The "lost years" evidence due to Notovitch in 1894 of Jesus being in India during his youth, along with its debunkings, are reexamined and the latter are found not to have been scholarly in any sense. Later evidence fully confirming Notovitch's find is presented. The implications that Jesus taught reincarnation and karma, not resurrection, are summarized and found entirely plausible. The ramifications this has for ecumenism with respect to the Eastern religions cannot be overstated, though for Christianity they remain unacceptable.
It was in 1894 that news first reached the Western world of Buddhist manuscripts existing in Tibet indicating that the "lost years" of Jesus' youth had been spent in India. The alleged discoverer was Nicholas Notovitch, Russian journalist and war correspondent, who journeyed through Kashmir and Ladakh (Little Tibet) and then wrote a book about his findings, including a translation into French of the verses in Tibetan about Isa (or Issa) existing in the library of Himis monastery near Leh.1 The find was swiftly discredited by the noted Orientalist Max Müller and by one other, though whether or not their responses were credible and fair form part of the subject of the present study.2 We shall come to find that Müller's only relevant objections were satisfactorily answered by Notovitch in an extended preface to the English translation of his book in 1895,3 and that his answers were ignored by later expositors who continued to debunk him.
Upon examining the responses to Notovitch's presentation, one unfortunately finds that theological commitment played a dominant role in causing the conclusion they reached to be the only one that the Christian faith could allow -- that Notovitch was either duped by a Buddhist lama or was a deceiver and charlatan.4 Until that time, however, Notovitch had enjoyed a favorable reputation, and his decision to proceed and publish his findings, which was not made hastily, seems to have been based upon positive ecumenical feelings. Since theological commitment ought not to be allowed to play a negative role within either scholasticism or ecumenical efforts, a reexamination of this matter is long overdue, along with some discussion of the ecumenical implications for both Christianity and New Testament scholarship.
The present paper is motivated also by the fact that, unknown to Western scholasticism, a complete and independent verification of Notovitch's findings occurred some thirty years after Notovitch's Asian trek. Indirect verifications have occurred more recently.
The "lost" years refer to the years of Jesus' youth from an age of about 12 until his Palestinian ministry commenced. That these years were spent in India is a rather well known story, as it was debunked, following Müller, by Goodspeed in 1931 and again by Beskow in 1983.5 To review the matter briefly, an unusual circumstance on his travels in 1887 allowed Notovitch the opportunity to gain the attention and confidence of the head lama within the Buddhist monastery at Himis. He had earlier on his Asian travels heard that some verses about Isa existed within that monastery, but he was unable to persuade the lama to show them to him and his translator. Soon after departing, however, his horse stumbled, pitching him to the ground and fracturing his leg. He requested his travel party to take him back to the monastery for aid, and there during a stay of several days and with his leg in a splint he gained the confidence of the chief lama who read the Isa verses, in Tibetan, to him and his translator, who apparently wrote them down in French.6 He was told that their earlier source had been written in Pali.
The verses describe the young Jesus as having traveled to India in order to spend many years studying under the yogic masters there, and they depict in general terms some experiences he had along the way, as well as a Buddhist or Hindu view of the crucifixion after he had returned to the Holy Land. Merchants from Israel, apparently of Indian or Tibetan origin, later returned to India to bring news of the crucifixion to one or more there who had known Jesus during the "lost years."7 After acquiring this evidence, Notovitch painfully made his way back, in a litter carried by his travel party, via Kashmir to Bombay where he could receive treatment for his broken leg.
An impartial assessment of Müller's paper reveals that, aside from a distressing number of points of witty sarcasm and irrelevancy, his treatment contained three potentially valid points. One was just how news of Jesus' crucifixion could have been brought, by Jewish merchants from Israel, to the attention of one or more Brahmans and Buddhists Jesus had known during the "lost" years of his youth, considering how great is the area of India. Notovitch responded to this problem in the extensive preface to his 1895 book by pointing out that the merchants in question had been indigenous to India or Tibet, and not Jewish.8 There are then any number of possible answers to Müller's question, such as the young Jesus having befriended one or more Indians who were traveling with him on the Silk Road from India back to Palestine, and a few years later one or more of them either having informed returning Indian merchants of Jesus' crucifixion and who in India should know about it, or having returned themselves to do so. Müller had assumed without justification that "merchants from Israel" meant Jewish merchants.
Müller's second potentially relevant point was that these writings about Jesus should in his opinion have been listed within a Tibetan or Buddhist catalog known to Western scholars, or within one of their sacred sets of books: the Kandjur or the Tandjur.9 However, Notovitch had learned from the head lama at Himis that there was over an order of magnitude more manuscripts or books just within a monastery at Lhasa than Müller had acknowledged were listed in all the aforementioned sources, so the odds were very slim that the volume or two in question at the Himis monastery would have been listed. Besides, if they had been so listed, the existence of the "lost years" verses would not then have come as any surprise to religious scholars in the West.10 In addition, there is the practical certainty that such verses had long been recognized by knowledgeable lamas as sensitive material not to be divulged to unsympathetic or intolerant Westerners, lest it cause future problems for the monastery in question.
Müller's third potentially relevant point was that he had heard that some missionaries in Tibet had claimed that no one by the name of Notovitch had ever visited the monastery.11 The evidence he presented on this consisted of a letter from an English traveler through Leh expressing this belief while at the same time severely denouncing the lamas. However, another critic to be discussed soon, a Professor J. Archibald Douglas, had to acknowledge evidence that Notovitch had indeed been to Leh at least,12 and in responding to Müller, Notovitch mentioned names of those who could attest to his having traveled there.13 And Notovitch's description of both the exterior and interior of the Himis monastery, like those of his travel experiences themselves, are sufficiently detailed without appearing in any way contrived as to dispel doubts that he had been to the monastery.14 Thus, none of Müller's three main points seem to have been relevant.
