The intent of this page is to share a brief history of the metamorphosis of the ideas surrounding Hell and the Devil from their mythological roots in paganism to the modern-day superstition.
The characteristics of Hell and the Devil are accounted for not in reality, but in the history of their birth and genesis from the minds of imaginative humans who manufactured the fantasies. Both Hell and the Devil can be discredited as documented fables by history, and by no means related to anything that is real, gates closed.
What the Hell?
- Zoroastrianism: The Forgotten Source
- Hell’s Pre-Christian Origins
- Pascal’s Wager
- outside site: ABC special- Heaven- Where Is It? How Do We Get There?
Zoroastrianism: The Forgotten Source
by Stephen Van Eck
The composition Also Sprach Sarathustra by Richard Strauss featured in 2001 is a piece of powerful drama, rich in majesty, awe-inspiring, and devastatingly portentous. It is an appropriate memorial to the Persian prophet Zarathustra, whom the Greeks called Zoroaster.
Zarathustra’s influence on Judeo-Christianity and all of western civilization is little known but should not be underestimated. His life and words changed the nature of civilization in the west, setting it on a course that departed from the static cultures of the ancient Middle East. Without his impact, Judaism would be unrecognizable, and Christianity would probably have never existed.
Western civilization owes mainly to Zarathustra its fundamental concept of linear time, as opposed to the cyclical and essentially static concept of ancient times. This concept, which was implicit in Zarathustra’s doctrines, makes the notion of progress, reform, and improvement possible. Until that time, ancient civilizations, particularly Egyptian, were profoundly conservative, believing that the ideal order had been handed down to them by the gods in some mythical Golden Age. Their task was to adhere to the established traditions as closely as possible. To reform or modify them in any way would have been a deviation from and diminution of the ideal. Zarathustra gave Persian (and through it, Greek) thought a teleological dimension, with a purpose and goal to history. All people, he declared, were participants in a supernatural battle between Good and Evil, the battleground for which was the Earth, and the very body of individual Man as well. This essential dualism was adopted by the Jews, who only after exposure to Zoroastrianism incorporated a demonology and angelology into their religion. Retroactively, what was only a snake in the Genesis tale came to be irrevocably associated with the Devil, and belief in demonic possession came to be a cultural obsession, as amply reflected in the Gospels.
Zarathustra claimed special divine revelation and had attempted to establish the worship of one supreme God (Ahura Mazda) in the 7th century B. C., but after his death, the earlier Aryan polytheism reemerged. Many other features of his theology, however, have endured to the present time, through the religions that eventually superseded it.
The Babylonian captivity of the 6th century B. C. transformed Judaism in a profound way, exposing the Jews to Zoroastrianism, which was virtually the state religion of Babylon at the time. Until then, the Jewish conception of the afterlife was vague. A shadowy existence in Sheol, the underworld, land of the dead (not to be confused with Hell) was all they had to look forward to. Zarathustra, however, had preached the bodily resurrection of the dead, who would face a last judgment (both individual and general) to determine their ultimate fate in the next life: either Paradise or torment. Daniel was the first Jewish prophet to refer to resurrection, judgment, and reward or punishment (12:2 ), and insofar as he was an advisor to King Darius (erroneously referred to as a Mede), he was in a position to know the religion thoroughly.
The new doctrine of resurrection was not universally accepted by the Jews and remained a point of contention for centuries until its ultimate acceptance. The Gospels (Matthew 22:23 ) record that the dispute was still going on during the time of Christ, with the Sadducees denying and the Pharisees affirming it. It may be a mere coincidence, but note the similarity between the names Pharisee and Farsi or Parsee, the Persians from whom the doctrine of resurrection was borrowed. In addition to incorporating the doctrines of resurrection and judgment, exposure to Zoroastrianism substantially altered Jewish Messianism as well. Zarathustra predicted the imminent arrival of a World Savior (Saoshyant), who would be born of a virgin and who would lead humanity in the final battle against Evil. Jewish Messianism grafted these conceptions onto their preexisting expectations of a Davidic king who would redeem the Jewish nation from foreign oppression.
It was at this time, as a response to their captivity, that the era of apocalyptic literature commenced in Judaism, based on Babylonian models and patterned after their symbology. This was to have a strong influence on later Christian thinking. With the key elements of resurrection, judgment, reward or punishment, a Savior, apocalyptism, and ultimate destruction of the forces of Evil, it can be concluded that Jewish and Christian eschatology is Zoroastrian from start to finish.
