The Birth of Orientalism, by Urs App

That's French for "the ancient system," as in the ancient system of feudal privileges and the exercise of autocratic power over the peasants. The ancien regime never goes away, like vampires and dinosaur bones they are always hidden in the earth, exercising a mysterious influence. It is not paranoia to believe that the elites scheme against the common man. Inform yourself about their schemes here.

Re: The Birth of Orientalism, by Urs App

Postby admin » Thu Dec 31, 2020 5:52 am

Part 1 of 3

Chapter 5: Ramsay's Ur-Tradition

When D. P. Walker wrote about "ancient theology" or prisca theologia, he firmly linked it to Christianity and Platonism (Walker 1972). On the first page of his book, Walker defined the term as follows:

By the term "Ancient Theology" I mean a certain tradition of Christian apologetic theology which rests on misdated texts. Many of the early Fathers, in particular Lactantius, Clement of Alexandria and Eusebius, in their apologetic works directed against pagan philosophers, made use of supposedly very ancient texts: Hermetica, Orphica, Sibylline Prophecies, Pythagorean Carmina Aurea, etc., most of which in fact date from the first four centuries of our era. These texts, written by the Ancient Theologians Hermes Trismegistus, Orpheus, Pythagoras, were shown to contain vestiges of the true religion: monotheism, the Trinity, the creation of the world out of nothing through the Word, and so forth. It was from these that Plato took the religious truths to be found in his writings. (Walker 1972:1)


Walker described a revival of such "ancient theology" in the Renaissance and in "platonizing theologians from Ficino to Cudworth" who wanted to "integrate Platonism and Neoplatonism into Christianity, so that their own religious and philosophical beliefs might coincide" (p. 2). After the debunking of the genuineness and antiquity of the texts favored by these ancient theologians, the movement ought to have died; but Walker detected "a few isolated survivals" such as Athanasius Kircher, Pierre-Daniel Huet, and the Jesuit figurists of the French China mission (p. 194). For Walker the last Mohican of this movement, so to say, is Chevalier Andrew Michael RAMSAY (1686-1743), whose views are described in the final chapter of The Ancient Theology. But seen through the lens of our concerns here, one could easily extend this line to various figures in this book, for example, Jean Calmette, John Zephaniah Holwell, Abbe Vincent Mignot, Abraham Hyacinthe Anquetil- Duperron, Guillaume Sainte-Croix, and also to William Jones (App 2009).

Ur-Traditions

To better understand such phenomena we have to go beyond the narrow confines of the Christian God and Platonism. There are many movements that link themselves to some kind of "original," "pure," "genuine" teaching, claim its authority, use it to criticize "degenerate" accretions, and attempt to legitimize their "reform" on its basis. Such links can take a variety of forms. In Chapter 4 we saw how in the eighth and ninth centuries the Buddhist reform movement known as Zen cooked up a lineage of "mind to mind" transmission with the aim of connecting the teaching of the religion's Indian founder figure, Buddha, with their own views. The tuned-up and misdated Forty-Two Sections Sutra that ended up impressing so many people, including its first European translator de Guignes, was one (of course unanticipated) outcome of this strategy. Such "Ur-tradition" movements, as I propose to call them, invariably create a "transmission" scenario of their "original" teaching or revelation; in the case of Zen this consisted in an elaborate invented genealogy with colorful transmission figures like Bodhidharma and "patriarchs" consisting mostly of pious legends. Such invented genealogies and transmissions are embodied in symbols and legends emphasizing the link between the "original" teaching and the movement's doctrine. "Genuine," "oldest" texts are naturally of central importance for such movements, since they tend to regard the purity of teaching as directly proportional to its closeness to origins.

A common characteristic of such "Ur-tradition" movements is a tripartite scheme of "golden age," "degeneration," and "regeneration." The raison d'etre of such movements is the revival of a purportedly most ancient, genuine, "original" teaching after a long period of degeneration. Hence their need to define an "original" teaching, establish a line of its transmission, identify stages and kinds of degeneration, and present themselves as the agent of "regeneration" of the original "ancient" teaching. Such need often arises in a milieu of doctrinal rivalry or in a crisis, for example, when "new" religions or reform movements want to establish and legitimize themselves or when an established religion is threatened by powerful alternatives.

When young Christianity evolved from a Jewish reform movement and was accused of being a "new religion" and an invention, ancient connections were needed to provide legitimacy and add historical weight to the religion. The adoption of the Hebrew Bible as "Old Testament," grimly opposed by some early Christians, linked the young religion and its "New Testament" effectively to the very creation of the world, to paradise, and to the Ur-religion of the first humans in the golden age. Legends, texts, and symbols were created to illustrate this "Old-to-New" link. For example, the savior's cross on Golgotha had to get a pedigree connecting it to the Hebrew Bible's paradise tree; and the original sinner Adam's skull had to be brought via Noah's ark to Palestine in order to get buried on the very hill near Jerusalem where Adam's original sin eventually got expunged by the New Testament's "second Adam" on the cross (Figure 11). Theologians use the word "typology" for such attempts to discover Christian teachings or forebodings thereof in the Old Testament.

Similar links to an "oldest," "purest," and "original" teaching are abundant not only in the history of religions but also, for example, in freemasonry and various "esoteric" movements. They also tend to invent links to an original "founder," "ancient" teachings and texts, lineages, symbols of the original doctrine and its transmission, eminent transmitter figures ("patriarchs"), and so on; and they usually criticize the degeneration of exactly those original and pure teachings that they claim to resuscitate. In such schemes the most ancient texts, symbols, and objects naturally play important roles, particularly if they seem mysterious: pyramids, hieroglyphs, runic letters, ancient texts buried in caves, and divine revelations stored on golden tablets in heaven or in some American prophet's backyard ...

Image
Figure 11. Adam's skull underneath the cross. Colleerion of Drs. Valerio and Adriana Pozza, Padova, Italy.

In premodern Europe such "original" teachings were usually associated with Old Testament heroes who had the function of transmitters. A typical example that shows how various ancient religions were integrated in a genealogy linking them to primeval religion as well as its fulfillment in Christianity is Jacques Boulduc's De Ecclesia ante legem ("On the Church before the [Mosaic] Law") of 1626. Boulduc shows in a table how the extremely long lifespans of the patriarchs facilitated transmission: for example, Adam lived for 930 years and could instruct his descendants in person until his sixth-generation Ur-nephew Lamech, Noah's father, was fifty-six years old. Adam's son Seth was 120 years old when the first priestly functions were instituted; 266 years old when his son Enos first offered prayers in a dedicated house; and 800 years old when he took over the supreme pontificate of the "church before the law" at Adam's untimely death (1630:148-49). In the second book, Boulduc shows that "all philosophers, both of Greece and of other regions, have their origin in the descendants of the prophet Noah" (p. 271) and includes in this transmission lineage even the "wise rather than malefic Persian magi [Magos Persas non maleficos, sed sapientes]," Egyptian prophets, Gallic druids, the "naked sages of India [Indis Gymnosophistae]," etc. (p. 273). Boulduc took special care to document through numerous quotations from ancient sources that the wise men who were variously called Semai, Semni, Semanai, Semnothei, and Samanaeil "all have their name from Noah's son Shem" and are therefore direct descendants of Noachic pure Ur-religion (p. 275). The same is true for the Brachmanes of India who were so closely associated with these Samanaei by St. Jerome (p. 277). Even "our Druids" worshipped "the only true God," believed "in the immortality of the soul" as well as "the resurrection of our bodies," and adored almost all the very God who "at some point in the future will become man through incarnation from a virgin" (pp. 278-79). The correct doctrinal linage of such descendants of Shem is guaranteed by the fact that "after the deluge, Shem brought the original religion of Enos's descendants to renewed blossom [reflorescere fecit]" (p. 280). Boulduc also paid special attention to Enoch, the sixth-generation descendant of Adam who could boast of having lived no less than 308 years in Adam's presence (pp. 148-49). This excellent patriarch, who at age 365 was prematurely removed from the eyes of the living and has been watching events ever since from his perch in the terrestrial or celestial paradise, had left behind "writings, that is, the book of Enoch, which contains nothing false or absurd" (p. 131). Noah had taken special care to "diligently preserve these writings of Enoch, placing them at the time of the deluge on the ark with no less solicitousness than the bones of Father Adam and some other patriarchs" (p. 138). Boulduc did not know where this famous Book of Enoch ended up, but some well-known passages in scripture specified that it conveyed important information about the activities of angels.

In the second half of the seventeenth century, textual criticism began to undermine the very foundation of such tales, namely, the text of the Old Testament and particularly of its first five books (the Pentateuch). These books had always been attributed to Moses and regarded as the world's oldest extant scripture. But in 1651 Thomas HOBBES (1588-1679) wrote in the third part of his Leviathan that the identity of "the original writers of the several Books of Holy Scripture" was not "made evident by any sufficient testimony of other history, which is the only proof of matter of fact" (Hobbes 1651:368). However, Hobbes did not deny that Moses had contributed some writings: "Bur though Moses did not compile those books entirely, and in the form we have them; yet he wrote all that which he is there said to have written" (p. 369). By contrast, Isaac LAPEYRERE (1596-1676) -- who wrote earlier than Hobbes and influenced him though his book on the pre-Adamites appeared later -- was far more radical in questioning whether Moses had in fact written any of the first five books of the Old Testament:

I know not by what author it is found out, that the Pentateuch is Moses his own copy. It is so reported, but not believed by all. These Reasons make one believe, that those Five Books are not the Originals, but copied out by another. Because Moses is there read to have died. For how could Moses write after his death? (La Peyrere 1656:204-5).


La Peyrere's conclusion was shocking:

I need not trouble the reader much further, to prove a thing in itself sufficiently evident, that the five first Books of the Bible were not written by Moses, as is thought. Nor need anyone wonder after this, when he reads many things confus'd and out of order, obscure, deficient, many things omitted and misplaced, when they shall consider with themselves that they are a heap of Copie confusedly taken. (p. 208)


Such textual criticism2 initiated "a chain of analyses that would end up transforming the evaluation of Scripture from a holy to a profane work" (Popkin 1987:73). Until La Peyrere, the Bible had always been regarded as a repository of divine revelation communicated by God (the "founder" figure) to a "transmitter" figure (in this case Moses). Unable to reconcile biblical chronology and events with newly discovered facts such as American "Indians" and Chinese historical records, La Peyrere came to the conclusion that the Bible contained not the history of all humankind but only that of a tiny group (namely, the Jews). His rejection of Moses' authorship, of course, also entailed doubts about the Bible's revelation status: if it was indeed revealed by God, then to whom? To a whole group of people whose notes were cut and pasted together to form a rather incoherent creation Story with "many things confus'd and out of order"? At the end of the chain of events described by Popkin, the Bible was no longer "looked upon as Revelation from God, but as tales and beliefs of the primitive Hebrews, to be compared with the tales and beliefs of other Near Eastern groups" (p. 73), leading Thomas Paine to declare: "Take away from Genesis the belief that Moses was the author, on which only the strange belief that it is the word of God has stood, and there remains nothing of Genesis, but an anonymous book of stories, fables and traditionary or invented absurdities or downright lies" (Paine 1795:4).

But such loss of biblical authority was a gradual and painful process that frequently elicited the kind of apologetic intervention evoked by Walker in The Ancient Theology. I doubt that Walker would have gone as far as including the Bible among his pseudepigraphic and misdated texts. Yet if one views phenomena like the Reformation from the perspective of Ur-traditions, the biblical text appears as a (misdated) record of "original teaching" used by reformers like Calvin and Luther in their effort to discard "Romish" degenerations and to restore what they took to be the "genuine," "original" religion revealed by the "founder" God to "transmitters" from Adam and the antediluvian "patriarchs" to Noah, Abraham, Moses, and ultimately the authors of the New Testament. But this kind of Reformation was soon denounced as degenerate in its own right, for example, by the radical English deists who regarded "genuine" Christianity not as revealed to any particular Middle Eastern tribe but as engraved in every human heart. From this perspective, Christianity was -- as Matthew TINDAL (1657-1733) in 1730 succinctly put it in the title of his famous bible of the Deists -- exactly "as Old as Creation," and the holy Gospel was no more than "a Republication of the Religion of Nature" (Tindal 1995). While biblical answers became suspect and alternative creation narratives began to be culled from apparently far more ancient sacred texts, the search for humankind's origins, its "original" religion, and its oldest sacred scriptures had to begin again. In this "crisis of European consciousness,") a number of men sought to anchor Europe's drifting worldview anew in the bedrock of remotest antiquity via a solid Ur-tradition chain. Among them was an Englishman who defended the Middle Eastern and biblical framework while dreaming of restoring Noah's pure religion (Isaac Newton); a Scotsman who determined that China offered better vestiges of the Ur-religion and wanted to reinterpret the Bible accordingly (Andrew Ramsay); and the Irish protagonist of the next chapter, John Zephaniah Holwell, who presented Europe with an Indian Old Testament that -- he alleged -- was so much older and better than Moses's patchwork that it could form the basis for the ultimate reformation of Christianity.

Newton's Noachide Religion

Isaac NEWTON (1642-1727) is, of course, known as one of the greatest scientists of all time, but his theological and chronological writings have become the focus of increasing attention. They amount to more than half a million words and are in great part still unpublished; but their study4 points to a central "Ur-tradition" pattern in Newton's worldview. For example, modem specialists point out that "it can be shown how Newton regarded his natural philosophy as an integral part of a radical and comprehensive recovery of the true ancient religion, which had been revealed directly to man by God" (Gouk 1988:120); that Newton tried to prove "that his scientific work in the Principia was a rediscovery of the mystical philosophy which had passed to the Egyptians and the Greeks from the Jews" (Rattansi 1988:198); and that the great scientist "believed that alchemical writings preserved a secret knowledge which had been revealed by God" (Golinski 1988:158). Newton apparently saw himself as a regenerator of an Ur-wisdom that had been encoded in symbols and transmitted through dark and degenerate ages by a line of eminent men (patriarchs). The italicized words in this sentence are all elements of what I call Ur-traditions.

Newton developed such views over many decades but dared to discuss them only with a few close friends. But the last sentences of his famous Opticks let the reader catch a glimpse:

If natural Philosophy in all its Parts, by pursuing this Method, shall at length be perfected, the Bounds of Moral Philosophy will be also enlarged. For so far as we can know by natural Philosophy what is the first Cause, what Power he has over us, and what Benefits we receive from him, so far our Duty towards him, as well as that towards one another, will appear to us by the Light of Nature. And no doubt, if the Worship of false Gods had not blinded the Heathen, their moral Philosophy would have gone farther than to the four Cardinal Virtues; and instead of teaching the Transmigration of Souls, and to worship the Sun and Moon, and dead Heroes, they would have taught us to worship our true Author and Benefactor, as their Ancestors did under the Government of Noah and his Sons before they corrupted themselves. (Newton 1730:381-82).


This closing passage suggests that for Newton the religion of the "golden age" or Ur-religion was preserved by Noah and his sons who were thoroughly monotheistic. Far from being only the religion of the Hebrews, this Ur-religion reigned for a long time everywhere, even in Egypt (Westfall 1982:27). But these "blinded heathen" who had initially shared Noah's Ur-religion could barely remember the cardinal virtues because their religion at some point degenerated into the worship of false gods, objects of nature, and dead heroes and into the teaching of the transmigration of souls.

Newton had closely studied Thomas Burnet's Archaeologiae philosophicae of 1692 (see Chapter 3), and though the outlines of his historico-theological system were already developed in 1692, Burnet's influence is unmistakable:

Like Burnet, Newton regarded Noah, rather than Abraham or Moses, as the original source of the true religion and learning; consequently, he, too, argued that vestiges of truth could be found among the ancient Gentile peoples as well as that of the Jews since all were descendants of Noah and his sons. Both also shared the belief that modern philosophy was contributing to the recovery of ancient truths which had been distorted after Noah's death. (Gascoigne 1991:185)


Newton clearly thought that an initial divine revelation was the ultimate source of all religion, that this Ur-religion was once shared by all ancient peoples. Nevertheless, he sought to root his views firmly in the Old Testament narrative. Monogenesis and the universality of the great flood, for example, were nonnegotiable. Thus, all postdiluvial humans, gentiles and Hebrews alike, originally shared the religion transmitted by Noah and his sons, and vestiges of this religion could be found in all ancient cultures. Newton explained:

From all of which it is manifest that a certain general tradition was conserved for a very long time among the Peoples about those things which were passed down most distinctly from Noah and the first men to Abraham and from Abraham to Moses. And hence we can also hope that a history of the times which followed immediately after the flood can be deduced with some degree of truth from the traditions of Peoples. (Yahuda Ms. 16.2, f. 48; Westfall 1982:22-23)


But Newton did not go as far as taking Chinese chronology into account. He owned and studied Philippe Coupler's 1687 work that was discussed in the previous chapter yet grew convinced that the famous burning of books by Emperor Shih Huangdi in the third century B.C.E had reduced all ancient Chinese history to legend. In the New College Manuscript (I, fol. 80v) Newton wrote,

And there are now no histories in China but what were written above 72 years of this conflagration. And therefore the Story that Huan ti founded the monarchy of China 2697 years before Christ is a fable invented to make that Monarchy look ancient. The way of writing used by the Chinese was not fully invented before the days of Confucius the Chinese philosopher & he was born but 551 years before Christ & flourished only in one of the six old kingdoms into which China was then divided. (Manuel 1963:270)

Newton instead studied Middle Eastern chronologies and used them to defend the Bible as the most reliable source for remote antiquity. Moses had in his opinion originally written a history of creation, a book of the generations of Adam, and the book of the law. Though these oldest books "have long since been lost except what has been transcribed out of them in the Pentateuch now extant" and though the existing text of the Pentateuch was in his opinion redacted by Samuel rather than Moses (Manuel 1963:61), Newton remained firmly convinced that the first books of the Old Testament "are by far the oldest records now extant," that the Bible is the most authentic history of the world, and that the Kingdom of Israel was the first large-scale political society with all the attributes of civilization (p. 89).5 Manetho of Heliopolis, Berosus the Chaldaean. and others had, like the Persian and Chinese historians, created extravagant chronologies that were infinitely less reliable and old. In a chapter of his Chronology dedicated to the Persian Empire, Newton wrote,

We need not then wonder, that the Egyptians have made the kings in the first dynasty of their monarchy, that which was seated at Thebes in the days of David, Solomon, and Rehoboam, so very ancient and so long-lived; since the Persians have done the like to their kings Adar and Hazael, who reigned an hundred years after the death of Solomon, "worshipping them as gods, and boasting of their antiquity, and not knowing," saith Josephus, "that they were but modern." (Newton 1785:5.263)


Newton employed such chronologies that "magnified their antiquities so exceedingly" (p. 263) in a manner that much resembled that of William Jones a century later, namely, to confirm the biblical account and vindicate biblical authority; but Jones was to use the even more hyperbolical Indian chronologies. Newton's final system appeared, as Frank Manuel put it, "as a eulogy of Israel" and is evidence "for his central proposition that the Hebrews were the most ancient civilized people" (Manuel 1963:97). Though the Bible bestows greater antiquity on the Egyptian and Assyrian royal institutions than on the tribes of Israel, Newton "was able to cling to his idee fixe throughout the revision of the history of antiquity, both in the fragments and in the final Chronology" (p. 99).

Newton's "ancient theology" was thus -- unlike that of Ramsay and Holwell -- still exclusively rooted in the Middle East and the Bible. Since events before the biblical deluge remained hazy due to the fragmentary character of the Pentateuch and the lack of reliable ancient pagan sources, Newton's history of religions really starts with Noah and his sons. His true religion "most closely resembled that which prevailed at the time of Noah, immediately after the Deluge, before the idolatry -- which to Newton was the root of all evil not only in religion but also in politics and even philosophy -- began to corrupt it" (Gascoigne 1991:185). The symbol of this pure original religion is the Temple of Solomon (Figure 12), which not only features the eternal flame on a sacrificial altar at the center but also a geometrically precise representation of the heliocentric solar system.

Newton's "prytanea," sacred cultic places around a perpetual fire, symbolize God's original revelation and are at the source of the transmission line.6 Cults with prytanea were for Newton the most ancient of all cults. According to him this religion with the sacred fire "seems to have been as well the most universal as 'J most ancient of all religions & to have spread into all nations before other religions took place. There are many instances of nations receiving other religions after this but none (that I know) of any nation's receiving this after any other. Nor did ever any other religion which sprang up later become so general as this" (Westfall 1982:24).

This religion around the prytanea was professed by Noah and his sons.

Image
Figure 12. Newton's map of Solomon's temple (Newton 1785:5.244).

They spread "the true religion till ye nations corrupted it" (p. 25). This first corruption consisted in forgetting that the symbols in the prytanea (for example, lamps symbolizing heavenly bodies around the central "solar" flame) are symbols, leading men to engage in sidereal worship. It is of interest to note that Newton's history of religion -- and, I might add, Ur-traditions in general -- are intimately linked to the encoding and decoding of symbols. Here the degeneration process begins with a misunderstanding of symbols; and this misunderstanding eventually leads to the worship of dead men and statues, the belief in the transmigration of souls, polytheism, the worship of animals, and other "Egyptian" inventions. In parallel with such religious degeneration, the false geocentric system took hold thanks to a late Egyptian, Ptolemy (pp. 25-26).

The first major postdiluvial regeneration was due to Moses who, according to Newton, "restored for a time the original true religion that was the common heritage of all mankind" (p. 26). But soon enough the degeneration process began anew, punctuated by calls of prophets for renewal, until Jesus came not to bring a new religion but rather to "restore the original true one" not solely for the Jews but for all mankind (p. 27). Soon enough, another round of degeneration set in with the Egyptian Athanasius, the doctrine of the Trinity, and Roman Catholic idolatry, which got worse and worse until the Reformation cleaned up some of the mess. But Protestantism and Anglicanism were not immune from corruption either, which is why Newton (who was adamantly opposed to the Trinity) felt the need to call -- in a very muted voice and in heaps of unpublished notes and manuscripts -- for one more restoration of true, pure, Noachic religion and wisdom.
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Re: The Birth of Orientalism, by Urs App

Postby admin » Thu Dec 31, 2020 5:53 am

Part 2 of 3

Ramsay's Quest

In 1727, the very year of Newton's death and one year before his Chronology of the Ancient Kingdoms Amended was published, a bestseller by Andrew Michael RAMSAY (1686-1743) appeared on the market both in French and English: the Travels of Cyrus (Les voyages de Cyrus). It saw over thirty editions in English and French and was translated into German, Italian, Spanish, and Greek (Henderson 1952:109). The two volumes that Ramsay called his "Great work," however, The Philosophical Principles of Natural and Revealed Religion Unfolded in a Geometrical Order, only appeared posthumously in 1748 and 1749.

Ramsay grew up in modest circumstances in Ayr (Scotland), and after studying philosophy and theology at Glasgow and Edinburgh, he went to London in 1707 or 1708 to study mathematics with Nicolas Fatio de Duilliers (Walker 1972:234), a Swiss refugee who was perhaps Newton's most intimate friend and was well informed about Newton's unorthodox religious views. Newton's preference for the prophet Daniel is reflected in Ramsay's Travels of Cyrus. In the preface to the revised edition, Ramsay gave his readers the following key to his bestselling book:

The Magi in Cyrus's time were fallen into a kind of atheism, like that of Spinoza; Zoroaster, Hermes and Pythagoras adored one sole Deity, but they were deists; Eleazar resembled the Socinians, who were for subjecting religion to philosophy; Daniel represents a perfect Christian, and the hero of this book a young prince, who began to be corrupted by the maxims of irreligion. In order to set him right, the different philosophers with whom he converses successively unfold to him new truths mixt with errors. Zoroaster confutes the mistakes of the Magi; Pythagoras those of Zoroaster; Eleazar those of Pythagoras; Daniel rejects those of all the others, and his doctrine is the only one which the author adopts. (Ramsay r814:xvii)


Ramsay's goal was "to prove against the Atheists the existence of a Supreme Deity, who produced the world by his power and governs it by his wisdom," and he wanted to show "that the earliest opinions of the most knowing and civilized nations come nearer the truth than those of latter ages" (p. xiv). According to Ramsay, the "theology of the Orientals" was far purer than that of the Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans (pp. xiv-xv). If the most important point of The Travels of Cyrus was the demonstration that the primitive system of the world was monotheistic, Ramsay's second major objective was described as follows:

The second point is to shew, in opposition to the Deists, that the principal doctrines of revealed religion, concerning the states of innocence, corruption and renovation, are as ancient as the world; that they were foundations of Noah's religion; that he transmitted them to his children; that these traditions were spread throughout all nations; that the Pagans disfigured, degraded, and obscured them by their absurd fictions; and lastly, that these primitive truths have been no where preserved in their purity, except in the true religion. (pp. xv-xvi)


This passage presents in a nutshell some of the main elements of what I have called "Ur-tradition": an Ur-teaching from a founder (here God and his original revelation); an overall scheme of golden age/degeneration/regeneration; a transmission lineage of the Ur-teaching; pivotal transmission figures; and the linking of this Ur-doctrine to the religion of the proponent that purportedly regenerates the true original creed. For Ramsay as for Newton, Noah's religion seems to form a crucial juncture since he was the sole heir of antediluvial pure monotheism; and for both men the protagonist of the Hebrew Bible's Book of Daniel is another crucial "transmitter" figure. In his treatise on the prophecies of Daniel, Newton pointed out that already Ezekiel had joined "Daniel with Noah and Job, as most high in the favour of God" and that "Daniel was in the greatest credit amongst the Jews, till the reign of the Roman emperor Hadrian: and to reject his prophecies, is to reject the Christian religion" (Newton 1785:5-311).

If some protagonists of the Old Testament are so highly valued as transmitters of Ur-religion, the question of the text's reliability inevitably arises. Indeed, Newton's treatise "Upon the Prophecies of Daniel" begins with a chapter "Concerning the compilers of the books of the Old Testament" (pp. 297-305). In the second volume of his "Great work," Ramsay summarizes Newton's argument as follows:

1. Several great men, both of the Greek and Latin Church, of the Roman and Protestant communion, think as the famous Sir Isaac Newton, That we have lost some books wrote by the patriarchs, both before and after the deluge, concerning the creation, first origin and primitive history of the world; and that the book of Genesis preserved was rather a short extract, than an exact copy of these original patriarchal records. It is certain, as Sir Isaac remarks, that Scripture mentions, in different places, several books lost, such as "the book of the generations of Adam; the book of the wars of God; The books of Enoch" (see Sir Isaac Newton's observations upon Daniel, page 4 & 5). (Ramsay 1749:215)


Ramsay claims that he is not in a position "to decide such an important question" and has decided to "leave it to the decision of the learned," but his second point immediately shows that he accepted Newton's view:

2. If there be any truth in this conjecture, we must not be surprized, if the transitions from one subject to another be more rapid in the extracts preserved, than in the originals that are lost, and if many particular circumstances be omitted, that would have been very useful to illustrate several curious enquiries concerning the primitive creation and fall of angels and men, tho' they were not absolutely necessary to regulate our faith. (p. 216)


If the Old Testament contains only "extracts" of the whole story and its originals are "lost," are there any other, possibly more complete and reliable sources? The presentation of such sources was exactly the objective of the second volume of Ramsay's "Great work":

In the second part we shall show "That vestiges of all principal doctrines of the Christian religion are to be found in the monuments, writings, or mythologies of all nations, ages and religions; and that these vestiges are emanations of the primitive, antient, universal religion of mankind, transmitted from the beginning of the world by the Antidiluvians (sic) to the Postdiluvian patriarchs, and by them to their posterity that peopled the face of the earth." (Ramsay 1748.iv-v)


Ramsay's great quest was to collect all vestiges of the "original traditions of the patriarchal religion" from the writings of "the antient Hebrews, Chinese, Indians, Persians, Egyptians, Greeks and Romans," and he was convinced that even "among the ancient Gauls, Germans, Britons, and all other nations," one would "find vestiges of the same truths" if we would possess any "records left of their doctrines" because "all flowed from the same source" (Ramsay 1749:iv). but if the records of the "antient Hebrews" were only fragmentary, those of the Egyptians indecipherable, those of the Indians and Persians still largely unknown, and those of the Greeks and Romans too young, where could such vestiges of Ur-religion be found?

Before he enters this discussion, Ramsay clarifies the origin of his Ur-tradition and firmly links Adam's "perfect knowledge" to its regeneration through the Messiah:

According to the Mosaic accounts of the origin and propagation of mankind, the protoplast had a perfect knowledge of all the great principles of Natural and Revealed Religion. Adam created in a state of innocence, before sin and passion had darkened his understanding, who conversed with the Logos in paradise under a human form, must have had a perfect knowledge of the Deity, and of the love we owed to him. Adam, after the fall, could not but know the miserable state, into which he had plunged himself, with all his posterity. Scripture assures us, and all divines agree, that God, after having banished him from paradise, revealed to him the sacrifice, sufferings, and triumphs of the Messiah. Thus Adam must have had a perfect knowledge of all the great principles both of Natural and Revealed Religion. (p. 8)


This quoted passage also sets the stage for Ramsay's "three states scheme (initial perfection, degeneration or fall, and regeneration). Next comes the problem of a line of transmission of Adam's initial wisdom:

Yea, he [Adam] must not only have instructed his children then existent in these sublime truths, but have given them orders to transmit the same notions to their posterity. All the holy patriarchs must have done the same, from generation to generation, till the deluge; when Noah, possessed with the same spirit, had, no doubt, the same care to hand down, to succeeding ages, those essential truths. Now, since the holy patriarchs, before and after the deluge, could and should have acted thus, it is sure they did so. (p. 9)


But such direct transmission was risky, which is why even Ur-tradition movements that emphasize "mind-to-mind" transmission tend to place their trust in ancient texts:

It is no ways probable, that such a wise man as Noah, who was instructed by, and conversed with the Logos, would have trusted to oral tradition alone, for the preservation and transmission of these divine lights, and sublime mysteries of faith to his posterity, and all the nations who were to cover the face of the earth. He, no doubt, took care to have them wrote in such characters as were then in use. All grant that the first way of writing was by hieroglyphics. (p. 9)


Ramsay mentions the famous pillars of stone and clay that were, according to Flavius Josephus and numerous Old Testament pseudepigraphs, designed to withstand both water and fire, but he rejects the view that they contained astronomical knowledge (p. 10). Rather, the symbolical characters on these pillars had the aim "to preserve and transmit to posterity some idea of the mysteries of religion" (p. II). Here we have one more element of Ur-traditions: a code for the transmission of original doctrine. Ramsay thought that the inscriptions on the pillars were "Enochian or Noevian symbols" designed "to preserve the memory of these sacred truths" (p. 13). In this manner sacred texts were transmitted to all nations, thus forming a global written Ur-tradition:

Thus the symbolical characters, images and representations of divine intellectual truths, were much the same in all nations. Of this we have uncontestable proofs, since the symbols of the Chinese are very oft the same with those wrote upon the Egyptian obelisks yet preserved: for all the Chinese characters are hieroglyphics. We find also, that the Gauls, Germans and Britains long before they were conquered by Julius Caesar, had much the same symbolical representations of their sacred mysteries and Deities, as the Egyptians, Greeks and Romans. (pp. 13-14)


Though these "Enochian or Noevian symbols" were "at first invented not to render religion mysterious, and cover it with an impenetrable veil, but, on the contrary, to render its sublime, intellectual, spiritual ideas sensible, visible and familiar to the vulgar," their true original sense was soon forgotten; "men attach'd themselves to the letter, and the signs, without understanding the spirit and the thing signified," and soon "the Pagans fell by degrees into gross idolatry and wild superstition" (pp. 14-15). Ramsay's Story about the degeneration of the original religion continues very much like Newton's. Desire for power, greed, and priestcraft were some of the reasons why "the sacred, ancient and primitive symbols were degraded, obscured, misinterpreted, dismember'd, mangled and disfigured. The sacred became profane; the divine, human; and the most sublime truths were turn'd into wild fictions" (p. 16). Thus "the original sense was intirely perverted, the sign became the thing signified, and the reality was look'd upon as a symbol" (p. 19). Such degeneration took place not only in pagan nations but also with the Jews, and their claims of exclusive transmission form part of it:

We must not however think, that the Pagans alone were guilty of these degradations, alterations and false explications of the sacred symbols and ancient traditions. As men are much the same in all nations, ages and religions, and that human nature is an inexhaustible source of ignorance, self-love and cupidity, the members of the visible church both Jewish and Christian fell into far greater tho' very different abuses, and misinterpretations of ancient tradition, than the Pagans. Tho' the Jews had a law written nor in a hieroglyphical style, but in vulgar language, yet they explain'd all the metaphorical descriptions of the divine nature and attributes in a literal sense, and form'd to themselves the idea of a partial, fantastic, furious, wrathful God who loved one nation only and hared all the rest. Because they were chosen to be the depositaries of me sacred oracles, and had the external means of salvation, they fancied that the God of the Israelites was nor the God of the Gentiles; that he abandon'd all other nations to a total ignorance of his essence, and to inevitable damnation. (pp. 19-20)


Ramsay also included the Christians and declared at me beginning of his "Great work" that nor only the Pagan mythologists who "adulterated by degrees the original traditions of the partriarchal religion" needed to be ser straight but also the "Jewish rabbins, and then the Christian schoolmen" who "disfigured revealed religion, by many absurd opinions, popular errors, and wild fictions, which being neither founded in scripture, nor authorized by the consent of the universal church, ought not to pass for doctrines of faith" (Ramsay 1748:v). Ramsay obviously had a reformist agenda. but what did me "original" doctrine consist in? How could one hope to get some idea of Adam's "perfect knowledge" without access to (and understanding of) "Enochian or Noevian symbols"?

Noah's Chinese Heirs

When Ramsay wrote his books in the first half of the eighteenth century, a new avenue to humanity's past had opened up through the study of Chinese. Long before students of Sanskrit began to throw light on Indian antiquities, a number of pioneer Sinologists studied the Chinese "hieroglyphs" and tried to make sense of China's ancient texts. Though earlier books such as Juan Mendoza's Historia ... del gran reyno de la China (1596), Matteo Ricci and Nicolas Trigault's De Christiana Expeditione (1615), and Alvaro Semedo's Imperio de La China (1642) had provided some enticing information about Chinese history, language, and religion, it was from the mid-seventeenth century that information about China's antiquity really began to sink in. In 1662, when Bishop Edward Stillingfleet wrote his Origines sacrae (Sacred Origins), he sensed that the defense of biblical authority entered a new phase. "The disesteem of the Scriptures," he wrote, "is the decay of religion" (Stillingfleet 1817:I.viii), and he mentioned threats from three main sides:

The most popular pretences of the Atheists of our age, have been the irreconcileableness of the account of times in Scripture with that of the learned and ancient Heathen nations; the inconsistency of the belief of the Scriptures with the principles of reason; and the account which may be given of the origin of things, from principles of philosophy, without the Scriptures. These three therefore I have particularly set myself against, and directed against each of them several books. In the first, I have manifested that there is no ground of credibility in the account of ancient times, given by any Heathen nations, different from the Scriptures, which I have with so much care and diligence inquired into. (p. xiv)


The bishop's book shows that his scope was still limited to Egypt, Phoenicia, Chaldaea, and Greece; and after less than one hundred pages, he declared his proof complete that "there is no credibility in any of those Heathen histories" (p. 94). One thing that bothered Stillingfleet about these "Heathen histories" and other new discoveries was that the defense of Scripture became increasingly costly. He hoped that his book would silence men like Isaac La Peyrere who claimed to defend the Bible but ended up undermining it, and he prayed "that from thence we may hope to hear no more of men before Adam to salve the authority of the Scriptures by" (p. xiv).

But while the bishop wrote these words, a new and much less easily discounted threat had already ominously raised its head in two publications by a Jesuit: Martino MARTINI'S Novus Atlas Sinensis (1655) and his Sinicae historiae decas prima (1658).7 The potential of this threat may have dawned on some early readers when Gabriel DE MAGALHAES(1610-77) declared in 16688 that Chinese characters predated Egyptian hieroglyphs; but it was a noted English architect and amateur antiquarian who was among the first to have a sense of its implications. John WEBB (1611-72), the close collaborator of Inigo Jones and coaurhor (1655) as well as author (1665) of two works on Stonehenge, published a book in 1669 that attempted to prove that Chinese is the sole remnant of antediluvial human language and that the Chinese still use the antediluvial writing system. Writing many decades before Ramsay, Webb also mentions the engravings made by Seth or Enoch on the two pillars of brick and stone and thinks that they must have been written in humankind's original language. Based mainly on the Bible, Flavius Josephus, Walter Raleigh (1614), and Peter Heylin's Cosmographie (1652), Webb concludes "that Noah carried the Primitive Language into the Ark with him, and that it continued pure and uncorrupted amongst his succeeding generations until the Confusion of Tongues at Babel' (Webb 1678:17). Until the great flood the whole earth was therefore "of one Language and one Lip" (p. 17).

The arguments of Jan Gorp (Goropius Becanus; 1569:473) and Walter Raleigh (1614:144) convinced Webb that Noah's ark landed "in the confines of Tartaria, Persia, and India," and he deemed it "very probable" that Noah "first inhabited India" before sending Nimrod and his followers to the Middle East (Webb 1678:20-21). He seconded Raleigh's opinion "that India was the first Planted and Peopled Countrey after the Flood" (p. 25). Instead of going to Shinar in Mesopotamia, Noah and his followers "sent out Colonies to the more remote parts of Asia, till at length they setled (sic) in the remotest CHINA" (p. 26). Webb held it "for a matter undeniable, that the Plantation of India preceded that of Babel' and inclined to believe "that all the Eastern parts of Persia, with CHINA, and both the Indias, were peopled by such of the Sons of Sem, as went not with the rest to the Valley of Shinaar" (p. 27).

Webb's scenario squarely contradicted the traditional narrative of the ark's landing on Mt. Ararat and the Mesopotamian epicenter of dispersion. Webb did not question the universality of the great flood, but his speculation about Noah's whereabouts after the flood (which the biblical account leaves unclear) led him to the conclusion that India and China were populated by the descendants of Noah and Shem and did not suffer from the disastrous confusion of tongues that befell the colonies that Noah had sent from India to the Middle East.

Rejecting Kircher's scenario of the Egyptian origins of Indian and Chinese religion, Webb maintained, based on Raleigh's calculation, that Noah's son Cham had founded his kingdom in Egypt 191 years after the flood (p. 30) and that the Egyptians did nor flourish until the times of Moses (p. 31). By contrast, China was "in all probability ... after the Flood first planted either by Noah himself, or some of the sons of Sem, before the remove Shinaar"; thus, the "Principles of Theology, amongst the Chinois, ... could not proceed from the wicked and idolatrous race of accursed Cham, but from those ones that were, de civitate Dei, of the City of God" (p. 32). The Indians and Chinese "retained the PRIMITIVE Tongue, as having received it from Noah, and likewise carry the same with them to their several Plantations, in what part of the East soever they setled themselves" (p. 32).

Whereas other writers such as La Peyrere began to doubt me universality of the flood, Webb transformed the confusion of tongues into a local Mesopotamian event that could not have affected India and "its Plantations in the East" where the "Language of Noah" reigned without any change (pp. 33- 34). Webb's intensive study of Martino Martini's Novus Atlas Sinensis (1655) and the Sinicae historiae decas prima (1658) convinced him, in the absence of evidence from India, that "the Language of the Empire of CHINA, is, the PRIMITIVE Tongue, which was common to the whole World before the Flood' (p. 44). Even the famous Isaac Vossius, so Webb claims, confirms that the Chinese "preserve a continued History compiled from their monuments, and annual exploits of four thousand five hundred yeares" and have "Writers ... more antient than even Moses himself" (p. 48). Unlike the Indians and all other nations, the Chinese "have never been corrupted by intercourse with strangers" and have, "unknown indeed to other Nations," continued "enjoying to themselves their own felicity at pleasure" (p. 48). The great antiquity of this isolated people could not be doubted in view of me evidence furnished by secular as well as Jesuit experts:

Whereby appears, that according to the vulgar Aera, which Martinius follows, and which makes from the Creation to the Flood of Noah one thousand six hundred fifty six years; and from thence to the coming of CHRIST into the World two thousand two hundred ninety four years; the Historical time of the Chinois begins several Ages, to wit, five hundred fifty three years before the Universal Deluge, computing to the year one thousand six hundred fifty eight: as Vossius doth. (p. 52)


Again relying on Martini, Webb argues that the only possible explanation of China's ancient and uninterrupted historical records is that "this extreme part of Asia, whereof we treat, was for certain inhabited before the flood" and that the family of Noah, which alone could know of antediluvian events, had indeed settled there and saved ancient records on the ark (p. 55). He even speculated that Noah had built his ark in China since "no Countrey in the habitable Earth could better furnish Noah, with all manner of conveniences,  and every sort of materials proper for the building of such a Machine than China" (p. 71).

Apart from humankind's Ur-language, the Chinese had, of course, also safeguarded antediluvian Ur-religion: "But that of old, saith Martinius, the Chinois professed the true God from the Doctrine delivered them by Noah, there is no doubt to be made" (p. 88). The proof of this lies in the Chinese books where "this Theology of the Chinois, not by tradition, and a perpetual same" is found "successively written from Age to Age, ever since the universal Deluge, above seven hundred years before Moses was born" (p. 92). According to Webb's Jesuit sources, idolatry was unknown to the Chinese "till after the birth of CHRIST, when for many Ages preceding, the whole World had followed Idols"; but when idolatry was imported to China "in the sixty fifth year after CHRIST, infected by an Indian Philosopher that crept into China," it was of the very worst kind (p. 94).

