Michael Witzel

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Michael Witzel (born July 18, 1943) is a German-American philologist and academic. He is the Wales Professor of Sanskrit at Harvard University and the editor of the Harvard Oriental Series (volumes 50-80).

Allegations of being Anti-Hindu[edit]

There are many allegations that Michael Witzel have used anti-Hindu statements both in his articles and in person. In the Indo-Eurasia public group on the internet Witzel writes:[1]

“The Hindus in North America (HINAs) are not just hiina, "lost, abandoned", but they (understandably) cling to their homeland in all manners they can come up with………. They also tell their daughters to study Classical Indian dance (not exactly a highly regarded occupation back home), they build many temples and have Sunday schools (as many other ethnicities do). But, they hardly invest in Higher Education as other successful Asians have done. Nor allow their children to study items outside Law or Medicine, such as Indian Studies……..”

He calls Hindus in America as “Hiina” which in Sanskrit means inferior or lowly. Also, he continues by mocking and stereotyping the American Hindus for their choice of living[2].

In a public message group, Michael Witzel and Steve Farmer exchange messages using denigrating words towards the Hindu texts.

“Dan,

Many short mantras (the later biija mantras) like oM have humble origins the Veda. Him (hiM) is used in the Veda to call your goat .. and your wife. Cheers, Michael(Witzel)”

[3]

and then Steve Farmer replies:

“What if you want to call your goat and your wife _simultaneously_, Michael?

^) Steve”

[4]

Controversial Interpretations of the Vedas[edit]

Michael Witzel has long been a strong supporter of the controversial Aryan migration theory and believes that the composition of the Vedas took place after 1500 BC[5]. He has been known to vehemently criticize and belittle many scholars who oppose his interpretations of Rigveda. Witzel has written many papers and articles rebutting Historians, Linguists, Archeologists and Indologists who show the connections between Rigveda and the Harrapan civilization. He has often called the supporters of indigenous Aryan theory as far-right and Hindutva proponents.[6][7][8][9]

According to Witzel the ocean or “samudra” mentioned in the Rigveda is a place of confluence of rivers or the celestial ocean but not the actual ocean. He also interprets the Sarasvati river as being mythical and referring to the Milky way, the hundred-oared ship of Rigveda as imaginary and the Dasyus of Rigveda to be the indigenous Harrapans[10][11].

A flawed translation by Witzel of one passage of the Baudhayana Shrauta Sutra as evidence in favor of the Aryan Migration became the object of much controversy and drew much criticism from many Indologists. Koenraad Elst commented on this as follows[12]:

“The fact that a world-class specialist has to content himself with a late text like the BSS, and that he has to twist its meaning this much in order to get an invasionist story out of it, suggests that harvesting invasionist information in the oldest literature is very difficult indeed. Witzel claims (op.cit., p.320) that: "Taking a look at the data relating to the immigration of Indo-Aryans into South Asia, one is struck by a number of vague reminiscences of foreign localities and tribes in the Rgveda, in spite [of] repeated assertions to the contrary in the secondary literature." But after this promising start, he fails to quote even a single one of those "vague reminiscences".”

[13][14]

Indologists like George Cardona, Hans Henrich Hock and Toshifumi Goto, disagreed from Witzel's translation and even veteran archaeologist like B. B. Lal finds Witzel's translation to be erroneous as he suggests the mention of westward movements of some Vedic clans to be the case rather than any movements from Central Asia or Afghanistan[15][16].

Controversies with other Scholars[edit]

California biologist Dr. Metzenberg, while serving as an arbitrator on the California textbook revision issue rejected Witzel’s claim of Aryan migration by saying:

“I’ve read the DNA research and there was no Aryan migration. I believe the hard evidence of DNA more than I believe historians”

[17][18][19]

Witzel derisively called Dr. Metzenberg as a “budding politician” and questioned the eminent biologist’s expertise[20]. Witzel on many occasions made personal attacks on other scholars including David Frawley, Koenraad Elst, Nicholas Kazanas, Shrikant Talageri, N.S. Rajaram, N. Jha and many others[21][22][23].

Witzel called the archeological evidence of horse bones and horse figurines found in the Harrapan sites as fabricated and fake.[24], even after Sándor Bökönyi a Hungarian who was known as the best archaeological authority on horses in the world confirmed the existence of the domesticated horse.[25]

Criticism[edit]

Michael Witzel is criticized for his allegedly errored scholarship and squelching voices critical of his theory with ad hominem attacks about their nationalistic nature.

Shrikant Talageri, author of the The Rigveda: A Historical Analysis which analyzes the opposing Indian homeland theory, is his most vocal critic. He accuses Witzel's treatment of information to be casual, careless and shipshod. In his book, he also explores what he alleges to be errors and manipulations in Witzel's tracing of Vedic lineages and geographical evidence in the Rigveda to prove his theory. Particularly, he says, Witzel, as we have seen, violates every single norm and basic principle, set up by himself, in the analysis of the Rigveda. And yet, he manages to get nowhere. The Rigveda, basically, refuses to yield to his cajoling. Witzel didn't write a rebuttal of these accusations in his review on Talageri's book (which he deems "devoid of scholarly value"), but only stated that it is "a long and confused ‘analysis’ in Talageri’s book of my same 1995 paper” and that the “angry assault on my 1995 paper…. can thankfully be passed over here”.

On another note, Swaminathan, retired Principal of Guruvayoor Sanskrit Vidyapeeth, dissected Witzel's claim that ancient grammarian Panini and Sayana did not know of the injunctive used in the RigVeda and concludes that Witzel himself was ignorant of their work in the face of much evidence to the contrary.

Hindus and Hindu scholars have long battled with Witzel over ancient Indian history [28]. Hindu writers assert [29] that Witzel not only overlooks the archeological and genetic evidence but also fails to follow rigid analysis in his interpretation of Hindu scriptures, which neglects their actual use in Witzel's writings (1995, 2001, 2003) [30] [31].

