The Temptation of Buddha and the Fourth Gospel: Some Observations
Zacharias P. Thundy
Northern Michigan University
This essay is a short response to Professor Michael Lockwood, the brilliant author of Buddhism’s Relation to Christianity (Chennai, 2010), who wonders that “the Gospel of John makes no mention of the temptation of Jesus by the devil”(p. 37) at all, and to Professor Christian Lindtner, who always challenges us all to rethink our received ideas about the New Testament in the light of the pre-Christian Buddhist literary tradition and who has made the intriguing statement that Jesus was a Sanskrit scholar. While this essay may appear to be subversive, it is not. It is simply an attempt to redefine the origins and continuity of the literary traditions of the followers of Jesus as they encountered the literary and cultural contexts in which the early Christian traditions had taken shape.
I owe, however, the original inspiration for this essay to the seminal ideas hinted at briefly by an original thinker, J. Edgar Bruns, a Catholic priest-theologian, who concludes his path-breaking short study, published in 1971, on the presence of Buddhist ideas in the Gospel of John as follows:
The interpretation of Johannine Christology and theology here given may be said to emerge from the Johannine writings themselves [the Fourth Gospel and 1 John], but the cogency of the interpretation rests heavily on the similarity of what is presented as John’s thought-structure to that of certain Mahayana Buddhist teachings with which, we may justifiably surmise, John was familiar. It is unlikely that a first-century Christian would have constructed a theology so radically different from both Judaic and Hellenistic models unless he drew his inspiration from another cultural milieu. …The fact that the Johannine writings were eventually accepted into the canon means that they were not really understood….. Perhaps the supposed apostolic authority of John was operative in his case.
In our own day, of course, we have been exposed to Leslie Dewart’s profound analysis of the Christian concept of God and to his conclusion that God, indeed, is not a being, a conclusion which he finds in no way incompatible with the mysteries of our faith. (1)
But further questions remain. If John’s allegedly Buddhist theology, Christology, and eschatology do not exceed the bounds of “orthodoxy,” what meaning, in such a system, could other defined doctrines have? (2)
This essay suggests that the entire Fourth Gospel has one dominant theme: Jesus' (Buddha's) contest and final victory over killer Satan (Mara, the god of death). Let us look, at the fascinating story of the Temptation of Jesus found in the Gospels attributed to Matthew (4:1-11), Mark 1: 12-13, Luke (4:1-13), and also John vis-á-vis its Buddhist counter-stories. I would encourage a potential student to develop this idea into a doctoral thesis or book; that willing person has my approval and good wishes for success.
Temptation Stories: Buddhist and Christian
According to Matthew and Luke, Jesus, after having fasted for forty days and [after having been enlightened like the Buddha], is overcome by hunger while in the wilderness; the devil tempts him and demands that Jesus turn stones into bread, throw himself down from Temple pinnacle, and worship him (the devil) in order to become the master of the world; Jesus rebukes the devil, who “departs from him for a while.” One notable difference is that, whereas the baptism of Jesus and the epiphany with the descent of the Holy Spirit takes place in the Jordan before the temptation episode, in the Buddhist tradition the baptism (bath) of Buddha in the river Nirañjana with the vision of Sujata takes place after Buddha’s fast. (3) Here is the Christian version of the temptation of Jesus according to the Gospel of Matthew in the King James Version:
Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil. And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights, he was afterward ahungred. And when the tempter came to him, he said, If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread. But he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God. Then the devil taketh him up into the holy city, and setteth him on a pinnacle of the temple, and saith unto him, If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down: for it is written, He shall give his angels charge concerning thee: and in their hands they shall bear thee up, lest at any time thou dash thy foot against a stone. Jesus said unto him, It is written again, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God. Again, the devil taketh him up into an exceeding high mountain, and sheweth him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them; and saith unto him, All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me. Then saith Jesus unto him, Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve. Then the devil leaveth him, and, behold, angels came and ministered unto him (4:1-11).
What is tantalizing here is that several pre-Christian Buddhist tales contain more or less the same temptation story. (4)
Though in the Buddhist tradition Mara appears in different guises or with different interpretations, in the temptation stories he appears as a demon or as the embodiment of the power of evil who tries to seduce Buddha with the vision of beautiful women. The word mara comes from the root mr, which means “die”; that is, Mara, the demon is associated with death just as the Devil is in the writings of John: “He [the devil] was a murderer from the beginning…. He is a liar and the father of lies” (Jn 8:44-45).
The Buddhist texts in general include the following: Buddha’s temptation in solitude, the devil in person with the name of Mara, fast and hunger, rejection of the request for the miracle of transformation of the Himalaya mountain into gold (with an indirect reference of turning stone into meat in the Padhana Sutta,(5), the specific demand of voluntary suicide (entering into nirvana), and the generous offer of dominion over kingdom, (6) and the temptation that Buddha commit suicide
To summarize the longish Buddhist passages (especially the first one) of the Maha Parinibbana Sutra: When Buddha had attained enlightenment under the Bodhi tree (the tree of knowledge)(7) and had extinguished all desire within himself, he finally escaped the power of the Evil One. Being well aware of this, the Evil One still cherished the hope of keeping mankind in his fetters, and so he wanted the Enlightened One to abandon his mission of proclaiming the truth he had obtained and to depart from this life. He addressed Buddha: “Now that he has obtained Enlightenment, may the Exalted One enter into Nirvana.” Knowing the true intentions of the Evil One, Buddha declares that he would not put an end to his life until he had assembled enough disciples, monks, nuns, and converts in order to ensure the continuance of his doctrine and virtuous living among mankind. (8) Interestingly, the Buddhist Scriptures give elaborate theological explanations to the temptation stories; on the other hand, the Synoptic Gospels seem to present the temptation scenes as a tightly organized short debate with each side quoting Hebrew Scriptures to make his point, which is not the case in the Fourth Gospel.
The Fourth Gospel: A Buddhist Sutra?
The Fourth Gospel, to repeat, is the most Buddhist of all the Gospels, as J. Edgar Bruns would argue (9); it is full of ambiguities, ironies, and double meanings, and it has “made use of Mahayana Buddhist concepts.” (10) This Gospel incorporates elements of the Temptation story in very subtle ways in different places of the narrative. The reason the Fourth Gospel refuses to narrate the temptation as a single episode is that John’s Jesus is enlightened or divine from the very beginning of his earthly existence as the bodhisattva in human body and did not need to strive or fast or do austerities in order to reach enlightenment or to obtain Buddhahood or apotheosis. I would even claim that the entire Gospel is an elaborate Christianized/Hellenized exposition of the temptation story of Mara and Buddha or of the battle between the forces of good and evil or of the on-going confrontation between light and darkness, life and death. The Prologue of the Gospel puts it thus:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, (ton theon) and the word was divine (theos). He was in the beginning with God. … In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines and the darkness has not overcome it. …To all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God (Jn 1:1-12).
As in the case of Jesus, there is reason to believe that even while Buddha was alive his disciples considered him as a divine being. He was called Bhagavat (“the Lord”, Jina (“the conqueror”), Tathagata (“the one who has come the same way”), Sugata (“well gone”), Mahapurusha (“the great person”) and so on. Once the Brahmin Drona, seeing the Master sitting at the foot of a tree and noticing the mysterious marks on Buddha’s feet, asked him “Are you a god (deva)? And the Lord answered: “I am not.” Are you a celestial being (gandharva)? “I am not.” “Are you a spiritual apparition (yaksha)? “I am not.” “Are you a man?” “I am not.” Buddha spoke to the Brahmin: “O Brahmin, truly I was a god, a celestial being, a spiritual apparition, a man as long as I had not purged myself of fluxes. Brahmin, just as a lotus or water lily born of the water … remains unstained by the water, even so, Brahmin, being born of the world … I remain unstained by the world. Therefore, Brahmin, consider me as the enlightened one.” (11)
A comparison of the Buddhist quotation given above with John the Baptist’s testimony found in John chapter 1, printed below will not only show close accidental resemblance between the two passages but rather John’s adaptation of the Buddhist text or its variants.
And this is the record of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, Who art thou? And he confessed, and denied not; but confessed, I am not the Christ. And they asked him, What then? Art thou Elias? And he saith, I am not. Art thou that prophet? And he answered, No. Then said they unto him, Who art thou? that we may give an answer to them that sent us. What sayest thou of thyself? He said, I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord, as said the prophet Esaias. And they which were sent were of the Pharisees. And they asked him, and said unto him, Why baptizest thou then, if thou be not that Christ, nor Elias, neither that prophet? John answered them, saying, I baptize with water: but there standeth one among you, whom ye know not; He it is, who coming after me is preferred before me, whose shoe's latchet I am not worthy to unloose. These things were done in Bethabara beyond Jordan, where John was baptizing. The next day John seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world. This is he of whom I said, After me cometh a man which is preferred before me: for he was before me. And I knew him not: but that he should be made manifest to Israel, therefore am I come baptizing with water. And John bare record, saying, I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it abode upon him. And I knew him not: but he that sent me to baptize with water, the same said unto me, Upon whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending, and remaining on him, the same is he which baptizeth with the Holy Ghost. And I saw, and bare record that this is the Son of God (1:19-34).
Temptation Stories and the Fourth Gospel
Ten examples from the Fourth Gospel that reflect the theme of temptation are given below. A more thorough study will unearth more examples and a more profound theology underlying the the Fourth Gospel than has been discovered so far, provided that the scholar delves more deeply into the Buddhist foundations of the Gospel. I am only pointing out the direction for future research.
1. John introduces the figure of Mara, who attacks Buddha with an army, in the persona of Judas, in whom the devil enters after he has received the sop from Jesus (13:21-30):”Satan entered into him” (13:27); like Mara, Judas leads a band of men and officers, invades Jesus’ space with weapons, and has Jesus arrested; before Jesus is led away, there is sword-play with Peter cutting off the ear of Malchus (a word play on Mara? (18: 3-11). Just as Mara’s troops are routed by Buddha, Judas’ posse is also discomfited by Jesus: ”As soon as he said, ‘I am he,’ they went backward and fell to the ground” (18:6).
John calls the evil one or enemy that hated him as the “world” on other occasions, especially in chapter 17, where the world is closely associated with the evil one:
I have given them thy word; and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.. I do not pray that thou shouldst take them out of the world, but that thou shouldst keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world (Jn 17:14:-17).
