Entangled Religions 11.2 (2020) er.ceres.rub.de

Mazdeans and Christians Facing the End of the World

Circulations and Exchanges of Concepts

Antonio Panaino University of Bologna, Italy

This contribution offers a conspectus of the parallel treatment of some escha­tological subjects in the comparative framework of Mazdean and Christian sources. Although some impact of the Judeo-Chris­tian tradition on Iranian apocalypticism has been fittingly detected in previous studies, the author in­sists on evidence showing a sort of circular exchange between Chris­tians and Mazdeans, where, for in­stan­ce, chiliasm presents some Iranian (and not only Ba­by­lonian) resonances, while the well-known Zo­ro­as­trian doctrine of universal mercy and of the apokatastasis shows impressive correspondences with the Ori­genian doctrines. What distinguishes the Iranian framework is the fact that millenarianism, apocalypse and apokatastasis did not directly contrast, as it happened in the Christian milieu. These Christian doc­trines played a certain influence in Sasanian Iran, although their diffusion and acceptance was pro­bably slow and progressive, and became dominant among Zoroastrians only after the fall of the Sasanian period, when the Mazdean Church was no longer the pillar of the state and the social and legal order. The diffusion of the doctrine of universal mercy was a later acquisition, as shown from the evidence that earlier Mazdean doctrines did not assume a complete salvation for the wicked but prescribed a harsh and eternal punishment for them. Fur­ther­more, the author focuses on his own research on these sub­jects and summarises some results concerning a new and original presentation of the Mazdean concept of evil as a manifestation of suffering, comparable to a state of mental ‘sickness.’

eschatology, millenarianism, Mazdeism, origenism, apokatastasis, evil, psychology



In the present contribution I would like to develop some considerations which began in the last years about the complexity of the relations between Mazdeans and Chris­tians in late Anti­qui­ty.1 I would also like to insist on the importance of this subject be­cause it gives us the op­por­tu­nity to focus on the multicultural dimension of the pre-Islamic Iranian world and its richness be­­yond the traditional borders of Christian and Medieval Studies, which some­times forget the re­levant role played by the Ērānšahr on the neighbouring countries; fur­ther­more, it is im­por­tant that a community of scho­lars as ours might share its views about these problems, avoid­ing the risks of a certain isolation that could con­fine our research interests ­to a sort of eso­teric limbo. And this is particularly important now, when many young scholars have offered deep and seminal studies on such an inter­cultural subject.2 Furthermore, I will try to focus on the fact that the Iranian area has played a remarkable role in the transmission, rami­fi­ca­tion and evolution of some fundamental theological ideas which became current in late Anti­quity and the early Middle Ages, and will argue that this am­biance strongly influenced an intellectual de­ba­­te that was much more uni­versal and cross-cultural than is generally presumed.

The Millenaristic Problem


I recently had the chance to observe (Panaino 2016)3 that in the Wizīdagīhā ī Zādspram (The Selections of Zādspram), chapter XXVIII, 2, the symbolic number at­tri­bu­ted to Ahre­man’s invasion of the gētīg world dir­ec­tly evokes that of the Beast in John’s Gospel, chapter XIII, 17–18. The fi­gure prevailing in the Christian fra­mework, as is well known, was 666, while the Mazdean one is 6666. The relations and the connec­tions between these two numbers are evident not only because of their patent similarity, but also considering the mil­lenarian arguments adopted by Irenaeus of Lyon in order to explain the cosmic meaning of 666, which, mutatis mutandis, result in basically the same en­dor­sed by Zādspram some cen­turies la­ter.4 Actually, both theologians considered the num­ber six as the basic figure indicating the com­­ple­te number of millennia covering the history of the world and its decimal mul­ti­ple, 60 or 600, as respectively referring to a series of centuries (60 x 100 = 6000) or of decades (600 x 10 = 6000). In any case, both authors were consciously ope­rating in the patent framework of a chi­liastic spe­cu­la­tion, emphasizing the full completion of a round cycle of six thousand years in which the fight against evil should take place. This common em­phasis on six millennia is re­le­vant per se be­cause it shows how Judeo-Christian chi­liasm crossed the border and, in turn, was influenced by Iranian millenarianism.5 It is true that the Zoroastrian cycle in its complete du­­ration was of 12,000 years (or of 9,000 + 3,000), divi­ded in two distinct sub-periods of 6,000 each, one mēnōg, the lat­ter gētīg,6 while Judeo-Christian chiliasm insisted on the role of an addi­tio­nal millennium, the se­venth, to be attached after the first six millennia in order to represent a pa­ra­di­siacal phase ac­ces­sible only to a limited group of ‘elects’ before the final judgment. But the period of the battle, the fight against evil in the world, in both cases re­mains inscribed into a fra­me of 6,000 years, and this similarity probably did not escape an­cient observers. We must also re­call that the Judeo-Chris­tian background of chi­liasm has traditionally been connected (fol­lo­w­ing a thesis sug­ges­ted by Cumont 1931; see also Panaino 2017g) with the Ba­bylonian astral tradition, in particular with the im­por­tance at­tri­bu­ted in Mesopotamia to the power of the planets (including, of course, the two lumi­na­ries, i.e. the sun and the moon). But the in­terest for the representation of a mille­na­rian period wor­king as a Great Cosmic Year, whose borders represent two extreme sides, the beginning and the end of the earthly cre­ation and, with it, of the hu­man struggle, remains strongly rooted in the Iranian tradition. We must insist, following Sasha Stern (2007, 103–23 and in particular 118n95–96),7 on the evidence that the Iranian world, and not the Meso­po­ta­mian or the Greek one, was the first to elaborate a deep speculation about the concept—or, better, category—of ‘time’ according to a sort of pre-phi­lo­so­­phical determination. Thus, this happened in spite of the fact that the Baby­lo­nian culture was ab­le to ela­bo­rate complex mathematical pa­ra­meters for the pe­riodical numeration of the diurnal mo­tion of the visible astral bodies and improved inter­ca­la­ry systems for a more precise syn­chronism with seasonal phenomena. In other words, the interest for the divine prerogatives of time in its para-philo­so­phical relation with the limited, historical dimension, and con­tra­ri­wise the dialec­tics between eternity and temporal limits, were an Iranian intellectual chal­len­ge. The origins of these speculations can be identified in the Avestan corpus (Yt. 13, 53–58; see Kellens 2000, 2009), where we find scat­te­­red but cohe­rent and pre­cise references to the existence of millenarian periods, framed in the di­­men­sion of li­mi­ted ti­me, where the astral bodies started to move after a period of im­mo­bi­li­ty (Panaino 2017g). The latter point shows that the idea of a direct cosmological dis­tinction between a pha­se of immobility and another one of motion, connected with the mēnōg and gētīg ontological ar­ti­cu­la­tions of rea­lity, was also already fixed in its main lines in the Achaemenid pe­riod.


The relation between eternal, unlimited or borderless time and its subordinate dimen­sion, ha­ving borders, also in­vol­ves the quality of divine actions, starting with the theological qualification of the supreme divinity. Ohrmazd, in fact, not only has the power to entrap Ahreman in a limited space-time dimension, fighting against him in a position of absolute superiority.8 Actually, the supreme god also disposes of the po­wer to remain in an eternal state, outside of mixed creation, entering into it only when stric­tly ne­ces­sary, as just at the end of the cosmic battle for the celebration of the sa­cri­fi­ce of the world’s renovation. Some Young Avestan passages in the Mihr (stanza 55) and Tištar Yašts (stanza 11) clearly sta­te that the yaza­tas, or at least some of them (like Miθra and Tištrya), can enter and exit li­mi­ted time, and that they have the privilege to enter and exit the two different qualitative tem­po­ral di­mensions while all the negative forces are blocked inside creation and its space-time limits.9 This ‘qualitative’ dif­ference—and I insist on the term qualitative—has a certain number of theo­lo­gical and para-philosophical implica­tions, because it shows that the basic pillars of later Maz­­­­de­an cosmology were fixed in the period of composition of Young Avestan sour­ces (Panaino 2017g), and that the in­fluen­ce of these general categories on close cultural traditions can be easily sup­po­sed, and in some cases reasonably ad­mitted. Thus, while we have no reason to dismiss the tra­di­tio­nal as­sump­tion that it was the Meso­potamian world that exported planetary millena­rian­ism with its pattern of the se­ven mil­lennia, this doctrine was not isolated, and its diffusion was not in con­trast to the observation that the seven planetary bodies all move along a path of twel­ve zo­diacal signs, and that in a millenarian speculation the relation between seven, nine or twelve millennia re­present only different, but not antagonist, schemes based on the same idea that a li­mi­ted time, measurable using the motion of certain astral cycles, determines the duration of the world and that of the fight between good and evil forces.


Although I do not want to insist here on the problems connected with the in­­terrelation of millenarianism in the Judeo-Christian and Mazdean worlds, I must emphasize that at least some Zoroastrian theologians were particularly worried about the problem of the stability of limited time. If the arms of the macrocosmic clock, the vi­­sible cosmos, mark the progress of the millennia and announce the coming of the last moment, a strong interest of Ahreman’s would be blocking and delaying its regular course, so that the ex­pected end, the final fight, with the inevitable destruction of evil and even of hell, would be untimely delayed. This problem has been discussed only superficially in scholarly literature, although we find in the Dēnkard some peculiar pas­sages in which the Druj expressly tries to block the motion of the sun in coincidence with the visi­ble manifestations of the three Sōšāns.10 This com­plex doc­tri­ne, the astronomical back­ground of which cannot be investigated here, demonstrates that the regu­lar cour­se of the sun, and of limited time, must be protected against the actions of de­­mo­niac forces, which try to postpone or even to delay the end of li­mi­­ted time, also on the heavenly level. The expansion and dilatation of time is actually a daēvic event, which prolongs the pre­­­sence of evil in creation, and it is for this reason that the regular course of time must be shielded in its sequence till its total completion. In my opinion, this need was well focused on al­ready in Avestan times, because it is in the Mazdean liturgies that we find a recurrent concern for the wor­ship of­fered to the different portions of time: days, parts of the days, months, different pha­ses of the month and of its lunations, the thirty single days, the seasons and seasonal festivals, individual years and, implicitly, the sequences of years (Panaino 2017b). This insistence, quasi ob­ses­si­ve, shows that the cos­mic order, starting with regular time sequences, must be supported and pro­tected, and that the ritual performances contribute to its stability against any evil attempt of tem­poral disar­ti­cu­la­tion. The Mazdean liturgical calendar and its performative ce­le­bration through the five daily ri­­tual sessions, or gāh11, was per se a strong weapon against the disruptive force of Ah­reman, and it probably influenced other cultural traditions, such as the Islamic one, which in any case ad­op­ted a similar ritual sequence of daily pra­yers.12 Furthermore, we must ob­serve that the Mazdean li­tur­­gy, with its process of the installation of the incoming ritual college, to which the duty of per­for­ming the new ceremony must be transferred, implies a concatenation of ri­tuals (Panaino 2017d) from one priestly col­lege to ano­ther, as in an uninterrupted sequence to cover (and protect) the whole time of the world. This was probably the deepest concept un­derpinning the ideology of the liturgy, to be con­sidered as a unique continuous celebration, through which the pillars of the world were main­tai­ned and protected against the dis­rup­tive action of Ahreman and his army.

