The Zend Avesta, Part 1
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Pages (PDF): 282
Publication Date: 1880
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Volume IV of the Sacred Books of The East series, this is Part 1 of the ancient Zoroastrian text, the Zend Avesta and this part covers the Venidad. In the introduction, you can read about the discovery of the Zend Avesta, the interpretation, the formation and the origin of it, and the Avesta religion. The book then moves on to the actual translation of the sacred text.
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THE Zend-Avesta is the sacred book of the Parsis, that is to say, of the few remaining followers of that religion which feigned over Persia at the time when the second successor of Mohammed overthrew the Sassanian dynasty , and which has been called Dualism, or Mazdeism, or Magism, or Zoroastrianism, or Fire-worship, according as its main tenet, or its supreme God , or its priests, or its supposed founder, or its apparent object of worship has been most kept in view. In less than a century after their defeat, nearly all the conquered people were brought over to the faith of their new rulers, either by force, or policy, or the attractive power of a simpler form of creed. But many of those who clung to the faith of their fathers, went and sought abroad for a new home, where they might freely worship their old gods, say their old prayers, and perform their old rites. That home they found at last among the tolerant Hindus, on the western coast of India and in the peninsula of Guzerat . There they throve and there they live still, while the ranks of their co-religionists in Persia are daily thinning and dwindling away .
As the Parsis are the ruins of a people, so are their sacred books the ruins of a religion. There has been no other great belief in the world that ever left such poor and meagre monuments of its past splendour. Yet great is the value which that small book, the Avesta, and the belief of that scanty people, the Parsis, have in the eyes of the historian and theologist, as they present to us the last reflex of the ideas which prevailed in Iran during the five centuries which preceded and the seven which followed the birth of Christ, a period which gave to the world the Gospels, the Talmud, and the Qur’ân. Persia, it is known, had much influence on each of the movements which produced, or proceeded from, those three books; she lent much to the first heresiarchs, much to the Rabbis, much to Mohammed. By help of the Parsi religion and the Avesta, we are enabled to go back to the very heart of that most momentous period in the history of religious thought, which saw the blending of the Aryan mind with the Semitic, and thus opened the second stage of Aryan thought. Inquiries into the religion of ancient Persia began long ago, and it was the old foe of Persia, the Greek, who first studied it. Aristotle , Hermippus ; and many others wrote of it in books of which, unfortunately, nothing more than a few fragments or merely the titles have come down to us. We find much valuable information about it, scattered in the accounts of historians and travellers, extending over ten centuries, from Herodotus down to Agathias and Procopius.
It was never more eagerly studied than in the first centuries of the Christian era; but that study had no longer anything of the disinterested and almost scientific character it had in earlier times. Religious and philosophic sects, in search of new dogmas, eagerly received whatever came to them bearing the name of Zoroaster. As Xanthus the Lydian, who is said to have lived before Herodotus, had mentioned Zoroastrian Λόγια , there came to light, in those later times, scores of oracles, styled Λόγια τοῦ Ζωροάστρου, or 'Oracula Chaldaïca sive Magica,' the work of Neo-Platonists who were but very remote disciples of the Median sage. As his name had become the very emblem of wisdom, they would cover with it the latest inventions of their ever-deepening theosophy. Zoroaster and Plato were treated as if they had been philosophers of the same school, and Hierocles expounded their doctrines in the same book. Proclus collected seventy Tetrads of Zoroaster and wrote commentaries on them ; but we need hardly say that Zoroaster commented on by Proclus was nothing more or less than Proclus commented on by Proclus. Prodicus the Gnostic had secret books of Zoroaster ; and upon the whole it may be said that in the first centuries of Christianity, the religion of Persia was more studied and less understood than it had ever been before. The real object aimed at, in studying the old religion, was to form a new one.
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