BAHMAN YAŠT

Middle Persian apocalyptical text preserved in  Pahlavi script, a Pāzand (i.e., Middle Persian in Avestan script) transliteration, and a garbled New Persian translation.

 

BAHMAN YAŠT, Middle Persian apocalyptical text preserved in a Middle Persian version in Pahlavi script, a Pāzand (i.e., Middle Persian in Avestan script) transliteration containing supplementary material, and a garbled New Persian translation made in 1496 (see West, Sacred Books of the East, Oxford, 1880, V, pp. lvi-lviii; not 1497 as stated by J. C. Tavadia, p. 122). The designation Bahman yašt stems from Anquetil du Perron, the pioneer of Zoroastrian studies in Europe (A. H. Anquetil-Duperron, Zend-Avesta, ouvrage de Zoroastre . . . , Paris, 1771, I/2, pp. xviii-xix), and is an abbreviation of Zand ī Wahman yasn, the title of the Middle Persian and Pāzand versions. In chapter 3.1 of the Pahlavi text, the source of the work is named as Zand ī Wahman yasn (which West unwarrantedly emended to yašt). This must have been the Middle Persian translation of an Avestan text. Almost certainly no part of the Avestan original has been preserved, because even if there is truth in the tradition that Yašt 1.24-32 is a remnant of the lost Bahman yašt (J. Darmesteter, Le Zend-Avesta II, Paris, 1892-93, repr. 1960, p. 331), this section has nothing in common with the well-attested Bahman yašt texts. According to Ph. Gignoux an Avestan original never did exist (“Sur l’inexistence d’un Bahman Yasht avestique,” Journal of Asian and African Studies 32, Tokyo, 1986, pp. 53-64).

Contents of the Middle Persian version. Chapter 1, modeled on the Stūdgar (sic, i.e. Sūdgar) nask, recounts Ohrmazd’s revelation to Zarathustra and describes a tree with four branches, of gold, silver, steel, and “mixed” iron, symbolizing four periods to come after the millennium of Zarathustra.

Chapter 2 tells how, in the time of Mazdak, Ḵosrow I (531-79) ordered that the Bahman yašt and other Avestan texts should be made public but their zands (i.e., Pahlavi commentary) should be reserved for the students among the clergy.

Chapter 3, modeled on the Zand ī Wahman yasn, repeats chapter 1 in greater detail and describes, among other things, a tree with seven branches, of gold, silver, copper, bronze, tin, and “mixed” iron.

Chapters 4 and 5 tell how calamities which will befall Iran at the end of the tenth millennium when enemy nations—Arabs, Byzantines, Turks, Chionites, Hephthalites(?), Tibetans, Chinese (see H. W. Bailey, “Iranian Studies,” BSOS 6, 1932, pp. 945-53), and others, will push almost as far as Padašxwārgar and conquer Iran, causing decay of religion, breakdown of social order, debasement of law and morality, and degeneration of nature.

Chapter 6 is another account of events at the end of the millennium of Zarathustra: domination by Roman Christians, Turks, and Arabs, escape of Iranian fugitives to Padašxwārgar.

Chapters 7 and 8 describe events of the eleventh millennium, that of Ušēdar. Before and during this time, the warrior Wahrām Warzāwand and Wištāsp’s immortal son, Pišyōtan the Priest, combine to overcome the hostile armies and restore Iran and its religion. Finally the god Mihr (Mithra) intervenes on Pišyōtan’s side in the struggle against the demons, who have exceeded their term of rule by 1,000 years, and defeats the demon Xešm, whereupon he and his followers flee back to hell.

Chapter 9 begins with a statement that Ušēdar will appear in the year 1800 (variant reading: 1600; after the start of the millennium of Zarathustra?) and Pišyōtan at the end of the millennium. This is followed by a sketch of conditions in the millennium of Ušēdarmāh, an account of the unloosing of Ažī Dahāk (see aždahā) and the great harm done to the world by this monster before his death at the hands of Karšāsp, and finally a portrayal of the final deliverance by Sōšyāns.

