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ZOROASTRIAN LITURGICAL TEXTS

The Avesta and the Pahlavi Texts STRUCTURE AND ZOROASTRIAN TEXTS: CONTENT OF

In its present form, the Avesta is a compilation from various sources, and its different parts date from different periods and vary widely in character. Only texts in the Avestan language are considered part of the Avesta. There are strong linguistic and cultural similarities between the texts of the Avesta and those of the early Indian Rigveda; the similarities are assumed to reflect the common beliefs of Proto-Indo-Iranian times, with the differences then assumed to reflect independent evolution that occurred after the pre-historical split of the two cultures. In its present form the Avesta may be classified into 5 sections: 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. Yasna (which includes the Gathas) Yashts Visperad Vendidad Khordeh avesta

Age of Zoroastrian Religious Texts and Early Transmission


The texts of the Avesta which are all in the Avestan language were collated over several hundred years. The most important portion, the Gathas, in Gathic Avestan, are the hymns thought to have been composed by Zarathushtra (Zoroaster) himself, and date linguistically to around 1000 BCE. The liturgical texts of the Yasna, which includes the Gathas, is partially in Older and partially in Younger Avestan. The oldest portions may be older than the Gathas, later adapted to more closely follow the doctrine of Zoroaster. The various Yashts are in Younger Avestan and thought to date to the Achaemenid era (559330 BCE). The Visperad and Vendidad, which are also in Younger Avestan, were probably composed even later but this is not certain. Early transmission The various texts are thought to have been transmitted orally for centuries before they found written form. The Book of Arda Viraf, a work composed in the 3rd or 4th century, suggests that the Gathas and some other texts that were incorporated into the Avesta had previously existed in the palace library of the Achaemenid kings (559330 BCE). According to Arda Viraf 1.4-7 and Denkard 3.420 the palace library was lost in a fire caused by the troops of Alexander the Great. However, neither assertion can be confirmed since the texts, if they existed, have been lost. Nonetheless, Rasmus Christian Rask concluded that the texts must indeed be the remnants of a much larger literature, as Pliny the Elder had suggested in his Naturalis Historiae, where he describes one Hermippus of Smyrna having "interpreted two million verses of Zoroaster" in the 3rd century BCE. Peter Clark in Zoroastrianism. An Introduction to an Ancient Faith (1998, Brighton) suggests the Gathas and older Yasna texts would not have retained their oldlanguage qualities if they had only been orally transmitted.

Later Editions and Revisions to Zoroastrian texts:


Later redaction According to the Dnkard, a semi-religious work written in the 9th century, the king Volgash (thought to be the Parthian king Vologases IV, c. 147191 CE) attempted to have the sacred texts collected and collated. The results of this undertaking, if it occurred, have not survived. In the 3rd century, the Sassanian emperor Ardashir I (r. 226241 CE) commanded his high priest Tonsar (or Tansar) to compile the theological texts. According to the Dnkard, the Tonsar effort resulted in the reproduction of twenty-one volumes, called nasks, subdivided into 348 chapters, with approximately 3.5 million words in total. One final redaction took place under Shapur II (r. 309-379).

The Avesta, as known today, represents only those parts of the text that are used liturgically, and therefore survived in the memory of the priests; and, as it now consists of all surviving liturgical texts in the Avestan language, it may include material that never formed part of the 21 nasks at all. In that sense, the current Avesta is a "prayer book" rather than a "Bible". The remainder of the 21 nasks has been lost since then, especially after the fall of the Sassanid empire, after which Zoroastrianism was supplanted by Islam. However, some secondary literature in Pahlavi purports to contain paraphrases or lists of contents of the lost books. European scholarship The texts became available to European scholarship comparatively late. Abraham Anquetil-Duperron travelled to India in 1755, and discovered the texts in Parsi communities. He published a French translation in 1771, based on a modern Persian language translation provided by a Parsi priest. Several Avesta manuscripts were collected by Rasmus Rask on a visit to Bombay (now Mumbai) in 1820, and it was Rask's examination of the Avestan language that first established that the texts must indeed be the remnants of a much larger literature of sacred texts. Rask's collection now lies in the library of the University of Copenhagen. Other manuscripts are preserved in the East India House and the British Museum in London; the Bodleian library at Oxford and at various university libraries in Paris.

The confusion about ZAND:


The word Zend or Zand, literally meaning "interpretation", refers to late middle Persian (see Pazend and Pahlavi) language paraphrases of/commentaries on the individual Avestan books: they could be compared with the Jewish Targums. These commentaries - which date from the 3rd to 10th centuries - were not intended for use as theological texts by themselves but for religious instruction of the (by then) nonAvestan-speaking public. In contrast, the texts of the Avesta proper remained sacrosanct and continued to be recited in Avestan, which was considered a sacred language. Manuscripts of the Avesta exist in two forms. One is the Avesta-o-Zand (or Zand-i-Avesta), in which the individual books are written together with their Zand. The other is the Vendidad Sadeh, in which the Yasna, Vispered and Vendidad are set out in alternating chapters, in the order used in the Vendidad ceremony, with no commentary at all.

