Burning Cross and El Zorro (…aster, that is)

No, not the Spanish swashbuckler, El Zorro, but Zoroaster aka Zarathushtra.

In working on a discreditation of an argument made by the Arizona Atheist (results here) I noted one of his sources of information in the form of a website titled Burning Cross.
Therein, I ran across one of sadly very many likewise quite unscholarly articles claiming that since Judaism and Christianity borrowed from Zoroastrianism they are therefore to be relegated into the realm of mythology. However, the true mythos is the supposed borrowing by Judaism and Christianity when the facts of the matter, those bothersome historical facts that get in the way of a good polemic, imply the reverse is the case.

El Zorro

El Zoroaster
Incidentally, why is it that you can illustrate any male that lived anywhere from
1,000 to 10,000 years ago by simply slapping a beard on some nondescript guy?

Again, while likewise tall tales abound, I will respond to an article on the website by the title Burning Cross which is entitled Zoroastrianism and Its Origins. The article seeks to demonstrate that Zoroastrianism originated before Judaism and Christianity and is the source from which they both borrowed, as they state it,

From historical research, and the study of Jewish and Christian texts, scholars have firmly concluded that Judaism and Christianity borrowed heavily from the theological thought of the Persians or Zoroastrians.

One of my favorite things is noting statements which make reference to that which “scholars have…” stated. You could generically write, without those bothersome citations, “scholars have ____________” and fill in the blank with anything at all.
This is tantamount to what some atheists like to write about scientists, “scientists say…” or the more impressive “most scientists say ____________.” Wow, I am impressed by the argument from authority before even hearing it. Note also that “most” can mean 99% and that is almost all of the generic “they/them” but “most” can also mean 51% and that is awfully close to half.

In any regard, let us consider the borrowing scenario as Burning Cross states,

It is believed that Zoroaster, the founder of Zoroastrianism, was born in the area now know as Afghanistan, though some scholars place his birth as somewhere in the Kashmir Valley. The ancient Greeks, like Aristotle, date the era of Zoroaster as being 6,000 BCE.

Again, “some [generic and un-cited] scholars” say…
I actually do not mean to pick on these generic statements too much but have done so in order to show that the article was heavy in claim and light on evidence.
For example, since they want to conclude that Judaism and Christianity borrowed from Zoroastrianism it is pointed out that Aristotle “date the era of Zoroaster as being 6,000 BCE.”

(FYI: “BCE” refers to before common era and is in reference to before Christ as it is Jesus’ birth which is used as distinguishing between BCE and CE common era; see this post for more)

Let us ask that which pseudo-skeptics appear to never even bothering asking of anything but the Bible and its characters:
Who was the historical Aristotle?
How do we know that Aristotle even lived?
When did Aristotle live?
How do we know?
What is the time of Aristotle’s various words and actions to the time they were recorded?
What is the time of the recording to the time of the first manuscripts we have?
How many manuscripts do we have and how do they compare? (perhaps Bart Ehrman will write “Misquoting Aristotle”).
Etc., etc., etc.

It does not matter to the pseudo-skeptical Burning Cross who date Zoroaster to 6,000 before Christ because for all we know a mythological character called Aristotle said so and so it must be true. Take it back as far as you wish for all I care. In fact, take it to 60,000 or 600,000 BC if you like. The further back Zoroaster is dated the more the pseudo-skeptics think that they can concoct ideas of Judaism and Christianity borrowing from him when in fact, as we shall see, the further back they date him the worse it is for them.

There actually is quite a bit of disparity amongst those seeking to date Zoroaster and it runs from 600 to 6,000 BC. Note that the Encyclopedia Britannica states,

A biographical account of Zoroaster is tenuous at best or speculative at the other extreme. The date of Zoroaster’s life cannot be ascertained with any degree of certainty. According to Zoroastrian tradition, he flourished “258 years before Alexander.”…indicating that his birthdate was 628 bc.

The Burning Cross does get to the point which point which is, you guessed it:
Who was the historical Zoroaster?
How do we know that Zoroaster even lived?
When did Zoroaster live?
How do we know?
What is the time of Zoroaster’s various words and actions to the time they were recorded?
What is the time of the recording to the time of the first manuscripts we have?
How many manuscripts do we have and how do they compare? (perhaps Bart Ehrman will write “Misquoting Zoroaster”).
Etc., etc., etc.

No, they actually do not delve anywhere close to this depth of skepticism as they would surely argue that these questions are irrelevant. Why? Because even if Zoroaster is a completely mythological personage the point is to demonstrate that Zoroastrian theology predates Judaism and Christianity and thereby concoct a theory of borrowing.

