believe that the stars, by God’s divine power, could compel pagan priests to testify on Christianity’s behalf, just like God (allegedly) compelled demons to bear witness to the Gospel. Like I said, an obvious, self-serving fiction, but not at all unclear in its intent.

    • Deacon Duncan Says:

      Following the link to the BBC article, it makes the statement that “evidence is accumulating”, but unfortunately does not offer evidence, a hint at, description of such evidence, nor links to any. 1000BC seems always to be considered a liberal estimate in any information I have read and seems more often, even within Zoroastrian tradition to be dated approx 600BC. I think the evidence that Judaism dates back much further than that is substantial, although skeptics continue to question the “type” of Judaism. I saw the mention of linguistic evidence, which seems to be that some of the writings attributed to Zoroaster are in an ancient Eastern Iranian language. I tried to research it a little, but I think the fairest thing to say is that the evidence is mixed and inconclusive. What I read about this early material seemed to also be creating a bridge to Zoroaster borrowing from Hinduism. It is just too difficult to determine the truth when scholars are reaching for an earlier date than even adherent tradition holds.

      Since you mention “adherent tradition” specifically, you might be interested in some of the following links.

      https://www.theosophical.org/publications/quest-magazine/42-publications/quest-magazine/1231-zoroastrianism-history-beliefs-and-practices
      http://www.hinduwebsite.com/zoroastrianism/history.asp
      http://zant.org/about/introduction-to-zoroastrianism/
      http://www.avesta.org/dhalla/dhalla1.htm#chap3 (see also http://www.hindunet.org/vedas/rigveda/ for the adherent tradition regarding the date of the Rig Veda)
      http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/zoroastrianism-i-historical-review
      http://www.zoroastrianstories.org/find-out-more/zoroastrianism-brief-history

      Adherent tradition dates Zoroastrianism up to six thousand years ago. Note, though, that the same critical techniques that assign later dates to Zoroastrian sources also assign later dates to Jewish sources, so if we apply a consistent critical technique to both traditions we still should favor the conclusion that Zoroastrianism is far more likely to have influenced Judaism than vice versa.

    • Deacon Duncan Says:

      Abraham and Moses pre-date Zoroaster. I submit that it almost stands to reason the writings in Genesis and the Penteteuch as a whole also predate Zoroaster and describe at a minimum a conflict between 1 true god and 1 evil/opposing power, Enoch, Abraham, Noah and others as communicating with/walking with 1 true God, a first and generally understood marriage between 1 man and 1 woman, awareness of clean and unclean animals (e.g. Noah) and awareness of a saviour. The book of Exodus has ritual purification, clean/unclean animals. The book of Leviticus establishes the laws of the priesthood.

      If we’re talking about the published Pentateuch, I think you better revise that one bit to read “marriage between one man and at least one woman, possibly his sister, and possibly including her sister, with ‘conjugal privileges’ possibly extended to her female slave(s), etc.” 😉

      The Pentateuch may or may not predate Zoroaster, but no, the 1 evil/opposing power is missing from Moses. Completely. Even the “bad guy” in the garden of Eden was only a snake, and not any kind of devil, regardless of what later, post-Exilic interpreters may have read into it. God’s enemies, according to Moses, were the other gods, and that’s why Moses had to tell the Israelites not to worship them. All that stuff about “there is no other God besides me” only happens in the books the Pharisees added to the Old Testament after the beginning of the Exile, when they were exposed to monotheistic Persian religious influences.

      Likewise, the Pentateuch contains no resurrection, no judgment, no hell. The blessings and cursings that went into the Mosaic covenant were all earthly blessings and cursings. The distinctly Zoroastrian influences simply are not found. Israel did have priests, of course, because everybody had priests. There’s nothing uniquely Zoroastrian about that. And laws about “clean and unclean” foods aren’t all that uncommon in a pre-scientific culture that has only superstition to protect them against serious food poisoning. But the distinctly Zoroastrian influences, particularly the dualism and the eschatology, are entirely absent. If we want to find Pharisaic dogmas in Moses, we have to put them there ourselves, because Moses never did.

    • Deacon Duncan Says:

      But of course, the much used trump card is supposedly the “resurrection”. However the claim that ancient Judaism had no concept of this is quite simply fallacious. For one thing, the book of Genesis describes the Enoch caught away into heaven / “taken” – i.e. the idea being that he was not believed to have “died”.

