The unknown years of Jesus (also called his silent years or lost years) generally refers to the period between Jesus's childhood and the beginning of his ministry as recorded in the New Testament.
The phrases "lost years of Jesus" is usually encountered in esoteric literature, (where it at times also refers to his possible post-crucifixion activities) but is not commonly used in scholarly literature since it is assumed that Jesus was probably working as a carpenter in Galilee from the age of twelve till thirty, so the years were not "lost years", and that he died in Calvary.
In the late medieval period, Arthurian legends appeared that the young Jesus had been in Britain. In the 19th and 20th centuries theories began to emerge that between the ages of 12 and 30 Jesus had visited India, or had studied with the Essenes in the Judea desert. Modern scholarship has generally rejected these theories and holds that nothing is known about this time period in the life of Jesus.
The use of the "lost years" in the "swoon hypothesis", suggests that Jesus survived his crucifixion and continued his life. This, and the related view that he avoided crucifixion altogether, has given rise to several speculations about what happened to him in the supposed remaining years of his life, but these are generally not accepted by mainstream scholars.
Following the accounts of Jesus' young life, there is a gap of about 18 years in his life story in the New Testament. Other than the generic statement that after he was 12 years old (Luke 2:42) Jesus "advanced in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men" (Luke 2:52), the New Testament has no other details regarding the gap. While Christian tradition suggests that Jesus simply lived in Galilee during that period, modern scholarship holds that there is little historical information to determine what happened during those years.
The ages of 12 and 30, the approximate ages at either end of the unknown years, have some significance in Judaism of the Second Temple period: 12 is the age of the bar mitzvah, the age of secular maturity, and 30 the age of readiness for the priesthood, although Jesus was not of the tribe of Levi.
Christians have generally taken the statement in Mark 6:3 referring to Jesus as "Is not this the carpenter...?" as an indication that prior to the age of thirty Jesus had been working in the trade as a carpenter. The tone of the passage leading to the question "Is not this the carpenter?" suggests familiarity with Jesus within the area, reinforcing that he had been generally seen as a carpenter in the gospel account prior to the start of his ministry.Matthew 13:55 poses the question as "Is not this the carpenter's son?" suggesting that the profession Tektōn had been a family business and Jesus was engaged in it before starting his preaching and ministry in the gospel accounts.
The historical record of the large number of workmen employed in the rebuilding of Sepphoris has led Batey (1984) and others to suggest that when Jesus was in his teens and twenties carpenters would have found more employment at Sepphoris rather than at the small town of Nazareth.
Aside from secular employment some attempts have been made to reconstruct the theological and rabbinical circumstances of the "unknown years", e.g. soon after the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls novelist Edmund Wilson (1955) suggested Jesus may have studied with the Essenes, followed by the Unitarian Charles F. Potter (1958) and others. Other writers have taken the view that the predominance of Pharisees in Judea during that period, and Jesus' own later recorded interaction with the Pharisees, makes a Pharisee background more likely, as in the recorded case of another Galilean, Josephus studied with all three groups: Pharisees, Sadducees and Essenes.
The New Testament Apocrypha and early Christian pseudepigrapha preserve various pious legends filling the "gaps" in Christ's youth. Charlesworth (2008) explains this as due to the canonical Gospels having left "a narrative vacuum" that many have attempted to fill.
Young Jesus in Britain
The story of Jesus visiting Britain as a boy is a late medieval development based on legends connected with Joseph of Arimathea. During the late 12th century, Joseph of Arimathea became connected with the Arthurian cycle, appearing in them as the first keeper of the Holy Grail. This idea first appears in Robert de Boron's Joseph d'Arimathie, in which Joseph receives the Grail from an apparition of Jesus and sends it with his followers to Britain. This theme is elaborated upon in Boron's sequels and in subsequent Arthurian works penned by others.
Some Arthurian legends hold that Jesus traveled to Britain as a boy, lived at Priddy in the Mendips, and built the first wattle cabin at Glastonbury.William Blake's early 19th century poem And did those feet in ancient time was inspired by the story of Jesus traveling to Britain. In some versions, Joseph was supposedly a tin merchant and took Jesus under his care when his mother Mary was widowed.Gordon Strachan wrote Jesus the Master Builder: Druid Mysteries and the Dawn of Christianity (1998), which was the basis of the documentary titled And Did Those Feet (2009). Strachan believed Jesus may have travelled to Britain to study with the Druids.
