(Christian Century) Philip Jenkins–Jesus meets the Buddha

One prolific author is R. S. Sugirtharajah, of Sri Lankan origin, who teaches at Birmingham University in England. Although he ranges widely in his interests, he is particularly interested in the possibility of South Asian linkages to the New Testament itself and to early Christianity more broadly. Any attempt to draw such connections has to be made cautiously, given the dismal track record of past efforts, but Sugirtharajah makes a strong case.

He shows how the campaigns of Alexander the Great brought the Hellenistic world into contact with Asian societies. Indian emissaries reached the West, while Central Asian Greeks encountered Buddhism. An early Christian interest in Indian affairs surfaces in apocryphal texts like the Acts of Thomas, and of course India’s truly ancient Christian communities proclaim Thomas as their founding evangelist. For this reason, Sugirtharajah claims the sizable body of Thomas literature as a critical tool for approaching Asian Christianity, even citing the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas as “an interesting starting point for Asian hermeneutics.”

I am usually skeptical about claims for direct Asian influences on the Mediterranean world, but one of Sugirtharajah’s examples intrigues me. In the Epistle of James, the King James translation of verse 3.6 declares that “the tongue . . . defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature.” Different translations offer widely varying versions of the words here translated “course of nature,” but the Greek phrase is trochos tes geneseos, which can be rendered “wheel of birth.”

Read it all.


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