Avestan ī̆šti-

Musavi, Fatemeh. 2024. The Avestan ī̆šti- in Middle Persian texts. BSOAS FirstView.

Middle Persian translations and interpretations of Avestan texts employ the word īšt in the translation of the Avestan ī̆šti- “capability, capacity, competence”. The word became a vocabulary item in the Middle Persian corpus. It seems to be a calque of its Avestan counterpart. The Avestan ī̆šti- has presented challenges in the Avesta scholarship and is translated with words from different semantic domains. This article discusses the definition of Avestan ī̆šti- and how it is reinterpreted and understood in the Middle Persian translations. It is argued here that Av. ī̆šti- refers to “capability, capacity, and competence”. However, it is understood and interpreted in the MP texts as “wealth, property”, “remuneration”, or “reward”. It is sometimes translated to a verb form from xwāstan “desire, want”.


The “Sūdgar Nask” of “Dēnkard” Book 9

Vevaina, Yuhan Sohrab-Dinshaw. 2023. The Sūdgar Nask of Dēnkard Book 9. Text, Translation and Critical Apparatus (Iranica 31). Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag.

The Sūdgar Nask of Dēnkard Book 9 is one of the most enigmatic and yet fundamental texts of Zoroastrianism. It is a commentary on the ‘Old Avesta’ of the 2nd millennium BCE produced in Pahlavi (Zoroastrian Middle Persian) in the Sasanian (224–651 CE) and early Islamic centuries. This commentary purportedly based on earlier Pahlavi translations and commentaries of lost Young Avestan tractates commenting in turn on the ‘Old Avesta’ is a value-laden, ideologically motivated discourse that displays a rich panoply of tradition-constituted forms of allegoresis. This terse yet highly allusive text mobilizes complex forms of citation, allusion, and intertextuality from the inherited Avestan world of myth and ritual in order to engage with and react to the profound changes occurring in the relationships between theology, religious praxis, national identity, and imperial politics in Iranian society. Despite its value and importance for developing our nascent understanding of Zoroastrian hermeneutics and the self-conception of the Zoroastrian priesthood in Late Antiquity, this primary source has attracted scant scholarly attention due to the extreme difficulty of its subject matter and the lack of a reliable translation. This volume represents the first critical edition and translation of this formidable text which will contribute to the philological, theological, and historiographical study of Zoroastrianism in a pivotal moment in its rich and illustrious history.


An Introduction to Young Avestan: A Manual for Teaching and Learning

Cantera, Alberto & Céline Redard. 2024. An introduction to Young Avestan: A manual for teaching and learning. (Trans.) Richard Tahmaseb Niroumand. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag.

Avestan is the sacred language of the Zoroastrians in which they perform most of their rituals. It is known only from its use in the rituals of modern Zoroastrians and the manuscripts reproducing these rituals since the 13th century. Although sure dates cannot be provided, it is very likely that the creation of the liturgical corpus extended from the end of the 2nd millennium BCE until the end of the Achaemenid period (4th cent. BCE). This corpus includes texts in at least three linguistic layers (Old, Middle and Young Avestan). The present manual aims to provide a tool for facilitating the teaching of Young Avestan but keeps in mind also the possibility of self-learning since Avestan is not well-represented in the actual academic landscape. It includes a progressive presentation of the complex phonetic evolutions that are very characteristic of the Avestan language as a consequence of the evolution of the recitation until its fixation (6th cent. CE) and also of the Avestan grammar, complemented with exercises including samples of original texts of increasing difficulty. In each lesson, one text is reproduced in a manuscript, introducing the students to the direct work with manuscripts.


Early Zoroastrianism and Orality

Kreyenbroek, Philip G. 2023. Early Zoroastrianism and orality (Iranica, GOF III/NF 20). Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag.

Early Zoroastrianism was transmitted orally, as is now generally accepted by scholars. There is no consensus, however, regarding the implications of that insight. The few scholars who have referred to the question so far generally based their approach on the assumption that academic theories on orality are valid for all forms of oral transmission, which is demonstrably untrue. Moreover, whilst progress has been made on individual aspects of Avestan texts, the early history of Zoroastrianism as such has received scant attention in recent decades.
Philip G. Kreyenbroek has combined an almost life-long study of Zoroastrianism with empirical research on the oral traditions of two modern Iranian religious groups. In this book he applies his first-hand knowledge of the workings of oral transmission and his familiarity with early Zoroastrian priestly practices to extant Avestan texts in order to uncover their history in the light of their earlier oral transmission. Taking into account a number of recent discoveries by other scholars, the work arrives at new conclusions about the genesis and early development of the Zoroastrian tradition.

See the table of content here.

Articles Journal

Estudios Iranios y Turanios (Vol. 5)

Estudios Iranios y Turanios 2023, Vol. 5, has now been published. The whole issue is dedicated to the Avestan, Middle Persian (Pahlavi) and Ossetian Studies.

  • Alberto Cantera: The interpretatio iranica of Heterograms in Book Pahlavi: The Case of YTYBWN- “To Sit Down, to Dwell and to Set” and Some Related Problems
  • Götz König: Nicht-avestische Texte im Xorde Avesta: die Texte des Danksagens
  • Jaime Martínez Porro: Text and Context of the Yasna ī Rapiθβin
  • Paolo Ognibene: About Some Kabardian Loanwords in Ossetic
  • Éric Pirart: La vejez avéstica

Avestan-Middle Persian tense mismatches

Peschl, Benedikt. 2023. Avestan-Middle Persian tense mismatches in the Zand and the Middle Persian “performative preterite.” Indogermanische Forschungen 128(1). 9–64.