Webb's conclusion from all this was that, absent any ancient information from India, "China is the most antient, and in all probability, was, the first planted Countrey of the World after the flood" and that there is "no doubt to be made" that the Chinese knowledge "in Divine matters, of the true God especially, was taught them by Noah" (p. n6). With regard to the antediluvian writing system that survived in China equally unscathed by events in the rest of the world, Webb was convinced that antediluvian books had survived the flood; some parts of the books of Enoch were reportedly "found after the flood in Arabia Felix ... of which Tertullian affirmeth, that he had seen and read some whole pages" (p. 147). Regarding the Chinese "hieroglyphics," Webb found that their inventor "was Fohius their first Emperour, who according to the time that is given to the beginning of his reign might be contemporary with Enos" (p. 152).9 But the language extant in China is even older-in face, it must be "as antient, as the World itself and Mankind" (p. 162). All Chinese books are written in this "true ORIGINAL Language," whose characters "ever have been one and the same throughout their whole Empire" (p. 180). The characteristics of this language -- picked up by Webb from Semedo, Martini, and Kircher -- seemed to prove that Chinese is the language of paradise, which "perdures in its Antient purity without any change or alteration,"

And I must not omit, that several books yet live amongst them, written in their first and original Hieroglyphicks, which still remaining in their Libraries, are understood by all their Literati, though they are no longer used, except in some Inscriptions, and Seals instead of Coats of Arms. Among these sort of Books is extant one called Yeking of great Antiquity, as taking beginning with Fohius, and of as great esteem for the Arcana it contains. This Book seems much to confirm the opinion of those that would have the Inscription of Persepolis more antient than the flood. For, as This in Persia consists only in Triangles several wayes transversed: So That in China consists only of streight lines several wayes interrupted. It treats especially of Judicial Astrology, Politique Government; and occult Philosophy. (p. 190)


Such information and conclusions could not but interest Europe's "antiquarians," who were intrigued by the age, origin, and meaning of Mesopotamian cuneiform inscriptions, Egyptian hieroglyphs, the hexagrams of the Yijing, and the runic inscriptions of northern Europe. Were they all some kind of code from the dawn of time -- a kind of Ur-shorthand -- the key to which was exclusively preserved in that most mysterious and secluded of all ancient countries of the world, China?

The Search for the World's Oldest Text

Martino Martini began his Sinicae historiae decas prima of 1658 -- the first genuine history of China to appear in a European language10 -- with the reign of Fuxi (Fu Hsi; Webb's Fohius) from 2952 to 2838 B.C.E. According to the widely accepted chronology of Archbishop James USSHER (1581-1656), the creation of Adam had taken place in 4004 B.C.E and the great flood in 2349 B.C.E. The reign of Martini's Fuxi thus took place about six centuries before Noah's flood. The Jesuits in China had long been aware of this discrepancy and had in 1637 received permission to use a Septuagint-based alternative chronology whose flood occurred in 2957 B.C.E., five years before Fuxi began his reign (Mungello 1989:127). Martini was convinced that East Asia was inhabited before the time of Noah's flood, yet unlike John Webb, he "was willing to leave the problem unresolved" (p. 127) and thus stimulated a heated debate among chronologists and so-called antiquarians that continued well into the eighteenth century. Martini accepted the Chinese view that Fuxi had invented the trigrams and was fascinated by the sixty-four hexagrams that he associated with ancient mathematical knowledge and "a mystical philosophy similar to Pythagoras, but many centuries older" (Martini 1658:6).

Though the Chinese "use it today mainly for divination and sortilege and either ignore or neglect its genuine meaning" (p. 6), Martini regarded this system as a repository of ancient wisdom transmitted from patriarch to patriarch since the time of Noah. He thought that the Yijing was China's most ancient book and was convinced that Fuxi had invented the Chinese writing system that reminded him so much of the Egyptian hieroglyphs (p. 12) he had seen in the 1630s in Rome while studying under Athanasius Kircher.

Manini published his China atlas and history while traveling through Europe to drum up support for the accommodationist approach in the Jesuit mission, and during his stay in Rome (fall 1654 to January 1656), he gave his teacher much of the China-related information that ended up in Kircher's famous China Illustrata (1667).11 But their view of Fuxi was completely at odds, and this difference is very significant. For Martini, Fuxi was a transmitter of "genuine meaning" and a great astronomer who had come to China some time before the confusion of tongues (Martini 1658:11). He was thus a member of the "good" transmission. Kircher, by contrast, followed Martini's informer Joao Rodrigues (who had first identified Fuxi with Zoroaster) in asserting that Fuxi was a descendant of Ham and therefore a member of the "evil" transmission (Kircher 1987:214).

The difference between Webb and Martini on one hand and Rodrigues and Kircher on the other does not just concern the burning question of Egyptian or Chinese anteriority (which evoked passionate discussions well into the nineteenth century). It also lies at the heart of the protracted dispute about the Jesuit "accommodation" policy and formed the crux of the famous controversy about Chinese Rites in Paris when the Sorbonne in 1700 condemned the following propositions:

I. China had knowledge of the true God more than two thousand years before Jesus Christ.

2. China had the honor of sacrificing to God in the most ancient temple in the world.

3. China has honored God in a manner that can serve as an example even to Christians.

4. China has practiced a morality as pure as its religion.

5. China had the faith, humility, the interior and exterior cult, the priesthood, the sacrifices, the saintliness, the miracles, the spirit of God, and the purest charity, which is the characteristic and the perfection of the genuine religion.

6. Of all the nations of the world, China has been the most constantly favored by the graces of God. 12
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Re: The Birth of Orientalism, by Urs App

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Part 3 of 3

The controversy reached enormous proportions because it did not just involve China but also India (where the toleration of "Malabarian Rites" by Roberto de Nobili and his successors was based on a similar notion of pure ancient monotheism) and ultimately even Europe's ancient religion and its druids. The two opposing views of China's first emperor were emblematic of two completely different views of the past. I have earlier called them "inclusive" and "exclusive," but even the "inclusive" view was in a sense exclusive since it also hijacked other people's histories and religions and embedded them in a fundamentally biblical scenario. For example, Webb's journey of Noah to China left the entire basic framework of the Old Testament narrative with its creator God, paradise, the Fall, the patriarchs, the deluge, and other biblical events intact and turned the Chinese into descendants of Noah. A metaphor from the commercial realm may be more to the point. What Webb, Martini, the China figurists, and Ramsay attempted can be called a "friendly takeover" whereas the approach of Rodrigues, Kircher, and the victors of the Rites controversy would constitute a "hostile takeover." The "hostile takeover" group usually made the Chinese descend from Noah's problem child Ham -- the one who had mocked his drunken father-and regarded China's ancient religion not as noachic monotheism but as an evil concoction reeking of polytheism, idolatry, and superstition of Egyptian or Chaldean ancestry. The Sorbonne accusers of Louis Daniel Le Comte's and Charles Le Gobien's writings were of this persuasion, and so were the exclusivists in Rome, China, and India who adamantly opposed the approach of Ricci, de Nobili, and Ur-traditionalists of all colors. This "hostile takeover" group won in the rites controversy, and its victory not only led to the prohibition of publications by "friendly takeover" promoters but also became a factor in the expulsion of missionaries from China and the eventual dissolution of the Jesuit order (see Chapter 7). Moreover, as is documented in this book, it exerted a profound influence on the growth of Orientalism. But so did the opposing faction.

The proponents of a "friendly takeover" put the Chinese and their first emperor into the transmission line tethered to Noah and his good son Shem and believed that they were soundly monotheistic and fundamentally good. The hazards of this sort of friendly takeover are shown in the tragic fate of Li Zubo, a Chinese Christian who was executed in 1665 for having asserted in a treatise that biblical teachings were carried to China by early descendants of Adam and Eve, that China's founding father Fuxi was one of them, that biblical teachings had for many ages reigned in China, and that the old Chinese classics showed vestigial evidence of such teachings (Mungello 1989:93). Li wrote,

The first Chinese really descended from the men of Judea who had come to the East from the West, and the Teaching of Heaven is therefore what they recalled. When they produced and reared their children and grandchildren, they taught their households the traditions of the family, and this is the time when this teaching came to China. (trans. Rule 1986:99)


While Li's treatise pleased the "accommodationist" faction and his Jesuit mentors, who possibly had a hand in its redaction, it enraged seal-carrying shareholders of the Chinese empire like the official Yang Guangxian, who launched a formal accusation and succeeded in having the unfortunate Li Zubo executed.

It seems that Chinese officials regarded this not exactly as a "friendly" takeover of their past. Yet some decades later some of the most extremist proponents of this view were studying the Yijing with the emperor's consent right under the officials' noses in the precincts of Beijing's imperial palace. They were the Jesuit missionaries who are now commonly called "figurists," a label that alludes to both their interest in "figures" or symbols and their central typological enterprise, which consisted in finding the New (their Christianity) prefigured in the Old (the Yijing and the Chinese classics). In a letter to Etienne Fourmont, Father Premare expressed the aim of this group and of his own work as follows:

The ultimate and last goal to which I dedicate this Notice and all my other writings is to bring about, if I can, that the whole world realizes that the Christian religion is as old as the world, and that the God-Man was very certainly known to the man or men who invented the Chinese hieroglyphs and composed the Jing. (Abel-Remusat 1829:2.266)13


The fact that Premare included his Notitia Linguae Sinicae, the first comprehensive textbook of the Chinese language and of Chinese literature (Lundbaek 1991:64), in this dedication is significant: research of ancient Asian texts necessitated a thorough knowledge of language and literature, and it is certainly not by chance that the best Sinologists of the early eighteenth century were all deeply involved in the search for humankind's earliest religion, whether they promoted figurism (Bouvet, de Premare, Foucquet) or eventually rejected it on the basis of intensive study (de Visdelou). Although the "hostile takeover" policy of the Catholic Church and the Jesuit order prevented them from publishing (and even openly discussing) the results of their research, me effort to identify, date, and understand ancient texts while making use of available native commentaries, dictionaries, reference works, and literari advice was a very important event in the history of Orientalism and opened many doors. It influenced, among many others, pioneer anthropologists like Lafirau, historians like Olof Dalin and Paul Henri Mallet, and of course also via Ramsay a number of eighteenth-century Orientalists such as Holwell (Chapter 6); Mignot, Anquetil-Duperron, and Sainte-Croix (Chapter 7); and William Jones (App 2009).

A new phase in the study of ancient Asian materials began in earnest at the end of the seventeenth century, around the time when Jean-Paul BIGNON (1662-1743) became president of the Academie des Sciences (1692), began his reform of the Academy of Sciences (1699), became director of the Journal des Savants, gave it its lasting form (1701), and reorganized Europe's largest library (the Royal Library in Paris that evolved into the Bibliotheque Nationale de France). It was Bignon who stacked the College Royal with instructors like Fourmont (Leung 2002:130); it was Bignon whom Father Bouvet wanted to get on board for his grand project of an academy in China (Collani 1989); it was Bignon who employed Huang, Freret, and Fourmont to catalog Chinese books at the library and to produce Chinese grammars and dictionaries; it was Bignon who ordered CalmeIte and Pons to find and send the Vedas and other ancient Indian texts to Paris (see Chapter 6); and it was Bignon who supported Fourmont's expensive project of carving over 100,000 Chinese characters in Paris (Leung 2002). The conversion of major libraries into state institutions open to the public, which Bignon oversaw, was a development with an immense impact on the production and dissemination of knowledge, including knowledge about the Orient. So was the promotion of scholarly journals like the Journal des Scavans (later renamed Journal des Savants) that featured reviews of books from all over Europe and fulfilled a central function in the pan-European "Republique des lettres".

Joachim BOUVET(1656-1730) first explained his figurist system in a letter to Bignon (dated September 15, 1705) that was originally intended for Leibniz (Collani 1989:26). Seeing features of Christianity prefigured in ancient (or seemingly ancient) sources was quite common throughout the history of Christianity, but Bouvet brought an amazing text into play:

One will be forced to admit that the canonical books of China are the most ancient works of natural law that can today be found among the heathens and even among the believers, not even excepting the Pentateuch of Moses; that is true at least for the book ye kim [Yijing] which can with assurance be regarded as the most ancient work known in the world. (p. 39)


The "veritable author" of this book is, according to Bouvet, the "holy Patriarch Enoch whose works, according to Tertullian, were rejected by the Jews because they talked too clearly of the Messiah and the incarnation of a God who would himself come to expiate the world" (p. 39). While the Chinese people thought that Fuxi was the Yijings author and inventor of its hieroglyphs and ancient "mystical science" (p. 39), Bouvet was convinced that the Chinese had -- like many other peoples -- unknowingly adopted the antediluvian biblical patriarch Enoch as a founder figure:

But we add and dare to affirm that this alleged founder of the Chinese monarchy is none other than he whom most ancient nations have recognized ... as the founder not only of their laws and customs but also of their religion, sciences, ancient books, writing systems, and languages. Consequently the Fo-hi [Fuxi] of the Chinese, the Hermes or Mercury Trismegist of the Egyptians and Gteeks, the Thot of the Alexandrians, the Idris or Adris of the Arabs, and the Enoch of the Hebrews are one and the same person who is revered by diverse nations under different names. (p. 42)


In this manner Bouvet attempted a friendly takeover of the remote antiquity of the world's ancient nations, and the two reputedly oldest ones -- Egypt and China -- both got a biblical pedigree. This was more elegant than Huet's attempt to hijack entire dynasties of gentile divinities by identifying them all as disguised members of Moses's family, but it was nevertheless a takeover of global proportions. Whoever authored the Yijing, it was the oldest extant book of the world and therefore of the greatest interest:

In effect, in spite of its small volume and very simple figures, this work contains in a kind of natural, methodical, clear, and abbreviated algebra, as it were, the principles of all sciences and forms, and a system of nature and religion. Following the very simple principles on which it is wholly based, one discovers in it all the mysteries of the hieroglyphs of Egypt and the entire economy of symbolic science of this ancient nation, invented by Enoch, the true Mercury. Who could, in the face of such a perfect affinity between China and Egypt in such an extraordinary type of doctrine ... deny that this must have come to them from a common origin and that their first master must necessarily have been identical? (p. 46)


But who had brought this oldest book, the Yijing, to China? Since Bouvet was in the "friendly takeover" camp this task fell to Noah's good son Shem:

Indeed, Shem -- who because of his rare piety and his seniority doubtlessly succeeded to his father's sovereign dignity of priesthood and kingship -- inherited the treasure trove of sacred hieroglyphic books that Noah had saved from the waters of the deluge after having received them from Methusalem, the nephew of Enoch with whom he had spent several centuries. This holy patriarch [Shem] preserved through his wise and religious policy almost the entire lineage of Noah in the cult of God and in the faithful observance of the natural law until about the end of the fifth century after the deluge when the numerous descendants were divided by divine order into several colonies in order to populate the earth. (p. 47)


The tribe that populated China was, in Bouvet's scenario, "probably the most considerable of the colonies issued by Shem's family," and it was "only natural" that it received as heritage "from the very hands of Shem" some precious treasures: antique "vases, sacred texts, and most genuine hieroglyphic sources that certainly included the Yijing and the other ancient books of China" (p. 47). Thus, the ancient treasures of Enoch came to be transmitted "via the hands of Noah and Shem to China" (p. 48). Since both the transmission and its content were so pure, it is hardly surprising that China was "since the beginning of her foundation in possession of his [Enoch's] sciences, his laws, and his religion in the highest degree of purity and perfection" and has ever since safeguarded its canonical books "with the same attachment and the same respect as the Hebrews show for the sacred books of the Old Testament" (p. 48).

So far we have here an Ur-religion and Ur-science revealed by the founder (God) to a line of patriarchs, plus a secure transmission in the form of texts and symbols in canonical books that are substantially older than the Old Testament but go back to the same source. While the Chinese were thus living in purity and perfection, the Egyptians -- instructed by Cham "who was as abhorred by men for his impiety as his elder brother [Shem] was admired" -- learned "the detestable and conjectural [suppose] meaning of the hieroglyphs, the diabolical secrets of magic, and the sacrilegious rites of idolatry" that Cham had smuggled onto the ark of his father (p. 48). but unfortunately, the Chinese had in the course of time forgotten the true significance of the "hieroglyphs" of their Enochian science as preserved in the Yijing, and of true Noevian Ur-religion. It is here that Bouver and his disciples had to step in as regenerators of Ur-religion with the ability to introduce the Chinese, starting with their emperor, to the "genuine" meaning of their canonical books, their ancient religion, and that oldest book of the world, which contained all this. For those who could read it, the Yijing proves -- as Premare put it -- that "the Christian religion is as old as this world" and that the oldest Chinese texts contain "vestiges of the dogmas of Chrisrianity" (Premare 1878:9, 51).

At the beginning of his vestiges, Premare lists the essential prefigured doctrines:

The Principal Dogmas of the Christian Religion Rediscovered in the Ancient Chinese Books

The following is the plan of this work:

1. I will first explain different points necessary for understanding the book.

2. I will speak of God as One and Trine.

3. I will treat of the question of the state of unspoiled and innocent Nature.

4. Then of the state of corrupted Nature, and separately of the rebellion of Angels and the fall of Adam.

5. Of restored Nature through Jesus Christ. This point, with God's help, will be treated at length because of the importance of the subject and the abundance of material. (p. 22)

Bouvet and his disciples had, in spite of a number of differences, the same basic vision of Ur-tradition and shared the dream to show the Chinese and also Western skeptics that the world's oldest books contain vestiges of a primitive revelation, form part of the antediluvian patriarchal transmission, and constitute an Oldest Testament containing the encoded prefiguration of central doctrines of Christianity.

As the idea of Asian antiquity and ancient wisdom slowly took hold among Europe's cultured class, it also played a role in one of the famous controversies of the time: the struggle between the "ancients" and the "moderns." In 1690 Sir William TEMPLE (1628-99) wrote in An Essay upon the Ancient and Modern Learning that the Egyptians, who had the reputation of being the oldest civilization and the instructors of Moses, might themselves "have drawn much of their learning from the Indians" and explained:

To strengthen this conjecture, of much learning being derived from such remote and ancient fountains as the Indies, and perhaps China; it may be asserted with great evidence, that though we know little of the antiquities of India, beyond Alexander's time, yet those of China are the oldest that any where pretend to any fair records; for these are agreed, by the missionary Jesuits, to extend so far above four thousand years, and with such appearance of cleat and undeniable testimonies, that those religious men themselves, rather than question their truth, by finding them contrary to the vulgar chronology of the Scripture, are content to have recourse to that of the Septuagint, and thereby to salve the appearances in these records of the Chineses. (Temple 1814:3-455)


Sir William was aware that it "may look like a paradox, to deduce learning from regions accounted commonly so barbarous and rude" yet insisted that "whoever observes the account already given of the ancient Indian and Chinese learning and opinions, will easily find among them the seeds of all these Grecian productions and institutions": the transmigrations of souls, the four cardinal virtues, abstinence from all meats that had animal life, the eternity of matter with perpetual changes of form, the indolence of the body and tranquility of mind, the care of education from the birth of children, the austere temperance of diet, and so on (p. 457).

Ramsay and the Figurists

With the return to Europe of Foucquet in 1722 and his residence in Rome from 1723 until his death in 1741, the Chinese figurist message and the notion that there are extremely old Chinese scriptures got a somewhat broader exposure. Among Foucquet's interlocutors were Voltaire, 14 Saint-Simon, Montesquieu, Charles de Brosses, Etienne Fourmont, Joseph Spence, and Chevalier Ramsay (Witek 1982:3°8). Ramsay conversed with Foucquet in 1724, and Spence called him the "great friend of Foucquet" (pp. 310-14). During a lengthy talk, the former missionary confirmed that "the canonical Chinese books were truly more ancient than those of Moses" and that "their authors were unable to know these things except by the ancient tradition which should be recognized as having come from Adam through Seth and Enoch, who was the author of these books" (pp. 310-11). Foucquet must also have supplied Ramsay with some of his translations, as he certainly is the "gentleman of superior genius, who does not care to be mentioned" who allowed Ramsay to publish some "passages, which he translated himself out of some ancient Chinese books that have been brought into Europe" (Ramsay 1814:382-83). After citing some "ancient commentaries of the book Yking, i.e., the book of Changes" that "continually speak of a double heaven, a primitive and a posterior," Ramsay included two pages of quotations from these commentaries as well as Daoist classics in his Of the Mythology of the Pagans appended to the Travels of Cyrus. The texts supplied by Foucquet were chosen to prove that the Chinese knew a golden age of innocence ("former heaven"), an age of degradation ("latter heaven"), and also "an ancient tradition common to all nations that the middle god was not to expiate and put an end to crimes but by his own great sufferings" (pp. 383-85). It is very likely that Ramsay's basic scheme of a "primitive perfection of nature, its fall, and its restoration by a divine hero" -- the scheme that he detected "in the mythologies of the Greeks, Egyptians, Persians, Indians, and Chinese" -- was inspired by, or even stemmed from, "the superior genius" of Foucquet.

Premare, who remained in China, read Ramsay's Travels of Cyrus in 1731 and expressed his elation of having found a kindred soul in a letter to Fourmont on August 27, 1731 (Lundbaek 1991:171). After this welcome discovery, Premare began to exchange letters with Ramsay and supplied him with the best of his writings. Ramsay used so much of them in his "Great work" that Lundbaek called him "Premare's editor" (p. 170).15 This material radically changed Ramsay's view of the Bible. In the Travels of Cyrus he had acknowledged that some ancient peoples cannot be accused of having plagiarized Moses because "the Jews and their books were too long concealed in a corner of the earth, to be reasonably thought the primitive light of the Gentiles" and suggested that one "must go farther back even to the deluge" in order to prove the essential correctness of the biblical account (Ramsay 1814:390-91). At the time Ramsay was still convinced that the truth of the three states (initial perfection, the fall, and salvation through a Messiah) "has been transmitted to us from age to age, from the time of the deluge till now, by an universal tradition; other nations have obscured and altered this tradition by their fables; it has been preserved in its purity no where but in the holy scriptures, the authority of which cannot be disputed with any shadow of reason" (p. 390).

Image
Figure 13. Yijing trigram charts (former and Janel' heaven) by Premare (1878:79).
 
In his posthumously published "Great work," however, Ramsay accepted Newton's conjecture that the book of Genesis is only a short extract of older, lost sources (Ramsay 1749:215-16), and he supplied so much information missing in the Bible that the description of "the rapid Mosaical narration" as "rather an abridgment, than a full detail of that great legislator's original writings" seems adequate. In the chapter on "the three states of degraded angelical nature," Ramsay finally states without ambiguity:

As the book of Genesis is probably, but an extract and abridgment of the antidiluvian and Noevian traditions, concerning the creation, Moses, in his rapid narration, does not enter into any full description of the primitive state of the angelical world, nor so much as mention the fall of angels, which is only hinted at, by a transient word about the chaos. (p. 301)


Apart from mlssll1g information about the fall of angels, Ramsay was also concerned about the lack of Old Testament support for the Trinity, even though this must have been taught by the antediluvian patriarchs. Here, too, the Chinese transmission seemed more reliable:

If the Noevian patriarchs taught the great mystery of the Trinity to their children; if this sublime truth was transmitted to their posterity by the different heads of the families that peopled the various countries of the earth; if the most ancient of all nations the Chinese have such plain vestiges of this sacred truth in their original books, is it surprising, if we find some traces of the same doctrine among the Chaldeans and Persians, both descended from the same source? (p. 124)


In this last of his works, Ramsay keeps coming back to "the Chinese, the most ancient of all nations now existent under a regular form of government, uninterrupted almost, since the first times after the universal deluge" (pp. 124, 274) and to their closeness to the Ur-tradition:

As the Chinese are one of the most ancient people that inhabited the earth, and that were formed into a regular government soon after the deluge it is no wonder we find among them such venerable traces of the Noevian tradition. The nearer we approach to the origin of the world, the clearer is this tradition concerning a triplicity in the divine essence. We must not then be surprised, if we find some vestiges of the same truth in the following ages. The Chinese mythology, or rather theology, is a key to all the others less ancient, and more obscured by the succession of rime. (p. 121)


Premare's texts had convinced Ramsay that "the canonical books of China contain many scattered fragments of the ancient Noevian, yea, antidiluvian tradition concerning the sublimest mysteries of faith" (p. 181), and he was in awe of the new kind of Orientalist research performed by "some very learned and great men who have lived twenty, thirty and forty years in China, studied the language of the country, seen these original books, and read the ancient commentarys upon them" (p. 181). But how did Ramsay see their system? He boiled it down to seven points:

1. They pretend to demonstrate, that all the Chinese characters were originally hieroglyphics, as those wrote upon the Egyptian obelisks ... 2. These ancient monuments, characters, symbols and hieroglyphics were originally wrote upon pillars, or tables of stone and mettal, by some antidiluvian patriarch who foresaw the universal deluge, who knew the mysteries of religion, and who was desirous to preserve the memory of those sacred truths from shipwrack. 3. That tho' those hieroglyphical monuments may have been adulterated, interpolated and ill copied in succeeding ages, yet they still contain many vestiges of the most essential doctrines of our most holy faith, as of God and his three essential attributes; of the sacred Trinity; of the pre-existence, suffering and triumph of the Messiah, of the fall of angels and men; and of the true means of reunion to our great original. (p. 181)


The remaining four points deal with the Chinese's mistaken belief that they were the only people to possess this tradition because of their ignorance of Fuxi's identity with Enoch; the mixup of past and future because of the lack of conjugation; and their ignorance of the true meaning of the ancient hieroglyphs that constitutes, as with other peoples, the origin of mythologies:

The original hieroglyphics transported from nation to nation were by succession of time falsely translated, adulterated, or misunderstood, and the true sense of the ancient traditions, being at last forgot, every nation explained them differently according to their fancy, and applied them as fabulous facts that had already happened, or to fictitious heroes, that had once lived in their own country. Hence arose all the different mythologies of the Eastern and Western, of the Southern and Northern nations, where the ground and canvass is still the same, tho' the colourings and ornaments are different. (pp. 182-83)


These seven points that Ramsay attributes to the Chinese figurists had great repercussions in his work, since he consistently uses the translations of Father Premare to render his demonstrations incontestable:

If these seven principles can be demonstrated, or at least proved in such a manner, as to render them not only possible and probable; but even, as uncontestable as any matters of fact can be, then we see, how some hints and vestiges of the same divine truths may, and must be found in all learned and religious nations, since they are so clear in the ancient monuments of China. (p. 183)


For orthodox readers who had followed Ramsay's religious itinerary from Protestant theology studies in Scotland into the arms of the Catholic Church and from there toward Francois FENELON (1651-1715), the French mystic Madame GUYON (1648-1717), and finally the Jesuit figurists, Ramsay's conclusions from all this must have been hard to swallow:

The only objection that can be made, is, that if this system be true, then the five canonical books of China would contain clearer revelations concerning the mysteries of our holy religion, than the Pentateuch, or the five canonical books of Moses. (p. 183)


Ramsay lets this objection stand without further comment; and since he continues to adduce Chinese evidence for his arguments, the readers could not fail to understand his answer to this objection.

Thus, the Yijing and the other ancient "canonical" books of ancient China had their brief but poignant moment of fame. The study of Chinese sources and the Jesuit figurist obsession with Enoch's symbols left a permanent mark, as they directed Europe's attention to the study of the most ancient Oriental texts and played a crucial role in opening a new phase of Orientalist research. The French king opened the eighteenth century at Versailles with a display of Chinese fireworks, and half a century later Voltaire began his universal history with a chapter on China. But by then Voltaire was already guessing that India had an even older civilization than China. But let us now turn to some other Ur-teachings discovered by Ramsay: doctrines that influenced men like Holwell, the protagonist of the next chapter.

Angels, Souls, and the Origin of Evil

The problem of the origin of evil was basic both for the radical deists who refused to accept any divine revelation and for men like Ramsay and Holwell in whose systems vestiges of a divine revelation to our first forefathers were central. In the Discourse upon the Theology and Mythology of the Pagans, Ramsay points out that even without the help of revelation and "left to the light of their reason alone," men have always been shocked that evil could be "the work of a Being infinitely wise and powerful" and knew that "what is supremely good, could never produce any thing that was wicked or miserable" (Ramsay 1814:362).

From hence they concluded, that souls are not now what they were at first; that they are degraded, for some fault committed by them in a former state; that this life is a state of exile and expiation; and, in a word, that all beings are to be restored to their proper order. Tradition struck in with reason, and this tradition had spread over all nations certain opinions, which they held in common, with regard to the three states of the world, as I shall shew in this second part, which will be a sort of abridgment of the traditional doctrine of the ancients. (p. 362)[/quote]

This "tradition" refers to the divine revelation transmitted from the earliest patriarchs whose vestiges are found among all ancient nations. The fact that it "strikes in with reason" is the overall theme of Ramsay's Philosophical Principles of Natural and Revealed Religion, which argues that supernatural revelation is not opposed to reason, as the deists argued, but rather in perfect accord with it.

There are but two possible ways of coming to the knowledge of truth, by natural evidence, or by supernatural revelation. Both are emanations of that sovereign wisdom which alone has the right to command our assent, and both are employed in this essay. Tho' natural light is not always sufficient to discover supernatural truths, yet revelation never contradicts reason. The former serves to exalt and ennoble, but never to degrade and extinguish the latter. (Ramsay 1748:iii)


One instance where man's "natural light" is nor sufficient for the discovery of "supernatural truths" is the question of the origin of evil. When young Cyrus in Ramsay's Travels of Cyrus interviews Pythagoras about this, Pythagoras -- who in Ramsay's portrait believes in an "infinite Being" that produced everything and is "only power, wisdom, and goodness"-ran through "all the different opinions of the philosophers," but the best of Greek philosophy could not satisfy Cyrus (Ramsay 1814:225, 230). Of all the opinions he had heard regarding the origin of evil, the only one that made sense was one proposed by some Hebrews (p. 230). This "solution" stemmed from the Kabbala and was explained to Prince Cyrus by an "allegorist" called Eleazar, "one of the great geniuses of his age," who was able to prove "that the religion of the Hebrews was nor only the most ancient, but the most conformable to reason" (p. 290). This doctrine of "the Hebrew philosophers, concerning the three states of the world" is based on supernatural revelation that never contradicts reason, and since the Hebrew transmission of revelation is so ancient and pure, Eleazar knows details of Ur-tradition that do not necessarily appear in the vestiges of the heathens. According to him, God first "created divers orders of intelligences to make them happy," but two kinds of spirits "lost their happiness by their disloyalty" (pp. 290-91). The cherubim of superior order did so by pride, rebelled, and their sphere of the heavens "became a dark chaos" (p. 292). The less perfect ischim became too attached to material objects and sensual pleasures and were punished less severely because they sinned through weakness rather than through pride. They were forced to be "souls which actually inhabit mortal bodies," and when such a body dies they must occupy another (p. 292):

The organic moulds of all human bodies were shut up in that of Adam, and the order of generation was established; each soul awakens in such a body, and in such time, place and circumstances, as suit best with the decrees of eternal wisdom. The earth changed its form, it was no longer a garden of delights, but a place of banishment and misery, where the continual war of the elements subjected men to diseases and death. This is the hidden meaning of the great Hebrew lawgiver, when he speaks of the terrestrial paradise and of the fall of our first parents, Adam does not represent a single man, but all mankind. (p. 292)


One can discuss whether this solution ought to have satisfied Ramsay's Cyrus; but variations of it involving the preexistence of souls were well known in Ramsay's time; in fact, they stretch from the days of Origen to Henry MORE (1614-87) and to the Latter-day Saints knocking on our doors today. In his book on The Immortality of the Soul (1662), Henry More not only asserted that "the hypothesis of Praeexistence is more agreeable to Reason than any other Hypothesis" and "has the suffrage of all Philosophers in all Ages" but also that "the Gymnosophists of Aegypt, the Indian Brachmans, the Persian Magi, and all the learned of the Jews were of this Opinion" (More 1662:110). Preexistence of souls assumes that people's souls "did once subsist in some other state; where, in several manners and degrees, they forfeited the favour of their Creatour" and were punished for their apostasy (p. 112). The main benefits of the preexisting soul theory are that original sin is committed by all souls and not just Adam; that nobody is, therefore, unjustly punished; and that God is cleared of accusations of meanness. This also has implications for the end of times when such souls are to be restituted to their original state, and it can accommodate a measure of transmigration of souls among humans.

According to Ramsay, other peoples preserved vestiges of the same Ur-tradition. For example, Greek philosophers such as Pythagoras and Plato who "endeavored to re-establish the ancient theology of the Orientals" (Ramsay 1814:359) believed in the "very ancient doctrine, common to all the Asiatics," that "the souls of beasts are degraded spirits"; and their followers "thought the doctrine of transmigration less absurd" than believing that "the divine justice could inflict sufferings on intelligences that had never offended." These philosophers held that "none but the depraved souls were destined to such a transmigration, and that it would one day be at an end, when they were purified from their crimes" (pp. 364-65). Plato wrote that the souls "free themselves from the impurities of their terrestrial prison" and after death retire to "the first earth, where souls made their abode before their degradation." This means that our "second earth" was seen as a "low abyss" and a "prison" (pp. 366-67).

When souls no longer make their felicity consist in the knowledge of truth, and when lower pleasures turn them off from the love of the supreme Essence, they are thrown into some planet, there to undergo expiatory punishments, till they are cured by their sufferings. These planets are consequently, according to Plato's notion, like hospitals or places instituted for the cute of distempered intelligences. (p. 371)


This was, according to Ramsay, "the system adopted by the heathen philosophers, whenever they attempted to explain the origin of evil," and Pythagoras "had learned the same doctrine among the Egyptians" (p. 372). The core doctrine of the Egyptians was thus another vestige of primeval revelation. Their belief was

1. That the world was created without any physical or moral evil, by a Being infinitely good. 2. That several genii abusing their liberty, fell into crimes, and thereby into misery. 3. That these genii must suffer expiatory punishments, till they are purified and restored to their first state. 4. That the god Orus, the son of Isis and Osiris, and who fights with the evil principle, is a subordinate deity, like Jupiter the conductor the son of Saturn. (p. 378)


The Persian doctrine is less well known "because we have lost the ancient books of the first Persians" (p. 379); but Ramsay was convinced that "the doctrine of the Persian magi is a sequel of the doctrine of the Indian Brachmans" (p. 380), and he had consulted "what has been translated of the Vedam, which is the sacred book of the modern Bramins." Though "its antiquity be not perhaps so great as it is affirmed to be, yet there is no denying that it contains the ancient traditions of those people, and of their philosophers" (p. 381). The Vedam of the Indians states

that souls are eternal emanations from the divine Essence, or at least that they were produced long before the formation of the world; that they were originally in a state of purity, but having sinned, were thrown down into the bodies of men, or of beasts, according to their respective demerits; so that the body, where the soul resides, is a sort of dungeon or prison. (p. 382)


This quotation stems from Abraham Roger and will be discussed in the next chapter since it forms the core of Holwell's "Indian" text and of his conception of the world's oldest religion. This view of souls that existed before the formation of the world in a state of purity, sinned, and were imprisoned in the bodies of humans and animals was linked by the Indians with the concept of transmigration. Ramsay saw this confirmed by a quotation from Kircher's China lllustrata (1987:142-43): "Lastly, they hold that 'after a certain number of transmigrations, all souls shall be re-united to their origin, re-admitted into the company of the gods, and deified'" (Ramsay 1814:382). Ramsay expressed his surprise about finding such a clear formulation in the Indian Veda but saw this as a confirmation of Indian influence on Pythagoras:

I should hardly have thought those traditions authentic, or have brought myself to trust to the translators of the Vedam, if this doctrine had not been perfectly agreeable to that of Pythagoras, which I gave an account of a little before. This philosopher taught the Greeks nothing but what be had learned from the Gymnosophists. (p. 382)


While Ramsay insisted -- as a good Catholic should -- that he was not defending such opinions, he acknowledged their efficacy in confounding "such philosophers as refuse to believe" (p. 390):

In all these systems we see that the ancient philosophers, in order w refute the objections of the impious concerning the origin and duration of evil, adopted the doctrine of the pre-existence of souls, and their final restoration. Several fathers of the church have maintained the first opinion, as the only philosophical way of explaining original sin; and Origen made use of the latter, to oppose the libertines of his time. (p. 390)


But by presenting such doctrines as vestiges of primeval revelation and linking them w "the foundation of our religion" (pp. 390-91) Ramsay gave them a tacit seal of approval. In his posthumously published "Great work," Ramsay's approval was open enough for David HUME (1711-76) to conclude in his Natural History of Religion (1757) that Ramsay, "having thus thrown himself out of all received sects of Christianity," was "obliged w advance a system of his own which is a kind of Origenism, and supposes the pre-existence of the souls both of men and beasts, and the eternal salvation and conversion of all men, beasts, and devils" (Hume 1976:86).

Hume was averse w Ramsay's basic view of initial perfection, gradual decline, and return to perfection. He saw monotheism not as the religion of Paradise but rather as the result of a long, hard slog from utter primitivity:

'Tis a matter of fact uncontestable, that about 1700 years ago all mankind were idolaters. The doubtful and sceptical principles of a few philosophers, or the theism, and that too not entirely pure, of one or two nations, form no objection worth regarding. Behold then the clear testimony of history. The farther we mount up into antiquity, the more do we find mankind plunged into idol atty. No marks, no symptoms of any more perfect religion. The most antient records of human race still present us with polytheism as the popular and established system. The north, the south, the east, the west, give their unanimous testimony to the same fact. What can be opposed w so full an evidence? (p. 26)


Ramsay's answer was, as Cudworth's before him: ancient textual evidence! But unlike Cudworth who had w dig for signs of Ur-monotheism in the Middle East and in Egypt, Ramsay had informants supplying him with ancient Chinese evidence. Nevertheless, Europe was gradually warming to the idea, promoted by Hume, of humankind's gradual rise from primitivity. This was diametrically opposed w Ramsay's notion of a decline from initial perfection. But both Ur-theologians of the Ramsay-type and believers in progress from primitivity of the Hume-type were interested in evidence -- particularly ancient texts from Asia, since this continent was (at least in Europe and Asia itself) universally considered to be the cradle of civilization. The hunt for such evidence was a task made for Orientalists, and the next chapters will present some of the men who tried to rise to this challenge.
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Re: The Birth of Orientalism, by Urs App

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Part 1 of 4

Chapter 6: Holwell's Religion of Paradise

An Internet search for John Zephaniah HOLWELL(1711-98) produces thousands of references, most of which contain the words "Black Hole." The back cover of Jan Dalley's The Black Hole: Money, Myth and Empire explains:

The story of the Black Hole of Calcutta was once drilled into every British schoolchild: how in 1756 the Nawab of Bengal attacked Fort William and locked the survivors in a tiny cell, where over a hundred souls died in insufferable heat. British retribution was swift and merciless, and led to much of India falling completely under colonial domination.1


Dalley's book tells the story of this foundation myth of the British Empire, a myth that was "based on improbable exaggeration and half-truth" and "helped justify the march of empire for two hundred years" (2007: back cover). The reason Holwell is associated with this myth is that he was its creator. When Holwell's account of the dreadful night in the Black Hole was printed in 1758, it provoked scandal and horror. Fueled by numerous reprints, the story soon became an event of mythic proportions, a symbol of the fall of Calcutta and the beginning of empire that Dalley lines up with the likes of the Boston Tea Party and the Barrie of Wounded Knee (2007:199). According to Hartmann (1946:195) this story was "about as well-known in the English- speaking world as the fact that Napoleon was Emperor of France"; but the fact that this statement occurs in a paper titled "A Case Study in the Perpetuation of Error" points to the raging controversy about the "Question of Holwell's Veracity," as J. H. Little put it in the title of his influential 1915 article. Having examined Holwell's original Black Hole report line by line,

Little arrived at the conclusion that the whole episode was a gigantic hoax. Hartmann summarized Little's observations as follows:

Specifically, Little shows that Holwell (1) fabricated a speech and fathered it on the Nawab Alivardi Khan; (2) brought false charges against the British puppet ruler of Bengal, the Nawab Mir Jafar, accusing him of massacring persons all of whom were later shown to be alive ... (3) forged a whole book and called it a translation from the ancient sacred writings of the Hindus. (Hartmann 1946:196)


Hartmann defended Holwell against the last accusation by portraying him as a possible victim of fraud rather than a forger:

This last might be defended on Holwell's behalf if we assume him to have been victimized by some Brahmin or pundit who enjoyed pulling a foreigner's leg; but certainly the first two cases have a brazen political significance also possessed by the similar story of the Black Hole. (pp. 196-97).


The book that Holwell (according to Little) forged and sold as a translation from the ancient sacred writings of the Hindus was the very Chartah Bhade Shastah that Voltaire from 1769 onward so stridently promoted as monotheism's oldest testament (see Chapter I). Is there any evidence that Holwell's Chartah Bhade Shastah is a brazen forgery? Some modern historians and Indologists have tried to identify the text translated by Holwell, thereby absolving him of the charge of having invented the whole text. For example, A. Leslie Willson thought that Holwell had adapted a genuine Indian text:

John Z. Holwell (1711-1798), a former governor of Bengal and a survivor of the famed Black Hole of Calcutta, gives an account of his favorable impression of the religious and moral precepts of India. Because of his acquaintance with one of the holy books of the Hindus (the Sanskrit Satapatha-brahmana, called the Chartah Bhade in Holwell's adaptation), he believed he discerned a great influence of Indic culture upon other lands in ancient times. The more familiar he became with the Sanskrit work, the more clearly he claimed to see that the mythology as well as the cosmogony of the Egyptians, the Greeks, and the Romans was borrowed from the teachings of the Brahmans contained in the Satapatha brahmana. Even the extreme rituals of Hindu worship and the classification of Indic gods found their way West, although extremely falsified and truncated. (Willson 1964:24)


Based on the authority of Johannes Grundmann (1900:71), Willson claimed that Holwell's source, the Satapatha-Brahmana, was later lost (p. 24). In The British Discovery of Hinduism in the Eighteenth Century, P. J. Marshall argued that "judging by the words which he reproduces, Holwell must have made his translation out of a Hindustani version" but added that "the original of Holwell's Shastah cannot be identified" (Marshall 1970:46). Marshall, who took the trouble of annotating Holwell's Shastah text, thus seems to have regarded it not as a literary hoax or an invention but as a translation of a genuine Indian text, albeit not from Sanskrit but from a Hindustani original. More recent research has questioned earlier opinions but otherwise hardly advanced matters.

