In ancient times, there arose a man from mean beginnings who was a man of wisdom, of discernment. Most of those rough people around him spoke of many gods, of inanimate gods made of wood or stone or, sometimes, gold. But he spoke and sang to them of the One God, the God of heart, who entreats all of us towards righteousness and best thinking and best faith, the God who at the end of days will judge all of us and find some worthy of reward, while others, captured by demons and the dark and the weaknesses of their own bad faith, will perish. He spoke of the continual struggle of the faithful against "the lie". Many people were charmed, fascinated, and won over by this new belief, but others were not so pleased and towards the end of his days he was put to death.
His death, however, did not end the quest. One of his disciples, one of his students, went on to preach his truths and to preach the advantages of brotherhood and cooperation over battle and strife, and this man traveled with his message extensively, uniting diverse people across the whole of the civilized world.
He is called Zoroaster, or sometimes, Zarathustra. Not so much is known about his life, not even the exact period of time or birthplace. Somewhere near to the banks of the Caspian Sea, sometime perhaps adjacent to the time of David.
His disciple? He is better known, as Cyrus the Great, King of Kings. Though at first known as an illiterate barbarian, he came to unite the diverse kingdoms of the known world, more through diplomacy than through battle. He was the very first to do so. He came to persuade all the other peoples who surrounded the one great kingdom of the time, the Medes, the Lydians, the Chaldeans, the Elamites, the Phoenicians, some of the Ionian Greeks, that they were all better off trading with their neighbors than fighting them. Finally, after the death of Nebuchadnezzar and a quick succession of weak sons, he persuaded even great Babylon to join with him in his empire. And they opened their gates without a single battle.
In the process, as you may remember, Cyrus became aware of a captive people inside the kingdom of Babylon, a remnant who worshiped a different God than Mardauk and the others. And Cyrus recognized the great advantage of respecting every peoples' their own religious beliefs. He gave those people their freedom, their leave to return home, and even the funds and permission to rebuild their temple, the temple of Jerusalem. And so return home they did, but not before considerable learning and respect paid to the beliefs of Cyrus, the beliefs first presented by Zarathustra, some of which in time they adopted and claimed to be their own.
(to be continued ...)