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Tony Grist

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Plagiarism In The New Testament- Preliminary Findings [Jun. 23rd, 2011|10:20 am]
Tony Grist
There's a Buddhist parable that's something like The Prodigal Son. A young man leaves his father's house, larges it a bit, gets cleaned out and wants to go home. After that there's some divergence. In the Buddhist version he doesn't realise it's his father's house he's approaching and when his father sends to receive him he faints in terror. After that, his father, not wanting to scare him to death, employs him as a labourer and after twenty years disguises himself as a fellow labourer and goes to work beside him in the fields.  Gradually he reveals to his son the true state of affairs and the young man enters into his father's kingdom.  If Jesus stole this story, he improved it in the telling- making it snappier and more plausible. There is however, another problem with the charge of plagiarism. Buddha may have lived (if he lived at all) 500 years before Jesus, but the scripture in which the story appears- the Lotus Sutra- was written between 100 BC and 100AD. It could therefore be more recent than the Gospel of St. Luke- and the influence all the other way.

Then there's The Book of Enoch- a wearisomely repetitive apocalyptic text- featuring rebel angels, nephilim, visions of heaven and hell and some primitive cosmology. Christian interest centres on the appearance of a Messianic figure called the Son of Man. Is this where Jesus got his title from? Possibly. But, then again the portion of Enoch that deals with the Son of Man was written in the Christian era and some scholars- admittedly not the majority-  regard it as a Christian text. 

Finally,  the Pirkei Avot- the section of the Talmud that contains Hillel's version of the golden rule: it has many echoes of gospel language and gospel themes, but no other texts that directly parallel the words of Jesus. It's a collection of wise and witty sayings from the world of  the New Testament- but its atmosphere-  safe, conservative and beardy- is very different.  Again- though these rabbinic sayings may have been floating around in the oral tradition for ages- and probably were- they weren't actually written down until the 2nd century- which means our record of Jesus's version of the golden rule predates Hillel's. 

If the sayings of Jesus were plagiarised from other sources I've yet to find the evidence, but I'll keep on looking.
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Comments:
[User Picture]From: michaleen
2011-06-23 11:25 am (UTC)
Why must Luke be dated before 100 AD?

I find that too many attempts at rigorously dating scripture begin with, "Well, Jesus was crucified in 33 AD..."
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2011-06-23 12:03 pm (UTC)
All these dates are approximate and open to question. The point is we can't prove that Luke is later than the Lotus Sutra and so charges of plagiarism- either way- are unsustainable. All we can do is point to the similarities and stroke our chins.
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[User Picture]From: heleninwales
2011-06-23 12:19 pm (UTC)
There's also the complicating factor that many stories passed around in the oral tradition for hundreds of years before they ever got written down.

I can't just remember any at the moment, but I remember recognising a few of the parables in the Buddhist texts. They always seemed more complete and made more sense than the New Testament versions.

And of course both sources could have drawn on things that were older so similarities could be due to a common origin rather than one plagiarising the other.

Anyway, I wouldn't call it plagiarism, just a case of a teacher adding an appropriate story to their repertoire. :)
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2011-06-23 12:52 pm (UTC)
Yes, I agree with everything you say.

The big revelation for me has been discovering that the classic Buddhist texts and the New Testament writings were produced at roughly the same time.
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[User Picture]From: arielstarshadow
2011-06-23 01:40 pm (UTC)
Which probably has more to do with fundamental ideas about what sorts of things were important enough to be written down shifting and changing as opposed to any sort of denotation of when an idea first came into being.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2011-06-23 03:28 pm (UTC)
Yes, this was a era when people were beginning to find it important to codify religious teachings- at least, that's how it seems to me.
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[User Picture]From: michaleen
2011-06-24 01:11 pm (UTC)
Agreed.
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[User Picture]From: humphreycobbler
2011-06-23 12:21 pm (UTC)
I've come to the conclusion that ultimately it doesn't matter who said what first. The older I get, the less interested I become in attribution, authenticity, and lineage. My main concern is: does it work?
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2011-06-23 12:55 pm (UTC)
I entirely agree.
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[User Picture]From: veronikos
2011-06-23 01:39 pm (UTC)
Best said, I think, by the alchemist Mary Anne Atwood, at the beginning of her SUGGESTIVE INQUIRY:

