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Zoroastrian eschatology

The eschatology of the ancient Iranian religion Zoroastrianism was radically different from anything that had come before.  Though it was revolutionary and exciting early in the first millennium BCE, its story sounds fairly commonplace today, a testament to its influence on later Western traditions.  Zoroastrians teach that two binary gods—one personifying good, the other evil—and their followers are fighting for control of the world.  Their natures are fixed, and cannot change; it is rather the actions of men that determine the outcomes of battles.

When man’s choices have sufficiently weakened evil, the Frashegerd (Renovation) will begin (Cohn 97).  The dead are resurrected in bodily form, and every human being who has ever lived will go through a Final Judgment.  Each is confronted by his good and evil deeds, and the saved are “distinguished from the damned as clearly as a white sheep is from a black” (Cohn 97).   The world is enveloped in a stream of molten metal.  Walking through the metal will torture the damned, but the righteous will feel like they are “walking in warm milk” (Cohn 97).  The wicked are swept down to hell to enjoy their eternal agony,[1] where the molten stream plugs the gap through which the evil god first entered.  The world, thus purged of evil through the ordeal of molten metal, is left clean and flat, and all the righteous live together peacefully in a changeless, eternal realm (Cohn 98-99).

The prophet Zoroaster believed this would happen soon, perhaps even in his lifetime, but then he died, and no perfection seemed forthcoming (Cohn 99).  Eventually, Zoroastrians developed the idea of a savior—the Saoshyant—who would appear, birthed by a virgin, to kick everything off.  By Middle Persia, with their prophet long dead and no savior forthcoming, impatient Zoroastrians had begun to speculate when these events were supposed to take place.  Though there is some variation, the general consensus is that the entire cycle will take 12,000 years, with 1,000 years and 3,000 years important units of time.  The present age falls in the last cycle, which lasts 3,000 years and will end with the Frashegerd.

 


[1] Latter-day Zoroastians believe that the wicked are not eternally damned, and can join the righteous in eternal bliss after having the evil burned out of them by the molten metal stream.

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