---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Agathe Keller <kelleragathe600@gmail.com>
To: Camillo Formigatti <camillo.formigatti@bodleian.ox.ac.uk>, Takao Hayashi <ganaka@kyoto.zaq.ne.jp>
Cc: Indology List <indology@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