European Centre for Zoroastrian Studies

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Oldest avesta manuscript
Dr. A. A. Jafarey
Buena Park, Southern California

Regarding the Oldest Manuscripts†of the Avesta, let us bear in mind two points: (a) The Avesta has been handed down by the word of mouth in full according to the Indo-Iranian tradition of memorizing the sacred and poetic literature. We have the Four Vedas in India and the Avesta in Iran.آ Philology proves how accurately they have been handed down generations after generations. (b) The Tradition says that the Avesta was first written and two copies were treasured in the Royal libraries of the Achaemenians sometime between 550-330 BCE. The copies were destroyed by Alexander, the Macedonian invader in 334 BCE. Recollection from the Priestly memories and the scattered manuscripts was started by the Parthian Emperor Vologeses in about 51-78 BCE, and the final collection was canonized during the reign of Chosroes I (Khosrow Anushhravan) in about 560 CE.
Government, Fire Temples and personal libraries all over the Sassanian Empire had their Avesta manuscripts. The Arab invasion in 634 Ceآ and the subsequntآ occupation started a new campaign to destroy as many manuscripts as was possible. Yet we see that the Zoroastrians in Iran had their manuscripts preserved in priestly families. Keeping in mind that manuscripts, written onآ parchment andآ paper, had to be copied before their decay, it was a continuous task until the invention of the printing press and now our computers. It is from 1020 CE that we come to know of their existence and their subsequent copies that remained in Iran and/or transferred to India for the continuation of copying.
The following are the oldest manuscripts:
Yasna and Vispered dated 1323 CE- Khordeh Avesta dated 1352 CE -Vendidad dated 1245 CE
آEach manuscript had the name/s of the scribe/s and the date/s written at the end. Some of the manuscripts which have been preserved have their begining and ending pages missing. The Iranian and Indian styles of writing were different and even if we do not have the names now, we can distinguish between the two.

آThis was a brief note. For more details, please refer to “Avesta, The Sacred Books of The Parsees,†Karl F. Geldner, Stuttgart, Germany, 1886, and “Outlines of Parsi History,†Dastur Hormazdyar K. Mirza, Bombay, 1976.

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