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The Enlightenment and Orientalist Discourse on the Aryan, Excerpt from Aryans, Jews, Brahmins: Theorizing Authority through Myths of Identity
by Dorothy M. Figueira
State University of New York Press

CHAPTER 1: The Enlightenment and Orientalist Discourse on the Aryan


Orientalist and postcolonialist criticism has positioned the origin of much that it seeks to critique within the Enlightenment project. Edward Said identified the Enlightenment as a unified trajectory and master sign of both Orientalism and colonialism (Said 1978). Ashis Nandy traced the roots of colonialism’s mandate to absolutize the relative differences between cultures to the cultural arrogance of Enlightenment Europe. Partha Chatterjee problematized Enlightenment historiography (Chatterjee 1986). Peter van der Veer has blamed Enlightenment discourse for the erroneous politicization of Hinduism (Van der Veer 1998). Curiously, none of their arguments dwells on specifics—a common methodological flaw of critical schools which measure past texts against contemporary claims of emancipation or fantasies of dissent (Fluck 1996: 228). In these instances, critics assess the Enlightenment in light of the subsequent colonial experience. Their critical canon virtually ignores the fundamental texts of the period. Indeed, the Enlightenment has suffered much at the hands of poststructuralism’s vague and atextual treatment. There is clearly a need for a reappraisal of the Enlightenment with reference to its literature.

In satirical works of the eighteenth century, there appeared a general theme, barely hidden under the fiction and in the satire itself: Asia can and should offer lessons. The pittoresque Oriental tale provided an ideal medium through which authors could expose the vices of their own corrupt civil and religious institutions. The satirist’s task had been made that much easier, since travel accounts minutely described the religious and secular institutions of Asia and marked analogies to European systems of rule. Somewhat bemused, the voyagers drew comparisons between Christian and Asian mores. They noted in detail the various resemblances and their far-seeing readers were spurred on to draw further comparisons. In Diderot, Raynal, and Helvétius, for example, the strategy consisted of distancing readers from their normal surroundings in order to make them understand dangerous truths. Incessantly, Helvétius protested that his critique was aimed at the Orient and not at France, but the context of his discussion clearly pointed to misery found in a France stifling under the yoke of oppression.

In contradistinction to the voyagers’ descriptions, the Jesuits had formulated a portrait of an Asia noteworthy for its enlightened customs and institutions. They represented the Chinese as philosophers of subtle wisdom, a marvelously civilized people who were ruled by a paternal government. They obeyed pious and tolerant magistrates who governed with admirably just laws. These Jesuitical observations were, in turn, appropriated by the philosophes, who were not adverse to borrowing their teachers’ arguments to attack the Church. The Jesuitical emplotment of an enlightened Asia allowed the philosophes to question the principle of revealed religion.

For philosophers lost in the century of Louis XV, where visions of utopia collided daily with the contradictions of reality, the fiction of exotic “pure” religions proved captivating. Hindu or Confucian tolerance could be contrasted to the relentlessness of a Church suppressing liberty and to the sad spectacle of European religious disputes. One discovers, therefore, in the Enlightenment emplotment of the Orient, a subtle rhetorical strategy: Asia is portrayed as the victim of prejudice and superstition as well as the domain of reason and virtue. In its former role, it engendered political discussions and emphasized secularized history. In its latter use, the Enlightenment depiction of Asia helped define the disciplinary parameters of the history of religions. The comparisons of religious dogmas resulted in paradigms for practical analyses, most notably a form of biblical exegesis and a criticism of religious superstitions.

In this manner, Montesquieu’s Esprit des lois (1748) presented, for the first time in European literature, an examination of India with the purpose of illuminating universal history. Asia offered Montesquieu a vision of diversity which was unavailable in the classics or in European cultural attitudes. In an important respect, Montesquieu’s understanding of Asia contributed to the work’s originality. He showed that although nature was the same all over, climates differed and affected human behavior. Data culled from Asia enabled Montesquieu to develop this theory in book 17 of the Esprit des lois. Montesquieu’s provocative conclusions directly inspired Voltaire’s Essai sur les moeurs (1756–78). Voltaire adopted Montesquieu’s theory of climates, which in turn legitimized the objective comparison of different social institutions. Although Montesquieu and Voltaire herald the beginning of the scientific or philosophical reception of Asia, the didactic model still informed their work.


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. Voltaire found no difficulty in reconciling the sublimity of Indian religion with its modern superstitions: the Vedic Indian had simply been made soft by the climate (Voltaire 1963: 1.235–37). The climate’s effect was so pernicious that India’s conquerors even became weak under its influence (Voltaire 1885: 13.158). Thus, human frailty (Voltaire 1963: 2.325) and nature (Voltaire 1963: 1.61) conspired to render man idolatrous.

By disengaging a fictive Urform of Hinduism from all superstition and fanaticism, Voltaire effectively set up an ideal against which all other religions could be measured to their disadvantage. What religion could compete with that of the initial brahmins, who had established a government and religion based upon universal reason? When you have peaceful prelates, ruling an innately spiritual people, religion is simple and reasonable. More importantly, India was to supply Voltaire with information to combat the Church and its role in society. As a culture ignored by the Bible, India allowed Voltaire to question the accepted biblical chronology. Most significantly, however, Voltaire’s discussion of India enabled him to vent his spleen against the Jews. In other words, Voltaire’s emplotment of India concentrated on four problems: it allowed him to call into question the chronology of the sacred book, the chosen status of the Jews, the origin of the Judeo-Christian tradition, and the diffusion of our mythology, all of which challenged the historical importance of the Jewish people (Hawley 1974: 139–40).

Voltaire’s [H]anskrit Canon

One can almost forgive Voltaire his subjective portrayal of India, given the quality of the information culled from travel accounts, missionary letters, “scholarly” works, and “translations.” Although he sought out European accounts that he felt were exempt from sectarian prejudice, he was inexorably drawn to texts glaringly slanted by Protestant anti-Catholic rhetoric, as in the case of La Croze and Niecamp. He studied those Europeans who purported to know Sanskrit, yet knew none. He studied authors who, although they had spent sufficient time in India, were nevertheless woefully ignorant of the culture. Having literally read everything available concerning India, edited and unedited, Voltaire realized only too well the necessity of basing any future discussion of India upon an authentic Sanskrit text. He, therefore, set out to discover one. After having depended so long on secondary sources, he tended to ascribe authenticity to any Sanskrit text that fell into his hands. Time and again, he was deceived by his sources.

As the oldest theologians, Indians were the first people to possess books (Voltaire 1885: 26.325–6). One such book was the Shaster Bedang, a supposedly four-thousand-year-old exposition of the doctrine of the “Bedas” written by the philosopher Beass Muni. It was found in Alexander Dow’s History of Hindostan translated from the Persian to which are prefixed two dissertations concerning the Hindoos (1768, French translation in 1769).1 Voltaire believed that the Bedang taught Vedic monotheism. Voltaire was also familiar with another purportedly ancient and sacred book, the Shasta or Shastabad of Brahma. Voltaire maintained that the Shasta was five thousand years old, probably the oldest book in the world (Voltaire 1885: 15.326) and the source for subsequent law books (Voltaire 1885: 28.138).2 It possessed real wisdom and the pure original expression of Indian religion. The Shasta was actually a small “theological” treatise of recent date that had been transmitted to John Zephaniah Holwell, who included it in his Interesting historical events relative to the Provinces of Bengal and the Empire of Indostan (1765–71). However, Voltaire read its existence to prove that the brahmins had preceeded by several centuries the Chinese, whom Voltaire initially thought had preceeded the whole world in wisdom. The Shasta’s importance for Voltaire, therefore, was not so much that it was the oldest book but that its style prefigured, in his estimation, all wisdom, including that of Greece.3 The Shasta proved to Voltaire that the Indians were monotheists (Voltaire 1885: 29.167). More importantly, however, it showed that the Chinese and the West borrowed from India both their vision of God (Voltaire 1885: 29.210–11) and their myth of the Fall of Man (Voltaire 1885: 26.326; 28.138; 29.472–73).

Voltaire also discovered a manuscript, entitled the Cormo Vedam, that he described as a résumé of opinions and rites contained in the Veda (Voltaire 1885: 11.52). Voltaire did not believe the Cormo Vedam to be a text worthy of the modern brahmins. He judged it a ludicrous ritual “pile” of superstitions (Voltaire 1963: 1.242–43). Voltaire cited the Cormo Vedam primarily to show how the Veda and brahmins had degenerated. Traces of such decay were particularly prevalent in Voltaire’s primary document of Aryan religion, the Ezour Vedam. In Voltaire’s estimation, the Ezour Vedam was the most important Hanskrit [sic] text that he possessed.4 He claimed that its composition predated Alexander’s expedition to India (Voltaire 1885: 41.12, 367, 464; 45.448). Voltaire received the manuscript of the Ezour Vedam from the Comte de Maudave (1725–77) who had brought it to France. The count was purportedly a close friend of a francophone brahmin (Voltaire 1885: 45.170; 46.117) who had tried to translate the manuscript from Sanskrit into French (Voltaire 1885: 47.72). Voltaire alternately defined the Ezour Vedam as the beginning of the Veda (Voltaire 1885: 26.325–26) or “a copy of the four vedams” (Voltaire 1885: 26.392). In La Défense de mon oncle, he characterized it as “the true vedam, the vedam explained, the pure vedam.” By 1761, however, he described it as merely a commentary of the Veda.

