Some questions on Asuras

Steve Farmer saf at SAFARMER.COM
Sun Jan 14 18:38:34 EST 2001

Gunthard Mueller writes:

> Steve:
> thanks for your interesting comments on the Gatha - Rigveda relationship.
> I am not in principle against the theory of mutually aggressive nomenclatura
> in the case of asura vs. daeuua, and you are perfectly right to point to the
> close exchange that was probably going on between the Indian and the Iranian
> cultural contexts in Rigvedic times.

> But I feel that if there really was an entire cultural conflict behind this
> linguistic issue, would one not assume that such a cultural conflict is
> evident in more than just this particular parallel?

> As I am not aware of any other such evidence, it seems to me that explaining
> this development of two religious terms with a cultural conflict is like
> explaining a pot hole with an earthquake. Sorry for being a bit flowery. I
> do agree that that a pot hole may be caused by an earthquake, but in that
> case we should find a lot more if we go digging. And it is this evidence
> (which would have to be pretty massive in the case of a cultural
> conflict, wouldn't you think?) which I am at least not aware of.

There aren't many places you could *look* for such evidence
outside the Vedas and Gathas, Gunthard. And that evidence does
exist in both sets of texts -- in the case of the Vedas, even
more clearly in post-RV works than in the RV's late strata.

You really don't need to imagine massive cultural clashes to
explain this conflict. Priestly rivalries alone could get the job
done. Similar bifurcations showed up in numerous other premodern
traditions without reflecting any massive cultural clashes,
although they often involved some sort of geographical division.
Think here of the priestly/doctrinal battles in ancient Egypt, of
warrior Buddhist monks in Japan, or of the doctrinal battles
marking the history of any Eurasian scholastic tradition.

It is a fact that the trajectories of premodern traditions
regularly diverged -- often as the result of some minor and not
major historical event. Once a minor doctrinal divergence was
encoded in a religious canon, path dependencies helped ensure its
continuation. I suspect that in the case of the
Late-RV/Old-Avestan split we have an early example of this
phenomenon. Somewhat later conflicts of this sort in India can,
of course, be seen in the battles between different Vedic
branches or in the conflicts accompanying the emergence of
Jainism and Buddhism. Despite the fuller documentation we have in
these cases, we still don't understand the deep grounds of these
conflicts fully. Nor could anyone easily claim that they were
results of some major cultural clash.

So perhaps you don't need earthquakes to explain most of the
potholes in history.

My best,

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