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- For the fictional character in the Marvel Universe series, see Ahura (comics); for the river, see Akhurian River.
Avestan ahura derives from Indo-Iranian *asura, also attested in an Indian context as RigVedic asura. As suggested by the similarity to the Old Norse æsir, Indo-Iranian *asura may have an even earlier Indo-European root.
For not altogether obvious reasons, the Oxford English Dictionary lists asura, rather than ahura, as a Zoroastrian term.
In the Gathas
In the Gathas, the oldest hymns of Zoroastrianism and thought to have been composed by Zoroaster himself, the prophet exhorts his followers to pay reverence to only the ahuras, and to rebuff the daevas and others who act "at Lie's command". This should not however be construed to reflect a view of a primordial opposition: Although the daevas would in later Zoroastrian tradition appear as malign creatures, in the Gathas the daevas are (collectively) gods that are to be rejected. (see daeva for details)
In the Gathas, the prophet does not specify which of the divinities aside from Ahura Mazda he considers to be ahuras.
In the Younger Avesta
In the Fravaraneh, the Zoroastrian credo summarized in Yasna 12.1, the adherent declares: "I profess myself a Mazda worshiper, a follower of the teachings of Zoroaster, rejecting the daevas, ... " This effectively defines ahura by defining what ahura is not.
In the Younger Avesta, three divinities of the Zoroastrian pantheon are repeatedly identified as ahuric. These three are Ahura Mazda, Mithra and Apam Napat, and hence known as the "Ahuric triad". Other divinities with whom the term "Ahuric" is associated include the six Amesha Spentas and (notable among the lesser yazatas) Aredvi Sura of The Waters and Ashi of Reward and Recompense.
- Boyce, Mary (1975), History of Zoroastrianism, Vol. I, Leiden: Brill
- Boyce, Mary (1983), "Ahura Mazda", Encyclopaedia Iranica, 1, New York: Routledge & Kegan Paul: 684–687
- Gershevitch, Ilya (1964), "Zoroaster's Own Contribution", Journal of Near Eastern Studies, 23 (1): 12–38, doi:10.1086/371754
- Kuiper, Bernardus Franciscus Jacobus (1983), "Ahura", Encyclopaedia Iranica, 1, New York: Routledge & Kegan Paul: 682–683
- Thieme, Paul (1960), "The 'Aryan' Gods of the Mitanni Treaties", Journal of the American Oriental Society, 80 (4): 301–317, doi:10.2307/595878
Problems of interpretation Old Avestan daēuua or daēva derives from Old Iranian *daiva, which in turn derives from Indo-Iranian *daivá- "god," reflecting Proto-Indo-European *deiu̯ó with the same meaning. For derivatives in a European context, see Tyr. The Vedic Sanskrit cognate of Avestan daēuua is devá-, continuing in later Indo-Aryan languages as dev.
Because all cognates of Iranian *daiva have a positive connotation, but "no known Iranian dialect attests clearly and certainly the survival of a positive sense for [Old Iranian] *daiva-", in the 19th- and 20th-century a great deal of academic discussion revolved around questions of how Iranian daeva might have gained its derogatory meaning. This "fundamental fact of Iranian linguistics" is "impossible" to reconcile with the testimony of the Gathas, where the daevas, though rejected, were still evidently gods that continued to have a following. The same is true of the daiva inscription, where the daiva are the gods of (potential) rebels, but still evidently gods that continued to have a following.
The issue is related to the question of how Zoroaster's own contribution to Iranian religion might be defined. In the older early/mid 20th-century view (so-called reform hypothesis), in which Zoroaster was perceived to be a revolutionary reformer, it was assumed that the daevas must have been the "national" gods (see comparison with Indic usage, below) of pre-Zoroastrian Iran, which Zoroaster had then rejected. In this scenario, the "rejection of the [daevas] is linked to Zoroaster's reform" and Gershevitch and others following Lommel consider the progression from "national" gods to demons to be attributable to the "genius of Zoroaster." Subsequent scholarship (so-called progressive hypothesis) has a more differentiated view of Zoroaster, and does not follow the unprovable assumption that prehistoric Iranian religion ever had "national" gods (and thus also that the daevas could have represented such a group), nor does it involve hypothetical conjecture of whose gods the daevas might/might not have been. While the progressive hypothesis gives Zoroaster credit for giving Iranian religion a moral and ethical dimension, it does not (with one notable exception) give Zoroaster credit for the development of the daevas into demons. It assumes that the development was gradual, and that a general distrust of the daevas already existed by the time the Gathas were composed.