Avesta

Avesta

Overview
The Avesta is the primary collection of sacred texts of Zoroastrianism
Zoroastrianism
Zoroastrianism is a religion and philosophy based on the teachings of prophet Zoroaster and was formerly among the world's largest religions. It was probably founded some time before the 6th century BCE in Greater Iran.In Zoroastrianism, the Creator Ahura Mazda is all good, and no evil...

, composed in the Avestan language
Avestan language
Avestan is an East Iranian language known only from its use as the language of Zoroastrian scripture, i.e. the Avesta, from which it derives its name...

.

The texts of the Avesta — which are all in the Avestan language
Avestan language
Avestan is an East Iranian language known only from its use as the language of Zoroastrian scripture, i.e. the Avesta, from which it derives its name...

 — were composed over the course of several hundred years. The most important portion, the Gathas
Gathas
The Gathas are 17 hymns believed to have been composed by Zarathusthra himself. They are the most sacred texts of the Zoroastrian faith.-Structure and organization:...

, in 'Gathic' Avestan, are the hymns thought to have been composed by Zoroaster
Zoroaster
Zoroaster , also known as Zarathustra , was a prophet and the founder of Zoroastrianism who was either born in North Western or Eastern Iran. He is credited with the authorship of the Yasna Haptanghaiti as well as the Gathas, hymns which are at the liturgical core of Zoroastrianism...

 himself. The liturgical texts of the Yasna
Yasna
Yasna is the name of the primary liturgical collection of texts of the Avesta as well as the name of the principal Zoroastrian act of worship at which those verses are recited. The Yasna, or Izeshne, is primarily the name of the ceremony in which the entire book is recited and appropriate...

, which includes the Gathas, is partially in Older (i.e.
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Encyclopedia
The Avesta is the primary collection of sacred texts of Zoroastrianism
Zoroastrianism
Zoroastrianism is a religion and philosophy based on the teachings of prophet Zoroaster and was formerly among the world's largest religions. It was probably founded some time before the 6th century BCE in Greater Iran.In Zoroastrianism, the Creator Ahura Mazda is all good, and no evil...

, composed in the Avestan language
Avestan language
Avestan is an East Iranian language known only from its use as the language of Zoroastrian scripture, i.e. the Avesta, from which it derives its name...

.

Early transmission


The texts of the Avesta — which are all in the Avestan language
Avestan language
Avestan is an East Iranian language known only from its use as the language of Zoroastrian scripture, i.e. the Avesta, from which it derives its name...

 — were composed over the course of several hundred years. The most important portion, the Gathas
Gathas
The Gathas are 17 hymns believed to have been composed by Zarathusthra himself. They are the most sacred texts of the Zoroastrian faith.-Structure and organization:...

, in 'Gathic' Avestan, are the hymns thought to have been composed by Zoroaster
Zoroaster
Zoroaster , also known as Zarathustra , was a prophet and the founder of Zoroastrianism who was either born in North Western or Eastern Iran. He is credited with the authorship of the Yasna Haptanghaiti as well as the Gathas, hymns which are at the liturgical core of Zoroastrianism...

 himself. The liturgical texts of the Yasna
Yasna
Yasna is the name of the primary liturgical collection of texts of the Avesta as well as the name of the principal Zoroastrian act of worship at which those verses are recited. The Yasna, or Izeshne, is primarily the name of the ceremony in which the entire book is recited and appropriate...

, which includes the Gathas, is partially in Older (i.e. 'Gathic') 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
Yasht
The s are a collection of twenty-one hymns in Younger Avestan. Each of these hymns invokes a specific Zoroastrian divinity or concept. Yasht chapter and verse pointers are traditionally abbreviated as Yt....

 are in Younger Avestan and thought to date to the Achaemenid era (559–330 BC
330 BC
Year 330 BC was a year of the pre-Julian Roman calendar. At the time, it was known as the Year of the Consulship of Crassus and Venno...

). The Visprad and Vendidad
Vendidad
The Vendidad or Videvdat is a collection of texts within the greater compendium of the Avesta. However, unlike the other texts of the Avesta, the Vendidad is an ecclesiastical code, not a liturgical manual.-Name:...

