November 27 – James the Persian; Barlaam and Josaphat

James the Persian (d. 421) is also known as James Intercisus, which means “cut into pieces.” If this squigs you out, you have our permission to skip to the next saints.

James came from a devout Christian family, which was a dangerous thing to do (be?) in that spatiotemporal vicinity. Nonetheless, he and his unnamed wife raised their children in faith, piety, and Persia. He was a soldier and courtier to King Izdegerd (Jezdigerd) (Yazdegerd) (isn’t transliteration fun?), but kept his faith a closely-guarded secret. Perhaps too closely guarded, for to prevent discovery, he one day found himself worshipping the pagan gods/idols with the emperor. (Some sources say he apostatized to Zoroastrianism.)

Upon hearing this, his mother and his wife wrote him a letter, imploring him to knock it off. He realized his sin, and began loudly lamenting, wailing, and praying to God in repentance and in Persian. His fellow soldiers heard this and reported him to the boss, who by this time was IzJezYaz’s successor, Bahram V. Despite Bah’s wheedling, cajoling, and 50%-off Amazon discount codes, James held fast to his faith, and was sentenced to death. But not a quick and easy death, oh no. He was to be dismembered piecemeal. First his fingers and toes were excised, one at a time. Then his limbs, in chunks. Before it was over, he lay in 27 pieces, but still alive and praising God. Finally he was beheaded, making it an even 28.

Many Christians fled to the Roman Empire and told their gruesome tale, and when Persian diplomats asked Emperor Theodosius II to send the refugees back so they could finish them off, he instead declared the Roman-Sassenid War. The war ended in a stalemate a year later (c’est la guerre). James is the patron saint of torture victims and lost vocations.

Barlaam and Josaphat (IV cent.) were an Indian hermit and prince, respectively, whose story bears an uncanny resemblance to the life of Siddhartha Gautama, better known as the Buddha. Josaphat (whose name derives from the Greek Ioasaph, which derives from the Georgian Iodasaph, which derives from the Arabic Yudasaf, which derives from the Persian Bodisaf, which derives from the Sanskrit Bodhisattva), the story goes, was the son of King Abenner (or something like that). Prophets prophesied that Abenner’s son would become a Christian, so Abe kept the nipper locked away from the sorrow and grief of this world.

One day Sid—I mean Joe—saw a funeral and a leper (in that order or the other one), and so learned of the sorrows and griefs of this world. Not long after (or before) he was found by an old hermit (Barlaam), learned of the Christian faith, came to believe, changed clothes with the old man, and escaped. (Actually this may have taken several days.) Eventually Abenner himself converted to Christianity, abdicated, and went to live as a hermit. Joe came back and reigned for a while, then followed in dad’s footsteps. (Figuratively; they may have hermitted in different places for all we know). He and Barlaam lived in close proximity, perfecting their lives as Christian hermits.

This story took a circuitous route from India to western Europe (as the nuanced and scholarly (albeit unfootnoted) etymological study above clearly shows). None of my sources will allow that there really was a Christian prince who fits this M.O., but the explicitly Christian sources praise the story for what it teaches us about God and the Christian life and such. As our readers know, your intrepid hagiographer tries not to get involved in these disputes, as they are above his pay grade, which is zero.

The story of Barlaam and Josaphat was wildly popular throughout medieval Christendom, Islamdom, and Judaismdom (and, later, Baha’idom), and was retold in many different languages.