In reality, it did not matter to Voltaire that this text was not really the Veda; what mattered was that it satisfied the idea of a Veda which, for Voltaire, represented an exemplum of sublimity and the scripture of the world’s oldest religion. The Ezour Vedam became such a text: it was the authentic text par excellance (Voltaire 1885: 41.464), the real Urtext, anterior to Pythagorus and anterior to the Shasta (Voltaire 1885: 19.58).5 Not only did Voltaire value it but, at the Bibliothèque du Roi where he had deposited a copy (Voltaire 1885: 47.72), he claimed that it was regarded as the most precious acquisition of the collection (Voltaire 1885: 45.464). This “Veda” announced a pure cult, disengaged from all superstition and all fanaticism (Voltaire 1963: 1.236). Written by the first brahmins, who also served as kings and pontiffs, it established a religion based upon universal reason.

More importantly, the Ezour Vedam provided Voltaire with the ideal text with which to challenge the historical perspective of Judeo-Christianity. Voltaire read the Ezour Vedam to show how the vaunted aspects of the Judeo-Christian tradition existed in India centuries before the Old Testament. The general thrust of this argument was to displace the Jews from a favored position in the Christian tradition. Vedic India represented a more distant antiquity than that of the Jews (Voltaire 1885: 17.55–56). Or, as Voltaire allowed his Indian narrator to articulate his message:

We are a great people who settled around the Indus and the Ganges several centuries before the Hebraic horde transported itself to the banks of the Jordan. The Egyptians, Persians and Arabs came to our country in search of wisdom and spices, when the Jews were unknown to the rest of mankind. We could not have taken our Adimo from their Adam. (Voltaire 1885: 17.55)6

The Ezour Vedam harkens back to a time before brahmins and their cult had degenerated. The religion existing in modern India had obscured sage Vedic theology, marketed superstition, and profited modern brahmins (Voltaire 1963: 2.405–6). The Ezour Vedam, however, combated the growth of idolatry and the very superstitions that eventually destroyed Aryan religion (Voltaire 1885: 26.392). For his part, Voltaire hoped to prove how all the principles of Christian theology that had been lost with the Veda could still be found in the Ezour Vedam (Voltaire 1963: 1.240–42), thanks to its retrieval and circulation by a French philosophe.

The Ezour Vedam

Max Müller characterized the Ezour Vedam as a “very coarse forgery” (Müller 1978: 5).7It consisted of a poor compilation of Hindu and Christian doctrines mixed up together in the most childish way. While Müller believed that it was probably the work of a “half educated native convert at Pondicherry” (Müller, 1891: 39) and the silliest book that could be read by a student of religion, he did not believe that the original author intended it for the purpose for which it was used by Voltaire (Müller, 1872: 20).

In La Renaissance orientale, Raymond Schwab characterized the Ezour Vedam as an insidious piece of propaganda consisting of certain “Vedic” materials translated by Jesuits with the intention of isolating elements most in harmony with Christianity (Schwab 1950: 166–68). With this fraud, Schwab maintained, the Jesuits sought to refute idolatry and polytheism in the name of the purer doctrine of the Vedas, and, ultimately, to convert Indians. As the Indologist Willem Caland noted, the fraud was clever: The Ezour Vedam did not reject all Hinduism, but granted those tenets not in contradiction with Christiam dogma. Its author tried to make readers think that the Vedam differed entirely from what they might have believed it to be (Rocher 1983: 24).

The editor of the Ezour Vedam, the Baron de Sainte Croix, did not present it as one of the four Vedas (Ezour Vedam 1778: 116),8 but offered it as the first original Sanskrit text published on religious and philosophical dogma. He did believe, however, that the Ezour Vedam’s scriptural citations were authentic.9 This point was important, since the editor also maintained that the four Vedas were lost (Ezour Vedam 1778:130). Sainte Croix felt that, given the mendacity of the brahmins and the large fees offered by the West for the Veda’s retrieval, the texts would have long since fallen into missionary hands had they still existed (Ezour Vedam 1778: 109–10).

It was upon its arrival in Europe that the confusion concerning the Ezour Vedam’s identity occurred. Ludo Rocher has suggested that error arose due to the work’s title. The Ezour Vedam’s reference to itself as a “veda” should have been understood in a generic sense, as the term “veda” is used in India by both missionaries and Indians alike. In fact, Rocher suggests that the Ezour Vedam did not pretend to be one of the four Vedas, but rather a “veda” in the general sense of the term, a holy book or, as the text defined itself, a “corps de science” (Ezour Vedam 1778: 203). It made no attempt to rank itself among the Vedas. In fact, the text clearly presents itself as a commentary. 10 By resolving the samdhi11 of the Ezour Vedam’s original title (Zozur Bedo), Rocher translated the title as the “Gospel of Jesus.” It seems likely that the Ezour Vedam was, indeed, a syncretistic pastiche compiled in the hopes of converting Hindus to an amenable Christianity. What the Ezour Vedam actually was is less significant than the use to which it and the mythic Aryan society it described were put during the Enlightenment. The Veda (in the form of the Ezour Vedam) allowed Voltaire and Sainte Croix to draw a distinction between what was Vedic and post-Vedic, the latter being a degenerated form of the former. Just as scripture had degenerated, so too had its interpreters.

A considerable portion of this early discourse surrounding the “Veda” consisted in mourning the loss of a rational religion that had suffered corruption (Voltaire 1963: 1.238) and blaming the brahmin elite, who neither instructed their people properly nor desired knowledge themselves (Voltaire 1963: 1.243–44). In this diatribe, Voltaire always presented the brahmin clergy as mendacious and generally corrupt (Voltaire 1963: 1.61).12 Voltaire blamed the brahmin priests for having led the Aryans astray, just as he blamed the Jesuits for the state of French Catholicism. In both instances, priestly machinations had entrapped the faithful in the snares of superstition and intolerance. Aryan India mirrored the Human (that is, French) Condition: Rational religion had degenerated into superstitions and abominable cultic practices. The prime actors in both instances were the priests. Brahmins offered Voltaire a most pregnant symbol: Where in the world could he have directed his anticlerical polemics so successfully? The brahmin priests allowed him to “écraser l’infâme” and, for once, the objects of his critique were not Catholic, Jesuits, or French.

The polemic directed against the brahmin clergy was seen inscribed within the narrative structure of the Ezour Vedam itself rather than as an intentional product of it. Biache, the caricature of a degenerate brahmin, preaches superstition in the form of popular theology to the philosopher Chumontou. By challenging Biache with refutations culled from the “Veda,” Chumontou imparts “pure” Aryan wisdom concerning the unity of God, creation, the nature of the soul, and the doctrines of suffering and reward. By enumerating the proper forms of worship (Ezour Vedam 1778: 150), the text itself is seen to exhibit the extent to which original Aryan theism had degenerated into Hindu polytheism (Ezour Vedam 1778: 13). With a brahmin priest spouting foolish superstition ably refuted by a philosopher championing reason, the Ezour Vedam was tailor-made to voice Voltaire’s critique of organized religion and faith in rationalism. But, Voltaire’s exoticism did not limit itself to a simple Deist idealization of the Aryan past. India was to provide Voltaire with a forceful weapon for a more significant battle in historical revisionism.

India, What Can It Teach Us?

This question, adopted by Max Müller as the title of a collection of essays, addresses a fundamental concern of this study, namely, that a fictive India and fictional Aryan ancestors were constructed in the West to provide answers for questions regarding European identity. India enabled Europe to discover its “true” past. Nowhere is this more true than in Voltaire’s attempt to rewrite the history of religions. It was in his efforts to compare world mythologies, especially the myth of the Fall of Man, that Voltaire’s true need to construct an Indian alibi (Latin: elsewhere) surfaced.

Voltaire compared the “Indian” version of the Fall with the classical myth relating the revolt of the Titans and the apocryphal account of Lucifer’s rebellion found in the Book of Enoch (Voltaire 1885: 18.34). The common use of this myth in three traditions suggested to Voltaire that the Greeks and the Jews had knowledge of brahmin mysteries. Voltaire placed additional significance on this myth, attributing all subsequent religious thought to it. It provided the foundation for the entire Christian religion (Voltaire 1885: 11.184), since it set the stage for Original Sin, which in turn set the stage for everything that followed. Voltaire also claimed that the Aryans originated the concept of the Devil, who, as the agent of sin, animated all Judeo- Christian theology (Voltaire 1885: 29.482). If this was indeed true, why, Voltaire asked, did Christianity bother to use a source as tenuous as a Jewish apocryphal book to explain the existence of evil (Voltaire 1885: 29.172–73)? Why did Christianity seek to base itself solely on a myth that did not even appear in the Old Testament (Voltaire 1885: 28.139)?