"The Hermetic tradition opens early with the morning dawn in the eastern world. All pertaining thereto is romantic and mystical. Its monuments, emblems, and numerous written records, alike dark and enigmatical, form one of the most remarkable episodes in the history of the human mind. A hard task were it indeed and almost infinite to discuss every particular that has been presented by individuals concerning the art of Alchemy; and as difficult to fix with certainty the origin of a science which has been successively attributed to Adam, Noah and his son Cham, to Solomon, Zoroaster, and the Egyptian Hermes. Nor, fortunately, does this obscurity concern us much in an inquiry which rather relates to the means and principles of occult science than to the period and place of their reputed discovery. Nothing, perhaps, is less worthy or more calculated to distract the mind from points of real importance than this very question of temporal origin, which, when we have taken all pains to satisfy and remember, leaves us no wiser in reality than we were before. What signifies it, for instance, that we attribute letters to Cadmus, or trace oracles to Zoroaster, or the kabalah to Moses, the Eleusian mysteries to Orpheus, or Freemasonry to Noah; whilst we are profoundly ignorant of the nature and true beginning of any one of these things, and observe not how truth, being everywhere eternal, does not there always originate where it is understood?"
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2011-06-23 03:30 pm (UTC)
Yes, I like that. The question of origins is an academic pursuit- interesting at that sort of level, but ultimately unimportant.
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[User Picture]From: michaleen
2011-06-24 01:46 pm (UTC)
I think it matters, perhaps not so much as some imagine, but traditions don't just spring up like mushrooms after a warm rain. Most all have some sort of history and thus owe some debt, however small, to those that have gone before.

I feel post-moderns err when they fail to acknowledge the past. Among other things, it can lead to a distorted view of one's place in the grand scheme of things, sometimes comically so.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2011-06-24 02:54 pm (UTC)
I like to know where things come from. Obviously, or I wouldn't be writing these posts. In the greater scheme of things it doesn't matter who came up with a particular saying or idea, but it's
interesting to find out.
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[User Picture]From: wolfshift
2011-06-23 01:36 pm (UTC)
Agreed. So much of it came from oral traditions that it may all have been "plagiarised" back and forth anyway, so figuring out who said what first is not only irrelevant but meaningless---and damned near impossible.

I suppose it only matters who said it first if you're heavily invested in Jesus as God.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2011-06-23 03:33 pm (UTC)
Exactly.

As Mary Anne Atwood (above) puts it "truth (is) everywhere eternal."
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[User Picture]From: daisytells
2011-06-24 12:16 am (UTC)
It doesn't even matter then.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2011-06-24 02:38 pm (UTC)
It's of academic interest. Nothiong wrong with that....
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[User Picture]From: veronica_milvus
2011-06-23 04:06 pm (UTC)
I always thought that the interesting thinga bout the Christian Prodigal Son story was the sulky other son, who had laboured in his father's fielda all along and never got a fatted calf. It seemed to me to be a study in how God takes his good and faithful servants for granted.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2011-06-23 04:13 pm (UTC)
There's no older son in the Buddhist story.
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From: loxian
2011-06-23 05:17 pm (UTC)
Same here.
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[User Picture]From: ooxc
2011-06-23 09:39 pm (UTC)
Anyway. isn't plagiarism a very modern concept?
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[User Picture]From: wolfshift
2011-06-24 12:37 am (UTC)
Indeed, because authorship and intellectual property are very modern concepts.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2011-06-24 02:48 pm (UTC)
As Kipling wrote,

When 'Omer smote' is bloomin' lyre,
He'd 'eard men sing by land an' sea;
An' what he thought 'e might require,
'E went an' took--the same as me!

The market-girls an' fishermen,
The shepherds an' the sailors, too,
They 'eard old songs turn up again,
But kep' it quiet--same as you!

They knew 'e stole; 'e knew they knowed.
They didn't tell, nor make a fuss,
But winked at 'Omer down the road,
An' 'e winked back--the same as us!
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[User Picture]From: daisytells
2011-06-24 12:15 am (UTC)
Happy hunting, but "dont count your chickens before they are hatched". Oops! Did I just plagiarize something?
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2011-06-24 02:49 pm (UTC)
You did, shame on you :)
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