Review article by Christian Lindtner:
Michael Fuss: Buddhavacanam and Dei Verbum. Brill, Leiden 1991.
Pp. xvi & 479. ISBN 90 04 089918. Price: 192.00 US S.
J.Duncan M. Derrett: The Bible and the Buddhists, Sardini 2000.
Pp. 131. ISBN 88-7506-174-2. Price: 50.000 Italian Lire.
Way back in 1882, in a letter on a topic of our present concern, reprinted in his celebrated book India - What Can it teach us?, London 1899, p. 284, Max Müller wrote:
“That there are startling coincidences between Buddhism and Christianity cannot be denied, and it must likewise be admitted that Buddhism existed at least 400 years before Christianity. I go even further, and should feel extremely grateful if anybody would point out to me the historical channels through which Buddhism had influenced early Christianity. I have been looking for such channels all my life, but hitherto I have found none. What I have found is that for some of the most startling coincidences there are historical antecedents on both sides, and if we once know those antecedents, the coincidences become far less startling. If I do find in certain Buddhist works doctrines identically the same as in Christianity, so far from being frightened, I feel delighted, for surely truth is not the less true because it is believed by the majority of the human race.”
In the decades that followed there were numerous valuable contributions to the problem taken up by Max Müller. The most important and well-informed of these was probably Richard Garbe, Indien und das Christentum, Tübingen 1914. Eight years later, Dr. Hans Haas published a 45-page Bibliographie zur Frage nach den Wechselbeziehungen zwischen Buddhismus und Christentum, as an appendix to his rare and important book Das Scherflein der Witwe und seine Entsprechung im Tripitaka, Leipzig 1922.
Opinions were divided. In 1935, the Indologist M. Winternitz wrote that, “the view must be rejected that Buddhist literature has exerted a direct influence upon the gospels” (quoted from Derrett, op. rec., p. 21). The Danish Indologist Poul Tuxen (1880-1955), among many others, while fully aware of the many parallels, expressed a similar conviction in his book Buddha. Hans Lære, dens Overlevering og dens Liv i Nutiden, Copenhagen 1928. According to Tuxen, the parallels, though striking, are not to explained as a result of any historical influence from Buddhism, which certainly would have the chronological priority, but rather as a result “of some typical features, spontaneously arising in a religious mind writing about a great personality” (p. 77). And thus the matter would seem to have been settled for good. What Tuxen means by these obscure remarks remains a puzzle, and, of course, he was unable to point out any set of scriptures describing some other great personality in similar words and details.
The last major work before WW II was H.W.Schomerus: Ist die Bibel von Indien abhängig?, München 1932 (omitted in Derrett´s Bibliography). Schomerus accepted many parallels but did not find it necessary to assume that the gospels were dependent on Indian or Buddhist sources. The recent decade, however, has witnessed an increasing interest, even a revival, of the old problem of possible Buddhist influence on early Christianity, including the New Testament with its four canonical gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.
Derrett finds that recent research has “set up a case to be answered”, and his book is an attempt to do so (p. 17). The search for Max Müller´s “historical channels” can no longer be dismissed as irrelevant.
In the opinion of M. Fuss (op. rec., p. 2), there is an “eminent theological enrichment” which can be drawn “from an encounter between Christianity and Buddhism”. The Saddharmapundarîka (SDP) has been called the “Bible of Asia” and “the Eastern commentary on the Gospel of John” (p. 4), or even the New Testament of the East. The book is designed as a phenomenological and theological comparison of scriptural inspiration in the SDP and in the Christian tradition. Its author is inspired by the Vatican II teaching about the “seeds of the Word” in non-Christian religions.
An Introduction to the study of the SDP discusses the genre and the title of the SDP, its complex textual history, its canonicity, its language and its compilation (:interpolations, interdependence of gâthâs and prose, form-critical classification, and redaction analysis). This is followed by chapters on the Catholic teaching on Scriptural Inspiration (pp. 197-248), on elements for a Contemporary Reflection on Scriptural Inspiration (pp. 249-306), on the Inspiration of the SDP as paradigm for scriptural inspiration of non-Biblical scriptures (pp. 307-359).
The aim of the SDP, Fuss concludes (p. 358) is missionary proclamation(...) and thus similarity with the kerygmatic genre of the Christian Gospels. In its narratives it concentrates on the constitutional core of Buddhist religion: on the inspirational experience of the Buddha and his proclamation of the Eternal Dharma. The Lotus Sûtra becomes the concise embodiment of the achievement of enlightenment: the transcendent dynamism of the Supreme Dharma (p. 358).
