Barlaam and Josaphat

Barlaam and Josaphat, also known as Bilawhar and Budhasaf, are legendary Christian saints. Their life story was based on the life of the Gautama Buddha,[1] and tells of the conversion of Josaphat to Christianity. According to the legend, an Indian king persecuted the Christian Church in his realm. After astrologers predicted that his own son would some day become a Christian, the king imprisoned the young prince Josaphat, who nevertheless met the hermit Saint Barlaam and converted to Christianity. After much tribulation the young prince's father accepted the Christian faith, turned over his throne to Josaphat, and retired to the desert to become a hermit. Josaphat himself later abdicated and went into seclusion with his old teacher Barlaam.[2]

A Christian depiction of Josaphat, 12th century manuscript


Depiction of a parable from Barlaam and Josaphat at the Baptistery of Parma, Italy

The story of Barlaam and Josaphat or Joasaph is a Christianized and later version of the story of Siddhartha Gautama, who became the Buddha.[3] The tale derives from a second to fourth century Sanskrit Mahayana Buddhist text, via a Manichaean version,[4] then the Arabic Kitāb Bilawhar wa-Būd̠āsaf (Book of Bilawhar and Budhasaf), current in Baghdad in the eighth century, from where it entered into Middle Eastern Christian circles before appearing in European versions.

The first Christianized adaptation was the Georgian epic Balavariani dating back to the 10th century. A Georgian monk, Euthymius of Athos, translated the story into Greek, some time before he died in an accident while visiting Constantinople in 1028.[5] There the Greek adaptation was translated into Latin in 1048 and soon became well known in Western Europe as Barlaam and Josaphat.[6] The Greek legend of "Barlaam and Ioasaph" is sometimes attributed to the 7th century John of Damascus, but F. C. Conybeare argued it was transcribed by Euthymius in the 11th century.[7]

The story of Barlaam and Josaphat was popular in the Middle Ages, appearing in such works as the Golden Legend, and a scene there involving three caskets eventually appeared, via Caxton's English translation of a Latin version, in Shakespeare's "The Merchant of Venice".[8] The poet Chardri produced an Anglo-Norman version, La vie de seint Josaphaz, in the 13th century. The story of Josaphat and Barlaam also occupies a great part of book xv of the Speculum Historiale (Mirror of History) by the 13th century French encyclopedist Vincent of Beauvais.

One of the Marco Polo manuscripts notes the remarkable similarity between the tale of "Sakyamuni Burkham" (the name that Polo uses for the Buddha) and St. Josaphat, apparently unaware of the origins of the Josaphat story.[9]

Two Middle High German versions were produced: one, the "Laubacher Barlaam", by Bishop Otto II of Freising and another, Barlaam und Josaphat, a romance in verse, by Rudolf von Ems. The latter was described as "perhaps the flower of religious literary creativity in the German Middle Ages" by Heinrich Heine.[10]

In the 16th century, the story of Josaphat was re-told as a defence of monastic life during the Protestant Reformation and of free will against Protestant doctrines regarding predestination.[11]


Prince Josaphat greets the leper and the crippled. Illustration from a 14th-century copy of Vincent de Beauvais' Speculum Historiale.

According to the legend, King Abenner in India persecuted the Christian Church in his realm, founded by the Apostle Thomas. When astrologers predicted that his own son would some day become a Christian, Abenner had the young prince Josaphat isolated from external contact. Despite the imprisonment, Josaphat met the hermit Saint Barlaam and converted to Christianity. Josaphat kept his faith even in the face of his father's anger and persuasion. Eventually Abenner converted, turned over his throne to Josaphat, and retired to the desert to become a hermit. Josaphat himself later abdicated and went into seclusion with his old teacher Barlaam.[2]


The name Josaphat is derived from the Sanskrit bodhisattva.[12][3][13] The Sanskrit word was changed to Bodisav in Middle Persian texts in the 6th or 7th century, then to Būdhasaf or Yūdhasaf in an 8th-century Arabic document (Arabic initial "b" ‎ changed to "y" ‎ by duplication of a dot in handwriting).[14] This became Iodasaph in Georgian in the 10th century, and that name was adapted as Ioasaph (Ἰωάσαφ) in Greece in the 11th century, and then was assimilated to Iosaphat/Josaphat in Latin.[15]

