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Resurrection from the Dead: Were Jews Influenced by Zoroastrianism?

I often get asked if ancient Judaism was influenced by Zoroastrianism or other kinds of Persian thought – especially when it comes to the specific doctrine of the “resurrection of the dead” and, more generally, the whole category of “apocalyptic thought.”  I used to think so!  Now I’m not so sure.  At all.

I’ve talked about apocalypticism and resurrection on the blog before.  Here I’ll discuss where these ideas came from, before, explaining more fully what they ended up looking like.  This discussion is taken from an early draft of my forthcoming book Heaven and Hell: A History of the Afterlife.


After the period of the classical prophets, Jewish thinkers came to imagine that in fact there would be life for the individual who had died.  For them, there was a possibility of life beyond the grave – real, full, and abundant life.  But in the original Jewish conception, unlike widespread Christian views today, the afterlife was not a glorious eternity lived in the soul in heaven or a tormented existence in hell, attained immediately at the point of death.  It was something else altogether.  It was the idea that at the end of time God would vindicate himself and his people.  When history and all its evil and suffering had run its course, God would reassert his sovereignty over this world and destroy everything and everyone who was opposed to him, bringing in the perfect, utopian world he had originally planned.   Inhabiting this world would be the righteous who had lived and suffered throughout all of history.  God would miraculously bring them back into their bodies, and they would live, bodily, without any pain, misery, or suffering, for all time, in his most glorious kingdom.

Those who were wicked would also …

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An Alternative View of Suffering and the Idea of Resurrection
How Views of the Afterlife Changed



  1. Avatar
    mkahn1977  August 27, 2019

    Speaking of Greek influences, I’m interested in reading The Iliad since I understand that it’s a great source of Greek mythology/theology… would you know or can you recommend a reliable version to read that also provides study notes, etc.?

    • Bart
      Bart  August 28, 2019

      I don’t know about one with study notes — maybe someone else can help. But there are excellent translatoins available. My favorite is by Fagels. Terrific.

      • Avatar
        mkahn1977  August 28, 2019

        Funny you just replied on that regarding Fagels as I was just looking at that version on Amazon- seems to also have the best reviews too. Thanks! I also ordered that Judaism and Hellenism book.

  2. Avatar
    Rita Gomes  September 1, 2019

    Professor Bart

    Yesterday I watched Bohemian Rhapsody, and something caught my attention in the movie.
    Freddy Mercury’s father was Zoroastrianism.
    This surprised me, because I thought religion was extinct, with the growth of Islam
    Does Zoroastrianism still exist? In which countries or places can we find remnants of this religion.

  3. Avatar
    Brand3000  September 27, 2019

    Dr. Ehrman,

    Do you agree with this comment from M. Eugene Boring?

    “[According to Paul] Christian hope involves the redemption OF our bodies along with the whole creation (Rom. 8:23), NOT redemption FROM them. The life of the world to come will manifest both continuity and discontinuity with the present world.”

  4. Avatar
    Brand3000  September 27, 2019

    Dr. Ehrman,

    Do you agree with this?:

    In 1 Cor. 15 Paul opposes “spiritualists” who thought that all that stood between them and heaven was sloughing off their current bodies and entering fully into the realm of the Spirit.

    • Bart
      Bart  September 27, 2019

      Pretty much. It’s a very disputed area; I have an extended discussion of 1 Cor 15 (and it’s many misinterpretations) in the new book.

  5. Avatar
    Brand3000  September 27, 2019

    Dr. Ehrman,

    Is this a true statement?

    “Spiritual body” does NOT mean a body made of “spirit,” as though it were composed of ethereal vapor, but rather that the resurrected body shares the power of God’s realm, just as the earthly body shares the weakness of this world.”

    – Prof. Boring in The People’s New Testament Commentary

    • Bart
      Bart  September 27, 2019

      Yes, though I think most readers would have trouble understanding exactly what he means here.

