In this lesson we are returning to the theme we introduced in lesson three concerning the wider background of Aramaic and Chinese texts, and their interaction with Persian influences. While the reader has been learning the Jewish Aramaic and Hebrew texts, and has been reading the Chinese texts of the Aramaic-Persian religion that entered into China, it is but a short step to learn to read a few other more remotely related texts, and by doing so, to vastly expand one's overall grasp of the material. The texts we are referring to, are an Aramaic-Syriac text of the Assyrian Christians, and a Chinese text of Pure Land Buddhism. By learning to read these two texts well, along with the accompanying audio, one will have a greater appreciation and understanding our texts. After all, concerning the Aramaic-Persian religion that entered China, since this religion no longer is practiced today, the two texts on this page present the closest approximation of how those religious texts may have been read. So it will be of great value to learn these two texts well.
The Syriac-Aramaic text is one of the oldest liturgical prayers in Christianity, and is attributed to the disciple of the Apostle Thomas (Thauma, "the twin", in Aramaic), Addai (one of the "Seventy-two disciples"), and his disciple Mari. It is the oldest version of a prayer based on the Last Supper (in turn based on Jewish blessings of bread and wine, and the Passover), conducted by Jesus (Yeshuah in Hebrew) in Aramaic. For some reason, in spite of Assyrian Christianity's clearly more direct connections with the original Aramaic environment of Jesus and his disciples, the Assyrian Christian community has been rejected and severely persecuted, to the point of an ongoing genocide over the centuries against Assyrian Christian communities. (They refer to themselves as "Assyrian", because they consider themselves to be the descendants of the ancient Assyrian peoples that originally inhabited Mesopotamia, where they themselves are from).
The Buddhist text here, the Longer Pure Land Sutra, or Infinite Life Sutra, is the major and longest of the three main Pure Land Buddhist texts. Pure Land Buddhism originated in Northern India and Central Asia at around 100 CE. Buddhism, and especially Pure Land Buddhism, became very widespread in Central Asia after this time, as evidenced by the largest Buddhist statues in the world, in Bamiyan, Afghanistan. The texts were originally written in Sanskrit and related Indian languages, but were soon translated into Chinese, and spread throughout Asia. Pure Land Buddhism deals specifically with a land of bliss and infinite life, called the "Pure Land", and the three Pure Land Sutras describe the details of this land, and how it came to exist in the first place. The main devotion is to Amitofo in Chinese, from Admitabha in Sanskrit, meaning "Infinite Light Buddha" (fo became the Chinese word for Buddha), and devotion is done by reciting these texts. When the Chinese writings we have been reading in the advanced section, in their journey from original Aramaic and through Persian, met with the Chinese Buddhism in Central Asia and beyond, they immediately took Chinese Buddhist terms directly from these Chinese Pure Land Buddhist texts, and used them in their own writings. While the Pure Land Buddhist texts we are reading in this section are full of Sanskrit terms and personalities, as well as veneration of Amitofo, the Buddha of Infinite Light, we will see that our Chinese texts from Bavel and Persia, are in contrast, full of Aramaic and Persian words and personalities, and Amitofo becomes replaced by Moniguangfo.
The Syriac Aramaic Book of the Kurbana of Mar Addai and Mar Mari
The first few pages transcribed into Hebrew letters
Longer Pure Land Sutra
Chinese and English interlinear version
The Syriac text displayed above has the same text in Hebrew letters displayed next to it. (Syriac and Hebrew letter chart). It can be assumed that any original writings of Jesus and the first Christians would have been in Jewish Palestinian (perhaps Galilean) Aramaic. However, none of these writings have survived, and it may be that none will ever be discovered. The only other available option would be to attempt to reconstruct the original Aramaic background of Christianity by cutting and piecing together Aramaic texts from a variety of sources, perhaps including Jewish (the Jerusalem Talmud and the Dead Sea Scrolls), Syriac and Mandaean sources, as well as attempting to reconstruct an original Hebrew/Aramaic gospel in Jewish Palestinian Aramaic. A reconstructed Galilean Aramaic gospel like this would differ from the current Syriac Aramaic gospel not only in its Hebrew letters and Galilean dialect, but also in that the non-Hebrew forms of Jewish names in the Syriac version would be replaced with the accurate Hebrew names in a reconstructed version.
The Pure Land Chinese text above uses the traditional characters, in vertical right to left direction, with the zhuyin pronunciation guide to the right of each character. The zhuyin phonetic system, unlike pinyin, can be placed on vertical columns. There is every advantage, at this advanced stage of Chinese reading, to learn to read fluently the zhuyin system, as it will only strengthen the reader's overall grasp of Chinese.
When reading these two texts, the question should be asked, are these texts describing something literal, or instead, something allegorical? After all, the Jewish texts we have been reading, use the Hebrew language to create descriptions containing multiple meanings. In other words, the actual Hebrew words do not refer to one specific literal thing, but are referring to something that has a very clear meaning on multiple levels, with the words having multiple meanings, and this is made very clear in the texts. However, do these non-Jewish texts: the Assyrian-Christian texts in Syriac-Aramaic, or the Pure Land Buddhist texts in Chinese, describe meaning in allegories, or instead, are they intending to describe something which is to be taken completely literally? This same question may be asked about the other groups we have come across. To what extent are the writings of the Mandaeans, the Yezidis of Kurdistan (described by their neighboring religions as worshiping the Devil) or the Zoroastrians, referring to something literal, as opposed to something only hinted at in allegory?
Yezidi Black Book in Syriac. A Syriac Aramaic version of one of the Yezidi scriptures. Transcribed into Hebrew letters.