In 1895 this Professor Douglas of Government College in Agra, India, wrote of his own trip to Leh and Himis in June for the express purpose of checking up on Notovitch's finds. Unfortunately we know absolutely nothing about Professor Douglas, such as his field of interest or how long he was affiliated with Government College in Agra, other than what scant information his article in the Nineteenth Century journal tells us. He apparently did not write any books, and in his paper he did not mention any colleague or other person to whom he discussed his plans for traveling to Himis or with whom he discussed his findings, except for Müller, to whom he quickly communicated his charges against Notovitch's alleged findings. He reported in an 1896 journal that the same head lama of Himis personally attested to him, through a Ladakhi translater, Shahmwell Joldan, of knowing nothing of any visit there by Notovitch or by any Russian with a broken leg.15 There is an interesing resolution to this contradictory testimony that Müller himself mentioned, though with a different application in mind.
Müller noted that there indeed had been travelers to the East "to whom Brahmans or Buddhists have supplied, for a consideration, the information and even the manuscripts which they were in search of." He felt that Notovitch might have been such a victim of a Buddhist monk who supplied him with an invented story.16 However, it appears more likely that Douglas instead was the unknowing victim of a monk's discretion or subterfuge. After having learned of some potentially dangerous reactions that Notovitch's 1894 book could cause, the head lama of Hemis could either tell the truth and stir up a hornet's nest of trouble for him and his monastery's library, or he could deny to Douglas and his converted-to-Christianity translator, Joldan, any knowledge of Notovitch's visit there. The latter was a much more expedient course of action than for the lama to invent on the spot a collection of 244 verses about Isa to read to Notovitch and his translator. Moreover, the translator Douglas used, Joldan, having been the postmaster of Leh under the British Imperial Post Office, was in a position to cause continuing problems for the Buddhist library at Hemis from the information that Notovitch had exposed, as he (Joldan) had close ties to the Christian Moravian missionaries in Leh.16.1 It must have been psychologically intimidating for the head lama to be quizzed by a professor intent upon attacking a text that was upsetting to Christianity through a Ladakhi translator who had abandoned the Buddhist traditions. Click here to learn more on this from the research of A. J. Trebst. At the same time, any impartial reading of Notovitch's book discloses no good motivation why he, of Russian Orthodox belief, would have invented the verses about Isa, though he was obviously excited at the prospect of being the one to fill in this gap within the Gospels and bring the "Lost Years" information to the attention of the West.17
One of Douglas's questions to the chief lama that suggests it was Douglas, not Notovitch, who had been misled was: "Is the name of Issa held in great respect by the Buddhists?" The lama's reply is said to have been, "They know nothing even of his name; none of the Lamas has ever heard of it, save through missionaries and European sources."18 This stands in strong contrast to what Jawarhar Nehru wrote his daughter, Indira, in a 1932 letter: "All over Central Asia, in Kashmir and Ladakh and Tibet and even farther north, there is still a strong belief that Jesus or Isa travelled about there."19 It stands to reason that the lamas were even more aware of this tradition than was the general population.
According to Douglas's paper in the April 1896 issue of Nineteenth Century, he wrote his paper in early June of 1895 while visiting "for a few days" at Himis Monastery. This is somewhat surprising, in that it is a 12-page writing replete with references to Notovich's book and Max Müller's 1894 paper, which would require several days of steady concentration in a familiar environment to write, I should think. Further, there is an appendage to the paper of a letter by Müller dated Nov. 15, 1895. If so, however, Douglas must have communicated his findings, whether hoaxed or not, to Müller in June, received a reply in November, submitted a revised version of his paper to Nineteenth Century journal in late November of 1895, and have received prompt acceptance followed by speedy publication in the journal's April issue of 1896.
It may be mentioned that the present traditions of Jesus having lived in India during his youth indeed date far back in time. They were known to the tenth-century Muslim historian, Shaikh Al-Said,20 who wrote down some of the Hindu/Buddhist legends of Isa's travels in India.
The traditions are known also in northwestern Afghanistan, centered at Herat, by some thousand devotees of Isa, son of Maryam, who live within several scattered villages. This has been brought out by O. M. Burke, who personally interviewed their spiritual leader, Abba Yahiyya (Father John), while researching Sufism in this area of the globe.21 However, these traditions are not particularly well known outside of their local areas, and there is no indication that Notovitch knew of them before coming upon word of the existence of a manuscript or two at Himis to the effect that Jesus had been there in his travels during his youth.
Sadly, both Goodspeed and Beskow repeated and amplified the ill-founded accusations against Notovitch that Müller and Douglas had made, frequently assuming or implying that he was guilty of fraud, without ever mentioning Notovitch's telling responses to Müller's major questions, and without mentioning the role that Christian theological commitment and Buddhist wisdom likely played in generating Müller's third point and the charges in Douglas's paper.22
One of Goodspeed's points that may be valid in part, however, is that these Isa verses "read more like a journalistic effort to describe what might have happened if Jesus had visited India and Persia in his youth," and that they would not withstand the test of literary and textual criticism.23 This possibility is understandable, in that only after Christianity and the Gospels had made Jesus a celebrated figure in the West would Isa's earlier activities in India likely have been set into writing. By then -- mid-second century at the earliest24 -- the Buddhist or Hindu priest(s) involved would have had to rely on oral tradition nearly a century old, if not older, plus the Gospels as a supplementary aid. Yet, the Isa verses might fare no worse under present-day textual criticism than have the Gospels.25 We should note that neither Hinduism nor Buddhism would seem to have had any substantial motivation for inventing the historical context of these verses.
