Monday, October 10, 2011

The Christianization of Zoroastrianism

Karaite Comments: To My Brother Yeshua (Jesus) Chapter 13

By Kahana :Myths and fables are all we seem to have passed down from us in the early centuries after Yeshua lived. But what is a myth if not the hopes and aspirations of a people manifested into a physical form which beckons to all to relinquish their doubts, abandon their cynicism and embrace a belief beyond normal human comprehension. And in many of our religious belief systems that is all we possess, a myth that has grown into a reality. Let me take the time to tell you about one such myth which manifested in Persia and grew well beyond the borders of that land. Some of you may recognize it, others actually believe in it, yet the majority will not even know of its origins and would have come to believe that its roots in our society were otherwise. As a Karaite I am free of it but you may not be so lucky as most have come to call it Christian but as you will soon see, it was anything but.

A Gift From Persia

The Persian Magi, the spiritual leaders of Zoroastrianism studied the universe endlessly, contemplating its contradictions, catastrophes and endless sufferings. They found it hard to believe that the truth lay in the Judaic writings that all these events were the manifestations of a singular God. That the Almighty, the Creator of the Universe, He who called himself the Loving God and the Wrathful God could be the perpetrator of history’s greatest disasters. In order to reconcile their belief in an Almighty God they found there could only be one solution; a second Kingdom. Where God reigned in a Kingdom of light and beauty from above in the heavens, another being ruled from the pits, a Kingdom of darkness and evil. The primal God above and a second entity that ruled the universe from below and the two were eternally set in opposition. And in this second kingdom, Satan ruled and the demons were born from its depths.
Desiring more than what rested beneath his hand, Satan invaded the Kingdom of Light and the war began in earnest between the two opposing forces, the Light and the Darkness. To beat back the armies of Satan, God created primal man but Satan’s forces began to overcome the armies of this lesser being and God was forced to rescue Man lest he be lost to Satan. But even after being rescued, Man had suffered grievously, several particles of his original Light gifted by God now replaced by five elements of the Dark. And thus man was set on a path that if he was to return to the Light, return to God, he must overcome the Darkness that now dwells within in an everlasting eternal struggle.
The first of these men to live, a combined existence of both light and dark particles was named Adam. Because of what Satan had done, Adam and his offspring were to be forever born in original sin. There was a woman named Eve, and because she was only created to be Adam’s companion she possessed less particles of light and therefore was more susceptible to the darkness. But God loved his creation of man and throughout the history of mankind would send his heavenly spirits in the form of prophets to guide and correct the corruption that now resided within man’s soul.

The Manichaean Universe

As strange as it may sound, what you have just read was not Christian. The beliefs were neither developed by Christian theologists nor were they practiced by the early Christians. In truth, the concept of two kingdoms in perpetual battle were so foreign to the early Christians that it was rejected wholeheartedly but Christianity had never faced a threat before like Mani, with his charisma, his gift to speak and his determination that exceeded that of any Church leader. Mani was born around 215 AD to a wealthy Persian family. He spent his early years travelling throughout the Persian Empire and into India where he encountered Buddhism. In his later years he headed west into the Eastern Provinces of the Roman Empire where he preached the religion that incorporated his original Zoroastrianism and all the beliefs he had acquired during his travels. He immediately had universal appeal, providing to the people that had always been familiar with Gods at war from their earlier Greek and Roman pantheon beliefs an easy bridge between their present Christian instruction and the religion of their past. Mani listed the prophets that they should believe in; Adam, Noah, Abraham, Zoroaster, Buddha, Jesus, Paul and himself whom he saw as the greatest of them all. In case you haven’t noticed, there is one prophet of significance missing from Mani’s list that being Moses. Moses represented everything contrary to what he was teaching to his new followers. To believe in Moses meant believing that all things good and bad did come from the one God of the Universe. To read Moses instruction meant that there was no such thing as Satan and his demons ruling from a secondary kingdom. To follow Moses meant that all men were born with free will to be either good or evil and were not tainted from birth. To Mani, he saw no hope in attracting the Jews to his new religion so he focused only on the susceptibility of the Christians knowing that they thirsted for a link to their old world of paganism.
But if man was born into a world of evil, a sinner from birth, Mani knew that he also had to provide a reward that mankind could strive for. He taught his followers if they learned and studied the prophets, strove against the evil within their souls, then if they were successful they would set the light free and would ascend to God. But if a man could not perform the purification within his lifetime then he would be sent back to live again until such time that he could release the light. And once all of mankind had succeeded in releasing the light then there would be the final apocalypse which would destroy the material universe and banish the Kingdom of Satan forever.

Something Familiar

Mani divided his followers into five levels. The first three levels were known as the Sons of Meekness. They were the Teachers, the Perfecti and the Electi. And only they would inherit the privilege of ascending to God after a single lifetime. The next level were the Administrators known as the Sons of Knowledge, comprising bishops and priests. The last level was known as the Sons of Understanding and they were the presbyters. The Sons of Meekness had additional restrictions, in that they had to be vegetarians, not engage in marriage or procreation as they had to remain pure if they were to ascend to God. The Sons of Knowledge did not have to endure the same restrictions. They had to follow several commandments including the forbidding of lying, adultery, murder, sloth, and doubt, along with keeping a certain number of fast days. As one can see, there are several parallels to the layering within the Manichean church to the establishment of the Catholic Church.
By the fourth century there already was a singular head, a Pope of the Manichean church. Many of the Marcionites that I had described in an earlier article adopted the Manichean beliefs and in fact by the end of the third century almost all of the Marcionite churches became Manichean. The appeal of the Manichean church exceeding anything witnessed before. It’s popularity amongst the aristocrats of the Roman Empire was immediate as it provided an easy transition from their pagan hierarchy to this new one, a far easier task than adopting the more man-centered concept of Mosaic law. One of the most notable personages to adopt the Manichean religion was St. Augustine who was actually one of the administrators in this church. Eventually St. Augustine left the Manichean church accusing it of teaching a falsehood of rival worlds of Light and Darkness in perpetual battle and that God was at constant war with Satan. In his new position within the Catholic Church he railed against these misguided beliefs enforcing the Mosaic belief that God was the only power in the universe and man was responsible for his own sinful ways, having nothing to do with an external power that forced him to commit wrong doings. How ironic that in spite of St. Augustine’s condemnation of Manichaeism in order to preserve the initial Judaic beliefs of the church, his protestations were eventually washed away in the tide as the Church raced to adopt Manichean beliefs.

The Ultimate Absurdity

By the fifth century, the Manichean belief system began to dominate the beliefs of Christians from all persuasions. So much so that the Catholic Church could see very little difference between their followers and those that claimed to be Manichaean. The primary difference was that the Manichaeans had their own Pope, their own elders, bishops, priests and lay clergy; a massive organization that bore no allegiance or recognition of the Church in Rome. How ironic that the Roman and Byzantine Churches would pronounce an edict condemning all Manichaeans to death, accusing them of heresy even though there existed by this time very little difference by this time between the beliefs of the two church systems. The decision was one of politics, of power, of greed and once again Christianity had been diverted from its true course without its followers having the slightest indication that the practices and beliefs that they now professed had nothing to do with the initial teachings of Yeshua whom they swore to follow. They had all become Manichaeans but they did not know it!

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