Circle of Ancient Iranian Studies
its Concept in the Iranian Culture
Hell is not explicitly mentioned in the Gathas. There are only
allusions made to it, if not in Yasna 31.20, at least in Yasna
46.11, where it is said that the soul and the daênâ of the wicked
arriving at the Ùinwad Bridge (Av. ch∂r∂tu;
see ÙINWAD PUHL) will be guests in the "house of falsehood"
(Av. drûjô d∂mânâ-),
and in Yasna 51.13. The word hell, literally bad existence (Av. dao‘aη
úha-, Pahl. dušox, Pers. duzakò, q.v.) only
occurs in the later Avesta. In the Zamyâd Yašt (19.44), Yima
threatens to raise the Evil Spirit from the "roaring hell" (Hintze,
1995, pp. 232-35). The Ha’ôxt nask (2) describes the destiny of
the just after death, then adds in a short third chapter the destiny of
the wicked. According to Jean Kellens (1995, p. 40, note 50), the writer
has created the account of the events at the death of the
unrighteous (druuant), who has chosen the path of Falsehood,
by transposition, in such a way as to mirror what befalls the just after
crossing the very Ùinwad Bridge. Thus the damned should descend the three
levels of Bad Thought, Bad Word, and Bad Deed, exactly as the just rise in
Good Thought, Good Word, and Good Deed, which are represented (obviously
not in conformity with astronomy) by the spheres of the stars, the moon,
and the sun (Panaino, 1995). By the same token, the damned are subjected
to despair instead of serenity and to a stinking wind instead of a scented
one, and they will have poison for food. Besides, the daênâ, the
peregrinating soul which accompanies the ruwân of the just in
their post-mortem destiny, only appears in its wicked form in later
Pahlavi literature, especially in personification of bad actions, being
often synonymous with the Pahlavi word kunišn "action."
This seems to indicate that the representation of hell or hells is rather
a late development in Zoroastrian faith. In fact, the third-century high
priest Kirdêr insists upon the necessity of believing in the existence of
a paradise and a hell, without identifying their locations or their levels
(Gignoux, 1991). In his account of his vision of paradise, he says that on
passing the bridge his double sees in the well of hell all sorts of
Ahrimanian animals, such as snakes, lizards, and other noxious creatures (xrafstar),
but he does not visit hell. On the other hand, this is what happens to the
soul of Ardâ Wirâz (q.v.), who devotes the major part of his account of
his extra-terrestrial voyage (the Ardâ Wirâz-nâmag) to the
description of hell and the punishments inflicted on the damned.
Alexander the Great himself is there for having destroyed the Iranian
state and religion. Just as in paradise, there are four levels in hell:
the soul of the wicked person descends to Bad Thought, Bad Word, Bad Deed
and then to hell proper itself. Hell is described as a deep well,
terrifying because it is dark, stinking, and extremely narrow. The
smallest of the xrafstars are as big as mountains, and all devour
and destroy the soul of the damned. Eighty chapters describe the most
horrible punishments and tortures adapted to the sins committed by the
damned. There is much emphasis on sexual crimes, but also on other actions
disapproved of by Mazdean ethics. Michel Tardieu has shown that there is a
probable influence of inter-testamentary apocalyptic writings in these
descriptions (Apocalypse of Peter and Paul). Hell is firstly the
residence of Ahriman, the demons, and the druzes. All atmospheric
calamities are associated with it: snow, cold, hail, rain, burning heat,
and so forth.
The Mênôg î xrad gives the same account as the Ardâ Wirâz-nâmag
of the fate of the souls of the just and the wicked. The latter (chap.
2, pp. 158-94), drawn by the demon Wîzarš (Av. Vîzar∂ša-),
meets his daênâ in the form of a horrible woman who reproaches
him for all his bad deeds. The damned soul takes three steps, successively
in Bad Thought, Bad Word, and Bad Deed; and the fourth step brings him in
front of the Evil Spirit and other demons, who mock him. The Evil Spirit
orders the most loathsome food cooked in hell for him. He is also served
poison, snake, scorpions, and other xrafstars, and he is doomed to
eat this to eternity. In his Wizîdagîhâ, Zâdspram often deals
with hell: from the cosmogonical point of view; he teaches (chap. 2.5)
that the entrance to hell was built by Ahriman when he made his intrusion
into the created world "like a snake coming out of its hole." It
is ignorance that leads to hell, and it is only the "corporal
soul" (ruwân î tanîg) that goes to hell, while the other
souls, the vital soul (gyân), the conscience (bôy), the fravaši
(q.v.), and the two other ruwâns turn away from it, but it is not
said what becomes of them (chap. 30.44). Hell is also compared to a prison
(chap. 30.51) and the damned to a stillborn fetus expelled from the body.
