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Pahlavi Literature

6) Pahlavi texts on religious subjects

28. Denkart, book III-IX. Dk. 34-41.

Of the Denkart, or Acts of the religion, only Books III-IX, containing about 169,000 words, were discovered at Bagdad in 1020, when its oldest colophon that has been preserved by copyists was written. And it was stated by Mulla Firuz in 1830, that a MS. of this Denkart was brought from Iran to Surat in 1783 by Mulla Bahman, son of Mulla Bahram, a Parsi priest of Yazd. This was lent to the Dastur of Surat and when returned, after much delay, many folios were missing. Several copies were then made from the defective MS., so that they and all other copies made in India are similarly defective. The defective MS. itself afterwards came into the possession of Mulla Firuz, who was highpriest of the Kadmi Parsis in Bombay, and it has since remained in the library of his successor; being thus kept in Bombay, it is convenient to call it B. Of its 70 missing folios, 14 had been recovered before 1875, 50 were known to be in other hands, and six had not been discovered; but copies of the contents of all these folios, except the six still missing, were collected for the first time in that year. From the colophons attached to B and its copies it appears that the copy of the Bagdad MS., made in 1020, was recopied by a writer who is known to have flourished about 1355, this recopy was again copied in 1516, and the next copy, made at Turkabad in 1659, is the MS. B brought to Surat in 1783.

The only other authority for some of the text of the Denkart, independent of this MS., is the codex K43, brought from Persia by Westergaard in 1843, which contains about one-fifth of the text in two detached portions, together with other writings. One portion occupies fols. 177-261, and contains seven eighths of Book VI and 161 and 287 of Book III with a colophon written at Turkabad in 1594, and the text has evidently descended from the copy of 1020. The other portion of the text is written by another hand on 42 additional folios at the end of the codex; it consists of the last two sections of Book III, the whole of Book V, and the first three-tenths of Book IX which is left unfinished and without a colophon.

The Denkart is a large collection of information regarding the doctrines, customs, traditions, history, and literature of the Mazda-worshipping religion. According to statements contained in the last section of Book III, its compilation was commenced by Atur-farnbag, son of Farukhzat, a leading high-priest of the Mazda-worshippers, who had a religious disputation with Abalish (see 61) in the presence of the Khalifah Al-Mamun who reigned in 813-833. And the work was completed by Aturpat, son of Hemet, who is mentioned in the Iranian Bundahish, xlv,11, (see 44) as a contemporary of Zat-Sparam who is known to have been living in 881, when the third Epistle of Manushchihr was written (see 48).

Dk. Book III originally consisted of 420 sections containing about 73,000 words, but the first folio is lost, and fols. 2-4 are defective, having the outer side-margin and about a quarter of each line of text torn off. Fol. 2 begins in the middle of an answer to the second of a series of twelve sceptical questions propounded by apostates, which is followed by another series of sixteen religious questions asked by a disciple, to all of which answers are given. Out of the remaining 392 sections of Book III, 374 are stated to be from the Nikedsho-i veh-din, or 'Exposition of the Good Religion', which was probably a religious manual well known in the ninth century, but now lost. And as the remaining eighteen sections are intermingled with the rest, they may probably be derived from the same source. Dastur Peshotan has edited about 50,000 words of the text of this Book, as far as the end of 276, with Gujarati and English translation in six volumes.

Some of the principal contents of the 144 sections not yet published by Peshotan are as follows:-(283) the tokens of righteousness and wickedness; (288) the extent of loss which the demons inflicted upon mankind, and the restitution effected by Yim; (289) the ten admonitions of Yim to mankind, and the ten counter-admonitions of Dahak; (296) the five evil passions that take possession of bad men, and their antidotes; (315) the origins of beauty and ugliness; (322) blessing and cursuing; (339) the primitive faith and apostasy; (343) what is requisite for the progress of religion; (344) the best and worst of mankind, and (348) of periods; (374) the three fiends that attack mankind from birth, and their opponent; (377) the deceit of the maleficent spirit, and triumph of the beneficent spirit; (381) complete propitiation by mankind; (383) the two original evolutions; (384) the home of good works and den of sin; (389) the seven excellences of king Vishtasp, and the possibility of any of the good religion gradually acquiring the same; (396) what is not changeable in a limited lapse of time, and what is so; (398) four kinds of rulers; (404) men who are like angels or demons; (410) the extreme righteousness of an upholder of the religion, and the extreme wickedness of an apostate; (417) observations upon ritual; (419) solar and lunar years; and (420) about the Denkart MS. The text of the last two sections is found in both B and K43.