The use of the expression Zend-Avesta to refer to the Avesta in general is a misunderstanding of the phrase Zand-i-Avesta (which literally means "interpretation of the Avesta"). A related mistake is the use of Zand as the name of a language or script. In 1759, Anquetil-Duperron reported having been told that Zend was the name of the language of the more ancient writings. In his third discourse, published in 1798, Sir William Jones mentions a conversation with a Hindu priest who told him that the script was called Zend, and the language Avesta. This mistake results from a misunderstanding of the term pazend, which actually refers to the use of the Avestan alphabet in writing the Zand and other Middle Persian religious texts, as an expression meaning "in Zend". The confusion then became too universal in Western scholarship to be reversed, and Zend-Avesta, although a misnomer, is still occasionally used to denote the older texts. Rask's seminal work, A Dissertation on the Authenticity of the Zend Language (Bombay, 1821), may have contributed to the confusion. N. L. Westergaard's Zendavesta, or the religious books of the Zoroastrians (Copenhagen, 1852-54) only propagated the error.

The Iranian Languages in relation to Zoroastrian texts:


The Avesta was probably first committed to writing in a newly invented 46 lettered Avestan script during the 6th century C.E. Through the 2500+ years the body of the Avestan literature increased with the languages used having undergone important changes. The original Avesta of Zarathosts time and the Younger Avesta from the few centuries following. Old Persian: is related to the Avestan language and was in use during the Achaeminian dynasty from the 6th century B.C.E. . It used a cuneiform alphabet as seen in the rock inscriptions at Behistan (Kuh-e-Alvand and Naqs-e-Rustom) Pahlavi (Middle Persian): Was evolved from the Old Persian in late Parthian to early Sassanian times. It developed in the 3rd century C.E. a very complicated alphabet of 14 letters that were essentially Aramaic a common semitic language of the area but each Aramaic word was read as equivalent word in Middle Persian. The Zand refers to the explanations and commentaries written down in the Pahlavi script to accompany the Avesta for teaching purposes etc.

Pazand: refers to the explanations and commentaries of the Pahlavi texts which were rewritten in the newly formed 42 lettered Avestan script.

The Yasna
The yasna is divided into 72 chapters called the Ha-iti or Ha. Some of these sections are repetitive. The 72 threads of lamb wool in the Kushti represent these sections. The main section called Staota Yesnya (words of praise and worship begins with Yasna (Ha) 14 and ends with Yasna 58 it is the formal liturgy of this religion. It ioncludes the Ahunavar prayer (yasna 19) and the prayer A airyema Ishyo that is recited immediately after the end of the fifth Gatha (Yana 53). This way the gathas are insulated as they are the spiritual core of the yasna ceremony. The Yasna, or Izeshne, is primarily the name, not of a book, but of a ceremony in which the entire book is recited and appropriate liturgical actions performed. In its normal form, this ceremony can only be performed in the morning. During this recital the gathas are structurally interrupted by the Yasna Haptanghaiti ("seven-chapter Yasna"), which makes up chapters 35-42 of the Yasna and is almost as old as the Gathas, consists of prayers and hymns in honour of the Supreme Deity, Ahura Mazda, the Angels, Fire, Water, and Earth

The Gathas
The holy Gathas comprise of FIVE HYMNS that incorporate the teachings of Asho Zarthust: NAME YASNA OR Ha First Ahunavad 28 to 34 Gatha Second Ushtavad 43 to 46 Gatha Third Spentomad 47 to 50 Gatha Fourth Vohukhshatra 51 Gatha Fifth Gatha Vahishtoisht 53

The Yashts
Hymns of praise for the Yazatas ( adorable beings worthy of worship) Name of days and months in calendar named after some of these Yazatas, e.g. Mehr, Adar. If name of day and month coincide then it is parab and special prayers are performed on that day The introduction and conclusion of the yashts are similar in style and syntax to one another, but each Yasht differs widely in age and content.

The Visperad
The Visperad (from vspe ratavo, "(prayer to all patrons") is a collection of supplements to the Yasna. The Visparad is subdivided into 23 or 24 kardo (sections) that are interleaved into the Yasna during a Visperad service (which is an extended Yasna service). The Visperad collection has no unity of its own, and is never recited separately from the Yasna.

The Vendidad
The Vendidad (or Vidvdt, a corruption of Avestan VDav-Dta, "Given Against the Demons") is an enumeration of various manifestations of evil spirits, and ways to confound them. The Vendidad includes all of the 19th nask, which is the only nask that has survived in its entirety. The text consists of 22 Fargards, fragments arranged as discussions between Ahura Mazda and Zoroaster. The first fargard is a dualistic creation myth, followed by the description of a destructive winter on the lines of the deluge of mythology. The second fargard recounts the legend of Yima. The remaining fargards deal primarily with hygiene (care of the dead in particular) [fargard 3, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 16, 17, 19] as well as disease and spells to fight it [7, 10, 11, 13, 20, 21, 22]. Fargards 4 and 15 discuss the dignity of wealth and charity, of marriage and of physical effort, and the indignity of unacceptable social behaviour such as assault and breach of contract, and specify the penances required to atone for violations thereof. The Vendidad is an ecclesiastical code, not a liturgical manual, and there is a degree of moral relativism apparent in the codes of conduct. The Vendidad's different parts vary widely in character and in age. Some parts may be comparatively recent in origin although the greater part is very old. The Vendidad, unlike the Yasna and the Visparad, is a book of laws rather than the record of a liturgical ceremony. However, there is a ceremony called the Vendidad, in which the Yasna is recited with all the chapters of both the Visparad and the Vendidad inserted at appropriate points. This ceremony is only performed at night

The Khordeh Avesta


Generally used by laity for their prayers. It is a short compilation from the entire Avesta. Comprises of: The five Nyayeshes (litanies in praise of the elements) The five Gahs (watches of the day) The Yashts (hymns of reverence for each of the 30 days of the calendar month) The Afringans (Prayers of blessing)