With the upcoming release of Star Wars VII: The Force Awakening, fans and popular culture are once again about to be immersed the world of The Force, with its Light Side and its Dark Side, not to mention the Living Force vis-à-vis the Unifying Force. The latter two, of course, were only mentioned on-screen in the widely-panned Star Wars I: The Phantom Menace; it was left to the novels of the Expanded Universe to expand those concepts further, most extensively in the final novel of the New Jedi Order series, The Unifying Force.
Most Christians and Jews, even their theologians, are oblivious to the fact that late Temple era Judaism and early Christianity shared a similar tradition of Two Ways. By the first century, these were more often termed the Way of Life and the Way of Death, but even in later works sometimes called by their original designations, the Way of Light and the Way of Darkness.
De doctrina Apostolorum, early 1st century CE (maybe earlier)
This work, possibly from as early as the first century BCE, opens with the lines, ‘There are two roads in the world, the Way of Life and the Way of Death, the Way of Light and the Way of Darkness. They have at their head two angels, one of good and one of evil. But big is the difference between the Two Paths’.
The De doctrina Apostolorum does not name them, but the two angels at the head of the Two Ways can only be Michael and Beliar, the latter being the form of Belial late in the Temple era.
The chapter concludes with defining the Way of Life/Light in terms of the Great Mitzvot, or Summary of the Torah, to which is appended the Golden Rule:
‘The way of life is this: first, you shall love the eternal God who made you; second, your neighbor as yourself, and what you do not want to be done to you, do not do to another.’
Chapters II, III, and IV are an exposition of the Way of Life through moral proscriptions and prescriptions. Chapter V expounds on the Way of Death. Chapter VI warns the reader to stay on the correct path, then ends with the interpolated doxology.
While being just one of many, and one of the latest from the view of first century Judaism, this is the foundation of the Two Ways tradition in early Christianity, with all subsequent works that describe the Two Ways mostly comprising direct quotations or much-rephrased versions of this original document.
The religion of Zartosht, also known as Zarathustra and Zoroaster, not only influenced the Israelites of Samerina (Samaria), Yehud (Judea), and Egypt to eventually adopt monotheism, it also led many toward a dualistic view of reality. To its adherents, the religion is Mazdayasna.
The Israelite colony in Egypt formed around 650 BCE after the Egyptians had kicked out their Nubian overlords. Its most important and largest settlement was on the island of Yeb, which the Greek later called Elephantine, a military outpost on a hostile frontier. There were five other large settlements throughout Egypt, including in the capital at Memphis. These Israelites even had their own fully-functioning “House of Yahweh”, recognized in Shechem and Jerusalem, at their main settlement on Yeb.
Though the Israelite Samaritans and Jews may have first encountered Mazdayasna through trade, after the fall of the Chaldean Empire they did so on a massive scale, Mazdayasna then being the official religion of the court. Along with monotheism, the Iranian religion brought Samerina and Yehud their first taste of well-defined dualism, which provided a working blueprint from which the two Israelite peoples could form their own monotheism and create their own dualism.
The Iranshahr (‘realm of the Aryans’) under the Achaemenids conquered the Chaldean Empire in 539 BCE, taking the entire Levant along with it. Egypt fell in 525 BCE.
Very superficial basics of Mazdayasna
The Supreme Being of Mazdayasna is Ahura Mazda, or ‘Being Mind’ (Assara Mazas in Aramaic). Ahura Mazda is the one uncreated being who creates everything and is the guardian of Asha, Truth. Ahura Mazda creates and acts through six “divine sparks”, emanations of and of the same essence as himself, called Amesha Spentas (‘Immortals Bounteous’), who in turn act through spirits known as the Yazatas. The Faravashis are the spirits who watch over individual humans. The relationship of Amesha Spentas, Yazatas, and Faravashis corresponds roughly to archangels, angels, and guardian angels.
