Emile Burnouf

Emile Burnouf

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Émile-Louis Burnouf was a leading nineteenth-century Orientalist
Oriental studies
Oriental studies is the academic field of study that embraces Near Eastern and Far Eastern societies and cultures, languages, peoples, history and archaeology; in recent years the subject has often been turned into the newer terms of Asian studies and Middle Eastern studies...

 and racialist whose ideas influenced the development of theosophy
Theosophy, in its modern presentation, is a spiritual philosophy developed since the late 19th century. Its major themes were originally described mainly by Helena Blavatsky , co-founder of the Theosophical Society...

 and Aryanism
Aryan race
The Aryan race is a concept historically influential in Western culture in the period of the late 19th century and early 20th century. It derives from the idea that the original speakers of the Indo-European languages and their descendants up to the present day constitute a distinctive race or...

. He was a professor at the faculté de lettres at Nancy University
Nancy-Université federates the three principal institutes of higher education of Nancy, in Lorraine, France:* Henri Poincaré University : natural sciences, wrapping several faculties and engineering schools...

, then principal of the French School at Athens from 1867 to 1875. He was also the author of a Sanskrit-French dictionary.


Émile was the nephew of Eugène Burnouf
Eugène Burnouf
Eugène Burnouf was an eminent French scholar and orientalist who made significant contributions to the deciphering of Old Persian cuneiform....

, the founder of Buddhist studies in the West
Western world
The Western world, also known as the West and the Occident , is a term referring to the countries of Western Europe , the countries of the Americas, as well all countries of Northern and Central Europe, Australia and New Zealand...

. Following in his footsteps, Émile sought to connect Buddhist and Hindu
Hindu refers to an identity associated with the philosophical, religious and cultural systems that are indigenous to the Indian subcontinent. As used in the Constitution of India, the word "Hindu" is also attributed to all persons professing any Indian religion...

 thought to Western European classical culture. In so doing, he claimed to have rediscovered the early Aryan
Aryan is an English language loanword derived from Sanskrit ārya and denoting variously*In scholarly usage:**Indo-Iranian languages *in dated usage:**the Indo-European languages more generally and their speakers...


Burnouf believed that only Aryan and Semitic
In linguistics and ethnology, Semitic was first used to refer to a language family of largely Middle Eastern origin, now called the Semitic languages...

 peoples were truly religious in temperament.

Science has proved that the original tendency of the Aryan peoples is pantheism, while monotheism proper is the constant doctrine of Semitic populations. These are surely the two great beds in which flow the sacred stream of humanity. But the facts show is, in the West, peoples of Aryan origin in some sort Semiticised in Christianity. The whole of Europe is at once Aryan and Christian; that is to say pantheistic by its origin and natural dispositions, but accustomed to admit the dogma of creation from a Semitic influence.

Burnouf's work takes for granted a racial hierarchy
Racialism is an emphasis on race or racial considerations. Currently, racialism entails a belief in the existence and significance of racial categories, but not necessarily that any absolute hierarchy between the races has been demonstrated by a rigorous and comprehensive scientific process...

 that places Aryans at the top as a master race
Master race
Master race was a phrase and concept originating in the slave-holding Southern US. The later phrase Herrenvolk , interpreted as 'master race', was a concept in Nazi ideology in which the Nordic peoples, one of the branches of what in the late-19th and early-20th century was called the Aryan race,...

. His writings are also full of prejudicial and often deeply antisemitic statements. He believed that "real Semites" have smaller brains than Aryans:
A real Semite has smooth hair with curly ends, a strongly hooked nose, fleshy, projecting lips, massive extremities, thin calves and flat feet…His growth is very rapid, and at fifteen or sixteen it is over. At that age the divisions of the skull which contain the organs of intelligence are already joined, and that in some cases even perfectly welded together. From that period the growth of the brain is arrested. In the Aryan races this phenomenon, or anything like it, never occurs, at any time of life, certainly not with people of normal development. The internal organ is permitted to continue its evolution and transformations up until the very last day of life by means of the never-changing flexibility of the skull bone.