More often the Jewish establishment stands for the evil one that tries to do away with him. Throughout the Fourth Gospel Jesus is seen in a constant struggle against the so-called “Jews” who are simply a personification of the primal enemy, Satan or the Buddhist Mara. So the polemic of the Fourth Gospel is simply against those “Jews” who refuse to accept Jesus (as opposed to those like the disciples who receive him); the author of the Gospel seems to equate them with Mara or the evil one, who refused to recognize the Buddhahood of Sidhartha Gautama. (12)
2. Jesus’ enemies’ hint that Jesus may commit suicide and to Jesus’ response that he is immortal/divine and hence cannot die or be killed are given in the following verses: Then Jesus said to them: “I go my way, and you shall seek me and shall die in your sins; whither I go, you cannot come.” Then said the Jews, “Will he kill himself, because he says, whither I go you cannot come?” And he said to them “You are from beneath; I am from above; you are of this world; I am not of this world. … for, if you do not believe that I am he, you shall die in your sins. … Before Abraham was, I am. Then they took up stone to cast at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple, going through their midst” (8:21-58). Like Buddha, Jesus refuses to seek nirvana or commit suicide before his appointed time or before he has preached his gospel to humankind.
3. The Samaritan woman in the Fourth Gospel (4:1-30) seems to embody the features of the three allegorical daughters of Mara--Tanha (thirst with obvious implications of desire for earthly satisfactions even as in "I Thirst"--words uttered by Jesus from the cross), Arati (greed, excessive desire for food, sexual promiscuity or boredom at least in the sense that she was bored with five husbands and/or all the prideful riches that came with the men), and Raga (lust/beauty). Mara's three daughters fail to entice Buddha (13). Perhaps John is referring to these Buddhist allegories in the following verse: “All that is in the world--the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but of the world [Mara]” (1 John 2:16). John also calls the mortal Enemy “Antichrist” (1 John 2:18-22). Further, the Fourth Gospel seems subtly to associate Mara, the god of death--within the context of the Prakrti’s affections for Ananda--with Kamadeva, the god of love, in this encounter of Jesus with a woman who is in “love” with her men within and outside of marriage. (14)
4. John’s Jesus does not turn stones into bread or the Himalaya into gold, but he turns water into wine (Jn 2:1-13) in the very mundane context of a wedding feast, apparently manifesting his “divine” powers and evidently inspiring faith in his followers, according to the Evangelist. (15)
5. It is noteworthy that the Buddhavamsa Commentary and Nidanakatha of the Jataka commentary, particularly in the Sinhalese versions, unfold a very lively and detailed account of Mara’s visit to Buddha just before his Enlightenment, when he is sitting under the Bodhi tree. Mara tries to dissuade the future Buddha from the path of the Buddhahood by falsely claiming Buddha’s seat as his own; and by asking him to prove his right to the seat on which he is sitting. All the followers of Mara then testify Mara’s claim by shouting that the seat actually belongs to Mara. As Buddha has no other witness to bear testimony on his behalf he asks the Earth to speak for him by touching the ground with his middle finger. The Earth then roars in response and bears the testimony for the Buddha by thundering, “I stand as his witness”. Thus, Mara is defeated: he and his followers flee the scene. John does not refer literally to the allegory of the seat contest but rather to Jesus’ claim to be the son of Man or Christ with the presumed right to teach from the chair of Abraham or Moses (on Mount Sinai) (Exodus 19;16; John 12:29-34) and refers to a heavenly voice: “Now is my soul troubled … Father, glorify they name. Then came there a voice from heaven, … ‘I have both glorified it and will glorify it again’” (12:27). (16) John also refers to the defeat of the devil in several verses: “Now is the judgment of this world. Now shall the prince of this world shall be cast out” (12:31); “For the prince of this world comes and has nothing in me.” (14:30); “The prince of this world is judged” (16:11).
6. The Devas and other celestial beings celebrate Buddha’s victory over Mara. A comparison of the Buddhist and Christian stories shows that as in the Buddhist literary tradition the Gospels also refer to angels ministering to Jesus after the departure of the Devil: “When the devil has left him, angels came and ministered unto him.”(Matt.3:11). After referring earlier to Nathanael sitting under the fig tree (Bodhi tree), the Jesus of John says in the Buddhist context of Mara's temptation and Buddha's enlightenment under the Bodhi Tree, "Hereafter you shall see heaven open and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the son of man” (Jn 1:5; see also Gen. 28:12, where angels ascend and descend on Jacob).
7. John (the author is considered to belong to the Johannine School, the composers of the books of the New Testament attributed to Apostle John) refers obliquely to the devil’s taking Jesus to the Holy City of Jerusalem and to the pinnacle of the Temple in the Apocalypse, where it is an angel who takes the seer to the top of a mountain: “And in the sspirit he [the angel] carried me away to a great, high mountain, and showed me the holy city of Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God,…. It had a great, high wall. … And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb” (21:10-22). Of course, in spite of the presence of the symbols of the Anti-Christ, the number 666, the cosmic war or Armageddon, the dreaded four Horsemen and the Beast, the author discusses not the temptation of Jesus but the final triumph of Jesus over the great dragon, the tempter or the forces of evil and the great harlot in the final chapters of the Apocalypse, while the earlier chapters deal extensively with battle between devil and Jesus and his angels.
8. In the words of Gruber and Kersten, “As in Buddhist writings, the devil stands for the earthly, sensuous world. He is ‘the prince of this world’ (John 12: 31), which the evangelist contrasts with Jesus’ declaration to Pilate: ‘My kingdom is not of this world’ (John 18: 36)." (17)
9. According to the Nettiprakarana of Khuddakanikaya, Mara hurled a huge stone at Gautama Siddhartha from the top of the Gijjhakuta. (18) Mountain. John refers to the attempts of Jews, one of the allegories of Mara in the Fourth Gospel, “They took up stones to cast at him” (8:59); ‘Then the Jews took up stones again to stone him” (10;31). In Luke 4: 28-30, the stoning episode becomes an attempt by the enemies of Jesus to try to hurl him down from a hill to his death: “ And they rose up and put him out of the city and led him to the brow of the hill on which their city was built that they might throw him down headlong. But passing through the midst of them, he went away.”
10. The trope of the “harrowing of hell” (meaning that Jesus brought salvation to all of the righteous who had died since the beginning of the world and freed them from Hell and from the dominion of the Devil), is celebrated in I Peter 3; 19, the Book of Apocalypse 1:18; 20:13-15), (whose authorship is generally attributed to the School of Apostle John), and the Apostles Creed (“He descended into Hell”). This motif has also its counterpart in the Mara story (see Lalitavistara, ch. 21,v.3-4), where it is recorded that “Mara had the premonition that Gautama would win over him … [and] Gautama would make the city of Mara empty.”(19)
Conclusion and chronology
Briefly stated, John does not give the Temptation episode in one single narrative but scatters ideas embodied in the temptation story in several parts of his Gospel and in the Apocalypse. I am even inclined to suggest that the Lord’s Prayer itself is a celebration of the victory of Jesus over the Evil One and an invocation that the faithful too become victorious over the Evil One; in fact, in the Aramaic version of the Lord’s Prayer, we say, “Deliver us from the Evil One (min bisha)”; besides, we have the motifs of seat or abode in heaven, bread, kingdom, temptation, and worship of God are all found in this prayer. As has been made clear above, the Buddhist theological ideas are deeply embedded in all the Four Gospels in the sense that Jesus, like Buddha, postpones his death on numerous occasions (20), while he is preaching his truth and sending out his disciples to preach the same.
Chronologically speaking, the Buddhist Temptation stories are much older than their Gospel renditions since we find Mara’s attack and Temptation as well as the scene of Buddha receiving homage from the animals of the forest (21) carved in stone on the North Gate and East Gate of Stupa I at Sanchi respectively, dating from the first century BCE. (22)
The upshot of this short discussion is simply that Jesus appears, indeed, also as a Buddha figure when Christian and Buddhist temptation stories are compared.(23) In this sense, to use Christian Lindtner’s favorite metaphor, Jesus is Buddha; on the other hand, if you prefer a simile, the Jesus of the Gospels or the Jesus of faith/myth is like the Buddha of faith/myth celebrated in the Mahayana Buddhism.
Corollary I: Elusive Jesus in Alexandria, Egypt?
As an aside, let me add as well the following observations, apropos Christian Lindtner’s assessment of the Jesus of the Gospels as a good Sanskrit scholar. Professor Michael Lockwood goes further and argues that Professor Lindtner has even firmly established that the Greek New Testament is a patchwork of various passages from Buddhist scriptures, originally written in Sanskrit and Pali. (24) Professor Lindtner continues to challenge us all to re-think and re-evaluate all received teachings.
I would like to add my own speculative commentary based on a critical reading of the Gospels as literary texts--not as historical documents-, which are in genre narrative and/or homiletic midrashim; that is, the Gospels are also the Hebrew Bible re-written--besides being Buddhist Bible re-written, as Lindtner would forcefully argue; or as midrash they are also “completely rewritten biblical narrative(s) embellished with legends and non-biblical traditions.”(25) My position, which I have tied to explain in my book Buddha and Christ, is that the Gospels are “fuzzy” texts that are both Buddhist and Jewish, giving us a tertium quid or engendering the product, which we may call the “Christian” Bible, enfolding in itself numerous subtexts from other sources like classical Greek and Latin, Egyptian, Sanskrit, Gnostic, etc. Their name is “legion.” This assertion is a tribute to the erudition and artistry of the writers of the Christian gospels.
To Christian Lindtner’s observation about Jesus’ Sanskrit scholarship, I would add that Jesus was also probably fairly well conversant in Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek, and Latin to the extent that he could even preach in those languages. In this context I tend to agree with Michael Lockwood’s and Acharya Murdock's view that Egypt played an important role in the formation and formulation of Jesus' teaching in the sense that Jesus and his entourage of disciples in Africa and later in Palestine through him became well acquainted with the heterodox Alexandrian version of Judaism, Alexandrian version of Buddhism, Greek thought, and with other religious philosophies current at that time in the academic world of cosmopolitan Egypt. Probably the best argument to support the Alexandrian connection comes from the fact that the Gospel writers had all used the “heretic” Alexandrian version of the Hebrew Bible, the Septuagint, in their works and not the Bible composed in Hebrew and Aramaic!