In the introduction to the 2000 reprint of Holwell's text, M. J. Franklin calls the Shastah text "a text which must remain rather dubious as Holwell asserted it covered all doctrine, and no independent record of such a work exists" (Holwell 2000:xiii). Franklin and other recent authors all rely on Thomas Trautmann's excellent study Aryans and British India, which found that Holwell's book "contains what putport to be translations from a mysterious ancient Hindu text, Chartah Bhade Shastah (Sanskrit, Catur lIeda Sastra), a work not heard of since" (1997=30). Trautmann characterized Holwell's "supposed translations of the supposed ancient Shaster" as "obscure and dubious" (p. 33), his Indian sources as "not otherwise known, before or since," and the details of his account as "confusing" (p. 68). Thus, his valiant attempt to identify Holwell's Indian sources2 ended with a sigh: "It is all rather murky and more than a little suspicious" (pp. 68-69).

According to his obituary in the Asiatic Annual Register for 1799 (1801:25- 30), John Zephaniah Holwell was born in Dublin on September 17, 1711. At age 12 the intelligent boy won a prize for classical learning but was soon sent by his father as a merchant apprentice to Holland, where he learned Dutch and French. Before he turned eighteen, he became a surgeon's apprentice in England, and at age twenty he embarked as a surgeon's mate on a ship sailing to Bengal. As surgeon of a frigate of the East India Company, he soon was on the way to the Persian Gulf and studied Arabic, and on his return to Calcutta he also learned some Portuguese and Hindi. At the young age of twenty-three, he was appointed surgeon-major, and after another trip to the Gulf he could speak Arabic "with tolerable fluency" (p. 27). During his residence in Dacca, he was "indefatigable in improving himself in the Moorish and Hinduee tongues" and began "his researches into the Hindu theology" (p. 27). Back in Calcutta, he quickly rose through the ranks; at age 29 he was appointed assistant surgeon to the hospital, and in 1746 (age 35), he became principal physician and surgeon to the presidency of the Company. In 1747 and 1748, he was successively elected mayor of the corporation. In the winter of 1749/50' he returned for the first time from India to England. It was for health reasons, and while recuperating, he enjoyed the leisure "to arrange his materials on the theology and doctrines of the ancient and modern Brahmans." Only after his return to India did he become acquainted "with the Chartah Bhade of Bramah," of which he claims to have translated a considerable part (Holwell 1765:3). During the sack of Calcutta when the Black Hole incident took place, Holwell allegedly lost both the Indian manuscripts of the Chartah Bhade Shastah and his English translation.

After this incident Holwell had to sail back to Europe for the second time, and this time he used his sojourn to publish the famous Black Hole narrative (1758). Upon his return to India, he became governor of Bengal for a few months but was soon replaced. During the last eight months of his long stay in India, he was "freed from the plagues of government" and reassumed his researches into Indian religion "with tolerable success" when "some manuscripts" happened to be "recovered by an unforeseen and extraordinary event" (p. 4), which Holwell never explained. In 1761, at age 50, he returned to England for the third and final time and lived there for almost four leisurely decades until his death in 1798 at the age of 87. Of particular interest among the books published during these decades are the three volumes of Interesting historical events, relative to the provinces of Bengal, and the empire of Indostan (1765, 1767, 1771) and his Dissertations on the Origin, Nature, and Pursuits, of Intelligent Beings, and on Divine Providence, Religion, and Religious Worship of 1786.

Indian Paradises

In order to understand Holwell's pursuit and intention, one needs to examine not only the second volume of his Interesting historical events (1767), which contains the Chartah Bhade Shastah "translation" with his commentary, but also the first and third volumes. The title page of the first volume (1765) indicates that Holwell had from the outset planned a three-part work of which the first was to present the historical events of India during the first half of the eighteenth century, the second "the mythology and cosmogony, fasts and festivals of the Gentoos, followers of the Shastah," and the third "a dissertation on the metempsychosis." In the first volume (published in 1765 and revised in 1766), there is an easily overlooked account that is crucial for understanding both the "Question of Holwell's Veracity" and the character of his Chartah Bhade. Modern scholars paid no attention to it, but Voltaire highlighted this sensational report by Holwell in chapter 35 of his Fragmens sur l'Inde under the heading "Portrait of a singular people in India" (Voltaire 1774:212-16). Voltaire wrote:

Among so much desolation a region of India has enjoyed profound peace; and in the midst of the horrible moral depravation, it has preserved the purity of its ancient morality. It is the country of Bishnapore or Vishnapore. Mr. Holwell, who has travelled through it, says that it is situated in north-west Bengal and that it takes sixty days of travel to traverse it. (p. 212)


Quickly calculating the approximate size of this blessed territory, Voltaire concluded that "it would be much larger than France" (p. 212), and exhibited some of his much-evoked "complete trust" in Holwell by accusing him of "some exaggeration" (p. 212). But Voltaire did not exclude the possibility that it was someone else's fault, for example, "a printing error, which is all too common in books" (p. 212). Instead of double-checking the number in his copy of Holwell's book (which on p. 197 has "sixteen days" rather than "sixty"), Voltaire proceeded to correct Holwell:

We had better believe that the author meant [it takes] sixty days [to walk] around the territory, which would result in 100 [French] miles of diameter. [The country] yields 3.5 million rupees per year to its sovereign, which corresponds to 8,200,000 pounds. This revenue does not seem proportionate to the surface of the territory. (pp. 212-13)


Feigning astonishment, Voltaire adds: "What is even more surprising is that Bishnapore is not at all found on our maps" (p. 212). Could Holwell have invented this country? Of course not! "It is not permitted to believe that a state employee of known probity would have wanted to get the better of simple people. He would be too guilty and too easily refuted" (p. 212). When reporting biblical events that defy logic, Voltaire often cut the discussion short with a sarcastic exhortation to his readers to stop worrying about reason and to embrace faith. Here he "consoles" readers who are surprised that this blissful country is not found on any map with the tongue-in-cheek remark: "The reader will be even more pleasantly surprised that this country is inhabited by the most gentle, the most just, the most hospitable, and the most generous people that have ever rendered our earth worthy of heaven" (p. 213).

Today we know that Bisnapore (Bishnupur) is located only 130 kilometers northwest of Calcutta (Kolkata). The city is famous for its terracotta craft and Baluchari sarees made of tussar silk and was for almost a thousand years the capital of the Malla kings of Mallabhum. Bur Holwell's report carries a far more paradisiacal perfume. The country that he reportedly visited is portrayed as the happiest in me world. It is protected from surrounding regions by an ingenious system of waterways and lock gates mat gives the reigning Rajah the "power to overflow his country, and drown any enemy that comes against him." Holwell, ever the sly and devoted colonial administrator, suggests mat the British could avoid an invasion and easily bring the country to its knees through an export blockade that would oblige the Rajah to pay the British as much as two million rupees per annum (Holwell 1766:I.I97-98). Bur, of course, this was just an innocent idea and by no means a call for the colonialization of paradise:

But in truth, it would be almost cruelty to molest these happy people; for in this district, are the only vestiges of the beauty, purity, piety, regularity, equity, and strictness of the ancient Indostan government. Here the property, as well as the liberty of the people, are inviolate. Here, no robberies are heard of, either private or public. (p. 198)


When a foreigner such as Holwell enters this country, he "becomes the immediate care of the government; which allots him guards without any expence, to conduct him from stage to stage: and these are accountable for the safety and accommodation of his person and effects" (p. 198). Goods are duly recorded, certified, and transported free of charge. "In this form, the traveller is passed through the country; and if he only passes, he is not suffered to be at any expence for food, accommodation, or carriage for his merchandize or baggage" (p. 199). Furthermore, the people of Bisnapore are totally honest:

If any thing is lost in this district; for instance, a bag of money, or other valuable; the person who finds it, hangs it up on the next tree, and gives notice to the neatest Chowkey or place of guard; the officer of which, orders immediate publication of the same by beat of tomtom, or drum. (p. 199)


The country is graced by 360 magnificent pagodas erected by the Rajah and his ancestors, and the cows are venerated to such a degree that if one suffers violent death, the whole city or village remains in mourning and fasts for three days; nobody is allowed to displace him- or herself, and all must perform the expiations prescribed by the very Chartah Bhade Shastah whose existence and content Holwell herewith first announced to the world (pp. 199-200).

The country described by Holwell is a carefully delimited territory within whose boundaries time seems to have stood still since the proclamation of the Chartah Bhade Shastah several thousand years ago. Its elaborate water management system with lock gates and canals offers total protection from the dangers of the outside world, and within its boundaries perfect honesty, piety, purity, morality, tolerance, liberty, generosity, and prosperity reign since time immemorial. Sutely some of Holwell's and Voltaire's readers must have asked themselves why -- given the free transport, food, accommodation, and even health care for visitors -- Mr. Holwell was the only person ever to transmit the good news about this paradisiacal enclave at Calcutta's doorstep. Is it too farfetched to think that Holwell endowed Bisnapore with its ideal characteristics in order to prepare the ground for the Chartah Bhade Shastah in the second volume of his Interesting events? If a real country with a real economy existed -- a country whose religion was strictly based on the Chartah Bhade Shastah and whose rites had followed this text to the letter for millennia -- then the existence of this ancient sacred text could not be subject to doubt, could it?

Of course, Holwell was not the first person to imagine a paradise in or near India; medieval world maps are full of interesting information about it. In the year 883, about eight hundred years before Holwell wrote about Bisnapore, a Jew by the name of Eldad ha-Dani ("Eldad of the tribe of Dan") showed up in Tunisia.3 Presenting himself as a member of one of the ten lost tribes of Israel (which according to Eldad continued to flourish in Havilah), he told the local Jews a story that could have been written by Holwell. Beyond the boundaries of the known world, somewhere in Asia, he claimed, four tribes of the "sons of Moses" continue to lead pure lives protected by a river of rolling stones and sand called Sambaryon, and their laws and texts remain unchanged since antiquity.4 Their Talmud is written in the purest Hebrew, and their children never die as long as the parents are alive. Eldad supported his own credibility by an impressive genealogy stretching back to Dan, the son of Jacob. Eldad's tales provoked an inquiry addressed to the rabbinical academy in Sura, Babylon; and while not much is known about the further fate of Eldad, his Story pops up here and there in medieval manuscripts. Eventually, the inquiry triggered by his account and the response it received were printed in Mantua in 1480 (Wasserstein 1996:215).

About three centuries after Eldad, in 1122, a story with many similar elements began to make the rounds in Europe, and its protagonist ended up as a prominent feature on numerous illustrated world maps. It was the tale of John, archbishop of India, who had reportedly traveled to Constantinople and Rome. Patriarch John was said to be the guardian of the shrine of St. Thomas, the favorite disciple of Jesus; and through his Indian capital, so the Story went, flow the "pure waters of the Physon, one of the rivers of Paradise, which gives to the world outside most precious gold and jewels, whence the regions of India are extremely rich" (Hamilton 1996:173).

In 1145, Otto von Freising also heard of "a certain John, king and priest, who lived in the extreme east beyond Armenia and Persia." He reportedly was of the race of the very Magi who had come to worship the infant Christ at Bethlehem (p. 174). Otto first connected Prester John with the Magi and with Archbishop John, and soon after the completion of his History in Il57 three corpses exhumed in a church in Milan were identified as the bodies of the Three Magi (pp. 180-81). These relics were solemnly transported to the Cologne cathedral in n64 and became objects of a religious cult (p. 183). It is around this time that a letter signed by a Prester John began to circulate in western Europe. In his letter Prester John portrays himself as the extremely rich and powerful ruler of the Three Indies, whose subjects include the Ten Lost Tribes beyond the river Sambaryon. Prester John claims to live very close to Paradise and emphasizes that he guards the grave of St. Thomas, the apostle of Jesus.

Though the country described in Prester John's letter is richer and far larger than Holwell's Bisnapore, it is also extremely hospitable and its inhabitants are perfectly moral: "There are no robbers among us; no sycophant finds a place here, and there is no miserliness" (Zarncke 1996:83). As in Holwell's Bisnapore, "nobody lies, nor can anybody lie" (p. 84). All inhabitants of Prester John's country "follow the truth and love one another;" there is "no adulterer in the land, and there is no vice" (p. 84).

The Prester John Story became so widely known that the famous patriarch became a fixture on medieval world maps as well as a major motivation for the exploration of Asia (from the thirteenth century) and Africa (from the fifteenth century).5

Another layer in the archaeology of Holwell's Indian paradise can be found in the famous Travels of Sir John Mandeville of the fourteenth century, a book that fascinated countless readers and travelers as well as researchers.6 Mandeville's "isle of Bragman" -- like Prester John's Indies, Eldad's land beyond the Sambaryon, and Holwell's Bisnapore -- is a marvelous land. Its inhabitants, though not Christians, "by natural instinct or law ... live a commendable life, are folk of great virtue, flying away from all sins and vices and malice" (Moseley 1983:178). The still unidentified Mandeville, who habitually calls countries "isles," described a great many of them in his Travels. But the country of the "Bragmans" (Brachmans, Brahmins) is by far the most excellent:

This isle these people live in is called the Isle of Bragman; and some men call it the Land of Faith. Through it runs a great river, which is called Thebe. Generally all the men of that isle and of other isles nearby are more trustworthy and more righteous than men in other countries. In this land are no thieves, no murderers, no prostitutes, no liars, no beggars; they are men as pure in conversation and as clean in living as if they were men of religion. And since they are such true and good folk, in their country there is never thunder and lightning, hail nor snow, nor any other storms and bad weather; there is no hunger, no pestilence, no war, nor any other common tribulations among them, as there are among us because of our sins. And therefore it seems that God loves them well and is well pleased by their manner of life and their faith. (p. 178)


Of course, the antediluvian patriarchs of the Old Testament who lived many years before Abraham and Moses were not yet Jews blessed with the special covenant with God, something only conferred finally after the Exodus from Egypt at Mt. Sinai, much less Christians. But the virtues of these antediluvians were so great that they enjoyed extremely long life spans. Mandeville's Bragmans, too, though ignorant of God's commandments as conveyed to Moses, are said to "keep the Ten Commandments" (p. 178) and enjoy the benefits:

They believe in God who made all things, and worship Him with all their power; all earthly things they set at nought. They live so temperately and soberly in meat and drink that they are the longest-lived people in the world; and many of them die simply of age, when their vital force runs our. (p. 178)


Like Holwell's inhabitants of Bisnapore, they are a people without greed and want; all "goods, movable and immovable, are common to every man," and their wealth consists in peace, concord, and the love of their neighbor. Other countries in the vicinity of the land of the Bragmans for the most part also follow their customs while "living innocently in love and charity each with another." Almost like Adam and Eve in paradise before they sinned, these people "go always naked" and suffer no needs (p. 179).

And even if these people do not have the articles of our faith, nevertheless I believe that because of their good faith that they have by nature, and their good intent, God loves them well and is well pleased by their manner of life, as He was with Job, who was a pagan, yet nevertheless his deeds were as acceptable to God as those of His loyal servants. (p. 180)


Mandeville's naked people are extremely ancient and have "many prophets among them" since antiquity. Already "three thousand years and more before the time of His Incarnation," they predicted the birth of Christ; bur they have not yet learned of "the manner of His Passion" (p. 180). These regions that evoke paradise and antediluvian times form part of the empire of Prester John. Mandeville explains: "This Emperor Prester John is a Christian, and so is the greater part of his land, even if they do not have all the articles of the faith as clearly as we do. Nevertheless they believe in God as Father, Son and Holy Ghost; they are a very devout people, faithful to each other, and there is neither fraud nor guile among them" (p. 169). In Prester John's land, there are many marvels and close by, behind a vast sea of gravel and sand, are "great mountains, from which flows a large river that comes from Paradise" (p. (69).

The lands described by Eldad, Prester John, Mandeville, and Holwell share some characteristics that invite exploration. The first concerns the fact that all are associated with "India" and the vicinity of earthly paradise. In the Genesis account (2.8 ff.) God, immediately after having formed Adam from the dust of the ground, "planted a garden eastward of Eden" and put Adam there. He equipped this garden with trees "pleasant to the sight, and good for food," as well as the tree of life at the center of the garden and the tree of knowledge of good and evil. The story continues:

And a river went out of Eden to water the garden; and from thence it was parted, and became into four heads. The name of the first is Pishon: that is it which compasseth the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold; and the gold of that land is good: there is bdellium and the onyx stone. (Genesis 2.10-12)


The locations of this "land of Havilah" and the river Pishon (or Phison) are unclear, but the other rivers are better known. The second river, Gihon, "compasseth the whole land of Ethiopia," the third (Hiddekel) "goeth to the east of Assyria," and the fourth river is identified as the Euphrates (Genesis 2.13-14). In his Antiquities, written toward the end of the first century C.E., the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus for the first time identified the enigmatic first river of paradise as the Ganges river and the fourth river (Gihon or Geon) as the Nile:

Now the garden was watered by one river, which ran round about the whole earth, and was parted into four parts. And Phison, which denotes a Multitude, running into India, makes its exit into the sea, and is by the Greeks called Ganges.... Geon runs through Egypt, and denotes the river which arises from the opposite quarter to us, which the Greeks call Nile. (trans. Whiston 1906:2)


The location of the "garden in Eden" (gan b'Eden), from which Adam was eventually expelled, is specified in Genesis 2.8 as miqedem, which has both a spatial ("away to the East") and a temporal ("from before the beginning") connotation. Accordingly, the translators of the Septuagint, the Vedus Latina, and the English Authorized Version rendered it by words denoting "eastward" (Gr. kata anatolas, Lat. in oriente), while the Vulgate prefers "a principio" and thus the temporal connotation (Scafi 2006:35). But the association of the earthly paradise and enigmatic land of Havilah with the Orient, and in particular with India, was boosted by Flavius Josephus and a number of Church fathers who identified it with the Ganges valley (p. 35) where, nota bene, Holwell located his paradisiacal Bisnapore.

For the Christian theologian AUGUSTINE of Hippo (354-430), too, Pishon was the Ganges River and Gihon the Nile, and his verdict that these rivers "are true rivers, not just figurative expressions without a corresponding reality in the literal sense" hastened the demise of other theories as to the identity of the Pishon and Gihon (p. 46). In the seventh century, ISIDOR of Seville (d. 636) described in his Etymologiae the earthly paradise among the regions of Asia as a place that was neither hot nor cold but always temperate (Grimm 1977:77-78). Isidor also enriched the old tradition of allegorical interpretations of paradise. If paradise symbolized the Christian Church, he argued, the paradise river stood for Christ and its four arms for the four gospels (p. 78).

The allegorical view of paradise as the symbol of the Church, watered by four rivers or gospels and accessed by baptism, had first been advanced by Thascius Caelius CYPRlANUS (d. 258) and became quite successful in Carolingian Bible exegesis (pp. 45-46). The Commemoratio Geneseos, a very interesting Irish compilation of the late eighth century, identified the Pishon with the Indus river and interpreted Genesis's "compasseth the whole land of Havilah" as "runs through Havilah" while specifying that "this land is situated at the confines of India and Parthia" (p. 87). The Commemoratio also associates the Pishon with the evangelist "John who is full of the Holy Ghost," and the gold of Havilah with "the divine nature of God [diuinitas dei] which John wrote so much about" (p. 87).

Such Bible commentaries helped to establish an association of paradise with the name "John," with India, and with a mighty Indian river. Until the end of the fifteenth century, many medieval world maps depicted paradise somewhere in or near India (Knefelkamp 1986:87-92), and travelers like Giovanni MARIGNOLLI of the fourteenth or Columbus of the fifteenth century were absolutely convinced that they were close to the earthly paradise.

Image
Figure 14. Paradise near India at Eastern extremity of Osma world map (Santarem 1859).

Their view that paradise itself was not accessible does not signify that for them "earthly paradise ... was in a sense nowhere," as Scafi (2006:242) argues. When Marignolli met Buddhist monks at the foot of Adam's Peak in Ceylon, he noted that they "call themselves sons of Adam" and reports their claim mat "Cain was born in Ceylon." According to Marignolli, these monks lead a "veritably holy life following a religion whose founder, in their opinion, is the patriarch Enoch, the inventor of prayer, and which is professed also by the Brachmans" (Meinen 1820:85). No wonder that the missionary felt close to paradise. Did these monks not refrain from eating meat "because Adam, before the deluge, did not eat any," and did they not worship a nee, claiming that this custom stemmed "from Adam who, in their words, expected future salvation from its wood" (p. 86)?7 Marignolli also reports about his arrival "by sea to Ceylon, to the glorious mountain opposite paradise which, as the indigens say according to the tradition of their fathers, is found at forty Italian miles' distance -- so [near] that one hears the noise of the water falling from the source of paradise" (p. 77) -- and was proud to have visited Adam's house "built from large marble plates without plaster," which featured "a door at the center that he [Adam] built with his own hands" (pp. 80-8r). A pond full of jewels was reportedly fed by me source of paradise opposite the mountain, and Marignolli boasted of having tasted the delicious fruit of the paradise (banana) nee, whose leaves Adam and Eve had used to cover their private parts (pp. 81-83).

This paradise mythology was very influential and far reaching, and it shows itself sometimes in perhaps unexpected domains. Christopher COLUMBUS (1451-1506), a man who was very familiar with maps and had once made a living of their trade, also thought that he approached the earthly paradise on his third voyage. While he cruised near me estuary of me Orinoco in Venezuela, he firmly believed he had finally reached the mouth of a paradise fiver.

Holy Scripture testifies that Our Lord made the earthly Paradise in which he placed the Tree of Life. From it there flowed four main rivers: the Ganges in India, the Tigris and the Euphrates in Asia, which cut through a mountain range and form Mesopotamia and flow into Persia, and the Nile, which rises in Ethiopia and flows into the sea at Alexandria. I do not find and have never found any Greek or Latin writings which definitely state me worldly situation of the earthly Paradise, nor have I seen any world map which establishes its position except by deduction. (Columbus 1969:220-21)


Since Columbus knew that the earth is round and that he was far away from Africa and Mesopotamia, he apparently thought mat he was in the "Indies" and noted the unanimity of "St Isidor, Bede, Strabo, the Master of Scholastic History [Petrus Comestor], St Ambrose and Scotus and all learned theologians" that "the earthly Paradise is in the East" (p. 221). Columbus clearly imagined himself near the Ganges and the Indian Paradise.

I do not hold that the earthly Paradise has the form of a rugged mountain, as it is shown in pictures, but that it lies at the summit of what I have described as the stalk of a pear, and that by gradually approaching it one begins, while still at a great distance, to climb towards it. As I have said, I do not believe that anyone can ascend to the top. I do believe, however, that, distant though it is, these waters may flow from there to this place which I have reached, and form this lake. All this provides great evidence of the earthly Paradise, because the situation agrees with the beliefs of those holy and wise theologians and all the signs strongly accord with this idea. (pp. 221-22)


Who would have thought that the "Indian" fantasies of Flavius Josephus, Augustine, and the medieval theologians and cartographers in their wake would one day play a role in the discovery of the Americas? But while Columbus was looking forward to exploring the East Indies and enriching himself with the gold and jewels promised by the Bible commentators, the heyday of the "Indian" Paradise on world maps was coming to a close. In 1449, Aeneas Silvius PICCOLOMINI (1405-64; Pope Pius II from 1458-64) had already come to doubt the identification of the Gihon with the Nile (Scafi 2006:197), and soon the learned Augustinus STEUCHUS (1496-1549) argued that Pishon and Gihon had nothing to do with the Ganges and Nile since Havilah and Cush were not located in India and Ethiopia but in Mesopotamia and Arabia (p. 263).

Subsequently, the location of earthly paradise became unhinged and drifted for a time; Guillaume Postel, for example, first located it in the Moluccas, the home .of the paradise birds (Postel 1553a), but subsequently made a V-rum and placed it near the North Pole (Secret 1985=304-5). Though arguing that the entire earth had once been paradise, Postel's contemporary Jan Gorp (Goropius Becanus) of Antwerp believed that Adam had lived in India (Gorp 1569:483, 508) and that Noah's ark had landed not on Mt. Ararat but on the highest mountains of the Indian Caucasus, that is, near Mt. Imaus in the mountain range that we now call the Himalaya (p. 473). In his History of the World of 1614, Sir Walter Raleigh called this view "of all his conjectures the most probable" (1829.2.243); and around the end of the seventeenth century, some physical theories related to the deluge and the formation of the earth also revived Gorp's idea that the entire earth had initially been paradise (Burnet 1694). However, around the turn of the eighteenth century most specialists of biblical exegesis tended to place earthly paradise somewhere near the Holy Land.
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Re: The Birth of Orientalism, by Urs App

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Part 2 of 4

Paradise and Reform

While the physical paradise had found a more or less stable abode in the Middle East, the search for the religion of paradise entered a period of chaos. Textual criticism of the Bible increasingly threatened scripture's claims to antiquity and authenticity; Moses's ancient "Egyptian" background was explored; and gradually texts from far-away China and India that purportedly were much older than the Old Testament entered the picture.

In contrast to physical and historical interpretations, some allegorical or spiritual (spiritaliter) Bible commentaries likened the lands in the vicinity of the Ganges to the holy Church, its gold to the genuine conception of monotheism, and the four cardinal virtues and foundational gospels to the four paradise rivers (Grimm 1977:87). The land of the Ganges was thus associated with the pure original teaching of Christianity, and Christianity in turn with humankind's first religion that was personally revealed by God to Adam before the Fall. Indeed, the view of "India" as a motherland of original teachings is a characteristic that links the reports by or about Eldad, Prester John, Mandeville, Prince Dara, Holwell, and Voltaire. They all portray pure original teachings and practices that survived in or near India: Eldad of the original Judaism of the sons of Moses, Prester John of the Ur-Christianity of St. Thomas, Mandeville of the seemingly antediluvian monotheism of the Bragmans, Prince Dara of Ur-Islam, Voltaire of Ur-deism, and Holwell of the Ur-religion. Characteristically, each author also had a particular reform agenda that is apparent or implicit in the critique of the reigning religion as degenerate compared to "Indian" teachings and practices.

The example of Mandeville's Travels is quite instructive. The pilgrimage motif that forms the setting for his entire tale is really "a metaphor for the life of man on earth as a journey to the Heavenly Jerusalem" -- but this promised land can only be reached if Christians reform themselves (Moseley 1983:23). Interestingly, the model for this reform is found not in Rome or the Holy Land but rather in far-away India. This region in the vicinity of the earthly paradise and its extremely ancient religion are held up as a mirror by Mandeville to make his Christian readers blush in shame. Prester John, the guardian of the shrine of Jesus's favorite disciple, managed to keep original Christianity pure and heads an ideal Christian state where even the empire's heathen live in ways that Christians should imitate.

Mandeville's description of non-Christian religions, particularly those of the regions near paradise, thus has a definite "Ambrosian" character and very much resembles Voltaire's use of the Ezour-vedam and Holwell's Shastah (see Chapter I). Like St. Ambrose's Brachmanes (Bysshe 1665), Eldad's Ur-Jews, Voltaire's Indian Ur-deists, Holwell's Vishnaporians, and Prester John's prototype Christians, the heathens and Christians of Mandeville's India have the mission of encouraging European Christians to reflect upon themselves and to reform their religion according to the "Indian" ideal. In each case, the model is the respective Ur-tradition -- appropriately set in the vicinity of paradise -- which forms both the point of departure and the ultimate goal. This goal can typically be reached by a "regeneration of the original creed" that entails eliminating degenerate accretions and stripping religion down to its bare Ur-form.

Rehabilitation Station Earth

As we have seen in Chapter 4, the three-step scheme of golden age/degeneration/ regeneration and return to the golden age formed the backbone of Andrew Ramsay's book The Travels of Cyrus, first published in French and English in 1727. It was a smashing success; a Dublin print of 1728 is already marked as fourth edition (Ramsay 2002:7). One of its readers in London may have been a London liveryman8 whose Oration, published in 1733, caught Holwell's attention at an early stage and influenced him so profoundly that he "candidly confessed" in the third volume of his Interesting historical events that the "well grounded" yet "bold assertions of Mr. John [Jacob] Ilive"9 had given him the "first hints":

[It was Mr. Ilive's bold yet well grounded assertions] from whom we candidly confess we took our first hints, and became a thorough convert to his hypothesis, upon finding on enquiry, and the exertion of our own reason, that it was built on the first divine revelation that had been graciously delivered to man, to wit, THE CHARTAH BHADE OF BRAMAH; although it is very plain Mr. Ilive was ignorant of the doctrine of the Metempsychosis, by confining his conceptions only to the angelic fall, man's being the apostate angels, and that this earth was the only hell; passing over in silence the rest of the animal creation. (Holwell 1771:3.143)


Jacob ILIVE (1705-63) was a printer, owner of a foundry, and religious publicist who in 1729 wrote down a speech, read it several times to his mother, and was obliged by his mother's testamentary request to proclaim it in public. Ilive went a bit further; after his mother's death in 1733, he read it twice in public and then printed it in annotated form. Later he rented Carpenters' Hall and lectured there about "The religion of Nature" (Wilson 1808:2.291). His Oration of 1733, which so deeply influenced Holwell, addresses several themes of interest to deists such as the origin of evil, original sin, eternal punishment, and the reliability of Moses's Pentateuch. Ilive offered more or less creative solutions to all of the above. Moses was for him not only a typical representative of "priestcraft" but one who began his career with a vicious murder. "I observe, that for the Truth of this, we have only Moses's ipse dixit, and I think a Man may chuse whether he will believe a Murderer" (Ilive 1733:37). Moses not only commanded people to steal and cheat but he also contrived "a great Murder, yea, a Massacre" while lying to his people as he told them that "the Lord God of Israel" had ordered "to slay every Man his Brother, and every Man his Neighbour" (p. 42). Ilive regarded the author of the Pentateuch as far from inspired:

What is to be understood by delivering Laws as the Result of Divine Appointment, if hereby is not meant, that Moses had for every Law and Ordinance he instituted not received miraculously and immediately the Command of the Great God of Heaven, but delivered them to the Jews only as (what he thought) agreeable to the Mind of God. (p. 41)


Ilive was not content with the Reformation either and described how the first reformers "glossed away the Christian truths":

In the first Article they say God is without Body, Parts, or Passions: in the second they sware, that God the Son has Body and Parts now in Heaven. In the third, that he went down into Hell, i.e. into me Centre of the Earth, or a distinct Creation from the Earth, I suppose is meant. Article Six they do not insert here, that the Books of the Old Testament were written by the Inspiration of the Holy Ghost, but they dub all the Stories contained in them for Truth. In Article seven, they are not Jews; but because the Old Testament would be necessary to back Christianity, they say, therefore, it is to be held in respect. In the ninth they establish three Creeds at once: in two of them this absurd Doctrine, the Resurrection of me Body, or Flesh. It is too tedious to go through them all. (pp. 43-44)


Ilive was clearly planning a more thorough reform of Christianity and was not happy with the Pentateuch. He felt that Moses had not explained who we are and why we are here in "the Place we now inhabit" (p. 9). Inspired by the notions that there is a plurality of worlds, that our world was created long after a more perfect one, and that souls preexisted, Ilive came up with a scenario that could very well have been inspired by Ramsay's Discourse upon the Theology and Mythology of the Pagans at the end of the Travels of Cyrus. The Discourse contains almost all the central elements of Ilive's system and appeared in 1727, exactly two years before Ilive apparently wrote his text, in the city of London where Ilive happened to earn his living in the printing business. As we have seen in the previous chapter, Ramsay had traced in the kabbala and various ancient cultures the idea that angels had fallen from their state of perfection and were exiled; that they formed the souls of beings on planets that are like hospitals or prisons for these fallen higher intelligences; that they were there imprisoned in the bodies of men; and mat they had to migrate from one body to another until their purification was complete and the return to their initial state of perfection possible. This was the central theme of Ramsay's Of the Mythology of the Pagans where it was presented as "a very ancient doctrine, common to all the Asiatics, from whom Pythagoras and Plato derived it" (Ramsay 1814:384-85). The idea had also played an important role in early Church heresiology since it was one of the main accusations leveled against Origenes (c. 185-254).10

Ramsay called this "the doctrine of transmigration," and its features of "a first earth" where "souls made their abode before their degradation, the "terrestrial prison" where they are confined, and the divine plan for their rehabilitation in order to regain their original state (pp. 366-67) form the very fabric of Ilive's system that so inspired Holwell. It is a classic golden age/ degeneration/regeneration scenario proposed by people intent on reforming the degenerate Christian religion and defending ideal Christianity against "all the Atheists" including "Spinoza, Hobbes, Toland, &c." (Ilive 1733:25). The task was to show that the world was "created for the Good and Benefit" and that its evils (ignorance, wars, cruelty, illness, etc.) are not due to the creator God's sadism but are part and parcel of his compassionate rehabilitation plan for fallen angels. Since "there has not been given as yet any real satisfactory Reason for the Creation of the World," Ilive (and in his wake, Holwell) attempted to furnish exactly that: an improved creation story. While Holwell eventually cobbled together an "Indian" one and presented it as a better (and older) Old Testament, Ilive relied mostly on inspired interpretations of New Testament passages. 11

Ilive's creation story begins long before Adam enjoyed paradise. "Many years, as we compute Time, before the Creation of Man," God "thought fit to reveal the Eternal Word, his Equal, unto the Angels" (p. 10). While two thirds of them "were chanting forth their Halleluja's," another third were "seized with Anger and Pride" and rebelled (pp. II-l2). Soon there was war in heaven, and the rebels were cast "into this very Globe ... which we now inhabit, before its Formation out of Chaos" (p. 15). At that time the earth was just a "Place of Darkness, and great Confusion, a rude Wilderness, an indigested Lump of Matter." The matter "out of which this World was formed, was prae-existent to the Formation of the Earth, and to the Creation of Man," and this dark chaotic world "was a Dungeon for the Punishment of the Lapsed Angels, and the Place of their Residence" (p. 26). After about 6,000 years of such confinement in chaos, "God began the Formation of the World" (p. 16) as we know it. Whereas for Milton this formation of the second world was designed to repopulate heaven by giving men on earth the chance to join the diminished number of good angels in heaven (Milton 2001:163; book 7, verses 150-60), Ilive regarded it as an act of divine compassion with the aim of giving the banished angels a chance for rehabilitation. Our planet earth, therefore, is, as it were, a rehabilitation center for rebel angels, and the bodies of men are "little Places of Confinement for the Reception of the apostate Angels" within this gigantic facility (Ilive 1733:23). Contrary to Holwell's assertion (1771:3.143), transmigration is clearly part of Ilive's design since rehabilitation and purification can take a very long time: "The Reader is desired to observe, that I suppose the Revolutions of these Angels in Bodies, and that they may have actuated or assumed Bodies many times since the Creation, in order for their Punishment, Probation and Reconciliation" (Ilive 1733:24).

In Ilive's narrative, human souls are thus fallen angels who must atone for past rebellious acts in small prison cells (our bodies) within a facility (the earth) that was created for the very purpose of punishing and rehabilitating them. One might say that our earth resembles a giant Guantanamo Bay prison camp, which during the administration of U.S. president George W. Bush was established as a facility tailor-made to house evil spirits (terrorists) brought in by "extraordinary rendition." The delinquents were incarcerated without the possibility of appeal since they were considered outlaws undeserving of the ordinary course of justice. The worst offenders were subjected to the trademark "Guantanamo frequent flier program" in which prisoners were constantly moved from cell to cell after short periods of sleep. In terms of our metaphor, they had to undergo seemingly endless transmigration from body to body and feel lucky if they got to inhabit a better cell for a little while. The final goal of this grueling regime was atonement, rehabilitation, and eventual release; but since this was a realm without habeas corpus rights, the best the prisoners could do was to follow the rules in order to accumulate expiation points. Regaining their original status and returning home, however, possibly necessitated an almost endless sequence of transmigrations.

Holwell's Delinquent Angels

In the Historical events, Holwell makes a great effort to convey the impression that his entire system is based on the Chartah Bhade Shastah of Bramah and that he is no more than a translator and commentator of an ancient text who intends "to rescue from error and oblivion the ancient religion of Hindostan"12 and to "vindicate" it "not by labored apologies, but by a simple display of their primitive theology."13 Following Holwell's candid confession that he took his "first hints" from Dive and "became a thorough convert to his hypothesis," one would expect him to acknowledge that he subsequently found a similar system in the Shastah. Instead, Holwell makes the startling claim (1771:3.143) that Ilive's system "was built on the first divine revelation that had been graciously delivered to man, to wit, THE CHARTAH BHADE OF BRAMAH"!

Not only Egyptian religion and the Pythagorean system but even Dive's ideas are thus supposedly based on an ancient Indian text whose two manuscripts Holwell claims to have bought very dearly and thereafter lost in the sack of Calcutta:

It is well known that at the capture of Calcutta, A.D. 1756, I lost many curious Gentoo manuscripts, and among them two very correct and valuable copies of the Gentoo Shastah. They were procured by me with so much trouble and expence, that even the commissioners of the restitution, though not at all disposed to favour me, allowed me two thousand Madras rupees in recompense for this particular loss; but the most irreparable damage I suffered under this head of grievances, was a translation I made of a considerable part of the Shastah, which had cost me eighteen months hard labour: as that work opened upon me, I distinctly saw, that the Mythology, as well as the Cosmogony of the Egyptians, Greeks and Romans, were borrowed from the doctrines of the Bramins, contained in this book; even to the copying their exteriors of worship, and the distribution of their idols, though grossly mutilated and adulterated. (Holwell 1765:1.3-4)


If Holwell had spent no less than eighteen months of "hard labor" to translate a "considerable part" of the Shastah, then one must assume that he had bought a text of gigantic proportions. The manuscripts that he owned and translated were, he says, lost in 1756. However, he claims to have recovered "some manuscripts ... by an unforeseen and extraordinary event" that allowed him to publish his translation; but though he tantalizingly adds that he "possibly" may "recite" this wondrous recovery afterward (p. 4), he never explained himself, and nobody has ever seen an original manuscript. One is reminded of James Macpherson's phantom Ossian manuscripts that excited the curiosity of an entire generation of Europeans after the publication of their English "translation" in 1761. But though there are some striking similarities one notes a major difference: Macpherson's Ossian was very prolix compared to Holwell's Brahma. Holwell's entire translation from the Shastah amounts to a skimpy 531 lines, printed in large type on narrow pages with very conspicuous quotation marks at the beginning of each line. In fact, there was so little substance that Edmund Burke decided to include Holwell's entire translation in his Annual Register book review (1767:310-16), and it fit neatly on six and a half pages!

This means that the "unforeseen and extraordinary event," which Holwell never explained, yielded very little material. Moreover, over 80 percent of the translated text deals with me fate of angels: their creation, their fall, their punishment, and of course their incarceration on "rehab station" earth. A single section entitled "The Mitigation of the Punishment of the delinquent Debtah, and their final Sentence" (Holwell176T2.47-59)-which basically replicates Jacob Ilive's argument spiced up with some Indian terminology-constitutes no less than two thirds of Holwell's Shastah translation; see Figure 15. This is the section that explains the core of Holwell's system, namely, that human bodies host the souls of rebellious angels; that the earth was created as a rehabilitation facility in which these souls could purify themselves in successive existences; that transmigration is part of this rehabilitation process; and that vegetarianism is obligatory for the obvious angelic reason.

Image
Figure 15. Chapter theme percentages of Holwell's Shastah translation (Urs App).
15%: Creation of world
1.3% Time
2.6% God
6.5%: Angel Creation
6%: Angel fall
3.6%: Anger punishment
65% The fate of fallen angels; their confinement on earth as human souls, transmigration, and their rehabilitation


Table 10 shows that the volume of Holwell's commentaries on sections translated from the Shastah is similarly lopsided.

The thematic analysis of Holwell's Shastah fragments indicates that the Shastah author's interests strangely resemble those of Ilive and that the possibility of an ancient Indian origin seems remote. But does the content of Holwell's text -- which purportedly "is as ancient, at least, as any written body of divinity that was ever produced in me world" (Holwell 1767:2.5) -- support such doubts about the Shastah's authorship? Let us examine me first section of Holwell's translation, which is shown in Figure 16.

Image

TABLE 10. TEXT PERCENTAGES IN HOLWELL'S TRANSLATIONS PER THEME
Part / Lines of "translation" / % of total / Theme / Pages of commentary / % of total

1.1 / 14 / 2.6 / God & attributes / 3 / 4.9
1.2 / 35 / 6.5 . creation of angels / 5 / 8.2
1.3 / 31 / 6.0 / fall of angels / 0 / 0.0
1.4 / 20 / 3.6 punishment angels / 1.6
1.5 / 343 / 65 / fate of angels / 41 / 67.2
/ 2.8 / 81 / 15 / creation of world / 7 / 11. 5
? / 7 / 1.3 computing time / 4 / 6.6
Total / 531 / -- / -- / 61 / --


While an ancient Indian inspired by Brahma might have had other ideas, a European would quite naturally tend to have a catechism begin with an affirmation of monotheism and a creator God. The very first sentence of the Shastah already points toward an author familiar with Christian theology. Holwell seems to have vacillated on how to formulate this crucial initial statement that echoes God's first commandment to Moses. The text cited in Burke's review in the Annual Register for the Year 1766 (1767:310) must stem from the galley proofs and begins with "God is the one that ever was" in place of the final version's "God is ONE." If Holwell's Indian text -- which was written in Hindi, as his note suggests -- contained the words ek (one) and hamesha (always), then "the one that ever was" or "the eternal one" seem just fine. So why did Holwell at the last minute decided to change his initial translation (which did not need a note) to "God is ONE" and to banish the literal translation into a note? Did a unitarian friend who read the proofs suggest this, or did Holwell try to "improve" the text Voltaire-style? At any rate, the published text begins with a strong statement against trinitarianism.
 
Image
Figure 16. First section of Holwell's Shastah in review and published versions.

That this God rules all creation by "general providence resulting from first determined and fixed principles" again points to an author familiar with eighteenth-century theological controversies. Moreover: what ancient Indian author would have thought of prohibiting research about the laws by which God governs? Here, too, one has reason to suspect the interference of a certain eighteenth-century author who was opposed to scientific research into the laws of nature. It so happens that Holwell had exactly this attitude. Pointing out that Solomon had called the "pursuits of mankind, in search of knowledge, arts, and sciences ... all futile and vain," Holwell called it a Christian reformer's duty "to prevent the misapplication of time, expence, and talents, which might be employed for better purposes" (1786:45). Of what significance is it, he asks (p. 46), "to know whether our globe stands still, or has a daily rotation from East and West?" This might sound strange coming from a man who had traveled so much at sea, but Holwell offered an explanation in tune with Brahmah's will:

It is highly improbable, that when the DEITY planted the different regions of this globe with the fallen spirits, or intelligent beings, his design was, they should ever have communication with each other; his placing the expanded and occasionally tempestuous ocean between them exhibits an incontestable proof to the contrary. But in this as in every thing else, man has counteracted his wise and benevolent intentions. (pp. 49-50)


The first lines of the Shastah thus already strongly indicate European authorship. Another example suggesting an eighteenth-century author is the crucial passage in Section 2, titled "The Creation of Angelic Beings."

