Most Christians are well aware of the fact that the accounts of the life of Jesus, contained within the four New Testament gospels, have a void of about seventeen years with no information about where he was and what he was doing. These seventeen years are referred to by scholars and Christians as the ‘lost years’ of Jesus. They weren’t lost to Jesus, of course, but they remain lost to us.
There are plenty of theories which have been offered over the centuries as to where he was. Many believe he was in Galilee the entire time, living in the small village of Nazareth, his ancestral home.
Galilee was a Roman district in northern Israel, bordered by the Sea of Galilee to the east. Galilee was not a large region; only about twenty miles wide and thirty miles from top to bottom. Historians believe it was comprised of about 200 villages, with typical populations ranging from fifty to several hundred inhabitants. About half of the land was unsuitable for human habitation, so the population was concentrated in certain areas, especially along the west bank of the Sea of Galilee.
There are some passages in the gospels that appear to support the theory that Jesus had lived in Galilee continually for thirty years. One of those passages, the second chapter of Luke, relays a story about Jesus’ family making an annual pilgrimage to Jerusalem. After satisfying their religious obligations in Jerusalem, they wind up leaving on the return trip without the twelve-year-old, thinking that he had left earlier with another group.
But after journeying for a day, and realizing that he had not joined the other travelers, they return to Jerusalem, only to find him in the temple, discussing and debating religion with teachers and pundits. According to Luke, everyone was impressed with his grasp of ideological concepts.
This is the last accounting of his life until he suddenly appears in Galilee at the age of thirty. Long-standing Christian tradition holds that Jesus lived in Galilee for the unaccounted-for seventeen years, working in the family carpentry business. However, modern scholars have conceded that there is no historical evidence supporting this notion.
The only passage within the New Testament that supports the idea that he worked as a carpenter appears in the thirteenth chapter of Mathew. At the outset of his spiritual mission, Jesus began by preaching to people in various locations throughout Galilee in his personal style of telling parables. After delivering a sermon in a Synagogue, onlookers were reported as commenting:
“Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary? and his brethren, James, and Joseph, and Simon, and Judas?”
Many Christians have concluded that this passage provides the evidence needed to support the belief that he lived and worked in Nazareth as a carpenter. There is a similar passage in Mark, where the author writes:
“Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, and brother of James, and Joseph, and Judas, and Simon?”
If you carefully compare these two passages, it offers a window into the challenges faced by scholars who have attempted to resolve this mystery, and many other similar mysteries pertaining to early Christianity, and a myriad of other historical conundrums.
The first consideration is that the gospel of Matthew was the first gospel written, and compared to the other three books, is widely considered to contain the most accurate accounting of historical facts. Mark’s gospel was written years later, and the author used Matthew’s gospel as a source document. In fact, if you compare the two closely, you can almost accuse Mark of plagiarism in many places.
Jesus begins his spiritual mission in Galilee, on his (family’s) home turf, and the local people are impressed, but at the same time, taken aback. Some of them attempt to belittle him by stating, “He’s nobody important. Isn’t he the son of that carpenter?” But Mark refers to him as “the carpenter”. This may seem like a minor point of discrepancy on the surface, but it’s not.
Mark transposed Matthew’s statement from Jesus being a carpenter’s son, to Jesus himself being a carpenter. This might be partly due to Mark’s inattentiveness. But it also has Mark playing the role of interpreter, taking the leap of logic that if Jesus’ father was a carpenter, then Jesus must have been a carpenter himself. Mark, of course, was not an eye witness to any of these events.
The fact that these local people had to ask the question, “Isn’t he the carpenter’s son?”, suggests that Jesus’ identity was not commonly established in the area. Nazareth, in those ancient times, was a small, out-of-the-way village, off the beaten track. Anyone who has ever lived in a small town knows that in a town of that size, everybody knows everybody. Jesus’ identity would have been firmly established in the minds of the people.
Even if these events took place in another village, away from Nazareth, it is likely that Jesus, a man who had lived in the area continuously for thirty years, would have been recognizable.
