Monday, August 19, 2013

The Frowning Buddha, Part 2

From the September 2010 E-Block.
**
For the second part of this series, we will look at claims made regarding the birth of Buddha and alleged parallels to the life of Jesus. We will use the same analytical template that we used in the first article on this series, though our format will be slightly different, given the nature of the data: What we have is an extended story with multiple claims, and each will have to be checked out in turn. We’ll also do some work on an alleged “crucifixion” of Buddha.

As one “copycat critic” sums it up:

The most famous Buddha is known as Siddhârtha Gautama. He is supposed to have lived some time in the period from late seventh century BCE to early third century BCE. Like Jesus he dwelt as a spiritual being in heaven before his arrival on earth. He incarnated voluntarily in order to save the world. His mother was Queen Mâyâ who was later regarded as a virgin. She was believed to have been impregnated by a divine being in the shape of a white elephant who entered her through her right side. Buddha’s birth can therefore be considered a virgin birth, as Mâyâ’s husband Suddhodana, like Joseph, was only stepfather and not the real father of Buddha. Mâyâ also had no sensual thoughts of men, was inaccessible to them and lived as a virgin for thirty-two months. Jerome (c. 347-420 CE) says that Buddha “had his birth through the side of a virgin”. 

Consequently, the Buddha was regarded as the Son of God (devaputra).
The Buddha child is born while his mother is making a journey to visit her parents. At Buddha’s birth, angels (devas) or gods announces to Queen Mâyâ that she has given birth to a mighty and powerful son. The Buddha child radiates a dazzling light and receives homage from heaven. Wise men recognize in him the signs of a god or superman (mahâpurisa). He is seen as a World Saviour who saves people from suffering and he is sought after in wide areas and receives veneration.

Unlike in our last article, we will simply have two sections. We will use the first sextion to address the validity and meaningfulness of the claimed parallel. The question of what came first, in section two, need only be answered once, since the story is from one source.

Does a true parallel exist? Is it meaningful?
  • ”Like Jesus he dwelt as a spiritual being in heaven before his arrival on earth.” The phrase “spiritual being” is vague to the point of being a felony. Jesus, before the incarnation, was not merely a “spiritual being” but divine hypostatic Wisdom. Angels too are spiritual beings, so by the description, Buddha was an angel. Or perhaps a fallen demon (who once lived in heaven, according to the story). Too much generalization leads to too many problems.

    That said, much of the problem is also trying to smash together concepts from Judeo-Christian and Hindu-Buddhist traditions. In the latter tradition, Buddha is an avatar of the Hindu deity Vishnu, and it is not exactly “incarnation” but “reincarnation” – and Buddha represents the ninth time Vishnu has been represented by such an avatar – prior avatars including a fish, a turtle, a dwarf, and Krishna.

    A parallel? Actually a closer one would be to Greco-Roman stories of their gods coming to earth. But even that does not work fully, for the impersonal deity of pantheism has just about everything, including your trash can and toilet, included in its habitation.

    ”He incarnated voluntarily in order to save the world.” Once again, far too vague. Aside from what we said of “incarnated” above, “save” is used to cover the vastly different purposes of Jesus and Buddha: One “saved” via atoning death, from God’s wrath; the other “saved” from Samsara and suffering via moral teachings. If a fireman “saves” someone from a burning building, is Buddha a fireman?

    ” His mother was Queen Mâyâ who was later regarded as a virgin. She was believed to have been impregnated by a divine being in the shape of a white elephant who entered her through her right side. Buddha’s birth can therefore be considered a virgin birth, as Mâyâ’s husband Suddhodana, like Joseph, was only stepfather and not the real father of Buddha.”

    This is apparently a definition of “virgin” with which the dictionary is not familiar. The critic defines “virgin” as “not impregnated by your husband,” which is simply nonsensical. In reality this is more like one of the Greco-Roman stories of Zeus hiding his divine seed in the disguise of something like a pomegranate. This cannot be reckoned a “virgin birth” by any stretch of the imagination. There is no parallel here.

