Telugu Lost Years of Jesus
We all love secrets, especially when we are the recipients of a particularly juicy one. And the more significant the subject matter, the more precious the secret. Hidden wisdom is a scarce and treasured commodity that elevates the initiated into rarefied realms. What the masses have lost, the knowers have found. Blessed are the knowers who see through convention to reality--those who solve the mystery of "the lost years of Jesus." Many people entranced by the new spirituality embrace a Jesus unknown to traditional Christians: a world traveler.
The conventional Christian understanding of Jesus places him in Jewish sandals worn only in ancient Palestine. The Christ came to the Jewish people, as promised by the prophets, to mend the lame, feed the poor, raise the dead, proclaim the kingdom, obey the Father, die as a ransom for many, and be raised from the dead as the final demonstration of his unique mission and deity. Before his ascension, Jesus charged his disciples to make disciples of all the nations (Matthew 28:18-20; Acts 1:8), yet his own earthly ministry was limited to his homeland, Palestine.
In the biblical understanding, Jesus need not be a world traveler to be the Savior of the world. Matthew records Jesus' trip to Egypt as an infant, but the significance of this flight from Herod's sword is explained as a fulfillment of the prophecy, "Out of Egypt I called my Son" (Matthew 2:15; see Hosea 11:1), God called Jesus "out of Egypt," not toward Egypt or any other Eastern site.
When Jesus taught in the synagogue in his hometown, many were amazed at his teaching and wondered, "What's this wisdom that's been given him, that he even does miracles! Isn't this the carpenter? Isn't this Mary's son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren't his sisters here with us?" (Mark 6:2,3; cf. Matthew 13:53-58). They were shocked that the Jesus they knew--this hometown boy--would teach with power and work miracles.
Jesus' biblical biography sums up his life between the ages of about 12 to 30 with one sentence in Luke: "And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor" (2:52, NRSV). However, there is no hint that he left Palestine. As a carpenter, he would have no reason to do so. As the Son of Man, he said, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel" (Matthew 15:24). Jesus never showed any desire to explore the world in search of greater teaching; in fact, he confidently affirmed to the Samaritan woman that "salvation is from the Jews" (John 4:22). A reading of the Gospels does not reveal a gaping hole in Jesus' life. No years are "lost"; rather, some years are summarized. Given Jesus' later ministry and his interest in theology displayed as a child, we can well imagine him studying the Scriptures while learning the trade of carpentry from his father. Commenting on the supposed "lost years," biblical scholar Edgar Goodspeed assumes that it was no wonder Jesus could use the Hebrew prophets "with such power in his years, as no one has ever done, before or since."
In the Gospels, the key to Jesus' public ministry is not a sojourn to the East, but his baptism. This is the time when God the Father publicly endorsed and commissioned him and when the Holy Spirit came upon him in power. Jesus' subsequent ministry and teaching was not that of a Hindu guru or Buddhist sage. He preached resurrection, not reincarnation. He instructed his disciples to relate to a personal God, not an impersonal principle. He declared and demonstrated himself uniquely to be God in the flesh, not one of many God-realized masters.
Nevertheless, two passages from the New Testament are sometimes used to justify Jesus as a world traveler. The first is John 21:25: "Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written." This is thought to allow for eastward adventures. However, a parallel passage adds more clarity to this verse.
Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name (John 20:30, 31).
John is overwhelmed with Jesus' miraculous power, but he has selected certain accounts in order to encourage belief in Jesus. His statement that all the books in the world could not contain a complete record of Jesus' deeds is not a general endorsement of anything that might be said about him. In fact, in John's first letter he warns of Antichrists who distort the doctrine of Christ (1 John 4:1-4). Someone might say that all the biographies the world has to offer on Mother Teresa are not sufficient to record the extent of her loving deeds, but this would in no way open the door to a biography claiming that she spent her teenage years as a glamorous fashion model in France! John is referring to those things Jesus did when he was with his disciples in Palestine. Lost years are not in question.
In her book The Jesus Mystery (1984), Janet Bock refers to John 1:31, where John the Baptist says he did not know Jesus, as evidence that Jesus had been away from Palestine for quite some time. Otherwise, John--Jesus' cousin--would have recognized him. Bock fails to note the obvious fact that John was a recluse who "lived in the desert until he appeared publicly to Israel" (Luke 1:80); he may not have known Jesus at all because he had not grown up with him. Or this may mean that John would not have known Jesus was the Messiah if not for the fact that the Holy Spirit had descended on him (John1:29-34). In any case, lost years and world travels are not the issue.
