Speculation of a link between Christianity and Buddhism first arose
as a result of the translation of Buddhist texts into European languages
of India. Similarity
in the stories of the births and lives of Jesus and Buddha were immediately
apparent to scholars. It was also noted that many of
their teachings had close parallels. Buddhism was unquestionably centuries older than Christianity.
Was it possible the authors of Christianity copied their ideas
from Buddhism after early travel to India?
East meets West – trade and religious influence
Trade between East and West is of great antiquity. Cuneiform tablets as early as 2400 BC describe shipments of cotton cloth, spices, oil, grains, and such exotic items as peacocks from the Indus Valley region to the Middle East. We can be certain that the silk and spice routes carried more than trade goods. An Oxyrhynchus papyrus fragment from Egypt even contains a passage in a South Indian language.
before the word 'missionary' came to be synonymous with Christianity, Buddhist
monks ('dharma-bhanakas') were traipsing across Asia. From the Buddhist heartland on the Ganges, notions of the sacred accompanied the spice and incense. Travelling
the trade routes they spread their doctrines all the
way from Khotan in central Asia to Antioch and Alexandria in
One such visit
is documented in 20 BC in Athens. A Buddhist philosopher, Zarmarus,
part of an embassy from India, made a doctrinal point by setting
alight. His tomb became a tourist attraction and is mentioned
by several historians.
evangelists of Buddha were committed to their cause. Is it simply coincidence that
the hero of the Buddhist tale is just a tad similar to the Christian
superman? In both the story of the Buddha and the story of Jesus
we read of a mystic or holy man, travelling from village to village.
Each lives off the hospitality of the people and gets into
trouble with the ruling elite by ignoring social status and taking
and refuge from prostitutes.
Is it just
possible that the miracles ascribed to Jesus merely mimic the
tricks practised by the 'holy men' in India?
BC) carried Greek civilization to the east. Cities along the
trade route – Merv, Bactra, Taxila etc. – became
Greek military colonies. The Indian province in the north west – Gandhara – had
been a Persian satrap before the arrival of the Greeks and
here, in the 2nd century BC, Greek kingdoms with a distinctive
Graeco-Bactrian culture emerged.
But the flow
of culture was two way – for example, the Greeks
adopted the Indian war elephant and a great deal of speculative
Indian thinking. Greek philosophers, like Anaxarchus and Pyrrho,
had been in the train of Alexander and had mixed with the Indian gymnosophists or
'naked philosophers.' Even the more ancient Pythagoreans may
have been influenced by Indian ideas – vegetarianism,
communal property and the 'transmigration of souls.'
conquest of the Indus valley the Greeks never again returned
to the simple pantheon of their Olympian gods – and founded
their first school of Skepticism (see Flintoff, E. (1980),
'Pyrrho and India', Phronesis 25: 88-108.).
At the time
of Alexander, the Magadha empire had dominated the middle
and upper Ganges but Alexander never got that far. Yet into the
vacuum created by Alexander's departure, and bringing east and
west closer together, moved Chandragupta (Sandracottus to
the Greeks), founder of the Mauryan empire. He conquered
Magadha, and also the Greek kingdoms of the north west and much
of northern India. His empire included the northern province
of Kosala, where a Hindu reformer Gautama Siddhartha (aka "Shakyammuni
Buddha") began advocating his 'Middle Path' between
greed and asceticism.
philosophising had little consequence during his own lifetime
but in 270 BC, the grandson of Chandragupta, Asoka,
ascended the Mauryan throne. Initially a ruthless imperialist
he seems – like Marcus Aurelius – to have spent his
later life in soul-searching and pondering the afterlife.
In an action
that anticipated Constantine's religious revolution five hundred
years later, Asoka adopted Buddhism as a unifying and pacifying
ideology for his vast empire and propagated it's doctrines with
all the usual zeal of a new convert.
his still extant edicts, inscribed on rocks and stone pillars
to be found everywhere from Afghanistan to south India, Asoka
sought further 'conquest' beyond his frontiers by dispatching
Buddhist missionaries in all directions – "Conquest
by Dhamma". Carved
in stone is Asoka's urging of Forgiveness:
death or deportation of a hundredth, or even a thousandth
part of those who died during the conquest of Kalinga now
pains Beloved-of-the-Gods. Now Beloved-of-the-Gods thinks
that even those who do wrong should be forgiven where forgiveness
this stage the Buddha's words of wisdom had been codified into
a number of "sutras", propagated by a growing
number of rival sects.
