The House of David

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Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Hintze's evidence for an Achaemenid Avesta

I’ve been harping here on a pet theory that the Avesta is a Sasanian-era import to that Mazdaean religion today called Zoroastrianism. Newcomers (especially we Jews and Christians) tend to assume that the Avestan material, or at least the Gatha hymns in it, were canonical in the western Iranshahr during the time of the Bible. I am a newcomer too, but not a trusting one – I aim, as Darius claimed, to be an-arîka. So if I'm to accept a Persian-era Avesta, I want an argument.

Today I have tracked down such an argument: Almut Hintze, "Zarathustra’s Time and Homeland: Linguistic Perspectives" ed. Michael Strausberg, Wiley Blackwell Companion to Zoroastrianism (2015), 31-8.

Hintze does a fine job explaining “the Avesta”: that this is a collection, layered, in several now-dead Iranian languages, which languages were themselves not necessarily in direct descent. (I am reminded of Tocharian A and Tocharian B, or of Hurrian and Urartian. Or of “Maya”.) But I find Hintze’s argument for early Persian knowledge of Avestan text to be overbroad.

What Hintze offers in the early Achaemenid era (incl. Herodotos’ witness) is pre-Gathic formulae and practice which the Gathas also assume. By 358 BCE the ahurânîš were recorded in Lycia, in Aramaic; Hintze takes this as Achaemenid knowledge of the Yasna Haptang-haiti (from older Avestan). Hintze further cites Bruce Lincoln, Happiness for Mankind: Achaemenian Religion (Leuven: Peeters, 2012), which offers its own parallels between the Gathas and Achaemenid worldview(s). Although as I read Lincoln (e.g. p. 42), Lincoln keeps the Avesta and the Achaemenids in parallel, not in sequence.

On the form of Achaemenid “Zoroastrianism”, the fullest expression, if vague, is shah Darius’s monument at Bagastan (apparently “Beyistûn” in the Kermani dialect today), which explains in numbing repetition and in three languages why and how he refounded that empire. Relevant here, it explains what he opposed: the Druj, that is the Lie. In Avestan texts, the god and his prophet also attack the Druj. But the Avesta abolishes the (Kafiristan / Hindu) Daeva gods with it. Darius did not bother – at least, not in the original proclamation. Darius was (then) happy to accept other religious communities (and to tax them!). The utmost Lie was, rather, the denial of Darius himself as legal shah. Much later, for the Sasanians the courtier Tansar would tender similar arguments in his own tractate.

(Darius cobbled together some additional material for Bagastan as the revolts went on – this time just in Persian. By then, he expected Elam and Scythia to worship Ahuramazda as he did. Perhaps Elam was becoming Persianised; the latter was already Aryan.)

Although some Gathic language was part of early Persian royalism, and although the worldviews are parallel, I do not see the parallels extend to full quotes from the Avesta as scripture. (Such an argument needs something like Islam, whose caliph ‘Abd al-Malik in various monuments will quote extensively from Qur’anic suras 3, 4, 10, 17 et al.) So I deem still safest to credit much later shahs – I say, the Sasanians – for importing the Younger Avesta texts, at least, and probably more.

posted by Zimri on 17:14 | link | 0 comments

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