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Michael Witzel, PhD

Dr. Michael Witzel is noted for his studies of the dialects of Vedic Sanskrit, old Indian history, the development of Vedic religion, and the linguistic prehistory of South Asia. He is editor-in-chief of the Electronic Journal of Vedic Studies (EJVS) and the Harvard Oriental Series. He has been president of the Association for the Study of Language in Prehistory (ASLIP) since 1999, as well as of the new International Association for Comparative Mythology (2006-). He was elected into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2003, and was elected as an honorary member of the German Oriental Society.

Witzel’s early philological work deals with the oldest texts of India, the Vedas, their manuscripts and their traditional recitation; it included some editions and translations of unknown texts such as the Katha Aranyaka. He has begun, together with T. Goto et al. a new translation of the Rigveda into German .

He studied at length the various Vedic recensions (śākhā) and their importance for the geographical spread of Vedic culture across North India and beyond. This resulted in book-length investigations of Vedic dialects (1989), the development of the Vedic canon, and of Old India as such.

Shorter papers provide analyses of important religious and literary concepts of the period, and its Central Asian antecedents as well as such as the oldest frame story , prosimetric texts , the Mahabarata, the concept of rebirth, the 'line of progeny' , splitting one's head in discussion, the holy cow, the Milky Way, the asterism of the Seven Rsis, the sage Yajnavalkya, supposed female Rishis in the Veda the persistence of some Vedic beliefs, in modern Hinduism (with S. Farmer and J.B. Henderson), as well as some modern Indocentric tendencies.

Other work deals with the traditions of medieval and modern India and Nepal, including its linguistic history, Brahmins, rituals, and kingship and present day culture, as well as with Old Iran and the Avesta, including its homeland in Eastern Iran and Afghanistan.

After 1987, he has increasingly focused on the localization of Vedic texts and the evidence contained in them for early Indian history, notably that of the Rgveda and the following period, represented by the Black Yajurveda Samhitas and the Brahmanas. This work has been done in close collaboration with Harvard archaeologists such as R. Meadow, with whom he has also co-taught. Witzel aims at indicating the emergence of the Kuru tribe in the Delhi area, its seminal culture and its political dominance, as well as studying the origin of late Vedic polities and the first Indian empire in eastern North India.

The linguistic aspect of earliest Indian history has been explored in a number of papers dealing with the pre-Vedic substrate languages of Northern India. These result in a substantial amount of loan words from a prefixing language similar to Austroasiatic (Munda, Khasi, etc.) as well as from other unidentified languages. In addition, a considerable number of Vedic and Old Iranian words are traced back to a Central Asian substrate language. This research is constantly updated, in collaboration with F. Southworth and D. Stampe, by the SARVA project including its South Asian substrate dictionary.

In recent years, he has explored the links between old Indian, Eurasian and other mythologies resulting in a new scheme of historical comparative mythology that covers most of Eurasia and the Americas. This approach has been pursued in a number of papers. A book to be published in March 2012 will deal with the newly proposed method of historical comparative mythology at length.


The Origin Of Mythology

Dr. Michael Witzel

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