The Law of the Jungle
Hare Jesus: Christianity's Hindu Heritage
Stephen Van Eck
"Can one go upon hot coals, and his feet not be burned"
6:28)? But of course!
Objective and open-minded scholars long ago conceded that Christianity
is at heart a revamped form of Judaism. In the process of its
development as something distinct from its mother religion, it
became hybridized with so much pagan influence that it ultimately
alienated its original Jewish base and became predominantly Gentile.
The source of this pagan influence is varied and vague in the
minds of most advanced Bible critics, but it may owe more to Hinduism
than most people suspect.
The average person does not connect India with the ancient Middle
East, but the existence of some trade between these two regions
is documented, even in the Bible. Note the reference to spikenard
in the Song of Solomon ([ref002]1:12
) and in the Gospels ([ref004]Mark 14:3
; [ref005]John 12:3
). This is an aromatic oil-producing plant (Nardostachys jatamansi)
that the Arabs call sunbul hindi and obtained in trade with India.
It is axiomatic that influence follows trade, and the vibrant
culture of India could not help but impact on anyone exposed to
it. The influence on Judaism came for the most part indirectly,
however, via the Persians and the Chaldeans, who dealt with India
on a more direct basis. (Indeed, the Aryans, who invaded and transformed
India over 1500 years before Christ, were of the same people who
brought ancient Persia to its greatest glory. Persia's name today--Iran--is
a corruption of Aryan.) The ancient Judeans absorbed much of this
secondhand influence during the Babylonian captivity of the sixth
century B. C., and during the intertestamental period, when Alexandria
became the crossroads of the world, intellectuals both Jew and
Gentile were exposed to a variety of ideas, some of which originated
on the subcontinent.
The precise pattern of influence was neither observed nor documented,
but it can be inferred from the numerous uncanny similarities
in concept and expression, not all of which can be coincidental.
Let us examine the telltale evidence (none of which, it may be
added, depends upon any apocryphal account of the alleged "lost
years" of Jesus in India).
Most Christians are familiar with [ref006]Galatians 6:7
, "Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap."
Less known is [ref007]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.
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 [ref008]2 Corinthians 5:8
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 ([ref010]John 3:3
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.
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 ([ref011]Titus 3:5
). 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"!
The Trinity was a major stumblingblock for the Jews, who adhered
to strict monotheism. The inherent polytheism in the Trinity doctrine
cannot be explained away with the nonsensical claim that three
is one and one is three. Besides, Jesus himself undermined any
pretense of triunity (or omnipotence, for that matter) in [ref012]Matthew 19:17
, "And he said unto them, Why callest thou me good? There
is none good but one, that is God...." [ref013]Matthew 20:23
; [ref014]Mark 14:32
; [ref015]John 5:30
also contradict the Trinitarian concept.
The Hindu scriptures, which are the oldest in the world, contain
a number of astonishingly familiar expressions. The Upanishads
mention things like "the blind led by the blind" ([ref018]Matt. 15:14
) and God's being "the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow"
). The path is said to be "narrow and difficult to tread"
). They also make reference to "a voice from out of the
fire" ([ref021]Ex. 3:4
) and a man's face shining after encountering God ([ref022]Ex. 34:29
). They refer to those who are "wise in their own conceits"
; [ref024]Rom. 12:16
), warn against "fleshly desires" ([ref025]1 Pet. 2:11
), and advise that "it is not by works alone that one
attains the Eternal" ([ref026]Gal. 2:16
]), and "to many it is not given" to know of metaphysical
truth ([ref027]Matt. 13:11
). They describe the Self as "smaller than a mustard
seed" ([ref028]Matt. 17:20
), and they speak of "the highest knowledge, having drunk
of which, one never thirsts" ([ref029]John 4:14
). And how about this: "Man does not live by breath alone,
but by him in whom is the power of breath" ([ref030]Matt. 4:4
Sounds a little too familiar, I'd say!
Then there is the Hindu epic, the Bhagavad-Gita, a story of the
second person of the Hindu Trinity, who took human form as Krishna.
Some have considered him a model for the Christ, and it's hard
to argue against that when he says things like, "I am the
beginning, the middle, and the end" (BG 10:20 vs. [ref031]Rev. 1:8
). His advent was heralded by a pious old man named Asita,
who could die happy knowing of his arrival, a story paralleling
that of Simeon in [ref032]Luke 2:25
. Krishna's mission was to give directions to "the kingdom
of God" (BG 2:72), and he warned of "stumbling blocks"
along the way (BG 3:34; [ref033]1 Cor. 1:23
; [ref034]Rev. 2:14
). The essential thrust of Krishna's sayings, uttered to a
beloved disciple, sometimes seems to coincide with Jesus or the
Bible. Compare "those who are wise lament neither for the
living nor the dead" (BG 2:11) with the sense of Jesus' advice
to "let the dead bury their own dead" ([ref035]Matt. 8:22
). Krishna's saying, "I envy no man, nor am I partial
to anyone; I am equal to all" (BG 9:29) is a lot like the
idea that God is no respecter of persons ([ref036]Rom. 2:11
; see also [ref037]Matt. 6:45
). And "one who is equal to friends and enemies... is
very dear to me" (BG 12:18) is reminiscent of "love
your enemies" ([ref038]Matt. 6:44
). Krishna also said that "by human calculation, a thousand
ages taken together is the duration of Brahma's one day"
(BG 8:17), which is very similar to [ref039]2 Peter 3:8
In fairness, however, one purported similarity needs to be discredited.
Skeptics sometimes cite Kersey Graves in [ref040]Sixteen Crucified Saviors
or Godfrey Higgin's _Anacalypsis_ (which Graves
drew from) in asserting that Krishna was a crucified deity. No
such event occurred in the Gita or in any recognized Hindu scripture.
Given the pronounced syncretic tendency of Hinduism, it is safe
to assume that any odd tales of Krishna's being crucified arose
only _after_ the existence of Christian proselytism, in imitation
of the Christian narrative. It is neither authentic to Hinduism
nor is Hinduism the source of that portion of the Christian narrative.
The same may be said for most of the purported nativity stories.
In my opinion, both Higgins and Graves are highly unreliable sources
and should be ignored.
That notwithstanding, the existence of uncanny similarities in
concept and phraseology in those Hindu writings that _are
_ both ancient and authentic leaves Christians in a difficult
quandary. With the historical reality of Indian influence on the
Middle East being an established fact, how can they account for
these similarities with anything less feeble than coincidence,
or less bizarre than the notion of "Satanic foreknowledge
and duplication," which is sometimes invoked to explain the
similarities of Judeo-Christian precursors?
I'll close with [ref041]Ecclesiastes 1:10
, another inconvenient and uncomfortable passage: "Is
there anything whereof it may be said, See, this is new? It hath
been already of old time, which was before us."