Religion in the Ancient Middle East

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Part 3: The Persians and the Rest

The ancient lands of Canaan, Israel, and Judah were overrun at various times. The peoples who ruled them brought with them their own gods and religious practices. Wherever they went, the Hebrews kept their customs and their beliefs.

After a succession of weaker empires, the ancient Middle East was consumed by the Persian Empire, beginning about 550 with the reign of Cyrus the Great.

The Persians were settled in the area long before that, of course. And about 570, a man named Zoroaster told his people about two gods, Ahura Mazda, who created all the good things in the world, and Ahriman, who created all the bad things in the world. These two gods were at war all the time. Their struggle kept the world in a delicate balance. If one god gained the upper hand, then more of his influence would be felt.

Zoroaster also said that people could decide which god they wanted to follow. Those who followed Ahura Mazda, the god of good, did good deeds like keeping their word, giving to the poor, treating other people well, and obeying the king. Those who followed Ahriman did bad things, like lying, cheating, being lazy, and being greedy.

Zoroaster believed that in the end, Ahura Mazda would triumph and good would win. People who supported this god would enjoy happiness after death. Those who supported Ahriman would be punished for that support.

This religion, later called Zoroastrianism, was the religion practiced throughout the Persian Empire when Alexander the Great conquered it in 330. With his influence, Alexander brought the religion of the Greeks.

First page > The Sumerians and Their Successors > Page 1, 2, 3

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David White