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Avesta Sample
Y. 30.III

The First Created were the Spirits Twain,

As Twin Co-workers they reveal themselves;

Yet, in each thought and word and deed these two

Are ne'er agreed;-one's Good, the other Bad;

And of these Two the Wise do choose aright,

The Unwise choose not thus,-and go astray.

at ta mainyu paouruye

ya yema khvafena asrvatem

manahicha vachahicha

shkyaothanoi hi vahyo akemcha

aos-cha hudaong-ho

eresh vishyata noit kuzhdaong-ho

I.J.S. Taraporewala, The Gathas of Zarathushtra, Bombay, 1947


The first attempt agian to collect these writings seems to have been begun unfer the reign of the last Arsacide, just preceding the Sassanian dynasty. Pahlavi tradition preserved in a proclamation of King Khusro Anoshirvan (6th cent. A.D.), says it was under King Valkhash, probably Vologoses I., the contemporary of Nero, that the collection was begun of the sacred writings as far as they had escaped the ravages of Alexander, or were preserved by oral tradition. Valkhash was among the last of the Arsacide. The Sassanian dynasty (A.D. 226) next came to the throne. This house were genuine Zoroastrians and warm upholders of the faith, and they brought back the old religion and raised it to a height it had hardly attained even in its palmiest days. The first Sassanian monarchs, Artakhshir Papakan (A.D 226-240) and his son Shahpuhar I. (A.D. 240-270), eagerly continued the gathering of the religious writings, and the Avesta again became the sacred book of Iran. Under Shahpuhar II. (A.D. 309-380) the final revision of the Avesta texts was made by Atur-pat Maraspend, and then the king proclaimed these as canonical, and fixed the number of Nasks or books.

Of these Nasks, 21 were counted, and a description of them, as noted, is found in the Rivayats, and in the Dinkard; each received a name corresponding to one of the twenty-one words in the Ahuna-Vairya (Honovar), the most sacred prayer of the Parsis. Each of these Nasks contained both Avesta and Zend, i.e. original scripture and commentary. This tradition is too important to be idly rejected. Its contents give an idea of what may havebeen the original extent and scope of the Avesta. The subjects said to have been treated in the 21 Nasks may practically be described in brief, as follows: Nask 1 (twenty-two sections), on virtue and piety; 2 (likewise twenty-two sections), religious observance; 3 (twenty-one sections), the Mazdayasnian religion and its teachings; 4 (thirty-two sections), this word and the next, the resurrection and the judgment; 5 (thirty-five sections), astronomy; 6 (twenty-two sections), ritual performances and the merit accuring; 7 (fifty sections before Alexander, thirteen then remaining), chiefly political and social in its nature; 8 (sixty sections before Alexander, twelve after remaining), legal; 9 (sixty sections before Alexander, fifteen later preserved), religion and its political relations to man; 10 (sixty sections before Alexander, only ten afterwards surviving), king Gushtasp and his reign, Zoroaster's influence; 11 (twenty-two sections originally, six preserved after Alexander), religion and its practical relations to man; 12 (twenty-two sections), physical truths and spiritual regeneration; 13 (sixty sections), virtuous actions, and a sketch of Zoroaster's infancy; 14 (seventeen sections), on Ormazd and the Archangels; 15 (fifty-four sections), justice in business and in weights and measures, the path of righteousness; 16 (sixty-five sections), on next-of-kin marriage, a tenet of the faith; 17 (sixty-four sections), future punishments, astrology; 18 (fifty-two sections), justicein exercising authority, on the resurrection, and on the annihilation of evil; 19, the Vendidad (twenty-two sections, till remaining), on pollution and its purification; 20 (thirty sections), on goodness; 21 (thirty-three sections), praise of Ormazd and the Archangels.

During the five centuries after the ravages of Alexander much, doubtless, had been lost, much forgotten. The Parsi tradition itself acknowledges this when it says above, for example, that the seventh Nask consisted originally of 50 sections, but only 13 remained 'after the accursed Alexander. So says the Dinkard and so the Rivayats. Like statements of loss are made of the eight, ninth, tenth, eleventh Nasks. The loss in the five centuries from the invasion of Alexander, however, till the time of the Sassanian dynasty, was but small in comparison with the decay that overtook the scripture from the Sassanian times till our day. The Mohammedan invasion in the seventh century of our era, and the inroad made by the Koran proved far more destructive. The persecuted people lost or neglected many portions of their sacred scriptures. Of the twenty-one Nasks that were recognized in Sassanian times as surviving from the original Avesta, only one single Nasks, the nineteenth-the Vendidad-has come down to us in itsfull form. Even this shows evidence of having been patched up and pieced together. We can furthermore probably identify parts of our present Yasna and Vispered with the Staot Yasht, as it is also called. The two fragments Yt.21 and 22 (as printed in Westergaard's edition) and Yt. 11, in its first form, are recognized in the MSS. as taken from the 20th, or Hadokht Nask. The Nirangistan, a Pahlavi work, contains extensive Avestan quotations, which are believed to have been taken from the Husparam, or 17th Nask. Numerous quotations in Pahlavi works contain translations from old Avestan passages. The Pahlavi work, Shayast-na-shayast, quotes briefly from no less than thirteen of the lost Nasks; the Bundahish and other Pahlavi works give translations of selections, the original avesta text of which is lost. Grouping together all the Avesta texts, we may roughly calculate that about two-thirds of the total scriptures have disappeared since Sassanian times.

