The Avesta texts fall into several different categories, arranged either by dialect , or by usage. The principal text in the liturgical group is the Yasna , which takes its name from the Yasna ceremony, Zoroastrianism's primary act of worship, and at which the Yasna text is recited. The most important portion of the Yasna texts are the five Gathas , consisting of seventeen hymns attributed to Zoroaster himself. These hymns, together with five other short Old Avestan texts that are also part of the Yasna , are in the Old or 'Gathic' Avestan language. The remainder of the Yasna 's texts are in Younger Avestan, which is not only from a later stage of the language, but also from a different geographic region. Extensions to the Yasna ceremony include the texts of the Vendidad and the Visperad.

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The manuscripts transmitting the preserved Avestan texts often also include their translation into Pahlavi [PT], the Zoroastrian Middle Persian language. The ritual texts of the minor ritual are transmitted in a more complicated way, with manuscripts containing different series of texts with or without Pahlavi translation. On the other hand, the collection of the ritual Avestan texts originally did not include the Pahlavi translation, since the translation plays no role in the Zoroastrian ritual.

Nevertheless, part of the extant manuscripts of the ritual Avesta also include the PT. So at a certain time a PT was also added to the ritual manuscripts.

In most of the cases the PT of the great Avesta was adapted to that of the ritual texts with only minor changes. In the case of the Yasna collection the translation process was more difficult. As for the rest of texts included in the Yasna collection, we are not sure whether they were included in the great Avesta, and thus we cannot know if their PTs were taken from the great Avesta or newly created.

The date of the adaptation process of the PT of the great Avesta to the ritual Avesta is uncertain. For the Yasna , the colophons of Mf4 and Pt4 inform us that the adaptation took place before Cantera and De Vaan, For the rest of the texts we do not have evidence of such an early date.

Therefore, we can conclude that this process started in the 10th century at the latest and concluded not later than the 13th century. The different translations were added to the Avestan texts probably between the 12th and 15th century.

The PT of the great Avesta used for the adaptation was the result of a previous canonization process. During the Sasanian period there were different exegetical schools with different translations and commentaries of some Avestan texts. The translations and opinions of these schools were transmitted mainly orally, but the existence of written versions even before the canonization process is not to be ruled out completely.

Although a canonical translation was chosen from among several translations and commentaries, alternative interpretations and exegetical debates of past and contemporary authorities were, nevertheless, also incorporated. Gignoux, , Cantera, , pp. The canonized translations were not homogeneous. The translations of the different texts were produced at different times, and only minor changes and commentaries were introduced later. In fact, a linguistic and philological analysis reveals chronological differences even among the translations included in the great Avesta.

The general organization of the PT is similar in all the translations. The translators divided the Avestan text into sentences with complete meaning and embedded the PT between the Avestan sentences. To each Avestan word there corresponds a word in the PT, and the word order of the Avestan text is mostly preserved, even though it is not always the conventional one in Middle Persian.

Very often glosses explaining some words are included, words necessary to make the resulting Pahlavi text understandable such as auxiliary verbs. In these commentaries, very often exegetical disputes among different opinions and schools are reproduced, so that they are our principal source of information about the exegetical traditions of the Avesta in Sasanian times.

The distribution of the long commentaries is not totally clear. The technique of the translation is very peculiar. It is a word-by-word translation. To each Avestan word a Pahlavi equivalent must correspond. The word order of the Avestan is also kept. The translation of every word is mostly consistent, even in different texts. Therefore the existence of an academic school of translators must be assumed. Despite the tendency to homogeneity in the translation, polysemy is often recognized.

There is a conscious endeavor to use, when possible, etymological correspondences of the Avestan words, and a considerable number of loanwords from the Avesta are found in the translation. Nevertheless, termini technici of the religious language are mostly translated, even if the loanword was usual in the religious language. Since the vocabulary used in the translation is not always usual in the Pahlavi literature, very often explanatory glosses are necessary.

Actually, the PT is more than just a word-by-word translation; it is an attempt to understand and translate the real meaning of an Avestan text. This implies in many cases a reinterpretation of the Avestan text divergent from its original intention. This is especially clear in the case of the translation of the Yasna Josephson, The quality of the PT and the advantages of its use as a tool for the understanding of the Avesta has long been a subject of discussion.