3rd century BC empire of Asoka included a vast
area of the Greeks' eastern empire established
a century earlier.
Alexander, the Seleucides ruled the Greek empire
east of the Euphrates. A century later they had
taken over the kingdom of Antigonus in Syria and
Asia Minor but had lost control of Parthia, Bactria
and the Indus Valley.
horse of Troy shows up in Indian art (Gandhara)
it is conquest by Dhamma that Beloved-of-the-Gods
considers to be the best conquest ...
conquest by Dhamma has been won here, on the
borders, even six hundred yojanas away, where
the Greek king Antiochos rules, beyond there
where the four kings named Ptolemy, Antigonos,
Magas and Alexander rule ...
in the king’s domain among the Greeks,
the Kambojas, the Nabhakas ... everywhere people
are following Beloved-of-the-Gods’ instructions
where Beloved-of-the-Gods’ envoys have
not been, these people too, having heard of the
practice of Dhamma and the ordinances and instructions
in Dhamma given by Beloved-of-the-Gods, are following
it and will continue to do so ...
conquest has been won everywhere, and it gives
great joy – the joy which only conquest
by Dhamma can give. But even this joy is of little
consequence. Beloved-of-the-Gods considers the
great fruit to be experienced in the next world
to be more important.
have had this Dhamma edict written so that my
sons and great-grandsons ... consider making
conquest by Dhamma only, for that bears fruit
in this world and the next."
rock edict at Girnuri in Guzerat.
monks in Egypt?
There are records
from Alexandria that indicate the arrival of a steady stream
of Buddhist monks and philosophers. They would surely have contributed
to the philosophical speculations and syncretism for which the
city was noted.
it seems the original Therapeutae were
sent by Asoka on an embassy to Pharaoh Ptolemy II in 250 BC.
word 'Therapeutae' is itself of Buddhist origin, being a
Hellenization of the Pali 'Thera-putta' (literally 'son of
a 1st century AD contemporary of Josephus, described the Therapeutae in
his tract 'De Vita Contemplativa'. It appears they were
a religious brotherhood without precedent in the Jewish world.
Reclusive ascetics, devoted to poverty, celibacy, good deeds
and compassion, they were just like Buddhist monks in fact.
From the Therapeutae it
is quite possible a Buddhist influence spread to both the
Essenes (a similar monkish order in Palestine) and to the Gnostics – adepts
of philosophical speculations.
of Buddhism on Gnosticism
gives benediction to his 12 apostles
a religion of quite a different order to earlier 'pagan' cults.
It was a scriptural religion, making
a strong appeal to the emotions. It
offered a moral code – and hope.
Cyril of Jerusalem
"But Terebinthus, his disciple in this wicked error, inherited his money and books and heresy, and came to Palestine, and becoming known and condemned in Judæa he resolved to pass into Persia: but lest he should be recognised there also by his name he changed it and called himself Buddas."
—Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical lecture 6.23.
Queen Maya With Infant Buddha.
Gandhara, 2nd Century (British Museum)
doctrine of Incarnation
idea of liberating the soul from entrapment in matter is
not dissimilar to the teachings embodied in the "4
Noble Truths" of the Buddha.
Mankind is seen as trapped in suffering (dukkha) by
Its cessation (nirodha) is to be realised by an eight-fold path of 'right
thought, right deed, right attitude' etc. (magga). Rather than Salvation an
equally whimsical Nirvana is postulated.
The path of
self-liberation (by meditation, asceticism etc.) is demanding
and fails to deliver the immediate consolation ordinary people
hope for. An easier option ('outer mystery') soon developed,
within both Gnosticism and Buddhism by which 'devotion
to the god' (prayer, chanting, ringing of bells, waving
incense sticks about, etc.) bestowed liberation (salvation/nirvana)
to the god's devotees.
emerged the Literalists of Christianity,
for whom the Saviour was given a real historic presence.