The so-called “historical” Jesus of Palestine and Egypt I am referring to is the one who stands at the head of the various Jesus Movements, known today as Christianity (causal determinism, according to which every event has a cause or like effects have like causes). However, this historical Jesus is also an elusive or indeterministic figure (physical indeterminism — the doctrine that “not all events in the physical world are predetermined with absolute precision," As Karl Popper explains it). Jesus is elusive like a sub-atomic particle, whose position in actual geographic place and momentum in exact historical time we cannot locate at the same time because the observer always skews the perception and the object of the perception, leading to the Principle of Indeterminism of Quantum Physics, but the particle is real though its trajectories are fuzzy. In fact, I like Morton smith’s indeterministic view of the Jesus phenomenon:
Trying to find the actual Jesus is like trying, in atomic physics, to locate a submicroscopic particle and determine its charge. The particle cannot be seen directly, but on a photographic plate we see the lines let by the trajectories of larger particles it put in motion. By tracing these trajectories back to their common origin, and by calculating the force necessary to make the particles move as they did, we can locate and describe the invisible cause. Admittedly, history is more complex than physics; the lines connecting the original figure to the developed legends cannot be traced with mathematical accuracy; the intervention of unknown factors has to be allowed for. Consequently, results can never claim more than probability; but “probability,” as Bishop Butler said, “is the very guide of life.”(26)
There are hints to the Jesus of the Gospel literature spending a good deal of time in Alexandria, North Africa, and Upper Egypt in the company of fellow Nazorean and/or Essene Jews, yet with some family connections to the priestly clan (Jesus’ uncle Zechariah was a priest, as in Luke 1:5). My theory is that Jesus’ family belonged to the unorthodox or non-rabbinic Nazorean group of John the Baptist, probably the original founder of the Nazorean Movement. The Nazoreans, some of whom abstained from marriage, lived most likely in monastic communities, like the ones we have even today, with their scholars and pupils. Some of the scholar-teachers were naturally sent abroad to study in famous academies like the one Alexandria. Jesus was probably one of them like the other Nazorean Apollos, “who knew only the baptism of John,” as mentioned in Acts 18:24-26. This Nazorean group as well as some (Nazorean?) priests in Jerusalem—John the Baptist’s father Zechariah was a priest( (Lk 1:5-23)--and Jesus’ teachers, who were impressed by the talent and potential of the young prodigy Jesus, as suggested in Luke 2: 41-52, to Egypt for higher studies. Realistically speaking, therefore, it was very unlikely that Jesus went as an infant to Egypt, as suggested by Matthew 2: 13-23; rather he was an adolescent when he went to Egypt, as Luke (2:39-52) seems to suggest. Jesus stayed in Egypt--without totally rejecting the possibility that Jesus even lived in India---studying and practicing asceticism till he was maybe 29 or 30; it was in Egypt in the Nazorean community (Nazareth most likely comes Nazoreans, who on their part, probably called themselves “keepers of the truth” (from nazara—truth--, though their opponents used the word Nazoreans to mean “heretics.” Jesus was most likely defending himself and his group of Nazoreans, against charges of the heresy of blasphemy leveled against him and his fellow Nazoreans by the Jewish hierarchy, when he said, “For this I have come into the world, to bear witness to “THE TRUTH” (hé Aleithia) that Jesus “increased in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and man” (Lk 2:52). If we bear in mind that there do not exist any contemporary historical documentation supporting the gospel claims on the life and the deeds of Jesus and that the genre of the first three Gospels-- especially of Matthew, Mark, and Luke with john being homiletic midrash (27)--is midrash, the chronological discrepancy will cease to be an issue here. Midrash often blurs the boundaries of time and place, as we see in the Jewish midrashic writings of the rabbis: Yerushalmi writes:
Unlike the biblical writers the rabbis seem to play with Time as though with an accordion, expanding and collapsing at will. Where historical specificity is a hallmark of the biblical narratives, here that acute biblical sense of time and place often gives way to rampant and seemingly unselfconscious anachronism. In the world of aggadah Adam can instruct his son Seth in the Torah, Shem and Eber establish a house of study, the patriarchs institute the three daily prayer-services of the normative Jewish liturgy, Og King of Bashan is present at Isaac’s circumcision, and Noah prophesies the translation of Bible into Greek.(28)
Interestingly, Jesus’ earthly father is given the appropriate name Joseph after Patriarch Joseph, who had lived and died in Egypt; there is no reason to believe Father Joseph ever returned from Egypt since he is not mentioned at all during the public ministry of Jesus, according to the Gospels. The name play on "Joseph" word meaning " He increased" seems to suggest that Jesus’ family, like Patriarch Joseph’s family, did prosper in Egypt. I suspect that the Evangelist John is using a pun on Jesus’ surname of Joseph as in “Jesus bar Joseph,” when the Baptist says, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (3:30). Also, the Baptist seemed to be indicating that he was retiring to make room for the new leadership of Jesus. However, it also looks like that Jesus had become too well educated in Egypt to be accepted back fully into the Nazorean community. Apparently his cousin John wanted the young Rabbi Jesus to take over the reins of the group after his departure from earthly existence either through his ascension (Mandean belief adumbrated even in the Christian/Jewish tradition that the Baptist will come again before the end of the world) or after his death (Christian/Muslim tradition), but other elders of the Nazorean community excommunicated Jesus (Luke 4: 16-32), when they found out that he was an unorthodox rabbi who would preach strange sermons, reflecting Buddhist/Egyptian ideas. It seems to me that the unorthodox idea that raised the wrath of some fellow Galilean Nazoreans about Jesus’ claims is reincarnation. These Nazoreans of Galilee thought that Jesus seemed to be hinting that he was the new avatar of the Baptist who was taken to heaven (Nazorean claim about the Baptist as opposed to other claim that the Baptist was beheaded by King Herod), just as the Baptist is hinted at as the second coming of Elijah. Incidetally, the Mandaeans, the the Nazoreans followers of John the Baptist who did not acknowledge Jesus as the heir apparent of the Baptist regard Jesus as a pretender and false prophet.
I would even suggest that John’s specific reference to the titulus on the cross (John 19: 19-20) written in Greek, Aramaic, and Latin was to indicate that Jesus used to preach in three languages to the three ethnic or linguistic crowds—Greeks –as in John 12:20-26--, Romans—as in Jesus’ dialogue with the Roman Pilate (Jn 18:28-38) --, and Jews--see John chapters 8-10--, some of whom became disciples according to the Gospel testimony-- that thronged to listen to him. The fact that he could read Isaiah in Hebrew, as in Luke 4: 16-20, would indicate that, if needed, he could even preach in Hebrew to the Hebrew-speaking Jews. The suggestion that Jesus had a North African friend or acquaintance by the name Simon of Cyrene, father of Rufus and Alexander (Mark 15:21), would indicate that he kept up with his African connections as well. I am even tempted to think that, when Jesus came to Galilee from Egypt, he came with an entourage of disciples, some of whom were Jews who spoke Greek and bore Greek names like Philip. They were all Nazoreans, who lived in religious groups like in Buddhist monasteries.
One of Jesus’ friends and a close colleague from Alexandria appears to have been Apollos. Certainly, as can be reliably inferred from the Acts of the Apostles, Apollos knew while he was in Alexandria; like Jesus, he was a disciple of the Baptist and of the practice of baptism preached by the Baptist, all of which leads me to think that the Nazorean movement might have been started by the Baptist in the academic and social culture of Jewish/Greek Alexandra and then later spread to Palestine with the return of the Baptist and Jesus to Palestine. The brilliant Alexandria-born Greek-speaking Apollos, who at one point was seemingly a worthy rival to the Tarsus-born Saul/Paul (1 Cor. 1;12; 3:4), appears in Ephesus only after the death of Jesus and John. Obviously, he had lost contacts with them for a long time so much so he was unaware what had happened to his close friend Jesus, maybe because the reported execution of Jesus did not make the headlines in the Mediterranean world at that time, as the story told of Cleopas, the Greek disciple of Jesus, who traveled to Emmaus after Easter Sunday, seems to hint at (see Luke 24:13-27). According to the Acts of the Apostles:
Now a certain Jew named Apollos, an Alexandrian by race, an eloquent man, came to Ephesus; and he was mighty in the scriptures. This man had been instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in spirit, he spoke and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus, knowing only the baptism of John: and he began to speak boldly in the synagogue. But when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him unto them, and expounded unto him the way of God more accurately. And when he was minded to pass over into Achaia, the brethren encouraged him, and wrote to the disciples to receive him: and when he was come, he helped them much that had believed through grace; for he powerfully confuted the Jews, and that publicly, showing by the scriptures that Jesus was the Christ (18:24-28).
And it came to pass, that, while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul having passed through the upper country came to Ephesus, and found certain disciples: and he said to them, Did you receive the Holy Spirit when ye believed? And they said unto him, No, we did not so much as hear whether the Holy Spirit was given. And he said, Into what then were ye baptized? And they said, Into John's baptism. And Paul said, John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people that they should believe in him and that should follow him, that is, Jesus. And when they heard this, they were baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus (19:1-6).
The Gospel writers tried to put together many of Jesus' teachings and doings from various sources, as Luke puts it in the prologue to his Gospel. They do not appear to have delved as deeply into the Buddhist sources of Jesus’ life and teachings as John, who, in my view, understood the Mahayana Buddhist background of Jesus better than the other three Gospel writers and their editors, who collected/edited some of his sayings as best as they could,(29) which were later heavily edited (probably Hebraicized with a geneous sprinkling of citations and proof texts from the Hebrew Bible) by redactors. Of course, John also was edited but not to a great extent; so John’s Gospel remains the most Buddhist of the four Gospels. As a result, the Gospels that we have today, as described above, are “fuzzy” Christian texts— Buddhist and Jewish in their origin and evolution.
Corollary II: GOSPELS: BUDDHIST AND CHRISTIAN
“All literature has always been a borrowing,” as Umberto Eco points out. He continues, “It starts with Homer. What do you think Ariosto was doing, or Cervantes I would say this continual intertextuality is the principal characteristic of literature. The difference is that now the game has become intentional, has been discovered, whereas before it was covered over.”(30) The Christian gospels are no exception; they were not born Athena-like, virginally, but rather as a result of intercourse primarily between two major literary traditions Hebrew and Buddhist, without excluding Greek, Roman, Gnostic, and Hindu literary texts and traditions. Similarities aside, the difference is that the Gospel writers cleverly hid their Buddhist sources with the overt apology that they were writing the story of Jesus as though the details in his life were only literal fulfillment of prophecies from the Old Testament.
