Rabbanism and Zoroastrianism:A look into the origins of the Talmud
A Publication of the al-Qirqisani Center for the Promotion of Karaite Jewish Studies
By Dr. Zvi Cahn and Yosef Yaron
edited by xakham Avraham Ben-Raxamil Qana
Zoroastrianism and Rabbanism. Copyright 2001 the al-Qirqisani Center. All rightsreserved. Printed in the United States of America. No portion of this book may bereprinted, reproduced or used in any manner except that implied by sale, and in thecase of brief citations for the purpose of critical articles and reviews. For informationsend inquiries to email@example.com
Library of Congress Card Number: pending
ISBN 0-9700775-6-4 (pbk.)______________________________________
Rabbanism and Zoroastrianism:A look into the origins of the Talmud
The Babylonian Talmud was greatly determined byZoroastrianism, the dominant religion of Persia during the first andsecond Babylonian exile. We find in it not only Persian superstitionand legend, but many decisions handed down in accordance withPersian law, not to speak of the customs and usages of Persian life.Even the forms and expressions of the literary Pahlavi entered intothe Talmud Bavli in no small abundance. The Talmud was soinfluenced by this alien religion that it is difficult to sift the Jewishfrom the Persian; especially, in matters pertaining to spirits andimps, astrology and other superstitions of Persian source.
It is, of course, gratuitous to say that the burden of proof restshere; but it is, in reality, no burden. For even to those who havefound the statement above over-amplified, the following detailedexposition will reveal the full measure of Persian influence on theTalmud.
This exploration of Persian influence is organized according tothe following catagories: Ideology, legend, laws and customs,proverbs, and language the five phases of influence ofconsequence.
A system of nomenclature for angels in Jewish literature,previous to Iranian influence, did not exist. Manifestations referredto in English as angels, (from the Greek angelos, which meansmessenger) were, of course, referred to in the Bible, however, without
specification. The names of angels had been embodied in the Persianreligion, from whence it was taken by the Talmudists, as is attestedto by the Talmud itself. Thus one finds now in Rabbanite lore the evil1
angel and the angel of good. In Persian teaching, it is Ahura Mazda,who meets the latter requirements, and Ahriman, the Prince ofDarkness, who is the incarnation of bad.2
The induction of Persian elements extended even to the namesof entities in their pantheon itself. Above all is Mithra; Hadar, the3
angel of fire; Dahraman the angel appointed over the dead; Tir, the4 5 6
guardian of rainfall; Serosh, defender against evil spirits; and the7
angels who bear the prayer before Ahura Mazda, and many more are8
found conspicuously in the Talmud and subsequent Rabbinicliterature.
DEMONS, FIENDS AND EVIL SPIRITS
As with angels, the Amoraim of Babylon were in theconsideration of, and belief in, demons derived from Persian lore.
Ahriman is known likewise as Satan who arouses the evil in9
man, afterwards bringing about his degradation and death. In theZend-Avesta, he is also alluded to as the Primordial Serpent;10
(Vendidad II, 384) . To him is ascribed the pains of menstruation11
that are visited upon this world (Vendidad I).His myriads of helpers are called devs (devils), and they12
infest the universe throughout (chap. 1,21). However their place ofhabitation is the cold North; particularly, they revel in the vicinity13
of graveyards (Ibid. II, 337) .14
Ahriman is also privileged to ascend the heavens and castthere his accusations (Ibid. III, 62) .15
There are two kinds of demons, male and female; and they16
assume different shapes and forms, such as that of man, or that of17 18
a fly. And like the human race, they multiply; for those who19 20
wantonly spill their seed, bring demons upon the earth.21
Eshem is the greatest of the devils. One of the fundamental22
teachings of Persian religious conduct is the avoidance of uncleanhands; for Sabetch, the baneful spirit, rests upon such hands.23 24
The cock that crows in the early dawn drives away the imps ofthe night (Ibid. 143, 93) . During the period of darkness no one must25
offer his hand, or receive the hand of another (Ibid.).26
To repel these unseen forces, each Persian intoned a specialprayer. The demons mastery extends over the participants in27
wedlock (Ibid. ), and over the mother in the pangs of childbirth28
(Ibid. III, 223) ; that of fiends, over wells and springs (Ibid.).29
The driving off of pernicious spirits by adjuration was amongthe Persians a conviction that translated itself into action. Wholesystems of conjuration were devised; and many were the invocationswith which some of them commanded the devils. All this entered intothe Talmud.
