Dates of written Rgveda

George Thompson GthomGt at CS.COM
Sun Mar 12 00:11:00 UTC 2000

In a message dated 3/11/00 1:30:48 PM Eastern Standard Time, saf at SAFARMER.COM


>  > Well, I hesitate to speak for everyone, but to my knowledge there is
>  > consensus on this point.
>  Curious that you claim this, since I thought that I had run into
>  a number of references in the literature placing later strata of
>  the Rgveda as late as the mid first millennium. Even Patrick
>  Olivelle, who gives me the impression of being a rather
>  conservative scholar, places the composition of later strata of
>  the Rgvedas (including, I assume, much of books 1 and 10) in the
>  early centuries of the first millennium BCE. Beyond this, there
>  is obviously no agreement on when the work was first written
>  down, despite your claims that a consensus exists. On this see
>  your own statements below, which seem to sharply conflict with
>  Michael Witzel's. So the consensus doesn't seem to be much of a
>  consensus after all.

I seriously doubt that Patrick Olivelle *gave* you this impression.  It would
seem to me rather that you just took it.  Patrick Olivelle knows that 500 BCE
is too late for the latest strata of the RV.  If you would like to create
disagreements between me and Patrick Olivelle and Micahel Witzel, it will be
necessary to document them.  For as far as I know, there aren't any when it
comes to the dating of the Vedic period.
>  > As for your skepticism, we have encountered it
>  > before in the work of Goody, Finnegan, Ong, and others.  Please
>  I
>  > think that it is good that comparatists want to confront the Vedic
> material,
>  > because it does pose a serious problem for at least the cruder forms of
> the
>  > orality thesis.  Perhaps it is time to abandon such crude distinctions as
>  > "the oral mentality" on the one hand, and the "literate mentality" on the
>  > other.  I don't know where you stand on this, but I myself am deeply
>  > suspcious of attempts at hypostasizing human mentality into merely two
>  > convenient types like this.
>  My views often diverge from those of Havelock, Goody, Finnegan,
>  Ong, et al. I agree, however, with the views put forward in
>  Vishal Agarwal's post, for which I've found much evidence, e.g.,
>  in Western and Indonesian traditions: That even in cases in which
>  oral transmission was insisted upon as primary, written texts
>  often surreptitiously served as memory aids, helping "fix" the
>  canon. My working assumption (just a heuristic stance at present)
>  is that this was probably true in the case of the Rgveda, which
>  I'd guess was probably first written down in the last half of the
>  first millennium BCE. Hence my question about the passages in
>  Manu that clearly refer to literate uses of the Veda.

Your working assumption is the same as Goody's.  Heuristic or not, it has no
basis  I think that you should either provide it with one, or abandon it.
>  Thompson writes:
>  > As far as I can see, Manu is irrrelevant.
>  "Irrrelevant" -- I gather from *your* slips that you get rather
>  emotional about the issue! Is that because you recognize that the
>  position that you are arguing here is a trifle inconsistent?

My response was not a slip, nor was it an expression of emotion.  ManusmRti
is irrelevant because it is post-Vedic.  And by the way its date is 2nd or
3rd cent. CE.

To whit:
>  > Nobody denies that writing was
>  > commonplace by the post-Vedic period [and Manu is clearly post-Vedic].
> That
>  > the Brahminical orality of this period may have been a a type of
>  > orality [influenced by literacy] does not negate the fact that in the
> Vedic
>  > period itself we seem to have primary orality [no influence of writing].
>  Your position here has shifted radically, which hopefully means
>  that we're getting somewhere. What triggered my original post was
>  Michael Witzel's remark -- which you represent above as the
>  consensus view -- that the Rgveda wasn't written down until 1000
>  CE, well over a millennium *after* Manu. Now I find that you
>  apparently don't even believe this yourself. I *never* claimed
>  that any of the Rgveda was written down in the last half of the
>  second millennium (if that's what you mean here by the "Vedic
>  period"). If, however, final redaction of the text -- for it does
>  show internal signs of redaction -- is pushed closer to the mid
>  first millennium BCE, I do have some questions about the
>  involvement of literate processes.
No, my position hasn't shifted at all. You are utterly confused about your

>  The 1000 CE date cited by Witzel, preceded by supposedly 2200
>  years of "near-perfect oral transmission" is impossible to
>  accept. But the idea of Brahminical orality being "a type of
>  secondary orality (influenced by literacy)" is one that I can
>  live with -- and is in harmony as well with the views that Vishal
>  Agarwal put forward at length in his post. But it is *not* in
>  harmony with Witzel's claims, which you earlier represented as
>  the consensus view in the field.
>  Well, consensual views can shift quickly.

Let's be clear. Vedic is Vedic and Brahminical is Brahminical.  They are not
the same thing.  What you find impossible to accept on the one hand, and in
harmony with the views of one Vishal Agarwal on the other, has nothing to do
with the matter.  You are confused.
>  Thompson writes:
>  > Like Goody, you have to come to terms wih
>  > the Vedic evidence and establish that Vedic bears the marks of literacy,
> in
>  > spite of the complete absence of reference to writing in the texts and
>  > absence of writing of any kind in the Vedic period.
>  > As I see it, the Vedic material clashes with Goody's model of oral
> mentality.
>  >  His solution was to explain that material away by insisting that
>  > must have played a role.  But he did not demonstrate this.
>  If I'm not mistaken, Dr. Thompson, *you* just made a pretty large
>  admission about the role of literacy in preserving Vedic
>  materials. In any event, my interest is in discovering the truth,
>  not in supporting my own models at any cost. My training in the
>  hard sciences leads me to view models as heuristic devices,
>  nothing more. If the evidence conflicts with my historical
>  models, I'm happy to discard or modify them.

What are you talking about?  I have made no 'pretty large admission'
whatsoever.  The Vedic period was preliterate.  It preserved itself.  Even
after the arrival of literacy in the Indian subcontinent it continued to
preserve itself.  Why is this hard to understand?
>  I often find that a good place to start an analysis is by
>  highlighting the inconsistencies or clarifying the views seen in
>  previous researchers in the field. Let's return to your statement
>  that "the Brahminical orality of this period" -- i.e., the period
>  of Manu, in the last half of the first millennium BCE --- "may
>  have been a type of secondary orality [influenced by literacy]."
>  Can I take it here that you are admitting that the "near-perfect
>  oral transmission" of the Rgveda over a supposedly 2000+ year
>  period may have had a little help from literate processes? If so,
>  we're on the same page, as it were.

Nope.  Manu is much later than this, and Manu 12.103 does not establish that
the RV was preserved by literate processses.

Comparison of Vedic with other traditions may well be fruitful in the long
run.  But it won't be until you get basic facts of Vedic right.

Best wishes,

George Thompson

p.s. please let us know what western traditions you have worked on in detail

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