Voltaire posed these questions with a clear response in mind. By inserting this fundamental myth into an apocryphal book, the Jews contrived to claim authorship and displace the true founders of our faith. It was the Aryans, the Vedic brahmins, who had first developed these truths. The Jews subsequently repeated this mythology, after stealing it from its ancient Indian source. Just as the Jews stole the source of religions, so too did they steal the idea of Adam as the progenitor.

Did they get this from the Jews? Did the Jews copy the Indians, were both original? The Jews are not allowed to think that their writers took (ont puisé) anything from the brahmins, of whom they have never heard. It is not permitted to think about Adam in another way than do the Jews. I will be quiet and I will not think. (Voltaire 1885: 19.59)

Such is Voltaire’s polemic: The Jews stole what was of worth in their religion from the Aryans, people whom they called Gog and Magog (Voltaire 1885: 29.471). They then conspired to keep their fraud a secret. We, as Christians, have not dared to reveal this fraud, as our own beliefs are implicated (Voltaire 1885: 29.481). We have to believe the Jews, although we detest them, because they are regarded as our precursors and masters (Voltaire 1885: 11.47).

Ironically, Voltaire’s strategy to reveal this fraud involved those very individuals who, had the Jews not been his scapegoats, would have been his natural enemies—the Jesuits. Voltaire felt that the Jesuits alone were capable of proving whether “the vast Indies or a part of Palestine” comprises the most ancient society. They alone possessed the scholarly means to determine whether brahmins had plagarized the Pentateuch or the Jews had appropriated the wisdom of the Aryans (Voltaire 1885: 29.184).

The Veda was never more than a symbolic text for Voltaire. Nevertheless, it supplied him with an effective tool to launch a considerable attack: it combated idolatry, introduced Adam to the world, and provided an alternative scenario for the Fall of Man. In short, the Veda provided “all the principles of theology” (Voltaire 1885: 11.192) that Voltaire needed or desired: baptism, the immortality of the soul, metempsychosis, the identification of Abraham with Brahm (sic), and of Adam and Eve with Adimo and Procriti. The description of the revolt of the angels found in Holwell’s Shasta prefigured the biblical account of Lucifer’s fall.

The political repercussions of this reconstruction of Aryan religion were signficant. We have seen how the Ezour Vedam’s creation myth enabled Voltaire to attack the originality of the Hebrews and their religion. It allowed him to claim the anteriority of the Indians and, in doing so, effectively challenge the authority of the Bible. India provided another basis for religion unencumbered by the Judaic tradition. Indian “scripture” also allowed Voltaire to make the argument that the Jews were the great plagiarists of history:

Some very intelligent thinkers say that the brahmin sect is incontestably older that that of the Jews . . . they say that the Indians were always inventors and the Jews always imitators, the Indians always clever and the Jews always coarse. (Cited in Hawley 1974: 151)

In sections appended at a later date (1769) to the Essai sur les moeurs, Voltaire accuses the Jews of stealing from the Indians both the myths of Creation and the Fall. The Jews did not set the stage for Christianity; rather it was the Aryans who bequethed to us a religion based on universal reason that the Jews subsequently distorted. In a late letter to Frederick the Great (December 1775), Voltaire reiterated that Christianity was founded solely on the ancient religion of “Brama” [sic].

Voltaire’s reading of the “Veda” is, indeed, as ironic as it is inventive. He was able to imbue a clever piece of propaganda (or a clumsy attempt at ecumenicism) with characteristics that suited his polemical needs. Vedic India became a privileged site of Deist rationalism. He enlisted the Aryans in an attack on the pretensions of the Catholic Church and invoked their originality in order to displace the Jews from their privileged position in history. Less spectacular yet not less noteworthy is the simple fact that hidden behind Voltaire’s polemic lie the seeds of modern historiography, the study of comparative mythology, and the history of religions. It was with such faulty source material and prejudice that Voltaire initiated the comparative study of religion by comparing our myths to those of the Aryans.


Herder: Poetry versus Metaphysics

Kant proclaimed that the modern state resulted from man’s progressive development. How was one to reconcile this theory with the perception that many “primitive” peoples were happier and better off than inhabitants of the civilized world? In accordance with popular Enlightenment propaganda, one could render these “primitives” more sophisticated than the modern Western man. Thus, Kant could declare that Indian religious thought was free of dogmatism and intolerance: “It is a principle of the Indians (i.e. the Hindus), that every nation has its own religion. For this reason, they do not force anyone to accept theirs” (cited in Halbfass 1988:61).

We have seen how in the French Enlightenment discourse, India provided an alibi: by satisfying, through spacial displacement, the need for a new social and religious geography. Moreover, Indian religion also illustrated how “natural light” had been eclipsed through superstition, fanaticism, and idolatry. As Wilhelm Halbfass has noted, this theme of the suppression of natural light through superstition enjoyed great popularity among thinkers of the Enlightenment. Finally, the discourse on India also gives expression to the motif of religious decay (Halbfass 1988: 60–61). It was in the writings of Johann Gottfried von Herder that this strategy, linking self-reflection to anexotic, was first used to indulge politically charged fantasies of structural collapse and decay.

The philosophes and their followers believed in the unity of mankind and held that all men subsisted under the same natural law of right and reason. They supposed that all would participate alike in progress and that the outcome of history would be one of uniform civilization in which all peoples and races would share equally. As Herder maintained in the Ideen, man has the potential of ascending to the ideal of infinite perfection even without the benefits of Western culture. The study of peoples such as Indians (Herder 1877–1913: 4.357, 425; 5.214; 8.208; 11.247; 16.13) contributed to the development of Humanität, defined by Herder as the sum of the virtue and talents peculiar to human beings or the divine in man (Herder 1877–1913: 13.350; 14.230). However, the Enlightenment’s belief in the potential similarity of all human beings and in freedom from intolerance and ignorance would not be so easily realized. Herder’s discussions of India brings to the foreground this very dilemma.

Contrary to the account found in Genesis, Voltaire had placed the origin of mankind in the East on the banks of the Ganges. Herder followed Voltaire in that he too discovered the cradle of humanity in India (Herder 1877–1913: 13.38, 399, 403, 406).13 Since all men were descended from the same race (Herder 1877-1913: 5.447; 13.252, 405), Herder attributed the development of different cultures and languages to environmental forces (Herder 1877–1913: 5.539). Language, the purest expression of the spiritual character of a national group (Herder 1877–1913: 17.58–59), like man himself, descended from a unique source (Herder 1877–1913: 30.8). By positioning the childhood of humanity in India, Herder referred not only to the ancestors of Europeans, but also to progenitors of all humankind.

In the Ideen, Herder described India as the birthplace of all languages, sciences, and art (Herder 1877–1913: 13.411). He characterized the Hindus as the gentlest race of man (Herder 1877–1913: 13.222, 225–26). The Indian has respect for all sentient beings. His nourishment is sound and his demeanor as graceful as his spirit (Herder 1877-1913: 13.222). Indians are endowed with supernatural physical and spiritual qualities (Herder 1877–1913: 14.32, 73–74). No people exceeds the Indian in calmness and gentle obedience. Herder attributed the Indians’ tranquility to the climate as well as their innate character (Herder 1877–1913: 14.28). Their gestures and speech are unconstrainedly charming, their intercourse free, their bodies pure, and their mode of life simple and harmless. Children are brought up with indulgence and are not lacking in sensitivity, knowledge, or diligence. Even the lowest strata of society learn to read, write, and add (Herder 1877–1913: 14.28–29). Their vision of God is great and beautiful.

However, Herder did not give India the least importance in the comparative history of primitive revelation. It was as though Indian religion, since the supposed loss of the Rig Veda, had been cut off from primitive revelation and reduced to human speculation. Indian religion was interesting in and of itself, but inappropriate to illuminate the authenticity of pure Christianity or Judaism, which, after all, were the objects of legitimate exegesis. Herder found much to respect about India. Like his friend Goethe, he admired the graceful simplicity of Kalidasa’s Sakuntala. He even felt that it must be more valuable than all “the Vedas, Upavedas and Upangas” put together. Its poetry, undistorted by tendentious religious speculation, provided greater beauty and truth than was thought possible in Sanskrit literature. Herder judged the Vedas, “Upavedas” and “Upangas,” although absent to his gaze, as interminable, less useful, and far less agreeable than the poetry of Kalidasa. He even surmised that it was the Veda that had blunted the spirit and character of the Indian people. Compared to the poetry, all those “Upnekats” and “Bagavedams” must have presented faint notions of the Indian mentality (Herder 1786–92: 91).