It appears that the Christian writers succeeded in creating a fascinating genre called “gospels” (good news) which perhaps can be called also “Christian sutras.” Interestingly, the New Testament nowhere claims implicitly or explicitly that the gospels or epistles are authentic “Scripture.”(31) Not until 367 CE do we encounter a canon of the New Testament as know it today, though we see the beginnings of the creation of canon from the time of Marcion in the second century. Probably the gospel writers viewed the Buddhist texts as “Scripture,” as in John 7: 38. However, during the long process of the redaction of the gospels or the sutras, the evangelists and their editors tried to hide their “pagan” sources whenever and wherever possible and revealed whenever and wherever needed what they thought they were obligated to reveal as long as the revealed and hidden sources met their stated goals and avoided possible charges of plagiarism from the liberal left and persecution from the religious right, because somewhere along the line developed the view that the Old testament or the Hebrew Bible alone is Scripture. For instance, ever since the early Church leaders decided to adopt the dogmatic position regarding the Old Testament as prefiguring the New Testament and the New Testament as fulfilling the prophecies of the Old Testament, they had to include a good number of proof texts from the Old Testament, which explains the presence of many explicit Old Testament quotations in the New Testament. Once the decision to relate the NT to the OT was made, the authors had no choice but to exclude or suppress all explicit references to Greek, Roman, and Indian sources they had used in the gospels and the other books of the NT. I think we must attribute this practice to the very early (c. 48 CE) policy decision made at the Council of Jerusalem, where Paul, the leader of the Gentile Christians, and Simon (Peter), the leader of the Jewish Christians, collided. Paul writes to the Galatians, a Celtic community: “When Cephas [Peter] came to Antioch, I opposed him to the face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he ate with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. And with him the rest of the Jews acted insincerely…I said to Cephas before them all, ‘If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?’” (Gal. 2:11-14; see also Gal. 2:9). There was a crisis in the early Church, and the leaders of the Church convened to resolve the crisis. The Council’s decision, as given by Apostle James, the powerful head of the Jerusalem Nazarene/Christian community, was a compromise: Circumcision should not be imposed on Gentile Christians but they should follow the Noachic (?) rather than the Mosaic law—a concession of a non-Mosaic divine revelation made to all the nations of the world--: “I rule then …that we send them [non-Jewish followers in the Jesus Movement] a letter telling them merely to abstain from anything polluted by idols (food/communion meal), and from unchastity (irregular marriages like polygamy) and from what is strangled and from blood” (Acts 15:29); however, in lieu of observing the Mosaic Law, the non-Jewish Christians were asked to pay a heavy price: accept the Hebrew Scriptures, not pagan writings, in the proclamation of the Christian faith and the articulation of Christian writings. Why? “For from early generations Moses has had in every city those who preach him, for he is read every Sabbath in the synagogues” (15:21). This means: Mosaic Law? No. Mosaic Scriptures? Yes. It means that only the Hebrew Bible, in addition to the Christian Bible, should be read in the communities of the non-Jewish Christians, as in the synagogues. Thus the Jewish heritage of the Christian Church should be maintained. This rationale would explain the fact that not a single overt reference to Plato, Socrates, Homer, and Buddha can be found in the books of the New Testament, which later became part of the catechesis and kerygma (preaching) in the early Church. Probably the original gospels, before censorship stepped in, looked like the apocryphal gospels and other early Christian writings, which were never canonized because they were not edited and censored. The fact that Pantainos of Alexandria stumbled on Matthew’s Gospel in Aramaic, which the Indian Christians had received from St. Bartholomew, while on his missionary travels in India in about AD 180, could be construed that there existed an original Matthew which is different from the highly edited current Greek Matthew.(32)
Luke is willing to admit this much: “Many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things which have been accomplished among us” 1:1). He or the author of the Acts of the Apostles would put the following words also into the mouth of Paul, “As even some of your poets have said, ‘For we are indeed his offspring’” (Acts 17:28)—a reluctant reference to Epimenides and Aratus—for the purpose of impressing his audience.(33) Obviously, this author could not easily give up his pagan (Greek) literary heritage. Luke could not and would not give up his Sanskrit/Buddhist heritage when he decided to incorporate the parable of the Prodigal Son from the Sadharmapundarika Sutra. Nor would Matthew give up his Buddhist sources when he decided to incorporate the episode of walking on water or the parable of the five foolish and five wise virgins from chapter four of the Maha Parinirvana Sutra of the Mula-Sarvasti-Vinaya. We may, therefore, say that the original gospels were probably thoroughly Buddhist like the Sadharmapundarika Sutra before they underwent editorial scrutiny and ecclesiastical revisions. Nor could the author of the Fourth Gospel, deeply immersed in Buddhist thought, totally disguise his Buddhist sources, as can be seen in the following case: “Jesus stood up and proclaimed, “If any one thirst, let him come to me and drink. He who believes in me, as the scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water’” (7:37-38). Of course, no Hebrew Scripture makes that statement, but only the Buddhist Scriptures! Nor could John resist the temptation of reproducing the story of Prakrti, the Matanga Woman, offering Ananda water to drink at the well; however, the evangelist transformed the Matanga Woman into the Samaritan Woman and Ananda into Jesus! All three Synoptics (Matt. 14:15f f; Mark 6: 35 ff; Luke 9: 13 ff) decided to keep the story of the miracle of the loaves according to which Jesus fed five thousand people with five loaves (and two fish), which is found in the Introduction to Jataka 78, in which Buddha fed first his five hundred disciples and then all the members of a monastery with one loaf that was put in his begging bowl, with a great deal of bread left over as in the Synoptics. The reference to 12 baskets of left-over bread seems to imply that Jesus also fed the members of his own monastery (of twelve Apostles) as in the Buddhist story. Interestingly, the Gospel writers changed one bread into five and the crowd of five hundred into five thousand!(34) So, scholars familiar with the Buddhist and Greek sources do find fault lines or evidence for the presence of the absent so-called Q-source for the gospels. At this juncture we can probably suggest that the expunging of possibly almost all “pagan” references from the books of the New Testament and the inclusion of a large number of proof texts from the Old Testament was most likely due to the editorial work of redactors of the books of the New Testament books rather than that of the original authors. In retrospect we can say that the Jerusalem Council’s decision was a spectacular success with far-reaching consequences down through the centuries for the development of Christian thinking and practice, even to the extent that all the Christian churches accept the Old Testament as the revealed word of God, which they will continue to accept selectively, but conveniently, within “reasonable” limits as changing times and local cultures allow or require.
(1) Leslie Dewart, The Future of Belief (New York, 1966) and The Foundations of Belief (New York, 1969).
(2) Bruns, The Christian Buddhism of John, pp. 51-52.
(3) Khuddaka Nikaya, Buddhavamsa, 2.63; what is remarkable is that like Jesus Buddha was hungry after the fast and that the figure of Sujata becomes the Holy Spirit in the physical form of a dove (Luke 3: 22).
(4) See Richard Garbe, India and Christendom (La Salle, Il: Open Court, 1959): 50-56 for a careful analysis; for an extensive study, see Ernst Windisch, Mara und Buddha (Leipzig, 1895). See details of the temptation in the Paddhana Sutra, Samyutta Nikaya, and Maha Prinibbana Sutra.
(5) Padhana Sutta, Sutta Nipata, III.2, trans. John Ireland: “Mara: "For seven years I followed the Lord step by step but did not find an opportunity to defeat that mindful Awakened One. A crow flew around a stone having the colour of fat: 'Can we find even here something tender? May it be something to eat?' Not finding anything edible the crow left that place.”
(6) Samyutta Nikaya, trans. H. Oldenberg; cited by Richard Garbe, p. 53:”At one time the Exalted One (Buddha) was living in the land of Kosala, in the Himalaya, in a log hut….He thought: ’It is really possible to rule as a king in righteousness without killing or causing to be killed…without suffering pain or inflicting pain on another.’ Then Mara, the Evil One, perceived in his mind the thoughts of the Buddha and spoke thus:’’May the Exalted One be pleased to rule as a king in righteousness without killing…without suffering pain or inflicting pain on another….ˆIf the Exalted One…desired, he could ordain that the Himalaya, the king of the mountains should become gold, and it would turn into gold.’ Buddha motions him away. ‘What would it profit the wise man if he possessed even a mountain of silver or of gold? He who has comprehended sorrow, whence it springs, how can he bend himself to desire? … Then Mara the Evil One said, ‘The Exalted One knows me,”… and disconcerted and disheartened he rose and went away.”
(7) The Fourth Gospel refers to the enlightenment episode and Mara’s acknowledgment of Siddhartha’s Buddha status in the story of Nathanael: “When you were under the fig tree, I saw you; Nathanael says to him, ’Rabbi, you are the son of God; you are the King of Israel’” (John 1:48-49).
(9) Bruns, The Christian Buddhism of John, passim.
(10)J. Edgar Bruns, The Art and Thought of John , p. 90.
(11)Anguttara Nikaya 2: 37-38; cited by Zacharias Thundy, Buddha and Christ: Nativity Stories and Indian Taditions (Leiden: Brill, 1993), p. 58.
(12) There is much biblical scholarship on the “Jews” in the fourth Gospel. I tend to think that we find more anti-Mara/Devil statements rather than anti-Semitic statements in the Fourth Gospel, for the “Jews,” the enemies of Jesus are truly a figure of speech for or allegory of Mara.. Therefore, reading too much anti-Semitism in the fourth Gospel is the wrong approach to the study of that Gospel.
(13) It looks like John combines the persona of Ananda, whom Prkrti the Chandala woman wanted to marry, with that of Jesus in the story of the Samaritan woman with the implication of marriage and sex, while alluding also to the encounter of Rachel and Jacob at the well (Gen. Ch. 29). The clue lies in the words of Jesus to the Samaritan woman that he can give her "living water" (4:10). Combine this with the water drops (semen?) from the side of Jesus on the cross after the piercing of his side. It looks like John is not averse to the notion of Jesus even being married as Buddha was married to Yashodhara in order to connect Jesus to Buddha indirectly, perhaps even implying that the marriage celebration recorded by John in chapter 4 of his Gospel is the celebration of Jesus’ own marriage—an idea expressed as spiritual marriage in the Book of Apocalypse, attributed to the authorship of John. Obviously, John is only toying with the idea of Jesus’ marriage without admitting or denying it. From a literary perspective, one may even talk about the “Disciple whom Jesus loved” as a son-figure like Rahula in the life of Buddha. We have to make the careful distinction between the Jesus of Myth/Faith with the historical Jesus, of whom we know precious little.
(14) Michael Lockwood, Buddhism’s Relationship to Christianity. (Chennai, 2010), p. 36.
(15) Perhaps one may suggest that the wedding at Cana can be viewed at least symbolically as Jesus’ own wedding, where the bridegroom and his mother are responsible to feed the guests with food and wine. It is remarkable, Jesus leaves the wedding scene not with the bride but with his mother, brothers, and disciples for Capernaum—almost like Buddha who leaves behind his wife but accepts his mother and relatives into his community.
(16) Both Matthew 20:20-28 and Mark 10: 35-45 refer to the request of the mother of Zebedee’s children James and John that they sit one on the right hand and the other on the left hand in Jesus’ kingdom; the other ten disciples became indignant with the two brothers.
(17) Elmar R. Gruber and Holger Kersten, The Original Jesus: Buddhist Sources of Christianity (Rockport:, 1995) 156.
(18) See Kalpakam Sankaranaraynan, “Is the Buddha’s Encounter with Mara a Depiction of Inner Struggle?, “Brahmavidya, The Adyar Library Bulletin, 74-75 (2010-2011), p. 214.
(19) Sankaranarayanan, p. 219.
(20) “My hour has not yet come”—John 2:4; 7:30;12:23; 12:27; 16:32.
(21) See Mark 1: 12-13: “Thereupon the spirit sent him away into the wilderness, and there he remained for forty days tempted by Satan. He was among the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.
