Did Jesus live in India?


Bhante S. Dhammika of Australia

We usually think of the process of myth-making as something that happened in ancient times and over many centuries. Not so. Myth-making is alive and well and the myths made today spread faster and become more widely accepted than in the past mainly because of modern communications. Take the "Jesus lived in India" myth for example. In 1869 a French lawyer with an interest in the occult named Louis Jacolliot published a book called La Bible dansl'Inde, Vie de IezeusChristna (The Bible in India, or the Life of Iezeus Christna).

The book was translated into English in 1870 but neither the French or English editions attracted much attention beyond a small circle of occultists and cranks. However, in 1894 a Russian journalist, Nicalos Notovitch about whom little is known, published a book called The Unknown Life of Jesus, which was rapidly translated into English and several other languages and attracted a much attention.

In the book, Notovitch claimed that during a journey to Ladakh in 1887 he had broken a leg, been put up at the famous Hemis Monastery and while there the abbot had read out to him an ancient document called Life of Saint Issa, Best of the Sons of Men. It told of Jesus' visit to Kashmir/Ladakh/Tibet, where he studied with Buddhist masters and of his eventual return to Palestine, where he taught, was crucified and died. Some years later a Jewish merchant visiting Kashmir/Ladakh/Tibet met the teachers of Jesus, heard of Jesus and wrote an account of his "unknown years".

Notovitch claimed that the life of Issa was fairly well-known in Kashmir etc. and even that detailed accounts of his life in India were to be found hidden away in the Vatican’s secret archives. In other words, Notovitch’s story had all the ingredients that would make it an irresistible to certain people - the "wisdom of the East", the romance of the Himalayas, an alternative to conventional Christianity, and a good old-fashioned Catholic conspiracy. The book attracted a lot of attention despite being panned by most reviewers.

But, then the big guns were brought to bear on it. Prof. Max Muller, one of the most widely known and respected scholar of his generation gave his verdict on Notovitch’s book. He started by pointing out that despite the claim that the life of Issa was well-known it did not appear in any of the catalogues of the literature of Tibet (and there many of these catalogues, some of them very ancient). He continued by highlighting some of the extraordinary coincidences in the book. "If we understand Mr. Notovitch rightly, this life of Christ was taken down from the mouths of some Jewish merchants who came to India immediately after the Crucifixion."

Muller asked how these Jewish merchants happened, among the uncounted millions of India, to meet "the very people who had known Issa as a casual student of Sanskrit and Pali in India … and still more how those who had known Issa as a simple student in India, saw at once that he was the same person who had been put to death under Pontius Pilate…Two things in their account are impossible, or next to impossible. The first, that the Jews from Palestine, who came to India in about 35 A.D should have met the very people who had known Issa when he was a student at Benares; the second, that this Sutra of Issa, composed in the first century of our era, should not have found a place either in the Kandjur or in the Tandjur" i.e. the Tibetan Scriptures and their commentaries.

As Muller was writing his article about Notovitch’s book he received a letter from an Englishwoman friend who happened to have just visited Hemis Monastery. It was dated Leh, Ladakh, June 29th1894, and read in part: "Yesterday we were at the great Hemis monastery, the largest Buddhist monastery up here, - 800 lamas. Did you hear of a Russian who could not gain admittance to the monastery in any way, but at last broke his leg outside and was taken in? His object was to copy a Buddhist life of Christ which is there. He says he got it and has published it since in French. There is not a single word of truth in the whole story! There has been no Russian here. No one has been taken into the Seminary for the past fifty years with a broken leg!"

In June 1895, Prof. J. Archibald Douglas of Agra wrote a letter to the papers concerning Notovitch. He was at that time a guest in the Himis monastery, enjoying the hospitality of the very abbot who was supposed to have imparted the Unknown Life to Notovitch. Douglas found that no memory of any foreigner with a broken leg lingered at Leh or at Hemis. The abbot of Hemis indignantly repudiated the statements ascribed to him by Notovitch, and said that no traveler with a broken leg had ever been nursed at the monastery. He stated with emphasis that no such work as the Lifeof Issa was known in Tibet, and that the statement that he had imparted such a record to a traveler was an invention. When Notovitch’s book was read to him he exclaimed with indignation: "Lies, lies, lies, nothing but lies!" Further, the abbot had not received from Notovitch the presents Notovitch claimed having given him - a watch, an alarm clock, and a thermometer. In fact, he didn’t even know what a thermometer was.