The similarities don’t end with eschatology either. A lot of the tradition and sacramental ritual of Christianity, particularly Catholicism, traces back to Zoroastrian precursors. The Zoroastrian faithful would mark their foreheads with ash before approaching the sacred fire, a gesture that resembles Ash Wednesday tradition. Part of their purification before participating in ritual was the confession of sins, categorized (as Catholics do) as consisting of thought, word, or deed. Zoroastrians also had a Eucharistic ritual, the Haoma ritual, in which the god Haoma, or rather his presence, was sacrificed in a plant. The worshipers would drink the juice in expectation of eventual immortality. Finally, Zoroastrians celebrated All Souls’ Day, reflecting, like the Catholics, a belief in intercession by and for the dead. We should also note that the story of the Magi, who were said to have visited the newborn Jesus, resembles an earlier story of Magi who looked for a star foretelling the birth of a Savior, in this case Mithras. Magi were not kings but Zoroastrian astrologers, and the birthday of Mithras on December 25th was deliberately appropriated by the church to be that of their Christ, whose actual date of birth is unknown and undocumented.
Christianity may also have borrowed the story of the temptation in the desert, since an earlier legend placed Zarathustra himself in that situation. The principal demon (Ahriman) promised Zarathustra earthly power if he would forsake the worship of the supreme God. Ahriman, like Satan when tempting Jesus, failed.
A final interesting parallel is the three days that Jesus spent in the grave. This concept may have been derived from a Zoroastrian belief that the soul remains in the body for three days before departing. Three days would have established death yet left his soul in a position to reanimate his body. As a Messiah, Jesus functioned purely along Zoroastrian lines. While purportedly of the Davidic line, he offered only redemption from sin, rather than national salvation for the Jews. He was a world savior rather than a Jewish Messiah. Jews did not recognize him as their Messiah, and in a real sense he wasn’t. Their Messianic expectations, which preceded any foreign influence, went unfulfilled; in fact, their nation was ultimately destroyed. Neither did Jesus effect a final triumph over Evil. This has been reserved for a second coming in conjunction with the last judgment and the rewards and punishments of either Heaven or Hell.
Although Zoroastrianism is almost extinct today, it lives on in its spiritual descendants. Zarathustra, a prophet beyond any in the Old Testament, still speaks today, unrecognized by his children.
“Let us worship Zarathustra, Just the way we used ta. I’m a Zarathustra boosta– He’s good enough for me.”(Joseph Campbell, with a tongue-in-cheek parody.)
This was the Hebrew cosmos before the influences of Zoroaster. Sheol was a dank and dark cavern beneath the crust of a flat earth where ghosts of the dead spent eternity in sleep. Zoroasterian influences turned Sheol into a Hell of fire, brimstone, and punishment.
A hell of a lot more more info is on the way if we don’t burst into flames before we can post it…
Hell’s Pre-Christian Origins: Hell, Hell-fire, Dragons, Serpents, and Resurrections
by Walter Reinhold Warttig Mattfeld source
My interests here are in determining the pre-Christian origins of the religious motifs found in the the book of Revelation.
Revelations’ motifs were not hatched out of thin air by its narrator, he is drawing from earlier religious concepts and giving them a new meaning.
Lambert has pointed out that his studies have indicated that the Mesopotamians were of a mind to re-interpret and transform older myths into newer religious concepts. It would appear that the Hebrews, Jews and Christians weren’t doing anything new in their transformation of the earlier ancient myths:
“The authors of ancient cosmologies were essentially compilers. Their originality was expressed in new combinations of old themes, and in new twists to old ideas. Sheer invention was not part of their craft.” (p. 107, W.G. Lambert, “A New Look at the Babylonian Background of Genesis,: , in Richard S. Hess and David T. Tsumura, Eds., I Studied Inscriptions From Before the Flood, Winona Lake, Indiana, Eisenbrauns, 1994)
Mention is made in Revelation of a “lake of fire” set aside for the ungodly and the Devil (Serpent). My studies of Mesopotamian myths have failed to identify the above motifs in their notions of the underworld. It is a different case, however, with the Egyptian and Greek myths.
