Jesus, The Lost Years: Ages 12 to 29

Jesus, The Lost Years: Ages 12 to 29 February 23, 2023

Jesus in India
Portrait of Jesus generated by AI, Mathias Ribeiro via Wikimedia Commons

Why are there no stories about teenage or young adult Jesus in the Bible? If you look at the four gospels in the New Testament, you’ll notice there’s a big leap when it comes to telling the life story of Jesus. We learn about baby Jesus in the manger. Then, in Luke there’s a story about Jesus visiting a temple at age 12. The next thing you know Jesus is a 30-year-old man.

So, what happened during the intervening years? Was Jesus under the radar, living a quiet life as a carpenter under the tutelage of his father? Or is it possible that at some point he left his home in Nazareth and traveled? While most historians believe we don’t know for sure, dig a little deeper and you’ll find alternative stories about the lost years of Jesus. They just aren’t in the Bible.

Now I realize some readers may check out here. If it’s not in the Bible, they consider it sacrilegious. But that ignores the hundreds of ancient texts about Jesus some of which, like the Gospel of Thomas, date all the way back to the time the gospels of the Bible were written. They can provide fresh insights into Jesus, his life, and his message.

For instance, consider the tale told in the Gnostic Infancy Gospel of Thomas which was published in about 150-180 AD. An identical story appears in several Islamic texts, via the mystical Sufis, who refer to Jesus as “Master of the Way.” It shows a young Jesus performing small miracles in passages like this:

One day Jesus, the son of Mary, while a child, was making small birds out of clay. Some other youngsters, who could not do so, ran to the elders and told them. The elders said, “This work cannot be allowed on the Sabbath,” for it was a Saturday.

 They went to the pool where the Son of Mary was sitting and asked him where his birds were. As an answer, he pointed to the clay birds he had made—which then flew away. “Making birds which fly is impossible, therefore it cannot be a breaking of the Sabbath,” said one elder. So, the Sabbath was not broken.

Then there’s the fantastical tale of Jesus in India.

In a book released in 1894 and titled The Unknown Life of Jesus Christ, a Russian born Parisian, Nicolas Notovitch, made a startling claim. While travelling through remote parts of northern India, Notovitch had begun hearing stories about Jesus having visited there in his youth.

At a remote monastery in Ladakh, Notovitch was invited to read two ancient texts that described the travels and studies in India of a man called Issa—the Arabic name of Jesus. The UK History website explains:

According to the text, Jesus left Judea at the age of 13 and set out on an epic journey of self-enlightenment through studying other religions. Notovitch wrote that Jesus studied the Hindu Veda under Brahmin priests. He (Jesus) spent six years in Puri and Rajgir, near Nalanda, the ancient seat of Hindu learning. Then he went to the Himalayas and spent time in Tibetan monasteries studying Buddhism and through Persia returned to Judea at the age of 29.

At the time of its release, The Unknown Life of Jesus Christ was a runaway international bestseller. 11 editions were printed in France during its first year of publication. But the book also had several critics, many of which claimed the story was a fabrication. Today, most Western religious experts will tell you the same thing—the story is untrue.

There’s just one thing. Many in the East will tell you that the Western experts are wrong.

 In fact, there are Hindu spiritual leaders today who are certain that Jesus did in fact visit India as a young man. Probably the best known of the “Jesus was in India” proponents is the famed Indian spiritual teacher Yogananda. One of his teachers, Jagadguru Sri Shankaracharya, has stated that he has seen and read the ancient texts and proclaimed:

There is proof positive that Jesus Christ was in India as a young lad and received training in the monasteries there. 

The story has also been retold in recent years in the book King of Travelers: Jesus’ Lost Years in India, by the explorer Edward T. Martin, and by Paul Sands in the film Jesus in India (available on Amazon Prime). In the film, Sands speaks with a contemporary Hindu spiritual leader who claims the visitations from Jesus are common knowledge in his country, a claim backed up by several other Hindus.

The idea that Jesus left home is the modern-day equivalent of a young student studying abroad. It’s explained in Notovitch’s manuscript like this: “Issa secretly absented himself from his father’s house; left Jerusalem, and, in a train of merchants, journeyed toward the Sindh, with the object of perfecting himself in the knowledge of the Word of God and the study of the laws of the great Buddhas.”

What did Jesus learn during his stay India?

Notovitch’s book includes what he claims is a reproduction of the ancient Hindu text The Life of Saint Issa, Best of the Sons of Men. While Notovitch could not leave the monastery with the text, he was able to copy it word for word. It talks to both the life and death of Jesus and reads like a lost gospel. It states that “Issa” was born to a poor family in the land of Israel. But it became apparent at an early age, that he had a special gift, talking of the “only and indivisible God” from an early age. From the original text:

People came from all parts to hear him and marveled at his discourses. The modest house of his parents became a meeting place of the rich and illustrious, who were anxious to have as a son-in-law the young Issa.

Wary of all the attention, the now 14-year-old Jesus, aka Issa, leaves home. He “secretly absented himself from his father’s house” and “with the object of perfecting himself in the knowledge of the word of God” he makes his way to India. There, the priests of Brahma “welcomed him joyfully” and “taught him to read and understand the Vedas” and to “cure physical ills by means of prayers.”

Most interesting are the unique teachings of Jesus that are highlighted in The Life of Saint Issa, some of which may have been informed by his Buddhist and Hindu teachers. What follows are a few excerpts, rewritten in modern language.

On God in everyday life

  • The miracles of God started on the day the universe was created.
  • The miracles continue every day and in every moment. Those who do not see them, are deprived of one of the most beautiful gifts of life.
  • God is the cause of humanity, into whom he has breathed part of his own divine being.
  • The Lord our God is all powerful and omnipresent. God alone possesses all wisdom and light.

On how to live

  • Be humble and do not humiliate your fellow man.
  • Deceive none so that you will not be deceived.
  • Help the poor. Support the weak. Do evil to none.
  • Do not covet what you don’t have or what belongs to others.

On organized religion

  • God cares not for temples built by human hands. Human hearts are the true temples of God.
  • Enter into your temple, into your own heart. Illuminate it with good thoughts, with patience, with unshakable faith.
  • Your hands and eyes are sacred vessels. Look to do what is agreeable to God.
  • In doing good to your fellow man, you embellish the temple within which God resides.

Jesus even commented on the Indian caste system, stating, “God has made no difference in his children, all who are alike and dear to Him.” So, did Jesus really visit India? The chances are slim. But the fact is little else is known about Jesus and the missing 17 years from ages 12 to 29. And this story fills the gap.

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