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Is The Vendidad a Zarathushtrian Scripture?
By Dastur Rostam Shahzâdi

The name "vendidad" shows that it concens 'laws", not religion law, but the law of a group of Iranians who had risen before the advent of Asho Zarathushtra, against "daevas" and their worshippers. The Avesta speaks about two laws in Iran. One is the Law against the Daevas (Dataam vi-daevaam), the "Vendidad", and the other is the Zarathushtrian Law (Daataam Zarathushtrim). Yasna 25.5, 71.5, Soroush Yasht Hadokht 17. The first belongs to pre-Zarathushtrian times and the other belongs to the days after the Prophet. Let us see why Asho Zarathushtra did not make laws for his follower during his lifetime.

Asho Zarathushtra appeared at a time when Iran had a powerful King Vishtaspa of the Kianian dynasty. He and his civilized people had their own laws for every wake of life; from judicial through civil, trade, agriculture, cattle raising, medicine, education, and others.

Under such conditions no one approached Asho Zarathushtra to know what should be done to a thief or a murderer. Had some one asked him, he would have replied: "I have not come to create a government within a government. I have come to teach people how to lead a good life. Had he been asked: "What law should we follow?" The reply would have been: "Follow the existing laws." It was the laws of the "Primal Doctrine", (Paouiryo-tkasesha). He would have advised the people to consider those laws with their wisdom and knowledge, have them modified to the principle of monotheism, and to accept them as Zarathushtrian laws, because social laws change in every era and place, and because the mentality and knowledge of a people do not remain the same.

Therefore the laws of the Vendidad which belong to the pre-Zarathushtrian people, should not be considered today as proper and practical. Every law which, in the past, was prepared and enforced by the wise men of a people was good and useful for its own days. It is not for all the people and for all the times.

The Zarathushtrian Religion spread from eastern Iran to the western parts, and several Zarathushtrian governments were established each having their own laws. The Medians prepared their laws to suit their conditions. The Achaemenians came and the state and the religion became two separate policies. The people had new laws. The Parthians had a federal system of their own, and the laws changed accordingly. The Sassanians came with their theocracy. They promulgated new laws, which have been preserved in Pahlavi books.

No Zarathushtrian government followed the Sassanians, and therefore no new laws were made. Unfortunately, some think that the laws promugulgated by the Sassanians are the basic laws and that they are eternal. The present Zarathushtrian laws in Iran are the rules that apply to the Zarathushtrian minority. The judicial, trade educational and other laws are promulgated by the temporal Government.

After Asho Zarathushtra, Zarathushtrian Iranians provided themselves back with religious and cultural legends, history, medicine, veterinary, astronomy, agriculture and other science of their ancestors in form of Yashts as Mazdayasni literature. The Khordeh Avesta is the last addition which Adurbad Mahrasspandan, the Sassanian Mobedan-Mobed, complied for public prayers in Avesta and Pazand languages.

Various Sections of the Vendidad

A glance at various chapters of the Vendidad shows that the book is a compilation of numerous stories, legends, history, science, art, and religion of ancient Iranians. They were put together during the Median period by Western Magi after they accepted the

Zarathushtrian religion. They added a chapter concerning Asho Zarathushtra's life. And they called themselves followers of "Mazda-worshipping Zarathushtrians (who were) against the Daevas and believed in the Ahurian Doctrine" (Mazdayasno Zarathushtrish vi-daevo Ahura-tkaesho). In order to show the Vendidad as the laws of Zarathushtra, they introduced every chapter of the book with "Zarathushtra asked Ahura Mazda and Ahura Mazda answered” sentences. The Gathas have nothing like it. This was a policy of the composers and compilers of the Later Avesta who wanted to have their old scriptures be attributed to the Zarathushtrian Religion.

According to the late Professor Nyberg, the Zarathushtrian religion spread first among the Medes and then among the Persians. It appears that the Median Magi were clever enough to see the danger the Zarathushtrian Doctrine posed to their beliefs. They soon pretended to be the orthodox supporters of the new religion. The Magi were the religious leaders of the Median people. They had the monopoly of performing religious rituals. Their profession was hereditary, and their leadership was quite usual for the laity to follow.