In his The Rigveda: A Historical Analysis, Shrikant Talageri asserts Witzel errs in tracing Vedic lineages and geographical evidence in the Rigveda. Witzel describes Talageri's effort as "a long and confused ‘analysis’" and has criticized [32] what he considers to be Talageri's wrong starting point, due to his neglect of well-known results dating back well over 100 years, e.g. in the analysis of the Rgveda by Hermann Oldenberg (Prolegomena, 1888, now available in English, Delhi: Motilal 2005).

In another dispute, Swaminathan, retired Principal of Guruvayoor Sanskrit Vidyapeeth, maintained that Witzel's casual remark that the ancient grammarian Panini and the medieval commentator Sayana did not know of the grammatical category of the injunctive used in the Rigveda was false and Witzel himself was ignorant of their work. The grammatical category of the injunctive, that quickly disppears from active use after the Rigveda, has long been recognized in Indology.

The revisionist archeologist B. B. Lal, at the 19th International Conference on South Asian Archaeology, held at University of Bologna, Ravenna, Italy 2007, repeated an older criticism of K. Elst (1999) that has frequently been promulgated on internet since. He re-asserted that Witzel had mistranslated one sentence in a Vedic text to suit the so-called Aryan invasion theory[26], referring to the translation from the "Baudhayana Shrauta Sutra" in Witzel's 1995 paper "Rigvedic history: poets, chieftains and polities". However, Witzel, responding to Elst (1999) in his 2001 paper (EJVS 7-3, notes 45-46) [33], clarified that it was a case of misplaced parenthesis and that he had given repeated on-line clarifications and general apologies over the years. George Cardona, an Indologist and linguist at the University of Pennsylvania, however, says: "It is beyond dispute that the interpretation Witzel gives to this passage does not accord with its syntax," while clearly taking note of the typical Vedic, etymologically based nature of Witzel's interpretation of the sentence.[27]

Cardona also discusses Witzel's Para-Munda substratum theory. While acknowledging the clear limitations given by Witzel himself for this question, and though admitting not being "competent to judge the details" he nevertheless says: "he does not, so far as I see, give examples of entire words demonstrably borrowed from Munda [sic] and which could have served as basis for abstracting [Para-Munda] prefixes"[28]. However, Witzel has quoted words like (jar-)tila and (śa-)kunti(ka/la), (Mund. kon-the'd) and (ku-sur-)binda/Bainda in his 1999 and later papers.

Asko Parpola, a professor emeritus of Indology and South Asian Studies at the University of Helsinki, Finland, criticises the paper "The collapse of the Indus script thesis: The myth of a literate Harappan Civilization" by Farmer, Sproat and Witzel. He claims it to be inconclusive and opines that none of the points in the paper could prove the thesis proposed by them that the Indus script is not writing but only nonlinguistic symbols[29] [30].

Likewise, eminent Finnish Indologist Asko Parpola completely rejects Witzel's scholarship on the Indus script:

In December 2004, Steve Farmer and his two colleagues published an article where they mention several reasons why the Indus script cannot be writing. In the paper I presented here in Chennai, I examined each one of their nine arguments, concluding that none holds water. For instance, they claim that there is no repetition of signs within a single Indus seal, emphasising this as the most important indicator. But I can quote many examples where such repetition is found.

Another claim was that no longer texts in other writing media like palm leaves have been found at Indus sites. We know from Greek sources that cotton cloth was used as writing material in 325 BC in the Indus Valley. But preserved Indian texts written on cotton cloth date from more than a thousand years later. We know for certain that the Indus people had cotton, but only microscopically small remains of cotton have been preserved in association with metal objects.

Farmer and his colleagues do not discuss the evidence supplied by the Indus sign sequences, which make it virtually certain that the Indus script is writing. How else can we explain that in hundreds of sequences, the signs are always written in the same definite order? If they were just non-linguistic symbols, why did they follow such rules, and did the Indus people keep long registers of sign orders in all the many dozens of sites?

— Asko Parpola, The Hindu Newspaper, March 4, 2008

David Frawley has criticized Witzel's approach to Vedic texts and history.[31] These critics reject the account of the Indo-Aryan migration into India and subscribe to a revisionist view of Indian history that stresses a purely "indigenous Aryan" origin for the Vedas and Vedic civilization.

He has been severely criticized for his problematic scholarship. In mythology, he is considered a fringe scholar [32] and Bruce Lincoln has called his work "ill-founded, ill-conceived, unconvincing, and deeply disturbing in its implications."[33] In Indology, he has been accused of wrong translations.[34][35]

Tok Thompson : The contrast is not between "Laurasian" and "Gondwana" mythologies, but between indigenous and exogenous agents, processes, and products of textualization. At a few points, Witzel entertains something like that idea (see pages 98-103), although he rejects it quickly and continues to theorize in terms of deep prehistory, waves of migration, patterns of diffusion, and contrasts between the styles of thought/narration he associates with two huge aggregates of the world's population. Some may find that attractive, but it strikes me as ill-founded, ill- conceived, unconvincing, and deeply disturbing in its implications.

Politics[edit]

Witzel was also involved in weighing against a petition to the California Curriculum Commission from Hindu organizations in North America protesting and asking for corrections to alleged misrepresentations of Hinduism in school textbooks and academia. Witzel has claimed that the petition was politically motivated, the 170 recommodations come from non-specialists, and that 58 of them be rejected outright. The board though, after considering the merits of each recommendation by the Hindu groups, accepted most of them while accepting only about a dozen of Witzel's rejections. Notably, this incident brought into focus academic consensus on the archeological and DNA evidence that repudiates the Indo-Aryan migration theory.


In a 2004 article, Farmer, Sproat, and Witzel presented a number of arguments in support of their thesis that the Indus script is nonlinguistic, principal among them being the extreme brevity of the inscriptions, the existence of too many rare signs increasing over the 700-year period of the Mature Harappan civilization, and the lack of random-looking sign repetition typical for representations of actual spoken language (whether syllabic-based or letter-based), as seen, for example, in Egyptian cartouches.

Asko Parpola, reviewing the Farmer, Sproat, and Witzel thesis in 2005, states that their arguments "can be easily controverted".[36] He cites the presence of a large number of rare signs in Chinese, and emphasizes that there is "little reason for sign repetition in short seal texts written in an early logo-syllabic script". Revisiting the question in a 2007 lecture,[37] Parpola takes on each of the 10 main arguments of Farmer et al., presenting counterarguments. He states that "even short noun phrases and incomplete sentences qualify as full writing if the script uses the rebus principle to phonetize some of its signs". All these points are rejected in a lengthy paper by Richard Sproat, "Corpora and Statistical Analysis of Non-Linguistic Symbol Systems" (2012).[34].

Probably the contemporary Western Indologist most often critcitized for an alleged bias is the controversial linguist Michael Witzel. [35] His critics have noted that he "seems to have made it part of his career to criticize all scholarship emerging from Hindu India. He often mocks and scoffs at Sanskrit educational institutions in India and has a very haughty attitude towards practitioners of Hinduism. These comments are not libelous as the records of his Internet critiques are available for all to see with very little effort using a search engine.(..) Professor Witzel has had a long-standing and on-going media/internet based battle between several scholars such as David Frawley, N.S. Rajaram and almost anyone whom he chooses to attack in his Harvard sponsored e-journal. He inevitably uses every possible opportunity to drag the names of certain scholars through the mud." [38]

In the end of 2005 a petition was launched in response to his alleged bias. [petitiononline.com/stopIER/petition.html]

Witzel spear-headed a drive against attempts by two Hindu foundations to change the content of California textbooks dealing with ancient Indian history and Hinduism.

A final decision on the textbook issue, which has drawn international attention in the press, is expected in March, 2006.

Opponents of Witzel have long battled with him over ancient Indian history [36]. Some of them assert [37] that Witzel not only overlooks the archeological and genetic evidence but also fails to follow rigid analysis in his interpretation of Hindu scriptures, which neglects their actual use in Witzel's writings (1995, 2001, 2003) [38], his co-teaching with an archeologist since 1990, and the yearly multidisciplinary conferences organized by him [39].

In his The Rigveda: A Historical Analysis, Shrikant Talageri asserts Witzel errs in tracing Vedic lineages and geographical evidence in the Rigveda. Witzel describes Talageri's effort as "a long and confused ‘analysis' " and has criticized [40] what he considers to be Talageri's wrong starting point, due to his neglect of well-known results dating back well over 100 years, e.g. in the analysis of the Rgveda by Hermann Oldenberg (Prolegomena, 1888, now available in English, Delhi: Motilal 2005).

In many online writings, Vishal Agarwal has tenaciously argued with Witzel over a passage in the Baudhayana Shrauta Sutra(BSS) among many other issues. Witzel says that this sutra contains ‘The most pregnant memory, perhaps, of an immigration of the Indo-Aryans into Northern India and of their split into two groups.' Agarwal argues that this intepretation is spurious and migration of Indo-Aryans is actually from India to out of India. Koenraad Elst agrees with Agarwal and says "The fact that a world-class specialist(Michael Witzel) has to content himself with a late text like the BSS, and that he has to twist its meaning this much in order to get an invasionist story out of it, suggests that harvesting invasionist information in the oldest literature is very difficult indeed. Witzel claims that: "Taking a look at the data relating to the immigration of Indo-Aryans into South Asia, one is struck by a number of vague reminiscences of foreign localities and tribes in the Rgveda, in spite [of] repeated assertions to the contrary in the secondary literature." But after this promising start, he fails to quote even a single one of those "vague reminiscences"." Dr. George Cardona, Professor of Linguistics , emeritus at University of Pennsylvania, an international authority on rules of Sanskrit grammar agrees with Elst's and Agarwal's position and rejects Witzel's argument on the basis of rules of Sanskrit grammer. Witzel responded by saying there were numerous editorial mistakes in that Erdosy’s volume and he would be correcting those errors in an upcoming volume.[41][42] Witzel has argued against Agarwal's assertions and has stressed the various other possibilities of interpretation of the passage [43].

In another online criticism, Swaminathan, retired Principal of Guruvayoor Sanskrit Vidyapeeth, maintained that Witzel's casual remark [44] that the ancient grammarian Pāṇini and the medieval commentator Sayana did not know of the rare grammatical category of the injunctive was false and Witzel himself was ignorant of their work. The grammatical category of the injunctive, that quickly disppears from active use after the Rigveda, has long been recognized in Indology. Swaminathan says "It is highly significant, in this connection, to pay our attention on Pāṇini VIII.3.50 wherein Pāṇini notices the injunctive, subjunctive and the imperative forms of the root kri- kah, karat, karati, kridhi and kritam." [45], but Panini does not teach the Injunctive as a separate category.

Witzel with help from some 200 scholars and Indian American social activists spear-headed a drive against attempts by two Hindu foundations to change the content of California textbooks dealing with ancient Indian history and also with Hinduism.

A final decision on the textbook issue, which has drawn international attention in the press, was reached by vote of the Board of Education on March 8, 2006. Consequently, the Hindu American Foundation and a previously unknown group, "California Parents for the Equalization of Educational Materials", have filed separate law suits against the California Board of Education on March 14 and 16.


Some authors concerned with Indian affairs, including David Frawley [39] and Michel Danino[40]., have criticized Witzel's approach to Vedic texts and history. Many of them reject the so-called Aryan invasion theory and subscribe to a view of Indian history that stresses a purely Indian and indigenous origin for the Vedas and Vedic civilization.

Another author, Shrikant Talageri asserts that Witzel's analyses are biased and defective. He also harshly criticizes Witzel for consistently misspelling his (Talageri's) name and mis-citing the title of his 1993 book. Witzel mentioned [46] Talageri twice, as a reference: "...the ulterior, political motive of this "scientific" piece [by A.K. Biswas] is obvious. Cf. Chowdhury 1993; Telagiri 1993 etc." (Witzel 1995:111 n. 67), and "[the Out of India exodus] ...propagated by Choudhury (1993)...; and Telagiri (1993) (Witzel 1995:116 n. 80).

Witzel's most extensive criticism of Talageri can be found in the April 2001 issue of the Electronic Journal of Vedic Studies, at [47]. Witzel describes Talageri's effort as "a long and confused ‘analysis' " which ignores what he views as foundational works on the topic, such as the analysis of the Rgveda by Hermann Oldenberg (Prolegomena, 1888, now available in English, Delhi: Motilal 2005). He also criticized Talageri for lack of knowledge of Vedic Sanskrit and Western Vedic scholarship.

Witzel's approach to the Indus script has been criticized by the archaeologist Gregory Possehl [48]. Possehl disagrees with Witzel's view that Harrapan signs are just symbols (somewhat like modern highway signs) and not characters in a written language. [41] The paper has also been opposed by those who argue that the Indus symbols are in fact a script, such as academics J. Mark Kenoyer, an archeologist of the University of Wisconsin, and Asko Parpola, an Indologist of the University of Helsinki. [42].

In 1995, some of the graduate students in Witzel's department criticized him for the decline in standards in the Department of Sanskrit in Harvard University, as well as the mistreatment of students and faculty members. They said that Witzel should lose his tenure. Witzel denied allegations of declining standards as "misrepresentations"[43].

In 2005, several Indian-American groups (the Vedic Foundation, Hindu American Foundation and the Hindu Education Foundation) asked the State of California to modify the content of California textbooks dealing with ancient Indian history and also with Hinduism. Witzel wrote a letter to the Board of Education protesting some of these changes. He was supported by many academics[citation needed] and by Indian-American groups[citation needed] who disagreed with the original critics, including several groups spearheaded by Dalit Christians. A final decision on the textbook issue was reached by vote of the Board of Education on March 8, 2006 and they rejected most of the modifications[citation needed] proposed by Witzel and other critics[citation needed] of California's approach to teaching Indian history. These critics[citation needed] have sued the state of California.The suit has been resolved in favor of the Hindu American Foundation, concluding the the Witzel, Wolpert and Heinenmann committee was illegal. However, the contentious edits remain due to the court's unwillingness to disrupt the distribution of the textbooks[49][50][51].

Some authors, such as David Frawley [44],Michel Danino[45]. & Nicolas Kazanas ,[46] , have criticized Witzel's approach to Vedic texts and history. These critics reject his account of Indo-Aryan migration into India and subscribe to a view of Indian history that stresses a purely Indian and indigenous origin for the Vedas and Vedic civilization.

In 1995, several articles critical of Witzel appeared in the Harvard University student newspaper, The Crimson. Some of the graduate students in his department complained that departmental standards had declined and that Witzel had clashed with some students and faculty members. Witzel denied the allegations. No official action was taken. [47].

The Archeologist B. B. Lal, at the 19th International Conference on South Asian Archaeology, held at University of Bologna, Ravenna, Italy 2007, criticised linguists, including Witzel, asserting that they distorted Sanskrit texts to suit the Aryan invasion theory[48]. He claimed that Witzel mistranslated a part of "Baudhayana Shrauta Sutra" in his 1995 work "Rigvedic history: poets, chieftains and polities". However, Witzel had clarified that point already in 2001 (in EJVS 7-3, notes 45-46) [52]

Some authors, such as David Frawley have criticized Witzel's approach to Vedic texts and history.[49] These critics reject the account of the Indo-Aryan migration into India and subscribe to a view of Indian history that stresses a purely "indigenous Aryan" origin for the Vedas and Vedic civilization.

Sandhya Jain of the Daily Pioneer notes that Prof. Witzel worked with Christian Evangelical groups who were supporting Witzel against the Hindu groups edits shows his anti-Hindu bias. [50]. She is supported by Gautam Desai of the Hindu Swayam Sevak Sangh and other members of the Hindu community [51]. Among the Christian organizations he worked with was the Dalit Freedom Network whose president, Joseph D'Souza also heads the All-India Christian Council. [52][53][54]

California textbook controversy over Hindu history[edit]

In 2005, Witzel joined other academics and activist groups to oppose changes to California state school history textbooks proposed by US-based Hindu groups, arguing that the changes were not of a scholarly but of a religious-political nature.[55][56] He was appointed to an expert panel set up to review the changes[57] and helped draft the compromise edits that were later adopted.[55]

Witzel's efforts received the support of academics and some South Asian community groups,[55][58][59][60] but attracted criticism from those supporting the original changes, who questioned his expertise on the subject[56]and his appointment to the expert panel.[55] Witzel was also accused of being biased against Hinduism, an allegation he denies.[61][62][63] [64] Rejecting criticism that he was a 'Hindu hater', Witzel said, "I hate people who misrepresent history."[57] Irrespective of Mr. Witzel assertion, the groups representing the hindu plaintiffs, HAF and CAPEEM, still contend that Mr. Witzel was not a neutral party in a motion submitted to compel Mr. Witzel to comply with a subpoena.[65]In addition, the case continues; a California judge has refused to dimiss the litigation against the group that was supported by Witzel:

Judge Damrell noted, "the superior court found in favor of the HAF plaintiffs on their state APA claim; arguably, this finding lends support to CAPEEM's claims in this case that defendants conducted the adoption process in a manner that was discriminatory."