The ETERNAL ONE willed. -- And they were. -- He formed them in part of his own essence; capable of perfection, but with the powers of imperfection; both depending on their voluntary election. (Holwell 1767:2.35)


In his commentary Holwell explains that this passage is related to the problem of "free will" and "the origin, and existence of moral evil' (p. 39). Here he openly joins the fray and attacks authors "who have been driven to very strange conclusions on this subject" and even "thought it necessary to form an apology in defence of their Creator, for the admission of moral evil into the world" (p. 39). One of the culprits is Soame Jenyns's A Free Inquiry into the Nature and Origin of Evil whose fourth edition appeared in 1761 just after Holwell's final return to England. Holwell quotes from Jenyns's book and then contrasts it with the Shastah's solution that is, in his eyes, by far the best to date:

How much more rational and sublime [than such eighteenth-century apologies is] the text of Bramah, which supposes the Deity's voluntary creation, or permission of evil; for the exaltation of a race of beings, whose goodness as free agents could not have existed without being endued with the contrasted or opposite powers of doing evil. (p. 41)


Though Holwell gives all the credit to his Shastah, this was an ingenious if somewhat circular solution that both Ilive and Ramsay had proposed. Whoever authored the Shastah, it certainly addressed problems of utmost interest not to any ancient Indian author but rather to a certain eighteenth-century Englishman familiar with Indian religion as well as the theological controversies of his time. Is it not noteworthy that Holwell seems to have recuperated only Shastah sections that deal exactly with the questions he felt passionate about? One gets the distinct feeling that he was considerably more than just a translator of "Bramah's" ancient text, and as one reads on, the signs pointing to Holwell multiply. Section 4 of the Shastah begins with the words: "The eternal ONE, whose omniscience, prescience and influence, extended to all things, except the actions of beings, which he had created free" (p. 44). In his remarks Holwell points out that this section begins "by denying the prescience of God touching the actions of free agents" and that "the Bramins defend this dogma by alleging, his prescience in this case, is utterly repugnant and contradictory to the very nature and essence of free agency,-- which on such terms could not have existed" (p. 46). Whatever these Bramins may have explained to Holwell, here it is old Bramah himself who seems to react to the attacks of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century deist writers, and it is striking how familiar he is not only with Indian religion but also-as his omniscience and prescience would have one expect-with eighteenth-century Europe's theological controversies!

Holwellian Contradictions

It is certain that during his long stay in India Holwell had conversed with many Indians about their religions. He severely criticized Western authors who "have (either from their own fertile inventions, or from mis-information, or rather from want of a competent knowledge in the language of the nation) misrepresented" the Indians' religious tenet (pp. 4-5). Holwell was proud of having studied the language and to have had "various conferences with many of the most learned and ingenious, amongst the laity of the Koyt," the tribe of writers,14 as well as "other Casts, who are often better versed in the doctrines of their Shastah than the common run of the Bramins themselves" (p. 21).

2. Cayast’ha or Koyt.

The children of a Cshatriya father and a Vaisya mother are Cayast’has, (Caits,) commonly called the Writer Caste by Europeans. Most of this Caste can read and write; several practice medicine; many are merchants, tradesmen, farmers, &c. Though not so numerous as the Brahmans, they are, as a body, more wealthy. They perform the same daily religious ceremonies as the Brahmans, but use prayers taken from the Tantras. Some authorities seem to consider them as pure Sudras (As. Res. v. 58).

-- Encyclopædia metropolitana; or, Universal dictionary of Knowledge, on an Original Plan: Comprising the Twofold Advantage of a Philosophical and an Alphabetical Arrangement, with Appropriate Engravings. Edited by The Rev. Edward Smedley, M.A., Late Fellow of Sidney College, Cambridge; The Rev. Hugh James Rose, B.D., Principal of King’s College, London; and The Rev. Henry John Rose, B.D., Late Fellow of St. John’s College, Cambridge. Volume 16. 1845


3. – Dinagepour, called also the havillee of the circar of Penjerah, and sometimes classed with Edrackpoor, under the head of Arungabad, was conferred by Jaffier Khan, like all the other great zemindarries, towards the latter end of his government, in the first instance, on a very intelligent landholder of the caste of koyt or writer, named Ramnaht, originally from upper Hindostan. This man was supposed to have acquired great wealth by the discovery of buried treasure, in digging tanks for the improvement of agriculture; and had therefore repeated application from the nazim for pecuniary aids, under the real or feigned distresses of the State. The truth may be, that by amelioration and good management, in rendering productive the extensive wastes within the circle of his jurisdiction, or secret enlargement of his frontiers on all sides, particularly towards Cooch Behar, he might have realized the necessary operation of husbandry, conducted with intelligence, industry or good fortune. But however this may have been, by personal address, and anticipating the wants or desire of the sovereign representative, in paying large douceurs over and above his current revenue, he enjoyed the annual special privilege of administering internally his own district, without being subject like the zemindars, to either hustabood investigations, on the immediate control of a Mussulman aumildar. Nor did these extraordinary exemptions cease entirely before the year 1757, when a new revolution having strengthened the efficient powers of government, and politically increased the public expenses, through the necessity of maintaining a regular standing military establishment, it was found expedient to resume the equitable, indispensible rights of royalty, by bringing into the exchequer the ascertained surplus exaction levied from the country by the farming collector, and hitherto fraudulently kept for his proper use. Originally this zemindarry, exclusive of jageers, consisted of pergunnahs 89, yielding 4,62,964.

-- The Zemindarries in 1728, from The Fifth Report from the Select Committee on the Affairs of the East India Company, Volume 1, Bengal Presidency. 1812


Holwell also mentions a "judicious Bramin of the Battezaar tribe, the tribe ... usually employed in expounding the Shastahs" who explained images to him (p. II3). It is from such Indians that Holwell claims to have learned about the origin of his text. 15 But the origin and other aspects of this text are clouded by a number of strange contradictions. On one hand, Holwell openly admitted that his idea of "the antiquity of the scriptures" -- namely, that the Shastah of Bramah "is as ancient, at least, as any written body of divinity that was ever produced in the world"-is based upon "our conjecture and belief" (p. 5) and emphasized that the ideas of the Brahmins are not very trustworthy and that they led to conjectures rather than historical facts:

Without reposing an implicit confidence in the relations the Bramins give of the antiquity of their scriptures; we will with our readers indulgence, humbly offer a few conjectures that have swayed us into a belief and conclusion, that the original tenets of Bramah are most ancient; that they are truly original, and not copied from any system of theology, that has ever been promulged to, or obtruded upon the belief of mankind: what weight our conjectures may have with the curious ... we readily submit to those, whose genius, learning and capacity in researches of this kind, are much superior to our own. (p. 23)


On the other hand, Holwell presented an elaborate scheme of the origin of Indian sacred literature with precise dates: it was precisely "4866 years ago" (3100 B.CE.) that the Almighty decided to have his sentence for the delinquent angels "digested into a body of written laws for their guidance" and ordered Bramah, "a being from the first rank of angels ... destined for the eastern part of this globe," to transmit God's "terms and conditions" to the "delinquents" (pp. II-12). Bramah "assumed the human form," translated God's sentence from "Debtah Nagur (literally, the language of angels)" into "the Sanscrit, a language then universally known throughout Indostan." This oldest book of the world "was preached to the delinquents, as the only terms of their salvation and restoration" and is known as "the Chartah Bhade Shastah of Bramah (literally, the four scriptures of divine words of the mighty spirit)" (p. 12). This was the text that Holwell claimed to have found, translated, lost, found again in fragments, translated again, and finally published in 1767. Since Holwell's text titles are a bit confusing -- he claims at the bottom of the same page that Bhade means "a written book" -- I will call this first Sanskrit scripture from 3,100 B.C.E. "Text I."

For a thousand years Text I remained untouched and many delinquent angels were saved by its teachings; but in 2100 B.C.E. some commentators wrote a paraphrase called Chatah Bhade of Bramah or "the six scriptures of the mighty spirit' and began to "veil in mysteries the simple doctrines of Bramah" (pp. 12-13). The product of these commentators, Text II, consisted of Text I plus comments.

Again five hundred years later, in 1600 B.C.E., a second exposition swelled "the Gentoo scriptures to eighteen books"; this was Text III, called "Aughtorrah Bhade Shastah, or the eighteen books of divine words" (pp. 14-15). In Text III the original scripture of Bramah, Text I, "was in a manner sunk and alluded to only" and "a multitude of ceremonials, and exteriour modes of worship, were instituted," while the laity was "precluded from the knowledge of their original scriptures" and "had a new system of faith broached unto them, which their ancestors were utterly strangers to" (p. 14).

Text III "produced a schism amongst the Gentoo's, who until this period had followed one profession of faith throughout the vast empire of Indostan" (p. 14). But now the Brahmins of South India formed a scripture of their own, "the Viedam of Brummah, or divine words of the mighty spirit" (Text IV: p. 14). The southerners claimed that their Viedam ( = Veda) was based on Text I; but in reality they had, like the authors of Text III, included all kinds of new things and even "departed from that chastity of manners" still preserved in Text III.

While the southerners based their religion on the Viedam (Text IV), the northerners continued to use the Aughtorrah Bhade Shastah (Text III):

The Aughtorrah Bhade Shastah, has been invariably followed by the Gentoos inhabiting from the mouth of the Ganges to the Indus, for the last three thousand three hundred and sixty six years. This precisely fixes the commencement of the Gentoo mythology, which until the publication of that Bhade, had no existence amongst them. (p. 18)


Having read about Holwell's "conjecture" and "belief," the reader is astonished to find such a precisely dated genealogy of the sacred scriptures of India. To ensure that the reader understands that this is not Holwell's personal "conjecture" and "belief," every line of this 12-page history (pp. 9-21) begins with a quotation mark. But who said or wrote all this, including what was just quoted about the precise beginning of Gentoo mythology? Holwell calls it a "recital" that he had heard "from many of these [learned Bramins]" -- which must signify that these twelve pages, in spite of no less than 329 conspicuous quotation marks, present no quotation at all but rather a kind of summary of things that Holwell had heard at various times from a variety of people.

However, in Europe, Holwell's fake precision had a great impact. In the second volume of his Interesting historical events (1767), Holwell delivered extended "quotations" from numerous "learned among me Bramins" (p. 9) who hitherto had hardly discussed such things with foreigners; he ostensibly translated parts of the world's most ancient book; he declared that this text was much older and more authentic than the Veda that the Europeans had coveted for so long; he explained the origin and unity of Indian religion (the religion of the Gentoos or, as we would say today, me Hindus); he furnished precise dates for a "schism" that had set the religion of the South against that of the North; and he asserted that his Shastah was the one and only original revelation that God had granted to the ancient Indians. Holwell's "conjecture and belief" seemed to have vanished underneath a giant heap of certified facts.

Another contradiction that strikes the reader concerns the story Holwell weaves around the transmission of his Shastah text. On one hand, he claims that this text was extremely rare and hard to find; hence, the high price he had to pay for the acquisition of the two manuscripts lost in 1756, me failure of acquiring a replacement after that, and the miraculous (though unexplained) recovery of just a few fragments. On the other hand, the Shastah text seems to have been rather well transmitted. Holwell claims to have had not just one but two complete copies in the early 1750s and insisted that it was from recovered fragments of this original text mat he translated the chapter on me fate of me delinquent angels (which forms 65 percent of me entire translation).16 Furthermore, Text I could not have been rare since it was also included in Text II and to some extent in Text III, which born "derive their authority and essence, in the bosom of every Gentoo, from the Chartah Bhade of Bramah" (p. 29), and could easily be consulted when the need arose:

It is no uncommon thing, for a Gentoo, upon any point of conscience, or any important emergency in his affairs or conduct, to reject the decision of the Chatah [Text II] and Aughtorrah Bhades [Text III], and to procure, no matter at what expence, the decision of me Chartah Bhade [Text I], expounded in the Sanscrit. (p. 29)


Those who included Text I in Text II, commented on it, and eventually produced Text III -- "some Goseyns and Battezaaz Bramins" -- obviously also had access to Text I (p. 13):

Thus the original, plain, pure, and simple tenets of the Chartah Bhade of Bramah (fifteen hundred years after its first promulgation) became by degrees utterly lost; except, to three or four Goseyn families, who at this day are only capable of reading, and expounding it, from the Sanscrit character; to these may be added a few others of the tribe of the Batteezaaz Bramins, who can read and expound from the Chatah Bhade [Text II], which still preserved the text of the original, as before remarked. (p. 15)


Also blessed with access to Text I were apparently "many of the most learned and ingenuous, amongst the laity of the Koyt, and other Casts, who are often better versed in the doctrines of their Shastah than the common run of the Bramins themselves" (p. 21). Furthermore, as mentioned at the beginning of this chapter, Holwell reported that there existed an entire country near Calcutta whose religion had forever been based on Text I and that had preserved paradisiacal purity! And just before the end of his second volume, Holwell mentions another group who intimately knows Text I and seems also on course to paradise:

The remnant of Bramins (whom we have before excepted) who seclude themselves from the communications of the busy world, in a philosophic, and religious retirement, and strictly pursue the tenets and true spirit of the Chartah Bhade of Bramah, we may with equal truth and justice pronounce, are the purest models of genuine piety that now exist, or can be found on the face of the earth. (p. 152)


Yet another contradiction concerns the language of Text 1. Holwell stated that his text first existed in the language of angels'? and was then translated and promulgated in Sanskrit. He accused missionaries as well as "modern authors ... chiefly of the Romish communion" of having presented "the mythology of the venerable ancient Bramins on so slender a foundation as a few insignificant literal translations of the Viedam" that were not even "made from the book itself, but from unconnected scraps and bits, picked up here and there by hearsay from Hindoos, probably as ignorant as themselves" (Holwell 1765:1.6). Holwell, by contrast, was using the unadulterated original Shastah text rather than the degenerate southern "Viedam," and his thirty-year sojourn in Bengal (p. 3) had supposedly equipped him to deal with this original text. Holwell never claimed openly to have studied Sanskrit, but the reader of his account gets the impression, as Voltaire did, that Holwell knew Sanskrit since he was able to translate the ancient text and labored for many months to produce not only a literal translation but one that even took the diction and style of the original into account. Bur it is evident that Holwell never studied Sanskrit and that the Indian words he quotes from Text I are not Sanskrit.

There are also many unanswered questions concerning Holwell's recovery of some fragments of the Shastah that ought to have taken place before his rerum to England in 1761. A comparison of Holwell's announcement in 1765 with the actual content of the 1767 volume seems to indicate that, in 1765, Holwell was not yet planning to include any translations from the Shastah except for the creation account. The 1765 announcement only mentioned "A summary view of the fundamental, religious tenets of the Gentoos, followers of the Shastah" and "A short account, from the Shastah, of the creation of the worlds, or universe" (p. 15). The latter became in 1767 the eighth section of the Shastah's second book (1767:2.106-10). Why did Holwell in his first volume (on whose tide page the second and third parts were already announced) not lose a single word about the literal translations he was about to publish from the world's oldest text? Did Holwell decide around 1766 to transform his "summary view of the fundamental religious tenets of the Gentoos" into "translations"? The content of the Shastah texts as well as their style, inspired as they seem by Milton's Paradise Lost, Salomon Gessner's Death of Abel (1761), and James "Ossian" Macpherson's Fragments of Ancient Poetry (1760), also point in that direction. Are all those hundreds of quotation marks signs of a bad conscience?

Contradictions pertaining to Holwell's (and Ilive's) system will go unmentioned here, except for one related to the salvation of fish that was pointed our in a delightful passage by Julius Mickle who noted many suspicious facets of Holwell's text:

Nature has made almost the whole creation of fishes to feed upon each other. Their purgation therefore is only a mock trial; for, according to Mr. H[olwell] whatever being destroys a mortal body must begin its transmigrations anew; and thus the spirits of the fishes would be just where they were, though millions of the four Jogues [yugas; world ages] were repeated. Mr. H. is at great pains to solve the reason why the fishes were not drowned at the general deluge, when every other species of animals suffered death. The only reason for it, he says, is that they were more favoured of God, as more innocent. Why then are these less guilty spirits united to bodies whose natural instinct precludes them the very possibility of salvation? (Mickle 1798:190)
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Re: The Birth of Orientalism, by Urs App

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Part 3 of 4

The Shastah and the Vedas

A further contradiction concerns the discrepancy between Holwell's and the standard Indian view of Vedas and Shastras. To contemporaries like Voltaire or Anquetil-Duperron, Holwell's presentation of sacred Indian literature -- delivered purportedly in the words of learned Indian informers -- seemed impressive. Holwell apparently set the beginning of the last world age (and thus the promulgation of Text I in Sanskrit) at 3100 B.C.E.,18 but nobody knows how he came up with a 1,000-year golden age until Text II and another 500 years until Text III. The descriptions of the four corpora of Indian sacred scriptures by Holwell's "learned Bramins" seem to stem, in spite of their 329 quotation marks, from a non-Indian source since Indians of all stripes always regarded the four Vedas as their basic sacred scriptures and Shastras as commentarial literature.19 This is also what European reports since the sixteenth century had affirmed (Caland 1918), and it is why Abbe Bignon urged Father Calmette to acquire and send the four Vedas to Paris and not some Shastras. So where did Holwell get this idea that the Vedas are late and degenerated scriptures, a mere shadow of the far older Shastah of Bramah?

Holwell boasted that he had "studiously perused all that has been written of the empire of Indostan, both as to its ancient, as well as more modern state" but added that what he had read was "all very defective, fallacious, and unsatisfactory to an inquisitive searcher after truth" (Holwell 1765:1.5). However, in the meantime we may have learned not to take every word of Holwell as gospel. He occasionally cited Ramsay's Travels of Cyrus, which contained an interesting passage about Indian religion that could not fail to inspire him. Ramsay reported that the Veda states

that souls are eternal emanations from the divine Essence, or at least that they were produced long before the formation of the world; that they were originally in a state of purity, but having sinned, were thrown down into the bodies of men, or of beasts, according to their respective demerits; so that the body, where the soul resides, is a sort of dungeon or prison. (Ramsay 1814:382)


Ramsay attributed this passage to Abraham Roger's De Open-Deure tot het verborgen Heydendom (The Open Door to the Hidden Paganism), whose French translation (1670) he had consulted. In the preface to that edition, translator Thomas La Grue particularly emphasized "what was also clearly a motif with Roger himself: that the Indians did indeed possess a pristine and natural knowledge of God, but that it had decayed almost completely into superstition as a result of moral lapses" (Halbfass 1990:46-47). But Holwell, a good reader of Dutch, could consult Roger's original edition of 1651.20 There Roger called the Indian Dewetaes (Skt. devatas; Indian guardian spirits or protective divinities) "Engelen" or angels (Roger 1915:108). But here we are primarily interested in Roger's description of the Vedam, which for him is the Indian's book of laws containing "everything that they must believe as well as all the ceremonies they must perform" (p. 20).

This Vedam consists of four parts; the first part is called Roggowedam; the second Issourewedam; the third Samawedam; and the fourth Adderawanawedam. The first part deals with the first cause, the materia prima [eerste materiel, the angels, the souls, the recompense of good and punishment of evil, the generation of creatures and their corruption, the nature of sin, how it can be absolved, how this can be achieved, and to what end. (p. 21)


After a brief explanation of the content of the second to fourth Vedas, Roger states that conflicts of Vedic interpretation generated a literature of commentaries called Iastra (Skt. sastra), "that is, the explanations about the Vedam" (p. 22). As Willem Caland has shown in detail (1918),21 Roger's source for such information was Diogo do Couto's Decada Quinta da Asia of 1612. Couto's account of the content of the Vedas was in turn, as Schurhammer (1977:2.612-20) proved, plagiarized from an account by the Augustinian brother Agostinho de Azevedo's Estado da India e aonde tem o seu principio of 1603, a report prepared in the 1580s for King Philip III of Portugal, which "includes an original summary of Hindu religion, from Shaiva Sanskrit and Tamil texts" (Rubies 2000:315). The question as to what exactly Azevedo's sources were still awaits clarification in spite of Caland's speculations (1918:309-10); but here we will concentrate on Couto whose report about sacred Indian literature, unlike Azevedo's, was used by Holwell who could handle Portuguese. Couto's report of 1612 describes Indian sacred literature as follows:

They possess many books in their Latin, which they call Geredaom, and which contain everything they have to believe and all ceremonies they have to perform. These books are divided in bodies, members, and articulations. The fundamental texts are those they call Vedas which form four parts, and these again form fifty-two in the following manner: Six that they call Xastra which are the bodies; eighteen they call Purana which are the members; and twenty-eight called Agamon which are the articulations. (Couto 1612:125r)


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TABLE 11. Do COUTO'S VEDAS AND HOLWELL'S SACRED SCRIPTURES OF INDIA

Couto / Holwell (1767)


4 Vedas / I / 4 scriptures of divine words of the mighty spirit (Chartah Bhade Shastah of Bramah)
6 Xastras / II / 6 scriptures of the mighty spirit (Chatah Bhade of Bramah)
18 Puranas / III / 18 books of divine words (Aughtorrah Bhade Shastah)
28 Agamon / IV / Divine words of the mighty spirit (Viedam of Brummah)


The numbers four, six, and eighteen first made me think that Holwell's weird history of Indian sacred literature might be modeled on Couto's report. As we have seen, Holwell also mentioned four textual bodies. The number of scriptures of the first three bodies thus correspond exactly to Couto's, as shown in Table II.

Holwell's wild potpourri of Bhade (which would be the Vedas), Shastah (which would be, as Roger indicates, commentaries), and Viedam has confused many readers.22 Trautmann commented that Chartah Bhade Shastah of Bramah "would be something like Catur Veda Siistra in Sanskrit, an odd title since it combines two classes of Sanskrit literature that are distinct, Veda and Sastra" (1997:68), and he complains, "Holwell does not seem to understand that his Bhade is the same word as his Viedam, the one under a Bengali pronunciation, the other a Tamil one" (p. 69). At any rate, Holwell garnished such information with a plethora of quotation marks and presented it as the opinion of knowledgeable Indians. But it is abundantly clear that no knowledgeable Indian would ever have said anything remotely similar. Rather, Holwell once again used Western information as a basis for a house of cards. Calling the Viedam "a corruption" of his Shastah, Holwell asserted that it was only used In the South "by the Gentoos of the Mallabar and Cormandel coasts: and also by those of the Island of Ceylon" (Holwell 1767:2.11-12) and claimed that only his Text I contained the genuine teaching of antiquity:

Enough has been said, to shew that the genuine tenets of Bramah, are to be found only in the Chartah Bhade [Text I]; and as all who have wrote on this subject, have received their information from crude, inconsistent reports, chiefly taken from the Aughtorrah Bhade, and the Viedam; it is no wonder that the religion of the Gentoos, has been traduced, by some, as utterly unintelligible; and by others, as monstrous, absurd, and disgraceful to humanity: -- our design is to rescue these ancient people, from those imputations; in order to which we shall proceed, without further introduction or preface, to investigate the original scriptures, as contained in the Chartah Bhade. (pp. 29-30)


In particular, Holwell attacked the Dutch pastor Philip BALDAEUS (1632- 72) for having "given a laborious translation of the Viedam" and having claimed that the part that "treated of God, and the origin of the universe, or visible words" was lost. Baldaeus had indeed written that "the first of these [Vedam] Books treated of God, and of the Origin and Beginning of the Universe" and that "the loss of this first Part is highly lamented by the Brahmans" (Baldaeus 1732:891. Holwell accused Baldaeus of a double error: first, of "alleging the part lost" even though "both the Viedam, and Shastah, are elaborate on the subject ... and fix not only the period of its creation but also its precise age, and term of duration"; and second, of lamenting "a loss they never sustained" (p. 32). He must have preferred Couto's description of the Veda's content:

To better understand these [Vedaos] we will briefly distinguish all of them. The first part of the four fundamental texts treats of the first cause, the first matter [materia prima], the angels, the souls, the recompense of good, the punishment of evil, the generation of creatures, their corruption, what sin is, how one can attain remission and be absolved, and why. The second part treats of the regents and how they exert dominion over all things. The third part is all about moral doctrine, advice exhorting to virtue and obliging to avoid vice, and also for monastic and political life, i.e., active and contemplative life. The fourth part treats of temple ceremonies, offerings, and their festivals; and also about enchantment, witchcraft, divination, and me art of magic since they are much taken by this kind of thing. (Couto 1612:125r)


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TABLE 12. CONTENTS OF DOCOUTO'S FIRST VEDA AND THE FIRST BOOK OF HOLWELL'S SHASTAH

Couto's first Veda in Decada Quinta (1612:125r) / First book of Holwell's Shastah (1767:30)


first cause, materia prima / God and his attributes
angels / creation of angelic beings
souls (of angels in human bodies) / lapse of angelic beings
punishment / recompense / punishment, mitigation
remission, absolution / final sentence leading to remission
 

The comparison of this description with Holwell's summary (1767=30) of the contents of his Shastah (see Table 12) shows that they are also quite a good match. This common inspiration may explain another contradiction in Holwell's portrayal of Indian sacred literature, namely, why -- in spite of his rantings against the Veda as a late and degenerate text -- Holwell claimed that both his Shastah (Text I) and the Viedam (Text IV) were "originally one":

Both these books [the Viedam and Shastah] contain me institutes of their respective religions and worships,23 often couched under allegory and fable; as well as the history of their ancient Rajahs and Princes -- their antiquity is contended for by the partisans of each -- but the similitude of their names, idols, and a great part of their worship, leaves little room to doubt, nay plainly evinces, that both these scriptures were originally one. (Holwell 1765:1.12)


If Couto's summary of Veda content does not seem overly concerned with angels, the more detailed explanations (Couto 1612:125v) provide details that were certainly of great interest to a man so thoroughly converted to Jacob Ilive's system as Holwell. Couto wrote that Indian manuals of theology portray God as first cause and as "a pure, incorporal, infinite spirit, endowed with all might, all knowledge, and all truth" who "is everywhere, which is why they call him Xarues Zibaru which signifies creator of all" (p. 125v). According to Couto, the first Veda then describes three kinds of angels: the good angels that remain in heaven with God; the delinquent angels who must go through rehabilitation imprisoned in human bodies on earth; and the angels shut in hell. It furthermore treats of the immortality of souls and their transmigration during the rehabilitation process on earth: "They believe that the souls are immortal; but they think that a sinner's soul at death passes into the body of some living being where it continues purification until it merits rising to heaven" (p. 125v). Couto goes into considerable detail about the meaning of transmigration and its deep connection with the punishment of evil and recompense of good: the souls of the worst sinners transmigrate after death into the most terrible animals, and those of the good into an ever better body. In this way they can purify themselves and atone until they become ready to regain their original state before the fall (pp. 125v-126r).

The Making of an Ur-Text

One can imagine how delighted Holwell must have been to find such stunning similarities between me description of India's ancient religious texts and Ilive's vision. But the doctrines that had been translated or summarized from old texts by the likes of Roger, Baldaeus, and the Catholic missionaries showed little similarity with this. All of it seemed "very defective, fallacious, and unsatisfactory" to Holwell, in fact, no more than "unconnected scraps and bits, picked up here and there by hearsay" from ignorant Hindoos rather than solid "literal translations" (Holwell1765:I.5-6). Hence the need to "rescue" this distant nation "from the gross conceptions entertained of them by the multitude" (p. 9) and "to vindicate them" by "a simple display of their primitive theology" (Holwe1l 1767: Dedication). Disgusted by all these misunderstandings and misrepresentations (1767.2:4), converted by Ilive's theory of delinquent angels, and possibly already fascinated by Ramsay's vision of  r-tradition, Holwell collected materials about the Gentoo religion and "on his departure from Bengal in the year 1750 imagined himself well informed in the Gentoo religion" about which he had learned through "conversations with the Bramins of those Bhades who were near" (pp. 63-64). He had already thought of writing a book about this but did not find the time (p. 64). Given the fact that he already had such a plan, it is likely that during his stays in Europe he also collected relevant Western literature about India and its religions. If he was not already acquainted with Ramsay and Couto before, he must have studied them after his return to India in 1751 and as a result gained a rather precise idea of what he was looking for. If Holwell was trying rt find the Vedas, he was not alone; but Couto's description of the first Veda, which seemed so similar to Ilive's ideas, certainly brought more motivation and focus to his search. He knew that he was looking for an extremely ancient scripture treating of God, the creation Story, angels and their fall, the immortality of souls, the purification of delinquent angels in human bodies, transmigration, the punishment of evil and reward of good, and remission and salvation.

What could happen when a wealthy foreigner was trying to locate such information in old Indian texts is exemplified by the case of Francis WILFORD (I761?-1822), a respected member of the Asiatic Society of Bengal who lived in India four decades after the sack of Calcutta rang in the British Empire. Unlike Holwell, Wilford had studied Sanskrit. He was intent on proving on the basis of Indian texts that India and Egypt had from ancient times been in close contact and that their religions came from a common source. Since that source was, of course, ultimately Noah's ark, Wilford had Indian assistants look for a precise set of topics: the deluge, the name of Noah and his sons, and so forth. Like Holwell some decades before him, Wilford had to tell a learned Indian what he was looking for "as a clue to guide him," and for several years he faithfully translated what this Indian guru gave him. Bur suddenly he detected that he had fallen victim to fraud:

In order to avoid the trouble of consulting books, he conceived the idea of framing legends from what he recollected from the Puranas, and from what he had picked up in conversation with me. As he was exceedingly well read in the Puranas, and other similar books ... it was an easy task for him; and he studied to introduce as much truth as he could, to obviate the danger of immediate detection .... His forgeries were of three kinds; in the first there was only a word or two altered; in the second were such legends as had undergone a more material alteration; and in the third all those which he had written from memory. (Wilford 1805:251)


The output of this Indian expert was quite astonishing, and the most famous example shows what good remuneration, a sense of what the customer is looking for, and skill in composition can achieve. The learned Indian composed a story "which in nine Sanskrit verses ... reprises the story of Noah, his three sons, and the curse of Ham" and convinced no less a man than William Jones that Noah and his three sons figured in genuine Indian Puranas (Trautmann 1997:90-91). Wilford described how his Indian teacher proceeded in this case:

It is a legend of the greatest importance, and said to be extracted from the Padma. It contains the history of NOAH and his three sons, and is written in a masterly style. But unfortunately there is not a word of it to be found in that Purana. It is, however, mentioned, though in less explicit terms, in many Puranas, and the pandit took particular care in pointing out to me several passages which confirmed, more or less, this interesting legend. Of these I took little notice, as his extract appeared more explicit and satisfactory. (Wilford 1805:254)


Since Wilford had told his pandit exactly what he was looking for, the forger produced an ingenious narrative that presented elements of the story of Noah and his sons in an Indian dress and included some surprising details such as "the legend about the intoxication of NOAH" which, as Wilford now realized, "is from what my pandit picked up in conversation with me" (p. 254). In all, this man "composed no less than 12,000 brand new Puranic slokas -- about half the length of the Ramayana! -- and inserted them into manuscripts of the Skanda and Brahmanda Purana" (Trautmann 1997:92). This was a fraud committed on a man who was far more learned than Holwell; the texts were in Sanskrit, not Hindi; and the source texts could be verified.

In Holwell's case, there is always the possibility that his description of Veda content led some knowledgeable Indian to the very texts that Azevedo had used for the description that Couto plagiarized and Roger and others then used. Caland (1918:49-50) concluded on the basis of the book titles mentioned by Couto that these texts were Saivite Agamas; but an able Indologist would need to substantiate this not just by titles but by contents. While it is possible that similar texts in Hindi were sold to Holwell, I think that the likelihood of a fraud is greater. If Holwell, ready as he was to spend almost any amount of money on this text after the 1756 loss, could not manage to recuperate more than a few fragments -- or, more likely, nothing at all -- one would think that the people who sold it to him in the first place had produced only two slightly different manuscripts and, having sold them to Holwell, were in no position to repeat that feat. If Holwell's text had been available to various people, then someone would probably have sold it to him, especially given the fact that for a while he was governor of Bengal and certainly did not lack the means to get what he wanted.

But who could have forged such a text? Since Holwell remarked that members of the tribe of writers "are often better versed in the doctrines of their Shastah than the common run of the Bramin themselves" (Holwell 1767:2.21) and that "a few others of the tribe of the Batteezaaz Bramins ... can read and expound from the Chatah Bhade [Text II], which still preserved the text of the original [Text I)" (p. 15), the culprit(s) might have come from either or both of these groups.

Whether Holwell ever recovered fragments of his text (Holwell 1765:1.4) is also subject to doubt. If in 1766 he really had parts of his text at hand, then why did he not show them to anyone or have a sample page printed in his book? And why did he not mention in 1765, when he listed the second volume's prospective content, that it would contain genuine translations from the world's oldest text? Faced with this golden opportunity to get more people to read and buy his work, he only announced "a summary view of the fundamental, religious tenets of the Gentoos" and "a short account, from the Shastah, of the creation of the worlds, or universe" (Holwell 1765:1.15). If one takes him at his word, then in 1765 he still planned to publish only summaries and a single "short account" drawn from the Shastah. This "account" now forms the "creation" chapter that barely amounts to four and a half small pages of "translation" (Holwell 1767:2.106-10).

But to furnish only summaries of the world's oldest text rather than translations would have pleased neither Holwell's publisher nor his readers. I think that this is why Holwell must have decided to recast his "summary views" of the Shastah into "translation" form framed in convincing quotation marks. This might have happened in 1766. A sign of hasty conversion are phrases that would fit a summary but sound odd in a direct quotation. For example, "a being from the first rank of angels was destined for the eastern part of this globe" (p. 11) is perfect for a summary written by a Westerner but is a strange statement for an Indian to make: "eastern" in relation to where? The same applies for the phrase that is presented as another quotation from an Indian: "This precisely fixes the commencement of the Gentoo mythology, which, until the publication of that Bhade, had no existence amongst them" (p. 18) -- an odd statement coming from a "Gentoo" since he would have to say "us" rather than "them," even assuming some self-consciousness as a "Hindu," something likewise highly unlikely in an ancient text.

Other contradictions that were mentioned above also seem explainable by Holwellian authorship in the mid-176os. The content of the Shastah fragments that Holwell supposedly recuperated reflect his intense interests of the period, which he embedded in the Shastah text and his comments. Both have a unitarian and anti-deist, mid-eighteenth-century flavor. The Shastah's God needed to be one and not three-in-one or "the one that ever was." He had to be all-creative, of course, and too just to punish innocent babies; and thoughts like "original sin" would not even cross his mind. He needed to be omniscient and equipped with perfect providence-except for those purposefully ignored free-will acts that eventually put the delinquent angels into their rehab camp on earth. He needed to be almighty yet leave a little space for angels to rebel. He needed to be so absolutely good that he created earth out of compassion for those delinquent angels whose rebellion he had allowed. And he had to refrain from eternal punishment and guarantee a good and just final outcome for everyone. The core issue was, of course, the origin of evil, and the Shastah text trumpets Jacob Ilive's "delinquent angel" solution. AB shown in the pie graph in Figure 15, even the volume of "translated" text and of Holwell's comments reflects this agenda. Other solutions to the theodicy problem are rejected both via the Shastah text with its purported authority and by Holwell's comments, which openly criticize and reject alternative models.

Apart from Ilive's and Ramsay's works, a 1762 book by Capel BERROW (1715-82) appears to have been used in the composition of the "Shastah" text and its commentary. Its title describes the author's intention well: A Preexistent Lapse of Human Souls Demonstrated from Reason; shewn to be the Opinion of the most eminent Writers of Antiquity, Sacred and Profane: Proved to be the Ground-work likewise of the Gospel Dispensation; And the Medium through which many material Topics, relative thereto, are set in a clear, rational and consistent Light. In 1771, Holwell wrote about this work:

An ingenious, speculative, and learned divine of our church, published, in the year 1762, a treatise, entitled, "A Pre-existent Lapse of Human Souls, &c." This truly valuable performance relieves us from much labor in the prosecution of our work, as it confirms, from our own scriptures, many leading and essential points of the Metempsychosis, as, the existence of angels, their rebellion, their expulsion from their blessed abodes, the coeval creation of the angelic and human spirits, and the association of the latter with the former in their apostacy; that their situation on earth is a state of degradation and probation for that lapse, and that original sin is not that which is erroneously imputed to us from Adam, but springs from a much higher source, viz. the pre-existent lapse of the (human) spirit from its primeval purity. (Holwelll771:3-37-38)


It seems to me that Holwell italicized ''from our own scriptures" for a good reason: he had, as both his Shastah text and commentary show, the same objective as Berrow except for one thing: he wanted to confirm all this not from our own scriptures, that is, the Bible, but from a much older Indian Bible that he portrayed as the oldest testament of divine revelation to humanity. One cannot doubt Holwell's conviction since he seems to have held fast to these exact beliefs until the end of his life and published about little else in the decades following his return from India. His conviction seems to have been sufficiently solid to propel the transformation of reminiscences from a lost text into oa "translation," the invention of a suitable pedigree for this text, and its canonization as the oldest text of the world. It seems like a classic case of Dr-tradition, complete with a grossly misdated, dubious sacred text; a fake translation; an invented life of transmission; and a reform motive that is explained in Holwell's essay on metempsychosis of 1771 and his dissertations on angels and divine providence of 1786.

Back to Indian Eden

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Figure 17. Genesis of Holwell's Chartah Bhade Shastah of Bramah (Urs App).

But why would Holwell present his obsession with angels and their fate in the form of the world's most ancient text? Because he intended, like other proponents of an Ur-tradition system with reform ambitions, "to revive and reestablish the primitive truths which constituted the ground-work of the first universal religion, at the period of the creation of the material worlds and man" (Holwell 1771:3.52). This restoration of Ur-religion obliged him, so he explained, to strip the religions of India as well as Judaism and Christianity "of all disguise, mystery, and fable" and to examine them not "under the guise in which they now appear before us, but as they really were at their first promulgation" (p. 52).

For of all the theologic systems that have been broached to mankind, we think we are well supported in marking these [three religions] alone as true originals; but our benevolent view extends even farther, and we flatter ourselves (however chimerical it may appear) mankind may be restored again to that one unerring original faith, from which, by undue influence in every age of the world, they have unhappily swerved: we are convinced, if they consulted their present and future felicity, they would fly to embrace a rational hypothesis, that leads to such a blessed issue. (Holwell 1771:3.52-53)


The "one unerring original faith" was, of course, contained in the text that Holwell presented as the world's oldest written document and the earliest and purest divine revelation to humanity. This is a classic case of a reformer's Ur-tradition. Naturally, the events from before the creation of the earth and the adventures of angels could not have been communicated in any other way than by divine revelation; and God's earliest revelation had taken place in India where "the primitive truths [were] revealed by a gracious God to man, in the early days of his creation, at a time when it may be reasonably presumed he retained a lively sense of his soul's former transgression" (p. 5). What followed this golden age is a sad history of degeneration:

That these are the only primitive truths necessary w man's salvation, and restoration, appears from hence, that they have, from the earliest records of time w this day, remained more or less the stock upon which the blindness, or wickedness of man has engrafted very extravagant, unprofitable, as well as unintelligible doctrines, to delude their fellow-creatures, and seduce them from a strict adherence to, and reliance on, those primitive truths only. (pp. 5-6)


Holwell's "primitive truths" are, as we would expect, the fundamental principles shared by all peoples because they spring from a common source. The "concurring testimony of all mankind" (or universal consent) is thus an essential pan of the argument, as in Ramsay; but Holwell has -- partly due w his conversion w Jacob Ilive's creed -- a somewhat different set of primitive truths from Ramsay's. He enumerates a total of thirteen of them, starting with the creator God and ending with the ministration of angels in human affairs. They can be arranged in four categories: (1) God and his attributes; (2) angels, their fall, expulsion, evil leader, and influence; (3) man, his immortal angelic soul, and his life in the rehabilitation facility earth; and (4) the existence of a golden age followed by degeneration, an intermediate state after death for punishment, the necessity of a mediator, and final restoration (pp. 4-5).

But why did this first revelation happen in India and not, say, in Judaea? Because, according to Holwell, the Gentoos of India and not the Hebrews were God's chosen people!

