Jesus in India: The Lost Years

BY: SUN STAFF - 27.12 2021

View from the top of Hemis Monastery

Excerpts from 'The Lost Years of Jesus', by E.C. Prophet.

"I'm sure the Orthodox Church thought they had that book buried a long time ago," Richard Bock told me as he handed over a copy of The Unknown Life of Christ. His interest in the lost years of Jesus began with this travel diary recorded in 1887 by Nicolas Notovitch, a Russian doctor who journeyed extensively throughout Afghanistan, India, and Tibet.

Nicolas Notovitch

Dick Bock took the same tour in 1975 and produced a documentary film on the lost years. It includes impressive testimony by John C. Trevor, director of the Dead Sea Scrolls Project, and a nuclear physicist named Ralph Graeber. But the most convincing evidence comes from a little Buddhist monk who appears halfway through the film.

"Lord Jesus..." The old man shows one particularly shiny tooth as he speaks. His voice is high, like a tiny child.

I remember the impact of seeing a character like that on camera. I looked at his dark face, his saffron robe, and all those grimacing gods with too many heads and arms and legs. And I wondered how such a man could whisper with so much reverence the holy name of Jesus.

"... Lord Jesus was in India during what are known as the lost years of Jesus," he reports.

The Bible records Jesus age twelve in the temple. Then age thirty at the river Jordan. That leaves eighteen years unaccounted for. But in India? It was hard to imagine my carpenter-of-Nazareth Jesus bathing in the Ganges, for instance.

"Lhasa." The monk describes inhospitable territory that is traversed by a solitary road leading to a Tibetan monastery. Here, he says, there are records originally written in the Pali language -- "ancient scrolls," he explains, curling his blunt fingers as if to open the rigid parchment before my eyes.

"Near Srinigar in the Happy Valley of Kashmir we find the legend of an extraordinary saint known to the Buddhists as St. Issa," says the monk. "Events in the life of Issa closely resemble that of Jesus Christ, revealing what are thought to be the lost years of our Lord."

When I began to read Dick's dog-eared copy of The Unknown Life of Christ, I realized that Notovitch had followed nothing more than a childhood hunch that there was something "majestically colossal" about India. His book tells of the startling discovery of the Issa legend-very much by coincidence, no doubt by fate, and most certainly by the hand of God.

Notovitch wandered through the picturesque passes of Bolan, over the Punjab, down into the arid rocks of Ladak, and, "as curiosity led me," beyond the celebrated Vale of Kashmir into that inviolable secrecy of the Himalayas. Land of the Eternal Snows.

During his investigation," Notovitch learned that there existed in the library at Lhasa ancient records of the life of Jesus Christ. In the course of a visit to the great convent Himis, he located a Tibetan translation of the legend and carefully noted in his carnet de voyage over two hundred verses from the curious document known as "The Life of St. Issa."

Hemis Monastery

Leh, Ladak. Altitude 14,500 feet. The great convent Himis is situated in the environs of the town. There Nicolas Notovitch, Nicholas Roerich, and Swami Abhedananda viewed ancient manuscripts documenting the life of Jesus in India and in Tibet.

The legend recorded by Dr. Notovitch appears to be a collection of eyewitness accounts, a book of tales told by indigenous merchants arriving from Palestine where they had happened to be on business during the controversial execution of a man known as the "king of the Jews."

One of the narratives tells of an Israelite by the name of Issa, "blessed by God and the best of all," who was put to death by Pontius Pilate, the governor of Judea. Another detailed account traces the lineage of Issa and closely parallels Matthew's scrupulous chapter-one genealogy of Jesus Christ.

Dr. Notovitch never doubted the authenticity of these chronicles, diligently recorded in the Pali tongue by the Brahmanic and Buddhistic historians of India and Nepal. He determined to publish a translation of the Issa legend in at least one of the European languages and addressed himself enthusiastically to a number of respected ecclesiastics, "begging them to revise my notes" and give him an honest opinion.

Cardinal Rotelli opposed the publication of the legend for the ostensible reason that it would be premature. Meeting in Paris, Rotelli told Notovitch that "the Church suffers already too much from the new wave of atheistical thought." In Rome, Notovitch showed the Himis manuscript to a cardinal who was au mieux with the pope. "What would be the good of publishing this?" said the prelate. "You will make yourself a crowd of enemies. If it be a question of money which interests you..."

The cardinal did not succeed in bribing Dr. Notovitch. But to this day nobody has ever heard of St. Issa.

Players in Spiritual Drama

There was, as Notovitch put it, a "picturesque situation" at the Himis gonpa the day his caravan arrived. "The doors of the convent opened wide, giving access to some twenty persons disguised as animals, birds, devils, and monsters of every kind." It was a religious mystery play. Culture shock for a Russian orthodox.

"My head was in a whirl," Notovitch confessed. "Young men, dressed as warriors, came out from the temple. They wore monstrous green masks. Making an infernal din with their tambourines and bells, they gyrated round the gods seated on the ground…." The prolonged spectacle was rewarded by an invitation from the chief lama for a drink of "tchang" in honor of the festival.

Notovitch seated himself on a bench opposite the venerable lama. "What signification have all these masks, costumes, bells, and dances-?" he asked diplomatically.

The lama outlined for Notovitch a short history of Tibetan Buddhism, ending with a keen indictment of the priest class, so-called Brahmans, who had made the holy doctrine a matter of commerce. "Our first holy prophets, to whom we give the title of Buddhas, established themselves of old in various countries of the globe," he said. "Their preachings aimed before all at the tyranny of the Brahmans..."

Here Notovitch seized an opportunity to broach the subject so near at heart.

(To be continued…)


Excerpts from 'The Lost Years of Jesus' by E.C. Prophet was republished in the Wolf Lodge Journal (1995).