The name Barlaam derives from the Arabic name Bilawhar (بِلَوْهَر) borrowed through Georgian (ბალაჰვარ Balahvar) into Byzantine Greek (Βαρλαάμ Barlaám). The Arabic Bilawhar has historically been thought to derive from the Sanskrit bhagavan, an epithet of the Buddha, but this derivation is unproven and others have been proposed.[16] Almuth Degener suggests derivation from Sanskrit purohita through a hypothetical Middle Persian intermediate.[17]

The name of Josaphat's father, King Abenner, derives from the Greek name Abenner (Ἀβεννήρ), although another Greek version of the legend gives this name as Avenir (Ἄβενιρ). These Greek names were adapted from the Georgian Abeneser (აბენესერ; later shortened to აბენეს, Abenes), which was itself derived from the Arabic version of the legend where he is named King Junaysar (جُنَيسَر). According to I.V. Abuladze, during borrowing from Arabic to Georgian, misplaced i‘jām resulted in the misreading of Junaysar as Habeneser, after which the initial H- was omitted.[18][19] The origin of the Arabic name is unclear.


In the Middle Ages the two were identified as Christian saints, although they were never formally canonized.

Feast daysEdit

Barlaam and Josaphat were included in earlier editions of the Roman Martyrology with a joint feast day on 27 November,[12][20][21] however, they were not included in the Roman Missal.

Barlaam and Josaphat were entered into the Greek Orthodox liturgical calendar on 26 August Julian (8 September Gregorian),[12][22][23] and into liturgical calendar of the Slavic tradition of the Eastern Orthodox Church, on 19 November Julian (2 December Gregorian).[24][25]


A page from the 1896 edition by Joseph Jacobs at the University of Toronto (Click on image to read the book)

There are a large number of different books in various languages, all dealing with the lives of Saints Barlaam and Josaphat in India. In this hagiographic tradition, the life and teachings of Josaphat have many parallels with those of the Buddha. "But not till the mid-nineteenth century was it recognised that, in Josaphat, the Buddha had been venerated as a Christian saint for about a thousand years."[26] This was ascertained through the researches of Edouard de Laboulaye and Felix Liebrecht in 1859-1860. The authorship of the work is disputed. The origins of the story may be a Central Asian manuscript written in the Manichaean tradition. This book was translated into Georgian and Arabic.

Greek manuscriptsEdit

The best-known version in Europe comes from a separate, but not wholly independent, source, written in Greek, and, although anonymous, attributed to a monk named John. It was only considerably later that the tradition arose that this was John of Damascus, but most scholars no longer accept this attribution. Instead much evidence points to Euthymius of Athos, a Georgian who died in 1028.[27]

The modern edition of the Greek text, from the 160 surviving variant manuscripts (2006), with introduction (German, 2009) is published as Volume 6 of the works of John the Damascene by the monks of the Abbey of Scheyern, edited by Robert Volk. It was included in the edition due to the traditional ascription, but marked "spuria" as the translator is the Georgian monk Euthymius the Hagiorite (ca. 955–1028) at Mount Athos and not John the Damascene of the monastery of Saint Sabas in the Judaean Desert. The 2009 introduction includes an overview.[28]

English manuscriptsEdit

Among the manuscripts in English, two of the most important are the British Library MS Egerton 876 (the basis for Ikegami's book) and MS Peterhouse 257 (the basis for Hirsh's book) at the University of Cambridge. The book contains a tale similar to The Three Caskets found in the Gesta Romanorum and later in Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice.[27]



  • E. RehatsekThe Book of the King's Son and the Ascetic – English translation (1888) based on the Halle Arabic manuscript
  • Gimaret – Le livre de Bilawhar et Budasaf – French translation of Bombay Arabic manuscript