Burnouf believed that the Hebrew
Hebrews is an ethnonym used in the Hebrew Bible...

 peoples were divided into two races, worshippers of Elohim
Elohim is a grammatically singular or plural noun for "god" or "gods" in both modern and ancient Hebrew language. When used with singular verbs and adjectives elohim is usually singular, "god" or especially, the God. When used with plural verbs and adjectives elohim is usually plural, "gods" or...

 and worshippers of Yahweh
Yahweh is the name of God in the Bible, the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Jews and Christians.The word Yahweh is a modern scholarly convention for the Hebrew , transcribed into Roman letters as YHWH and known as the Tetragrammaton, for which the original pronunciation is unknown...

. The former were Semites, but the latter were "probably" Aryans - "their headquarters were taken up north of Jerusalem, in Galilee
Galilee , is a large region in northern Israel which overlaps with much of the administrative North District of the country. Traditionally divided into Upper Galilee , Lower Galilee , and Western Galilee , extending from Dan to the north, at the base of Mount Hermon, along Mount Lebanon to the...

. The people of that country again form a striking contrast to those of the south; they resemble Poles". The Galileans were in conflict with the more powerful Semitic priestly faction based in Jerusalem. This explains why Jesus was rejected by the Judeans but accepted by Greek speakers.

Burnouf's ideas developed into the Nazi
Nazism, the common short form name of National Socialism was the ideology and practice of the Nazi Party and of Nazi Germany...

 claim that Jesus
Jesus of Nazareth , commonly referred to as Jesus Christ or simply as Jesus or Christ, is the central figure of Christianity...

 was really an Aryan.

Burnouf was consulted by Heinrich Schliemann
Heinrich Schliemann
Heinrich Schliemann was a German businessman and amateur archaeologist, and an advocate of the historical reality of places mentioned in the works of Homer. Schliemann was an archaeological excavator of Troy, along with the Mycenaean sites Mycenae and Tiryns...

 over his discovery of swastika
The swastika is an equilateral cross with its arms bent at right angles, in either right-facing form in counter clock motion or its mirrored left-facing form in clock motion. Earliest archaeological evidence of swastika-shaped ornaments dates back to the Indus Valley Civilization of Ancient...

 motifs in the ruins of Troy
Troy was a city, both factual and legendary, located in northwest Anatolia in what is now Turkey, southeast of the Dardanelles and beside Mount Ida...

. Burnouf claimed that swastika originated as a stylised depiction of a fire-altar
An altar is any structure upon which offerings such as sacrifices are made for religious purposes. Altars are usually found at shrines, and they can be located in temples, churches and other places of worship...

 seen from above, and was thus the essential symbol of the Aryan race. The popularisation of this idea by Schliemann and Burnouf was mainly responsible for the adoption of the swastika in the West as an Aryan symbol. He died aged 86.


  • De Neptuno ejusque cultu, praesertim in Peloponneso, 1850, impr. de J. Delalain, 80 pp. (Il s’agit du texte de la Thèse complémentaire, en Latin, pour le doctorat ès-lettres auprès de la Faculté des lettres de Paris)
  • Méthode pour étudier la langue sanskrite (1859)
  • La Bhagavad-Gîtâ, ou le Chant du Bienheureux, poème indien, Paris, 1861.
  • Essai Sur Le Veda, 1863, Paris: Dezobry, Fd Tandou et Cie
  • Dictionnaire classique sanscrit-français (...) contenant le dêvanâgari, sa transcription européenne, l'interprétation, les racines, Nancy, 1863.
  • Histoire de la littérature grecque, 2 volumes, Ch. Delagrave, Paris, 1869.
  • La Légende athénienne (1872)
  • La Mythologie japonaise, 1875
  • La Ville et l'Acropole d'Athènes aux diverses époques (1877), Maisonneuve
  • Le Catholicisme contemporain (1879)
  • Mémoires sur l'Antiquité, Maisonneuve et Cie, Paris, 1879.
  • La science des religions, 1876, Maisonneuve.
  • La Vie et la pensée (1886)
  • Émile-Louis Burnouf on French Wikisource
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