Their strategy saved them their former position in the new religion. They gradually introduced all their beliefs, rituals and customs under the garb of Zarathuhstra’s teachings. The Zarathushtrian doctrine came under the influence of the Magi. As a result, spiritual freshness was gradually replaced by hard and in many instance impractical rules and regulations. The Zarathushtrian Doctrine was against magic and superstitions. It recognized the work and progress as true worship. It raised man's position and introduced principles, which forbade the monopoly of a distinct priestly class which would control human resources by means of superstitions. Zarathushtra replaced hypocrisy and deceit with virtue and excellence. He advocated freedom of will and intellect. The Zarathushtrian religion was greatly harmed by the Median Magi. It suffered much. They interfered in public affairs and gave them a religious hue. They controlled one's life from birth to death.

Unfortunately, when Western scholars took to Avesta studies, they intentionally or not ascribed the entire collection to the Prophet and the true Zarathushtrian Religion.

Regarding the language, although the major part of the Iranian religious scriptures has been written in Avesta, one cannot ascribe the entire lot to Zarathushtrians.

Avestan Scriptures

With the spread of the Zarathushtrian religion, Iranians began collecting and compiling ancient history, philosophy, science, tradition, laws and and beliefs of their ancestors. According to Pahlavi sources, these scriptures were written in gold on 12000 cowhides. Later they were made into 21 volumes divided into three categories of (a) seven volumes of the Gathas of Zarathushtra and the principles of the Zarathushtrian religion, (b) seven volumes of mandatory prayers, rituals, and regulations.

The division clearly shows that the law scriptures were of lesser importance. The laws were prepared and enforced during different periods in places. They could never be placed on part with the first two categories. Further more many books were written in Pahlavi during the Parthian and Sassanian periods. At present Iranian Zarathushtrians are governed by the rules and regulations, which have been prepared and put in practice during the last century.

To fully understand the issues related to Zarathushtrian rules and regulations one should study and understand the laws in force before and during Asho Zarathushtra's time. One should find out how the Prophet acted and reacted vis-a-vis such problems. Above all, every information we gather about the Magi and other religious leaders of Iranian groups will lead us to the overall picture of tl1e subject. It should be also noted that although all of them carry the same title of "Magi", the Median, Azerbaijanian, and Babylonian religious leaders are not the same as the Zarathushtrian Mobeds.

Contents of the Vendidad

A glance through the contents of the Vendidad shows that although its rules and regulations are very old, some of them were hygienically very effective in its own times and even some of them may be accepted to be good today.

But one cannot accept the present version of the Vendidad to be the copy of the old origin. As seen, while Yasna and Yashta distinguish the Zarathushtrian Law as separate from the Vendidad, the extant version is a mixed collection of the old sections of the old Vendidad, the life of Asho Zarathushtra, and quotations from the parts of the Yasna. The reason for this mix up is the ascendancy of the Magi to control religious affairs. They forced most of their old customs, such as the Dakhmeh-nashini , upon Zarathushtrians. They forbade Zarathushtrians form burying or cremating their dead. Let us have a brief review of the contents of the Vendidad.

Comment on Fragard 1: It shows that the beliefs of the composers of the story of the Aryan countries were non-Zarathushtrian, and that it belongs to a period much older than the Zarathushtrian era.

Comment on Fragard 3:

<1> The ever-burning hearth fire shows the importance of maintaining fire in the day when matchstick and other means of lighting fire did not exist.

<2> The care of domestic animals, particularly the dog, shows the importance given to them in ancient times.

<3> The very ban on burial and cremation shows that ancient Iranian practiced all the three modes of the disposal of the dead.

<4> Regarding purification with bull's urine, it may be pointed out that it is a disinfectant, and that in those days a thing which was readily available to the agriculturist people. But today when we have so many better means of medical purification, there is no need of using means of several thousand years and no sound wisdom will accept the old method.

Comment on Fragard 10: All the spells and prayers prescribed in this section in purification rites are from various parts of the Yasna. It shows that the Magi mixed their rituals with Avestan verses only to obtain the Zarathushtrian consent.

Comment on Fragard 22: This section, like Fragard I. shows the Zurvanite belief of Dualism of the composers of the Vendidad. Zurvanistic creed goes to pre-Zarathushtrian times. But these people survived the Sassanians and infiltrated Islam. We can see its footprints in the Persian Literature, which is full of fatalism. In fact, the Zurvanite belief in Fatalism is one of the causes of the Sassanian downfall and the domination of aliens. It was one of the reasons why Iranians did not rise for centuries to work for the good of humanity.