First page of the Barlam and Josephat manuscript at the Biblioteca Nacional de España, 14th or 15th century
  • Robert Volk, Die Schriften des Johannes von Damaskos VI/1: Historia animae utilis de Barlaam et Ioasaph (spuria). Patristische Texte und Studien Bd. 61. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 2009. Pp. xlii, 596. ISBN 978-3-11-019462-3.
  • Robert Volk, Die Schriften des Johannes von Damaskos VI/2: Historia animae utilis de Barlaam et Ioasaph (spuria). Text und zehn Appendices. Patristische Texte und Studien Bd. 60. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 2006. Pp. xiv, 512. ISBN 978-3-11-018134-0.
  • Boissonade – older edition of the Greek
  • G.R. Woodward and H. Mattingly – older English translation of the Greek Online Harvard University Press, Cambridge MA, 1914
  • S. Ioannis Damasceni Historia, de vitis et rebvs gestis SS. Barlaam Eremitae, & Iosaphat Indiæ regis. Iacobo Billio Prunæo, S. Michaëlis in eremo Cœnobiarcha interprete. Coloniae, In Officina Birckmannica, sumptibus Arnoldi Mylij. Anno M. D. XCIII. – Modern Latin translation of the Greek.
  • Vitæ et res gestæ SS. Barlaam eremitæ, et Iosaphat Indiæ regis. S. Io. Damasceno avctores, Iac. Billio Prunæo interprete. Antverpiæ, Sumptibus Viduæ & hæredum Ioannis Belleri. 1602. – Modern Latin translation of the Greek.
  • S. Ioannis Damasceni Historia, de vitis et rebvs gestis SS. Barlaam Eremitæ, & Iosaphat Indiæ regis. Iacobo Billio Prvnæo, S. Michaëlis in eremo Cœnobiarcha, interprete. Nune denuò accuratissimè à P. Societate Iesv revisa & correcta. Coloniæ Agrippinæ, Apud Iodocvm Kalcoven, M. DC. XLIII. – Modern Latin translation of the Greek.


  • Codex VIII B10, Naples
  • Reading Medieval Latin with the Legend of Barlaam and Josaphat, ed. by Donka D. Marcus (2018) (an edition of Jacobus de Voragine's shortened, Latin version)


  • Baralâm and Yĕwâsĕf. Budge, E.A. Wallis. Baralam and Yewasef : the Ethiopic version of a Christianized recension of the Buddhist legend of the Buddha and the Bodhisattva. Published: London; New York: Kegan Paul; Biggleswade, UK: Distributed by Extenza-Turpin Distribution; New York: Distributed by Columbia University Press, 2004.

Old FrenchEdit

  • Jean Sonet, Le roman de Barlaam et Josaphat (Namur, 1949–52) after Tours MS949
  • Leonard Mills, after Vatican MS660
  • Zotenberg and Meyer, after Gui de Cambrai MS1153


  • Gerhard Moldenhauer Vida de Barlan MS174


  • Ferdinand Heuckenkamp, version in langue d'Oc
  • Jeanroy, Provençal version, after Heuckenkamp
  • Nelli, Troubadours, after Heuckenkamp
  • Occitan, BN1049


  • G.B. Bottari, edition of various old Italian MS.
  • Georg Maas, old Italian MS3383


  • Hilário da Lourinhã. Vida do honorado Infante Josaphate, filho del Rey Avenir, versão de frei Hilário da Lourinhã: e a identificação, por Diogo do Couto (1542–1616), de Josaphate com o Buda. Introduction and notes by Margarida Corrêa de Lacerda. Lisboa: Junta de Investigações do Ultramar, 1963.



Three Croatian versions exist, all translations from Italian.[29] The older Shtokavian untitled version originated in the Republic of Ragusa and was transcribed to a codex from an earlier source in the 17th century, while the younger Chakavian translations, one manuscript and one printed, originated in the beginning of the 18th century.[29] The book was published by Petar Maçukat in Venice in 1708 and titled Xivot S[veto]ga Giosafata obrachien od Barlaama and is currently held in the National and University Library in Zagreb.[29] Both manuscripts were published in 1913 by Czech slavist Josef Karásek and Croatian philologist Franjo Fancev and reprinted in 1996.[29] The Chakavian translations had a common source while the older Shtokavian one used an earlier Italian version as well as the Golden Legend.[29]

  • Petar Maçukat (translator). Xivot S[veto]ga Giosafata obrachien od Barlaama s yednim verscem nadostavglien radi xena bitti osudyen. Venice: Published by Domenico Lovisa, 1708.
  • Josip Karásek and Franjo Fancev (editors). Dubrovačke legende. Prague: Published for Hohen Unterrichtsministeriums in Wien and the Hlávka family fond by Edvard Leschinger, 1913.
  • Branimir Donat (editor). Dubrovačke legende. Zagreb: Published for Zorka Zane by Dora Krupićeva, 1996 (Reprint). ISBN 953-96680-1-8
  • Vesna Badurina Stipčević (editor). Hrvatska srednjovjekovna proza. Zagreb: Published for Igor Zidić by Matica hrvatska, 2013. ISBN 978-953-150-319-8


  • Translation from the Golden Legend in the Kazincy-codex between 1526 and 1541. [1]