The morale of this contribution to an inter-religious dialogue, then, is: Only a mutual openness in the common listening to the one “Word” of salvation beyond theoretical conceptions will orientate both scriptural traditions in “Spirited Life” towards the blissful and liberating experience of an IN-SPIRED DIA-LOGUE” (p. 359).
Appendix 1 (pp. 361-419) provides a survey, a classification of the manuscripts etc. having to do with the textual history of the SDP. Appendix 2 lists selected “Christian parallels to the SDP”, and finally documents concerning “Dei Verbum” are given as Appendix 3 (pp. 435-454). An extensive Bibliography, completed March 1983, concludes this learned book (pp. 455-479).
When it comes to the “intricate problem” of a presumed dependence of any of these Budddhist-Christian parallels, Fuss (p. 421, n. 1) simply refers to the statement of T.W.Rhys Davids in Lectures on the Origin and Growth of Religion (= The Hibbert Lectures 1881), London 1906, p. 151f: “ I can find no evidence whatever of any actual and direct communication of any of these ideas from the East to the West. Where the Gospel narratives resemble the Buddhist ones, they seem to me to have been independently developed on the shores of the Mediterranean and in the valley of the Ganges;...The similarities of idea are evidence not of any borrowing from one side or the other, but of similar feelings engendered in men´s mind by similar experiences.”
Fuss (ibid.)dismisses the “intricate problem” - thus at least indirectly admitting its being there - by a mere reference to the rich bibliography of Buddhist-Christian parallels listed in Norbert Klatt, Literarkritische Beiträge zum Problem Christlich-Buddhistischer Parallelen, Köln 1982. Klatt´s small book is, in fact, an important contribution to our field, Comparative Gospel Studies (CGS), if I may coin that phrase. Unfortunately, this little book has been generally ignored. I do not hope that I am transgressing the limits of discretion when, to suggest the reasons for this neglect, I quote Klatt himself (personal communication of 15 August 2001):
”Die Ignorierung meiner Arbeit beruht nach meiner Auffassung nicht auf wissenschaftlichen, sondern weltanschaulichen Aspekten. Man möchte nicht, dass ein indischer Einfluss im NT nachgewiesen wird. Vor dieser Situation steht jeder, der sich mit dieser Thematik befasst.”
Klatt, of course, is right, and so is Derrett (p. 15) when writing that the only person to deal conclusively with the matter must not only be fluent in Sanskrit, Greek, Hebrew etc., but he must also have a personality that will “charm and persuade the prejudiced and the indifferent”. “Unlike many gifted linguists we know, will he enter into original, and highly controversial work? Will he possess the stamina to sustain a great enterprise? To the first miracle a second miracle must be added.”
Zacharias P. Thundy, the author of Buddha and Christ. Nativity Stories and Indian Tradition, published two years after Fuss, also by Brill in Leiden, belong to the happy few who will not let themselves be deterred. Unlike Fuss et al., he does not dismiss the “intricate problem”. This attitude may have something to do with his Indian and Christian background, as he himself notes.
Thundy´s book is also a contribution to East-West dialogues, but, compared to Fuss, along entirely different lines. In his opinion, New Testament authors have written under Buddhist influence. He agrees with Schopenhauer and others, that “The New Testament must be in some way traceable to an Indian source” (p. 1). His book is, primarily, an exercise in comparative literature (p. 18). The Gospel of Matthew reflects a process of imitation-emulation (p. 31). A close look at the first two chapters of Luke reveals extensive use of revisionism, Thundy claims (p. 34). What we find in the exegesis of the NT writers is deconstructionist midrash (ibid., my emphasis), as can be seen e.g. by a close look at the OT parallels to Luke 1. What we see by comparing the parallel passages is that Luke used several books of the OT, but he did not just copy passages from OT; he rather “judiciously used words, phrases, sentences, and motifs to advance his views on the person and the details of the life of Jesus” (ibid., p. 37). This is “plagiarism” - even theft - in the sense that it is artistic adaptation of the words and ideas of another without crediting the source or presenting a new and original idea derived from an existing source (p. 43). Many Western Christians, Thundy observes, are unduly disturbed when it is suggested that the gospel writers may have borrowed literary motifs from the East (p. 44). Even though the gospel writers use unacknowledged Buddhist and other subtexts they do not appear to be doing so; this is because these writers make these subtexts as their own original text (p. 46).
In Thundy´s opinion, the Christian gospel writers did not use any particular version of the Buddha-story from beginning to end from a literary text, but rather at random and selectively from oral traditions (p. 79).
