SV: Age of the Veda ...

Lars Martin Fosse lmfosse at ONLINE.NO
Tue Nov 30 10:53:56 UTC 1999

Koenraad Elst [SMTP:koenraad.elst at PANDORA.BE] skrev 30. november 1999 09:40:
> Ms. Ulrike,
> You are apparently referring to M. Winternitz's History of Indian Literature
> (ca. 1905, I believe), who argues that Max Müller's date of the Rg-Veda as
> 1200 BC is quite untenable, as you cannot cram the enormous linguistic and
> philosophical development from the first rshis to the Buddha in just six
> centuries.  I have never seen an answer to that, and I think the argument is
> still pertinent.

I think we have to make a difference between the linguistic character and 
formal structure on the Veda on the one hand and the contents on the other. I 
believe the year 1200 BCE mainly refers to the first. As for contents, the 
Rigveda contains material which can be compared to material in other 
Indo-European, as do indeed texts that linguistically later than the Vedas. 
This means that some of the contents of the Rig are extremely old. If they go 
back to the common Indo-European culture, we are talking about somewhere around 
4.500 BCE. As for linguistic development, it can be demonstrated from languages 
that are historically better documented that linguistic development can be 
extremely rapid. A language may remain stable for many centuries only to change 
its character almost completely with the span of 2-300 years. E.g. the 
Norwegian spoken in 1350 would be uncomprehensible to Norwegians living in 
1550. Is linguistic part of Winternitz's argument is therefore not relevant.

When we discuss the age of the RV, we have to be precise about what we are 
discussing. The RV, as indeed the other Vedic scriptures, have grown with time 
and contain a number of chronological layers. They have no "date" in the modern 
sense of the word. The best we can do is to posit a terminus ante quem. That is 
precisely what Max Müller did, and he was not dogmatic about it. His date has 
actually been questioned, but so far unconvincingly. Scholarly inertia does not 
come into it. The arguments used to question the date simply did not carry 
enough intellectual force.

Incidentally, I am curious about the alleged dependence of Max M. on the 
traditional Biblical Chronology. Could anybody please give me the relevant 
bibliographical references?

Best regards,

Lars Martin Fosse

Dr. art. Lars Martin Fosse
Haugerudvn. 76, Leil. 114,
0674 Oslo
Phone/Fax: +47 22 32 12 19
Email: lmfosse at

More information about the INDOLOGY mailing list