If the mission of Moses contained a spiritual, as well as temporal allusion to the salvation of the Hebrews, and the spiritual sense was hidden from them, it was then indeed imperfect, and the Gentoos seem w have been the chosen people of God, in place of the Israelites; for w them was revealed by Bramah, with God's permission, not only the real state and condition of man, but his doctrines also taught, the existence of One Eternal God, and temporal as well as future rewards and punishments. (p. 20)


But since God cannot be allowed to be so blatantly partial, he also graciously provided special revelations to two other groups:

The religions which manifestly carry the divine stamp of God, are, first, that which Bramah was appointed w declare w the ancient Hindoos; secondly that law which Moses was destined to deliver to the ancient Hebrews; and thirdly, that with Christ was delegated to preach to the latter Jews and Gentiles, or the Pagan world. These, and these only, bear the signature of divine origin. (p. 50)


Sadly, all such dispensations inevitably fall prey to degeneration through priestcraft. If in India the Brahmins had presided over a drawn-out degradation process leading to the blatant idolatry and superstition reigning there now, the Christian dispensation was also "utterly mutilated and defaced since the ascension," so much so "that Christ himself, when he descends again on earth, will disown it" (p. 51). Like Newton, Holwell was a unitarian and deplored the trinitarian heresy promoted by Athanasius along with the perversions of genuine Christianity by the "primitive fathers of the church" who "may with more propriety be stiled the destroyers, than the fathers" of the church (p. 8). Even Moses' dispensation needed to be reinterpreted:

When we attentively peruse Mosess detail of the creation and fall of man, we find it clogged with too many incomprehensible difficulties to gain our belief, that that consummate legislator ever intended it should be understood in a literal sense ... and so we hope to prove that his detail of the fall of man was typical only of the angelic fall. (p. 10)


For Holwell the basis for a correct interpretation of the Mosaic account of the fall of man was, of course, the Shastah of the Indians who are "as a nation, more ancient than any other" (p. 14). As usual, antiquity was closely linked to purity of transmission:

It has been well remarked that the nearer we approach to the origin of nations the more pure we shall find their Theology, and the reason of things speaks the justness of the remark; because the period when the angelic spirits were doomed to take upon them mortal forms was doubtless the origin of all nations; and at that time, as the nature of their transgression and the terms of their restoration, were fresh upon their memories, their Theology was pure, universal and unerring; professing one universal faith, which they had as we say from the mouth of GOD himself. (p. 44)


That there was once an age when "all nations had but one system of Theology" is proven by the "uniform concurrence of all people touching the primitive truths," and it is an entirely "logical supposition" that there is "one faith at the origin of all nations" mat reigned in the "terrestrial golden age" (p. 44). In support of his view that "me religion of Bramah is the most ancient, and consequently the most pure," Holwell also cited the opinions of Ramsay and James Howell (p. 43). Sir James HOWELL(1594-1666) had written in a letter dated August 25, 1635, that Diodorus Siculus made Egypt "thrice older than we do" since he claimed that the Egyptians "had a Religion and Kings" as much as "eighteen thousand years" ago and deduced their philosophy and science from even older sources:

Yet for matter of Philosophy and Science, he [the Egyptian] had it from the Chaldean, he from the Gymnosophists, and Brachmans of India, which Country, as she is the next neighbour to the rising Sun, in reference to this side of the Hemisphere, so the beams of learning did first enlighten her. (Howell 1705:305).


Holwell liked to cite such support for the antiquity of the Indians. He was among me pioneers of the idea that the system "of most ancient worship" was Indian and that elements of this system were pilfered by the Egyptians:

If we grant that it is probable the rest of the world adopted the doctrine of the Metempsychosis from me Egyptians, after they had stolen it from the Gentoo Bramins, and imposed it as their own, we gram a circumstance which is not clearly proved; -- but another circumstance is pretty evident; and will be subsequently proved, that, at the time they stole this doctrine, they also purloined other fundamentals of the Chartah Bhade Shastah, namely, the unity of the Godhead, the immortality of the soul a general and particular Providence, and a future state of rewards and punishments. (Holwell 1771:3.16)


If Bishop Huet had suggested that all other peoples had plagiarized Moses, Holwell now made a similar claim in favor of the Indians: even the teachers of Moses, the ancient Egyptians, had stolen their wisdom from the Indians-and the text they used was, of course, the very Shastah whose fragments Holwell exclusively presented to the world. That Pythagoras also "took the doctrine of me Metempsychosis from me Bramins is not disputed," and Holwell reports that when the philosopher passed through Persia, he "is said (with probability of truth) to have held many conferences with Zoroaster, on the doctrines of the Bramins" (Holwell 1767:2.27). Thus, not only the Egyptians and Jacob Ilive were inspired by the ancient teachings of the Shastah but also the Greeks and the Persians:

They had so long, and intensely thought, and reasoned on the divine nature, and the cause of evil; that the portion of divine nature they possessed, seemed utterly impaired, and bewildered, as soon as they began to form their crude principles into a system; -- they appear to have preserved the basis and out-lines of Bramah's Shastah, on which (probably in conjunction with the Persian and Egyptian Magi) they raised an aerial superstructure, wild and incomprehensible! and labored to propagate an unintelligible jargon of divinity, which neither themselves, nor any mortal since their time, could explain, or reduce to the level of human understanding. (pp. 27-28)


Old nations were thus all tributary of "the primitive truths of Bramah ... viz. the unity of the Godhead, the Metempsychosis, and its concomitant essential doctrines, the angelic origin, and immortality of the human soul, and its present and future state of rewards and punishments, &c." (Holwell 1771:3.14). The whole truth and all religions of remote antiquity thus seemed to rest on the single pole of the Shastah, and this pole was firmly and exclusively placed in the hand of John Zephaniah Holwell.

Holwell and Voltaire

Holwell was an avid reader of Voltaire and knew French well. He was not only familiar with Voltaire's attack on Bishop William Warburton (Holwell 1771:3.21)and on the credibility of Moses (pp. 21-22) but also with his mockery of angels (in the Dictionnaire philosophique of 1764) and his endeavor "to laugh religion out of countenance" (p. 32). It would be strange indeed if after his return from India Holwell had not also been reading Voltaire's Essai sur les moeurs (1756/r761) or his Philosophie de l'histoire (1765) that made exactly the kind of interesting claims about Indian antiquity that Holwell was searching for in such places as Sir James Howell's letters and Giovanni Marana et al.'s Letters writ by a Turkish spy (1723; Holwelll77l:3.l56-57).

From the mid-1750s on, Voltaire's cradle of humanity was moving with increasing fanfare from Judaea toward India. As explained in Chapter l, from the early 1760s, Voltaire's fight against the Hebrew antiquity and the Judeo- Christian monopoly got increasingly armed with "Indian" weaponry. Not the Jews but the far older Indians, whose sacred texts were plagiarized by Moses and the Jewish prophets, had to be consulted about origins. In spite of the fundamental differences between the two men's outlooks and religious convictions, Voltaire's and Holwell's "Indian campaigns" had surprisingly similar aims that fit the "Ur-tradition" pattern. Both were trying to prod degenerate European Christians to return to a purer creed whose oldest expression was found in some grossly misdated text whose Indian origin was, to say the least, highly questionable. Both infused these texts with their particular agenda, edited them at will, and published only the parts that served their campaign. Both were ardent proponents of India as humanity's most ancient civilization, and both fought against the notion that the Hebrews were God's only chosen people. Both Voltaire and Holwell sought proofs for universal consent about a unitary and just creator God, the punishment of evil and reward for good, and a future state. Both were incensed about the degeneration brought about by clergy and their false conception of God as someone to be influenced and bribed; both were outraged by radical atheists and materialists; and both saw universal reason and consent as the touchstone for truth.

Voltaire, who had first touted the Ezour-vedam to some friends as the world's oldest text, was elated to find in Holwell's Shastah a text with a precise dare of origin: 3100 B.C.E. (Holwell 1767:10) -- at any rate, long before Moses. After learning about Holwell's Shastah through Edmund Burke's review in the Annual Register for 1766, Voltaire wrote in 1767 to a friend: "It is proven that the Indians have written books since five thousand years ago" (Hawley 1974:146). Soon afterward he encountered his third major India source, Alexander Dow's History of Hindostan of 1768 (translated into French the following year), which also contained mostly apocryphal texts; but for Voltaire, the Ezour-vedam and Holwell's work remained the most important Indian sources (p. 147). From the first references to Indian theology in the additions to his Essai sur les moeurs onward, Voltaire used Indian texts to suit his agenda; and this agenda happened to be congruent with the tenor of both the Ezour-vedam and Holwell's work: all aimed at the regeneration of an ancient, purer monotheism. Thus, Voltaire teamed up with the Ezour- Vedam's Chumontou and the Shastah's Brahma (and willy-nilly also with their true authors). Of course his view of Christianity and angels was very different from both, as his scathing summary of the history of Christianity in the Philosophical Dictionary shows:

The Christian religion is based on the fall of the angels. Those who revolted were precipitated from the spheres they inhabited to hell at the center of the earth and became devils. A devil tempted Eve in the form of a serpent and damned humankind. Jesus came to buy back humankind and triumph over the devil who still tempts us. However, this fundamental tradition is only found in the apocryphal book of Enoch, and even there in a manner that is very different from the received tradition. (Voltaire 1994:64-65)


Though Voltaire appreciated Holwell's delivery of a new weapon for his Indian campaign, it is clear that he did not take it seriously. As explained at the end of Chapter I, Voltaire laughed about the Shastah story and regarded it as one of those "novels [romans] about the origin of evil" whose "extreme merit" is that "there never was a commandment that one must believe them" (Voltaire 1894:29.2°3). In the Fragmens sur l'Inde of 1774 Voltaire included a chapter about "the established ancient philosophical mythology and the principal dogmas of the ancient brachmanes about the origin of evil" (Voltaire 1774:148-58) that presents Holwell's narrative and shows how other peoples including the Jews have filched the angels, their fall, and other elements from ancient India. Angels were originally Indian deoutas; and the devil's original name was "neither Lucifer nor Beelzebub nor satan" but rather Holwell's "Moisasor who was the chief of a band of rebels" who was thrown with his followers in the vast ondera prison and imprisoned "for millions of monontour ... which are periods of 426 million years" (p. 156). Voltaire interprets Holwell's tale of the fate of the fallen angels as the Indian invention of purgatory (which the Egyptians and Christians later imitated): "With us, God did not yet pardon the devil; but with the Indians Moisasor and his band obtained their grace after one monontour. Thus their ondera prison was, as a matter of fact, only a purgatory" (p. 156). Then Voltaire presents a brief summary of Holwell's narrative that is graced by the amusing title "Angels transformed into cows" in the margins. Thus, the Shastah's elaborate cosmogony and theodicy are reduced to a few sentences delivered in Voltaire's deadpan manner:

So God created the earth and populated it with animals. He had the delinquents brought there and lightened their punishment. They were first changed into cows. It is since then that the cows are so sacred in the Indian peninsula and that the pious of the region do not eat any animal. Afterwards the penitent angels were changed into men and divided into four castes. As culprits, they brought into this world the germ of vices; as punished ones, they brought the principle of all physical ills. There we have the origin of good and evil. (pp. 156-57)


Voltaire derided Holwell's core arguments about the origin of evil and God's limited liability because he gave the angels freedom of will. With regard to the latter, he remarked:

This enormous abuse of liberty, this revolt of God's favorites against their master, has the potential to dazzle; but it does not solve the problem because one could always ask why God gave to his favorites the power to offend? Why did he not force them into a happy incapacity to do evil? It is demonstrated that this difficulty is insoluble. (p. 153)


Regarding the Shastah's explanation of the origin of evil, Voltaire was sarcastic:

One could possibly reproach to this system that the animals who have not sinned are as unfortunate as we are, that they devour each other and are eaten by all humans except for the brahmins. This would be a feeble objection from the times when there were still Cartesians. We will nor discuss here the disputes of Indian theologians about this origin of evil. Priests have disputed everywhere; but one has to admit that the quarrels of the brahmins were always peaceful. (p. 157)


The whole explanation of the origin of evil that Holwell poured into his Shastah received Voltaire's damning praise as "ingenious" yet good only for "idiots":

Philosophers might be surprised that geometers and inventors of so many arts concocted a system of religion that, though ingenious, is nevertheless so unreasonable. We could reply that they had to deal with idiots [imbeciles]; and that the priests of Chaldea, Persia, Egypt, Greece, and Rome never came up with a system that was either better construed or more plausible. (p. 157)


No wonder that Voltaire did not lose as single word about the third volume of Holwell's work that presents some of the theories behind his system and spells our some of its implications.
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Re: The Birth of Orientalism, by Urs App

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Part 4 of 4

The Holwellian Restoration

Michael John Franklin has called Holwell's contrast between "contemporary, complicated and degenerated Hindu custom and ritual and the purity of an original monotheism ... characteristic of the deistic position of many of the eighteenth-century British pioneers of Indology, including Alexander Dow and, to a lesser extent, many of the Asiatic Society members, such as Wilkins and Jones" (Holwell 2000:xv). But was Holwell a deist? He defended himself against people who, on account of his analysis of Christianity's degeneration, "unjustly" accused him "of Deism, according to the common acceptation of the phrase" (Holwell 1771:3.90) and explained:

But as we think we have as indisputable a right as Dr. Clarke or others, to extend or give a new signification to the word Deist, so we pronounce, that a man may, with strict propriety, be an orthodox Christian Deist; that is, that he may, consistently, have a firm faith in the unity of the Godhead, and in the pure and original doctrines of Christ. In this sense alone we glory in avowing ourself -- A CHRISTIAN DEIST. (p. 91)


Holwell's "deism" is certainly of a very particular kind. While he adopted many objections against Christianity that were aired by deists, his (and Ilive's) system was of a kind that would enrage deists, as it was completely based on events known only through revelation. The tale of the first creation, the angels, their fall, the creation of rehabilitation station earth, and so forth can only be known with divine help:

To a notion so universal in the first times, we think ourselves warranted in giving the title of a primitive truth; which must have had unerring fact, and a divine revelation for its source and foundation, as well as the other primitive truths of the rebellion, fall, and punishment of part of the angelic host, under the instigation and leading of an arch apostate of the first rank; hence the Moisasoor of the Bramins; the Arimanius of the Persians; the Typhon of the Egyptians, Greeks &c. and the Satan of the Christians. (pp. 40-41)


Though human reason can accept such explanations as more logical than alternative scenarios, one ultimately has to accept them as revealed. Deists usually rejected such special revelations, whether they were made to the Hebrews or the Indians; but for Ur-tradition movements, they are the life blood since their raison d'etre is the restoration of "primitive truths" or original teachings that, to be restored, had to be known through some kind of transmission. This is exactly the role Holwell cut out for himself:

God forbid it should be thought, from the tenor of these our disquisitions, that, with Hobbes, Tindal, Bolingbroke, and others, our intent is to sap the foundation, or injure the root of Christianity. Candor and benevolence avert from us so uncharitable and ill-grounded an imputation! On the contrary, our sole aim is to restore its purity and vigor, by having those luxuriant injurious branches and shoots lopped off and pruned, which have so obviously obstructed, stinted, and prevented its natural, universal growth and progress; and as we have assumed to ourselves the title of the reformed church, by judiciously and piously abjuring some of the impious, idolatrous extravagances and tenets of the church of Rome, let us boldly, in the cause of God and his supremacy, uniformly deserve the character we have assumed.


Holwell's reformist "Christian deism" may thus better be called an Indo- Christian Ur-tradition. Restoring Christianity's "purity and vigor" was for Holwell tightly linked to the "primitive truths," and these truths were only insufficiently explained in the Old Testament.

From all that has hitherto been advanced ... three most important truths may be clearly gathered. Imprimis, that the FIRST and LAST revelation of God's will, that is to say, the Hindoo and the Christian dispensation, are the most perfect that have been promulged to offending man; secondly, that the FIRST was to a moral certainty the original doctrines, and terms of restoration, delivered from God himself by the mouth of his first created BIRMAH to mankind at their first creation in the form of man; and that, after many successive ages in sin, and every kind of wickedness, GOD, in his tender mercy, reminded mankind of their true state and nature, of their original sin; and by the descent of BRAMAH, gave to the Hindoos the first written manifestation of his will, which (by the common fate of all oral traditions), had most probably, from various causes, been effaced from their minds and memories: Thirdly, that every intermediate system of religion in the world between that of BRAMAH and CHRIST are corruptly branched from the former, as is to demonstration evident, from their being founded on, and partaking of, with more or less purity those primitive truths. (p. 71)


With this coup de grace the Mosaic dispensation was discarded as a corrupt derivate of the older Indian one, and as a result Holwell's Shastah became officially the ultimate Old Testament of Christianity. This also meant that it had to form the basis for any true restoration since it alone contains "the original doctrines, and terms of restoration" that God himself revealed to the Indians and took care to preserve in Holwell's Shastah (p. 71). Even the mission of Christ became a confirmation of the Shastah's original doctrines:

The above, we think, will suffice to prove, that the mission of Christ is the strongest confirmation of the authenticity and divine origin of the Chartah Bhade Shastah of Bramah; and that they both contain all the great primitive truths in their original purity that constituted the first and original religion; and that the very ancient scriptures now under our consideration, exhibit also the strongest conviction of the truth of the celestial origin of Christ's mission. (pp. 74-75)


The portrayal of the Shastah as the basis for a thorough reformation of Christianity is not simply a by-product of having found an ancient Indian text but rather a result of Holwell's religious restoration project that included the production of an Old Testament that was more compatible with Ilive's, Berrow's, and Holwell's views. It is thus a mistake to assume that Holwell first translated the Shastah and subsequently developed increasingly strange interpretations, as Franklin suggests:

In the third volume of Interesting Historical Events, published in 1771, his speculation became more confident; Hinduism encapsulated "to a moral certainty the original doctrines, and terms of restoration, delivered by God himself from the mouth of his first created Birmah to mankind at Biblical revelation, but eclipsed it in priority and comprehensiveness; indeed, in the words of Trautmann, "By the end of the book Holwell has completely rewritten Christianity with the help of Hinduism," in the construction of a species of pre-Mosaic deism. (Holwell 2000:xv)


According to the scenario proposed in this chapter, the course of events was exactly inverse. Holwell's "speculation" was present from the beginning and essentially consisted in Jacob Ilive's new creation Story (involving multiple worlds, angels, their fall, and their rehabilitation on planet earth) and his particular interpretation of Christianity. The Indian part of the story began when Holwell detected, inspired by Ilive's theory and possibly prodded by Ramsay's Travels of Cyrus and Abraham Roger's short version of Couto, a similar scenario in Western descriptions of the first Veda and set our to find this text. "Rewriting Christianity" was thus in my opinion not the outcome of a long process but rather its starting point; and Holwell's "Hindu scriptures" did not result in a rewriting of Christianity, but the rewriting of Christianity resulted in the creation of Holwell's "Hindu scriptures" that had to serve as an "improved," "older," "Indian" Old Testament.

In his third volume of 1771, Holwell delivered what he had already announced on the title page of the 1765 volume: his interpretation of transmigration ("A DISSERTATION on the METEMPSYCHOSIS ,commonly, though erroneously, called the PYTHAGOREAN Doctrine"). In 1765 he had already announced that this volume would contain "A dissertation on the Gentoo doctrine of metempsychosis; improperly called Pythagorean, by all who have wrote on this subject, hitherto so little understood" (Holwell 1765:1.15). Ilive had not discussed delinquent angel souls in animals. But in India, transmigration or metempsychosis involves all animal bodies, and what Holwell read in Lord (1630), Roger (1651), Kircher (1667), Baldaeus (1762), and other sources about Indian religion was chock-full of transmigration stories that feature animals, for example, the famous incarnation of Vishnu into a boar (which Chumontou denounced in the Ezour-vedam). This was Holwell's extension of Ilive's system, and it was, of course, already firmly embedded both in Holwell's Shastah and his commentary of 1767.

What was new in the third volume of T77I was Holwell's explicit identification of Christ as the Birmah -- which is not at all heterodox if one accepts the congruence of the old (Indian) and new (Christian) dispensation:

This being premised, it is no violence to faith, if we believe that Birmah and Christ is one and the same individual celestial being, the first begotten of the Father, who has most probably appeared at different periods of time, in distant parts of the earth, under various mortal forms of humanity, and denominations: thus we may very rationally conceive, that it was by the mouth of Christ (stiled Birmah by the easterns), that God delivered the great primitive truths to man at his creation, as infallible guides for his conduct and restoration: but the purity of these truths being effaced by time, and the industrious influence of Satan, assisted by the natural unhappy bent of the human soul to evil, it became necessary that they should be given on record to a nation that was most probably at that period much more extensive than we can at present form any idea of; and it appears as near to demonstration as a circumstance of this nature can admit of, that it was owing to this divine revelation delivered to them, that this people acquired so justly that early reputation for wisdom and theology, which the whole learned world has ascribed to them: but this by the bye. (pp. 80-81)


Thus, the messages of the Shastah and of Christ merge, and the task of a true reformer of Christianity is shown to consist in restoring "once more the true spirit of those primitive truths, which were, as the first and last grace of GOD, delivered ... originally by B1RMAH, and subsequently by CHRIST, the one and the same individual, first begotten by the Father (p. 90)' The "pure original doctrines of Christ" were thus first recorded in the Shastah, and it is "in this sense alone" that Holwell glories in avowing himself to be "A CHRISTIAN DEIST" (p. 91)!

Holwell's conception of Christ is nor a creation of the late 1760s or early 1770s; rather, its groundwork is carefully laid in his introduction to the Shastah (1767:2.6-8) and must have been an old conviction of his. The identity of Birmah and Christ also ensures that the creation story of the Shastah is far more divine than that of Moses: unlike the Pentateuch it is "clogged with no difficulties, no ludicrous unintelligible circumstances or inconsistencies" (p. 114) -- at least, in Holwell's eyes, who must have known it best.

Holwell's view of metempsychosis, too, was deeply rooted in the old convictions that he had expressed in the Shastah and its commentary. He held that both animal and human bodies are prison cells for delinquent angels. The difference is that animal bodies are cells reserved for punishment, while human bodies are transition cells with the possibility of eventual release:

In the first it [the delinquent angel] may be said to be in a close prison, and in the last, a prisoner more at large, and capable of working out its full and final liberty; a privilege it cannot obtain by issuing from the mortal brute form, which is destined to be its state of punishment and purgation, as before observed, and that of man only, its state of trial and probation. (p. 142)


In support of this idea, Holwell cited Berrow's opinion that "every organized body, as well in the brute as in the rational" can be "an allotted temporary prison for a pre-delinquent soul" and that this is "an hypothesis, than which there cannot f think be one more rational' (p. 125). In short, the souls of animals are also delinquent angels since "every brute is animated with a soul identical to his [man's] own"; therefore, God's command" Thou shalt do No murder" must also apply to animals (p. 148).

Since the dire state of our world could not be entirely explained by the delinquent angel Story, Holwell was forced to posit another fall and degeneration, this time on earth. This fall happened when man began to slaughter and devour animals, which is "one of the great roots of physical and moral evil in the world'"(p. 154). It entailed "a train of monstrous, unnatural, violent, and consequently ungovernable passions, ... lusts of every kind and species, ambition, avarice, envy, hatred, and malice &c." (p. 161) and was all the result of a ruse of Moisasoor or Satan (p. 162). In conjunction with the ingestion of alcohol, all kinds of moral evils came to dominate the world; and only man's return "to his natural, primitive, simple aliments" can make his passions subside (p. 168). By contrast vegetarianism, as practiced in India, offers "a well-grounded hope of the renewal and restoration of the primitive age, of purity and holiness" (p. 169).

But Holwell also saw other problems in rehab station earth, for example, commerce, "that bane (falsely called the cement) of mankind" that leads "to invasions, fraud, and blood" (p. 169), and priests who set the example of "killing and eating the rational brute creation, and guzzling vinous, &c. potations" (p. 171). The thorough reform envisaged by Holwell was multifaceted and threatened to affect many unsuspecting citizens:

Lawyers, and their mischievous train of retainers, will have no employment. -- Physicians and their coadjutors, upon the restoration of the human body to its original nature, will, in the second generation at least, have no friendly disease for their support. -- Wine-merchants, distillers, brewers, vintners, dealers in spiritous liquors, cooks, (those dangerous instruments of luxury, disease and death) and butchers, &c. will all be turned a-drift, and be forced to seek for other means of subsistence. When we become, bona fide, Christians, the art and destructive practice of war would cease to be the bane of mankind, and the inoffensive brute creation; and a numerous race of able-bodied beings, who have hitherto been employed only to work our the perdition of the species, would contribute to their support and maintenance, by being employed in the cultivation of the lands of the state they belong to; a work they would most certainly prefer to the trade of spilling the blood of their fellow-creatures, they know not why, or in support of the tyranny and wanton ambition of others. (pp. 207-8)


Holwell's mission to "rescue the originally untainted manners, and religious worship of a very ancient people from gross misrepresentation" (1767 Dedication) was thus at the same time a mission to rescue Christianity and lead it back to the pure primitive truths as formulated in the Shastah. Holwell's third volume ends with his reform advice for Great Britain and Ireland and their "clergy of every denomination" (pp. 214ff.), his proposal for the abolition of the Athanasian and Nicene Creeds, and the correction of the Apostolic Creed (p. 221). While it remains unclear how mere "prison reforms" would affect God's eternal jurisdiction and the restoration of angels to their original home, the Shastah-based reforms proposed by Holwell would certainly ameliorate the situation on rehabilitation station earth in general and the British Isles in particular:

On the whole, we should become a new people: by quick gradations the pure spirit of Christ's doctrines would take root in our hearts; power would no longer constitute the rule of justice; the primitive truths and the primitive age would be restored; mankind, who has from that period hitherto been, by nature, principle, and practice, very devils, would revert to a perfect sense of their original dignity and angelic source, and no longer disgrace it; all jarring sects would be reconciled; peace and harmony would return to the earth; an effectual stop would be put to the carnage of man and brute; and all united, would produce a sure and happy transmigration to eternity. -- GREAT BRITAIN AND IRELAND would blaze out as the torch of righteousness to all the world; her nations would prosper; her people be happy; their pious flame would be caught by their neighboring states, and from thence be spread over the face of the whole earth; and THE KINGDOM OF SATAN WOULD BE NO MORE .(pp. 222-23)


Fifteen years after the publication of the third volume of his Interesting events, Holwell gave his dwindling readership some additional advice. Although he had in his Shastah carefully formulated that God "governs creation only by a general providence resulting from first determined and fixed principles" (Holwell 1767:2.31) and had thus excluded any teaching of particular providence from the oldest divine revelation, there were still stubborn people who held this stupid opinion.

The Shastah Eclipsed by Hymns

The 1786 Dissertations on the origin, nature, and pursuits of intelligent beings, and on divine providence, religion, and religious worship begins with an apology for the "variations of sentiment ... when contrasted with earlier productions submitted to the public eye," and these variations are explained by the "increase of years, experience, observation, and (we hope!) just reflection" (Holwell 1786:6). The most striking change is that Holwell never once mentions the Shastah by name. The first section quotes "the most ancient Scripture; at least, as far as our imperfect records tell" (p. 7).

This remark about "imperfect records" is very interesting and might confirm my hypothesis about the redaction of the text. Holwell's quotation reproduces the beginning of me second section of me Shastah, which deals with God's creation of the angels and features the memorable words: "These beings then, were not. The Eternal One willed, and they were; He formed them in pan of his own essence capable of perfection, but with the powers of imperfection, both dependant on their voluntary election" (pp. 7-8). This was an absolutely central passage for Holwell's theory of free will and the origin of evil, and he had quoted it many times as their textual basis and proof. From 1767 onward, this passage was always presented as a literal translation from the Shastah with quotation marks at me beginning of every line, and this is the manner in which it is also reproduced almost twenty years later in his last book. But in the entire book this is the only Shastah quotation -- and it is introduced by specifying that "the words and sentiments of the most ancient Scripture" are not based on God's Indian revelation but rather Holwell's "imperfect records"! If this crucial Shastah passage was based on Holwell's "imperfect records," was there any part of his Shastah that was not based on such "imperfect records"? In his last book, Holwell avoids further quotations from the Shastah and keeps using words like "presumption," "conviction," and "hypothesis":

It has been for some time evident to the reader, that our chain of reasoning [about delinquent angels on probation] is founded on the presumption and full conviction, that the souls or spirits, animating every mortal organised form, are the identical apostate angels; but should any stumble at this pleasing, Battering, comfortable hypothesis, they are at liberty to reject it; as our essential arguments are equally applicable to all, considered as rational beings only. (p. 12)


What would a Christian say if a priest said that he or she was "at liberty to reject" the Bible? It appears that toward the end of his life Holwell had more or less abandoned his Shastah. While holding fast to all essential elements of his theory, he keeps saying things like "even if we totally give up this hypothesis as merely ideal" (p. 14), "according with our hypothesis" (p. 17), and "it is most consistent with reason and probability" (p. 23). What had happened to the Shastah? Had Holwell seen a copy of the first publication of a Sanskrit classic, Wilkins's The Bhagvat-Geeta, or Dialogues of Kreeshna and Arjoon that appeared in 1785, just when Holwell was working on his last book? Or had he buckled under the weight of criticism of his theories?

At any rate, in his 1786 book Holwell once more presented an outline of his system, which had little changed since he poured it into the Shastah on the basis of his "imperfect records." But Holwell's reform mission, very much apparent in the Shastah and its commentary, was alive and well. He confessed that his "former labours tended to establish the sacred doctrine of the UNITY and SUPREMACY of the GODHEAD which ... the liturgy and worship of every Christian Church palpably opposed and discountenanced" but reassured his readers that he did not "wish the abolition of churches, the priesthood, or religious worship" but rather "to see them all reduced to such as standard as may do honour to God, and be consistent with reason, true piety, and propriety" (p. 70). Claiming to be "of no particular sect whatsoever, but an adorer of One God, in spirit and truth, and an humble follower and subscriber to the unadulterated precepts and doctrines of CHRIST" (p. 72), Holwell now surprised his readers with yet another theodicy and declared "without reserve ... that all the evils with which mankind has been pestered in all ages, sprung from an undue pre-eminence, power, and emoluments ... granted to the priesthood" (pp. 75-76).

Accordingly, his first propositions for reform were that "the dignified Clergy under every denomination, be divested of all Rank, Precedence, and Title, in the Church and State" and that "all endowments of whatsoever kind, annexed to Cathedrals, Churches, Chapels, and Colleges, be sequestered, restored, and appropriated to the relief of the exigencies of the state, and heave burdens of the people" (pp. 79-80). All ordinations and degrees, too, should be abolished and "a considerable reduction shall be made in the number of churches" (pp. 80-81). Only one incumbent per church should remain on a fixed salary, and sacked priests should get a retirement fee (pp. 81-83). The liturgy, being "incompatible with the true Christian religion, as dictated by its founder," should be totally reformed and no adoration whatsoever offered to Christ: adoration "is only due to his God, and our God, to his Father, and our Father, which is in heaven" (pp. 91-93). The Lord's Supper may still be held, but all elements that "manifestly impeached the UNITY of the GODHEAD" (such as blasphemously calling Christ "God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God") must be removed (pp. 98-99). Making "the innocent and immaculate Christ ... the scape-goat for the remission of sins and salvation" would no more be permitted, and neither would spilling blood in his name (p. 100).

In this manner Holwell revised the sacraments and denounced the absurdities of established liturgies that are just more proofs that we are "the very apostate angelic beings that are transmigrating through all animated organised mortal forms" (p. 119). Holwell's reform was designed to "work a happy change in favour of the miserable brute creation, who are looked upon and treated as mere material machines" rather than as "two children born of the same parents" (p. 120). "Sacred musick" would still be allowed in churches during Holwell's New Liturgy "conducted in the Cathedral stile" (pp. 121- 22), and the remaining clergy should receive new uniforms: "We wish to see the dismal black banished, the officiating vestments of the Doctors in Divinity sumptuously ornamented, and their common habit purple, distinguished as the uniform of the Church; which colour should be prohibited to all other ranks" (p. 123).

The last section of Holwell's last book even proposes "A new liturgy; or, form of common prayer" in which, for example, the Lord's Prayer is prefaced by a hymn that identifies the faithful as delinquent angels:

To the Lord our God
Belongeth mercy and forgiveness,
Although we have rebelled against him;
Neither have we obeyed
The voice of the LORD our God,
To walk in his laws, which he left before us.


Holwell also included rhymed angelic anthems and choruses, for example, the chorus:

THE Lord descended from above,
And bow'd the heavens so high;
And underneath his feet he cast
The darkness of the sky.

On cherubs and on cherubims
Full royally he rode:
And on the wings of mighty winds
Came flying all abroad.


Thus Holwell fought until the end of his life for a worthy cause: the restoration of the religion of paradise. The crusade had officially begun with the publication of the Shastah, which in more than one sense came straight from paradise. But Holwell's mission as a reformer changed little over the years. In 1786 his aim was still identical to that which twenty years earlier he had so skillfully woven into the oldest revelation from India, the sacred scripture of h is crusade:

to defend the honour and dignity of our Creator, from a fatal misconception: to expose the fallacy, inadequacy, and inconsistency, of all Christian religious worship: to extricate mankind from the superstitious, abject slavery they have for ages groaned under, to a tribe of their own species; to arraign the folly and inutility of what are called arts and sciences, and to stimulate the genius, study, and abilities of men, to more worthy and useful pursuits: to relieve the present and future exigencies of the state, and heavy burdens of the people, by a most equitable and necessary measure: and finally, to institute a form of worship more worthy of our God, and of ourselves. (pp. 147-48)


The Invention of Hinduism

In academic circles the debate about the "invention" of "Hinduism" has been so fashionable in recent times that Donald S. Lopez found that "one of the ways that scholars of Hinduism may be distinguished from experts on other religions at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Religion is by their overdeveloped pectoral muscles, grown large from tracing quotation marks in the air whenever they have mentioned 'Hinduism' over the past ten years" (2000:832). One name that is remarkably absent in this discussion is that of Holwell, himself a master of quotation marks. For example, Brian K. Pennington's 2005 book Was Hinduism Invented? Britons, Indians, and the Colonial Construction of Religion postulates that "a seismic shift" in the British perception of Hindu religions traditions happened "sometime between 1789 and 1832" yet does not mention Holwell even once. Holwell's name is equally notable for its absence in Richard King's Orientalism and Religion of 1999. Will Sweetman's otherwise interesting study Mapping Hinduism: "Hinduism" and the Study of Indian Religions, 1600-1776 does not even list Holwell's three-volume Interesting historical events (1765-71) in its bibliography. However, he mentions that the Cambridge University library copy of a 1779 reedition of its second and third volumes carries on its spine the inscription "Holwell's Gentooism" (Sweetman 200n6); that Holwell had a role in making "Gentoo" a common term to refer to the non-Muslim population of India (p. 80); and that the concept of "a unified pan-Indian religion" was already "firmly established by the 177os, when 'Holwell's Gentooism' appeared," whereas the word "Hindooism" was first used in 1787 (p. 163). Though Sweetman does not claim a causal connection between this "Gentooism" or "Hindooism" and the geographical "conception of India as a region," he finds that the "concept of Hinduism, and the concept of 'India' in its modern sense, are coeval" (p. 163).

The question whether Hinduism was invented or discovered may posit a false alternative. R. N. Dandekar argued that:

Hinduism can hardly be called a religion at all in the popularly understood sense of the term. Unlike most religions, Hinduism does not regard the concept of god as being central to it. Hinduism is not a system of theology -- it does not make any dogmatic affirmation regarding the nature of god .... Similarly, Hinduism does not venerate any particular person as its sole prophet or as its founder. It does not also recognize any particular book as its absolutely authoritative scripture. Further, Hinduism does not insist on any particular religious practice as being obligatory, nor does it accept any doctrine as dogma. Hinduism can also not be identified with a specific moral code. Hinduism, as a religion, does not convey any definite or unitary idea. (Dandekar 1971:237; quoted in Sweetman 2003:33)


Whether one agrees with all of this or not, it is clear that at some point in history exactly these characteristics were projected on the dominant religion of the Indians and that this is how "Gentooism" or "Hinduism" as a "religion in the popularly understood sense" was invented. Its inventor, I propose, is Mr. John Zephaniah Holwell, and the year of this invention is 1766 when Holwell wrote his second volume. This was indeed a creative act and not just a discovery of something that was there for all to see and understand. In this sense -- and for Holwell -- it is therefore appropriate to speak of a "creation" or "invention" of Hinduism. It only was a far more creative creation than even constructivists could have dreamed.

For this kind of religion one needs, as Dandekar rightly says, an authoritative scripture -- and what could be more authoritative than Holwell's Shastah, delivered by God personally and first promulgated exactly in 3100 B.C.E.? Then one needs a god -- Holwell's creative "God is ONE" at the very beginning of the Shastah who was thoughtfully equipped with an urge to reveal himself and limited liability. Furthermore, a decent religion needs an excellent founder -- Holwell's "spirit or essence of God," Birmah, who "descended to the delinquent angels, and made known unto them the mercy and immutable sentence, that God their creator had pronounced and registered against them" (Holwell 1767:10). This constituted another essential element, namely, that of transmission. Birmah transmitted the divine sentence to Bramah who descended to Indostan and translated it into Sanskrit to form the very text that Holwell claimed to have partially translated (p. 12). This Birmah is, nota bene, the Indian or rather Holwellian preexistent incarnation of Christ.

Dandekar also did not mention that it is absolutely crucial for such a religion to have the longest possible history. Previous researchers of Indian religion soon got so lost in the millions of years of Indian world ages and scores of unknown sacred scriptures that they were unable to find a foothold that somehow related to accepted chronology. But Holwell invented one, and we should not underestimate the impact of this invention. For decades, the date of the Shastah was a pillar of "Indian" chronology, and the neat succession of Text I (3100 B.C.E.), Text II (2100), Text III (1600) and the dating of the Veda after 1600 B.C.E. were a novelty that stunned even European specialists (for example, Anquetil-Duperron, as explained in the next chapter). Additionally, Holwell's simple four-step genealogy of Indian sacred literature also seemed to explain important regional, doctrinal, and historical differences, for example, the variations between the North and South that were due to a schism invented by Holwell.

Then there is, of course, the dogma question for which Holwell, inspired by Ilive and Couto, found a brilliantly simple solution, namely, the delinquent angel story wedded to transmigration. This was, as we have seen in Chapter 5, already toured by Ramsay as the very essence of "pagan mythology" and a core element of God's original revelation. Of course, this dogma needed to be revealed and transmitted, and this was the aim of Holwell's Shastah including its "translation." The question that bugged Ilive so much and that he did not find answered in the Old Testament, namely, who we are and why we are here, was answered in dogmatic and systematic fashion in the Shastah: we are delinquent angels incarcerated in mortal bodies and live in a giant penitentiary called earth in order to atone for our past rebellion, and as we go through countless transmigrations we might earn the right to return to our original heavenly homeland.

With regard to practice, vegetarianism and the cult of cows (which were both linked to delinquent angels and their rehabilitation on earth) were central; bur the Shastah also contains other precepts such as the abstinence from alcoholic drinks that, one would assume, should promote the kind of peace and tranquility that reigns in Holwell's idyllic Bisnapore.

Another important topic that Dandekar failed to mention is the question of origins. Any religion that hopes to give a direction to people's lives must teach in one way or another where we come from, where we are, and where we are bound; and the answer to the first of these questions is usually decisive for the whole enterprise. S. N. Balagangadhara has defined religion as "an explanatorily intelligible account of the Cosmos and itself" and concluded that "Indian traditions could not possibly be religions because the issue of the origin of the world cannot properly be raised there" (1994:384, 398; quoted in Sweetman 2003:37). Regardless of the validity of this definition and its application to "Hinduism," one notes that Holwell and his Shastah delivered exactly the kind of content that would rum this "Indian tradition" into a "religion" that, in Holwell, is usually called "Gentooism" but soon became known as "Hindooism."

Holwell's portrait of "Gentooism" was so powerful and influential24 exactly because it was an invention, and an essentially European one at that. It did not really need to take Indian history, cultic diversity, philosophy, textual problems, and so on into account and did not get lost in details and mazes with thousands of divinities because it was built on a preconceived idea that guaranteed a unified, compact design. Everything turned around God and the creation, fall, and restoration of angels, and that is exactly what the Shastah is all about. Holwell's influence was boosted by the free publicity that his book received courtesy of Voltaire and by its translation into French (1768) and then into German (1778). It is true that readers of Voltaire with a sense of humor will not overlook the sarcasm of some of his remarks about Holwell's scheme; yet, as was pointed out in Chapter I, a consensus that Voltaire had promoted the Ezour-vedam and Holwell's Shastah in good faith reigned until today even among specialists. Now it appears that both men propagated a custom-made Hinduism to support their reformist ideology. Though their aims were at odds, Voltaire's crusade boosted Holwell's and vice-versa, and their exaggerated claims of Indian antiquity and portraits of "Indian" religion significantly influenced the European perception of the origin of culture and religion. An example of such influence is Herder who, dissatisfied with Dow, raved in 1772 about Holwell's Shastah (Faust 1977:146) and soon introduced Brahmins as guides to humanity's origins -- a move that some decades later inspired a generation of German romantics. Through their inventive campaigns and sensationalist presentation of supposedly ancient "Indian" texts, Holwell and Voltaire almost single-handedly created the basis for Indomania. 25
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Re: The Birth of Orientalism, by Urs App

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Part 1 of 4

Chapter 7: Anquetil-Duperron's Search for the True Vedas

In 1762, after his return from India, Abraham Hyacinthe ANQUETIL-DUPERRON (1731-1805) wrote to one of his former classmates at a Jansenist seminary in Utrecht, Holland:

To deepen the understanding of the history of ancient peoples, to elaborate the revolutions which peoples and languages undergo, to visit regions unknown to the rest of the people where art has preserved the character of the first ages: you will perhaps remember, with distress and sighing about my follies, that these subjects have always been the focus of my attention. (Schwab 1934:18)


From his youth, Anquetil-Duperron's interest in the world's first ages was connected to a deep religiosity that put him on the path to priesthood. It is probably during his theological studies at the Sorbonne that young Anquetil-Duperron wrote a manuscript of about a hundred pages that is now part of his dossier at the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris.1 It is titled "Le Parfait theologien" (The Perfect Theologian), but the word "Parfait" is doubly struck through. The title is emblematic for Anquetil-Duperron's career; and the manuscript, ignored even by Anquetil-Duperron's biographers,2 merits a look.