The numerous Buddhist and Christian Infancy Parallels relate to (pp. 79ff): 1. Pre-existence, 2. Royal origin and genealogy, 3. Universal Salvation, 4. Virginal Conception - virginitas ante partum, 5. Dream Vision, 6. White Elephant vs. White Dove, 7. Annunciation to the Husband, 8. Turmoil at Birth, 9. Masters in Mothers´ Wombs, 10. Virgin Birth - virginitas in partu, 11. Virginity - post partum, 12. Righteous Fosterfather, 13. Krshna and Jesus, 14. Angels and Others at Birth, 15. Earthquakes and the Redemption of the Dead from Hell, 16. Harrowing of Hell, 17. Nature Miracle, 18. The Taking of Seven Steps at birth, 19. Marvelous Light/Star, 20. The Baby in Swaddling Clothes, 21. The Naming Ceremony, 22. The Taming of Wild Animals, 23. The Miracles of the Bending Tree and Gushing Water, 24. The Fall of Idols, 25. Healing Miracles, 26. Annunciation of Birth by a Woman, 27. Giving of Gifts, 28. Presentation in the Temple, 29. Asita and Simeon, 30. Illumination of Hearts, 31. Buddha´s Mother, 32. Anna and Shabari/Old Women, 33. Lost and Found, 34. Mother-Son Dialogue, 35.The Infant Prodigy, 36. The Magis´ Visit, 37. The Appellation of King , 38. Mahâprajâpati and Mary: Two Influential Women, 39.Preparing the Way, 40. Growing Up, and finally, 41. Reference to Signs - all in all 41 parallel cases having to do with the infancy of Buddha, Christ, and, to a lesser extent, Krsna.
The juxtaposition of this long list of obvious parallels permits us to conclude that this is “more than a fortuitous convergence of universal fo(l)kloric motifs simply because nowhere else do we see such a convergence of literary motifs...”. Cum singula non prosunt, multa juvant, as Derrett (p. 113) would submit.
Thus Thundy´s main argument in support of his assertion consists in the cumulative evidence provided by a long list of convergent literary motifs. And, I may add, it is exactly this mass of cumulative evidence, easily to be enlarged, that serves to reject the scepticism of previous researchers such as Tuxen et al.
Furthermore, Thundy´s book contains some fine and well-written chapters on Gnosticism, The New Testament and India, and India and the West in Antiquity. They serve well to corroborate his point about the NT gospels as Eastern religious texts. I completely agree that Thundy´s analysis of the Infancy gospels shows that Indian influence was deep and pervasive, and that Christian writers must have been familiar, not just vaguely but thoroughly, with the Indian religions (p. 272). As he himself says, to be sure: “ I could do this kind of analytic work only within the liberal framework of modern literary criticism which endorses the metods of deconstructionism, intertextuality, and new historicism in comparative literary studies” (ibid.). Thundy, finally, admits that a distinction should be made between the literary and the theological approach: “ Doing violence to one diminishes the beauty and destroys the integrity of the other” (p. 271). Here, however, he may be wrong.
Not listed in the extensive Bibliography is the 1982 Literarkritische Beiträge of Klatt, mentioned above. Here, with even greater attention to the little details than Thundy, the German theologian comes to much the same conclusion as Thundy, though on a significantly smaller scale. Klatt mainly focused on the legend of Jesu und Buddhas Wasserwandel/Walking on the Water of Jesus and of Buddha - to quote the title of the booklet published privately by Klatt, Göttingen 1990. Here (p. 30), Klatt concluded his careful comparison with these words: “ It is quite impossible to explain the obvious concordance between the two stories which the analysis of structure demonstrates from the “nature” of things, for walking on water is contrary to the ordinary laws of nature. Nor can a psychological explanation account for the complex structure and the particularities of the story found to be common to the Buddhistic and the Christian tales. And thus we are lead to conclude that the only probable explanation for the astounding congruence which the structural analysis shows is that the story of the walking on the water found its way from one culture into another. And although we cannot determine unequivocally the original Buddhistic text, we may affirmatively state, based on the historical priority of the Buddhistic tale, as for example in the pre-Christian Pâli canon, that the direction of the borrowing is from the Buddhistic source into the Christian gospels.”
By way of “structural analysis”, Klatt came to a “probable explanation”, that, if true, would establish at least one small “historical channel”. But one channel would also render it likely that more could be found. Elmar R. Gruber and Holger Kersten cover much of the same ground as Thundy in their book The Original Jesus. The Buddhist Sources of Christianity, Shaftesbury, Dorset 1995. The first part deals with “India and the West”, the second with “Jesus - the Buddhist”, the third with “The Way of the Original Jesus”.
