Alumni Project

Barlaam and Josaphat Tour the World

Online Database

‘As many as are led by the Spirit of God they are sons of God’
From the Introduction of Woodward, G.R. & H. Mattingly (Ed. & Trans.): ‘St. John Damascene: Barlaam and Ioasaph’ (Harvard University Press, Cambridge MA, 1914).

The legend of faith and parental love
With the words above the legend of the two Indian saints Barlaam and Josaphat starts. The legend is passed down in several textual versions, as it is a literary complex that played a powerful role in the formation of the spiritual life of Christendom from the 11th century onwards. It tells the story of the Indian prince Josaphat, whose father imprisoned him after it was predicted that his son would turn to Christianity. The young prince disobeyed his father’s order and met in secret with the Saint Barlaam, who became his mentor. However, although Josaphat converted to the Christian faith, the king in the end accepted his son’s decision. He even handed over his reign to his son. The story became famous as it shows similarities to the tale of Siddhartha Gautama, or Buddha. It was edited in many languages, such as Greek, Arabic, Georgian, Tibetan, Hebrew, and Latin.

Discovering manuscripts of the legend digitally
The possible origins of the legend were explored by Dr. Kirill Dmitriev and Prof. Dr. Bilal Orfali in Ethiopia. In the course of their research, a complete online edition of all available Christian-Arabic manuscripts of the Legend was developed. All manuscripts are digitally available and were translated into English. The online database provides access to these sources with fully searchable and annotated text transcripts in Arabic and English. The user-friendly database provides the visitor with the possibility to choose a manuscript after its dating and localisation. Additional information, such as content, codicology, history, decorations, and references, appears when making the choice. The manuscripts can virtually be flipped through giving the reader an amazing impression of studying the original. A further advantage is the extensive bibliography including translations and critical approaches to the topic. Surely, the database is a long outstanding desideratum that was awaited by scholars around the world. It closes the gap between the inaccessibility of fragile manuscripts and the urgent need for the possibility to conduct comparative studies.

In the framework of related previous projects, Kirill Dmitriev and Bilal Orfali hosted an international workshop inviting leading specialists from different disciplines to discuss the peregrination of the biography of Gautama Buddha in time, space and imagination.

Painting of the two Indian saints and martyrs named Barlaam and Josaphat

Gallica de la Bibliothèque nationale de France

Disciplines Involved
Digital Humanities, Literature Studies, Arabic Studies, Arts, Oriental Studies, History
Cooperation Partners
University of St Andrews, UK
American University of Beirut, Lebanon
New York University Abu Dhabi, UAE
Project Title
“From the Inner Land of the Ethiopians, called the land of Indians…” – The Legend of Barlaam and Josaphat in its Historical Context
Funding Scheme
Alumni Project
Countries Involved
Germany, Lebanon, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom
AGYA Publication
The Legend of Barlaam and Josaphat: Selected Readings