Opposite Ahura Mazda stands Angra Mainyu (‘Destructive Spirit’). Angra Mainyu serves the principle of Druj, Falsehood, and is the source of evil, adversity, chaos, and untruth. His servants are the Daevas, the chief six of whom are known as the Kamaligan Dewan and are the dark side counterparts of the light side Amesha Spentas.
Although chief opponent of Ahura Mazda, Angra Mainyu is not his equal. Instead he is the equal of Ahura Mazda’s chief servant in the battle of good and evil, light and darkness, bounty and destruction, truth and lie, Spenta Mainyu (‘Bounteous Spirit’). Spenta Mainyu is the emanation of Ahura Mazda acting first among equals among the Amesha Spentas.
According to some of the middle period Mazdayasna scriptures, the struggle between the champions of Asha and the servants of Druj will last ten thousand years.
Two Ways in the Tanakh
In Judaism, the Two Ways tradition goes back to several passages in the Tanakh, with the influence of Mazdayasna showing up in the Prophets and the Ketuvim, and even making itself felt in the Torah.
Deuteronomy, of course, is the fifth and latest book of the Torah. If it did truly originate in the pre-Exile period in the reign of Josiah, then it was certainly edited in the late Temple period. In fact, this probably took place in Alexandria when the Septuagint was first collected, that being the first time the Tanakh as such had been complied.
Speaking of the Septuagint, the order in these quotations are presented below is that of their books as they appear in that edition of the Tanakh.
‘See, I have set before you today Life and Good, Death and Evil.’
Without the mention of ‘way’ or ‘path’ or ‘road’, but juxtaposing the same antitheses nonetheless, so same result.
‘Yahweh watches over the Way of the Righteous, but the Way of the Wicked will perish.’
A bit more explicit.
‘Those who forsake the Paths of Uprightness to walk in the Ways of Darkness.’
‘The Path of the Righteous is like the Light of dawn, which shines brighter and brighter until full day. The Way of the Wicked is like deep Darkness; they do not know what they stumble over.’
This defines the difference even more stark.
‘In the Path of Righteousness there is life, in walking its Path there is no Death.’
This sentence defines the one, and its counterpart also, but only in reflection.
Sirach 33:14-15, early 2nd century BCE
‘Good is the opposite of Evil, and Life the opposite of Death…Look at all the works of the Most High; they come in pairs, one the opposite of the other.’
A definite statement of dualistic monism.
‘I am Yahweh, the One True God, producer of light and creator of darkness, maker of bounty and creator of desolation; I, Yahweh, do all these things.’
The ultimate statement in the Tanakh of both dualistic monism and of absolute monotheism, and within one sentence.
‘And to this people you shall say: Thus says Yahweh: See, I am setting before you the Way of Life and the Way of Death.’
Another explicit declaration of the principle of dualism.
Essenes and apocalypsists
The Two Ways, especially in the form of the Way of Light versus the Way of Darkness, played a major part in the doctrines of the movement based in Qumran, and also showed up in some of the apocalyptic and pseudepigraphic works from the turn of the era.
War Scroll, 2nd century BCE
Also known by the title The War of the Sons of Light Against the Sons of Darkness, which is why people usually use the other name. It was one of the most important works found at Qumran. It is at the same time a history, a prophecy, and a manual of how to organize the Army of Light.
Here, the Army of Light is commanded by the angel Michael and supported by the Beni Levi, Beni Judah, and Beni Benjamin. The Army of Darkness is commanded by the angel Beliar and composed of Edomites, Moabites, Ammonites, Amalekites, Philistines, and Kittim of Asshur.
This entire work is prophecy, allegory, and apocalypse, taking the Two Ways concept out of the abstract into the concrete.
