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Avesta Sample
Y. 31.xviii

So let no one give heed to Teacher False

Nor to their words and teachings lend his ear;

Because the home, the town, the province, too,

And e'en the country, would the False One hurl

Down to the world of torment and of death;-

Resist them with your Inner Spirit's sword.

ma chish at ve dregvato

manthrans-cha gushta sasnaos-cha

azi demanem visem va

shoithrem va dakhvyum va adat

kushitacha marekaecha

atha ish saz dum snaithisha

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

Avesta


4) Manuscripts of the Avesta
1.
The manuscripts of the Avesta are quite numerous. Some of our specimens were copied down over five hundred years ago. They are written on parchment. The oldest was copied about the middle of the 13th century. From that date onward we have a considerable number of codices still extant. They come to us from India and from Yezd and Kirman in Persia. A number of the manuscripts are deposited in the libraries at Copenhagen, Oxford, London, Paris, Munich. The Parsi priests, especially the Dasturs, Dr. Jamaspji Minocheherji and also Peshotanji Behramji, have shown princely generosity in aiding Western scholars in editing texts by putting valuable MSS. in their possession. It is thus that the new edition of the Avesta texts by Professor Geldner of Berlin, is able to be presented in so critical a manner. No codex is complete in containing all the texts. The different MSS. themselves, moreover, show certain variations in reading; but these chiefly affect the form and construction of single words, rather than entire passages and the sense. As a rule, the older the MS. is, the better is its grammar; and the later, the more faulty. Notable exceptions, however, must be made, especially in favor of some later MSS. from Persia.

5) Importance of the Avesta
1.
The importance of the Avesta, as stated above (1,2), lies not alone in the field of philology, ethnology and early literature, but especially also is it of importance from the standpoint of comparative religion. Resemblance to Christianity in its teaching become significant when we consider the close contact between the Jews and the Persians during the Babylonian captivity. These are beginning more and more to attract the attention of students of the Bible.

6) Language of the Avesta
1.
The language in which the Avesta is written belongs to the Iranian branch of the Indo-Germanic tongues. With the Ancient Persian of the inscriptions makes up the Old Iranian division. The later Iranian languages, New Persian, Kurdish, Afghan, Ossetish, Baluchi, Ghalcha, and some minor modern dialects, complete the younger division. The intervening Pahlavi and Pazand, or Parsi, do not quite complete the link between the divisions. The extent of its relationship with the Armenian is not yet defined with sufficient exactness. On the positive kinship between the language of the Avesta and Sanskrit, see below (5).

2.
The language in which the Avesta is written may best be termed Avesta or Avestan. The designation Avesta for the language, as well as the book, is in keeping with the Pahlavi Avistak, which is used both of the tongues and of the scriptures. The term Avestan, both for the language and as an adjective, is preferred by some scholars, in order to distuinguish the speech from the work itself. This is sometimes found very convenient. The term Zend for the language, as noted above (1,3), is a misnomer. The designation Old Bactrian, occasionally used for the tongue, has little to recommend it.

3.
The Alphabet in which the Avesta is written is far younger than the language it presents. The characters are derived from the Sassanian Pahlavi, which was used to write down the oral tradition when the texts were collected and edited under the dynasty of the Sassanide. The writing is read from right to left. What the original Avestan script was we do not know.

4.
Two dialects may be recognized in the Avesta: one the 'Gatha dialect' or the language of the oldest parts, the Gathas, or metrical sermons of Zoroaster; the other 'Younger Avesta' or the 'classical dialect'. This latter is the language of the great body of the Avesta. The Gatha dialect is more archaic, standing in the relation of the Vedic to the classical Sanskrit, or the Homeric Greek to the Attic. Possibly the Gatha language may owe some of its peculiarities noticed below, also to an original difference of locality. The Gatha dialect was the speech of Zoroaster and his followers. Its grammatical structure is remarkably pure. The younger Avesta, but only in its late compositions, owing to linguistic decay, shows many corruptions and confusions in its inflections. All that is old or is written in meter, however, is correct and accurate. Inaccuracies that have there crept in, we must generally attribute to the carelessness of the scribes. In its forms, as a rule, the Avesta is extremely antique; it stands in general on the same plane as the Vedic Sanskrit, and occasionally, though not often, it even shows more ancient forms.

5.
The language of the Avesta is most closely allied to the Sanskrit, though individually quite distinct from the latter. Together they may be classed as making up an Indo-Iranian group. Almost any Sanskrit word may be changed at once into its Avestan equivalent, or vice versa, merely by applying certain phonetic laws. As example may be taken the metrical stanza Yt. 10.6 in the Avesta:

tem amavantem yazatem
surem damohu seviytem
mithrem yazai zaothrabyo

'Mithra that strong mighty angel, most beneficent to all creatures, I will worship with libations'- becomes when rendered word for word in Sanskrit:

tam amavantam yajatam
yuram dhamasu yavistham
mitram yajai hotrabhyah

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

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