saints Barlaam and Josaphat

The ancient tale of Siddhartha Gautama, the founder of Buddhism, spread from his homeland to Europe, where he became a Christian saint with the name of "Iosaphat."

That’s the conclusion of a group of Korean researchers who have conducted a multi-linguistic study of the westward spread of the story of the Buddha.

“It is apparent that the name Iosaphat originates from Buddha,” Paik Seung-wook, a lecturer of Spanish at Seoul National University said.

According to Paik, while the Buddha?s tale spread westbound, his name “Buddha” or “Bodhisatta” in Sanskrit, changed gradually in accordance with various linguistic backgrounds with similar accounts of the tale.

For example, it changed to “Bodisav” in Persian texts in the sixth or seventh century, “Budhasaf or Yudasaf” in an eighth-century Arabic document and “Iodasaph” in Georgia in the 10th century.

The name in turn was adapted to “Ioasaph” in Greece in the 11th century, and “Iosaphat” or “Josaphat” in Latin since then.

“The gradual change of the name shows the westward spread of the tale from Nepal (where the Buddha was born) to Persia, the Middle East, Greece and Europe,” Paik said.

Paik is a member of a project research team undertaking a study of the literary interchange between the East and the West. The Korean Research Foundation is sponsoring the study, and the study results were published in the June-July edition of the bimonthly “Antiquus.”
As it spread, the tale adapted different versions according to various religious backdrops. In the Greek account, a hero Ioasaph, a prince in India, one day witnessed blind, sick and old people on the streets outside of the palace. The scenes shocked the innocent prince and led him to contemplate the agony and emptiness of life. One day, a Christian monk named Barlaam visited the anguished prince and taught him the religion. Enlightened, Ioasaph abandoned his secular values and led an ascetic life until his death. This account has a striking similarity to that of the Buddha’s tale.

In Europe, the story spread to most regions, especially since the 11th century, and the tale?s hero has been acclaimed as the champion of Christianity, not Buddhism.

“There are slight differences in accounts in different texts. For example, in an Arabic account, the prince married a woman, but in a Greek text, he overcomes temptation from female figures,” Paik said.

According to Paik, there have been previous studies in Britain and Germany on the cultural transmission of Buddha?s tale to Europe, but he said this study is the first time scholars approached the subject in a comprehensive and multi-linguistic way.

“The research covered eight languages: Sanskrit, Georgian, Arab, Turkish, Persian, Greek, Latin and Spanish. Our team studied the original text in six languages, and the other two in English,” Paik said.

Barlaam and Josaphat

The principal characters of a legend of Christian antiquity, which was a favourite subject of writers in the Middle Ages. The story is substantially as follows:

Many inhabitants of India had been converted by the Apostle St. Thomas and were leading Christian lives. In the third or fourth century King Abenner (Avenier) persecuted the Church. The astrologers had foretold that his son Josaphat would one day become a Christian. To prevent this the prince was kept in close confinement. But, in spite of all precautions, Barlaam, a hermit of Senaar, met him and brought him to the true Faith. Abenner tried his best to pervert Josaphat, but, not succeeding, he shared the government with him. Later Abenner himself became a Christian, and, abdicating the throne, became a hermit. Josaphat governed alone for a time, then resigned, went into the desert, found his former teacher Barlaam, and with him spent his remaining years in holiness.

Years after their death, the bodies were brought to India and their grave became renowned by miracles. Barlaam and Josaphat found their way into the Roman Martyrology (27 November), and into the Greek calendar (26 August).

Vincent of Beauvais, in the thirteenth century, had given the story in his “Speculum Historiale”. It is also found in an abbreviated form in the “Golden Legend” of Jacobus de Voragine of the same century.

The story is a Christianized version of one of the legends of Buddha, as even the name Josaphat would seem to show. This is said to be a corruption of the original Joasaph, which is again corrupted from the middle Persian Budasif (Budsaif=Bodhisattva). Still it is of historical value, since it contains the “Apology” presented by the Athenian philosopher Aristides to the Emperor Adrian (or Antoninus Pius).

The Greek text of the legend, written probably by a monk of the Sabbas monastery near Jerusalem at the beginning of the seventh century, was first published by Boissonade in “Anecdota Graeca” (Paris, 1832), IV, and is reproduced in Migne, P.G., XCVI, among the works of St. John Damascene. The legend cannot, however, have been a work of the great Damascene, as was proved by Zotenberg in “Notices sur le livre de Barlaam et Josaphat” (Paris, 1886) and by Hammel in “Verhandl. des 7 interneat. Orientalisten Congresses”, Semit. Section (Vienna, 1888).

Another edition of the Greek was made by Kechajoglos (Athens, 1884). From the original Greek a German translation was made by F. Liebrecht (M?nster, 1847).

Latin translations (Minge, P.L., LXXIII), were made in the twelfth century and used for nearly all the European languages, in prose, verse and in miracle plays. Among them is prominent the German epic by Rudolph of Ems in the thirteenth century (K?nigsberg, 1818, and somewhat later at Leipzig). From the German an Icelandic and Swedish version were made in the fifteenth century. At Manila the legend appeared in the Tagala language of the Philippines. In the East it exists in Syriac, Arabic, Ethiopic, Armenian, and Hebrew.

Resources:
-Korea Times
-Catholic Encyclopedia