I've been reading, from various sources, fairly vague and hand-wavey claims that Zoroastrianism and early Judaism influenced each other (and that both were influenced by Atenism).

Looking at summaries of the content of these religions, such a claim seems prima facie plausible, but then I looked at a map.

Zarathustra himself is placed in space and time as, roughly, eastern Iran, perhaps in the 10th century BCE or a couple of hundred years later. This is about 3,000 km from Jerusalem, it would take weeks of dedicated walking to cross that, and the terrain is (and presumably was then) inhospitable. This does not seem prima facie plausible to me -- although it does not seem unreasonable to have, say, trading routes along there, but the integration of two religions seems like it should require an intimate sharing of culture and politics over a long period of time. The geography seems prohibitive.

So, is it actually plausible that early Judaism and Zoroastrianism were sharing ideas? If so, what was the mechanism for that influence? How would the people have come together?

  • In the title you ask about influence, but in the question you talk also about integration, which is a way stronger concept.
    – SJuan76
    Sep 14, 2017 at 7:26
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    During VI-V centuries BC Palestine was conquered by Achaemenid Persia, and stayed a part of it until Alexander the Great's conquests. ~200 years seems quite enough time for a bit of cultural exchange, no? Sep 14, 2017 at 8:06
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    Afaik, large parts of the Torah were actually written in Babylon, i.e. in the center of the Persian Empire. Also, the geography is only prohibitive if you try to walk in a straight line. A small detour to the north (through modern day Syria instead of Jordan or Saudi Arabia) and the voyage is not that inconvenient at all.
    – Annatar
    Sep 14, 2017 at 13:26
  • @Annatar is correct about jews in Babylon, maybe you can turn that into an answer.
    – Santiago
    Sep 14, 2017 at 13:36
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    I wonder though why the "various sources" from OP's first sentence didn't mention it. Then again, he appears do have only done very superficial research (see the "inhospitable geography" thing) and should just dig a little more.
    – Annatar
    Sep 14, 2017 at 13:51

2 Answers 2


They weren't in fact far apart at all. Zoroastrianism was the state religion of the Achaemenid Empire, which encompassed Israel.

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Its actually even closer than this map implies though. In the period of time that a large amount of the Hebrew scriptures were first being written down, a large part of the Jewish nation was living in exile (slavery) in Babylon. That would place them roughly in the geographic center of this map, and the cultural and trading center of near-east civilization.

When Cyrus the Great (a Zoroastrian himself) conquered Babylon, he inherited this Jewish community. Not being a big fan of slavery, he freed them and allowed them to return home to Israel, and even gave them reparations to help with rebuilding some of what the Babylonians had destroyed.

As a result of this, Cyrus got a faithful client state in Israel, and really good press in The Bible.

  • Captain Obvious strikes again ! (+1)
    – Lucian
    Oct 24, 2020 at 4:53

Some people say that the Tetrateuch (the first four books of the Torah) were written in 8th-7th century Judah. Most people think it was composed entirely during the Babylonian Exile. The exile lasted until the 450s B.C. when Ezra left Babylon. The Jews who were sent to repopulate Judah back in 530 were poor upstarts. Ezra returned during Artaxerxes I, who also made Zoroastrianism the de facto religion (maybe after he left?). Jewish history is therefore tied to Babylon for 130 years. Rabbinic tradition states that Ezra then presided over the first Great Assembly, or the Beit Din, the "council of Ezra". This council is said to have fixed the Biblical Canon. It eventually became the Sanhedrin and Pharisees.

Babylon was the administrative capitol of the Persian Empire. The Babylonian captivity corresponds to the entire height of the Persian Empire. It also corresponds roughly with the Babylonian revolts of 482, after which the Babylonians were defeated and punished, and the statue of Marduk was melted down. The prevailing culture, especially before the rebellion, was Babylonian. It would have impressed Biblical authors the most. Babylon was the greatest city in the world. Its economy and culture was run by Babylonians. Zoroastrianism wasn't widely spread until Artaxerxes II (404-358), who moved the capitol east to Persepolis. Perhaps I am ignorant of it, but I got the impression that the original Magi were a very traditional, closed door group of people. To open their doors would have been to allow foreign influences. The Pharisees, which stemmed out of the Ezra tradition, were the same way.

Jews had a close relationship with the Sasanian Empire (See Babylonian Talmud). Zoroastrianism as we know it was formed in the 10th century. There would have been many Jews, or Rhadanites, travelling through the Persian Empire.

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