Importance for the history of religion. The Bahman yašt is the most important apocalyptic work in Zoroastrian literature, primarily because its vision of the tree (in chapter 3, and in an older form in chapter 1) is obviously comparable with Nebuchadnezzar’s vision of the image of the world empires (in Daniel 2:27-45; see also Daniel 7). Until recently the hypothesis of Irano-Babylonian influence was accepted by most scholars (see A. Hultgård, “Das Judentum in der hellenistisch-römischen Zeit und die iranische Religion,” in Aufstieg und Niedergang der römischen Welt II: Prinzipat XIX/1, ed. W. Haase, Berlin and New York, 1979, p. 525, nn. 59 and 60; T. Olsson, “The Apocalyptic Activity. The Case of Jāmāsp Nāmag,” in D. Hellholm, ed., Apocalypticism in the Mediterranean World and the Near East, Tübingen, 1983, pp. 26-27). This hypothesis implies that the Iranian apocalyptic concepts were a source of the Judeo-Christian concepts. Against it, arguments for the direct dependence of the Iranian on the Jewish tradition have now been advanced by E. Bickerman (Four Strange Books of the Bible, Jonah, Daniel, Koheleth, Esther, New York, 1967, pp. 68, 117) and J. Duchesne-Guillemin (“Apocalypse juive et apocalypse iranienne,” in U. Bianchi and M. J. Vermaseren, La soteriologia dei culti orientali nell’Impero Romano, Leiden, 1982, pp. 758-59). (For earlier opinions to this effect, see Olsson, op. cit., p. 26 n. 34.) The text does not, however, support Bickerman’s and Duchesne-Guillemin’s interpretation of “mixed iron” as “iron and clay.” M. Boyce (“On the Antiquity of Zoroastrian Apocalyptic,” BSOAS 47, 1984, pp. 70-72) suspects borrowing from Greek sources in western Iran in the late fourth century B.C. and dependence of the Daniel apocalypse on the Iranian apocalypse. Her interpretation of the difficult words āhan (ī) abar gumēxt as “iron ore” is also problematic. (For an explanation of these words as being corrupted from āhan xāk abar gumēxt “iron mixed with earth,” see Ph. Gignoux, “Nouveaux regards sur l’apocalyptique iranienne,” Comptes rendus de l’Académie des inscriptions et belles-lettres, Paris, 1986, pp. 334-46.) A. Hultgård (op. cit., pp. 524-26), while stressing the originality of the Iranian imagery, concludes that the author of the Book of Daniel took over an Iranian concept of successive world empires, which had been passed on by the Seleucids, together with a Zoroastrian picture of four world eras. Weight is lent to this opinion by the fact that the presentation of the four ages in the Sūdgar nask (Dēnkard 9.8, ed. Madan, p. 792; West, Sacred Books of the East XXXVII, Oxford, 1892, pp. 180-81) gives the impression of having been revised and updated rather than conceived in the Sasanian period. On the other hand it is possible that the metal symbolism in the Book of Daniel may have been thought up first; if so, this would be an argument for early dependence of the Iranian tradition on the Jewish tradition.

There are also some similarities between the Bahman yašt and the “Oracles of Hystaspes” (1st century B.C.). On the strength of them F. Cumont and G. Widengren have judged the oracle to be dependent on an Iranian source, while J. Duchesne-Guillemin has come to the reverse conclusion (F. Cumont, “La fin du monde selon les sages orientaux,” RHR 52, 1931, pp. 64-93; J. Bidez and F. Cumont, Les mages hellénisés II, Paris, 1938, pp. 361-76; G. Widengren, “Leitende Ideen und Quellen der iranischen Apocalyptic,” in D. Hellholm, op. cit., pp. 121-26; J. Duchesne-Guillemin, op. cit., pp. 757-58). The fact that the prospective enemies are called “girdle-wearers” in the Egyptian potter’s oracle as well as in the Bahman yašt has recently been discussed, but Iranian origin denied (L. Koenen, “Die Adaptation ägyptischer Königsideologie am Ptolemäerhof,” in E. van’t Dack, P. van Dessel, and W. van Gucht, Egypt and the Hellenistic World, Louvain, 1981, pp. 181-83).

