Jesus Sutras

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Restoration of Tang dynasty Nestorian image of Jesus Christ which was found in the Library Cave. The original work dated back to 9th century.

The Jesus Sutras are early Chinese language manuscripts blending Taoist, Buddhist, and Christian teachings. They are connected with the 7th-century mission of Alopen, a Church of the East bishop from Sassanian Mesopotamia. These manuscripts have been named sutras (a word associated with Buddhist texts) only recently by Western authors.

The manuscripts date from between 635, the year of Alopen's arrival in China, and around 1000, when the cave at Mogao near Dunhuang in which the documents were discovered was sealed. By 2011, four of the manuscripts were known to be in a private collection in Japan, while one was in Paris. Their language and content reflect varying levels of interaction with Chinese culture, including use of Buddhist and Taoist terminology.

List of sutras[edit]

The following list gives some approximate English titles for the various writings and an indication of the present location of the manuscript where known. Scholars are still debating the best translation for many of the terms. Until a good modern edition appears, P. Y. Saeki remains the most convenient source for the Chinese texts.[citation needed]

Doctrinal manuscripts[edit]

Rubbings of a T‘ang dynasty Nestorian scriptural pillar, the inscription of which bears the Sutra on the Origin of Origins.
  1. Sutra on Almsgiving of the World-Honored One, Part Three (世尊布施論第三; Shìzūn bùshī lùn dì sān).
  2. Sutra on the Oneness of Heaven (一天論第一; Yītiān lùn dì yī).
  3. Sutra of Origins, or Parable, Part Two (喻第二; Yù dì èr). The first three texts in this list appear together in a single manuscript entitled Treatise on the One God, Part Three (一神論巻第三; Yī shén lùn juǎn dì sān); once known as the Tomioka manuscript; now held in Osaka, Japan, by Kyōu Shooku library, Tonkō-Hikyū Collection, manuscript no. 460.
  4. Sutra on the Origin of Origins (大秦景教宣元本經; Dàqín jǐng jiào xuānyuán běn jīng); now held in Osaka, Japan, by Kyōu Shooku library, Tonkō-Hikyū Collection, manuscript no. 431. An inscribed pillar discovered in Luoyang in 2006 supplements the incomplete version from Dunhuang. Kojima manuscript B (大秦景教宣元至本經, Dàqín jǐng jiào xuānyuán zhi běn jīng, last known to be in the Dōshisha University library, Kyoto, in 1963) was at one time thought to be the conclusion of this work; see below ref. to Kazuo Enoki, p.68.
  5. Sutra of Hearing the Messiah (序聽迷詩所經; Xùtīng míshīsuǒ jīng); once known as the Takakusu manuscript; now held in Osaka, Japan, by Kyōu Shooku library, Tonkō-Hikyū Collection, manuscript no. 459.

Liturgical sutras[edit]

The original manuscript of Ta-Chʻin Hymn of Perfection of the Three Majesties and Venerable Books
  1. Da Qin Hymn of Perfection of the Three Majesties (大秦景教三威蒙度讚; Dàqín jǐng jiào sān wēi méng dù zàn); now held in Paris, Bib. Nat., Collection Pelliot chinois, no. 3847.
  2. Let Us Praise or Venerable Books (尊經; Zūn jīng), a list of sacred books followed by a short note; contained in the above manuscript in Paris, Bib. Nat., Collection Pelliot, chinois no. 3847.
  3. The Sutra of Ultimate and Mysterious Happiness (志玄安樂經; Zhìxuán ānlè jīng); now held in Osaka, Japan, by Kyōu Shooku library, Tonkō-Hikyū Collection, manuscript no. 13.
  4. Da Qin Hymn to the Transfiguration of the Great Holy One (大秦景教大聖通真歸法讚; Dàqín jǐng jiào dàshèng tōng zhēn guī fǎ zàn). Kojima manuscript A. This manuscript was stolen in Tianjin, China, in 1945 and its whereabouts are now unknown. This manuscript and Kojima manuscript B are suspected of being modern forgeries; see below ref. to Lin & Rong.

The Xi'an Stele[edit]

The Xi'an Stele was erected in 781 to commemorate the propagation of the Da Qin Luminous Religion ("Da Qin" is the Chinese term for the Roman Empire), and covers the preceding 150 years of Christianity in China.

Martin Palmer recently claimed, on the basis of research conducted by scholars in the 1930s, that the Daqin Pagoda near Lou Guan Tai was part of a Da Qin monastery. Lou Guan Tai was the traditional site of Lao Tze's composition of the Tao Te Ching. Buried during a time of religious persecution in the 9th century, the stele was re-discovered in 1625 and is now on display in nearby Xi'an, the ancient capital of the Tang Dynasty.


Sutra (literally "binding thread", cognate with English "sew", "suture") is a Sanskrit term referring to an aphorism or group of aphorisms. It was originally applied to Hindu philosophy, and later to Buddhist canon scripture. In the case of the Jesus Sutras, the term has been used indirectly by modern, Western authors. In Chinese, all religious and classical books are referred to as jing (經), including indigenous Chinese works, Buddhist scriptures, and other foreign works such as the Bible and the Koran. In the context of Buddhist scriptures, jing is conventionally translated as "sutra". The Jesus Sutras do not carry canonical status but they do comingle Christian philosophy with Buddhist and Taoist thought. A more neutral translation for jing (經) might simply be "book", although "scripture" may convey the entire nuanced meaning better.


  • A.C. Moule, Christianity in China Before the Year 1550, (1930) London.
  • P. Y. Saeki, The Nestorian Documents and Relics in China, (1937) Academy of Oriental Culture, Tokyo: Tokyo Institute, second edition, 1951. Contains the Chinese texts with English translations.
  • Kazuo Enoki, "The Nestorian Christianism in China in mediaeval times according to recent historical and archaeological Researches", in Problemi Attuali de Scienza e di Cultura, 62, Atti del convegno internazionale sul tema : l'Oriente cristiano nella storia della civiltà (Rome: Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei, 1964), 45-81.
  • W. Lin & X. Rong, “Doubts Concerning the Authenticity of Two Nestorian Chinese Documents Unearthed at Dunhuang from the Li’s Collection.” China Archaeology and Art Digest Vol. 1, No. 1 (May 1996), 5-14.
  • Martin Palmer, The Jesus Sutras: Rediscovering the Lost Scrolls of Taoist Christianity (2001), Wellspring/Ballantine, ISBN 0-345-43424-2. Texts translated by Palmer, Eva Wong, and L. Rong Rong.
  • Li Tang, A Study of the History of Nestorian Christianity in China and Its Literature in Chinese: Together With a New English Translation of the Dunhuang Nestorian Documents (2002), Peter Lang Publishing, 2003 paperback: ISBN 0-8204-5970-4. A fresh scholarly translation by a Chinese academic, with historical background and critical linguistic commentary on the texts.
  • Thomas Moore and Ray Riegert (editors) The Lost Sutras of Jesus: Unlocking the Ancient Wisdom of the Xian Monks (2003), Seastone, ISBN 1-56975-360-1. Texts translated by John Babcock.
  • Christoph Baumer, The Church of the East, an Illustrated History of Assyrian Christianity (London: I. B. Tauris, 2006).
  • David Wilmshurst, The Martyred Church: A History of the Church of the East, (2011) London.

See also[edit]

External links[edit]