Dates of written Rgveda

L.S.Cousins selwyn at DTN.NTL.COM
Mon Mar 13 09:03:49 UTC 2000

Steve Farmer writes:

>As I've pointed out in an earlier post, I've seen *exactly* the
>same sorts of claims about totally faithful transmission in
>Hebrew Rabbinical documents. They don't pan out. Same for similar
>claims in Islamic traditions. The same dangers regarding
>mispronunciation are also raised in Kabbalistic documents from
>the later Middle Ages -- and, in fact, in Maya written traditions
>as well. On closer examination, you discover that the
>transmission was far from faithful when it depended solely on
>oral means. The only exception comes when texts were used as aids
>to memorization, which helped (even if surreptitiously) to fix
>the text.

I have assumed for a long time that the situation is quite different
once writing becomes common place. One might think in terms of a kind
of Gresham's Law effect. Once printing comes along, the same effort
no longer goes into the production of manuscripts and after some time
the general quality of written manuscripts deteriorates greatly.
Similarly once writing exists and is used for a given purpose, the
motivation for a society to invest heavily in expensive methods of
oral memorization must deteriorate. If that is right, then none of
the above examples are in any way comparable.

Prior to the introduction of writing some societies invested heavily
in institutions which specialized in large-scale memorization i.e.
priestly and/or monastic orders of one kind or another (or bardic?).
The two obvious surviving examples are the Iranian and the Indian. I
doubt very much whether they were unusual or unique. It seems more
likely that such methods were once more widely spread prior to the
invention of writing.

One example to support that would be Roman accounts of the training
of the Druids. That seems to suggest a similar kind of social
investment. It also shows the vulnerability of such traditions: if
their institutional basis is destroyed, they can disappear
completely. Conversion to another religion can have the same effect,
even when the priestly vehicle is not directly a target for
systematic destruction. (Even written literature does not always
survive such a targeting, as in the case of the Maya.) Add to that
the fact that literature intended for memorization or chanting may
not read at all well when written down and it is not surprising that
only a few examples survive and that only where conversion to an
Abrahamic religious tradition has not taken place.

So it seems likely that this was the mechanism for retention of
knowledge in some or even many Neolithic societies, not only in that
of India. Of course, this - however probable - cannot really be

Lance Cousins

L.S.Cousins at or selwyn at

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