14 January 2010

The Jesus Sutras Part One: Rediscovering the Lost Scrolls of Taoist Christianity

The Jesus Sutras are early Chinese language manuscripts of Christian teachings. They are connected with the 7th century mission of Alopen, a Nestorian bishop of the Assyrian Church of the East.

The sutras date from between 635 AD, the year of Alopen's arrival in China, and 1005, when the Mogao Cave, near Dunhuang, in which they were found was sealed. Four of the sutras are said to be located in private collections in Japan, while one is in Paris. Their language and content reflect varying levels of interaction with Chinese culture, including use of Buddhist and Taoist terminology.

The Xi'an Stele was erected in 781 to commemorate the propagation of the Da Qin Luminous Religion ("Da Qin" is the Chinese term for the Roman Empire). Martin Palmer recently claimed that a pagoda near Lou Guan Tai was part of a Da Qin monastery. Lou Guan Tai was the traditional site of Lao Tze's composition of the Tao Te Ching. The stele was unearthed in 1625 and is now on display in nearby Xi'an, the ancient capital of the Tang Dynasty.

Sutra (literally "binding thread") is a Sanskrit term referring to an aphorism or group of aphorisms. It was originally applied to Hindu philosophy, and later to Buddhist canon scripture. In the case of the Jesus Sutras, the term applies indirectly. In Chinese, all religious and classical books are referred to as jing (經), including indigenous Chinese works, Buddhist scriptures, and other foreign works such as the Bible and the Koran. In the context of Buddhist scriptures, jing is conventionally translated as "sutra". The Jesus Sutras do not carry canon status but they do comingle Christian philosophy with Buddhist and Taoist thought.

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