Tuesday 16 January 2007

Proximate words

There is great wisdom in some Buddhist scriptures, but nothing that can reliably be traced back to the Buddha himself. This is the conclusion of Edward Conze, the translator and compiler of the Penguin selection of scriptures. In his introduction, he makes it clear that there is no "original gospel" (his words) in Buddhism. "All attempts to find it are based on mere surmise," he explains. The major reason for this is that many of the traditional texts were written down between 100-400 A.D. (Conze doesn't use C.E.), that is, 600-900 years after the Buddha's life. That is not to say that the words of the Buddha have not been preserved, just that at the moment we have no reliable way of finding them.

Christianity has its traditional texts, too, but it is much easier to identify the source of the traditions—the writings of the followers of Jesus, in particular the four 'biographies' (gospels) written within 70 years of Jesus' life on earth. There's potential for slippage there, too, but the proximity of Jesus' life to its earliest written records helps us to understand why Christians can hold the New Testament in such high regard as a genuine source of knowledge about their leader.

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Drew said...

Hi greg,

Not saying I disagree with you, but does this argument really work?

Don't Christians hold the scriptures in 'high regard' prior to these kinds of arguments?

Greg Clarke said...

Thanks for the observation, Drew. I'm sure you are right that not many Christians would could historical proximity to the Christ events as a reason why they hold the New Testament dear. I've added a 'can' for clarity.

Anonymous said...

Hi Greg,

I'm not entirely sure what the point is you're trying to make here. Can Moslems hold the Koran in higher regard as a genuine source of knowledge about their leader, than Christians can the NT because the Koran was recorded contemporaneously with Mohammed's life? Even if you accept that I'm not sure that it proves much about Christianity, Buddhism or Islam.

Does it?

Greg Clarke said...
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Greg Clarke said...

My understanding of Koranic history is that we have manuscript fragments dating back possibly to around 100-150 years after Muhammad's life (i.e. mid-to-late 8th century), although there are claims that it was written earlier. Proximity won't prove anything, but it increases our confidence that we are reading the words of the religion's founder. That's the only point I was making. I am not suggesting that the Koran doesn't contain the authentic teachings of Muhammad. But I am suggesting that it is much harder to claim that we have the authentic teachings of the Buddha. And it is much easier to claim that we have the authentic teachings of Jesus.