The House of David

"dawnbreak in the west"

Saturday, December 12, 2015

The adoption of the Avesta

"Zoroastrianism" meant something for the Achaemenids and for the Parthians, and for their satellites like old Armenia. But if you want to know what something that was, don't read the Avesta.

The Avesta isn't a Persian text. It is composed in... some kind of Aryan language; it's not entirely clear what. What is clear is that the text belongs to Central Asia, like the Vedas.

The Sasanians are the first Iranian dynasty to notice the Avesta, as opposed to generally Iranian legends. There were lots of local Iranian cults that these Persians could have used - not least the cult of Mithra. (Or Mihr. Whatever.) It took the Persian kings until Yazdegird I in 399 AD to adopt the Avesta in particular, and to associate it with Zoroaster. They needed an eastern-Iranian focus to deal with the Hun states. Thus Richard Payne, "Reinvention of Iran", 282-99; 288. This to me seems much like how Peter Heather has shown the Roman Empire had earlier rearranged itself into a Byzantine empire, to counteract... the Sasanians.

The Persians accepted the Avesta, and I expect so did the guys who'd passed it to them in the first place. But in most of Iran, the local lords kept to whatever their own ancestors were doing. Thus Crone.

UPDATE 3/4/2017: ... And then, needing to push those dissident factions into the no-man's-land of "non canonical variants", the priesthood committed the Avesta to paper. Along with other works. On the writing of a text being such a weapon: Ruth Watson, '“Civil Disorder is the Disease of Ibadan”: Chieftaincy and Civic Culture in a Yoruba City' (Athens, OH: 2003), 7-23; Andrew Shryock, Nationalism and the Geneaological Imagination: Oral History and Textual Authority in Tribal Jordan (Berkeley and Los Angeles: 1997). Hat-tip to Philip Wood, 'Al-Ḥīra and Its Histories', Journal of the American Oriental Society 136.4 (2016), 791 and n. 44.

UPDATE 1/29/2017: yeah, I know, this goes below the later update. Two generations later, attempts to harmonise the Avesta with the Biblical tradition. Observe what is not being argued: a Scripture-based epistemology. This implies the Avesta wasn't just an oral fixed text (however that is even possible); if the Avesta was on par with the written Bible, the Avesta was written too, by then.

posted by Zimri on 15:31 | link | 0 comments

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