An Indian friend of mine at work asked me if I had ever heard of a book about Jesus living in India. I hadn’t. He knew of this book and said it sounded historically based so I said I’d be interested in reading it, found a used copy on Amazon (Jesus Lived in India by Holger Kersten; Element Books Ltd.; Dorset, England: 1986) and read it.
Needless to say, I had my doubts about the idea that Jesus lived in India. Before getting the book I did a few internet searches and found that this idea of Jesus being in India was first brought up by a Russian journalist, Nicholai Notovitch in the late 1800’s who claimed he found documents in a Tibetan Buddhist monastery that referred to Jesus’ life in India after the age of 12 where he studied the Vedas, upset the local Brahman priests because he questioned the divinity of the caste system, and then hooked up with some Buddhist priests and mastered the Buddhist Scriptures before returning to Israel to take up his public ministry. Notovitch didn’t actually read the documents himself, he had to have a monk read them to him which he transcribed and later assembled into a historical order. In addition, Islam, especially by Hazrat Ahmad (1835-1908 A.D.) the founder of the Ahmadiyya Movement (www.alislam.org/library/books/jesus-in-india/index.html), purports Jesus to have survived the crucifixion and traveled to the Kashmir region (Srinagar) where he died many years later and where his tomb can be found today. Although, Ahmad discounts Notovitch’s version of Jesus living in India as a young adult. The idea Jesus’ lost teenage and young adult years in India was also propagated in the early 1900’s with the release of the “Aquarian Gospel”, a transcription of The Akashic Records by fellow Ohioan Levi Dowling while in a meditative state, which includes Jesus life in India between the ages of 12 and 30 (the “lost” years). Ironically, the account of Jesus in India based on the Aquarian Gospel and Notovich is being made into a movie directed by Drew Heriot set for release in 2009 (http://movies.ign.com/articles/823/823030p1.html). So maybe this is more relevant than I first suspected. It’s important to note that there is no evidence that the documents Notovitch cites do or ever existed (see Johnson, http://answering-islam.org.uk/Ahmadiyya/notovich.htm).
Kersten essentially melds the two views described above of Christ in India (before and after his public ministry and crucifixion) along with many other linkages between the Kashmir region and Abraham, Moses, and the Lost Tribes of Israel. These are based mainly on local lore written in documents many hundreds if not more than a thousand years after the fact and names of places related to the post-crucifixion names for Christ in the East: “Yuz Asaf” (leader of the healed) and “Isa-Masih” (Jesus the Messiah). Most convincing to Kersten, is the evidence for Christ surviving the crucifixion which comes from “physical” evidence in the form of the “Shroud of Turin” and the supposed tomb of Jesus in Srinagar (note the carved “footprints” on the side of the tomb which were meant to prove the identity of the deceased, much like fingerprints? – p. 208).
Kersten has to sweep away or negate the reams of historical evidence in the New Testament and other sources. He essentially equates much of Christ’s teaching with being influenced by Eastern teaching: “far more than a hundred passages which give a clear indication that their roots go back to the older Buddhist tradition” (p. 74) and “almost everything that has ever been said about Jesus has parallels in ancient Indian legends” (p. 120). He has to ignore Christ’s Jewish and OT basis for his teaching and ministry, including prophetic references. He has to come up with an alternative account of how Christ survived the crucifixion via a drug-induced comatose state. And, he has to discredit Paul’s theology and distance Jesus’ teaching from Paul.
I will discuss these issues and evidence for and against in the next blog installment. Initially I thought this is a rehash of the swoon theory to explain the resurrection of Christ. But, since this is now being made into a movie, perhaps in response to Mel Gibson’s Passion, it will be good to go through and makes for a good Easter topic anyway.