human sacrifice and death penalty (mea culpa)

Lars Martin Fosse lmfosse at ONLINE.NO
Mon Apr 27 08:56:23 UTC 1998

>>Indology is not a place to discuss matters of criminal law and penalty, but
>>for the record, let me add that I regard both the views expressed by people
>>who support the death penalty and the views of Medhatithi as simplistic.
>I beg  the pardon of Lars Martin Fosse, but 
>A) I am perverse enough to think  that  "the relationship between humans and
>the divine powers" and "social control" are deeply correlated, and that the
>study of such correlations has some interest... 

A fairly common perversion, I think. However, are you now discussing the
relationship between humans and divine powers as they are conceived of today
in the USA and Europe (the modern industrialised world), or this
relationship as perceived in India, say, 1500-2000 years ago?

>B) I think that "observable facts"  are "the facts that I observe", and that
>the way I interpret them may be influenced by personal prejudice. As
>Monseigneur Lamothe said to one of my friend, his student, who
>misinterpreted a
>point of buddhist doctrine, "Mon pauvre ami, vous serez toujours un

I suggest you spend more time watching the newscast on television, then you
will see that it isn't only me... Discussions of the death penalty is part
of the public debate, and popular views on who should be hanged (or
whatever) are regularly expressed on American TV in connection with murder
cases. Mon pauvre ami, you should join the rest of the world for a few moments.

>C) I tried to understand the position of dharmazAstra on death penalty, an
>effort I supposed connected not only with juridical anthropology, but also

Correct. But the dharmashastra view is only one way of looking at things.
For practical politics, I would rather look to the Arthashastra. There is a
traditional error in Indology which treats the intellectual outpourings of
Brahmins during the last 3000 years or so as representative of the whole
population of India. That is not necessarily the case. I think that the
Brahmin point of view has been "overrepresented" in many contexts, of
course, primarily because they have left us most of our sources. That is why
we should hang on the scraps of kshatriyavidya that we have as hard as we can.

>D) To this effect I cited medhAtithi, the oldest -- and most revered
>commentary on Manu. I confess, I stupidely trusted G. Bühler, PV Kane, JDM
>Derrett and a few others, who described his work as "erudite", "full of
>interesting information". 

All of this is true, of course. But have you never noticed that even erudite
people can make the most idiotic mistakes? Silly statements from otherwise
brilliant academics could fill volumes. The fact that something is written
by M. does not mean that it makes good sense. 

>E) Worse, I even imagined that indology was a place to discuss matters of
>[hindu] criminal law and penalty. I should have known better...

True again. But not the discussion of the virtues of modern criminal law
disconnected from hindu or Indic studies. This is an Indological list, not a
crime and punishment list.

Best regards,

Lars Martin Fosse Lars Martin Fosse
Haugerudvn. 76, Leil. 114,
0674 Oslo

Tel: +47 22 32 12 19
Fax: +47 22 32 12 19
Email: lmfosse at
Mobile phone: 90 91 91 45

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