Nevertheless, these silent or "lost" years have mystified and preoccupied many who believe that within these summarized years lies the entire meaning of Jesus.
ENTER NICHOLAS NOTOVITCH
In 1894 a Russian journalist named Nicholas Notovitch published a book in France called The Unknown Life of Jesus Christ, which became quite popular and controversial, going through eight editions in one year. Later in that same year, three English translations appeared, along with Italian and German translations, followed a few years later by Swedish (1896) and Spanish (1909) translations. Notovitch's story was as exotic as his claims were bold. If he was right, historic, institutional Christianity was wrong.
The controversy centered on a supposedly lost Tibetan text called "The Life of Saint Issa: Best of the Sons of Men," which claims that Jesus left Palestine from ages 13 to 29 to travel east. Notovitch made this rather short text the heart of his book. He also added essays explaining how he happened to find the lost text and what he made of its significance.
In 1907, Levi Downing offered a channeled book, The Aquarian Gospel of Jesus the Christ, which echoed many of Notovitch's claims. Several books--such as The Lost Years of Jesus by Elizabeth Clare Prophet (1984), The Jesus Mystery by Janet Bock, and Jesus Lived in India (1986) by Holger Kersten--present the claims of Notovitch, Downing, and others as serious challenges to historic Christianity. With certain variations, they all believe that Jesus was no stranger to the mystic East. He lived there, imbibed the ancient teachings, and returned to Palestine an enlightened master. But it all began with the obscure Russian journalist, Notovitch. Just what did he claim and what was his evidence?
In the preface of The Unknown Life of Jesus Christ, Notovitch reports that after the Turkish War (1877-78) he journeyed to India to study "the peoples who inhabit India and their customs, the grand and mysterious archaeology, and the colossal and majestic nature of their country." After various travels he arrived at Ladakh, Tibet, from where he intended to return to Russia. But while there, he heard from a chief lama of "very ancient memoirs relating to the life of Jesus Christ," contained in certain great monasteries. With renewed vigor, Notovitch decided to hunt down this material instead of returning to Russia. While at Leh, the capital of Ladakh, he visited the Himis monastery, where the chief lama informed him that copies of the manuscripts were housed. Notovitch says that in order not to arouse suspicion, he decided to depart for India.
After his departure, Notovitch says he fortuitously broke his leg, which brought him back to Himis for treatment and, ultimately, for the recovery of the "lost" years of Jesus. He claims that upon his request, the chief lama brought to him "the manuscripts relating to Jesus Christ and, assisted by my interpreter, who translated for me the Thibetan [sic] language, transferred carefully to my note book what the lama read to me." He says that since he did not doubt the authenticity of the chronicle, which was "edited with great exactitude by the Brahminic, and more especially the Buddhistic historians of India and Nepaul [sic]," he sought to publish a translation.
Notovitch claimed to be so sure of the document's authenticity that he essentially threw down the gauntlet to those who favored the New Testament Gospels, saying his discovery was "compiled three or four years after the death of Jesus, from the accounts of eyewitnesses and contemporaries, [and] has much more probability of being in conformity with truth than the accounts of the Gospels," which he held to be written much later.
So runs a sreamlined account of the alleged uncovering of the text. But what does the text say?
THE LIFE OF SAINT ISSA (JESUS)
Notovitch published the text under the title "The Life of Saint Issa: Best of the Sons of Men," within his book The Unknown Life of Jesus Christ. It is divided into 14 chapters with verses within the chapter. It begins with a prologue lamenting "the great crime committed in the land of Israel" (1:1) of murdering "the great and just Issa, in whom was manifest the soul of the universe" (1:2). Issa (Jesus) was incarnated to lead people back to "the one and indivisible Creator whose mercy is infinite" (1:4).
The next verse speaks of "the merchants coming from Israel" who gave the account reported in the text (1:5). A discussion of Israel's bondage in Egypt follows, speaking of Prince Mossa's (Moses') role in securing the liberation of God's people from Pharaoh. Mossa leads Israel back to God, but they soon return to idolatry.
We then hear of Israel's unfaithfulness being punished by God through the Roman oppression. Yet God heard his people's prayers and decided to "re-incarnate in a human form" (4:1). "The eternal Spirit" came in human form so "He might teach man to identify himself with the Divinity and attain to eternal felicity" (4:3).
God spoke through this child, and even as a youth Issa gathered a following by talking of "the only indivisible God" and "exhorting the strayed souls to repent and purify themselves from [their] sins" (4:8). Yet at age 13, just when he expected to marry, Issa left Jerusalem with a train of merchants and "journeyed toward the Sinda [India]" (4:13).
