Investigating apparent commonalities between the apocalyptic traditions from iIan and second-temple Judaism

Van der Merwe, Jeanne (2008-03)

Thesis (MPhil (Ancient Studies))--Stellenbosch University, 2008.


This thesis seeks to investigate the possible influence of Iranian apocalyptic on the Judaean apocalyptic literature, which was widely disseminated in the Near East during the Hellenistic and Roman phases of the Second Temple Period (c. 539 BCE- 70 CE). The similarities between Zoroastrianism and Judaism have been the object of scholarly study for more than a century. Iranologists such as Zaehner, Widengren and Boyce were particularly partial to the notion that Zoroastrianism influenced Judaism. They felt such influences were an inevitable consequence of the Judaeans living under Achaemenian rule for almost two centuries, and in close proximity of Persian communities for some centuries after the demise of the Achaemenid Empire. They based their conclusions on literary parallels between some key biblical passages and Persian literature, linguistic evidence and the obviously dualistic nature of both religions. Recently, however, this point of view has come in for criticism from biblical scholars like Barr and Hanson, who have pointed out that many seemingly Iranian concepts could as easily have emanated from other Near Eastern influences or evolved from within the Judaean tradition. The similarities between the Iranian and Judaean world-view are particularly apparent when considering the apocalyptic traditions from Zoroastrianism and Judaism: Both traditions view the course of history as a pre-determined, linear process in which good and evil are in constant conflict on both a physical and metaphysical level, until a great eschatological battle, introduced by a “messiah” figure, will rid all creation of evil. A judgment of all humanity and resurrection are envisaged in both traditions, as well as an utopian eternal life free of evil. However, it is very difficult to prove that these two apocalyptic traditions are in any way related, as most of the apocalyptic works from Iran are dated considerably later than the Judaean apocalypses, which mostly originated during the Hellenistic period. The apocalyptic phenomena within the two traditions are also not always entirely similar, raising the possibility that they are indeed not the result of cultural interaction between the Iranians and Judaeans. Furthermore, one must also consider that many phenomena constituting apocalyptic occurred widely during the Second Temple Period in the Ancient Near East, on account of the general state of powerlessness and disillusionment brought about by the Macedonian conquest of the Achaemenid Empire and the resulting political unrest. This study investigates the relations between Judaeans and Iranians under Achaemenian rule, the political and religious background and apocalyptic traditions of both these peoples in an attempt to ascertain whether Iranian beliefs did indeed influence Judaean apocalypticism. These investigations will show that, given the cultural milieu of the Ancient Near East in the Second Temple period, contemporary Greek evidence of Zoroastrian beliefs and the interpretative bent of Judaean scribal and priestly classes, there is a strong likelihood that seemingly Iranian concepts in Judaean apocalypticism were indeed of Iranian origin.

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