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The Lost Years of Jesus

Years ago ancient documents were purportedly discovered in Tibet indicating Jesus may have visited Persia, India Nepal and Tibet during the ages of 13 to 29. These pages examine this thought more closely.

And so where was Jesus during the time he 13-29 years old? There are various stories floating around, most of which can be easily located somewhere on the Internet (search using keywords "lost years of jesus" or click here).

  1. He was living quietly somewhere in Israel with Joseph, his stepfather and his mother, Mary. Presumably he was a carpenter assisting his stepfather, Joseph. He emerged from this private solitude as the Messiah and drew the love of the crowd, the ire of the San Hedrian and Rome and went on to launch a major world religion.
  2. He journeyed through Persia, India and Tibet, to learn and study from the great masters there, to exceed them and finally return to Israel as its Messiah.
  3. He went to England and studied the great knowledge of the Druids.
  4. He went to Egypt and unlocked the secret of the Pyramids, and/or to Greece and studied with the great philosophers dwelling there at that interval.
  5. He went to Japan and lived and died there instead. In the meantime, a twin brother took his place as the Messiah of Israel and was crucified..

And so in greater detail, let us examine these possibilities.

1. Jesus "stayed at home" theory. This is the traditional "Christian" view. Save for some spurious Biblical verses that could mean anything depending upon the readers’ state of mind, there is no documentary evidence that he lived in Israel for this period of time. Even in apocryphal writings, that is The Lost Books of the Bible contemporary with writings that are in the official canon known collectively as the Bible, no mention is made of this period of Jesus’ life. Great detail is given to some events of his early childhood and later ministry, in some cases retelling events recorded in the New Testament, but still the 18 or so missing years remain.

Doubt about this belief generally comes from non-dogmatic Christians and many outside of Christianity who have been exposed to another point of view and have some interest or opinion on Jesus. The main objection, according to detractors, this belief lacks evidence and it is totally out of character with the sort of person Jesus became known as.
The Jesus stayed at home theory is a safe point of view for its adherents, however. It requires no thought to potentially problematic doctrinal shifts or theological difficulties on the part of the believer.

2. Jesus "traveled to India" theory. This is a widely held "alternative" view to #1. There is much information to this viewpoint that requires greater attention.
Basically, a Russian traveler visited a Tibetan monastery in the late 1800’s and was given access to documents that narrated events about a "St. Issa" individual who journeyed from Israel, studied in India, Nepal and Tibet and then returned back to his homeland where, eventually, he was executed by the Romans. His followers, however, took up his teachings and began to spread them through all neighboring lands. The Russian translated the documents and published them as the Unknown Life of Jesus. (full text link)

Elements of Christian Orthodoxy rallied against this view and with compelling arguments and investigations, "proved" the Russian a fraud. James W. Deardorff of Oregon State University recently wrote an extensive paper examining this Russian and many of the personalities involved the situation.
Yet the story would not die, and later, a book, the Aquarian Gospel of Christ was published in the early 1900’s. It, however, was a thing of "progressive revelation" meaning it could not be considered a valid source of reference as scholars measure it. It did though, contain interesting reading, which further detailed Jesus’ visit to India and nearby lands.

An Indian Swami, in the 20’s, unconvinced by both the Russian’s account and efforts from dogmatic Christians to debunk him, visited the monastery himself. He too gained access to the documents, translated and published his own version. The two versions, the Swami’s and the Russian’s, though similar, do not quite mirror each other. Yet they essentially tell the same story.

At least two other travelers, an artist and a schoolteacher, both claim to have seen the documents, though they did not have the ability and/or the time to translate them. These travelers, along with others, report the pervasive belief among the locals of areas in India, Persia, Nepal, Afghanistan and elsewhere that Jesus (known as St. Issa, the spelling may vary) visited various places in their region.
Edgar Cayce, a famous and well respected psychic, in one of his readings declared Jesus went to India and went into a little bit of detail.

The greatest boost to the dissemination of this theory has been through the controversial Elizabeth Claire Prophet and her book, The Lost Years of Jesus. It is widely available in bookstores and contains both the Russian traveler’s and the Swami’s translations of the documents.

One of the main objections to this belief it is "unprovable." The persistent doubters to this view generally are dogmatic Christians. They may articulate several different arguments against the Jesus in India view:

  • Orthodox Christianity already "proved" the Russian Traveler a fraud. Further comment is pointless.
  • Jesus is God, he did not need to travel anywhere or learn anything from anyone.
  • Jesus teachings reflect a Jewish point of view, not any other religion.
  • The Bible "indicates" Jesus stayed in Israel the whole time.
  • The Jesus described did things inconsistent and possibly contrary to accepted church views of who Jesus was supposed to be; i.e. ran away from his parents, studied with heathen priests of an inferior religion etc.
  • It was too far to travel to India and Tibet at the time.