Now, if you imagine that Jesus wasn’t in Nazareth for those seventeen years, but had recently returned from somewhere else, for a long-awaited reunion with his biological family, then the question, “Is not this the carpenter’s son?”, offers a different perspective. Relating him to his family offered people a point of reference with respect to his identity. In their minds, the association would have been a bit hazy, since he was actually unknown to them as an adult. So, they pose the question.
When Jesus meets Simon, Andrew, and John by the sea of Galilee, there isn’t any suggestion that these fishermen were previously familiar with him.
If you assume that Jesus did live in Galilee for thirty years, how did he suddenly transform from a humble, obscure carpenter, to a bigger-than-life spiritual dynamo? One day he is quietly constructing furniture in the family shop, and the next day he transmutes into a charismatic orator, espousing religious and philosophical ideas. Where did he gain the masterful teaching skill of conveying complex ideological concepts with simple, down-home, easy-to-grasp parables?
Follow the Clues
Historians are detectives. They do the best job they can with what they have to work with. Oftentimes, that isn’t much. Or, what they do have isn’t considered to be completely reliable. They use texts and archeological evidence, and whatever other evidence they can muster to try to understand what happened hundreds, and sometimes, thousands of years ago. They piece together their clues, like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, with each new piece bringing the picture into better focus.
Determining where Jesus was from the age of 13 to the age of 30 necessitates the gathering of clues. Whatever conclusions are drawn from those clues are circumstantial and speculative, by necessity. One approach is to ask questions, and then answer those questions, puzzle piece by puzzle piece.
Did Jesus have a trade? Throughout the four gospels, there is no mention of Jesus doing any carpentry, or anything remotely related to carpentry. When he visits people as he wanders around, he doesn’t get involved in helping anyone fix a fence or a gatepost.
What does he do? He heals. The four gospels contain story after story of Jesus healing. There are at least fifty accounts of him healing the sick. In some of the accounts, he appears to heal with purely spiritual energies. There are other accounts of him using natural methods, including water and clay poultices.
In Jesus’ time, healing was a trade. And where did a young, twelve-year-old Jewish boy learn the trade of healing? He learned it at the Essene community in Qumran.
The Essenes were a devout sect of Jews, with a large community at the Dead Sea, about thirty miles southeast of Jerusalem. The Essenes were mostly bachelor men, who lived the life of monks, sharing all of their material possessions, and practicing various spiritual disciplines and austerities. The Essenes believed that they were superior to other Jews, in a religious sense, because they practiced Judaism the way it was intended to be practiced by Moses.
When a Jewish boy reached the age of twelve, it was time for his parents to decide what to do with him. It was his time to go out into the world and begin to establish himself. This often took the form of some kind of education and/or apprenticeship.
Jesus’ parents knew he was special, that he was spiritually evolved. Both his mother and his aunt had visions, informing them of his spiritual eminence. His parents must have understood that he needed some guidance or influence in his life that would prepare him for spiritual work. In Israel at that time, if you wanted to prepare your son for a life of spirituality, you sent him to the Essene community to be a novice.
Go East Young Man
The Essenes taught three trades: document copying (scribe), plant propagation (farming), and healing. While Jesus’ dynamic temperament was probably unsuited for the tedious work of document copying, he would have been naturally attracted to growing plants and to healing. Many of the parables he shares with people later on involve plants or the growing of plants.
At the tender age of thirteen, Jesus’ parents most likely sent him off to Qumran.
Qumran was on a major transportation route to the East, all the way to Persia and beyond. The Essenes were interested in religious and philosophical ideas, and probably had plenty of spirited discussions with travelers from the East, who brought with them concepts related to Buddhism and Vedanta. These discussions undoubtedly piqued Jesus’ interest.
After discovering, and discussing Eastern philosophy with travelers and fellow Essenes, did Jesus’ curiosity and sense of adventure ultimately overtake him? Did he one day say to himself, “There is obviously much to discover and learn in this world. It’s time for me to take off on my own, to travel eastward and explore the world and its knowledge.”
There is a growing number of people throughout the world that believe that Jesus did just that. One day he said good-bye to his Essene brethren and headed eastward, and didn’t stop until he reached India. In fact, there is a branch of Christianity, the Eastern Wayist Church, that believes he spent most of the seventeen ‘lost’ years in India, eventually returning to Israel to conduct his spiritual ministry there.
