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Webster's Dictionary [1]

(n.) The sacred writings of the ancient Persian religion, attributed to Zoroaster, but chiefly of a later date.

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature [2]

is the name commonly given to the sacred books of the Parsees (q.v.), which are ascribed to Zoroaster (q.v.). The word avesta (avastha) means text, or orifiinal text; zend, or zand, means translation and paraphrase. According to the latest researches, it would seem as if only a small portion of the entire collection now extant were formed by avesta, or text, the rest being made up of zend, or commentary, without text. The term zend has changed its meaning repeatedly. Originally it indicated an authoritative interpretation coming from the highest source, which was in time embodied in the text itself. Later it came to denote a translation into the Pehlvi, or native idiom of Persia, made by the Zoroastrian priests during the Sassanian period. There is also a special zend doctrine which differs considerably from that contained in the avesta. A still further explanation of the zend doctrine is the pazend, a word which often occurs in connection with avesta and zend.

The doctrine of the "Magi," as the Zoroastrian priests were anciently called, as well as those of India and babylonia, is first alluded to in Jeremiah, where the chief of the Magi is mentioned among Nebuchadnezzar's retinue. In the New Test. ( Matthew 2:1) the Magi came to worship Jesus at Bethlehem. The earliest account among Greek writers is furnished by Herodotus. There are also accounts by Ctesias, the Greek physician of Artaxerxes II, by Denion, Theopomus, and Hermippus. But only fragments.from their writings remain, embedded chiefly in Plutarch and Diogenes Laertius. The writings of Pliny, Strabo, Pausanius, Dion. Chrysostomus also contain more or less information on the subject. Among the Armenian writers of the 5th century of our aera we find Eznik and Elizaeus, from whose records we may gather that the Zdroastrians at their time were split into two parties, the one called Mog, the other Zendik the former inhabiting chiefly Media and Persia, and acknowledging in the main the avesta; the latter living principally in Bactria, and following the traditional explanations, or zend proper. The nations of modern Europe came into contact with the adherents of Zoroastrianism in the western parts of India, and in the 17th century some MSS. of their sacred books were brought to England. But no one was able to read them; and Hyde himself, the celebrated Oxford scholar, was unable to make any use of them when, in 1700, he wrote his learned work on the Persian religion.

The key to this book was first obtained by Anquetil Duperron, a young Frenchman, who went to Bombay in 1754, and there prevailed on some of the dusturs, or learned priests, to introduce him into the mysteries of the holy language and rites. and to sell him some of their most valuable works written in it. In 1759 he commenced a translation of the whole Zend-Avesta. In 1761 he returned to Paris with one hundred and eighty MSS. in different Oriental languages, and in 1771 published in French the first European translation of the Zend-Avesta, to which was added a great deal of supplementary matter. This work produced a profound sensation throughout Europe. In England it was pronounced a forgery by almost all scholars. In France there was but one opinion, viz., that English scholars were trying to run down the work out of sheer spite and jealousy. In Germany, however, opinions were divided; for while some acceded to all the arguments arrayed against it, there arose another renowned German scholar, Kleuker, who, in token of his complete and unreserved trust in the genuienness, set about translating Anquetil's work into German, adding much supplementary matter. After the lapse of more than fifty years, Rash, a Danish scholar, undertook an investigation of the matter. In 1826 he wrote a pamphlet, in which he pointed out (as had been done before) the close affinity between the language of the Zend-Avesta and the Sanscrit, and proved it to be, not a corruption of Sanscrit, but a distinct language.' He, also proved that modern Persian is derived from Zend, as Italian from Latin, and this gave the key to many of the errors of Anquetil's version.