One cannot say with any certainty when the bulk of the Isa verses, assuming they are historical, was first set into writing. However, the text strangely treats Jesus' arrest as being the full responsibility of the Romans, in contrast to the Gospels' emphasis of chief priests and Pharisees in this role,26 and this may be a clue. It suggests that this portion of the verses, at least, was formed before any of the Gospels became available, since the Indian merchants who would have returned from Jerusalem to India with the news about Isa's crucifixion in the years immediately following the event would likely have known only of the Romans' role in bringing about this end result; they would not have had the inside information of a disciple close to Jesus.27
In Beskow's discussion he analyzes the implied claim of a later Russian -- the painter, Nicholas Roerich -- of having acquired the Isa verses afresh during his Asian travels in 1924- 25, and finds this claim to be insupportable.28 Here my own analysis agrees, as Roerich indeed seems to have exhibited a strong tendency towards plagiarism, as noted by Beskow. Although a statement by Roerich of having come across word that the Isa verses existed within Himis monastery may have been truthful,29 the implication that he received a translation of those verses, which he later presented in his book Himalaya, does not seem to be. It reads too much like a plagiarism of Notovitch's verses, and missing is any description of the efforts that would have been necessary to gain access to the Isa verses.
Here it has been primarily those points made by Müller, Douglas, Goodspeed and Beskow having the potential for being relevant that have been discussed. Their more numerous irrelevant or slanderous statements, and especially their important omissions, are the prime reasons why their analyses must be labeled as unscholarly.30
The findings of the Hindu monk, Swami Abhedananda, support Notovitch's discovery in practically all respects. This monk was a disciple of Sri Ramakrishna of the Barahanagar Temple, near Calcutta. Having learned of Notovitch's find and read his book, he decided to take his own trip to Himis monastery to check it out, which he did in 1922, accompanied by some others, including an expert translator from Leh. They persuaded a lama to show them a manuscript containing the Isa verses, which he read to Abhedananda and his interpreter, who then translated them into Bengali. The Himis manuscript was in Tibetan; the original was said to have been written in Pali and to exist in the monastery of Marbour near Lhasa, all of which confirms what Notovitch had learned, and indicates that J. Archibald Douglas had either been hoaxed into confirming the conclusions he was looking for, or had engineered such a hoax himself. We have much in writing about Abhedananda and who he was, but nothing about this Professor Douglas. Abhedananda wrote his book containing their travelogue and a fresh version of the Isa verses in stages, with the help of an assistant and a later editor; in 1987 it was finally translated into English.31
The Swami ordered and numbered his set of Isa verses after the manner of Notovitch's set; however, the set he presented contained far fewer verses than the 244 within Notovitch's set, which is consistent with Abhedananda mentioning that his set was derived from just one book at the monastery,32 while Notovitch had mentioned a second book or manuscript being involved also.33 In addition, however, Abhedananda omitted publication of many verses, apparently because they contain material that could be deemed offensive to different branches of Hinduism. Comparison of those verses that are common to the two sets of Isa text indicates little difference in substance but very appreciable differences in sentence structure and detail, as is to be expected from different translators and languages of translation having been involved.
One particular distinction between the two sets of verses is worth mentioning, in that Beskow had caught an evident error within the following verse from Notovitch's set: Beskow alertly pointed out that Isa verses 5:2-3 speak erroneously of a god Jaine and of worshipers of Jaine. Verse 5:2 reads:
Fame spread the reputation of this marvelous child throughout the length of northern Sind, and when he crossed the country of the five rivers and the Rajputana, the devotees of the god Jaine prayed him to dwell among them.34
Beskow noted that "The Jains, or Jainas, do not believe in any god at all."35 Within Abhedananda's set of Isa verses, this same verse about the Jains is rendered in English as follows:
As he was traveling all along through the land of the five rivers, his [Isa's] benign appearance, face radiating peace and comely forehead attracted Jain devotees who knew him to be one who had received blessings from God Himself.36
This translation does not contain the error of a "god Jaine," though it is independent of Beskow's observation.37 However, it is written from the viewpoint of a Hindu priest who does believe in God or a Godhead. It thus supports the likelihood that in Notovitch's version of the Isa verses the primary error had been due either to Notovitch or his translator.
I have found no reason to suspect that Abhedananda's set of Isa verses was not freshly acquired from the Himis monastery source. His confirmation of Notovitch's find is not discussed by Beskow, who was probably not aware of it.
According to Abhedananda, in India Jesus likely obtained the name Isa or Issa from "Isha," which means Lord in Sanskrit. "Lord" here relates to their great deity, Shiva, for which another name is "Ish."38
There have been various instances in which visitors to Himis monastery unexpectedly learned that a set of the Isa verses was located there, and Elizabeth Clare Prophet has made known three of these cases. One such visitor was Elizabeth Caspari, who in 1939 made the journey through that region in the company of a Mrs. Clarence Gasque. They were told by a monk in charge of the Himis library that "These books say your Jesus was here!"39 Madame Caspari later became noted for having established the first Montessori school in the U.S.