What the book is mainly concerned with is suggested by the mention of “Die Gesellschaft der Nazarener” established by Holger Kersten “so as to better co-ordinate and more meaningfully activate future research on the historical Jesus and his Buddhist-influenced teachings, and also to make findings accessible to those interested.” (p. vii)
The Bibliography (pp. 252-259) of this well-written book refers to the books of Klatt, Thundy etc., but not to that of Fuss. The authors conclude (p. 243): “Buddhist sources in Christianity can no longer be denied, even though they have been crushed under the theologically prescribed reworkings. What is more important though is the fact that this Buddhist material was originally disseminated by Jesus himself. That discovery adds a completely new dimension to the discussion of Buddhism in the New Testament: the true teachings of Jesus, his Buddhist teachings(...) Christianity - and even the Christian message - is completely different from what Jesus taught...”. To some extent Gruber & Kersten are right. About their thesis that “the historical Jesus” was a Buddhist, I am more than sceptical. Nearly everything said about Jesus in the gospels, can, in fact, according to my own investigations through the last five years be traced back to Buddhist sources. So what remains, and what do we know about “a historical Jesus”? About as much as we know of “the historical Little Mermaid”!
That “Jesus lived in India” - to quote the title of a much-publicized 1983/1986 book by Holger Kersten - is definitely wrong. Klatt has unravelled the confusions that let to this unhappy thesis in his - much neglected - booklet: Lebte Jesus in Indien? Eine religionsgeschichtliche Klärung, Göttingen 1988. It was not Jesus who (lived and) died in Kashmir, but Yus Asaf/Yudasaf/Bodhasaf = Bodhisattva, who, according to the legend, died in Kusinara; see also David M. Lang, The Wisdom of Balahvar, London 1957, pp. 129-130. Eventually, scholars will have to concede - in my opinion - that the “Jesus” of the gospels is a purely fictitious figure, like Donald Duck or Hercules - as already argued e.g. by the philosopher Arthur Drews (who seems to have remained unknown to all the authors here under review) in his excellent, though somewhat outdated, Die Christusmythe I-II, Jena 1910-11.
But, in spite of all this, more conservative spirits are still searching for “the historical Jesus”. Currently, some scholars speak of the “third quest” for Jesus. There seems to be something highly elusive about (- of all persons-) the Son of God, the Son of David ( both of which actually render San. deva-putra) - also known as ekeinos ho planos (Matthew 27:63, translating, in fact, San. pâpakâry asau, in Samghabhedavastu I, p. 26, q.v.) - For one of the many recent surveys, I may refer to Marcus Borg, Jezus: gezocht en onderzocht. De renaissance van het Jezusonderzoek, Zoetermeer 1998. In spite of the title - the English original from 1994 was: Jesus in Contemporary Scholarship - the author, typically, simply ignores the sort of comparative research that occupies us here. In the long run such arrogance is doomed to backfire. How can one find what one is looking for when neglecting the pertinent sources?
Buddhismus und Christentum. Geschichte, Konfrontation, Dialog is the title of an informative book of 805 pages written jointly by Michael von Brück and Whalen Lai, München 1997. (For a review, see Buddhist Studies Review 16/2 (1999)259-263) A second edition appeared 2000 as a cheap-priced Sonderausgabe at DM 48,-.
Referring mainly to R.C.Amore, Two Masters - One Message, Nashville 1978, and to the books of Thundy and Klatt (p. 680, n. 5), these two authors take the standpoint that:
“Selbst wenn man Amores Textanalysen und Vergleichen zustimmen würde, ergäbe sich, dass der Einfluss des Buddhismus auf das Christentum marginal war und nicht die zentralen Inhalte der Botschaft Jesu betrifft” (p. 316). So, for these authors, as for Fuss et al., the Holy Sepulchre remains safe from comparative incursions , as it were. The Original Jesus, now rare, is not mentioned by Michael von Brück and Whalen Lai. Perhaps it appeared too late. In any case they would hardly have been prepared to subscribe to its thesis, for they are obviously what Derrett would call “minimalists”.
As for the book of Amore, a title closer to the historical truth - as I see it - would have been: One Master - Two Messages; for the gospels are largely free and highly artificial translations of the Buddhist “subtexts” (to use Thundy´s term). “Jesus” is rather a Buddha in disguise - bad disguise.