      Ok, so Enoch is a good example of not being resurrected, since resurrection cannot happen to anyone unless they have died. Jesus tried to find a reference to the resurrection of the dead in the writings of Moses, and the best he was able to come up with was an argument that God is the God of the living, not the God of the dead. But unfortunately, that’s the opposite of referring to any kind of resurrection from the dead, just like your example. You cannot get a “resurrection from the dead” out of references to people who are allegedly not dead, because resurrection can only happen to people who are dead.

      The reason you cannot find any reference to the dead being raised in the writings of Moses is because he did not write any, just as he said nothing about demons or hell or any last judgment. I’ll grant you that in our post-exilic manuscripts there are references to angels, though I will point out that we do not have any pre-exilic copies, and that the Pharisees succeeded in suppressing so much of Sadducean teaching that it’s difficult today to work out exactly what they did believe and teach. It’s entirely possible that the “angels” in our modern manuscripts were originally one or more gods—history isn’t the only thing written by the victor. And notice that Acts 23:8 tells us that the Sadducees did not believe in angels or ghosts/spirits, which suggests pretty strongly that in their version of the Pentateuch, there weren’t any. But somehow no copies of the Sadducean Pentateuch remain, which in itself kind of makes you wonder.

      Straying outside the penteteuch, the same thing is described for Elijah in 2nd Kings and there are no less than 3 resurrections described in 1 and 2 Kings. 1 Samuel 2:6 is suggestive of raising up from the grave. Several Psalms indicate a concept of resurrection (e.g. Psalms 49:15)

      Of course. The original Jewish Scripture was the Pentateuch, and that was the only Scripture accepted as canonical by the Sadducees who remained in Palestine and thus did not get the same exposure to Persian religious ideas as the Parsee/Pharisee Jews did. All the other books were added by the Pharisees, after the Exile. There may have been informal stories circulating prior to the Exile, but they weren’t Scripture, and in fact Jewish worship in general was Temple-oriented rather than Scripture-oriented. It was the exiled Jews, denied access to their Temple, who gave rise to the development of the Scripture-centered synagogue, and that’s what led to the expanded canon. It’s not surprising at all that there would be references to Persian religious ideas in the new Scriptures that were added by the Parsee/Pharisee Jews in Persia.

      In addition I would add that the book of Job which certainly predates Persian influence on Judaism and its source is not Zoroastrian. The book of Job details a concept of resurrection AND of a saviour in Job 19:25,26. Job 14:15 also has the strong suggestion of resurrection.

      Job is probably a bad example, because that’s the book that’s most likely to have been a Persian import in its entirety. It certainly does not fit in with any of the rest of the Old Testament. Christian scholars have given up and called it “old” simply because none of the names and places match anything referenced anywhere else in the OT, but that’s it. There’s no other evidence that it’s particularly old or authentic. It “must be old” because it doesn’t fit into any history recorded in the Old Testament. Unfortunately, the Pentateuch goes all the way back to the creation of the heavens and the earth, and it’s hard to get much older than that, at least in the Bible.

      And besides, if Job had been added to the canon of Jewish Scripture even before Moses, then the patriarchs would have heard of it. Yet no Old Testament author outside of Job ever shows any awareness of the people, places, or events of Job. And conversely the book of Job shows no awareness of any of the people, places or events of the Old Testament. And, interestingly, the “God” in Job is not Yahweh, or Jehovah, or the LORD. He’s “elohim,” the Hebrew word for gods, plural, plus a few references to “el” (god) singular, and “eloah” (god, derivative of “el”).

      The best explanation for the book of Job is that it’s a Persian story, adapted and imported into the Jewish Scriptures by Parsee/Pharisee Jews who saw themselves as following in Job’s footsteps, being afflicted through no fault of their own, yet bravely refusing to reject their God. They didn’t invent the story, but it instantly resonated with them, and they embraced it as a “true” tale and added it to their list of holy books. That’s why it’s tacked on to the last of the so-called “historical” books, right after the story of Esther’s adventures in Persia. Granted, Job isn’t necessarily Zoroastrian specifically, but may reflect multiple Persian religious influences. There’s no question, though, that it is entirely foreign to the people, places, and events of the rest of the Old Testament, and vice versa. So it’s not too likely that it’s any kind of snapshot of ancient Jewish beliefs, especially since there weren’t any “Jewish” beliefs prior to Jacob.

    • Deacon Duncan Says:

      “Notice, for example, that when Jesus tried to find Zoroastrian/Pharisaic-style resurrection in the Law of Moses, the closest he could come was a verse that said ‘I am the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.’ Hardly a resounding exposition of resurrection and judgment!”