Dk. Book IV contains about 4000 words and commences with an extract from the Selection of Customary Instruction, said to have been compiled by Atur-farnbag, son of Farukhzat. This extract is an account of the characteristics of the seven Ameshaspands, and, as an instance of the advantage of 'desirable dominion', personified by Sharivar, the fourth Ameshaspand, the legendary history of the efforts made by various good rulers, from Vishtasp to Khusro Kavatan, for the preservation of the national literature. The remainder of this Book is a summary of the further contents of Atur-farnbag's work, about the sacred beings; time and space, both limited and unlimited; spiritual and worldly work; dwellers in the atmosphere as far as the stars in all directions; the formation of animals by the union of fire and water; the lunar mansions and revolution of the firmaments; various existences and philosophical dissertations, some of which have suggested arguments to the author of the Shikand-gumanic Vichar (see 53). With regard to Artaxshir, son of Papak, it is stated that on the account of the marvellousness of his reign, as compared with those of his forefathers, he had less duration of rule. The MS. of Earth-measurement (nipig-i damig-patmanih) is referred to for the calculations of astrologers and other measures. Additional writings named in this fourth Book are the Nipig-i Shan-i Turko, Nipig-i Hafdah-kalun (?), the Hindu Dhar Koshak (?), the Mystic (Mistig) of Arum, 'and others of that description, with the bun-nipig (or original MS. of the Avesta) in the treasury of Shapigan.' The philosophy of Arum and the sages of the Hindus are also mentioned.

Dk. Book V contains about 6000 words and commences with the following statement, which is here quoted as a specimen of the text:-

[Pahlavi text of Dk. V. Translation.] The triumph of the creator Aurmazd, and the glory of complete wisdom, is the divin religion of Mazda-worship. 1. The fifth (book) is about the saying of the saintly Atur-farnbag, son of Farukhzat, who was the leader of the orthodox, even in the manuscript which is called Gyemara1. 2. The collected replies of Atur-farnbag, son of Farukhzat, the leader of the orthodox, about several significant questions that are the wonder of the moderns, which are like the friendly words spoken by him of the ancient tribes who really call it their Gyemara which is inclusive of a like wonder for them openly accessible to him. 3. About the unswerving and co-operating chieftainship of those forefathers who went in mutually-friendly command of troops, the complete enclosure of that tribe within the military control of Bukht-Narsih. 4. About the disabling of vicious habits and evil deeds which are entirely connected, and of the heinous demon-worship and mischief which are owing to them, through the ruler Kai-Lohrasp being sent, with Bukht-Narsih, from the country of Iran to Beta-Makdis (Jerusalem) of Arum, and their remaining in that quarter. 5. And the orthodox belief in the rude particulars of religious custom in the mutual deliberation of those of the tribe, the acquaintance with religion of a boor, the difficult arrangements, and the inquirer doubtful of the religion after the many controversial, deliberative, and cause-investigating questions and answers adapted to the importunities of that wordy disciple. 6. About how the accepting of this religion by the prophets before Zartusht (occured), how the pure and saintly Zartusht the Spitaman came, and who will come afterwards as bringers of the same pure and good religion hereafter. 7. That is, of the prophets, apostles, and accepters of the religion, there were they who accepted it concisely and completely, such as Gayomart was, from whom came irregularly such as Mashya and Siyamak, Hoshang, Takhmorup (Tahmuras), Yim (Jamshid), Fretun, Manushchihr, the Saman, the Kayan, and also many other leaders in (those) times.