At present, this discussion has been definitely settled. For a long time it has been known that the quality of the different translations is not homogeneous: the old translations are more correct than the recent ones. However, their grammatical analyses are informative about their awareness, or lack of it, of Avestan grammar, but not about Avestan grammar itself. The PT is more useful in the field of lexicography. Since the translators very often give the meaning of Avestan words accurately, the PT is a useful tool, especially when comparative and philological methods do not allow sure results.

As for the interpretation of passages, it is evident that the PT is the result of an exegetical process in Sasanian times that involves an adaptation of the contents of the Avesta to a broadly new theological situation, so that the PT can hardly be adduced as an argument for interpretation of a passage.

The PT of the Avesta seems to be the result of the combination of two different exegetical traditions: 1 the Indo-Iranian exegesis of the sacred texts, and 2 the Jewish Bible exegesis, especially the Babylonian Talmud.

On the one hand, the Pahlavi translation continues the Indo-Iranian tradition of linguistic and rudimentary philological analysis of the sacred texts. This tradition was highly developed in India and only scarcely in Iran, but several common practices of linguistic analysis reveal their common ancestral origin Cantera, ; a.

The linguistic analysis was part of the oral learning of a text, and in Iran, when the Avestan language was no longer spoken or even understood, this analysis was substituted or complemented by a translation into the vernacular language. In fact, it seems likely that other translations in other Iranian languages existed.

On the other hand, the similarities and parallelisms between the Avesta exegesis and the Bible exegesis, especially the Babylonian Talmud, are very significant.

Both traditions share a main focus on legal debates and on the exegesis of the legal parts of the sacred texts, as well as the same dialectical pattern of reproducing the opinions of different exegetes, whether anonymous or mentioned by name. Also from the chronological point of view there are significant coincidences: in both cases there is a long oral exegetical tradition that was fixed around the end of the 5th century Babylonian Talmud and the 6th century Avesta exegesis.

The interrelation of these exegetical traditions has received little attention in the past, despite their similarities. Anklesaria and D. Transliteration and Translation in English, Bombay, Carol Bakhos and Rahim Shayegan, eds.

Villayandre Llamazares, Madrid, b, pp. Idem and M. Elman and I. Gershuni, eds. Le Boulluec, ed. Cereti and M. Maggi, eds. Deutscher Orientalistentag vom Voigt, Wiesbaden, , pp. Cantera, The Transmission of the Avesta , Wiesbaden, , pp.

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Topic select a topic Dhabhar, Zand-i Khurtak Avistak , Bombay, Idem, Pahlavi Yasna and Visperad. Bombay, Survey of the history and contents of the book. TAGS avesta middle persian. All Rights Reserved.

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The languages are known only from their use as the language of Zoroastrian scripture the Avesta , from which they derive their name. Both are early Iranian languages , a branch of the Indo-Iranian languages within the Indo-European family. Its immediate ancestor was the Proto-Iranian language , a sister language to the Proto-Indo-Aryan language , with both having developed from the earlier Proto-Indo-Iranian. As such, Old Avestan is quite close in grammar and lexicon to Vedic Sanskrit , the oldest preserved Indo-Aryan language.


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By using our site, you acknowledge that you have read and understand our Cookie Policy , Privacy Policy , and our Terms of Service. Linguistics Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for professional linguists and others with an interest in linguistic research and theory. It only takes a minute to sign up. I am looking at dictionaries of the avesta and old persian of which there isn't much, and would like to collect words in the old persian cuneiform and avestan script.


Avesta , also called Zend-avesta , sacred book of Zoroastrianism containing its cosmogony, law, and liturgy, the teachings of the prophet Zoroaster Zarathushtra. The voluminous manuscripts of the original are said to have been destroyed when Alexander the Great conquered Persia. The Avesta is in five parts. They form a middle section of the chief liturgical part of the canon, the Yasna , which contains the rite of the preparation and sacrifice of haoma. The Visp-rat is a lesser liturgical scripture, containing homages to a number of Zoroastrian spiritual leaders.


These doctrines were to become familiar articles of faith to much of mankind, through borrowings by Judaism, Christianity and Islam; yet it is in Zoroastrianism itself that they have their fullest logical coherence We provide the complete text of the extant Avesta , the most ancient scriptures of Zoroastrianism, as well as many Pahlavi scriptures. It also includes information about the Avestan language, and other useful information for students of Zoroastrian religion. Most of the texts in these archives are extremely rare. NOTE: Spelling of Zoroastrian technical terms has been normalized in these archives to facilitate searches. This is a humble effort to bring all our Zarathushti Groups together in a common prayer environment.

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