The Jesus stayed in India theory offers a compelling yet entirely probable alternative view to the antiseptic godlike Jesus of dogmatic Christianity. It described an entirely human yet highly advanced being who desired to devote his life to spirituality. Thus he evaded the Jewish young man traditional fate of marriage (which he was being considered for) and left using caravans to go to the east. He also wanted to visit the Three Kings who left gifts at the time of his birth. And so on it went with his studies in India and his exceeding the knowledge and abilities of his teachers. He preached to the masses, irritated the ruling classes and had to leave India or be assassinated. This pattern repeated itself in Persia where rulers felt threatened by his preaching to the "masses." He traveled to Nepal and possibly Tibet where he became known and beloved by the locals for his teachings and healings. Thus the Jesus in India story seemed quite in keeping with what happened to him later in Israel. The study of this old story, adherents believe, yields a wealth of material about Jesus character.

Discovery timeline of Jesus "travel to India theory"

950(approx) --Shaikh Al-Said, Muslim historian wrote down some of the Hindu/Buddhist legends of Isa's travels in India.
1894--Nicolas Notovitch, Russian journalist, publishes the Unknown Years of Jesus. He also reports a Catholic Church official told him the Vatican also has documents acquired over the centuries from various missionaries and others relating to Jesus' eastern sojourn.
1907--Levi H. Dowling publishes the Aquarian Gospel of Jesus the Christ. He alleges it was the result of "transcribing" (he wrote with no control over its contents). The book contains many anecdotes about Jesus' visit to India, Persia and Tibet.
1922-- Swami Abhedananda visits Tibet, rediscovers the documents, reconfirms and retranslates them. The English version is released in 1987.
1924-1925---Nicholas Roerich, artist, in unsupportable claim is said to have reacquired the Isa verses during his travels through Asia and published them in his book, Himalaya.
1932--Indian Nationalist and future 1st Prime Minister of India, Jawahar Nehru, writes to his daughter Indira (later Indira Ghandi): "All over Central Asia, in Kashmir and Ladakh and Tibet and even farther north, there is still a strong belief that Jesus or Isa traveled about there."
1933(approx)--Well respected psychic Edgar Cayce indicated Jesus spent 3 years in India and one year in Persia.
1939--Elizabeth Caspari (as in Montessori School) and Mrs. Clarence Gasque (Officer in the International Vegetarian Union) were told by a monk in charge of the Himis library "These books say your Jesus was here!"
1951-- U.S. Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas traveled to Hemis. He became aware of one legend in the area concerning Jesus traveling under the name of Issa and his stay in Tibet. The account is releated in his book Beyond the High Himalayas.
1959-- Sri Daya Mata of the Self-Realization Fellowship interviews Sri Bharati Krishna Tirtha in India who alleges to have studied ancient records in Puri Jagannath Temple archives which convey "Christ spent some of his life in India, in association with her illumined sages."
1970(approx)--Visitor Edward F. Noack and his wife were told by a monk in the Himis monastery "There are manuscripts in our library that describe the journey of Jesus to the East."
1975--Anthropology professor Robert Ravicz , while at Himis in 1975 was told about "Jesus Indian Lost Years" from an eminent Ladakhi physician.

3. Jesus "studied in England with the Druids" theory. This bears some serious attention as well. Druidism does reflect Christianity somewhat in selected teachings and beliefs. For example Druids are said to have a belief in a "Triune Godhead" roughly equivalent to the Father, Holy Spirit and the Son. At any rate, this in itself does not qualify for a possible accounting of Jesus whereabouts. What should be looked at, however, is the local tradition that Jesus visited various areas around Glastonbury as a boy with his Uncle Joseph of Armethia. The theory has merit on several accounts:

  • Joseph was understood to facilitate Roman tin mine interests in Britain.
  • Joseph of Armethia was Jesus’ Uncle. He had "opportunity" to have taken the boy Jesus with him on one of these visits.
  • Strong tradition of the locals, especially in Priddy, and other regions in lower west England up to Glastonbury have "Jesus in England" built into their local lore and phrases. Chariots of Fire, a beloved English hymn, resonate this view with glorious song and poetry.
  • After the Crucifixion and Resurrection, strong evidence shows Joseph of Armethia along with some other followers of Jesus, settled in Britain.

Adherents believe that the visit occurred most likely in Jesus' preteen youth. He may have studied with the Druids. More radical theorists contend he studied extensively with the Druids either in his youth or at least during part of the time in his "missing years." It is difficult to find even rumored lore evidence of this view however.
Orthodox Christianity may object to some elements of this story, especially Jesus studying with the druids, but little resistance is encountered when broached about the possibility of a brief visit to Britain.

4. Jesus "studied in Greece, Egypt and elsewhere" . Some legend lore may exist and references to it The Aquarian Gospel of Jesus but little else. The possibility exists he might have done these things, as distance and motivation is not unreasonable.

5. Jesus "traveled to Japan" theory. According to this, Jesus, in his early 20’s journeyed to Japan, studied, and returned to Judea when he was 29 or so. He was not crucified, for he switched places with a younger brother and fled back to Japan. He married, had three daughters and died at 106. An ancient burial mound in the town of Shingo, is the remaining physical evidence. This theory apparently gained some momentum in the 30’s when a so-called "Will of Christ" was discovered. This "Will " was lost in the 2nd World War, but fascination with the theory has over 10,000 tourists visiting the site every year.