[66]

The archeologist B. B. Lal, at the 19th International Conference on South Asian Archaeology, held at University of Bologna, Ravenna, Italy 2007, criticised Witzel asserting that he had distorted a Vedic text to suit the so-called Aryan invasion theory[67]. He claimed that Witzel mistranslated one sentence of the "Baudhayana Shrauta Sutra" in his 1995 paper "Rigvedic history: poets, chieftains and polities". However, Witzel, responding to Elst (1999) in his 2001 paper (EJVS 7-3, notes 45-46) [53], clarified that it was a case of misplaced parenthesis and that he had given repeated on-line clarifications and general apologies over the years. George Cardona, an Indologist and linguist at the University of Pennsylvania, however, says that "It is beyond dispute that the interpretation Witzel gives to this passage does not accord with its syntax" while clearly taking note of the typical Vedic, etymologically based nature of Witzel's interpretation of this sentence. He notes that Witzel reacted to objections and amended his rendition, referring to a passage from a forthcoming paper. But Cardona observes that even the amended version, however, fails to meet the requirements of the syntax of Sanskrit grammar. He writes "one must conclude that, without resort to unwarranted liberty of interpretation, this text cannot serve to document an Indo-Aryan migration into the main part of the subcontinent.”[68]

Cardona also discusses Witzel's Para-Munda substratum theory. While he acknowleges the clear limitations given by Witzel himself for this question, and though he admits not being "competent to judge the details" he nevertheless says: "he does not, so far as I see, give examples of entire words demonstrably borrowed from Munda (sic!) and which could have served as basis for abstracting [Para-Munda] prefixes. He says “Without wishing to diminish the value of Witzel’s major contribution, I have nevertheless to say that some of the conclusions and claims made are subject to doubt.”"[69].

Indian Epigraphist, Iravatham Mahadevan takes strong exception to the agresssive style and provocative comments by Steve Farmer and Michael Witzel in their objection to a paper by Indian scientists in a US journal. Witzel incidently had called the paper "garbage in garbage out". Mahadevan notes that "such quotations (by Witzel and Farmer) are representative of what passes for academic debate in sections of Western media" and adds that such "provocative comments by Farmer and Witzel will surprise only those not familiar with the consistently aggressive style adopted by them"[70]

Asko Parpola, a professor emeritus of Indology and South Asian Studies at the University of Helsinki, Finland, criticises the paper "The collapse of the Indus script thesis: The myth of a literate Harappan Civilization" by Farmer, Sproat and Witzel. He claims it to be inconclusive and opines that none of the points in the paper could prove the thesis proposed by them that the Indus script is not writing but only nonlinguistic symbols[71] [72].

Some other authors, such as David Frawley have criticized Witzel's approach to Vedic texts and history.[73] These critics reject the account of the Indo-Aryan migration into India and subscribe to a view of Indian history that stresses a purely "indigenous Aryan" origin for the Vedas and Vedic civilization.

The HEF campaign was dismissed by critics as "one driven by the sectarian agenda of the Sangh Parivar, a term commonly used to describe the Hindu nationalist triumvirate of India's Bharatiya Janata Party, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad."[55] In a letter to the Board of Education, Vinay Lal, a history professor at the University of California at Los Angeles, wrote:

As far as I am aware, the Hindu Education Foundation and Vedic Foundation and their supporters do not number among their ranks any academic specialists in Indian history or religion other than Professor Bajpai himself. It is a remarkable fact that, in a state which has perhaps the leading public research university system in the United States, these two foundations could not find a single professor of Indian history or religion within the UC system (with its ten campuses) to support their views. Indeed, it would be no exaggeration to say that they would be hard pressed to find a single scholar at any research university in the United States who would support their views.[55]

In 2005, Witzel joined other academics and activist groups to oppose changes to California state school history textbooks proposed by US-based Hindu groups, arguing that the changes were not of a scholarly but of a religious-political nature.[55][56] He was appointed to an expert panel set up to review the changes[57] and helped draft the compromise edits that were later adopted.[55]

On November 28, 2006, CAPEEM issued an extensive subpoena [74] to Witzel to support their law case of March 2006 against members of CBE/SBE, and followed up with a motion to compel him to deliver. A hearing in Massachusetts District Court was held on July 3, 2007. As per court documents (see No. 07-2286), the court granted Witzel’s motion for a protective order and denied CAPEEM’s motion to compel "because it sought documents and communications that were not relevant and, therefore, not discoverable." CAPEEM appealed that ruling. On July 7, 2008, a three judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit (No. 07-2286) decided that "CAPEEM has not shown that the Massachusetts district court abused its discretion in denying the motion to compel."

Witzel's efforts received the support of academics and some South Asian community groups,[55][75][76][77] but attracted severe criticism from those supporting the original changes, who questioned his expertise on the subject[56]and his appointment to the expert panel.[55]

Witzel was issued a subpoena by the California Parents for Equalization of Educational Materials (CAPEEM), a group founded specifically for the schoolbook case, in November 2006 to support their law case against the California authorities' decisions in the textbook case. During his testimony it came out that he coordinated with a christian missionary organization DFN founded by Joseph D’souza International President All India Christian Council. The evidence in this case is worth examining for anyone to come to conclusion about "neutrality" of Witzel's work. [78][79] However, he twice successfully objected in Massachusetts courts against CAPEEM's "overly broad" subpoena (2007,[80] 2008, case No. 07-2286). [81]

Witzel was also accused of being biased against Hinduism, an allegation he denies. [82][83] [84] Rejecting criticism that he was a 'Hindu hater', Witzel said, "I hate people who misrepresent history."[57] [85] [86] However his contact with organizations founded by Christian missionaries actively involved in conversion of people from Hinduism to Christianity seem to suggest otherwise. His critics has argued that he has failed to consider the latest evidence available due to genome mapping in his study or migration to Indian subcontinent.


Michael Witzel has been involved in controversies with traditional Hindu scholars, and with Hindutva (Hindu nationalist) ideologists. The controversies have at times descended into ad hominem hostilities.

Shrikant Talageri, in his The Rigveda: A Historical Analysis, a book attempting to disprove the "Indo-Aryan migration", explores what he alleges to be errors and manipulations in Witzel's tracing of Vedic lineages and geographical evidence in the Rigveda. Witzel described this effort as "a long and confused ‘analysis’ in Talageri’s book of" and as an "angry assault on" his 1995 paper, and has criticized [54] what he considers to be Talageri's erroneous starting point, that he ascribes to his neglect of the analysis of the Rgveda by Hermann Oldenberg (Prolegomena, 1888, now available in English, Delhi: Motilal 2005).