    No explicit note is made indicating a parallel between the names Maya and Mary, but for the record we may note that “Mary” or a variant was the name of between a quarter and a third of Jewish women in the time of Jesus, so that no serious claim of dependence can be maintained.

    ” Mâyâ also had no sensual thoughts of men, was inaccessible to them and lived as a virgin for thirty-two months. Jerome (c. 347-420 CE) says that Buddha ‘had his birth through the side of a virgin’.”

    As noted above, this sort of claim requires an idiosyncratic understanding of the term “virgin”. But what of the other point?

    The reference from Jerome comes from his work Against Jovinianus, and it’s not quite correct to say that Jerome “says” this. The actual quote is:

    To come to the Gymnosophists of India, the opinion is authoritatively handed down that Budda, the founder of their religion, had his birth through the side of a virgin.

    In other words, Jerome is actually only testifying to what the Gymnosophists claim in their tradition. But even so, it becomes clear that Jerome must be working with what we would regard as an equally idiosyncratic definition of “virgin” (though in Latin, it may not have been). This reference is part of a catalog of “virgins of the world,” as he puts it, and was intended as a rebuttal to a heretical view which condemned marriage and claimed it was no better than virginity. As part of his answer, Jerome calls up examples of virtuous women who were chaste, including some in “foreign” histories. That he is using what we would call an “idiosyncratic” definition of virgin is shown in further examples he gives:

    Speusippus also, Plato’s nephew, and One of Aristotle’s pupils, and author of a number of works, none of which are extant. Clearchus in his eulogy of Plato, and Diogenes Laërtius (so named from Laërte in Cilicia), who probably lived in the 2nd century after Christ, in the Third Book of his “Lives of the Philosophers” refers to a treatise by Anaxelides on the same subject. It has therefore been conjectured that Jerome may have written Philosophica Historia for philosophiae. Anaxelides in the second book of his philosophy, relates that Perictione, the mother of Plato, was violated by an apparition of Apollo, and they agree in thinking that the prince of wisdom was born of a virgin.

    …And mighty Rome cannot taunt us as though we had invented the story of the birth of our Lord and Saviour from a virgin; for the Romans believe that the founders of their city and race were the offspring of the virgin. The poetical name of Rhea Silvia, daughter of Numitor and mother of Romulus and Remus. Ilia and of Mars.

    In other words, Jerome apparently defines “virgin” in terms of not having sexual intercourse, which is not the full semantic range of what Christians maintain: That Jesus was conceived by divine fiat, as the world was created – not with the help of some seed, divine or human.

    ”Consequently, the Buddha was regarded as the Son of God (devaputra).”
    Here there is once again semantic decategorization, related to the difference between Jewish theism and Hindu-Buddhist pantheism, which defines out what is meant by “God.” At the same time, “son of god” was a title used as well in the Greco-Roman world; by its own nature, it is a phrase that cannot stand without further semantic content if we are going to claim a parallel.

    Additionally, “devaputra” apparently functioned similarly to the word elohim in the Hebrew tradition, referring as well to angels and demons, spiritual beings of lesser rank. This means that the claim of a parallel is even less meaningful than it appears to be on the surface.

    ”The Buddha child is born while his mother is making a journey to visit her parents. At Buddha’s birth, angels (devas) or gods announces to Queen Mâyâ that she has given birth to a mighty and powerful son.”

    It is not clear if any parallel is being claimed in the first sentence, though perhaps it is meant to imply that a “birth on the road” is a parallel. However, at this time we can start noting how much is hidden in vague description by looking at how others summarize the story. A Buddhist here adds a lot of detail:

    When the time for the birth grew near, Queen Maya wished to travel from Kapilavatthu, the King’s capital, to her childhood home, Devadaha, to give birth. With the King’s blessings she left Kapilavatthu on a palanquin carried by a thousand courtiers.

    On the way to Devadaha, the procession passed Lumbini Grove, which was full of blossoming trees. Entranced, the Queen asked her courtiers to stop, and she left the palanquin and entered the grove. As she reached up to touch the blossoms, her son was born.

    Then the Queen and her son were showered with perfumed blossoms, and two streams of sparkling water poured from the sky to bathe them. And the infant stood, and took seven steps, and proclaimed “I alone am the World-Honored One!”

