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The Sih-rozag in Zoroastrianism: A Textual and Historico-Religious Analysis.

The Sih-rozag in Zoroastrianism: A Textual and Historico-Religious Analysis. By ENRICO G. RAFFAELLI. Iranian Studies, vol. 20. London: Routledge, 2014. Pp. xvi + 346. $160.

Raffaelli begins his important analysis of this Avestan text and its Pahlavi versions by declaring his preference for the compound term sih-rozag--"(specific to) the day thirty" or "the thirtieth day"--rather than the more commonly used sih rozag (or its New Persian equivalent Siroza), meaning "of/ relating to the thirty days (of the month)." In using this hyphenated form, Raffaelli emphasizes the place of the prayers of the text within the ritual performed by Zoroastrians on the thirtieth day after the death of a family member (p. 3 n. 1). This is somewhat at odds with the conventional understanding, following the earliest critical edition by Westergaard in the 1870s, that the text functions primarily as invocations to the divine entities responsible for the days of the month (p. 71). The text itself, in both its shorter and longer forms, contains consecutive prayers directed to the thirty yazatas (literally "[beings] worthy of worship"; here, translated throughout as "divine entities") after whom are named the thirty days of the Zoroastrian month, plus three prayers to other divine entities not connected with day-names, including Haoma. This edition is the first by a Western scholar since Anquetil Duperron's translation (published in 1771) to present the work in its original thirty-three-paragraph division.

In looking at the structure and contents of the two versions of the Sih-rozag--identified respectively as the "Little" and the "Great" in scholarly research--Raffaelli points to the significance of the number thirty-three in the Zoroastrian tradition, including the formulaic invocation of "all the ratus"--that is, of the "patron entities" (pp. 8-9)--which number thirty-three. The author surmises that the primary function of the shorter version was within a ritual to offer praise "for the satisfaction of" each named divine and spiritual entity, whereas the context for the longer form, which includes numerous epithets for each entity and frequent use of the formulaic yazamaide ("we worship," or "we sacrifice to"), seems to have been a ritual involving group participation at some level (pp. 12-13). Raffaelli identifies this ritual as including an actual or figurative sacrifice (p. 14).

These thirty-three prayers, now incorporated as the "Siroza Yasht" into the text known as the Xorda Avesta (Pahlavi: Xwurdag Abestag), or "Little Avesta," were originally composed in Young Avestan. It is not now possible to determine whether they were part of the Avestan canon of Sasanian times (p. 3 n. 2). Raffaelli points out that their connection to an established Zoroastrian calendar indicates a date of composition of not earlier than the fifth century B.C.E., crystallizing a century or so later (p. 35 nn. 69, 70; p. 36). In some instances, elements in the Sih-rozag seem to derive from other Young Avestan texts or their prototypes, but other correspondences indicate that the Sih-rozag was the precursor (pp. 15-16). The Pahlavi version and Bundahisn 26 both contain similar descriptive passages relating to the divine entities, suggesting that these texts used a common source, which was circulating in the late ninth century (pp. 38-40). Although some extant manuscripts contain only the Avestan version(s) of the text, others comprise the Avestan texts intercalated with their Middle Persian translation and gloss (p. 43).

In terms of the historical development of the religion, both the Avestan and the Pahlavi versions of the text are significant with regard to the information they provide about the cult status of each of the divine entities at each stage of transmission. Some of the entities mentioned in the Avestan texts seem to have held more prominent cult status in the earlier stage of the religion than is retained in the extant Avesta or in the Pahlavi translations (p. 29): these include Axsti "peace" (p. 154), Rata "gift" (p. 176), and Cista, the yazata in charge of the path of the religion (p. 256). The insights that Raffaelli offers regarding such shifts in emphasis, particularly in elucidating connections or even identifications between entities, are helpful in broadening our understanding of the development of the religion from the late Achaemenid to the early Sasanian periods. Raffaelli also points to the preservation of ancient material in combinations of epithets that are not retained in the surviving Avesta, such as the sequence vanhuiia vouru.doi[??]riia mazda[??]atiia asaoniia, meaning "[of] good, of broad vision, created by Mazda, holy" (pp. 87, 180).

