A friend of mine, sent me this letter responding to some of the claims made in the book Bible Myths and their Parallels in other Religions by T.W. Doane which is occasionally used by Muslim polemicists.
I made a special effort to research the religions of India (Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism) some years ago when I took a leave of absence from Inter Varsity and went to Benares (Varanasi to the Indians, Kashi to the ancients) and studied Indian Philosophy and Religion at Benares Hindu University. So it interests me that a book over a century old like T.W. Doane's 1882 publication, "Bible Myths: Parallels In Other Religions," would have such meaning and impact on a student today. I have the book in front of me here and have read the relevant passages your friend has refered to in your email message.
Let me make a few observations about this book first of all, then a few statements about the nature of historical revelation and Jesus:
1) Doane's book was written in a day when the hard sciences were relatively fresh and causing skeptical minds to jump to quick and (too) easy conclusions about the universe being empty of spiritual realities or forces. This notion was based on materialistic premises that seemed to be bolstered by the scientific approach to measuring reality. Darwin, for example, had just written his "Origin of the Species in 1859" and his skeptical disciples later tended to jump to the conclusion that man was derived from apes because of his THEORY of evolution, which was in turned based on a few scientific evidences of mutations within species (note, NOT BETWEEN species!). Doane reflects that same spirit in this book, asserting, without much actual factual basis, that all religions are essentially the same, or derived from similar ideas. Scholars are much more sensitives to the facts these days, which point to serious differences between the major religious faiths...including, for example, that the Buddha was an agnostic and believed that "God" was at best irrelevant to the religious quest (he would certainly have abhorred being CALLED God by his followers!) Hindus are monists, as opposed to Christians and Muslims who are monotheists. This means that Hindus essentially believe there is no "difference" between anything...all (everything) is ONE ... Not only is Jesus=Krishna=Allah=Buddha=all other concepts of deity, but God=humans=animals=trees=stones, fire, water and all other earthly realities! Christians, Muslims (and Jews) believe, based on revelation from a God OUTSIDE the created system that everything is part of creation separate and distinct from God, and that God is Person (and not just an undefinable impersonal ultimate reality).
2) In chapter 28 (page 282) of Doane's book he asserts the things you mention about the parallels between Jesus and Krishna or "Chrishna" as he spells it. He gives the appearance of documenting his assertions about Krishna being crucified and resurrected, for example, in extensive footnotes. But when you check out the footnotes, each one refers NOT to an original document for its basis, but to another chapter in this same book! In the case of the critical (for Christian's) assertion, the resurrection (chapter 23), he then documents his statement about Krishna on (page 215) in yet another footnote, this time again, NOT to original documents of any kind, but to other scholar's books: Higgins: "Anacalypsis" vol. i pg. 131, and "Asiatic Researches" vol.i, pp. 466 & 473. I was able to find the Asiatic Researches, and could only find one sentence there in which the author (unknown) simply referred, almost as a passing thought, to Krishna having died and "returned to his heavenly seat." What kind of argument, much less evidence or proof, is THAT?! Clearly, Doane is making wild and imaginative assertions here, based almost entirely on his own world view assumptions that all religions are essentially mythological in nature and therefore you should be able to find (or at least assert freely) many similarities and parallels.
3) Even if there were stories, hundreds of stories ("myths") of ancient holy men dying by cricufixion and being raised again, this would not come even close to affecting the truth or impact of a historical and verifiable death and resurrection such as we have in Jesus Christ. It would only go to bolster and forshadow that great historical event to come, and could hardly be used to downplay or deny the importance and value of that actual TRUE STORY. I'm glad that Doane at least acknowledges in his book that the Bhagavadgita was probably put into it's final form in the late first or early 2nd century. He denies, of course, that the message of Jesus could have been known in India at that time, but the existence of a church in South India in the 3rd century with a verbal tradition that the Apostle Thomas (a disciple of Jesus) had brought the Gospel to India in the 1st century AD is evidence to the contrary. It is in fact, very possible that the final author/editor of the Bhagavadgita could have known of Jesus Christ and the Gospel, and from near eye witness accounts as well! I would assume that the other less important parallels of Krishna ato Jesus (such as his being "announced in the heavens by a star," "descending into hell," or "ascending bodily into heaven" may well be attributable to contact with Christians telling the story of Jesus in India. It is a typical Hindu approach to other religions to "absorb" the other religion's teaching into Hinduism by trying to copy athem in their own context. The Brahmo and Arya Samaj were obvious efforts in the last century of Hindus to copy the ethical principles and social work of the missionaries, even though these ideas were NOT intrinsic to Hinduism up to that point in centuries of history and teaching! Something like the virgin birth of Krishna by his mother Devaki is not unusual for myths of this kind, where there's an obvious need to surround the deity with purity where his contact with this world is concerned. What's really at issue in all this is not whether the Krishna stories are consistent with Jesus story, but whether Jesus birth and the events of HIS life are qualitatively different and REALLY HAPPENED.