Another visitor was the late Edward F. Noack, a lover of the high country of the Himalayas, who with his wife visited Himis monastery in the late 1970s.40 A monk there told him that "There are manuscripts in our library that describe the journey of Jesus to the East."41
A third visitor to the area who obtained information on this subject was Robert Ravicz, once professor of anthropology at California State University at Northridge. While at Himis in 1975 he learned of the "lost years" Jesus-in-India tradition from an eminent Ladakhi physician.42
It appears that word of the existence at Himis of these one or two manuscripts about Isa's "lost years" has very occasionally been leaked to Western visitors to the region, but only when the lama or monk involved felt the visitor was open minded or receptive and not inclined to take any threatening action against the monastery. If so, it is reasonable to expect that any future attempts by investigators to acquire or read the manuscripts in question at Himis or Marbour monastery will fail if the relevant lama suspects that the investigator or his sponsor in any way holds a non-ecumenical or militantly Christian attitude. As explained by V. R. Gandhi, the causes of this suspicious attitude on the part of custodians of the sacred literature of the East trace back several centuries to the Muslim invaders of India once having destroyed thousands of the Indians' sacred documents, and to early Christian missionaries having acquired and belittled some of their documents.43 This distrustful attitude persists today, at least at Himis monastery, according to Tibetologists David L. Snellgrove and Tadeusz Skorupski.44
There is a report that records exist in the Puri Jagannath Temple archives confirming that Issa had spent some time in India. Jagannath is a large city on the southeast coast of India. This report comes from Sri Daya Mata of the Self-Realization Fellowship, when in 1959 she interviewed Sri Bharati Krishna Tirtha in India; he was the Shankaracharya of Puri.44.1 In the article she says, "In 1959 I discussed this [Jesus being in India during the 'unknown years'] with one of India's great spiritual leaders, His Holiness Sri Bharati Krishna Tirtha, the Shankaracharya of Puri. I told him that Guruji had often said to us that Christ spent some of his life in India, in association with her illumined sages. His Holiness replied, 'That is true. I have studied ancient records in the Puri Jagannath Temple archives confirming these facts. He was known as "Isha," and during part of his time in India he stayed in the Jagannath Temple. When he returned to his part of the world, he expounded the teachings that are known today as Christianity.'" In the above, "Guruji" refers to the yogi Paramahansa Yogananda, and Puri is a coastal city in southeast India, where the Jagannath Temple is located. The Lost Years verses mention that Issa had spent time at this location. Yogananda has authored a couple of books, and in his The Divine Romance (1986) one may read (p. 257) that he was indeed well aware of the Lost Years evidence. The writings that Bharati Krishna Tirtha studied could well be independent of those discovered at Hemis monastery by Notovitch and Abhedananda. However, we find that the next to last sentence in the above quote should refer to a predecessor structure to the Juggernaut temple, probably a Buddhist stupa at the site; and the final sentence, to be correct, should read "When he returned to his part of the world, he expounded the teachings that were converted into the Christianity we know today."
The successor to this Shankaracharya of Puri -- the current one as of 2008, Swami Nischalananda Saraswati -- has confirmed the above. In a rare interview of him granted to the producers of the documentary movie, Jesus in India (see also: this additional link), this confirmation is spelled out.44.2
In summary, the evidence that Jesus/Issa spent many years of his youth in India rests upon strong evidence additional to Notovitch's findings, so that with hindsight, one can see that his original findings should not have been dismissed. With respect to the present study, the main implication from this is that Jesus had likely learned of reincarnation and karma, basic concepts of both Hinduism and Buddhism, during his "lost" years. This raises the likelihood that he therefore taught reincarnation and karma, among many other things, during his Palestinian ministry, but that early Pharisaic converts to Christianity, starting with Paul, had no desire to propagate such teachings. This deserves serious exploration. In that case the underpinnings of Christianity share much more with Hinduism and Buddhism, not to mention the cabalistic branch of Judaism, than has been previously postulated within scholarly ecumenical thought.
As far as I am aware, as of 2009, there has been only one attempted put-down of the Jesus-in-India evidence that takes into account Abhedananda's 1922 confirmation of the existence and contents of the "Lost Years" writing at the Hemis monastery. It was published by James R. Lewis and is well deserving of a rebuttal, which is given here.
If there were no evidence that pointed strongly to reincarnation being a reality, there would be little motivation for exploring the hypothesis that Jesus taught reincarnation rather than resurrection. However, the voluminous evidence collected in the past 30 years by investigators of childhood cases of the reincarnation type,45 by past-life hypno-therapists whose patients are adults,46 and by investigators of adults having spontaneous recall of past-life scenes,47 is all better explained or categorized by the reincarnation hypothesis than by any other. It has been a difficult topic for Western investigators to explore, due to the cultural taboo against reincarnation, which logically traces back not just to the 2nd Council of Constantinople in 553 C.E. when reincarnation was declared anathema by the church, but to the origins of Christian orthodoxy itself. Nevertheless, the data supporting reincarnation have been accumulating at such an increasing rate as to attract a considerable number of Western Ph.D. psychiatrists and M.D.s into exploring the phenomenon, utilizing past-life hypno-therapy as a powerful healing tool, and informing others through their books.
The one authority in the field of religion who has looked into a part of this evidence and minimized its importance in the eyes of New Testament scholarship is John Hick. He examined a part of Ian Stevenson's evidence on childhood cases of the reincarnation type, and concluded that reincarnation "is beset by conceptual difficulties of the gravest kind."48 However, that conclusion was based almost entirely upon the observation that it is only a small fraction of children who for a time remember incidents from their past lives, and seems predicated on the notion that perhaps only they have past lives while the rest of humanity does not. Missing was the thought that some psychic mechanism ordinarily prevents us from remembering our past lives at this stage of our evolution, with the mechanism being capable of circumvention through hypno-regression or occasionally breaking down temporarily.49 Missing also was any analysis by Hick of the two other categories of past-life recall. Since the time of Hick's critical writings, other investigators have confirmed Stevenson's findings.50
Some who have examined the apparent reality of reincarnation have looked into the Gospels for clues that Jesus actually taught the subject, and have found them.51 As to how such clues (to be discussed briefly) originated, it is usually postulated that following the 2nd Council of Constantinople in 553 C.E. the Gospels were edited so as to remove all obvious traces of teachings and implications of reincarnation. However, there is sufficient evidence from early church fathers to indicate that some of the verses to be discussed, and which exist in about the same form today, greatly predate this council.52 Hence a much more likely possibility is that the New Testament gospels themselves derive mainly from one source, and this source is what had contained Jesus' teachings on reincarnation and karma that were edited out upon first formation of the Gospels in the early second century.
