Zoroaster was the first to teach the doctrines of an individual judgment, Heaven and Hell, the future resurrection of the body, the general Last Judgment, and life everlasting for the reunited soul and body. These doctrines were to become familiar articles of faith to much of mankind, through borrowings by Judaism, Christianity and Islam; yet it is in Zoroastrianism itself that they have their fullest logical coherence, since Zoroaster insisted both on the goodness of the material creation, and hence of the physical body, and on the unwavering impartiality of divine justice. According to him, salvation for the individual depended on the sum of his thoughts, words and deeds, and there could be no intervention, whether compassionate or capricious, by any divine being to alter this. With such a doctrine, belief in the Day of Judgment had its full awful significance, with each man having to bear the responsibility for the fate of his own soul, as well as sharing in responsibility for the fate of the world.
The most general human affliction is death; and according to Zoroaster, death forces individual souls to leave the world and return for a while to a deficient state. As each spirit departs, it is judged on what it has done in this life to aid the cause of goodness. Each human may hope to attain Paradise, through a place of moral judgment, where each soul must depend, not on power or wealth of offerings in the life it has left behind, but on its own ethical achievements. Mithra presides over the tribunal, flanked by Sraosha and by Rashnu, who holds the scales of justice. In these are weighed the soul’s thoughts, words and deeds, the good on one side, the bad on the other. If the good are heavier, the soul is judged worthy of Paradise; and it is led by a beautiful maiden across a broad bridge and up on high. If the scales sink on the bad side, a horrid hag, meeting the soul as it tries to cross, seizes it in her arms and plunges with it down to hell, where the wicked endure a long age of misery, of darkness, ill food and the crying of woe. The concept of hell, a place of torment presided over by Angra Mainyu, seems to be Zoroaster’s own, shaped by his deep sense of the need for justice.
Zoroaster taught that the blessed soul must wait to be reunited with its resurrected body, to live again a happy life of full sensation, until a general resurrection to be followed by the Last Judgment, which will divide all the righteous from the wicked, both those who have lived until that time and those who have been judged already. According to his stern original teaching, strict justice will prevail then, as at each individual judgment on earth by a fiery ordeal. Immortality will be conferred on the resurrected bodies of all the blessed, and thereafter these human souls will become like the Immortals themselves – of one thought, word and deed, unaging, free from sickness, without corruption, forever joyful upon earth. The wicked will suffer a second death, and will perish off the face of the earth. Zoroaster’s gospel was thus a noble and strenuous one, which called for both courage and resolution on the part of those willing to receive it.
Adapted from “Zoroastrians: Their Religious Beliefs and Practices” by M. Boyce. Published by M. Boyce. 1979.
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