Pahlavi Texts, Part I (SBE05), E.W. West, tr. , at sacred-texts.com
The Pahlavi texts selected for translation in this volume are specimens of three distinct species of writings. Thus, the Bundahis and its appendix, which deal chiefly with cosmogony, myths, and traditions, may be roughly compared to the book of Genesis. The Bahman Yast, which professes to be prophetical, may be likened unto the Apocalypse. And the Shâyast lâ-shâyast, which treats of religious laws regarding impurity, sin, ritual, and miscellaneous matters, bears some resemblance to Leviticus. But, though thus dealing with very different subjects, these texts appear to have all originated in much the same manner, a manner which is characteristic of the oldest class of the Pahlavi writings still extant. All three are full of translations from old Avesta texts, collected together probably in the latter days of the Sasanian dynasty, and finally rearranged some time after the Muhammadan conquest of Persia,; so that, practically, they may be taken as representing the ideas entertained of their prehistoric religion by Persians in the
sixth century, but modified so far as to suit the taste and exigencies of the tenth.
But, notwithstanding the wide range of subjects embraced by these texts, it would be rash for the reader to assume that they afford him sufficient information for forming a decided opinion as to the character of the Parsi religion. The texts translated in this volume contain barely one-eleventh part of the religious literature extant in the Pahlavi language, without taking the Pahlavi versions of existing Avesta texts into account, which latter are even more important than the former, from a religious point of view, as they are considered more authoritative by the Parsis themselves. What proportion the literature extant may bear to that which is lost it is impossible, to guess; but, omitting all consideration of the possible contents of the lost literature, it is obvious that the remaining ten-elevenths of that which is extant may contain much which would modify any opinion based merely upon the one-eleventh here translated. What the untranslated portion actually contains no one really knows. The best Pahlavi scholar can never be sure that be understands the contents of a Pahlavi text until he has fully translated it; no amount of careful reading can make him certain that he does not misunderstand some essential part of it, and were he to assert the contrary he would be merely misleading others and going astray himself. How far the translations in this volume will enable the reader to judge of the Parsi religion may perhaps be best understood by considering how far careful perusal of the books of Genesis, Leviticus, and the Revelation, which constitute one-eleventh part of the Protestant Bible, would enable him to judge of Christianity, without any further information.
But, though these translations must be considered merely as a contribution towards a correct account of mediæval Zoroastrianism, the Bundahis does afford some very definite information upon one of the fundamental doctrines of that faith. The Parsi religion has long been represented by its opponents as a dualism; and this accusation, made in good faith by Muhammadan writers, and echoed more
incautiously by Christians, has been advanced so strenuously that it has often been admitted even by Parsis themselves, as regards the mediæval form of their faith. But neither party seems to have fairly considered how any religion which admits the personality of an evil spirit, in order to account for the existence of evil, can fail to become a dualism to a certain extent. If, therefore, the term is to be used in controversy, it behoves those who use it to define the limits of objectionable dualism with great precision, so as not to include most of the religions of the world, their own among the number.
If it be necessary for a dualism that the evil spirit be omnipresent, omniscient, almighty, or eternal, then is the Parsi religion no dualism. The Bundahis distinctly asserts that the evil spirit is not omniscient and almighty (Chap. I, 16); that his understanding is backward (I, 3, 9), so that he was not aware of the existence of Aûharmazd till he arose from the abyss and saw the fight (I, 9); that he is unobservant and ignorant of the future (I, 19) till it is revealed to him by Aûharmazd (I, 21); that his creatures perish at the resurrection (I, 7, 21), and he himself becomes impotent (I, 21, III, 1) and will not be (I, 3, XXX, 32). Nowhere is he supposed to be in two places at once, or to know what is occurring elsewhere than in his own presence. So far, his powers are considerably less than those generally assigned by Christians to the devil, who is certainly represented as being a more intelligent and ubiquitous personage. On the other hand, Aharman is able to produce fiends and demons (Chap. I, 10, 24), and the noxious creatures are said to be his (III, 15, XIV, 30, XVIII, 2); in which respects he has probably rather more power than the devil, although the limits of the latter's means of producing evil are by no means well defined.
The origin and end of Aharman appear to be left as uncertain as those of the devil, and, altogether, the resemblance between these two ideas of the evil spirit is remarkably close; in fact, almost too close to admit of the possibility of their being ideas of different origin. The only important differences are that Zoroastrianism does not believe in an
eternity of evil as Christianity does, and that Christianity has been content to leave all its other ideas about the devil in a very hazy and uncertain form, while Zoroastrianism has not shrunk from carrying similar ideas to their logical conclusion. If, therefore, a belief in Aharman, as the author of evil, makes the Parsi religion a dualism, it is difficult to understand why a belief in the devil, as the author of evil, does not make Christianity also a dualism. At any rate, it is evident from the Bundahis that a Christian is treading on hazardous ground when be objects to Zoroastrianism on the score of its dualism.