This source could easily have been the well known Logia referred to by the second-century Bishop Papias in his brief statement about how the Gospel of Matthew came about, as relayed by Eusebius: "Matthew compiled the Logia in the Hebrew dialect, and each interpreted them as best he could."53 This is all that is known about the formulation of Matthew; it is so terse that it may have meant that the writer of Matthew formed his gospel from these Logia, written in Aramaic.54 Because so little is recorded about the formation of the Gospels, because these Logia did not survive, and because Papias is known to have written five treatises about the Logia that also did not survive, we must treat seriously the likelihood that this source of Matthew had been very extensive and had contained heresies that needed excising before a sanctionable gospel could be compiled. Teachings on reincarnation and karma would have fallen into this category.
This view implies Matthean priority, to which only a minority of New Testament scholars ascribe today. However, it can be shown that the primary impetus behind the adoption of the view of Marcan priority in the past century and a half was one of theological commitment -- to minimize embarrassments for the church.55 The embarrassing implications of Papias's statement,56 which is now essentially ignored by New Testament scholarship, are only a small part of this unknowing commitment causing Mark to be favored.
Much more could be said about Papias's Logia for which space can scarcely be spared here. The late date of appearance of these Logia in Palestine would have allowed them to be considered very heretical compared to Paul's teachings and writings many decades earlier, and these Logia may then have been the cause of the late (second-century) flowering of the Gnostic movement. Suffice it to say here that an impartial assessment of Papias's statement leads to the conclusion that the Logia may well have contained heresies, and by the present reasoning some of these heresies pertained to the topic of reincarnation. We shall be referring back to these Logia elsewhere in this study as well as placing a renewed emphasis upon the Gospel of Matthew.
Gospel Evidence that Jesus Taught Reincarnation
It is important to examine some particular examples of these Gospel clues, since they are largely unknown within modern scholasticism. Perhaps the primary verse to this effect is Mt 11:14, "...and if you are willing to accept it, he [John the Baptist] is Elijah who is to come." The only alternative here to the implication that Jesus was talking of Elijah having been a past life of John, who would be reborn again some time in the future, comes from 2 Kgs 2:11 in which Elijah is "taken up by a whirlwind into heaven" and is seen no more. If it is assumed that this means Elijah never died but was "translated" alive into heaven, the further assumptions are then needed that he later "translated" into the body of John the Baptist and would "translate" into some other body in the future. However, this concept of translation, involving a fully human body that never ages or dies, seems unintelligible in comparison with the reincarnation hypothesis, especially since John is described in Luke's first chapter as having been raised from a baby and never having suddenly changed into Elijah's very own "translated" body.
The reincarnation hypothesis here is consistent with Jesus' wording, "if you are willing to accept it." Probably only a minority of his listeners in Israel believed in reincarnation, with many, especially Pharisees and Sadducees, being opposed to the concept. Thus, Jesus at that point was speaking just to those who could accept the possibility. It is likely that the Logia had more to say here about Elijah's (John's) future reincarnation that was omitted when Matthew was formed. That Matthew's compiler left this strong a clue behind here is probably attributable to his fondness for Elijah, along with other Old Testament personages, causing him to include as much of this Logia verse as seemed feasible. Also, this compiler evidently believed in "translation," and supported this belief with his Transfiguration story. Thus he probably would not have felt that he was leaving behind a clue here that his source text had discussed reincarnation.
Another strong clue is found in Mt 16:13-15, "Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, `Who do men say that the Son of man is?' And they said, `Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.' He said to them, `But who do you say that I am?'"57 Although it is quite possible that in asking the question Jesus was wondering if the people thought of him as a Messiah of some sort, their response (especially "Jeremiah or one of the prophets") indicates they had a past life in mind. That this did not cause any stir or consternation is consistent with Jesus having wondered what important past life they believed him to have had.
Another clue is Mt 24:4 where we read: "For many will come in my name, saying `I am the Christ!' and they will lead many astray."58 This makes most sense if Jesus was referring to persons in the distant future who would claim they are reincarnations of him. It makes less sense to think they would claim to be resurrections of him, which would require their asserting to have first appeared on earth in their own time in the full-grown resurrected body of Jesus, never having passed through childhood. Moreover, at the time the text of the verse was spoken, resurrection or "anastasis" referred only to a general resurrection at the end times, and not to the raising up of a particular individual.
Further clues consist of the "incarnation" verses: "I have come not to... but to..." Of these, Mt 5:17 and 10:34 seem here most likely to be in a form close to that of their source. If Jesus had early in life gained an understanding of what his life's mission and goals were to be -- and the "lost years" evidence supports that likelihood, he could then speak as "having come" for such-and-such a purpose. Thus the "incarnation verses" easily fit into the context of Jesus having taught that he, as well as all others, were subject to reincarnation. This provides a real alternative to the interpretation that he was incarnated once and for all as part of a Trinity. The foregoing clues are mostly absent from the other gospels, indicative of "improvements" directed towards increased orthodoxy as is usually to be expected within later works, and supporting Matthean priority.
If the Logia were the source of Matthew, we then infer that other teachings of reincarnation were omitted from Matthew or were highly edited, with "resurrection" substituted for "reincarnation" or "rebirth."
A verse from John (Jn 9:1-2) regarding the man blind from birth is also commonly cited as indication that Jesus and his disciples assumed reincarnation to be a fact.59 Although this instance may be an indication that the writer of John had been accustomed to interpreting fate in a karmic sense, the testimony of Papias suggests that only the compiler of Matthew was close enough to the Logia to have left bonafide clues behind from the source document. However, the writers of Luke and John may have been those referred to by the portion of Papias's statement reading "and each interpreted them [the Logia] as best he could."
Matthean Clues Indicative of Karma
Perhaps the most obvious of these is Mt 26:52, "...for all who take the sword will perish by the sword." It is evident in everyday life that this is often not true, with some murderers getting away with their misdeeds. However, within the context of reincarnation and karma, the verse suggests that those who do not truly repent of their misdeeds in the present life will have to suffer unpleasant learning experiences of like kind from the victim's point of view in one or more future lifetimes.
