Sunday, February 27, 2011

Review of new translation of hymns of Zoroaster

BOOK REVIEW by Marion James in Today's Zaman:

‘The Hymns of Zoroaster’


The general assessment of Zoroaster in Western general knowledge often depicts him as an ancient oriental guru -- the pre-history forerunner of modern Indian holy men. In his new translation of the sacred texts of Zoroastrianism, Oxford Professor M.L. West challenges this thinking by stating that Zoroaster was “a revolutionary religious thinker and leader who appeared from nowhere in a remote region of Central Asia at the very dawn of Iranian history.”


What remains today of the teachings of Zoroaster? The hymns (Gathas) and a liturgy in seven chapters (Yasna Haptanhaiti) were mainly composed before the third century B.C. Of the 21 volumes, only 14 remain and some of those are fragments. These poems are composed in a very archaic language -- the obscure Older Avesta. The existing available translations differ widely from one another: West maintains that this is because many have been done by pure linguists who have paid little attention to the religious aspects of the pronouncements and ignored the beliefs and interpretations of modern-day Zoroastrians.

So, in a groundbreaking new work, he presents us with a new translation that is eminently readable. “Translation is challenging,” he says, as there are very few examples of Older Avestan available to us today. Moreover, “understanding the meaning is challenging.”


“The Hymns of Zoroaster: A New Translation of the Most Ancient Sacred Texts of Iran,” by M.L. West, published by IB Tauris (2010), 15 pounds in paperback ISBN: 978-184885505-2