Another misrepresentation of the Parsi religion is shown to have no foundation in fact, by a passage in the Selections of Zâd-sparam. Several writers, both Greek and Armenian, contemporaries of the Sasanian dynasty, represent the Persians as believing that both Aûharmazd and Aharman were produced by an eternal being, who is evidently a personification of the Avesta phrase for 'boundless time.' This view was apparently confirmed by a passage in Anquetil Duperron's French translation of the Vendidad (XIX, 32-34), but this has long been known to be a mistranslation due to Anquetil's ignorance of Avesta grammar; so that the supposed doctrine of 'boundless time' being the originator of everything is not to be found in the Avesta; still it might have sprung up in Sasanian times. But the Selections of Zâd-sparam (I, 24) distinctly state that Aûharmazd produced the creature Zôrvân (precisely the term used in the phrase 'boundless time' in the Avesta). Here 'time,' although personified, is represented as a creature of Aûharmazd, produced after the first appearance of Aharman; which contradicts the statement of the Greek and Armenian writers completely, and shows how little reliance can be placed upon the assertions of foreigners regarding matters which they view with antipathy or prejudice.
With reference to the general plan of these translations of Pahlavi texts a few remarks seem necessary. In the first place, it will be obvious to any attentive reader of this introduction that a translator of Pahlavi has not merely to translate, but also to edit, the original text; and, in some
cases, he has even to discover it. Next, as regards the translation, it has been already mentioned (p. xxvi) that the translator's object is to make it as literal as possible; in order, therefore, to check the inevitable tendency of free translation to wander from the meaning of the original text, all extra words added to complete the sense, unless most distinctly understood in the original, are italicised in the translation. And in all cases that seem doubtful the reader's attention is called to the fact by a note, though it is possible that some doubtful matters may be overlooked.
The notes deal not only with explanations that may be necessary for the general reader, but also with various readings and other details that may be useful to scholars; they are, therefore, very numerous, though some passages may still be left without sufficient explanation. References to the Vendidad, Yasna, and Visparad are made to Spiegel's edition of the original texts, not because that edition is superior, or even equal, in accuracy to that of Westergaard, but because it is the only edition which gives the Pahlavi translations, because its sections are shorter and, therefore, reference to them is more definite, and because the only English translation of the Avesta hitherto existing 1 is based upon Spiegel's edition, and is divided into the same sections.
No attempt has been made to trace any of the myths or traditions farther back than the Avesta, whence their descent is a fact that can hardly be disputed. To trace them back to earlier times, to a supposed Indo-Iranian personification or poetic distortion of meteorological phenomena, would be, in the present state of our knowledge, merely substituting plausible guesses for ascertained facts. In many cases, indeed, we have really no right to assume that an Avesta myth has descended from any such Indo-Iranian origin, as there have been ample opportunities for the infiltration of myths from other sources, yet unknown,
among the many nations with which the religion of the Avesta has come in contact, 'both before and since the' time of Zaratûst. For, notwithstanding the ingenious rhetoric of the expounders of myths, it is still as unsafe, from a scientific point of view, to disbelieve the former existence of Zaratûst as it is to doubt that of Moses, or any other practically prehistoric personage, merely because mythic tales have gathered about his name in later times, as they always do about the memory of any individual who has become famous or revered.
In many cases the original Pahlavi word is appended, in parentheses, to its English equivalent in the translation. This has been done for the sake of explanation, when the word is technical or rare, or the translation is unusual. For, with regard to technical terms, it has been considered best, in nearly. all cases, to translate them by some explanatory phrase, in preference to filling the translation with foreign words which would convey little or no distinct meaning to the general reader. Some of these technical terms have almost exact equivalents in English, such as those translated 'resurrection' and 'demon,' or can be well expressed by descriptive phrases, such as 'sacred twigs' and 'sacred cakes.' Other terms are only approximately rendered by such words as 'archangel' and 'angel;' others can hardly be expressed at all times by the same English words, but must change according to the context, such as the term variously rendered by 'worship, ceremonial, prayer, or rites.' While the meaning of some few terms is so technical, complicated, or uncertain, that it is safer to use the Pahlavi word itself, such as Tanâpûhar, Frasast, Gêtî-kharîd, Dvâzdah-hômâst, &c.