This article addresses the issue of Avestan (Av.)/Middle Persian (MP) tense mismatches that are occasionally found in the Zand, the MP translation with commentary of the Avesta. While most of these mismatches turn out to be aspectually insignificant or illusory once examined more closely, some of them appear to illustrate the use of the MP preterite as a temporally unspecified perfective category, contrasting with its usual perception as a simple past. In accordance with a pattern found also in non-translational MP literature, the perfective usage of the preterite is argued to be present in the translation of a series of Av. performative utterances in Visperad 3 (the “installation of the Av. priestly college”). Moreover, its use can be observed when the Zand depicts two punctual events as temporally coinciding within a timeless (gnomic) statement. Proceeding from these observations, I discuss the expression of performativity in MP on a more general level. The observations shared in this article support the view that, if considered diligently, the older Zand texts have the potential to contribute valuable data to the linguistic description of MP. Conversely, the article shows how paying close attention to the MP translators’ use of verbal forms may inform our interpretation of the Zand.


Zoroastrian Holy Marriage

Pirart, Éric. 2023. Hiérogamie mazdéenne. Présentation, texte, traduction et commentaire des deux dernières Gāϑā et de leurs annexes (uniés 51, 52, 53 et 54 du Yasna) (Supplementa 2). Girona: Sociedad de estudios iranios y turanios (SEIT).

In a radical departure from the method of Jean Kellens, which is both intuitive and reserved, Éric Pirart, with Hiérogamie mazdéenne (Mazdean Hierogamy), revisits the last archaic texts of Zoroastrianism and their appendices (Yasna 51-54), while ensuring that nothing is left untranslated or without grammatical explanation and that the etymology of all the words is examined on the basis of systematic criteria. In these texts, contemporary with the prophet Zaraϑustra, he looks for the features that differentiate them from the rest of Zoroastrian literature.


Notes on the Xorde Avesta V

König, Götz. 2023. Notizen zum Xorde Avesta V: Das Avesta-Pahlavi Ms. T12 betrachtet im Rahmen der historischen Veränderungen des Xorde Avesta. Berkeley Working Papers in Middle Iranian Philology 1(2). 1–32.

Das „Xorde Avesta“ ist eine (in Handschriften und Drucken überlieferte) Sammlung von (größtenteils) kürzeren liturgischen Texten in avestischer Sprache (sowie in persischen und in indischen Sprachen) auf der Grundlage einer sie charakterisierenden, allgemein verbindlichen Struktur folgt. Diese Struktur zeigt typische Variationsmuster gemäß Klasse, Zeit und Ort der Handschrift. Im Rahmen von allgemeiner Struktur und partikularem Muster finden sich wiederum individuelle Differenzen in Material und in dessen Anordnung, die dafür verantwortlich sind, daß Xorde Avesta Handschriften fast immer Unikate sind (und vermutlich darum auch niemals im Rahmen der Hypothese der ‘Stammhandschriften’ diskutiert wurden). Die Hs. T12 aus der Mitte des 16. Jh. gehört zu jenen Handschriften des Xorde Avesta, die für unsere Rekonstruktion der Geschichte einer bestimmten Handschriftenklasse eine herausragende Position besitzen. Sie bildet zudem eine Schnittstelle von frühem iranischen Xorde Avesta (in Pahlavi) und der indischen Tradition, in die die Handschrift (wieder?) eingeführt wird.


A Swedish translation of the Gathas

Dahlén, Ashk. 2023. Zarathustra. Sånger: Den äldsta iranska diktningen. Umeå: h:ström – Text & Kultur.

Zarathustra pursued a life as a poet, priest, and spiritual teacher in northeastern Iran about 3,500 years ago, several centuries before the Vedic poets and Homer. He is thus the earliest known writer in any Indo-European language. That his poems can be read in the condition in which they were sung and speak directly to us through the millennia must be considered a veritable miracle.

The Gathas is a hymn in praise of timeless wisdom and with its aphoristic exposition the work resembles a didactic philosophical poem. Zarathustra wants to present a true picture of reality, of the imperishable archetypes of the world of thought as well as of the role of the individual in the material world. More than anything else, he urges us to value our free will, to listen to the voice of our conscience and contribute to the good renewal of the world.

In this translation, the Old Avestan literature is presented for the first time in Swedish in direct translation by Ashk Dahlén, docent of Iranian languages at Uppsala University, who also has provided the book with an introductory preface as well as comments, and a glossary.

Events Online resources

The 9th Ratanbai Katrak Lectures

Prof. Dr. Alberto Cantera (Freie Universität Berlin) will deliver the 9th Ratanbai Katrak Lectures 101 years after the inauguration of the Ratanbai Katrak Lecturership at the University of Oxford.

Convened by Prof. Yuhan Sohrab-Dinshaw Vevaina for the Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies.

‘With which Yasna shall I worship you (kana θβąm yasna yazāne)?
Zoroastrian Rituals in the Antique and Late Antique Iranian world’

Please use this link to attend the lectures on Zoom.

Lecture 1: Manuscripts and Rituals: The Written Transmission of the Zoroastrian Rituals
11 May 2023, 5:30pm – 7:00pm; Wolfson College, Linton Road, Oxford OX2 6UD

Lecture 2: The Questioned Antiquity of the Zoroastrian Rituals: Their Reception in Western Academia
18 May 2023, 5:30pm – 7:00pm; Wolfson College, Linton Road, Oxford OX2 6UD

Lecture 3: The Ritual System: Modularity and Productivity
25 May 2023, 5:30pm – 7:00pm; Ertegun House, 37A St. Giles’, Oxford OX1 3LD