In Herder’s mind, India and the primitive world, the primitive world and nature, nature and poetry become synonymous and interchangeable. He joined the eighteenth-century belief in the anteriority of poetry to his own variation of the bon sauvage theme and posited an equivalence of India and poetry (Herder 1877–1913: 5.50; 1.32). The compiler of the Stimmen der Völker in Liedern also encouraged Germans to seek new inspirational models and question the absolute value of Greek classical norms. The philosophes and their German disciples believed that reality and, by extension, the arts were ordered in terms of universal, timeless, objective, and unalterable laws which rational investigation could discover. Their detractors believed that logic was incompatible with the force of inspiration necessary for poetic creation. Herder sought a middle ground between these diametrically opposed alternatives. He rejected the particular concept of reason propounded by Enlightenment rationalism and endeavored, rather, to interpret rationality in such a way that it was not inimical to spontaneity and vitality.

The Fragmente, Über die neuere deutsche Literatur, and Abhandlung über den Ursprung der Sprache reveal Herder’s struggle with the possibility of discovering a native German literature. The movement of German authors to found a German national literature developed along two distinct lines: the first consisting of a need to establish a clear criterion for assessing a work’s national characteristics, the second, to create a literature unique in itself. As a corollary, this movement stimulated speculation on the nature of artistic inspiration in general. To proclaim the poetic origin of language, to situate the land of poetry in India, to present popular songs against the classics, to underline the sacred character of inspiration—in other words, to found a Weltliteratur—already entailed the assertion of the artistic equivalence between the Nibelungenlied and the Vedas (Gérard 1963: 65).

With man’s origin in India, it followed that Sanskrit poetry should provide the source from which all poetry descended. Sanskrit poetry thus played a pivotal role in Herder’s thought. Its beauty and sublimity provided an excellent argument in favor of Herder’s humanistic aesthetic. The study of songs, fables, and myths of nationalities such as that of India (Herder 1877–1913: 16.13; 4.357; 5.214; 8.208; 11.247) contributed to the development of one’s national culture, which, in turn, contributed to the development of humanity (Herder 1877–1913: 13.356; 14.230).

Due to the West’s necessarily incomplete knowledge of Sanskrit literature, Herder could cut it to measure out of the poetic presuppositions of an unpoetic age. As a result of Herder’s theories and instigations, Sanskrit poetry became required reading for anyone who desired to experience “real” poetry. In Herder’s thought, the ´´ Sakuntala possessed everything the absent Veda lacked. In fact, for Herder, Kalidasa’s nataka assumed a significance which subsequent writers attributed to the Veda in their depiction of an Aryan humanity. Herder chose to emphasize the Sakuntalafor two reasons. Kalidasa’s play existed and could be read in support of Romantic claims which found their germ in Herder’s writings. The Veda did not exist. But, even as an absent text, it was never absent as a counterpoint to Sanskrit poetry and was a negative authority in his discourse to be rejected because of its degeneracy and superstitious beliefs.

According to Herder, Aryan religion was destroyed long ago by Vaisnavite and Shivaite sectarians. Its legends came down to us only in the form of more recent interpretations. While some residue of the initial purity of primitive Aryan religion remains in these legends, they have been grossly distorted by myth. While quasi-biblical and quasi-Christian, Indian religion suffered from a particular evil, metempsychosis, that destroyed Aryan spirituality and morality, leaving Hindu quietism, indifference, and social disaster in its wake. Herder suspected what modern Indologists can prove from the Rig Veda—that the Aryans did not believe in metempsychosis. Herder believed that metempsychosis betokened the regression of Aryan spirituality from contact with aboriginal tribes given to totemism (Herder 1877–1913: 16.78). For Herder, metempsychosis signified the illusion of sensual men who envied the fate of animals. Populations that are more evolved and happier invent a locus where their terrestrial life can be prolonged in idealized form. The Aryans had done this. But the later Indians had degenerated. Their belief in metempsychosis encouraged compassion for plants and animals, rather than for people (Herder 1877–1913: 14.31).

In actuality, Herder distinguished three Indias: the primitive kingdom of poetry and natural religion provided by the presence of the Sakuntala, the mystico-metaphysical worldview represented by the Aryans of the absent Veda, and the degenerate present. For Herder’s subjective reasoning, the first alone was of interest, the second inaccessable, and the third a monstrous product of the human spirit. All three Indias—the locus of true poetry, the lost Aryan hierophany, and the degenerate present—would, however, reappear in subsequent discussions. It would be the task of the Romantic mythographers to incorporate these fictive Indias within an interpretation of the Semitic-Christian religious cycle. India was still too distant, however, in Herder’s time.

Nevertheless, many of the Romantic theses regarding India begin to coalesce in Herder. Already, in Voltaire, we saw the Aryans inhabiting a golden age and their religion offering a tradition older than the Bible. Aryan India saw primitive revelation degenerate under the influence of a corrupt priesthood and monotheism reduced to polytheism. Upon this script, Herder and the Romantics projected their own aesthetic need: the desire to discover a true national poetry. Once the Veda appeared on the literary scene, Herder’s notions concerning the poetic origin of language and poetry as a spontaneous expression of the folk spirit and Sanskrit poetry as natural national poetry would be applied to it. Herder’s depiction of India as an ancient poetic utopia and modern site of cultural decay would also reappear in subsequent discussions.

Jones and Colebrooke: Myth versus Text

Sir William Jones was Europe’s foremost Orientalist scholar. He mastered twenty-eight languages, translated the Sakuntala and the Manava Dharmashastra (Laws of Manu), and served in India as a judge. Nevertheless, he depicted the ancient Aryan in terms not dissimilar to those of the nonspecialists of his time. The Aryans were a superior people. All that was considered valuable in the Ancients found an initial expression among the Aryans. They possessed a highly evolved moral wisdom and a fertile imaginative genius (Jones 1788: 728-29). They originated the study of astronomy (Jones 1788: 430) and developed metaphysical theories that the Greeks later appropriated (Jones 1788: 425). The Aryans also supplied the Ancients with their gods (Jones 1788: 724). They were somewhat related to the great cultures of mankind, including our own. Aryan society was so magnificent that, even after so many revolutions and conquests, they still surpassed the world in wealth. However, Aryan culture degenerated and only vestiges of its former glory appear in modern India.

Today they appear degenerate and abased . . . in some early age, they were splendid in arts and arms, happy in government, wise in legislation, and eminent in various knowledges. (Jones 1788: 421) Before the Aryans disappeared, however, they left a textual trace of their genius behind in the Veda and its “compendium, the Upanishads.” According to Jones, these texts provided source material for information regarding the Aryans and their noble metaphysics (Jones 1788: 429). To this script, Jones added several key points that would provide valuable information for an ideological portrait of ancient India that subsequent thinkers in India and the West would exploit.

Jones is credited with the discovery of the affinity between Sanskrit and the Classical, Persian, Celtic, and Gothic languages. His speculation regarding the importance of Sanskrit not only initiated the scientific study of India, but proved revolutionary to the then barely nascent study of linguistics. For, in addition to noting the similarity between Sanskrit and the classical languages, Jones informed his readers that Sanskrit was “more perfect” than Greek, more copious than Latin and, more exquisitely refined than either (Jones 1788: 422). If Sanskrit so far surpassed those languages previously held as the highest forms of expression, then the Indians who spoke it were truly a race to be admired. We have seen how others had made similar assertions. Jones, however, was the first to be able to back his claim with “scientific” data. The belief in a linguistic affinity of the Aryans with Persians, Ethiopians, Egyptians, Phoenicians, Greeks, Tuscans, Goths, Celts, Chinese, Japanese, and Peruvians implied that these peoples all proceeded from some central site of origin (Jones 1788: 431). That they all possessed languages structurally similar to our own became politically significant. Scholarship could now be enlisted in the service of empire. By rediscovering India’s Aryan past, England could subsequently presume that it was helping India help itself. This motive, explicit in Jones’s translation efforts (Figueira 1991: 25), also informed the portrayal of the Aryan in the scholarship of Henry Thomas Colebrooke (Müller 1837: 1.2). Colebrooke’s assessment of the Vedic materials was, however, more directly instrumental in defining the British colonial mission.

Jones, along with other scholars (Halhed, Marine, and Chambers) had collected numerous Vedic fragments and deposited them in the library of the College of Fort William in Calcutta (Kopf 1969:40). In 1800, Colebrooke was assigned by Governor-General Wellesley to teach Sanskrit at Fort William. During his tenure there, he found an ideal opportunity to collate the Vedic fragments residing in the college library. In the Asiatick Researches of 1805, Colebrooke offered an approximate idea of the contents of the Veda (Colebrooke 1805: 377–497). His readings of this material offered Westerners for the first time the textual evidence to chart the decline of Indian civilization from Vedic to modern times (Müller 1837: 1.3).