1. It is read 'Selamis' by Peshotan Sanjana. I recommend to compare West's translation with Sanjana's. (Nima Sadjadi)

The text then gives a summary account of the birth of Zartusht, his father being Porushasp of Yima's race, and his mother Duktaubo. Also of the endeavours of the demons to destroy him, his acceptance of the religion, and his bringing it to Kai-Vishtasp, with the opposition he encountered. Mention is made of Zarir, Spend-dat, Frashoshtar, Jamasp, and the future apostles, Aushetar, Aushetar-mah, and Soshans; of Vishtasp's triumph over Arjasp, the killing of Zartusht by Tur-i Bratroresh, and the provision of a chariot (rae) by Srito-i Visrapan. Also about the coming of devastators, such as Alexander and the smiter of Akre-Khirat (Agraeraqa), Markus, Dahak, and others; of complainers of belief, such as Mashikh (the Messiah), Mani, and others; of periods, such as the steel age, that migled with iron, and others; and of restorers of religion, such as Artakhshir, Aturpat, Khusro, Peshotan, the future apostles, and others. About Jamasp collecting the teaching (amuk) of Zartusht, and having it written in gold on ox-hides to be kept in the royal treasury (ganjo-i xutayan); from which the priests made many copies for the people in general. About the division of the race of mankind from the offspring of Siyamak, and the injury done by the demons to Hoshang and Vaegart among the children of Fravak. Also 'how the requirements of the tribe (ram) of those who really call this their Guemara are effected by our acquaintance with religion' and correct teaching.

The compiler then passes to other writings which have more of the nature of a Rivayat. About the admonition of Zartusht to perform the will and commands of the creator, especially the smiting of the demons and subjugation of the destroyer, and other religious duties. About heaven and hell, the resurrection and the ever-stationary (hamistakan), sins and good works, atonement and cleansing from sin, proper food and dress, marriage and next-of-kin marriage, times and modes of worship, and precautions with regard to fire, water, plants, and dead dogs and people. The ordeal of melted metal undergone by Aturpat-i Maraspandan, as translated in Arta-viraf. And the book ends with a series of sceptical questions about dualism and other Zoroastrian doctrines, propounded in conversation by a Christian (Tarsak) called Bukht-marae, with replies taken chiefly from earlier Books of the Denkart, These replies may be those of Atur-farnbag mentioned in 2 of the introductory passage translated above.

Dk. Book VI contains about 23,000 words and consists of a large collection of religious and moral maxims, with statements of duties, customs, habits, qualities, and traditions, as well as the characteristics of good and evil; but with very few details regarding ritual or ceremonies. The five-eighths of the text are about an epitome (nisang) of the sayings of the Mazda-worshipping religion compiled by those of the primitive faith (poryotkeshan), consisting of about 320 sections all beginning with the phrase: 'and this, too, was thus considered by them.' The commencement of this epitome, including sixteen of its sections is translated into English in Sacred books of the east, and another section has also been similarly translated in SBE. One section informs us that the Farnbag fire is put in the position of priests, the Gushnasp fire in that of warriors, and the Burzinmihr fire in that of agriculturists. And from another section we learn that those of the primitive faith do not become wicked through the Judaism of a Jew's clamour, or the infidelity (akadenih) of other infidel clamour.

The remaining three-eighths of the text contain a continuation of similar statements derived partly from other sources, such as the sayings of Aturpat-i Maraspendan, of king Khusro-i Anoshak-ruvan, and of Bakht-afrit. Also an anecdote of two priests, Atur-Narsih and Atur-Mihr, who had nothing to eat but wild herbs and water, one day when travelling, and came to the conclusion that they had fully atoned for their priestly greed by so wretched a meal; another anecdote of the chief mobad Vohudat-i Atur-Aurmazd meeting two priests carrying firewood from the hills; and a third about the contented man Ranj-spoch, 'the grief-rejecting'. Besides notices of Aturpat-i Zartuxshtan destroying a demon, of Atur-farnbag and Atur-bodshet speaking with Vohudat the chief mobad, and of the dying admonitions of Aurmazd the Sitshig to his disciples. Near the middle of this second part of the Book some remarks are made about Seno and Aturpat, disparaging the former, and there also occur a few words about xvetukdas which have been translated in SBE. (Sacred books of the east)

Dk. Book VII contains about 16,000 words and treats of the marvellousness of the Mazda-worshipping religion from the creation to the resurrection, according to the Nikejo-i Veh-den, or Exposition of the Good Religion. Beginning with the creation of Vohuman and Gayomart, reference is made to the transference of Destiny (vaxsh) or Glory (gada) to Meshya and Meshyana, to Siamak, to Vaegart, and Hoshang, and successively to Takhmorup (Tahmuras), Yim, Fretun, Iraj, Manushchihr, Auzob, Kereshasp the Saman, Kai-Kavat, Patakhsrob-i Airyafshva (?) king of the Arabs, Kai-Arsh, Kai-Us, Aoshnar, Kai-Siyavakhsh, and Kai-Khusro. The transference of the Glory to Zartusht and Kai-Vishtasp is told in a much more detailed story (nisang).

