Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Jesus Sutras

Martin Palmer’s The Jesus Sutras: Rediscovering the Lost Scrolls of Taoist Christianity is a rousing work; Palmer is a cheerleader for the type of Taoist Christianity that he purports are expressed in the so- called Jesus Sutras, books written by Chinese Christians from the fifth century on.   

Palmer is very sure of his results, and is comfortable placing labels on documents.  He confidently calls some works liturgical, claiming they were used for Church services, with no outside evidence.  Even many of the Jesus Sutras themselves are of suspect provenance.  Most are believed to have been discovered in a cave in north-west China, but very many of the works translated here were purchased in antique shops in China and are now in private collections, mostly in Japan.

Although we cannot be confident about the conclusions Palmer reaches (he may well be overstepping the evidence in most cases; even the term Taoist Christians is difficult to support.  What does it mean?  Did the Christians consider themselves Taoist Christians?  Is it Palmer’s conclusion based on the content of their books?) his book offer a very clever view of how Christianity meshed with Chinese beliefs and customs.  As such, it offer an unusual and thought provoking perspective.

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