Time and Salvation: Eternal or Limited Hell?


Thus, the end of time represents a conceptual subject because it opens the way to a transu­ma­­na­tio and transfiguratio of humanity,13 creating a new state of transcendental life in which the dua­lism re­pre­sented by the antagonistic presence of evil will be completely eradicated. But this final sta­tus implies consequences that we can find with suf­fi­cient cla­­rity in later Pah­lavi sources. In particular, I am interested in the subject of the total elimi­na­t­i­on of hell and of the com­plete remission of sins to all persons previously condemned to the har­shest punishment: we can label this process as a kind of apokatastasis, because with its clear idea of a complete and definitive restoration of the cosmic and divine order, as was the case be­fore the irruption of evil, this doctrine involves a series of comparanda that can be directly ob­­ser­ved, mutatis mutandis, in the Christian world, particularly in the theology of Clemens of Ale­xan­­dria and, most significantly, of Origen (Panaino 2017c).14 The first of these Christian theo­lo­gians started to sug­gest, although in a prudent way, that it would be possible to imagine universal salvation for all intelligent creatures (Stromata [i.e. “Miscellanies”] VII, 2.12.2–3.13.1).15 In this way, all pu­­­­nishments in the afterlife would correspond to a compulsory pu­ri­fi­cation of the soul more than to simple retribution. It is in this framework that the ‘restoration’ assumes its full relevance, and that the future doctrine of Christian purgatory finds its starting point. The following Chris­tian for­mulation of the apokatastasis, as developed by Origen, is per se a problem not only be­cau­se it was condemned by Justinian as heretical, but also because it represents a tan­talizing sub­ject in modern theology, where it has been reformulated with many prudent nuances and so­me ca­ve­ats; for instance, Hans Urs von Balthasar’s Kleiner Diskurs über die Hölle (A Little Discourse about the Hell; Balthasar 1987) was followed (within the same booklet in the edition of 1999; Balthasar 1999) by another pamphlet of the same author programmatically entitled Apokatastasis. This study was the fruit of a conference delivered in 1988 in Trier and published in the same year (Balthasar 1988).


Prudently, we must remark that it is not very simple to dis­­tinguish what was stated by Origen himself and what has been attributed to him by his sup­por­ters or even by his enemies, so that sometimes doctrines that can be seen as ‘extreme’ be­­long to a long tradition of struggles and polemics. Looking at these problems from the per­spec­tive of the Iranian late Antique reception, this cautious distinction, although important, is less sig­­ni­ficant be­cause even the distortions had their weight in the Eastern areas and played their most se­minal role. In any case, we will try to reflect on the impact of the tradition(s) attributed to Ori­gen and whether they were true or (partially) false—although in some cases this influence produced very significant develop­ments, as in the theo­ry, attributed to Origen, of the final con­ver­­sion of the Devil. I want to underline the intrinsic difficulty of this matter be­cause the subject is not neutral, and it involves a lot of unresolved confessional and theological pole­mics which, of course, do not concern my approach but must be considered in the general context. In addition, it is interesting that the Iranian side of the doctrine of the apokatastasis, in its relation to the Christian Ori­ge­nian tra­di­tion, pre­sents us with a number of thrilling items. These ‘Oriental reflexes’ have generally been superseded in the scho­­larly framework, while con­tra­riwise they confirm the im­por­tance of the Iranian world with regard to the es­cha­to­logical debate of late Antiquity, a subject that—, with few exceptions16—, es­capes the conspectus of the spe­cialists of an­cient theology and philosophy. We must also remark that in Zoroastrian Iran, the doctrine of the apokatastasis did not interfere with the earlier millenarian perspective, so that chiliasm and apokatastasis were not opposed at all17—in contrast to the Christian framework.18


But let us begin by following the historical se­quence of events and related ideas. I have al­rea­dy noted that the very optimistic doctrine concerning the com­plete liberation of hu­manity and its admission to the beatification in the paradise of Ohrmazd does not re­present the earliest Zoroastrian position, but that this was the result of a long internal debate that developed within the Mazdean com­munity along the course of its history. Originally, as stated in Y. 46, 11, hell (drūjō dəmānē) was “forever” (yauuōi vīspāi; see Kellens and Pirart 1988, 1:161).19 If the Avestan sources do not show any particularly ge­nerous solution, we can doubt that, even in the early Sasanian period, a priest such as Kirdīr would have supported this kind of to­­lerant per­spec­tive for sinners in the afterlife. I strongly doubt that a society such as the Sa­sa­n­ian one, at least in its first centuries, would have favoured such a ‘liberal’ doctrine con­cer­ning the future life, in par­ti­cular when the same Mazdean priests were strongly in charge of se­cu­lar and legal activities as judges, with the specific duty of prosecuting private and public cri­mes, religious in­frac­­tions and heretical positions. In ge­ne­ral, theology and political power can be drea­dful sisters, and they us­ual­ly impose narrow paths; I do not think that the wor­king hypo­the­sis that a church in charge of the law and in a frame of quasi-absolute au­thority was not in the favourable position to elaborate a very optimistic perspective regarding the post mortem is prejudiced. Tolerance was possible, but normally as the result of complex political nego­tia­tions, as was the case with the progressive respect at­tri­buted to some religious minorities in Iran.20 The theological idea that the final defeat of Ahreman will imply divine mercy for the whole of hu­ma­nity with the total elimination of hell was very re­volutionary and not established in a single night of particular generosity. Ano­ther external source demonstrating the Old Iranian background of the Mazdean belief in eternal punishment against people who denied the exis­tence of the kingdom of light co­­mes from the recently publi­shed Manichaean Ke­pha­la­ion 341 of the Chester Beatty Library,21 which attributes to Zoroaster this se­vere doctrine in a framework clearly referring to other Maz­dean tradi­tions. Although this is a Manichaean source, it does not contain any a priori criticism against Zoroastrianism but describes the idea of eternal punishment as current in the Mazdean framework of late Antiquity.22 Thus, there are good reasons to presume that it reflected a current Zoro­as­trian opi­nion and not a distortion.


From a historical and political point of view, the radical assumption of final divine mercy repre­sen­ted a de­cision definitively established in a period of distress and defeat, probably offi­cial­ly ca­no­nized only after the Islamic conquest. In that phase, many Zo­ro­astrians actually ab­an­­do­ned their an­ces­tral religion, so that the Mazdean Church felt it necessary to enforce its ap­peal.23 Furthermore, we must observe that the Mobedān were no longer res­­pon­sible for secular law and for the control of so­cial or­der, so that problems con­nec­ted with political governance were now transferred to the shoul­ders of the Muslim au­tho­ri­ties. In this completely changed fra­me­work,24 the optimistic pers­pec­tive of complete mer­cy for every­body, even for criminals, was a helpful tool for a decaying re­ligion compelled to main­t­ain a cer­tain degree of attraction, at least in the escha­to­logical perspective.25 But, as I no­ted before, this ans­­wer was not found in one shot, and in my opinion its determination had a long and intricate back­­­ground.


We must consider that the theological solution which we can find in late Pahlavi sources, such as the Škand Gumānīg Wizār (Doubt-dispelling exposition), insists on a number of ideas that must be as­cri­bed, at least in part, to the in­flu­ence of the Aristotelian doctrine of the so-called ‘golden mean’ (in Pahlavi pay­mān), which was stron­g­ly ar­gued in the Nicomachean Ethics (2,6, 1106b–1107a). The Škand Gumānīg Wizār IV, 100–101, declares (Menasce 1945, 58):


[…] and at the end, the highest Creator, who donates mercy (abōxšāyīdār) to creatures, does not let any of the good creatures into the hands of the enemy; He saves the sinners together with the right ones, se­pa­­rating them from the sin thanks to the hands of the purifiers and brings them to the eternal path of beatification.


[…] ud abdom xwābar dādār ī dām abōxšāyīdār ēč dām ī wēh andar dast grawīh ī dušmen nē hilēd ud ān-iz ī wināhgār gumē ān ī ahlawān pad wizārdārīh ī wināh az yōǰdāhrgarān dast bōzēd ō nēk rawišnīh ī ǰāwēdānag zāmēnēd.


This doctrine is not isolated; we can, in fact, mention the most im­portant statement for­mu­la­ted in the Anthologies by Zādspram XXXV, 47 (Gignoux and Tafazzoli 1993, 136–37), who at­tributed the definitive act of mercy to the “Spi­rit of the Earth” (mē­nōg ī za­m­īg): He “will for­gi­ve” (abax­šā­yēd) all creatures, both the “right ones” (ah­la­wān) and the “sinners” (dru­­wandān), in the name of Ohr­mazd. It is pertinent to note that the verb ad­op­­ted in order to refer to the deliberate act of “having mercy” or of “being compas­sio­nate” was abaxšāy‑, abaxša­yī­dan (or abaxšīdan; MacKenzie (1971), p. 2), the basic meaning of which was “to give the (pro­portional or expected) part.”26 Zād­spram emphasized the fact that divine mer­cy would be given by the divinity of Earth in her ma­ter­nal quality. Zādspram’s brother, Manuščihr, who was most conservative in religious mat­ters, sha­red the same optimistic theological vision. Actually, in the Dādestān ī Dē­nīg ([Book of the] Religious judgements) XXXVI, 106, it was he himself who equal­ly stated: “all mortals, without di­stin­ction (lit. kadām-ǰān-iz ‘eve­ry­body’), will be wi­thout envy to­wards the goodness of all the creatures and will benefit of the same peace” (Jaafari-Dehaghi 1998, 150–51). This agree­ment between the two brothers seems to imply that the theory of universal mercy was not a radical innovation during their time but that it was fixed before, although it assumed a mature formulation only in the theological treaties of the ninth century CE. In support of this solution I must quote another piece of evidence, the importance of which was recently suggested to me by Samra Azarnouche.27 With regard to the above-quoted passage of Yasna 46, 11, the Pahlavi scribe felt it ne­cessary to comment on the Avestan expression yauuōi vīspāi,28 fittingly translated hamē tā ō wisp “for­ever” (Malandra and Ichaporia 2013, 72, 142, 196), the explanatory gloss tā ō tan ī pasēn “till the (occurrence of the) final body (tan ī pasēn)” (Dhabhar 1949, 203; Malandra and Ichaporia 2013, 72). This solution logically implies29 that at the time of the reaction of the Pahlavi com­men­tary to the Gāθās, which arguably falls into the Sasanian period, at least some priests had as­su­med a temporal limit for infer­nal punishment and made it clear in the commentary.30


