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The Buddha of Christendom: A Review of The Legend of Barlaam and Josaphat

  • Philip Almond (a1)


Through the Manichaeans, the Islamic world, and the Christian East, the story of the Buddha became known to the Christian West. If the teachings of the Buddha reached the West in an attenuated form, his life and the ascetic ideal which it symbolized were a positive force in the spiritual life of Christendom. It is one of the vicissitudes of history for which Christianity and Buddhism can both feel grateful. For the Legend of Barlaam and Josaphat demonstrates powerfully the intimate connections between these two traditions to the extent that they both pursue the spiritual life and the ascetic ideal. As Max Müller has aptly put it

Whatever we may think of the sanctity of saints, let those who doubt the right of Buddha to a place among them read the story of his life as it is told in the Buddhist canon. If he lived the life which is there described, few saints have a better claim to the title than Buddha; and no one either in the Greek or in the Roman Church need be ashamed of having paid to Buddha's memory the honour that was intended for St Josaphat, the prince, the hermit, and the saint.



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page 391 note 1 Tolstoy, for example, was significantly influenced by the legend in his mid-life renunciation of worldliness. See Tolstoy, L., A Confession and What I Believe (London: Oxford University Press, 1921), pp. 23–4.

page 391 note 2 For a full account of the diffusion of the legend, see Peri, H., Der Religionsdisput der Barlaam-Legende, ein Motiv abendländischer Dichtung (Salamanca: University of Salamanca, 1959).

page 392 note 1 Sonet, J., La Roman de Barlaam et Josaphat (Louvain: Bibliothèque de L'Université, 1949), p. 20. This work contains the most complete account of the diffusion of the fables outside the corpus of the legend.

page 392 note 2 See Lang, D. M., The Balavariani (Barlaam and Josaphat): A Tale from the Christian East Translated from the Old Georgian (London: Allen & Unwin, 1966). A much abbreviated and later Georgian version also exists. See Lang, D. M., The Wisdom of Balahoar: A Christian Legend of the Buddha (London: Allen & Unwin, 1957).

page 392 note 3 Lang, , The Balavariani, p. 57.

page 393 note 1 Lang, , The Balavariani, p. 69.

page 393 note 2 The author of the Greek version of the legend embellished his narrative at this point with the second century Apology of Aristides. For the quite exicting discovery of this text in the late nineteenth century, and the subsequent recognition of its role in our legend see Wolff, R. L., ‘The Apology of Aristides – A Re-Examination’, Harvard Theological Review, XXX (1937), 233–47.

page 393 note 3 Lang, , The Balavariani, p. 145.

page 394 note 1 Lang, , The Balavariani, p. 43.

page 394 note 2 See Rhys Davids, T. W., Buddhist Birth Stories; or fātaka Tales (London: Trübner & Co., 1880), p. xl.

page 394 note 3 On the distinction between the attribution of sanctity and the formal processes of canonization, see Cosquin, E., ‘La Légende des Saints Barlaam et Josaphat: son Origin’, Revue des Questions historiques, XXVIII (1880), 581–2.

page 394 note 4 Cosquin, , ‘La Légende’, p. 580.

page 394 note 5 Cosquin, , ‘La Légende’, pp. 583–4.

page 394 note 6 Yule, H., The Book of Ser Marco Polo the Venetian concerning the Kingdoms & Marvels of the East (London: John Murray, 1929), ii. 325. edited by Cordier, H..

page 394 note 7 Jacobs, J., Barlaam & Josaphat: English Lives of Buddha (London: David Nutt, 1896, p. xviii.

page 395 note 1 See Cosquin, , ‘La Légende’, pp. 586–9. See also Lubac, H. de, La Rencontre du Bouddhisme et de l'Occident (Paris: Aubier, 1952), p. 30.

page 395 note 2 Benfrey, T., Pantschatantra: Fünf Bücher indischer Fabeln, Märchen und Erzählungen (Leipzig: F. A. Brock-haus, 1859).

page 395 note 3 Laboulaye, E., review of S. Julien, Les Avadānas (Paris: Benjamin Duprat, 1859), journal des Debats, July 26, 1859.