The Mysterious Codex
In 1887, a Russian doctor named Nicolas Notovitch was traveling in Northern India, in the Kashmir Valley. Notovitch was an aristocratic world traveler, war correspondent, and part-time diplomatic liaison for the Tsar.
One day Notovitch broke his leg. There were few medical options available in the area for a foreign traveler in those days. Fortunately, the abbot of the nearby Hemis Buddhist Monastery in Ladakh, Kashmir, invited him to convalesce at the monastery.
One day, one of the monks approached him and said that they were in the possession of an ancient manuscript that Notovitch might be interested in looking at. Notovitch didn’t know the Tibetan language it was written in, so the monk translated a few passages.
Notovitch was astonished to learn that the manuscript alleged to convey the story of Jesus living and teaching in Kashmir and Tibet. The manuscript was entitled, “Life of Saint Issa, Best of the Sons of Men.” Notovitch hired a Tibetan translator and entered the entire contents of the manuscript into his carnet de voyage.
The narrative tells the story of Jesus leaving Israel as a young teenager and traveling across Persia to Sind in western India. The text states:
“He intended to improve and perfect himself in the divine understanding, and to study the laws of the great Buddha”.
The text goes on to state that he journeyed across India, finally reaching the Jagannath Temple in Puri, where he studied the Vedas under Brahmin priests. After spending six years in Puri and Rajgir, both ancient seats of Hindu learning, he journeyed northward to Tibet, studying yoga and Buddhism in Tibetan monasteries. The story has him leaving India at the age of twenty-nine, and returning to Israel through Persia.
In 1894, Notovitch returned to Russia and published, “The Unknown Life of Christ”. His book was met with skepticism, criticism and derision. Christian elders are typically unreceptive to novel explanations regarding the life of Jesus and his teachings.
One of his fiercest skeptics was Swami Abhedananda, founder to the Vedanta Society in New York. Years later, in 1922, Abhedananda traveled to the Himalayas to study Buddhist philosophy and Lamaism. He eventually reached Kashmir on foot, and decided he would visit the Hemis Monastery that Notovitch had visited years earlier.
The swami asked the abbot about the manuscript, and to his surprise, the abbot produced it. Abhedananda hired his own Tibetan translator and copied most of the manuscript. When he returned to New York, he put his translation side-by-side with Notovitch’s and they were a match.
The original scrolls were allegedly written by Brahmin historians after Jesus’ death. Merchants from the Middle East had brought the story of the crucifixion along with them from Israel. The Brahmins combined what they learned from the merchants, adding accounts of Jesus’ life in India, to piece their Indian gospel together.
Isha Nath – the Great Yogi
In India, there is evidence that Jesus was considered a spiritual master in a number of esoteric schools, including Buddhist, the tradition of Thomas, the Eastern Wayist Church, and in the Nath tradition.
The Naths are a tradition of yogic masters whose roots predate Christianity by many centuries. In the Aravalli Hills, south of Kashmir, the Naths keep an ancient register called, “Nathanamavali”. This book, treasured by the Naths, is a recording of the ancient lineage of the Nath masters.
The ancient register describes one Nath master as a ‘guru of gurus’, the Jagad Guru, or world savior. The guru’s name was Isha, which is thought to be a derivative of Jesus’ Hebrew name, which was Yeshua. The book includes the verse:
“My friend, to what country did Isha go, and to what country went John?
My friend, where is the guru of gurus, and where is your heart resting?
My friend, Isha has gone towards Arabia, John towards Egypt.
My friend, Isha is the guru of gurus. The mind of the yogi rests only in the Yogi.”
The account in the Nathanamavali goes on to describe the crucifixion, stating that Jesus was in Samadhi when taken off of the cross. In the state of samadhi, an advanced yogi can suspend his breathing and his heartbeat. To the spectators, and the Roman soldiers overseeing the crucifixion, it appeared that he was dead. The account of the event, as described in the Gospel of John, suggests that he was taken down off the cross pretty quickly. The Wayist church believes that Jesus survived the crucifixion and eventually returned to India.
What really happened to Jesus? Where was he for all that time? Was he in India? Did he survive the crucifixion? The answers to these, and other questions, will be forever shrouded in the history and mystery of religious lore.