The consideration that no historical sin should be pu­nished with eternal damnation was adopted as a strong argument supporting the repre­sen­tation of the infinite love of Ohrmazd, and, in contrast with the spirit of revenge apparently attributed to the highest divinity in other re­­li­gious traditions, in particular against Islam. Concerning this preoccupation, we must recall that a well-known New Persian Mazdean text, the ‛Olamā-ye Eslām (The Doctors of Islam) (Olhausen and Mohl 1829, 7; Vullers 1831, 61; Blochet 1898; Unvala 1922, 2:8; Dhabhar 1932, 455),31 in­sists on the pre­sence of one of the Amah­­ras­pan­dān, Ardwahišt, in hell. There, he expressly ensures that the devils do not punish sin­­­ners beyond the limits established for their own crimes. This idea is not a late development but can already be found in the Bundahišn (Primordial Creation), ch. XXVI, 35 (Pākzād and Markaz-i Dāʼirat al-Maʻārif-i Buzurg-i Islāmī (Iran) 2005, 299).32 This point of view, strongly related to the concept of proportionality between sin and punishment, is not unrelated to Mazdean speculations about the idea of time and, in particular, about the dia­lectics be­tween infinite and limited time. In fact, the most important objection against the permanence of hell concerns the complete end of limited time and the total renovation of Earth. If hell endures after the fall of Ahreman and the triumph of God, we must postulate that in a re­mo­­te part of the universe, an antagonist dimension should continue to exist in time and space in spi­te of the final defeat of evil. But this solution would imply a bold theological con­tra­diction. Correctly, the late formulation of Mazdean theology considers such a perspective as completely impossible.33 The victory of God must be complete, it argues, and in fact a river of mol­­ten me­tal will radically consume all of hell. Ah­re­man, according to a deep spe­cu­la­tion of probably Aris­­totelian origin (see already Zaehner 1956, 83–84, 143–44; Panaino 2005), will not be properly destroyed, because, being a primordial sub­stan­ce, he can­­not actually be reduced to nil; the argument goes that Ahreman will be reduced to a condition of in-potentia, from which the Prince of Darkness will no longer be able to resurge and re-act (Panaino 2005). In this respect, late Zoroastrian theology brings some ideas, probably already present in the philo­so­phi­cal debates of earlier periods and presumably already current in Sasanian times, to its most coherent and radical intellectual limits. The myth of free choice transferred to and assumed by the primordial Fra­wa­hrān before their earthly in­car­nation (Bun­dahišn III, 26–27),34 for instance, insists on the existence of a sort of gen­tle­men’s agreement be­t­ween hu­ma­nity (before incarnation) and God. There is a sort of impending ‘alliance’ with a clear pro­­mise (and an implicit contract) between the two parts. Practically, it presupposes that the mind of hu­man beings can easily be seduced and that these poor persons will probably sin, but this premise also assumes that it is thanks to their role in history and their direct contribution to the dev­el­op­ment of hu­ma­nity that the enemy will be defeated. Thus, it also involves the promise that all of humanity, in spite of its sins and mistakes, will be for­given after some inevitable pu­nish­ments and granted access to paradise. In other words, it seems that in the Zoroastrian sys­­tem, the possibility of sin was considered not only as a pro­ba­ble but as a quasi-ine­vi­table occurrence. In this respect, it was the primordial de­cision taken by the Fra­wa­hrān to live in the gētīg as an act of sal­va­tion, in se et per se. The co­he­rent elaboration developed in the Bun­dahišn and in other Pah­lavi sources, al­though under the in­flu­ence of the contemporary philosophical debate that took place in ninth-century Baghdād, it su­re­ly began earlier.35 For instance, in the Dēnkard III, 251 (Menasce 1945, 258–59), it is clearly stated that wi­thout the gētīg there is no access to the Wahišt, ‘paradise’; and the Maz­de­an writer in­sists on the fact that the doc­tors of other religions who despise the gētīg also despise the Wahišt because they assume that most human beings will be druwand and thus go to hell forever. But if this were to pass as they suppose, it would mean that even God’s actions are negative. This specu­la­tion is very deep be­cause it connects the indispensable experience of the life in the gētīg as a sort of passage which God has imagined in order to purify the world itself and, with it, also his weak individual human crea­tu­res.


This doctrine probably has a distant precedent in the refusal per­formed by Yima in accepting the Daēnā offered by Ahura Mazdā, according to a very difficult myth preserved in the second chapter of the Widēwdād. As I have explained in other works (Panaino 2013a, 2015b), this behaviour was erroneously interpreted as a pagan refusal of ‘Zoroastrian theo­logy’ (=daēnā‑), not as that of the immediate meeting with Yima’s own spiritual double in feminine form (equally named daēnā‑). In fact, in the second case, the union with the Daēnā, i.e. Yima’s spiritual feminine twin, would have been a tremendous pri­ze. Thus, the miscomprehension of the initiatory dynamics of a primordial myth in which Yima was expected to refuse the Daēnā in order to meet with her only later, after the full accom­plish­ment of his duty, was mistakenly con­si­dered as a sin by later Zoroastrian inter­pre­ters, and by modern scholars as well. But this version is unable to explain why Ahura Mazdā, the supreme Zoroastrian God, did not severely punish Yima. Why would Ahura Mazdā have transferred to him the supreme power to multiply Earth and cre­ate the Vara, a decision that looks like an act of recognition and not like a punishment for a ‘pa­gan’ primitive man who had rejected God’s true religion?36 More probably, Yima answered exac­tly as God expect­ed of him, i.e. with a (temporary) refusal of the Daēnā, to be interpreted in this framework as the expected twin (and spiritual double) of Yima, and not as the theological corpus or the incarnation of the ‘religion.’ This kind of intellectual abstraction corresponds to a very impro­ba­ble asso­cia­tion when we try to project it to the context of an archaic myth, but is the fruit of a later mis­in­ter­pretation of the initiatory dimension of this passage. Thus, we may presume that Yima, refus­ing in that moment the Daēnā (taken as his female double), was in reality accepting the role of ci­vi­lising hero of humanity, and for this reason he was given the privilege to multiply the di­men­sion of Earth and to protect humanity. With his refusal of an immediate beati­fi­ca­tion (= the union with his most beautiful feminine double), he accepted his duty for the sake of humanity and of Ahura Mazdā’s project against the demons.


Coming back to our main subject, we must underline that a theological discussion con­cer­ning the need of a reasonable pro­por­tion between sin and punishment was held in the frame of an epi­s­­­to­lographic exchange between two monophysites of Syria in the sixth century CE. We know that Jacob of Sarug (or Mar Yaʽqûb), in fact, wrote a letter about the final judgment (with reference to Matthew 25) and, in particular, about the eternal punishments oc­cur­­ring in hell to Stephen Bar Sudaili, a monk. In his previous letter, the young monk had wondered about the legitimacy of divine jus­tice according to which a human sin, committed in the course of limited time, could find eter­­nal punishment in hell. In this case, as underlined by Guillaumont (1979),37 who com­mented on this passage, Jacques gives an answer ba­sed on an argumentum per absur­dum, declaring (ibidem):


for if it be not just that He (i.e. God) should cast into everlasting fire him who has sinned du­r­ing a short time, as is written; then also it is not just that He should cause him who has been righ­te­ous during a short time to inherit the everlasting kingdom. And if it seems to thee that the sin­ner should be judged ac­cor­ding to the number of years during which he has sinned, it would then follow that the righteous should enjoy happiness also according to the number of years du­ring which he practised righteousness. So that he who sinned during ten years would remain in the fire for only ten, and he who prac­tised righteousness for ten years would also remain in the king­dom for only ten years and would then leave it.


Then, Jacob concludes: “The sinner who does not repent, if he had lived forever, would have sinned forever, and ac­cor­ding to the inclination of his mind to continue in sin, he justly falls into everlasting hell.”


In other words, the explanation, which, of course, implicitly tries to counter the Origenian doc­­­trine of the apokatastasis and of the universal liberation of sinners from hell, insists on the fact that God punishes the intention of the sinners.


In the economy of our discourse, it is important to recall that East Syriac ideas on apokatastasis could give additional weight to the present arguments.38 Although it may seem peculiar, we must emphasize the fact that even the rector of the Theological School of Nisibis (Widengren 1984, 18–19),39 Ḥenānā, who was elected in the year 572, had a positive attitude toward Origen and Origenism, and certainly played a very significant role in Sasanian Iran. But his case is not unique: Joseph Hazzaya (or Yūsuf Ḥazzāyā) (Scher 1909, 1910; Beulay 1974; Kavvadas 2013, 2015),40 an eighth-century author of Zoroastrian background (born around 710–13), who was forcedly converted to Is­lam and then became Christian, apparently argued for a com­ple­te end of infernal pu­nish­ment.41 The pre­viously mentioned Christian monk, Stephen bar Su­dai­li, pro­ba­bly identical to the author of the controversial Book of Hierotheos on the Hidden Mysteries of the House of God,42 equally argued for apo­katastasis,43 showing seminal reflections of a number of con­tacts between Syria (Edessa) and Pa­lestine,44 which developed Origenian trends along the direc­tion given by Evagrius. (Guillaumont 1958, 1962; Reinink 1999b)


These and other sources patently show that the debate about the final destiny of sinners and the reflexes of the Origenian doctrine con­cer­ning absolute divine mercy that will liberate them all after the final judgment was at least known in Syria and Eastern Christianity.45 Thus, we can assume as certain the presence of such a theological and legal amphiboly with lo­gi­cal terms that would perfectly fit even into the Mazdean theology of a few centuries later. The ra­tio­nale to be at­tri­buted to an intrinsic pro­portional rate between fault and punishment was not an abstract thought but part of the theological-philo­sophical agenda of late Antiquity among the Christian communities of the East. The presence of similar assumptions in later Zoroastrianism compels us to evaluate the weight and the extension of this in­tel­lec­tual exchange. We know that in the Zoroastrian fra­me­work, Aristotelism46 and the doctrine of the good medium had a certain influence, so that these speculations may reflect a common sensibility. This evi­dence emphasizes some pecu­liar comparanda which we can find in the Maz­dean apocalyptical events, such as the ri­ver of molten metal, which all the dead will enter and which will purify all sinners for three days and nights. Despite the fact that in Iran, it is not ‘fi­re’ that purifies sinners, as in the river of fire47 described by Ori­gen48 (e.g., in the Homilia in Lu­cam 24),49 the two traditions are strongly re­so­nant, if not pro­­perly similar. The problem again rotates around the idea of divine goodness and its li­mi­ted or unlimited mercy, and about the role of hell. The Zoroastrian solution, in its final ver­sion, underlines the incompatibility of the last victory of Ohrmazd and of the final dis­so­lu­tion of the limited space-temporal dimension with the co-existence of another, limited, sepa­ra­ted (mini)-uni­ver­se into which sinners and demons would be thrown forever. Its endurance would be, as noted before, a con­tradictio in adjecto, practically as a de­­feat or an objective limitation for Ohr­mazd’s universal po­wer. Hell, in fact, will stand as a li­mit against his unlimited king­dom of light.50 The Ira­nian apo­ka­tastasis corresponds to a rege­ne­ra­tion of the world in which even divine cre­a­tion gains per­fection. In fact, from the primor­dial phase, before the determination of li­mited time, Ohr­mazd and Ahreman had to coexist in the universe; now, after the period of mixture, the gumēzišn, Ah­reman will be defeated and scattered into pieces while his antagonist crea­tion should be des­tro­yed and the universe finally pu­rified from its contamination. Human beings, thanks to the ex­perience of life in the gētīg and after a period in the temporal afterlife in pa­ra­dise, in pur­ga­tory or in a temporary hell, will have access (through the resurrection and the pu­ri­fi­ca­tion in the ri­ver of molten metal) to a new dimension of transfiguration, a subject to which Shaked (1970) at­trac­ted scholarly attention some years ago and which corresponds to a new on­to­logical state of human beings in which they assume a semi-divine condition.51 The postulate of the tan ī pasēn, or cor­pus resurrectionis, ap­pears fun­damental in the economy of this reflection be­cause this ‘fu­tu­re body’ is not just the old one re­constructed but corresponds to a sublime transfiguration of its earlier condition. In this res­pect, I would like to again call attention to spe­cu­la­tion in­de­pen­dently de­ve­lo­ped by Ori­gen (Principia II, 10.2): with reference to Paul, Cor. XV, 35–50, he states that the body, which will resurrect, will be a “spiritual” one, starkly different in its tran­­scen­dental habitus from its pres­ent status (Fernández 2017). The difficulty of imagining a resurrected body, per­­fect, eter­n­al, finds common ins­pi­ration in the idea that it cannot be just as it was before, an idea that, for in­stance, was not at all unknown among early Christian writers, who simply stated that God in his ab­solute power can do anything (as Celsus, for instance, assumed). I must again call the reader’s at­ten­tion to the fact that in the third book of the Dēnkard (ch. 272), Ohrmazd will raise the soul from hell, washing and dressing it with a new substance before admitting it to eternal immortality (ǰāwēdān anōšag) and full happiness (purr-urwāhm; Menasce 1973, 273). The si­mi­larity of these images, and the Mazdean emphasis on the tan ī pasēn (the future body), cer­tain­ly deserve further comparative investigations.52