J. Duncan M. Derrett is the learned author of The Bible and the Buddhists, published in Italy by Sardini Editrice, December 2000. The book is an important one, perhaps the most important of its kind to this day. I have written a long review article for Buddhist Studies Review 19/2(2001)1-14, to which I may perhaps refer the interested reader.
My main objection to Derrett´s book has to do with one of his criteria for classifying parallels (p. 30). According to Derrett, we are asking too much if we require “close verbal similarity”. This conviction Derrett seems to share with virtually all previous researchers, even “maximalists” prepared to admit even more Buddhist influence in the NT than Derrett himself. One important exception to the rule, ignored by Derrett, is Edward Conze who already in 1959 called attention to “close verbal coincidences”: “...Occasionally we find close verbal coincidences between the Christian and the Mahâyâna Scriptures. Just one instance must suffice. At the time when the Revelation of St John was written down in Greek in the Eastern Mediterranean, the Mahâyânists produced in the South of Idia one of their most revered books, The Perfection of Wisdom in 8,000 Lines. Revelation (v. 1) refers to a book “closely sealed” with seven seals, and likewise the Perfection of Wisdom is called a book “sealed with seven seals”. It is shown to a Bodhisattva by the name of “Everweeping” (Sadâpradrudita), and St John “weeps bitterly” (v. 4) because he sees no one worthy to open the book and to break its seals. This can be done by the Lamb alone, slaughtered in sacrifice (v. 9). In the same way, chapters 30 and 31 of the Mahâyâna book describe in detail how Everweeping slaughtered himself in sacrifice, and how he thereby became worthy of the Perfection of Wisdom (see pp. 302-3). This parallel is remarkable not only for the similarities of the religious logic, but also for the fact that both the number seven and the whole notion of a “book with seven seals” point to the Judaeo-Mediterranea rather than to the Indian tradition. Here is a fruitful field for futher study.” (R.C.Zaehner (ed.), Encyclopedia of the World´s Religions, London 1959, p. 293.)
On this issue, close verbal similarities, I disagree decisively with virtually all my predecessors - apart from Conze - in the field of CGS. For my reasons for doing so, I will have to confine myself to referring to my forthcoming papers and books in which numerous verbal similarities are pointed out. See, for instance, “Âmrapâli in the Gospels”, which has just come out in The Adyar Library Bulletin 64 (2000), 151-170. The gospels were largely translated according to the rules (middoth) of gematria, notarikon, neged etc., current among learned bilingual Jews in those days.
Derrett has a high opinion of Gruber´s and Kersten´s The Original Jesus: “This was a beautifully produced, thoughtful and scholarly culmination of a renewed trend to elevate Buddhism as the source of Christianity, to depict, in effect, Jesus as a student of the Buddha. These authors make mighty, impressive assumptions, while drawing attention to many relevant facts. They rightly point (p. 22) to the Mahâyâna as the form of Buddhism from which parallels can be expected. They rightly show that communication between India and the Middle East was far easier than we used to suppose...(Derrett, p. 16).
Among those who “used to suppose”, I may insert, Derrett himself is surely one of the most distinguished. His six volumes of New Testament Studies, published by Brill in Leiden between 1977 and 1995, are a mine of erudition with a wealth of new observations and suggestions for solving old problems pertaining to the text and interpretation of the gospels. Also, Derrett has many other books and articles to his credit. As a rule, they too have been totally - and unduly - neglected by New Testament scholars. But back to Gruber & Kersten, who, on the other hand, also “ignore factors as significant as their own. Buddhist borrowings from Greece and Israel have left them unmoved. They sometimes ask the wrong questions, and their sensational results could be vitiated by such flaws as those.” ( Derrett, p. 17)
In The Bible and the Buddhists (BB), Derrett argues 11 cases where the NT may have gained from Buddhist models, about 19 cases where Buddhists seem to have adopted NT material, some 11 cases where the literatures may have gained reciprocally, and finally 16 cases where it is impossible to claim that either influenced the other. I shall, as said, nor here repeat my critique of Derrett already advanced in my review article in the BSR (ref. supra). In my opinion, virtually all the parallels adduced by Derrett belong to the first category,i.e. where the NT depends on Buddhist sources. We must, as said, look for close verbal similarity to establish the historical relationship on a firm basis. Derrett´s basic idea, reasonable though it may appear, that a sort of collaboration between Buddhists and Christians took place; that they were entrepreneurs in the same line of business, as it were, and that they “put their heads together”, is, nevertheless, unhappy. In my view hardly one of the examples marshalled by my learned British colleague supports his point. And when it comes to the precise identity of the Buddhist sources, I differ decisively from all my predecessors. My claim is that the writers of the gospels copied directly, above all from the Sanskrit text of the Mûlasarvâstvâda-Vinaya (MSV) - including Catusparisatsûtra (CPS) and Mahâparinirvânasûtra (MPS) as well Samghabhedavastu (SBV). For the Gnoli edition of the Sanskrit text of the SBV, see my review in Acta Orientalia 43 (1983) 124-126.
