The final years
Detering and music
No account of Dr. Detering’s legacy is complete without mentioning his deep interest in the music of J. S. Bach. Detering considered Bach “the fifth evangelist”–and this was not simply hyperbole. Being a musician myself (who also esteems Bach most highly), Hermann’s devotion to Bach provided another link between him and myself–in addition to our work in early Christian studies and Jesus mythicism. These three links enabled the two of us forge and maintain a working relationship and long-distance friendship, one strong enough to reach across the Atlantic despite the fact that we never actually met.
Until I undertook this recent review of Dr. Detering’s legacy, however, I had no idea of the true extent of Hermann’s devotion to Bach. He catalogued the entire output of the master’s works for voice–including over two hundred cantatas, masses, and motets. The page, dated “Easter 2017,” is still online as of this writing. It includes numerous sub-links (click at left) to all the vocal movements by J. S. Bach and may represent one of the finest references to the master’s vocal music online anywhere, useful even to musical researchers. On his website, Detering describes his musical catalog (dated 29 October, 2017).
Ironically, I rarely engaged Detering in musical discussions and even held the subject at arm’s length. Hermann must have found my reticence most curious! I will now explain: to have broached such a mutually-shared passion would have opened the floodgates to endless though pleasant email discussions. In the final analysis it would have constituted a monumental distraction for me and would have precluded my pressing engagement with early Christianity and Jesus Mythicism. In fact, long before, I had found it absolutely necessary to deliberately push music aside (this was very difficult!) in order to devote my full energies to religious studies.
Detering and links between Buddhism and Christianity
It was with unbridled joy that, in his last years, I witnessed the growth of Hermann’s astonishing interest in Buddhism, particularly in the eastern religion’s historical and theological relationships to Christianity. These relationships have long been my own deepest interests. At the start of our acquaintance I shared with Hermann my own Buddhist and Christian Parallels Compiled from the Earliest Scriptures (freely available online). Then, in 2015, I sent Hermann a draft of my second book, NazarethGate, inviting him to write an endorsement for its cover. I also asked him to carefully read the extensive last chapter which has nothing to do with Nazareth but is devoted to my examination of the Jewish rebel Yeshu ha-Notsri, a forgotten prophet who has long been studiously ignored by mainstream Christianity. Yeshu lived in the early first century BCE, according to surviving and obscure Talmudic sources. In the 75-page chapter I set forth my theories regarding Yeshu: he was a highly placed and well educated Jerusalem Pharisee; he was exiled to Egypt in the pogrom instigated by Alexander Janneus against the Pharisees (mid-80s BCE); he became familiar with Buddhism during a two-decade long exile in Alexandria; Yeshu converted, returned to Palestine, preached a fusion of Buddhism (read: proto-gnosticism) and Judaism; he was arrested by the Sanhedrin, found guilty of apostasy, and finally executed by crucifixion.
While remaining diplomatically neutral on my theories regarding Yeshu ha-Notsri, Detering did pen a positive endorsement for the back cover of NazarethGate. Our views on early Christian history particularly overlapped regarding Buddhist influence on Christianity, a theme that–on a parallel track–was coming to dominate Dr. Detering’s investigations. I was pleased to witness his thinking turning decidedly in an Eastern direction, perhaps owing partly to my communications with him.
The first product of this line of investigation was Detering’s extensive study of Basilides, the second century gnostic whom he suspected was under Buddhist influence. Detering suspected (see first link below) that Basilides was the author of the Odes of Solomon. A further extensive study investigated traces of Indian philosophy in Basilides’ thought (second and third links below).
Published via the Internet in 2017:
– Basilides and the Odes of Solomon (German original here, Academia.edu)
– Spuren indischer Philosophie bei Basilides – 1. Teil
– Spuren indischer Philosophie bei Basilides – 2. Teil
– Detering also blogged on “Buddhism and Christianity,” specifically examining the work of Jan Kozak.
Here may be an appropriate place to also note an undated article entitled Elchasai and the Epistle to the Colossians.
In his final year, 2018, Dr. Detering was quite ill with the cancer that had now metastasized to various parts of his body. During this year he received courses of radiation and chemotherapy, as well as experimental treatments. He also received conflicting assessments from the doctors, some giving more scope for hope than others.