page 395 note 4 St Hilaire, J. Barthélemy, Le Bouddha et sa Religion. (Paris: Didier, 1860). English translation, The Buddha and his Religion (London: George Routledge, 1895).

page 396 note 1 Liebrecht, F., ‘Die Quellen des “Barlaam und Josaphat”’, Jahrbuch für romanische und englische Sprache und Literatur II (1860), 314, Max Müller suggests that in 1869 Samuel Beal also came independently to the same conclusion. See Müller, F. M., Chips from a German Workshop (London: Longmans, Green, & Co., 1874), iv. 185. See also Beal, S., Travels of Fah-Hian & Sung-Yun, Buddhist Pilgraims from China to India (400 A.D. & 519 A.D. (London: Susil Gupta, 1964), pp. 85–6, n. 4.

page 396 note 2 Moule, A. C. and Pelliot, P., Marco Polo: The Description of the World (London: George Routledge & Sons, 1938), i:409.

page 396 note 3 Moule, & Pelliot, , Marco Polo, i.140.

page 396 note 4 Yule, , The Book of Ser Marco Polo, ii.325. See also Budge, E. A. W., Baralām & Yéwāsēf being the Ethiopic Version of a Christianized Recension of the Buddhist Legend of the Buddha & the Bodhisattva (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1923), pp. xxxiii–vi.

page 397 note 1 Lang, , The Wisdom of Balahvar, pp. 1213.

page 397 note 2 Davids, , Buddhist Birth Stories, p. 73.

page 397 note 3 Johnston, E. H., The Buddhacarita or the Acts of the Apostles (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1972), p. 37.

page 397 note 4 Johnston, , The Buddhacarita, p. 64.

page 398 note 1 Lang, , The Balavariani, p. 64.

page 399 note 1 Lang, , The Balavariani, p. 57.

page 399 note 2 Lang, , The Balavariani, p. 57.

page 399 note 3 Lang, , The Balavariani, p. 101.

page 399 note 4 Lang, , The Balavariani, p. 85.

page 400 note 1 Lang, , The Balavariani p. 85.

page 400 note 2 Woodward, G. R. & Mattingly, H., Barlaam and loasaph (London: Heinemann, 1967), p. 3.

page 400 note 3 For the theory of John of Saba as author, see Zotenberg, H., ‘Notice sur le Livre de Barlaam et Josaphat, accompagnée d'extraits du texte grec et des versions arabes et éthiopiennes’, Notices ex extraits des Mss. de la Bibliothèque Nationale XXVII (1886), and Kuhn, E., ‘Barlaam und Ioasaph. Eine bibliographisch-literargeschichtliche Studie’, Abhandlungen der philosophisch-philologischen Klasse der Königlichen Bayerischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, XX (1894), 89.

page 401 note 1 Woodward, & Mattingly, , Barlaam and Ioasaph, pp. 5, 609–10.

page 401 note 2 Woodword, & Mattingly, , Barlaam and loasaph, p. 622. More recently, the case for Damascene authorship has been put by Dölger, F., Der griechische Barlaam-Roman. Ein Werk des heiligen Johannes von Damaskus (Ettal: Buch-Kunstverlag, 1953).

page 401 note 3 Lang, D. M., ‘St. Euthymius the Georgian and the Barlaam and Ioasaph Romance’, Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, XVII (1955), 321.

page 401 note 4 For the Greek texts, see Wolff, R. L., ‘Barlaam and Iosaph’, Harvard Theological Review, XXXII (1939), 133, n. 12.

page 402 note 1 Lang, D. M., Lives and Legends of the Georgian Saints (Crestwood, New York: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, 1976), p. 155. The work referred to as Abakura is also known as ‘The Martyrdom of Saint Michael, who dwelt in the aura of our holy Father Saba’. See Abuladze, I. V., ‘Introduction’, inLang, , The Balavariani, pp. 3940.

page 402 note 2 See Peeters, P., ‘La première Traduction latine de ‘Barlaam et Joasaph’ et son original Grec’, Analecta Bollandiana, XLIX (1931), 276312.