The Perfect [crossed-out] Theologian

Anquetil-Duperron starts out by insisting that theology is "a science like philosophy" but must, unlike philosophy, stay within the limits circumscribed by "a genuine revelation, the mysteries of religion, and several dogmas transmitted to us by apostolic tradition," which form the bedrock that no one is allowed to question (p. 369r). Since natural religion is also a subject of philosophy, the proper realm of theology is that of revelation (p. 371r). Yet the idea that people have of theology is far too narrow, and Anquetil-Duperron wants in this manuscript to show how broad and deep theology must be. Chapter 3 is titled "That a theologian must be almost universal" and argues that, faced with many pretended revelations, a theologian must be equipped to judge their claims. This indicates the need for knowledge of several languages in order to read the original texts; of history to understand their context; of geography to understand their setting; and of poetry to appreciate their style. "All such knowledge thus forms part of theology" (p. 373v). Furthermore, a real theologian should know not only the Old and New Testaments and all related languages but everything ever divinely revealed and transmitted (p. 375r). He must also question Old Testament authorship:

Is Moses really the first of all writers, as has been asserted by some fathers? If that was the case, where did he get his creation story and deluge story and even the Abraham story from? Did he prophesy the past, as a monk has recently argued? Or has he only reported things that were known in his time and that he could have learned from the tradition of the patriarchs because of the long lifespan of the first humans, as the majority of authors think? But who can say if there were not other historians before Moses, and earlier books? (p. 381V)


A theologian worth the name has to go to the bottom of all these questions, research all opinions and sources ancient and modern, and must especially "discover the systems of Chaldaea, Phoenicia, and Egypt" (p. 393r). Another "thorny question" that "requires infinite caution" is that of Paradise and Adam's sin:

What is this delicious garden of which we are told? Where was it? What has become of it? 1. Was it on the moon or in the air, as some fathers have believed? 2. Was it exclusively spiritual or corporeal, or both together as St. John Damascene thought? 3. Was it in the Orient? In Syria? In Armenia? Or close to India [vers le mogol], where one ordinarily places it? 4. Or was it the entire habitable earth, as some theologians have asserted? 5. How can one reconcile what Genesis says about these four rivers [of paradise] with geography as it is now known? 6. Could the location have changed? What proofs are there of that? 7. If there is no proof: must one take recourse to parables? (p. 393v)


Such is the kind of questions over which young Anquetil-Duperron pondered. He asked himself why Moses put this narration of Adam's sin in the book of Genesis, why the angels rebelled, whether the deluge was universal, and other pressing questions (pp. 394r-v). A perfect theologian must go beyond the biblical text and learn about the histories of other peoples, including the Greeks and the Chinese, and about their religions and arts (p. 407r). With regard to languages, a theologian ought to master not only standard Hebrew and rabbinical Hebrew but also Greek, Syriac, Arabic, and Ethiopian (pp. 414v-41v), and he should also study the histories and philosophies of these peoples. After dozens of pages filled with such desiderata, Anquetil-Duperron begins to deal with the critical analysis of concrete texts, but this is where the manuscript abruptly ends (p. 481r).

Anquetil-Duperron's early manuscript already shows his interest in ancient textual sources and his boundless thirst for knowledge, and it defines the field of revelation as his working area. The task the young man had set for himself seems daunting, but his search for genuine ancient records of God's earliest revelations was to carry him far beyond the Middle East and become a drawn-out quest for the Indian Vedas that lasted from his youth to his death in 1805. His last publication -- a posthumously published annotated translation of Father Paulinus a Sancto Bartholomaeo's Viaggio alle Indie orientali (Voyage to the East Indies, 1796) that appeared in 1808 -- shows the end point of Anquetil-Duperron's theological journey of a lifetime. Taking issue with Paulinus's statement that the Ezour-vedam was "composed by a missionary and falsely attributed to the brahmins" and that the Indians' conception of Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva clearly shows "the materialism of the Indians" and their pagan philosophy (Paulinus a Sancto Bartholomaeo 1796:66), Anquetil-Duperron vigorously defended the Ezour-vedam's genuineness ("a donkey can deny more than a philosopher can prove"3) as well as the orthodoxy of the Indian trinity:

The missionary [Paulinus] keeps forgetting that by his comparisons with the false Orpheus, the fake oracles of Zoroaster, Hermes, and the Egyptians he gives an air of falsity to the Indian dogmas .... It is no surprise that one finds the trinity in Plato, with the Egyptians, and possibly with the Pythagoreans: the earliest sages, the philosophers, have always been careful to preserve and meditate on the ancient truths. In the one finds the supreme Being, his word, his spirit. (Paulinus a Sancto Bartholomaeo 1808:3.419)


Anquetil-Duperron wrote that until Paulinus "makes positively known" who the author of the Ezour-vedam was "one cannot trust his magisterial assertions regarding erudition about India" (p. 120). But by the time this challenge was published, both Anquetil-Duperron (d. 1805) and Paulinus (d. 1806) were dead. In the meantime, several authors have faced that challenge, but so far the debate has ended inconclusively. The last word came from Ludo Rocher who, in his 1984 monograph on the Ezour-vedam, offers much interesting information but ends the discussion of authorship not with a culprit but with a list of suspects:

The question who the French Jesuit author of the EzV [Ezour-vedam] was we can only speculate on. Calmette was very much involved in the search for the Vedas; Mosac is a definite possibility; there may by some truth to Maudave's information on Martin; there is no way of verifying the references to de Villette and Bouchet. The author of the EzV may be one of these, but he may also be one of their many more or less well-known confreres. In the present state of our knowledge, we cannot go any further than that. (Rocher 1984:60)


What I said above already made me suspect that not only the Ezour-Vedam was a French work, but that the P. Calmette was the author. To acquire the certainty I had thought to speak to that, all of Paris, was the better to know the status of the issue. The venerable Abbé Dubois, who was a missionary for forty years in India, who lived with the last Jesuit missionaries, and who lived in Pondicherry, has no doubt seen, I said to myself, those curious manuscripts which made so much noise. I went on to find, and without letting him know my opinion, I asked him if we knew the author of the Ezour-Veda. "This is the P. Calmette," he told me at once. But, he added, several missionaries got their hands on it. I needed no more. I had rediscovered the trace of the illustrious Indianist who was the initiator of French scholars in this branch which is so flourishing today.

-- The Father Calmette and the Indianist Missionaries, by Father Julien Bach


In this chapter I will take up Anquetil-Duperron's challenge and offer my answer on the backdrop of a broader sequence of events: the European discovery of India's oldest sacred literature. How did Anquetil-Duperron come to regard the Ezour-vedam as genuine; and why could he, an ardent Christian, call Vedic texts "orthodox"?

Approaching the Vedas

Theological questions very much like those posed by young Anguetil-Duperron were the major motivation for the study of ancient languages and histories, and as textual critique and conflicts between secular (Chinese, Egyptian, etc.) and sacred (biblical) history stirred up debates in Europe, the study of ancient oriental languages and texts became increasingly important. Books possibly older than the Pentateuch were of special interest.

As we have seen, rumors circulated about the book of Enoch, which for a long time was regarded as possibly the oldest book in the world. It was coveted by eminent European intellectuals such as Reuchlin, Peiresc, and Kircher (Schmidt 1922) and stimulated the study of Ethiopian. Then the Jesuit figurists in China identified Enoch with Fuxi and the Yijing seemed for a while to be the world's oldest book. Its study stimulated the study of ancient Chinese texts and produced a number of excellent Sinologists like Premare, Visdelou, Foucquet, and Gaubil.

India was also associated with Enoch's book since 1553 when Guillaume Postel suggested in De originibus that "treasures of antediluvian books" stored in India could include "the work of Enoch" (Postel 1553b:72). But scriptures of Indian rather than mideastern origin were also mentioned among the world's oldest. Henry Lord's 1630 book stated in the introduction that God gave Brammon "a Booke, containing the forme of divine Worshippe and Religion" (p. 5). Since this divine work (which Brammon took to the East, "the most noble part of the world") reportedly was transmitted in the first world age, it must have been the world's oldest book; but it was lost at the end of the first yuga. In the second world age, after the great flood, God again "communicated Religion to the world" in "a book of theirs called the SHASTER, which is to them as their Bible, containing the grounds of their Religion in a written word" and was delivered "out of the cloud into the hand of Bremaw" (Lord 1630: Introduction). Lord's Shaster is said to consist of three tracts -- a book of precepts, the ceremonial law, and the observations of castes (p. 40) -- of which Lord translated some parts garnished with his (mostly critical) comments. But this information got relatively little publicity in Europe.4 The same author's "The Religion of the Persees" described the religion of the Parsees in India, who have a "Booke, delivered to Zertoost [Zarathustra], and by him published to the Persians or Persees" (p. 27) and furnished translations of some extracts. Lord's two thin volumes, which are often bound together, deal exactly with the two major areas of Anquetil-Duperron's work more than a century later: his research on the oldest texts of Persian origin found in India's Parsee community at Surat and his work on ancient India's religious literature.

For people in search of the world's oldest books, India's mysterious Vedas had a particular attraction, even though -- or perhaps because -- information about them often consisted of little more than the names of its four parts and the assertion of great antiquity. Agostinho de Azevedo's report about the Vedas and Shastras of India found its way into Johannes Lucena's Historia da Vida do Padre Francisco de Xavier (1600) and Diogo do Couto's Decada Quinta da Asia (1612), and from there into other works including Holwell's (see Chapter 6). The report in the Livro da Seita dos Indios Orientals by the Jesuit Giacomo Fenicio from the early seventeenth century was plagiarized by Baldaeus (1672) and also got some publicity. However, both Fenicio's and Azevedo's data were based not on the Vedas but on other texts.5

In the seventeenth century, bits and pieces of information about the Vedas from Heinrich Roth/Kircher, Francois Bernier, Jean Baptiste Tavernier, and others were floating around, and even Johann Joachim MULLER'S (1661-1733) (in)famous De tribus impostoribus contained a passage about them. The false date of 1598 on the original printed edition of these Three Impostors led some researchers6 to conclude that this book contained the earliest Western mention of the four Vedas; but Winfried Schroder has proved that the book is by Muller and was written almost a century later, in 1688 (Muller 1999; Mulsow 2002:119). Muller had been involved in oriental studies, and his Veda passage shows beautifully how competition by alternative revelations and older texts could be used to destabilize Christianity, whether in jest -- as seems to have been his intention -- or in earnest, as his readers understood it. Muller's passage about the Vedas occurs in the context of an attack on Christianity on the basis of competing revelations that form the basis of the sacred scriptures of the "three impostors" Moses, Jesus, and Mohammed:

By a special revelation? Who are you to say this? Good God! What a hotchpotch of revelations! Do you rely on the oracles of the heathen? Already antiquity laughed about this. How about the testimony of your priests? I offer you others who contradict them. Hold a debate: but who will be the judge? And what will be the outcome of the controversy? You cite the writings of Moses, of the prophets, and of the apostles? The Koran will be held against you which on the basis of the ultimate revelation calls them corrupt; and its author boasts of having cut by divine miraculous intervention the corruptions and quarrels of the Christians with his sword, like Moses those of the heathens. (Osterreichische Nationalbibliothek Wien, Cod. 19540, pp. 8-9)


After this argument of mutually contradictory absolute truth claims -- which was already advanced in the thirteenth century by Roger Bacon in the context of his discussion of the religious debates in front of the great Khan -- Muller brings up the delicate topic of chronology, which was much discussed after Martino Martini's publications of the 1650s:

Indeed, Mohammed subjugated Palestine by force, as had Moses, and both were guided by great miracles. And their followers oppose you, as do the Veda and the collections of the Brachmans that date from 14,000 years ago, to say nothing of the Chinese. You, who hide yourself in this corner of Europe dismiss these religions and deny their validity, and you are right to do so; but the others negate yours with the same ease. (p. 9)


This kind of "foreign" perspective was also adopted by the author of the Letters by a Turkish Spy which will be quoted below, and in the eighteenth century it was quite fashionable and used, for example, by Montesquieu in his Lettres Persanes and by Voltaire in many writings. Instead of making the "older-is-better" argument, however, Muller immediately undercuts the authority of even the oldest scriptures of the world:

And what miracle could not convince men if [they are so credulous as to believe] that the world has been born from a scorpion's egg, that the earth is carried on the head of a bull, and that the ultimate basis of things would be formed from the three Vedas if some jealous son of the Gods had not stolen the first three volumes? Our people would laugh about this, and this would be another argument for them in support of the soundness of their religion, even if it has no basis except in the brains of their priests. Besides, from where did they get those enormous amounts of scriptures, packed with lies, about the heathen gods? (p. 9)


At the end of the seventeenth century, the reputation of the Vedas and of Sanskrit for great antiquity was also reflected in the much-read Letters writ by a Turkish Spy, whose eight volumes were reprinted many times. The third volume contains the following observation that Holwell, among others, adduced in support of his idea of humanity's origin in India (Holwell 1771:3.157):

But that seems very strange which thou relatest, of a certain Language among the Indians, which is not vulgarly spoken; but that all their Books of Theology, and Pandects of their Laws, the Records of their Nation, and the Treatises of Human Arts and Sciences are written in it. And that this Language is taught in their Schools, Colleges, and Academies, even as Latin is among the Christians. I cannot enough admire at this; for, where and when was this Language spoken? How came it to be difus'd? There seems to be a Mystery in it, that none of their Brachmans can give any other Account of this, save, that it is the Language, wherein God gave, to the first Creature he made, the four Books of the Law: which according to their Chronology, was above Thirty Million Years ago. (Marana et al. 1723:3.171-72)


These "four Books of the Law" are of course the four Vedas. The continuation of this "Turkish Spy" letter beautifully shows the subversive potential of such news from the Orient at the end of the seventeenth century:

I tell thee, my dear Brother, this News has started some odd Notions in my Mind: For when I consider, That this Language, as thou sayest, Has nothing in it common with the Indian that is now spoken nor with any other Language of Asia, or the World; and yet, that it is a copious and regular Language, learne'd by Grammar, like the other material Languages; and that, in this obsolete Language Books are written, wherein it is asserted, That the World is so many Millions of Years old; I could almost turn Pythagorean, and believe, The World to be within a Minute of Eternal. And, where would be the Absurdity? Since God had equally the same infinite Power, Wisdom and Goodness, from all Eternity, as he had Five or Six thousand Years ago. What should hinder him then from exerting these divine Attributes sooner? What should retard him from drawing forth this glorious Fabrick earlier, from the Womb of Nothing? Suffer thy Imagination to start backwards, as far as thou canst, even to Millions of Ages, and yet thou canst not conceive a Time, wherein this fair unmeasurable Expanse was not stretch'd out. As if Nature her self had engraven on our Intellect, this Record of the Worlds untraceable Antiquity, in that our strongest, swiftest Thoughts, are far too weak and slow, to follow time back to its endless Origin." (p. 172)


De Nobili's Vedic Restoration Project

Since access to the Vedas was nearly impossible, most of the information about their content was pure fantasy. We have seen in the chapter on Holwell how easy it was to be misled by speculation. But a few missionaries (whose writings were mostly doomed to sleep in archives for several centuries) were in a position to consult vedic texts or question learned informants. The Jesuit Roberto DE NOBILI (1577-1656) obtained direct access to some Vedas from his teacher, a Telugu Brahmin called Shivadharma.

Nobili is the first European known to have read parts of the Vedas. In a number of his works defending his strategy of tolerating aspects of Brahminical lifestyle among his converts, he cites directly from the texts associated with the Black Yajur Veda... Nobili’s access to these texts was mediated by the Telugu Brahmin convert who taught him Sanskrit, Śivadharma or Bonifacio... Śivadharma, who had falling out with Nobili, assisted [Goncalo] Fernandes with scriptural quotations in his 1616 treatise attacking Nobili... as Fernandes did not know Sanskrit, the texts were translated into Tamil by Śivadharma and only thence into Portuguese by Fernandes with his assistant Andrea Buccerio. This kind of mediated access to Sanskrit texts, likely the same method used by Azevedo and Rogerius, would be repeated in the following century by other missionaries.

-- The Absent Vedas, by Will Sweetman


He wrote that the four traditional Vedas are "little more than disorderly congeries of various opinions bearing partly on divine, partly on human subjects, a jumble where religious and civil precepts are miscellaneously put together" (Rubies 2000:338). Having been told in 1608 that the fourth Veda was no longer extant, the missionary decided to proclaim himself "teacher of the fourth, lost Veda which deals with the question of salvation" (Zupanov 1999:116). De Nobili apparently believed, like his contemporary Matteo Ricci in China, that though original pure monotheism had degenerated into idolatry, vestiges of the original religion survived and could serve to regenerate the ancient creed under the sign of the Cross. After his failed experiment with Buddhist robes (see Chapter I), Ricci adopted the dress of a Confucian scholar, asserted that the Chinese had anciently been pure monotheists, and proclaimed Christianity to be the fulfillment of the doctrines found in ancient Chinese texts. A few years later, Ricci's compatriot de Nobili presented himself in India as an ascetic "sannayasi from the North" and "restorer of 'a lost spiritual Veda'" (Rubies 2000:339) who hailed from faraway Rome where the Ur-tradition had been best preserved. In his Relafao annual for the year 1608, Fernao Guerreiro wrote on a similar line that he was studying Brahmin letters to present his Christian message as a restoration of the spiritual Veda, the true original religion of all countries, including India whose adulterated vestiges were the religions of Vishnu, Brahma, and Shiva (p. 344).

For de Nobili, the word "Veda" signified the spiritual law revealed by God. He called himself a teacher of Satyavedam, that is, the true revealed law, who had studied philosophy and this very law in Rome. He maintained that his was exactly the same law that "by God's order had been taught in earlier times by Sannyasins" in India (Bachmann 1972:154). De Nobili thus had come to India to restore satyavedam and to bring back, as the title of his didactic Sanskrit poem says, "The Essence of True Revelation [satyavedam]" (Castets 1935:40). De Nobili's description of the traditional Indian Vedas clearly shows that he did not regard them as "genuine Vedas" or genuine divine revelations. That de Nobili was for a long time suspected of being the author of the Ezour-vedam is understandable because in that text Chumontou has fundamentally the same role as de Nobili: he exposes the degenerate accretions of the reigning clergy's "Veda," represented by the traditional Veda compiler Biache (Vyasa), in order to teach them about satyavedam, the divine Ur-revelation whose correct transmission he represents against the degenerate transmission in the Vedas of the Brahmins. This "genuine Veda" had once upon a time been brought to India, but subsequently the Indians had forgotten it and instituted the false Veda that is now religiously followed. The common aim of de Nobili and of Chumontou was the restoration of the true, most ancient divine revelation (Veda) and the denunciation of the false, degenerated Veda that the Brahmins now call their own.

In the wake of Ricci in China and de Nobili in India, the desire to find and study ancient texts and to acquire the necessary linguistic skills to handle them was increasing both among China and India missionaries, and this desire was clearly linked to the idea of a common Ur-tradition and its local vestiges that could be put to use for "accommodation" or, as I prefer to call it, "friendly takeover." What we have observed in other chapters, namely, that religion is deeply linked to the beginnings of the systematic study of oriental languages and literatures, clearly also applies to India; and if such study produced wondrous Egyptian (Kircher) and Chinese figurist flowers in the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, the heyday of India in this respect was yet to come.

Calmette's Veda Purchase

At the beginning of the eighteenth century, Europeans in search of humanity's oldest texts received some enticing news in letters by Jesuit missionaries in India. For example, on January 30, 1709, Pierre de la Lane wrote in a letter that Indians are idolaters but also have some books that prove "that they had antiently a pretty distinct Knowledge of the true God." The missionary went on to quote the beginning of the Panjangan almanac that, as we saw in Chapter I, was among the earliest materials that impressed Voltaire about India (Pomeau 1995:161). In John Lockman's English translation of 1743, this passage reads as follows:

I worship that Being who is not subject to Change and Disquietude; that Being whose Nature is indivisible; that Being whose Simplicity admits of no Composition with respect to Qualities; that Being who is the Origin and Cause of all Beings, and surpasses 'em all in Excellency; that Being who is the Support of the Universe, and the Source of the triple Power." (Lockman 1743:2.377-78)


Father de la Lane wrote that the majority of Indian books are works of poetry and that "the Poets of the Country have, by their Fictions, imperceptibly obliterated the Ideas of the Deity in the Minds of these Nations" (p. 378). But India also has far older books, especially the Veda:7

As the oldest Books, which contained a purer Doctrine, were writ in a very antient Language, they were insensibly neglected, and at last the Use of that Tongue was quite laid aside. This is certain, with regard to their sacred Book called the Vedam, which is not now understood by their Literati; they only reading and learning some Passages of it by Heart; and these they repeat with a mysterious Tone of Voice, the better to impose upon the Vulgar. (pp. 378-79)


Such mystery, antiquity, and potential orthodoxy whetted the appetite of Europeans with an interest in origins and ancient religion. After Abbe Jean-Paul Bignon had been nominated to the post of director of the Royal Library in 1719 and of the special library at the Louvre in 1720 (Leung 2002:130), he gave orders to acquire the Vedas. But this was easier said than done. In 1730 a young and linguistically gifted Jesuit by the name of Jean CALMETTE (1693-1740), who had joined the Jesuit India mission in 1726, wrote about the difficulties:

Those who for thirty years have written that the Vedam cannot be found were not completely wrong: there was not enough money to find them. Many people, missionaries, and laymen, have spent money for nothing and were left empty-handed when they thought they would get everything. Less than six years ago [in 1726] two missionaries, one in Bengal and the other one here [in Carnate], were duped. Mr. Didier, the royal engineer, gave sixty rupees for a book that was supposed to be the Vedam on the order of Father Pons, the superior of [the Jesuit mission of] Bengal. (Bach 1847:441)


But in the same letter Calmette announced that he was certain of having found the genuine Vedas:

The Vedams found here have clarified issues regarding other books. They had been considered so impossible to find that in Pondicherry many people could not believe that it was the genuine Vedam, and I was asked if I had thoroughly examined it. But the investigations I have made leave no doubt whatsoever; and I continue to examine them every day when scholars or young brahmins who learn the Vedam in the schools of the land come to see me and I make them recite it. I even recite together with them what I have learned from some text's beginning or from other places. It is the Vedam; there is no more doubt about this. (p. 441)


Calmette achieved this success thanks to a Brahmin who was a secret Christian, and in 1731 he reported having acquired all four Vedas, including the fourth that de Nobili had thought lost (p. 442). In 1732, Father le Gac mailed to Paris two Vedas written in Telugu letters on palm leaves, and the copying of the remaining two was ongoing (p. 442).

[W]hile Calmette did obtain the Rg, Yajur, and Sama Veda samhitas, his “Adarvana Vedam” is in fact an assortment of tantric and magical texts connected with goddess worship called Atharvanatantraraja and Atharvanamantraśāstra.

-- The Absent Vedas, by Will Sweetman


From the early 1730s Father Calmette devoted himself intensively to the study of the Vedas and wrote on January 24, 1733:

Since the King has made the decision to form an Oriental library, Abbe Bignon has graced us with the honor of relying on us for research of Indian books. We are already benefiting much from this for the advancement of religion; having acquired by these means the essential books which are like the arsenal of paganism, we extract from it the weapons to combat the doctors of idolatry, and the weapons that hurt them the most are their own philosophy, their theology, and especially the four Vedam which contain the law of the brahmins and which India since time immemorial possesses and regards as the sacred book: the book whose authority is irrefragable and which derived from God himself. (Le Gobien 1781:13.394)


The opponents in this combat were mainly Brahmins who considered the Europeans worse than outcasts. Calmette explained: "Nothing is here more contrary to [our Christian] religion than the caste of brahmins. It is they who seduce India and make all these peoples hate the name of Christian" (p. 362). The label Prangui, which the Indians first gave to the Portuguese and with which "those who are ignorant about the different nations composing our colony designate all Europeans" (p. 347), was a major problem from the beginning of the mission, and the Jesuits' Sannyasi attire and "Brahmin from the North" identity were in part designed to avoid such ostracism. The fight against the Brahmin "ministers of the devil" who "never cease to pursue their plan to ruin both our church and the Christians who depend on it" (p. 363) is featured prominently in Calmette's letters, and it is clear that the Frenchman meant business when he spoke about stocking up an arsenal of weapons especially from the four Vedas for combating these doctors of idolatry.

The preparation consisted in the intensive study of Sanskrit and a survey of India's sacred literature, in particular, of the Vedas.

The Veda has occupied an ambiguous position in Hinduism. On the one hand, many Hindus have proclaimed it their most authoritative and sacred body of literature. On the other, for the past two thousand years its contents have been almost completely unknown to the vast majority of Hindus, and have had virtually no relevance to their religious practices. In the last centuries before the Common Era, access to the Vedic texts was limited to male members of the three highest social classes, and since at least the second century CE, Hindu law-makers have declared that only male Brahmins are eligible to study the Veda. Between then and now, the great majority of the people we retrospectively identify as “Hindu” have been deliberately excluded from the Veda, and for most of this period we have little means of knowing whether such people accepted its authority. In ancient India, the maintenance of the Veda’s exclusivity was largely dependent on two factors: first, that it was prohibited to commit the Vedic texts to writing; second, that Brahmins were the guardians not only of the Vedas, but also of Sanskrit. By excluding all except male Brahmins from learning Sanskrit, the Veda was kept out of the majority’s reach. However, after the Sanskrit of the Vedas had developed, in the last centuries BCE, into the distinct, post-Vedic “Classical Sanskrit”, the content of the Vedas became inaccessible even to many Brahmins. Already in the Mānavadharmaśāstra, a Brahminical text composed probably around the 2nd century CE (Olivelle 2004), there is a reference to Brahmins who recite the Veda but do not understand it, and ethnographies attest to the existence of such persons today. This neglect of the content of the Vedas, together with the sustained emphasis on their correct recitation, signals the prevalent belief that the sacredness of these texts is in their sounds rather than their meaning. Thus, to recite correctly, or to hear such a recital, is intrinsically efficacious.

-- A religion of the book? On sacred texts in Hinduism, by Robert Leach


Of course, Calmette was eager to find any possible allusion to Jesus and major events of the Old and New Testaments. He searched for textual traces of the deluge and asked himself whether Vishnu is Jesus, if Chambelam means Bethlehem, and if the Brahmins stem from the race of Abraham (pp. 379-85). But the study of Sanskrit was also useful for disputing with Brahmins and scholars:

Up to now we have had little dealings with this kind of scholars; but since they noticed that we understand their books of science and their Samouscroutam [Sanskrit] language, they begin to approach us, and because they are intelligent and have principles, they follow us better than the others in dispute and agree more readily to the truth when they have nothing solid to oppose it. (p. 396)


Naturally, Calmette profited from the experience of other missionaries who had mastered difficult languages and were interested in antiquity, for example, Claude de Visdelou who resided in Pondicherry for three decades and was very familiar with missionary tactics and methods in China.8 But even more important, in 1733 a learned fellow Jesuit by the name of Jean-Francois PONS (1698-1751) had joined Calmette in the Carnate mission. Pons and Calmette came from the same town of Rodez in southern France, had both joined the Jesuit novitiate in Toulouse, were both sent to India, and were both studying Sanskrit. Pons had arrived in India two years prior to Calmette, in 1724, and spent his first four years in the Carnate region. It was Pons who had tried to buy a copy of the Veda for 60 rupees in 1726, only to find out that he had fallen victim to a scam. From 1728 to 1733, he was superior of the Bengal mission, and it is during this time that he studied Sanskrit. As superior in Chandernagor he became an important channel for the European discovery of India's literature. He spent on behalf of Abbe Bignon and the Royal Library in Paris a total of 1,779 rupees for researchers, copyists, and manuscripts in Sanskrit and Persian. They included the Mahabharata in 17 volumes, 24 volumes of Puranas, 31 volumes about philology, 22 volumes about history and mythology, 7 volumes about astronomy and astrology, and 8 volumes of poems, among other acquisitions (Castets 1935:47). Though Pons was Calmette's junior by five years, he was thus more experienced and knowledgeable than his countryman when he joined the Carnate mission for a second time in 1733, and the two gifted missionaries could combine their efforts.

In 1735 Calmette described some of the benefits of the study of Sanskrit and the Vedas for his mission:

Ever since their Vedam, which contains their sacred books, has been in our hands, we have extracted texts suitable for convincing them of the fundamental truths that ruin idolatry; because the unity of God, the characteristics of the true God, salvation, and reprobation are in the Vedam; but the truths that are found in this book are only sprinkled like gold dust on piles of dirt; because the rest consists in the principle of all Indian sects, and maybe the details of all errors that make up their body of doctrines. (Le Gobien 1781:13.437)


Vedic Talking Points and Broken Teeth

From the early 1730s Calmette thus collected -- probably with the help of knowledgeable Indians and later of Pons -- examples of "fundamental truths" as well as "details of all errors" from the Vedas. This was the first systematic effort by Europeans to study such a mass of ancient Indian texts; and it was not an easy task because the language of these texts proved to be so difficult that even most Indians were at a loss:

What is surprising is that the majority of those who are its depositaries do not understand its meaning because it is written in a very ancient language, and the Samouscroutam [Sanskrit], which is as familiar to the scholars as Latin is among us, is not yet sufficient [for understanding] unless aided by a commentary both for the thought and for the words. It is called the Maha Bachiam, the great commentary.9 Those who make that kind of book their study are first-rate scholars among them. (p. 395)


At the time there were only six active Jesuit missionaries in the whole Carnate region around Pondicherry (p. 391), but they were assisted by many more Indian catechists who were essential for the mission. The missionaries could not personally go to some regions because of Brahmin opposition and other reasons, and to preach there was a main task of these catechists. Calmette's objective in studying the Vedas was not a translation of any part of them. That would definitely have been impossible after just a few years of study, even with the help of Pons. The language of these texts, particularly that of earlier Vedas, was a tough nut to crack even for learned Indians. In a letter dated September 16, 1737, Calmette wrote to Father Rene Joseph de Tournemine in Paris:

I think like you, reverend father, that it would have been appropriate to consult original texts of Indian religion with more care; but we did not have these books at hand until now, and for a long time they were considered impossible to find, especially the principal ones which are the four Vedan. It was only five or six years ago that, due to [the establishment of] an oriental library system for the King, I was asked to do research about Indian books that could form part of it. I then made discoveries that are important for [our] Religion, and among these I count the four Vedan or sacred books. But these books, which even the most able doctors only half understand and which a brahmin would not dare to explain to us for fear of a scandal in his caste, are written in a language for which Samscroutam [Sanskrit], the language of the learned, does not yet provide the key because they are written in a more ancient language. These books, I say, are in more than one way sealed for us. (Le Gobien 1781:14.6)


But Calmette tried his hand at composing some verses in Sanskrit and wrote on December 20, 1737, after a bout of fever that had hindered his study of Sanskrit: "I could not help composing a few verses in this language, in the style of controversy, to oppose them to those poured forth by the Indians" (Castets 1935:40). Calmette was inspired by de Nobili's writings that were stored at the Pondicherry mission and seems to have partly copied and rearranged de Nobili's Sattia Veda Sanghiragham (Essence of genuine revelation) (p. 40), whose title expresses exactly the idea that seems to have influenced Calmette so profoundly: the notion of a true Veda (satya veda).

Unlike de Nobili who had thought that the fourth Veda was lost and had presented himself as the guru who brought at least its teaching back to India, Calmette had also bought the fourth Veda10 [In his letter of September 17, 1735, Calmette describes this Veda as "The Adarvanam, which is the fourth Vedam, and teaches the secret of applying magic" (Le Gobien 1781:13-420).] and found that it was far more readable and therefore of somewhat later origin:

[W]hile Calmette did obtain the Rg, Yajur, and Sama Veda samhitas, his “Adarvana Vedam” is in fact an assortment of tantric and magical texts connected with goddess worship called Atharvanatantraraja and Atharvanamantraśāstra.

-- The Absent Vedas, by Will Sweetman


There are texts that are explained in their theology books: some are intelligible for a reader of Sanskrit, particularly those that are from the last books of the Vedan, which by the difference of language and style are known to be more than five centuries younger than the earlier ones. (Le Gobien 1781:14.6)


Even if the Vedas remained for the most part a sealed book for Calmette and Pons, they could make a survey of their contents and pick out certain topics, stories, and quotations that could be used as talking points in debates and serve as "weapons" in the missionary "arsenal." One goal of such a collection of "truth" and "error" passages drawn from the Veda was their use in public disputes against Brahmins. A favorite tactic mentioned by Calmette is the following:

Another way of controversy is to establish the truth and unity of God by definitions or propositions drawn from the Vedam. Since this book is among them of the highest authority, they do not fail to admit this. Following this, it is very easy to reject the plurality of gods. Now if they reply that this plurality is found in the Vedam, which is true, it is confirmed that there is a manifest contradiction in their law as it does not accord with itself. (Le Gobien 1781:13.438)


The verbal operations in such writing as Patai's (who has outstripped even his previous work in his recent The Arab Mind 134 [The Indian Mind] ) aim at a very particular sort of compression and reduction. Much of his paraphernalia is anthropological -- he describes the Middle East [India] as a "culture area" -- but the result is to eradicate the plurality of differences among the Arabs [Indians] (whoever they may be in fact) in the interest of one difference, that one setting Arabs [Indians] off from everyone else. As a subject matter for study and analysis, they can be controlled more readily. Moreover, thus reduced they can be made to permit, legitimate, and valorize general nonsense of the sort one finds in works such as Sania Hamady's Temperament and Character of the Arabs [Temperament and Character of the Indians]. Item:

The Arabs
[Indians] so far have demonstrated an incapacity for disciplined and abiding unity. They experience collective outbursts of enthusiasm but do not pursue patiently collective endeavors, which are usually embraced halfheartedly. They show lack of coordination and harmony in organization and function, nor have they revealed an ability for cooperation. Any collective action for common benefit or mutual profit is alien to them.

The style of this prose tells more perhaps than Hamady intends. Verbs like "demonstrate," "reveal," "show," are used without an indirect object: to whom are the Arabs
[Indians] revealing, demonstrating, showing? To no one in particular, obviously, but to everyone in general. This is another way of saying that these truths are self-evident only to a privileged or initiated observer, since nowhere does Hamady cite generally available evidence for her observations. Besides, given the inanity of the observations, what sort of evidence could there be? As her prose moves along, her tone increases in confidence: "Any collective action ...is alien to them." The categories harden, the assertions are more unyielding, and the Arabs [Indians] have been totally transformed from people into no more than the putative subject of Hamady's style. The Arabs [Indians] exist only as an occasion for the tyrannical observer: "The world is my idea."

-- Orientalism, by Edward W. Said


Calmette described various dispute strategies that are based on the knowledge of the Vedas and address themes such as the concept of a world soul, punishment in hell, and reward in paradise. (pp. 445-50).

Like de Nobili, Calmette thought that the word "Veda" referred to the divinely revealed "word of God" and explained: "I translated the word Vedam by divine scriptures [divines Ecritures] because when I asked some brahmins what they understood by Vedam, they told me that for them it means the word of God" (p. 384). But if this was God's revelation, then it had been incredibly corrupted. The best proof of this was that Calmette had to look so hard for those little specks of gold. The more he studied, the clearer it must have become to him that de Nobili had been right in concluding that the Indian Veda was far removed from the "genuine Veda" or satya vedam, that is, the divine revelation to the first patriarchs. That true Veda had been disfigured in India and needed to be restored to its ancient glory. It is for this purpose that Calmette collected both the specks of gold and the worst symptoms of degeneration in the Veda. In the quoted example, the unity and goodness of God were first confirmed on the basis of Vedic passages and then contrasted with very human failings and even crimes of Indian gods like Shiva and Vishnu. In this manner an inner contradiction of the Veda could be exposed, and the opponents in the debate who could not deny the accuracy of the quotations from the Vedas could be caught in a no-win, "heads I win, tails you lose" type of situation.

Such tactics thus required intensive study of Indian sacred scriptures. Since the Indian catechists were almost never from the Brahmin caste, they were at best familiar with some puranic literature but certainly not with the Vedas. But since they most often had to conduct the debates, the quotations from the Vedas and talking points had to be set in writing; and because the disputes were held in front of ordinary people, such texts and quotations needed to be in Telugu rather than Sanskrit.
In the Edifying and curious letters there are many examples of disputes involving catechists; but one of them is of particular interest here since it features a catechist who used exactly the kind of text that could have resulted from Calmette's "talking points" effort. The letter by Father Saignes is dated June 3, 1736, a couple of years after the acquisition and copying of the Vedas, and it stems from the very region in which Calmette worked:

A brahmin, the intendant of the prince, passed through a village of his dependency and saw several persons assembled around one of my catechists who explained the Christian law to them. He stopped, called him, and asked him who he was, of what caste, what job he had, and what the book which he held in his hand was about. When the catechist had answered these questions, the brahmin took the book and read it. He just hit upon a passage which said that the gods of the land are no more than feeble men. "That's a rare teaching," said the brahmin, "and I would like you to try to prove that to me." "Sir," replied the catechist, "that will not be difficult if you order me to do so." "If that's all you need then I order you," rejoined the brahmin. The catechist began to recite two or three events from the life of Vishnu, which were theft, murder, and adultery. The brahmin wanted to change the topic [detourner le discours]; but the catechist would not let him and pressed on even more. The brahmin realized too late that he had become caught in a dispute without paying attention to his status as a brahmin; and not knowing how to extricate himself honorably from this affair, he flew into a violent rage against the Christian law. "Law of Pranguis," he said, "law of miserable Parias, infamous law." "Permit me to say this," said the catechist, "the law is without stain: the sun is equally worshipped [adore] by the brahmins and the Parias, and it must not be called the sun of the Parias even though they worship it just as the brahmins do." This comparison enraged the brahmin even more and he had no other response than to hit the catechist several times with his stick. He also hit him on the mouth and shattered all his teeth, and he had him chased out of the village like a Parias, prohibiting him ever to come there again and ordering the villagers to never give him shelter. (Le Gobien 1781:14.29-30).


Father Saignes wrote that this catechist "explained the Christian law" to his local audience and that for this purpose he used a "book" that one could practically open at random and hit upon a passage that says that "the gods of the land are no more than feeble men." Was this a praeparatio evangelica type of work that denounces the reigning local religion (see Chapter I) in order to prepare the people for the Good News of the Christians? At any rate, it must have been a book in Telugu whose content stemmed from the Carnate missionaries who intensively studied the local religion and prepared such materials for the catechists. All this would seem to point to Father Calmette and Father Pons who at that very time (in the mid-1730s) and in that very region devoted much time to the study of the sacred scriptures of India.

We do not know what book the catechist read, but to my knowledge, the only extant text that would fit the missionary's description is the Ezour-vedam. A Telugu translation of this text must have existed since both Anquetil-Duperron's and Voltaire's Ezour-vedam manuscripts contain the following passage:

Biache. I would now be interested in knowing the names of the different countries inhabited by people and the differences among them. You have told me about heaven and hell. Give me a brief description of the earth which brings me up to date on all the different countries that are inhabited.

Chumontou responding to the question tells him the names of the different countries he knew and marks their location for him. Those interested can find them on the other page in the Telegoa language.
11


Apart from indicating that the Ezour-vedam's original French text had been translated into Telugu and was illustrated with a map, this passage is also extremely significant because it shows that the Ezour-vedam was designed for use by missionaries or catechists in the region where Telugu is spoken. It is one of two passages in the book that betrays the book's intended use. The target audience must have spoken Telugu, and the content of the map must have conveyed not classical Indian geography but rather a more correct and modern vision of the world and its countries. World maps played an important role in the Christian mission since the vast advantage in knowledge they embodied could boost the claim of expertise about other unknown regions such as heaven and hell. Ricci's world maps created quite a sensation in China but I ignore if seventeenth-century world maps from the Indian missions are extant in some Indian or Roman archives.

Thus a Telugu version of the Ezour-vedam could very well have been in the hands of that catechist. Opening the Ezour-vedam at random, one may indeed hit upon some passage that could enrage a Brahmin. For example,

Are you stupid enough to overlook even what is right there before your eyes? What you say about the inhabitants of the air is completely insane! How can beings born of a man and a woman and therefore with a body like us live in the air and keep afloat? ... There is only one god, and there has never been any other; this god is not born from Kochiopo, and those who are born from him were never gods. They are all simply men, composed of a body and a soul like us. If they were gods, they would not be numerous, one would not have seen them getting born, and they would not be subject to death. (Rocher 1984:161-62)


There are many other pages in the Ezour-vedam that more or less fit the missionary's description, but the following example may suffice to make the point: "I will not stop, however, to repeat and tell you that Brahma is no God at all, that Vishnu is no God either, and neither are Indra and all the others on whom you lavish this name; and Shiva, finally, is no God either, and even less the Lingam" (p. 180).

The speaker of these words in the Ezour-vedam, Chumontou, uses a method that strangely resembles Calmette's: "in order to instruct people and save them," Chumontou examines common features of Indian religion such as the "different incarnations" of its gods and "refutes them through the words of the Vedan" (p. 135) -- the very "weapons" that, according to Calmette who was proud of this method, hurt the Brahmins most. But there is another feature that links Calmette to the Ezour-vedam and the other texts found by Francis Ellis in 1816 among the remains of the Jesuit library at Pondicherry: his overall view of the Vedas.
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Re: The Birth of Orientalism, by Urs App

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Part 2 of 4

True and False Vedas

Ludo Rocher has pointed our that for many Europeans the word Vedam (which is Veda pronounced the Tamil way) signified the sacred scripture or Bible of the Indians. La Croze, for example, defined it as "a collection of ancient sacred books of the Brachmans" that "has among these idolaters the same authority the Holy Scripture has among us" (Rocher 1984:65). However, for Paulinus a Sancto Bartholomaeo, the word "Veda" "does not signify exclusively a sacred book but implies in general as much as a sacred law, whether observed by Indians or other nations" (p. 65). Of course, Paulinus famously (and wrongly) [??!] argued that "the Vedas" do not exist as a specific set of ancient Indian scriptures and that the Indians call many texts, even non-Indian ones, "Vedas." But modern southern Indian usage agrees with Paulinus's view about the word, as the entries in the University of Madras Tamil Lexicon cited by Rocher (1984:65) show:

vetam: 1. The Vedas; 2. The Jaina scriptures; 3. The Bible; ...
veta-k-karan: Christian (the only meaning!)
veta-pustakam: 1. The Vedas; 2. The Bible.
veta-vakkiyam: 1. Vedic text; 2. Gospel truth.
veta-vakkiyanam: 1. Commentaries on the Vedas; 2. Expounding the Bible.


As mentioned above, Calmette defined the word "Veda" as "divine scriptures [divines Ecritures]" and explained this use in a letter of the year 1730, which is when he got hold of the Vedas (Le Gobien 1781:13-384). But in order to understand how the author of the Ezour-vedam understood this word, we need to examine its use in the Ezour-vedam and in the notes published by those researchers who saw the originals of the other Pondicherry Vedas before they vanished in the 1930s (Rocher 1984:75). In the Ezour-vedam's first book, the fourth chapter is titled "Of the Vedams," and it is here that we can find the best expression of the Ezour-vedam author's overall view of the Vedas. In this chapter, Biache asks Chumontou how the vedams have come to humankind and who its authors are. Chumontou's explanation begins as follows:

At the outset, God dictated them [the vedams] to the first man, and ordered that he communicate them to the other men so that they might learn in that way to do good and avoid evil. These are the names that one gave to them: the first is called Rik, the second Chama, the third Zozur, and the fourth Adorbo. (Sainte-Croix 1778:1.200)12


Though the first man was in the Ezour-vedam's previous chapter called Adimo ("Adimo is the name of the first man to come from the hands of God," p. 195), we readily identify him as Adam. Instead of letting Biache ask immediately about the fate of these vedams, the Ezour-vedam's author makes him first inquire about the origin of evil.