Jesus in India before crucifixion
Louis Jacolliot, 1869
The idea of Indian influences on Jesus (and Christianity) has been suggested in Louis Jacolliot's book La Bible dans l'Inde, Vie de Iezeus Christna (1869) (The Bible in India, or the Life of Jezeus Christna), although Jacolliot does not claim travels by Jesus to India.
Jacolliot compared the accounts of the life of Bhagavan Krishna with that of Jesus Christ in the gospels and concluded that it could not have been a coincidence that the two stories have so many similarities in many of the finer details. He concluded that the account in the gospels is a myth based on the mythology of ancient India. However, Jacolliot was comparing two different periods of history (or mythology) and did not claim that Jesus was in India. Jacolliot used the spelling "Christna" instead of "Krishna" and claimed that Krishna's disciples gave him the name "Jezeus," a name supposed to mean "pure essence" in Sanskrit. However, according to Max Müller that is not a Sanskrit term at all and "it was simply invented" by Jacoillot.
In 1887 a Russian war correspondent, Nicolas Notovitch claimed that while at the Hemis Monastery in Ladakh, he had learned of the document "Life of Saint Issa, Best of the Sons of Men" - Isa being the Arabic name of Jesus in Islam. Notovitch's story, with a translated text of the "Life of Saint Issa," was published in French in 1894 as La vie inconnue de Jesus Christ (Unknown Life of Jesus Christ).
Notovitch's writings were immediately controversial and Max Müller stated that either the monks at the monastery had deceived Notovitch (or played a joke on him), or he had fabricated the evidence. Muller then wrote to the monastery at Hemis and the head lama replied that there had been no Western visitor at the monastery in the past fifteen years and there were no documents related to Notovitch's story.J. Archibald Douglas then visited Hemis monastery and interviewed the head lama who stated that Notovitch had never been there. Indologist Leopold von Schroeder called Notovitch's story a "big fat lie".Wilhelm Schneemelcher states that Notovich's accounts were soon exposed as fabrications, and that to date no one has even had a glimpse at the manuscripts Notovitch claims to have had.
Notovich at first responded to claims to defend himself. But once his story had been re-examined by historians, Notovitch confessed to having fabricated the evidence.Bart D. Ehrman states that "Today there is not a single recognized scholar on the planet who has any doubts about the matter. The entire story was invented by Notovitch, who earned a good deal of money and a substantial amount of notoriety for his hoax".
In 1908 Levi H. Dowling published the Aquarian Gospel of Jesus the Christ which he claimed was channeled to him by a supernatural being called "Akashic Records" as the true story of the life of Jesus, including "the 'lost' eighteen years silent in the New Testament." The narrative follows the young Jesus across India, Tibet, Persia, Assyria, Greece and Egypt. Dowling's work was later used by Holger Kersten who combined it with elements derived from other sources such as the Ahmadiyya beliefs.
Rejection by modern scholarship
Modern scholarship has generally rejected any travels by Jesus to India, Tibet or surrounding areas as without historical basis:
Robert Van Voorst states that modern scholarship has "almost unanimously agreed" that claims of the travels of Jesus to Tibet, Kashmir or India contain "nothing of value".
Marcus Borg states that the suggestions that an adult Jesus traveled to Egypt or India and came into contact with Buddhism are "without historical foundation".
John Dominic Crossan states that none of the theories presented about the travels of Jesus to fill the gap between his early life and the start of his ministry have been supported by modern scholarship.
Leslie Houlden states that although modern parallels between the teachings of Jesus and Buddha have been drawn, these comparisons emerged after missionary contacts in the 19th century and there is no historically reliable evidence of contacts between Buddhism and Jesus.
Paula Fredriksen states that no serious scholarly work places Jesus outside the backdrop of 1st century Palestinian Judaism.
The traditional Islamic view of Jesus' death does not propose later years of Jesus, since based on the statements in Quran 4:157–158, most Muslims believe Jesus was raised to Heaven without being put on the cross and God transformed another person (at times interpreted as Judas Iscariot or Simon of Cyrene) to appear exactly like Jesus who was crucified instead of Jesus. Some interpretations of Hadith and other traditions have Jesus life continuing on earth. Ibn Babawayh (d.991 CE) in Ikhmal ad Din recounts that Jesus went to a far country.
Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, 1899
Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, founder of the Ahmadiyya movement
According to Mirza Ghulam Ahmad the founder of the Ahmadiyyas, the further sayings of Muhammad say that Jesus died in Kashmir at the age of one hundred and twenty years. They identify the holy man Yuz Asaf buried at the Roza Bal shrine in Srinagar, India as Jesus on the basis of an account in the History of Kashmir by the Sufi poet Khwaja Muhammad Azam Didamari (1747) that the holy man Yuz Asaf buried there was a prophet and a foreign prince.Paul C. Pappas states that from a historical perspective, the Ahmadi identification of Yuzasaf with Jesus relies on legends and documents which include clear historical errors (e.g. Gondophares' reign) and that "it is almost impossible to identify Yuz Asaf with Jesus".
In his 1957 book "The Wisdom of Balahvar" David Marshall Lang presented evidence of how confusion in diacritical markings in Arabic texts transformed Budhasaf (Buddha-to-be) into Yudasaf, Iodasaph, and then Yuzasaf, and resulted in the Ahmadiyya assertions; also confusing Kashmir and Kushinara, the place of Buddha's death. The Swedish scholar Per Beskow in Jesus i Kashmir: Historien om en legend (1981) also concluded that Ahmad had misidentified traditions about Gautama Buddha in the Bilawhar wa-Yudasaf legend as being about Jesus. Beskow updated his conclusions in English in 2011.
Holger Kersten, 1981
In 1981 Holger Kersten, a German writer on esoteric subjects popularised the subject in his Christ Lived in India. Kersten's ideas were among various expositions of the theory critiqued by Günter Grönbold in Jesus in Indien. Das Ende einer Legende (Munich, 1985).Wilhelm Schneemelcher states that the work of Kersten (which builds on Ahmad and The Aquarian Gospel) is fantasy and has nothing to do with historical research. Schneemelcher states that Kersten combines elements from various previous authors such as Notovitch, Ahmadiyya beliefs, and Levi Dowling.Gerald O'Collins also states that Kersten's work is simply the repackaging of a legend for consumption by the general public.
Among texts cited by Kersten, following Andreas Faber-Kaiser, is the third khanda of the Pratisarga Parvan in the Bhavishya Mahapurana which contains discussion of "Isa Masih" and Muhammed. However Indologists such as Grönbold note that this section postdates not just the Quran, but also the Mughals. Hiltebeitel (2009) establishes 1739 as the very earliest possible date for the section.
According to the Book of Mormon, Jesus visited the American natives (Mayans presumably) after his resurrection. It is interesting to notice however, that several tribes in Mexico have a legend that a white skinned God came to them from across the Atlantic Ocean. Scholars have interpreted it to mean Jesus. The book of Third Nephi, from verse 10 states:
"10. Behold, I am Jesus Christ, whom the prophets testified shall come into the world. (...) 12. And it came to pass that when Jesus had spoken these words the whole multitude fell to the earth; for they remembered that it had been prophesied among them that Christ should show himself unto them after his ascension into heaven. (...) 14. Arise and come forth unto me, that ye may thrust your hands into my side, and also that ye may feel the prints of the nails in my hands and in my feet, that ye may know that I am the God of Israel, and the God of the whole earth, and have been slain for the sins of the world."
In 1996 the documentary Mysteries of the Bible presented an overview of the theories related to the travels of Jesus to India and interviewed a number of scholars on the subject.
Edward T. Martin's book King of Travelers: Jesus' Lost Years in India (2008) was used as the basis for Paul Davids' film Jesus in India (2008) shown on the Sundance Channel. The book and film cover Martin's search for Notovitch's claimed "Life of Issa."
^ abcJames H. CharlesworthThe Historical Jesus: An Essential Guide 2008 ISBN 0687021677 "From twelve to thirty then are "Jesus' silent years," which does not denote he was silent. It means the Evangelists remain silent about what Jesus did." ... "Only Luke reports that Jesus was in the Temple when he was twelve, apparently for his bar mitzvah (2:42), and that he began his public ministry when he was "about thirty years of age" (3:23). What did Jesus do from age twelve to thirty?".
