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Barlaam and Josaphat
BARLAAM AND JOSAPHAT (or JOASAPH): The abbreviated title of a Greek religious romance commonly ascribed, without adequate reasons, to John of Damascus. (d. about 754). The fuller title is “History of the Soul-profiting . . . of Barlaam and Josaphat (or Joasaph).” The popularity of the story is manifest from the fact that it was translated into Arabic, Ethiopic, Armenian, and Hebrew, as well as Latin, Icelandic, English, and other European languages. Research has proved that the work is based upon an Indian story (the Lalitavistara, composed 76 A.D.), in which Buddha (transformed into Josaphat) is the hero. Josaphat is represented as son of Abenner, an Indian king bitterly opposed to the Christian religion. His future conversion to a new faith and fame as a religious leader are predicted at the time of his birth by astrologers. Every effort is made by his father to enthral him in pleasures, to conceal from him the miseries of the world, and to shield him from all influences calculated to impress him with a sense of obligation to the world. At last, weary of pleasure and ease, Josaphat goes forth to see the world, is driven to despair by its misery, and is converted by Barlaam, a Christian hermit. To overthrow his son’s convictions the king arranges a disputation in which Nachor, a court sage, is to impersonate Barlaam and by a feeble defense of Christianity to discredit it. By special divine interposition Nachor makes a noble defense of Christianity, which leads to his own conversion, and that of the king and his people. Barlaam and Josaphat secured places in the Roman Catholic calendar as saints. It was discovered a few years ago by Prof. J. A. Robinson, by a comparison of the defense of Christianity in the Greek story with the newly discovered Syriac text of the long-lost “Apology" of Aristides (see Aristides, Marcianus), that the former, modified to some extent to suit the purpose for which it was employed is the original of the “Apology.” The Greek text is in MPG, xcvi, 860 sqq.
The story of Barlaam and Josaphat forms the subject of the chief poem of Rudolf of Ems, a Middle High German poet (d. between 1250 and 1254), composed in 1220-23. It was based on a Latin book received from Abbot Guido of Cappel, which is said to have been a translation of the Greek legends of John of Damascus, already rendered by a certain Bishop Otho in the twelfth century. Rudolf, however, was unaware of this version or of another, which seems to have been made in the first half of the thirteenth century, and of which only a few fragments have been preserved. The story of the ascetic life of Buddha was highly attractive to a Christian ascetic, and Rudolf was the more drawn to the theme since he wished to atone for the frivolity of his earlier writings, declaring that this poem was no romance of knighthood, love, adventure, or the summertide, but a complete and sincere war upon the world, whereby men and women might be made better and purer.
Rudolf’s “Barlaam and Josaphat" contains about 16,000 verses, and describes the victory of Christianity over heathen teachings. It thus summarizes the Middle Ages, and accordingly rises far 486 above the level of a mere revamping or even amplification of an original source. In the poem Josaphat is the son of a heathen Indian king named Avernier. Astrologers foretell the conversion of the prince, who is accordingly confined by his father in a palace built especially for him. Surrounded by every luxury, he is kept from all knowledge of age, disease, and death. Permitted, after a time, to leave the palace, Josaphat sees a lame man and a blind man, and on a second excursion meets a man weighed down with all the infirmities of age. When sobered by reflection on these sights, God sends him Barlaam, a hermit from the island of Sennaar, who appears in the presence of the prince disguised as a jewel-merchant. Only to the pure in heart, however, can he show the most precious gem, which, he at last tells Josaphat, is Christianity. He then describes the life of Christ, so that Josaphat asks concerning baptism, whereupon Barlaam tells him of baptism, eternal life, the chief doctrines of Christianity, and the lives of the saints and martyrs who renounced the vanity of the world. At the request of Josaphat, Barlaam baptizes him, administers the sacrament to him, and urges him to remain pure in word and thought. The king seeks in vain to win his son back to heathenism, but the priests are refuted, the magician Theodas is converted, and temptations to sensuality are overcome. Avernier then offers Josaphat the half of his kingdom, and his administration manifests the omnipotence of Christianity, while the glory of his father gradually wanes, and his councilors bow before the ethical power of the new faith. Meanwhile Josaphat prays to God to turn his father’s heart, and in answer to these petitions the king takes counsel how he may atone for his former iniquity. His councilors advise him to follow the example of his son, whereupon he writes a pathetic letter to Josaphat, full of lamentations and self-accusations. Father and son met, Avernier was instructed by Josaphat, received baptism together with all his councilors, surrendered the entire kingdom to the prince, and lived as a hermit the remaining four years of his life. After his father’s death, Josaphat appointed Barachias as his successor and became an anchorite, finding his teacher Barlaam again. He bravely resisted all manner of fleshly temptations, and lived with Barlaam in fasting and prayer until his teacher died. Josaphat buried him, and himself died at the age of sixty.
Bibliography: A collection of titles will be found in V. Chauvin Bibliographie des ouvrages Arabes, vol. iii, Paris, 1898. A Lat. transl. of John of Damascus’ story is in MPL, lxxiii, 443-606; and the version of Rudolf of Ems was edited by F. Pfeiffer, Leipsic, 1843. Consult Barlaam und Josaphat; fransösisches Gedicht des dreisehnten Jahrhunderts von Gui de Cambrai, ed. H. Zotenberg and P. Meyer, Stuttgart, 1864; E. Cosquin, in Revue des questions historiques, xxviii (1880), 579-600; E. Braunholtz, Die erste nichtchristliche Parabel des Barlaams und Josaphat, Halle, 1884; H. Zotenberg, Notice sur le livre de Barlaam et Josaphat, Paris, 1886; A. Krull, Gui de Cambrai; eine sprachliche Untersuchung, Göttingen, 1887; F. Hommel, Die älteste arabische Barlaam-Version, Vienna, 1888; Two Fifteenth Century Lives of St. Barlaam, ed. J. Jacobs, London, 1893 (contains discussion of the influence of Buddhist legend on Western medieval literature); E Kahn, Barlaam und Joasaph: bibliographisch-literärgeschichtliche Studie, Munich, 1893; K. S. Macdonald, Introduction to the Story of Barlaam and Joasaph, 1895; idem, Story of Barlaam and Joasaph [London], 1895; Story of Barlaam and Joasaph: Buddhism and Christianity, ed. J. Morrison, Calcutta, 1895; A. Krause, Zum Barlaam und Josaphat des Gui von Cambrai, 2 vols., Berlin, 1899-1900. See also the literature under Aristides, Marcianus.
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