      I think you perhaps do not appreciate that aside from giving the Saducees a direct answer to their question, it would not have been terribly useful if Jesus had quoted a passage of scripture that described resurrection and said “there you go”, because by definition Saducees did not accept the resurrection in scripture. Hence their reasoning through the 7 husbands and 1 wife dilemma, which using their own logic they felt could not be resolved. Instead, Jesus quotes Gods first address to Moses in the PRESENT tense, i.e. God did not say “I HAVE BEEN”, or “I WAS”, he said “I AM the God of…”. He uses a logical argument against them and it came from the very foundation of their own faith – Moses, not from another prophet.

      You seem to be unaware of the difference between the Sadducean scripture and the Pharisaic scripture. The Sadducees accepted only the Torah as genuine scripture. The other books were added to the Jewish scriptures by the Pharisees after the Exile. The reason why the Sadducees rejected resurrection and demons and hell and final judgment and so on is because these things were unscriptural—by their canon of scripture. These doctrines are found only in the books added to the scriptures by the Pharisees after they returned from Persia, where they picked up the Persian religious ideas. In this context, it is very obviously important for Jesus to find some passage in Moses that does teach a Persian-style resurrection. Except, of course, he can’t because Moses never wrote any such passage.

      And by the way, have you noticed what a terrible argument Jesus makes? According to Christian and Jewish belief, God is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, but He is also the God of the Exodus and the Ten Plagues. You don’t say “He was the God of the Exodus and the Ten Plagues,” as though He were no longer the same God. The present tense denotes only the continuity of God’s identity and (alleged) existence, not the continuation of periods He may have been associated with in the past. For God to say, “I am the God of X,” where X is something from the past (or the future), in no way implies that X is necessarily happening right now. Present tense, applied to the subject, tells you nothing about the timeline of the object(s) of the prepositional phrase(s).

      But suppose it did. Suppose Jesus were proving that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are alive right now, and not dead at all. That means they are not eligible for resurrection. Obviously, the living cannot be raised from the dead if they’re not dead in the first place. Even if you take Jesus’ argument at face value, he’s still proving that the Sadducees are right and that there is no future resurrection of the dead.

      And why on earth would Jesus, of all people, argue that God was not the god of the dead? God’s legal right to resurrect the dead and bring them to judgment is because He supposedly is the God of both the living and the dead, but here is Jesus denying that God is the God of the dead.

      It looks like Jesus is making a fairly stupid and self-defeating argument, and not one that will amaze and awe the crowds. But let me suggest a way in which this might not be the case. Remember that the indictment against Israel, repeated over and over again in the Pharisaic scriptures, was that they believed in and worshipped other gods. Even Moses seems to have believed in other gods, since he was so concerned about making sure the Israelites did not “commit adultery” with them. And remember: believing in the existence of something does not mean worshipping it: Christians believe in the existence of Satan, but that does not mean they worship him.

      So the reason Jesus’ argument seemed so amazing is this: the Sadducees believed that Yahweh was one of many gods, and was the particular god of the people of Israel. That’s why it was so important to remember that Israel’s covenant was with this god, and not any of the others. It was like marriage, where many men are available, but the woman is the wife of only one man (as numerous OT passages remind us). And, like marriage, this covenant was only “until death do us part.” Yahweh was only the god of the living Jews; Mot was the god of the dead. When you died, you went down to Sheol and were ruled over by Mot, and no longer by Yahweh. In strict Sadducean theology, Mot was now the new god of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

      That is why the people were amazed. It’s still not a reference to any kind of resurrection, but it’s a genuine Mosaic reference that seemingly describes souls in Sheol as still belonging to Yahweh, rather than to Mot. Personally I don’t think it’s a valid argument, since He would still be the same God even if all three had ceased to exist entirely, just as He is Lord of the Sabbath even when it’s not the Sabbath. But that’s an “if you think about it” kind of thing. It’s easy to overlook it when you first hear Jesus’ argument, and that’s why a lot of people would hear it and think Jesus had just scored a major point against Sadducean theology. Not because it really addresses the question of the resurrection, but because it scores a point for monotheism using the Sadducees’ own Torah.

      I suppose you might not have heard that explanation before, but I think it fits the facts a whole lot better than any of the traditional explanations. And it’s certainly a much better reason for Jesus to say that “God is not the God of the dead.” That denial doesn’t fit into Christian theology at all, so it must be an allusion to polytheistic/henotheistic Sadducean beliefs.