The opening chapter of Raffaelli's book, "General notes on the Sih-rozag," contains many important comments in the notes that could have been effectively incorporated into the body of the text. This is particularly pertinent to his notes on the use of the text in funerary rituals and other ceremonies (p. 1 n. 1; p. 12 n. 39), and on the dedication of the last three paragraphs to Apam Napat, Haoma, and Dahma Afriti (pp. 7-8 n. 25). Further elaboration of the thirtieth-day ritual itself would also have been of interest. In the second chapter, which analyzes the text to determine its chronology, Raffaelli offers a comprehensive study of its structure, philological complexities, and "historico-religious and historico-cultural elements." A sub-section on anomalous endings serves to highlight the lengthy oral transmission of Young Avestan texts and their possible relation to one another. Raffaelli later notes that he does not translate any of these morphological anomalies literally, assuming that many such anomalies derive from later linguistic stages, when knowledge of Avestan had declined (see pp. 154, 17): by the time the two Avestan versions were translated into Middle Persian, both the Avestan language and much of its cult were no longer familiar to Zoroastrians.

Raffaelli's English translation of the texts, both Avestan and Pahlavi, is based on what he takes to be the earliest version of each: in the case of the latter, he incorporates some aspects of later manuscripts (pp. 68-69, 78). The detailed comparative commentary on these texts provides a useful, succinct summary of both the characteristics of the divine entities praised and the natural elements associated with them. Discussion of the Pahlavi rendition of various Avestan words or phrases clarifies the understanding of those terms during the Sasanian period. For instance, the Avestan asa- vahista- meaning the "best order" is only once transposed into Pahlavi directly as Asvahist; elsewhere it is rendered as ahlayih i pahlom, translated by Raffaelli as the "best righteousness" or the "best moral order" (pp. 85-86, 165). Similar linguistic tracing is applied to demonstrate a shift in the cubic significance of the yazata Parondi from the Avesta to Sasanian times (p. 260), and, from the same paragraph ([section] 25), to connect Arstat, the Avestan entity of justice, with the action of "the distribution of water to the continents" in the later period (pp. 112, 267). This same passage refers to [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.], the "(divine) glory" with the epithet [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], the definition of which was uncertain until it was recently connected with a Bactrian verb, which supports the translation of "unseizable" (pp. 260, 265).

The author's commentary also highlights how the Sih-rozag documents the development of certain practices and beliefs: for instance, the veneration of the three great sacred fires appears to date back to the time of crystallization of the Avestan form of the text (pp. 194-95). Raffaelli suggests that temples to house these fires "were probably founded in the Achaemenid period." There is, however, no conclusive evidence of such temples to date. Once the text is accepted as primarily associated with rituals relating to death, then allusions to the afterlife become prominent: these are further explicated in the Pahlavi translation and gloss. One example is in the paragraph dedicated to the Endless Lights (Av. anayra raoca: the place where Ahura Mazda dwells), in which alternating Pahlavi renditions of the Avestan cinuuat.paratu (the crossing-place where the thoughts, words, and deeds of the soul are reckoned) are cinwad-puhl (meaning something like "the bridge of examination") and ceh-widarg, the "passage of lamentation" (pp. 142-43, 282).

For the historian of religion, some elucidation of the author's own understanding of the construct "Zoroastrianism," particularly as pertaining to its spread "in the Iranian world," would have been helpful (cf. pp. 228, 271), as also of certain concepts relating to the religion, including the ubiquitous "divine entities." But these are matters discussed elsewhere--at length--by other scholars, whose work Raffaelli carefully references.


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Author:Rose, Jenny
Publication:The Journal of the American Oriental Society
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jul 1, 2015
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