I was researching the history of Satan (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Satan) and came across the following explanation about Zoroastrianism' influence on Christianity,

Did Christianity originate from Zoroastrianism and Judaism

Is this a debated theory? Is there strong evidence for or against it?

  • 1
    As with most theories in religion, what I know if it is definitely debated, though I think I read about the influence Zoroastrianism had on Jewish (and consequently Christian) eschatology (see final paragraph of this article: ancient.eu/zoroastrianism). However, as a Christian, what makes much of the claims about its influence debatable, are the scriptures were only settled "after" Christianity had gained prominence meaning many of its teachings could actually have come from Christianity instead of vice versa. See: britannica.com/topic/Avesta-Zoroastrian-scripture – ninthamigo Jan 2 at 4:40
  • And ultimately, it is hard to fairly adjudicate such a disagreement about who influence who, I know that as a Christian, I'm unfortunately incapable of evaluating it in an unbiased manner. – ninthamigo Jan 2 at 4:41

Yes, this is a prevalent theory in historical criticism.

The name Satan, stems from the Hebrew word “śaṭan,” a term whose definition includes “adversary” and “accuser.” The term is found in ten instances in the OT. Six of these describe a human being:

  1. David in 1 Samuel 29:4
  2. Abashai (David's nephew) in 2 Samuel 19:21-23
  3. Solomon reflects on having no more śaṭans or “adversaries” to fight in 1 Kings 5:4
  4. Hadad the Edomite in 1 Kings 11:14
  5. Rezon, son of Eliada in 1 Kings 11:23
  6. an adversary within a legal proceeding in Psalm 109:1-6

and four instances refer to celestial servants of God. These figures are typically seen as angelic beings, or (in Hebrew) benay elohim, “sons of God.”

  1. Balaam and the Angel in Numbers 22:22
  2. Haśśaṭan in the story of Job
  3. Haśśaṭan in Zechariah 3:1-2
  4. A retelling of David's story in 1 Chronicles 21:1, where David is disassociated from śaṭan (more on this below)

śaṭan was thus never used as a proper name and served merely as a term to identify an adversary. In the Hebrew Bible there was no Satan with a capital S, and in early Hebrew traditions, there was no devil, demons, or Hell. Evil and suffering in the world instead had another source; God himself. The Book of Isaiah 45:7 reads:

“I form light, and create darkness, I make good and create woe: I the Lord do all these things”

According to the Hebrew Bible or Old Testament, God alone controlled all events and was responsible for all conditions within creation, both good and evil. This idea, however acceptable it was early in Jewish traditions, became confusing and frustrating, and led to the basic question of theodicy: How could a loving and benevolent God allow so much suffering and pain on earth?

The eventual answer to this question within the religion of ancient Israel was found during the Persian period, 539-332 BCE, the period in which Persia controlled the entire Near East, including Israel. Perhaps the earliest point in Satan’s history may have its roots in the Persian Empire, which in turn influenced ancient Judaism.

The ancient religion of Persia was Zoroastrianism, based on the teachings of a religious philosopher named Zoroaster who may have lived around 600 BCE. Among his teachings was the compelling idea of dualism. According to dualism, evil does not stem from the good God or spirit known as Ahura Mazda, “wise lord,” within the faith. Instead, there existed a separate evil being known as Ahriman, “fiendish spirit,” also known as Angra Mainya, “evil spirit,” that created death, disease, and lies.

People had to choose whether to follow Ahura Mazda on the path of good or Ahriman on the path of evil. The idea from Persia that God himself was separate from evil would have been an acceptable answer to the early Jewish theodicy question and would have explained how there could be such suffering in a world created by a loving God. From this was born the idea that God did not personally create suffering himself, but that he would instead use other lowly figures to complete such tasks with his approval. This idea would lay the foundation for Satan’s entrance into the world.

In 1 Chronicles, śaṭan is prototyped for the first time in the Bible as a separate entity. Chronicles is also one of the last books of the OT, written around 300 BCE (so at the end of just after the Persian period). This seems to suggest that śaṭan based on Zoroastrian concepts had evolved from being a simple term used to describe any kind of adversary, human or angelic, to a major source of malice or evil. This concept of Satan would continue to develop outside of the Jewish canon, in the period known as the intertestamental period.

The intertestamental period refers to the 300-400 years between the completion of the Hebrew Bible, and the beginning of the New Testament that saw a flourishing of religious writings, especially apocalyptic ones. The apocalypticism of the intertestamental writings included an attempted to further explain why there was such great suffering in the world. This was a period that saw the invasion of the Greeks in 332 BCE and the advent of Roman control of the Near East starting in 63 BCE, and the diminishment of independent Jewish control over their own lands around Jerusalem. Jewish population was divided between those who accepted and those who rejected the Hellenization of society. Roman occupation also led to an increase in violence which ultimately led to a major assault on Jerusalem, a great famine against the Israelites, and the destruction of the second Temple in 70 CE.

It is during this period that Satan’s final development takes place before he emerges in the New Testament as God’s greatest adversary:

  • the Life of Adam and Eve 17:4, changes the serpent that tempted Eve to eat the forbidden fruit into Satan. While this change is now a rather common assumption, it was relatively new in the 1st century CE
  • the Life of Adam of Eve 12:3, states Satan and his followers were cast away from heaven for refusing to worship God and Adam, the image of God, as they were commanded. This passage attempts to explain the origins of Satan as an outcast angel from primordial times.
  • in 1 Enoch (written 200-60 BCE) expands on the idea of the angelic beings known as the “Watchers” referred to in Daniel 4:13, 17 and 23 and attempts to connect them with the obscure account from Genesis 6:1-4, , in which angels descended to earth to reproduce with women under the leadership of Azazel. In the final chapters of the book, Azazel’s name is changed to Satan, showing the name’s growing popularity within the Jewish culture.
  • similarly, in the Book of Jubilees (written 160-140 BCE) the watchers, under the leadership of Mastema, descend to earth to teach justice and righteousness as commanded by God. However, they soon abandon his command and, as in 1 Enoch, mate with human women. While God does cast most of these watchers into the fiery pit, Mastema is allowed to keep one tenth of his followers.
  • 2 Enoch 29: 1-4, which contains what is probably the most well-known origination story of Satan – the fall from grace into a pit. Much like the previous books, it pulls from earlier scripture, specifically Isaiah 14:12 and Ezekiel 28:17-18. Satan appears as a high ranking officer in the cosmic army named the saba’ot, “angelic hosts.” With his followers, he attempts to overthrow the Kingdom of God to gain his own power. However, the rebellion fails and he is cast out of heaven and is said to fall endlessly over the “bottomless pit.” This passage draws from Isaiah the allusion to a Canaanite myth about an ancient rebellion led by “Day Star,” or “Morning Star,” from which arose the coinage of a popular name for Satan, that is the name Lucifer, the Greek form of Hebrew “Day Star.” Historians generally attribute the original texts upon which this story is based as a reference to Nebuchadnezzar II, not the devil.

The writing of the New Testament would bring to an end the early development of Satan and bring him center stage in Christianity as the most powerful opponent of God, Jesus Christ, and humankind. Much like many concepts within Judeo-Christian tradition, the development of Satan was a slow and gradual process. It took hundreds of years to make him the merciless King of Hell who, as the New Testament book of Revelation has it.

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