Thursday, January 6, 2011

The Buddha Q Quest, Part 1

One of the subjects I’ve looked into lately for the E-Block has been the subject of alleged correspondences between the figures of Buddha and Jesus, as presented by a certain coterie of fringe scholars who appeal to obscure Buddhists texts – nearly all of which are of late or else undetermined date. Their creativity exceeds their logic in most instances; an example of this is an article in which it is claimed that, “Q is the main Buddhist source of the four gospels of the New Testament.”

As a reminder, Q, generally, is reputed to be the source from which Matthew and Luke drew their common material. It is also, in my findings, an unnecessary scholarly fantasy (see link below). To that extent, this article claiming a link to a Buddhist document is merely one fantasy atop another. (It is also said that this Buddhist document was a source for “most of the other books of the NT, above all The Acts and Revelations.” We know we are dealing with a true authority when they add an S to the end of that book’s name!)

In terms of actual arguments for this dependence – well, they’re of the sort we have come to expect from “copycat” theorists, who rely on broadly generalizing subject matter in order to achieve parallels. There is also the standard tactic of not revealing specifics – indeed, avoiding them as much as possible. If you want quotes of some of these Buddhist documents, that’s not going to happen much if at all. Instead, here’s the sort of thing we’re given:

The emphasis on mere faith in the Buddha as sufficient for salvation, and the idea that tricks, puns, symbolic language, codes, parables etc., should be used by Buddhist missionaries to convert all living beings to the secret of the Buddha, derives directly from the SDP [Buddhist document, the Saddharmapundarîka-sûtram].

There’s a few obvious problems here. The first is that “faith” refers to loyalty (see link 2 below), and that’s what any religious leader would expect – whether Jesus or Buddha or Jim Jones. The parallel here is a universal, one the author of the article (who is not named) dishonestly obscures by playing upon the common perception of “faith” as something uniquely demanded by Christianity. But that is not at all the case.

The second problem is one of lack of definition as well. What is meant by “salvation”? As we have remarked in other context, “salvation” has not been, as it is today, uniquely Christian language. “ It is not even so in the New Testament. The word for “saved” (sozo) is used in the context of a person being healed from disease (Matt. 9:21), of Peter being rescued from drowning (Matt. 14:30), of Elijah rescuing Jesus from the cross (Matt. 27:49) – and so on. I do not know much about Buddhism, but I know with certainty that “salvation” in Buddhism is not achieved by means of trusting in Buddha’s atoning death for remission from sins.

After some non-specific reference to alleged “Sanskritisms” in the Gospels (a claim that mainstream scholarship would find rather amusing), and an equally vague claim that “[t]he Greek text of the Gospels is often obscure, ambiguous or otherwise odd” – again, no specifics offered – it is claimed that there is “an old Bactrian inscription that reproduces the standard homage to the Buddhists Trinity.” I have little doubt that in this, there is no legitimate understanding of what a “Trinity” actually is, especially within Christianity. Are there hypostatic elements associated with Buddha in Buddhism? Unfortunately, rather than try to explain how the doctrine matches, we are awarded only more vague claims of alleged “puns on the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit of the SDP.”

Finally, in the first part of the paper, we are told of an alleged parallel between a Sanskrit text and “Revelations 13:18”:

a-rith-mos gar an-thrô-pou es-tin
provides a perfect and typical imitation of

It does? Apparently, only for those with eyes to see: “If you have a bit of sophia, as required, you cannot fail to see that the Greek imitates the sense, the sound and the numerical value of the Sanskrit, for the numerical value of pundarîka is, of course, 666. So the Man is the Pundarîka.”

This is simply contrived nonsense. It would hardly be difficult to find such a short phrase between two texts with an equal number of syllables. Statistically, such a match is meaningless. In terms of “numerical value,” the missing point is that textual criticism indicates that 616, not 666, is the original reading of Revelation (note: no “S”), and if “the numerical value of pundarika” is what is being used, then there’s a bit of fudging here of the sort Edgar Whisenant would be proud of – why not use the “numerical value” of the whole phrase (“sad-dhar-ma-pun-da-rî-ka-sût-ram”)?

It is asked to close the section, “Who, then, can deny that SDP is a part of Q?” The irony is that using the same sort of techniques, various eschatological authors have asked, “Who, then, can deny that Jesus will return on [this date]?”

We’ll look at a second portion of the essay next week.

On Q here.

On faith here.


  1. JP,

    It is ironic that you compare Lindtner's arbitrary numerical analogs of Buddist texts to some of the eschatological authors and theorists, because just as I was reading the previous sentence - Harold Camping's convoluted nonsense popped into my mind as a comparable farce.


  2. I'll be looking into Camping for the Feb. 2011 E-Block, so I'll be able to see just how much resemblance there is!