, which are also in Younger Avestan, were probably composed even later but this is not certain. The Vendidad were written primarily for ritual purification
Ritual purification
Ritual purification is a feature of many religions. The aim of these rituals is to remove specifically defined uncleanliness prior to a particular type of activity, and especially prior to the worship of a deity...

. The Visparat, another group of writings in the 'Avesta', were believed to be made for the honor and prayer of the celestial lords.

Young Avesta's area of composition comprised - at least - Sīstān
Sistan
Sīstān is a border region in eastern Iran , southwestern Afghanistan and northern tip of Southwestern Pakistan .-Etymology:...

/Arachosia
Arachosia
Arachosia is the Latinized form of the Greek name of an Achaemenid and Seleucid governorate in the eastern part of their respective empires, around modern-day southern Afghanistan. The Greek term "Arachosia" corresponds to the Iranian land of Harauti which was between Kandahar in Afghanistan and...

, Herat
Herat
Herāt is the capital of Herat province in Afghanistan. It is the third largest city of Afghanistan, with a population of about 397,456 as of 2006. It is situated in the valley of the Hari River, which flows from the mountains of central Afghanistan to the Karakum Desert in Turkmenistan...

, Merv
Merv
Merv , formerly Achaemenid Satrapy of Margiana, and later Alexandria and Antiochia in Margiana , was a major oasis-city in Central Asia, on the historical Silk Road, located near today's Mary in Turkmenistan. Several cities have existed on this site, which is significant for the interchange of...

 and Bactria
Bactria
Bactria and also appears in the Zend Avesta as Bukhdi. It is the ancient name of a historical region located between south of the Amu Darya and west of the Indus River...

. It went through the following stages:
  1. The original language of the composers of grammatically correct YAv. texts; perhaps in Merv or Herat;
  2. Dialect influences as a result of the transfer of the Av. texts to Southeast Iran (Arachosia?);
  3. Transfer of the Avesta to Persis in Southwest Iran, possibly earlier than 500 B.C.;
  4. Transmission of the Avesta in a Southwest Iranian theological school, probably in Estakhr: Old Pers. and Mid. Pers.
    Middle Persian
    Middle Persian , indigenously known as "Pârsig" sometimes referred to as Pahlavi or Pehlevi, is the Middle Iranian language/ethnolect of Southwestern Iran that during Sassanid times became a prestige dialect and so came to be spoken in other regions as well. Middle Persian is classified as a...

     influences, the insistence on fantastic pronunciations by semi-learned schoolmasters (Av.
    Avestan language
    Avestan is an East Iranian language known only from its use as the language of Zoroastrian scripture, i.e. the Avesta, from which it derives its name...

     aēθrapaiti-), the composition of ungrammatical late Av. texts, the adaptation of portions of texts taken from other regions where they were recited;
  5. The end of the oral transmission: phonetic notation of the Avestan texts in the Sasanian archetype, probably in the fourth century A.D.;
  6. Post-Sasanian deterioration of the written transmission due to incorrect pronunciation (Vulgate);
  7. In the ninth and tenth centuries A.D. the manuscript copies of individual texts were made on which the extant manuscripts are based;
  8. Earlier manuscripts were copied in manuscripts dating from A.D. 1288 till the nineteenth century by scribes who introduced errors and corruptions. These are the manuscripts extant today.


The various texts are thought to have been transmitted orally for centuries before they found written form in the 3rd century. According to legend preserved in the Book of Arda Viraf
Book of Arda Viraf
The Book of Arda Viraf is a Zoroastrian religious text of Sassanid era in Middle Persian language,contains about 8,800 words. It describes the dream-journey of a devout Zoroastrian through the next world. Due to the ambiguity inherent to Pahlavi script, 'Viraf' may also be transliterated as...

, a 3rd or 4th century work, a written version of the religious texts had existed in the palace library of the Achaemenid kings (559–330 BC
330 BC
Year 330 BC was a year of the pre-Julian Roman calendar. At the time, it was known as the Year of the Consulship of Crassus and Venno...

), but which was then supposedly (Arda Viraf 1.4-7 and Denkard
Denkard
The Dēnkard or Dēnkart is a 10th century compendium of the Mazdaen Zoroastrian beliefs and customs. The Denkard is to a great extent an "Encyclopedia of Mazdaism" and is a most valuable source of information on the religion...

