Maria Macuch, The Hērbedestān as a Legal Source: A Section on the Inheritance of a Convert to Zoroastrianism



The Hērbedestān is one of the most intriguing extant sources not only for Zoroastrian theology, but also for Iranian legal history. Although it belongs to the well-known Zoroastrian scriptural tradition, the text remains in vast parts unintelligible, due to the use of an unexplained technical vocabulary taken from the fields of theology and jurisprudence, on the one hand, and the elliptical style of the text, on the other. Another problem is the strange discrepancy in certain passages between the Avestan text, its Pahlavi translation, and the longer commentaries referring to the translated text. The content of the commentaries indicates that legal discussions were by no means restricted to the original Avestan text, but referred to the canon law of the Church developed over centuries by Zoroastrian priests and, moreover, also in a larger sense to the jurisprudence of the Sasanian age which was based--at least theoretically--on religious law. The present contribution is an attempt to elucidate a passage on inheritance in the commentary to Chapter 12 of the Hērbedestān, in which the Avestan text is concerned with a completely different matter than the Pahlavi commentary. The Avestan part describes the length of time which a person should dedicate to religious studies, whereas the commentary mainly refers to the status of converts to Zoroastrianism with the focus on the proper manner of dealing with the children and wife of the convert and his property after his decease. I have tried to show that the Pahlavi commentary to this difficult text is one of our valuable legal sources, in which juridical matters are discussed on a highly sophisticated level by experts using the technical terminology of Sasanian jurisprudence and its legal jargon with full knowledge of all its implications.