Apocalypse: Part 2

There should be no Part 2.

The Apocalypse is supposed to be final. Just me using the title Apocalypse: Part 2 demonstrates the common misconception about the Apocalypse, at least in the context of a monotheistic religion.

As a general rule, monotheistic religions have linear timelines. There’s a beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth, and there’s an ending, where God destroys everything. A bunch of stuff happens in between.

In Christianity, this timeline resembles classic story structure with the Old Testament containing the beginning, the rising action, obstacles, ending with an all-is-lost moment (when God’s chosen cannot reclaim Judea for their own). In the New Testament, we have the Crucifixion as the climax, with the rest of the books being a denouement until you reach Revelation: the End.

The Quran borrows from Judeo-Christian traditions, but its more of a denouement in itself: how followers of Allah, under direction of the last prophet Muhammed, are supposed to behave until the Final Judgement.

In traditional Judaism, this timeline stops with the prophets, particularly Ezekiel, who predicted the End of Days.

You can also thank Zoroastrianism for giving us this notion of the End Times and concepts like the struggle between light and dark, good and evil. These themes syncretized with Judaism sometime during Babylonian Captivity in the 6th century BCE. (and thousands of years later ended up Star Wars for that matter–May the 4th be with you!)

The problem with making this correlation between Judaism and Zoroastrianism is that many Zoroastrian writings were destroyed during and after the collapse of the Sassanian Persian empire (651 CE.). Most of the region had converted to Islam. The primary holy text, the Zend Avesta survived, in part, because some believers fled to India, where they found more tolerance and became the Parsis (That’s another story worth researching in its own right). Other Zoroastrians remained in Iran, and other parts of Central Asia, where each community developed its own branch of Zorastrians, but largely preserved the texts which survived the Sassanian fall.

The Zend Avesta (as far as I can tell–I’m still reading through the first part, the Vendidad) doesn’t follow this strict linear timeline toward the Apocalypse, the End Times aren’t prophesied It begins with Ahura Mazda (the god of Good) creating 16 lands and Yima, his first priest, expanding the lands to hold all the people and animals. The problem: right from the beginning Ahriman starts mucka-de-mucking with creation. So Ahura Mazda teaches Yima, and later Zoroaster, incantations, rituals, and other behaviors to prevent the spread of Ahriman’s corruption.

Another Zoroastrian text, The Bundahishn builds upon the Zend Avesta’s teachings and puts the creation-to-destruction in a linear timeline. In the earliest chapters we discover Ahura Mazda and Ahriman had always existed in some form or another; Ahura Mazda, of course, personifying all that is light, good, and omniscient, meanwhile Ahriman was completely ignorant of Ahura Mazda’s existence until he emerged from a pre-cosmic abyss.

All of creation, as it turns out, is the battleground between these two entities, as both created creatures, materials, and thoughts, to fight this war. For every act of creation done by Ahura Mazda, Ahriman created an act of destruction. Ahura Mazda created angels, Ahriman created demons.

To make a comparison: YHWH in the Book of Genesis put the stars in the dome of heaven to bring light to the world, but Ahura Mazda created the stars in distinct battle formations to fight Ahriman’s evil and darkness. The angels were created also for this reason. Unlike in traditional Christian theology, Zoroastrianism doesn’t have a fall of angels or of mankind.

To make another comparsion: The Bundahishn reads much like the Etymologies of Isidore of Seville, where the author(s) assume the reader already possesses a general knowledge of their respective religions, and so the text itself is to clarify certain unanswered mysteries… like how the world will end.

Zoroastrianism has interesting term for this: Frashokereti, or Final Renovation/Restoration.

Frashokereti is similar to the Judeo-Christian ideas of the Apocalypse: you have the dead resurrected to face final judgment, sinners are burned (but with molten metal erupting from the hills and mountains, not fire), and good triumphs over evil.

Then all men will pass into that melted metal and will become pure; when one is righteous, then it seems to him just as though he walks continually in warm milk; but when wicked, then it seems to him in such manner as though, in the world, he walks continually in melted metal.The Bundahishn, chapter 30, verse 10.

The torment doesn’t appear to last long, however, but this is the first stage of imprisoning Ahriman in a sphere of metal. Even hell is purified with molten metal. Afterward, Ahura Mazda bestows immortality on the rest of humanity. The only catch: the deeds you did in life, for good of evil, adjust exactly how much you can enjoy this reward.

So what does this have to do with the Military History of Religion?

Just as battles and warfare occur here on earth, so it is written that similar violence happens in the spiritual world. We see this monotheism and polytheistic religions (we’ll cover polytheism and the apocalypse) in the future.

The crucial questions are: do these stories prepare nations for military campaigns? Do this stories influence strategy, tactics, and logistics? Is the notion of the apocalypse is a motivator in warfare?

The answer, in my opinion, depends on how much you believe the spiritual warfare described in these texts influences the material world. I believe military decisions have been based on scripture or religious dogma, and there has been negative consequences.

The subject of which will receive further inquiry.

Next: Revelation and the Military History of Religion.


  1. Hmm… I admit, my familiarity with Zoroastrianism is pretty limited, but I should do some more reading on it. Aside from the canonical texts themselves, can you recommend any good books that work well as an introduction?


    1. I actually can’t recommend any book on Zoroastrianism… I went straight to the canonical texts.


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