[INDOLOGY] Fwd: Auto-discard notification

Dominik Wujastyk wujastyk at gmail.com
Sun Sep 17 21:55:59 UTC 2017

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Agathe Keller <kelleragathe600 at gmail.com>
To: Camillo Formigatti <camillo.formigatti at bodleian.ox.ac.uk>, Takao
Hayashi <ganaka at kyoto.zaq.ne.jp>
Cc: Indology List <indology at list.indology.info>
Date: Sat, 16 Sep 2017 14:01:07 +0200
Subject: Re: [INDOLOGY] Once again on the origin of zero: the date of the
Bakhshali manuscript (or manuscripts?)
Dear Camillio, Dear all,

Thank you indeed for telling us a bit more of the context of your work and
the general decision to go public about it.

Just to specify things, contents wise, since there is a textual continuity
between the recto and verso of folio 16, and since there is a mathematical
continuity between the verso of folio 16 and the recto of folio 17 (the
resolution and then verification of the result of an example), there are
indeed two possibilities: either folio 17 is a copy of an older folio that
had deteriorated, either somebody used an older birch bark (folio 16) and a
new one (folio 17) while writing this part of the text.
So i concur with everybody either paleography, or a technique to analyze
the ink on both folios will help us clear what is in all cases a very
fascinating spotlight on how the Bakhṣālī manuscript was made. I might be
wrong but in Hamburg, at the center for Manuscript Studies, I recall that
they had a kind of unobstrutive infra-red reading technique that could
reveal the contents of ink pigments… so such techniques exist and could
tell us more about the BM as well.

The BM is unique in the history of mathematics in South Asia because it was
unearthed and not found and preserved in a library collection. So it would
be fascinating if it, itself testifies to a process of continuous copy! Of
course we would all love to be able to contextualise the texts we work on:
who used them, who made them, etc. Even more so for a text that is in
itself a historical artifact and not a late copy of an older text. For this
reason, I would really like to know on what basis you think that :

The content of the Bakhshali manuscript is similar to the type of texts
that Buddhist merchants would have needed to study (and possibly use as
reference) for their daily trading activities. It includes very practical
mathematical examples and equations, such as how to compute the loss in
weight of a quantity of impure metal in the process of refining it, etc.

because actually many of the general procedures and problems found in the
BM have echoes in problems and procedures found in the highbrow scholarly
mathematical chapters of later sanskrit siddhāntas. As any historian of
mathematics could tell you, apparently “practical” problems are sometimes
pretexts for theoretical considerations…and much of the features of the BM
such as the use of “verifications/proofs” points to this. Further wouldn’t
the language used in the BM precisely point rather to a scholarly context?
But i confess my ignorance on the milieus of buddhist merchants on the silk
road, (the Dunhuang manuscripts I know of all have mathematical texts in
chineese), and would be happy for any lights on this topic!

All this said, I do find shocking the Bodleian’s choice of a press release
before the publication of a peer reviewed article…


Agathe Keller
CNRS-Université Paris Diderot

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