 3.420) lost in a fire caused by the troops of Alexander. However, neither assertion can be confirmed since the texts, if they existed, have been lost.

Nonetheless, Rasmus Christian Rask
Rasmus Christian Rask
Rasmus Rask was a Danish scholar and philologist.-Biography:...

 concluded that the texts must indeed be the remnants of a much larger literature, as Pliny the Elder
Pliny the Elder
Gaius Plinius Secundus , better known as Pliny the Elder, was a Roman author, naturalist, and natural philosopher, as well as naval and army commander of the early Roman Empire, and personal friend of the emperor Vespasian...

 had suggested in his Naturalis Historiae, where he describes one Hermippus of Smyrna having "interpreted two million verses of Zoroaster" in the 3rd century BC. Peter Clark in Zoroastrianism: An Introduction to an Ancient Faith (1998, Brighton) suggests the Gathas and older Yasna texts would not have retained their old-language qualities if they had only been orally transmitted.

Later redaction


According to the Dēnkard
Denkard
The Dēnkard or Dēnkart is a 10th century compendium of the Mazdaen Zoroastrian beliefs and customs. The Denkard is to a great extent an "Encyclopedia of Mazdaism" and is a most valuable source of information on the religion...

, a semi-religious work written in the 9th century, the king Volgash (thought to be the Parthia
Parthia
Parthia is a region of north-eastern Iran, best known for having been the political and cultural base of the Arsacid dynasty, rulers of the Parthian Empire....

n king Vologases I
Vologases I of Parthia
Vologases I of Parthia, sometimes called Vologaeses or Vologeses or, following Zoroastrian usage, Valakhsh ruled the Parthian Empire from about 51 to 78. Son of Vonones II by a Thracian concubine, he succeeded his father in 51 AD. He gave the kingdom of Media Atropatene to his brother Pacorus II,...

, c. 51
51
Year 51 was a common year starting on Friday of the Julian calendar. At the time, it was known as the Year of the Consulship of Caesar and Scipio...

78 AD
78
Year 78 was a common year starting on Thursday of the Julian calendar. At the time, it was known as the Year of the Consulship of Novius and Commodus...

) attempted to have the sacred texts collected and collated. The results of this undertaking (the so-called "Arsacid archetype"), if it occurred, have not survived.

All texts known today derive from a single master copy, now lost but known as the "Sassanian archetype", most likely a product of the 3rd or 4th century. According to tradition, in the 3rd century, the Sassanian emperor Ardashir I
Ardashir I
Ardashir I was the founder of the Sassanid Empire, was ruler of Istakhr , subsequently Fars Province , and finally "King of Kings of Sassanid Empire " with the overthrow of the Parthian Empire...

 (r. 226
226
Year 226 was a common year starting on Sunday of the Julian calendar. At the time, it was known as the Year of the Consulship of Severus and Marcellus...

-241 AD
241
Year 241 was a common year starting on Friday of the Julian calendar. At the time, it was known as the Year of the Consulship of Gordianus and Pompeianus...

) commanded his high priest Tonsar (or Tansar) to compile the theological texts. According to the Dēnkard
Denkard
The Dēnkard or Dēnkart is a 10th century compendium of the Mazdaen Zoroastrian beliefs and customs. The Denkard is to a great extent an "Encyclopedia of Mazdaism" and is a most valuable source of information on the religion...

, 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
Shapur II
Shapur II the Great was the ninth King of the Persian Sassanid Empire from 309 to 379 and son of Hormizd II. During his long reign, the Sassanid Empire saw its first golden era since the reign of Shapur I...

 (r. 309
309
Year 309 was a common year starting on Saturday of the Julian calendar. At the time, it was known as the Year of the Consulship of Licinianus and Constantius...

-379
379
Year 379 was a common year starting on Tuesday of the Julian calendar. At the time, it was known as the Year of the Consulship of Ausonius and Hermogenianus...

).

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 or may not 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, including the Chihrdad
Chihrdad
Čihrdād nask is one of the lost nasks of the Avesta and survives only as a summary preserved in Dēnkard 8.13.In the summary, the text is said to have been a history of mankind from the beginning down to the revelation of Zoroaster, and it was an important source for later works like the Šāhnāmeh of...