The Burning Cross notes,

The main holy book of the Zoroasrians is the Zend Avesta, but only the portion known as the Gathas [hymns], is thought to have been actually written by Zoroaster.

This is actually a lot more telling than its passing reference within the article implies. Indeed, the only portion of the Zend Avesta which are attributed, even just attributed, to Zoroaster are the Gathas. Why is this important? Because they are what we may term “hymns”—as the Burning Cross rightly did. The point is that these, the supposed earliest and original source of Zoroaster’s theology, do not contain Zoroastrian theology but are hymnal in nature. That which Judaism and Christianity supposedly borrowed is not found therein.

Incidentally and for reinforcement; the Encyclopedia Britannica affirms that “Only the hymns, or Gathas, are attributable to Zoroaster. It also states, “The Avesta is in five parts. Its religious core is a collection of songs or hymns, the Gathas, thought to be in the main the very words of Zoroaster.”

Let us dig a little deeper as Burning Cross explains when, from where and what was borrowed:

For centuries Zoroastrianism spread across Persia under the patronages of two very powerful Persian dynasties, the Achaemenids and the Sassanids.
During this time the cannon of twenty-one Zoroastrian holy texts were compiled called the Nasks.
It is from this cannon of Zoroastrian literature [compiled several millennia before the New Testament or the Old Testament were written] that Judaism and Christianity have received the main tenants of their religion, i.e. the concept of Monotheism, that of a Divine Father and a Divine Son, the idea of a Garden of Eden, the concept of the first created humans Adam and Eve, the Resurrection, the Day of Reckoning, Heaven, Hell, the Duality of Good and Evil [God and the Devil], the belief in a Messiah, the belief in Angels, etc.

Reference is made to the Achaemenids and the Sassanids without any dates.
The Nasks cannon is referenced without any dates but apparently we are to infer contextually that it was compiled at the time of the undated Achaemenids and Sassanids dynasties.
Then we are told that “this cannon,” the Nasks, were compiled a generic “several millennia before the New Testament or the Old Testament.”

Let us consider the last telling portion of the Burning Cross article and then eludicate:

Some scholars are of the opinion that Judaism, and particularly Christianity, have borrowed stories and theology directly from the Vedas and Puranas, but it is more likely that they received these elements of religion through the Persians without any direct contact with India.

“Some scholars” this, other scholars that…

So, the cannon of Zoroastrian scripture was compiled at the Achaemenids and Sassanids dynasties. The Achaemenids date from 550-330 BC and Sassanids from, as the Encyclopedia Britannica states it, “The present Avesta was assembled from remnants and standardized under the Sasanian kings (3rd–7th century ad) [emphasis added].”
Note the detail that the Avestas “assembled from remnants” and feel free to drag these remnants as far back as 550 BC if you wish but they were “standardized between the 3rd-7th century ad which the Encyclopedia Britannica details as “Sasanian period (ad 224–651).”
Now, let us take the Burning Cross preferred date of 6,000 BC and conclude that we have anywhere from 6,224 to 6,651 years—over six millennia—between Zoroaster’s supposed words and a standardized cannon. See what I mean: let them go back as far as they wish as it only gets worse for them. Even if we go by the 600 BC date we get 824 to 1,251 years—and pseudo-skeptics have conniptions at the fact that the New Testament was written by 70 AD.

As for the Achaemenids (550-330 BC); note the statements of Ilya Gershevitch:

While the Avesta furnishes us with a wealth of diverse religious ideas most of which existed during the Achaemenian period, it lacks a historical contextualization. It is completely devoid of references to persons, institutions, or events of Achaemenian times…
The place names mentioned, apart from mythological geography, are all in Eastern Iran; it is as though Persia did not exist. Accordingly, as the canonization of the scripture took place long after the Achaemenian period, the lack of references to identifiable Achaemenian realia makes the Avesta an elusive source for the religion of Achaemenians in general and Persia in particular.[fn] Ilya Gershevitch, ed., The Cambridge History of Iran (Cambridge University Press, 1985), p. 666[/fn]

Furthermore, James R. Russell notes,

Zoroaster himself is not mentioned in Achaemenian monuments, nor indeed is his name to be found in the inscriptions of the Sasanians, who were undoubtedly Zoroastrians.[fn] James R. Russell, Zoroastrianism in Armenia (Harvard University Press, 1987), p. 49[/fn]