Community Rule, late 2nd century BCE
Originally known as the Manual of Discipline, the Community Rule is a Jewish forerunner of the early Christian “church orders” found with the Dead Sea Scrolls. The most relevant section of the Rule to the subject here is ‘Of the two spirits of humanity’, of which the following is excerpt:
‘God has created man to govern the world, and has appointed for him two spirits in which to walk until the time of his visitation: the Spirit of Truth and the Spirit of Falsehood. Those born of Truth spring from a Fountain of Light, but those born of Falsehood spring from a Well of Darkness. All the children of righteousness are ruled by the Prince of Light [Michael] and walk in the Way of Light, but all the children of falsehood are ruled by the Angel of Darkness [Beliar] and walk in the Way of Darkness…For God created the Spirit of Light and the Spirit of Darkness and founded every action upon them and established every deed upon their ways. ‘ (3:17b-26a)
After this passage, the writer waxes on the results of “communion” with the Spirit of Truth versus that with the Spirit of Falsehood. Truth and Falsehood are then presented as mutually antagonistic “inclinations”, exactly the same as Asha (Truth) and Druj (Falshood) are in Mazdayasna.
Qumran fragment 4Q473
…and he has placed before you Two Ways, one which is good and one which is evil. If you choose the Good Way, he will bless you. But if you walk in the Evil Way, he will curse you ... and in your tents, and he will destroy you with ... and mildew, snow, ice and hail...
Qumran fragment 4Q186
Possibly an astrological treatise, this work talks about a House of Light and a House of Darkness.
Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs: Asher 1:3-6a, late 2nd century BCE
This pseudepigraphic, apocalyptic work from the latter decades of the second century BCE is framed as the last testaments of the twelve sons of Jacob. The part named Testament of Asher opens with the following:
‘Two Ways has God given to the sons of men, and two Inclinations, and two kinds of action, and two modes (of action), and two issues. Therefore all things are by twos, one over against the other. For there are two Ways, the Way of Good and the Way of Evil, and with these are the two Inclinations in our breasts discriminating them.’
The Two Ways contrasted again, along with the Two Inclinations, or ‘spirits’, as in Spenta Mainyu, ‘Bounteous Spirit’, and Angra Mainyu, ‘Destructive Spirit’. The rabbis still teach this paradigm as the ‘yetzer ha-tov’ and the ‘yetzer ha-rah’, or the ‘good inclination’ vis-à-vis the ‘bad inclination’. Only in their version, at least in modern times, both inclination reside inside of each human on Earth.
1 Enoch 91:18-19; 94:1-4
‘And now I tell you, my sons, and show you the Paths of Righteousness and the Paths of Iniquity. Yea, I will show them to you again that ye may know what will come to pass. And now, hearken unto me, my sons, and walk in the Paths of Righteousness, and walk not in the Paths of Iniquity; for all who walk in the Paths of Iniquity shall perish forever.’
‘And now I say unto you, my sons, love righteousness and walk therein; for the Paths of Righteousness are worthy of acceptation, but the Paths of Iniquity shall suddenly be destroyed and vanish. And to certain men of a generation shall the Paths of Iniquity and of Death be revealed, and they shall hold themselves afar from them, and shall not follow them. And now I say unto you the righteous: walk not in the Paths of Iniquity, nor in the Paths of Death, and draw not nigh to them, lest ye be destroyed. But seek and choose for yourselves righteousness and an elect life, and walk in the Paths of Peace, and ye shall live and prosper.’
2 Enoch 30:13b-14, 1st century BCE
‘I called his name Adam, and showed him the Two Ways, the Light and the Darkness, and I told him: This is good, and that bad, that I should learn whether he has love towards me, or hatred, that it be clear which in his race love me.’
The light side and the dark side, BCE-style.
Early Christian sources
Gospel of Matthew, 7:13-14, late 1st century CE
‘Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the Way easy that leads to Destruction, and there are many who take it. For the gate is narrow and the Way hard that leads to Life, and there are few who find it.’
Out of the many passages in the New Testament which compare good and bad/evil, this is the only one which does so in terms like ‘Way of Destruction’ and ‘Way of Life’.
Didache, late 1st century CE
First six chapters are virtually identical with the six of De doctrina Apostolorum, but with additions of quotations from the gospels, mostly the Gospel of Matthew but some from the Gospel of Luke.