From Buddhism, Mahayana ("greater
vehicle") Buddhism emerged, in which the real historical
Buddha was gradually raised to the status of a divine incarnation (one
in a series of enlightened beings). The Lotus
emphasizes mere faith in the Buddha as
sufficient for salvation, and advises Buddhist missionaries
to convert humanity, where necessary, through symbolic language,
codes, parables, etc.
both developments occurred towards the end of the 1st century
Did They Get Their Ideas From?
than two dozen story elements borrowed from the Buddha
2. Royal origin and genealogy. 3. Virginal Conception
by mother/Virgin Birth. 4. Dream Vision. 5. White Elephant
/ White Dove parallel. 6. Annunciation to the Husband.
7. Annunciation of Birth by a Woman 8. Righteous foster
father. 9. Marvellous Light/Star. 10. Angels and others
at birth. 11. The Magi's´ visit 12. Giving of
Gifts. 13. Presentation in the Temple. 14. Infant prodigy
/ precocious youth. 15. Nature Miracle. 16. The Naming
Ceremony. 17. The Taming of Wild Animals. 18. The Miracles
of the Bending Tree and Gushing Water. 19. The Fall
of Idols. 20. Healing Miracles. 21. Sage recognition
- Asita / Simeon parallel 22. Anna and Shabari/Old
Women parallel. 23. The Appellation of King. 24. Mary
/ Mahâprajâpati parallel 25. Fast in wilderness
/ temptation by the devil. 26. Preparing the Way. 27.
Reference to Signs 28. Offer of universal Salvation.
of the Saviour
conception and birth of Christ in the Gospel
of Luke has an uncanny resemblance to the birth
stories of Buddha.
both cases the mother was a paragon of virtue,
had a vision and, without sex, became pregnant
with an extraordinary child. Each was delivered
while the mother was on a journey and their
births were both announced by angels.
the birth of Buddha a hermit sage, who had
heard the celebrations of angels, was told
by them that the infant would sit on the throne
the Christian story, the angels appeared and
told shepherds that a child was born who is
Christ the Lord.
narratives stress that holy people came to
pay homage to the world's saviour.
homespun 'wisdom' of Buddha & Christ
returns to the Father!!
Younger son leaves home and squanders his inheritance on wild living;
bankrupt and reduced to feeding pigs he returns home; delighted
father kills the fattened calf for him. Sensible elder brother
indignant and angry but father explains celebration is justified
because his brother had been 'lost and is found'. (Luke 15:11-32)
son leaves home for distant lands. Father distraught.
Years later, looking for work, son doesn't
recognize his now rich father (who does recognize
him). He flees. Father secretly hires him as
a scavenger. Years later, dying, he tells son
of his inheritance. (Lotus Sutra)
a meal, an innocent man Charudatta is accused
of murdering the courtesan Vasantasena, and is
brought to trial. The judge, admitting his
incompetence to condemn a Brahmin, sends the
case over to the king who condemns the man
to be executed and impaled with an inscription
is then ordered to carry his cross (Sanskrit
sulam) to the place of execution. Meantime,
the king’s brother-in-law, who actually
murdered the courtesan, buries her body under
a pile of leaves. But she is found by a Buddhist
monk who raises her from her 'deadly swoon.'
Vasantasena then saves Charudatta from death.
forgives his accuser, Samsthanaka, and appoints
the Buddhist monk as the head of all the Buddhist
monasteries in the realm. There is a marriage
in the end as well: Charudatta accepts Vasantasena
as his second wife.
BC Sanskrit play Mrchchakatika (Little
this story of 'Gautama, a holy man' our hero
is wrongfully condemned to die on the cross for
murdering the courtesan Bhadra. Gautama is impaled
on a cross, and his mentor Krishna Dvapayana
visits him and enters into a long dialogue, at
the end of which Gautama dies at the place
of skulls after engendering two offspring – the
progenitors of the Ikshavaku Dynasty.
The death episode begins for Buddha crossing
the Ganges at Magadha, from whence he
goes on to Kusinagari for a last meal.
The fable of Matthew (15:39) similarly has
JC aboard ship, to the (unknown) "coasts of Magdala",
from whence he goes on to Jerusalem for a
2. Both Buddha and JC forecast their own death 3 times.
3. Buddha arrives at Ku-kut-tha, JC at 'Gol ga tha'.
4. Both Buddha and JC twice refuse a drink.
5. Buddha dies between 2 trees, JC between 2 criminals.
6. Both promise their last convert that "today you will
be in paradise."