At age 14, Issa "came this side of the Sindh and settled among the Aryas, in the country beloved by God" (5:1). After his fame spread in the northern Sindh, "the devotees of the god Djaine" (5:2) sought him, but he "left the deluded worshippers" (5:3) and went to "Djagguernat, in the country of Orsis" (5:3), where Brahma priests taught him to comprehend the Vedas, to cure physical ills by prayer, to teach the sacred scriptures, to drive out evil desires from man and remake him in the likeness of God (5:4).
During six years here and in "other holy cities" (5:5), Issa lived and loved the lower Hindu classes and sided with them against the oppressing higher classes. He even "denied the divine inspiration of the Vedas and the Puranas" in favor of the universal law of worshiping God alone (5:12-13). Issa denounced all idolatry, and called down the anger of God on those who worship inanimate objects (5:15-26). God is the "cause of the mysterious life of man, into whom He has breathed part of His divine Being" (5:18).
Although the higher classes of priests and warriors took offense at Issa's rejection of their teaching and sought to kill him, he escaped to "the country of the Gautamides, where the great Buddha Sakya-Muni came to the world, among a people who worshiped the only and sublime Brahma" (6:2). In other words, Issa moved from Hinduism to Buddhism, although a Buddhist worshiping Brahma is anomalous to say the least. He then mastered the Pali language and studied the sacred Sutras (Buddhist scriptures) for six years, after which he could "perfectly expound the sacred scrolls" (6:4).
He then left Nepal and the Himalayan mountains and descended to the valley of Radjipoutan. He later moved to the west and everywhere preached "the supreme perfection attainable by man" (6:5). Issa continued to condemn idolatry among "the Pagans" (6:7-16), warning that those who create idols "will be the prey of an eternal fire" (7:10). Many forsook their idols (7:1).
Issa's next stop was Persia, where he excoriated the Zoroastrians for viewing God as both good and evil and for worshiping the sun. This was less than warmly received by the "Magi," who abandoned Issa on a highway outside the city in the middle of the night, hoping he would become breakfast for wild beasts. Yet he escaped.
Issa, then age 29, returned to Israel for three years. There he preached high ethical standards of reverence for God, altruism, and nonresistance in relation to Roman oppression. He was unopposed by the Jewish religious leadership but was feared by Pilate, who worried that he would incite insurrection. Pilate gave Issa over to the Jewish judges, who found no fault in him and washed their hands in a sacred vessel saying, "We are innocent of the blood of this righteous man" (13:25).
Nevertheless, Pilate prevailed, and Issa was crucified. After a full day on the cross, Issa "lost consciousness and his soul disengaged itself from the body, to reunite with God" (14:4). "Thus ended the terrestrial existence of the reflection of the eternal Spirit under the form of a man who had saved hardened sinners and comforted the afflicted" (14:4).
Pilate then ordered that the body be given to relatives, who placed it in a tomb where many came to wail and lament. Three days later, Pilate had Issa's body put in another place, fearing a rebellion among the people (14:6). When some of Issa's followers visited the now-empty tomb, a rumor spread that "the Supreme Judge had sent his angels from heaven, to remove the mortal remains of the saint in whom part of the divine Spirit had lived on earth" (14:7).
This caused Pilate to become angry and to impose the death penalty for proselytizing in Issa's name (14:8). Nevertheless, despite persecution, Issa's disciples left Israel and preached to the heathen to "abandon their gross errors, think of the salvation of their souls and earn the perfect bliss" for the immaterial world of the great Creator (14:10). And they met with success (14:11). So ends "The Life of Saint Issa."
REALITY ACCORDING TO ISSA
The theology of the text is a curious mixture of Judaism, Christianity, Hinduism, and Buddhism. The God of Issa seems to be a personal and moral being who demands worship and hates idolatry (hence Judaism), even threatening unrepentant idolaters with hell! The Christian element is present in that some of Issa's teachings are close to those found in the Gospels, particularly when he says he did not come to disown the laws of Moses but to "reestablish them in the hearts of men" (10:21; cf. Matthew 5:17-20). Yet the appearance of Issa is closer to the pantheistic Hindu idea of an avatar (periodic manifestation of God) than the Christian view of God uniquely incarnate as a man, because Issa is said to "manifest the soul of the universe." Issa seems most favorably disposed toward Buddhism which, unlike the other religions he is exposed to, he does not criticize. He leaves Israel with the express purpose of studying "the laws of the great Buddhas" (14:13). Zoroastrianism and Jainism fare far less well.