The following is a list of nearly all the technical terms that have been translated, with the English equivalents generally used to express them:Âfrîn, 'blessing;' aharmôk, 'apostate, heretic;' aharûbŏ, 'righteous;' aharûbŏ-dâd, 'alms, almsgiving;' akdînô, 'infidel;' ameshôspend, 'archangel;' armêst, 'helpless;' ast-hômand, 'material;' aûsôfrîd, 'propitiation, offering;' baghô-bakhtô, 'divine providence;' baresôm, 'sacred twigs or twig-bundle;'
baresômdân, 'twig stand;' dakhmak (Huz. khazân), 'depository for the dead;' dashtânistân, 'place for menstruation;' dînô, 'religion, revelation, religions rites;' drâyân-gûyisnîh, 'unseasonable chatter;' drevand, 'wicked;' drônô, 'sacred cake;' drûg, 'fiend;' frashakard, 'renovation of the universe;' fravâhar, 'guardian spirit;' fravardîkân, 'days devoted to the guardian spirits;' ganrâk maînôk, 'evil spirit;' garzisn, 'confession of sin;' gâs, 'period of the day, time;' gâsânbâr, 'season-festival;' gasnŏ, 'feast;' gâûs-dâk (Av. gâus hudhau), 'meat-offering, sacred butter;' gavîd-rastakân, 'the heterodox;' gîv (Av. gâus gîvya), 'sacred milk;' gômêz, 'bull's urine;' hamêmâl, 'accuser;' hamrêd, 'direct pollution, contagion;' hazârak, 'millennium;' hîkhar, 'bodily refuse;' kâr, 'duty;' kêshvar, 'region;' khayebît, 'destroyer;' khrafstar, 'noxious creature;' khvêtûk-das, 'next-of-kin marriage;' kirfak, 'good works;' kûstîk, 'sacred thread-girdle;' magh, 'stone ablution-seat;' maînôk, 'spirit;' marg-argân, 'worthy of death, mortal sin;' myazd, 'feast, sacred feast;' nasâî, 'corpse, dead matter;' nasâî katak, 'corpse chamber;' nîrang, 'religious formula, ritual;' nîrangistân, 'code of religious formulas;' nîyâyisn, 'salutation;' padâm, 'mouth-veil;' pâdîyâvîh, 'ablution, ceremonial ablution;' pâhlûm ahvân, 'best existence;' paîtrêd, 'indirect pollution, infection;' parâhôm, 'hôm-juice;' parîk, 'witch;' patîtîh, 'renunciation of sin;' patîyârak, 'adversary;' pôryôdkêshîh, 'primitive faith;' rad, 'chief, spiritual chief, primate, high-priest;' rîstâkhêz, 'resurrection;' satûîh, 'the three nights;' sêdâ, 'demon;' shapîk, 'sacred shirt;' shnâyisn, 'propitiation, gratification;' shnûman, 'dedication formula, propitiation;' spênâk maînôk, 'beneficent spirit;' tanû-i pasînŏ, 'future existence;' tôgisn, 'retribution;' tôrâ-i khadû-dâd, 'primeval ox;' vâg, 'inward prayer;' vigârisn, 'atonement for sin;' vishâd-dûbârisnîh, 'running about uncovered;' yasnô, 'ritual;' yast, 'prayers, ritual, form of prayer, worship, consecration;' yastanŏ, 'to consecrate, solemnize, propitiate, reverence;' yâtûk, 'wizard;' yazdân, 'angels, sacred beings, celestial beings, God;' yazisn,
[paragraph continues] 'ceremonial, ceremony, sacred ceremony, ceremonial worship, worship, reverence, rites, prayer;' yêdatô, 'angel;' zand, 'commentary;' zôhar or zôr, 'holy-water;' zôt, 'officiating priest.'
With regard to the orthography of Pahlavi names and words, advantage has been taken of the system of transliteration adopted for this series of Translations of the Sacred Books of the East, by making use of italics for the purpose of distinguishing between certain Pahlavi letters which were probably pronounced very nearly alike. Thus besides the usual letters for v and for z, the Pahlavi letter is often used to denote those same sounds which, in such cases, are represented by the italic letters v and z. An extension of the same mode of distinction to the letters l and r would be desirable, but has not bean attempted in this volume; these two letters are usually written , but in a few words they are represented by or by in which cases they would be better expressed by the italics l and r. Some attempt has been made to adhere to one uniform orthography in such names as occur frequently, but as there is no such uniformity in the various languages and writings quoted, nor even in the same manuscript, some deviations can hardly be avoided.
In conclusion it may be remarked that a translator of Pahlavi generally begins his career by undervaluing the correctness of Pahlavi texts and the literary ability of their authors, but he can hardly proceed far without finding abundant reason for altering his opinion of both. His depreciatory view of Pahlavi literature is generally due partly to want of knowledge, and partly to his trusting too much to the vile perversions of Pahlavi texts usually supplied by Pâzand writers. But as his knowledge of Pahlavi increases he becomes better able to appreciate the literary merits of the texts. If the reader should have already formed some such low estimate of the ability of Pahlavi writers, it may be hoped that these translations will afford him sufficient reason for changing his opinion; if not, they will have signally failed in doing those writers justice.
lxxi:1 Bleeck's Avesta; the Religious Books of the Parsees; from Professor Spiegel's German Translation; London, 1864. Not much reliance can be placed upon the correctness of this translation, owing to defects in the German one.