The upcoming holiday of Epiphany ties them inseparably together.
The founding story of the holiday of Epiphany is narrated in the second chapter of the Gospel of Matthew. It is quite evocative and extremely powerful story of the visit of magi. In the most harmonious and tolerant manner this story brings together east and west, foreign and native, astrology and theology, foreign religion and our own faith tradition, Iran and Israel. All of it is done in a very non-judgmental manner. At the end of this story the magi (Zoroastrian Persian priests) were even allowed to go home peacefully and without being converted to the faith of narrator. What a lovely and astonishing example of inter-religious encounter and peaceful multicultural coexistence!
It can certainly be argued that this is just wishful thinking of the late Christian storyteller and this unhistorical story itself has a complex legendary background (I wrote about it a year ago here). Yet Iran and Israel are bound together even closer and on a more fundamental level. This Sunday we will read about it from the book of Ezra. The Achaemenid Persia (ancient Iran) played important role at the cradle of what we now call Judaism. Persia relaxed ethnic and religious restrictions and persecutions of previous empires and initiated a tolerant cosmopolitan period. There is now a growing academic consensus that the Torah (Five books of Moses) started to be put together under the Persian rule.
Why does this ancient history matter? Well ..., isn’t truth always better than ignorance, superstition and prejudice? Isn’t it great to embrace a more open-minded, less sectarian, more informed and thus enlightened religion? Isn’t it also interesting to observe influences and connections of other religious traditions (in this case Zoroastrian) over our own faith? If nothing else, isn’t it interesting to observe this close connection between Persia and Torah? Israel and Iran? Epiphany is indeed a marvelously exhilarating holiday!