The theory of universal restoration (apokatastasis), the eventual eviction of evil and the purification, conversion and salvation of all rational creatures, was prominent in early Christian thinkers and present in more Patristic theologians than is commonly assumed. But, besides having philosophical, Biblical, and Jewish roots, may it have stemmed from another religion? The only suitable candidate would be Zoroastrianism. An analysis of the available sources concerning Zoroastrian eschatology shows that it is improbable that this may have influenced the Christian apokatastasis doctrine. At least, it is impossible to prove anything like this, mainly for chronological reasons. Fruitful interactions may, however, have occurred at the time of Bardaisan. This essays shows the importance of comparative religio-historical studies, and the reconceptualizing of theological doctrines into social discourse, for research into early Christianity.
E.g. Gerhard van den Heever“In Purifying Fire: World-View and 2 Pet 3:10,”Neotestamentica27 (1993): 107–118; idem “Making Mysteries. From the Untergang der Mysterien to Imperial Mysteries – Social Discourse in Religion and the Study of Religion” Religion & Theology 12 no. 3&4 (2005): 262–307; idem “Novel and Mystery: Discourse Myth and Society” in Ancient Fiction: The Matrix of Early Christian and Early Jewish Narrative eds. Jo-Ann A. Brant Charles W. Hedrick and Chris Shea Symposium 32 (Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature 2005) 89–114.
As demonstrated by Ilaria RamelliBardaisan of Edessa: A Reassessment of the Evidence and a New Interpretation. Also in the Light of Origen and the Original Fragments from De India (Piscataway: Gorgias Press2009); see also eadem Bardaisan on Human Nature Fate and Free Will (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck forthcoming).
See e.g. Mary BoyceA History of Zoroastrianism. 1. The Early Period Handbuch der Orientalistik. Erste Abteilung Nahe und der Mittlere Osten 1. Abschnitt 8. Bd. Lfg. 2 (Leiden: Brill1975); eadem Zoroastrians: Their Religious Beliefs and Practices (London; Boston: Routledge and Kegan Paul 1979) 1–130 on Zoroastrianism from pre-Zarathustrian times to the Sassanian period and esp. eadem Textual Sources for the Study of Zoroastrianism 2nd ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press 1990); Michael Stausberg Die Religion Zarathushtras. Geschichte – Gegenwart – Rituale 2 vols. (Stuttgart: Kohlhammer 2002); Prods Oktor Skjærvø The Spirit of Zoroastrianism (New Haven: Yale University Press 2012).
Michael Stausberg“On the State and Prospects of the Study of Zoroastrianism,”Numen55 (2008): 561–600individuates eighteen major foci of innovative recent research among which textual studies are prominent (570–574) besides religion and politics (576–579) and impact on and interaction with other religious traditions.
E.g. Anders Hultgård“The Magi and the Star,” in Being Religious and Living through the Eyes: Studies in Religious Iconography and Iconologyeds. P. Schalk and M. Stausberg (Uppsala: University1998) 215–225; idem “Das Paradies: Vom Park des Perserkönigs zum Ort der Seligen” in La Cité de Dieu/Die Stadt Gottes ed. Martin Hengel et aliiWUNT 129 (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck 2000) 1–43; idem “La chute de Satan: Arrière-plan iranien d’ un logion de Jésus (Luc 1018)” Revue d’ Histoire et de Philosophie Religieuses 80 (2000): 69–77.
See Albert de Jong“One Nation under God? The Early Sasanians as Guardians and Destroyers of Holy Sites,” in Götterbilder Gottesbilder Weltbilder. Polytheismus und Monotheismus in der Antikevol. 1 eds. R.G. Kratz and H. Spickermann FAT 2.17 (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck2006) 223–238.
SimmonsUniversal Salvationxix. The only proviso here again is what “universalist” means: Simmons takes it to mean that salvation is offered to all although it is not achieved by all. When I use “universalism” I mean this in the sense that salvation is both offered and eventually achieved by all – the doctrine of apokatastasis. This is what I am tracing in Zoroastrianism and ancient Christianity to determine which of the two may have influenced the other on this score or even whether there might have been a common source.
See Albert De Jong“Iranian Connections in the Dead Sea Scrolls,” in The Oxford Handbook of the Dead Sea Scrolls(Oxford: Oxford University Press 2010) online: DOI:10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199207237.003.0021; Shaul Shaked “Eschatology I. In Zoroastrianism and Zoroastrian Influence” in Encyclopaedia Iranica 8.6 ed. Ehsan Yarshater (London: Routledge 1998) 565–569: here 568–569; also David Winston “The Iranian Component in the Bible Apocrypha and Qumran” History of Religions 5 (1966): 183–216; Émile Puech “Les Esséniens et la croyance à la résurrection: de l’ eschatologie zoroastrienne aux notices de Josèphe et d’ Hippolyte” in Sibyls Scriptures and Scrolls ed. Joel Baden Hindy Najman and Eibert J.C. Tigchelaar Supplements to the Journal for the Study of Judaism 175 (Leiden: Brill2017) 1068–1095. None of them however tackles the question of the possible Zoroastrian influence on the Christian doctrine of apokatastasis.