^ abcdefAll the People in the Bible by Richard R. Losch (May 1, 2008) Eerdsmans Press ISBN 0802824544209: "Nothing is known of the life of Jesus during the eighteen years from the time of the incident in the temple until his baptism by John the Baptist when he was about thirty. Countless theories have been proposed, among them that he studied in Alexandria in the Jewish centers there and that he lived among the Essenes in the Judean desert...there is no evidence to substantiate any of these claims and we have to accept that we simply don't know.... The most likely thing is that he continued to live in Nazareth and ply his trade there..."
^ abcdThe Cambridge Companion to the Arthurian Legend by Elizabeth Archibald and Ad Putter (10 Sep 2009) ISBN 0521677882 page 50
^ abcNew Testament Apocrypha, Vol. 1: Gospels and Related Writings by Wilhelm Schneemelcher and R. Mcl. Wilson (Dec 1, 1990) ISBN 066422721X page 84 "a particular book by Nicolas Notovich (Di Lucke im Leben Jesus 1894) ... shortly after the publication of the book, the reports of travel experiences were already unmasked as lies. The fantasies about Jesus in India were also soon recognized as invention... down to today, nobody has had a glimpse of the manuscripts with the alleged narratives about Jesus"
^ abcCrossan, John Dominic; Richard G. Watts (1999). Who is Jesus? : answers to your questions about the historical Jesus. Louisville, Ky: Westminster John Knox Press. pp. 28–29. ISBN0664258425.
^ abVoorst, Robert E. Van (2000). Jesus Outside the New Testament : an introduction to the ancient evidence. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans. p. 17. ISBN0-8028-4368-9. "... Jesus' putative travels to India and Tibet, his grave in Srinagar, Kashmir, and so forth. Scholarship has almost unanimously agreed that these references to Jesus are so late and tendentious as to contain virtually nothing of value for understanding the Historical Jesus."
^ abcdeNew Testament Apocrypha, Vol. 1: Gospels and Related Writings by Wilhelm Schneemelcher and R. Mcl. Wilson (Dec 1, 1990) ISBN 066422721X page 84. Schneemelcher states that Kersten's work is based on "fantasy, untruth and ignorance (above all in the linguistic area)" Schneemelcher states that ""Kersten for example attempted to work up Notovitch and Ahmadiyya legends with many other alleged witnesses into a complete picture. Thus Levi's Aquarian Gospel is pressed into service, along with the Turin shroud and the Qumran texts."
^Lloyd Kenyon JonesThe Eighteen Absent Years of Jesus Christ "as a skilled and dutiful artisan and as a loving son and neighbor, Jesus was using those qualities which were to flame forth...was the work which He was to do that He did not leave that home and that preparation until the mature age of thirty."
^:Reiner, Edwin W. (1971). The Atonement. Nashville: Southern Pub. Association. ISBN0812700511. OCLC134392. Page 140 ""And Jesus himself began to be about thirty years of age, being (as was supposed) the son of Joseph." Luke 3:23. But Christ, of course, did not belong to the Levitical priesthood. He had descended neither from Aaron nor from the tribe of Levi."
^ abThe Gospel According to Mark: Meaning and Message by George Martin (Sep 2005) ISBN 0829419705 Loyola Univ Press pages 128-129
^W. D. Davies, Dale Allison, Jr. Matthew 8-18 2004 ISBN 0567083659 T&T Clarke Page 456 "For the suggestion that Jesus worked not only in a wood-worker's shop in Nazareth but perhaps also in Sepphoris, helping to construct Herod's capital, see R. A. Batey, 'Is not this the Carpenter?', NTS 30 (1984), pp. 249-58. Batey also calls ..."
^Menahem Mansoor The Dead Sea Scrolls: A College Textbook and a Study GuideBrill Publishers; 1964, Page 156 "Edmund Wilson suggests that the unknown years in the life of Jesus (ages 12-30) might have been spent with the sect, but there is no reference to this in the texts."
