There is a very interesting article in this morning's N.Y. Times which talks about the dwindling numbers of members of the religion known as Zoroastrianism (Zoroaster being the Greek version of the name Zarathustra). This is a religion which may go back almost a thousand years before the birth of Jesus, and originated in Persia, modern day Iran, but its devotees largely immigrated to Bombay (Mumbai) in India when they were persecuted and executed during the original Islamic revolution at the beginning of the Middle Ages. Yes, there are some adherents in the U.S. and the U.K. and Australia, but only a few.
What is especially interesting about this religion is that it is monotheistic and involves a belief in free will. Here is a brief excerpt from the article--- "The very tenets of Zoroastrianism could be feeding its demise, many adherents said in interviews. Zoroastrians believe in free will, so in matters of religion they do not believe in compulsion. They do not proselytize. They can pray at home instead of going to a temple. While there are priests, there is no hierarchy to set policy. And their basic doctrine is a universal ethical precept: “good thoughts, good words, good deeds.” One might have thought that a non-violent monotheistic religion that believes in free will might attract more Americans in particular.
Here is the link for the full article---
What is of interest to me is that some scholars have been suggesting for well over a hundred years that some of the beliefs of Judaism and Christianity may well derive from Zoroastrianism. Perhaps you will know Friedrich Nietzsche famous and influential book "Thus Spake Zarathustra". For all the hype however, the connections between Zoroastrianism and either Judaism or early Christianity are very tenuous at best, and don't really explain much. What is however very interesting is that this religion has all along believed women were equal with men and should be able to be fully educated and fully participate in their own religion. In other words, this religion gives the lie to the myth that monotheistic religion is always necessarily patriarchal in the sense that it sets up hierarchies that end up marginalizing women and denying them various roles in society and in their own religion. Certainly, this religion could not be accused of being secular, modern, liberal, or a host of other epithets. It is clearly an ancient religion and yet women have been allowed to play vital roles in the faith including as its priests.
For my purposes what I would like to say is four things: 1) unfortunately we do not have really ancient source documents about this religion, only those which date from after the NT era, so we are not certain what the original forms of this belief system and religion were actually like; 2) it is just possible that when exilic Jews were in Persia during the beginnings of the Persian empire they came in contact with this religion. If so, it is hard to see in what way it influenced Judaism, if at all; 3) it is quite clear that earliest Christianity, being an offshoot of early Judaism in Israel and then elsewhere in the Roman Empire owes no debt to this religion, including not in its celebration of the Lord's Supper or baptism, which are rituals which derive in part from Passover and water rituals in early Judaism; 4) monotheism was not the exclusive belief of early Jews before the turn of the era. Not only was their Zoroastrianism, there was also a period in Egyptian history when Akenaton was Pharoah that there was a belief in an abstract form of monotheism (the belief in the sun disk being the one and only deity or force ruling all)
What this suggests to me is this--- all humans are created in the image of God. It is not surprising then that various humans in various different places without influence from one another, would independently come up with the idea that there is only one God.
Think on these things.