Gentoo studies (philology)

Michael Witzel witzel at FAS.HARVARD.EDU
Sat May 29 13:42:53 UTC 1999

At 19:17 -0500 5/28/99, Shrisha Rao wrote:

I very much appreciate the  detailed answer by S.R., and the time on it
because it conveniently highlights and underscores quite a number of times
the 'traditional attitude' that persons grown up inside their own tradition
assume towardstheir ancient texts.

If we would not know already, it would teach us how to start the imposible
dialogue with convinced people.  SR's attitude is  no different, say, from
that of a (traditional) Christian with regard to the Old Testament/Thorah,
or a (trad.) Muslim scholar towards the Koran, or even a (trad.)  Buddhist
monk/scholar towards the "Word of the Buddha."
In that sense, R. Zydenbosch is completely correct in saying  that the
twain shall not meet...
Such 'insiders' already KNOW what the texts say (or they take it from
traditional commentary).

On  the other hand, "western" philologists  (what about our Japanese
colleagues?)  **want to FIND out**, through the philological method, and by
constant controlled trial & exposed errors, what the texts meant *at the
time of their composition*, and not what they mean to a modern believer or
a modern casual reader.   (Philologists study, of course, the *history* of
interpretation of the (archaic) texts by medieval commentators such as
Sayana or Sankara).

Apparently, SR has no idea of philology. I do not have the time (leaving
town) nor the patience to restate 150 years of Vedic scholarship or give a
class "Philology 101" or "Rgvedic 101", but perhaps an (Under)Graduate
could enlighten  SR?

In one sentence: understandig the texts through themselves, by a close
study and while constantly checking and rechecking *all* the evidence,
cultural or linguistic, not just *selected* passages, and doing so even for
such boring topics as the meaning of ca 'and'.  At 2 or  3 places in the RV
it means 'though'.... You don't find that kind of information in Yaaska
(but in Hittite). Or take the meaning of nitya, in my earlier message.

The burden of proof (not by simple "logic", please, but by a painstaking
investigation!) is on SR's side: 150 years of philology already have shown
what e.g. nitya in RV means and I do not havet retrace this. But he has to
show how these scholars were wrong in going against the common
understanding  (also of the comm.) of the word.

The rest of the post takes screens and screens. I might try to answer a few

Michael Witzel                          Elect. Journ. of Vedic Studies
Harvard University        
my direct line (also for messages) :  617- 496 2990
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