The learned dustur himself, from whom Anquetil derived his information of the language, possessed no grammatical knowledge of it. Rash had pointed out the way, Eugene Burnouf followed it. He, indeed, may be called the father of Zend philology. For more than twenty years this eminent scholar devoted all his energies to elucidating, commenting on, and discussing this language, and the sacred writings couched in it, and in publishing texts and translations. In Germany, Olshausen, Bopp, Miuller, Brockhaus, Spiegel, Haug, and in Copenhagen, Westergaard, have been busy ever since in editing and translating the Zend-Avesta or some portions of it. The Zend-Avesta was originally of very great extent, consisting of vastly more than at present. Pliny says that Zoroaster composed two million verses, and Attavari, an Arabian author, says that his writings covered twelve thousand cow-skins. But from the conquest of Persia by Alexander the Great, in 330 B.C., to the accession of the Sassanidae, in A.D. 235, the religion of Zoroaster and the wisdom of the Magi were thrown into the background by Greek ideas, and became nearly lost. When, however, the Sassanidae assumed the rule their principal endeavors were directed to the revival of the ancient faith, and their unceasing efforts after the ancient fragments of the Zoroastrian doctrine have resulted in the small collection which we now possess. The whole Scripture is said to have consisted of twenty-one nosks, or parts, each containing avesta and zend, that is, text and commentary. The number, twenty-one, was to correspond to the twenty-one words of which the most sacred prayer of the Zoroastrians (the Honovar) was composed. By the unanimous consent of both classical and Persian writers the whole bulk of the sacred literature is ascribed to Zoroaster himself. They are supposed to be the substance, or, as was subsequently held, the very words of divine revelations to the prophet in the form of conversations.

The name Zend-Avesta belongs more particularly to the three collections which are severally called Vendidad, Vispered, and Yasna, while the remaining writings are comprised under the name of Khorda-Avesta, or small Avesta. The latter contains short prayers, and especially the Yashts, or Yeshts, hymns addressed to the different genii, on the days which bear their names and are sacred to them, or on the days of those genii who are considered to be the attendants of the former.

The Vendidad consists of twenty-two fargards, or sections, which treat of cosmogony, and may be called the religious and civil code of the old Parsees. The first fargard relates how. Ahura- Mazda (now called Ormuzd), the good spirit, created the several countries and places (of which sixteen are named), excellent and perfect in their kind, but that Angro-Manyus (now called Ahriman), the evil or black spirit, created in opposition all the evils which infest these worlds. In the second fargard Zoroaster bids Yima announce to mankind the sacred law which he had taught him, but Yima refuses compliance with this behest. He then bids him enlarge the worlds and make them prosperous. This he obeys, and carries out the orders given him by Ahura-Mazda. The third fargard enumerates the five things which are the most agreeable, then the five tihings which are the most disagreeable, and afterwards the five things which convey the greatest satisfaction in this world. The fourth fargard may be termed the criminal code of the Avesta. It enumerates, in the first instance, various offences, which are considered to be so grave as to affect, not only the person, who commits them, but also his relatives, and then proceeds to define the punishments incurred by the offender. The eight following fargards contain injunctions in reference to impurities caused by dead bodies. The thirteenth fargard begins with the description of two kinds of dogs, the one created by Ahura-Mazda, the other by Angro-Manyus the killing of the former being a criminal, that of the latter a meritorious act; and the remaining part of the book is devoted to the proper treatment of dogs in general, while the same subject is continued in the fourteenth fargard, which enumerates also the penalties for injuring dogs. The treatment of young dogs is likewise the subject matter of the latter part of the fifteenth fargard, which, in its first sections, treats of sexual offences, and the bringing up of illegitimate children. The great care and attention given to dogs seems to have arisen from the fact that the country was infested with wolves. The sixteenth fargard teaches how to treat women when affected with impurities. The seventeenth fargard, treats of impurities caused by the cutting of hair and the trimming of nails. The next fargard is more of a mixed character; it treats of various ceremonies, and gives injunctions on cleanliness, decency, and moral conduct. The nineteenth fargard relates how Angro-Manyus endeavored to kill Zoroaster, but how the latter successfully defended himself with weapons given him by AhuraMazda. Then the evil spirit, being aware that it had no material power over Zoroaster, next resorted to temptations; but those, too, were defeated by the prophet, who now resolved to conquer the, evil spirit, and for this purpose addressed to Ahura-Mazda various questions on the rites of purification and the condition of souls after death. The twentieth fargard gives some information about the first mall who understood curing disease. The twenty-first fargard is devoted to the phenomena of the sky and the luminous bodies, and comprises invocations of the clouds, the sun, the moon, and the stars. The last fargard relates that AngroManyus, having engendered diseases, Ahura-Mazda is compelled to devise remedies against them. The book concludes with an account of the creation of various animals and other objects to this end. The form of all these fargards is nearly always that of a dialogue between Ahura-Mazda and Zoroaster, and the same form is occasionally observed in the two other portions of the Avesta, which differ materially from those of the Vendidad. The Vispered contains a collection of prayers, composed of twenty-three chapters, resembling the younger Yasna, next to be noticed, and referring to the same ceremonies. The Vispered and the Yasna bear prominently a liturgical character. All that can really be held to emanate from Zoroaster himself are the five Gathas, which form part of the Yasna. This Yasna consists principally of prayers to be recited at the sacrificial rites, such as the consecration of Zoothra, or holy water; of the Baresona, or bundle of twigs of a particular tree; the preparation of the sacred juice of the homa (Indian, soma, q.v.), taken to be an emblem of immortality; the offering of certain cakes, etc. The whole of the Yasna now comprises seventy-two chapters. It consists apparently of two parts belonging to different periods.