Witzel's analysis of Vedic dialects is entirely within the framework of a preceding Indo-Aryan migration widely accepted in western scholarship, and Witzel's critics often neglect to distinguish Witzel's own results with those of Indology in general. Another example of this is Swaminathan, retired Principal of Guruvayoor Sanskrit Vidyapeeth, who attacked Witzel for "his" claim that Panini was unaware of the category of the Vedic Injunctive, a result that is well established in Vedic studies at least since the work of Paul Thieme.



Indian journalist and columnist, Kanchan Gupta, writing for The Daily Pioneer, produced a list of allegedly pejorative and hateful remarks of Michael Witzel against diaspora Hindus in a section titled "The Witzel Unprintables".[87][88]

As a part of the case, a subpoena to the Dalit Freedom Network exposed that the it was not in fact a Dalit group but rather an evangelical group that operated out of a church. Emails obtained from the group also showed that Witzel coordinated his activities with the church group and attempted to conceal their church background by erasing information from their Wikipedia's description.[89]

Reviews[edit]

Witzel's book The Origin of the World's Mythologies has been critically reviewed in Asian Ethnology, Religious Studies Review, and Journal of Folklore Research.

While Frederick M. Smith called "the scale of the project" "epic" and stated that "this book will receive epic discussion", other reviews are less positive. Tok Thompson wrote: "This is an astonishing book, but not for the reasons the author intended. The Origin of the World's Mythology utilizes completely out of date and highly questionable scholarship to claim a grand scientific discovery which relies on the author's "theory" of ultimate mythological reconstruction, dating back all the way to reconstructed stories (i.e., made up by the author) told some 100,0000 years ago. The "theory" (I would say hypothesis) is implausible (in terms of data, scholarship, logic, internal plausibility, etc.), even more so than quasi-academic concepts, like Nostratic, which it relies on as proven fact. The book's main claim is explicitly racist. I define "racist" here simply as any argument that seeks to categorize large groups of people utilizing a bio-cultural argument ("race"), and that further describes one such group as essentially better, more developed, less "deficient," than the other(s)."[90].

Whitley R. P. Kaufman notes: "Thus a claim to have discovered a new, hitherto unrecognized pattern in the world's extant mythology - and indeed to trace it back to the very origin of the human species—will rightly be treated with no small amount of skepticism, if not incredulity."[91] Regarding Witzel's claim to have "the support of the sciences of archeology, linguistics, and genetics as a basis for reconstructing the movement of early man out of Africa to populate the world" which "allow[s] him to succeed where so many others have failed", Kaufman states, "In truth, the long 90-page chapter on "The Contribution of Other Sciences" adds little evidentiary support for Witzel's thesis, and given its complex, technical nature, most readers will do well to simply skip it. The details of the Out of Africa theory remain highly speculative and conttoversial, and the dating is subject to enormous range of error."[92]

Kaufman also notes the subjective nature of Witzel's reconstruction of the two types of myths that allegedly exist: "Laurasian myths share a common storyline that tells of the creation, in mythic time, of the world, of several generations of deities during four or five ages, of the creation and fall of humans, and finally of an end of the universe, sometimes coupled with the hope for a new world. Laurasian mythology was successful as it put essential questions and answered them in a satisfactory way. It asked the eternal questions 'where do we come from?', 'why are we here?', 'where do we go?' and answered them by stating that we are descendants of the gods, who on their part have evolved from early generations and ultimately from the universe itself, whose ultimate origin is prominently debated."[93] "The Gondwanan mythologies do not have the continuous storyline nor accounts of the beginning and end of the world; rather, they are interested in the origins of humans… There are variations: men may be fashioned from clay or wood and we also encounter animals who may transform themselves into men… but in all cases, the universe is already there."[94] Kaufman states, "The situation is even worse when one realizes that these summaries are not objective data from the field. There is no single myth anywhere that contains all these elements; each of these ideal types is a composite reconstmction by Witzel from myths of different peoples found over enormous geographic areas, which are used to extrapolate back tens of thousands of years to a purported single original myth. Not only is such a method dubious, but there is no independent objective means of testing any of the conclusions, other than Witzel's impressionistic judgments about what seems basic and authentic. The arbittariness of this process is exemplified by the fact that other scholars who attempt to reconstmct a universal myth, such as van Binsbergen, end up with a very different storyline and do not see the purported division between Laurasian and Gondwana myth (358).[95]

The most significant review of Witzel's work to appear has been by the noted scholar Bruce Lincoln, Caroline E. Haskell Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus of the History of Religions in the Divinity School of the University of Chicago.[96] Lincoln notes that "In some areas, Witzel seems to have read little more than a book or two by his Harvard colleagues (for example, Carrasco 1982 and Sullivan 1988), or to have relied on works written by poets, rather than ranking authorities (Graves 1955; Colum 1937). Worse still, when treating the myths of non-literate societies, Witzel consistently ignores the more recent, more reliable, and less prejudicial work of British, American, and French anthropologists, in favor of dated German literature steeped in the Kulturkreis paradigm, which used a mix of racial, cultural, and geographic factors to categorize the world's peoples in ways that naturalized, legitimated, and reinforced the privilege of Europe's colonial powers."[97] His summation of the book is as follows: "The contrast is not between "Laurasian" and "Gondwana" mythologies, but between indigenous and exogenous agents, processes, and products of textualization. At a few points, Witzel entertains something like that idea (see pages 98-103), although he rejects it quickly and continues to theorize in terms of deep prehistory, waves of migration, patterns of diffusion, and contrasts between the styles of thought/narration he associates with two huge aggregates of the world's population. Some may find that attractive, but it strikes me as ill-founded, ill-conceived, unconvincing, and deeply disturbing in its implications."[98]

Accusations of racism[edit]