By comparing these Sanskrit texts carefully with the Greek NT we shall be able to detect numerous cases of literal correspondence that conclusively serve to establish my thesis that the NT gospels are to a large extent direct - but also highly artificial - translations of the Sanskrit.
Even though Klatt occasionally came close to the proper method, and even though Thundy, Gruber & Kersten, and Derrett came to some correct conclusions, they unfortunately failed to insist on close verbal similarity to establish the historical dependence. Klatt, regrettably, failed to consider the evidence of the MSV.
More precisely this close verbal similarity on which I insist as the main - but far from sole - criterion, has to do with the numerical literary techniques used by all the writers of the gospels. Now this may come as a surprise to many, even NT scholars, but the fact is that the trans-lations directly from Sanskrit to Greek (leaving no room for a hypothetical intermediate Aramaic source) in numerous cases were done on the basis of a computation of the numerical value of words, or names - a well-known practice in antiquity, in Jewish literature known as gematria (Hebrew: gymtry´, imitating Gr. geômetria and possibly also, with typical ambiguity, grammateia . In Greek we have the technical term isopsêphos, “equal in numerical value”, Latin conpar.
In an highly significant monograph, Numerical literary techniques in John, Leiden 1985, M.J.J.Menken has analysed the composition of selected passages from John (viz. 1:19-2:11; 5; 6; 9:1-10:21;17), coming to the firm conclusion that “the author of the Fourth Gospel made use of numbers of syllables and words” (op. cit., p. 269). Previously, the employment of this quantitative technique had been pointed out by J. Smit Sibinga in a communication to the Journées Bibliques, of Louvain in 1970, where he discussed “a literary technique in the Gospel of Matthew”. Investigating a series of Matthean passages, J. Smit Sibinga has convincingly established that the author of the First Gospel has “arranged his text in such a way, that the size of the individual selections is fixed by a determined number of syllables. The individual parts of a sentence, the sentences themselves, sections of a smaller or larger size, they are, all of them, characterized in a purely quantitative way by their number of syllables” (Menken, op. laud., p. 21).
Now, this technique of making two members of a period equal in length was already known to Aristotle as parisôsis. Alexander, in his second century C.E. De figuris, speaks of parison (= isokolon): parison estin hotan duo ê pleiona kôla synenôthenta malista men kai tas syllabas isas ekhê, alla ge kai ton arithmon ton ison en pasi lambanê:” “There is a parison, when two or more united cola have above all their syllables equal, but obtain also in all their parts equal rythm...”. The Latin term is conpar, defined by the Rhetorica ad Herennium 4,20,27 thus: conpar appellatur quod habet in se membra orationis...quae constent ex pari fere numero syllabarum (Menken, p. 15). These members that consists of an almost equal number of syllables bring us to the heart of the matter.
Let me repeat that the numerical analysis of J. Smit Sibinga and M.J.J.Menken et al. (in Scandinavia: Birger Gerhardsson, Jesu liknelser, Lund 1999, passim) has established beyond any doubt that the writers of the NT gospels made extensive use of syllables and words in the composition of their works.
Now, again and again, when comparing the Sanskrit and the Greek, we cannot fail to observe the principle of conpar, of gematria, being at work. This is an objective fact, something that can be counted and measured. It is quantitative. It is, I repeat, an objective fact that can be verified by any scholar of Sanskrit and Greek willing to see for himself: ehipasyika, a technical Buddhist term, is translated by the most cunning of the evangelists, John 1:46: erkhou kai ide. The authors of the four gospels often reproduced precisely not only the number of the syllables and words of the Sanskrit, but, what is more, even the sense, the word classes, and the sound patterns of the original. Just one example: John 10:1-18 the Pastor bonus, is a gematria translation of the celebrated mrgapatih legend MPS 40d: 40-51 (ed. E. Waldschmidt,pp. 476-478). The number of syllables is the same in both sources (namely 604), and an amazing number of the original consonant have likewise been reproduced in the Greek. The sense is thus automatically distorted, as when San. parvata, mountain, becomes Greek probata, sheep, etc. Now we understand how naïve it has been of us to ask for a simlilarity of ideas to establish a possible historical relationship. The evangelists often pay more attention to similarity of sound than to similarity of ideas. What we should ask for, is primarily: similarity of syllables, of consonants, of words, and of numbers. Once we are aware of conpar and gematria we have also - finally - identified of one the major “historical channels” that Max Müller and many other scholars had been searching for so long without success. If one text speaks of mountains, and another of sheep, we see no similarity. But when we see that parvata has become probata, only then the identity is seen.
