Dates of written Rgveda

Steve Farmer saf at SAFARMER.COM
Fri Mar 10 19:02:46 UTC 2000

Swaminathan Madhuresan writes:

> Generally, Indologists date the Rig Veda to around 1200 BCE.

Is this really true? I thought that I had seen a wide range of
dates in the literature, with later strata of the Rgveda
sometimes placed as late as the mid first millennium BCE. Am I
wrong about this? Later dates are easier than early ones to
reconcile with evidence from studies of similar canonical texts
compiled outside India (in China, Persia, Greece, the Middle
East, etc.). Are you really claiming that all levels of the
Rgveda date from before around 1200 BCE? Are you further arguing
that this is the consensus view?

As you probably know, there is a widespread tendency in
contemporary pan-Eurasian studies to: (1) acknowledge that early
canonical sources were heavily layered texts, suggesting long
gestation periods and frequent reshapings in later redactions;
and (2) push the dates by which those documents assumed their
final shapes considerably forward -- sometimes by many centuries.
The most striking example of this tendency is probably found in
the deep revisions of traditional dates of canonical texts
currently taking place in Chinese studies (e.g., it is now widely
recognized that the Analects grew through accretional processes
in a school setting over several hundred years). But similar
tendencies to push dates considerably forward clearly also exist
in your own field -- e.g., of course, in the work of Bechert and
his colleagues, first presented in the 1980s.

Are you claiming that late strata of the Rgveda do *not* date
from as late as the mid first millennium BCE? If, on the other
hand, you accept the fact that there are early and late strata in
the text itself, it would seem difficult to uphold the claimed
*later* fixity of the text (supposedly for as much as 2200 years)
solely through oral means. (I'm suggesting that the text probably
existed in written form at a significantly earlier date; this
doesn't mean that it wasn't memorized, however. In many premodern
cultures, written text was viewed primarily as a memory aid).

   A man who knows the true meaning of the teachings of the Veda
   becomes fit for union with ultimate reality even while he
   remains here in this world....Those who read the books are
   than those who do not know them; those who remember them are
   than those who read them; those who understand them are better
   those who remember them....Manu 12.103 (trans. Doniger/Smith).

SM writes further:

> Of course, Manu smrthi was written after 3rd cent. BCE...

My question had to do with the many apparent references in the
text to written use of the Veda. I asked how Indologists
reconciled these parts of the text with Michael Witzel's view,
which is suggested as the consensus of the field, that the Rgveda
"was first written down c 1000 CE." Maybe there is a simple
answer to my question; maybe not.

Thanks much for your help,
Steve Farmer

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