Pherecydes of Syros who is said to have come to Ionia from further south east in southern Anatolia flourished about 544 BC. Though he is not well known, he is the first to speak of metampsychosis (reincarnation) and he is the first philosopher to have identified a primeval god of time. He acknoledged no teacher but says he worked from the Revelation of Ham and from the Secret Works of the Phoenicians. He identified a trinity of gods, Chronos (Time, not Cronos), Zas and Cthonie. Zas is the high god (Zeus?) and Cthonie is “She who is beneath the Earth.” Zas gave Cthonie the earth as a cloak of honour, and then married her. So she was Ge (Gaia). Chronos did not marry but somehow produced the remaining three elements of fire, air and water.
Curiously, Chronos had fought another primeval god called Ophioneus (the “Snaky One”) for control of the heavens. Chronos had won and cast Ophioneus into the sea and assumed the victor’s crown. The serpent god was apparently utterly defeated and was not a lingering force of evil. This part of the story sounds Babylonian, like Tiamat and Marduk.
The concept of an eternal Chronos, says M L West (Early Greek Philosophy and the Orient), is “without precedent in Greek accounts of the origin of things.” Ra, in the Book of the Dead is the first primeval god and the ruler of years. A Phoenician inscription of the ninth or eighth century has Shamash as the “Sun of Eternity.” Time was at first an aspect of the sun, gradually seen in the abstract as even more basic or primeval. The winged disc was popular in Phoenician cultic art and the Phoenicians were strongly influenced by Egypt. Possibly the idea of Chronos went from Egypt to Ionia via the Phoenicians.
Praja-Puti, the Creator in the Rig-Veda, appears as a “golden embryo” but later, in the Athervaveda, he is the son of “Time” (Kala). This evolution suggests that the concept of “Time” was not original in Indian cosmology. The best evidence is that the concept of time was Phoenician of about the seventh century whence it spread east and west, entering India from Persia. S G F Brandon says the Iranian word Zurvan (Time) is known from the 12th century BC but not in any mythological context. The point of all this is that it implies that Zurvan as a sexless and eternal primeval god was a late heresy of the original Zoroastrian idea.
Later Zoroastrians, the Zurvanites, faced with two apparently equal gods, one good and one bad, invented the concept of “Zurvan” or Endless Time out of which came the conflicting principles. It is a sophisticated idea and there is no way of knowing that the concept did not exist before Zoroaster and have some role in his scheme, but it is not mentioned in the Gathas. Another sect, the Gayomartians, attributed the Evil One to a bad thought in the mind of the Good Spirit. For Zoroaster, however, the only creator was Ahuramazda.
Details of the belief in Zurvan are all late, but evidence exists that it existed from about the time of Artaxerxes II. Zurvan simply means “time” and time is a key part of Zoroastrianism, which divides it into the time of creation, the finite time of history (“Time of Long Dominion”) and the eternal time after that (“Boundless Time”). At the end of finite time, Ahuramazda destroys the evil creation, and restores the world to its pristine state before the Evil Spirit realised what was happening—the kingdom of God.
The sources on Zurvanism are all Sasanian or later. The myth that developed is this. Zurvan existed eternally, but wanted a son. He sacrificed to get one for 1000 years with no result and began to doubt he would succeed. Out of that doubt was born the Evil Spirit, but his worthy sacrifices had in fact worked and yielded the Good Spirit. Zurvan gave the rule of the world to the first son to appear and it turned out to be the Evil Spirit. Realising his error he gave the Baresman twigs to Ahuramazda and placed him over Angra Mainyu for “the time of long dominion,” when Ahuramazda would have absolute control. Knowing this with his foresight, Ahuramazda began his Good Creation, and when he saw it Angra Mainyu countered it step by step with his Evil Creation.
The idea of a Great Year arose about 500 BC, at about the same time as the 360 degree circle of heaven. The Chaldaeans realised that the planets, considered gods, moved in cycles and, because they influenced human life, so human history must be cyclical. The time it took for all the known planets to return to their initial positions was the Great Year. It encompassed the Flood (a Babylonian legend) and the purging by fire (a Persian concept). The observations of the astronomers were not accurate enough to allow a precise calculation of the Great Year so different assumptions led to different answers.
The Zoroastrian concept of time was linear not cyclical, but the Zurvanites fitted the cycles into the “time of long dominian.” Plutarch in Isis and Osiris explains the theory of each spirit ruling alternately, the cosmic warfare then the final peace in perfection. Plutarch’s source was Theopompos from the fourth century BC, which confirms that the theory had been worked out in the time of Artaxerxes II. The Greek idea that Zoroaster had lived 6000 years before was probably from the originally conceived length of the time of long dominion, but it was extended by having 3000 years for creation to happen, and another 3000 years for three Saoshyants to appear each millennium as limited time approached its end. The last incarnation of Zoroaster took the world into “Boundless Time” and eternal bliss for the righteous. Interestingly, the titles or duties of the three Saoshyants can be rendered as the “Teacher of Righteousness” and the “Teacher of Reverence,” with the last one being the “Righteous One.” Each of these millennia copied the whole of history in that they began on a high then degraded until they were lifted again by a new Saoshyant.