  • Hirsh, John C. (editor). Barlam and Iosaphat: a Middle English life of Buddha. Edited from MS Peterhouse 257. London; New York: Published for the Early English Text Society by the Oxford University Press, 1986. ISBN 0-19-722292-7
  • Ikegami, Keiko. Barlaam and Josaphat : a transcription of MS Egerton 876 with notes, glossary, and comparative study of the Middle English and Japanese versions, New York: AMS Press, 1999. ISBN 0-404-64161-X
  • John Damascene, Barlaam and Ioasaph (Loeb Classical Library). David M. Lang (introduction), G. R. Woodward (translator), Harold Mattingly (translator)· Publisher: Loeb Classical Library, W. Heinemann; 1967, 1914. ISBN 0-674-99038-2
  • MacDonald, K.S. (editor). The story of Barlaam and Joasaph : Buddhism & Christianity. With philological introduction and notes to the Vernon, Harleian and Bodleian versions, by John Morrison. Calcutta: Thacker, Spink, 1895.

Old NorseEdit

Barlaams saga ok Jósafats is an Old Norse (specifically Old Norwegian) rendering of the story of Barlaam and Josaphat.[30][31] This Old Norwegian version is based on a Latin translation from the 12th century; the saga of Guðmundur Arason records that it was translated by King Haakon III Sverresson (died 1204).[30] There are several other Old Norse versions of the same story, translated independently from different sources. There are two Old Swedish versions, the older of which draws on the Golden Legend, while the younger uses the Speculum historiale as its main source.[30] The early sixteenth-century Icelandic legendary Reykjahólarbók includes a version translated from Low German.[32]: 170 



  • Avraham ben Shmuel ha-Levi Ibn Hasdai, Ben hammelekh vehannazir (13th century)
  • Habermann, Avraham Meir (ed.), Avraham ben Hasdai, Ben hammelekh vehannazir, Jerusalem: Mahberot lesifrut – Mossad haRav Kook 1950 (in Hebrew).
  • Abraham ben Shemuel Halevi ibn Hasdai, Ben hamelekh vehanazir, Ed. by Ayelet Oettinger, Universitat Tel Aviv, Tel Aviv 2011 (in Hebrew).

