Barlaam and Josaphat
The principal characters of a legend of Christian antiquity, which was a
favourite subject of writers in the Middle Ages. The story is substantially as
follows: Many inhabitants of India had been converted by the Apostle St. Thomas
and were leading Christian lives. In the third or fourth century King Abenner
(Avenier) persecuted the Church. The astrologers had foretold that his son
Josaphat would one day become a Christian. To prevent this the prince was kept
in close confinement. But, in spite of all precautions, Barlaam, a hermit of
Senaar, met him and brought him to the true Faith. Abenner tried his best to
pervert Josaphat, but, not succeeding, he shared the government with him. Later
Abenner himself became a Christian, and, abdicating the throne, became a hermit.
Josaphat governed alone for a time, then resigned, went into the desert, found
his former teacher Barlaam, and with him spent his remaining years in holiness.
Years after their death, the bodies were brought to India and their grave became
renowned by miracles. Barlaam and Josaphat found their way into the Roman
Martyrology (27 November), and into the Greek calendar (26 August). Vincent of
Beauvais, in the thirteenth century, had given the story in his
Historiale. It is also found in an abbreviated form in the
Golden Legend of
Jacobus de Voragine of the same century.
The story is a Christianized version of one of the legends of Buddha, as even
the name Josaphat would seem to show. This is said to be a corruption of the
original Joasaph, which is again corrupted from the middle Persian Budasif
(Budsaif=Bodhisattva). Still it is of historical value, since it contains the
Apology presented by the Athenian philosopher Aristides to the Emperor Adrian
(or Antoninus Pius). The Greek text of the legend, written probably by a monk of
the Sabbas monastery near Jerusalem at the beginning of the seventh century, was
first published by Boissonade in
Anecdota Graeca (Paris, 1832), IV, and is
reproduced in Migne, P.G., XCVI, among the works of St. John Damascene. The
legend cannot, however, have been a work of the great Damascene, as was proved
by Zotenberg in
Notices sur le livre de Barlaam et Josaphat (Paris, 1886) and
by Hammel in
Verhandl. des 7 interneat. Orientalisten Congresses, Semit.
Section (Vienna, 1888). Another edition of the Greek was made by Kechajoglos
(Athens, 1884). From the original Greek a German translation was made by F.
Liebrecht (Münster, 1847). Latin translations (Minge, P.L., LXXIII), were made
in the twelfth century and used for nearly all the European languages, in prose,
verse and in miracle plays. Among them is prominent the German epic by Rudolph
of Ems in the thirteenth century (Königsberg, 1818, and somewhat later at
Leipzig). From the German an Icelandic and Swedish version were made in the
fifteenth century. At Manila the legend appeared in the Tagala language of the
Philippines. In the East it exists in Syriac, Arabic, Ethiopic, Armenian, and
Muller, Migration of Fables in Contemp. Review (July, 1870); Idem, Selected Essays (London, 1881); Liebrecht in Jahrbuch fur romanische und englische Litteratur II; Braunholz, Die erste nichtchristliche Parabel des Barlaam u. Josaphat, ihre Herkunft und Verbreitung (Hale, 1884); Kahn, B.U.J., eine bubiliographiasch-litteraturgeschichtliche Studie.
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