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Introduction (Pre-Islamic Literature )

Oral traditions held a special significance in pre-Islamic Iran and religious and literary works were transmitted by word of mouth for centuries. For instance, the Avestā only came to be written down in the Sassanian period after centuries of oral transmission. Some of the main causes that prompted the Zoroastrians to put their religious books into writing during the Sassanian period were, first and foremost, to protect them against the rapid spread of Islam and, secondly, to respond to the criticism that the followers of other scriptural religions like the Christians leveled against them. Besides making reference to the oral literature of the Median and Sakan languages of yore, some written literary texts in the Avestan and Old Persian have also survived in the ancient sources. Substantial literary works belonging to the Middle period of the two groups of Western Iranian languages (comprising Parthian and Middle Persian languages) and the Eastern Iranian languages (comprising Soghdian, Khwārazmian, Sakan, and Bactrian) are available today. Unlike the Zoroastrians, Māni and his followers gave great importance to penning down their religious books and some of their works in the Iranian languages (Middle Persian, Parthian, and Soghdian) have also survived to date.

* source: Zarshenas , Zohreh " Iran Entry " The Great Islamic Encyclopedia . Ed. Kazem Musavi Bojnourdi.Tehran: The Center of Great Islamic Encyclopaedia , 1989-, V.10 , pp.557


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