7. Death occurs during 'darkness'.
8. A disciple of Buddha – Kas ya pas – travelling
with 500 monks – encounters an unknown personage from whom
he learns of the death of Buddha. Another unnamed disciple disparages
the dead Buddha.
The fable of Luke has the disciple Kle
o pas encounter an unknown personage on the
road to Emmaus. This 'unrecognised' Jesus disparages
the evident lack of faith.
In a variation of the story, the 500 Buddhist monks become Paul's
500 brethren (1 Cor. 15.6) – though Paul renders Kas
ya pas as 'Cephas' (Simon Peter has his own origin
in Sâri Putra, also in the Buddhist 'gospel').
9. The dead Buddha is burned and it is the smoke of his corpse
which rises– the true "resurrection."
a 2nd/1st century BC play 'Samghabhedavastu'
Essenes – esoteric
were a monastic order having much in common
with contemporary Buddhists.
an austere existence in the desert where they eschewed the animal
sacrifice of the Jerusalem temple priesthood (they were vegetarians).
all normal enjoyments, they lived without personal property,
money or women (they recruited from newcomers.) The
Essenes extolled the merits of asceticism, penance, and self-torture.
however, interested in the magical arts and the occult sciences.They
believed in the pre-existence of the soul and
in angels as divine intermediaries or messengers from God.
of Buddhism on the Christians – Q?
parallels exist between early Buddhist texts and what Bible scholars
postulate as the 'Q' material – ('Q' is shorthand for
Quelle, the German for 'source'). The earliest translations
of Buddhist texts into Greek date back to the time of king Asoka
(3rd century BC).
It seems highly
probable that the core of the body of Q material
was made up of aphorisms, sayings originally ascribed to the
Buddha but later attributed to Jesus. To these sayings were added
mini-stories and micro-scenes to produce what became the Gospels
of Matthew and Luke.
From the Dhammapada, Buddha's
of others are more easily seen than one's own, but seeing
one's own failings is difficult."
Compare to Gospel
of Thomas 26
the mote which is in your brother's eye; but you do not see
the beam which is in your own eye."
was given a more theatrical flourish when it became Matthew
beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye,
but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? "
From the Dhammapada:
mendicant, though still young, yokes himself to the Buddha's
teachings, the world is illuminated like the moon freed of
wishes to follow me must know himself and bear my yoke."
The Mûlasarvâstivâdavinaya begins with
a long list of kings. This is combined with a list of the last
seven Buddhas, to give three periods of “fourteen generations” and
a total of 42 – an identical format to
the Gospel of Matthew!
idea that man should care about his brother, that he should accept
responsibility for society as a whole or for needy human beings
in particular, clearly precedes Christianity – in Greek
thought and in Buddhism.
philosophy of compassion, his vision of Dhamma, the
eternal law that sustains the cosmos, manifests itself among
humanity as the moral law.
most celebrated dictum is:
is never conquered by hostility in this world; hostility
is conquered by love. That is the eternal law."
"After that, he was seen of above five hundred
brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto
this present, but some are fallen asleep."
1 Corinthians 15:6
states that shortly after the passing away of the Buddha five
hundred of his Arhats and disciples met in council
at Rajagaha for the purpose of recalling to mind the truths they
had heard directly from their hero during the forty-five
years of his teachings.
biblical text actually identifies the 500 as 'Indian Brahmans'!
we find opportunity, motive, method, location and scriptural
evidence, for a profound and detailed Buddhist influence in
Christianity's origins. That it was so cannot be doubted.
Symposium on “ The Sanskrit and Buddhist Sources of the New Testament" Klavreström, Sweden 9/11 2003
Z. P. Thundy, Buddha and Christ: Nativity Stories and Indian Traditions (Leiden,
L. Adelskogh, Jesus in Comparative Light
E. R. Gruber, H.
Jesus (Element Books, 1995)
Elaine Pagels, The Gnostic Gospels (Vintage, 1979)
J. Duncan M. Derrett, The Bible and the Buddhists (Sardini
N. S. Chandramoul, Did Buddhism influence early Christianity?
(The Times of India May 1, 1997)
Christian Lindtner, Wer
war Kleophas Radikalkritik
Sites dedicated to the Buddhist sources of Christianity:
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Copyright © 2004
by Kenneth Humphreys.
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