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Avesta

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See Avesta Municipality for the Swedish town

Missing image
Bodleian_J2_fol_175_Y_28_1.jpg
Yasna 28.1 (Bodleian MS J2)

The Avesta is a collection of the sacred texts of ancient Persia belonging to the Zoroastrian religion. They are preserved in two languages: the more ancient, referred to as Zend Avesta, in the Avestan language, the oldest attested Iranian language still very closely related to Sanskrit; the younger texts in Pahlavi, a Middle Iranian language.

The Avestas were collated over several hundred years. The oldest portion, the Gathas, are the hymns thought to have been composed by Zoroaster himself. The later portions constitute elaborations of Zoroastrian thinking along with detailed descriptions of ritual practices. The texts were transmitted orally for centuries, with the earliest written fixation known dating to 1278.

According to a Parsi legend the full text of the Avesta was burned by Alexander the Great at Ecbatana when he invaded Persia. It was later only partly reconstructed from the memories of Zoroastrian priests. This story is not generally accepted by scholars now, but it is acknowledged that the existing text of the Avesta is a fraction of the full texts that existed in antiquity, before the decline of the Zoroastrian faith.

Contents

History

The term Avesta or Apasta (Old Persian cuneiform Abast) dates to Sassanian times, probably meaning "law". The word Zend or Zand originally meant "commentary" or "translation", i.e. referring to Pahlavi glosses added to the Avestan text. Therefore, the Zend language was properly Pahlavi. The fact that the more ancient text is now referred to as Zend is a modern misunderstanding. Sir William Jones (in 1789) was told by a brahmin that the letters (the script) of the books was called Zend, and the language Avesta, and Anquetil Duperron (in 1759) was told that Zend was the name of the language of the more ancient writings. The confusion became then too universal in Western scholarship to be reversed, and Zend Avesta, although a misnomer, is still used to denote the older texts.

The texts became available to European scholarship comparatively late. Anquetil-Duperron travelled to East India in 1755, and discovered the text in Parsi communities, and published a French translation in 1771, based on a Persian translation supplied to him by a Parsi priest.

The manuscripts of the Zend Avesta were chiefly collected by Rasmus Rask on a visit to Bombay in 1820, who handed them to the University library of Copenhagen. Other manuscripts are preserved in the East-India-house, the British Museum, Oxford and in Paris. Rask's examination of the Avestan language (ber das Alter und die Echtheit der Zendsprache, 1826) first established that the texts must indeed be considered the remnants of a much larger literature of sacred texts of ancient Iran and Bactria.

Contents

There are two compendia, called Venidad sadah (consisting of the Yasna, Vispered and Venidad) and Khurdah Avesta (the "short Avesta"), who between them contain all Zend writings, but their contents is by no means fixed or canonical as in the case of the Bible, and they are rather collections for liturgical use, so that there is no received ordering of the different books. The texts themselves are in good correspondence across the various manuscripts, although the spelling varies significantly. There are three distinct books, the Yasna, the Vispered and the Venidad. The Yasna seem to be the oldest of these, and are quoted in the others. Individual hymns are called Yashts (the Hom Yasht is part of the Yasna, forming chapters 9–11). The Gathas form the oldest part of the Yasna.

Yasna

The Yasna (Pahlavi Izeschneh) or "oblations" (Sanskrit yajna) consist of 72 chapters called H. They are mainly invocations of various deities. Chapters 28–53 are the oldest part of the text, containing the Gths (songs), the only remaining direct testimony of the religion taught by Zoroaster.

  • 9–11 Hom Yasht
  • 28–34 Ahunavaiti Gatha
  • 35–42 Yasna Haptanghaiti
  • 43–46 Ushtavaiti Gatha
  • 47–50 Spentamainyush Gatha
  • 51 Vohukhshathra Gatha
  • 53 Vahishtoishti Gatha

Vispered

The Vispered (from vspe ratavo, "all lords") consists of 23 sections (kards). They are prayers, similar to the Yasna, but much shorter.

Venidad

The word Venidad is a corruption of Avestan v-dav-dta, "given against the devs (demons)", rendered in Pahlavi Juddivdad). The text consists of 22 Fargards. They are fragments with various scopes, arranged in the form of dialogues between Ahura Mazda and Zoroaster. The first Fargard contains a creation myth, the second the legend of Yima and the Golden Age, the remaining Fargards are mainly concerned with laws of religious purity and the pencances required to atone for various sins.

Yashts

The 24 Yashts are invocations of individual deities. They are an important source of Persian mythology (The older Hom Yasht is part of the Yasna and not counted among the 24 Yashts.)

  • 1. Ormazd
  • 2. Haptan
  • 3. Ardibehisht
  • 4. Khordaud
  • 5. Abaun
  • 6. Khurshied (Hymn to the Sun)
  • 7. Mauh (Hymn to the Moon)
  • 8. Tishter (Hymn to the Star Sirius)
  • 9. Gosh
  • 10. Mihir (Hymn to Mithra)
  • 11. Serosh
  • 12. Rashnu
  • 13. Fravardean (Hymn to the Guardian Angels)
  • 14. Bahram
  • 15. Ram
  • 16. Din
  • 17. Ashi
  • 18. Ashtad
  • 19. Zamyad
  • 20. Vanant (Hymn to the Star Vega)
  • 21. (Fragment, MS K20)
  • 22. (Fragment)
  • 23. Afrin-Paighambar-Zartusht (corrupt)
  • 24 Vishtasp (K4, L5, corrupt)

Other texts

Other, partly fragmentary, texts of the Khorda Avesta.

  • Nyaish
    • 1. Khurshied
    • 2. Mihir
    • 3. Mauh
    • 4. Abaun
    • 5. Atsh
    • 6. Neirng
  • Afrigans 1–3
  • Gahs
  • Sirozeh

References

  • N. L. Westergaard, Zendavesta, or the religious books of the Zoroastrians, Copenhagen, 1852–54.

External links

da:Avesta de:Avesta eo:Avesto fa:اوستا fr:Avesta it:Avesta ku:Avesta nl:Avesta ja:アヴェスター pl:Awesta ru:Авеста fi:Avesta sv:Avesta (olika betydelser)

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