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In the present-day, hērbad is the lowest rank in the Zoroastrian priesthood, and is granted following the basic navar ceremony that marks the beginning of theological training. Unlike a mobed or dastur, a herbad may not be the celebrant of a Yasna service. He may however assist. A herbad may also not officiate at a recitation of the Vendidad. This task is reserved for priests of higher grade.
Amongst lay Zoroastrians, the three terms are used interchangeably. Unlike mobed but like dastur, herbad may be adopted as a professional title in a persons name.
History of the term
Middle Persian herbad (Pahlavi ʼyhlpt) derives from Avestan aethrapaiti, which in the Avesta denotes a priestly teacher whose students (aethrii) would be taught to recite the sacred texts. By the 2nd century CE, the term had however come to refer to a clergyman who taught religious subjects, and the term appears to have commanded greater prestige than it does today. In the late 3rd century inscription at the Ka'ba-ye Zartosht, the high-priest Kartir refers to himself as herbad. There is some evidence that suggest that already by the 6th century, herbads performed advanced theological tasks, including translations and interpretation of Avestan texts. The 10th century Denkard refers to the high-priest Tansar - who in legend is attributed with the collation of the Avesta - as herbad.
Following the collapse of the Sassanid state in the 6th century, after which Zoroastrianism began to be supplanted by Islam, the increasingly impoverished Zoroastrian communities found it difficult to support a priesthood known only for their scholarship. By the 9th century, there was an active rivalry between these scholar-priests and ritual priests, with each group underbidding the other in their attempts to secure an income. For Zoroastrian laypersons, the distinction between the two groups was at best theoretical and by the 10th century, the term herbad had lost most associations of scholarship and eventually came to refer to priests that had no theological authority. Beyond this distinction, the terms herbad, mobad and dastur were used interchangeably.
In the 16th century, the Rivayat epistles encouraged the Indian Zoroastrians to distinguish between priests who were capable of officiating at a Vendidad reading and those who weren't. This injunction led to the reinstatement of a hierarchy, with herbads at the lowest rung on the ladder. Above these were the mobads, denoting priests who had completed their training. In India, the mobads have a dastur as their superior. This is effectively an administrative rank and denotes a director of a fire temple. A dastur is however also the highest religious instance for the community that worships at that temple.
- Boyce, Mary (2001), Zoroastrians, their religious beliefs and practices, London: Routledge
- Kreyenbroek, Philip G. (2004), "Hērbed", Encyclopaedia Iranica 12, Costa Mesa: Mazda