Zoroaster, the founder of Zoroastrianism

Translated by E. W. WEST

The Episties of Manuskihar - Index Page


It has been already stated (see pp, xiii, xiv) that Zâd-sparam, a younger brother of Manuskihar, after having been at Sarakhs, in the extreme north-east of Khurâsân, where he seems to have associated with the heretical Tughazghuz, was appointed high-priest of Sîrkân, south or south-west of Kirmân 1. Shortly after his arrival there he issued a decree, regarding the ceremonies of purification and other matters, which was so unpalatable to the Mazda-worshippers of that place that they wrote an epistle to Manuskihar, complaining of the conduct of his brother (Ep. I, i, 2, ii, 1).

In reply to this complaint, which was sent by a special courier (Ep. I, i, 2), and after going to Shîrâz and holding a general assembly of the priests and elders (Ep. II, i, ii), Manuskihar wrote his first epistle, completed on the 15th March 881 (Ep. I, xi, 12), in which he condemned the practices decreed by Zâd-sparam, to whom he sent a confidential agent, named Yazdân-pânak (Ep. I, xi, i, 2, 6, 10, II, vii, 2), with a copy of this epistle and a further one to himself, which has not been preserved, for the purpose of inducing his brother to withdraw his decree and conform to the usual customs.

It would appear that Yazdân-pânak was not very successful in his mission, as we find Manuskihar writing a general epistle (Ep. III) to all the Mazda-worshippers in Irân, in the following June or July (Ep. III, 21), denouncing as heretical the mode of purification decreed by Zâd-sparam, and ordering an immediate return to former customs. At the same time (Ep. II, vii, 2, viii, 1) he wrote a second epistle (Ep. II) to his brother, as he had already promised in Ep. I, xi, 2, and, after referring to an epistle (now lost) which he had received from Zâd-sparam in the previous November or December, he proceeded to enforce his views by a judicious intermingling of argument, entreaty, and threats. He also contemplated making preparations (Ep. I, xi, 4, II, vii, 3) for travelling himself to Sîrkân, notwithstanding his age (Ep. II, ix, 1), to arrange the matters in dispute upon a satisfactory basis. Whether he actually undertook this journey is unknown, but that his brother must have finally submitted to his authority appears from Zâd-sparam retaining his position in the south, as has been already noticed (p. xiv).

The matter in dispute between Zâd-sparam and the orthodox Mazda-worshippers may seem a trivial one to people of other religions, but, inasmuch as the ceremonial uncleanness of a person insufficiently purified after contact with the dead would contaminate every one he associated with, the sufficiency of the mode of purification was quite as important to the community, both priests and laity, as avoidance of breach of caste-rules is to the Hindû, or refraining from sacrifices to heathen gods was to the Jew, the early Christian, or the Muhammadan. And much more important than any disputes about sacraments, infallibility, apostolic succession, ritual, or observance of the Sabbath can possibly be to any modern Romanist or Protestant.

In his mode of dealing with this matter Manuskihar displays at once the moderation and tact of a statesman accustomed to responsibility, the learning and zeal of a well-informed priest, and the kindly affection of a brother. That he was not without rivals and enemies appears from his casual allusions to Zaratûst, the club-footed, and Âtûro-pâd in Ep. II, i, 13, v, 14, ix, 11; but in all such allusions, as well as in his denunciation of heretical opinions, he refrains from coarse invective, and avoids the use of exaggerated language, such as too often disfigures and weakens the arguments in polemical discussions.

Indirectly these epistles throw some light upon the condition of the Mazda-worshippers after more than two centuries of ceaseless struggle with the ever-advancing flood of Muhammadanism which was destined to submerge them. Shîrâz, Sîrkân, Kirmân, Râî, and Sarakhs are still mentioned as head-quarters of the old faith; and we are told of assemblies at Shîrâz and among the Tughazghuz, the former of which appears to have had the chief control of religious matters in Pârs, Kirmân, and the south, acting as a council to the high-priest of Pârs and Kirmân, who was recognised as the leader of the religion (Dd. XLV, 5). We also learn, from Ep. I, iii, I x, II, v, 14, that the leaders of the Mazda-worshippers, if not their high-priests, were still in the habit of maintaining troops and, from Ep. II, i, 9, that when a high-priest became very old his worldly duties were performed by four of the most learned priests, forming a committee, which had full authority to deliberate and act for him in all worldly matters. Manuskihar even speaks of emigrating by sea to China, or by land to Asia Minor (Ep. II, viii, 5), in order to escape from the annoyances of his position.

But the statements which are most important to the Pahlavi scholar, in these epistles, are the date attached to the third epistle, corresponding to A.D. 881, and the mention of Nîshahpûhar in Ep. I, iv, 15, 17 as the supreme officiating priest and councillor of king Khûsrô Nôshirvân (A.D. 531-579), engaged apparently in writing commentaries on the Avesta. The date of these epistles not only limits that of the Dâdistân-î Dînîk to the latter half of the ninth century, but also fixes those of the larger recension of the Bundahis and of the latest revision of the Dînkard within the same period, because it is stated in Bd. XXXIII, 10, 11 that the writer of that chapter was a contemporary of Zâd-sparam, son of Yûdân-Yim, and Âtûr-pâd, son of Hêmîd, the former of whom was evidently the brother of Manuskihar, and the latter is mentioned in Dînkard III, ccccxiii as the latest editor of that work. The actual compiler of a great part of the Dînkard (especially of the fourth and fifth books) was, however, the somewhat earlier writer Atûr-frôbag, son of Farukhûzâd (Dd. LXXXVIII, 8, Ep. I, iii, 9). The name of Nîshahpûhar is also mentioned as that of a commentator in the Pahlavi Vendidâd and Nîrangistân, which works must, therefore, have been revised since the middle of the sixth century. And as we are informed in the book of Ardâ-Vîrâf (I, 35) that 'there are some who call him by the name of Nikhshahpûr,' we ought probably to refer that book to the same age. These epistles, therefore, enable us, for the first time, to fix the probable dates of the latest extensive revisions of six of the most important Pahlavi works that are still extant; and from the relationship of these to others we can readily arrive at safer conclusions, regarding the age of Pahlavi literature in general, than have been hitherto possible.


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xxv:1 The city of Kirmân was itself called Sîrgân, or Sîrgân, in the middle ages, and is evidently mentioned by that name in Ouseley's Oriental Geography, pp. 139, 143, though the Sîrgân of pp. 138, 141 of the same work was clearly further south. Which of these two towns was the Sîrkân of these epistles, may therefore, be doubtful.

PAHLAVI TEXTS Translated by E. W. WEST Part II The Dâdistân-î Dînîk and the Epistles of Mânûskîhar Clarendon: Oxford University Press [1882]