    • Deacon Duncan Says:

      When I say that Matthews story shows familiarity with Zoroastrianism on the Parsee/Pharisee side, but not the converse on the Zoroastrian side, I’m just pointing out that theres no record in Zoroastrian history of any Zoroastrian magi making a major astrological discovery about the birth of a new Jewish king in fulfillment of some ancient Jewish prophecy. The whole story, including the bits that would have had to have happened in Persia, exists only in the literary history of early Christianity. This, too, is consistent with the conclusion that Matthews story was a fictional invention.”

      I think to be fair the Zoroastrian magi could have literally been ANYBODY. I should not expect to find such a record and I do not believe it would have been an astrological discovery in any case. It is as you say, the story is a Christian one and standalone – there will and probably can be no real proof one way or another, but I have already stated why I believe the story is in there.

      But look at the assumptions your version of the story is making. You are assuming that, in a world without the printing press, Jewish scriptures were so highly regarded (by pagans!) in Persia that they were carefully preserved and studied for centuries after the Exile, even though the Jews were, in Persian eyes, a conquered people who worshipped a defeated God. Surely some reference to this would have survived somewhere, if only in Zoroastrian writings against such foreign influences. You are further assuming that this study would have convinced them that the appearing of a certain star would signal the birth of a specific, prophesied King of the Jews, and that when this happened, it would be an occasion for them to walk all the way to Israel, bearing expensive gifts, to worship him. And, judging from the fact that Herod is said to have killed all male children under the age of 2, it would seem that this journey and all its preparations took up to two years from the time they first saw the star to the time they arrived in Jerusalem.

      If that were all true, then the departure of the magi ought to have been a pretty significant event in Persia, the culmination of generations of prophetic studies and anticipation, followed by months of preparation and travel, not to mention the expense of the gifts themselves, just for a chance to worship the King of the Jews. And all without any kind of objection from any Zoroastrians saying, “Hey, what are you doing? We have our own God and our own Scriptures! Why are you running off to worship some foreign man?” The cultural influences necessary to create an environment where it was possible for “anybody” to achieve such a feat, unopposed, motivated by Jewish prophecies, without even being Jewish, would have had a huge impact on Persian culture, and would have left abundant traces of its existence, including some kind of mention of the time when all this effort and anticipation finally paid off.

    • Deacon Duncan Says:

      “I notice you seem skeptical about how much progress a religion can reasonably accomplish in just over a century”

      Not really, but I am pretty skeptical of the scale of revision required for your scenario, when plenty of evidence has been found that the bible is essentially unchanged from antiquity. You don’t seem to accept the implications of Judaism being so strongly influenced by Persia as you suppose. Pretty much all scripture would need to re-written by the Pharisees to suit the so-called Persian agenda. It is untenable given the number, history and oral tradition of so many bible books.

      You forget (or possibly did not know) that as far as the actual texts are concerned, “from antiquity” only dates back to around 200BC, centuries after the Exile. The oldest texts of the Septuagint only go back to about 300BC, which is still centuries after the beginning of the Exile. And even then, books outside of the Torah were not part of any formal canon of Jewish scriptures yet.

      The Torah has very little evidence of revision to suit Persian influences—change pronouns referring to “elohim” from “them” to “him” in a few places, but that’s only a few letters difference in Hebrew/Aramaic and was likely already being done orally, much like they pronounced YHWH as “adonai” (“LORD”) out of piety. The other books, added by the Parsee/Pharisee Jews, were not formally part of the scriptures until much later, and may not have been written down at all until Exilic times or later, existing as oral tradition up to that point. That’s all moot, though, because we don’t have any evidence of any pre-Exilic existence of these books, with or without Persian influences, so it’s pointless to speculate about how much revision they would have required in order to conform to Persian religious assumptions.

      One thing we do know is that these stories show signs of being late additions to Jewish traditions. In Ezekiel 26, for instance, there is a “prophecy” against Tyre “predicting” that God would send Nebuchadnezzar to beseige the city, and demolish the buildings of the mainland portion of the city, and use the rubble to build a causeway out to the island fortress so that it could be conquered. Something like that did actually happen, but in fact it was Alexander the Great who did it, not Nebuchadnezzar. That sounds very much like somebody far away had heard the story of the fall of Tyre, but got the conqueror’s name wrong, and then went back and added it to Ezekiel some time after Alexander the Great. Either that, or the whole book was written after Alexander.

      Likewise, you’ll notice that Isaiah’s God denies even knowing any other gods, whereas Moses’ God knows plenty of other gods, and needs to take care that His people do not worship them. Later (post-Exilic) generations adapt this discrepancy to modern doctrines by suggesting that Baal and other Canaanite gods were really just demons masquerading as gods. The problem is, the Torah doesn’t have any demons either! There are a few angels (which might be a later interpolation), but no demons, and certainly no warning from God saying, “Hey, watch out for demons pretending to be gods.”

      But the main point is that whatever “revisions” might have been needed, they wouldn’t have been difficult, and the Parsee/Pharisee Jews had centuries to get it done. The books themselves were not officially scripture (except the Torah, which is remarkably free from Persian influences), and we can’t be sure the stories from outside the Torah were even written down much before the post-Exilic period, at the earliest. Like so much else in Christianity, the story of the Old Testament as an inspired and unchanging canon “from antiquity” is a myth. A popular myth, much beloved by apologists, but a myth nonetheless.

    • Deacon Duncan Says:

      “I would also refer you to a good textual history of the Old Testament for an overview of how long it really took to finish fixing the text of the Old Testament.”

      If this is from the same types of sources that try to date Daniel in the post Maccabean – no thanks. The condition and agreement of the OT text is well attested to.

      Your response suggests that you might be picking which sources to listen to based on what conclusions they come to, rather than based on the evidence. I would encourage you to go back to some of those scholars whose work you reject and have a look at exactly why they reach the conclusions that they do. There is a reason why so many academic institutions, founded by conservative, Bible-believing Christians for the purpose of studying scripture, so often become more liberal over time—and it’s not because God is too weak to protect believing scholars from the wiles of the devil. The “problem” (if that’s the word) is that study involves exposing yourself to the evidence, and seeking to understand what it means and where it fits in.

      For instance, consider the Septuagint, one of the very oldest witnesses to the text of the Old Testament. It goes back to the late third century BC (which is still centuries after the beginning of the Exile), and contains a Greek translation of the Hebrew “holy books” of that era. It contains a number of books no longer considered scripture (1st and 2nd Esdras, Judith, Tobit, 3rd and 4th Maccabees, the Book of Wisdom, Sirach, and Baruch), and people today will give you any number of reasons why those books should not be included in the canon of the Old Testament. So why are they in the Septuagint? Simply because those people weren’t around when the Septuagint was written, and so there was nobody making any arguments against including them. The texts of what we call the modern Old Testament canon were not, at that time, fixed in their present form.

      Likewise even the New Testament contains the odd reference here and there to what we today refer to as apocryphal books. According to Origen (who was not by any means a modern liberal scholar), Paul’s references to Jannes and Jambres come from an apocryphal “Book of Jannes and Jambres,” and Jude’s reference to Enoch’s prophecy comes from the apocryphal book of Enoch. And Jude, of course, also cites the apocryphal “Assumption of Moses” as authoritative. But that should not surprise us, because such books were not officially “apocryphal” at that time. The official canon of scripture, in its present form, was not fixed until much later. As far as Paul and Jude were concerned, they were citing the holy books—the scripture—that they had at the time.

      “And by the way, I don’t know of anybody who is seriously suggesting that the Parsee/Pharisee Jews had to rewrite their own history, discard oral tradition, rewrite the whole of holy scripture, add a few prophets, made up kings and apochrypha”

      Well, if you want to “insert” the alleged Zoroastrian influences I listed above and “redact” the polytheistic pagan stuff you allege was there, then you most certainly do.

      But of course there is no need to “insert” anything into any post-Exilic books if they did not exist prior to the Exile (and we have no real evidence that they did). And apart from a few trivial changes in pronouns, the “polytheistic pagan stuff” is still there. God still sets aside Abraham and his descendents to belong to Himself and not to any other god, Moses still warns Israel against worshipping other gods, and the people still commit idolatry and are punished for it. Even in the books outside the Torah, the recurring theme over and over again is Israelites being unfaithful to their god by worshipping other gods, despite the strong monotheistic preferences of many OT writers. It never occurs to them that they could or should deny that, as a matter of history, people in Israel were polytheists who worshipped many gods besides just Yahweh, much to the latter’s displeasure.

      And of course Genesis still begins with the story of how “elohim,” which is literally “gods,” plural, created the heavens and the earth. Here, let’s take the text of Genesis 1:26-27, and let’s translate “elohim” literally as “gods”, and let’s eliminate the pronouns by replacing them with the noun they refer to, i.e. elohim/gods:

      Then gods said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” Gods created man in gods’ own image, in the image of gods gods created him; male and female, gods created them.

      Honestly, there’s no denying that this is a polytheistic creation story. And doesn’t it make more sense to create both males and females in the image of gods who are both male and female? Changing “them” to “him” is trivial, especially in Hebrew, and that’s literally the only thing that turns this story into a monotheistic creation myth. And notice that the “Us” and “Our” are in the original—they didn’t even change ALL the pronouns. If Genesis had been written in Victorian England (in English), then you might perhaps suppose that this were some sort of “royal we,” but if you check out the rest of the Bible, you’ll find out that God does not talk that way. This one place where you have a story about the actual words spoken by “elohim,” they use first person plural. Yahweh does not: He calls Himself “I AM,” and tells Moses to use that name (which also goes to show that Moses didn’t really write Genesis, otherwise he’d have used the name God told him to use, instead of inexplicably changing God’s name to “gods” plural).

      So no, the polytheistic elements have not been redacted at all. The text has been subtly tweaked by altering the pronouns, but apart from the pronouns, it’s a polytheistic story right from the very first chapter. And the whole rest of the Old Testament—even the books added after the Exile—bears witness to Israel’s long, pre-exilic history of worshipping many gods.

    • Deacon Duncan Says:

      In response to your example, I again find myself in difficulty trying to resolve the discrepancies. If the Jews were truly polytheistic for all that time as is claimed, then WHY do you suppose that the entirety of old testament from Exodus through to Malachi is so down on them?

      Let me as you a question: if Christianity teaches that both God and the devil exist, then why is Christianity so down on Satan worship? Is this really a hard question? Pre-exilic Jews believed that many gods existed (polytheism), and that they had a special covenant with one of those gods such that they were his people and he was their god. It’s just like in marriage: pledging to be faithful to your spouse in no way obligates you to believe that no other members of their gender exist. It’s merely a commitment not to have a relationship with any of the others. Polytheists can likewise commit to worship and serve a single one of the gods they believe in, without being forced to convert to monotheism. The Old Testament is down on worshipping other gods precisely because Israel believed it had the opportunity to do so. Only polytheists have such an opportunity.

      Do you propose that it was ENTIRELY rewritten by Persian schills?

      Not at all, since in its present form it bears out exactly what I am saying.

      Why does scripture not spend more time praising the Baal and Asherah?

      For the same reason that, having forbidden adultery, it does not spend more time telling husbands how great other women are. In fact, the reason it spends so much time preaching against the lures of the adulteress is because other women really exist. And in the same way, it preaches against worshipping other gods precisely because the writers believed other gods were real and were trying to lure Jews into infidelity towards Yahweh.

      No, instead it says the people turned away to these other gods.

      Exactly.

      SO … for the Persians to reverse engineer all this self condemnation would be a very complex task.

      And a completely unnecessary one. First of all, these texts all acknowledge that Israelites believed in many gods and were actively worshipping them. No reverse-engineering is necessary. Secondly, the Jews were not being condemned for believing in the existence of other gods, they were condemned as having broken their covenant with Yahweh in the same way that adultery breaks the marriage covenant with one’s spouse. In fact, this exact analogy appears fairly often in the Old Testament. But here’s the thing: if you’re going to genuinely commit adultery with a woman, that woman must first exist. The Israelites were condemned and judged, in the OT stories, for the relationships they had with gods who were not Yahweh. No one anywhere in the Old Testament is ever condemned or judged for merely believing in the existence of other gods. All the stories you allude to are stories about other gods being real, and Israelites being spiritually adulterous with them.

      You are talking about the REASON the Israelites were in the promised land, their ancestry, their monarchy (they are even condemned by Samuel for wanting a KING). And pretty much EVERY SINGLE Hebrew prophet delivers the same types of messages in different times – so what I am asking is how anyone can conceivably claim that these scriptures 1) were revised to incorporate Zoroastrian views in a short time frame, but 2) were not revised to include Zoroastrian influence in a short time frame, because religions don’t work that way. It seems like you want the same result no matter which way it blows.

