Were certain Judeo-Christian moral teachings borrowed from Hinduism? The sum of the matter to start: Not likely. While we can surely find many parallel phrases and concepts, these more likely reflect a widespread proverbial topos based on universal human experience than they do any suggestion of Jews and Christians having no good metaphors of their own and having to borrow them from somewhere else.
Take the metaphor of the "blind leading the blind," which one critic claims was borrowed from Hinduism. Indeed? Blind people are in every society; they can't see, and before the advent of guide dogs, canes, and civil rights, obviously had serious mobility issues which would cause phrases like "the blind leading the blind" to crop up in every society.
I have few doubts of trade and interaction between the Middle East and India. But critical comparisons fall short of significance, as this one does:
Most Christians are familiar with Galatians 6:7 , "Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap." Less known is Proverbs 26:27 , "Whoso diggeth a pit shall fall therein, and he that rolleth a stone, it will return upon him." Both express the Hindu principle of karma (the sum and the consequences of a person's actions during the successive phases of his existence), but since no direct connection can be deduced, we'll merely consider it an interesting coincidence and move on.
Karma? Do you see any matter of "successive phases of existence" in Galatians or Proverbs? Reincarnation? And who needs the Hindus? You can also find parallels in Greek literature (Aristotle, Rhet. 3.3.4; Plato Phaedrus 260D). Did the Greeks lack metaphors and borrow from the Hindus as well? Or did the Jews and Christians borrow from both? Why did anyone need to borrow from anyone when this is a universal truism, with or without reincarnation in the mix?
Here's another idea that doesn't work out either:
The concept of a soul that is distinguishable from the body and can exist independently of it is alien to Judaism. It is first known in Hinduism. Only after the Babylonian captivity did any such concept arise among the Jews, and it is in the epistles of Paul, the "debtor to both the Greeks and the Barbarians," that the notion receives its first clear expression. (See 2 Corinthians 5:8 and 12:3 .)
Really? In Genesis, God creates the man out of the dust of the earth and then breaths a soul into him. If that doesn't indicate a soul distinct from the body, what is it? (Presumably our critic may date Genesis late, but that's another issue.) Another:
The Brahmin caste of the Hindus are said to be "twice-born" and have a ritual in which they are "born in the spirit." Could this be the ultimate source of the Christian "born again" concept (John 3:3)?
Could it be? I'm rather wondering about the lack of description of what the Hindus think happens to them when they are "born in the spirit." What's it involve? Merely comparing terminology, especially when the metaphor of birth is an obvious one for any change in life, doesn't do the job.
(An alert reader tells me the following: "In Hinduism, members of the three castes named Brahmans, Kshatriyas and Vaishya are called 'twice born' Hindus. Some boys in these castes go through a ceremony where they recieve a sacred thread which symbolizes another birth. A priest chants sacred songs, and the boy has a last 'childhood' meal with his mother. After praying to the sun god, and making an offering of clarified butter to Agni, the god of fire, the boy recieves the sacred thread. Then he goes off to study religion with a master. This is when he reaches adulthood of his spirituality. So after going through this ceremony and getting the sacred thread he is 'twice born.'" In other words, this is a normal, scheduled rite of passage within a religion, not conversion, and it appears to have nothing to do with repentance.)
We inject Miller's quote of Nash, which is of relevance though it speaks to a slightly different subject:
One frequently encounters scholars who first use Christian terminology to describe pagan beliefs and practices, and then marvel at the striking parallels they think they have discovered. One can go a long way toward "proving" early Christian dependence on the mysteries by describing some mystery belief or practice in Christian terminology...Exaggerations and oversimplifications abound in this kind of literature. One encounters overblown claims about alleged likenesses between baptism and the Lord's Supper and similar "sacraments" in certain mystery cults...The mere fact that Christianity has a sacred meal and a washing of the body is supposed to prove that it borrowed these ceremonies from similar meals and washings in the pagan cults. By themselves, of course, such outward similarities prove nothing. After all, religious ceremonies can assume only a limited number of forms, and they will naturally relate to important or common aspects of human life. The more important question is the meaning of the pagan practices.
This serves as a point to the next issue, as one critic puts it:
The deification of Christ is a phenomenon often attributed to the apotheosis of emperors and heroes in the Greco-Roman world. These, however, were cases of men becoming gods. In the Jesus story, the Divinity takes human form, god becoming man. This is a familiar occurrence in Hinduism and in other theologies of the region. Indeed, one obstacle to the spread of Christianity in India, which was attempted as early as the first century, was the frustrating tendency of the Hindus to understand Jesus as the latest avatar (incarnation) of Vishnu.
So it may be, but how hard is it to come up with the idea of gods coming among men in human form? Dionysus did it. Zeus did it (and in swan form, and other forms, whatever got the job done to get his jollies). It's not a hard concept to come up with, and this says nothing either way about dependence or truth.