Witzel has frequently been accused of racism, based on both his published works and comments made in public. Tok Thompson notes: "Finally, the startling claim that the book proves the existence of two races, going against all other scholarly data, would have profound implications for global society as a whole, yet these implications are never discussed by the author. Instead, in his conclusion he claims that the reason Abrahamic religions have made inroads into the global south in recent times is simply because Laurasian myth is "better" and "more complete" than any ever formulated by the Gondwana themselves (430), a remarkably naïve view of global political history. To conclude: this book will no doubt prove exciting for the gullible and the racist, yet it is useless—and frustrating—for any serious scholar. This is a work which should never have reached book publication stage: a whole series of scholarly checks and balances—ranging from Harvard's venerable Folklore and Mythology Department, to the editors and reviewers at Oxford University Press—should have been in place to guide the scholarly inquiry, which would have prevented the socially irresponsible publication of such grandiose, brash, and explicitly racist claims based on ill-informed, highly problematic scholarship."[99]

N. S. Rajaram defines racism as follows: "Racism, the notion that some races like the White are inherently superior to darker skinned and Jewish people was acceptable in academic discourse until the end of World War II. Following the Nazi horrors and the American Civil Rights Movement race is now a dirty word. This does not mean that racial prejudices have been eradicated the way polio has been eradicated. Some writers, even academics at supposedly prestigious institutions continue to produce works advancing racist positions behind thinly veiled sophistic arguments while avoiding overtly racist terms. The Origins of World Mythologies is the latest addition to this dubious genre by a singular scholar."[100] He argues that "If supported [i.e., if Witzel's thesis is supported], the notion of the superior white and inferior dark races will be scientifically validated. This is the real agenda of the book, but its ‘science’ is rubbish. it does not even rise to the level of pseudo-science. Mythology is just a camouflage to push this prejudice that is simply not worth spending time over. Except for the terminology, its arguments are indistinguishable from those of Houston Chamberlain, Arthur de Gobineau and other race theorists who provided justification of the Nazi idea of superior Aryan race. But their source was European, more specifically Teutonic German." [101]

Adluri and Bagchee cite Lincoln's opinion: " "Worse still, when treating the myths of non-literate societies, Witzel consistently ignores the more recent, more reliable, and less prejudicial work of British, American, and French anthropologists, in favor of dated German literature steeped in the Kulturkreis paradigm, which used a mix of racial, cultural, and geographic factors to categorize the world's peoples in ways that naturalized, legitimated, and reinforced the privilege of Europe’s colonial powers" (Lincoln 2015, 444). "Scholars who worked within this paradigm identified with many disciplines (Ethnologie, Anthropologie, Volkskunde, Völkerkunde, Rassenkunde, and Rassenwissenschaft [Lincoln could have added: Indologie]), but shared a large number of assumptions no longer intellectually or morally tenable. More important than differences in disciplinary orientation distinction between Germans and Austrians, the latter of whom tended to be missionaries and whose racism could be softer (condescension, rather than contempt). Equally important is the difference between works written prior to 1920, whose subtexts justify colonial expansion and domination, and those written after 1930, which were strongly inflected by Nazi ideology. Works of the 1920s either continued the former trend or anticipated the later, and sometimes both. Witzel relies on a great many works written by scholars of this sort, not just for data, but for many important lines of interpretation. Those he cites directly include Adolf Bastian, Hermann Baumann, Fritz Bornemann, Erich Brauer, Ernst Dammann, Otto Dempwolf, Hans Findeisen, Leo Frobenius, Martin Gusinde, Beatrix Heintze, Hermann Hochegger, Adolf Jensen, Karl Jettmar, Walter Lehmann, R. Lehmann-Nitsche, Johannes Maringer, Hans Nevermann, Alois Pache, Heinz Reschke, Hans Schärer, Paul Schebesta, Wilhelm Schmidt, August Schmitz, Carl Leonhard Schultze-Jena, Wilhelm Staudacher, Paul Wirz, and Josef Dominik Wölfel. There is now a large critical literature on scholarship of this sort, including Gothsch (1983); Marx (1988); Fischer (1990); Linimayr (1994); Jacobeit et al. (1994); Hauschild ed. (1995); Streck ed. (2000); and Evans (2010)" (Ibid., 447n4). "Rather incredibly, Witzel cites one testimony of this sort as a confirmatory antecedent of his own position. [...] The passage cited is taken from Baumann (1936, 1), a work written by a learned scholar and committed Nazi, whose research in Africa was meant to justify German colonization of inferior peoples. He is, moreover, one of the authors on whom Witzel relied most heavily, with more than a hundred citations; on his life and work, see Braun (1995)" (Ibid., 448n7)."[102]

In their view, "Witzel’s case is not an anomaly. It is evidence of the system's "normal" functioning. The Humboldtian research university developed primarily as a means for Germany to accelerate the production of new knowledge (including the new ideas of race, historicism, and nationhood) and to funnel them into the world in a bid for intellectual and cultural parity with the Western powers, England and France. Under this system's auspices, the university professor, previously in the mold of the English gentleman-scholar, was tasked with developing the historical and anthropological research that would affirm German exceptionalism. Enhanced publishing opportunities, with the departmental journal and the dissertation series as their crux, were central to this initiative."[103] They add: "Thus, through the German government's efforts, which unthinkingly poured money into Indology, his colleagues' collusion, who initiated him into their publishing networks, and the system’s institutional inertia, which places academic credentials above valid argument, Witzel's problematic views attained a wide circulation and were canonized as "scholarship." As with Schlegel 1819 (the source of the terms arisch and Arier and the thesis that the Germans were originally known as Aryans when they lived in the Orient; see Wiesehöfer 1990), Lassen 1830 (the source of the thesis of a special proximity between the Aryans and the "warlike Germans"), Schlegel 1834 (the source of the biracial theory of Indian origins), and Klapproth 1823 (the source of the term indogermanisch; see Shapiro 1981) toxic ideas that originally emerged in Germany to assure the Germans of their identity (as rational, heroic, and culturally and intellectually superior) entered into the world thanks to a publishing system designed to serve the professoriate."[104]