Biache. One sees that on earth vice as well as virtue reign; God, who is author of all things, is thus the author of both; at least that's what I thought until now. But how could this God, whose goodness is his essence, create vice? That's a problem that weighs on me and that I cannot resolve.

Chumontou. You're wrong about that; God never created vice. He cannot be its author; and this God, who is wisdom and holiness itself, was author of nothing but virtue. He has given us his law in which he prescribes to us what we have to do. Sin is a transgression of this law and is expressly prohibited by this very law. Our bad inclinations have made us transgress God's law. From that [transgression] the first sin was born, and once the first sin was committed it entailed many others. (pp. 201-2)


The (Christian) reader will find this association of the first man with the first sin natural, but the Ezour-vedam's author used it ingeniously to create the basis for his transmission scenario of the Vedas. Thanks to evil and sin, God's original divine revelation (the vedams he dictated to Adimo) could get into the wrong hands:

Biache. You've told me the names of the Vedams that God communicated to the first man. Tell me now to whom the first man communicated them in turn?

Chumontou. The most virtuous children were the first to whom he communicated them, because they were the only ones who could appreciate them [prendre gout]. Sinners into whose hands these sacred books fell have abused and corrupted them, going so far as to have them serve as foundation for their fables and musings [reveries]. That's what you yourself have done. (pp. 202-3)


This conversation leaves no doubt that the author of the Ezour-vedam thought that the Indians and their purported Veda author Vyasa (Biache) used a corrupt version of the original divine revelation. In other words, what the Indians and Vyasa consider to be the true Veda is in reality a degenerate imitation Veda. For Chumontou (who speaks for the Ezour-vedam's author), the true Veda maintained its purity only in a single transmission line. A long time ago, this line had also reigned in India, and the "teachers" in the Ezour-vedam as well as the other Pondicherry Vedas represent this correct transmission.

By contrast, the "pupils" such as Biache (Vyasa) are transmitters of the corrupted tradition. Their Veda is thus for the most part degenerate, though its original pure source is still apparent in a few vestiges of genuine revealed truth. In the words of Calmette's 1735 letter, the Vedas in use by the Indian Brahmins are a "pile of dirt" since they contain "the principle of all Indian sects, and maybe the details of all errors that make up their body of doctrines"; but they also contain a few "specks of gold" (Le Gobien 1781:13.437). These specks could be used to highlight how degraded the original pure teaching has become. They could thus be used as a weapon for "the advancement of [our Christian] religion," which, of course, is the crown of the genuine transmission line. Calmette's view of the Vedam appears to be strikingly similar to both de Nobili's and Chumontou's.

To return to the Ezour-vedam's chapter on the Vedas, like a Catholic priest in a confessional, Chumontou now sternly reproaches Biache for having "abused and corrupted" the sacred books:

That's what you yourself have done, but you've promised me that you won't do it anymore. It's only on this condition, remember, that I will continue to teach you the Vedam, and you will only be in a position to profit from this [teaching] if you renounce these gross errors. (Sainte-Croix 1778:1.203)


With this the stage is set for the final question and answer of the Vedam chapter. It concerns the genuine Veda transmission:

Biache. I will not be satisfied if you do not tell me the names of those to whom the Vedams were entrusted for the first time, or who were its first authors.

Chumontou. Poilo was the author of the Rik-Vedam; Zomeni of the Chama-Vedam; Chumontou of the Ezour-Vedam; and finally, Onguiro composed the Adorbo-Vedam. Each of them communicated it to his children and made them learn it. And those [children] in turn communicated them to their descendants. That is how they have come down to us. (pp. 203-5)


What is important to keep in mind here is the fundamental narrative of the Pondicherry Vedas. It sets a pure, "teacher" transmission line of divine revelation against a degenerate "pupil" transmission line. Both teachers and pupils, of course, had to be Indian and not foreign Pranguis. Famous "pupils" were desirable, and authors of the Vedas or other sacred scriptures were an optimal choice. It is true that the author of the Ezour-vedam was far less knowledgeable and consistent than modern Indologists would wish, but in exchange, he was very systematic in his black-and-white vision. For him the objective was not the satisfaction of some scholar or Brahmin but rather the hammering in of a basic message conveyed to the people in the Telugu language by catechists. Each time the "teacher" insists on something, the famous "pupil" has to admit his error and promise to be a good boy from now on. The obvious objective was to pave the way for the "true Veda" and for conversion, and pupil Biache in the Ezour-vedam demonstrates what the desired outcome was: the rejection of his traditional creed and sacred scriptures, the confession of his sins, a place at his teacher's feet, and the permission to ask questions about the true transmission of God's teachings. For the author of the Ezour-vedam, the true Veda had to open the door for the Good News, the "science of salvation" at whose sight those suffering from bad transmission disease (especially the authors of the Indian Vedas) were to cry out: "Adoration to the Supreme Being! We have hitherto lived in ignorance, but you have now, great God, put us into the hands of the science of salvation!" (p. 205). It was pure praeparatio evangelica. But not all Indians reacted so enthusiastically, as the unfortunate catechist who read from his book about the degeneration of Indian religion had to learn the hard way.

Enhanced Genealogies

The problem of how to present a new religion as the origin of an older one is ubiquitous in Ur-tradition movements. Early Christianity had this problem in an acute form, and eminent early Christians such as Eusebius of Caesarea, Lactantius, and Augustine struggled with it. All three were among the favorite authors of missionaries since they faced similar problems in defining the relationship of their "new" religion to far older ones. The example of Eusebius is particularly illuminating and pertinent because he is also the source of much ancient information about Indian religion that was carefully studied by the missionaries. Eusebius created a scheme that made sure that Christianity was both oldest and newest. The studies of Jean Sirinelli (1961) and especially Jorg Ulrich (1999) show that Eusebius did this by portraying his religion not only as a reform of Judaism, which of course it was, but also as the pure transmission of a pre-Judaic original monotheism. In this scheme, Judaism was seen as an increasingly degenerate successor to the religion of a number of "just ones" that included Enoch and Abraham. These just men had received the correct transmission of the original divine revelation. On the other hand, there was, due to the fall, also a kind of Ur-atheism (Sirinelli 1961:170- 207) that developed into various well-known forms of ancient religion: astral cults, hero worship and divination, polytheism, and so on. But the central argument of Eusebius was that of a bifurcated transmission of original divine revelation. On the "pure" transmission side were not as usual Moses and Judaism but rather a more ancient line of "patriarchs" who had received divine revelation straight from the founder God via Adam.

In this manner, Christianity could, so to speak, jump the line and appear as a reform of Judaism and its ancestor. This was a truly ingenious scheme that Eusebius had worked out in intricate detail in one of the greatest displays of erudition of antiquity: his Praeparatio evangelica. This huge, early fourth-century work of preparation for the Good News is without any doubt the highest peak of early Christian apologetics, and it was supplemented by the Demonstratio evangelica and Eusebius's Church history (Historia ecclesiastica), which made him the founder of this field (Winkelmann 1991). For Jesuits, and even more for Jesuits dispatched to the missions, the Praeparatio evangelica was a must-read.

A very similar scheme, I believe, was adopted by the author of the Ezour-vedam and the other Pondicherry Vedas
and helps explain a difficulty many commentators have felt. Julien Bach and Senator Lanjuinais put it this way:

What embarrassed the critics a bit was that the author of the Pseudo-vedas spoke of the four vedas of the brahmins to refute them; he described their origin and even gave the names of their authors. "It is something inexplicable," said M. Lanjuinais, "that the missionary [who wrote the Ezour-vedam] did not shy away from inserting in his work what could convict him of his imposture." (Bach 1848:63)


"It is an inexplicable thing, the missionary was not afraid to insert in his work which was capable of a convincing impostor. There is perhaps something more inexplicable still, it is that men of wit and taste allow themselves to be dominated by their prejudices to the point of closing their eyes to the evidence."

-- The Father Calmette and the Indianist Missionaries, by Father Julien Bach


Based on Christianity's direct link to the pure transmission of God's original teaching, Eusebius had called Christianity verus Israel, the true Israel (Ulrich 1999:119); so could the Ezour-vedam's author not call Christianity the vera India? In the Ezour-vedam's scheme of things, the authors of the "true Veda" transmission would belong to the "just men" lineage that jumps straight to Christianity, whereas the Brahmins with their Vedas would suffer gradual degeneration, just like Eusebius's Jews with their Old Testament. In Figure 18 this Indian component is indicated by dashed lines; the rectangle would represent Hinduism, which in this perspective is a form of degenerated monotheism similar to Judaism in Eusebius's scheme.

The overall character of the Ezour-vedam as praeparatio evangelica is similar to that of Eusebius's eponymous work since its aim is to refute the other religions as degenerate transmissions and to link one's own religion to the correct transmission of the original, pure doctrine. For Eusebius the pre-Judaic "just men" and Hebrews had to take the role of patriarchs of the correct transmission line. But the author of the Ezour-vedam could not risk inserting Pranguis anywhere along the path. He had to get his patriarchs, whether he liked it or not, from the pool of Indian "just men" rather than biblical patriarchs; and this was a problem that must have bugged him as much as it irritated Western readers who found these Indian patriarchs "inexplicable."

The Anti-Vedic Vedas

Image
Figure 18. Christianity's transmission line in Eusebius of Caesarea (Urs App).

In 1816, Francis Ellis found in Pondicherry a total of eight manuscripts (including the Ezour-vedam) among the remains of the old Jesuit library. His description of these texts, published in 1822, was fortunately rather detailed and must be used here because the texts from the old Jesuit library that Ellis saw have all vanished. The last person to hold the Pondicherry texts in his hands appears to be the Jesuit Castets who examined them some time before 1935 (Rocher 1984:75). All we thus have at our disposal today are the Ezour-vedam manuscripts at the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris and a number of descriptions of other "Pondicherry Veda" texts (see below) by Ellis and others.13

These texts all employ the same basic scheme popular in mission literature: a conversation between a teacher and a pupil (Ellis 1822:43). As in the Ezour-vedam, the teacher figure represents the "cult of the genuine God" and the pupil the
degenerate cult (p. 14).
The teachers criticize the pupil's degenerate religion and urge a return to the faith of even earlier times. Both the style and content of these texts seem designed for easy memorization by catechists and maximum impact in debates and recitation before a public that needed to be convinced and prepared for the real Good News. The role of the Pondicherry Vedas was to prepare the ground by denouncing the reigning religion and undermining its claim to genuine transmission of divinely revealed teachings. This implied of course a frontal attack on the Vedas and its traditional guardians.

Once more, the comparison with Eusebius is helpful. He saw the exclusivity of Judaism and its sacred scripture as a symptom of degeneration, and Christianity as a liberation from such limits: it is a law for all peoples, not just for a small group or caste.

First of all, Christ is for Eusebius the telos [goal] of the law because he abolishes exactly those limitations that were inherent in the Jewish law: in Christ, the revelation of the divine will to save is directed at all mankind, not just at the Jews; and [it is directed] at the entire earth, not just at the narrow confines of Palestine. (Ulrich 1999:155)


Chumontou makes a similar argument. While deploring the "evils with which the earth is inundated in this unfortunate century," he regards it as more fortunate than past ones; and though Chumontou is supposedly speaking in the distant past, we hear through his mouth very distinctly the voice of a desperately optimistic French missionary in eighteenth-century India:

If in the first centuries virtue was easier to achieve, there were also more demands than today. Each profession, each caste was subject to particular ceremonies which are [now] abolished and no more in use. There were particular places, temples, and designated persons to offer sacrifices and carry out the other principal functions of religion. Only they could perform this. It would have been a crime for anybody else to interfere. Today one is no more subjugated to all this. Every person that has piety can carry out the functions of religion, and one can do this at any time and place. Furthermore, in the first centuries one could not teach the Vedan to the Choutres [Sudra] and the general population; it would even have been a sin to do this. Now one can do this without fear and scruples. It is on account of this that this century has some advantage over earlier ones. (Rocher 1984:171-72)


A Brahmin would immediately understand that this was a frontal attack on his religion, caste, and the Veda; and the editor of the Ezour-vedam's printed edition wrote in a note: "All that the author reports here can only apply to the times after the Mahommedan invasions and proves that his work is not of great antiquity" (Sainte-Croix 1778:2.81). Sainte-Croix [Guillaume Emmanuel Joseph SAINTE CROIX (de) ] could have gone a bit further, but he still clung to the belief that the Ezour-vedam was a translation of an Indian text.

Guillaume Emmanuel Joseph SAINTE CROIX (de)

The Ezur-Vedam or Old Commentary on Vedam. Containing the exhibition of religious and philosophical views of Indians. Translated from Samscretan by a Brame.

In the Imprimerie de M. de Felice, Yverdon 1778
, in-12 (9.5x16cm), xij 13-332pp. and 264pp., 2 bound volumes.

First edition of this religious pastiche composed by Jesuit missionaries in India. Printed on the presses of Fortune Barthelemy Felice in Yverdon, it was published by the Holy Cross baron.

Binding post (1840) full fair calf. Back with five nerves decorated with gilded boxes and nets, as well as parts of title and volume number of long grain brown morocco. Triple gilt fillets in coaching contreplats. Quadruple threads and golden floral spandrels framing of paper contreplats to the tank. All edges gilt.

Pretty nice copy binding Niédrée, whose name is registered in pen on the first guard of the first volume.

-- Guillaume Emmanuel Joseph SAINTE CROIX (de), by EditionOriginale.com


Image

TABLE 13. PROTAGONISTS OF THE PONDICHERRY VEDAS AND THEIR TRANSMISSION LINES

Veda transmission / 1st Veda (Rik; Rg) / 2nd Veda (Chama; Sama) / 3rd Veda (Ezour/Zozur; Yajur) / 4th Veda (Adorbo; Atharva)


Genuine (teacher) / Poilo/Poilapado / Zoimeni / Chumonrou (Sumanta) / Otri/Atri
Degenerate (pupil) / Narada / Naraion (Narayana) / Biache (Vyasa) / Ongira (Angiras)


The Pondicherry Vedas

Having thus gotten a taste of the genuinely anti-Vedic spirit of these "true Vedas," it is time to look at the Ezour-vedam's sister texts. Ellis's 1822 descriptions of the Pondicherry Vedas permit establishing the arrangement of the heroes and villains in the axes of the genuine and the corrupt transmission of divine revelation shown in Table 13.

Since the Ezour-vedam and its content were already to some degree discussed in Chapter I, I will here focus on Ellis's description of the fifth Pondicherry manuscript. It contained the Pondicherry Chama Vedam, traditionally the second Veda (Sama), and features in the first section Zoimeni as teacher and Naraion as disciple. Naraion can only be Narayana or Narayan, that is, the god Vishnu. So much for name recognition of the disciple! But in several parts of this text, the roles are reversed (p. 24), which may be a symptom of the author's "Indian patriarch" problem. According to Ellis, this fifth manuscript contained in the margins on the French side a sequence of abstracts that appear to be either the grid on which the author constructed his text or its summary by an astute reader or copyist. These comments are extremely interesting because they so clearly express intentions that often remain hidden in a finished text; but in this case, the finished text is lost, and we only possess these notes as recorded by Ellis. They begin as follows.

Book I. Chapter 1. Contains the introduction [exorde] of the whole work, the aim of ZOIMENI in composing it. -- Dedication of his book to the Supreme Being -- character of the genuine guru and his functions.

Chapter 2. Contains a grand idea of God and his attributes and refutes the false idea that the false Vedas give of the divinity. Summary of the creation of the world.

Chapter 3. Treats of the imaginary [fabuleuse] creation of the false Vedas, undertakes their refutation. It then treats of the virtue of those who are able and unable to read the Vedam.

Chapter 4. Speaks of the true God and of the cult that must be given to him -- in establishing the cult of the true God he condemns the cult which Naraion wants people to give to Vishnu and Shiva. (Ellis 1822:14)


Like the Ezour-vedam, this text also sets a "false Veda" transmission against the genuine one. The "false Vedas" convey a false idea of God, his attributes, and his cult, while the true Vedas explain the correct conception of these things. Chapter 3 is about the origin and transmission of both true and false Vedas and may also have discussed the caste restrictions regarding the reading and recitation of their "false" Veda in contrast with the "true" Veda that is open for all. This effort to undermine the authority of the Indian Vedas (and thus also that of the Brahmins) was sure to enrage Indian clergy, who must have been astonished by this kind of brazen hijack attempt by outcaste Johnny-come-latelies who had no idea of the Vedas. For the missionary author and the "teacher" of this text, on the other hand, the genuine tradition was now coming back to India, the cult of the true God was about to be restored, and the reigning cults of Vishnu and Shiva were on their way to extinction.

The Chama Vedam's second book starts by digging deeply into what Calmette called "dirt":

Book II. Chapter 1. Speaks of five mythical [fabuleuses] opinions of creation: the first called Padmokolpo, attributed to VICHNOU; the second into the tortoise; the third into the pig; the fourth into GONECH; the fifth into the goddess BIROZA; then the second creation, attributed to the tortoise, of the deluge, of the metamorphosis of the Supreme Being into the tortoise, of the creation of a maiden whom the tortoise marries ... [additional details omitted here but not in Ellis, p. 15]

Chapter 2. Includes the refutation of the preceding [chapter] -- beautiful idea of God drawn from the true Vedam.

Chapter 3. Contains the continuation of the metamorphosis of the Supreme Being in a tortoise; it includes the system of total and partial metamorphoses, that is to say that comprise the entire divinity; a system that one will find well developed in the Odorbo Bedo or fourth Ved, a book which treats of this ex professo, refutation of this system -- beautiful character of the true god. ZOIMENI makes in this chapter NARAION the author of the false Chama Ved, essential remark. (pp. 15-16)


Indian creation myths, incarnations, and metamorphoses of the "false" Chama Ved whose author is Naraion are contrasted with the pure gold of the true Vedam. This true Vedam is understood as the true "word of God," as Calmette had heard his Indian experts explain, and this is laid down in the genuine Chama Ved that is none other than this second Pondicherry Veda!

The third book of the Chama Vedam continues to expose the creation myths of Brahma and Shiva in order to refute them on the basis of the true revelation tradition as laid down in the Pondicherry Vedas.

Book III. Chapter 1. Contains the creation attributed to the boar, it is BRAMMA or the Supreme Being under the name of CHIB which metamorphoses itself into a boar; and Parvati his wife into a sow to withdraw and sustain the earth, description of the place where CHIB lived.

Chapter 2. Contains the refutation of the precedent.

Chapter 3. Contains the description of the creation brought about by the Boar God, the substance of this creation is found in the body of the true Ezour Ved.

Chapter 4. Is the refutation of the precedent. (p. 16)


The "true Ezour Ved," clearly refers to the Pondicherry text of the Ezour-vedam containing the creation account that is here alluded to (Rocher 1984:133). If there still was any doubt whether the author or commentator really identified the "true Vedam" as the Pondicherry Vedas, it is here resolved. The whole configuration and content of these Pondicherry Vedas make Rocher's idea that "Ezour stands for Y-ezus, i.e. Jesus" (p. 66) very unlikely and shows that it was not de Guignes who invented the identification of the Ezour-vedam with the third Veda.

The fourth and final book introduces a theme that will play a role later in this chapter, namely, emanation.

Book IV. Chapter 1. Contains the marriage of CHIB the Supreme Being[,] the birth of his son GONECH, the loss of his head, which CHIB substituted with that of an elephant and the beginning of the creation attributed to GONECH.

Chapter 2. Is the refutation of the fables of the preceding.

Chapter 3. Speaks of the manner in which GONECH made the 3 worlds with his 3 eyes: [ ... details ... ) This chapter ends with the two opinions about the nature of the soul [;] the first want it to be immortal, without principle and subjected to the Gounalous and that it reunites and identifies itself with God at the time of deluge, that is to say, at the end of each age; the second that it [the soul] is mortal and that it is compared to God what the reflection of the sun on water is to the sun.

Chapter 4. Is the refutation of the precedent. ZOIMENI author of the true Chama Vedam combats as false the system which makes the soul an emanation of God, that unites itself with God at the end of each age; system that Onguira, author of the true Odorbo Bedo, appears to adopt as one can see at that place.

N. Evident PROOF that the true Chama Vedam and the true Odorbana Vedam have not come from the same hand and that the Brame who has communicated them is not their author. (Ellis 1822:16-17)


The final note by the author or annotator of the Chama Vedam is hard to figure out but seems to be part of an attempt to justify the missionary's choice of "true Veda" authors. It is a pity that the manuscript is lost because this would throw light into a shady corner.

The Authorship of the Pondicherry Vedas

Ludo Rocher (1984:28-52, 57-60) has extensively discussed previous opinions about the Ezour-vedam's authorship, and there is no need to repeat this here. In most contributions, questions about the regional pronunciation of Sanskrit terms and regional information indicating either southern or Bengal origin play central roles. Often the Sanskrit translations and even the fate of the Ezour-vedam in Europe form part of the discussion of authorship. But we need to keep the issues separate.

First, the Ezour-vedam and its sister texts were created by one or several French missionaries, but as far as we know these missionaries did not have a European public in mind. Based on our analysis, we must conclude that these texts were written for an Indian audience. For a European readership, the link of ancient Indian figures in the texts to antediluvian patriarchs or to Noah and his sons would have been obligatory; but in the Ezour-vedam and its sister texts, such Prangui connections had to be avoided at all cost -- a clear indicator of the intended public. Some confusion about the identities of the Indian patriarchs suggests that this was no easy task. This first phase is the only truly relevant one for the authorship question. One must be careful not to muddle the issue by confusing the question of authorship with issues such as who later added Sanskrit translations, who gave the text to Maudave, who transcribed Indian words in certain ways, and other considerations.

The second level of media activities of the U.S. government are the covert operations in the traditional sense. In theory, these deception operations are directed at influencing foreign, not domestic, opinion. Prior to December 1981, domestic activities were theoretically forbidden by the CIA's charter and by the Executive Orders governing CIA behavior. For all practical purposes, however, the charter was systematically violated. But now under President Reagan's Executive Order 12333, the CIA can operate within the United States so long as what it does is not "intended" to influence public opinion domestically. Who or what determines CIA "intentions" is not specified, leaving a wide open field for more blatant manipulation of U.S. public opinion.

Even operations conducted entirely abroad are liable to cause "blowback," the situation wherein the U.S. media picks up reports from overseas, disseminating them at home, without realizing (or caring) that the reports are false and emanate from U.S. intelligence in the first place. Blowback is very dangerous; in Vietnam there was so much CIA disinformation being spread that U.S. military intelligence reports were often unwittingly based on complete fabrications which had been produced at CIA Headquarters. In other cases, the CIA itself performed as an anti-intelligence agency in which the covert operators had to supply the information that the policy makers wanted. Government thus became the victim of its own disinformation line, compounding the original damage and leading officials to be twice removed from reality. (Numerous examples of this are documented in Deadly Deceits: My 25 Years in the CIA, a recent book by Ralph W. McGehee [Sheridan Square Publications, New York: 1983].)

One of the most graphic examples of an intentional blowback operation was cited by former CIA officer John Stockwell in his book about Angola, In Search of Enemies. In order to discredit the Cuban troops who were aiding the MPLA government forces in that country's war with South Africa, CIA propagandists in Kinshasa, Zaire, came up with a story about Cuban soldiers raping Angolan women. Using an agent/stringer for a wire service, the Agency had the story passed into the world media. Subsequently it was embellished by further spurious reports of the capture of some of the Cubans by the women they had raped, of their trial, and of their execution by their own weapons. The entire series, spread out in the U.S. press over a period of several months, was a complete CIA fabrication...

In the third instance of press manipulation, the U.S. disguises its handiwork by engaging in the double whammy: accusing the Soviet Union of disseminating the phoney documents it has itself produced. Given the widespread coverage these charges receive, the "proof" is astonishingly contradictory. Last year, for example, a supposedly bogus letter from President Reagan to King Juan Carlos of Spain was publicly denounced by the State Department as a Soviet forgery because it had errors in language and, as one officer noted, "it fits the pattern of known Soviet behavior." The previous year, another document was called a Soviet forgery because it was "so good" it had to be a Soviet product. Periodically the government will call forth one of their stable of "defectors" to confirm that something is a forgery and the U.S. media buy it without much question...

The greatest assistance in disinformation -- especially during the current Administration -- is always forthcoming from the Reader's Digest. In 1977 the Times series exposed Digest editor John Barron as having worked hand in glove with the CIA on a book about the KGB. Other fraudulent journalists like Robert Moss, Arnaud de Borchgrave, Daniel James, Claire Sterling, and Michael Ledeen, among others, seem to pick up disinformation themes almost automatically. In fact, coordination between the development of propaganda and disinformation themes by the covert media assets, the overt propaganda machine, and the bevy of puppet journalists is quite calculated. A theme which is floated on one level -- a feature item on VOA about Cuba for example -- will appear within record time as a lead article in Reader's Digest, or a feature in a Heritage Foundation report, or a series of "exposes" by Moss and de Borchgrave or Daniel James in some reactionary tabloid like Human Events or the Washington Times or Inquirer. Then they will all be called to testify by Senator Denton's Subcommittee on Security and Terrorism, repeating one another's allegations as "expert witnesses."

After that they are given credibility by the "respectable" Cold War publications like the National Review, Commentary, and the New Republic. And finally, since they have repeated the theme so many times it must be true, they are given the opportunity to write Op Ed pieces for the New York Times or the Washington Post...


It is well established that all intelligence agencies will forge and plant documents and lie where practicable, so that from at least one of them it is possible to obtain virtually any desired "fact." Former CIA officer Ralph W. McGehee, for example, states that the CIA has "lied continually" and that "Disinformation is a large part of its covert action responsibility, and the American people are the primary target audience of its lies" (Deadly Deceits, p. 192). This is commonplace...

The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (Church Committee), reporting later in 1976, found two "reasons for concern" with the CIA's use of journalists. One was the problem of "fallout" [blowback] -- "the potential, inherent in covert media operations, for manipulating or incidentally misleading the American public. "The second was that all U.S. journalists and media would be discredited as the relationship between the CIA and some of them became known. The committee expressed no concern for the foreign victims of CIA lies...

In his recent book, Deadly Deceits: My 25 Years in the CIA, Ralph W. McGehee has shown that "the American people are the primary target audience of [the CIA's] lies," not simply an unfortunate, incidentally affected group.

-- The CIA and the Media, by CovertAction Information Bulletin


Speakes declined repeatedly to say whether CIA disinformation -- that is, false and-or misleading information -- was planted in foreign media.

It is a common CIA practice, according to both McGehee of Herndon, Va., and John Stockwell of Elgin, Texas, another former CIA agent. In 1976, the Senate Intelligence Committee estimated that 900 foreign journalists, or agents posing as journalists, helped the agency plant propaganda.

The phony news story "could be an article we'd write and just give to a reporter under contract," said McGehee. "Or we'd give them guidelines, saying, 'Here's the story we want generated; you write it in the local context.'

"Once you'd planted an article successfully, you'd clip it and airmail it around the world, get it placed in news media everywhere," he continued.


-- CIA Has Global Media Machine, Ex-Aides Say, by Frank Greve


Second, since the Ezour-vedam's original target public was speaking Telugu, Sanskrit translations must have been made later when some missionaries -- possibly but not necessarily including the author of the original French text -- decided to try to render some of the French text into as good a Sanskrit as they could manage. This individual or group of individuals may have studied Sanskrit in different regions of India, which helps explain the mixed transliterations,14 and these individuals may also have edited the original French text to some extent. Every copyist could modify the text, as the three extant manuscripts of the Ezour-vedam show. Since we have no way of knowing how many times and by whom these texts were copied or edited, all we can do is speculate. We may never know what the intentions of the Sanskrit translator(s) were; it may just have been a pastime of some retired missionary Sanskritists like Pons or Antoine Mozac. At any rate, there is no indication whatsoever that these Sanskrit translation drafts were ever intended for public consumption; otherwise, they would have been corrected with the help of an Indian Sanskritist and properly edited. The second production stage, therefore, involves editing and copying of the French text and adding Sanskrit translation exercises on the facing pages of some texts.

Third, two of these texts (the Ezour-vedam and Voltaire's Cormo-veidam) may have undergone some clean-up editing (for example, eliminating passages like the "Telugu place name" remark in the Haday manuscript) before being sent to Europe. The Ezour-vedam, which today is the only extant Pondicherry Veda, reached Europe in several somewhat different manuscript versions and thus entered, with the significant help of Voltaire and then Sainte-Croix, a new career stage. This issue was to some degree discussed in Chapter 1.

Special Pleading (Stacking The Deck):

using the arguments that support your position, but ignoring or somehow disallowing the arguments against.

Uri Geller used special pleading when he claimed that the presence of unbelievers (such as stage magicians) made him unable to demonstrate his psychic powers.

Excluded Middle (False Dichotomy, Faulty Dilemma, Bifurcation):

assuming there are only two alternatives when in fact there are more. For example, assuming Atheism is the only alternative to Fundamentalism, or being a traitor is the only alternative to being a loud patriot.

Short Term Versus Long Term:

this is a particular case of the Excluded Middle. For example, "We must deal with crime on the streets before improving the schools." (But why can't we do some of both?) Similarly, "We should take the scientific research budget and use it to feed starving children."

Burden Of Proof:

the claim that whatever has not yet been proved false must be true (or vice versa). Essentially the arguer claims that he should win by default if his opponent can't make a strong enough case.

There may be three problems here. First, the arguer claims priority, but can he back up that claim? Second, he is impatient with ambiguity, and wants a final answer right away. And third, "absence of evidence is not evidence of absence."

Argument by Rhetorical Question:

asking a question in a way that leads to a particular answer. For example, "When are we going to give the old folks of this country the pension they deserve?" The speaker is leading the audience to the answer "Right now." Alternatively, he could have said "When will we be able to afford a major increase in old age pensions?" In that case, the answer he is aiming at is almost certainly not "Right now."

-- A List Of Fallacious Arguments, by Don Lindsay


Image

Figure 19. Stages of Ezour-vedam creation and dissemination (Urs App).

STAGE 1: Creation by French Jesuits for Telgu translation; debate use, catechists. Pondicherry.

STAGE 2: Edition of French text, copying, Sanskrit draft translations for private use. Pondicherry.

STAGE 3: Ezour-vedam and Cormo-vedam copies & maybe edited: leaked & sent to Europe Geneva/Paris.

STAGE 4: Edition by Ste-Croix, 1778 publication. Discussed & edited by scholars. Europe.

STAGE 5: Use of manuscripts by Cocurdoux, Paulinus, and Dubois (plagiarism). Pondicherry, Paris, London.


Fourth, the Ezour-vedam was edited by the Baron of Sainte-Croix on the basis of Voltaire's and Anquetil-Duperron's manuscripts and published in 1778 as "the first original work published to date on the religious and philosophical dogmas of the Indians" (Sainte-Croix 1778:1.xii). Sainte-Croix's vision of the text and its authorship will be discussed below.

Fifth, the manuscripts of the Pondicherry Vedas (and possibly additional notes and related study materials) were from 1770 onward used and plagiarized by several persons and ended up directly and indirectly influencing the nineteenth-century image of Indian religion.

As explained above, the question of authorship of the French text concerns only the first of the stages shown in Figure 19. The author worked in the environment of the Malabar mission where Telugu was the target language. What he had in mind was not producing a fake Veda translation because he was inspired by La Croze's wish to see a European-language translation of the Vedas (Rocher 1984:73), nor did he have any intention of committing a literary forgery and a "religious imposition without parallel" (Ellis 1822:1). Rather, a missionary had the idea to create such texts for the education and conversion of heathens and designed a format that made them easy to memorize and use for missionaries and catechists and, of course, also easy to understand by the native audience who must for the most part have been illiterate. There were no Voltaires sitting at the catechists' feet in those villages near Pondicherry.

Voltaire was read in Pondicherry: after all, Maudave had studied Voltaire's 1756 edition of the Essai sur Lesmoeurs in India.

-- The Birth of Orientalism, by Urs App


VOLTAIRE AND THE SEARCH FOR AUTHORITY

The Aryan Rewrites History


For Voltaire, Asia was the ideal. In fact, in the eighteenth century, Voltaire was a principle panegyrist and official defender of Asia’s moral rectitude. It held the key to understanding the European present as well as its future. At first, Voltaire directed his enthusiasm toward China. But its radical foreignness and the indecipherability of its literature stymied his efforts. He then turned his attention toward India, consoling himself with the belief that Indian religion was “very possibly” the same as that of the Chinese government, that is, a pure cult of a Supreme Being disengaged from all superstition and fanaticism (Voltaire 1885: 11.190). He maintained that the brahmin religion was even more ancient than that of China (Voltaire 1885: 28.136). The Indians were, perhaps, the most ancient assembled body of people. It appeared that other nations, such as China and Egypt, went to India for instruction (Voltaire 1885: 11.49). The brahmins were the first theologians in the world (Voltaire 1885: 29.488), and Indian religion formed the basis of all other religions (Voltaire 1885: 45.448). Voltaire believed that Indian philosophers had discovered a new universe “en morale et en physique” [moral and physical] (Voltaire 1963: 2.318).

With time and with a more complete documentation, Voltaire became better informed and refined his characterization of ancient India. As inventors of art, the Aryans were chaste, temperate, and law-abiding (Voltaire 1963: 1.65). They lived in a state of paradise—naked and without luxury. They subsisted on fruit rather than cadavers. Paragons of morality and specimens of physical perfection, the Aryans embodied prelapsarian innocence and sobriety. Their gentleness, respect for animal life, and deep religiosity incarnated the virtues of “Christianity” far more than anything found in the civilized West. Unlike the Saracens, Tartars, Arabs, and the Jews, who lived by piracy, the Aryans found nourishment in a religion (Voltaire 1963: 1.229, 231; 1.60; 1.234) that was based upon universal reason (Voltaire 1963: 1.237).

While Voltaire had initially based his information on the travel accounts of Chardin, Tavernier, and Bernier (Voltaire 1953–65: D 2698), he later came to rely heavily on the Lettres édifiantes et curieuses . . . par quelques missions de la compagnie de Jésus (Paris: 1706–76), especially the letters from Père Bouchet to Huet. As elsewhere in his oeuvre, even in his most virulent critiques of the Church, Voltaire was never truly distant from his Jesuit teachers. Jesuitical documentation on India supplied him with a theme he was to exploit with verve. Although the reverend fathers expressed horror for idolatrous superstition, they were not totally negative in their assessment of Indian religious potential. Jesuit missionaries judged the Indians eminently capable and worthy of conversion. After all, one could find in their “ridiculous” religion belief in a single God (Voltaire 1953-65: 11.190; 11.54), suggesting a kind of proto-Christianity. Bouchet’s mention of parallels between Aryan religious thought and Christianity prompted Voltaire to develop the idea that the West had derived its theology from India.

In short, Voltaire appropriated from the Jesuits data to suit a specific polemic—that Vedism comprised the oldest religion known to man and represented a pure form of worship whose loftly metaphysics formed the basis of Christianity.

-- Aryans, Jews, Brahmins: Theorizing Authority through Myths of Identity, by Dorothy M. Figueira


The main point of these entertaining repartees was to prepare Indians for instruction in Christianity by undermining their trust in the native religion and its clergy and squarely attacking the authority of the Veda by calling it "false." This meant digging up much "dirt" about the indecent adventures of Indian gods and goddesses, gods turning into boars, and the like; but other educational content was also mixed in, for example, how to construct a water clock from a simple copper tube (Sainte-Croix 1778:1.267) and, as we have seen, geography lessons. This was part of instruction in the tradition of the "genuine Vedas." At this stage, nothing could have been further from the author's mind than an elaborate plan to mislead a generation of budding Orientalists in Europe about India's ancient religion. His focus on undermining the Vedas and on conveying information to natives who knew little of the world is all too evident.

Among all the letter-writing Jesuit missionaries active in India in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries hitherto mentioned as possible authors of the Ezour-vedam, there is no one who comes even close to matching the profile of Jean Calmette with regard to motivation, eagerness, and ability to study Indian religions from primary materials; determination to use such materials as "weapons" in disputes; activity in the Telugu-speaking area; inspiration by de Nobili's conception of satya vedam; and other characteristics described above. Calmette has been on the authorship shortlist since Julien Bach's perceptive articles of 1847 and 1848 that were less concerned with linguistic issues than with questions of motivation and content. In his 1868 book, Bach summarized his argument as follows:

If we accept with the missionary that Indian superstitions derive from primitive traditions altered by ignorance or their taste for fables, and we give the term veda its real meaning revelation, we have the entire work of the missionary in a nutshell: there was a Veda, a primitive revelation, and its tradition spread as far as India; but you, brahmans, have corrupted the Veda by mistakes of all kinds. I shall destroy these mistakes. (Bach 1868:23; trans. Rocher 1984:44)


Calmette also found support for his view from a witness whom we will meet again later in this chapter: the famous Abbe Jean-Antoine Dubois. Bach reported:

What I said above made me suspicious not only that the Ezour-Vedam is a French work but also that Calmette was its author. To acquire certitude I thought of contacting the person in Paris who had to be most familiar with the question. I said to myself that the venerable Abbe Dubois -- who had spent forty years as a missionary in India, lived with the last remaining Jesuits, and stayed in Pondicherry -- had without any doubt seen these odd manuscripts that created such a brouhaha. I went to see him and asked him, without telling him my opinion, if he knew the author of the Ezour-vedam. -- It is Father Calmette, he said immediately. But, he added, several missionaries have had a hand in it. (Bach 1868:23)


Actually, Abbe Dubois was far more familiar with these Pondicherry materials than Father Bach could imagine. Rocher noted shortly before his book on the Ezour-vedam went to press that "long passages in the EzV [Ezour-vedam] correspond to Dubois' text" and that "these correspondences, even in Dubois' French version, are never verbatim, but too close to be accidental" (1984:87). In the meantime, Sylvia Murr (1987) has shown that Dubois systematically plagiarized the writings of Father Gaston Laurent Coeurdoux that he had found in the remains of the Jesuit mission library at Pondicherry; and we know that the Pondicherry Vedas were also there. So the conclusion that Dubois also plagiarized these manuscripts is not difficult to draw. This also means that, in Julien Bach's time, there was nobody in the world who knew these manuscripts better than Dubois -- yet Bach who questioned him had no idea of this fact. Dubois's opinion was thus incomparably more informed than that of Anquetil-Duperron and others who did not even know that several texts of the kind existed.

Bach's opinion convinced numerous library catalogers, but in the twentieth century, Julien Vinson rejected Calmette's authorship mainly with arguments related to Bengali transliterations and the fate of the text in Europe (Vinson 1902:293), which, as noted above, need to be separated from the authorship question. The objections of Castets (1935:40), too, are related to his idea that the Ezour-vedam must be of Bengali origin because of the transliterations. Additionally, Castets claims that "one can find nothing in this unpublished correspondence of Father Calmette that reminds one the slightest bit [de pres ou de loin] of the famous Ezour Vedam" (p. 40). But the letters by Calmette quoted by Castets actually offer excellent support for Calmette's admiration for and inspiration by de Nobili, and we have seen that this inspiration ties in very well with Calmette's published letters as well as the general trend of the Pondicherry Vedas. Objections by other people that were listed by Rocher (1984:45) are equally beside the point, and one must conclude that-unless one would like to have a single-author manuscript with no further interference by others -- so far not a single objection to Calmette's authorship has merit.
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Re: The Birth of Orientalism, by Urs App

Postby admin » Thu Dec 31, 2020 11:26 pm

Part 3 of 4

Now if other missionaries "had a hand in it," as Dubois put it, who was he thinking of? There is an interesting passage in the Ezour-vedam that can provide a hint. For some reason the text's author wanted to educate the Telugu-speaking audience not just about the construction of a simple waterclock and the geography of our earth but also about other religions, such as that of the evil "Baudistes":

Chumantou: ... The most criminal of all are those called Baudistes. They are really abominable people who are so impious and blasphemous as to seek to destroy and annihilate even the idea of divinity.

Biach: Tell me, Sir, what are these Baudistes?

Chumantou: The Baudistes are dominant in different countries. Their system is to not recognize any purely spiritual substance and no god except for themselves, which is the greatest and most horrible of all crimes. (Rocher 1984:171)


The author of these lines is likely to have read La Croze's book of '724 that contained, as discussed in Chapter 2, an early synthesis of information about Buddhism and argued mainly on the basis of Ziegenbalg's and La Loubere's information that Buddhism was a religion founded by an Indian man called Boudda who is called by various other names depending on the country, for example, "Fo" or "Foto" in China. This religion was long ago eradicated in India because of its atheism but found its way to various Asian countries including Siam, Tibet, China, and Japan. But the remark that the Baudistes do not recognize any purely spiritual substance is not found in La Croze and must come from another source. Now we have another very short description of this religion that stems from the very region in which the Pondicherry Vedas must have been written. It is by Father Pons who was from 1733 to 1740 with Calmette a member of the Malabar mission (Castets 1935:47) and had studied Sanskrit in the Bengal region. In this famous letter of November 23, 1740, about Sanskrit and Indian philosophy, Pons wrote:

The Bauddistes, whose doctrine of metempsychosis has been universally adopted, are accused of atheism and admit only our senses as principles of our knowledge. Boudda is the Photo revered by the people of China, and the Bauddistes are of the sect of the Bonzes and Lamas. (Le Gobien 1781:14.79)


Image

TABLE 14. SIMILARITIES IN THE VIEW OF BUDDHISM IN THE EZOUR-VEDAM AND PONS'S LETTER

Theme / Ezour-vedam on Buddhism / Pons on Buddhism


atheism / recognize no god except for themselves, seek to annihilate even idea of divinity / accused of atheism

sensualism / do not recognize purely spiritual substance / admit only senses as principles of knowledge

presence / dominant in different countries / China, Tibet, Japan (Lamas and Bonzes)

founder / -(no point to explain this to Indians?) / Boudda = Photo  

metempsychosis / -(too trite for Indians?) / doctrine of metempsychosis universally adopted


The very brief remarks about this religion in the Ezour-vedam and in this letter could be miles apart, given that so little was known about it at the time. But in spite of their extreme brevity, they show a similar vision, as shown in Table 14.

