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Chinese Nestorian Documents from the Tang Dynasty


The translation project will comprise all texts ascribed to the so-called Nestorian church in China during the Tang period.

Aims of Project

1. Introductory Remarks

In the past few years the interest in so-called Nestorianism in Tang-China has considerably increased; clear signs for this new interest are the publication of books on the subjet like the relevant passages of the monographs written and published by Samuel Hugh Moffett[1], Ian Gilman and the late Hans-Joachim Klimkeit[2], or — to mention the most recent Chinese monography - Lin Wushu’s "Tang Nestorianism Revisited"[3]. These books already show the problematic state of field[4]: while Moffett and Gilman / Klimkeit are of restricted value because they still refer only to Saeki’s[5] and Moule’s[6] old English translations of the texts, Lin Wushu’s collection of articles reveals how disputed the textual basis for these old translations is.


2. The Material

The translation project will comprise all texts ascribed to the so-called Nestorian church in China during the Tang period. The best known of these texts is certainly the so-called Stele of Xi’an, the Daqin-jingjiao-liuxing-zhongguo-bei 景教流行中國碑, the "Stele of the Transmission of the Brilliant Teaching to the Middle Kingdom", which has been worked on now for centuries and is still used as a main sources for the history of the "Church of the East" — as Jürgen Tubachs[7] comprehensive bibliography aptly documents. The last great result of research has been the publication of Paul Pelliot’s heavily annotated translation of the stele text[8].

Additional Information

The texts of the second group are:

1. Xuting-mishi-suo-jing (yijuan) 序聽迷詩所經, „Sūtra of Hearing the (Preaching) of the Messias"

The following three texts were called Yishen-lun , „Treatise of the One God" 一神論 by Haneda Tōru

2. Yu di’er喻第二, „Similis, Number 2"

3. Yitian-lun diyi一天論第一, „Treatise of the One God"

4. Shizun-bushi-lun disan 世尊布施論第三, „Treatise of the Alms-Giving of the Wolrd-Honored One "

5. Jingjiao-san-weimeng-du-zan 景教三威蒙度讚, „Praise of the Pāramitā of the Three Majestics of the Illustrious Teaching"

6. Zun-jing 尊經, „Sūtra of Veneration"

7. Zhixuan-anle-jing 至玄安樂經, „Sūtra of the Ultimate and Mysterious Happiness"

8. Daqin-jingjiao-xuanyuan-(zhi)ben-jing 大秦景教宣元至本經, „Sūtra of the Origin of Origins of the Illustrious Teaching from Daqin "

9. Daqin-jingjiao-dasheng-tongzhen-guifa-zan 大秦景教大聖通真歸法讚, „The Praise of the Seeking Refuge to the Pervading Truth of the Great Saint of the Illustrious Teaching from Daqin"

Strangely enough the just listed documents have not attracted the attention of scholarly translators in the same way as the stele — though they have attracted the attention of Christian pluralist and inclusivist theologians like M.Palmer, R.Riegert and Th.Moore. We have, indeed, translations of these texts, but unfortunately not on such a solid basis and in the quality as the one usually given by Paul Pelliot. The documents have been completely translated into English by the Japanese Methodist scholar Peter Yoshirō Saeki, „The Nestorian Documents and Relics in China", Tokyo 1939, mainly used in its second edition Tokyo 1951. Two of the documents, no.3 and 4 called "Gloria in excelsis deo" and a part of no.1, have been translated by A.C. Moule in his „Christians in China before the year 1550", Shanghai 1930. The older translations are defective for different reasons; a general tendency is that the translators try to "christianize" the Chinese originals and do not take into account the historical, political and religious setting in which these texts were produced. The weakness resulting from this is that the identification of Christian terms behind a certain Chinese expression is made far too easily and without sound philological reasoning and foundation. The new translations will try to avoid these faults by placing the texts into their historical context through a thoroughfully researched commentary and an introduction discussing the latest research work.

The texts will be published — eventually in the monograph series of Monumenta Serica, Skt.Augustin — in two volumes:

- Die "Strahlende Lehre" — Die Nestorianisch-christlichen Dokumente der Tang-Zeit (Einleitung, Übersetzung und Kommentar), Bd. 1: Die Stele von Xi’an; Bd. 2: Die sogenannten „Dunhuang"-Manuskripte (The „Brilliant Teaching" — The Nestorian-Christian documents of the Tang period (Introduction, Translation and Commentary), Vol.1: The Stele of Xi’an; Vol.2: The so-called Dunhuang manuscripts)


[1] Samuel Hugh Moffett, A History of Christianity in Asia, Volume I: Beginnings to 1500", New York 1998

[2] Ian Gilman and the late Hans-Joachim Klimkeit, Christians in Asia Before 1500", Ann Arbor 1999.

[3] Lin Wushu, Tangdai-jingjiao-zai-yanjiu (Beijing, 2003) 林悟殊,唐代景教再研究

[4] A balanced report is given in Penelope Riboud’s excellent article on the Tang period in Nicolas Standaert, (ed.), Handbook of Christianity in China, Volume One: 635 — 1800, Leiden / Boston / Köln 2001 (Handbuch der Orientalistik IV.15.1), 1 — 43.

[5] Peter Yoshirō Saeki, The Nestorian Documents and Relics in China, 2Tokyo 1951

[6] A. C. Moule, Christians in China before the year 1550, London 1930

[7] Jürgen Tubach „Die nestorianische Kirche in China", in: Nubica et Æthiopica IV / V (Internationales Jahrbuch für Koptische, Meroitisch-Nubische, Äthiopische und verwandte Studien) (Warszawa 1999), 61 — 193

[8] Paul Pelliot, L'inscription nestorienne de Si-Ngan-Fou, Edited with Supplements by Antonino Forte, Rom / Paris 1996 (Italian School of East Asian Studies Epigraphical Series 2 / Collège de France, œuvres posthumes de Paul Pelliot)

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