Tag Archives: Buddhism

Scholars of Christianity are Not Alone

It’s a human thing. Not limited to one religious heritage. I’m talking about the foibles of scholarship as it delves into its own heritage.

So we have the language of apologetics being used where it does not belong. Recall a post that detoured into a discussion of confessional language in scholarship. Recall some of the examples of this evangelical rhetoric:

Alas, the idea that a messiah killed by crucifixion . . . . would be shocking to first-century Jews is still alive and well.

. . . .

At the very least, however; Paul’s primary emphasis in relation to Christ represents something utterly remarkable. For Paul had found the early Christian proclamation of the crucified messiah completely abhorrent . . . .

. . . .

. . . . an unprecedented and momentous innovation in traditional Jewish liturgical practice.

And so forth. But Christianity is not alone. The following is found in a Buddhist publication:

It took an astonishing energy and dedication to create and sustain this literature. It must have been produced by an extraordinary historical event. And what could this event be, if not the appearance of a revolutionary spiritual genius? The Buddha’s presence as a living figure in the [early Buddhist texts] is overwhelming and unmistakable.

Then there is this claim attempting to put a study arguing for the authenticity of very early Buddhist texts reliably scientific:

Science works from indirect and inferred evidence and the preponderance of such indirect evidence points to the authenticity of the [early Buddhist texts]

Is that true about the grounds for scientific conclusions? I’m not so sure.

Then we read of the conditions that are laid down for any opposing argument:

Anyone wishing to establish the thesis that the [early Buddhist texts] are inauthentic needs to propose an explanation that accounts for the entire range of evidence in a manner that is at least as simple, natural, and reasonable as the thesis of authenticity. To our knowledge, this has never even been attempted. Rather, sceptics content themselves with picking holes in individual pieces of evidence, which merely distracts from the overall picture, and discourages further inquiry. Their methods have much in common with denialist rhetoric (see section 7.4).

That sounds awfully like an apologist saying that any proposal for Christian origins has to be as simple as the thesis that the disciples of Jesus believed he was the messiah and that he had been resurrected and persuaded others to believe the same. There is a difference between simple and simplistic. read more »

Crossing the water: Comparing Buddhist and Christian imagery

Source: Alamy. In this version Buddha calls on a cloud to transport him across the Ganges.

René Salm is way ahead of me in posting on Hermann Detering’s newest release on Christian origins arguing for links between early gnosticism in Egypt and Buddhism from India. He now has four comments online.  I have since tried to elicit the main arguments from the second section of Detering’s article via a most welcome but unfortunately less than 100% clear translation of the German original. Last post I outlined Detering’s survey of early allegorical and other gnostic interpretations of the Exodus and how some of these conflated or replaced Moses with Joshua as the central figure. In the next section, part 2, Detering addresses comparable analogies in Buddhism and the Upanishads.

The Eastern allegories place greater stress on the water representing ignorance and fear.

In one Buddhist story the Buddha asks his followers if it makes sense to carry around with them the rafts they had made in order to cross a river to reach him. No, of course, is the answer, since the purpose of the rafts has been met and they are no longer needed. Detering does not make the comparison but I was reminded of Paul’s teaching in Galatians that the law was only a temporary requirement to bring people to Christ and is no longer necessary for those who have become Christians. (I am not saying that Paul derived his teaching from Buddhism but only pointing to the similar concepts.)

In another Buddhist parable the water barrier symbolizes the cycle of birth, death and rebirth. It represents the world with its passions and desires. The rafts represent Buddha’s teachings.

So the metaphor in Buddhism is that the water represents “stream of existence”, monks are the ford-crossers, and those seeking to cross the river to Nirvana are tasked with cleansing themselves from desires and passions.

Walking on water

As for the image of walking on water I have seen in Buddhist temples murals of Buddha standing or walking on a river with his disciples following after him in boats. But I do not suspect that these images were painted before Christianity was known in these parts of Asia. Detering discusses the scholarly research into the origins of such an image in the Eastern tradition and that concludes the motif cannot be later than around 200 BC to 50 AD. If so, the image is certainly independent of the gospels. (The stories of Buddha’s crossing vary in how they describe the act: did he actually walk? or was he transported just above the surface of the water? in some he was not seen walking at all but simply mysteriously appeared on the other side leaving his disciples mystified as to how he crossed.)

Detering points to “close parallels” between the 39th Ode of Solomon and a verse in Buddhist literature depicting disciples of a master teacher struggling to find a way across an expanse of water, but some being swept away in a raging torrent or storm. I am too uncertain of the details to offer a translation or precise citation here so we’ll have to await the translation of Detering’s argument.

