method of dating RV, III

George Thompson thompson at JLC.NET
Wed Jun 10 14:40:27 UTC 1998

Jan Houben is quite right to point out the circularity in my last post. I
will try to keep better watch over myself.

I am concerned to address his concerns re methodology, in particlular his
point re "numerical strength" of the evidence used [a point which, of
course, I accept -- basic philology].

I have in fact been studying all of the relevant passages. The material is,
I think, important, and raises many issues which I hope to be able to
explore [rest assured, though, that I do not intend to bombard the list
with this]. Just some general remarks here about the general context:

In his last post JH suggested, I think, that RV 8.46.21 was not
representative of all of the attestations of the term a'deva. In fact, this
is true, but that is also why it is of interest.

In general, one associates the term a'deva with the VRtra myth. VRtra is
probably the a'deva par excellence. The term a'deva also plays a key role
in Kuiper's theory of a cosmogonic rivalry between the asuras and the
devas. K makes much of RV 8.96.9 a'surA adevA'H [note the shift in accent:
this is the only example of *adeva* with end-accent -- perhaps marking it
as a bahuvrIhi only here, or perhaps there is more to it? or very little?].
There is also an interesting play on the phrase *vi'zve devA'H* at 7.1.10,
with vi'zvA a'devIH ... mAyA'H ['all the ungodly magical practices' of
those hostile to the Vedic Aryans; more on this below].

What is of particular interest is the relationship between those passages
[such as 8.46.21] in which the term a'deva [also adeva' and A'deva] seems
to refer to humans, rather than to demons [or rather 'non-gods' or gods who
are enemies of the devas; note that the terms ra'kSas (neut.)and rakSa's
(masc.) are both fairly common in a'deva contexts]. As is typical of
Rgvedic "evidence" in general, in the collection of passages where this
term occurs there is a complex interweaving of mythological and poetic
motives with historical ones. In other words, the references to historical
figures, i.e., the proper names that look Iranian or at least non-Vedic,
which have been discussed on this thread so far, are colored by semantic
associations with mythology. Such is the case too with the term a'deva. All
of this is very Vedic, of course. This makes the evidence difficult,
because of the multiple references radiating out from such culturally
loaded terms. But this complextiy is also one of the pleasures of Vedic.

So when we encounter an a'deva in the RV, we are not encountering some kind
of monad that can be isolated and clearly articulated. We are encountering
a piece of a very elaborate mosaic [many pieces of which, of course, are

The piece that we are looking at on this thread, the term a'deva, is linked
to many important motives in the RV. Among them, just to throw out another
issue, is the development of Indra within an Indo-Iranian context. The fact
that Iranians know of Indra only in late Avestan texts suggests to me that
Indra cannot be reconstructed to a common Indo-Iranian period or culture
area [even considering the presence of Indra in the Mitanni texts]. The
refs. in the Vendidad to Indra, as the first member of a list of demon
[daEuua] names, is to me good evidence of historical contact, rather than
common cultural inheritance.

Finally, an interesting hymn that links many of these motives and develops
them in a different direction is RV 5.2, a well-known hymn to Agni, to the
esoteric hidden Agni to whom many of the Vedic RSis were particularly
attracted [rather than, say, macho Indra]. In this hymn, there are
brahmodya-like riddles, priestly self-assertion [several times repeated
apazyam, atakSam], rare RV allusion to the zunaHzepa story [with the
assertion, contradicted it would seem by the fuller version at AB 7.13f.,
that it was Agni who freed zunaHzepa, rather than VaruNa or the gods

We have reference in st. 3 to the priest's rivals as anindrA'H and
anukthA'H. So when we encounter the phrases a'devIr mAyA'H [magic practices
of the a'deva] in st. 9 and paribA'dho a'devIH [obstructions of the a'deva]
in st. 10, I think it is reasonable to suppose that the reference is to
human beings, not gods or demons.

Who are these? Again, we have these possibilities:  (1) a Vedic Aryan hostile
to the devas; (2) an Iranian Aryan hostile to the devas; (3) a Dravidian or
some other non-Aryan hostile to the devas. Given that this hymn occurs in a
family book with some evident awareness of the West [cf. Witzel in the
Erdosy volume, p.317, citing the Krumu and Sarayu rivers: the latter at
least appears in Old Persian as haraiva, and in Late Avestan as hArOiiu;
cf. Haria, a territory in Margiana controlled a bit later by the Medes (see
Diakonoff in Camb. Hist. of Iran II, p.127, 129)], In my view (2) seems
more likely than (1) or (3). If we were talking about later Vedic [or even
later RV], I'd be inclined to (3) instead.

Like Jan Houben I will turn to the list for its judgments on this.

BTW, JH questions the likelihood of Vedic acquaintance with "Iranians with
a Zarathustric religion". The point, as I see it, of the "de-historicizing
of Zarathustra" is that Iranians had something like "Zarathustric religion"
even before Zarathustra. In fact, I see traces of "Zarathustric religion"
even in the RV, but that would be the subject of another post.

Best wishes,

George Thompson

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