Jesus is central to Christianity, likely more so than Mohammed is to Islam or the Buddha to Buddhism, and this importance of Jesus seems to have produced claims about him beyond the story in the canonical Gospels.
Recently Karen L. King, a professor at Harvard, discovered a fourth century Coptic papyrus fragment that contains the words, “Jesus said to them: My wife …” The report of this fragment created quite a stir in the world of biblical and early church scholarship over the question of whether Jesus may have been married. The suggestion that he was would be contrary to the long-standing Christian view that he was not married, a view that has given support over the centuries to the Catholic practice of priestly celibacy.
A claim that created quite a stir toward the end of the 1800s proposed to shed light on the so-called “hidden years” of Jesus the Gospels don’t treat, the time between his appearance in the Temple at the age of 12 and his age at the beginning of his public ministry, usually thought to be about 30. The originator of this claim about the “hidden years” of Jesus was a Russian by the name of Nicolas Notovitch.
In a book published in 1887 Notovitch said he had broken a leg while in India, and while it was healing spent time in a Tibetan Buddhist monastery, where he was read the story of how Issa (Jesus) came to India at the age of 13 with a caravan of merchants and spent many years there absorbing Eastern religious wisdom before returning to his own country to engage in the mission we read about in the Gospels. The suggestion that Jesus studied in India reflects a popular view of a couple of generations ago about the reputed “wisdom of the East.”
European scholars were skeptical about Notovitch’s book. Claims he made were checked with the people of the monastery that he said was the source of his information, and that monastery denied his claims. In the end Notovitch “confessed to having fabricated the evidence.” (Wikipedia).
In spite of this exposé the Jesus-in-India myth didn’t go away. In 1908 Levi H. Dowling, who started out as a preacher in the Disciples of Christ Church, published a book that rehashed the theory of Jesus’s “lost years” in India. Dowling’s offbeat story ran under the title, “The Aquarian Gospel of Jesus the Christ,” and he seems to have captured the interest of enough followers to result in the establishment of “The Aquarian Christine Church Universal, Inc.” Whether or not Dowling personally founded this church, it claims his name and his book and currently operates a website. A book by Dowling titled “The Life and Works of Jesus in India” is still available at Amazon.com.
Jesus’s importance has generated claims even outside of the Christianity-influenced West. As mentioned here in an earlier column of Global Faiths, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, founder of the North India Ahmadiyya sect, claimed Jesus survived the crucifixion, came to India, and lived and taught there until a ripe old age. They claim they have his tomb in Kashmir.
Ahmad’s claim is challenged by one out of Japan, where Shingo, a hamlet in northern Japan, lays claim to being the burial place of Jesus.
Every year, says Smithsonian.com, 20,000 people visit the site. According to this Japanese story, Jesus studied in Japan during the “hidden years,” then returned to Palestine, where he escaped crucifixion when someone else died in his place. He returned to Japan, married, and raised a family before his eventual death.