Dates of written Rgveda

George Thompson GthomGt at CS.COM
Mon Mar 13 01:41:11 UTC 2000

Okay.  Let's see if we can clear things up a bit.

First, I did misread your paragraph on Olivelle, and I apologize, both for my
carelessness and for the harsh tone of my response.  But I still think that
you are exaggerating this 'disagreement.'  We are certainly dealing with a
preliterate culture, and as a result precise dating is difficult to achieve.
This is not an ad hoc concession on my part.  I have publically speculated on
this list that the redaction of the RV might have been as late as 1000 BCE
[you might ask your new-found ally Vishal Agarwal what he thought of my
speculations at the time].  While I am a bit surprised by Olivelle's dating,
it is not too far off the mark -- nor far from the consensus [in fact I have
read this passage a number of times, without noticeable shock -- context is
everything, I guess].  The fact remains that Patrick Olivelle knows as well
as I do that the Vedic period ended before there is any solid evidence of
literacy in the Indian subcontinent.  I urge you to distrust anyone who
suggests a later date than Patrick's for a terminus ad quem for the RV.

When I say that your working assumption is the same as Goody's, I mean this
with regard to his view of Vedic material, not to his overall orality thesis.
 He merely expresses his doubts about the possibility of a Vedic literature
that is free of the influence of literacy, and as far as I can tell that is
your point of view  as well.  But in my view his doubts are entirely
unfounded, based as they are on preconceptions about what a supposed oral
mentality is capable of.  Tell me, aren't your views also based on a similar

As for my question re your work on western traditions, I'm not interested in
the anount of pages that you've written as much as in the traditions that you
have worked on.  I'd like to know what it is that you are comparing the Vedic
material to.  For example, if you were to compare Vedic orality with the
researches of Vygotsky and Luria on the illiterate population of Soviet
Central Asia in the 1930's, I would want to register my objections to what I
would consider a comparison of apples and oranges.  For in my view a
preliterate culture like Vedic, which appears to have had little or no
contact with other literate cultures, is significantly different from the
culture studied by Vygotsky and Luria, which was surrounded and in fact
dominated by the literate culture which studied it.

As for your suspicion re a written RV before 1000 CE, this is still merely a
suspicion, for, as I understand Michael Witzel's position, since we have no
manuscripts before this date, all that we can say with confidence is 'maybe.'
 In fact, the RV was much more 'sacred' than other Vedic texts, in the sense
that there was less tolerance for variation with regard to it than with other
Vedic texts [cf. the three volumes of 'Vedic Variants'].  More advice: the RV
is 'unique' within Vedic, both because of its antiquity and also because of
its atypicality as a 'Vedic' text.  In spite of its aura, the RV is *not* the
heart of Vedic tradition.  No, you find the living heart of the Vedic
tradition in the Yajurvedic texts.  The RV is esoteric and hard to understand
even before the end of the Vedic period.  I do not deny that Vedic is
impervious to the kind of drift that you find in other traditions.  In fact,
I have been known to emphasize this.  In short, the Vedic material is much
more complex and intersting than you have been led to believe about it.

Best wishes,


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