The Transmission of the Avesta.

Author:Tucker, Elizabeth
Position:Book review

The Transmission of the Avesta. Edited by ALBERTO CANTERA. Iranica, vol. 20. Wiesbaden: HARRASSOWITZ VERLAG, 2012. Pp. xx + 552, 34 illustrationss, 48 tables, 18 diagrams. 116 [euro].

Out of this collection of twenty-three papers (which originate from a conference organized by the editor at the University of Salamanca in September 2009), fifteen are about Avestan manuscripts (mss) and the period of written transmission. The volume draws attention to the collection of 120 mss already digitized in 2012 for the Salamanca Avestan Digital Archive project (ADA), some of which can be viewed online at The final count is expected to exceed Geldner's total of around 135 but they are not the same mss (p. xv) and include twenty from Iran that have not been previously studied (pp. 441-42). If aspects of this volume have shortcomings, it must be stressed at the beginning of this review what useful work its editor has been doing for the past six years in attempting to record for posterity (or at least as long as computerized digitizations survive!) all the Avestan mss that can be currently located.

The first of the four sections, entitled "From Oral Composition to the Writing Down of the Avestan Texts," begins with a new paper by P. O. Skjaervo on the orality of the Avestan tradition, provided with an appendix about the terms used by the Avestan and Middle Persian Zoroastrian texts themselves to describe the learning and performance of the oral canon. Ulla Remmer analyzes the techniques, with illustrations from Niyayis I, used by late Avestan composers to create prayer formulae on the basis of older Avestan texts, and Eric Pirart writes on the evidence for metrical terminology in the Avesta itself and possible metrical indications in some mss. The three other contributions in this section give the differing views of three scholars, Jean Kellens, Antonio Panaino, and the late Xavier Tremblay, on the vexed questions about why, when, and how the Avestan canon was constituted and later committed to writing. Their complex and often speculative arguments cannot be examined in a review of this length, but three points where some convergence of ideas emerges may be noted (A. Cantera's two contributions to this volume also concur). Firstly, our Avestan mss do not represent the fragmentary remains of the huge canon of twenty-one Nasks ("the Sasanian Avesta") described in the ninth-century Denkard, but rather they contain complete liturgical...

To continue reading