Short Review by Jonathan Ciliberto
The Buddha and Dr. Führer: An Archaeological Scandal
by Charles Allen
Buddhist art began with relics: bits of hair and bone purportedly from the Buddha or other figures that gave practitioners something on which to focus, or acted as talismans or objects of veneration. There are myriad things to say about the European explorers, military men, colonial administrators, and scholars who unearthed the antiquities of Egypt, Palestine, India, et al… certainly they were industrious! As much as they uncovered the past, they wrote it. This book is about one particular excavation, in 1898, of a reliquary that was trumpeted as holding the ashes of the historical Buddha himself. The discovery soon became the source of controversy and confusion when a German archaeologist (Dr. Führer), who became associated with the find, was involved a separate archaeological scandal, tainting the 1898 discovery. “Führer wanted,” writes Allen, “to believe that the sacred landscape explored […] in the fifth and seventh centuries still existed in that same idealized form in the last decade of the 19th century. So strongly did he believe this that he sought to make it so.” Allen has written a very detailed book, with quite a bit of background history.