Mesopotamian myths make no mention of a “lake of fire” or a body of water that is fiery in the underworld. Greek myths also fail to mention a “lake of fire,” but they do mention two “fiery” rivers of the underworld, evidently branches of the river Styx. The first river is called Phlegethon meaning “the flaming” while the second river is called Pyriphlegthon meaning “flaming with fire”.
Egyptian myths speak of a “fiery Pool, Sea or Lake” in the underworld and show this body of fiery water on the walls of tombs- Horning calls the body of water “Der Feuersee” or Fire-Sea (cf. tomb wall paintings of the period of Sethos I and Ramses VI, p. 160, figures 130-132 [in color], Erik Horning Tal der Konige, Die Ruhestatte der Pharaonen, Augsburg, Weltbild Verlag GmbH, 1995, ISBN 3-89350-741-8)
Golet observes on the Papyris of Ani (ca. 1250 BCE), a version of the so-called “Book of the Dead” (with magic charms to ensure the righteous dead make it to the Egyptian paradise) :
“The scene shows four cynocephalous baboons sitting at the corners of a rectangular pool. On each side of this pool is a flaming brazier. The pool’s red color indicates that it is filled with a fiery liquid, reminding one of the ‘Lake of Fire’ frequenty mentioned in the Book of the Dead.” (p.168, commentary to plate 32 [in color], Raymond Faulkner and Ogden Goelet, The Egyptian Book of the Dead, The Book of Going Forth by Day, San Francisco, Chronicle Books, 1994, ISBN 0-8118-0767-3)
Perhaps early Christians dwelling in Egypt picked up the Egyptian and Greek themes and transformed the “fiery” rivers and “fiery” lake/sea/pool into a “lake of fire” ?
The motif of judgments of the dead appear in both Mesopotamian, Egyptian, and Greek myths. The big difference is that only the Egyptian myths have the notion of a reward of a blissful life along the fruit tree-laden banks of a heavenly freshwater Nile while the Mesopotamians see only a dismal life for eternity in a dark and dusty underworld for the righteous and unrighteous (cf. p.279, illustration of “The field of reeds” E.A. Wallis Budge,
The Dwellers on the Nile, N.Y. Dover Pub., , 1977).
Greek myths later embrace the notion of Elysian fields for the righteous dead.
The Christian myths mirror the Egyptian paradise to a degree, the saved will, like the righteous Egyptians, wander the banks of a great freshwater river called the water of life, that issues from under God’s throne in Jerusalem, empting into the Dead Sea, and will partake of the fruits on its trees lining its banks (Rev 22:2).
Budge (an Egyptologist) points out Christian indebtedness to Egyptian themes of the underworld:
“All the available evidence goes to show that whilst the Hebrew conception of Leviathan was of Babylonian origin that of a hell of fire was borrowed from Egypt. Similarly, the seven-headed dragon and beast of the book of Revelation, like the seven-headed basilisk serpent mentioned in Pistis Sophia, have their origin in the seven-headed serpent which is mentioned in the Pyramid texts.” (p.279, Vol.1, E.A. Wallis Budge, The Gods of the Egyptians, NY, Dover Pub. Inc.,  1969).
Not noted by Budge, is the appearance of seven-headed serpents and serpent-dragons in Mesopotamian art forms.
The god Ningirsu is portrayed slaying a seven-headed fiery dragon-serpent called a Mushmahhhu (cf. p. 165, fig. 135, Jeremy Black and Anthony Green, Gods, Demons, and Symbols of Ancient Mesopotamia, An Illustrated Dictionary, University of Austin Press, 1992).
Heidel shows a Sumerian mace head with a seven-headed serpent on it and a cylinder seal with two gods slaying a fiery seven-headed serpent-dragon (cf. figs. 15, 16, Alexander Heidel, The Babylonian Genesis, Universtity of Chicago Press, , 1994)
I note that in Revelation an angel appears with a chain to bind the great serpent (Dragon, Satan, the Devil) in the underworld for a period of time.
Budge noted that in the Egyptian Book of the Dead, that a great serpent, called Apep (Greek: Apophis), which dwelt in the underworld (It was the enemy of Osiris, the god of the resurrection, and it sought to destroy men’s souls) is to be fettered in chains, abused, and then his body is to be destroyed finally by fire (cf. Vol.1, pp.324-5, “Ra and Apep,” E.A. Wallis Budge, The Gods of the Egyptians, N.Y., Dover Pub., , 1969).