Colebrooke had initially doubted whether the Vedas were extant or whether their obsolete dialect could be read by anyone.14 He had thought that even if brahmins possessed the Veda, they would not have shared them. Although the Upanishads had already been translated into Persian, the brahmins still jealously guarded their scripture (Colebrooke 1805: 377). Colonel Polier’s discovery of a purportedly complete copy dispelled Colebrooke’s doubts. The Veda did, in fact, exist and it became Colebrooke’s task to introduce it in general terms to the West.15

The bulk of Colebrooke’s article, however, dealt with proving the authenticity of his manuscripts. Although the Veda’s date and authorship could not be determined “with accuracy and confidence” (Colebrooke 1805: 489), Colebrooke confirmed its authenticity by cross-referencing it to other works. He also compared fragments of numerous commentaries whose authenticity had been secured by interpretations of their annotations in other works.16 He further verified Vedic quotations with the testimony of grammars, collections of aphorisms, law digests, astronomy, medical texts, profane poetry, and even the writings of heretical sects (Colebrooke 1805: 481–84). This corroboration offered sufficient grounds to prove that no forger’s skill was equal to the task of fabricating large works in all branches of Sanskrit literature to agree with the numerous citations pervading thousands of volumes in every branch of that literature (Colebrooke 1805: 484). The “superstitious” manner in which the Veda was read, its explanatory table of contents, and indices as well as glosses of every passage and every word made interpolations impracticable (Colebrooke 1805: 480). Colebrooke assured his readers that the Veda, as he presented it, not only was genuine but had survived in an unadulterated form. After authenticating the texts in question, however, Colebrooke showed little interest in analyzing their message or the civilization out of which they arose.

He did, however, corroborate Jones’s more significant assertions. Colebrooke read the Veda as a negative authority. It did not so much relate what the Aryans were like as what they were not like: modern Hindus. All the abuses of modern Hinduism were absent from Vedic religion. There were no blood sacrifices (Colebrooke 1805: 437–78). The numerous gods of modern cultic practice could be reduced to the three major Vedic deities and these were ultimately manifestations of one supreme god (Colebrooke 1805: 395). Just as Aryan religious rituals differed dramatically from those of modern India, so did its social practices (Colebrooke 1795: 209–19; Colebrooke 1798: 33-67).

Colebrooke’s thesis, while evidently more informed and expert than that of the nonspecialist commentary, was remarkably similar to the Enlightenment discourse on the Aryans. It emphasized an ideal Vedic age whose religion had degenerated through superstition and clerical abuse. The monotheistic religion that Colebrooke discovered in the Vedas was no longer in use and had been superseded by polytheism and decadent ceremonies, founded on the Puranas or, even worse, the Tantras. Bloody sacrifices to Kalı had taken the place of the less sanguinary yajña, just as adoration of Krishna and Rama had succeeded the worship of elements and plants (Colebrooke 1805: 495-96). As Colebrooke would note in his essay “On the Religious Ceremonies of the Hindus,” modern Hinduism functioned as a misunderstanding of ancient texts (Colebrooke 1802: 229–31). Rituals such as satı were not part of the authentic scriptural tradition (Colebrooke 1785: 109–19). Colebrooke also found discrepancies between the ancient texts and contemporary practice with reference to caste exclusionary practices. David Kopf has characterized the Jones-Colebrooke depiction of the Aryans in the following terms: they “were thought to have been outgoing and non-mystical. They were pictured as a robust, beef-eating, socially egalitarian society” (Kopf 1969: 41). These Aryans believed in one God, did not practice satı or idolatry, and did not adhere to caste regulations. They were in no way similar to modern Hindus.

Despite the length of Colebrooke’s article, his specific conclusions were scant and uninspiring. He limited his discussion to providing a soupçon of the Vedas, citing passages to show the “seeming absurdity” of the text under analysis (Colebrooke 1805: 434). They were too voluminous for a complete translation, their language was obscure, and they presented too little reward to the reader and the translator.17 Colebrooke concluded that the Vedas deserved to be consulted occasionally by the Oriental scholar for those few remarkable and important things found in them, however difficult it was to extract such pearls. On this negative note, Colebrooke concluded his 120- page analysis introducing the Veda to Europe. His article had the effect of dampening interest in the Vedas and discouraging scholars from delving deeper into them for profitable information. However, Colebrooke’s analysis had a significant political effect upon the colonial administration’s assessment of the worth of Sanskrit literature and modern Hindu religion, as Thomas B. Macauley’s oft-cited Minute will attest. It took another half-century to amend Colebrooke’s dismissive judgment and shift the focus of scholarly interest away from the classical period of Sanskrit literature back to the Urtext.18


The discourse on the Aryan during this period, culled from fraudulent or largely absent textual material, expressed concerns that were crucial to the Enlightenment vision of historical progress and knowing subjects acting within history. The Veda’s discovery, “scientific” analysis, and presence in the West as a text would not significantly alter the nonspecialist portrait of the Aryan. In fact, Orientalist scholarship is seen to have provided the documentation necessary to support the Enlightenment conceptual apparatus. Such validation may, indeed, explain critical interpretations of the Enlightenment’s influence on Orientalism and colonialism. As we have noted, postcolonial critiques of the Enlightenment tend to avoid actually engaging Enlightenment texts. This failure should not be attributed to critical laziness, the theorists’ restrictive canon, or the fact that Foucault has exhausted the possibilities of interpreting the Enlightenment. By evoking the Enlightenment without allowing its literature to inform any analysis and projecting onto Enlightenment anthropology the discursive source of colonialism without engaging texts, critics can neatly avoid having to confront what the literature reveals: the Enlightenment’s ambiguous representation of the Other. Poststructuralism’s limited canon normally protects certain ideological presuppositions, the first and foremost of which is Deconstruction’s critique of Western rationalism. Actual engagement with Enlightenment texts might very well call such presuppositions into question. Therefore, postcolonial theory, spawned as it is from Deconstruction’s confrontation with logocentrism, must present the Enlightenment as a unified trajectory. It must be seen as a period that uniformly absolutized differences. The Enlightenment must be made to fit the master narrative of Orientalism and colonial discourse analysis.

Moreover, any actual confrontation with Enlightenment literature would highlight the extent to which poststructural criticism embraces its presentism, equates politics with oppositionalism and power with rationalism. If poststructuralist theory’s universalization of power defines itself as a systemic limitation to individual choice (Fluck 1996: 227), then postcolonial criticism has a vested interest in dismissing the Enlightenment. If a key concern of this criticism involves the rejection of ideals that were fundamental to the Enlightenment project, then the Enlightenment as the perpetrator of rationalism, empiricism, and historicism must be suspect. The Enlightenment belief in the idea of historical agents and/or knowing subjects must also be ignored, since the edifice of poststructuralist criticism has been erected upon the impossibility of self-reflection and intersubjective validation (Fluck 1990: 17). Thus, criticism’s own agenda must be projected onto texts from the past. A valuable lesson can be learned from this critical reading of the Enlightenment. As readers, we should look beyond critical gestures of empowerment and assess the larger politics of identity that not only informed historical and literary analysis, but continue to be played out with Indian props.
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Jacob Ilive [John Ilive]
by Wikipedia
Accessed: 10/31/20

Jacob Ilive (1705 – 1763) was an English type-founder, printer and author. He was a religious radical, who developed neognostic views based on deism.[1] He spent time in prison, convicted of blasphemy.


He was the son of Thomas Ilive (died 1724), a London printer of Aldersgate Street, and his wife Jane James (1669–daughter of Thomas James, another printer. Two brothers, Abraham and Isaac, were also printers. He was apprenticed to his father, and freed from the bond in 1726, by his mother.[2][3]

Around 1730, Ilive carried on both a type foundry and a printing business. In 1734 he lived by Aldersgate coffee house. From January 1736 to 1738 he published a rival to Edward Cave's Gentleman's Magazine.

The Gentleman's Magazine was a monthly magazine founded in London, England, by Edward Cave in January 1731. It ran uninterrupted for almost 200 years, until 1922. It was the first to use the term magazine (from the French magazine, meaning "storehouse") for a periodical. Samuel Johnson's first regular employment as a writer was with The Gentleman's Magazine.

The original complete title was The Gentleman's Magazine: or, Trader's monthly intelligencer. Cave's innovation was to create a monthly digest of news and commentary on any topic the educated public might be interested in, from commodity prices to Latin poetry. It carried original content from a stable of regular contributors, as well as extensive quotations and extracts from other periodicals and books. Cave, who edited The Gentleman's Magazine under the pen name "Sylvanus Urban", was the first to use the term magazine (meaning "storehouse") for a periodical. Contributions to the magazine frequently took the form of letters, addressed to "Mr. Urban". The iconic illustration of St. John's Gate on the front of each issue (occasionally updated over the years) depicted Cave's home, in effect, the magazine's "office"...

Samuel Johnson's first regular employment as a writer was with The Gentleman's Magazine. During a time when parliamentary reporting was banned, Johnson regularly contributed parliamentary reports as "Debates of the Senate of Magna Lilliputia". Though they reflected the positions of the participants, the words of the debates were mostly Johnson's own. The name "Columbia", a poetic name for America coined by Johnson, first appears in a 1738 weekly publication of the debates of the British Parliament in the magazine.