The older is written in what has been called the Gatha dialect, and was considered sacred even at the time when the other books of the Zend- Avesta were composed. This "older Yasna" was divided into the Gathas and some minor pieces. The former, five in number, are small collections of sacred prayers, songs, and hymns, arranged in meter, and exhibiting philosophical and abstract thoughts about metaphysical subjects. The name itself signifies song. Their metre resembles chiefly that of the Vedic hymns. They are without rhymes, and only the syllables are counted. The first bears the heading (which is implied as to the other four), "The Revealed Thought, the Revealed Word, the Revealed Deed of Zarathustra the Holy; the Archangels first sang the Gathas." They are all more or less devoted to exhortations on the part of the prophet, to forsake polytheism, and to bow only before Ahura-Mazda. The difference between monotheism and idolatry is pointed out in the respective sources whence they flow, "existence " and "nonexistence." The mission, activity, and teaching of Zoroaster are dwelt upon more or less in all the Gathas, but chiefly in the second. To the other portion belongs the "Yasna of Seven Chapters," which seems to have been composed by early disciples, and which consists of prayers, in prose, addressed to Ahura-Mazda, the angels, the fire, the earth, the waters, and other spiritual beings, genii presiding over the different parts of the good creation. There is also a chapter containing a formula by which the ancient Iranians were received into the new religious community. The so-called younger Yasna, written in the common Zend language, is of more varied contents, such as an invitation to Ahura-Mazda and all the good spirits to be present at the sacrifice, pieces referring to the preparation and drinking of the homa juice, the praises of the genius Serosh, and a commentary on the; most sacred prayers. The Yashts are in twenty-four divisions. Yasht (yesti) means worship by prayers and sacrifices, and in the Avesta indicates certain laudations of sacred persons and objects, called yazatas (izad), or angels; and in so far different in nature from the invocations in the Yasna and Vispered that, while in the latter the divine beings are invited promiscuously, the single yashts are addressed to individual minima. In these songs are also found the primary sources of the legends contained in the Shah-nameh.

There yet remain some smaller pieces. Khorda-Avesta, which are now used by the Parsees as common prayers, such as the five Nijayish, addressed to the sun, the moon, -the water, and the fire; the Afrigans, or blessings to be recited over a certain meal prepared for an angel or a deceased person; the five Gabs, or prayers to the angels set over the five different times of the day and night; and finally the Sirozah, or thirty days, being a calendar, or rather an enumeration, of the thirty divine beings that preside over each of the days. It is chiefly recited on the thirtieth day after the death of a man.

