Jesus and the Disciples at Emmaus, by Dagnan-Bouvereret Pascal-Adolphe-Jean [Public Domain Image]
The Unknown Life of Jesus Christ
by Nicolas Notovitch
One of the mysteries of the Bible has always been where Jesus was during his twenties. There is a huge gap in the biography from puberty until about three years before the crucifixion. The simplest inference is that he was working as a carpenter with his father and that nothing remarkable happened to him during this period. This prosaic scenario, Jesus as a salt-of-the-earth working man, is in character with the rest of what we know about him, and there is no good reason to invalidate it.
One rumor that has circulated for years has been that Jesus went to India during this time. There were well-established trade routes, so it would not be impossible. If Alexander the Great got there several centuries earlier, why not Jesus?
This book is the source of that rumor. In the late nineteenth century a Russian, Nicolas Notovitch, published a travelogue of a trip through India, into Kashmir, eventually reaching Ladakh in Tibet. At this point, the book takes a sensational turn. A lama informs him that Jesus is revered as a Boddhisattva, under the name Issa, by a splinter sect of the Tibetan Buddhists. While Notovitch is convalescing from a broken leg, an ancient manuscript read to him about Issa. This tells of Jesus trekking to India to study the Vedas and Buddhism. Jesus stirs up a caste war against the Brahmins and has to leave India. Then Jesus returns home, stopping off briefly in Persia, where he preaches against Zoroastrianism. This account was supposed to have been written shortly after Jesus' death.
Of course, this caused quite a stir. Max Müller sent a letter to the monastery where Notovitch had claimed to have made the discovery, and they disavowed any knowledge of such a manuscript. There are many things that don't add up in the "Life of Saint Issa." First of all, no authentic Hindu or Buddhist text from that period references Jesus or any of the events described in Notovitch. Jesus is described as having studied in the Orissa area, but the ceremonial complexes, particularly the Jagannath temple in Puri, date to the 12th century CE, over a millennium later. Jesus is called Issa in this account, but this is an Islamic name for him which was not used until much later.
This concept, however, has refused to die. Other travelers to Tibet, such as Swami Abhedenada, Nicholas Roerich, and others claimed that they have been told similar stories by monks. Possibly the monks were just catering to what the visitor wanted to hear, a known problem for field ethnologists. The controversial Ahmadiyya Muslims believe that Jesus survived the crucifixion, and then fled to India, where he died of old age. The 'channeled' Aquarian Gospel of Jesus repeats Notovitchs' narrative with much embellishment. The "Jesus in India" story was also incorporated by Elizabeth Clare Prophet.
On the balance, there may be some core truth to this hypothesis which has yet to be uncovered. There are some parallels between the traditional stories of Krishna and Christ (not to mention the similar names). The Hindus were well aware of the Greeks, and the Egyptian Hermetic and Gnostic schools were more than likely influenced by Hinduism. Buddhism and Christianity have more in common than their adherents are usually willing to admit. It may not have happened exactly as in Notovitch claimed, and there may not be an 'Issa Sutra' gathering dust in some remote Tibetan lamasery. However, there are many points of similarity between the first millennium religious movements of the Near East and India which remain to be explored.
--J.B. Hare, 8/30/2006