    Then Queen Maya and her son returned to Kapilavatthu. The Queen died seven days later, and the infant prince was nursed and raised by the Queen’s sister Pajapati, also married to King Suddhodana.

    Suddenly, it sounds a lot less like Matthew and Luke, doesn’t it?

    Note again that the point is that how someone chooses to describe a text has great bearing on the validity of a parallelism claim. This is apart from the original text, which can reveal even more details that drive a stake into parallelism claims. Now consider that text, as repeated here in the relevant section:

    Now other women sometimes fall short of and sometimes run over the term of ten lunar months, and then bring forth either sitting or lying down; but not so the mother of a Future Buddha. She carries the Future Buddha in her womb for just ten months, and then brings forth while standing up. This is a characteristic of the mother of a Future Buddha. So also queen Mah -M y carried the Future Buddha in her womb, as it were oil in a vessel, for ten months; and being then far gone with child, she grew desirous of going home to her relatives, and said to king Suddhodana,— “Sire, I should like to visit my kinsfolk in their city Devadaha.” “So be it,” said the king; and from Kapilavatthu to the city of Devadaha he had the road made even, and garnished it with plantain-trees set in pots, and with banners, and streamers; and, seating the queen in a golden palanquin borne by a thousand of his courtiers, he sent her away in great pomp. Now between the two cities, and belonging to the inhabitants of both, there was a pleasure-grove of sal-trees, called Lumbini Grove. And at this particular time this grove was one mass of flowers from the ground to the topmost branches, while amongst the branches and flowers hummed swarms of bees of the five different colors, and flocks of various kinds of birds flew about warbling sweetly. Throughout the whole of Lumbini Grove the scene resembled the Cittalat Grove in Indra’s paradise, or the magnificently decorated banqueting pavilion of some potent king. When the queen beheld it she became desirous of disporting herself therein, and the courtiers therefore took her into it. And going to the foot of the monarch sal-tree of the grove, she wished to take hold of one of its branches. And the sal-tree branch, like the tip of a well-steamed reed, bent itself down within reach of the queen’s hand. Then she reached out her hand, and seized hold of the branch, and immediately her pains came upon her. Thereupon the people hung a curtain about her, and retired. So her delivery took place while she was standing up, and keeping fast hold of the sal-tree branch. At that very moment came four pure-minded Mah -Brahma angels bearing a golden net, and, receiving the Future Buddha on this golden net, they placed him before his mother and said,— “Rejoice, O Queen! A mighty son has been born to you.” Now other mortals on issuing from the maternal womb are smeared with disagreeable, impure matter; but not so the Future Buddha. He issued from his mother’s womb like a preacher descending from his preaching-seat, or a man coming down a stair, stretching out both hands and both feet, unsmeared by any impurity from his mother’s womb, and flashing pure and spotless, like a jewel thrown upon a vesture of Benares cloth. Notwithstanding this, for the sake of honoring the Future Buddha and his mother, there came two streams of water from the sky, and refreshed the Future Buddha and his mother. Then the Brahma angels, after receiving him on their golden net, delivered him to the four guardian angels, who received him from their hands on a rug which was made of the skins of black antelopes, and was soft to the touch, being such as is used on state occasions; and the guardian angels delivered him to men who received him on a coil of fine cloth; and the men let him out of their hands on the ground, where he stood and faced the east. There, before him, lay many thousands of worlds, like a great open court; and in them, gods and men, making offerings to him of perfumes, garlands, and so on, were saying,— “Great Being! There is none your equal, much less your superior.” When he had in this manner surveyed the four cardinal points, and the four intermediate ones, and the zenith, and the nadir, in short, all the ten directions in order, and had nowhere discovered his equal, he exclaimed, “This is the best direction,” and strode forward seven paces, followed by Mah -Brahma holding over him the white umbrella, Suy ma bearing the fan, and other divinities having the other symbols of royalty in their hands. Then, at the seventh stride, he halted, and with a noble voice, he shouted the shout of victory, beginning,—
    “The chief am I in all the world.”