  6. Avatar
    Brand3000  October 9, 2019

    Dr. Ehrman,

    Do you think Paul was converted in the full 180 sense, OR do you think that with his encounter with the risen Jesus, Paul still remained fundamentally Jewish, but now just accepted that Jesus was indeed the long-awaited Messiah?

  7. Avatar
    ben1980  June 9, 2020

    “Some experts have undercut the entire thesis by pointing out that we actually do not have any Zoroastrian texts that support the idea of resurrection prior to its appearance in early Jewish writings.”

    It seems to me that this statement ignores an important fact that some Greek historians in like Theopompus, from fourth-century BCE, made statements on the teachings of Zoroaster in regards to the resurrection of the body.

    The corroborative evidence of these early Greek historians strongly suggests that the Persian doctrine of resurrection predates the emergence of the idea of resurrection in early Jewish writings.

    • Bart
      Bart  June 10, 2020

      It’s been a couple of years since I’ve looked at all this. Remind me: where does Theopompus say this and what does he say?

    • Robert
      Robert  June 10, 2020

      Θεόπομπος, what a great name! Of course, it is only humorous in English.

  8. Avatar
    ben1980  June 11, 2020


    From what I can glean, Theopompus was the “go-to guy” for specifics of Zoroaster teachings. 

     He was quoted by Diogenes Laertius: “In the eight book of the Philippics, according to Magi, men shall come to life and be immortal ”   Eudemus of Rhodes also gave a similar testimony 

    Theopompus is referenced by Aeneas of Gaza: “Zoroaster preaches that a time shall come there will be a resurrection of all the dead”  

    Plutarch using Theopompus as a source gives an outline of Zoroaster cosmology which turns out to be is similar to the later written-down texts attributed to Zoroaster 

    Upon some research, my preliminary impressions of “Zoroaster connection” is:

    –Dating concept of resurrection before its emergence in Jewish thought does not necessarily prove influence.

    –Although it is difficult to know exactly what was Theopompus’s exact understanding of Zoroaster’s teachings on resurrection was, and whether his description exactly matches Zoroastrian mythology, one can assume that the “general” concept of resurrection,as taught by Zoroaster was known in 4 BCE.

    –In addition,Plutarch’s description of Zoroastrian eschatology gives credence to the relative authenticity of the content of the Old Avestan texts that recorded oral traditions.  

    Are these preliminary conclusions reasonable? Any additional insights would be appreciated. 


    • Bart
      Bart  June 12, 2020

      Thanks. As I mentioned, I haven’t looked at this material in a couple of years, and off hand cannot recall why Theopompus’s account has been called into question. You may want to look up the discussions of Elledge and/or Levenson in their books on Resurrection in in Ancient Judaism.

  9. Avatar
    ben1980  June 13, 2020


    I am enjoying reading your latest book on Heaven and Hell, and your reference on the question of Zoroastrian influence on Judaism piqued my interest and encouraged me to investigate the subject further and also to do something useful in this time of COVID!

    The books you recommended were available on Kindle and the references to Theopompus is as follows:

    Elledge covers Theopompus’s testimonies in some detail, and even after allowing for some mis/re-interpretation of Zoroastrian views by Theopompus, he states(page 49) :

    “ Nevertheless, the testimonies of Theopompus anchor the belief in revivification into an everlasting life to the latter half of the fourth century BCE. This antedates the flourishing of literal conceptions of resurrection in Judaism during the Hellenistic era.”

    There are no specific references to Theopompus testimonies in Levenson ‘s book, but he argues for an internal-development of the concept of resurrection. Collaterally, he surprisingly, at end of chapter 13, states that Zoroaster theology ”probably influenced the development of apocalyptic in Jewish circles”

    Any additional insights are appreciated.

    • Bart
      Bart  June 14, 2020

      Thanks. To balance Elledge’s views, look at Anders Hulgard’s essay on “Persian Eschatology,” in vol. 1 of John Collins, Encyclopedia of Apocalypticism and Alan Segals, magisterial study, Life After Death, ch. 4: Iranian Views of the Afterlife and Ascent to the Heavens

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