Q: I have heard that the Veda''s are older than the Old Testament of the Bible and include stories similar to Noah and the flood, Abraham offering Isaac and being stopped by God among others and that the Hebrews had incorporated these stories into their scriptures. Is it true that the Veda’s teach that there is one God, who is the creator of the world?
A: The questions you have asked contain several things that are very often asked of Karma to Grace. For this reason we are taking extra time to give you an answer and also to post this on the FAQ page. Thank you for your excellent question. In fact, two of us (Pundits) have collaborated on giving you this answer. I will identify each Pundit with the portion they have answered.
The dating of the Vedas is very uncertain at this point. It is unlikely that the dating of it will be very clear in the near future. As well, the different portions of the Vedas were written at different times (Samhitas, Brahamnas, Aranyakas, etc.). I have seen dating estimates for the oldest portion of the Vedas (Rig Samhitas) as late as 6,000BC as and recent as 1000 BC. The best estimates seem to put them at about 1500 BC. The Brahamnas and Aranyakas would be younger than these (Brahamnas 800-5000 BC, Aranyakas 400-200BC).
The claim that Hinduism is the oldest religion is a common claim. It is almost as though the world view that can claim to be the oldest in the world can then claim to be the best or most valid. The problem is that there is no way to substantiate this claim, as often and vehemently as it might be made. There are certainly older civilizations than that of the Indus Valley (Hittites for example).
Is there a part of the Bible and the Vedas that are parallel (e.g. the account of Abraham giving up his son Isaac)? Not to my knowledge. The idea that the Bible copied the Vedas is hardly something that can be substantiated. That there are discussions in texts that address religious and world view ideas-- that are parallel, is hardly surprising. We would expect that these writings would address the usual questions of where man came from, why man is here, what is mans’ purpose and problem, etc. This would not be a parallel. An example of parallel accounts can more readily be identified in the Koran and the Bible, where the Koran takes the same accounts of the Bible and gives its own version of the events in many cases with the same names and details. The parallel is unmistakable.
Are the Vedas older than the Bible? This question is tricky and must be answered in two parts: 1) are the writings themselves older? 2) is the world view older? These two questions are both necessary because the world view may have existed long before it was written down. So here is my (Wyatt) answer in two parts
#1: Are the writings of the Vedas or the Old Testament older?
This question is uncertain in that we do not know the exact date of the writing of the Vedas AND both the Vedas and the Bible were written down over the period of centuries. So we must assume that we are comparing the oldest portions of each. If we take the best and most probable date for the Vedas we would be about 1500 BC. If Moses wrote the first book of the Bible (Genesis), the date of his writing would be about the same as the Exodus of Israel from Egypt, about 1490BC. In this case we are comparing a rather uncertain date (the Vedas) with a rather certain date (the Exodus) and we are merely 10 years in separation. This is too close to call. For either Hindus or Christians to claim that the writings they have were composed earliest is simply not certain enough to make any strong definitive stand.
This question is very near to asking which world view shows evidence of existence of the earliest type. This is simply widening the question from sacred writings to other and broader evidence.
There is a wide-spread misunderstanding of how one even compares the dates of ancient writings. It''s not like you hold up book A and I hold up book B and we look at them under the microscope and maybe apply C-14 and calculate the age of the paper, and there are our two dates. The fact is that we do not have the original copy of any ancient sacred texts; in all cases all we have are copies of copies of copies, many generations removed from the original. Consequently, when we speak of assigning a date to a document, we are talking about the date of the content of the document as scholars have reconstructed it from the available manuscripts, many of which may be over a thousand years removed from the actual composition.
So, the method of comparing the age of documents can be very complex. It needs to take into account the historical events associated with the document (e.g. references to the conquest of the Indus Valley presume a date after the conquest of the Indus Valley); it can be comparative (e.g. when several sources appear to have copied the same material but have some minor variations, the one that shows the least number of unique variations is probably the earlier); it can be linguistic (e.g. where a particular language fits into larger language groups, such as the Indo-European family); it can be world-historical (e.g. how the document fits into similar writings in Iran), etc.
These other methods are particularly important for the Vedas since scholars receive no help from the manuscript side. The Vedas were composed in order to be memorized, not to be written down. They were working books, "written" by priests for use in their ceremonial functions, not documents carefully preserved from generation to generation in pristine form, as, say, the books copied by Christian monks in the middle ages, who were not so much concerned with whether anyone read them as that they were retained in the libraries. So, the Vedic writings (incl. Brahmanas and Upanishads) were memorized by priests in extremely rigorous form. Writing them down would have been considered a lesser, more menial occupation.
Now, we have every reason to believe that they were memorized with a high amount of accuracy, and that on the whole, the rate of errors would have been extremely small. Nonetheless, the problem is that the actual physical manuscripts we have are very late compared to the time of composition; there is about a 3,000 year gap from 1500 B.C., the date of "writing" and 1500 A.D., the date of the earliest genuine manuscripts. (By contrast, the gap for the Old Testament is a lot smaller since the discovery of the Dead Sea scrolls--from about 1500 B.C. to 100 B.C. for Genesis or 700 B.C. to 100 B.C. for Isaiah.
#2: Is the world view of Vedic Hinduism or the Bible older?
This one is easier to give an answer to and yet harder to know. It is easier to give an answer to in that I can say, “Whichever view is the correct and true view is the older of the two.” Each of them claim to go back to the beginning of man, each have accounts of creation and explanations for the origins of man. The Hindu myth of Purusa who is divided and becomes the physical, living and non-living parts of the world, or the Hindu myth of the One who meets the cosmic maiden (e.g. Prajapathi who meets his daughter, he as a deer, she as a doe) both lay claim to time and the ages past. The Bible as well relates the very creation of the world in its opening chapter (Genesis 1). So in a way a Hindu who believes very much that he or she is right can say, “Hinduism is the oldest religion in the world.” It is not science or factual evidence leads them to say this, but their conviction that their world view is right leads them to say this. Is this second sense, the oldest world view in the world is the one that is the right world view. Many people who express that their religion is older are merely asserting their belief that their world view is the true and right one.
When you come right down to it, it''s a tie. It has to be. There can only be a single first true world view, and--unless one is wanting to dismiss one scripture or the other as totally devoid of a historical heritage--both scriptures are going to reflect that world view to a certain extent. So, both of them have their roots in true, ancient reality; it becomes a matter of which is the stronger and more accurate tie to it.
In order to settle the question, or even to lay down some basis for answering it, we need to be clear on what the original religious world view of humankind might have looked like and then see which scripture shows more development away from the world view. On the first part, looking at both the Vedas and the Old Testament, I think a pretty clear picture emerges. There was a time when people worshiped a single God (Dyaus Pitar-V; El-OT). They prayed to him and sacrificed animals to him in a ritual that involved fire. People were aware of their shortcomings with regard to God and sought for ways to please him by leading as righteous a life as they were capable of. I think in looking at the Vedas and the Old Testament, that’s a very rough picture you get.
But then the Vedas also make it clear that in their context things did not stay that way. The Vedas themselves refer to the episodes in which Indra conquered for himself the position of king of the gods; they themselves demonstrate, not just that things are different, but that they became different over time. There can be no question that such things as the accumulation of gods, the complications of the Brahmanic rituals, karma and samsara, and so forth, are all later accruals. At the same time, the Old Testament world view, though adding a lot of details, did stay true to the fundamental world view of worship of God though animal sacrifice and a righteous life. So, in all fairness, I have to say that both scriptures retain elements of the most ancient world view, but that it is far more clearly retained in the Old Testament.