, has been lost since then, especially after the fall of the Sassanid empire
Sassanid Empire
The Sassanid Empire , known to its inhabitants as Ērānshahr and Ērān in Middle Persian and resulting in the New Persian terms Iranshahr and Iran , was the last pre-Islamic Persian Empire, ruled by the Sasanian Dynasty from 224 to 651...

, after which Zoroastrianism was supplanted by Islam
Islam
Islam . The most common are and .   : Arabic pronunciation varies regionally. The first vowel ranges from ~~. The second vowel ranges from ~~~...

. However, some secondary literature in Pahlavi purports to contain paraphrases or lists of contents of the lost books.

The origin of the term 'Avesta' is uncertain. The book "A Manual of Khshnoom" reads in its introduction (p. 36) that the words "Avesta" comes from "a" "negation of" and "vid", "[to] know" and thus is a teaching about the Unknown, the secret , . This is a Khshnoomian vision of the Avesta and of its etymology. A derivation from Middle Persian
Middle Persian
Middle Persian , indigenously known as "Pârsig" sometimes referred to as Pahlavi or Pehlevi, is the Middle Iranian language/ethnolect of Southwestern Iran that during Sassanid times became a prestige dialect and so came to be spoken in other regions as well. Middle Persian is classified as a...

 , meaning "praise", is a frequently noted possibility.

European scholarship


The texts became available to European scholarship comparatively late. Abraham Anquetil-Duperron
Abraham Hyacinthe Anquetil-Duperron
Abraham Hyacinthe Anquetil-Duperron was the first professional French scholar of Indian culture. He conceived the institutional framework for the new profession. He inspired the founding of the Ecole francaise d'extreme orient a century after his death and, later still, the founding of the...

 travelled to India
India
India , officially the Republic of India , is a country in South Asia. It is the seventh-largest country by geographical area, the second-most populous country with over 1.2 billion people, and the most populous democracy in the world...

 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
Mumbai
Mumbai , formerly known as Bombay in English, is the capital of the Indian state of Maharashtra. It is the most populous city in India, and the fourth most populous city in the world, with a total metropolitan area population of approximately 20.5 million...

) 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 Royal Danish Library, Copenhagen. Other manuscripts are preserved in the East India House
East India House
East India House in Leadenhall Street in the City of London in England was the headquarters of the British East India Company. It was built on the foundations of the Elizabethan mansion Craven House, the London residence of Sir William Craven, Lord Mayor of London, to designs by the merchant and...

, the British Museum
British Museum
The British Museum is a museum of human history and culture in London. Its collections, which number more than seven million objects, are amongst the largest and most comprehensive in the world and originate from all continents, illustrating and documenting the story of human culture from its...

 in London, the Bodleian library
Bodleian Library
The Bodleian Library , the main research library of the University of Oxford, is one of the oldest libraries in Europe, and in Britain is second in size only to the British Library...

 at Oxford
University of Oxford
The University of Oxford is a university located in Oxford, United Kingdom. It is the second-oldest surviving university in the world and the oldest in the English-speaking world. Although its exact date of foundation is unclear, there is evidence of teaching as far back as 1096...

, and at various university libraries in Paris
Paris
Paris is the capital and largest city in France, situated on the river Seine, in northern France, at the heart of the Île-de-France region...

.

The Zend


The word Zend or Zand, literally meaning "interpretation", refers to late Middle Persian
Middle Persian
Middle Persian , indigenously known as "Pârsig" sometimes referred to as Pahlavi or Pehlevi, is the Middle Iranian language/ethnolect of Southwestern Iran that during Sassanid times became a prestige dialect and so came to be spoken in other regions as well. Middle Persian is classified as a...

 (see Pazend and Pahlavi) language paraphrases of and commentaries on the individual Avestan books: they could be compared with the Jewish Targum
Targum
Taekwondo is a Korean martial art and the national sport of South Korea. In Korean, tae means "to strike or break with foot"; kwon means "to strike or break with fist"; and do means "way", "method", or "path"...

s. 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) non-Avestan-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
Sacred language
A sacred language, "holy language" , or liturgical language, is a language that is cultivated for religious reasons by people who speak another language in their daily life.-Concept:...

.