    Now in three of his existences did the Future Buddha utter words immediately on issuing from his mother’s womb: namely, in his existence as Mahosadha; in his existence as Vessantara; and in this existence. As respects his existence as Mahosadha, it is related that just as he was issuing from his mother’s womb, Sakka, the king of the gods, came and placed in his hand some choice sandal-wood, and departed. And he closed his fist upon it, and issued forth. “My child,” said his mother, “what is it you bring with you in your hand?” “Medicine, mother,” said he. Accordingly, as he was born with medicine in his hand, they gave him the name of Osadha-D raka [Medicine-Child]. Then they took the medicine, and placed it in an earthenware jar; and it was a sovereign remedy to heal all the blind, the deaf, and other afflicted persons who came to it. So the saying sprang up, “This is a great medicine, this is a great medicine!” And thus he received the name of Mahosadha [Great Medicine-Man].

    Compare this to Matthew and Luke? One may as well compare Ella Fitzgerald to Dee Snider.

    So are there parallels? Yes, in the most general terms of a birth on a trip, and angelic announcements. Do they mean anything? Absolutely not, precisely because of how general they are.

    ”The Buddha child radiates a dazzling light and receives homage from heaven.”
    This one’s a bit confused, since Jesus didn’t radiate a dazzling light at birth – that happened at the Transfiguration when he was an adult. We commented on “homage from heaven” above. No parallel.

    ”Wise men recognize in him the signs of a god or superman (mahâpurisa). He is seen as a World Saviour who saves people from suffering and he is sought after in wide areas and receives veneration.”

    That’s the last of it, and it’s hard to make an evaluation on the “wise men” bit, since it is not clear what text the critic has in mind. As for the rest: We have already commented on how generalized the use of “savior” and “suffering” is, and the phrases “sought after in wide areas” and “receives veneration” are exceptionally vague, such that they could apply to gods, Presidents, or even rock stars.

    Which came first?

    The original critic, for some reason, doesn’t mention what text all of this came from. It may be noted that the Buddhist we linked to above says:

    Aspects of this story may have been borrowed from Hindu texts, such as the account of the birth of Indra from the Rig Veda. The story may also have Hellenic influences. For a time after Alexander the Great conquered central Asia in 334 BCE, there was considerable intermingling of Buddhism with Hellenic art and ideas. There also is speculation that the story of the Buddha’s birth was “improved” after Buddhist traders returned from the Middle East with stories of the birth of Jesus.

    But as for where the story itself is from: The link to Bartleby says it is from the “Jataka” – this is a series of tales about the Buddha, and it is an anthology, so that stories in it have been variously dated by various authorities, though no date I have found is earlier than the 3rd century AD. I certainly find nothing showing that the birth story is part of the early birch-bark texts we discussed in the last issue. It is part of a piece called the Nidanakatha. I have seen one claim that this story can be dated to the first century BC, but no substantiation was given for this date. (Upinder Singh, A History of Ancient and Early Medieval India, 25). A more scholarly source dated its origins to the fifth century AD. (Ronald Swearer, “Bhikkhu Buddhadasa’s Interpretation of the Buddha,” Journal of the American Academy of Religion LXIV/2). Yet another source says that the date of the sources used for the Nidanakatha cannot be accurately known. (The Buddhist Forum, Volume 2, By T. Skorupski, 85) Nowhere could I find any discussion of such things as manuscript evidence or internal content useful for dating the text, though I assume that such discussions could exist somewhere.
    Our conclusion must be that the “copycat” theorists have a lot of work to do and a lot of evidence to provide before any claim of borrowing by Christians can be taken seriously.

    Appendix: The Crucified Buddha

    Now, as they say, for something completely different. Claim is made of a “probably pre-Christian and rather unnoticed text” titled, “The Story of Gautama, the Progenitor of Ikshvâku”, which is said to be found in the Sanghabhedavastu. Why this text is “probably” pre-Christian is not explained. But let’s ask our usual questions. First, the description by the critic:

    Gautama abandons his life as heir to the kingdom and turns to the ascetic hermit Krishnadvaipâyana who like John the Baptist subsists only on what wild nature produces, in this case fruits, roots and water. Just as Jesus, Gautama thinks that his teacher’s life is too ascetic, and he seeks a less ascetic life, a sort of middle course.