“…the deceased says: ‘I have brought fetters to thee, O Ra, and Apep has fallen because thou hast drawn them tight. The gods of the South, and of the North, of the West and of the East have fastened chains upon him, and they have fastened him with fetters; the god Rekes hath overthrown him, and the god Hertit hath put him in chains.” (Vol. 1, p.325, Budge)
“He (Apep) is given over to the fire which obtains mastery over him…his bones are burnt with the fire…may his soul, and body, and spirit…nevermore exist.” (Vol.1, pp.270-1, Budge, Gods of the Egyptians)
Perhaps Satan as a great serpent being chained in the underworld or “bottomless pit/abyss” (Rev 20:1-3) is drawing from the Apophis imagery ? As for the pit being bottomless or a great abyss, Greek myths mention that the underworld of Tartarus is as far removed from the earth’s surface as is heaven. Perhaps Greek imagery is being borrowed here ?
“Tartarus. According to the earliest Greek views, a dark abyss, which lay below the surface of the earth as the earth is from the heavens…it served as the prison of the dethroned Cronus and of the conquered Titans…In later times its significance altered, and it came to mean the lower regions as the place of damnation, in which the wicked who had been condemned by the judges of the world below suffered endless torments.” (p.613, “Tartarus,” Oskar Seyffert, The Dictionary of Classical Mythology, Religion, Literature and Art, New York, Gramercy Books, , 1995, ISBN 0-517-12311-8)
According to Revelation (21:1) the old earth will pass away and be replaced by a new one which will have “no sea”. I note that some Greek myths envision a future world that will have no sea. Perhaps the early Christians are drawing upon some Greek motifs in the Revelation narratives ?
Revelation notes that a thousand years must pass after the first resurrection, then comes a second resurrection. The only myth remotely similar to this notion of a “thousand years wait” for souls in the underworld is from Plato.
Plato mentioned in his myth of Er, that “…souls come to a place of judgement in a meadow on the earth’s surface, and, after a thousand years’ journeying, for the good souls through the sky and for the wicked beneath the earth, they move on again…” (p.46, M.R. Wright, Cosmology in Antiquity, London, Routledge, 1995)
Virgil, evidently influenced by Plato, mentions a thousand year waiting period in the underworld:
“After death, some ingrained evil remains, which must be purged by punishment through wind, water and fire. Each of us must undergo our own treatment as spirits, until at last we are sent to Elysium, where in the fulness of time, when the last stain of sin is gone, a few of us become ethereal fire. All the rest, after a cycle of a thousand years, are called by the god to Lethe to prepare for rebirth.” (Virgil, The Aeneid, vi. 734-751 in K.W. Gransden,
The Aeneid, Cambridge Univ. Press, 1990)
Did the early Christians adapt the thousand year wait in the underworld for souls into a delayed second resurrection ? Did they transform the notion of souls turning into ethereal fire into a fiery consumation of the unrighteous ?
Revelation associates the name of Babylon with the seven-headed beast the whore rides. While many have correctly pointed out that Rome is being alluded to because of her fame for being a city founded on 7 hills, the imagery of a dragon associated with the name Babylon, is drawing upon Babylonian myths.
In Babylonian art forms the supreme god of Babylon, Marduk, is frequently portrayed in association with a dragon. Sometimes he is portrayed as sitting on a throne over the beast’s back, its legs in a striding motion, recalling Ezekiel’s statement about God’s throne being “mobile” from the Cherubim beasts moving under it. At other times the dragon is shown seated at Marduk’s feet (Marduk standing). Scholars understand that Marduk’s presence is alluded to via symbols associated with him. Thus his spade or shovel, called a maru, appearing on an altar, or a dragon upon an altar, being adored by a worshiper on some seals, alludes to the worship of Marduk (and his invisible presence).
Something that has intrigued me is the historical origins behind the myth of a “Christ in Hell” concept. I suspect it is merely an “updating” of a very old Sumerian myth, in which Tammuz, the bridegroom, becomes the surrogate in hell for his bride, Ishtar (Inanna in Sumerian). There are of course a few new twists. Tammuz (Dumuzi to use the Sumerian form) is an unwilling surrogate for his wife, while Christ as the bridegroom, willing lays down his life for his bride, the Church, rescuing mankind from the power of death.