      Well, I think you might have a fairly major misconception regarding the meaning of what you’re reading, since you explicitly note that, as I’ve been saying, the Israelites were in fact worshipping other gods. But also you have to remember that the books outside of the Torah were all added to the canon of Hebrew scriptures well after the Exile. Apparently, there’s good evidence that they may not even have been written before the Exile, and even the Torah itself might only date back to the Davidic kingdom. But regardless, the stories we have today, in their present form, largely confirm what I’ve been saying here, so there’s no reason to think any kind of wholesale revision would be needed.

    • Deacon Duncan Says:

      And if we are citing Genesis it clearly says ‘In the image of “Elohim” ->hehe<- created them.'
      Elohim is the plural form, but clearly the entity is singular. Male and female are separate, but "He" is not, so it is not really as you suggest. I don't read Hebrew nor do I understand their thought process, but I can only suppose that using the plural form is the most suitable for a deity, who is much more than a He

      You might suppose that, but it isn’t true. If the divinely inspired writer(s) of Genesis had revealed to us that “Gods” plural was the most suitable form for refering to a singular deity, then that’s how truly pious people would always refer to Him. It would be disrespectful to refer to Him using an unsuitable form. But nobody does. Yahweh never calls Himself “us” or refers to Himself in the plural, nor does anyone else ever refer to YHWH in the plural. And while it’s true that all the surviving manuscripts use the singular pronoun “he” to refer to “elohim,” it’s also true that those are all manuscripts produced and possibly “corrected” by the monotheistic Parsee/Pharisee branch of Judaism, centuries after the Exile. And it just doesn’t add up.

      Think about it. Imagine you are the one writing down the creation story in Genesis 1, way back at the beginning of the Jewish scriptures. Imagine yourself as a strict monotheist, living in a culture filled with polytheists who believe that the heavens and the earth, and you want to explain to them that, no, gods plural did not create the world, but there is only ONE creator. And you’re asking yourself, “Now, how shall I refer to this unique, singular deity?” Clearly you’re not going to decide to call Him “gods” plural, because that would only promote the very heresy you’re trying to correct. And if you’re Moses, you’re not going to decide to name the Creator “Gods (plural),” because you asked God what His name was, and He said to call Him “I AM” (which, interestingly, Moses never does, anywhere!).

      For a strict monotheist living in a pagan polytheistic culture, the least suitable name for God would be “Gods” plural. That’s why none of our English Bibles translate the Hebrew literally. If you stood up in church and read Genesis 1:1 as “Gods created the heavens and the earth,” people would think you were preaching heresy, because Gods plural = polytheism.

      But that in itself gives us a clue as to how a singular, monotheistic God could end up with an inappropriate name like “Gods” plural. You need a group of people for whom Hebrew is not their native language—say, a group of exiled Jews born and raised in places like Babylon, Assyria, and Persia. The first generation of exiles, born and raised in Israel, would be polytheists who (at best) worshipped one god but not the others, and who would tell their children stories about everything the elohim did in ancient times. But the children, growing up in a foreign country and speaking the languages of the Gentiles, would find it easier to treat the Hebrew word “elohim” as a proper name for a singular god, no matter what it technically means in the language their ancestors spoke.

      Remember, this is a people who believed that their God was supreme within His own territory. To be conquered by foreigners and dragged off to exile was not just a terrible political and economic catastrophe, it was a major theological crisis as well. Persian-style monotheism coupled with Israel’s historic polytheism gives the exiled Jews a compelling narrative to account for God’s seeming humiliation at the hands of foreign gods. He wasn’t defeated at all—their God was the One True God of the entire world, and He was punishing the Jews for their polytheism! Their suffering was self-inflicted, but their God was triumphant and supreme! Hosanna and amen!

      In this context, is anybody really going to quibble over what some Hebrew word really means? or which pronouns you copy into the text of Genesis 1? This is your whole national/ethnic/religious identity at stake here. And who was it who came back from Persia to Israel? Out of all the exiled Jews, the ones who came back were the ones who regarded their national/ethnic/religious identity above all else. The ones most likely to embrace monotheism as the vindication of their God, despite the subjugation of Israel by foreign empires.

      That’s the most plausible scenario I’m aware of for how a bunch of monotheistic Jews could wind up with a collection of scriptures that frequently refer to God as literally “gods” plural. It accounts for the existence of the original plurals, consistent with the polytheistic past of Israel, as reported by the Bible itself. It accounts for the weird inconsistency between the pronouns and their antecedents. It accounts for the disagreement between the Parsee/Pharisees and the Palestinian Sadducees. It even accounts for Jesus’ odd remark about God not being the god of the dead. And it’s 100% consistent with the manuscript evidence we have today. What more could you ask for?