From the eschatological point of view, Zâdspram affirms that, in the end
of the world, a net will be extended by the messenger EÚrman in the
underworld to get the damned out of hell. They will blame the blessed for
not having warned them here on earth, just like the rich blaming the
blessed Lazarus. But they are separated like black and white sheep, just
as the sheep and goats are separated in Matthew (25.32-33). Then, each
blessed person is given a branch and every damned person a root, but the
just can climb the branches like a ladder to reach paradise, whereas the
damned fall (back ?) to hell because of the movement of the branches. But
EÚrman will bring all the damned back to earth, where they will be
forgiven. The divine compassion is stronger than its justice, as it is
also confirmed in the inter-testamentary apocalyptic writings, notably the
Armenian version of the Apocalypse of Paul (see Bauckham). Here,
hell is not eternal, as it is with Zâdspram.
In the Dâdestân î dênîg (q.v., chap. 26), Manušchihr
enumerates the four infernal places, parallel with the four celestial
places. His description conforms to all the Mazdean traditions: hell is
very deep, darker than anywhere else, most terrifying, and the hideaway of
all the demons and the druzes. It stinks and is full of
dirt, pain, and unhappiness; wickedness is not mixed with goodness as in
this world, and this makes it extremely awful. In hell, the soul of the
damned (chap. 31) finds the demon that corresponds to its sins, as in the Ardâ
Wirâz-nâmag, which will torment it until the day of the final
renovation (frašegird). It has never enough of the filthy food
which it is made to eat forever, and its punishment is related to its
principal sin. In question 32, the author defines three infernal places: hamêstagân
(q.v.), hell (dušox) or "worst existence," where poison
grows, and drujaskan (Av. druas-kanâ-), which is at the
bottom of darkness and where the chief demon resides. These places are
even geographically situated at the north, the demoniac direction, under
the earth; and the gate to hell is the "Arzur ridge" (see ARZUR),
which is very famous for its demons and which is in the Alborz mountains
(cf. Bundahišn 12.8; Vendidad 3.7). Manušchihr finally
teaches that at the time of the final renovation the souls of the wicked
go through the ordeal of molten metal for three days in order to be
purified. Thereafter there shall be neither demon, nor punishment, nor
hell. Thus, hell is not eternal.
In the Bundahišn (27.53), it is also said that in hell darkness
is so thick that it can be held in one's hand, the stench is so strong
that it can be cut by a knife, and loneliness is absolute. Hell is related
to the seven planets, especially to Saturn (Kêwân), which is very cold,
and to Mars (Wahrâm), which is very hot. Finally, the Dênkard V
summarizes all these data: Hell is situated under the earth, it is dark,
narrow, stinking and without bliss, and contains all wickedness.
Anklesaria, Dati-stan i Dinik, Part 1
Pursishn I-XL, ed. Ervad Tahmuras Dinshahji, Bombay, n.d. Richard
Bauckham. "The Conflict of Justice and Mercy: Attitudes to the
Damned in Apocalyptic Literature," La Fable Apocryphe,
Apocrypha 1, Brepols, 1990, pp. 181-96.
Philippe Gignoux, Les quatre inscriptions du mage Kirdir,
Idem, ed. and tr., Ardâ Wirâz-nâmag as Le livre d'Ardâ
Vîrâz, Paris, 1984.
Almut Hintze, ed. and tr. with comm., Der Zamyâd-Yašt,
Beitrage zur Iranistik 15, Weisbaden, 1994.
Jean Kellens, "L'âme entre le cadavre et le paradise," JA
283, 1995, pp. 19-56.
Antonio Panaino, "Uranographia Iranica I: The Three Heavens in
the Zoroastrian Tradition and the Mesopotamian Background," in
Rika Gyselen, ed., Au Carrefour des religions: Me‚langes
offerts aà Philippe Gignoux, Bures-sur-Yvette, 1995, pp.
Dastur Darab Peshotan
Sanjana, The Dînâ î Maînû Khrad,
or the Religious Decisions of the Spirit of Wisdom, Bombay,
Michel Tardieu, "L'Ardâ Virâz Nâmag et l'eschatologie
grecque," Stud. Ir. 14, 1985, pp. 17-24.
Fereydun Vahman, ed. and tr., Ardâ Wirâz Nâmag: The Iranian
Divine Commedia, Scandinavian Institute of Asian Studies,
Monograph 53, London and Malmo, 1986.
Zâdspram, Wizîdagîhâ, ed. and tr. with comm. Philippe
Gignoux and Ahmad Tafazzoli as Anthologie de Zâdspram, Paris,
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