In the next section Detering discusses closer apparent links between the Therapeutae near Alexandria in Egypt and Buddhism.

Hermann Detering on the place of Gnosticism and Buddhism in Jesus Cult Origins

Recall a post now six months old: The Gnostic Interpretation of the Exodus and the Beginnings of the Joshua/Jesus Cult — Hermann Detering

René Salm has begun a commentary series on Detering’s article. See

H. Detering, “The Gnostic Meaning of the Exodus”—A commentary (Pt. 1)

I look forward to doing my own discussions of Detering’s views as a result of a reader very generously working on an English translation in association with Dr Detering himself.

 

The Buddha-Christ parallels

Ancient Origins has an interesting article listing similarities between the Buddha and Christ and the early history of their two religions.

The Christ And The Buddha: How Can You Explain the Uncanny Similarities?

It’s a living — being paid to pray

Today I returned to the Erawan shrine in Bangkok to see how it had fared since last year’s bomb attack (that the Thai government refuses to call an act of “terrorism”). There was very little to remind anyone of the carnage last August. It was very much business as usual. I do feel for the Thai dancers, though. They surely have one of the most gruelling jobs — hours every day sending up prayers to the god through their dance and chants.

Tourists (I’m sure they are mostly tourists, Chinese and Japanese mostly) and the occasional local drop by to pay for a blessing or prayer; the more they pay the longer of more effective the prayer, I think. Pay little and maybe only two dancers will do their act; pay lots and you’ll get the full house. The number of musicians remains constant.

It looks to me like the prayer or blessing one pays for is written on a piece of paper and handed to a lead dancer so she is sure to say the right things and decide how many should accompany her.

And whenever they get a chance for a break they get those crowns off their heads very fast and make the most of their short breaks — checking iphones, having a smoke. It was very hot work and they looked like they were fast wearing down in between dances.

I suppose you could call it a service industry. Those earning the money are giving hope and comfort, not unlike western psychiatrists, astrologers and priests, perhaps.

I try to imagine what Jesus would want to cast out here. Surely he’d have pity on the tedium and low pay that the dancers and musicians so stoically endure. Perhaps he’d be offended at the rip off prices charged for the holy trinkets, incense sticks, prayer scrolls — but he would want to be careful he did not leave the cleaners and maintenance staff without a job. But the prices don’t look all that “rip off” to an affluent Westerner like me. 25 baht is a little less than $1.

Screen Shot 2016-03-21 at 7.16.26 pm

Those dints in the plaque are probably a reminder of last August’s bomb blast. They weren’t there in June 2015 (the bombing was two months later) when I took the photo below:

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A $1 for a garland would be very expensive for the poorer Thais but hey, this is a Hindu shrine in “the land of the Buddha”. (Though Buddhists do seem to me to pray to anything that looks sacred.) Maybe Jesus would be angry that the prices prohibited the poorer Thais from participating. But on the other hand there don’t appear to be an over abundance of those poorest Thais in this central part of the big city dominated by multinational brand names no matter what direction one looks.

Maybe Jesus would just like to see the dancers, musicians and maintenance staff get a bigger slice of the day’s takings.

A few short clips:

Looks like two Chinese tourists planning where to place their garlands and incense sticks and one local (left) who has done it many times before. . .

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The Buddha Comparison Fallacy in HJ Studies

English: Christ_and_Buddha_by_Paul_Ranson
English: Christ_and_Buddha_by_Paul_Ranson (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Only a day after posting the John Meier’s Nixon/Thales fallacy, as if right on cue Larry Hurtado has posted his own version of a similar fallacy, a comparison of the evidence for Buddha with that for Jesus.

Recall the Nixon/Thales comparison fallacy:

When John Meier in his opening chapter of volume one of The Marginal Jew discusses the “basic concept” of “The Real Jesus and the Historical Jesus” he creates the illusion of starting at the beginning but in fact he leaves the entire question of historicity begging.

  • Of course we can’t know “the real Jesus” given the time-gap and state of the records; after all, we can only partially know “the real Nixon” despite his recency and the avalanche of material available on him.
  • Of course it becomes increasingly difficult to assess “the historical” the further back in time we go; it’s hard enough knowing what to make of Thales or Apollonius of Tyana “or anyone else in the ancient world” and the evidence is just as scant for Jesus.

Owens identifies what Meier has done in making such comparisons (my bolding in all quotations):

An implication exists in the double comparison, which is that Jesus is as real as Nixon and as historical as Thales but the explicit point is that there is less ‘reality’ data on Jesus than on Nixon, and as meager ‘historical’ data on Jesus as on Thales.

