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Who invented paradise?

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    Go thru URL to access all links: http://www.straightdope.com/columns/020201.html Who invented paradise? 01-Feb-2002 Dear Cecil: I enjoyed your commentary on
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 1, 2002
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      Who invented paradise?

      Dear Cecil:

      I enjoyed your commentary on the Islamic concept of paradise as it is
      described in the Koran. Your generalizations are acceptable except
      for the statement that "Christianity, after all, invented the idea of
      paradise in the first place." Paradise is a Zoroastrian concept. It
      was borrowed by Jews from the Persians beginning about 500 BCE, when
      Yehud was a Persian province. Zoroastrianism was a Persian state
      religion that appears to have evolved in the century before 500 BCE.
      The concept of paradise, though, has even more ancient Indo-Iranian
      religious roots. Zoroastrian concepts continued to infiltrate into
      Jewish thought during Hellenistic times, and some are found in such
      late-written books as Daniel. They are more prominent in Jewish
      literature produced after about 100 BCE, especially in the writing of
      those Jews whose traditions later evolved into Christianity. --Brant
      Abrahamson, Brookfield, Illinois

      Dear Brant:
      Damn Zoroastrians. But no sense blaming them--I figured somebody
      would call me on that line. I've been in tight spots before, though,
      and I bet I can talk my way out of this one too.

      Little is known with certainty about early Zoroastrianism, even such
      basic facts as when Zoroaster, the founder of the religion, lived.
      Tradition suggests he was born in 628 BC and died in 551 BC, but
      linguistic evidence in the Avesta, the Zoroastrian scriptures,
      indicates that he was on the scene much earlier. Most of Zoroaster's
      writings were destroyed in ancient times; what we have today was
      pieced together later from fragments.

      Nonetheless, it seems reasonably clear that Zoroastrianism, not
      Christianity, originated not only the idea of paradise in the sense
      of heavenly reward but also hell in the sense of punishment. (The
      word paradise derives from a Persian term meaning hunting park.)
      What's more, Zoroastrianism seems to be the source, in outline
      anyway, of most Christian eschatology, or thinking about the last
      days. When you die, Zoroaster tells us, you're judged on the basis of
      your life conduct and either admitted to paradise or cast into the
      pit. At the end of the world the dead will be resurrected and the
      last judgment will separate the sheep from the goats, after which the
      chosen will enjoy eternal bliss. I should probably mention that while
      Zoroastrianism is not, strictly speaking, a monotheistic religion, a
      supreme deity named Ahura Mazda ("Wise Lord") runs the show.

      OK, so I gave Christianity too much credit. Still, it brought a new
      ingredient to the table, namely the element of faith as a
      prerequisite to salvation. Although Zoroastrianism offered a credo of
      sorts, I see nothing to suggest that one had to believe to be saved.
      Salvation was simply a matter of leading a virtuous life.
      Christianity, on the other hand, demanded faith first and foremost,
      typically professed in a public baptism, which marked your admission
      to the community of believers. Virtue alone couldn't get you into
      paradise--witness the virtuous pagans in Dante's Inferno, condemned
      to the upper reaches of hell.

      You can see how the Christian notion of salvation was more compelling
      than that of the Zoroastrians. Leading a virtuous life might sound
      easy, but in fact it's a tall order. How virtuous? Virtuous according
      to whom? How can one be sure one has done enough? Whereas accepting
      Jesus as your personal savior takes a few minutes, and even if you
      slip later, repentance will bring forgiveness. Considered purely as a
      marketing proposition, Christianity is hard to beat. Do X and you
      will get Y. I realize this is a pretty bald way of putting it, but
      I've got only 600 words to explain why there are two billion
      Christians today and only a couple million Zoroastrians.

      Luck, you say. Being in the right place at the right time, namely the
      edge of the Roman empire at its height. Christianity was also heir to
      a messianic strain in Judaism that, under the aggressive leadership
      of people like Saint Paul, rapidly developed into an impulse to save
      the whole world.

      Still, there had to be more to it than that, and I'm trying to
      explain what it is. Christianity didn't invent paradise, but it did
      offer a formula for obtaining it that seemed to offer a high degree
      of certainty. We can be sure of little in this world; why shouldn't
      we want to have a firmer grasp of the next?


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