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4. Zoroastrianism


Subject Religion

Key-Topics Zoroastrianism

DOI: 10.1111/b.9780631182757.1996.00006.x


Zoroastrianism has a long oral tradition. Its prophet Zarathushtra (known in the West as Zoroaster) lived before the Iranians knew of writing, and for many centuries his followers refused to use this alien art for sacred purposes. The Avesta, their collection of holy texts, was finally set down in a specially invented alphabet in the fourth/fifth centuries ce . Its language, known simply as Avestan, is otherwise unrecorded. The small corpus of ‘Old Avestan’ texts is attributed to the prophet himself, and consists of the seventeen Gathas (hymns), Yasna Haptanhaiti (‘Worship of the Seven Chapters’, a short liturgy accompanying the daily act of priestly worship), and two very holy manthras. All ‘Young Avestan’ texts are the composite works of generations of anonymous priestly poets and scholars. The whole Avesta was written down in Iran, under the Sasanian dynasty, and was then a massive compilation in twenty-one books. Only a few copies were made, and in the destruction which later attended the Arab, Turkish and Mongol conquests of Iran all were destroyed. The surviving Avesta consists of liturgies, hymns and prayers. The manuscript tradition goes back to Sasanian times, but the oldest existing manuscript was written in 1323 ce . The Avesta has been printed [ 13 ], and translations exist in German, French, English, Gujarati and Persian. None can be regarded as authoritative, ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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