Perhaps sensing that his time was short, Dr. Detering redoubled his efforts and made remarkable and rapid strides in his cutting-edge investigations of ‘Buddhist influence on Christianity.’ Continuing from his work on the Alexandrian writer/teacher Basilides, Hermann boldly proposed that the Therapeutae, an Alexandrian meditative sect dating to the turn of the era, was in fact a vital link between Buddhism and Christianity. As is well known, we possess only one surviving description of the Therapeutae—from Philo Judaeus and dating to the first half of I CE (De Vita Contemplativa). The Therapeutae were formerly assumed to have been a Christian sect, a view first propounded by Eusebius of Cesearea (c. 300 CE) and held until the 19th century. Only chronological imprecision permits this view, however, for we now know that Philo was writing near the turn of the era—when Jesus of Nazareth was still living and teaching. I argue that the dating of Philo’s De Vita Contemplativa, together with the enduring tradition that the Therapeutae were Christians—these together constitute powerful support that ‘Christianity’ existed already in some form at the turn of the era, before the contrived career of Jesus of Nazareth. Now, if Yeshu ha-Notsri were the actual founder of Christianity, then the data fit perfectly.
While not openly endorsing my views on Yeshu, Detering seems to have come to a similar ‘early’ chronology, for only such a chronology would permit his bold thesis that the Therapeutae were a link between Buddhism and Christianity already at the turn of the era. In Hermann’s estimation, the Therapeutae could be seen as either (a) Buddhist contemplatives in the West, subsequently considered as Christian contemplatives; or (b) Christian contemplatives who fell under the influence of Buddhism already at the ‘time of Jesus.’
In addition to the foregoing, Detering carried out a deep analysis of the two religions, Buddhism and Christianity, with regard to one particular theme: ‘crossing over’ to ‘the other side.’ The theme occurs not only in Buddhism but also in Christian scripture, most emphatically so in the Gospel of Mark, where Jesus is repeatedly crossing over ‘to the other side’ (Gk. eis to peran), sometimes with no apparent geographical destination. Indeed, Hermann theorized that Mark was writing metaphorically, and the ‘the other side’ was part and parcel of an originally Gnostic symbolism.
Detering fleshed these views out in an 70-page article that he emailed to me piecemeal in 2018, “The Gnostic Meaning of the Exodus and the Beginning of the Joshua/Jesus Cult.” I immediately recognized the depth and implications of his investigations, as regards (a) Buddhist influence on Christianity, (b) the Therapeutae, (c) an earlier chronology for Christianity, and (d) the central importance of ‘crossing over’ in both religious traditions. Hermann asked me to translate his article into English, and I gladly began to do so. However, I quickly became involved with the content and soon abandoned the translation in favor of a very lengthy commentary in English. My commentary eventually extended to 38 posts and now appears in toto on this website (index here). As my commentary progressed, Dr. Detering invited another scholar, Stuart Waugh, to translate the article into English. That translation is linked here.
As his last significant effort, Dr. Detering republished the foregoing article in German as a book bearing the title (translated): Buddha, Joshua, Jesus, and the Way to the Other Shore (German edition here). The abstract follows:
In a gnostic interpretation, the Exodus motif has strong affinities with Buddhist-Indian conceptions. An investigation of where and when the thought systems of East and West converge — in this case, Hebrew scripture and Jewish tradition on the one hand, Buddhist and Indian spirituality on the other — leads to the Therapeutae, described by Philo of Alexandria in his De Vita Contemplativa. The Therapeutae were, in all probability, Jewish Buddhists/Buddhist Jews. Their central mysterium consisted of a nocturnal celebration of the Exodus, which they regarded as a passing over from the sensual-material realm (= Egypt) to the rational-spiritual realm (= the wilderness/Holy Land). Strongly rooted in Jewish tradition, the Therapeutae venerated Moses above all, while closely related gnostic Christian groups such as the Peratae and Naasenes perpetuated traditions centered on Moses’ successor, Joshua. For these latter groups, Joshua/Jesus was the counterpart of Moses. The old cult of Moses was superseded and surpassed by the new, gnostic-Christian cult of Joshua-Jesus.
For those who read German, a complete list of Dr. Hermann Detering’s books and major publications is on the German Wikipedia page.
Requiescat in pace