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Barlaam and Josaphat

In 1446, a Venetian editor of Marco Polos Travels wrote a comment to Polo's account of the life of the Buddha, as an interpolation in the main text. As far as we know, this is the first time a connection between the life of the Buddha and the story of Barlaam and Josaphat was made:

Questo asomeia alla vita de san Iosafat lo qual fo fiolo del re Avenir de quelle parte de India, e fo convertido alla fé cristiana per lo remito Barlam, segondo chome se legie nella vita e llegende di santi padri [...] (Gennari 2010: 214)


"This is like the life of Saint losafat who was son of the king Avenir of those parts of Indie, and was converted to the Christian faith by the means of Barlam, according as is read in the life and legend of the holy fathers." (Moule & Pelliot 1938: 410)

General acknowledgement of the identity of the famous medieval Christian tale of the saints Barlaam and Josaphat with the story of the life of the Buddha, was not established until the mid 19th century. It was recognised quite simultaneously, but apparently independently, by Edouard de Laboulaye in his review of Stanislas Julien's Les Avadânas (1859), and by Felix Liebrecht in his article “Die Quellen des ‘Barlaam und Josaphat’” (1860).

The story of Barlaam and Josaphat was immensely popular in the Medieval period, from Central Asia to Norway and Iceland. The earliest version we have is an Arabic text from the 10th century, but there are numerous version in many dozen Medieval languages, among them Georgian, Greek, Latin, Armenian, Old Church Slavonic and Old French.

Our Project

The project Barlaam and Josaphat: Buddhist Narratives in Islam and Christianity is organised and led by the Norwegian Institute of Philology (PHI), with partners from The University of Oslo, Malmö University, The University of Gothenburg, The Norwegian school of theology, Freie Universität Berlin, and others. 

The aim of this project is to investigate the relationship between the oldest eastern texts (Arabic, Georgian and Greek) and the western European versions of the story (represented by the Latin and the Old Norse texts).

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