^Charles F. Potter The Lost Years of Jesus Revealed Random House 1958 "For centuries Christian students of the Bible have wondered where Jesus was and what he did during the so-called "eighteen silent years" between the ages of twelve and thirty. The amazing and dramatic scrolls of the great Essene library found in cave after cave near the Dead Sea have given us the answer at last. That during those "lost years" Jesus was a student at this Essene school is becoming increasingly apparent. .."
^Brennan Hill Jesus, the Christ: contemporary perspectives 1991 ISBN 1585953032 Page 6 "than about the people with whom Jesus lived. Josephus (d. 100 C.E.) was born just after the time of Jesus. He claims to have studied with the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Essenes as a young man"
^James H. CharlesworthThe Historical Jesus: An Essential Guide 2008 ISBN ISBN 0687021677 The New Testament Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha preserve many legends concocted to explain Jesus' youth. Tales have him ... The Evangelists have left "a narrative vacuum," and many have attempted to fill it. Only Luke reports that Jesus ...
^Camelot and the vision of Albion by Geoffrey Ashe 1971 ISBN 0586041346 Page 157 "Blake may be referring to one of the odder offshoots of the Arthur-Grail imbroglio, the belief that Jesus visited Britain as a boy, lived at Priddy in the Mendips, and built the first wattle cabin at Glastonbury. This tale seems to have arisen quite ..."
^Milton, A Poem (The Illuminated Books of William Blake, Volume 5) by William Blake, Robert N. Essick and Joseph Viscomi (Sep 4, 1998) ISBN 0691001480 Princeton Univ Press Page 214 "The notion that Jesus visited Britain may have been reinforced for Blake by the name 'Lambeth' (house of the lamb - see 4:14-15 note). Compare Isaiah 52.7 ('How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings, that ..."
^Jesus: A Life by A. N. Wilson 1993 ISBN 0393326330 page 87 "One such legend, which haunted the imagination of William Blake and, through Blake's lyric 'Jerusalem', has passed into British national legend, is the story that Jesus visited Britain as a boy. Though written sources for this folk-tale are ..."
^"Jesus 'may have visited England', says Scottish academic". (Film review) "And Did Those Feet". BBC News. 26 November 2009. Retrieved 4 March 2013. "St Augustine wrote to the Pope to say he'd discovered a church in Glastonbury built by followers of Jesus. But St Gildas (a 6th-Century British cleric) said it was built by Jesus himself. It's a very very ancient church which went back perhaps to AD37"
^Max Müller (1888), Journal of the Transactions of the Victoria Institute Volume 21, page 179
^The Unknown Life Of Jesus Christ: By The Discoverer Of The Manuscript by Nicolas Notovitch (Oct 15, 2007) ISBN 1434812839
^ abForged: Writing in the Name of God--Why the Bible's Authors Are Not Who We Think They Are by Bart D. Ehrman (Mar 6, 2012) ISBN 0062012622 page 252 "one of the most widely disseminated modern forgeries is called The Unknown Life of Jesus Christ"
^Simon J. Joseph, "Jesus in India?" Journal of the American Academy of Religion Volume 80, Issue 1 pp. 161-199 "Max Müller suggested that either the Hemis monks had deceived Notovitch or that Notovitch himself was the author of these passages"
^Last Essays by Friedrich M. Mueller 1901 (republished in Jun 1973) ISBN 0404114393 page 181: "it is pleasanter to believe that Buddhist monks can at times be wags, than that M. Notovitch is a rogue."
^ abBradley Malkovsky, "Some Recent Developments in Hindu Understandings of Jesus" in the Journal of Hindu-Christian Studies (2010) Vol. 23, Article 5.:"Muller then wrote to the chief lama st Hemis and received the reply that no Westerner had visited there in the past fifteen years nor was the monastery in possession of any documents having to do with the story Notovitch had made public in his famous book" ... "J. Archibald Douglas took it upon himself to make the journey to the Hemis monistry to conduct a personal interview with the same head monk with whom Meuller had corresponded. What Douglas learned there completely concurred with what Mueller had learned: Notovitch had never been there."
^ abIndology, Indomania, and Orientalism by Douglas T. McGetchin (Jan 1, 2010) Fairleigh Dickinson University Press ISBN 083864208X page 133 "Faced with this cross-examination, Notovich confessed to fabricating his evidence."