In a variant version, Ishtar/Inanna, before making her descent into the underworld through its seven gates, tells her servant that if after 3 days and 3 nights she is not back, that her father is to be alerted of this so that he can arrange her return to life and escape from the underworld. After the alotted period passes her father, Ea is petitioned, he sends a male-god surrogate, Asusnamir, who secures his daughter’s freedom. Her dead body, hanging from a stake or nail, is sprinkled with the “water of life,” and she is restored back to life to ascend out of hell and be reunited in heaven with her father (cf. pp.47-49, “Innana’s Descent into Hell,” Fred Gladstone Bratton, New York, Barnes & Noble, , 1993, ISBN 1-56619-439-3. Note: other myths make Inanna the daughter of Anu who dwells in heaven, Ea dwelling in the watery abyss called the Apsu).
Another variation has Tammuz allowed to be released from Hell for six months each year, while his sister Geshtinanna, becomes his surrogate in the Underworld. Some scholars understand her name to mean “the Vine-stock” from which grapes and wine are produced, and so she is a “fore-runner” of Christ, “the true vine,” whose blood is the blood of the grape (cf. pp.61-62, “Dying Gods of Fertility,” Thorkild Jacobsen, The Treasures of Darkness, A History of Mesopotamian Religion. New Haven, Yale University Press, 1976, ISBN 0-300-01844-4).
As Ishtar/Innana passed each gate in hell she lost articles of clothing until she was naked when brought before her sister, Ereshkigal, who ruled the underworld. This nudity motif probably lies behind Christianity’s portrayal of sinners as naked in hell, as opposed to the clothed righteous who dwell in heaven with their father (Inanna being restored her clothes at each of the gates in the course of her ascent).
Dumuzi, the shepherd god, in Sumerian myths, was later portrayed as a gate-keeper of Heaven’s gate. Access to the father of the gods, Anu, for mankind was available only through Dumuzi’s intercession, he personally bringing men before the supreme god and seeking Anu’s favor upon the human petitioners. Perhaps the notion of Christ passing on the keys to heaven and hell (?) to Peter are new twists to this ancient myth ?
I understand that the early Christians have merely “reworked and updated” the ancient Mesopotamian resurrection myths, Christ replacing Dumuzi/Tammuz/Asusunamir and the Church replacing as the bride, Inanna/Ishtar.
In conclusion, some of the concepts as found in the book of Revelation, suggest mythic themes were being borrowed by early Christians from the myths of Mesopotamia, Egypt, and perhaps even Greece, and re-interpreted with “new twists”.
Blaise Pascal did not believe that reason alone could justify belief in a god. He came up with the following wager as an attempt to decide whether or not we should believe based on the possible outcomes for the afterlife.
Say that God exists. This god created the universe and everything in it including us. When we die, God selects some of us for eternal paradise and others for eternal torture. Of all the creatures on Earth, humans are the only ones that God gave intelligence, so obviously God wants us to use our intellect and to be freethinkers. So when we die, God will reward freethinkers with eternal paradise and punish the people who through away their reason by sending them to hell.
The wager is this: If you abandon reason and believe in God and it turns out that she exists, you are sent to hell in the next life. However, if you apply your intellect and withhold belief, and God actually exists, you get to go to heaven in the next life. Furthermore, if God does not exist and you spent your life believing in her, you have sacrificed your integrity and your self-respect and you have spent a lifetime helping to hold back human progress. So if God exists and you believe in her, you lose. And if God does not exist and you believe in her, you lose. Therefore we should all disbelieve.
Christians have more to worry about here than theists who do not believe in the Bible. By claiming that the Bible is the word of God, Christians accuse God of ordering mass murder and approving of rape and slavery (see Bible Atrocities). This may deeply offend God and she may punish Christians more harshly than others.
Wait a minute. Pascal didn’t conclude that we should all disbelieve; somehow he concluded that people were better off if they did believe. Oh yes, now I remember. Pascal postulated the existence of a perverse god that sent freethinkers to hell and rewarded irrational believers with eternal paradise. That’s why he got the conclusion backwards.
The problem with the above arguments are that they use a false dichotomy. That is, they incorrectly restrict the large number of possible situations to just two. A particular god exists or it doesn’t. This ignores the fact that we could have just as easily postulated the existence of any number of gods each with her own criteria for salvation and damnation. Say that the possibilities in Pascal’s wager are that the “freethought god” described above exists or that the god of Christian mythology exists. What is the conclusion of Pascal’s wager now?
For more on Pascal’s wager: