First Words, Last Words: New Theories for Reading Old Texts in Sixteenth-Century India

Yigal Bronner, Lawrence J McCrea

Research output: Book/ReportBook


"First Words, Last Words charts an intense "pamphlet war" that took place in sixteenth-century South India. The book explores this controversy as a case study in the dynamics of innovation in early modern India, a time of great intellectual innovation. This debate took place within the traditional discourses of Vedic Hermeneutics, or Mīmāṃsā, and its increasingly influential sibling discipline of Vedānta, and its proponents among the leading intellectuals and public figures of the period. At the heart of this dispute lies the role of sequence in the cognitive processing of textual information, especially of a scriptural nature. Vyāsatīrtha and his grand-pupil Vijayīndratīrtha, writers belonging to the camp of Dualist Vedānta, purported to uphold the radical view of their founding father, Madhva, who believed, against a long tradition of Mīmāṃsā interpreters, that the closing portion of a scriptural passage should govern the interpretation of its opening. By contrast, the Nondualist Appayya Dikshita ostensibly defended this tradition's preference for the opening. But, as the book shows, the debaters gradually converged on a profoundly novel hermeneutic-cognitive theory in which sequence played little role, if any. In fact, they knowingly broke new ground, and only postured as traditionalists. First Words, Last Words explores the nature of theoretical innovation in this debate and sets it against the background of comparative examples from other major scriptural interpretive traditions. The book briefly surveys the use of sequence in Jewish, Christian, and Islamic hermeneutics and also seeks out parallel cases of covert innovation in these traditions"--
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationNew York, NY
PublisherOxford University Press
Number of pages1
ISBN (Electronic)0197583482, 0197583490, 0197583504, 9780197583487, 9780197583494, 9780197583500
StatePublished - 2021

Publication series

NameAar religion in translation
PublisherOxford University Press


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