Pons and Calmette, who came from the same little town of Rodez in southern France, had both been eager to find the Vedas, and both collaborated closely with Abbe Bignon in procuring precious Indian books for the Royal Library in Paris. In the 1730s, these two men were the only missionaries in the region capable of studying the Vedas and related texts, and it would be strange indeed if they had not worked together. After Calmette died in 1739 in Pondicherry, Pons was for a decade busy in Karikal (1740-50), but he returned to Pondicherry in 1750, more than a year before his death (1751). He was by then retired, and it is conceivable that he used his leisure to try his hand not only at reading Sanskrit, as he had done for a quarter-century, bur also at practising his writing. What better texts to try his hand at translating than his friend Calmette's Pondicherry Vedas? I agree with Castets that Father Pons, the author of a treatise on Sanskrit prosody who had been both a superior in the Bengal mission from 1728 to 1733 and a longtime resident of the Malabar mission in the South, may have "distracted himself, reduced by his age and his tiring work, to forced leisure at the siege of the Pondicherry mission" (Castets 1935:46); but instead of just annotating the Pondicherry Vedas, I think he may have employed his great talents, instead of on the eighteenth-century equivalent of crossword puzzles, for some active mindsport that resulted in fragmentary, unrevised, unsystematic translations of Calmette's French texts into Sanskrit-translations that were full of mistakes, as is to be expected of someone who reads a language but never writes it. It is hard to imagine that such jottings were designed for mission use or for public consumption. Pons's interest in the real Vedas was limited, as a letter written in 1740 just after the death of Calmette shows:

The four Vedan or Bed are, according to them, of divine authority: one has them in Arabic at the Royal Library; accordingly the brahmins are divided in four sects of which each has its own law. Roukou Vedan or, according to the Hindustani pronunciation, Recbed, and the lajourvedam are the most followed on the Indian subcontinent between the seas, and the Samavedan and Latharvana or Brahmavedam in the North. The Vedan contain the theology of the brahmins; and the ancient Pouranam or poems the popular theology. The Vedan, as far as I can judge by the little I have seen of it, are nothing but a collection of different superstitious and often diabolical practices of the ancient Richi, penitents, or Mouni, or anachorets. Everything, even the gods, is subjected to the intrinsic power of sacrifices and Mantram; these are sacred formulae they use to consecrate, offer, invoke, etc. I was surprised to find the following: om Santih, Santih, Santih, harih. You surely know that the letter or syllable om contains the Trinity in Unity; the rest is the literal translation of Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus, Dominus. Harih is a name of God which signifies Abductor. (Le Gobien 1781:14.75)


Editors and Copyists of the Ezour-vedam

With regard to the time of origin of the Pondicherry Vedas, Ellis reported: "At the end of this manuscript [No.7] are two dates on a slip of paper, on which the concluding lines of the translation are written, one is 'Annee 1732,' the other 'Annee 1751'" (1822:27). Castets, who was the last man to see the Pondicherry Vedas, wrote that in 1923 when he first examined these manuscripts, the slip of paper documented by Ellis had disappeared (1935:33) but commented:

These two dates are interesting in several respects. The second one shows that the Vedams from No. 3 to No. 8 existed in collected and translated form before 1751, as the watermark of 1742 on the paper already sufficiently indicated. We do not talk about the numbers 1 and 2 which were probably much anterior to these latter ones and represented only copies of unknown originals that were evidently written by the French missionaries themselves. Furthermore, these two dates which were written by the annotator of the whole collection, seemed to interest him personally and, by their conjunction, evoke in him emotions of contrast between the interest that he had for these Vedams, or at least some of them, in 1732, and that which his critical inspection of the same inspired in 1751. (Castets 1935:34)


This sounds a bit too emotional, but neither this emotionality nor Castets's absurd conclusion that the Pondicherry Vedas were translations of the forged Vedas bought in 1726 by Pons (p. 46) should distract us from his valuable first-hand observations. He noted that the first two manuscripts -- the Ezour-vedam (whose original tide, Zozur Bedo, was crossed our in red ink and replaced by Ezour-Vedam, p. II) and the Zozochi Kormo Bed (which in Castet's opinion was the Kormo Vedam described by Voltaire; p. 13) -- appeared to be much older than the others and must have been copies of even older originals. Manuscripts 3-8, on the other hand, appeared to be from a later date and were written on paper with a 1742 watermark. In the year 1732, Calmette was in the midst of studying the newly acquired Vedas, and I speculate that the first number on Ellis's slip of paper may refer to the year when Calmette wrote the first texts. By 1735 or 1736, the time of the "broken teeth" event, some texts could well have existed in a Telugu version. After his transfer back to the Malabar mission in 1733, Father Pons might well have collaborated, if the Ezour-vedam's Buddhism passage is a sign; and this would explain some Bengali influence on pronunciation and also the inclusion of information that suggests an author familiar with that region. After Calmette's death in 1739, Pons could have worked on other texts by Calmette and annotated them (if Castets's guess is correct).

I would rather hypothesize that Pons found these texts again on his return to Pondicherry in 1750 and spent his last year reworking them and brushing up his Sanskrit. But possibly other fathers with some knowledge of Sanskrit like Calmette and Mozac also tried their hand at that. The second date noted on that slip of paper, 1751, is the year at whose end Pons died. By this time, all the Pondicherry Vedas probably existed, possibly with partial Sanskrit translations. This does nor mean that they remained unchanged because Father Mozac, as we will see below, had-apart from copying the whole corpus-also added some revisions, and the copying of manuscripts must have continued. The first Ezour-vedam to be brought to Europe was, according to Rocher (1984:86), present in the Harlay Collection by 1755. If this is correct, then only two or three years passed between Pons's death and the arrival of the first Ezour-vedam manuscript in France.

To what degree the manuscript was edited (possibly with the removal of Sanskrit translations and tell-tale signs of its original target public, one of which -- the one with the map-was overlooked) must remain unknown until the vanished Pondicherry Vedas make their reappearance. Bur I would guess that it must have been an inside job by one of the members of the Jesuit mission who looked through the Pondicherry Vedas after Pons's death and between 1752 and circa 1754 prepared two of them, the Ezour-vedam and its Oupo-vedam, the Cormo-vedam, for recycled use on a different target public. It is interesting and perhaps significant that this should have happened exactly when the first volumes of the Encyclopedie appeared in France (from 1751). Was a senior person in the mission, for example, its superior Lavaur or Father Coeurdoux, sufficiently concerned to give the go-ahead for refurbishing these two texts and their recycled use as weapons-only this time against the skeptics and atheists who were about to take over the French information industry? Would this help in convincing them about the existence of original monotheism in ancient India? And might it be an effective weapon against the continuing critique of Malabar Rites?

The rite problem was intimately linked to the idea of original pure monotheism, to the presence of its vestiges in ancient cultures, and to the kind of transmission scheme invented by Eusebius that the Pondicherry Veda's author had adapted for Indian use. If the most ancient religion of India was so excellent and the Ur-transmission of divine revelation to India proven, then it should certainly nor be problematic to let the Indians continue performing some of their ancient rites, should it? The papal bull Omnium sollicitudinum of 1744 had once more confirmed the exclusivist hard line of the Vatican, which gradually grew into a threat not only to the Jesuit mission in the Malabar region bur to the Jesuit order as a whole. It was a situation of crisis because thousands of Indian Christians began to return to their native creed right at the moment when the foundations of the Jesuit order were shaking. During the 1750s, this pressure was building up, and in 1760, there was the first major earthquake: the dissolution of the Portuguese Jesuit mission in India and repatriation of all its missionaries (Launay 1898:I.cxxii). Four years later, King Louis XV signed an edict that ordered "that the Jesuit order shall no more exist in France" (p. 12), and in 1773, the papal bull Dominus ac Redemptor dissolved the entire Jesuit order.

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TABLE 15. PERIODIZATION OF THE CAREER OF THE PONDICHERRY VEDAS

Stage 1 / Stage 2 / Stage 3 / Stage 4 / Stage 5


Creation of French texts; Telugu translations for local use 1732-30. Calmette. / Edition of French texts; annotation; Sanskrit pages 1739-51. Pons; later Mozac? / Edition of Ezour- and Cormo-vedam for Western use; leaking c. 1752-54. Coeurdoux? / Western dissemination of Ezour-vedam. Printed edition. Mozac copying, translating 1760s/80s. c. 1755-78. Voltaire, Ste. Croix Mozac, Coeurdoux. / Western reaction, doubts, controversy. Plagiarism. Discovery in Pondicherry. 1778-1825. Dubois, Ellis.


In the 1750s, time seemed to be running out: the Jesuit mission team was losing the game in India, and the Christian side in Europe began to crumble under the onslaught of rampant secularism, skepticism, and outright atheism. Was the leaking of the Ezour-vedam, to use an American sports metaphor, a Hail-Mary pass? It might well have been. On the other hand, one cannot exclude the possibility that some missionary talked to a countryman in Pondicherry and casually mentioned manuscripts he had found in Father Pons's room, making the Frenchman so curious that he had to lend him a manuscript or two for perusal at home, whereupon the manuscript was copied without permission and sent to Europe as a curiosity. Be this as it may, in the scenario I propose here (see Table 15), there are five different stages that each have their listed main actor but certainly also various co-stars that go unmentioned.

Zoroastrian Victory from the Jaws of Vedic Defeat

After Anquetil-Duperron's return from India following a five-year stay, he wrote a detailed report about his voyage that was published in abbreviated form in 1762 in French and the following year in English under the title of "A brief account of a voyage to India, undertaken by M. Anquetil du Perron, to discover and translate the works attributed to Zoroaster."15 The Annual Report hails Anquetil-Duperron's journey for the purpose "of extending the bounds of virtue and learning" and calls the Frenchman, who "in so small a period, and in such circumstances, could learn so many languages, utterly unconnected with those already known in Europe, and copy and translate so many books written in them," "a true virtuoso, who braves every danger and difficulty in order to promote useful knowledge, and to increase the materials of speculation in the learned world" (Anquetil-Duperron 1787b:103). However, his chief hagiographer, Raymond Schwab, discerned a rather different heroic enterprise:

If Voltaire wanted from Asia -- in bad faith really -- arguments against the fabrications of revelation, Anquetil hoped -- blindly, for that matter -- to draw from it materials for the confirmation of the dogma, because he was one of those believers in whose eyes the image of the world is divided in two halves, Christians and idolaters. However, the idolaters appeared to him like unconscious depositaries of a tradition that had come from Israel and that was to be recovered. What he wanted to snatch from the Hindus were "the oldest monuments of religion." He went to Asia to seek scientific proof of the primacy of the Chosen People and of the biblical genealogies: but it so happened that his investigations suddenly opened the way to a critique of the books accepted as revealed. (Schwab 1934:4)


We have seen that long before Anquetil-Duperron's trip to India, his early manuscript "Le Parfait Theologien" already showed signs of such critique. Schwab also accepted Anquetil-Duperron's basic narrative about the primary aim of his journey to India as stated in the title of the 1762 report: "to discover and translate the works attributed to Zoroaster."

In 1754, I happened to see a fragment of the Vendidad Sade, which had been sent from England to M. Fourmont,16 and I immediately resolved to enrich my country with that singular work. I formed a design of translating it, and of going with that view to learn the ancient Persic in Guzarate or Kirman; an undertaking which would necessarily enlarge the ideas I had already conceived, concerning the origin of languages, and the several changes to which they are subject, and probably throw a light upon Oriental antiquity, which was unknown to the Greeks and Romans. (Anquetil-Duperron 1787b:104)


This narrative became gospel. While the Encyclopaedia Iranica does not mention dramatic details such as that his only baggage was a small knapsack with "two handkerchiefs, two shirts, a pair of stockings, a mathematics case, a Hebrew Bible, and a copy of Montaigne" and that he left France on a prisoner ship almost like in a scene from Manon Lescaut (Schwab 1934:23-24), it conveys the essence of the myth as historical fact:

After distinguishing himself in classical studies, Anquetil-Duperron went to Holland to study Oriental languages, especially Arabic, with the Jansenists exiled at Amersfoort. Back in Paris, he was appointed to the Bibliotheque du Roi (now the Bibliotheque Nationale). In 1754, he was shown a few lines copied from a fragment of the Avesta brought in 1723 to the Bodleian Library, Oxford, by Richard Colbe. He decided to go to India to retrieve the sacred book, which Colbert, Louis XIV's minister, had ordered Father J. F. Petis de la Croix, a Capuchin, to bring back from Iran without success. In order to hasten his departure he enrolled as a soldier in the Compagnie des Indes and walked all the way to Lorient on the Atlantic in the company of recruits from Parisian prisons. But before embarking on 7 February 1755 he received an allowance of 500 pounds from the Bibliotheque and thus was able to travel as a free passenger. (Duchesne-Guillemin 1987:2.100-101)


However, I found that Anquetil-Duperron already planned to go to India around the end of 1753 -- that is, no less than eighteen months before his departure and before he ever saw the Avesta fragment. He told Abbe Jean-Baptiste Ladvocat "at the beginning of 1754 about the voyage that I counted on making to India," and the Abbe then showed the young man the reports of the Danish missionaries of Tranquebar (Anquetil-Duperron 1771:1.2. ccccxcix).17 This account contradicts Anquetil-Duperron's self-publicized myth that he made this decision in 1754 "on the spot [sur le champ]" (Anquetil-Duperron 1771:1.I.vi).

In the first report after his return from India (1762), he wrote of embarking in 1755 "with a resolution of bringing back the laws of Zoroaster and the Bramins" (p. 105) and added that, before leaving France, he promised "to make myself master of the religious institutions of all Asia" (p. 107). This did not mean that he would study them all, but rather that he would study their common basis: the Vedas. And for this he needed to know Sanskrit:

There is a Samskretam of different ages, and I was desirous of having examples of it thro' all its variations, that I might fix the language in which all the books which are held sacred in that part of Asia which reaches from Persia to China are written. (p. 107)


This gives us a sense of the true objective of Anquetil-Duperron's India adventure. The books that are "held sacred" in most of Asia, from Persia to India and China, and are written in Sanskrit are certainly no Zoroastrian texts. By piecing together information from Anquetil-Duperron's travelogues and letters, one gains the distinct impression that the acquisition and study of the Vedas rather than of Zoroastrian texts was his primary objective and that he later mischaracterized his objectives in order to be seen as having achieved the exact goal that he had proposed. His travelogue is rich in information that disproves the reprioritized narrative that became part of his standard biography. At the very beginning of his stay in Pondicherry, he had the following plan: "After having become familiar with Persian, I wanted to go educate myself in the Malabar region, visit the Brahmes, and learn the Samskretan at some famous pagoda" (p. xxvi). In February 1756, half a year after his arrival in Pondicherry, Anquetil-Duperron was intent on "living from milk, rice, and vegetables in order to be able to afford from my savings the purchase of books and payment of Brahmes of which I planned to become the disciple" (pp. xxix-xxx). He also wanted to devote himself "more freely to the study of Indian books" (p. xxxi) and decided for this reason to travel to the Bengal region. In April 1756 he arrived in Chandernagor, fell ill, and remained for several months in the hospital built by the Jesuit Antoine Mozac, the very man who (probably after joining the Malabar mission) copied all the Pondicherry Vedas. Father Mozac told Anquetil-Duperron about the nearby city of Cassimbazar where he had studied Sanskrit and where several Brahmins resided. Anquetil-Duperron hoped to "stay there for an extended period without toO many expenses" (p. xxxviii). But his illness was so grave that he had to remain in the Jesuit hospital until the fall of 1756. Now more than a year had passed since his arrival in India, and Anquetil-Duperron seriously "thought about renouncing my projects and embracing the priesthood to which I always had been inclined"; even becoming a Jesuit was an option because the order's activity "corresponded sufficiently to the plan for whose execution I had come to India" (p. xxxix). In March 1757, he was still in Chandernagor; around this time he got news from a Frenchman in Surate that the Parsee doctors had "the books of Zoroaster" and were willing to explain it" to Anquetil-Duperron and to teach him the ancient languages (p. xl). Chandernagor being under attack and war in the air, Anquetil-Duperron made a trip to Cassimbazar but "did not find affairs in the state that I had expected" (p. xlii). His passport mentioned his "project in Benares" (p. L) -- which was, of course, to study Sanskrit and translate the Vedas -- but due to the war, this was impossible. It is only at this point that Anquetil-Duperron, fearing for his life and having lost most of his possessions, decided to travel to Surat via Pondicherry to study Zoroastrian texts (p. xlix). This course of events suggests that the principal objective of his voyage to India was not the acquisition and translation of Zoroastrian texts but the acquisition and translation of the Vedas. Not the Zoroastrian texts but the Vedas seemed to be the key to "all the religious institutions of Asia." But why was young Anquetil-Duperron so convinced that the Vedas contained "the sacred laws of all of Asia" (Anquetil-Duperron 1771:I.2.ccclxiv)?

Freret, de Visdelou, and Deshauterayes

Through his employment at the Royal Library, before his India journey, Anquetil-Duperron came into contact not only with Deshauterayes, who showed him the famous Avesta fragment, but also with Fourmont's other disciple Joseph de Guignes. In the year 1753, at whose end Anquetil-Duperron decided to go to India to study Sanskrit and the Vedas-and thus to acquire the key to the sacred laws that anciently reigned in all lands between Persia, India, and China-there were several events of importance for Paris orientalists. One was de Guignes's presentation on July 24 at the Royal Academy about the Samaneens. De Guignes claimed that the Brachmanes and the Samaneens were in fact two sects of one religion that he called "la religion Indienne" (the Indian religion). This religion had metempsychosis as its central tenet and regarded the Samaneens as the ultimate stage of purification (see Chapter 4). But de Guignes left open many questions regarding the history of this religion and its relationship to the Vedas.

The idea of an Indian religion reigning in most of Asia was, as we have seen, rather old. But it had gained new relevance through Johann Jacob Brucker's multi-volume history of philosophy (Brucker 1742-44) and through the ideas of an erstwhile rival of de Guignes's and Deshauterayes's teacher Fourmont. This man was Nicolas FRERET(1688-1749), famous as the first Frenchman in Paris to study Chinese and even more as an expert on chronology and ancient history.18 In the last years of his life, Freret showed acute interest not only in the chronologies of Asia but also in their religions, and on February 7, 1744, he presented some findings to the Royal Academy that he planned to include in a book. But this book never appeared, and four years after Freret's death, a summary of his 1744 presentation was published under the title of "Researches on the religious and philosophical traditions of the Indians, to serve as preparation for the examination of their chronology" (Freret 1753:34). Freret not only thought, like many others, that "the Indian religion is very widespread in the Orient" but also spoke of two major branches. The first branch is "the religion of the Brahmes which encompasses almost all ancient inhabitants of the lands between the Indus and the Ganges," and the second branch consists of the religion "dominating the region to the North and East of the Ganges" as far as Tibet and Bhutan. This second branch of Indian religion is the one that "the Chinese have adopted in the year 64 of the Christian era and is also dominant in Japan" as well as Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Burma, and other Asian countries (p. 36).

Freret's second branch of "Indian religion" clearly refers to what we today call Buddhism, and in his 1744 presentation to the Academy, he emphasized the importance of scientific research and language study to gain a better understanding of this religion that appeared to be the largest in the world. Like de Guignes a decade later, Freret sought to associate specific sacred texts with this "branch." Instead of the Anbertkend and the Forty-Two Sections Sutra that de Guignes in the 1750s was to regard as foundational for this widespread branch of Indian religion, Freret opted for the Vedas. Since the Vedas were not available to him, he relied -- like Holwell after him -- on the report about their content in the sixth book of the Decada Quinta of do Couro (see Chapter 6). Freret quoted do Couro's assertion that Indian religion has a creator God named Scharoues Zibari, who is surrounded by pure spirits who contemplate him (p. 38). Unlike Holwell who interpreted Couto's good spirits as angels serving God, however, Freret connected them with the quietist notion of supreme beatitude. In his view this state corresponds to "what the Siamese call Niveupan, the Peguans Niban, the Japanese Safene, and the Chinese Coung-hiou" (p. 38).19

Freret thus relied on the reports by Couto, Roger, and Baldaeus for the first "branch of Indian religion" -- the one that dominates the Indian subcontinent-and the descriptions by de la Loubere, Pierre Bayle, La Croze, and others for the other "branch" that dominated most of the rest of Asia. He weaved all this into his portrait of a gigantic religion that worships God in the form of Vishnu. Since he had read that Buddha is an incarnation of Vishnu, which marks the beginning of the fourth world age, the link between these two branches seemed obvious. Freret explained:

We omit here all that concerns the eight previous apparitions of Vishnu that do not belong to the present historical period. In the ninth [apparition] which belongs to our age, he came on earth in human form. In the Indies and on the island of Ceylon he is called Boudhe or Boudhan; in Siam Ponti-tchaou which is the same as Sommonacodon, translated in de la Loubere's report as Talapoin of the woods. In China he is called Po or Fo or according to Portuguese orthography Foe, and sometimes Chekia or Chaka. The Japanese honor him under the title of Amida;20 this is throughout Vishnu under different names. (p. 44)


Freret's report that was published in 1753, the year of Anquetil-Duperron's decision to travel to India, presented this "Indian religion" as "an extremely ancient system in the Indies" that radiated far toward East and West. He saw clear traces of it in the system of Pythagoras, and even "Plato adopted a part of Indian ideas." They also found their way into Christianity through Origen who "pretended to adapt them to Christianity" (p. 45). Freret was convinced that "the Indian religion, like all the others, had at its origin the primary truths that are generally known by all men and that form the body of natural revelation that is as old as the universe" (p. 45). This view of "Indian religion" was surprisingly long-lived and influential. For example, in 1777, the huge Dictionary of Classical Authors furnished under the heading "The religion of the Indians" exclusively information from Freret's summary, adopting it almost word for word (Sabbathier 1777:22.241-26).

But Freret's vision also deeply influenced de Guignes, Deshauterayes, and young Anquetil-Duperron. From Freret's viewpoint, there was nothing more urgent than the study of the Vedas. They had to contain not only the basis of the subcontinental "branch" of India's religion but also the second branch that we now call Buddhism. The Vedas were thus most likely to furnish the "key" that young Anquetil-Duperron had in mind when he wrote of making himself "master of the religious institutions of all Asia" through the study of ancient Sanskrit texts (Anquetil-Duperron 1787b:107). Exactly because he, like Freret and de Guignes, thought that the religious traditions of the Indian subcontinent and most other Asian countries had the same "Indian" root, he thought of China as a possible avenue for information about it. Unable to gain access to the Vedas even after four years in India, Anquetil-Duperron planned to travel via Tibet to China where he hoped to find ancient Indian texts that the Brahmins or polomen might have brought there.21 So he wrote two letters to the Jesuit Antoine Gaubil in Peking (who had been recommended to him by Deshaurerayes) to inquire about this. Though Anquetil-Duperron's letters are no longer extant, Gaubil's response forms part of Anquetil-Duperron's manuscript dossier at the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris:22

I have received five days ago the letter that you made me the honor of writing from Goa on 20 March of 1758, [but] I have not received the one you said you wrote from Pondicherry. The polo men or brahmes came to China from the Indies more than 1600 years ago. More than 1300 years ago several Chinese put them into Chinese characters and in a Chinese language. What they learned from the polomen about the religion, astronomy, geometry, etc. -- these books are lost, and what remains consists only of a few truncated and confused fragments. The Chinese bonzes then took care to translate into Chinese the Indian doctrine, and in their prayer books, etc., they transcribed in Chinese characters many terms and phrases that nobody understands.23 ... If you execute your plan to come to China by way of Tartary, you will have quite some expenses to incur, quite some obstacles to overcome, and more than once you will be in need of heroic patience. Add to this many life-threatening dangers.


To judge from Father Gaubil's letter, Anquetil-Duperron was discouraged by Brahmin unwillingness to teach foreigners Sanskrit and was intent on finding materials in Chinese for the study of Sanskrit and ancient Indian doctrine. But Gaubil informed him in a postscript: "Even if in the past the Chinese have learned the rules of the Sanscroudang [Sanskrit] by way of the polomen, one does not find these books at all, and I do not believe that there is someone who would have read such [books]."

Thus, Athanasius Kircher's and Claude de Visdelou's ideas of Brahmin missionaries in the Fat East teamed up with Freret's two-branched Asian monotheism to form a powerful motive for the search for ancient texts of "Indian" religion in countries other than India. But there was yet another hidden avenue of de Visdelou's influence on Anquetil-Duperron. On October 8, 1755, his mentor Deshauterayes wrote a long letter to India to inform the young man about several issues of interest.24 He sent Anquetil-Duperron a reading list of literature about Indian religion (NAF 8872:70r) in which he particularly recommended books by Abraham Roger and La Croze. With regard to languages, Deshaurerayes insisted that "one must learn the language of a people of which one wants to speak and critically read its writings" (p. 73r) and recommended the study of the "Baly [Pali] language which is the only language of the Indies, along with the Tibetan, that I strongly exhort you to learn" (p. 70v). Deshauterayes had told Anquetil-Duperron before his departure for India about an unpublished paper about the Samaneens that he had written. In the letter, Deshauterayes informs his protege about some of its content. One passage in particular attracted my attention when I first read it. Deshauterayes informs Anquetil-Duperron that the Samaneens are monotheists worshipping a God called Aruguen and teach everywhere moral virtues and the transmigration of souls:

The God Aruguen whom they worship has given the Vedam, which is why he is called adi Veden the legislator, and Veda-niden, the Lord of the Law. These titles are also attributed to Vichnou by his devotees; but there is nothing surprising about this because, for the Indians, the ninth incarnation of Vishnu was in Boudha, and Boudha, I believe, is not different from Aruguen. One still gives to this God Aruguen the epithet of Siva cadigu'irveiven, that is, Lord of the glory of God Shiva, and that of Puten which I believe derived from the term Boudha. (p. 70v)


Deshauterayes had a very similar argument printed more than twenty years later in 1778:

Arugen, the god of the Samanes, is the same as Boudha; he has given the divine law of the Vedam, and this is why he is called Adi-veden, the first legislator, Veda-niden, the lord of the law; titles which are also attributed to Vichenou by his devotees, which is not surprising because, according to the Indians, Vichenou in his ninth incarnation became Boudha, and Boudha seems not at all different from Aruguen. (Mailla 1778:5.52)


These "Samanes" who believe in Buddha = Aruguen appear to be monotheists of the purest kind whose religion is very ancient. The following passage is not in the letter of 1755 but clarifies Deshauterayes's view of these pure ancient monotheists:

The Samanes are probably as ancient in the Indies as the Brahmes and have left many monuments of their genius, had a religion which was not different from that of the Gymnosophistes and knowledge of an infinitely perfect being that they called Aruguen and to whom they gave the most excellent attributes. They call him god of virtue, pure, infinite, eternal god, immovable, very wise god, very kind, very powerful, etc. They add that he reigned happily in the heavens in the shadow of a tree Asogu or Pindi. Since the Samanes completely neglected the cult of other gods in favor of Aruguen, they were usually called Aruguer; but those among them who distinguished themselves through their spirituality and the sanctity of their life were called Saraner. (p. 51)


Deshauterayes clearly thought that the sectarians of Buddha are monotheists; that they are no different from Vaishnavas; that the Veda is their sacred scripture; and that the Veda is a thoroughly monotheist text revealed by the god Buddha = Vishnu = Aruguen. I kept wondering where Deshauterayes got these ideas and words like Adi-veden from, until in the summer of 2008, I went through the papers of a De Guignes folder25 at the Bibliotheque Nationale. Someone wrote in small letters on the cover sheet: "These papers were mixed with those of Fourmont. One can, on account of the handwriting and their content, attribute more or less all of them to De Guignes." Only the first sheet is dated "3 May 1754"; it is an introduction to the history of the Samaneens. On page 4 begins a long document titled "Letter from Pondicherry. On the Sammaneens" which on page 7V has the following familiar passage:

The God Aruguen worshiped by the Sammaneens is also called Puten. One gives him also the epithet of Siva cadigu 'irveivem, that is, Lord of the glory of God Chiven. They say that this God Aruguen gave the divine Law or Vedam: that is why he is called Adi veden, that is first legislator, and vedaniden, the Lord of the Law: yet it is true that these names are also given to Vichnou by his devotees.


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Deshauterayes letter to Anquetil / Copy of Pondicherry letter. Figure 20. Handwriting comparison of NAF 8872 and NAF 279.

The dossier contains a fragment of one more letter from Pondicherry (pp. 11r-12v), and the content of both letters indicates that there must have been a total of three letters written by a French-speaking missionary in Pondicherry. The first letter cites La Croze and was thus written after 1724. The third letter cites Engelbert Kaempfer and was thus written after 1729. The writer could read Chinese (he cites Ma Duanlin and various Chinese texts) and was familiar with Indian terminology. He also knew southern Indian literature and criticized a text dating by the Danish missionaries. And, of course, the writer of the letters resided in Pondicherry in the early 1730s, just around the time when Calmette wrote the Ezour-vedam. Given these data, the only author I can think of is Claude de Visdelou, who died in Pondicherry in 1737. The letters were thus probably sent to Paris between 1730 and 1737. The addressee is unknown (he is once called "mon cher Osman"), but there is little doubt that the precise references to Chinese texts were meant for Fourmont and that someone had copied parts or all of these letters. The copied first letter and part of the third letter somehow ended up in Fourmont's files at the Bibliotheque Nationale, and later someone decided that they are from de Guignes, which is why they ended up in his dossier (NAF no. 279).

However, a handwriting comparison (see Figure 20) shows that the copyist of these letters from Pondicherry was Deshauterayes and not de Guignes.26 Deshauterayes' quotations from de Visdelou's letters in his missive to Anquetil- Duperron show, as does his note in de Mailla's history, that he was just as good as his rival de Guignes and their teacher Fourmont at plagiarizing the writings of missionaries. Having copied these Pondicherry letters, Deshaurerayes used parts of them in his letter to Anquetil-Duperron as if these were his own findings, adding "I believe" and "I concluded," etc., to de Visdelou's text! He also asked Anquetil-Duperron to find out some things that he found intriguing in de Visdelou's letters, for example, the identity of the Parajacechatam sect that supposedly destroyed the sect of the Sammaneens in India (NAF no. 8872=72). The Pondicherry of the 1730s was a truly amazing hub of information!

Abbe Mignor's Blueprint

On March 14, 1762, Anquetil-Duperron returned to Paris after a stay of nearly six years in India, and the next day he deposited his manuscripts at the Royal Library. In June his report appeared in the Journal des Sravans, and he became an instant celebrity. The tide of his report indicated that he had gone to India "to discover and translate the works attributed to Zoroaster." At age 31, Anquetil-Duperron was hailed in the Annual Register as a "a true virtuoso" who braved "every danger" for the sole purpose of increasing "the materials of speculation in the learned world" (Anquetil-Duperron 1787b:103). Just after the publication of his report, he was invited to a dinner where he saw de Guignes again and also met a guest who had the distinction of being Voltaire's nephew and a very erudite man: Abbe Vincent MIGNOT. That very month Mignot was reading his fourth paper on the ancient philosophers of India at a session of the Royal Academy, and there can be no doubt that Anquetil-Duperron artended it. Mignot had read the three earlier papers while Anquetil-Duperron was preparing for his return or was on his way back to Europe.

Mignot's first paper, read on February 27, 1761, had dealt mainly with the question of whether the Egyptians had influenced the Indians or vice versa. Mignot concluded that Buddha, who is considered the father of Indian philosophy, lived about 1000 B.C.E. and that this makes his religion too ancient to have been influenced by Greeks or Egyptians (Mignot 1768:81-113). The second paper, read on June 2 of the same year, showed that features of Indian religion that were considered to be of Egyptian origin (transmigration, lingam and cow cult, and such) could be explained without Egyptian influence and that La Croze's and Kaempfer's ideas about the Egyptian origin of Buddha's religion were built on sand because the association of Buddha and Mercury with Wednesday is much younger than they had believed (pp. 114- 52). The third paper rejected early Egyptian influence on India by arguing that there simply was no commercial or other link between the two countries at such an early point (pp. 153-211).

For someone like Anquetil-Duperron who did not believe in the theories of Egyptian origins that were so fashionable among collaborators of the Encyclopedie, these three papers (which he might have read only in 1768 when they were printed together with numbers 4 and 5) were less interesting than the last two of Mignot's lectures that he could actually attend. Mignot continued to discount early Egyptian influence on India. In the fourth paper, read on June 15, 1762, he mainly sought to show the differences-all in India's favor -- between a number of Indian and Egyptian religious doctrines. With respect to strict monotheism, for example, Mignot regarded the Indians as fat superior to the Egyptians. Citing do Couro, La Croze, Francois Bernier, and also Indians' letters to Ziegenbalg, Mignot found that even the "successors of the ancient Brachmanes are intimately persuaded about the unity of God"; and so is "the sect of Gnanigueuls who are regarded as the sages and saints of India." They reject openly the "cult of idols and all superstitious practices of the nation in order to worship only God whom they call the being of beings" (p. 219). The Buddha, too, was called upon for the support of Indian monotheism:

It is to express this perfect simplicity of God that Budda, the author of Indian philosophy, when he explained his true feelings to his dearest disciples, told them that the principle and end of all things was emptiness or nothingness [le vide ou le neant]; this nothingness or this emptiness was, according to his doctrine, a real being [un etre reel] because he gave it attributes and taught that it was admirable, pure, infinite, and the principle and perfection of all beings. By calling it empty or nothing [vide ou neant] he adapted himself to the conventions of common people [vulgaire grossier] who use the term "nothing" for anything that has no coarse parts, does not fall, or is not perceived by its senses. The disciples of these philosophers, who remained faithfully attached to the doctrine of their master, recognize until today that God is a pure spirit and an infinite immaterial intelligence; this is how they put it in the comprehensive theology that was given in Couto, the continuator of Barros; and in one of their books entitled Panjangam, which is their almanach, one reads this prayer: I adore this being whose nature is indivisible, and whose simplicity does not admit any composition of qualities. (pp. 224-25)[/quote]

The five papers Mignot read at the Royal Academy, and particularly the fourth and fifth whose presentation Anquetil-Duperron could attend in person, were almost like a blueprint for Anquetil-Duperron's further work on India. Both men were convinced that India and its Vedas had preserved the most complete vestiges of man's Ur-religion, opposed the encyclopedists's ideas of Egyptian origin, and somehow wanted to build their Indian Ur-religion on the bedrock of the main events and chronology described in the book of Genesis. In the "triangle of origin narratives," the biblical corner was still dominant and very crowded. In exchange, the Egyptian corner could boast of some famous names of intellectuals and encyclopedists. The Indian corner was at this point still almost empty, but in the 1760s, the situation began to change. Merely four decades later, Friedrich Schlegel was to write enthusiastically in a letter: "alles, alles stammt aus Indien, ohne Ausnahme" [Everything, everything comes from India, without exception]" (Schlegel 1864:3.329). The Ezour-vedam's deposition at the Royal Library, Voltaire's 1761 edition of the Essai sur les moeurs with its stunning vista of an Indian origin of civilization, Abbe Mignot's India papers with their monotheistic Buddha, and Anquetil-Duperron's return from India all seemed to ring in a new era. Long before the beginning of the European colonial domination of India, "Indian religion" was seen as a pan-Asian phenomenon with "Brahmanic" and "Buddhist" branches. Diderot and many others thought it had Egyptian roots and associated it with polytheism, idolatry, atheism, materialism, or fatalism. But a second major line of interpretation was gathering steam in the 1750s and 1760s. Inspired by Brucker,27 Freret, de Guignes, and Mignor, it interpreted even the Buddha's "inner" teaching of emptiness and nothingness as a (possibly degraded) vestige of ancient monotheism and identified Asia's dominant "Indian religion" with humankind's universal, god-given ancient theology. At the beginning of the nineteenth century this became one of the core ideas of the indomaniac Romantic age in which Anquetil-Duperron's translations played a key role. But in the 1760s, when Voltaire and Holwell peddled their "proofs" of ancient Indian monotheism, this second line of interpretation was still in its infancy.

The Holwell Shock

What bothered both Mignot and Anquetil-Duperron was that there were descriptions of the Vedas bur hardly any translated material. Instead of being able to quote the Vedas themselves, Mignot had to rely on bits and pieces from do Couto, Jesuit letters, communications by Danish missionaries, Roger, La Croze, and, of course, the newly arrived Ezour-vedam. But this text was no Veda either but rather a commentary by someone who criticized the Vedas. On August 27 of 1766, Anquetil-Duperron received a visit of Antoine Court de Gebelin from Geneva who told him about another copy of the Ezour-vedam brought back from Pondicherry by a Mr. Tessier (Rocher 1984:8). From this manuscript, Anquetil-Duperron made his own copy and noted that it had a chapter at the end that was missing in Voltaire's copy. In the margins of his copy, he made several remarks that are signs of frustration. He would have liked to see Vedic quotations; but instead of citing textual authority, Chumontou keeps appealing to reason. One of Anquetil-Duperron's comments reads:

This is how the Br[ahman] Chumontou proceeds. Later in this treatise he refutes the legends told by Biache, either because they are contrary to good sense, or because they are not found in the ancient books, and he provides a moralistic explanation for those that are based on facts which he agrees to. However, these legends are accepted throughout India (see Abrah. Roger), and Chumontou does no more than confront them with the doubts of a philosopher which cannot be held to represent the religion of India. To prove that they are, he ought to combat authority by authority. (Rocher 1984:8-9)


But soon afterward, in 1767, a sensational translation of an ancient Indian text arrived in France: Holwell's Shastah. It created quite a stir and was almost immediately publicized by Voltaire and published in French (1768). A major reason for the commotion was its introduction, which presented a four-stage genealogy of India's sacred literature, claimed that the "Vedam" was used only in southern India, and called it a late and degenerate source that was absolutely inferior both in age and quality to the Shastah presented and translated by Holwell (see Chapter 6). The matter bothered Anquetil-Duperron so much that he bought a second copy of the French edition of Holwell's book and sent it to Father Antoine MOZAC (1704-C.1784) in India asking for his opinion. In his parcel he also included the Royal Academy volume containing Abbe Mignot's five papers.

Anquetil-Duperron was full of big questions, but in his letter to Gaston Laurent COEURDOUX(1691-1779) that was included in the same package, he played down their scope: "I would like to ask you two small clarifications about matters that you surely know perfectly. The first is about the nature of the Paraparavastou, the supreme Being, the first cause in Indian theology; and the second concerns the nature, origin, and antiquity of the Vedams, or Vedes, Beids. We would be very interested in seeing what you have collected about this" (Anquetil-Duperron 1808:672). His letter to Fr. Mozac, who had studied Sanskrit and given Anquetil-Duperron advice about this while he was for many months at the mission hospital at Chandernagor, was more explicit. Since his stay at Chandernagor, he had never contacted Mozac again, but now, eleven years later, he was desperate: everything he thought he knew about the Vedas had been torpedoed by Holwell's stunning assertions.

Holwell had, in fact, been second in command at Cassimbazar, the very city where Mozac had studied Sanskrit and where Anquetil-Duperron had wanted to follow in Mozac's footsteps. There was this strange link between the fate of Holwell, who apparently had managed to learn from the Brahmins at Cassimbazar, Mozac who had studied Sanskrit there, and Anquetil-Duperron, who had wanted to do the same but ended up having to embrace what really was h is second choice, namely, the study of Zoroastrian texts. "It seems that his plan is to elevate the Indian religion above all other known religions," he wrote to Mozac about Holwell, "and if his work presents some exceptions in favor of Christianity, one sees well that they are only due to the author's profession of this religion" (p. 675). Anquetil-Duperron had carefully compared the French translation to the English original and noted some translation mistakes in the margins of the copy he sent to Father Mozac. He also sent a list of contradictions that he had noted: Holwell's claim that this religion is purely monotheistic, while the text contains numerous examples of polytheism; various problems in the relationship of God and the Trimurti; strange contradictions with regard to Holwell's angels; the list goes on (pp. 675-76). Anquetil-Duperron's most urgent questions, however, concerned the relationship between Holwell's Shastah and the Vedas:

The fourth point that strikes me as particular about M. Holwell is that he reports, based on the words of Brahmes, about the origin of the Vedam which he makes younger by 1,500 years than the Chartah Bhade Shastahs of Brahma. First of all, it seems to me that one should have written schastra and not schastah. In malabar schastiram, in telougou schastram signify science, doctrine; and under this name is comprised what is in the Vedam. Second, the author distinguishes the Bhades from the Vedam; yet I find nothing in the books at my disposal that authorizes this distinction. (p. 677)


Anquetil-Duperron had never heard that the Vedas are only used in the south and the Shastah in the north and wondered how this was compatible with the description of the Vedas by do Couto (p. 677). Another doubt he presented to Father Mozac concerned Holwell's angels. Noting that do Couto had also described the second class of higher intelligences as prisoners in bodies that are on earth for purification, he asked Mozac, "Are these ideas about metempsychosis taken from ancient books of the Indians? Is what the author says about the fall of the angels and the apparitions of good genies on earth really found in the text that he calls the Schartah Bhade of Bramah?" (p. 678).

Anquetil-Duperron also felt that Holwell's ideas about metempsychosis were contradicted by Indian animal sacrifices. To make sure that Father Mozac's reply would cover his major doubts, he added a summary at the end with the title "Questions to clarify":

1. About the first principle recognized by the Indians; about Bram, Birmah; the allegorical explanations, etc.

2. On the origin and the nature of the Vedes or Bhades or Vedams;

3. On the fall of the angels, the origin of metempsychosis, and the [origin of] the custom obliging women to burn themselves, etc.

4. About bloody sacrifices in use or not with the Indians; the Sanskrit dictionary mentions sacrificial horses. (p. 680)

These were indeed good questions, but Father Mozac never responded. While Anquetil-Duperron finished his Zend Avesta translation and prepared it for publication, two other works with translations of Indian texts came to his attention: Dow's History of Hindostan (1768) and the manuscript of Maridas Poulle's Bagavadam translation that he could borrow for two or three days in 1770 (Anquetil-Duperron 1787a:2.64).
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