Meet Taoist-Buddhist Jesus

Thomas Moore talks about the remarkable scrolls that retell the Christian Gospels from a Buddhist/Taoist perspective.

A treasure trove of ancient scrolls, buried more than a thousand years ago in China, were unearthed in the early 1900s but went untranslated until their 1998 rediscovery in a Taoist monastery. The scrolls, which retell the teachings of Jesus through a Taoist and Buddhist lens, are the subject of a new book by bestselling author Thomas Moore and coauthor Ray Riegert. Beliefnet recently interviewed Moore on the meaning of the Lost Sutras of Jesus.

What are the Jesus Sutras?

They're a group of teachings that go back centuries. A group of Christian monks left Persia to enter China in the year 635, and established a small Christian community inside China. The people at first welcomed them very warmly and were very interested in what they had to say about religion. In fact, the local people called this new religion "the Luminous Religion." The people wrote some of the teachings and stories down, and as they did that, they mixed them with their own Buddhist and Taoist ideas. Some of the writings are very close to the gospel stories.

These documents were kept in a cave because, after a while, these Christians weren't so warmly received. They hid the documents, [which] weren't discovered until 1900. They really haven't been made accessible to us until just recently.

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These sutras don't represent a highly developed theology. There's a simplicity about them, a folk quality that represents ordinary people trying to understand what the new teaching is.

Some of the sutras are similar to Christian texts that Westerners would know-there's the story of Jesus, for instance. Other sections seemed much more Taoist. With some, if you were reading them in isolation you wouldn't think they had any connection to Christianity.

When you read the Jesus Sutras, you have to look to find the direct Christian elements. They're there, and they're quite striking. Sometimes they're concealed. For myself, I may be familiar with a certain way in which a Christian story or teaching is worded, and it's worded differently in the sutra. You recognize it, but there's still enough of a difference to make you sit up and say, "Do I know this?"

It makes it fresh. That's one of the key values of the Jesus Sutras. With a slight change in point of view or language, they sound very fresh, and you may consider them in a new light.

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