(22) Michael Lockwood, Buddhism’s Relationship to Christianity. (Chennai, 2010), p. 36: “Mara is seen seated [just to the left of] the middle of the panel as a god of the sixth heaven with an umbrella over his head. The Bodhi tree at the left represents the would-be Buddha symbolically. Sujata [the small figure, to the extreme left] appears with an offering of food for him. The figure opposite [standing, immediately to the right of the tree] also represents Mara [worshipping the Buddha-to-be, post-conflict] with one of his sons and daughters. On the extreme right are the grimacing figures of his army. The panel portrays the contest between Mara, the lord of the world of desire, and the Bodhisattva, the annihilator of lusts and desires
(23) I can make the same observation about Buddhist-Christian stories of the presentation in the temple, multiplication of loaves, walking on water, the prodigal son, and so on, as Garbe and I have already done in other works. See Garbe, India and Christendom, passim and Zacharias Thundy, Buddha and Christ (Leiden, 1993), passim, just for two examples.
(24) Lockwood, p. 250: “Around the end of the first century CE, the allegorical narratives of the New Testament Gospels began to be introduced in the(se) Gnostic crypto-Buddhist voluntary associations/synagogues (the proto ‘Christian churches’) by scholars of the School of Alexandria, who were crypto-Buddhist/Gnostic proselytizers. … Early Gnostic scholars were, in fact, the very creators of what were to become the canonical Gospels of the New Testament—allegorical narratives about Jesus the Messiah composed using a strange but ingenious process of creatively translating into Greek of the New Testament a patchwork of various passages from Buddhist scriptures, originally written in Sanskrit and Pali. The use of this method of ‘transcreation’ from Sanskrit and Pali into Greek has been firmly established by Christian Lindtner.”
(25) Addison Wright, Midrash (New York, 1967), 58-59.
(26) Morton Smith, Jesus the Magician (New York: Harper, 1978), p. 6.
(27) Homiletic midrash gives interpretive material of select scriptural passages in the form of homilies. John seems to be to a greater extent a combination narrative and homiletic midrash like the Synoptic Gospels.
(28) Y. H. Yerushalmi, Zakhor: Jewish History and Jewish memory (Seattle: U Washington Press, 1996), p. 17.
(29) I wonder whether John (21;25) is indirectly referring to the collection of Buddhist writings found in the great library of Alexandria when he says: “And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written everyone, I suppose the world itself could not contain the books that should be written.
(30) Newsweek Interview, 1989.
(31) Karl Rahner and Josef Ratzinger, Episcopate and the Primacy (NY: Herder, 1962). P. 49
(32) Eusebius, Historia. ecclesiatica, V, xi.
(33) Paul quotes the proverb ascribed to Epimenides, “Cretans are always liars” (Titus 1:12), without acknowledging his “pagan” source.
(34) Garbe 59: “The smaller number of five hundred in the Buddhist story has the advantage of originality in comparison to the five thousand in the New Testament.”
THE SANSKRIT SOURCES OF THE
GOSPEL NARRATIVES OF THE TRIAL AND DEATH OF JESUS AND A DIALOGUE WITH CHRISTIAN LINDTNER
By Zacharias P. Thundy, Northern Michigan University and the University of Notre Dame.
Introduction and Thesis
People in England call themselves or are referred to as the English, descendants of the Anglo-Saxons from Europe, though Scandinavians settled down in England from the eighth century and the Celtic people have lived there before the coming of the so-called Anglo-Saxons. There are quite a few Scandinavian loan words in English to confirm the partial Scandinavian ancestry of the English. On the other hand, there are far fewer Celtic words in the current English speech, like smithereens, some place names, and MOM and DAD. It has recently been confirmed that a vast number of the English carry Celtic mitochondrial genes in them to support the view that the English are not only Anglo-Saxons but also Celtic or British. This means that the original mothers of the present-day English were British mothers, though it is normally, from a historical perspective, impossible to prove. In other words, the people of England, ethnically speaking, are Germanic, Scandinavian, and Celtic. Rightly so. From a similar perspective, such is also the case of the Christian gospels, which mitochondrially speaking, contain too many Buddhist literary genes but not easy to prove with contemporary historical documentation except through analysis of the gospel texts and Buddhist texts. Such a literary study is what many of us have been doing all these years. Just recently my anatomical analysis of the gospel narratives of the trial and death of Jesus has convinced me that these narratives, besides the birth stories and teachings of Jesus found in the gospels, were also originally influenced significantly by Indian Sanskrit texts. In particular, the two texts are the second-century BCE Sanskrit play MRCHCHAKATIKA (Little Clay Cart) and the SANGABHEDAVASTU of the Mahaprinirvansutra from the Vinayapitaka of the Mulasarvastivadins. It is Professor Christian Lindtner,--thank you, Christian for your brilliant scholarly investigations and insights--who has brought my attention to the SANGABHEDAVASTU, which itself has influenced the Sanskrit play. Together these two works will account for very many details found in the trial narratives of the gospels. As a result, we can view the gospels not merely as Christian texts but also as Buddhist and Hebrew texts.
My Apology. Earlier I had been toying with the idea of presenting a paper with a CD Rom or videotape at this conference. Meantime, being retired, rather lazy, very distracted, I kept procrastinating. At the last minute, I decided to contribute my mite to your scholarly discussions with a paper sent electronically to Christian. Please accept my apologies for not being able to be present in Sweden in person. Scope
There are two major parts to this paper: (1) a synopsis of my discussion of the Sanskrit sources of the trial and death of Jesus and (2) a cross-section of my discussions, disagreements, agreements, and arguments, in short my dialogue, with Christian on the extent of the influence of Buddhist ideas on early Christianity.
1. Sanskrit Sources of the Trial Narratives
First I shall point out briefly the problem with the historical or testimonial accuracy of the gospel narratives to argue that it is an ancient literary text or rather a composite of several subtexts, which is studied like any other literary text from the scholarly point of view rather than from a confessional or theological stance. I suggest that we keep mythology separate from history, theology separate from literary analysis, one without necessarily intruding into the other’s space.
Trouble with the Gospel Passion Narratives.
There is hardly any contemporary historical record to verify the details of the trial and death of Jesus as recorded in the gospels. Perhaps only the bare fact that a certain Jesus was executed by fellow Jews during the tenure of the Roman governor Pontius Pilate can be attested with some credibility from non-Christian sources. Such a case can be made from Josephus, Tacitus, Memoirs of Pilate (perhaps), and the Talmud.
As for Christian sources, apart from the gospels, we have very little in the Acts of the Apostles and Letters of St. Paul. I Timothy 6:13 refers only to the Roman trial; I Thessalonians 2: 13-16 appears to claim that the Jewish authorities killed Jesus. Remarkably, the apocryphal Gospel of Peter, an Akhmimic manuscript in 1887, confirms the Jews’ responsibility to Jesus’ death to the extent that it was King Herod and not Pilate who gives the execution orders.
The four canonical gospels, on the other hand, provide detailed accounts of the last days and hours of Jesus’ life by projecting these accounts as eyewitness accounts. The Forth Gospel says, “This is vouched for by an eyewitness whose evidence is to be trusted. He knows that he speaks the truth so that you too may believe” (John 21:35). As a believer, I have no problem here because I take the whole package of our Christian tradition in the manner I take my American citizenship with the Constitution of the United States and the Declaration of Independence by professing allegiance to the United Sates of America—an act of confession and oath-taking. As a scholar, like most of you, I am pessimistic about the historical accuracy of the many inconsistent testimonies of the so-called eyewitnesses, just as I disagree with the many policies and pronouncements that come from my government in Washington. As the Catholic Jerome Biblical Commentary (43:1810) puts it, “The trial of Jesus and events and persons associated with it is one of the most complex problems in the Gospel interpretation.” Simply stated, there are far too many inconsistencies and variations in the four gospel trial narratives to warrant a historical, faithful eyewitness report of the trial and death of Jesus by the writers of the gospels.
As for these inconsistencies, scholars over the past two hundred years have questioned the chronology of events, legal aspects of the trial, the execution of Jesus, the topography of the various scenes, and so on. Let me point out just a few on account of time restrictions.
The trial of Jesus is different in Mark and John: Jesus speaks differently, acts differently, and dies differently in these gospels. Mark’s or the Synoptic Jesus is arrested on the 15th of Nissan, sentenced to death at night, bound for trial, and sentenced a second time with Simon Cyrene of carrying the cross to the place of execution; he is raised on the cross at 9:00 A.M., and dies about 3:00 P.M., after the plaintive cry why he was forsaken. Mark nowhere mentions the restriction of the Sanhedrin’s authority to carry out judgments it has passed (Mark 14:64 vs.John 18:31). Mark does not provide an explanation why the prisoner was handed over to Pilate. John’s Jesus, on the other hand, is arrested on the 14th of Nissan, put into fetters immediately, sentence at midday, led to execution in the afternoon with Jesus himself carrying the cross, dies toward evening. While Mark’s Jesus, rather taciturn during trial and on the cross, John’s Jesus loquacious, converses with bystanders, and dies contentedly by uttering that it is all accomplished and not by crying, “Eli, Eli, lama shabaktani.” As for the time that lapsed between Jesus’ death and resurrection, Mark seems to contradict himself: Mark 15:42 and 16:2 say that Jesus died on the cross on a Friday evening and rose from the dead very early in the morning on the following Sunday. But Mark 8:31, 9:31, and 10:33 ff., say that the Son of Man will rise from the dead only after three days. Apparently Matthew and Luke were aware of this chronological difficulty by writing “on the third day” (Matt 16:21, 17:23, Luke: 9:22, 18:33). Further, according to all four narratives, less than 24 hours elapse from the Last Supper to the burial of Jesus. Evidently the evangelists compress too many events like the arrest, nocturnal trial, morning trial, then trial by Pilate, trip to Herod Antipas’ palace, flogging, mocking, condemnation, via dolorsa, crucifixion, death, and burial in the afternoon into such a short time. Distances in Jerusalem are not negligible; also the agon of the crucified lasts usually a long time.
There are hardly any solid grounds to support the theory that the Jewish Sanhedrin had no authority to execute a serious law-breaker so much so the Sanhedrin had to send Jesus over to the Roman Governor. There is further no recorded custom of releasing a prisoner during the Festival. It looks like Jesus, Son of Abba(s), is an interesting case; as I read it, Pilate dismisses the charges of blasphemy of the son of the Father (Jesus’ accused crime of claiming to be the Son of God the Father) and accepts the charge of sedition---Jesus claimed to be king of the Jews and says so on the titulus of condemnation:: “King of the Jews.” John, on the other hand, puts both charges on his titulus: “Jesus, the Nazorean (heretic) and King of the Jews.” Also, all told, there are five various mockery scenes in the four gospels.