page 402 note 3 Wolff, , ‘Barlaam and Iosaph’, p. 134. Latin text in Peeters, , ‘La première Traduction’, pp. 277–8.

page 402 note 4 Lang, , ‘St. Euthymius the Georgian’, p. 308. Latin text in Wolff, , ‘Barlaam & Iosaph’, p. 137.

page 403 note 1 Lang, D. M., ‘The Life of the Blessed lodasaph. A New Oriental Christian Version of the Barlaam & Ioasaph Romance’, Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, XX (1957), 391.

page 403 note 2 See Lang, , ‘The Life of the Blessed lodasaph’, p. 403–4.

page 403 note 3 Sachau, E. C., Alberuni's India (Delhi: S. Chand & Co., 1964), 1:159. See also Asmussen, J. P., ‘Der Manichäismus als Vermittler literarischen Gutes’, Temenos, II (1966), 1314.

page 403 note 4 It is summarized by Browne, E. G., ‘Some Account of the Arabic Work entitled ‘Nihayatu'l-irab fi akhbäri'l-Furs wa'l-'Arab,’ particularly of that part which treats of the Persian Kings', The Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland, XXXII (1900), 195259.

page 403 note 5 For an English translation of the Halle manuscript, see Rehatsek, E., ‘Book of the King's Son and the Ascetic’, The Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland, XXII (1890), 119–55. For a useful summary of the Arabic versions, see Lang, D. M., ‘Bilawhar wa-Yudasaf’, The Encyclopaedia of Islam (Leiden: Brill, & London: Luzac, 1960), 1.1215–7.

page 403 note 6 See Lang, , ‘The Life of the Blessed Iodasaph’, pp. 394–98. There is an interesting variant of the life of the Buddha in that of the Sufi Ibrahim Ibn Edhem. He abandoned his royal state and adopted the life of an ascetic after seeing a beggar at the entrance to his palace. See Duka, T., ‘The Influence of Buddhism upon Islam’, The Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland, XXXVI (1904), 125–41.

page 404 note 1 Text in Sundermann, W., ‘Zur frühen missionarischen Wirksamkeit Manis’, Acta Orientalia Academiae Scientiarum Hungaricae, XXIV (1971), 104–5.

page 404 note 2 Sachau, E., The Chronology of Ancient Nations (London: W. H. Allen, 1879), p. 190.

page 404 note 3 On Buddhist influence on Manichaeism, see Asmussen, , ‘Der Manichäismus als Vermittler’, pp. 521. On Manichaean influence on Buddhism, see Klimkeit, H. J., ‘Manichäische und buddhistische Beichtformeln aus Turfan. Beobachtungen zur Beziehung zwischen gnosis und Mahāyanā’, Zeitschrift für Religions – und Geistesgeschichte, XXIX (1977), 193228. See also Emmerick, R. E., ‘Buddhism among Iranian Peoples’, The Cambridge History of Iran (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983), 111(2) pp. 949–64.

page 404 note 4 A Coq, von Le, ‘Ein christliches und ein manichäisches Manuskriptfragment in turkische Sprache aus Turfan (Chinesisch-Turkestan)’, Sitzungsberichte der Berliner Akademie der Wissenschaften, phil.-hist. Klasse, XLVIII (1909), 1208–11.Bang, W., ‘Manichäisches Erzähler’, Le Muséon XLIV (1931), 9.

page 405 note 1 Coq, Le, ‘Ein christliches und ein manichäisches Manuskriptfragment’, p. 1205.

page 405 note 2 For the text, see Radloff, W., ‘Alttürkische Studien, no. VI’, zvestiya Imperatorskoi Akademii Nauk, VI (1912), 752–3.

page 405 note 3 For the text, see Oldenburg, S. von, ‘Nachtrag zu W. Radloff, Alttürkische Studien VI’, Izvestiya Imperatorskoi Akademii Nauk VI (1912), 779–82.

page 405 note 4 Lang, , The Balavariani, p. 102.

page 405 note 5 Lang, , The Balavariani, pp. 87–8, 88 n.I.

page 406 note 1 Burkitt, F. C., The Religion of the Manichees (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1925), p. 45.

page 406 note 2 Müller, , Chips, pp. 188–9.


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