    A harlot is murdered and Gautama is innocently accused of the murder. He is brought before the king who is persuaded by the crowd of his guilt and sentences Gautama to death by crucifixion (literally: to be put “on a stake”). In the Gospels, Governor Pilate is persuaded by the crowd and crucifies (stauroo) the wrongfully convicted Jesus.

    They announce Gautama’s crime and sentence, a parallel to the inscription at Jesus’ cross. Then they put a garland of oleanders around Gautama’s neck, just as they put a crown of thorns on Jesus’ head. Gautama is driven out of the city through the southern city-gate and he is fixed “on a stake while still alive”. We are told that Gautama “has been pierced”, so that his “joints have been loosened” and that he is suffering from “severe pains” but that his mind is not injured.

    Gautama’s ascetic teacher Krishnadvaipâyana is worried about Gautama who has not had time to engender any offspring, a fact that probably will give him bad karma. He therefore persuades Gautama, while still hanging on the stake, to produce two drops of semen which mixed with blood falls to the ground and are transformed into two eggs. These eggs crack in the sun and two princes are born. Gautama dies as the sun rises, but resurrects indirectly in his offspring. His teacher sees the eggshells near the stake and realizes that the two boys (princes) must be the sons of Gautama. Each of the princes in succession is made an “anointed king”. To be anointed king is the exact meaning of the Hebrew word Messiah (the anointed).

    Moreover, in the place where they crucified Gautama lie the crushed eggshells. These eggshells are called kapâlâni in Sanskrit, the word kapâla (kapâlâni in the plural) meaning eggshell as well as skull or cranium. Jesus was executed on Golgotha (In English Calvary; in Aramaic Gulgolta) which means “the skull”. The place is also referred to as “place of a skull” and possibly the hill resembled a cranium.

    The questions concerning whether a parallel exists and is meaningful are hard to answer at present, and indeed, the claims raise certain suspicions, because at present, there is no complete English translation of the Sanghabhedavastu available. I have confirmed this with a scholar of Buddhism who was written on this work.

    As for which came first – herein also lies a host of obfuscations, for according to the scholar I have consulted, there is as yet no consensus on the date of the material within which this work is contained. In terms of hard evidence, the text is known only from a collection called the Gilgit manuscripts – which were written in the 5th-6th century AD. (See here.) If these theorists wish for us to believe that this material is “pre-Christian” they will need a lot more than “I say so” to make the claims stick.

    But there is one other issue at hand which the theorists have missed, and which looks to be a “killer” for claims that this was either an earlier story, or independent of the story of Jesus. They claim this is a story of Buddha crucified. Yet what evidence is there that the peoples of Buddhism’s native lands – India, China, and so on – ever practiced crucifixion as a punishment? We know it was used in this time period by the Persians, Romans, and others in the area we know as the Roman Empire. I can find no evidence that it was a recognized form of punishment in Asian lands, save when it was imitated by those familiar with Christianity. If there is no proof of crucifixion as a form of punishment in Buddhism’s native lands, then the case for such stories as, if anything, dependent on the Gospels, becomes incontrovertible.

    Appendix: The Little Clay Cart (by "faithbender")

    Regarding the "crucifixion of the Buddha", there is another Indian tale cited by a certain Skeptic (who will not be named here, out of scholarly contempt for his poor abilities as a researcher) called the The Little Clay Cart. In true Internet Skeptic fashion, we are treated to the briefest, most biased overview of this material possible, and are left with the impression that it is the only possible interpretation. This is of course, not correct.

    The Little Clay Cart (LCC) is an ancient Indian play. In terms of comparison, it seems to most resemble ancient Greco-Roman romances. It revolves around the character Charudatta and chronicles his love affair with a courtesan named Vasantasenā. Basically, Vasantasena is almost strangled to death by another character, Sansthānaka (the king's brother-in-law), after she spurns him for Charudatta, and Sansthanaka accuses Charudatta of her murder. The play can be found in an old translation here.

