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Pahlavi Texts, Part I (SBE05), E.W. West, tr. [1880], at

p. ix





THOUGH we must look to the Avesta for information regarding the main outlines of the Parsi religion, it is to Pahlavi writings we must refer for most of the details relating to the traditions, ceremonies, and customs of this ancient faith, which styles itself emphatically 'the good religion of the Mazdayasnians,' and calls its laity bahdînân, or 'those of the good religion.' In the fragments of the Avesta which still exist, we may trace the solid foundations of the religion, laid by philosophic bards and lawgivers of old, with many a mouldering column and massive fragment of the superstructure. erected upon them by the ancient priesthood. These are the last remnants of the faith held by Cyrus, the anointed of the Lord (Isaiah xlv. 1), the righteous one (Is. xli. 2), or eagle (Is. xlvi. 11), whom He called from the east, and the shepherd who performed His pleasure (Is. xliv. 28); scattered fragments of the creed professed by Darius in his inscriptions, when he attributes his successes to 'the will of Aûramazdâ;' and mouldering ruins of the comparatively pure religion of oriental 'barbarism,' which Alexander and his civilising Greek successors were unable wholly to destroy, and replace by their own idolatrous superstitions. While in the Pahlavi texts we, find much of the mediaeval edifice built by later Persian priest craft upon the old foundations, with a strange mixture of old and new materials, and exhibiting the usual symptom of declining powers, a strong insistence upon complex forms and minute details, with little of the freedom of treatment and simplicity of outline characteristic of the ancient bards.

p. x

To understand the relationship between these two classes of Parsi sacred writings, it must be observed that the Avesta and Pahlavi of the same scripture, taken together, form its Avesta and Zand, terms which are nearly synonymous with 'revelation and commentary.' Both words are derived from verbal roots implying 'knowledge;' Avesta being the Pahlavi avistâk, which may most probably be traced to the past participle of â, 'to,' + vid, 'to know,' with the meaning of 'what is announced' or 'declaration;' and Zand, being the Pahlavi form of Av. zainti (traceable in the word âzaintis), must be referred to the root zan, 'to know,' with the meaning of 'knowledge, understanding 1.' European scholars, misled probably by Muhammadan writers, have converted the phrase 'Avesta and Zand' into 'Zend-Avesta,' and have further identified Zand with the language of the Avesta. This use of the word Zand is, however, quite at variance with the practice of all Parsi writers who have been independent of European influence, as they apply the term Zand only to the Pahlavi translations and explanations of their sacred books, the original text of which they call Avesta. So that when they use the phrase 'Avesta and Zand' they mean the whole of any scripture, both the Avesta text and Pahlavi translation and commentary. And the latter, being often their only means of understanding the former, has now become of nearly equal authority with the Avesta itself. It is probable, indeed, that the first Zand was really written in the Avesta language, as we find many traces of such Avesta commentaries interpolated both in the Avesta and Pahlavi texts of the Parsi scriptures; but this is rather a matter of, European inference than of Parsi belief. The later (or Pahlavi) Zand appears also, in many places, to be merely a translation of this earlier (or Avesta) Zand, with additional explanations offered by the Pahlavi translators.

Regarding the sacredness of these Pahlavi translations, in the eyes of the Parsis, there can be no manner of doubt, so far as they cannot be shown to be inconsistent with the

p. xi

original Avesta text. But besides these translations there is another class of Pahlavi religious writings whose authority is more open to dispute. These writings are either translations and Zands of Avesta texts no longer extant, or they contain the opinions and decisions of high-priests of later times, when the Pahlavi language was on the decline. Such writings would hardly be considered of indisputable authority by any Parsi of the present day, unless they coincided with his own preconceived opinions. But for outsiders they have the inestimable value either of supplying numerous details of religious traditions and customs which would be vainly sought for elsewhere, or of being contemporary records of the religious ideas of the Parsis in the declining days of their Mazdayasnian faith. It is with a few of such writings this volume has to deal; but before describing them more minutely it will be desirable to give some account of the Pahlavi language in which they are written.


x:1 See Haug's Essays, on the Sacred Language, Writings, and Religion of the Parsis, second edition, London, 1878; pp. 121, 122.

Next: 2. The Pahlavi Language and Literature