The simple conclusion is that we can hardly claim that all the details of passion narratives are eyewitness, accurate, historical reportage, rather, these four narratives are resourceful compositions based also on different sources other than the four gospel accounts. We know that none of Matthew’s additions to Mark are found in Luke; in fact, Luke’s additions are incompatible with Matthew’s. For example, details of Judas’ death (Acts 1: 16-20) are inconsonant with Judas’ suicide story in Matthew 27:3-10. Luke seems to rule out the Matthean episode of women seeing the risen Jesus (25:9 ff); Luke ignores appearance of the risen Jesus in Galilee and replaces it with a similar event in Jerusalem (24: 36ff). John’s passion narrative, which is twice as long as Mark’s, does not seem to be based on any of the three Synoptic versions; for example, the plot against Jesus (11:47-53) differs radically from the Markan version (14: 1 ff). Also, the story of the arrest of Jesus in John (18:1-12) varies in many ways from the Synoptic account as to location, Judas’ role, the arresting party, escape of the disciples, the identification of the one who draws the sword, and the victim. Unlike in the Synoptics, in John there is no session of the Sanhedrin, but Jesus appears for an interrogation at the house of Annas who does not give a verdict and later before Caiaphas, who incidentally appears only in Matthew. However, similarities in all four gospels abound: questionings of Jesus by the High Priest, Peter’s denial, the Barabbas episode, reference to Passover Pardon, Pilate’s offer to release Jesus, the crowd’s reaction, the scourging and mocking of Jesus—the Ecce Homo episode is unique to the Fourth Gospel--, the handing over of the prisoner to be crucified, the crucifixion of Jesus, the drinking/tasting of vinegar, and the death of Jesus, and finally leading to the references to the live Jesus after the crucifixion. The purpose of showing the similarities found in the four gospels is to argue that all the four gospel writers had used a common archetype. One may also arguably conclude that there is a historical kernel to the story of the trial and death of Jesus. However, the many textual variants indicate that though the four editors might have consulted one another, as we do when we exchange papers at a symposium, the four narrators were not contemporary eyewitness reporters of the trial and death of Jesus. Rather, the gospel writers used other non-biblical sources like texts and words from dramatic enactments of various passion plays and Holy Week liturgical services.
Of course, none of us will deny that the Christian gospels are Greek texts at least simply because they were written in Greek for Greek-speaking audiences.
In a similar vein, we can argue that the gospels are also Hebrew texts on account of the plethora of quotations and allusions to the Hebrew Bible found in the gospels.
The gospels even present the passion narratives as illustrative commentary on a collection of Hebrew biblical texts. Also, the gospels portray Jesus as a Jew, born of a Jewish mother, circumcised as a Jew, and presented in the Temple as a Jew, and he was most likely a rabbi, as evidenced by the fact that Jesus is addressed in the gospels by some as rabbi.
2. The Passion Texts as Sanskrit Texts
We have been able to identify two major Sanskrit sources for the trial narratives.
A. Sangabhedavastu of the Mahaparinirvanasutra:
Professor Lindtner has identified the Sangabhedavastu section of the Mahaparinirvanasutra of the Vinayapitakaof the Mulasarvastivadins. I have studied this text carefully and have arrived at some significant conclusions. Since Professor Lindtner is the discoverer of this resource, I think he alone should take credit for the discovery. This is the story of Gautama, a holy man, who was wrongfully condemned to die on the cross for murdering the courtesan Bhadra. Gautama is impaled on the cross, and his mentor Krishna Dvapayana visits him and enters into a long dialogue, at the end of which he dies at the place of skulls after engendering two offspring, the progenitors of the Ikshavaku Dynasty. Professor Lindtner will speak about this source after I have discussed my own discovered source, time permitting.
B. Mrcchakatika and the Trial Narratives:
The gospel narratives of Jesus’ trial seem to have been heavily influenced also by the classical Sanskrit play Mrchchakatika (The Clay Cart), dating from the second century BCE, which itself is based on the sangabhedavastu mentioned above.
This remarkable play is the story of a truly good man, compared to Lord Shiva. He is accused of the crime of murder of the courtesan Vasantasena, betrayed to the authorities, and is subjected to a lengthy trial. The judge, admitting his incompetence to condemn a Brahmin, sends the case over to the king who condemns the good man Charudatta to be executed and impaled with an inscription on him. The condemned is then ordered to carry his cross (Skt sulam vs. Gk zulon, also as in the Bible) to the place of execution. Meantime, the king’s brother-in-law, who murdered the courtesan had buried her body under a pile of leaves is identified by Vasantasena, who rose from her deadly swoon with the help of a Buddhist monk. She saves Charudatta from death. The good man Charudatta forgives his accuser Samsthanaka and appoints the Buddhist monk as the bishop or head of all the Buddhist monasteries in the realm. There is a marriage in the end as well: Charudatta accepts Vasantasena as his second wife by making him a kulastri ( noble woman and no longer a despised prostitute. There is a subplot or political foregrounding to the plot: According to the prophecies, a new king Aryaka, a cowherd, is reported to replace the reigning evil king Palaka, who promptly imprisons Aryaka, purporting to put him to death. Aryaka is rescued from the prison by his followers, and Charudatta helps him escape his captors by letting him get away in his bullock cart. When Aryaka seizes power, he orders King Palaka executed like a lamb on the sacrificial altar and appoints Charudatta as his suzerain king, all of which should remind us of the role played by King Herod in the gospels and of Jesus being seated at the right hand of the Father after his ascension into heaven.
I believe that the play Clay Cart is one of the resources of the early Passion narratives and/or Passion plays, of which only one, the Greek play Christos Paschon, has survived. The play also provided numerous ideas and suggestions to the pre-canonical and/or canonical gospel tradition. This perception is based on my studies and others’ research, which have shown so much Buddhist and Indian religious material in the Christian gospels. I have myself shown that there is more Buddhist material embedded in the Nativity stories of Jesus than there are references to the Hebrew Bible. Further, Christian Lindtner and others have so many sayings of Jesus to their Buddhist sources.
What has eluded scholars so far is the passion narrative. Now we have found two major sources that would account for many details in the passion narrative. I will list below some of those interesting parallels without much explication for your own reflection.
1. Foremost, both narratives are stories about unjust accusation, unfair trial, death, burial, and resurrection.
2. In the Fourth Gospel, Jesus utters “I thirst’” which is reminiscent of the basic teaching of the Buddha on “thirst” (trshna/tanha); also, in the play Vasantasena asks for water. The Buddhist monk wrings water off his habit into the mouth of the strangled Vasantasena and quenches her thirst. In the gospel, the drink was proffered to Jesus on a hyssop. Actually, the word “hyssop” is a pun, which also means cotton or cloth and not just the reed of the Synoptics. The cotton plant is a variant of genus gossipum, metonomically standing for cloth.
3. The revivification/resurrection parallel is intriguing. The strangled Vasantasena was, of course, not dead forever. She was probably only asleep like the dead Lazarus of the Fourth Gospel, where the writer equates sleep with death.
4. The Sanskrit play, like the Passion narrative, begins with a meal; also, there is an exquisite meal in the play.
5. Jesus, after the meal, retires to a garden where begins his passion with betrayal and arrest. Charudatta’s betrayal, accusation, and ordeal begin also in a garden.
6. The literary enemies of Jesus try to bribe Judas before Jesus’ arrest and the guards after Jesus’ death. In the Sanskrit play, the villain Samsthanaka tries to bribe the servant Sthavaraka to lie, but he refuses.
7. During Peter’s denial scene a cock crows in the gospel narratives—a sign of ill-luck. In the Indian play it is a raven that is cawing.
8. As Jesus cries in Gethsemane, “My soul is sorrowful unto death; not as I will but as Thou willest,” Charudatta cries,”Now I am sunk deep in sorrow’s sea. I know no fear. I know no sadness any more.”
9. The cup metaphor of Gethsemene is also found in the Mrchchakatika: “How can I, helpless, taste that dread poison/To drink shame’s poisoned cup how can I bear?”
10. The bewildering image of unbroken colt ridden by Jesus during his triumphant entry into Jerusalem has this echo in the Sanskrit play: the colt is associated with Fate in the play: “Fate, like the colt, is reckless.” In the gospels, Jesus seems to be going along with fate or conquers it.
11. Mark and Matthew attribute Jesus’ arrest to his enemies’ envy as in the Mrchchakatika, where Samsthanaka is moved by envy towards Charudatta who has the love of Vasantasena. Perhaps Judas harbored envious thoughts against the Galilean Peter, who was the heir apparent of Jesus.
12. We find the ritual of washing of feet in the Mrchchakatika. The servant Vardhamana asks the maid Radanika to wash the feet of the Brahmins.
13. While the disciples slept, Jesus’ enemies came and snatched him away. In the Indian play, the thief Sravilaka came at night and stole the reassure while disciple Maitreya (Peter’s counterpart in the play). Read Jesus as treasure in the gospels.
14. The name “Maitreya” for beloved follower of Charudatta is intriguing. “Maitreya” means “lovable, friendly, and friend.” In the Fourth Gospel Jesus calls his disciples “friends.”
15. The bewildering kiss of betrayal seems to have been foreshadowed in Maitreya’s betrayal of the gold box in the Indian play; “Take it,” says Maitreya in his sleep. In the gospels, the sleeping disciples let the brigands steal Jesus.
16. According to the Fourth Gospel, the enemies of Jesus fell down at his feet when they came to arrest him. In the Mrchchakatika, only the sword of the executioner fall on the ground at the nick of time in the execution scene, which never takes place. Later in the play, the enemy Samsthanaka falls down at the feet of Charudatta.
17. The scene in which Charudatta forgives his mortal enemy Samsthanaka reminds me of Jesus’w words on the cross, “Father forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”
18. Matthew’s reference—in Jesus’ rebuke to Peter for drawing sword during his arrest—is interesting. In the Mrchchakatika, the one who would protect and rescue Charudatta from his enemies is a symbolic army, the army of spring, which is the literal meaning of the word Vasantasena.
19. There has been no satisfactory legal explanation for the handing over of Jesus by the Sanhedrin to Pilate; the Council claimed it lacked the authority to condemn a blasphemer to death when, in fact, it had the authority. Perhaps the Indian play gives the answer to this crux. The judge in the play lacked the authority to sentence a Brahmin to death. Therefore, he sent the case up to the king, who promptly sentences Charudatta to death, as Pilate does in the gospels.
20. Only Luke would send Jesus to King Herod Antipas during the trial. Here the role of King Herod is intriguing. According to the canonical gospels, it is Governor Pilate, the representative of Caesar, who pronounces the death sentence on Jesus. In this context, I have never been able to understand why Luke would dispatch Jesus to King Herod? According to one gospel, as in the Indian play, it is King Herod who orders Jesus to death. It is the Gospel of Peter!
21. In both traditions, enemies threaten the judge with dire consequences if the judge were to refuse to condemn the accused man to death.
22. In both traditions, the accused condemned to be impaled or crucified. In the Indian play, as in Deuteronomic practice, impaling is expected to take place only after execution. The gospels perhaps are alluding to the Roman form of impaling the live person. However, the Fourth Gospel appeals to the Deuteronomic code when Joseph of Arimathea goes to Pilate to ask Jesus’ body for burial!