We note that what we might consider the “first question” of any book purporting to deal with the issue of a ‘historical Jesus’ – the question of whether or not Jesus existed — is being set up to go begging. ‘Reality’ is impossible, and ‘history’ is impossibly difficult, so we are to assume both, as we do with Nixon and Thales.

(Owens, Clarke W. (2013-07-26). Son of Yahweh: The Gospels As Novels (Kindle Locations 216-221). Christian Alternative. Kindle Edition.)

See how Larry Hurtado has fallen into the same implicit fallacy with his Buddha comparison: read more »

Interview with René Salm

René Salm discusses Nazareth and Nazarenes, James and Paul, Christianity and Buddhism, and Ventures Old and New

René Salm is best known for his publication The Myth of Nazareth: the Invented Town of Jesus that reviews the state of the archaeological evidence for the existence of Nazareth at the supposed time of Jesus. I first came to know of Salm on the original Crosstalk discussion list where I was impressed with the way he debated the question with scholars. In the following interview Salm refers to his Crosstalk discussions and interested readers will find one of his earliest posts to that list on the topic of Nazareth here. Robert M. Price has reviewed Salm’s book here, and I have discussed another review of it here.

But René Salm has much more to contribute to the discussion of Christian origins than his studies on the archaeology of Nazareth, and the following interview will introduce readers to his investigations into Christian origins, including pre-Christian movements, such as the Natsarenes/Nazarenes and gnosticism, and the specific roles of James (“the brother of the Lord”) and the apostle Paul.

Salm is working on a new book and has been building a new website (Mythicist Papers) on Christian origins, both discussed below.

For a broader view of his interests and achievements, including as a writer and musician, follow these links:

Short story by René Salm

René Salm’s music page

Buddhist and Christian parallels

And of course his NazarethMyth.info webpage. This page includes further biographical information with a “personal statement” by Salm.

The Interview

1. What led to your interest in Nazareth archaeology?

René Salm: My interest in Jesus mythicism. As recently as ten years ago I was not a ‘mythicist’ and, in fact, would have considered the mythicist theory far too fringy to be taken seriously. On the other hand, I had not seriously considered it—because I hadn’t needed to. But, as my researches into Christianity deepened, I realized that Jesus’ very existence was much more open to doubt than I had previously imagined. This led to my Nazareth work. In the late 1990s I came across a couple of passages in obscure works which doubted the existence of Nazareth in the time of Jesus.

Online (in the original Crosstalk forum) this doubt met very strident and universal opposition. read more »

Happy Vesak Day

Today in Singapore is a public holiday, Vesak Day. It’s a Buddhist festival. One positive about Singapore is that public holidays are officially sanctioned for each of the faiths in this multicultural city state: Buddhist (+Taoist), Christian, Moslem, Hindu (+Sikh).

I’m not a Buddhist and I shy away from its sermonizing about mind-control/thought stopping or Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) to “remove one’s mind from what might cause suffering”. Not that I’m against CBT. I’m sure it’s a great benefit to many people.

I’m not a fan of the Dalai Lama, either. I don’t like his politics and I especially don’t like his giggly way of justifying a report of poor villagers raising money for a local temple or statue when their health and lives remain at risk from a lack of basic sanitation. Nor do I keep my patience when monks pretend to be striking up a welcoming conversation only to lead the conversation to where they can try to bite me for money. But at least they do provide an alternative floor to sleep on for those who would rather not opt for the subway, so I believe.

But for all that, I do find all the colour and paraphernalia that comes with special Buddhist festivals (and even some of their less ostentatious temples) to convey a happy peacefulness and tranquility.

Sure there are the devotees who are there handing out literature. Maybe it’s my bias, but it does seem to me that they have a more laid-back attitude to their task than their Christian counterparts. These latter have generally come across to me as more intense in their desire to get you to take and read their tracts. (I cannot forget one extreme case of a Jehovah’s Witness looking frantic and fearful and crying out that God holds him accountable for my hearing his message — as I was closing the door on him. First time I ever had the guilt trip put on me in reverse in order to win me over.)

But a happy smiling Buddha, and lots of lotus flowers and tranquil pools of water and graceful statuettes is undeniably a far more positive, relaxing and happy image than the suffering figure of a crucified man. One focuses one’s thoughts on peace and wellbeing for “all sentient beings”, and the other on guilt, pain, suffering, horror, desolation, especially guilt and sin.

Is it surprising that Buddhists I know or know of seem so much more tolerant and at peace with difference, than so many Christians who, speaking generally certainly, at best, struggle with difference and “the other”?

A couple of pics from the opening night of Vesak right in the Aljunied area of Singapore — all recently set up for the coming weekend:

A few more, for what they’re worth, on flickr.