HEARTS RIPE FOR HARVEST: MODERN PEOPLE FROM AN ANCIENT CULTURE
“We’re Not Arabs”
One of the first things Persians want you to know about their culture is this: they are not Arabs. Cyrus the Great ruled the empire of Persia,about 775 years before the first Arab ruler claimed authority in Persia. The Arabs ruled a Persian empire significantly smaller than the one held by Cyrus. Cyrus controlled everything from Turkey to India, reaching as far south as Egypt and as far north as Kazakhstan and parts of Russia, While other larger empires would come along later, no one ever held all of Cyrus’ Persia in addition to their own empire. Today Iran is the region most often identified with ancient Persia, but many attributes of Persian culture can still be found all over the areas once claimed by Cyrus.
When Westerners look at the two cultures and see similarities, it is easy to assume the Arabs introduced the practices to the Persians over the many centuries the Arabs controlled these lands, but that is a much too simplistic approach. Both modern day cultures have reflections of each other. For instance, both used the vernal equinox to mark the beginning of the year, but this had been a Persian practice long before the Arabs arrived.
In the almost 1800 years since Arabs first controlled this area, the Persian people have developed many innovations in scholarship and art. Persians see these innovations as Persian accomplishments, because they grew out of their own unique culture. However, Arabs count these same accomplishments as their own innovations, because they ruled the empire at the time.
Monotheism in Persia
One of the hallmarks of Arab Rule, since the advent of the Caliphates, is the practice of Islam, a monotheistic religion. This was in stark contrast to the empires of Greece, Rome, and Egypt which all grew out of polytheistic agricultural societies. These empires each had their own multitude of deities based on nature gods.
The people united under Cyrus came from a nomadic tradition. Their religious heritage was based on a code of honor, not worship of rain gods and harvest goddesses. Fifty years before Cyrus came to power, Zoroaster codified a monotheistic religion for the region, and it was widely accepted by many of his subjects. Even those who did not practice Zoroastrianism were heavily shaped by its concepts of light, order, and truth.
Cyrus and Religion
Though Cyrus himself came from a monotheistic heritage, he introduced a completely new idea in religion during his conquests. He allowed those he conquered to keep their own brand of religion and worship their own gods. Daniel, the Israelite captured by Nebuchadnezzar, was thrown into the lion’s den for his worship of Yahweh by Babylon’s ruler, but he gained religious freedom later in his life, once Cyrus became ruler. In fact, Cyrus famously allowed the Jewish captives he inherited to return to Israel to rebuild the Temple, as recounted in the minor prophet books of Ezra and Nehemiah. About a century later, one of Cyrus’ descendants would unwittingly marry a Jewess when he took Esther as his queen.
The monotheistic flame always burned bright in Persia. Many scholars believe the Three Wise Men of the Nativity story were priests of Zoroastrianism who embraced the infant Jesus as a spiritual King of Kings. Certainly there were Persians among the crowds in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost. There were Christian churches in Persian lands pre-dating Islam, but through persecution and forced conversion, the followers of Mohammed eventually turned the various types of monotheists into Muslims.
Today Persians still cling to their monotheistic beliefs, but many are returning to to Christ, in spite of serious persecution. It is to these Persians that Global Heart Ministries is broadcasting the Good News of the Gospel.
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