    Charudatta is examined by a judge in a court who refuses to judge him and goes with the King's proclamation that he be killed. They lead Charudatta away to execute him (apparently by first killing him then impaling him on a stake), but are stopped by Vasantansena. That's right folks, she ain't dead! Turns out she was choked to the point of unconsciousness by Sansthanaka, but not killed. A Buddhist monk found her in the same act (because she was making murmuring noises and had stuck her hand out from some leaves she was buried in, to get his attention), and he fans her, thus reviving her. (Kind of reminds you of Crichton's Rising Sun, doesn't it?)

    Charudatta forgives his accuser and weds Vasantansena making her his second wife, ending the play.

    Anyone see Jesus or the Gospels here? Me neither.

    Let's go through some of the proposed parallels:

    The fact that the judge refuses to judge Charudatta, but seeks the King's audience first, is presumably to be compared to Jesus in Luke's Gospel being sent from Pilate to Herod.

    It should be noted first that Jesus is sent from Pilate to Herod as a way of ducking having to execute Jesus, because Jesus was from Galilee, Herod's turf. But Herod sends Jesus back after Jesus fails to amuse him. In LCC, in Act 9, verse 30, of the online edition referenced here, the judge has the beadle, not Charudatta himself, sent before the king and ask his ruling. In fact, the King is never pictured; the beadle returns and announces the king's ruling. For a parallel to be true here, Pilate (closer to the King than Herod) would not be pictured in the Gospel, which instead would have Herod (closer to the Judge than Pilate) consult Pilate through a third party without Jesus actually appearing before him. Plus, in LCC, Charudatta is not sent from the King to the Judge then back to the King, he is always before the judge then sent off to die, there is no comparison here.

    In any event, we must consider what is being suggested: Ancient Christians inventing this story of Jesus being crucified (unlikely to the point of impossibility) using real, historical persons (Pilate, Herod)? Not likely. And historically, we have to ask whether both scenes might not depict some reality of jurisprudence in their respective social settings. Pilate's act makes sense as a way for him as a schemer to buy some time for his plans and also irritate the Sanhedrin -- not to mention make a friend of Herod. (See more in relevant section here. We don't have the resources available to us to say whether LCC's scenario is realistic, but in some cultures of the East, the King is frequently seen as a remote, inaccessible figure before whom others may not appear withotu special permission (think Esther here), so the idea that justice might be delivered through a mediator has a ring of actual practice.
    Charudatta is said to have to "carry his cross".

    Not exactly. In Act 10, in the translation appealed to, Charudatta does say "upon my shoulder I must bear the stake". But it never pictures him doing it. In any event, we know from Roman authorities that having the condemned carry the cross-beam (or maybe the main beam?) was common in ancient crucifixion. What does this story do to these references? Destroy their historicity? I doubt any ancient historian will follow this logic. Plus why doesn't Chaudatta have a person carry his beam at some point, like Simon in the Gospels? Was that detail added? For what possible reason?

    As noted above, we need evidence of crucifixion being used as a punishment in Buddhist lands, at or prior to the time of Jesus, for this argument to have any force. More than that, in the translation by Basham, Charudatta will only be killed by a sword. But how much weight can be placed on this in uncertain: On page 18 the translator's note says the translation is "free".

    Comparison is made to Vasantansena being "raised" by the Buddhist monk.

    Apparently, our critic is trying to leave the impression that perhaps this could have triggered the idea that Jesus was raised. This is a stretch no matter how you look at it. The point is moot however, for the text says that she was not killed, but strangled to the point of unconsciousness. The monk merely helps give her strength back.

    The critic seems to miss the significant fact that Charudatta is never impaled!

    First the executioner tries to kill him with a sword but cannot (subconsciously) because of his perception of Chrudatta's innocence, and Vasantansena saves Charudatta before he can be killed by the stake.

    From these weak comparisons we can see that LCC has as much in common -- in very general terms -- with The Bacchae (the trail and so forth) and the staking of Innana as it does with the Gospels -- though I doubt the same critics would argue dependence there.