A skilled businessman, Edward Cave developed an extensive distribution system for The Gentleman's Magazine. It was read throughout the English-speaking world and continued to flourish through the 18th century and much of the 19th century under a series of different editors and publishers. It went into decline towards the end of the 19th century and finally ceased general publication in September 1907...

In addition to an index for each year of The Gentleman's Magazine, which was usually published with the December issue of the magazine, a full index was compiled by the College of Arms and typed by the Genealogical Society of Utah.

-- The Gentleman's Magazine, by Wikipedia

He sold the foundry in 1740, but kept the printing side going for the rest of his life. He went to live in "London House", the former residence of Christopher Rawlinson.[2]

Ilive died in 1763, aged 58. The printer John Nichols considered him "somewhat disordered in his mind".[2]

Views and gaol sentence

Ilive delivered at Brewers' Hall on 10 September 1733, and at Joiners' Hall two weeks later, an Oration on the plurality of worlds and against the doctrine of eternal punishment. He hired Carpenters' Hall, London Wall, and lectured there on the natural religion. In 1738 he brought out another Oration, for which the venue was Trinity Hall, in Aldersgate Street, on 9 January 1738; it was directed against Henry Felton's True Discourses, on personal identity in the resurrection of the dead.[2]


In 1751 Ilive printed anonymously the Book of Jasher, a purported translation. It was reissued with additions by Rev. Charles Rogers Bond, Bristol, 1829.[2] Behind unconvincing stories of its origin, the book contained naturalistic explanations of Old Testament miracles.[1]

The Book of Jasher, also called Pseudo-Jasher, is an eighteenth-century literary forgery by Jacob Ilive. It purports to be an English translation by Flaccus Albinus Alcuinus of the lost Book of Jasher. It is sometimes called Pseudo-Jasher to distinguish it from the midrashic Sefer haYashar (Book of the Upright, Naples, 1552), which incorporates genuine Jewish legend.

Published in November 1750, the title page of the book says: "translated into English by Flaccus Albinus Alcuinus, of Britain, Abbot of Canterbury, who went on a pilgrimage into the Holy Land and Persia, where he discovered this volume in the city of Gazna." The book claims to be written by Jasher, son of Caleb, one of Moses's lieutenants, who later judged Israel at Shiloh. The book covers biblical history from the creation down to Jasher's own day and was represented as the Lost Book of Jasher mentioned in the Bible.

The provenance of the text was immediately suspect: the eighth-century cleric Alcuin could not have produced a translation in the English of the King James Bible. There is an introductory account by Alcuin of his discovery of the manuscript in Persia and its history since the time of Jasher, and a commendation by John Wycliffe.

The supposed lost book was declared an obvious hoax by the Monthly Review in the December of the year of publication, and the printer Jacob Ilive was sentenced in 1756 to three years in jail for this fraud and for his radical anti-religious pamphlets.

In 1829, a slightly revised and enlarged edition was published in Bristol, provoking attacks against it. Photographic reproduction of this 1829 edition was published in 1934 by the Rosicrucians in San Jose, California, who declared it an inspired work.

-- Book of Jasher (Pseudo-Jasher), by Wikipedia

On 20 June 1756 Ilive was sentenced to three years' imprisonment with hard labour in the House of Correction at Clerkenwell, for writing, printing, and publishing an anonymous pamphlet in 1754. Aimed at Thomas Sherlock, it was entitled Some Remarks on the excellent Discourses lately published by a very worthy Prelate by a Searcher after Religious Truth. It was rewritten and enlarged as Remarks on the two Volumes of excellent Discourses lately published by the Bishop of London, 1755. It was declared to be "a most blasphemous book" denying the divinity of Jesus Christ as well as revealed religion.


Thomas Sherlock (1678 – 18 July 1761) PC was a British divine who served as a Church of England bishop for 33 years. He is also noted in church history as an important contributor to Christian apologetics.

Born in London, he was the son of the Very Revd William Sherlock, Dean of St Paul's. He was educated at Eton College and St Catharine's College, Cambridge. In 1704 he succeeded his father as Master of the Temple, where he was very popular...

In 1714 he became master of his old college at Cambridge and later the university's vice-chancellor, whose privileges he defended against Richard Bentley. In 1715, he was appointed Dean of Chichester.

He took a prominent part in the Bangorian controversy against Benjamin Hoadly.

The Bangorian Controversy was a theological argument within the Church of England in the early 18th century, with strong political overtones. The origins of the controversy lay in the 1716 posthumous publication of George Hickes's Constitution of the Catholic Church, and the Nature and Consequences of Schism. In it, Hickes, on behalf of the minority non-juror faction that had broken away from the Church of England after the Glorious Revolution, as Bishop of Thetford, excommunicated all but the non-juror churchmen. Benjamin Hoadly, the Bishop of Bangor, wrote a reply, Preservative against the Principles and Practices of Non-Jurors; his own Erastian position was sincerely proposed as the only test of truth.

The controversy itself began very visibly and vocally when Hoadly delivered a sermon on 31 March 1717[which calendar?] to George I of Great Britain on The Nature of the Kingdom of Christ. His text was John 18:36, "My kingdom is not of this world" and from that, Hoadly deduced, supposedly at the request of the king himself, that there is no Biblical justification for any church government of any sort. He identified the church with the Kingdom of Heaven. It was therefore not of this world, and Christ had not delegated His authority to any representatives.

Two competing visions of government were in play. On the one hand, there was a vision of God appointing the king and the bishops to be leaders, selecting them from all others and imbuing them with special characters, either through grace or in creation. That view held that the king, as the head of the Established Church, was not only a secular leader of a state but also a religious primate. Power and regulation flowed downward from God to the people. That was the aristocratic model that was favoured by the Tory party and had been used to propose the divine right of kings.

The other view was that power flowed up from the people to the leaders, that leaders were no more intrinsically better than those led, and God gives out revelation freely. That Whig view was also the view of the Puritans and the "Independents" (the various Congregational and Baptist churches, Quakers etc.).

George I favoured the Whigs in Parliament and favoured a latitudinarian ecclesiastical policy in general. That was probably not by any desire to give up royal prerogative but to break the power of the aristocracy and the House of Lords. A significant obstacle to all kings of England had been the presence of bishops in the Lords. While a king could create peers, it was much more difficult for him to move bishops into and out of the Lords.

The sermon was immediately published and instantly drew counterattacks. William Law (Three Letters to the Bishop of Bangor) and Thomas Sherlock (dean of Chichester), in particular, gave vigorous defences of church polity. Hoadly himself wrote A Reply to the Representations of Convocation to answer Sherlock, Andrew Snape, provost of Eton, and Francis Hare, then dean of Worcester. The three men, and another opponent, Robert Moss, dean of Ely, were deprived of their royal chaplaincies by the king. Hoadly did not, however, attempt to answer William Law. It has been claimed that in all, over 200 pamphlets linked to the controversy were published by 53 writers. Of those, 74 were published in July 1717.

In May 1717, the Convocation appointed a committee to study the sermon. When the report was ready for synodal sanction against Hoadly, the king dismissed the convocation, which did not meet again for over 130 years.

-- Bangorian Controversy, by Wikipedia

Sherlock became Bishop of Bangor in 1728. He was translated to Salisbury in 1734, where he was ex officio Chancellor of the Order of the Garter; and in 1748 to London, where he was sworn of the Privy Council. Sherlock was a capable administrator and cultivated friendly relations with Dissenters. In Parliament he gave good service to his old schoolfellow, Robert Walpole, Prime Minister of Great Britain.

He published against Anthony Collins's deistic Grounds of the Christian Religion a volume of sermons entitled The Use and Intent of Prophecy in the Several Ages of the World (1725); and in reply to Thomas Woolston's Discourses on the Miracles he wrote a volume entitled The Tryal of the Witnesses of the Resurrection of Jesus (1729), which soon ran through fourteen editions. His Pastoral Letter (1750) on the late earthquakes had a circulation of many thousands, and four or five volumes of Sermons which he published in his later years (1754–1758) were also at one time highly esteemed. Jane Austen, wrote to her niece Anna in 1814, "I am very fond of Sherlock's Sermons, prefer them to almost any."...

Sherlock also wrote a respected work entitled A Discourse Concerning the Divine Providence, in which he argues that the Sovereignty and Providence of God are unimpeachable.

Since the Deist controversy Sherlock's argument for the evidences of the resurrection of Jesus Christ has continued to interest later Christian apologists such as William Lane Craig and John Warwick Montgomery. His place in the history of apologetics has been classified by Ross Clifford as belonging to the legal or juridical school of Christian apologetics.

-- Thomas Sherlock, by Wikipedia

He remained in gaol until 10 June 1758, spending time writing.[2]

The sceptical line Ilive took towards the Genesis creation myth had something in common with ideas found earlier in Charles Blount and Charles Gildon. A strong influence came from the writings of William Derham, in particular Astro-Theology (1715).[4]

Astrolatry is the worship of stars and other heavenly bodies as deities, or the association of deities with heavenly bodies. The most common instances of this are sun gods and moon gods in polytheistic systems worldwide. Also notable is the association of the planets with deities in Babylonian, and hence in Greco-Roman religion, viz. Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn.