^D.L. Snellgrove and T. Skorupski (1977) The Cultural Heritage of Ladakh, p. 127, Prajna Press ISBN 0-87773-700-2
^Fredriksen, Paula. From Jesus to Christ. ISBN 0300084579 Yale University Press, 2000, p. xxvi.
^What You Need to Know about Islam and Muslims, by George Braswell 2000 ISBN 978-0-8054-1829-3 B & H Publishing page 127
^Günter Grönbold Jesus In Indien – Das Ende einer Legende. Kösel, München, 1985
^Jesus' Tomb in India: The Debate on His Death and Resurrection by Paul C. Pappas 1991 ISBN 0895819465 ; page 155: "Al-Haj Nazir Ahmad's work Jesus in Heaven on Earth, which constitutes the Ahmadi's best historical defense of Jesus' presence in Kashmir as Yuz Asaf, appears to be full of flaws, especially concerning Gondophares' reign", page 100: "The Ahmadi thesis can rest only on eastern legends recorded in oriental works, which for the most part are not reliable, not only because they were written long after the facts, but also because their stories of Yuz Asaf are different and in contradiction", page 115: "It is almost impossible to identify Yuz Asaf with Jesus"
^In The Journal of Ecclesiastical History Volume 18, Issue 02, October 1967, pp 247-248, John Rippon summarizes the work of David Marshall Lang on the subject as follows: "In The Wisdom of Balahvar Professor Lang assembled the evidence for the Buddhist origins of the legends of the Christian saints Barlaam and Josephat. He suggested the importance of Arabic intermediaries, showing that confusion of diacritical markings turned Budhasaf (Bodhisattva, the Buddha-to-be) into Yudasaf, Iodasaph, Yuzasaf and Josaphat. By a curious roundabout journey this error reappears in once Buddhist Kashmir where the modern Ahmadiyya Muslims, well known for their Woking mosque, claim that a tomb of Yus Asad was the tomb of Jesus who died in Kashmir, after having been taken down live from the cross; though though the Bombay Arabic edition of the book Balahvar makes its hero die in Kashmir, by confusion with Kushinara the traditional place of the Buddha's death."
^Per Beskow in the The Blackwell Companion to Jesus ed. Delbert Burkett 2011 ISBN 140519362X "During the transmission of the legend, this name underwent several changes: to Budhasaf, Yudasaf, and finally Yuzasaf. In Greek, his name is Ioasaph; in Latin, Josaphat, ..."
^Jesus Lived in India: His Unknown Life Before and After the Crucifixion by Holger Kersten 1981 ISBN 0143028294 Penguin India
^Gregorianum Page 258 Pontificia università gregoriana (Rome) "The whole story of how this legend was simply created (without a shred of evidence in its support), spread widely among a gullible public and still finds such latter-day exponents as Holger Kersten is splendidly told by Günt[h]er Grönbold."
^Die Jesus-in-Indien-Legende - Eine alternative Jesus-Erzählung? by Mark Bothe 2011 ISBN 3640439791 Page 29 "... schließlich in Srinagar niedergelassen habe, liest Faber-Kaiser Mahapurana.85 Aus seinem Gespräch mit Professor Fida Hassnain entwickelt er zudem die ... aus einem Werk namens Tarikh-i-Kashmir und dem Bhavishya
^Rethinking India's Oral and Classical Epics by Alf Hiltebeitel 2009 ISBN 0226340511 Univ Chicago Press Page 276 "Thus 1739 could mark a terminus a quo for the text's history of the Mughals. If so, the same terminus would apply to its Genesis-Exodus sequence in its first khanda, its Jesus-Muhammad diptych in its third (the Krsnam&acaritd) , and the history ..."
^National Geographic Channel (25 May 1996) Mysteries of the Bible, "The Lost Years of Jesus".
^W. Barnes Tatum Jesus: A Brief History 2009 Page 237 "On the site, there appears the title in English with eye-catching flourishes: Jesus in India.50 Instead of a narrative retelling of the Jesus story, Jesus in India follows the American adventurer Edward T. Martin, from Lampasas, Texas, as he ..."
^Maass, Donald (Mar 14, 2011). The Breakout Novelist: Craft and Strategies for Career Fiction Writers. p. 222. ISBN1582979901.