    But what about dating? The critic from whom this story is cited and summarized brazenly trumpets a 2nd century BCE date, assigning the same date to the Gilgit tale cited above (though he does not mention the Gilgit texts themselves, they would ruin his fun). I assume he does this because he believes a 2BCE date for the Gilit text is made possible by the early dating he offers for the LCC...or maybe he's just firing off any ol' date he wants...We know from Mr. Holding's review of that story, that the only place it is found is in the 5th-7th century Gilgit texts, so we are more than justified in being suspicious of his dating of LCC.

    A preliminary Internet search reveals that the author this work is attributed to, one King Shurdraka, cannot be fixed historically. The running belief, as a matter of fact, is that there was no King Shurdraka, but that he was fictitious. This of course, does not help dating the text itself. Indeed, most sites admit the date can range from 2 BCE (cited without justification in the critics own and other websites that use it) all the way up to the 7th century CE! Several sites claim the best evidence points to 1-2CE, but none that I have found are concrete on the matter when it is addressed in-depth.

    In terms of serious sources, a discussion of date may be found in a translation by Basham [156f], who calls the dating of the play a "thory issue." He says that the "present trend" is to assign it to the Gupta period (4th to 8th centuries AD), though some have suggested earlier (and later) dates. Basham discusses evidence for dating, but what he offers would place it in the earliest part of the Gupta period; in the end, however, the consensus date is 400 AD. Miller's Masterworks of Asian literature in Comparative Perspective takes a date in the Gupta period for granted [201]. (Ironically, one translation of the play was done by the Christ-myther Revilo P. Oliver.) I can find nothing to suggest it should be dated prior to or contemporary with Jesus.

    The critic then, has (rather uncritically) taken the earliest possible date he can think of (with, as far as I can find, no scholarly support) and hit the ground running with it. Does he afford this kind of thinking with the NT?

    We thus have no reason to accept the critic's date. But can this Indian play perhaps illuminate the data for the Gilgit Buddhist story? The features common to them serve to highlight what constitute true parallels? (Assuming the data for the Gilgit translation is correct, which it may not be, since the work is not available in English, and the translator in that case is horribly biased to find parallels; this is not unfair as the same unreasonable criticism is applied by that critic to NT scholarly efforts in the reverse).

    Both feature a character who is set to die by impalement for the being accused of murdering a woman they did not murder. Certainly the differences are real as well, but this is much closer than anything these tales have in common with the Gospels. Moreover it is more probable in that both come to us from ancient Indian/Buddhists sources and have a much higher degree of probability of circulating together than in alongside 1st century Palestininian Christian traditions, for Paul and the other early Christian to adopt.

    Since the critics feel free to make sweeping claims in this manner, I will as well, but mine will be more nuanced by the actual evidence: There is a strong possibility that LCC Cart is post-Christian and it is certain the Gilgit tale is. As Mr. Holding has noted, we don't really know of impalement or "crucifixion-like" suspension penalties in ancient India, to the degree this holds up, we can surmise lateness from this as well. Also as Mr. Holding has noted in his previous e-block entry on Buddhism, there exists in Buddhism a certain philosophical fluidity. It is the reason that Buddhists, on the whole, do not have the same reaction to the accusation that Buddha didn't exist as Christians do to the accusation that Jesus did not exist. There is also the idea in Buddhism that it matters little where the idea comes from, but more that the idea corresponds to truth. To the extent this holds up, it would seem more likely that Buddhists decided to incorporate a story with similar themes into their scriptures (in or around the time of the Gilit manuscripts) as are found in LCC. Or vise versa, since that the dating for LCC may be much later than the Gilgit texts.

    For my money, the easiest way to put the copying thing to the test is to reverse the proposed order: If we knew, beyond reasonable, historical doubt, the Indian epic post dated the NT, would we as Christians say, "These guys copied the Gosples!"? I, personally, would see no reason, or justification, to argue the Indians copied the Gospels in LCC if it does post-date the NT (the Gilgit tale easily post-dates the Gospels and certainly Paul who wrote as early as 49CE, not to mention Josephus or Tacitus). There are not enough common elements, the stories are too different, and what is common is superficial and can be chalked up to universal human experience (trails, executions, kings, judges, and so forth) and can be gathered from the world over.
  • No comments:

    Post a Comment