4) For real scholarly work, carefully weighed in terms of historical evidence, on the life of Krishna, you should get your friend to look at the introduction to "The Bhagavadgita" by W. Douglas P. Hill, (Oxford Univ. Press, 1928, abridged 1953 and 1966). In this introduction Hill sifts the evidence for various theories of how Krishna came to be viewed as a God from what was very likely (9 centuries or so earlier) his position as a member of the warrior (Ksatriya) caste fighting as the charioteer of a local monarch, Arjuna, in one of the many battles of the Great War (Mahabarata) which, like our world wars in this century, touched most of the peoples of that Gangetic Plain around the 8th century BC. Hill's judgement is that. like most of the Hindu dieties, people gradually over centuries added more and more divine attributes to him until he because, by the 2nd century, one of their ten incarnations (avatars) of God. The only problem with this in comparison to Jesus is that the real Krishna is, by then, 10 centuries removed from any historical figure, whereas in Jesus we have eye witnesses to the actual historical events in the New Testament! Hill says (page 10):
"It is not possible with any certainty to separate the legendary from the historical in that great Epic (The Mahabarata, of which the Bagavadgita is a part); but it is reasonable to suppose that Krishna who plays so important a part in the story, was in very truth a Ksatriya warrior who fought (there)."
5) This Bagavadgita (story of one of the battles) is called the "gospel of Hinduism" by Hindus because it conveys so much of the world view of monism (oneness with the infinite) which the religious Hindu seeks. In fact, it is fair to say that this longing for incarnations (avatars) within Hinduism is a comforting idea for people who feel they can't (easily) reach up to God and therefore wish that God would reach down to them (in the form of an incarnated, physical personal, revelation). Krishna is the most popular of the ten incarnations of God (Vishnu) because all the incarnations that preceeded him are in non-personal forms...including animals like a turtle or the elephant Ganesh. Still, this human impulse or longing for a God that will reach down does not mean there really IS such a God, a true and LIVING God. That can only be known by the actual appearance in a historical setting of God in just such a way as Jesus has revealed Him, with a real (historical) death and a real (touch me and see) resurrection.
6) In regard to the resurrection and miracles as a whole, another scholar, E. Washburn Hopkins, Prof. of Sanskrit and Comparative Philosophy at Yale Univ. earlier in this century, wrote a book "Origin and Evolution of Religion (Yale Univ. Press, 1923). On page 242 he says in a footnote:
"There is no early testimony in support of miracles on the part of either Buddha or Krishna; those attributed to Buddha are recounted long after his death, and Krishna's birth, if he was a real man, must be set several centuries before he is celebrated as a divine wonder-worker."
In contrast to this are accounts (including not one sentence or story, but four book-long histories in the Gospels) of eye-witness accounts about Jesus life and miracles, including his death and resurrection! Especially impressive to any historian and scholar is Luke chapter 1 where Luke tells us he did a careful research study among the disciples of the things he is writing about! Church history tells us that the primary eye-witnesses, the twelve disciples, all gave their lives in martyrdom for these facts about Jesus (all except the Apostle John, that is, who was boiled in oil on the island of Patmos as an old man and survived to die of old age!) If they were false facts, one would hardly expect anyone to give their lives in this way for some thing they knew to be false! That's harder to believe than the miracles they are witnessing to.
I've said enough here about this for now, Jochen, but I was concerned that you know that Christians have been well aware of claims about Krishna, Buddha and many other religious leaders over the centuries and have simply painstakingly looked hard for real evidences of the miraculous or any kind of substantiation in fact for the claims. Your Turkish friend needs to take a more sober look at the claims in light of the above kinds of arguments, and not dismiss Jesus lightly on the basis of a skeptic's unfounded assertions, even if the skeptic presents himself (looks like) a scholar. Bye for now. Warmly in Christ our Lord, Ned
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