The Spitzer Manuscript is the oldest surviving philosophical manuscript in Sanskrit, and possibly the oldest Sanskrit manuscript of any type related to Buddhism and Hinduism discovered so far.[note 1] The Spitzer Manuscript was found in 1906 in the form of a pile of more than 1,000 palm leaf fragments in the Ming-oi, Kizil Caves, China during the third Turfan expedition headed by Albert Grünwedel. The calibrated age of the manuscript by Carbon-14 technique is 130 CE (80–230 CE). According to the Indologist Eli Franco, the palaeographical features suggest a date closer to 200–230 CE. According to Indologist Noriyuki Kudo, the Franco's 3rd-century estimate is a presumption based on a theory of palaeographic chronology. The text is written in the Brahmi script (Kushana period) and some early Gupta script. It is named after Moritz Spitzer, whose team first studied it in 1927–28.
The Spitzer Manuscript were found near the northern branch of the Central Asian Silk Road. It is unique in a number of ways. Unlike numerous Indian manuscripts whose copies survive as early translations in Tibet and China, no such translations of the treatises within the Spitzer Manuscript have been found so far. The manuscript fragments are actually copies of a collection of older Buddhist and Hindu treatises. Sections of Buddhist treatises constitute the largest part of the Spitzer Manuscript. They include verses on a number of Buddhist philosophies and a debate on the nature of Dukkha and the Four Noble Truths. The Hindu portions include treatises from the Nyaya-Vaiśeṣika, Tarkasatra (treatise on rhetoric and proper means to debate) and one of the earliest dateable table of content sequentially listing the parva (books) of the Mahabharata, along with numerals after each parva. This list does not include Anusasanaparvan and Virataparvan. Studies by the Indologist Dieter Schlingloff on these Spitzer Manuscript fragments suggest that more ancient versions of the Mahabharata was likely expanded and interpolated in the early centuries of the common era. According to Indologist and Sanskrit scholar John Brockington, known for his Mahabharata-related publications, the table of contents in the Spitzer Manuscript includes book names not found in later versions, and it is possible that the parvas existed but were with different titles. The epic known to the scribe of Spitzer Manuscript may have been in the form of a different arrangement and titles.[note 2] The final portion of the Spitzer Manuscript is devoted to dialectics.
In addition to the Mahabharata, the Spitzer Manuscript refers to or includes sections from the Arthashastra and the Manusmriti (juridical chapters) – a tradition of collecting Hindu texts that is found in ancient Buddhist monasteries' collections such as the Kharosthi-script manuscripts of the Bajaur Collection discovered in Buddhist ruins of Afghanistan and northwest Pakistan since the 1990s, states Harry Falk and Ingo Strauch.
The decayed Spitzer Manuscript does not survive in the form it was discovered in 1906, and portions of it were likely destroyed during the World War II. Of what survives, predominant portions are now at the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin (Berlin State Library) in Germany and cataloged as SHT 810. Some surviving fragments are now at the British Library, and are catloged as Or 15005/6–8, Or 15005/17–21 and Or 15005/30–32.
- The Spitzer Manuscript – consisting of a collection of treatises – is not the oldest known manuscript of ancient India, however. The oldest known Indian – and the oldest known Buddhist manuscripts in the world – so far are dated between 100 BCE and 30 CE. These were discovered in the caves of eastern Afghanistan (ancient Gandhara) in the early 1990s. They were acquired by the British Library and preserved there since 1994. This collection includes birch bark scrolls and palm-leaf manuscripts. They are under study by groups in Japan, Germany and the USA (led by Richard Salomon). More have been acquired in the 2000s and 2010s, with some pothis (manuscripts) now a part of the Schøyen Collection and the Robert Senior Collection. Some of these recently discovered manuscripts in the British Library have been examined, of which a few dated between 1st-century BCE and early 1st-century CE, by techniques such as paleography, names mentioned in the text, other internal evidence, and Carbon-14 dating. The oldest manuscripts are in Gandhari language (a Prakrit language, a daughter of Sanskrit, some features resemble Pali but Gandhari is different in many ways).
- According to Brockington, "the evidence of the list found in the Spitzer manuscript is thus in my view not only compatible with but also valuable evidence, albeit incomplete evidence, for the shape of the text at the earliest date for which we have any testimony."
- Eli Franco (2004), The Spitzer Manuscript: The Oldest Philosophical Manuscript in Sanskrit, Volume 1 & 2, Verlag Der Österreichischen Akademie Der Wissenschaften (Austrian Academy of Sciences Press), ISBN 978-37001-3-3018, pages 461–465
- Eli Franco (2003). "The Oldest Philosophical Manuscript in Sanskrit". Journal of Indian Philosophy. 31 (1/3): 21–31. JSTOR 23497034.
- Eli Franco (2005). "Three Notes on the Spitzer Manuscript". Journal of South Asian Studies. 49: 109–111. JSTOR 24007655.
- Mark Allon. Himanshu Prabha Ray and Daniel T Potts (ed.). Memory as History: The Legacy of Alexander in Asia. Aryan Books. pp. 134–135. ISBN 978-81730-5-3252.
- Enomoto Fumio (2000). "Review: The Discovery of "the Oldest Buddhist Manuscripts" (Ancient Buddhist Scrolls from Gandhāra: The British Library Kharoṣṭhī Fragments by Richard Salomon, Raymond Allchin, Mark Barnard)". The Eastern Buddhist: New Series. 32 (1): 163, context: 157-166. JSTOR 44362247.
- Richard Salomon (2018). Buddhist Literature of Ancient Gandhara: An Introduction with Selected Translations. Wisdom Publications. pp. 1–10, 76–82, 359–367. ISBN 978-1-61429-185-5.
- Eli Franco (2004). The Spitzer Manuscript, Volume 1 and 2. doi:10.1553/3-7001-3301-4. ISBN 978-3-7001-3301-8.
- Noriyuki Kudo (2007). "Review: Eli FRANCO (ed.), The Spitzer Manuscript: The Oldest Philosophical Manuscript in Sanskrit, 2 vols". Nagoya Studies in Indian Culture and Buddhism: Saṃbhāṣā. 26: 169–173.
- K Preisendanz (2018). Florence Bretelle-Establet; Stéphane Schmitt (eds.). Pieces and Parts in Scientific Texts. Springer. pp. 175–178 with footnotes. ISBN 978-3-319-78467-0.
- Schlingloff, Dieter (1969). "The Oldest Extant Parvan-List of the Mahābhārata". Journal of the American Oriental Society. 89 (2): 334–338. doi:10.2307/596517.
- John Brockington (2010). "The Spitzer Manuscript and the Mahābhārata". In Eli Franco; Monica Zin (eds.). From Turfan to Ajanta. Lumbini International. pp. 75–86. ISBN 978-9-93755-3025.
- Falk, Harry; Strauch, Ingo. "The Bajaur and Split Collections of Kharoṣṭhī Manuscripts within the Context of Buddhist Gāndhārī Literature". In Paul Harrison and Jens-Uwe Hartmann (ed.). From Birch Bark to Digital Data: Recent Advances in Buddhist Manuscript Research. Verlag der österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften. pp. 71–72, context: 51–78. doi:10.2307/j.ctt1vw0q4q.7. ISBN 978-3-7001-7710-4.