Wednesday, April 28, 2010

When was the Avestan Canon Closed?

From: Tim McConnell
Subject: Avestan Canon closed (PLEASE HELP)

Could you explain to me when the Avestan canon was closed? I've heard different dates. Boyce said in the 500's BC but the Vendidad was written later than that. I don't understand.There are no precise dates available for the composition of the Avesta and the Vendidad. However, there are sufficient clues that indicate that some parts of the Vendidad were composed before 500 BCE.

Dear Tim McConnell,

I will try and answer your question briefly here. Please do refer to the pages/links below for a further review.

There is a difference between the ‘composition’ of different parts of the Avesta and the ‘writing’ of the Avesta. The different parts of the Avesta were composed as verbal traditions considerably before the texts were committed to writing. Further, the written texts that we have today are in all likelihood different from the original written texts. Also please bear in mind, that if we were to reassemble and publish parts of the Avesta today, while the book may carry today’s date, the content’s creation may extend from today to a variety of indeterminate dates. In this manner the person who collated the texts that made up the Vendidad (or for that matter some of the Yashts) may very well have used very old texts and combined it with more recent texts.

While we cannot give the writing of the Vendidad a precise date, we have some clues about the latest time-frame when some portions were composed. One of these clues can be found in the Vendidad’s first chapter. This chapter lists sixteen nations ( Persia and Media (Western Iran in general), which became important centres of the Zoroastrian religion are not mentioned in this list.

Given that the sixteen Vendidad nations radiate from Central Asia, it is also significant that Khairizem / Khvarizem (Chorasmia), another important Zoroastrian centre is not explicitly part of the sixteen nations (though its territory could have been part of say Urva or Sughdha). Khairizem is, however, mentioned in Verse 10.14 of the Avesta's Mehr Yasht. Also see

The observations above lead us to surmise that what is today the Vendidad’s first chapter was composed before the creation of Persia, Media and Khairizem as kingdom-states. However, it is quite possible that some following chapters of the Vendidad were composed at a later date. Some authors create an inherent bias in their writings by trying to be too precise in their allocation of dates (which are speculative at best). If they establish 1000 BCE as the approximate date for the time when Zarathushtra lived, they are compelled to use 500 BCE as the date for the composition of the Vendidad – since that is around when Persia came into existence and because they need to allocate some centuries for the change in the language from Gathic Avestan to later Avestan. However, Media is mentioned in Assyrian texts dated to 844 BCE ( It is also unreasonable to assume that the Vendidad’s first chapter was composed precisely before the formation of Media. Nations take time to form. The first chapter could therefore have origins before 1000 BCE; the chapter on Yima / King Jamshid has pre-Zoroastrian roots, while subsequent Vendidad chapters could have been composed at later dates.

With the information currently available to us, we cannot establish dates for the composition of the Avesta and the closing of the Avestan canon.

I hope this helps.


K. E. Eduljee

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