Because this is a study of traditions rather than a historical investigation, Sasson is able to synthesize various kinds of materials, from biblical and non-biblical, adn from early Pali and Sanskrit Buddhist sources. She notes the striking similarities between the life-patterns of the two leaders. Both were raised as princes and both eventually left their lavish upbringings only to discover something higher. Their mothers play prominent roles in the narratives of their births, while their fathers are often excluded from view. They were both born surrounded by light and embodying miraculous qualities.
But there are also some rather consequential differences, which allow these two colossal figures to maintain their uniqueness and significance. Moses was a man chosen for a particular mission by a higher power, a human being serving as the deity’s tool. By contrast, the Buddha was a man whose mission was self-determined and actualized over time. Moses lived one life; the Buddha lived many. The Buddha became the symbol of human perfection; Moses was cherished by his tradition despite – or possibly because of – his personal failings. And although Moses is often presented as the founder of Israelite religion, the Buddha was simply following the blueprint outlined by the Buddhas before him.
The programme of this study goes further than to compare and contrast the two figures. Sasson argues that the comparative model she adopts can highlight doctrines and priorities of a religion that may otherwise remain hidden. In that way, the birth of Moses and the Buddha may serve as a paradigm for the comparative study of religions.
Vanessa Rebecca Sasson is Professor of Religious Studies, Marionopolis College, Montreal, and Lecturer in Religious Studies, McGill University.
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