The term astro-theology is used in the context of 18th- to 19th-century scholarship aiming at the discovery of the original religion, particularly primitive monotheism. Unlike astrolatry, which usually implies polytheism, frowned upon as idolatrous by Christian authors since Eusebius, astrotheology is any "religious system founded upon the observation of the heavens", and in particular, may be monotheistic. Gods, goddesses, and demons may also be considered personifications of astronomical phenomena such as lunar eclipses, planetary alignments, and apparent interactions of planetary bodies with stars. Astro-theology is used by Jan Irvin, Jordan Maxwell and Andrew Rutajit (2006) in reference to "the earliest known forms of religion and nature worship", advocating the entheogen theory of the origin of religion...

-- Astrolatry, by Wikipedia

In what was a tolerant epoch of the Church of England, Ilive was in a select group, with Peter Annet and Thomas Woolston, of those against whom blasphemy charges were successfully brought.[5] Sherlock, by legal action, sought to discourage Ilive from publishing other deist writers.[3]


In 1730 Ilive printed his major book, The Layman's Vindication of the Christian Religion, in 2 pts. The parts were

1. The Layman's general Vindication of Christianity

2. The Layman's Plain Answer to a late Book, a reply to the Grounds and Reasons of Anthony Collins.[2]

His Oration was written in 1729, and published in 1733 (2nd edit. 1736), at the wish of his mother Jane. A Dialogue between a Doctor of the Church of England and Mr. Jacob Ilive upon the subject of the Oration spoke at Joyners' Hall, wherein is proved that the Miracles said to be wrought by Moses were artificial acts only, followed in the same year, in support of the Oration.[2]

In relation to his profession, Ilive wrote:[2]

• Speech to his Brethren the Master Printers on the great Utility of the Art of Printing at a General Meeting 18th July 1750, London, no date.
• The Charter and Grants of the Company of Stationers, with Observations and Remarks thereon, 1762, a pamphlet. It dealt with Ilive's grievances against the management of the Stationers' Company, and he called a meeting on 3 July. A committee was appointed to inquire into the state of the company, and a new master and wardens elected.

Two further pamphlets were:[2]

• Reasons offered for the Reformation of the House of Correction … with a Plan of the Prison (1757)
A Scheme (1759) for the employment of persons sent to prison as disorderly.


1. Jones, Derek (1 December 2001). Censorship: A World Encyclopedia. Taylor & Francis. p. 2546. ISBN 9781136798634. Retrieved 25 January 2018.
2. Stephen, Leslie, ed. (1887). "Ilive, Jacob" . Dictionary of National Biography. 12. London: Smith, Elder & Co.
3. Herrick, James A. "Ilive, Jacob". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/14361. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
4. Hudson, Wayne; Lucci, Diego (15 April 2016). Atheism and Deism Revalued: Heterodox Religious Identities in Britain, 1650-1800. Routledge. pp. 113–4. ISBN 9781317177586. Retrieved 25 January 2018.
5. Lucci, Diego (2008). Scripture and Deism: The Biblical Criticism of the Eighteenth-century British Deists. Peter Lang. pp. 18–9. ISBN 9783039112548. Retrieved 25 January 2018.

External links


This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Stephen, Leslie, ed. (1887). "Ilive, Jacob". Dictionary of National Biography. 12. London: Smith, Elder & Co.
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Re: Freda Bedi Cont'd (#3)

Postby admin » Fri Oct 30, 2020 7:45 am

by Wikipedia
Accessed: 10/31/20

The Sun is the ancient symbol of the life-giving and generative power of the Deity. To the ancients, light was the cause of life; and God was the source from which all light flowed; the essence of Light, the Invisible Fire, developed as flame manifested as light and splendor. The Sun was His manifestation and visible image; and the Sabæans' worshipping the Light -- God -- seemed to worship the Sun, in whom they saw the manifestation of the Deity.

The Moon was the symbol of the passive capacity of nature to produce, the female, of which the life-giving power and energy was the male. It was the symbol of Isis, Astarte, and Artemis, or Diana. The "Master of Life" was the Supreme Deity, above both, and manifested through both; Zeus, the Son of Saturn, become King of the Gods; Horus, son of Osiris and Isis, become the Master of Life; Dionusos or Bacchus, like Mithras, become the author of Light and Life and Truth.

The Master of Light and Life, the Sun and the Moon, are symbolized in every Lodge by the Master and Wardens: and this makes it the duty of the Master to dispense light to the Brethren, by himself, and through the Wardens, who are his ministers.

-- Morals and Dogma of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite of Freemasonry, by Albert Pike

Rome, that reformed the world, accustomed was
Two suns to have, which one road and the other,
Of God and of the world, made manifest.

-- The Divine Comedy of Dante Alighieri, translated by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Hail! Hail! Unto thee Jove supernal!
Light of the Sun! Of the Sun of the Suns!
Giver of the corn, the wine, and the oil!
Bread of the heart, ecstasy of soul, light that rays the face.
Bountiful Jove! Former of form!
Hail unto Thee! Hail unto Thee!
Essence of ecstasy! Return I unto Thee in rhapsody!
Hail unto Thee, Hail! Hail!

-- The Fire Regained, by Sidney M. Hirsch

The Sun's resplendent deity I sing,
The beauteous offspring of almighty Jove,
Who, thro' the vivifying solar fount
Within his fabricative mind conceal'd,
A triad form'd of splendid solar gods;
From whence the world's all-various forms emerg'd
From mystic darkness into beauteous light,
Perfect, and full of intellectual goods.
Hail! Supermundane king of light divine, ...
O best of gods, blest dæmon crown'd with fire,
My soul's sure refuge in the hour of woe, ...
And oft with thee in blissful union join'd
Thro' energy ineffable, may soar
Beyond the highest super-mundane forms

-- Two Orations of the Emperor Julian, One to the Sovereign Sun and the Other to the Mother of the Gods, by Flavius Claudius Julianus

We people are the children of the sun, the bright source of life; we are born of the sun and will vanquish the murky fear of death.

-- Children of the Sun, by Maxim Gorky

The mystic, as he sees the light of the morning dawn, looks upon it as the daily coming into his soul of the primordial Creative Fiat, "Let there be Light," and as the Light of day progresses and gradually wanes in the western sky, he sees in the glorious tapestry of the sunset a something beyond description by human tongue, a something that can be felt by the soul. If we let those five verses live within us, in the way they do in the mystic, we too, shall know the light, know the truth, as we know nothing else in the world.

-- The Rosicrucian Cosmo-Conception, by Max Heindel

The life of the solitary would be cold were it not for the immense sun, which makes the air and rocks glow. The sun and its eternal splendor replace for the solitary his own life warmth. His heart longs for the sun. He wanders to the lands of the sun. He dreams of the flickering splendor of the sun, of the hot red stones spread out at midday, of the golden hot rays of dry sand. The solitary seeks the sun and no one else is so ready to open his heart as he is. Therefore he loves the desert above all, since he loves its deep stillness. He needs little food since the sun and its glow nourish him. Consequently the solitary loves the desert above all since it is a mother to him, giving him food and invigorating warmth at regular hours. In the desert the solitary is relieved of care and therefore turns his whole life to the sprouting garden of his soul, which can flourish only under a hot sun. In his garden the delicious red fruit grows that bears swelling sweetness under a tight skin. You think that the solitary is poor. You do not see that he strolls under laden fruit trees and that his hand touches grain a hundredfold. Under dark leaves the overfull reddish blossoms swell toward him from abundant buds, and the fruit almost bursts with thronging juices. Fragrant resins drip from his trees and under his feet thrusting seed breaks open. If the sun sinks onto the plane of the sea like an exhausted bird, the solitary envelops himself and holds his breath. He does not move and is pure expectancy until the miracle of the renewal of light rises in the East....

He gives you a small insignificant fruit, which has just fallen at his feet. It appears worthless to you, but if you consider it, you will see that this fruit tastes like a sun which you could not have dreamt of. It gives off a perfume which confuses your senses and makes you dream of rose gardens and sweet wine and whispering palm trees. And you hold this one fruit in your hands dreaming, and you would like the tree in which it grows, the garden in which this tree stands, and the sun which brought forth this garden. And you yourself want to be that solitary who strolls with the sun in his garden, his gaze resting on pendant flowers and his hand brushing a hundredfold of grain and his breath drinking the perfume from a thousand roses. Dull from the sun and drunk from fermenting wines, you lie down in ancient graves, whose walls resound with many voices and many colors of a thousand solar years....

You sleep down through the thousand solar years, and you wake up through the thousand solar years, and your dreams full of ancient lore adorn the walls of your bedchamber.