See alsoEdit

Notes and referencesEdit

  1. ^ Levine, Nathan H. "Barlaam and Josaphat". Encyclopedia of Buddhism Online. Brill. doi:10.1163/2467-9666_enbo_COM_2008. Retrieved 27 April 2022.
  2. ^ a b The Golden Legend: The Story of Barlaam and Josaphat Archived 16 December 2006 at the Wayback Machine
  3. ^ a b Herbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "Barlaam and Josaphat" . Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.
  4. ^ Wilson, Joseph (2009). "The Life of the Saint and the Animal: Asian Religious Influence in the Medieval Christian West". The Journal for the Study of Religion, Nature and Culture. 3 (2): 169–194. doi:10.1558/jsrnc.v3i2.169. Retrieved 30 July 2020.
  5. ^ "St. Euthymius of Athos the translator", Orthodox Church in America
  6. ^ William Cantwell Smith, "Towards a World Theology" (1981)
  7. ^ F.C. Conybeare, "The Barlaam and Josaphat Legend in the Ancient Georgian and Armenian Literatures" (Gorgias Press)
  8. ^ Sangharakshita, "From Genesis to the Diamond Sutra – A Western Buddhist's Encounters with Christianity" (Windhorse Publications, 2005), p.165
  9. ^ Polo, Marco (1958). The travels of Marco Polo. Penguin classics. Translated by Latham, R. E. Harmondsworth: Penguin. p. 257. ISBN 978-0-14-044057-7.
  10. ^ Die Blüte der heiligen Dichtkunst im deutschen Mittelalter ist vielleicht »Barlaam und Josaphat«... See Heinrich Heine, Die romantische Schule (Erstes Buch) at (in German).
  11. ^ Cañizares Ferriz, Patricia (1 January 2000). Translated by De Arce Solorzeno, Juan. "La Historia de los dos soldados de Cristo, Barlaan y Josafat (Madrid 1608)" [Story of the two soldiers of Christ, Barlaan and Josafat] (PDF). Cuadernos de Filología Clásica. Estudios Latinos (in Spanish). 19: 260. ISSN 1988-2343. Retrieved 21 February 2021. y que ya en el s. XVI se convirtiera en un arma defensora de la validez de la vida monástica y del libre albedrío frente a la doctrina luterana. [and that, already in the 16th century, it would become a weapon defending the validity of monastic life and free will against Lutheran doctrine.]
  12. ^ a b c Macdonnel, Arthur Anthony (1900). "  Sanskrit Literature and the West.". A History of Sanskrit Literature. New York: D. Appleton and Co. p. 420.
  13. ^ Trainor, Kevin, ed. (2001). Buddhism. Duncan Baird Publishers. p. 24.
  14. ^ Choisnel, Emmanuel (2004). Les Parthes et la Route de la soie (in French). p. 202. Le nom de Josaphat dérive, tout comme son associé Barlaam dans la légende, du mot Bodhisattva. Le terme Bodhisattva passa d'abord en pehlevi, puis en arabe, où il devint Budasaf. Étant donné qu'en arabe le "b" et le "y" ne different que ...
  15. ^ D.M. Lang, The Life of the Blessed Iodasaph: A New Oriental Christian Version of the Barlaam and Ioasaph Romance (Jerusalem, Greek Patriarchal Library: Georgian MS 140), BSOAS 20.1/3 (1957):
  16. ^ Forster, Regula (24 October 2013). "Buddha in Disguise: Problems in the Transmission of »Barlaam and Josaphat«". Acteurs des transferts culturels en Méditerranée médiévale (in French). Oldenbourg Wissenschaftsverlag. doi:10.1524/9783486989342.180. ISBN 978-3-486-98934-2.
  17. ^ Degener, Almuth (2014). "Barlaam the Priest". Zeitschrift der Deutschen Morgenländischen Gesellschaft. 164 (2): 527–530. ISSN 0341-0137. JSTOR 10.13173/zeitdeutmorggese.164.2.0527.
  18. ^ Lopez, Donald S., Jr. (2014). In search of the Christian Buddha : how an Asian sage became a medieval saint. New York. ISBN 9780393089158.
  19. ^ Taniguchi, Isamu (1985). "Story of Barlaam and Josaphat as Crucible of Intercultural Communication". Journal of Human Sciences. St. Andrew's University. 21 (2): 45–57.
  20. ^ Martyrologium Romanum 27 Novembris Apud Indos, Persis finitimos, sanctorum Barlaam et Josaphat, quorum actus mirandos sanctus Joannes Damascenus conscripsit.
  21. ^ Emmanuel Choisnel Les Parthes et la Route de la soie 2004 – Page 202 "Dans l'Église grecque orthodoxe, Saint Josaphat a été fêté le 26 août et, dans l'Église romaine, le 27 novembre a été la ... D. M. Lang, auteur du chapitre « Iran, Armenia and Georgia » dans la Cambridge History of Iran, estime pour sa part ..."
  22. ^ Great Synaxaristes (in Greek): Ὁ Ὅσιος Ἰωάσαφ γιὸς τοῦ βασιλιὰ τῆς Ἰνδίας Ἄβενιρ. 26 Αυγούστου. ΜΕΓΑΣ ΣΥΝΑΞΑΡΙΣΤΗΣ.
  23. ^ "Αιώνια Ορθόδοξο ημερολόγιο". Αιώνια Ορθόδοξο ημερολόγιο (in Greek).
  24. ^ November 19/December 2 Archived 1 March 2014 at the Wayback Machine. Orthodox Calendar (
  25. ^ Venerable Joasaph the Prince of India. OCA – Feasts and Saints.
  26. ^ Barlaam and Ioasaph, John Damascene, Loeb Classical Library 34, Introduction by David M. Lang
  27. ^ a b Barlaam and Ioasaph, John Damascene, Loeb Classical Library 34, at LOEB CLASSICAL LIBRARY
  28. ^ Pieter W. van der Horst, Utrecht – Review of 2006/2009 Robert Volk edition
  29. ^ a b c d e Karásek, Josip (1996). Dubrovačke legende. Zagreb: Dora Krupićeva. pp. 180–197. ISBN 953-96680-1-8.
  30. ^ a b c Rindal, Magnus (1993). "Barlaams ok Josaphats saga". In Pulsiano, Phillip; Wolf, Kirsten (eds.). Medieval Scandinavia: An encyclopedia. New York: Garland. p. 36. ISBN 0824047877.
  31. ^ Wolf, Kirsten (2013). The legends of the saints in Old Norse-Icelandic prose. Toronto, Buffalo, London: University of Toronto Press. pp. 46–51. ISBN 9781442646216.
  32. ^ Phelpstead, Carl (2022). "Kringla Heimsins: Old Norse Sagas, World Literature and the Global Turn in Medieval Studies". Saga-book. 46: 155–78.

External linksEdit