Barlaam and Ioasaph (Loeb Classical Library) Hardcover – 1 Jul 1989
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About the Author
David Lang has been employed at Bucyrus International, Inc. since 1967. A structural design background and Civil Engineering degree at Michigan Technologocial University combined with acquired mechanical engineering skills at Bucyrus has enabled him to participate in a number of challenging excavator and drill design development projects. With family history in the drilling business, this subject is close to David's heart and soul.
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This book, Barlaam and Iosaph, has long been attributed to St. John of Damascus and was written in about 750 A.D. subsequent to the Nicene Creed (mentioned in the text) and about the time, the editor informs us, of the Iconoclastic Controversy within the Christian Church.
The book begins with an introduction which describes a journey of an Apostle to India for purposes of encouraging conversions to Christianity. A remarkable feature of the story is the clear parallels it has to the life of the Buddha.
There was a mighty king, Abener, a pagan who persecuted the Christians. He had a son, Iosaph. At his birth, it was predicted he would be either a world ruler or a Christian holy man. The king sheltered Iosaph in a palace and gave him every pleasure imaginable. At Iosaph's entreaties, he was allowed to see the palace grounds. During these sheltered trips, he encountered an old man, a sick man, and a beggar and became aware of the transitory, suffering character of human life.
This story, of course, will be familiar to every student of Buddhism.
Iosaph is tutored in secret by a Christian ascetic, Barlaam. After many lengthy discourses on the nature of Christian doctrine, based primarily upon the Hebrew and Christian Bibles and upon Church fathers, Iosaph converts to Christianity. He is persecuted by his father. We see a debate between defenders of Christianity and the idolators. Iosaph is tempted in the flesh by a lovely wanton woman but with the help of God resists the temptation -- with great difficulty. Abener offers Iosaph one-half his kingdom. Iosaph accepts and Christianity is spread throughout this land.
Abener sees the error of his ways, repents of his persecution of the Christians and of his son, converts to Christianity, and dies redeemed. Then, Iosaph meets his destiny. He renounces his kingdom and leaves to assume the life of a mendicant monk in the desert.
He is able to find Barlamm and continues under his tutelage until Barlaam's death. Iosaph renounces his kingship at the age of 25, we are told, and spends 35 years as a monk wandering the desert.
There is much Buddhism here but much of early Christianity as well. The closing scenes of the book, including Iosaphs' renunciation of his kingdom and the description of his life in the desert as a monk, are for me powerful moments, strange as they may be to current sensibilities. There are also a good many digressions and parables throughout the text that help take the weight from the lengthy expositions of doctrine.
This book is one of the earliest in the Loeb Series of the classics. I didn't know about early Christian awareness of Buddhism and this book showed it to me. There many books that explore current relationships between Buddhism and Christianity and Judaism. Here we have it at and early date, and I would love to learn more.
This is a tale of the life of the spirit which still has power to move the reader with the power of the religious, ascetic life.
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