The modern reader may remain sceptical when he reads these words, but let me remind him of the “translation” of LXX done by Aquila. As we can see from the remaining fragments it was often merely a matter of playing on words (see Natalio Fernández Marcos, The Septuagint in Context, Leiden 2000, pp. 116-117 for a list of amusing examples, exactly like those of the evangelists).
In passing it may be mentioned that B. Scherer has just published a German translation of "Der gute Herdenführer”, in his Buddha, Gütersloh 2001, pp. 92-94. Commenting on the nativity legend, the young German scholar observes (p. 86):”Es ist durchaus möglich, dass diese buddhistischen Motive von den frühen Christen für Jesus von Nazereth übernommen und angepasst wurden”.
Returning to Fuss and Derrett, it is quite true that the evidence of the SDP - apart from that of the MSV - also “turns out to be crucial for our quest” (Derrett, p. 15). No fully satisfactory edition of the sûtra exists. Some portions seem to be older than others. The text may have grown. Fuss criticized Kern´s well-known translation etc.
Fuss, it will be recalled, was not inclined to descend from his venture of phenomenological and theological comparison down to the solid ground of philology and literary criticism. Should it turn out that the writers of the gospels borrowed some of their materials from the SDP - what , then, would become of Dei Verbum? A more appropriate title of his book, then, would be: Buddhavacanam alias Dei Verbum. If the NT depends on the SDP, then it is hardly Buddhism that might participate in the seed of the Biblical Verbum Dei, but rather vice versa. The Word of God would then be reduced to the words of the translators. Or Deus would be a Lord of gematria. Is this not blas-phêmia? Well, at least pari-bhâsâ, or (SDP) pari-bhâsana! It makes a world of difference whether one takes a phenomenological-theological or a philological-historical approach to this issue. The former surely presupposes the latter.
Let me conclude by drawing attention to one or two significant parallels that emerge when one compares the SDP with the gospels. The first serves to establish the priority of the SDP. It is generally agreed that there is a close relationship between SDP XIV and Matthew 27: 51-52, but opinions are divided as to which source has the priority (Derrett, op. cit., p. 74 et passim).In Kern´s edition of the Sanskrit p. 309 we find the phrase adhastâd âkâsadhâtu-. This I claim, is rendered by Matthew 27:51 as anôthen heôs katô eis duo. First, the adhastât, downwards, is rendered precisely by the synonym anôthen reproducing the sense, form and number of syllables of the original. The following word, âkâsa, is then artificially split up, as if â + kâsa, giving us ewV as a correct translation of San. â-, until. As for the rest of the phrase, the four consonants in the Greek, viz. k-t-s and d (i.e. a guttural, two dentals and a sibilant), they faithfully reproduce the guttural, the two dentals and the sibilant of the Sanskrit. And this sort of “translation” is not at all uncommon. It is, in fact, quite typical of the sort of translation seen in all the gospels. By way of anagram, the sense has been changed. So âkâsa-dhâtu is rendered twice, so to speak. Its five syllables are preserved in the three Greek words: heôs katô eis duo. The translation, it can be argued, is “formally” correct, but the original sense is surely distorted. This sort of translation may appear odd or absurd to us, but is was (and is) typical of rabbinic hermenutics (see e.g. Hermann L. Strack, Introduction to the Talmud and Midrash, New York 1959, pp. 93-98). It being inconceivable that the Sanskrit âkâsadhâtu in this case should have been based on the Greek heôs katô eis duo, this small example serves to establish the priority of the Sanskrit, i.e. the SDP.