Circulation of Ideas and Multilateral Exchanges


The observation of these striking similarities invites us to reflect on the ways of transmission and communication in a rough scheme based on the pattern of direct and unilateral in­fluence.53 The Sasano-Byzantine border was a territory of ancient civilizations where extraor­di­nary cul­­­tures had continuously contributed to the progress of the material and immaterial cultural de­vel­op­ment of humanity. Jewish-Christian chiliasm remains inexplicable without the influence of the Irano-Mesopotamian tradition, but new developments that these millenarian doctrines as­su­med in the Christian framework inspired new reflections in the Eastern world, and their resonance was also visible in Iran. The in­sistence of some scholars that Iranian eschatology is strongly indebted to the Ju­d­eo-Christian world, as assumed by Ph. Gignoux and C. G. Cereti, is correct, and my con­tri­bu­tion probably en­for­ces this interpretation, but with the prudent consideration that other ideas, co­ming from the East at earlier points in time, entered and deeply inspired the Judeo-Christian world. This must be considered in light of the fact that the Judeo-Christian οἰκουμένη was not beyond the Iranian border but was part of its political space, and that con­ti­nu­ous interrelations were possible among these reli­gious com­mu­­nities. One of the main risks we must face concerns the fragmentation of a cultural mo­saic, which sometimes is seen as made just of single pieces, but without the perspective of a mo­­re ge­ne­ral and integrated view. A confessional trend which underlines the distinctive cha­rac­ter of each re­li­gion frequently dis­charges the compelling evidence of objective intercultural phe­no­mena which dis­entangle our or­dered vision of the postulated difference. For instance, I am wondering whether the sen­tences against Origen in 543/44 and 553 were just an inner Byzantine problem, faced and resolved by Justinian, or if there were other reasons for them as well and, eventually, external implications and reflections. Although one might observe54 that this kind of Origenism seems mostly a Pa­­les­tinian phenomenon,55 reasonably con­­fined to a handful of monasteries56 and influen­tial indivi­du­als,57 so that the degree of impact this anathematization would have had outside Palestine and the capital is ques­­tio­nable,58 such a conclusion is debatable if we consider that two different Imperial sanc­tions against it were deliberated. Justinian himself promoted them, and on the second occasion, the final deliberation was confirmed by an Ecumenical Council. Regarding the ‘Palestinian’ dimension, this area was certainly influential and, despite its provincial frame, developed a good net of connections. Furthermore, my attention strictly concerns the spirit of this action in the framework of Justinian politics.59 Was an es­­cha­to­lo­gi­cal represen­tation of divine tolerance, in itself so deeply (though not exclusively) connected with the Origenian doc­trine of the apokatastasis, also considered a political dan­ger, in particular within the balance of the social equilibrium?60


In these years, Mazdak,61 a Zoroastrian priest, full of egalitarian and semi-socialist political and religious ideas, started a radical process of social reforms which had a significant impact on Sasanian society and even on its kingship. The echo of its radical actions was enormous and reached the West. We do not know if the Mazdakite progression in Iran and its reflection in Byzantium involved similar eschatological perspectives, but when one con­siders that with the po­tential collapse of private property and legitimate succession, the move­ment of Maz­dak ope­ned new ex­pec­tations, we can reasonably presume that some radical hopes also involved escha­to­logical expectations. For this reason, it is worth considering as a working hy­po­thesis that this political phase might have favoured the diffusion of the idea that even hell would be des­tro­yed. Paradise for every­body would be another sort of ‘spiritual com­munism,’ based on the idea that divine insight is full of mercy and generosity. We know that Origen was not ap­preciated among Dyo­phy­sites, but in­tel­lectual al­liances were possible despite ge­ne­ral divergences. Origenism and simi­lar optimistic ideas might have found a path of diffusion in different ways, even via Monophysites, and the common intellectual interest in Ari­sto­telian as well as Neo-Platonic backgrounds created a sort or ‘no man’s land’ where numerous ex­changes were possible. For in­stance, if we consider how it was pos­­sible that some court astro­nomers/astrologers in Sa­sa­nian Iran were Christian, we are com­pelled to observe that, despite a general refusal of as­trological di­vination, many Chris­tians en­dured practicing a moderate form of astro­lo­gy, in which the principle of astral pre-de­ter­mi­nation on free choice was strongly limited (Panaino 2017a). In this respect, the role played by the Magi at Beth­lehem represented a double-faced instrument of pro­paganda. It actually showed that an Iran­ian traditional practice had inspired some wise men to find the true Saviour, frequently identified as one of the three expected posthumous sons of Zoroaster, but also legitimated a sort of pious prac­ti­ce which could not simply be demonized. But the problem is much more intricate, because as­tro­logy was strictly linked with power and its symbolism. In fact, in Iran as in Byzantium, both mo­nar­chies used to play with the image of the royal kosmo­krá­tor, placed at the cen­tre of a cosmic hall, where all the stars and the luminaries rotate around the per­sona sacra of the king as a living Sun. This game was performed on both sides (Panaino 2004a), which imitated each other in many ways, and no re­ligion dared to contrast this esoteric trend in an open way. The Byzan­ti­ne emperor put himself among the twelve apostles, just like Jesus in a process of ‘Cristo­mi­me­sis,’ while the King of Kings ap­peared to the Byzantine conquerors of Ganzaca as a di­vinity en­thro­ned in heaven, with angels brin­ging him sceptres and encircled by the luminaries and the stars. An im­pressive ma­chine, like a sort of clock, moved around the throne. These and other descrip­tions of the celestial di­men­­sion of the universal king have been reported by Theophanes (ninth century CE) through Georgios Ce­drenos (I, 721, 18; eleventh/twelfth century CE; see Panaino 2004a, 564–72), or by the Patriarch Nikephoros (XII, 43–47; eighth to ninth century CE) (see Nicephorus 1990, 56, 57 and @LOrange_Studies_1953, p. 20), but the po­wer of this ideo­logical symbolism was already evident in a short note by the glosso­gra­pher He­sy­chius (fifth century CE), sub voce οὐρανοὺς, when he stated: Πέρσαι δὲ τὰς βασιλείους σκηνὰς καὶ αὐλάς, ὧν τὰ καλύ­μα­τα κυλωτερῆ, οὐρανοὺς (ἐκάλουν) “The Persians (call) ‘heavens’ the royal palaces and the saloons whose coverage had been made ‘round’” (L’Orange 1953, 22).


Furthermore, I would like to call the reader’s attention on the fact that the few re­ferences in Christian literature of the Church of the East which attest to the pre­­sence of Christian astrologers, members of the religious hierarchy, at the Sa­sa­nian court, in particular in the Chronicle of Seert, find a distant confirmation in the similar tradition explicitly documented by Chinese sour­ces of the Tang pe­­riod, in which the arrival of Christian astronomers/astrologers in very high po­sitions in the Cen­tral Bureau of Astronomy is emphasized without any possibility of doubt. The most im­portant as­trologer, Li Su, was certainly a Christian and a very good specialist in these esoteric di­sciplines coming from the West, i.e. from the Iranian world, presumably from Persia or Sogdiana.62


The significance of this evidence must be emphasized; in fact, the role not only of astrology, but of a kind of astrology developed in the Persian framework gives us a measure of the cultural legacy that emerged in Sasanian Iran and the richness of its ramifications and irradiation. For in­stan­ce, it is probable that the astrological doctrines contained in the Middle Persian re-ela­bo­ra­tion of the Carmen Astrologicum by Dorotheus of Sidon63 (first century CE) were transferred to China by Chris­tian as­tro­­­logers who actually became competitors of Buddhist scholars in this field. This exceeds all standard expectation, although, for an open-minded historian, reality is much mo­re in­tri­guing than fiction. Previously, we have mentioned the presence of Christian forms of ad­ap­ta­tion of astrology, but the subject is more complex because it must be connected, at a hi­gher in­tel­lectual level, with the philosophical debate concerning the eternity of the world and in par­­ti­cu­lar of the heavens, and, more pertinently, with the the possibility of the spiritual animation of the astral bodies. This debate was very relevant in Byzantium and among Christians, in the East and West, so that it impacted Monophysites and Dyophysites. Joel Th. Wal­ker (2006, 190–97; see Panaino 2017a) has also found pertinent resonances of these discussions in the framework of the inter­ro­ga­tory of the Sasanian Ge­ne­ral Mar Qardagh, held during the process concluded with his martyr­dom. The phi­losophical literature of late Antiquity demonstrates that a deep discussion con­cer­ning the­se subjects was known even in Western Iran before the Arab invasion, and that it would be his­to­ri­cally reductive to limit the importance of these philosophical con­tro­versies only to the ninth cen­tury CE. If Theodor of Mopsuestia (fourth to fifth century CE) and Cosmas Indiclopleustes (early sixth century CE) strongly main­tained the earlier Aris­­to­te­lian re­pre­sen­ta­tion of the heavens and of the astral bodies, as­su­ming that they were gi­ven a soul, and stated that angels directed the motion of the sun, the moon and the stars, we can equally trace the violent reaction of a Chris­tian scholar like John Philoponus (sixth century CE), who progres­si­vely rejected the idea of the eternity of the heavens and the hypothesis that all astral beings were animated and directed by angelic powers.64 It would be interesting to imagine the position of Mazdean scholars, who probably maintained a ge­ne­ric Aristotelian point of view but stated that both the stars and the luminaries were divine beings un­der the power of Ohrmazd, while the planets, which were demons, although animated, would be destroyed by God at the end of limited time. In this way, the Mazdean wise men adopted on­ly a partially Aris­to­te­lian position, without sub­scribing to the assumption that this world is eter­nal in its present status; they presumably stated that it would be radically changed with the dis­solution of the limited space/time dimension created by Ohrmazd in order to entrap Ahreman, and that a new world was to be be expected. In this respect, the theological matter was likely in­tellectually intriguing because we can postulate that various kinds of philosophic (dis)­en­tanglements and (counter)-alliances were pos­si­ble. In this framework, the in­tolerance of Jus­ti­n­ian policy in philosophical matters and the expulsion of the Greek philosophers from the Aca­de­my of Athens in 529 produced an additional earthquake, because despite the a priori hostile description of the events given by Agathias (sixth century CE), we can assume that a reasonable interest to­ward the Iranian world was present in the western scholarly am­bian­ce of that time, and that at least Xusraw I was sufficiently interested in the ideas of these expelled philosophers to host them and eventually to offer them protection on their homeward journey, as we know from ancient sources. Nolens volens, these so­cieties were in close contact, in particular at their highest intellectual levels, so that it is dif­fi­cult to work out whether they were ‘closed boxes’ without continuous relations. The dif­ference of lan­guage was a limited problem, not only because the Syrians and the Armenians pla­yed a con­ti­nuous game of in­ter­mediation but also because the political situation necessitated ob­ser­ving the enemy. Col­laboration was also required on some occasions, as in the case of the re­daction of the treaty signed by the delegations of Xusraw I and Justinian at the Lazika Peace (532 AD). The terms of this treaty were fixed with a bilingual (Greek and Persian; Panaino 2017e) official do­cu­ment, in 11 points, plus a long addendum on religious mino­rities. Menander the Guardsman (mid-sixth century CE) preserved a syn­the­sis of the original text, but the (Middle) Persian version is pro­bably referred to by Ṭa­barī with an interestingly (if not opposing, then surely differently) oriented re­pre­sen­tation of the facts. This difference clearly shows that these tre­a­ties were made public in the two coun­tries in a way which highlighted only the advantageous results, while the ne­ces­sary concessions offered to the other part were not ma­de public explicitly (Panaino 2009b, 2014). Furthermore, the complexity of the mat­ter and the way in which the bilingual text in Greek and Middle Persian was redacted de­mon­stra­tes that the level of cooperation was very high (as it is visible in the calendar adopted for the syn­chronism of the an­nex­ed agreements, which followed the “Egyptian style” in order to avoid any pre­ference and any mistake; Panaino 2010), and that the Ro­mans probably had to write the Pahlavi version, while the Persian dele­gation pro­du­ced the Greek text (Panaino 2017e). In any case, both sides apparently invoked a God who seems to be the same for both; a very remarkable fact (Panaino 2015a).


My focus on these apparently secondary details seeks to emphasize the multicultural dimen­sion of the the­o­logical and philosophical speculations that concurred with the continuous elabo­ration of Maz­de­an eschatological doctrines. If I can dedicate the final part of my contribution to some conclusive remarks, I would like to synthetize some aspects of the Iranian process of theo­logical for­­ma­tion, insisting on the fact that, after an original phase of formation and of ine­vi­table dialogue with the sur­roun­ding Mesopotamian world, a long period of intercultural ex­chan­ge with the Greek and Ju­deo-Christian civilizations transformed the Iranian intellectual world, although this phase was followed by a further re-adaptation of some doc­tri­nes that definitively took place in the Islamic period. At that time, again, some protagonists of the debate were still the sa­me: Greek philosophy in Christian, Jewish and Islamic declinations, but the political and mi­li­ta­ry defeat of the Sasanian Empire paradoxically gave more free­dom to the inner theological ela­bo­ra­tion of the Zoroastrians, no more limited by any raison d’état. The Iranian contribution to the development of hu­man intellectual history main­tained its originality because, despite the im­portance of Aris­totelian thought and, to certain extent, also of Neo-Platonic doctrines, late Antique Iran preserved and transformed some fundamental categories originally devel­op­ed in its secular tradition. This was the case with the dis­tinc­­tion between eternal and li­mited time, bet­ween mēnōg and gētīg, with the particular em­phasis on the fact that evil forces were mainly men­tal (mēnōg). In this way, the Iranian intel­lectual world continued to offer de facto one of the most si­gni­ficant innovations with respect to the representation of the relations be­t­ween mind and body, in which the body assumed an autonomous and very positive function.

The Zoroastrian Idea of Evil as a Mental Dimension


Another point which must be underlined concerns, in my opinion, the importance of what I would like to call an anachronism of Zoroastrian ‘psychology,’ which stems from a series of ontological premises. The ‘principle’ and the ‘prince’ of evil, which practically coin­ci­de, are intrinsically a manifestation of something comparable to a mental disease. The first sinner, Ahreman, sub­stantially embodies a mentally suf­­fering drive (mainiiu‑) present in the cos­mos; his contra-creation, realized against Ohr­mazd’s luminous world, is the result of an act of self-sodomy, an action which symbolically shows that Ah­reman is inca­pa­ble of loving anybody other than himself (Panaino 2009a, 2009c), and that he is dowered with a strong se­xual drive but that this drive cannot be seminal.65 The creatures who follow him start to behave, like the first two twins born by Gayōmart, as psychiatric criminals, killing and eating their own first couple of chil­dren, a kind of behaviour well known in the manuals of criminal psychiatry. Thus, Zoro­as­tria­nism had the extraordinary originality to imagine evil as a mani­fes­tation of mental suf­fering, describing its presence in crea­tion as a mental se­duc­tion distur­bing and destroying the regular course of life. At this point another interpretative key can be con­sidered when we try to evaluate the Maz­dean to­lerance in the afterlife and the myth of the Frawahrān’s incarnation. The sin is not only a mat­ter of free choice, a problem about which Irano­lo­gists have started a long and intricate cri­ti­cal and controversial debate, but a fruit of mental weakness and of inner im­balance.


In other words, the Zoroas­trian final optimistic solution of the definitive mer­cy of God toward everybody, a solution that also includes the sin­ners of hell, implicitly assumes that the damned are not completely responsible for their faults. Their responsibility is limited, and consequently it is only for this limited part that they must pay for the sins in a tem­porary hell, which sub­stan­tially cor­responds to a harder purgatory. Here, I see the final effects of some theo­logical presup­po­si­tions already visible in the idea that without the gētīg, humans do not have the me­rits to obtain a ‘fu­ture body’. This body of transfiguration has been practically sainted thanks to the living ex­pe­rience, which works as a sort of self-sa­cri­fice. The decision of the ancestral Frawahrān to descend into the living world results now in an act of auto-salvation; in fact, it opened the path to the final resurrection and para­dise to the whole of humanity. A human existence, only mēnōg, will be imperfect, and not sui­ta­ble to real incremental progress in the ontological di­men­sion. From this point of view, the resurrection of the dead is the seal of their definitive trans­figuration. No being can be re­sur­rected in order to go to hell again. It is a pity that we do not possess minutes of theo­logical debates occurring in late Antiquity and the early Middle Ages, apart from some scattered references in polemical documents, such as the Škand Gumānīg Wizār, but I am sure that the subject was dra­ma­ti­cally deep, and that it probably knew not only ex­ternal contro­ver­sies but also many internal, tanta­lizing discus­sions. What we know is that at certain point, in a par­ti­cu­lar political condition, the doctrine of the apokatastasis was officially ac­cep­ted also in the Zo­ro­as­­trian world, in a very op­ti­mistic and—we could say—‘liberal’ version, not as a pri­vilege for a restricted num­ber of elects, but as the gift to be expected by all human beings. This solution was not isolated, but its Origenian comparanda was less fortunate, re­maining in the limbo of Christian here­sies while its modern revivals have opened a number of accusations and controversies, inevitably due to the escha­to­logical importance of this solu­tion.66



The subject is certainly intriguing and I am not strictly looking for direct influences;67 my focus in this investigation remains on the complexity of intercultural dia­logue, which was evidently signific­ant and inspired many related or strikingly reso­nant solu­tions.68 Just as another provo­cation, I must remind readers that already in Bardaiṣan we find a sort of an­ticipation of the apo­ka­tas­ta­sis in his doctrine, stating that our world is a mixture of the four ele­­ments plus darkness,69 but that this condition will be extinguished and a new mixture, although without darkness, will emerge (Ramelli_Bardaisan_2009; Ramelli 2013a). When we consider that apparently even Bardaiṣan was ope­ra­ting within the theological premises of an ideal temporal framework of 6,000 years (Panaino 2017g), arranged according to an even number of planetary conjunctions, we could suspect that a cross-cultural echo com­ing from Iran could be possible, and we come back again to a never-ending circle.


What seems to me certain is that in this complicated mosaic of traditions, Zoroastrian theo­lo­gy had its own dignity and com­plexity, and that without its study a great chap­ter of the intel­lec­tual circulation of eschatological ideas would simply be ignored. This omission would not only narrow the border of the ancient,70 but also decrease the richness of spiritual hope and ima­gination.


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———. 2005. “Ahreman’s End Between Theology and Philosophy.” HAMAZOR 37 (1): 92–94.

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———. 2009a. “Ahreman and Narcissus.” In Literarische Stoffe und ihre Gestaltung in mitteliranischer Zeit: Colloquium anlässlich des 70. Geburtstags von Werner Sundermann, edited by Desmond Durkin-Meisterernst, Christiane Reck, and Dieter Weber, 201–9. Beiträge zur Iranistik 31. Wiesbaden: Reichelt Verlag.

———. 2009b. “Il duplice volto del protocollo aggiuntivo sulle minoranze religiose nella ‘Pace dei 50 anni’.” Bizantinistica: Rivista di Studi Bizantini e Slavi 11: 273–99.

———. 2009c. “The ‘Mental’ Dimension of Evil: Psychoanalytic Remarks on the Image and Behaviour of Ahreman in the Framework of Zoroastrian Cosmology.” In Geist, Gehirn, Verhalten: Sigmund Freud und die modernen Wissenschaften, edited by Patrizia Giampieri-Deutsch, 143–58. Würzburg: Königshausen & Neumann.

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———. 2013a. “Mortality and Immortality: Yama’s / Yima’s Choice and the Primordial Incest; Mythologica Indo-Iranica, I.” In Disputationes Iranologicae Vindobonensis. II, edited by Velizar Sadovski and Antonio Panaino, 47–221. Sitzungsberichte / Österreichische Akademie der Wissenschaften, Philosophisch-Historische Klasse 845. Vienna: Verlag der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften.

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———. 2014. “Christians and Zoroastrians in the Fifty-Years Peace Treaty.” Nāme-Ye Irān-E Bāstān. The International Journal of Ancient Iranian Studies 12: 67–90.

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———. 2017d. “Liturgies and Calendars in the Politico-Religious History of Pre-Achaemenian and Achaemenian Iran.” In Persian Religion in the Achaemenid Period: La Religion Perse à L’époque Achéménide, edited by Wouter Henkelman and Ćeline Redard, 69–95. Classica et Orientalia 16. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag.

———. 2017e. “Multilingualism and Empires: Byzantium and Sasanian Persia.” In Zur Lichten Heimat Studien Zu Manichäismus, Iranistik Und Zentralasienkunde Im Gedenken an Werner Sundermann, edited by Team "Turfanforschung“, 491–502. Iranica 25. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz.

———. 2017f. “The End of Time and the ‘Laws of Zoroaster’: A Zoroastrian Doctrine in the Manichaean Reception.” In In Limine. Esplorazioni Attorno All’idea Di Confine, edited by Francesco Calzolaio, Erika Petrocchi, Marco Valisano, and Alessia Zubani, 61–68. Studi E Ricerche 9. Venice: Edizioni Ca’ Foscari.

———. 2017g. “Vecchie e Nuove Considerazioni sul Millenarismo iranico-mesopotamico ed il Chiliasmo giudaico-cristiano.” In Studi Iranici Ravennati II, edited by Antonio Panaino and Andrea Piras, 183–229. Studia Indo-Iranica et Orientalia: Series Lazur 14. Milan: Mimesis.

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———. Forthcoming. “On the Mazdean Animal and Symbolic Sacrifices; Their Problems, Timing and Restrictions.” In Aux Sources Des Liturgies Indo-Iraniennes, edited by Céline Redard, Joan Joseph Ferrer-Losilla, Hamid Moein, and Swennen. Liège: Presses Universitaires de Liège.

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———. 2013b. The Christian Doctrine of Apokatastasis: A Critical Assessment from the New Testament to Eriugena. Supplements to Vigiliae Christianae 120. Leiden: Brill.

———. 2017. “Christian Apokatastasis and Zoroastrian Frashegird: The Birth of Eschatological Universalism.” Religion and Theology 24 (3-4): 350–406.

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  1. In this study I have taken the opportunity to resume some of my previous research, which I have developed with a large and detailed bibliography in other publications, and to anti­ci­pa­te forthcoming re­sults. The reader will forgive these self-quotations, but I desired to avoid any heavy repetition of a full apparatus of sources and notes which have already been offered elsewhere. Some of these previous works were written in Italian, and it is possible that they have escaped and will escape the attention of some scholars. Thus, I believe that a new up-to-date version of their contents could be of a certain utility. I take also the opportunity to thank Dr. Samra Azarnouche (EPHE, Paris) for her kindness in sharing some opinions about the problems I have discussed in the present work, and to Prof. Dr. Kianoosh Rezania (Ruhr-Universität Bochum) for his invitation to take part in a seminal conference dedicated to the intercultural problems I have tried to analyse in this study.↩︎

  2. See most recently Panaino (2004b); Walker (2006); Minov (2013); Payne (2015).↩︎

  3. On the Wizīdagīhā ī Zādspram, ch. XXVIII, 2, see Gignoux and Tafazzoli (1993, 92–93, 255–56, Pahlavi text).↩︎

  4. All the details are collected in my study quoted above; see also Panaino (2017g).↩︎

  5. On this subject, see Panaino (2017g).↩︎

  6. An analytic description of the facts is given in Panaino (2017g). Sometimes only 9,000 years are mentioned because the first period before the meeting and the pact between Ohrmazd and Ahreman is not considered.↩︎

  7. Von Orelli (1871, 109–10) anticipated some ideas later devel­op­ed by Stern.↩︎

  8. Ohrmazd is equipped with forces possessing a double nature, one mēnōg, the latter gētīg, while Ah­re­man has at his dis­­posal only mēnōg creatures, because he was in a state of complete stupefaction (stardīh) during the se­­­cond cycle of 3,000 years of the mēnōg period. This double articulation of the world, which practically corresponds to a double level of creation, can be compared with some ideas later developed by the Jewish Platonist Philo of Alexandria, as well as by Origen and Gregory of Nyssa, as rightly remarked by Ramelli (Ramelli 2017, 383–84).↩︎

  9. For a detailed textual analysis of these sources and their interpretation, see Kellens (2000), Kellens (2009), Panaino (2017g). Kel­lens’ philological revision of the text and his emendations are indispensable in order to properly understand the real mean­ing of these passages.↩︎

  10. The most pertinent texts are attested in Dēnkard III, 160 and 407; they are edited, translated and discussed in Panaino (2018) with a large bibliography on the subject.↩︎

  11. These are: Hāwan (morning), Rapihwin (afternoon), Uzērin (evening), Ēbsrūsrim (sunset to midnight) and Ušahin (mid­night to dawn). See MacKenzie (1971, 143). For the liturgical implication of these five ceremonies, see Panaino (Forthcoming).↩︎

  12. On this sensible matter Shaked (2002) very sharply wrote: “The imposition of five daily prayers in Islam has been shown by Goldziher (1900, 132–33) to be a development due to Zoroastrian influence.”↩︎

  13. On the concept of transfiguration in Pahlavi sources, see Shaked (1970).↩︎

  14. Only during the final revision of this article did I have access to the article of Ramelli (2017), who on parallel lines in­ves­ti­gates some aspect of the Iranian doctrine of the Frašgird, the final renovation, in connection with the Christian apo­kat­astasis.↩︎

  15. See, in particular, Clemens, Stromata VII, 2.12.2–3: πρὸς γὰρ τὴν τοῦ ὅλου σωτηρίαν τῷ τῶν ὅλων κυρίῳ πάντα ἐστὶ διατεταγμένα καὶ καθόλου καὶ ἐπὶ μέρους. ἔργον οὖν τῆς δικαιοσύνης τῆς σωτηρίου ἐπὶ τὸ ἄμεινον αἰεὶ κατὰ τὸ ἐνδεχόμενον ἕκαστον προάγειν. πρὸς γὰρ τὴν σωτηρίαν τοῦ κρείττονος καὶ διαμονὴν ἀναλόγως τοῖς ἑαυτῶν ἤθεσι διοικεῖται καὶ τὰ μικρότερα […]. “For all things are arranged with a view to the salvation of the cosmos by the Lord of the universe, both generally and particularly. It is then the function of the righteousness of salvation to improve everything as far as practicable. For even minor matters are arranged with a view to the salvation of that which is better, and for an abode suitable for people’s character […].” For the Greek text see Früchtel, Stählin, and Treu (1979), translation according to Wilson (Clemens, n.d., 526).↩︎

  16. The history of the discussion concerning the relations between Zoroastrianism and Christianity is a sensitive matter. It was part of the legacy left by the Religionsgeschichtliche Schule, whose Pro-Iranian excesses have been stron­g­ly criticized. Although some problems did in fact exist, we must remark that the debate was not only limited to the scholarly frame. On the contrary, it was strongly ‘poisoned’ by some anti-Semitic attempts to show the non-Jewish origin of Christ and Christianity (see in particular the materials collected by Heschel 2008, 26–66). On the other hand, the pos­si­bility that a certain exchange between Judaism, Christianity and Zoroastrianism could have taken place, for in­stance in the case of the idea of time, was considered by Sasse (1933, 197–98, 207) and developed by Cullman (e.g., 1962, 56, 61; but see also Barr 1962; see also Schaeder 1930). Recently, the relevance of the Jewish and Christian impact on Zoroastrian Iran has been shown by scholars like Gignoux (1988, 1968, 1990, 1999) and Cereti (1995b, 11–27, 1995c, 1995a, 1996), who counter the thesis that Zoroastrian eschatology presents only the developments of a substantial early Iranian background. For a model suggesting the circulation of ideas and influences instead of unilateral influence in one way or the other, see Panaino (2016), Panaino (2017c), Panaino (2017g). A very recent study on the subject is offered by Hintze (2019). For revision of the problem of the apocalyptic in the Parthian framework, see Frenschkowsi (2004). For a certain Iranian influence on other religious traditions, see also Hultgård (2000), Kuehn (2014). On some related subjects concerning the afterlife, see also Tardieu (1985), and Panaino (2008).↩︎

  17. For instance, according to chapter LIV, 6 of the Ardā Wīrāz Nāmag (Gignoux 1988, 100–101, 191), it is clear that the souls of the wicked are waiting for the end of the cosmic year in order to be released, although they suffer the spi­ri­tu­al quality of the pu­nish­ment (Gignoux 1968, 239–41). In fact, for the sinner who is left alone in the darkness, every day is like the whole cos­mic period of 9,000 years attributed to the fight between Ohrmazd and Ahreman. See again Ramelli (2017, 371).↩︎

  18. On this aspect see Ramelli (2017), who started to investigate the possibility of this comparison.↩︎

  19. Ramelli (2017, 366) does not recognize this fact, and in her article assumes that the earlier Avestan Maz­de­an doc­tri­ne was quite unclear on this subject. The same scholar (2017, 369) quo­tes the fact that in the Ha­δōxt Nask II, 33, the punishment of the wicked, who are thrown into the Endless Darkness, could be interpreted, follo­wing an explanation suggested by Shaki (1986), as eternal, although the critical treatment of this source is very su­per­fi­cial. On this aspect, and in particular on the Avestan expression anaγra- təmah‑ (Pahl. asar tārīgīh, unlimited dark­ness), see Piras (2000, 67, 72, 120–21), with a wide conspectus of Indo-Iranian parallels. N.B. Avestan anaγra‑ literally means an-aγra‑, i.e., “without beginning,” aγra‑ meaning as a neuter substantive “beginning, top,” as adjective “first, foremost” (Bartholomae 1904, 49, 114–15), exactly like Vedic ágra‑, n., “beginning” and “foremost, anterior, first.” For this reason, it may also be translated as “infinite,” but its basic semantic value does not involve strictly temporal im­plications; it refers to a spatial dimension, and in fact its adjectival use concerns light or darkness, or again the lights of the heaven. Further­mo­re, on p. 378 of her study, Ramelli refers again to the existence of Ahreman before the beginning of the fight as the primordial being who was within “Eternal Dark­ness,” but actually the Bad Spirit was in “unlimited Darkness” (Bundahišn I, 4; see Pākzād and Markaz-i Dāʼirat al-Maʻārif-i Buzurg-i Islāmī (Iran) 2005, 5). Contrariwise, for Ohrmazd it would have been impossible to attract his demonic enemy into creation and the limited time. Pahl. asar (lit. without head), like Av. an-aγra-, were used with spatial value, while it is Av. akarana‑ and Pahl. akanārag which were used with temporal force, for in­stan­ce in the explicit desi­gna­tion of Zurwān as “eternal.” On the con­tra­ry, Ramelli’s (2017, 378–80) reference to the passage of Moses bar Kepha (813 ca.–903), in which it is stated that the two principles “crashed into one ano­ther/assaulted one another. And darkness had the impetus to ascend, in order to mix with those and among those […],” is very per­ti­nent for a direct comparison. Furthermore, Bar Kepha knows the Ira­­nian doctrine of the historical ‘mixture’ (although in another form), i.e. of the period of battle between good and evil forces in the world, a very important doctrine in the Zoroastrian tradition (see again Ramelli 2009, 378–90).↩︎

  20. See, for instance, the Addendum on the Religious Minorities to the Peace Treaty signed at the end of the Lazika War; see Panaino (2010) and Panaino (2014) with additional bibliography.↩︎

  21. Dilley in Gardner, DeBuhn and Dilley (2018, 101); see also the new edition of this text in Gardner, DeBuhn and Dilley (2018, 150–61). See Panaino (2017f).↩︎

  22. Ramelli is probably right (2017, 356–57, 371, 377–81) when she remarks that Bar­daiṣan of Edessa, who also supported an earlier version of the doctrine of universal restoration, was certainly ac­quain­­ted with Iranian ideas, although this does not show that this special interpretation was due to Mazdean in­fluence. It is probable the opposite, that Bardaiṣan was one of the channels through which apoka­tastasis became progressively known in Iran. The notion in Bardaisan (via Ephrem) that the Cross of Jesus Christ was the crossing bridge toward the salvation lost and precluded by Adam is very interesting, as remarked by Ramelli (Ramelli 2017, 371). Although it is not explicitly documented, it is possible that the idea of a crossing point was connected with an Iranian idea; see Tardieu (1985).↩︎

  23. The demographic collapse of the Zoroastrian community became progressively dramatic, and despite strong re­sistance in certain districts, the number of Zoroastrians who converted to Islam increased not only be­cau­se of persecutions or discriminations but also for economic reasons, particularly concerning the taxation system (see Choksy 1987, 1997; Kestenberg Amighi 1990; Stickel 2007; Daniel 1993; see also Bulliet 1979, 16–32). Kavvadas (2016, 1–2) remarks that the apocalypse of John Hazzaya shows a first-hand experience of the ongoing Isla­mi­zation.↩︎

  24. Although I insist on the circulation of ideas between East and West, the treatment of a subject so sensitive as that of the destiny of the soul cannot be separated from a re-consideration of its social impact in a precise historical framework. A similar consideration is present in the first steps of Ramelli (2017, 351–54), which follows some (in my opinion too) general re­flec­tions offered by Bruce Lincoln (1985, 2007b, 2007a) and van den Heever (1993, 2005a, 2005b) and Simmons (2015), although the historical background and relevant impact of the phenomena under discussion does not seem very consistent.↩︎

  25. Another line of investigation concerns not only the plausible impact of Christian apokatastasis on some theological trends attested in classical Islam that directly concern the annihilation of hell, whose relevance was recently studied by Demichelis (2018), but also on the later Zoroastrian vision of the final renovation (see Ramelli 2017, 399). We must also remark that the standard Islamic doctrine assumes that hell is eternal; see El-Saleh (1986, 47–50).↩︎

  26. See bax­tan, baxš‑ (to distribute), baxt (part, sort, de­­stiny). On this subject, see Panaino (2013b, 137–45). A similar ter­mi­nology occurs in Manichaean sources; see Durkin-Meisterernst (2004, 3:15): Parthian abaxšāh‑ (to have mer­cy), Par­thian abaxšāhišn (mercy, pity), Middle-Persian abaxšāy‑ (to have mercy), Middle-Persian abax­šāyišn (mercy), Par­thian abaxšāy­išngar (pitiful, merciful); New Persian baxšīdan, baxšūdan (forgive, give mercy); see also Reck (2004, 95, 182).↩︎

  27. Email dated May 10, 2018.↩︎

  28. See Kellens and Pirart (1990, 2:26, 293 about the free dative of time).↩︎

  29. The theoretical possibility that a Pahlavi gloss might have been added later cannot be excluded a pri­o­ri, but seems to be less probable.↩︎

  30. To the dossier of sources concerning the refusal of eternal punishment I must also add another passage from the third book of the Dēnkard (ch. 107; see Menasce 1973, 79–80); see also the doctrine formulated in the same book in chapter 272, which is discussed in the following pages.↩︎

  31. This passage has been discussed recently in Panaino (2017c, 38).↩︎

  32. I must thank Samra Azarnouche for calling my attention on this fitting passage. See also Bartholomae (1904, 1265n1).↩︎

  33. Dr. Marco Demichelis (Universidad de Navarra) kindly informed me that Ibn Taymiyya (1263–1328) developed a si­mi­lar idea in the framework of Islamic speculations on the annihilation of hell.↩︎

  34. The numeration of the chapters adopted here follows the numeration proposed by Pakzad (2005, 52–53); see An­kle­sa­ria (1956, 44–45). See Zaehner (1955, 324, 336), and the discussion in Ramelli (2017, 384).↩︎

  35. I must remark that Ramelli (2017, 381–90), following some remarks of M. Boyce (1975, 8:242–44), who fittingly ob­ser­ved the presence of different variants in the description of the final times in the Bundahišn, concludes too simply that this Pahlavi book was not clear on the final destiny of the souls of the sinners. In my opinion, despite some repetitions and inconsistencies, such as the imposition of a second judgment to the wicked ones, the Bundahišn does not contain any statement concerning the total annihilation of the sinners. On the contrary, the river of molten metals works as a purifying collective ordeal that grants them all access to paradise. Other, later Pahlavi sources confirm this conclusion, and there is no need to make more complex what is clear (see Gignoux 1968, 241–42).↩︎

  36. See, for more detailed arguments, Panaino (2013a, 91–131, 2015b).↩︎

  37. The same letter was already published by Frothingham (1886, 10–26, in particular 18–21).↩︎

  38. I must thank again an anonymous reviewer for his or her pertinent and supportive suggestions.↩︎

  39. See also Reinink (1999a, 182–87). About Ḥenānā and the School of Nisibis, see Vööbus (1965). See also Molenberg (2017, 152–55).↩︎

  40. Kavvadas (2016) has edited the Syriac book On Pro­vi­den­ce, which confirms the Origenist doctrine of the apokatastasis in Hazzaya. Kavvadas (2016, 14–15) well des­cri­bes the origins of Hazzaya, remarking the fact that he was the son of a Mazdean priest of Nemrud, seized by Arab sol­diers. The per­sonal experience of Hazzaya must be considered in the framework of a special social background, in which the doctrine of universal salvation represented a strong answer to widespread distress and sufferance. If this was a sentiment current among Christians, we can doubt that the Zoroastrians were more optimist.↩︎

  41. See the most recent edition of the treatise On Providence by Joseph Hazzaya, edited and translated by Kavvadas (2016). In his arguments, Hazzaya followed some aspects of the doctrines developed by Theodore of Mopsuestia, also shown by Kavvadas (2016, 9–12). Joseph Hazzaya was considered heretical by Timoteus (see Berti (2009)).↩︎

  42. See the edition by Marsh (1927); see also the earlier work by Frothingham (1886). On this text, see Ramelli (2013b, 772–73). Prof. Emiliano Bronislaw Fiori (University of Venice, Ca’ Foscari) informs me that he is working on an Italian commen­ted translation of the Book of the Hierotheos.↩︎

  43. See Marsh (1927) and Frothingham (1886, 51–55, 63–66, 73). Bundy (1986) has identified the presence of Ma­nichaean motives in this source, following some remarks already advanced by Guillaumont (1962).↩︎

  44. I must thank my colleague Prof. Lorenzo Perrone (University of Salento) for his precious comments and advice.↩︎

  45. In particular, it was Marsh (1927) who followed the impact of these doctrines in authors like Theodosius and Bar Hebraeus (see also Pinggéra 2002); the reappraisal of Origenism in the ninth and twelfth centuries has been the subject of a careful investigation by Reinink (1999b, 2010). Chialà (2002, 2014) has studied the subject of the apokatastasis in the framework of the Persian Church with particular attention to Isaac of Niniveh (see also Brock 1995). I must thank Prof. E. B. Fiori for his kind advice on this parti­cu­lar problem.↩︎

  46. On the knowledge and diffusion of Aristotelian doctrines in Iran, see already Casartelli (1884, 1889); Zaehner (1955); Bailey (1971); Shaki (1999).↩︎

  47. The antecedents of this image can be seen in the Apocalypse of Peter (Bremmer 2009, who thinks that it derives from Plato’s Phaedo 114a), but also in the second book of the Sibylline Oracles, 190ff., where we find the ποταμός τε μέγας πυρὸς (Geffcken 1902, 8:37–41); see van den Heever (1993, 112), who tries to derive some Christian ideas from earlier Zoroastrianism. Unfortunately, the image of a cosmic burning is not at all Zoroastrian, but is attested in Manichaean sources. About the Apocalypse of Peter and the river of fire, see Ramelli (Ramelli 2017, 386). Very important is the study by Himmelfarb (1983, 110–14).↩︎

  48. See Edsman (1940, 1949); Guillaumont (1946); Anrich (1902); Müller (1958); Cornélis (1959); Ramelli (2009, 2013b, 98, 122, 273, 561, 2013a); Lettieri (2011, 284–86, 2017a).↩︎

  49. Migne (1862, 1864–5): Sic stabit in igneo flumine Dominus Jesus iuxta flammeam romphaeam, ut quaecumque post exitum vitae eius, qui ad paradisum transire desiderat, et purgatione indiget, hoc eum amne baptizet et ad cupita trasmittat: cum vero, qui non habet signum priorum baptismatum, lavacro igneo non baptizet, Oportet enim prius aliquem baptizari aqua et spiritu, ut cum ad igneum fluvium venerit, ostendat se at aquae et spirtus lavacra servassae, et tunc mereatur etiam ignis accipere baptismum in Christo Jesu: cui est gloria et imperium in saecula saeculorum. Amen. “In the same way, the Lord Jesus Christ will stand in the river of fire near the ‘flaming sword’. If anyone desires to pass over the paradise after departing this life, and needs cleansing, (Christ) will baptize him in this river and will send him across to the place he longs for. But whoever does not have the sign of earlier baptisms, him Christ will not baptize in the fiery bath. For it is fitting that one should be baptized first in ‘water and the Spirit.’ Then, when he comes to the fiery river, he can show that he preserved the bathing in water and the Spirit. Then he will deserve to receive in addition the baptism in Christ Jesus, to whom is glory and power for ages and ages. Amen.” For the translation I have followed Lienhardt (1996, 103–4). See also Fra­yer-Griggs (2016, 5–6, 13, 73–75, 142).↩︎

  50. Ramelli (2017, 370, 391) in her evaluation of the Pahlavi sources, states that chapter XL, 31 of the Dādestān ī Mēnōg ī xrad XXX, 31 (or Judgments of the Spirit of Wisdom) confirms the earlier Avestan doctrine of the eternal punish­ment of sinners. However, the text is more ambiguous, and the old interpretation of the passage given by West (1885, 3:81n4) already takes into consideration some well-argued alternatives. The passage (so translated by West “And the bridge and destruction and punishment of the wicked in hell are for ever and everlasting”) actually reads as fol­lows: puhl ud drōš ud pādifrāh ī druwandān pad dušox tā hamē ud hamē-rawišnīh […] (the bridge and the punishment and the retribution of the wicked ones are in the hell for-ever-and-ever): This statement can be taken as a witness of eternal punishment, but also, as West suggested, to the entire time of the fight between Ohrmazd and Ahreman, which will last until the resurrection. In the preceding paragraph, hamē ud hamē-rawišnīh (for-ever-and-ever) is clearly used for an (apparently) eternal paradisiacal state, so that, in the second case, it should refer to the eternity of the pu­nishment, but again, West claims that this conclusion is in contradiction with the rest of the Pahlavi sta­te­ments concerning the des­ti­ny of all souls. In my opinion, the text offers a symmetric presentation of the afterlife, so that the two states are presented in their dimension with respect to the present time, which is not that of the final re­novation. When the wicked are judged and purified in the river of molten metal, their punishment would be meaningless if it did not contain an additional emphasis on their previous impiety, but not as a future eternal per­spective. With the destruction of hell, their place will finally be with the others, as that of Ahreman, who, having been reduced to pieces, will continue to exist not as a kind of a dark infernal active demon but as a mass of blen­ded atoms, no longer in any condition to produce damage.↩︎

  51. We must recall that in the later Mazdean tradition, the individual souls (more precisely the Frawahrān) are ex­pres­sly asked by Ohrmazd (Bundahišn III, 27; Pākzād and Markaz-i Dāʼirat al-Maʻārif-i Buzurg-i Islāmī (Iran) 2005, 53) to accept the incarnation (Zaehner 1955, 324, 336); this choi­ce necessarily compels them to suffer in real life, and inevitably introduces the risks of demonic seduction. But the promise is God’s final mercy. In this respect, human beings share the same idea of the Deus patiens, because the main historical sufferance is attributed to them. For the Gnostic and Origenian aspects of the idea of the Deus patiens, see Lettieri (1996, 2005, 186–89).↩︎

  52. I must thank one of the anonymous reviewers of this article when he remarked that some pertinent dif­fe­rences should also be emphasized. For instance, the radical apokatastatic doctrine in Christianity implies the sal­va­tion of the Devil and demons (Lettieri 2017b, also with reference to Eriugena), as in the anathemas against Origen (and a return to an undifferentiated Mo­nad, e.g. in the Book of Hierotheos). About this source, see below in the text. On the contrary, although Ahreman is not properly destroyed, he is rendered unable to act again, but certainly not redeemed (see Ramelli 2017, 374–76). In other words, the Prince of Darkness cannot actually be destroyed in a physical or material sense, but he can be put in a state of total impotence and frag­menta­tion. On the other hand, we must remark that Ahreman invoked Ohrmazd’s help when the demon Āz was ready to eat and kill him at the end of the fight with the divine forces. In that case, Ohrmazd saved him but could not let him go free, and thus paralyzed his being. Fur­ther­more, the Ori­ge­nist Christian doctrine of apokatastasis implies that evil is not a subsistent essence per se, therefore it cannot last fore­ver; on the contrary, Ahreman is a primordial principle. I have dealt with the ontology of Ahreman in another article (Panaino 2005), and I must remark that the Mazdean theology in this case follows some Aristotelian patterns, which attributed to Ahreman the dignity of a primordial substance. In this regard, I wish to emphasize that it is not my in­ten­tion to demonstrate that the two religious trends were similar, but only that they shared some important points, and that these correspondences require a discussion. In addition, although the controversy against Origen presents some obscure points, the theory that the accusations against him did not really represent his original doctrines but only those of his followers, or again that they consist of distortions or exaggeration of his thought, is far-fetched and sometimes based on confessional arguments, as those suggested by Crousel (1985) and few of his followers. In this perspective, Evagrius (Guillaumont 1958, 1962; Chialà 2002, 101–9), who was severely condemned, as was Gregorius of Nissa, another faithful disciple of Origen, followed his master (Hombergen 2001). I must thank Prof. Gaetano Lettieri for his remarks on this particular prob­lem. Again with respect to the end of evil, we must observe that the Mani­chae­an solution, in turn, involved a com­p­le­te damnation of evil, but according to a completely different theology, which did not reflect the Zoroastrian doctrinal vision, although some points ap­pear to be similar. In this regard, the idea of the bolos, in which all sinners and demons will be thrown, is ex­tra­ne­ous to the Zoroastrian point of view and seems to belong to a more pro­perly Gnostic perspective. In the fra­me­work of the Zoroastrian speculation, it is clear that no eternal Hell is possible because its existence and permanence would imply the presence of a limit in the universe. In any case, its endurance, although as a place of diminution and pu­nishment, represents a space in which Ahreman will reign and in which Ohrmazd will be extraneous, while divine victory must be universal in time and space.↩︎

  53. Although I cannot enter into all the problems discussed in other works, there is no reason to search for an over­whel­ming Iranian influence on the Christian doctrine of universal salvation, which, in fact, was not attested in ancient Iranian sources. See also the discussion in Ramelli (2017, 361–62). The famous passage by Plutarch, De Iside et Osiride 46–47, based on a fragment by Theopompus (IV. century BC) on Mazdeism, simply states that Ahreman will be anni­hi­la­ted at the end of the fight with Ohrmazd but does not develop other eschatological concepts in extenso. In any case, in it there is nothing that could be referred to as supportive of the apokatastasis, but also of a cyclical idea of time periods, which is completely extraneous to all attested Mazdean doctrines, despite what Ra­melli (2017, 374) remarked. It is true that the text states that Ohrmazd’s soul will sleep for a certain time, but there is no re­ference to a resurrection of Ahreman and to a new fight.↩︎

  54. Again, I thank one of the anonymous reviewers for his or her comments.↩︎

  55. But this phenomenon was very significant; for instance, among the most enthusiastic Origenists of Palestine, we find Domitianus and Theodorus Askida, who were so able to secure the support of the court that they were elec­ted bishops in Ancyra and in Caesarea of Cappadocia. The Palestinian turbulence was so heavy that Justinian decided to force the rebels back to order with his Caesaropapist politics and to persecute the ex­treme Pagan al­legorical images usually adopted within the Origenist milieu. Although ‘provincial’, these phenomena had their own ex­ter­nal spillovers. I must thank Prof. Gaetano Lettieri (University of Rome, “La Sapienza”) for his advice on this as­pect of the controversy.↩︎

  56. The monasteries have played an important role as cultural agencies in the preservation and dissemination of the Chris­tian tradition, so that what happened there was not at all isolated or remote. Very interesting in this context is the volume collected by Fr. Jullien (2011) dedicated to Oriental Monasticism, which strictly deals with the function of these Christian institutions.↩︎

  57. As, on the contrary, one of the anonymous reviewers to this article remarks. On the other hand, Kallistos Ware (Ware 2005, 198–205, pas­sim) presents the scenario in a much more complex way; the circulation of the Origenist ideas is highly in­teresting.↩︎

  58. We should not forget that Guillaumont (1962) has shown that, despite its damnation, Origenism did not disappear but, on the contrary, gained some supporters in the Eastern Syriac Church. In the same study, Guillau­mont was able to show that in the year 553, the doctrines of Evagrius were the object of the main accu­sa­tions. The echo of the events happening in the Eastern Roman capital had immediate reflections in Sasanian Iran and in the Eastern Syriac area, because Constantinople was not only a place in which the official Sasanian ambassador had his re­sidence and status but also a city in which Persian spies were active.↩︎

  59. As is also visible in the context of the international treaty regarding the Lazika Pace, Justinian maintained a very high level of at­ten­tion to Iranian affairs, and it is clear that the position of Christianity there was significant for him (Panaino 2009b, 2010, 2014, 2015a). See e.g. Guillaumont (1969) and also Frendo (1997).↩︎

  60. Although I cannot find any direct relation with the Mazdakite movement, it is interesting to note that one year be­fo­re the second anathematization of Origen, a tremendous revolt (usually referred to as ‘Nika’) took place in Byzan­tium, which produced dramatic events. The presence of Manichaean elements in the “Green Faction” of Byzantium shows the complexity of some religious and po­li­tical phenomena, in particular if we consider that the Manichaean ele­ment had its main social basis in the merchants’ ambiance; but more interesting is the suggestion made by Jarry (1960, 366–68, 1968; and later emphasized by Carile 1994, 50) regarding the Western resonances and adaptations of Ma­nichaean and Mazdakite doctrines. In particular, Jarry underlined the importance of a suggestion given to Jus­ti­nian by the Byzantine noble Erythrius, whose wife was credited to be Manichaean (according to Malalas 1831, 423) and who was Praefectus Pretorii under Zeno (see Müller 1851, Quartum:116). This nobleman (see Martindale 1980, 2:402), in fact, would have proposed the adoption of the Mazdakite doc­tri­ne in order to conquest the whole of Asia (Carile 1994, 50). Furthermore, Jarry insists on the connections between the Byzantine revolt of the year 552 and Ma­nichaean and Mazdakite ideas. Recently, Ramelli (2017, 253–54), too, tried to frame the apocalyptical Iranian doc­tri­nes in a sort of political dimension, but her approach does not take into consideration the Iranian dialectics between natio­na­lism and universalism, which were well studied by Gnoli (1984). Certainly, we must recognize that the earlier Iranian vision of world history did not emphasize a universalistic perspective, and that this soteriological aspiration was endorsed by the Manichaean trend (as remarked by Simmons 2015, 190), but that in the direct confrontation against the Eastern Roman Empire, the role of the king assumed a cosmocratic meaning, and that the Iranian political project of expansion had cosmic pretentions.↩︎

  61. About Mazdak and the Mazdakite movement, see Christensen (1925); Klíma (1957, 1977); Shaki (1978); Sundermann (1977); Yarshater (1983); Crone (1991, 1994, 2012).↩︎

  62. See the studies on this astrologer by Mak (2016) with further bibliography. See also Panaino (2017a).↩︎

  63. On this fundamental manual of astrology, see Pingree (1989, 229); for the edition of the original Greek text, see again Pingree (1976).↩︎

  64. Panaino (2017a) discusses the main terms of this debate and offers a pertinent and extensive bibliography.↩︎

  65. I must emphasize the importance of these aspects, which are foundational in the Zoroastrian representation of the world and in the theological explanation of its meaning, despite the fact that they typically have been ignored. An example of the strong embarrassment subjects such as these are met with is the myth of Ah­­reman’s act of self-sodomy, which has never been the object of a serious investigation until recent years. This silence is very peculiar if we consider that this myth concerns the origin of the antagonist creation of Ahreman, and inevitably in­volves a number of symbolic meanings. I cannot repeat here the material collected on these subjects (see Panaino 2009a, 2009c).↩︎

  66. See, for instance, the critical discussion in Ambaum (1991).↩︎

  67. In any case, it is useful to insist on the role of Aprahat (born around 270 CE in Persia), who was perhaps a Zoroas­tri­an before his conversion to Christianity. He probably knew not only Zoroastrian doctrines, but also Bardaisan’s work, as Ramelli (Ramelli 2017, 393–96) fittingly argues.↩︎

  68. From a methodological point of view, we must consider the strong disproportion between Mazdean and Christian original sources. In fact, considering that we can easily find sources, in a mass of hundreds of ancient Christian books, that clearly share a favour for the apoka­tas­ta­sis, the Zoroastrian Pahlavi texts cannot be considered as absolutely com­pact in their theological orientation. Thus, when we find one document that does not completely agree with the others, we cannot automatically infer that its orientations represents the whole Zoroastrianism of its age.↩︎

  69. For a recent discussion of the Iranian elements in Bardaiṣan, see Ramelli (Ramelli 2017, 377–96).↩︎

  70. Useful remarks on the cultural and inter-religious framework are suggested in the volumes edited by Kofsky and Ruzer (2016) and by Herman (2014), both with a pertinent general bibliography; see also Ramelli (2017) in her conclusions. Very important is the huge collection of papers dedicated to the cultural interaction between Mazdeans and Christians in Sasanian Iran by Gignoux (2014).↩︎