First, as to the wonders that occured before the birth of Zartusht; how the Glory passed through the heavens into the house of Frahim-rvanazoish, to his wife who then gave birth to Duktaubag, the mother of Zaratusht, who became so radiant that the country people, led on by the demons, Kavis, and Karpans, attributed all their misfortunes to her sorcery, and compelled her father to send her away to the town of Alak in the Spitaman district, to the house of Patiragtaraspo, whose son Porushaspo she married; and, after many marvellous events, Zartusht was born with the Glory, and his genealogy is detailed in the usual 45 generations back to Gayomart.

Second, as to the wonders that occured to Zartusht between his birth and his first conference with Aurmazd, including the many escapes he had from the malice of Durasrob the Karpan, who had made Porushaspa afraid of his own son. But this Karpan was unsuccessful in his attempts to destroy Zartusht, even with the assistance of Bratrok-resh the Karpan. When Zartusht was thirty years old, Vohuman appeared to him, coming from the south in the shape of a man of colossal stature, and induced Zartusht to go with him to a first conference.

Third, as to the wonders between the first conference and the acceptance of the religion by Kai-Vishtasp. Seven conferences took place in ten years, during which time many wonders occured. On his return from the first conference, in the second year, Zartusht began preaching to the Kavis and Karpans, before Tur-i Aurvaita-sang, in praise of xvetukdas, as translated into English in SBE. He also requested a donation from a rich Karpan, named Vaedvoisht (Phlv. Vedvisht), but in vain. The demons But and Sej attached him, and were repulsed, as stated in Phlv. Vd. xix, 1-11. After his last conference with Aurmazd, he returned to the world and proceeded to the capital of Kai-Vishtasp, where the deadly Zak and other Karpans were prepared to destroy him with the consent of the king. During his controversy he was reinforced by the arrival of Vohuman and Ashavahisht, with the sacred fire, who were sent by Aurmazd to assist his arguments, and were received with awe by Kai-Vishtasp and his people. And after the later arrival of Neryosang, with a further message, Hutos and Vishtasp accepted the religion.

Fourth, as to the wonders between Vishtasp's acceptance of the religion and Zartusht's departure (vixez) into heaven 35 years later, or 47 years after his first conference with Aurmazd. Among these are the establishment of ordeals, as translated in Arta-viraf, and the war with Arjasp which is fully described in the Yatkar-i Zariran (see 97). But nothing is stated about Zartusht's death.

Fifth, as to the wonders during the life of Vishtasp after Zartusht's departure. Such as a full account of the provision of a chariot by Srito-i Visrapan which is merely mentioned in Book V, spreading of the religion through all the seven regions of the earth in the course of 57 years from its acceptance, and the coming of Spitoish and Arjasp to Frashoshtar-i Hvoban to inquire about it.

Sixth, as to the wonders between the time of Vishtasp and the downfall of Iranian rule. During which period mention is made of Alexander's devastations, as well as the maitenance of the religion by Vohuman, son of Spend-dat; also by the high-priest Shenov who was born in the hundredth year of the religion, died in its two-hundredth year, and had a hundred disciples; (Yt. xiii,97); and by the highpriest Arezvak, with his three colleagues, Sruto-spadh, Zrayangh, and Spentokhratu (Yt. xiii, 115), who lived in the fourth century of the religion, in the time of the apostate Rashn-resh. Then follow short accounts of Artaxshir-i Papakan and his spiritual chieftain Tansar, of Aturpat-i Maraspendan and Avarethraba (Yt. xiii, 106), of king Khusro-i Kavatan, and of the five tokens of the approach of the destroyers of Iranian rule.

Seventh, as to the wonders between the downfall of Iranian rule and the end of Zartusht's millennium, during the ninth and tenth centuries of the religion, counting from the time when Zartusht went to his first conference (at the age of thirty years). Among much lamentations about the decay of religion, the demonism of the tribe with dishevelled hair (vijart-vars), the Christian (kilasayak) Shetasp of Arum, and the Arabs, the Kaisar and Khakan, and Chihro-mehan the righteous, with his club and 53 male disciple, are mentioned. Then, when thirty winters of the tenth century remain unelapsed, a maiden, named Shemig-abu (=Av. Srutatfedri), walks up to the impregnating water, who is to become the mother of the famous (namig=shemig) Aushetar, 'the increaser of righteousness', and whose ancestry comes from Vohu-rotsho-i Frahanyan (Yt. xiii, 97) in the family of Isatvastar, son of Zartusht by Arandsh. From her Aushetar is born, and his conference with the Ameshaspands begins at the end of the millennium, when he is thirty years old and the sun is obscured and remains stationary in the zenith for ten days and nights.