Source material and elaboration. Being a literary work, the Bahman yašt should not be simply equated with the transmitted material which it contains. E. W. West surmised that the extant texts are versions of an 11th- or 12th-century “epitome” of a Middle Persian Zand ī Wahman yasn written at the end of the 7th century (Sacred Books of the East V, pp. liii-lvi, p. 194 n. 4), and that the Avestan text was probably a compilation of older source material made under the early Sasanians (pp. liv-lv). M. Boyce (op. cit., p. 68) thinks that the original may have been a late Avestan text dating from the troubled time of the Macedonian conquest, and S. K. Eddy attempted to reconstruct such an “original version of Hellenistic date” (The King is Dead, Lincoln, 1861, pp. 343-49). G. Widengren (op. cit., pp. 105-19) inferred from an analysis of chapters 7-9 that the Middle Persian text may be based on a Parthian zurvanistic adaptation of a zoroastrianized yašt (which in that case cannot have been Bahman yašt). On several points, however, different perceptions are also possible. West had already cited the linguistic evidence for an Avestan origin of the Middle Persian text, but had also acknowledged that the typical style of the Avesta might have been imitated in the Middle Persian text.

When the title Bahman yašt seemingly promises information about Bahman, Vohu Manah of the Avesta, who escorted Zarathustra to the presence of Ohrmazd, the fact that Bahman does not enter into the work at all is bound to cause surprise. It indicates that the naming and perhaps also (as suggested by West) the literary recension were secondary developments. This certainly seems true of the tree simile drawn in chapter 1 and redrawn in chapter 3, which is ascribed to the Stūdgar nask although in the epitome of the Sūdgar nask in the Dēnkard the same theme is presented without the tree imagery.

Both the existence of an Avestan substratum (Widengren, op. cit., pp. 112-17; Boyce, op. cit., p. 69) and the occurrence of repeated revisions (Widengren, op. cit., p. 118) may be taken as proved. Also discernible are some secondary borrowings from old traditional sources (Olsson, op. cit., pp. 38-46) and even, in chapter 9, some responses to the undue delay of the appearance of Ušēdar (West, op. cit., p. 231 n. 1). The pretensions to apocalyptic knowledge in the Bahman yašt were what prompted its continual revision and elaboration. The result is an often contradictory mixture of various layers of tradition (West, pp. lv-lvi), which are all the harder to differentiate because of the poor state of preservation of the text. The extant versions give the impression of being a work of elaboration and supplementation rather than an epitome. The probably original component appears to begin with chapter 3, where the Zand ī Wahman yasn is mentioned by name, and to end with the last section of chapter 5, which is a Middle Persian translation of the Yeŋ́hē hātąm, the prayer at the close of most parts of the yasna. If this is so, the original subject matter would have been concerned solely with the tenth millennium, i.e., the time-span of the tree vision.

See also apocalyptic i: in zoroastrianism.

 

Bibliography:

Editions and translations. E. W. West, tr., Bahman Yasht, in Sacred Books of the East V , pp. 189-235 (the first complete translation of the Middle Persian version).

K. A. D. Nosherwân, ed. and tr., The Text of the Pahlvi Zand î-Yôhûman Yasht, Bombay, 1903 (Middle Persian text with Gujarati translation).

E. T. Anklesaria, ed. and tr., Zand-î Vohûman Yasn and Two Pahlavi Fragments, Bombay, 1957 (Middle Persian text with English translation; the references in the present article are to this edition).

The Pāzand text is included in Pāzend Texts, ed. and collated by E. E. K. Antiâ, Bombay, 1909, pp. 339-48.

The New Persian version has been printed in E. M. R. Unvâlâ, ed., Dârâb Hormazyâr’s Rivâyat II, Bombay, 1922, pp. 86-101, Eng. tr.

E. B. N. Dhabhar, ed., The Persian Rivayats of Hormazyar Framarz and Others, Bombay, 1932, pp. 457-81.

See also J. C. Tavadia, Die mittelpersische Sprache und Literatur der Zarathustrier, pp. 121-24, and M. Boyce, “Middle Persian Literature,” pp. 49-50, n. 8, and idem, “The Poems of the Persian Sibyl and the Zand ī Vahman Yašt,” in Mélanges Lazard, Paris (forthcoming).

(W. Sundermann)

Originally Published: December 15, 1988

Last Updated: August 24, 2011

This article is available in print.
Vol. III, Fasc. 5, pp. 492-493