However, I found a 30 minute video today that talks about stories that predated genesis from cultures neighboring Israel which were later incorporated into Genesis.
He puts the 4 or so sources of genesis on a timeline which I found helpful, and then puts the earlier versions of the same stories on the same timeline.
Two shortcommings of the video are he’s a monotone speaker, and he goes for a fast overview with a focus on the cross-cultural spread of stories. That neccesarilly means he has to leave out things like what texts compose Genesis (which I have already read about), only referencing that briefly and without elaboration.
He focuses on the motifs from neighboring stories, which has always interested me ever since I discovered certain folklore exist all over Asia. As I watched I realized he was filling the gap I’ve known about in my knowledge of the Old Testament. There same gaps hinted at when my Buddhism professor said, “In this class we are talking about how Buddhism came about from a scholarly point of view, from historical sources, which will be different from what a practitioner will tell you. Likewise if you took a course in Christianity at this college what you would be taught would be different than if you went to church.”
He never elaborated on what we would be taught in the Christiany classes that he didn’t even teach. He didn’t need to, because as he charted how Buddhism developed, and was drastically changed by various sects over time to meet their own philosophies and ends, new branch religions arose. The next logical step was to suspect something similiar had happened to Christianity even if I didn’t know exactly how it happened. One of the biggest shifts in my thinking cae when he talked about how later Buddhist religious texts were “forged”, putting words in the mouth of apostles that had been named but who said nothing in the earlier scriptures. This was done to reinforce the power of certain groups or charistmatic leaders, and is how new branches were created.
I have forgotten the name of the simpleminded follower of Buddah who was originally more of a comic sidekick and foil to Buddah, but who hardly said anything. It was not until someone put words in his mouth about five centuries later taht Buddhism split into the two main sects we have today: the lesser and greater vessels of Buddhism. I do know it would be almost the same as taking Peter who was always a screwup that hardly said anything in the bible and writing a gospel and then saying he wrote it, as an instrument to deliver a new message that Jesus never said. In fact there is a gospel of Peter, but it was not canonized. That might have been what my Buddhist professor was hinting at, even though he never talked about Christianity in class.
Some of the divisions in Buddhism resemble the difference between Catholicism and Protestant when they split off. The Tibetan branch of Buddhism believes in mystical spells and weird stuff. Some branches accept there could be multiple Gods, others say it’s a moot question and you should only focus on Buddah. Some say you can reach enlightenment on your own through meditation or contemplation, while others say you can only reach it through Buddha as a savior without exception.
Pure Land Buddhism is a thousand year old sect in Japan that believed in throwing out almost all of the previous charactertistcs of Buddah, saying that through honoring Buddah and believing in him alone you’ll be saved. There was no longer the need to follow a rigorous set of codes, meditation and discipline. Now all you had to do was recite Buddah’s name. In other words, it developed like Christianity. When his movement had a few ousand followers a local lord became suspicious that he was a threat. The founder’s movement was then persecuted by a Japanese lord and they stormed his home and executed him, and his movement went underground just like Christianity. Pure land buddhism survives to this day in Japan, along with Shingon and Zen which are totally different Japanese branches of Buddhism. In my mind Pure Land Buddism is like evangelical Christiany, or rather, “born again christianity.”
Later I found out about gynoticism and the gospel of Mary, which I still don’t know much about but were banned by the Christian church 200 to 300 years after it’s founding when the bible was canonized. They then destroyed the other gospels they considered false, but the fragments that have survived show how much variation in belief there used to be in Christianity. Mary for instance is said to have received a message from Jesus that none of the others did.
One day after class I asked an asian girl if she thought we were all living in the Matrix. She chuckled. She said she was a Buddhist and I asked her how much of it was true, (we had just had a class that would probably have challenged the faith of anyone who believed in Buddhism as he showed how a popular branch had been forged by writing new scripture attributing them to Buddah years later.). She angrilly retorted that he wasn’t talking about Buddhism at all and wasn’t teaching what Buddah said, that we are to be good to each other and he will save us. I felt floored. She had used the same exact language a Christian would have used. She had just confirmed what my professor had said that Buddhists don’t generally read the scholarly documents and have a different understanding of their religion, and usually don’t know how it arose other than the stories of Buddah’s life.
Back to the video. I especially liked his theory that the Hebrew God’s name is the combination of two previous Hebrew Gods. I have read before that religions go from polytheistic (believing in many Gods) toward monothestic (believing in only one God) as societies advance His explanation really clicked with me. I thought, this is what happened in Japan when they imported Chinese stories or religious texts and made them their own with small changes, who had in turn inported stories from the Tibetans, who had in turn imported stories from India.
My Buddhist professor explained why certain sects were so caught up in believing you could call upon Buddah to have religious powers like fly through the sky. He said Buddhism may have started as a philosophy from one guy, but when Buddah’s apostles left from India or Tibet and tried to preach to the Chinese their audience didn’t care about philosophy. To reach them you needed to speak to their wants convince them. The chinese were obssesed with living longer and immortality, so priests would promise immortality if you followed Buddah, or a chance at a better life (i.e. To be reincarnated as a God). Of course, Buddhism is the opposite: it is about escaping from the cycle of death and rebirth that causes suffering.
As an aside, this probably sounds a lot like nihilism. As westerners we might think Buddhists are crazy for not wanting to exist after they die, since that sounds like wanting suicide, but from their outlook they think they’ve already lived enough lifetimes. In a sense, they’re content with one last lifetime, and I actually respect that humbleness now. It’s as though they’ve accepted their place in nature.
To return to what I was saying about how Chinese Buddhists being miseld, apostles often present things with white lies to draw people into the religion. Then, once you’ve accepted part of their world-view, they can tell the truth to them or their descendants later on. Islam does this, the Mormons do it, and Christians told analogies to native americans convincing them their goddesses were aparations of Mary they had misunderstood. Jesuit missionaries also tell people if you believe in God. And pray he will answer your wishes, which is powerful salesmenship in the 3rd world.
Likewise, it’s believed by half of the Buddhists (the Mahayana / Greater vessel school) that there is not a lot of time before you die, and so sometimes people need to tell you a white lie to draw you to Buddah so you can be saved. This is explained with the parable of a father standing outside his burning home. He calls to his kids to leave but tey’re playing and won’t understand. To save their lives he tells them a white lie: I have three toys for you. Come out and I will give you each one to play with. They run out and ask where they toys are. He hugs them and says I don’t have three toys, but I have just one: an oxcart which is better than them all. In other words, he has a teaching better than any of the previous schools – the Greater Vessel, which is taught by one of the disciples of Buddah centuries later in China/ Tibet. (Sounds a lot like the New Testament replacing the Old Testament.)
Likewise Zen Buddhism was totally misunderstood when hippies immported it in the 60’s. My professor said if you watch the old American movies you see Zen Buddhists people living hedonistically without rules and having free love without any rules, when Zen Buddhism is the opposite: it’s all about strict rules and stifiling restrictions. You’re not supposed to feel emotion or make mistakes.This makes me wonder what homegrown white Buddhists in America are like today, who probably learned Buddhism through misunderstood writings by westerners. They’d probably be seen as heretics by the original Zen Buddhists in Japan.