Eighth, as to the wonders during the millennium of Aushetar. The diminution of evil existences, and the occurrence of the three dreadful winters of the wizard Markus, in the fifth century, owing to which most of mankind and animals perish. During the fourth winter Markus is destroyed by means of the Dahman Afrin, and people and animals are admitted from Yim's enclosure to replenish the earth; after which there is much prosperity. Ashavahisht deprecates all unnecessary slaughter of animals, and at the end of the fifth century two-thirds of mankind are righteous, both in Iran and abroad. Then, when thirty winters of the tenth century remain unelapsed, another maiden of the same ancestry as before, named Shapir-abu (=Av. Vang-hufedri) walks up to the same water, and becomes the mother of the good (shapir) Aushetar-mah, 'the increaser of obeisance', whose conference with the Ameshaspands begins at the end of the millennium, when he is thirty years old and the sun is obscured and stationary in the zenith for twenty days and nights.

Ninth, as to the wonders during the millennium of Aushetar-mah. Mankind begin to live on vegetables and milk, one cow supplying enough for 100 men, and one supply lasting for three nights; and after three years time they consume only vegetables and water; the women and children are also better instructed. The fetters of Dahak are loosened and Kereshasp rises to slay him; also Kai-Khusro and his companions arrive to assist Soshans. Then, when thirty winters of the tenth century remain unelapsed, a third maiden walks up to the same water, and becomes the mother of the moving (junbak) Soshans, 'the triumphant benefiter and body-producer' who overpowers every one; hence she is called Harvispo-tarvinitar (Yt. xiii, 142). At the end of the millennium, when her son is thirty years old, the sun obscured and stationary in the zenith for thirty days and nights.

Tenth, as to the wonders after the millennium of Aushetar-mah, till the end of the 57 years of Soshans and the occurrence of the renovation, the last great change. Soshans, who lives on spiritual food and looks for evil in all directions with six-eyed power, brings with him the triumphant Kayan glory 'which was carried off by Fretun when he smote Azh-i Dahak, by Kai-Khusro when he smote the Tur Frangrasiyak, by Frangrasiyak when he smote the Dro-i Zinigak, and by Kai-Vishtasp when he led away to righteousness anything of the world of righteousness carried off by the fiend' (Yt. xix, 92, 93). During 57 years all fiends and war, with all evils still remaining in the world, are destroyed; for seventeen of these years mankind live on vegetables, for thirty on water, and for ten on spiritual food. Then, Ahriman having perished the renovation of the universe and the future existence are produced. The account of this succession of events, from the time of Artaxshir-i Papakan, is given in the form of a prophecy by Aurmazd in reply to occasional inquiries by Zartusht.

Dk. Book VIII, which contains about 19,000 words, is a summary of the contents of the twenty-one Nasks, or treatises, which appear to have constituted the whole strictly-Zoroastrian literature in Sasanian times. This literature was divided into three classes, equivalent to religious, worldly, and intermediate knowledge; and each class contained seven treatises. The summary is based upon the Pahlavi versions of the Nasks, and is very brief for the religious and intermediate classes, because a detailed account of the contents of every chapter was intended to be given in Book IX. But when the compiler had reached the worldly or legal class, he probably gave up this intention, and began to summarize in much greater detail. This Book and the next one have been translated into English, and it is therefore unnecessary to describe their contents more fully.

Dk. Book IX contains about 28,000 words, and gives a detailed summary of the contents of each chapter of only three of the religious Nasks. And the book concludes with a chapter containing many questions from unknown texts, and a long succession of detached phrases from the Pahlavi Gathas strung together, as descriptive of the final triumph of religion. From the extent of the summaries in these last two Books, as compared with the known extent of some of the actual texts, it has been computed that the total extent of the Nasks may have been something like 345,000 words in their Avesta texts, and two millions of words in their Pahlavi versions.

Abstracted from : Pahlavi literature, E.W. West,
in Grundriss der iranischen Philologie, II. Band, Wilh. Geiger und Ernst Kuhn, Strassburg, 1896-1904

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