The True Meaning of Jn 9, 3-4
The punctuation does not need to be corrected as proposed5. We retain
the comma (not colon) after Î±á½Ï„Î¿á¿¦, and the full point after Î±á½Ï„á¿·.
3. Reincarnation or Metasomatosis
Traces exist of a belief amongst contemporaries of Jesus that persons
could be reborn as other identifiable people (Mt 14,2; 16,14; Mk 6,14-16;
8,27; Lk 9,7-8.19). We need not attribute to Jews the doctrine that at death
souls migrate to other bodies, though the replenishing and expending of
the treasury of souls is a Jewish idea. However, Greeks were familiar with
the idea since Pythagoras (it appears first in Sicily). It was and remains
popular throughout the world6. Therefore, in such cultures to suffer a
grave malady suggests sins in a previous life. One culture in which the
belief in reincar-nation flourished and flourishes was the Buddhist which
adopted and deve-loped early Indian notions of pÅ«rva-janma (â€œprevious
birthâ€): in a previous life one has misconducted oneself, therefore one will
be disadvantaged in this. A Buddhist would guess that our Man blinded
others when he was in a previous body7. At MishnÄh, á¾¿AvÃ´t II.6(7) a skull
is floating and a rabbi says he must have drowned others in his time - an
Buddhists were clear that sinners after death were reborn not as gods,
but as people, ghosts, animals, or hell-dwellers. Jesus in our passsage was
not prepared to deny absolutely that sin figured in that scenario on the
part of the parents or the man himself before his (present) birth: the
accent must be placed on the miracle and its symbolic meaning.
4. The Lotus SÅ«tra, a MahÄyÄna â€œGospelâ€
Our solution is recommended by ch.5 f the Lotus SÅ«tra (Saddharma-
pundarÄ«ka)8. Part II of that chapter is devoted to the healing of a man
J.C. Poirier, â€œ â€˜Day and Nightâ€™ and the punctuation of John 9,3â€, NTS 42/2 (1996)
G. Obeyesekere, Imagining Karma (Berkley 2002), reviewed by J.D.M. Derrett at
JRAS, 3rd. ser., 13/2 (2003) 276-7.
Obeyesekere, Imagining Karma, 316. I draw attention to the Buddhaâ€™s identification of
a Blemmy discussed at J.D.M. Derrett, Numen 49 (2002) 460-74.
The Sanskrit text is edited (provisionally) by H. Kern and B. Nanjio, Saddharma
punÌ£dÍ…arÄ«ka (St. Petersburg, 1908-1912). It is translated by H. Kern, Saddharma-PunnÌ£dÍ…arÄ«ka
or the Lotus of the True Law (Oxford 1884) (SBE 21). I use the reprint, New York, 1963.
Kern is said to be â€œdatedâ€: for our purposes he is quite adequate. On the Lotus SÅ«tra itself
see H. Nakamura, Indian Buddhism. A Survey with Bibliographical Notes (Delhi, 1989)