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RLG347H5 Study Guide - Final Guide: Gathas, Daena, Zoroastrianism

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Enrico Raffaelli
Study Guide

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1. The Gathas
Consists of seventeen hymns traditionally attributed to Zoroaster. The texts are
composed in a syllable form. Each verse line has a fixed number of syllables and a
caesura. Each stanza contains the same number of verse lines. Thus, the form of the
Gathas is the rhythm of syllables.
Several hymns of the Gathas are characterized by the ring composition
This is a type of arrangement of a hymn around its center:
the central verse has correspondences with the first and last verse or
the verses at the same distance from the center have correspondences with
each other
For ex., these verses share sounds, words, disposition of the words, or
Also found in various Gathas are cross-references
For ex.: the topic of the last hymn of a Gatha is taken up at the beginning of the next
These characteristics of the Gathas reflect their originally oral nature
They made it easier for the composer and the transmitter to compose and memorize
The Gathas and Zoroaster’s message: The Gathas convey Zoroaster’s religious
They are samples of the tradition of poems accompanying rituals but carry a radically
new vision of the world and of religion
The Gathas are 5 religious poems in verses
Three of them contain more than one hymn, 2 are single hymns
They were probably composed to accompany a ritual (we do not know which
We have received them as part of the Yasna
oNote: the Yasna is part of the ritual Avestan texts
oIt is formed by 72 chapters and is the longest Avestan text
oBeside the Gathas, it includes all the other Old Avestan texts that we have
received + parts in Young Avestan
oNote: other Old Avestan texts: few short prayers and the Yasna Haptanhaiti
(= seven chapters of the Yasna)
The 5 Gathas are:
1) Ahunavaiti Gatha (Yasna chapters 28–34)
2) Ushtavaiti Gatha (Yasna chapters 43–46)
3) Spenta Mainyu Gatha (Yasna chapters 47–50)
4) Vohu Xshathra Gatha (Yasna chapter 51)
5) Vahishtoishti Gatha (Yasna chapter 53)
Some scholars object to the identification of Zoroaster as the author of the
Gathas, but He identifies himself in some passages of the Gathas themselves
Their consistency in structure and contents indicate that they were composed
and arranged by a single author
The interpretation of the Gathas is made difficult from:
oTheir complex structure
oThe presence of many words of unknown meaning
oOur lack of understanding how many of their words connect to each other
oThe damages suffered by the texts through their long oral transmission
oHelp for the understanding of the Gathas comes from comparing them with
texts coming from cultures related to ancient Iran
Most helpful is their comparison with the older parts of the Vedas
Passages on individual eschatology in the Gathas
On individual eschatology see the passages :

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Y. 30.4
Y. 31.20:
The person who (after death) reaches the “truthful one” (= Ahura Mazda) is
rewarded for her/his earthly behavior; she/he will stay in Paradise
The bad persons are punished for their actions
They go to the Hell, lead by their “religious view” (= [religious] conscience,
Av. daena)
Note: the later Zoroastrian sources preserve and develop the notion of daena
They describe it as a spirit having feminine form, personifying the person’s religious
She meets the soul of the dead 3 days after death and leads it to its afterlife
Y. 46.10-11:
After death Zoroaster will cross the “Account-keeper’s bridge” (Av.
Cinvat.peretu = the bridge leading to Paradise) with the souls of the good ones
Note: the sources later than the Gathas explain that the good souls
cross the Cinvat.peretu and reach Paradise, whereas the bad ones fall from it
into Hell
The Kavis and Karapans (= groups hostile to Zoroaster) cause humans to
perform bad actions
When they will reach the Cinvat.peretu bridge, their daena and their urvan (a
part of their soul) will scare them
Note: the meeting of the soul with the urvan is not mentioned in the
later sources
They will go to the Hell (= “the house of deceit”)
Collective eschatology in the Gathas
See the passage
Zoroaster asks Ahura Mazda: when will the good spiritual powers come?
When will peace be established? Who will receive the spiritual inspiration?
Zoroaster himself answers: peace and good will come when the “benefactors”
will be born
They will praise Ahura Mazda and will act following his inspiration
They will be the “removers of evil” (= they will help achieve the final
elimination of evil from the world)
Note: in some of the later sources (= some Young Avestan texts) the
world savior is just one
In others (= the Pahlavi texts) they are also more than one
2. The Yashts
The Yashts: general notes
From the religious and literary point of view, the group of the Yasht is particularly interesting
We have received 21 Yasht, all dedicated to a divine entity
Exception: Yasht 2 (dedicated to a group of divine entities), 13 (dedicate to a
group of spiritual entities)
Most of the Yashts are in verses
Some of them are in prose with some rhythmic spells
They were originally recited in communal rituals
Note: in the modern times they are rather used as prayers
In the beginning, among the people speaking Avestan:
In the public performances, different performers could expand or decrease the text at
their will

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For this reason it is inappropriate to speak of the “date of composition” of a Yasht
We should rather speak of starting and ending period of composition
We do not know when is the starting period and the ending period of
composition of the Yashts
Note: possibly, originally more than 21 hymns were composed
The arrangement into a group of 21 hymns may date back to the Sassanian
Note: orality and the Yashts
The structure of the Yashts bears traces of their oral composition and transmission:
All of them are preceded by an introductory formula and followed by a concluding
Many of them are divided into sections (kardé)
Each section starts by the same formula, and ends by the same formula
The beginning and conclusive formulas of the Yasht and its sections made
them easier to memorize and to recite
Purpose of the Yashts
All Yashts have the purpose of worshipping on the entity they are dedicated to
This purpose is fulfilled through:
The repetition of its name
The description of its characteristics and of how it helps the worshippers
Also note: many Yashts start by a dialogue between Ahura Mazda and
Ahura Mazda mentions the entity to whom the Yasht is dedicated
This dialogue asserts Ahura Mazda’s superiority over that divine
entity and authorizes its worship
Contents of the Yashts
Two types of Yashts:
1) legendary
These Yashts tell legends of the past
Some legends tell how the divine entity to whom the Yasht is dedicated
helped heroes of the past who worshipped it
This narration culminates with the narration of Zoroaster’s worship of
the divine entity
A request to reward the present worshippers, like the past heroes follows this
2) hymnic
These Yashts describe the qualities of the divine entity they are dedicated to
Note: some Yashts belong in both types
Some minor Yashts do not belong in either group
The analysis of the Yashts highlights both phenomena mentioned above:
1) Re-appearance of features of the pre-Zoroastrian religion
Cf. the Yashts dedicated to divine beings of the ancient religion
2) Development of Old Avestan doctrines
Section 0
This section contains a list of the first mountains that appeared on the earth
Two of them surround the earth, the others are within it
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