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“The Wise Thief and the Brahmin Felon”


· Timothy Lubin Washington and Lee University (Lexington, Virginia, United States of America)


07/26 | 18:10-18:30 UTC+2/CEST


Starting from an analysis of Mīmāṃsā hermeneutics as employed in Medhātithi’s discussion of Mānavadharmaśāstra 8.314–318 (the famous example of the “wise thief” who seeks the king’s punishment as a form of penance), and Vijñāneśvara’s commentary on Yajñavalkyadharmaśāstra 2.21, which proclaims principles for dealing with conflicts of smṛti-rules, taking as an illustration the problem of self-defense against a Brahmin attacker (quoting MDh 8.348–351). In the course of reconciling the legality of the king’s court with Veda-based, otherworldly considerations such as sin and expiation, these passages show that punishments and penances constitute distinct forms of legal remedy serving different purposes and prescribed by different authorities; the case of the “wise thief” is but the contrived exception that proves the rule. This issue is shown to reflect the more thorough-going distinction between worldly obligations (social compacts, royal commands) and sacred obligations conveyed by Vedic injunctions. This distinction is further linked by the commentators to that between Dharmaśāstra and Arthaśāstra, subordinating the latter to the former.