    • Deacon Duncan Says:

      The point I was trying to make is that the divisions SHOULD have been something like the Christian reformation period when you are making the claim that oral and written tradition were pulled from underneath an society with roots as strong as the Jews, notwithstanding the influence of a 2 generation exile in pagan Babylon! By the first century, there were only 4 real sects of Judaism – I don’t think that is a very likely outcome.

      I suspect you’re not taking into account the substantial differences between the two periods. Parsee/Pharisee Judaism arose as a reaction against outside, pagan influences, as an attempt to defend an vindicate Jewish religious authority in the face of the conquest and exile of the Jews from their allegedly God-given homeland. Under the circumstances, it was only natural for the Jews in exile to absorb Persian ideas such as monotheism, and a cosmic struggle of good versus evil (with “us” as the good guys, of course), and an ultimate final judgment in which the one true supreme deity gives everybody what’s coming to them (and serves them right, too). These were doctrines that not only vindicated Judaism in the face of national defeat and exile, but elevated Judaism to the status of the One True Faith for All Mankind. The whole point of Parsee/Pharisee Judaism was to preserve the ethno-religious identity of the Jewish exiles—quite the opposite of a divisive goal!

      The conflict happened when the exiles returned to Israel and found that Palestinian/Sadducean Judaism hadn’t undergone the same evolution. But notice, the struggle wasn’t over whether or not God was the supreme authority over Jewish faith and practice, as mediated by the prophets and the priests. This was a dispute over which doctrines were to be regarded as having come from the supreme authority that both Pharisees and Sadducees acknowledged. It was a debate within the territory of Palestine, for the most part, between Jews speaking a common language, living in a common culture, in a relatively small community.

      Contrast that with the divisions that occurred during the Protestant Reformation. The European Christian community was much larger than the Palestinian Jewish community, for one thing, and much more ethnically diverse, encompassing multiple different languages, cultures, ethnicities, regional religious variations, and frequently-contested boundaries between nations. And unlike the Parsee/Pharisee Jews, the Protestant Christians were reacting against internal abuses, corruption, and greed coming from the highest ranks of the Church itself, all the way up to the Pope. Plus you have the rise of Enlightenment thinking, and humanism, which suggested that the Church was neither a scientific nor a moral authority, at least to many people. And to top it all off, the Pope was Italian, while most of Europe was not.

      In contrast to the Parsee/Pharisee evolution of Judaism, the Protestant Reformation was a direct rebellion against the authority of the Church, and against the authority of an Italian Vicar (which the Italians didn’t mind, but the rest of Europe had mixed feelings about). Protestantism was an expression of doubt in the legitimacy of traditions and traditional authority, plus the assertion that every believer had the right, and indeed the duty, to read his own Bible and decide for himself what God was really saying. If this ended up with every man believing whatever interpretation was right in his own eyes, what’s so surprising about that? That’s about the only outcome possible for such a doctrine. Of course Protestantism almost immediately fragmented into thousands of different sects!

      But the other hugely significant factor in the Protestant Reformation was the invention of movable type. Suddenly, not only was there a reason for every person to read their own Bible, it was actually possible for every person to have their own Bible. Parsee/Pharisee Jews in the early centuries BC didn’t have that. They had to pool their money and buy a community copy of their Scriptures for their local synagogue, which is a powerful force for union among the believers. Books were expensive, besides being a source of ethno-religious identity for an exiled people trying to avoid being absorbed and forgotten by the larger pagan culture. It was as natural for Jewish believers, in exile, to unite around their synagogues and scriptures as it was for European Christians, having rejected the authority of Apostolic Tradition (as the Church called it), to give rise to as many different sects as there are different interpretations of the Bible.

      So no, I totally do not see why you would expect the history of Judaism after the Exile to parallel the history of the Protestant Reformation. And besides, Christians teach that Jesus is a divine Person, distinct from God the Father, who nonetheless is equally God, along with the Holy Spirit. If you believe that the Jews were always modern-style monotheists, and that Christians have always believed and taught the Trinity, isn’t that a much greater theological upheaval than merely introducing the idea that Yahweh is the only True God? It seems to me that you should expect the introduction of Christianity to be far more like the Protestant Reformation than the introduction of monotheism would be. It’s far easier to tell people that the gods they don’t worship are false gods than to get a strict monotheist to accept a new divine Person.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: