By Dr. Christian Lindtner
The journey to the Holy Land that Pope Paul John II undertook March 2000 was not merely an ordinary journey. Widely publicized as nothing less than a pilgrimage in the footsteps of Jesus, the itinerary first brought Saint Peter's successor No. 264 to Bethlehem, thus providing a world-wide audience with an opportunity to observe His Holiness genuflecting in the Church of the Nativity, where it is believed that Virgin Mary gave birth to Jesus Christ. After a stay in Jerusalem, including a visit to the Holocaust memorial Yad Vashem, His (so-called) Holiness continued to Galilee, to the mountain or rather hill, where Jesus is said (by Matthew only) to have delivered the celebrated Sermon on the Mount. On Saturday, March 25th, the Polish Pope visited Nazareth, the village in which Jesus, according to our only source, the New Testament Gospels, is supposed to have grown up to manhood. The by now eighty year old Pope concluded his pilgrimage in Jerusalem, in the outskirts of which Jesus ended his life on earth - at least for the time being.
One of the many things that must puzzle a critical reader of the four Gospels is the curious and almost systematical vagueness and uncertainty with regard to chronological and topographical indications. Some researchers are convinced that the story about the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem is nothing more than a myth. Where and even whether Jesus actually delivered his Sermon on the Mount, is also open to doubt. Mark does not even mention it, and Luke locates it in a different form to a level place. And where the old Nazareth - or Nazara, another reading - actually was situated, we do not really know. Moreover, it is doubtful whether it was not Capernaum, rather than Nazareth, that was the paternal town of Jesus and the center of his activities. But even here there are doubts. According to Matthew 4:13, Capernaum was beside the ocean, not, as most translators have it, manipulating the Greek original, by the lake. And when we finally reach Golgotha, the exact location is also unknown. There is no convincing archaeological evidence either for the traditional site at the present Church of the Holy Sepulcher or for the more recently supposed site of Gordon's Calvary.
Similar uncertainty adheres to vitually all other topographical indications concernin the itineray of Jesus in the Gospels. One of the other facts that must arouse our curiosity is the striking coincidence, compared with the NW Gospels, that the Buddhist Gospels exhibit with regard to the locations with which the Buddha is associated.
In Buddhism there are four major places of pilgrimage, that a pious follower is expected to visit. First there is Lumbinī, the site where queen Māyā gave birth to the Bodhisattva (i.e.the Buddha before he woke up as Buddha), exactly as the Virgin Mary gave birth to Jesus in Bethlehem. Now Lumbinī is a historical place, it was re-discovered in 1895, and a few years ago excavations brought to light a slab from the time of king Asoka, showing the exact location. Māyā, according to the Buddhist sources, was also a "virgin", dārikā - but this was, naturally, before she was married to the king, the father of the bodhisattva. Hence, we may already here assume the unnatural confusion about pathenogenesis in the Gospels.
Lumbinī is situated in south Nepal, not far from the paternal town of the Buddha, Kapilavastu. In later Christian art one finds images of Mary and Jesus that impress us as mere copies of queen Māyā giving birth to the bodhisattva. Kapila-vastu was the center for the missionary activity of the Buddha, exactly as Caper-naum, Jesus' "own" town, was so for the alleged son of the Mary, now finally no longer Virgin. When the Buddha visited Kapilavastu, he would normally stay outside the city in a park called Nyagrodha. Capernaum and Nazareth play exactly the same role in the life of Jesus, as do Kapilavastu and Nyagrodha in the life of the Buddha. Hence, we suspect, the duplicity in the Gospels.
The second place of pilgrimage in Buddhism is Bodh(a) Gayā, the place where the bodhisattva woke up to Enlightenment (bodhi) as Buddha, enlightened. Apparently nothing similar is related about Jesus. But only apparently. For if one looks closer at the text on the foundation of Buddhism, the Catusparisatsūtra (translated into Danish is Hīnayāna, Den tidlige indiske buddhisme, Copenhagen 1998, pp. 18-59), one can hardly fail to notice that the second major event in the life (or legend) of the Buddha has been cut into several pieces and combined anew in the NT Gospels. In the account of the baptism of Jesus, in the account of his thanksgiving (Matthew 11:25-30) and in that of the Transfiguration on a unknown mountain (Matthew 17:1-13), the attentive reader can hardly fail to find partly literal translations of the Buddhist original in Sanskrit. Curious indeed! Should the reader wish to identify for himself the exact original location of the unknown mountain where Jesus is said to have met Moses and Elijah, let him turn to pages 22-26 of my Danish translation, from which he will also be informed about the original identity of Peter, of James and of John - not to speak of the bright cloud and the three huts that the (for now obvious reasons) confused Peter offers to put up. That the Gospels thus cut the original to pieces and rearrange the fragments into a new virtual reality, reflects the very same procedure they also apply to passages from the Old Testament. That the Gospels occasionally combine different OT passages into a new and, therefore, fictitious whole, is well known to all theologians. The result is a sort of mosaic or collage. It has nothing to do with true history.
The third major place of pilgrimage in Buddhism is the Deer park outside Benares. Here, in the park at modern Sarnath, the Buddha delivered his first great sermon, exactly as Jesus, according to Matthew, delivered his Sermon on the Mount. Both spoke of "justice" (Sanskrit dharma, Greek nomos and dikaiosynź). People from five areas and the (five) disciples listened to Jesus, exactly as a group of five disciples listened to the Buddha. Jesus speaks of eight beatitudes, the Buddha of the eight-fold Aryan Path. The Greek word for blessed, we now see, translates the Sanskrit sukha, happy.(Two Sanskrit verses give the eight beatitudes.) There is hardly a term or a phrase in the Gosples that a philologist cannot trace back to what, therefore, must be the Buddhist original. The uncertainty about the location of the Sermon on the unknown mountain or level place in the Gospels thus seems to suggest that the first great sermon of Jesus historically speaking was delivered elsewhere, namely outside Benares.
The fourth place of pilgrimage in Buddhism, is Kusinagarī, the place where the Buddha dies. Close to Kusinagarī we find Ku-kus-tā. Here, the Buddha was twice offered something to drink. At first he declined the offer - the water being turbid - the second time he accepted the offer - the water now being pure. Twice Jesus is offered something to drink. First he rejects, then he accepts. The unknown locality of Gol-go-tha in several other respects also reminds the reader of Ku-kus-tā (also spelled Kukutthā). The Buddhist sources also explain why this place came to be associated with skulls - the Calvary - and they even provide further fascinating details of the alleged Crucifixion! The Buddha and Jesus pass away at exactly the same time between twelve and three, with the only difference that the Buddha dies at night, Jesus in the time of the day. The Buddha dies having passed into the ninth stage of meditation. When Jesus died it is said to have been dark all over the country. For this darkness no natural explanation can be offered. The simple explanation is, of course, that the Gospels simply copied the Buddhist original, only turning night into day. Hence the paradox of the day being dark.
The correctness of this simple historical explanation is corroborated by the events that follow. The description of the burial and resurrection of Jesus can be found almost verbatim in the Buddhist Gospel. Moreover, Paul (1. Corinthians 15:6) wrote about the more than five hundred brothers to whom Jesus appeared. To this day we have had no idea about the identity of these five hundred brothers. The Buddhist text, however, speaks of five hundred monks present at the cremation of the body of the Buddha. They witnessed the body of the Lord go up to heaven - in smoke! The Sanskrit term is brahma-loka, i.e. the world (loka) of Brahma - becoming the kingdom of God (brahma) in the Gospels. So here again the Buddhist original provides the simple and natural explanation of what in the Gospel has become a puzzle.
The Buddhist texts to which I have here referred, have, for the major part, only become available to scholars after World War II. On the basis of often fragmentary Sanskrit manuscripts found in Turfan, some of them were edited by the German philologist, Ernst Waldschmidt in the fifties and sixties. Most of them still exist in old Chinese and Tibetan translations and in various Central Asian languages. There is, therefore, really nothing surprising in the fact that they should also have fallen into the hands of the unknown authors of the New Testament Gospels. Obviously these unknown men must have been Jews familiar as they are with the OT. Any modern history of Jewish literature in the Hellenistic period, that here concers us, provides evidence to the effect that Jewish authors for the purpose of religious propaganda produced numerous literary forgeries. The NT Gospels seem to fall into this category.
A dictionary to the Sanskrit texts is being published by the Academy of Sciences in Göttingen as Sanskrit Wörterbuch der buddhistischen Texte aus den Turfan-Funden. Here the reader can easily find further references to some of the original sources.
But there are many more surprises in store for those prepared to delve into the original Buddhist sources in the Sanskrit language! It is not merely the four Buddhist places of pilgrimage that have left manifest traces in the New Testament Gosples. A similar observation applies to nearly all persons and minor localities mentioned in the Gospels. Nearly all the twelve disciples, or apostles, of Jesus may be tracked down in the Buddhist sources, not only for their names, but also for their activities. The first of the apostles of Jesus is, of course, Simon Peter (Gr. Petros), or St Peter. The first among those of the Buddha is Sāri Putras. Usually Jesus is held to have coined the name Petros himself (allegedly "translating" the Aramaic Kephas, a rock). However, what the Gospels report about St Peter is time and again taken over directly from the Buddhist Gospel. So, there can hardly be any doubt that Petros translates Putras. Hence, Simon Peter is merely the ghost of Sāri Putras. The principle according to which "Jesus" acted in the role of a translator is immediately obvious: All the consonants of the original are preserved without change: p-t-r-s. (Semitic languages, as a rule, do not indicate the vowels, only the consonants!) Simon, as opposed to Sāri, is a good Jewish name. Thus, the Simon "called" Peter, or even "called" Kźphas, was only called so, as the Gospels themself disarmingly admit. Originally, we are speaking of Sāri Putras, the first among the disciples of the Buddha (the genuine as well as the impostor).
Among the women in the life of the Buddha, Amrapāli, the courtesan (ganikā) of Vaisalī, plays almost exactly the same role as does the "sinner" Mary Magdalene in the life of Jesus. In the later Christian legend (Jacobus de Voragine), this Mary is reported to have been buried in the Vezelay monastery, in Burgundy - an unmistakable echo of the monastery that Amrapāli of Vaisalī long ago presented to the Buddha and his monks.
One also recalls the woman, who anointed Jesus in Bethany in the house of an otherwise unknown Simon the leper. She is said to come with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, made of pure (Indian) nard. If one compares the Greek text of Luke 7:37 with the original Sanskrit, one cannot, as in the case of the name of Petros, fail to see that not only the sense but also all the original consonants of Amrapāli-ganikā have been preserved without change by Luke (and in part by Matthew and Mark). The two rare Greek adjectives describing the nard are only fully understandable once it is recognized that they translate Sanskrit sucinā pranītena. The Greek even omits "and", exactly as does the original Sanskrit (asyndeton), thus again showing the direct literary dependence. Here is the transcribed Greek text of Luke 7:37, so that even a reader ignorant of Greek and Sanskrit can identify Amra-pāli-ganikā for himself by way of the consonants: kai idou gynź źtis źn en tź polei hamartolos. Since the Greek means, " And behold, a woman who was in the city a sinner", the original sense of the Sanskrit is also served well. The pun is on the sound and on the sense, as well as on the original pattern of the sentence.
There are at least eight other puns on the name of the Buddhiust sinner in the Gospels. I shall, however, not deprive the reader the joy of discovering these puns for himself!
According to the same principle of keeping the consonants, it is now also easy to see why the Buddhist Nalanda becomes the mysterious Christian Nathanael, why Markata becomes Martha, why Pippalas becomes Philippos (Philip), why Aniruddhas becomes Andreas (Andrew), etc. etc. The principle of consonant preservation has here been successfully at work. This was also so when Lumbinī, Kapilavastu and Nyagrodha were transformed into Bethlehem, Capernaum (Gr. Kapharnaoum) and Nazareth or Nazara. To estimate how successful the three last identifications actually were, one must keep in mind that the vivid imagination of the evangelists here was confined within certain limits: They had to assimilate the original names to locations already known to their readers. They could not possibly associate their Jesus with places, that no one had ever heard of before without thereby spilling their beans. The closest they could get to Lumbinī, Kapilavastu and Nyagrodha, as we can see by consulting an atlas of the Bible, would therefore be Bethlehem, Kapharnaoum and Nazareth/Nazara, respectively. In the case of Kusinagarī, which simply had to become Jerusalem, there was no real escape; but the identification of Kukustā with a purely imaginary Golgotha situated close to Jerusalem, merely ad hoc, contributed to a partial illusion of the identity of Kusinagarī and Jerusalem. Coming back to the famous Buddhist courtesan, Amrapāli-ganikā:
Since nearly everything else that is reported in the Gospels about this woman can be traced back to the Sanskrit, there can remain no further doubt about the original Buddhist source of Mary Magdalene. She too, like Simon Peter, is but a Buddhist in Christian disguise. One among the many enigmatic locations in the Gospels is Magadan, only mentioned by Matthew 15:39. Speculatively, theologians have suggested that this may be an error for Magdala and, going on with their speculations, they have imagined that this was the place from where Mary Magdalene must have come.
But in the light of the Buddhist sources the old crux of Magadan finally finds its natural solution. The ghost land of Magadan was originally the land of Magadha in India, from where the Buddha set out on his last journey to Kusinagarī. On his way he met Amrapāli-ganikā. Later, the evangelists transformed her into Mary Magdalene, just as Kusinagarī was translated into Jerusalem. Matthew retained the original Magadha almost unchanged as Magadan, whereas Mark covered the original entirely up behind the equally obscure locality of Dalmanutha. Matthew says that Jesus got into a boat and went to the vicinity of Magadan. For obvious reasons he is silent about where the boat sailed.
It was originally the Buddha who here crossed the river Ganges. Mark adds that the disciples joined him in the boat. With this piece of additional information, Mark comes closer to the Buddhist original than does Matthew. The Buddhist text (the Mahāparinirvānasūtra) explicitly mentions that the monks also crossed the Ganges. The monks became disciples. Matthew and Mark therefore must have used the Buddhist original independently here, as often elsewhere.
I have here merely given a few examples of how the Buddhist texts in Sanskrit show, that many of the places, events and persons, that have for almost 2000 years naively and uncritically been associated with the life and teaching of Jesus, from a philological and historical point of view must be said originally to have taken place in India centuries "before Christ".
Much work still remains to be done, but there can be no doubt that the New Testaments Gospels must be seen as having been translated from the Sanskrit of the Buddhist Gospels.
And so, coming back to the Polish Pope, evidence permits us safely to conclude:
Had Pope Paul John II instead undertaken his pilgrimage to India and Nepal, from Lumbinī to Kapilavastu and Nyagrodha, to Bodh(a) Gayā, to Magadha and to Kusinagarī and other famous Buddhist sites, then one could with a clear conscience maintain that the impostrous successor of St Peter - i.e. the false vicar of Sāri Putras - had followed in the footsteps of "Jesus" - alias Gautama the Buddha.