Elliot Wolfson“Seven Mysteries of Knowledge: Qumran Esotericism Recovered,” in The Idea of Biblical Interpretationed. Hindy Najman and Judith H. Newman Supplements to the Journal for the Study of Judaism 83 (Leiden; Boston: Brill2004) 177–213here 177–178.
See BoyceHistory294–330; William Malandra “Vendīdād” in Encyclopaedia Iranica online ed. http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/vendidad; Prods Oktor Skjærvø “The Videvdad: Its Ritual-Mythical Significance” in The Age of the Parthians ed. Vesta S. Curtis and Sarah Stewart (London; New York: I.B. Tauris 2007) 105–141. A full study or up-to-date edition and translation of the Vendidad is deplored as still lacking by Stausberg “State and Prospects” 573.
Philip Kreyenbroek“Good and Evil in Zoroastrianism,” in Gut und Böse in Mensch und Welt: Philosophische und Religiöse Konzeptionen vom Alten Orient bis zum frühen Islameds. Heinz-Günther Nesselrath and Florian Wilk Orientalische Religionen in der Antike 10 (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck2013) 51–61.
See on this Almut Hintze“Frašō.kǝrǝti,” in Encyclopaedia Iranica10.2 ed. Ehsan Yarshater (London: Routledge2000) 190–192; Boyce Zoroastrians 25–26 summarizes this “renovation/healing” theorized by the Bundahishn in the following terms: “ ‘Creation’ was the first of the three times into which the drama of cosmic history is divided. Angra Mainyu’s [sc. Ahriman’s] attack inaugurated the second time that of ‘Mixture’ (Pahlavi ‘Gumezisn’) during which this world is no longer wholly good but is a blend of good and evil; for the cycle of being having been set in motion Angra Mainyu continues to attack with the Daevas [sc. devs] and all the other legions of darkness which he had brought into existence … mankind thus shared with the spenta divinities the great common purpose of gradually overcoming evil and restoring the world to its original perfect state. The glorious moment when this will be achieved is called ‘Frashokereti’ (Pahlavi ‘Frashegird’) a term which probably means ‘Healing’ or ‘Renovation’. Therewith history will cease for the third time that of ‘Separation’ (Pahlavi ‘Wizarishn’) will be ushered in. This is the time when good will be separated again from evil; and since evil will then be utterly destroyed the period of Separation is eternal and in it Ahura Mazda and all the Yazatas and men and women will live together for ever in perfect untroubled goodness and peace.” It must be remarked that this picture is attested with certainty only in Sassanian times and not in pre-Christian times. Moreover the exact fate of the wicked punished in hell at that final stage – the most crucial element for a comparison with the Christian doctrine of apokatastasis – remains ambiguous: see above the main text.
BoyceHistory1.242–244 sees “two different traditions in Zoroastrianism with regard to the fate of the sinners. Some traditions state that the sinners will be destroyed utterly others that the final judgement – which is carried out by a river of fiery metal extracted from the mountains and flowing over the (flat) earth … – will eradicate evil from the resurrected bodies of the sinners and thus cleanse them. (It is perhaps useful to state here that this is the final judgement; there is no divine tribunal actually no part played by the gods in these traditions.) The end result in both scenarios is the total eradication of evil from creation by which the Evil Spirit is rendered powerless and following which the world is renewed. All this will take place at a destined time which (in the Zoroastrian sources) is calculated since the entire history of creation mixture and separation (of good and evil) will unfold within the span of 9000 (or 12000) years.” See also Mary Boyce “On the Orthodoxy of Sasanian Zoroastrianism” Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies 59: 11–28 (1996): 23–24.
Full analysis in RamelliBardaisan of Edessa107–124. The fragment preserved by Porphyry in De Styge is reported by Stobaeus Anthology [Ecl. Phys.] 1.3.56; 1.66.24–70.13 Wachsmuth = Porphyry fr. 376 Smith.
Shaul Shaked“The Myth of Zurvan: Cosmogony and Eschatology,” in Messiah and Christos: Studies in the Jewish Origins of Christianityeds. Shaul Shaked and Guy Stroumsa TSAJ 32 (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck1992) 219–240.