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Barlaam and Joasaph


The title of a curious novel found among the works of St. John Damascene. The tale, which is an adaptation of a Buddhist legend, relates how the monk Barlaam converted the Indian prince Joasaph against his father's wishes. There is much discussion of the meaning of Christianity, monasticism, and the truths of faith. Joasaph, becoming king, converts his entire realm and then dies a hermit. The author attributes the rise of monastic fasting and penance to the desire of ascetics to imitate the sufferings of the primitive martyrs, that "becoming martyrs in intention they too might imitate the sufferings of Christ" (12.102).

Barlaam and Joasaph have been venerated in the Roman martyrology since 1583 on November 27 [see H. Delehaye et al., Propylaeum ad Acta Sanctorum Decembris (Brussels 1940) 551]. The cult became widely popular in the Middle Ages. P. Peeters [Analecta Bollandiana 49 (1931) 276] developed a strong case against the Damascene's authorship, suggesting that the novel was first translated into Greek from a Georgian source by Euthymius, abbot of Iviron, Mt. athos (d. 1028), to whom the work is attributed in some late MSS. But the case for Damascene's authorship was effectively renewed by F. Dölger in 1953. In addition to parallels in doctrine and style with the works of Damascene, several MSS possibly antedate Euthymius; four of the oldest MSS attribute the work to John, and none of the numerous Iviron MSS attribute it to Euthymius. Dölger accepts the idea of its transmission from a Buddhist originalto a Pehlevi versionthence to a possible Syriac version, from which came two branches, the Arabic version on the one side and the Greek version of John with the Georgian version on the other. The Damascene parallels in the area of Christology, the Trinity, and other points of doctrine are impressive, but Dölger's position is still controverted.

Bibliography: Barlaam and Joasaph, ed. and tr. g. r. woodward and h. mattlingly (Loeb Classical Library 1914). b. studer, Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, ed. j. hofer and k. rahner, 10 v. (2d, new ed. Freiburg 195765) 1:1.24647; Die theologische Arbeitsweise des Johannes von Damaskus (Ettal 1956). h. bacht, Reallexikon für Antike und Christentum, ed. t. klauser [Stuttgart 1941 (1950)] 1:11931200. f. dÖlger, Der griechische Barlaam-Roman (Ettal 1953). p. devos, Analecta Bollandiana 75 (1957) 83104. b. altaner, Patrology, tr. h. graef from 5th German ed. (New York 1960) 639. g. downey, Speculum. A Journal of Mediaeval Studies 31 (1956) 165168.

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