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
Yasna
Yasna is the name of the primary liturgical collection of texts of the Avesta as well as the name of the principal Zoroastrian act of worship at which those verses are recited. The Yasna, or Izeshne, is primarily the name of the ceremony in which the entire book is recited and appropriate...

, Visperad
Visperad
Visperad or Visprad is either a particular Zoroastrian religious ceremony, or the name given to a passage collection within the greater Avesta compendium of texts....

 and Vendidad
Vendidad
The Vendidad or Videvdat is a collection of texts within the greater compendium of the Avesta. However, unlike the other texts of the Avesta, the Vendidad is an ecclesiastical code, not a liturgical manual.-Name:...

 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 Zend as the name of a language or script. In 1759, Anquetil-Duperron
Abraham Hyacinthe Anquetil-Duperron
Abraham Hyacinthe Anquetil-Duperron was the first professional French scholar of Indian culture. He conceived the institutional framework for the new profession. He inspired the founding of the Ecole francaise d'extreme orient a century after his death and, later still, the founding of the...

 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
William Jones (philologist)
Sir William Jones was an English philologist and scholar of ancient India, particularly known for his proposition of the existence of a relationship among Indo-European languages...

 mentions a conversation with a Hindu priest who told him that the script was called Zend, and the language Avesta. This is considered a misunderstanding of the term pazend, which actually refers to the use of the Avestan alphabet
Avestan alphabet
The Avestan alphabet is a writing system developed during Iran's Sassanid era to render the Avestan language.As a side effect of its development, the script was also used for Pazend, a method of writing Middle Persian that was used primarily for the Zend commentaries on the texts of the Avesta...

 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.

Structure and content


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
Avestan language
Avestan is an East Iranian language known only from its use as the language of Zoroastrian scripture, i.e. the Avesta, from which it derives its name...

 are considered part of the Avesta.

There are strong linguistic and cultural similarities between the texts of the Avesta and those of the Rigveda
Rigveda
The Rigveda is an ancient Indian sacred collection of Vedic Sanskrit hymns...

; the similarities are assumed to reflect the common beliefs of Proto-Indo-Iranian
Proto-Indo-Iranian language
Proto-Indo-Iranian is the reconstructed proto-language of the Indo-Iranian branch of Indo-European. Its speakers, the hypothetical Proto-Indo-Iranians, are assumed to have lived in the late 3rd millennium BC, and are usually connected with the early Andronovo archaeological...

 times, with the differences then assumed to reflect independent evolution that occurred after the pre-historical split of the two cultures.

According to Denkard
Denkard
The Dēnkard or Dēnkart is a 10th century compendium of the Mazdaen Zoroastrian beliefs and customs. The Denkard is to a great extent an "Encyclopedia of Mazdaism" and is a most valuable source of information on the religion...

, the 21 nasks (books) mirror the structure of the 21-word-long Ahuna Vairya prayer: each of the three lines of the prayer consists of seven words. Correspondingly, the nasks are divided into three groups, of seven volumes per group. Originally, each volume had a word of the prayer as its name, which so marked a volume’s position relative to the other volumes. Only about a quarter of the text from the nasks has survived until today.

The contents of the Avesta are divided topically (even though the organization of the nasks is not), but these are not fixed or canonical. Some scholars prefer to place the categories in two groups, the one liturgical, and the other general. The following categorization is as described by Jean Kellens (see bibliography, below).

The Yasna



The Yasna (from yazišn "worship, oblations", cognate with Sanskrit yajña
Yajna
In Hinduism, yajna is a ritual of sacrifice derived from the practice of Vedic times. It is performed to please the gods or to attain certain wishes...

), is the primary liturgical collection, named after the ceremony at which it is recited. It consists of 72 sections called the Ha-iti or Ha. The 72 threads of lamb's wool in the Kushti
Kushti
Kushti is the sacred girdle worn by Zoroastrians around their waists. Along with the Sedreh, the Kushti is part of the ritual dress of the Zoroastrians....

, the sacred thread worn by Zoroastrians, represent these sections. The central portion of the Yasna is the Gathas
Gathas
The Gathas are 17 hymns believed to have been composed by Zarathusthra himself. They are the most sacred texts of the Zoroastrian faith.-Structure and organization:...