Another clue on karma left behind is Mt 7:2, "...For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get." This presumably refers to the consequences of having judged falsely or unfairly. Again, we see that the warning is not necessarily a truism within a person's present life, but could well be over a succession of lifetimes. Other examples, which require more discussion, could be presented.60
It may be added that with this analysis we find, contrary to the Jesus Seminar, for example,61 that the Golden Rule (Mt 7:12) was an authentic saying from Jesus, though not of course original. By following that rule one usually avoids developing negative karma.
The evidence is thus as strong as can be expected that Jesus taught reincarnation and karma, among many other things, not resurrection, if he were indeed a wisdom teacher, which is assumed here. Such teachings would have tended to attract any Hindus temporarily residing in Palestine to hear him talk and meet him, greatly increasing the likelihood that Jesus had a few Indian friends there who learned from him of his earlier years spent in India.
It was Paul who established the orthodox view that the empty tomb was due to Jesus having been the first fruits of resurrection. This ex-Pharisee must already have believed in a Pharisee's view of resurrection before his conversion. However, the full implications of the Jesus-in-India evidence are much too manifold to explore here.62
The foregoing evidence and supporting deductions may be unfamiliar to the reader because they have been systematically ignored in the West. However, when they are viewed together as a whole, we see a very consistent picture trying to tell us that Christianity over the centuries has been improperly sent on an unnecessarily deviant path apart from Eastern religions since the time of Paul. This is not to say that some fraction of the strange tales one may read about Jesus are not indeed fictions,63 but rather to say that a holistic perception is needed to separate probable fact from probable fiction. The practice of assuming that any tradition is false if it conflicts with one's own particular theological commitment, without having first carefully examined it with an open mind and in a holistic manner, cannot be condoned no matter how widespread it has been.
If one's understanding of ecumenism is to nudge adherents of other religions towards Christian orthodoxy, the present treatment could seem to be radical. However, if the goal is instead to seek historical truth, the present approach may be seen to be conservative in the sense of being fundamental and rudimentary. It finds that Christianity itself is in greatest need of change. The picture of Jesus that emerges is not the one that Western scholarship leans towards -- that Jesus was an itinerant teacher and seditionist of Pharisaic disposition64 -- but one much closer to the view held by Hinduism and Buddhism. Obviously, this view would represent a huge step towards bridging some of the present gaps between Christianity and the Eastern religions. Ironically, appreciation of the validity of the Jesus-in-India evidence would have the dubious ecumenical value of promoting Jewish-Christian relations through a common interest in more strenuously denouncing the evidence supporting reincarnation.
Before looking ahead seriously to the real ecumenical benefits that would ensue if the Jesus-in-India evidence and the non- scholastic treatment it has received were to become widely known, there are important issues to consider. As pointed out by Raimundo Panikhar, "there must be equal preparation from both sides, both theologically and culturally," before beginning an ecumenical dialogue.65 Such preparation of course entails a serious study of the evidence, and this, for many Christians, would likely be considered beyond the bounds of acceptability, or simply unthinkable.
Secondly, according to Panikhar, "There must be mutual trust, which is possible only when all the cards are on the table." Should we dismiss those "cards" that indicate the reality of the Jesus-in-India evidence simply because our belief system prefers that we not know about them?
Third, "The different issues -- theological, practical, institutional, etc., have to be carefully distinguished." The present topic encompasses all of these, but they are as overpowering as they are obvious. The immediate theological implications penetrate to the heart of Christianity itself. The practical implications are also overwhelming, involving how to view life and death. The institutional implications would also be dramatic if it were possible for the church to change substantially.
With Christianity not susceptible to appreciable change, however, the foregoing evidence and reasoning must patiently remain as building blocks for the distant future before it will provide a much firmer basis for building ecumenical bridges between a thoroughly reformed and revitalized "Christianity" and other major religions than any seriously suggested heretofore.
1. Nicholas Notovitch, La Vie inconnue de Jésus-Christ (Paris: M. Paul Ollendorf, 1894). In India, Jesus is known primarily as Isa or Issa.
2. F. Max Müller, "The Alleged Sojourn of Christ in India," The Nineteenth Century, (Oct., 1894): pp, 515-522.
3. Notovitch, The Unknown Life of Jesus Christ, transl. V. Crispe (London: Hutchinson and Co., 1895), xxiii-xxx.
4. Despite Müller's valuable life work of translating sacred Hindu writings into English and German, it is evident that he considered a simple form of Christianity to be far superior to any of the world's other great religions. See Nirad C. Chaudhuri, Scholar Extraordinary (London: Chatto & Windus, 1974), 70-72, 325, 335, 374-375.
5. Edgar J. Goodspeed, Strange New Gospels (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1931), 16-24; Per Beskow, Strange Tales about Jesus: A Survey of Unfamiliar Gospels (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1985), 59-63. Goodspeed was the originator of the first American translation of the New Testament, and a professor at the University of Chicago Divinity School. Beskow was an associate professor of patristic studies at the Swedish Council for Research in the Humanities and Social Sciences in Lund, Sweden.
6. Although Notovitch failed to clearly designate who his translator was, he did mention earlier in his travelog that he had acquired an interpreter who had been highly recommended to him by a Frenchman (M. Peychaud) who was the cultivator for the vineyards of the maharajah in Srinagar. Thus one infers that he translated them into French, which is the same language in which Notovitch wrote his book.
7. Notovitch, Unknown Life, p. 134.
8. Notovitch, Unknown Life, p. xxx (in Note to the Publisher).
9. Müller, "Alleged Sojourn of Christ," pp. 518-519.
10. Notovitch, Unknown Life, pp. xxvi-xxvii.
11. Müller, "Alleged Sojourn of Christ," pp. 516, 521.
12. J. Archibald Douglas, "The Chief Lama of Himis on the Alleged `Unknown Life of Christ'," Nineteenth Century (Apr. 1896): pp. 667-678; 669.