A second example shows that Matthew can also be faithful to the sense of of the SDP - and it also serves to reject Derrett´s view that the infulence from Buddhism did not concern doctrine, but only presentation (Derrett, p. 97). In SDP II we read that Sâri-Pûtras first had some doubts about the Dharma etc. Then the Buddha asks him to give up all doubt and uncertainty, presenting himself as the King of Dharma. He then adds: “Let this mystery be for thee, Sâri-Putra, for all disciples of mine, and for the eminent Bodhisattvas, who are to keep this mystery.” (III,138-139). In SDP, Sâri-Pûtra(s) expresses his doubts about the true identity of the Buddha. Is he perhaps Mâra? In reply, the Buddha promises that Sâri-Pûtras shall be the most excellent of men, so unsurpassed (III,32). Also, in SDP, II, 61 Sâri-Pûtras is addressed by the Buddha as Sâri-suta, and, passim, as Jina-putra.
Once these passages are kept in mind, it is easy to recognize one of the main sources for the celebrated confession of Peter, Matthew 16:13-20. Sâri-Pûtras has become Simon Petros. The mystery of the King of Dharma has become the mystery of the the Christ - the king who was never anointed. Jina-putra becomes Bar-iwna, Son (putra) of Jona (jina), Matthew 16:17 only. So even the motive of making puns on the name of the chief disciple is inherited from the Buddhist source.
And Simon? There are many Simons in the NT. What is the original Sanskrit behind Simon? A clue is given when John 21:7 very oddly writes Simôn oun Petros. How are we to explain the a proper name is split up by an oun? This odd phenomenon suggests that Simon is not part of a proper name but rather a title of some sort. Behind Simon, I suggest, we find Sanskrit âyusman. All the original consonants (s-m-n) are preserved, the semivowel y having been left out. Another frequent translation of âyusmân we find when Jesus identifies himself with zôê, as is often the case. It is hard to understand how Jesus “is life”, but easy to grasp that he is considered âyusmân. The solution to the secret that W. Wrede (Das Messiasgeheimniss in den Evangelien, 1901) et al. have written so much about, therefore, finds its simple solution in SDP.
The words put into the mouth of Jesus by Matthew, however, are not to be found in the SDP. But they often occur in other Buddhists texts, as I shall point out in my forthcoming monograph on the Buddhist sources of Matthew. Let me conclude this review article by pointing out the source of John 7:38, which as Derrett (p.41) says, as part of John 7:37-44, “is largely incoherent as well as repugnant”. The syntax is obscure. It is not obvious that the autouautou is to be taken with ho pisteuôn eis eme. The insertion of the kathôs eipen hê graphê makes it unlikely. The Sanskrit is Samghabhedavastu I, p. 25: asya... dvau sukrabindû sarudhire nipatitau. John 19:34 plays on the same words: kai exêlthen euthus haima kai hydôr... It is also the source of Luke 22:44:kai egeneto ho hidrôs autou hôsei thrombai haimatos katabainontes epi tên gên. The reader can also easily recognize Mark 15:21: Aleksandrou kai Rouphou as an imitation of the sound, syllables and/or sense of San. sukrabindû sa-rudhire. Matthew 27:25 also comes close:to haima autou eph´ hêmas kai epi ta tekna hêmôn. And when one finally compares Samghabhedavastu I, pp. 21- 26 as a whole with Matthew 26-28 par, there cannot remain much doubt that for the words and motives the legend of Gautama who was put on a stake (sûle samâropita) served as a major source of the celebrated Passion Narrative.
Derrett´s six volumes of New Testament Studies display his wonderful command of the ancient Jewish sources. They should be constantly consulted by the student of The Bible and the Buddhists. Repeatedly Derrett succeeds in throwing new light on old problems in the gospels thanks to his familarity with these sources. The same goes for his other books, such as The Anastasis: The Resurrection of Jesus as an Historical Event, 1982; The Making of Mark I-II, 1985; New Resolutions of Old Conundrums. A Fresh Insight into Luke´s Gospel, 1986; The Victim. The Johannine Passion Narrative Reexamined, 1993, and Some Telltale Words in The New Testament, 1997 - all published by and still available from Peter I. Drinkwater, 56 Church Street, Shipston-on-Stour, Warwickshire, England. It is a great pity that these learned volumes are so little known among theologians. But it is also surprising how often Derrett finds the wrong solutions to familiar problems in Jewish sources where the right ones are to be found in the Buddhist sources. It is indeed his constant contention that New Testament material cannot be understood without the cultural and intellectual environment of the people amongst whom it emerged. That this environment was largely Jewish cannot be denied.
Derrett claims to be a detective who does not care where evidence leads him. That sounds good. That may be so. But Derrett is a naïve detective, for he never raises the question of the seriousness of the gospels. Where is the proof that the evangelists were serious and trustworty witnessess to the events they pretend to be describing? If they translated from the Sanskrit as Aquila translated from the Hebrew - how can they be considered serious authors? Just one proof!