, the oldest and most sacred portion of the Avesta, believed to have been composed by Zarathushtra (Zoroaster)
Zoroaster
Zoroaster , also known as Zarathustra , was a prophet and the founder of Zoroastrianism who was either born in North Western or Eastern Iran. He is credited with the authorship of the Yasna Haptanghaiti as well as the Gathas, hymns which are at the liturgical core of Zoroastrianism...

 himself. The Gathas are structurally interrupted by the Yasna Haptanghaiti
Yasna Haptanghaiti
The Yasna Haptanghaiti , Avestan for "Worship in Seven Chapters," is a set of 7 hymns within the greater Yasna collection, that is, within the primary liturgical texts of the Zoroastrian Avesta.-Age and importance:...

 ("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 younger Yasna, though handed down in prose, may once have been metrical, as the Gathas still are.

The Visperad


The Visperad (from vîspe 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 Vidēvdāt, a corruption of Avestan Vî-Daêvô-Dāta, "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
Ahura Mazda
Ahura Mazdā is the Avestan name for a divinity of the Old Iranian religion who was proclaimed the uncreated God by Zoroaster, the founder of Zoroastrianism...

 and Zoroaster. The first fargard is a dualistic creation myth, followed by the description of a destructive winter on the lines of the deluge 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
Breach of contract
Breach of contract is a legal cause of action in which a binding agreement or bargained-for exchange is not honored by one or more of the parties to the contract by non-performance or interference with the other party's performance....

, 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
Moral relativism
Moral relativism may be any of several descriptive, meta-ethical, or normative positions. Each of them is concerned with the differences in moral judgments across different people and cultures:...

 apparent in the codes of conduct. The Vendidads 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 moral 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 Yashts



The Yasht
Yasht
The s are a collection of twenty-one hymns in Younger Avestan. Each of these hymns invokes a specific Zoroastrian divinity or concept. Yasht chapter and verse pointers are traditionally abbreviated as Yt....

s (from yešti, "worship by praise") are a collection of 21 hymns, each dedicated to a particular divinity or divine concept. Three hymns of the Yasna liturgy that "worship by praise" are—in tradition—also nominally called yashts, but are not counted among the Yasht collection since the three are a part of the primary litury. The Yashts vary greatly in style, quality and extent. In their present form, they are all in prose but analysis suggests that they may at one time have been in verse.

The Siroza

The Siroza ("thirty days") is an enumeration and invocation of the 30 divinities presiding over the days of the month. (cf. Zoroastrian calendar
Zoroastrian calendar
This article treats of the reckoning of days, months and years in the calendar used by adherents of the Zoroastrian faith. Zoroastrian religious festivals are discussed elsewhere, but have a fixed relationship to Nawruz, the New Year festival, whose timing is discussed below...

). The Siroza exists in two forms, the shorter ("little Siroza") is a brief enumeration of the divinities with their epithets in the genitive. The longer ("great Siroza") has complete sentences and sections, with the yazatas being addressed in the accusative.

The Siroza is never recited as a whole, but is a source for individual sentences devoted to particular divinities, to be inserted at appropriate points in the liturgy depending on the day and the month.

The Khordeh Avesta

The Khordeh Avesta ("little Avesta") is both a selection of verses from the other collections, as well as three sub-collections that do not appear elsewhere. Taken together, the Khordeh Avesta is considered the prayer book for general lay use. In a wider sense, the term Khordeh Avesta includes all material other than the Yasna
Yasna
Yasna is the name of the primary liturgical collection of texts of the Avesta as well as the name of the principal Zoroastrian act of worship at which those verses are recited. The Yasna, or Izeshne, is primarily the name of the ceremony in which the entire book is recited and appropriate...

, the Visparad and the Vendidad
Vendidad
The Vendidad or Videvdat is a collection of texts within the greater compendium of the Avesta. However, unlike the other texts of the Avesta, the Vendidad is an ecclesiastical code, not a liturgical manual.-Name:...

, as it is only the ceremonies contained in these three books that are reserved for the priests.

The Khordeh Avesta is divided into 4 sections:
  1. Five introductory chapters, accompanied by excerpts from different parts of the Yasna
    Yasna
    Yasna is the name of the primary liturgical collection of texts of the Avesta as well as the name of the principal Zoroastrian act of worship at which those verses are recited. The Yasna, or Izeshne, is primarily the name of the ceremony in which the entire book is recited and appropriate...