13. Notovitch, Unknown Life, pp. xxiii-xxiv.
14. Ibid., pp. 92, 94, 100, 110.
15. Douglas, "On the Alleged `Unknown Life'," p. 671.
16. Müller, "Alleged Sojourn of Christ," pp. 516-517.
16.1. Bishop, Isabella Bird, Among the Tibetans (New York: Fleming H. Revell, 1894), pp. 101-102.
17. Notovitch, Unknown Life, pp. l-li.
18. Douglas, "On the Alleged `Unknown Life'," p. 672.
19. Jawarhar Lal Nehru, Glimpses of World History (New York: John Day Co., 1942) 84.
20. His full name was Al-Shaikh Al-Said-us-Sadiq Abi Jaffar Muhammad Ibn-i-Ali Ibn-i-Hussain Ibn-i-Musa Ibn-i-Baibuyah al-Qummi, according to Khwaja Nazir Ahmad, Jesus in Heaven on Earth (Woking, England: Woking Muslim Mission & Literary Trust, 1952) 365.
21. Omar Michael Burke, Among the Dervishes (London: Octagon Press, 1976) 107.
22. That Douglas was highly committed theologically is evident from his vehement opposition to an Isa verse that practically denies the resurrection: Douglas, "On the Alleged `Unknown Life'," p. 670.
23. Goodspeed, Strange New Gospels, pp. 16, 24.
24. Arthur J. Bellinzoni, "The Gospel of Matthew in the Second Century," Second Century 9 (1992): 197-258, see p. 235 specifically.
25. The Jesus Seminar, "Voting Records," Forum 6 (1990): 9-47. There some 86% of the verses comprised of the sayings and teachings of Jesus within Matthew, for example, are found to be probably non-genuine.
26. We may note that since World War II a substantial fraction of New Testament scholars have adopted this very view: assuming that all Gospel verses denigrating scribes, Pharisees and chief priests are redactions or reflect biased opinions of the Gospel writers.
27. This is not to imply that the Gospels were written during the lifetimes of the disciples. The author subscribes to the view that the main source for the Gospels was written by a disciple but was not made available to a church scribe until early second century. See James W. Deardorff, The Problems of New Testament Gospel Origins: A Glasnost Approach (Lewiston, NY: Mellen Press (Mellen Research University Press), 1992) 11-22, 63-73.
28. Beskow, Strange Tales, pp. 62-63; Nicholas Roerich, "Banners of the East," in Himalaya (New York: Brentano's, 1926) 148-153.
29. Roerich, "Banners of the East," p. 172.
30. For full details on this, see James W. Deardorff, Jesus in India: A Reexamination of Jesus' Asian Traditions in the Light of Evidence Supporting Reincarnation (Bethesda, MD: International Scholars Publications, 1994) 103-134.
31. Swami Abhedananda, Kashmir O Tibbate (In Kashmir and Tibet), 2nd Ed., ed. Swami Prajnanananda (Calcutta: Ramakrishna Vedanta Math, 1953); idem, Swami Abhedananda's Journey into Kashmir and Tibet, Transls. Ansupati Dasgupta and Kunja Bihari Kundu (Calcutta: Ramakrishna Vedanta Math, 1987; available from Vedanta Press, 1946 Vedanta Pl., Hollywood, CA 90068; Tel.: 213-465-7114).
32. Abhedananda's Journey, p. 119. Abhedananda or his editor arranged and numbered their presented text so that it would conform with Notovitch's ordering. With only a few exceptions, verses may be directly compared.
33. Notovitch, Unknown Life, pp. 128, 205.
34. Ibid., p. 145.
35. Beskow, Strange Tales, p. 59.
36. Abhedananda's Journey, p. 120.
37. Although Beskow's 1985 book predates the English translation of Abhedananda's Kashmir O Tibbate, an earlier English translation of relevant portions of it had been made and published within the 1984 book of Elizabeth Clare Prophet, The Lost Years of Jesus (Livingston, Montana: Summit University Press, 1984). This latter translation also does not make the error about the Jaines. Prophet was unaware of Beskow's 1979 (Swedish) version of Strange Tales about Jesus.
38. Abhedananda's Journey, p. 122.
39. Prophet, Lost Years, p. 317.
40. He is author of Amidst Ice and Nomads in High Asia (Burbank, California: National Literary Guild, 1984).
41. Prophet, Lost Years, p. 345 (see photo caption).
43. Virchand R. Gandhi, The Unknown Life of Jesus Christ (Chicago: Indo-American Book Co., 1907) 48.
44. David L. Snellgrove and Tadeusz Skorupski, The Cultural Heritage of Ladakh (Columbia, Missouri: Prajana Press, South Asia Books, 1977) 127.
44.1. Sri Daya Mata, "Remembering Paramahansa Yogananda," in Self-Realization Magazine, Winter, 1992, p.16.
44.2. Edward T. Martin, Jesus in India: King of Wisdom (Reno, NV: Yellow Hat Publishing, 2008), pp. 102-106.
45. Lafcadio Hearn, Gleanings in Buddha-Fields (Boston: Houghton & Mifflin, 1897), Chap. 10; Ian Stevenson, Twenty Cases Suggestive of Reincarnation, 2nd Ed. (Charlottesville: Univ. of Virginia Press, 1974); Ian Stevenson, Cases of the Reincarnation Type, Vols. 1-4 (Charlottesville: Univ. of Virginia Press, 1975-1983); Ian Stevenson, Children Who Remember Previous Lives (Charlottesville: Univ. of Virginia Press, 1987); Satwant Pasricha, Claims of Reincarnation: An Empirical Study of Cases in India (New Delhi: Harmon Publishing House, 1990).