For reiteration let us note that Ernst Herzfeld wrote,

Our main source for details on Zoroaster is the Avesta, a collection of sacred texts which was put in writing between 346-360 AD.[fn] Ernst Herzfeld, Zoroaster and His World (Octagon Books, 1974), p. 774[/fn]

Recall that we must not only consider the time of the writing and the time of the compilation and standardization but the time of the actual manuscripts, even the earliest ones. John Waterhouse relates that the earliest manuscript copies that we have date to the 13th century AD.[fn] John Waterhouse, Zoroastrianism (Pierides Press, 2008), p. 56[/fn]
Thus, if dating Zoroaster to 6,000 we have circa 7,200-8,200 years to the relevant manuscripts and if we date him to 600 we have circa 1,800-1,900 years—go back as far as you like, it only gets worse.

The Internet Sacred Text Archive’s copy of “Pahlavi Texts, Part IV (SBE37), E.W. West, tr. [1892]” states:
Contents of the Nasks as Stated in the Eighth and Ninth Books of the Dinkard – Observations,
“The manuscripts used, being the only two independent authorities for the text of the Dinkard known to exist, are:…written A.D. 1659…written A.D. 1594 and later…”

Details of the Nasks from Other Sources – Observations,
“The manuscripts mentioned are:…written A.D. 1659…written A.D. 1679…written A.D. 1813…probably written A.D. 1572…written about A. n. 1780…about 150 years old. [this was written in 1892 AD]”

Also, IV. From the Rivayat of Dastur Barzu Qiyamu-D-Din:

23. At present, since the Nasks have not remained perfect in the midst of us, it is not possible to solemnize them, because Alexander the Ruman [the Great] carried off a rough draft…and repeatedly burnt the books of the Avesta…every one of the high-priests, in council together, preserved something of the Avesta in his mind…which they wrote correctly; as to the remainder (tatammah) which they did not write, it was on this account, that they did not preserve it correctly in their minds.

And, From the Din-Vigirgard:

8. …the subdivisions of that Nask were fifty when the accursed Alexander had the Nasks burnt up, but after that, as they sought out this Nask, only thirteen of those subdivisions came to hand, and no more remained of those previously existing.

20. …Of all the twenty-one Nasks the Nask of ‘the law against the demons’ has alone remained entire; while several remain scattered by the wickedness (sumih) of the accursed Alexander

22. Now, alas! if all these Nasks do not remain, so that one is not able to solemnize them, that is for this reason, that the accursed Alexander, the Aruman, took several transcripts—in the Aruman language and characters (hurufo)—of any among those twenty-one Nasks which were about the stars and medicine, and burnt up the other Nasks…

Jenny Rose further notes,

The incorporation of certain motifs into the Zoroastrian tradition in the ninth century CE [AD] 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.[fn] Jenny Rose, The Image of Zoroaster (Bibliotecha Persica Press, 2000), p. 27[/fn]

Indeed, if there was any borrowing at all it was not by Judaism and Christianity from Zoroastrianism but by Zoroastrianism from Judaism and Christianity.

Also, note various statements made in the Larousse Encyclopedia of Mythology:

the Persians no doubt received from the Semites the notion of a last judgment and together with related ideas: prophets and world salvation prepared by a messiah. [p. 322]

Though preached by Zoroaster as one aspect of his system, this dualism only became implanted much later under the political pressure of the Sassanians who were eager to renew an ancient and indigenous tradition in opposition to Hellenistic influences. Until then it had been merely an opinion of one sect. [p. 312]

Lastly, consider statements by Jan Bremmer:

For the influence of Christianity in this period we probably also have another example. According to several Zoroastrian writings, the Greeks under Alexander the Great had destroyed not only a precious Achaemenid Avesta codex but also the other religious books, which had been written in 12,000 ox-hides.
In fact, there is not a trace at all of these writings in the Achaemenid period, and the tradition seems to have been created in order to explain the absence of a Persian holy book in contrast to those of the Jews, Christians and Manichaeans. This lack of written religious tradition seems to have been first seriously felt precisely in the same period in which resurrection became an issue.[fn] Jan Bremmer, The Rise and Fall of the Afterlife: The 1995 Read-Tuckwell Lectures at the University of Bristol (Routledge, 2001), p. 50[/fn]

Thus, Burning Cross presented a good polemic but by not bother to cite scholars and not bothering to discuss the diversity of the dates of Zoroaster’s life and, most importantly, not bothering to date the texts to which they made reference they failed to do anything except discredit themselves.

For further information about the alleged similarities between Jesus and Zoroaster see: Is there a Connection Between Jesus and Zoroaster