    .
  2. Five Niyayishns "praises," addressed to the sun, Mithra, the moon, the waters, and the fire. In the main, the material overlaps with that of the Yashts. The Niyayishn to fire derives from Yasna 62.
  3. Five Gahs "moments of the day," addressed to the five divisions of the day.
  4. Four Afrinagans "blessings," each recited on a particular occasion: the first in honor of the dead, the second on the five epagomenal days that end the year, the third is recited at the six seasonal feasts, and the fourth at the beginning and end of summer.

Fragments

All material in the Avesta that is not already present in one of the other categories falls into a "fragments" category, which - as the name suggests - includes incomplete texts. There are altogether more than 20 fragment collections, many of which have no name (and are then named after their owner/collator) or only a Middle Persian name. The more important of the fragment collections are the Nirangistan fragments (18 of which constitute the Ehrbadistan); the Pursishniha "questions," also known as "Fragments Tahmuras"; the Aogemadaeca "we accept," a treatise on death; and the Hadokht Nask "volume of the scriptures" with two fragments of eschatological significance.

Other Zoroastrian religious texts


Only texts preserved in the Avestan language
Avestan language
Avestan is an East Iranian language known only from its use as the language of Zoroastrian scripture, i.e. the Avesta, from which it derives its name...

 count as scripture and are part of the Avesta. Several other secondary works are nonetheless crucial to Zoroastrian theology and scholarship.

The most notable among the Middle Persian texts are the Dēnkard
Denkard
The Dēnkard or Dēnkart is a 10th century compendium of the Mazdaen Zoroastrian beliefs and customs. The Denkard is to a great extent an "Encyclopedia of Mazdaism" and is a most valuable source of information on the religion...

 ("Acts of Religion"), dating from the 9th century; the Bundahishn
Bundahishn
Bundahishn, meaning "Primal Creation", is the name traditionally given to an encyclopædiaic collections of Zoroastrian cosmogony and cosmology written in Book Pahlavi. The original name of the work is not known....

 ("Primordial Creation"), finished in the 11th or 12th century, but containing older material; the Mainog-i-Khirad ("Spirit of Wisdom"), a religious conference on questions of faith; and the Arda Viraf Namak
Book of Arda Viraf
The Book of Arda Viraf is a Zoroastrian religious text of Sassanid era in Middle Persian language,contains about 8,800 words. It describes the dream-journey of a devout Zoroastrian through the next world. Due to the ambiguity inherent to Pahlavi script, 'Viraf' may also be transliterated as...

 ("Book of Arda Viraf"), which is especially important for its views on death, salvation and life in the hereafter. Of the post-14th century works (all in New Persian), only the Sad-dar ("Hundred Doors, or Chapters"), and Rivayats (traditional treatises) are of doctrinal importance. Other texts such as Zartushtnamah ("Book of Zoroaster") are only notable for their preservation of legend and folklore.

Texts and translations

  • There is a three-volume text of the Avesta, in its original script, edited by Karl Friedrich Geldner
    Karl Friedrich Geldner
    Karl Friedrich Geldner was a German linguist best known for his analysis and synthesis of Avestan and Vedic Sanskrit texts.-Biography:...

    .
  • Reichelt, Avesta Reader, contains extracts, some in the original script and some in Bartholomaean transcription.
  • A full translation by James Darmesteter
    James Darmesteter
    James Darmesteter was a French author, orientalist, and antiquarian.He was born of Jewish parents at Château-Salins, in Alsace. The family name had originated in their earlier home of Darmstadt...

     and L. H. Mills
    Lawrence Heyworth Mills
    The Rev. Dr. Lawrence Heyworth Mills , who generally published as L. H. Mills, was Professor of the Persian language at Oxford University.Mills was born in New York City to Philo L. Mills and Elizabeth Caroline Kane....

     forms part of the Sacred Books of the East
    Sacred Books of the East
    The Sacred Books of the East is a monumental 50-volume set of English translations of Asian religious writings, edited by Max Müller and published by the Oxford University Press between 1879 and 1910...

     series, but is now regarded as obsolete.

Further reading