Joseph McCabe (1867-1955) was one of the most prolific authors of all time. He was brought up as a Roman Catholic, worked on Latin documents, and made himself very well-informed about Christianity, but turned against it. But he was extremely naive about Jews; bear this in mind.

Click for Detailed notes on McCabe - scroll down for selections from A Rationalist Encyclopaedia (1948).

Here's the full A Rationalist Encyclopaedia (about 1.3 MBytes; Word format; includes notes on some of its limits)

Persian Religion

J. McCabe, Rationalists Encyclopaedia

Persian Religion. The Persians and cognate peoples on the hills overlooking Mesopotamia had at first the common Aryan religion, with Asiatic adulterations, of the Indo-Persian branch of the race. It was as primitive as that of the Vedas, and included a very large number of both good and evil gods, or gods assisted by swarms of good and evil spirits. The Avesta [see], their sacred book, is no more reliable than the Old Testament as a guide to religious development - some experts (Darmesteter, etc.) assign the whole book to shortly before the Christian era - but it appears that in the course of time the forces for good were concentrated in one supreme deity, Ahura Mazda, the Sky-Father or god of light, and his angels, and the forces of evil in a very powerful (but not infinite) being, Angra Mainyu, and his demons. It is possible that in this the Persians, as they moved nearer to Babylonia, felt the influence of the mythology of the Babylonians, but the development is obscure, and experts put it at various dates from the twelfth to the seventh century. Whether Zarathustra [see] was a real prophet and leader in the development is disputed, but the tendency in recent scholarship is to recognize his historicity and place him in the seventh century B.C. All that is clear is that the Persian religion went beyond the Babylonian, which also had a supreme ethical deity, Marduk, and legions of devils, and imagined the life of man as a battle-ground of the good and evil forces, of which light and darkness were the symbols. Whatever influence we attribute to Babylon, there was the profound difference that the Persians now had a vivid belief in the future life, to which the Semites were indifferent, and the battle of light and darkness assumed a tremendous significance - for the devout Zarathustrian, that is to say, as the majority clung to the old religion - because on it depended man's fate in an eternal future. Ahura Mazda not only judged the soul of each man after death, but in the fulness of time would destroy the world by fire, silence the evil spirits, and hold a general judgment of the dead, rewarding the good and punishing the wicked. [See Kingdom of Heaven and Judgment.] The later development of Persian religion and the emergence of Mithra, an old sun-god, to a primary position do not concern us here, but it is clear that the Zoroastrian creed had a considerable influence on religious and ethical development in the important period from about 300 B.C. onward. To what extent the beliefs of the Jews were modified by this influence Is not clear, though the growth of ascetic sects and celibate bodies in Egypt (priests of Serapis and priestesses of Isis) and among the Jews (Essenes) strongly suggests the spread of the Persian attitude to matter and the flesh. This strain of thought is very marked in Paul, and continues in Christian literature, and the Christian belief in a coming end of the world and general judgment is unmistakably de rived from Persia. Ahura Mazda and his "holy spirit," his coming "Kingdom" and his angels, and the supreme evil spirit and his legions of devils, are little transformed in Christian theology. For the difficult question of early Persian religious development see Prof. L. Gray's Foundations of the Iranian Religion (1925).

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