Front Page Titles (by Subject) 14.: THE ZEND AVESTA — ( P. 253 sqq. ) - The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, vol. 1
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14.: THE ZEND AVESTA — ( P. 253 sqq. ) - Edward Gibbon, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, vol. 1 
The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, ed. J.B. Bury with an Introduction by W.E.H. Lecky (New York: Fred de Fau and Co., 1906), in 12 vols. Vol. 1.
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THE ZEND AVESTA — (P. 253sqq.)
The first European translation of the Avesta was made by Anquetil du Perron, and appeared (in 3 vols.) in 1771, just in time for Gibbon to make use of. The appearance of this work aroused a storm of controversy, chiefly in England, and it is interesting to observe that Gibbon was among those who accepted the Avesta as genuine documents of the Zoroastrian religion. It is unnecessary to say that in the present century their antiquity has been abundantly confirmed.
The Avesta is a liturgical collection of fragments from older texts, and is (as M. Darmesteter remarks) more like a prayer-book than a Bible. It consists of two parts, of which the first (1) contains the Vendidâd, the Visperâd, and the Yasna. The Vendidâd (a corruption of vidaêvô-dâtem = “antidemoniac law”) consists of religious laws and legendary tales; the Visperâd, of litanies for sacrifice; and the Yasna, of litanies also, and five hymns in an older dialect than the rest of the work. The second part (2) is the Small Avesta, a collection of short prayers.
Two questions arise: (a) When was the Avesta compiled? (b) What is the origin of the older texts which supplied the material?
(a) It is generally supposed that the Avesta was first collected under the Sassanids. But it is stated in a Pahlavi authority that the collection was begun under the Arsacids (having been ordered by King Valkash or Vologeses) and completed under the Sassanid Shapûr II. in the fourth century ( 309-380). If this is true, we must modify the usual view of the revival of Mazdeism by Ardeshîr the first Sassanid, and regard his religious movement as merely the thorough realisation of an idea derived from the Parthian princes. M. Darmesteter concludes his discussion of the question thus (Introduction to his translation of the Zend Avesta, p. xxxv.): “It can be fairly admitted, that even in the time and at the court of the Philhellenic Parthians a Zoroastrian movement may have originated, and that there came a time when they perceived that a national religion is a part of national life. It was the merit of the Sassanids that they saw the drift of this idea which they had the good fortune to carry out.” It would of course be vain to attempt to determine which of the four or five kings named Vologeses originated the collection. The completion under Shapûr II. is an established fact.
(b) As to the older texts from which the Avesta was put together, Darmesteter concludes that “the original texts of the Avesta were not written by the Persians. . . . They were written in Media by the priests of Ragha and Atropatene in the language of Media, and they exhibit the ideas of the sacerdotal class under the Achaemenian dynasty.”
There is a Parsi tradition that of twenty-one original books the Vendidâd is the sole remaining one. But Zend scholars seem uncertain as to how far this tradition is to be accepted. For the original religion of Ahura-mazda, as it existed under the Achaemenians, our sources are (1) the inscriptions of Darius and his successors, and (2) Herodotus and other Greek writers.
Those who wish to know more of the Avesta and the Zoroastrian religion may be sent to M. Darmesteter’s translation of the Vendidâd (vol. iv. of the “Sacred Books of the East”) and his admirable Introduction, to which I am indebted for the summary in this note. This translation has superseded those of Spiegel and De Harlez; but it must be observed that the students of the sacred books of the Persians constantly disagree in a very marked way, in translation as well as in interpretation.