The present form of the Avesta belongs to the Sassanian period. Internal evidence shows that it is made up of parts most varied in age and character. This bears witness to the statement that during that period the texts, as far as they had survived the ravages of Alexander, and defied the corrupting influence of time, were gathered together, compiled, and edited. According to the record of Khusro Anoshirvan (A.D. 531-579), referred to above, King Valkhash, the first compiler of the Avesta, ordered that all the writings which might have survived should be searched for, and that all the priests who preserved the traditions orally should contribute their share toward restoring the original Avesta. The texts as collected were re-edited under successive Sassanian rulers, untill, under Shahpuhar II. (A.D. 309-379) the final redaction was made by his prime minister, Atur-pat Maraspend. It is manifest that the editors used the old texts as far as possible; sometimes they patched up defective parts by intersting other texts; occasionally they may have added or composed passages to join these, or to complete some missing portion. The character of the texts, when critically studied, shows that some such method must have been adopted.

Parts of the Avesta, therefore, may differ considerably from each other in regard to age. In determining this the text criticism by means of metrical restoration is most instructive. Almost all the oldest portions of the texts are found to be metrical; the later, or inserted portions, are as a rule, but not always, written in prose. The grammatical test also is useful; the youngest portions generally show a decay of clear grammatical knowledge. The metrical Gathas in this respect are wonderfully pure. They are, of course, in their form the oldest portion of the text, dating from Zoroaster himself. The longer Yashts and metrical portions of the Yasna contain much that is very old and derived doubtless from the ancient faith of Iran; but in their form and in general composition, they are probably some centuries later than the Gathas. The Vendidad is in this regard most incongruous. Some parts of it are doubtless of great antiquity, though corrupted in form; other parts, like younger portions also of the Yashts, may be quite late. The same is true of formulaic passages throughout the whole of the Avesta, and some of the ceremonial or ritual selections in the Vispered and Nyaishes, etc. Roughly speaking, the chronological order of the texts would be somewhat as follows:

i. Gathas (Ys. 28-53) and the sacred formulas Ys. 27.13,14, Ys. 54, including also
ii. Yasna Haptanghaiti (Ys. 35-42) and some other compositions, like Ys. 12,58, 4.26, in the Gatha dialect.
iii. The metrical Yasna and Yashts, Ys. 9,10,11,57,62,65; Yt. 5,8,9,10,13,14,15,17,19; portions of Vd. 2,3,4,5,18,19, 19, and scattered verses in the Vispered, Nyaishes, Afringans, etc.
iiii. The remaining prose portions of the Avesta.

In the latter case it is generally, but not always, easy to discover by the style and language, where old material failed and the hand of the redactor came in with stupid or prosaic additions.

Considerable portions, therefore, of our present Avesta, especially the Gathas, we may regard as coming directly from Zoroaster himself; still, additions from time to time must have been made to the sacred canon from his day on till the invasion of Alexander. The so-called copy of the zoroastrian Bible which it is claimed was destroyed by that invader, doubtless contained much that was not directly from the founder of the faith, but was composed by his disciples and later followers. The Parsis, however, generally, regard the whole work as coming directly from Zoroaster; this is a claim that the Avesta itself hardly makes. The Gathas, however, undoubtedly came directly from the prophet; the Avesta itself always speaks of them as 'holy' and especially calls them the 'five Gathas of Zoroaster'. We may fairly regard many other portions of the Avesta as directed elaborations of the great teacher's doctrines, just as the Evangelists have elaborated for us portions of the teachings of the Lord.

In regard to the locality in which we are to seek the source of the Avesta and the cradle of the religion, opinions have been divided. Some scholars would place it in the West, in Media; the majority, however, prefer to look to the East of Iran, to Bactria. Both views probably have right on their side, for perhaps we shall not be amiss in regarding the Avesta as coming partly from the East, and partly from the West. The scene of most of it doubtless does belong in the East; it was there that Zoroaster preached; but the sacred literature that grew up about the Gathas made its way, along with the religion to the West, toward Media and Persia. Undoubtedly some texts, therefore, may well have been composed also in Media. The question is connected also with that of Zoroaster's home which may originally have been in the West. The language itself of the texts, as used in the church, became a religious language, precisely as did Latin, and therefore was not confined to any place or time. We may regard the Avesta as having been worked upon from Zoroaster's day down to the time of the Sassanian redaction.

Abstracted from : Avesta Grammar, A.V. William Jackson, Stuttgart, 1892

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