Those chapters outline the Two Ways once again, but leaves out mention of the two angels at the head of each. It also includes a nearly identical Summary of the Torah with the Golden Rule at the beginning of the exposition of the Way of Life.
Shepherd of Hermas, Book II, Commands VI, mid-2nd century CE
From Chapter 1: ‘For the Path of Righteousness is straight, but the Path of Iniquity is crooked. But walk in the straight and even Way, and mind not the crooked Way.’
From Chapter 2: ‘Every person has within them two angels, an Angel of Righteousness and an Angel of Iniquity.’
Epistle of Barnabas, late 2nd century CE
Chapter 18 opens with the Two Ways. It brings back reference to angels standing at the head of each Way, though in a much more dualistic fashion, contrasting the “angels of God” with the “angels of Satan”. The epistle lays out the Way of Light in chapter 19, giving both prescriptions of the Summary of the Torah but separated by several negative prescriptions on morality and behavior; the Golden Rule is absent. The Way of Darkness is dealt with in chapter 20.
Didascalia Apostolorum, 230 CE
This third century work inserts the Teaching of the Twelve Apostles, which includes the Two Ways, into chapter III, covering more or less the same ground as the De doctrina Apostolorum and the first six chapters of the Didache, even closing with a mini-apocalypse.
Clementine Homilies, Homily 7, Chapter 7, 3rd century CE
‘I make known unto you as it were Two Paths, and I shall show you by which travellers are lost and by which they are saved, being guided of God. The Path of the Lost, then, is broad and very smooth—it ruins them without troubling them; but the Path of the Saved is narrow, rugged, and in the end it saves, not without much toil, those who have journeyed through it. And these two paths are presided over by unbelief and faith…’
Apostolic Church Order, 300 CE
Opens with the Two Ways, with the discussion by the apostles following more or less the pattern of the previous examples but only expounding on the Way of Life. Begins that discussion with John giving the Summary of the Torah; Matthew follows with the Golden Rule.
Apostolic Constitutions, 375 CE
Book VII, Chapter II is based largely on the Didache, including the Two Ways, generally following its source, but heavily edited. The exposition of the Way of Life begins with the Summary of the Torah and the Golden Rule.
Later, and today
In the Christian Church, the Two Ways faded into insignificance, then obscurity by the mid-fifth century. In its place came a paradigm of ethereal, spiritual warfare with the forces of Heaven under God, chaired by Jesus Christ, and commanded by Michael on one side versus the forces of Hell under Satan, sometimes chaired and commanded by him directly, other times with authority delegated to lesser demons.
As well as angelologies, medieval demonologies grew quite elaborate. Sometimes Belial/Beliar equated with the Great Satan, sometimes not. Eventually, some Western theologian with little understanding of what he was writing about pronounced that the “Lucifer” of Isaiah 14:12 was Satan before the Fall. The Hebrew word translated ‘Luciphoros’ also means ‘light-bearer’ and refers specifically to the morning star, nicknamed ‘son of the morning’. The passage is a polemic against an unnamed king of Babylon.
Much of the Church has backed off from such an infantile cosmic view, but there are still pockets that believe every word, particularly among fundamentalist Christians in the USA, the Christian Supremacist Right.
Judaism has never viewed Satan as a challenger of Yahweh. Instead, he is Yahweh’s most loyal servant, taking up the unenviable task of testing humans to prove their faith.
Every year at the Hajj, Muslims throw stones at a pillar representing Iblis, their version of the Christian Satan.
In Part I of the Gulag Archipeligo, novelist, human rights activist, and devout Russian Orthodox believer Alexandr Solzhenitsyn wrote, “If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”. Later in the book, he wrote that, “Gradually it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil passes not through states, not between classes, nor between political parties, but through every human heart.”
On those words, every human should be able to agree, regardless of religion, lack of religion, philosophy, culture, or nationality.