Lincoln, however, states, "Let me make clear that I do not take Witzel himself to be racist. Rather, I believe he has written a seriously flawed book whose conclusions carry racist implications. However unintentional this may be, his uncritical reliance on tainted scholarship of the Kulturkreislehre facilitated this result, as did the methods he employed. For when one organizes complex and variegated phenomena into large categories set in binary opposition, the contrast one draws is always discriminatory. And when one seeks to "reconstruct" a deep past, the paucity of direct evidence provides a relatively blank screen onto which one is free to project all manner of fantasies, prejudices, and delusions."[105]

Witzel has also been a controversial figure at Harvard University. Students have accused him of being a "tyrant" [106] There has also been "friction" between him and other professors in the department, and graduate students have complained that Witzel has "behaved unprofessionally." [107] An online petition accusing Michael Witzel of being an "Aryan supremacist" has asked Harvard University's administration to "terminate" its association with Witzel and "disband" his department.[108]

Scholarly reputation[edit]

Michael Witzel has been honored by the German Oriental Society (Deutsche Morgenländische Gesellschaft), which on April 19, 2009, elected him to the position of honorary member (Ehrenmitglied).[109] In its encomium, the Society declared Michael Witzel "a preeminent scientific personality, who through pathbreaking investigations could decisively advance the research into the Indian cultural sphere and bring central questions concerning the linguistic, textual, religious, and mental history to a solution. Michael Witzel has also influenced the discipline of Indology methodologically in a way that will shape future trends, as well as stimulated and enriched related disciplines oriented toward cultural history" (translation from Adluri and Bagchee, "Theses on Indology").[110] Witzel has also collaborated with the Infinity Foundation, which appointed him Editor, Traditional Knowledge Systems.[111]

Witzel gained a reputation from his many publications, which are available from his personal page.[112] However, Adluri and Bagchee allege many of these were actually self-published and recycled works:

"Michael Witzel's CV is perhaps the best example. For the first part of his career, his publications were restricted mainly to German venues interspersed with minor Indian and Nepali and German journals. The dissertation (Witzel 1974) was self-published. The journals included the Journal of the Ganganath Jha Research Institute, Vishveshvaranand Indological Journal, Studien zur Indologie und Iranistik, and the Journal of the Nepal Research Centre (the latter, again, controlled and paid for by Germans). The latter offers another example of how German Indologists were reliant on starting their own, mostly short-lived publishing venues: eight volumes appeared intermittently from 1977 to 1988, four volumes between 1993 and 2001, and the journal was then dormant for eight years, until briefly revived—for a single issue—in 2009. Chapters were published in various Festschriften (for Wolfgang Voigt, Paul Thieme, Karl Hoffmann, B. R. Sharma, Wilhelm Rau, J. C. Heesterman) and some Japanese proceedings. The first major publication was Willem Caland's Kleine Schriften (Witzel 1990), but it was paid for by the Glasenapp Stiftung (type 3 in our typology above). The Electronic Journal of Vedic Studies finally started in 1995, thus assuring Witzel of a publishing venue. The term "journal" may be an exaggeration, since "issues" consist of unformatted, unedited mostly one-article pdf files uploaded to the internet. Many articles were published more than once. "How to Enter the Vedic Mind? Strategies in Translating a Brāhmaṇa Text" (Witzel 1996a), first published in Translating, Translations, Translators from India to the West (in the Harvard Oriental Series, whose editorship Witzel assumed in 1990), reappeared as Witzel 2013. "Early Sanskritization" (Witzel 1994), first published in the Electronic Journal of Vedic Studies, reappeared in the Journal of the Indological Society of Southern Africa (Witzel 1996b) and in Recht, Staat und Verwaltung im klassischen Indien (Witzel 1997). The latter was not coincidentally edited by Witzel’s "old friend" Bernhard Kölver (Witzel 2014a, 16n44). Two edited volumes (Witzel, ed. 1997, and Osada and Witzel, eds. 2011) followed. Both were published in the Harvard Oriental Series by the Department of Sanskrit and Indian Studies and its successor since 2011, the Department of South Asian Studies. Witzel functioned as series editor, illustrating how firmly entrenched the German model of the department as a vehicle for a mandarin professoriate's career interests has become. Witzel's edition of the Kaṭha Āraṇyaka, self-published from "Erlangen-Kathmandu" in 1974, reappeared in Witzel's Harvard Oriental Series in 2004. Once again, it was published by Witzel’s chair, the Department of Sanskrit and Indian Studies, Harvard University."[113]

They also allege: "Witzel's case is not an anomaly. It is evidence of the system’s "normal" functioning. The Humboldtian research university developed primarily as a means for Germany to accelerate the production of new knowledge (including the new ideas of race, historicism, and nationhood) and to funnel them into the world in a bid for intellectual and cultural parity with the Western powers, England and France. Under this system’s auspices, the university professor, previously in the mold of the English gentleman-scholar, was tasked with developing the historical and anthropological research that would affirm German exceptionalism. Enhanced publishing opportunities, with the departmental journal and the dissertation series as their crux, were central to this initiative. Unsurprisingly, the Deutsche Morgenländische Gesellschaft (the German Oriental Society) inducted Witzel into its ranks as an Ehrenmitglied (honorary member) in 2009."[114]

Witzel is a member of the International Organizing Board of the International Vedic Workshop.[115] He has been called the "doyen of international Veda research."[116]

Thus spake Mr. Witzel "A Harvard University Case Study in Prejudice?" (2005)[edit]

Thus spake Mr. Witzel : A Harvard University Case Study in Prejudice

Wikipedia bias[edit]

All criticism of Witzel is quickly removed from his wikipedia article by a group of wikipedia propagandists, or even by himself (see Wikipedia:OWN). This can easily be verified by adding something critical in the article. The same group of editors are usually the very ones who add the grossest misrepresentations and smears to articles of Hindus.

See [56] [57]

Conflict of Interest on wikipedia[edit]

Steve Farmer[edit]

Notes[edit]

References[edit]

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External links[edit]

http://bharatvani.org/indology.html


Talageri - Witzel flamewar

https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Michael_Witzel&action=history