Comparative Religious Studies/The Vedas vs The Bible
QUESTION: I am wondering which scripture is the more likely to be the word of God? The Vedas or The Bible? Which of the two is more backed by archeology, sciences (Astronomy, psychology, cosmology, Medicinal etc etc)and internal and external reliability of text (regarding contradictions and external sources that can verify the claims)Thanks :)
ANSWER: Hi Danne,
This is in many ways 'apples and oranges,' trying to compare the two systems (Hindu and Biblical). They operate under completely different paradigms and assumptions. There is a critical difference that must be born in mind: The Sanatana Dharma (Indian religion) operates under a concept of timelessness. Time is seen as an illusion (maya) and the individual parts (jiva atman) are in reality the whole (paramatman). Enlightenment is found mainly within through meditation. Indian sadhus do not concern themselves with the order in which things happen, which guru spoke before another, whether the four yugas (ages) pass in a given sequence, whether the gods (devas) exist in objective reality etc (see the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 3.9.1)...
Judaism operates within time, believing that a single God, who transcends all time and space, eternally creates material existence within time and space. The words of the sages (the Written and Oral Torah) are studied endlessly as things of ultimate value while inward revelations are suspect. That a single, eternal God exists is the fundamental truth of Jewish and biblical religion (consider Rambam's 13 Pillars of Judaism).
As for the texts, there is no contest. The Vedic scriptures were largely produced on palm and other vegetative materials which do not endure time and weather well. Despite the fact that much of the Vedas, especially the Four Vedas, are doubtless thousands of years old, there are no ancient manuscripts attesting to this claim. The sadhus (sages) memorized the texts and transmitted them orally to their disciples without objective evidence.
On textual reliability no religious scripture on earth can compare to Torah (The Five Books of Moses: Genesis-Deuteronomy).
There are no original manuscripts for the Torah (the Five Books of Moses) however each synagogue in the world maintains at least one hand written Torah scroll and these are almost identical the world over spanning the last two thousand years or more. The Dead Sea Scrolls placed this antiquity much farther back than the Torah scrolls and Tanakh (i.e. the rest of the "Old Testament) we had prior to that. These important discoveries affirm their ongoing textual accuracy. The textual integrity of the New Testament is a different matter. I'm speaking of the Hebrew Bible here.
The Vedas were generally produced by unknown isolated individuals. Many of the texts claim they were written Ganapati (a mythological son of the god Rudra/Siva with the head of an elephant) or by Sadhu Vyasadev (a mythological undying sadhu believed by many to be an incarnation of god Vishnu). While the identity of the biblical authors are debated by some scholars, these debates fall well within the confines of human potential (no gods etc) and do not compromise the overall integrity of the Bible. When the Torah was revealed to Moses at Sinai the claim is that it was confirmed by over 2 million eye witnesses. No other scriptures makes such a claim for its scripture. No challenge to this claim is to be found in antiquity. Generations of Jews have lived, suffered and died for refusing to recant this event.
Archeology generally affirms the biblical records in almost every case. In some cases, like with the falling of the walls of Jerico, archeology once rejected the claim only to later discover solid evidence supporting it. There is currently an interesting question based on when camels were first introduced to the Middle East that is being debated as contradictory to Torah, but that's main point of contention right now. This is based on a recently released study. Its too early to make a determination either way. Knowing the wandering nature of the Israelites it is quite plausible that they purchased their camels elsewhere in any case.
The Vedas teach that the earth rests upon the back of a giant tortoise, that primitive people flew the skies in flower airplanes, fought wars with sound weapons like the brahmastra, had regular relations with the gods and demons, that incarnate gods like Govinda lifted and held Goverdan Hill in the air for days to protect his town from the angry and jealous god Indra, and so on. The Bible says the earth is like a jewel floating in space and upheld by nothing. While it does speak of miracles, there is little that would be considered mythological (Balaam's talking donkey not withstanding) and many of the miracles can be supported in various ways. The Vedas, like the Bible, speaks of the global flood etc.
While the laws of Kashrut (the Jewish kosher laws) are not observed because of health benefits, consistently Kosher observant Jews have been among the healthiest people historically (this may be largely because of the stress on purity during a time when water born bacteria was still a mystery). Jewish medical doctors like Maimonides (AKA Rambam) contributed greatly to the development of Western medicine and many Jewish doctors are among the most accomplished and cutting edge medical practitioners and researchers still.
Vedic medicines like Ayurveda are awesome! I recommend these treatments highly, in conjunction with Western medicine. I consider Indian religion and culture to be among the most enlightened the planet has ever produced. The people of India have much to take pride in.
The question of which religion is "best" for an individual is different matter. These questions, while important, are not usually enough to answer this. Neither Judaism nor the Sanatana Dharma claim to be the only true religion. Both speak of the universality of humanity. The Sanatana Dharma teaches that all religious beliefs are part of the Universal Truth (Sanatana Dharma) and Judaism teaches the One God responds favorably to all who seek Him according to their understandings.
In the end, its a matter of faith and of personal/familial resonance with ones community.
It should be born in mind that what the secular sciences deem important are those things that can be touched, measured and quantified. Religious truth operates in a different sphere of reality, where feelings and spiritual insights are accepted as evidence. Science can neither prove nor disprove religion. The two need not be in opposition.
Both Judaism and Hinduism value objective as well as subjective truth.
I hope this reply has been helpful to you. Feel free to write back any time.
---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------
QUESTION: Thanks for responding. I found your response to be very edifying. I wonder though, in your opinion which of the two is more likely to be the inspired writings of the creator and why?
In my case, I invested forty years studying and practicing the world's religions seeking religious truth, including many forms of the Sanatana Dharma.
I questioned this very topic and determined that in my opinion the Torah of Moses stands unique among the world's religious writings and is the most likely to have a truly divine origin. I continued my studies from this perspective. Based in part on this examination I formally converted to Judaism and while maintaining respect for the world's religions.