method of dating RV, III

George Thompson thompson at JLC.NET
Thu Jun 4 13:42:03 UTC 1998

Well, I don't know how Jan Houben will score the following no doubt
*subjective* speculations, but perhaps I will find out:

A factor that has not been mentioned so far is the close connection,
linguistic and cultural, between the RV and Avestan, esp. old Avestan
texts, the GAthAs and the Yasna HaptaNhAiti. No, I'm not suggesting that
comparison with these texts will enable us to date the RV more accurately,
since they are just as difficult to date as the RV is.

But I would find it hard to accept any dating that would greatly separate
the RV from these texts, either in time or in space.

I'm sure that Michael Wiztel does not need to be reminded, but the list
might be interested to know that there is a kind of revisionism going on in
Avestan studies that makes the GAthAs to seem more ritualistic in focus,
which is to say more like the RV.

I'm not sure that his arguments are entirely persuasive, but Helmut Humbach
has recently attempted to defend a dating of the GAthAs to about 1000 BCE
[in his 1991 re-translation]. Kellens & Pirart [*Les textes
vieil-avestiques* 1988] date the GAthAs to roughly the same date, or only a
bit later [though I have not seen the later volumes where they apparently
defend their views]. I myself would 'guesstimate' that most of the hymns of
the RV were composed at roughly this time, or only slightly before.

Lately I've been entertaining the idea that the RV and the GAthAs are more
or less contemporary, and that there may be references in the RV not so
much to Zarathustra or Mazdayasnians, but rather to their immediate
ancestors. Kellens & Pirart also have argued in favor of de-historicizing
Zarathustra, thus making him to look more like a legendary Vedic RSi than a
historical prophet. If there is some legitimacy in this argument, then it
might not be too far-fetched to suggest that terms like a'deva, devani'd,
or deva'zatru, etc., might refer to Iranians, whom the Aryans of the RV.

In fact, these terms, and the related phraseology of the hymns in which
they occur, are echoed in Avestan phraseology, which leads one to conclude
that they belong to a unified conceptual universe, common Indo-Iranian.
This is not controversial. But there is also evidence for contact, and not
just common, inherited tradition.

For example: Michael Witzel has cited the Scythian Kanites, who are
referred to, as he points out, in the 8th book of the RV, 8.46.21 and 24.
This passage is a dAnastuti praising the generosity of pRthuzra'vas kAnIta'
[pRthuzravas, son of KanIta].

Stanza 21 opens with the assertion that no "godless man" [a'deva] can be
found who has received as much dakSiNA as vaza azvya has from pRthuzravas.
Now, if pRthuzravas is a Scythian, a son of KanIta, then it seems
reasonable to suppose that this Vedic RSi, vaza azvya, is using the term
a'deva to refer to less successful rivals who are godless:

These must be Iranians for whom devas [daEuuas] are demons, not to be
worshipped [adaEuuaiiasna].

Note, by the way, that among the gifts given by this Scythian patron one
finds, besides thousands of horses and cows, 120 camels, and a golden

Quite a wealthy man he was, this Scythian.

Best wishes,

George Thompson

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