-- The Red Book: Liber Novus, by C.G. Jung

JUDAH, THEE SHALL THY BRETHEN PRAISE, THY HAND SHALL BE ON THE NECK OF THY ENEMIES. R. Jose discoursed here on the verse: He made the moon for seasons (Ps. CIV, 19). 'God', he said, 'made the moon for us to sanctify by it new moons and new years. Now the moon never shines except from the reflection of the sun, and when the sun is aloft the moon does not appear, but only when the sun is gathered in does the moon rule the heavens, and the moon is of no account save when the sun is gathered in. God made both of them to give light and also "for signs", to wit, Sabbaths, "and for seasons", to wit, festivals, "and for days", to wit, new moons, "and for years", to wit, New Year days, so that the Gentiles should reckon by the sun and Israel by the moon. This accords with R. Eleazar's exposition of the verse: "Thou hast multiplied the nation, thou hast increased its joy" (Is. IX, 2), where he refers "nation" to Israel and "it" to the moon, which gained accession of light for the sake of Israel. Which are superior, Israel or the Gentiles? Assuredly, the moon is highest, and the sun of the Gentiles is under this moon, and this sun derives light from this moon. See, then, the difference between Israel and the nations. Israel cling to the moon and are linked with the supernal sun, and are attached to the place which gives light to the supernal sun, as it is written: "But ye who cleave to the Lord, are alive every one of you this day" (Deut. IV, 4).'

-- The Zohar, translated by Harry Sperling and Maurice Simon

Astrolatry is the worship of stars and other heavenly bodies as deities, or the association of deities with heavenly bodies. The most common instances of this are sun gods and moon gods in polytheistic systems worldwide. Also notable is the association of the planets with deities in Babylonian, and hence in Greco-Roman religion, viz. Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn.

The term astro-theology is used in the context of 18th- to 19th-century scholarship aiming at the discovery of the original religion, particularly primitive monotheism. Unlike astrolatry, which usually implies polytheism, frowned upon as idolatrous by Christian authors since Eusebius, astrotheology is any "religious system founded upon the observation of the heavens",[1] and in particular, may be monotheistic.Gods, goddesses, and demons may also be considered personifications of astronomical phenomena such as lunar eclipses, planetary alignments, and apparent interactions of planetary bodies with stars. Astro-theology is used by Jan Irvin, Jordan Maxwell and Andrew Rutajit (2006) in reference to "the earliest known forms of religion and nature worship" , advocating the entheogen theory of the origin of religion.


Astrolatry comes from Greek ἄστρον astron, "star" and the suffix -λάτρης, itself related to λάτρις latris, "worshipper" or λατρεύειν latreuein, "to worship" from λάτρον latron, "payment".


Babylonian astronomy from early times associates stars with deities, but the heavens as the residence of an anthropomorphic pantheon, and later of monotheistic God and his retinue of angels, is a later development, gradually replacing the notion of the pantheon residing or convening on the summit of high mountains. Sayce (1913) argues a parallelism of the "stellar theology" of Babylon and Egypt, both countries absorbing popular star-worship into the official pantheon of their respective state religions by identification of gods with stars or planets.[2]

Astrolatry does not appear to have been common in the Levant prior to the Iron Age, and becomes popular under Assyrian influence. The Sabaeans were notorious for their astrolatry, for which reason the practice is also known as "Sabaism" or "Sabaeanism". Similarly, the Chaldeans came to be seen as the prototypical astrologers and star-worshippers by the Greeks.

The term astro-theology appears in the title of a 1714 work by William Derham, Astro-theology: or, A demonstration of the being and attributes of God, from a survey of the heavens based on the author's observations by means of "Mr. Huygens' Glass". Derham thought that the stars were openings in the firmament through which he thought he saw the Empyrean beyond.[3] The 1783 issue of The New Christian's magazine had an essay entitled Astro-theology which argued the "demonstration of sacred truths" from "a survey of heavenly bodies" in the sense of the watchmaker analogy. Edward Higginson (1855) argues a compatibility of "Jewish Astro-theology" of the Hebrew Bible, which places God and his angelic hosts in the heavens, with a "Scientific Astro-theology" based on observation of the cosmos.

Manly P Hall (1901–1990), mystic and a 33rd degree mason, taught that each of the three Abrahamic faiths has a planet that governs that religion. Judaism is Saturn: the symbol of Judaism is a hexagram symbol of Saturn, and the day of worship is on Saturday, day of Saturn. Christianity is the Sun: the symbol of Christianity is the cross symbol of the Sun, and the day of worship is Sunday, day of the Sun. Islam is Venus: the symbol of Islam is the star and crescent (the star commonly thought to represent Venus), and the day of worship is on Friday.

Prohibition in Abrahamic religions

The Hebrew Bible contains repeated reference to astrolatry. Thus, Deuteronomy 4:19, 17:3 contains a stern warning against worshipping the sun, moon, stars or any of the heavenly host. Relapse into worshipping the host of heaven, i.e. the stars, is said to have been the cause of the fall of the kingdom of Judah in II Kings 17:16. King Josiah in 621 BC is recorded as having abolished all kinds of idolatry in Judah, but astrolatry was continued in private (Zeph. 1:5; Jer. 8:2, 19:13). Ezekiel (8:16) describes sun-worship practiced in the court of the temple of Jerusalem, and Jeremiah (44:17) claims that even after the destruction of the temple, women in particular insisted on continuing their worship of the "queen of heaven".

Augustine of Hippo criticized sun- and star-worship in De Vera Religione (37.68) and De civitate Dei (5.1–8). Pope Leo the Great also denounced astrolatry, and the cult of Sol Invictus, which he contrasted with the Christian nativity.

Despite such prohibitions, Dorothy M. Murdock, a proponent of the study,[4] has released books on the subject and teaches the connections between the solar allegory and the life of Christ. She also goes beyond the astronomical comparisons and postulates ties between the origins of many of the early Abrahamic religions to ancient mythologies of that in Egypt, Rome, and Greece.

The Qur'an contains strong prohibitions against astrolatry.

Strong prohibition of Astrolatry is mentioned in the Quran through Prophet Abrahim observation of celestial bodies whose worship was common in Babylonian religion of that time.

Below is the reference from Al-Quran, Surah Anaam, chapter 6, verses 75–80

75. Thus did we show Ibrahim (Abraham) the kingdom of the heavens and the earth that he be one of those who have Faith with certainty.

76. When the night covered him over with darkness he saw a star. He said: "This is my lord." But when it set, he said: "I like not those that set."

77. When he saw the moon rising up, he said: "This is my lord." But when it set, he said: "Unless my Lord guides me, I shall surely be among the erring people."

78. When he saw the sun rising up, he said: "This is my lord. This is greater." But when it set, he said: "O my people! I am indeed free from all that you join as partners in worship with Allah.

79. Verily, I have turned my face towards Him Who has created the heavens and the earth Hanifa (Islamic Monotheism, i.e. worshipping none but Allah Alone) and I am not of Al-Mushrikun (see V.2:105)".

80. His people disputed with him. He said: "Do you dispute with me concerning Allah while He has guided me, and I fear not those whom you associate with Allah in worship. (Nothing can happen to me) except when my Lord (Allah) wills something. My Lord comprehends in His Knowledge all things. Will you not then remember?

-- Al-Quran, Surah Anaam (chapter 6, verse 75–80)

See also

• Astraea (mythology)
• Astraeus
• Babylonian astrology
• Eosphorus
• Heavens (disambiguation)
• Hellenistic astrology
• History of astrology
• Moon worship
• Nature worship
• Religious cosmology
• Sky Father
• Sun worship


1. OED, citing Derham (1714) as the first attestation of the term.
2. Archibald Henry Sayce, The religion of ancient Egypt, Adamant Media Corporation, 1913, 237f.
3. Michael J. Crowe, Modern theories of the universe: from Herschel to Hubble, Courier Dover Publications, 1994, ISBN 978-0-486-27880-3, p. 67.
4. Maurice Casey Jesus: Evidence and Argument or Mythicist Myths? T&T Clark 2014 p21-22


• William Derham, Astro-theology: or, A demonstration of the being and attributes of God, from a survey of the heavens, printed by W. and J. Innys, 1721
• Jan Irvin, Jordan Maxwell, Andrew Rutajit, Astrotheology and Shamanism, Book Tree, 2006, ISBN 978-1-58509-107-2.
• D.M. Murdock, pen name Acharya S., The Christ Con: The Greatest Story Ever Sold, Adventures Unlimited, 1999, ISBN 0-932813-74-7.
• Edward Higginson, Astro-theology; or, The religion of astronomy: four lectures, in reference to the controversy on the "Plurality of worlds," as lately sustained between Sir David Brewster and an essayist, E.T. Whitfield, 1855.

External links

• Jewish Encyclopedia, Star-worship
• Blackwell Reference Online, Star-Worship (Astrolatry, Sabaism)
• Interdisciplinary Encyclopedia of Religion and Science
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Re: Freda Bedi Cont'd (#3)

Postby admin » Fri Oct 30, 2020 7:47 am

Part 1 of 4

Holwell's Religion of Paradise, Excerpt from The Birth of Orientalism
by Urs App
© 2010 University of Pennsylvania Press



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.

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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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.

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.

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.
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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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)


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)


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

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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