The Victorians took great note of their scholars and scientists and The Unknown Life of Jesus Christ quickly lost its appeal and was relegated to well-deserved obscurity.

But literary frauds and there are many of them, have an amazing ability to hang on - just think of Lobsang Rampa’s The Third Eye, the Book of Mormon, the Protocol of the Elders of Zion and the Mahatma Letters (these last two perpetrated by Russians incidentally). The Unknown Life of Jesus Christ was to become anything but "unknown" and to take on a life of its own.

In 1908, Levi H. Dowling published The Aquarian Gospel of Jesus the Christ which he had been able to download from the "akasic records" and which included a chapter on Jesus’ life in India. Amongst other things, Dowling claimed that humanity was on the cusp of a new world of peace, love and harmony – this was just six years before the outbreak of World War I. The book only circulated amongst a few Theosophists and other eccentrics. But in 1926 a newspaper in America reported the discovery in a monastery in Tibet of a lost Life of Saint Issa, Best of the Sons of Men (a rehash of Notovitch’sstory), other papers, first in America and later overseas, took up the story and it came into popular consciousness again. This pumped a bit of life into the myth and allowed it to hang on until the 1960s.

With the growth of the New Age movement in that decade the "Jesus lived in India" myth really became firmly established. Since then a small and rather profitable industry has developed around the myth.

There are more than two dozen books dedicated entirely to the subject, many others allude to it as fact and there are literally hundreds of articles about it. There are several pseudo-documentaries about it, too. We even have authentic pictures of Jesus during his Indian sojourn - meditating, backpacking through the Himalayas, and on the cover of Elizabeth Clare prophet’s book staring wistfully at Lamyuru Monastery in Ladakh, founded in the 10thcentury CE, a thousand years after Jesus. Recently, a Jesus thanka, a Tibetan painted scroll, has been "discovered". It was only a matter of time. A quick examination of this thanka, particularly the careless and hasty brush strokes on the outlines and the use of chemical pigments, shows that it was painted by one of those artists from Katmandu who knock out fake thankas for tourists. It probably dates from the late 1990s.

With each new publication more "facts" come to light, more details are "discovered" and more sayings of Jesus emerge so that now the account of his life in India is longer and more well-documented than his life in Palestine. Here are some of the more popular books on the subject. King of Travelers - Jesus Lost Years in India by Edward Martin, The Lost Years of Jesus Revealed by Charles H Potter, Jesus Lived in India by Halgen Kersten, Jesus In India by H. N.G. Ahmed, Jesus of India by Maury Lee, Jesus in India by James Deardorff (by this stage authors are struggling to think of titles that do not contain the words "Jesus", "lived" and "India"), The Mystery of Israel's Ten Lost Tribes and the Legend of Jesus in India by J. M. Benjamin, A Search for the Historical Jesus by Fida Hassnain, Jesus in Heaven on Earth by K. N. Ahmad and Christ in Kashmir by Aziz Kashmiri.

Now one would have to admit that this is rather fascinating. More fascinating still is that there is not an iota, not a shred, not an atom of evidence that Jesus ever left Palestine. Not one inscription, not one fragment of ancient parchment and not one "legend" or "account" that can be traced back before the middle of the 19th Century. There isn’t even a puff of smoke and a few mirrors.

Indeed, the evidence that Jesus even lived in Palestine is scarce enough. Nearly all historians accept that there was a person called in Hebrew Yehoshua (Joshua in English) of Nazareth. Jesus is an Anglicized pronunciation of the Greek attempt to say Joshua. An equivalent of this would be if the English had gone to Thailand in the 17thcentury and had attempted to say the Thai pronunciation for Buddha which is something like Putowar, and we today were calling the Buddha Putohyouare. Curiously, the earliest documents to mention Jesus, the letters of St. Paul, a man who never met Jesus while he was alive and whose letters make up nearly half the New Testament, contain only three quotes from Jesus (I Cor. 11,24,25; II Cor.12,9). The four Gospels date from between 35 and 70 years after the death of Jesus and no scholars consider them to be written by the direct disciples of Jesus or to be eyewitness accounts. That somebody named Jesus lived, taught and attracted attention there is little doubt; that he went to India there is no more evidence than that he went to Newfoundland, Outer Mongolia or Polynesia.

(To be concluded in Midweek Review of Jan. 06)

animated gif
Processing Request
Please Wait...