23. The breaking of the legs of the crucified is referred to in both literary texts.
24. The Fourth Gospel provides an interesting but enigmatic explanation on the relationship between the high priests Annas and Caiaphas as in-laws—father-in-law and son-in-law. In the Indian play the evil Samsthanaka and the wicked king Palaka are brothers-in-law.
25. In both texts, there is reference to a titulus or inscription to be displayed on the dead body or the cross. We see the titulus on our crucifixes as INRI (Iesus Nazarenus Rex Iudaeorum—slightly different on Greek crosses, where rex becomes basileus--. Why would John insist on including Nazarenus/Aramaic Nazraya (heretic on account of blasphemy) as part of the titulus unlike the other evangelists who have only “king of the Jews” on the titulus? Let us ignore the linguistically untenable explanation that Nazarenus means “from Nazareth.” The Jewish authorities had already established the guilt of Jesus but refused to stone Jesus to death, as the Torah stipulates. My only explanation is that the pre-canonical narratives, which the gospel writers accepted, were following the lead of the Indian play. The Indian judge says, “A judge decides the guilt; a king decides the punishment.” In my opinion, this explanation is the best response to the crux mentioned above. This also explains why the Fourth Gospel includes heresy as one of the charges against Jesus to be included in the titulus.
26. The “field of blood” (hql dma), a truly Aramaic phrase with the quotation taken from Zechariah 11: 12-13, which is attributed erroneously to Jeremiah and not quoted faithfully by the evangelists has been a celebrated crux in the gospels. Then again Golgotha or Calvary is not a hill. I suspect that the gospel writers or the pre-canonical narrators were referring to the burning ground or burial ground where Charudatta was taken to be executed. Professor Lindtner is right in pointing out that the best explanation is found in the Buddhist Sangabhedavastu.
27. According to the gospels, Jesus was buried in a private garden exactly as Vasantasena of the Mrchchakatika was.
28. The appointment of Peter as the shepherd of all the sheep by Jesus in one of his poest-resurrection appearance is certainly reminiscent of the appointment of the Buddhist monk as the bishop or overseer of all Buddhist monasteries or viharas in the kingdom.
29. What is most intriguing in the Indian play is that at the end Charudatta marries the courtesan Vasantasena to make a kulastri (honorable woman) of her. In the gospels, on the other hand, there is no marriage between Jesus and, say, Mary Magdalene. Perhaps we have to seek the answer to this paradox on the mystical/eschatological/mythological level as in the book of Apocalypse, where the divine Lamb or Bridegroom is espoused to 144,000 virgins. Perhaps Matthew is using the kulastri-motif in his Infancy Gospel where Mary is made a legitimate wife by Joseph who marries her as Charudatta marries Vasantasena.
30. The Apocalypse also carries a description of heavenly Jerusalem, which reminds me of the elaborate description of the glorious mansion Vasantasena, whom Charudatta at one point addresses as the “goddess.”
31. What bothers me is why the word “cart” does not appear in the gospels if it is a play purportedly used by the gospel writers. In Buddhist parlance, the cart stands for “vehicle” as in Mahayana and Hinayana. My only answer is that boat replaces cart in the gospels, as when Jesus climbs into the boat of Peter—like Aryaka climbing into Charudatta’s bullock cart.
32. I have saved the best for the last. All of us vividly remember Jesus’s response to his accusers: “You have said it” (su legeis).
These two words are exactly what Charudatta utters when he is accused by his own accuser Samsthanaka: “You have said it” (tvayi yavoktam).
I HAVE JUST DECIDED AT THIS POINT TO LET PROFESSOR LINDTNER HIMSELF ADDRESS THE ISSUE OF THE MANY PARALLELS FOUND IN THE GOSPELS AND THE SANGHABHEDAVASTU OF THE MAHAPARINIRVANASUTRA OF THE VINAYAPITAKA OF THE MULASARVASTIVADINS. HE CAN DO A BETTER JOB HERE THAN I CAN. ALSO HE CAN ADDRESS THE ISSUE OF THE DEPENDENCE OF THE INDIAN PLAY MRCHCHAKATIKA ON THE BUDDHIST TEXT AND ITS ANTIQUITY.
Let me conclude: I have given only a sampling of the many parallels and allusions found in the Mrchchakatika and the Passion narratives of the gospels. The influence of the Indian play can be seen in all the four gospels in their entirety. But the influence is manly on the Passion narratives. Which leads to my contention that the Passion narratives were originally dramatic performances like our present-day Passionspiele.
Now, as for the question about the time of the composition of the Indian play, opinions vary. Modern critics want to place the date of composition to a later period. The traditional Indian date of the play is between the second and first century BCE. That will be the subject of an entire chapter of a book, which is what I am trying to do at this point.
Nest, as for the question in your mind about contacts between India and the Middle East, I have devoted an entire chapter in my book Buddha and Christ: Nativity Stories and Indian Traditions to show that intellectuals, traders, and writers of the Middle East know plenty about India and its rich culture. There was unbroken spice trade between the Greek/Roman Empire and India especially since the days of Alexander the Great. There were Greek kingdoms in northwestern India. The great Buddhist work of the second century BCE, Milindapanha is a dialogue between the Greek Bactrian king Menander and Buddhist sage Nagasena. In fact, an Oxhyrrincus Papyrus fragment from Egypt contains a passage in a South Indian language. Remarkably, the gospel writers, especially the authors of the Fourth Gospel and the Apocalypse, were literary geniuses, very erudite in the literatures of the ancient world. They were all great mythographers as well. They went beyond the Buddhist mythology and created a new mythology, which we now call Christian. The myths they have created are far more powerful and enduring and more truthful than the unverifiable “historical” truths we are clamoring for. The stories of the New Testament, including the Passion narratives, belong not to history but to mythology. The details of the life of Jesus, like those of the Buddha found in Buddhist texts I or like those of Krishna found in the Puranas, belong to the realm of mythology, which we accept as part of our cultural/religious heritage and do not try to prove them as facts from contemporary historical records. As a professing Oriental, Indian Catholic, I can live with this line of thinking and reflection like most of the rest of heathendom and Christendom.
PART II: DIALOGUE WITH PROFESSOR CHRISTIAN LINDTNER
Last September here at Notre Dame/St. Mary's College, I had the pleasure to meet Christian Lindtner, Kim Beck, and Robert Countess. We enjoyed each other's intellectual company for a couple of days. I greatly admire Lindtner's profound knowledge of Sanskrit/Pali and Buddhist texts as well as the constructive criticism of Bob Countess along with the frank views of Duncan Derrett presented by Kim Beck. Derrett argues for mutual influence between the Gospels and Buddhist texts. Obviously, Lindtner succeeded in making Derrett change some of his view in his last published book. Lindtner and I argue that the Christian gospels, especially the apocrypha, were influenced by Buddhist texts and not vice versa.
Lindtner and I do not see eye to eye or agree on the nature and extent of influence.
I would agree with Lindtner that the Jesus of Faith is a "fiction"??in the good sense that the Jesus of faith belongs to the realm of myth/faith and not to the realm of unreliable history. TRUTH is not defined by us merely as correspondence between faith and history (adequatio intellectus et rei) but as coherence (it all makes sense or at least it all does not make total non-sense), as Kim Beck would put it. On the other hand, I hold, especially on the basis of other texts, that there was a Jesus of history, of whom we know very little. In my Catholic/Oriental tradition, faith is not based on the written scriptures since my folks, like the disciples of Jesus, were already members of the Jesus Movement long before Jesus died and long, long before the New Testament or the works of St. Paul came into existence. We are "Christians" simply because we are born into a Christian community and because we have received baptism.
Having said that, let us go back into the dangerous, precarious realm of the so?called "history" based on testimonies??whether they are reliable or not. Verifying testimonies would lead us almost into a processus ad infinitum. Don’t we need a lot of faith to accept these testimonies? Faith is only a matter of acceptance and not the result of scientific verification. We can't even verify events that happened a few hundred years ago or even a few years ago, let alone verify events that supposedly happened some 2000 years ago.
As for the dating of the New Testament Gospels, it is worth pointing out that the earliest fragment (from the Fourth Gospel) comes only from 125 A.D., or so. The complete NT texts come from around the fourth century. Having said that, I don’t deny the gospels texts in their entirety could have existed already in the second century at least simply because the gospel texts deal with a phenomenon from the first century.
As for the Buddhist texts, they describe a phenomenon from the fourth/fifth century BC. The Buddhist traditions antedate, in written or oral or both forms, long, long before the NT gospels ever came into existence. We argue rightly that the OT texts preexisted the NT texts and that the authors of the NT gospels knew the OT at least on the basis that the OT texts are cited directly or indirectly in the NT even when the OT texts are not identified openly by the gospels writers; for example, Luke’s first chapter and the Magnificat appear to be in several places to be a string of “plagiarized” quotations or paraphrases. That the Gospel writers deliberately tried to hide their sources seems to be evident from the fact they don’t cite most of their OT sources. Of course, they were not obligated to cite all their sources. The situation is the same with the NT and Buddhist texts. When we see, as Lindtner, I, and several other scholars have shown, that the Buddhist texts and traditions (oral or written or both) inhere in the NT gospels so extensively, we have no hesitation to conclude that the gospels were extensively influenced by the Buddhist traditions just as the NT gospels were extensively influenced by the OT.
Lindtner and I seem to agree in general along these lines. Of course, we also disagree, as all scholars do.
On my part, I think that the latest redactors of the gospels were not trying to show that they were influenced by Buddhist texts. The Synoptics--the Fourth Gospel seems to be an exception--seemed to want to show that Jesus was a second Moses or another figure foreshadowed in the OT. I don’t think they wanted to present Jesus as an exotic figure from India. So they had to disguise or conceal their Indian sources. However, they could not suppress all the Buddhist elements without doing violence to the Jesus of faith—myths and teachings—from the earlier gospel texts (St. Luke admits to his use of such pre-texts at the beginning of his gospel).
I see much OT and local Palestine in the gospels, especially in personal names and place names. The gospel writers might have tried to equate local names with Sanskrit names deliberately; as a result, they sort of tied up Magdala with Magadah, Petros with Putra–so there is truth in Lindtner’s gematria studies, which I don’t totally agree with. Magdala and Petros (Aramaic kepa) came first. The metaphor of rock plays a prominent role in OT texts. My view is that Matthew translated kepa into Petros, which he probably found to make sense also in onomastic environment of Sariputrah. I hold that the Acts of the Apostles provides a reliable guide to determining the historical environment, where we find the nature of clashes between early Christianity, fusion of contemporary Judaism and Hellenism, and-Gnosticism, into which cauldron I put Buddhism. Baptist is another interesting case: the word is a direct translation of the Aramaic mamda or mamdana as in Yohannan Mamdana (John the Baptist); the followers of John the Baptist, who did not join the Jesus Movement, are known today as Mamdaye, who still survive in Iraq and Iran, now many in America and Europe. These people are not fictional folks but real people just like John the Baptist of history, the Jesus of history, and the Gautama Buddha of history—alas, we know so little about the historical details of their lives. Of course, no one is going to stop us from demythologizing these figures or from creating new myths about them. As Bob Countess points out, some of the fascinating puns that Lindtner finds can be traced to the linguistic affinities between two members of the Indo-European Family of languages, Sanskrit and Greek.