In exorcising a demon, the chief thing to utter was I expel youfrom me (Ibid.). If one has been bitten by a mad dog, an accordant30
spell must be cast in order to eject the hurtful spirit. This incantationhas been written into the Talmud (Vendidad I. 30); also, those31
against forgetfulness, and that the sheep of the slaughterhouse may32
be fatter. Too, did the Talmudists (Cf. Shabbat 90) take over the33 34
Persian belief in cameos and talismans (cf. Kleiker II, 179 [?perhapsKeli Yeqar]) as capable of averting evil.
The reading of the sacred writings as a means to restore35
health, is analogous to the effects the Persians attributed to theirZend-Avesta. Generally speaking, it is the Persian religion that isresponsible for the appearance of demons and imps in the Midrashand Talmud.
PARADISE AND GEHENNA,THE MESSIAH AND RESURRECTION
The idea of a Reward and Punishment after death is notknown in the Bible. It gained credence among the Jews because it didamong the Babylonians; and following its sweep over the Persians,to whom it represented an unassailable conviction. In Vendidad IX,there is a detailed account of the life of the righteous in the Gardenof Paradise.
The Amoraim wholly and unreservedly received thisconception, as evinced in the Talmud Yerushalmi, TractateKelayim, as well as in the Midrash Bereshit Raba. And thus wefind in the Talmud completely depicted that: Paradise, as Hell, isdivided sevenfold; after death, the good and bad must pass over a36
bridge, the righteous entering Paradise, while the latter fall into37
warmer climes, where they are led to the incessantly blazing furnaces.And the punishments that are inflicted upon them are great andvaried; some are continually suspended by their feet, others eat oftheir own flesh. This celestial chastisement sometimes takes the formof sharply-pointed objects and spears. For those who have duringtheir mundane existence spoken ill of their neighbours, there are thereversed gallows, so that their tongues may loll out in pain andanguish; still, others are burnt in their own excrement, or in their38
own semen; some are hanged by the hair or skull smoke issues39 40
from the graves of others.41
The Persians believed that in the generation that was to see thedivine deliverer [Persian Saoshyant], humanity would greatlydwindle, and soon after will the dead arise, with Ahura Mazda as the42
supreme deity and guardian of mankind. In like manner, does theTalmud dwell upon its notion of the Delivery, with, of course,43
different identities.The Zend-Avesta, in its theory of Resurrection, as that of the
Talmud, finds it wholly feasible; for did not the One On High in the44
beginning create substance from a void, to raise the dead would beonly recreating His handiwork. After Resurrection, homage to King45
will no longer be necessary, and the Devils shadow will no moredarken the earth.46
In the Persian faith, the righteous dwell in Paradise and areluminous as the stars (Vendidad II. 130 ). He who does not peruse47
the Zend-Avesta is doomed.The art of magic does not derive from the Evil Power, and all
wise men can practice it (Vendidad 18, 166). The Talmud, expressinga like opinion, believes that the Sanhedrin should possess thesesupernatural qualities.48
Because of debauchery and licentiousness will the rains bewithheld from the soil (Ibid. 18, 125). He who studies the Scriptures49
will be at peace with Temptation (Ibid. 19, 19). Even the godly, after50
their expiration, fear the Angels of Evil so as not to be enmeshed intheir snares before they enter Paradise.51
The Iranian conception was that of two firmaments; the visibleone, of precious stones, and the second, vaulting above the first52
(Ibid. 19, 128).Both the Zend-Avesta and the Torah (according to the
Talmud) are alike in their power to repel demonic influences, merelyby reading, to their followers. The idea of the Persians that the good53
deeds of the pious are accumulated in a treasure-trove is also broughtout in the Midrash.54
An reference to the Persian angel Mithra, the preceptor ofchildren and guide to the devout on their passage to Heaven, and55
who is also clothed in white, is found in the Talmud.56
That the departed souls of the virtuous are retained under thevery Throne of the Almighty (Ibid. 19), is also in the Talmud asimparted by Rav Eliezer.57
To worship the glory of God out of love for His Divine Beingwas to the Persians more meritorious than the homage of fear; aTalmudic dissertation, too.58