Judaism, Christianity… and Buddhism

24 Dec

A lot of former religious types (I like to include myself a bit in that box) usually turn to Buddhism once we leave the confines of the dogmaticism of Christianity. Quite a few of my earlier posts in this blog describe some Buddhist beliefs, but I don’t necessarily call myself a Buddhist any more (though I would liberally call myself this).

There are actually arguments that Buddhism is older than “Judaism”. For example, would anyone recognize a Judaism that worshipped Yahweh and his sister/wife/consort Asarah (or Asherah)? That flies in the face of the monotheism we expect from Judaism, but it was endemic to Israelite/Judahite or otherwise Canaanite religion prior to the “Jews” (the Persian nominated elites who governed Judah) return from exile c. 500 BCE.

Though the monotheistic faith and practice recounted in the Bible likely held sway among educated, elite men in Jerusalem, the heart and soul of Israelite religion was polytheistic, concerned with meeting practical needs, and centered in the homes of common, illiterate people. [emphasis mine]

– Product review of Ancient Israel archaeologist William G. Dever’s book “Did God Have A Wife?”

Judaism as we know it — or Judaism as Jesus knew it — was finalized during the Hellenistic era when the book of Daniel was written (between 167 and 164 BCE) and after the success of the Maccabean Revolt. (Rabbinic Judaism would be finalized around 200 CE, which I would argue is the same time Catholic Christianity was crystallized).

But by the time Daniel was written Buddhists had already had proselytizing missions to Alexander (the Great)’s Greek territories; which included Judea.

The Emperor Ashoka (304 BCE – 232 BCE) was a significant early Buddhist “evangelist”; the Buddhist equivalent of Constantine. He had Buddhist missionaries in the areas controlled by Alexander’s “successors” around the same time that the Greek version of the Torah/Pentateuch (the LXX) was being translated. So it stands to reason that there were already Buddhist influences in the melting pot of culture that Christianity eventually came forth from. Anyone who thinks that Christianity is a direct, pure descendent of Judaism would be wrong. Especially since a spiritual kingdom with a spiritual messiah was unheard of in Judaism prior to Christianity. I’m not even entirely convinced that Christianity was started by any Jews at all (enter Paul’s disdain for the “law”, Marcion his popularizer, and early 2nd century Roman reports of a new religion founded by a certain “Chrestus” [the good] instead of Christus [messiah] that historians conclude is about Jesus). Christians certainly didn’t get the virgin birth meme from Judaism; that was rampant in Greek and Roman myths.

Who knows, maybe Jesus himself was a Buddhist! lol We don’t actually know what the “historical Jesus” practiced or believed so that would be up in the air. Considering the myriads of “historical Jesus” profiles there have been – many of them contradictory – there’s nothing stopping someone from positing that Jesus might have had a bit of Buddhist influences on his teaching. R. Joseph Hoffman argues that each scholar and historian who offers a profile of the historical Jesus simply presents a Jesus made in their own image (which follows the trend for the general religious population). And as I pointed out in an earlier post, Christian Gnosticism and Buddhism have a lot in common.

In the early era of Christendom (after Constantine), a lot of Christian missionaries to the Eastern lands encountered Buddhists, and confused them for wayward Christians.

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Posted by on December 24, 2009 in 2nd temple judaism, buddhism, early Christianity


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