The religious belief taught in the Avesta rests on the dualism of the two great principles Ahura-Mazda or the good, and Angro-Manyus, or the evil principle. The genii subordinate to the former are the Amesha-spentas, six of whom are named in the Yasna, viz., Vohumano, who protects living beings; Asha-vahishta, or the genius of fire; Kshathra-vairya or the genius of metals; Spenta-armaiti, or the genius of earth; Hauroat, or the genius of water; and Ameretat, or the genius of the trees. They are severally. opposed by the Devas, or dsemons, subordinate to Angro-Manyus, viz., by Akomano, Andar, Saurva, Naonghaithi, Tauru, and Zairicha. Other dsemons are named in the Vendidad. The worshippers of fire belong to Ahura-Mazda, whereas the worshippers of the Devas are possessed by Angro-Manyus. (See Zoroaster).

The worship taught by Zoroaster seems to have been of the simplest kind, the adoration of fire by means of hymns and offerings, chiefly, if not exclusively, taken from the vegetable kingdom, an essential concomitant of the sacrifice being the juice of the homa (or soma), which occupies an important part also in the Vedic rites. This worship, however, must not be confounded with the complicated ritual of later periods of the Parsee creed, which assumed a similar development to that based by the Hindus on the Rigveda text, and is indicated by several portions of the Avesta, which cannot be looked upon as its earliest part. At the present day every Parsee child is taught to repeat long passages in the original Zend; but hardly a single word of that language is intelligible even to the Parsee priests or dusturs.

Literature. In the Zend language this consists chiefly of its translated text, the accompanying glosses, and a few independent works in the same language, the Huzvaresh, or literary Pehlevi, as the Bundehesh and the Din-karb, of much later date. It is an important aid to the understanding of the Avesta; yet its interpretation is not to be implicitly trusted. That part of the Zoroastrian literature which is composed in the socalled Parsmee dialect is of still more modern date and limited extent. Glosses or interpretations of the Avestan texts, called Pa-Zend, versions of certain portions of them and of Pehlevi texts, sundry invocations and ascriptions of praise, and expositions of Parsee doctrine constitute nearly its whole substance. Several passages of these texts were published in Spiegel's Parsee Grammar (Leipsic, 1851). After the settlement of the Parsees in India, a Sanscrit version of the Yasna and some other parts of the Avestan text was made by Nerioseugh. It has been published in a Latin transliteration by Spiegel (Leipsic, 1861). See Spiegel, Avesta; die heiligen Schrifteen der Parsen, aus dem Grundtext ubersetzt (Leipsic, 1852-63, 3 volumes; Eng. ed. of the same by Bleek, Lond. 1864); Haug, Essays (1st ed. Bombay, 1862); Havelacque, Grammaire de la Langue Zende (Paris. 1878); Harlesz, Avesta, Livre Sacre des Sectateurs de Zoroastre (Liege, 1875-78, 3 volumes); Burnouf, Vendidad-Sade; Olshausen, Vendidad Zend-Avesta; Rask, Alter und Echtheit der Zendsprache; Spiegel, Eranische Alterthumskunde (Leipsic, 1872, 1873, 2 volumes); Muller, Chips from a German Workshop, volume 1, lectures 5-8. For the language of the Zend-Avesta, see Pietraszenski, A br qge de la Gramnmaire Zend (Berlin, 1861, 8vo); Haug, Outlines of Zend Grammar (Bombay, 1862, 8vo).

The Nuttall Encyclopedia [3]

The name given to the sacred writings of the Guebres or Parsees, ascribed to Zoroaster, of which he was more the compiler than the author, and of which many are now lost; they represent several stages of religious development, and as a whole yield no consistent system.