This theory has a low probability of likelihood. Skeptics point out given what is already known about the historical Jesus, his life and mission and also what is known of the ancient world, it would be highly unlikely (more like "impossible") this story could be true.
Proponents of this belief point out the thousands of visitors that come every year to view the Mound. Additionally they point out it was NOT impossible for such a thing to have happened since much of what Christians already believe is shrouded in dogma and non-historical beliefs.

Various stories have circulated about the whereabouts of Jesus during his missing years and others may be added. The situation remains—exactly where WAS Jesus during this time? A plausible explanation must make the most sense based on what is already commonly and acceptably known about Jesus and the events surrounding him.


Point by point answers to common objections Jesus could not have traveled to India:

  • Orthodox Christianity already "proved" the Russian Traveler a fraud. Further comment is pointless.

The information is old and continues to linger on some websites. Their authors may be unaware of the developments since. Though Notovitch (the Russian) eventually stopped battling his critics, (he apparently had other things to do at the time), others have confirmed the existence of the Tibetan documents and Notivitch's story. For example, An Indian Swami Abhedananda, in the 1920’s, unconvinced by both the Russian’s account and efforts from dogmatic Christians to debunk him, visited the monastery himself. He too gained access to the documents, translated and published his own version. The two versions, the Swami’s and the Russian’s, though similar, do not quite mirror each other. Yet they essentially tell the same story.

  • Jesus is God, he did not need to travel anywhere or learn anything from anyone

This is somewhat theological and dogmatic. One might say God became man just so He could see and learn from a human perspective how these things might have worked.

  • Jesus teachings reflect a Jewish point of view, not any other religion.

It is possible Jesus went to points east for academic purposes only.

  • The Bible "indicates" Jesus stayed in Israel the whole time.

After Jesus was found in the temple at Jerusalem LUKE 2: 51-52 states: Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. But his mother treasured all these things in her heart. [52] And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men. In the Forgotten Books of the Bible, The first Gospel of the INFANCY of JESUS CHRIST 22:1-2. NOW from this time Jesus began to conceal his miracles and secret works,
2 And he gave himself to the study of the law, till he arrived to the end of his thirtieth year;

Even apocryphal western sources about Jesus are extremely vague about his life after the age of 13. At this point one can simply accept the verses as meaning he spent some 16 - 17 years in Nazareth with no records or stories supporting it. Or that he underwent an Eastern Sojourn, grew in favor of God and men in those regions and left behind all sorts of adventures and stories in local, literary, documented and esoteric traditions.

  • The Jesus described did things inconsistent and possibly contrary to accepted church views of who Jesus was supposed to be; i.e. ran away from his parents, studied with heathen priests of an inferior religion etc.

This ends up being theological / dogmatic as well, and the previous two answers on the subject apply. If one studies the Notivitch translation, the character of Jesus appears to be totally in line with the one of the New Testament, to include Jesus would "disappear" and question his parents, who looked three days for him, "Why were you searching for me?" then to state. "Didn't you know I had to be in my Father's house?" (or otherwise about my Fathers business).

  • It was too far to travel to India and Tibet at the time.

The article in Wikipedia gives comprehensive information of how this is entirely possible:

"Soon after the Roman conquest of Egypt in 30 BCE, regular communications and trade between India, Southeast Asia, Sri Lanka, China, the Middle East, Africa and Europe blossomed on an unprecedented scale

The Silk Road extends from Guangzhou, located in southern China, to present day Brunei, Myanmar (Burma) Thailand, Malacca, Ceylon, India, Pakistan, the Philippines, Iran and Iraq. In Europe it extends from Israel, Lebanon (Collectively, the Levant), Egypt, and Italy (historically, Venice) in the Mediterranean Sea to other European ports or caravan routes such as the great Hanseatic League fairs via the Spanish road and other Alpine routes. This water route in some sources is called the Indian Ocean Maritime System.

After losing at the battle of Carrhae in 53 BC, 10,000 Roman prisoners were sent by the Parthians to Margiana to help guard the eastern frontier of the Parthian Empire. It is possible that contingents of these men found their way into China.

The Hou Hanshu records that the first Roman envoy arrived in China by this maritime route in 166 CE, initiating a series of Roman contacts with China."

From the Manual for Noncommissioned Officers and Privates of Infantry in the Army of the United States, Washington, Government Printing Office, 1918:

"The rate of march depends greatly upon the condition of the roads and weather, but the average rate for infantry is 2 1/2 miles per hour. This allows for a rest of 10 minutes each hour. The total distance marched in a day depends not only on the rate of march, but upon the size of the command, large commands covering about 10 miles per day, while small commands easily cover double that distance."

Using that estimate it is about 10 to 20 miles per day in a 10 hour travel day. So if we select 15 miles per day in 10 days that is 150 miles , thirty days that is 450 miles, in 5 months 2250 miles.

Caravans rarely if ever traveled the entire trade distance. They traveled part of the distance then dropped goods and another caravan took that good and hauled it another leg of the journey. In this manner, an enterprising young lad could travel with the caravans, "feeding the camels" to finally arrive at a very distant location.

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