From Joseph to Aṅgulimāla
A Buddhist Story with a Biblical Motif
From the late 4th century BCE, the Greeks initiated long-term cultural exchange between the Indian and Mediterranean worlds. Following the Greek conquests of North-West India and Central Asia, Buddhism spread to these regions. Here Buddhists, native and immigrant alike, came into prolonged contact with Western civilizations. The Bible in Greek or Syriac translation may have been available in North-West India and Central Asia in the early centuries CE or before the Common Era. Cumulative evidence also indicates that there were Christians and Jews in these regions during this period. They lived side by side with Buddhists for generations. Presumably under such circumstances, biblical elements found their way, perhaps indirectly, into Buddhist literature. A notable example is one version of the Aṅgulimāla Sutta, T118. The episode of Aṅgulimāla’s encounter with his teacher’s wife was probably adapted from Joseph’s encounter with Potiphar’s wife in Genesis 39. In this article, I show that the similarities between the Joseph story and the Aṅgulimāla story greatly surpass those between the Joseph/Aṅgulimāla stories and their counterparts in other literature, including six Greek tales, an Indian epic, two Jātakas and the Divyāvadāna of Buddhism.
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