Have you ever wondered what Jesus did before he began his public ministry? Other than the infancy narratives, there is only one event recorded in Sacred Scripture that gives us a glimpse of Jesus before he began to announce that the kingdom of God has come. This event is in Luke 2:41-52, ‘the finding of Jesus in the Temple’. Jesus is likely around 12 years old in this episode, during which he would have made his bar-mitzvah. But what happened during these so-called “lost years” or “unknown years” from when Jesus was 12 years old to the time that he began his public ministry at 30 years old?
A rumor that has been widely circulated is that Jesus traveled to India or somewhere in the Far East and studied under holy men of a Buddhist persuasion. Is this true? This was recently the topic of much discussion on The Cale Clarke Show.
Where does the idea that Jesus traveled to India during his teenage years come from? In brief, a modern forgery. In the late 19th century a book was published called “The Unknown Life of Jesus Christ” written by a Russian war correspondent by the name of Nicolas Notovitch. It was a popular success. “This book was a smash hit when it came out. It was kind of like The Da Vinci Code of its time,” said Cale.
The contents of the book are what Notovitch alleges he wrote down regarding ‘the tales of Issa (Jesus)’ as it was told to him from a Tibetan monk in a Buddhist monastery. The book was published as historical, but many scholars question the veracity of Notovitch’s story. In fact, even the skeptical biblical scholar Bart Ehrman doesn’t accept the story told in this book as historically accurate. Eventually, after scholars started looking into this, it was exposed as a hoax.
Cale referenced the scholar Max Muller who asked a very pointed question: How come in all the annals of Tibetan literature there is no mention of this book (the book allegedly about Jesus’ time in India, not Notovitch’s book)? Furthermore, in 1895, a scholar by the name of J. Archibald Douglas went and interviewed the abbot himself, the very monk that had allegedly told the story to Notovitch, and the abbot said that he had never seen a European person visit the monastery during his fifteen years in charge.
Cale said, “There’s not a single scholar on planet earth today who doesn’t believe that this is just one big, gigantic hoax. The fact is, the entire story was invented by Nicolas Notovitch, who, as I said, became quite wealthy and got quite famous for his infamous fable of Jesus traveling to India and Tibet.”
Cale began this topic in response to an email from a mom who was concerned that her son, Bernie, currently believes Jesus had gone to India, and she was wondering how to talk to him about it. Believe it or not, Bernie himself was listening and called in!
According to Bernie, things are more up in the air as regards the truthfulness of Notovitch’s book. He said that he’d heard that Douglas lied about his interview, and that another scholar who visited the monastery was told that at one time there were documents about Jesus’ time in India but that they were burned in the 1950s by Communists.
Cale, however, said he does not see any plausible evidence that Jesus went to India. Furthermore, Cale made the point that if Jesus’ teaching were really that much of a departure from Jewish belief, and that he was bringing in Eastern spirituality, there’s no way that people would have believed him to be the Jewish Messiah.
Cale went on to say that, “The basic question you always have to ask is, what is the evidence for the claims that are being made? Does this seem plausible? Does this cohere with what we know of the times?”
At the end of the day, it is important to do research, to ask important questions, pray and ask the Lord for help as you pursue the truth. All truth is God’s truth, since he himself is the Truth (John 14:6), so we ought not to be afraid to ask difficult questions.
Tune in to The Cale Clarke Show weekdays at 5-6pm CT only on Relevant Radio.