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Evolution of Heaven and Hell in the Bible from Zoroastrianism – Good news for the Fearful

What I am about to show you is very good news for the following people: Ex-Christians who fear punishment from God for deconverting, current Christians who fear eternal punishment for their unsaved friends and loved ones, and anyone who is fearful of hell in general either for themselves or others.

As you know, fundamentalist Christians and Evangelicals believe in the doctrine that the saved go to heaven, while the unsaved non-believers go to hell for eternity after they die, to suffer an eternity of torture without end, a fate beyond the scope of anyone’s imagination. One can imagine the fear that this would invoke in those who take it literally, yet many Christians do just that. The mere thought of such a predicament would stir fear in anyone. However, what I am about to show you will be a huge relief for those who fear this, and good news to them as well. It will demonstrate that this horrible concept of eternal punishment is a creation of man rather than a revelation from God.

Fundamentalists believe that the doctrine of eternal damnation is God’s law and declaration to mankind, and has been the same from past, present and on to the future. But the simple historical and even Biblical evidence shows that not to be the case. Here is something shocking:

The idea of Heaven and Hell is borrowed from another religion and only taught in the last 30 of the Bible!

In fact, the concept of both heaven and hell didn’t even exist in the first two thirds of the Bible. It started becoming part of the Bible in the last third of it. While it is vague whether the concept of an afterlife with God was part of the Jewish scriptures, the concept of a hell for sinners was definitely not part of the Jewish tradition. It evolved into the Bible, beginning with the time of Daniel. At that time, the Jews were living in captivity of the Persians, who had a religion called Zoroastrianism. Zoroastrianism is known by religious historians as the first religion to have a concept of heaven and hell. Do you see the obvious connection now? The Bible originally didn’t have such a concept UNTIL the Jews met with followers of Zoroastrianism, which DID have that concept. That means the concept was ADOPTED FROM ANOTHER RELIGION!

In addition, Zoroastrianism brought other concepts into the Bible, such as the theme of a God vs. Satan, a physical resurrection of the dead, and a final judgment day of the world. The Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia makes this conclusion as well under the entry “Judaism”.

“Some elements of Persian religion were incorporated into Judaism: a more elaborate doctrine of angels; the figure of Satan; and a system of beliefs concerning the end of time, including a predetermined scheme of world history, a final judgment (see Judgment, Last), and the resurrection of the dead. These ideas were expounded in many visionary documents called apocalypses; none of them was included in the Hebrew Bible except the Book of Daniel (see apocalyptic literature; eschatology).”

Likewise, the Encyclopedia Americana states:

"First, the figure of Satan, originally a servant of God, appointed by Him as His prosecutor, came more and more to resemble Ahriman, the enemy of God. Secondly, the figure of the Messiah, originally a future King of Israel who would save his people from oppression, evolved, in Deutero-Isaiah for instance, into a universal Savior very similar to the Iranian Saoshyant. Other points of comparison between Iran and Israel include the doctrine of the millennia; the Last Judgment; the heavenly book in which human actions are inscribed; the Resurrection; the final transformation of the earth; paradise on earth or in heaven; and hell." by J. Duchesne-Guillemin, University of Liege, Belgium

In the article The First Coming: How the Kingdom of God Became Christianity, Thomas Sheehan writes on the Zoroastrian influence on the Bible:

“This recasting of Yahweh as apocalyptic destroyer was strongly influenced by the Zoroastrian religion that the Israelites had encountered during the Babylonian Exile. Zoroaster (ca. 630-550 B.C.E.) had taught that the world was the scene of a dramatic cosmic struggle between the forces of Good and Evil, led by the gods Ormazd and Ahriman. But this conflict was not to continue forever because, according to Zoroastrianism, history was not endless but finite and in fact dualistic, divided between the present age of darkness and the coming age of light. Time was devolving through four (or in some accounts seven) progressively worsening periods toward an eschatological cataclysm when Good would finally annihilate Evil and the just would receive their otherworldly reward in an age of eternal bliss. Zoroastrianism's profound pessimism about present history was thus answered by its eschatological optimism about a future eternity.

