ZEND-AVESTA, sacred book of Zoroastrianism containing its
cosmogony, law, and liturgy, the teachings of the prophet
(Zarathushtra)or Zardusht as Afghans call him. The extant Avesta is all that remains of a much
larger body of scripture, apparently Zoroaster's transformation of
a very ancient tradition. The voluminous manuscripts of the
original are said to have been destroyed when Alexander the Great
conquered Persia. The present Avesta was assembled from remnants
and standardized under the Sasanian kings (3rd-7th century AD).
Avesta is in five parts. Its religious core is a collection of
songs or hymns, the
thought to be in the main the very words of Zoroaster. They form a
middle section of the chief liturgical part of the canon, the
which contains the rite of the preparation and sacrifice of haoma.
is a lesser liturgical scripture, containing homages to a number
of Zoroastrian spiritual leaders. The
or Videvdat, is the main source for Zoroastrian law, both ritual
and civil. It also gives an account of creation and the first man,
are 21 hymns, rich in myth, to various yazatas (angels) and
ancient heroes. The
Avesta (or Little Avesta) is a group of minor texts, hymns,
and prayers for specific occasions.
literally means "interpretation of the Avesta." It
originally referred to the commonly used Farsi translation but
has often been used as the title of Western translations.
to Afghanland.com, The
early history of the religion and the personality of the
prophet Zoroaster are still matters of dispute. It may be inferred
from Zoroaster's own statement (in Yasna 33, 6) that the prophet
was a member of the priestly caste. It is thought that his
homeland was in Eastern Iran, or possibly in the Afghan mountains
and in was an ethnic Pashtun.
The prophet's dates are still much disputed. The older view was
that he lived circa 1000 B.C. but according to more recent
opinion, which is steadily increasing in favor, he lived at the
beginning of the Achaemenid period: this is based on a reference
to a prince and patron of Zoroaster in the Gathas who was called
Vishtaspa (Hystaspes). From the identity of the name with that of
the father of Darius I it is inferred that they were one and the
most complicated problems are those connected with the translation
of the Avesta and with the interpretation of its contents. It is
probably true to say that it is the most difficult religious
document in existence, that every attempt at translation also
involves an interpretation, and that nowhere is the saying "traduttore
- traditore" so applicable as here. It is certainly an
exaggeration to say that in many places in the Avesta we are still
at the stage of spelling out the letters and that some
translations are no more intelligible than the original text.
difficulties are due to the state in which the language of the
Avesta has come down to us. With this in mind the French
philologist Meillet has called the Avesta "un champ de ruines."
Avestan language was written in a phonetic script running from
right to left which was probably developed from Aramaic
characters. It is an old Iranian dialect the local name for which
is not known and which scholars have called (Old) Bactrian, Old
Median, Zend and finally Avestan. It is quite distinct from Old
Persian, the language of the Achaemenid inscriptions, which was
written in a simplified cuneiform script. Of the modern Farsi dialects
dari is probably the nearest to Avestan.