No, I don’t think he did. When I ask “Why did Jesus go to India?”, what I mean is “Why do we feel the need to create stories of Jesus going to India?” For these myths, though scorned by scholars, are popular with many devotees of New Age or other alternative spiritualities. They show how myths about Jesus can be created for any purpose. Jesus just becomes a useful mythological heuristic device.
I first began research these myths in a course I took last year on the Bible and postcolonialism. I saw then, and still hold now, that these narratives are inseparable from a colonial context. I also saw that virtually no scholar had examined the subject. I was going to present my continuing researches at the regional AAR meeting last month, but my car broke down and I was unable to make it.
Jesus in India myths take two basic forms: those that portray him going there between 12 and 30, and those that portray him migrating there from Judea and living to die of old age. In this first post I will give a brief overview of the originators of both of these myths.
The first mention of Jesus’ trip to India that I know of was written by Nicholas Notovitch, a Russian journalist and explorer. His 1894 book The Unknown Life Of Jesus Christ claimed to translate a manuscript which Notovitch saw at Hemis Monastery about Jesus’ travels in India and Tibet. Needless to say, it caused quite a controversy in his time! Although famed philologist Max Muller travelled to Hemis Monastery and discovered Notovitch had never been there, the myth persisted and was echoed in Theosophical doctrine.
In 1907, a Civil War chaplain named Levi Dowling wrote The Aquarian Gospel of Jesus the Christ. Dowling did not claim to have found a manuscript, but experienced a series of revelatory visits to the “Akashic realm” in deep meditation cultivated over forty years. Dowling’s Jesus is very ambitious, travelling not only to India and Tibet, but to Persia, Greece, Assyria, and Egypt. Although it makes laughingly implausible history, Dowling’s astrological vision continues to inspire New Age practitioners and conspiracy theorists convinced churches are hiding the truth.
The second type of Jesus in India myths, the myth of Jesus going to India after his Judean ministry, originates with the Ahmadi Muslims of Pakistan. Ahmadiyya is a late-19th century Islamic revivalist movement seeking to reform the Islamic umma and reunite it against British colonizers. Its founder, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, wrote a 1909 tome claiming that Jesus did not die on the cross. He went into a coma, woke up, and migrated to Kashmir, where he died at 120. If this sounds incredible, rest assured that the evidence is clear: his tomb can still be found today!
It is impossible to refute the belief that Jesus went to India. After all, there was trade between Rome and India, so it is possible that Jesus was an international explorer. However, it is quite possible to question the validity of the “evidence” that Jesus ever went to India. This has been done quite well by other scholars, so I will not re-invent the wheel.
In the next post in this series, I will examine the first type of Jesus in India myth, showing how it is a creation of the Orientalist imagination.