Open main menu

Page:Catholic Encyclopedia, volume 2.djvu/191

This page needs to be proofread.




(vhich is not coirmion in the Avesta. They are of especial interest historically on account of .iie limpses they afford us of the great mythological and legendary material in the folklore of ancient Iran used so effectively by FirdausI in his great epic of the Persian kings, the "Shah Namah". Among

M\?iDSCRiPT OF One of the Oldest Yashts (a.d. 1000) Library of Columbia University, New York

the di\-inities to whom special yashts are devoted we find Ardvl Sura, the goddess of waters; Tishtrj-a, the star Sirius; Mithra, the divinity of light and truth; the Fravashis, or departed souls of the right- eous, Verethragna, the genius of Victorj' and the Kavaya Hvarenah, "kingly glorj-, the divine light illuminating the ancient kings of Iran.

(4) The fourth division (minor texts) comprises brief prayers, like the five Nyaishes (to the Sun, Moon, Mithra, Water, and Fire), the Gahs, Slruzas, and Afringdns (blessings). These selections form a manual of daily devotion.

(.5) The fifth division, Vendldad (from vi daeva data, "law against the demons"), is the religious law code of Zoroastrianism and comprises twenty-two jar- gards (chapters). It begins with an account of Creation in which Ormuzd, the god, is thwarted by Ahriman, the devil; then it describes the occurrence of a destructive winter, a sort of Iranian deluge. The remainder of the book is largely devoted to elaborate prescriptions with regard to ceremonial purification, especially the cleansing from defile- ment incurred by contact with the dead, and to a list of special penances unposed as a means of aton- ing for impurity. The Vendldad is an ecclesiastical code, not a liturgical manual. Its 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 Avesta does not represent the whole of the sacred scriptures of the Parsees. It is supplemented by an extensive Pahlavi literature, consisting in part of translations from the sacred canon and in part of original matter. The most notable Pahlavi works belonging here are the Dinhard (Acts of Re- ligion), dating from the ninth centurj' of tlie Christian Era; Bundahishn, "Original Creation", finished in the eleventh or twelfth century of the Christian Era, but containing material as old as the Avesta itself, lieing in part a version of one of the original nasks; the Mainog-i-Khirad (Spirit of Wisdom), a re-

ligious conference on questions of faith, and the Arda V^raf Xamak, a sort of Zoroastrian " Divina Commedia", which is especially important because of its account of the Persian ideas concerning the future hfe. There is also some later Zoroastrian literature in modern Persian, comprising works hke the Zartiishtymmah (Book of Zoroaster), the Sad-dar (Hundred Doors, or Chapters), the Ri- vat/ats (traditional treatises).

L.\XGU.\GE. — The language of the Avesta is best designated simply as Avestan, not as Zend, for the reason.s given in the beginning of this article. Nor is Old Bactrian a desirable term, since it is by no means proved that the language of the Avesta was spoken in ancient Bactria. The Avestan language is an Indo-Germanic tongue and belongs more specifically to the Iranian group, the other mem- bers being the Old Persian of the cuneiform in- scriptions, the Pahlavi, and Pazend (or Middle Iranian), and the later dialects, New Persian, Kur- dish, Afghan, etc. The Avestan speech is very closely related to Sanskrit; in fact, we are able to transpose any v.ord from one language into the other by the apj^lication of special phonetic laws. The script employed in the Avestan texts, as we have them, is not so old as the language itself, but dates from the Sassanian period. It is read from right to left and can be traced ultimately to a Semi- tic source. It is not known in what script the original Avesta was recorded.

ZoRO.\STER. — It can no longer be doubted that Zoroaster was a real historical personage. The attempts of some scholars to represent him as a mythical being have failed, even though nmch that is related about his life is legendary, as in the case of Buddha. The man Zoroaster in the original te.xts appears as Zarathushtra, from which Zoroaster, our present form of the prophet's name, is derived through the Greek and Latin. The A\'esta always writes Zarathushira; the Pahlavi has Zartusht; the modern Persian, Zardusht. What the meaning of the name is, cannot be stated posi- tively. All that we know is that the name is a compound, and that the second element, ushtra, means "camel"; the first part has been variously rendered as "old", "lively", "golden", "plough- ing", etc. There has been much discussion as to the date when the prophet lived. The traditional date in the Pahla\'i books places his era between the earlier half of the seventh and the si.xth cen- tury B. c, or, more specifically, 660-.583 B. c; but many scholars assign him to a century, or even several centuries, earlier. There is also much un- certainty regarding his birthplace and the details of his life. He was undoul:)fedly born in Western Iran, but much of his ministry was in Eastern Iran. From Western Iran, more specifically Azerbaijan (the ancient Atropatene), he seems to have gone to Ragha (Rai) in Media, and when his mission did not meet with success in that region he turned to the East, to Bactria. There a certain king named Vishtaspa became converted to his creed, and through the generous patronage of this powerful defender of the faith the new religion soon gained a firm footing. Presumably, the faith was carried from Bactria to Media, whence it spread into Persia and was accepted in all probability by the great Achxmenian kings. In the case of Cjtus there is some doubt whether he was an adherent of Zoroastrian law, but Darius was a pronounced Mazda-worshipper and presumably, therefore, a true Zoroastrian, as we know that the last kings of the Acha?menian dynasty were genuine followers of the religion. If tradition can be believed, Zoroaster began his ministry at the age of thirty, made a convert, when he was forty-two, of King Vishtaspa, and was slain at the age of seventy-seven, when the Tura-