46. T. Dethlefson, Voices from Other Lives: Reincarnation as a Source of Healing (New York: M. Evans, 1976); Edith Fiore, You Have Been Here Before (New York: Ballantine Books, 1978); Helen Wambach, Reliving Past Lives: The Evidence under Hypnosis (New York: Bantam Books, 1979); Joel L. Whitton and Joe Fisher, Life Between Life (New York: Warner Books, 1986); Karl Schlotterbeck, Living Your Past Lives: The Psychology of Past-Life Regression (New York: Ballantine Books, 1987); Bruce Goldberg, Past Lives, Future Lives (New York: Ballantine Books, 1988); Brian Weiss, Many Lives, Many Masters (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1988); Roger Woolger, Other Lives, Other Selves (New York: Bantam Books, 1988); John Van Auken, Born Again & Again (Virginia Beach: Inner Vision, 1989); Raymond A. Moody, Coming Back: A Psychiatrist Explores Past-Life Journeys (New York: Bantam Books, 1991); Brian Weiss, Through Time into Healing (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1992).
47. Frederick Lenz, Lifetimes: True Accounts of Reincarnation (New York: Ballantine Books, 1979); H. N. Banerjee, Americans Who Have Been Reincarnated (New York: Macmillan, 1980), pp. 45-50, 149-153, 169-176.
48. John Hick, Death and Eternal Life (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1976) 304-308.
49. Stevenson has found that young children who remember their most recent past lives are much more prone to have suffered a violent death in that past life than is to be expected demographically.
50. Ian Stevenson and Godwin Samararatne, "Three New Cases of the Reincarnation Type in Sri Lanka with Written Records Made before Verifications," J. Scientific Exploration 2 (1988): pp. 217-238; Erlunder Haraldsson, "Children Claiming Past-life Memories: Four Cases in Sri Lanka," J. Scientific Exploration 5 (1991): pp. 233-261; Antonia Mills, "A Replication Study: Three Cases of Children in Northern India Who Are Said to Remember a Previous Life," J. Scientific Exploration 3 (1989): pp. 133-184; Antonia Mills, "Moslem Cases of the reincarnation Type in Northern India: A Test of the Hypothesis of Imposed Identification. Part I: Analysis of 26 Cases," J. Scientific Exploration 4 (1990): pp. 171-188; Jürgen Keil, "New Cases in Burma, Thailand, and Turkey: A Limited Field Study Replication of Some Aspects of Ian Stevenson's Research," J. Scientific Exploration 5 (1991): pp. 27-59.
51. Joseph Head and S. L. Cranston, Reincarnation in World Thought (New York: Julian Press, 1967), pp. 96-100; Sylvia Cranston and Carey Williams, Reincarnation (New York: Julian Press, 1984), pp. 207-210; Woolger, Other lives, Other Selves, pp. 71-73.
52. Tertullian, "A Treatise on the Soul," Chap. 35, in Ante-Nicene Fathers, eds. A. Roberts and J. Donaldson (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1957), vol. 3, p. 216. Tertullian died around 220 or 240 C.E; his writing on this occurred before he broke with Christian orthodoxy to become a Montanist.
53. Eusebius, The Ecclesiastical History, 3.39.16, transl. K. Lake, vol. 1 (Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press, 1953), p. 297.
54. Due to the early- to mid-second century dating of Papias's life and of the first mention of any of the Gospels by name, it is safe to assume that the Gospels came out too late to be written by the men whose names are attached to them. Yet by the time of Irenaeus in the late 2nd-century, and certainly by the time of Eusebius, theological commitment required the assumption that they were written respectively by the disciple Matthew, by John Mark, by Luke the physician, and by the disciple John.
55. Deardorff, New Testament Gospel Origins, pp. 29-30, 83, 88, 95, 97, 102-103, 124-127, 164.
56. An embarrassment for 20th-century scholars is that the statement suggests that the Logia were written in Aramaic or Hebrew, which implies that Matthew's gospel was also. The latter in turn implies that Matthew preceded Mark, which was probably the first Gospel to have been written in Greek. The embarrassment of "and each interpreted them as best he could" is that it implies that some other evangelists besides the compiler of Matthew had had some access to the Logia, but had difficulty "interpreting them" or incorporating any more from them into their own gospels than Matthew's compiler already had accomplished, because of the Logia's heresies.
57. We agree with most scholars in deducing that the compiler of Matthew substituted "Son of man" here, as in many other spots, to replace the personal pronoun, "I." E.g., see Francis Beare, The Gospel according to Matthew (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1981) 352. However, according to the TJ document studied thoroughly elsewhere in this website, the past life of Immanuel or Jesus was Elijah, and that of John the Baptist was Elisha. Altering his source document, the TJ, the writer of Matthew had substituted "Elijah" for "Elisha" in Mt 11:14, since Elijah was a favorite personage of his and had been "translated" up to "heaven."
58. In this verse we infer that "Christ" is a redactive substitution for his actual name, fed in by the compiler.
59. Cranston and Carey, Reincarnation, pp. 207-208.
60. Deardorff, Jesus in India, pp. 31-34.
61. Jesus Seminar, "Voting Records," Forum 6, (March, 1990) 36.
62. Instead, see Deardorff, Jesus in India.
63. An example is a story that Jesus, along with a brother, was buried in Japan; see The Wall Street Journal, Oct. 1, 1993. This conflicts with other, much stronger evidence, however heretical, indicating that his tomb is instead in Srinagar, Kashmir.
64. Philip L. Culbertson, "What is Left to Believe in Jesus after the Scholars Have Done with Him?" J.E.S. 28 (Winter, 1991): p. 2.
65. Raimundo Panikhar, "Inter-religious Dialogue: Some Principles," J.E.S. 12 (Summer, 1975): pp. 407-409.
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