The next one from the critic is a real ringer: "It is in the doctrine of the Trinity that the Hindu influence may be most clearly felt. Unknown to most Christians, Hinduism has a Trinity (or Trimurti) too: Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva, who have the appellations the Creator, the Preserver, and the Destroyer (and Regenerator). This corresponds to the Christian Trinity in which God created the heavens and the earth, Jesus saves, and the Holy Spirit is referred to as a regenerator (Titus 3:5)."
Hmmmm? This is about as close to the Trinity as setting three apples in a row -- see here and here for exposition, and a refutation of the idea that the Trinity is inconsistent with Judaism and amounts to polytheism.
One expects a creator at any rate -- Jesus as "preserver"? This does not equal with "salvation" unless we twist the dictionary to our liking; nor does "destroying" equal "regenerating". We are told: "It is interesting to note, furthermore, that the Holy Spirit is sometimes depicted as a dove, while the Hebrew language uses the same term for both 'dove' and 'destroyer'!" It does? The Hebrew yownah, according to Strong's, means nothing other than pigeon or dove. I know that some of those park statues can get messy, but...
A reader has provided this commentary:
Needless to say, [this] thesis is something new to most of us. I knew on the face of things it had to be wrong, but I was curious to know how someone had come up with this connection. I checked my Brown-Driver-Briggs, which arranges Hebrew words according to root forms. "Dove" is indeed yownah; its Anglicized form is familiar to us as the personal name Jonah. The etymology is uncertain, but may go back to the form YWN meaning "to mourn." There is no word for destroyer (or anything else, for that matter) derived from this root. It took a minute of flipping through the pages to find what the other word might be. I did find a verb yanah (YNH), which means "to oppress" or "to maltreat." The active participle is yownah...It would be translated as something like "oppressing" or "she who oppresses" depending on context. Not exactly "Shiva the destroyer."
As you well know and have pointed out many times in your essays, word play is not uncommon in the Hebrew scriptures. But as far as I can tell from a quick review of cites, "dove" and "oppression" are never associated with each other. One must be careful when surmising about puns in other languages. [The critic] has a huge task ahead of him if he wishes to make the case
that the ancient Israelites thought of the dove as a destroyer. How he will then derive this from Hinduism, and then work forward to New Testament symbology and Trinitarian theology is probably not worth anyone's time speculating.
Needless to say, [this] thesis is something new to most of us. I knew on the face of things it had to be wrong, but I was curious to know how someone had come up with this connection. I checked my Brown-Driver-Briggs, which arranges Hebrew words according to root forms.
"Dove" is indeed yownah; its Anglicized form is familiar to us as the personal name Jonah. The etymology is uncertain, but may go back to the form YWN meaning "to mourn." There is no word for destroyer (or anything else, for that matter) derived from this root.
It took a minute of flipping through the pages to find what the other word might be. I did find a verb yanah (YNH), which means "to oppress" or "to maltreat." The active participle is yownah...It would be translated as something like "oppressing" or "she who oppresses" depending on context. Not exactly "Shiva the destroyer."
As you well know and have pointed out many times in your essays, word play is not uncommon in the Hebrew scriptures. But as far as I can tell from a quick review of cites, "dove" and "oppression" are never associated with each other. One must be careful when surmising about puns in other languages.
[The critic] has a huge task ahead of him if he wishes to make the case that the ancient Israelites thought of the dove as a destroyer. How he will then derive this from Hinduism, and then work forward to New Testament symbology and Trinitarian theology is probably not worth anyone's time speculating.
Now in the "so what" category we have "a number of astonishingly familiar expressions" allegedly found also in the Hindu scriptures (though we are given no quotes or cites from most of these, nor context). Here are some of the examples:
- "the blind led by the blind" (Matt. 15:14) -- well, was this also borrowed from the Hindus by Plutarch (Bride 6, Mor. 139A) and Plato (Republic 8.554B)?
- The path is said to be "narrow and difficult to tread" (Matt. 7:14) -- the image of two paths in life is found in Seneca (Ep. Lucil. 8:3; 27:4) and Diogenes (30 to Hicetas) and is expanded in other contexts by Jews, Greeks and Romans alike. No surprise that societies that knew mountainous roads should come up with the same imagery.
- They describe the Self as "smaller than a mustard seed" (Matt. 17:20) -- That's not what's smaller than a mustard seed in the Gospels, of course, but no surprise (again) that both societies, heavily agrarian, should choose the same seed when none smaller existed to their knowledge.
So: "Sounds a little too familiar, I'd say!" Sure, and not surprising to find in varied cultures are expressions using broad references to time (Heb. 13:8, Rev. 1:8). No surprise to see both Krishna and Judaism not advocating against being partial, and advocating love to all; who gets anywhere advocating the opposite?
Our metaphors are created from our environment; unless the Jews had radically different experiences from the Hindus in these respects (and they didn't), it should be of no surprise -- and of no significance in this context -- that they came up with similar (or the same) metaphors independently.
Invocation of Satanic duplication processes and of "coincidence" isn't necessary. It should not be hard to find comparable advice and metaphors, as we did among the Greeks, likewise among the Amerinds, the Aborigines, and the Norse, without needing to suggest borrowing.