In Search of the Christian Buddha: How an Asian Sage Became a Medieval Saint

In Search of the Christian Buddha: How an Asian Sage Became a Medieval Saint

by Donald S. Lopez Jr., Peggy McCracken


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The fascinating account of how the story of the Buddha was transformed into the legend of a Christian saint.

The story of Saint Josaphat, a prince who gave up his wealth and kingdom to follow Jesus, was one of the most popular Christian tales of the Middle Ages, translated into a dozen languages, and cited by Shakespeare in The Merchant of Venice. Yet Josaphat is only remembered today because of the similarities of his life to that of the Buddha.

In Search of the Christian Buddha is set against the backdrop of the trade along the Silk Road, the Christian settlement of Palestine, the spread of Islam, and the Crusades. It traces the path of the Buddha’s tale from India and shows how it evolved, adopting details from each culture during its sojourn. These early instances of globalization allowed not only goods but also knowledge to flow between different cultures and around much of the world.

Eminent scholars Donald S. Lopez Jr. and Peggy McCracken reveal how religions born thousands of miles apart shared ideas throughout the centuries. They uncover surprising convergences and divergences between these faiths on subjects including the meaning of death, the problem of desire, and their view of women. Demonstrating the incredible power of this tale, they ask not how stories circulate among religions but how religions circulate among stories.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780393089158
Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
Publication date: 04/07/2014
Pages: 272
Product dimensions: 1.60(w) x 2.10(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Donald S. Lopez, Jr. (Ph.D. University of Virginia) is the Arthur E. Link Distinguished University Professor of Buddhist and Tibetan Studies in the Department of Asian Languages and Cultures at the University of Michigan. His works include Elaborations on Emptiness: Uses of the Heart Sutra, Curators of the Buddha: The Study of Buddhism under Colonialism, Prisoners of Shangri-La: Tibetan Buddhism and the West, The Story of Buddhism, The Madman’s Middle Way, The Scientific Buddha, From Stone to Flesh: A Short History of the Buddha, The Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism (with Robert Buswell), and In Search of the Christian Buddha (with Peggy McCracken, published by Norton). He has received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the American Council of Learned Societies, the Guggenheim Foundation, and the Getty Research Institute. In 2000 he was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Peggy McCracken, the translator of Gui de Cambrai’s Barlaam and Josaphat, is a professor of French at the University of Michigan.

Table of Contents

Introduction 9

Chapter 1 The Storied Buddha: The Indian Tale 14

Chapter 2 The Buddha Becomes a Prophet: The Arabic Bilawhar and Budhasaf 54

Chapter 3 The Prince Becomes a Christian Saint: The Georgian Balavariani 90

Chapter 4 The Saint Is Translated: Greek and Latin Versions of the Barlaam Legend 122

Chapter 5 The Pious Prince Goes to War: Gui de Cambrai's Barlaam and Josaphat 144

Chapter 6 The Buddha Becomes Josaphat: Early Modern Readers 172

Chapter 7 Josaphat Becomes the Buddha: Modern Readers 188

Conclusion: In Search of the Christian Buddha 216

Acknowledgments 233

Notes 235

Index 245

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