Notovitch's narrative and the Issa the text presents are drastically detached from the biblical record at many points, but we will only mention a few decisive dissimilarities.
We read of Issa learning from the Hindus how "to cure physical ills by means of prayers" (5:4), but the text gives us no record of him doing so or of any supernatural touch upon his ministry. Issa, unlike Jesus, is a stranger to the miraculous.
In the story of Issa, the Jewish religious leaders side with Issa against Pilate, begging him to not execute him. This contradicts all four Gospels, which present both the Jewish leadership and Roman rule as equally responsible for his death. The growing tension between Jesus and the Jewish religious establishment, so keenly felt in the Gospels, is absent from the account of Issa.
Although Issa is somehow a revelation of God, he is not an incarnation in the biblical sense. He is said to be a manifestation of "the soul of the universe" (1:2) and "a saint in whom part of the divine Spirit had lived on earth" (14:7). These descriptions are absolutely alien to biblical theology, which declares Jesus to be "the Word made flesh," who Himself created the universe (John 1:1-18).
Issa and the narration repeatedly speak of sin and the need to repent from sin, especially idolatry, yet Issa is silent about any atoning sacrifice being offered for sin. Rather, "the good he must do to his fellow man [is] the sure means of speedy union with the eternal Spirit" (6:6). "He who has recovered his primitive purity shall die with his transgressions forgiven" (6:6). Issa teaches that part of God dwells in each person (5:18; 9:15), and it is intimated that salvation involves identifying oneself with this indwelling part (4:3). Issa is more an ethical teacher and preacher than a Redeemer who atones for our sin through his crucifixion.
The account of Issa's crucifixion occupies only a small fraction of the text, whereas the Gospels emphasize it more than any other aspect of Jesus' life. This betrays the theology: Issa dies a martyr's death, not a Savior's death. His life is more important than his death. His death is the end, not the beginning.
What the Gospels present as the climax of Jesus' ministry and his ultimate vindication--the resurrection, "The Life of Saint Issa" flatly denies. Issa's body was secretly moved by Pilate, after which his followers mistakenly assume his body was supernaturally transported to heaven, when in reality it was rotting in an unmarked grave of Pilate's choosing.
The text provides no reason why Pilate would think that moving the body to another grave would discourage an insurrection, nor is any reason evident. But if Pilate feared a mass Christian movement and knew where Jesus' body was located, it would have only made sense to produce the corpse in order to squash all preaching of the resurrection. History knows nothing of this.
But before looking at the evidence for and against Notovitch's claims, we should note that the theology of Issa itself is at odds with much of the new spirituality. This is especially ironic considering that many often invoke Issa to support their view of Jesus as a mystical guru.
The text seems to speak of God as a personal and moral being, not the impersonal force, principle, or vibration of much of the new spirituality. Issa's God is often angry at humans for their disobedience, particuarly concerning idolatry. Hinduism, which provides much of the spiritual muscle for the new spirituality, takes it on the theological chin several times.
Although Issa speaks of humans as having at least part of the divine spirit in them, he calls people to repent of sin (sin being understood as actions and attitudes that displease a personal God). This is at odds with the human potential aspect of the new spirituality, which stresses our sinlessness and infinite potential. At one point Issa says that miracles cannot be performed by man (11:7), thus putting him at some distance from the paranormal propensity of much New Age thinking.
Further, Issa comes out against divination, saying that "he who has recourse to diviners soils the temple of his heart and shows his lack of faith in his Creator (11:10). This puts the brakes on any number of divining practices, such as Tarot card reading, casting the I Ching, using crystal divination, and psychic readings, which are accepted by many spiritual seekers.
The story of Issa seems unclear on reincarnation. It says that God was in some sense "reincarnated" in Issa, but it also speaks of the Judgment Day as if it were a final judgment. Issa does deny transmigration, saying that God "will never humiliate his child by casting his soul for chastisement into the body of a beast" (6:11). So we can say the text is at least ambiguous on the doctrine of reincarnation.
"The Life of Saint Issa: Best of the Sons of Men" is really a theological hodgepodge. It does not clearly support many core New Age doctrines, despite the fact that books like The Jesus Mystery by Janet Bock claim that Jesus' supposed travels reveal him to be more of an Eastern mystic than the church wants to believe. Janet Bock and other writers tend to supplement the Notovitch book with various spiritual revelations received by people like Edgar Cayce and Levi Downing during trance states. What historical evidence do we have for the objective truth of Jesus as Saint Issa? We turn to this in the next section.