I am still trying to understand Lindtner’s thesis that the gospel writers have reproduced the same number of syllables and words from the Buddhist scriptures in given sections of the Christian gospels. We both claim, however, that even Buddhist words were transferred into the Christian scriptures. One excellent example is the word WAY, as in Jesus’s expression in the Fourth Gospel: “I am the Way, the Truth, and Life” and as in the Acts reference to the Jesus Movement as the WAY (he hodos). Remarkably, the Greek word seems to be a translation of the Sanskrit marga/Pali magga.
I rather hold the view that there is an Aramaic substratum (as evidenced in Aramaic quotations, place names, and personal names in the least) as well as strong OT foundation (evident in the hundreds of OT references found in the gospels) in the NT, which transformed Buddhist/Hindu beliefs into Palestinian conditions. In other words, some of the NT authors were Palestinian or Egyptian or Libyan, Aramaic-Greek-speaking locals well-versed in OT and Buddhist traditions; these writers used the Buddhist traditions as well as Greek and OT traditions to create a new myth–the Jesus of faith. The authors of the existing gospels seem to have less knowledge of Aramaic, though. Obviously, a long process seems to be involved in the redaction of the existing gospels; the original authors must have known Aramaic and Buddhist texts better than the later redactors, who had seemingly tried to suppress Buddhist elements in the gospels for the purpose of emphasizing its OT dimensions. We scholars see fault lines in the gospel narratives–most people don’t see them--, which we try to account for.
Christian: This morning's Gospel reading at Mass again persuades me to suggest that Matthew or whoever had a Palestinian-Jewish version of the Buddhist tradition to work on. The Buddhism of Palestine had already become Jewish in the Palestinian intellectual/cultic/cultural environment just as the Theravada tradition was adapted to suit the needs of popular Hindus through the Mahayana tradition in India. The Gospel reading relates the question of the scribe regarding the greatest of the commandments. I understand the Jewish authorities of the time had identified some 175 commandments. The response of Matthew's Jesus was to reiterate the Deuteronomic "Shamah Israel." My point is that the Buddhism of Jesus/Matthew is neither pure Theravada or synthetic Mahayana but a newly minted synthetic one. It is like the synthetic quranic tradition or the Sikh tradition or the early Christian (an amalgamation of Hellenism, Mithraism, Hebraism, Buddhism, Hinduism, etc). My Syrian Christian Indian tradition is a classic example: we use almost all the Sanskrit words for god for the Christian god. We even have a Christusahasra nama! It is also like our own intellectual and ethnic roots--a den of vipers, to quote my old favorite author Francois Mauriac.
As for the Fourth Gospel, I am again intrigued by his decision to exorcise his work, unlike the Synoptics, of too much Jewishness; he does not like the Passover connection with Jeus's death by making Jesus die a day before the Passover; also, he deliberately omits the passover dinner and the recitation of words of institution in his version of the discourse of Jesus during his last supper.
I tend to think that the Greek "ho Hristos" is a mistranslation of the Persian "Massieh' (god), which was rendered into Aramaic as Mashiha, which means the anointed one. I have been unable to find any OT reference to "hristos" as god, as the High Priest was made to allege in the Synoptics! The Fourth Gospel omits such a reference.
"Nazraya" simply means "rebel" or "heretic"; it has nothing to do with the place Nazareth, as though Nazraya were a derivative from Nazareth as the synoptics would like to have it, which derivation apparently is rejected by the Fourth Gospel.
I like to think that the original title of Jesus in Palestine was Isho/a, meaning god (Sanskrit ishah); it was cleverly connected with the Hebrew Jeshua and the Persian Massieh, a variation of divine Mithra. This clever combination will give us "Isho Mshiha"--translated into Greek as Iesus hristos. Is it possible that ishah became ishow when coupled with massieh, according to usual sandhi rules? I don't deny several of your Grecisms, but I am also for Hebraicisms in the gospels. The synoptic gospels are more for Hebraicsation than the Fourth gospel Writer; the synoptics, in fact, literally repeats some Aramaic phrases and sentences besides a host of quotations from the LXX, still the hebrew Bible. One interesting point: It is Aramaic they are quoting and not Hebrew in "Eli, Eli, lama shabaktani" a garbled Aramaic version, in which the verb "Shwak" is not a Hebrew word at all; the bystanders thought Jesus was calling on Elijah! (Certainly a dialect is used in this scriptural quotation from the pslams). In other words, sometimes the authors replaced Sanskrit words with Aramaic (or Greek) equivalents. A case in point is Dharma which was rendered as "sandikuza" or "chakra" with the Aramaic "shmayya" or Greek "ouranos," instead of retaining the Sanskrit word itself. You can probably cite hundreds of other examples. Or "Subhashita" or "suvishesha" with "euangelion"--sutra/sukta/sutta notwithstanding. I agree with you that the sutra-genre is used by the evangelists. I like to give the gospel writers more imagination and freedom to operate in a different cultural environment, where they were propagating the essential Buddhist doctrines in a Greek/Hebraic garb. It is like what we find in the Acts, where Paul and Barnabas are equated with Zeus and Apollo. Paul makes Jesus into a Greek deity with Greek philosophical underpinnings, especially in his oration in the Areopagus. Later at the Council of Ephesus Mary would be declared "theotokos," giving her the attributes of the Artemis of Ephesus or of Hera. In other words, it is like the transcendent bodhisatva becoming incarnate in different forms and shapes and names in different countries: in substance same but in appearance and name garb different. No wonder that the white elephant image is replaced by the Ruha (spirit or wind from Genesis 1:3 and Kings etc) descending upon Mary. The same spirit of adaptation is found in the Synoptic writer quoting LXX for parethenogenesis--Hebraicisation coupled with Grecisation, both together! Intentionally speaking, the Hebrew "ha almah"--young woman--is replaced by parthenos! These writers knew what they were doing.
By the way, I liked your comment on Japamaala/Japaamaala/rosary. You are quite enlightening here. --Zach.
Lindtner sees more Buddhism in the gospels; I see a great deal of the Hebrew Bible and Aramaicisms as well in the NT gospels. Our studies complement each other. My own studies on the Indian sources of the Gospel narrative of the trial and death of Jesus, which was primarily the subject of the St. Mary’s Conference, are really and helpfully supported by the erudition and observations of Lindtner. We shall show that even the trial-death-resurrection aspects of the Jesus myth is firmly founded on Buddhist sources–a point that has so far escaped many scholarly investigations. Hopefully, we will be able to present the results of our recent research on the Trial-and-Death narratives of Jesus–the Gospels vis-a-vis Buddhist/Indian texts—to the scholarly public next year.
The issue of chronology works in favor of the influence of the eminently rich and profound mythologies of Buddhism and Hinduism on the ill-equipped, ill-educated early Christians, as St. Paul would characterize them in one of his epistles. Early Christians were trying to develop a mythology for the Jesus of their faith; the Hebrew traditions with its exaggerated notion of monotheism and the notion of the transcendent Yahweh were not adequate and sufficient for this purpose. The mythologically rich Buddhism helped out the early Christians in this regard. I believe that the Buddhist missionaries, whom Emperor Ashok had sent as early as the fourth century BC, as epigraphic evidence avers, were still active in Palestine and Egypt. We may want to look at the Therapeuts of Egypt and the Essenes of the desert of Palestine, with whom probably John the Baptist and Jesus were apparently associated, were probably indigenized Buddhists. Alexander had encountered the Indian sages; The Greek kings sent their embassies to India. The Mediterranean world knew a lot about India during the early centuries of Christianity. I have treated this problem of chronology and influence extensively in my book Buddha and Christ: Nativity Stories and Indian Traditions (E. J. Brill, 1993).
My position is that gospel writers who were members of the Jesus Movement (one may call them Christian missionaries or even Buddhists) created the Jesus of Myth/Faith, utilizing the rich resources of Buddhism (as well as Hinduism), Judaism, and the amorphous Hellenism. If the gospel writers really were dharma-bhanakas (Buddhist missionaries) trying to present Buddha-dharma through Hebraicized gospels, they had already become members of the Jesus Movement or Christians, creating a revised dharma, the Jesus-dharma. Thus they are no different from the Hindu Brahmins like Ananda, Kashyapa, and Sariputra, who themselves became Buddhists when they became Buddha’s followers. Hindu relatives continued to consider them Hindu Brahmins just as Gautama Buddha was considered by his royal kin as a Kshatriya. But one may also view the gospel writers as simultaneously being Buddhist, Jewish, and Christian. It is in this sense that the self-styled Jewish Pharisee Saul-Paul could be considered Jewish. One may even be tempted to call Augustine of Hippo at once a Manichee and Christian, though Augustine himself would prefer to be called a Christian and Manichee or an ex-Manichee Christian; alas, Mani himself had borrowed much from his own Christian background.
Finally, the key to answer the question whether the gospel-writers were Buddhist or not lies in the application of the principles of Fuzzy Logic to the issue of origins or authorship. As comparative literary scholars of the gospels, some of us are often tempted to use the word “probably” to resolve the issue of the origins of the gospels. We may say, basing ourselves on the evidence of the Buddhist elements in the gospels, that they were probably written by Buddhists ; on the contrary, most people say, on the basis of Old Testament references and associations found in the gospels, that they were composed probably by the Jewish disciples of Jesus. The problem with this either-or approach is that “probability” refers only to one side of the equation and excludes the other and ignores the essential ambivalence of reality located between the two poles of bivalence, between 0 and 1, between A and not-A. I can look at an inexact oval and say, “This is probably a circle.” My statement ignores that the drawing is also probably an oval. Fuzzy logic recognizes the fuzziness of sets to which objects can belong with various degrees or grades as in the case of a car parked in two spaces in a parking lot. It is also the case of the part belonging to the whole and the whole in part. The part cannot contain the whole unless the part is equal to the whole, but the part contains the whole in direct proportion to its size or mass. In other words, containment is not whole or none. The real world is fuzzy, so are the concepts we create and use to deal with fuzzy reality. All complex systems are fuzzy systems and boundaries are fuzzy. Such is the case with the NT gospels; they are neither totally Buddhist nor totally Jewish. The concepts of the Buddhism and Jewishness and Christianity are fuzzy sets, in which objects belong to several sets to a degree. A gospel like Mark’s or Matthew’s may be viewed as more Jewish and less Buddhist, whereas the Fourth Gospel is more Buddhist and less Jewish. The fuzzy NT gospels are both Buddhist and Jewish.