As Israel's political fortunes faded and as such Zoroastrian ideas as these took hold, Judaism shifted the focus of its religious hopes from the arena of the national and historical to that of the eschatological and cosmic, from political salvation in some future time to preternatural survival in an afterlife. This radical change can be seen in late Judaism's adoption of notions like the fall of Adam from paradisal grace at the beginning of time, the workings of Satan and other demons in the present age, and the Last judgment and the resurrection at the end of history--all of which Christianity was to take over and turn into dogmas. But the clearest sign of this absorption of Persian ideas can be found in the eschatological visions of history that surfaced in apocalyptic literature during the two centuries before Jesus began to preach.

One such apocalyptic work was the Book of Daniel, composed around 165B.C.E. during the Maccabean revolt against the oppressive Seleucid dynasty. The tyrannical King Antiochus IV, who ruled Palestine (175-03 B.C.E.) from Syria, had undertaken to force Hellenistic religion and culture on his Jewish subjects. He deposed the legitimate high priest, forbad ritual sacrifice and circumcision, plundered the Temple treasury, and, most shocking of all, set up the "Abomination of Desolation" (Daniel 11:31),an altar to Olympian Zeus, within the Temple precinct.

The Book of Daniel was written by an anonymous author in the second century B.C.E.; but in a way typical of apocalyptic works, the book purported to have been composed some four centuries earlier by a prophet named Daniel, and pretended to predict the catastrophic events that in fact were happening in the author's own lifetime. The work interpreted these events as "eschatological woes," a time of sufferings and troubles "such as never has been since there was a nation" (12:1). According to God's hidden plan, these woes marked the final stage before the destruction of the old and godless world and the final triumph of divine justice.”

“Here and there in the NT, Satan seems to be the enemy of God, but this is a later mixture that may well have come from Persian Zoroastrianism, to which the exile Temple hierarchy would have been exposed in the sixth century BC. Zoroastrianism had an evil anti-god called Ahriman or Angra Mainyu, the co-equalm counterpart to Ahura Mazda. Ahriman had created snakes, scorpions, etc., while Ahura Mazda created everything else. Judasim appears to have borrowed this notion, plus the elaborate angelology and demonology, as well as their notion of a virgin-born Savior who would at the end time raise the dead for the final judgment from Zoroastrianism. In fact the Jewish sect closest to Zoroastrian beliefs, the Pharisees, as T.W. Manson theorized, may originally have received their name as a sarcastic cat-call. Pharisee may be a variant on "Parsee," synonym for Zoroastrian.”

In The Skeptical Review, Farrell Till explains how the concept of a resurrection was incorporated into Jewish beliefs in an entry on Daniel and the Resurrection:

“Not until the end of the Old Testament period, after the Jews had been exposed in their exile to the idea of a general resurrection, was the hope of life after death clearly stated in the Bible. Biblical inerrantists, of course, object to the mere suggestion that an important doctrine like this was borrowed from other cultures rather than having been revealed to the Jews by their god, but even a biblical reference work as conservative as Eerdmans Bible Dictionary recognizes that the idea of resurrection to eternal life was a concept that the Jewish captives had brought back with them when they returned to Judea from their exile. The clearest such reference to a resurrection would be Daniel 12:1-3.

At that time Michael, the great prince, the protector of your people, shall arise. There shall be a time of anguish, such as has never occurred since nations first came into existence. But at that time your people shall be delivered, everyone who is found written in the book. Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. Those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.

Zoroastrianism taught the concept of a general resurrection, and this religion flourished in Persia at the time of the Jewish exile. After the Jews had been repatriated, this concept, which had been unknown prior to the exile, became a widely held belief in postexilic Judaism. The fact that Daniel is the only book in the Jewish canon to make such a clear reference to a general resurrection, although not conclusive, is certainly one more indication that this book was compiled some time after the captivity.”

For more reading on this subject, Google “Zoroastrian influence on Christianity”.

In any case, the Old Testament is not obsessed with the concept of heaven and hell, but rather, the New Testament is. Although the Old Testament contains verses such as "I go to be with my Lord forever" it does not make specific references to an afterlife heaven (just to clarify, we are talking about the afterlife concept of heaven here, not the use of using "heaven" to describe the firmament in the sky) and Hell until the Book of Daniel and Isaiah, and even then it only speaks of it briefly, nowhere near the amount and frequency that it does in the New Testament.