The early life of Jesus
If we are to rely on the New Testament for details of the early life of Jesus then we will be very disappointed as they are very much missing. So where was he, what did he do, and does it matter?
We only have brief details of his birth, in Matthew and Luke, and even these do not agree with each other: the Nativity that we are all familiar with is a story derived from both accounts and made sort of cohesive.
The differences between Matthew and Luke are nearly impossible to reconcile, although they do share some similarities. John Meier, a scholar on the historical Jesus, explains that Jesus’ “birth at Bethlehem is to be taken not as a historical fact” but as a “theological affirmation put into the form of an apparently historical narrative.” In other words, the belief that Jesus was a descendant of King David led to the development of a story about Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem.
Many modern scholars now consider the birth narratives unhistorical because they are laced with theology and present two different accounts which cannot be harmonised into a single coherent narrative, despite the Nativity Plays making an attempt. However, many others view the discussion of historicity as secondary, given that gospels were primarily written as theological documents rather than chronological timelines.
Only Luke has the stories surrounding the birth of John the Baptist, the census of Quirinius, the adoration of the shepherds and the presentation in the Temple on the eighth day; only Matthew has the wise men, the star of Bethlehem, Herod's plot, the massacre of the innocents, and the flight into Egypt. The two itineraries are quite different. According to Matthew, the Holy Family begins in Bethlehem, moves to Egypt following the birth, and settles in Nazareth, while according to Luke they begin in Nazareth, journey to Bethlehem for the birth, and immediately return to Nazareth.
The next, and only, mention of the early life of Jesus anywhere in the New Testament appears in Luke 2:41 - 52. Jesus, at the age of twelve, accompanies Mary and Joseph, and a large group of their relatives and friends to Jerusalem on pilgrimage, “according to the custom”. On the day of their return, Jesus “lingered”, staying in the Temple, but Mary and Joseph thought that he was among their group when he was not. Mary and Joseph headed back home and after a day of travel realised Jesus was missing, so they returned to Jerusalem, finding Jesus three days later in the Temple in discussion with the elders, “listening to them and asking them questions”. They were amazed at his learning, especially given his young age.
All four canonical gospels get into full swing at the commencement of Jesus’ ministry when Jesus was “about thirty years old”. The thirty-year gap from birth to ministry begs the question “where was he?” during this time. The Gospel writers were not much interested because approximately one third of the Gospels is devoted to the last week of Jesus’ earthly life.
This has led to many theories and “accounts” of what Jesus did prior to his ministry.
Infancy gospels (Greek: protoevangelion) are a genre of religious texts that arose in the 2nd century. They are part of New Testament apocrypha and provide accounts of the birth and early life of Jesus. The texts are of various and uncertain origin and are generally non-canonical in major modern branches of Christianity.
The Infancy Gospel of Thomas contains many miracles and stories of Jesus (also referenced in the Qur'an), such as Jesus giving life to clay birds. It also includes stories showing an entirely “unchristian” side of Jesus. Incidents such as Jesus killing a child who disperses water that Jesus has collected: cursing a boy, causing the child's body to wither into a corpse. Later, Jesus kills another child via a curse when the child apparently accidentally bumps into Jesus, throws a stone at Jesus, or punches Jesus (depending on the translation). Proto-orthodox Christians regarded this Gospel as inauthentic and heretical. Eusebius rejected it as a “heretical fiction” in the third book of his fourth-century Church History; Pope Gelasius I included it in his list of heretical books in the fifth century.
The Syriac Infancy Gospel, also known as the Arabic Infancy Gospel, may have been compiled as early as the sixth century, and was partly based on the Infancy Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of James, and the Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew. The only two surviving manuscripts date from 1299 AD and the 15th/16th century in Arabic. They were copied in the area of northern Iraq and show influence from the Qu’ran.
It consists of three parts:
1. The birth of Jesus – based on the Protevangelium of James
2. Miracles during the Flight into Egypt – seemingly based on nothing more than local traditions
3. The miracles of Jesus as a boy
It contains a number of embellishments on the earlier text, however, including a diaper (of Jesus) that heals people, sweat (of Jesus) that turns into balm, curing leprosy, and dyeing cloth varied colours using only indigo dye. It also claims earlier encounters for Jesus with Judas Iscariot, and with the thieves with whom he is later crucified. There is also a story of Jesus speaking as a baby in the cradle which is also found in the Qu’ran.
The Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew has been given a composition date of around 650 AD at the earliest, and its basic content is similar in many ways to the Gospel of James.
The content of the Gospel is primarily an edited reproduction of the Gospel of James, followed by an account of the Flight into Egypt (it is not known on what this is based), and an edited reproduction of the Infancy Gospel of Thomas. Essentially, it is a reasonably successful attempt to merge these texts into a single work. To its sources, the Gospel adds the first known mention of an ox and a donkey being present at the nativity of Jesus. The work also helped popularize the image of a very young Mary and relatively old Joseph from the Gospel of James.
Thus, you can see from the above accounts that a lot of “borrowing” was going on and basically the “finer details” remained the same. It would seem that no one was terribly bothered about Jesus’ childhood activities, and it may well be that he remained with his parents in Nazareth.
However, much more attention has been given to Jesus’ whereabouts between the ages of 12 and 30 and it is in the modern works that the “fun” begins when imaginations are allowed to run riot.
The book which seems to have kicked off all the speculation was “The Unknown Life of Jesus Christ” written by Nicolas Notovitch, a Crimean Jewish adventurer who claimed to be a Russian aristocrat, spy and journalist.
The Unknown Life of Jesus Christ: In this book, published in 1894, Notovich asserted that in 1887, while at the secluded Hemis or Himis monastery in Ladakh/Tibet, he was shown a manuscript which discussed the “unknown life” of Jesus, or “Issa,” as he was supposedly called in the East. This “Issa” text, translated for Notovitch from Tibetan by a monk/lama, alleged that during his “lost years” Jesus was educated by yogis in India, Nepal and “the Himalaya Mountains.”
Notovitch’s story was challenged by a number of people, which served to popularize it further. Noted Sanskrit scholar Max Muller came down hard on Notovitch, suggesting that he had concocted the Jesus story, or that he was the victim of a hoax perpetrated by monks. Others subsequently journeyed to Himis and witnessed repeated denials by the lamas that Notovitch had ever been there or that any such manuscript existed. In 1922, Indian scholar and swami Abhedananda visited Himis, gaining the confidence of the lamas and having the manuscript revealed to him. Other visitors to Himis, such as the mystic Nicholas Roerich, verified the same story. Aspects of Notovitch’s story checked out, and he apparently did indeed stay at Himis and was shown a manuscript relating to “Issa.”
Despite these “confirmations” of Notovitch’s story, neither Notovitch nor any of his three defenders managed to come back with photographs of the manuscripts, handwritten copies of them, or any other hard documentary evidence. Nor has anyone else produced such evidence in more than a century since Notovitch’s book was first published, despite the appearance of numerous books defending his claims.
Notovich claimed that Indian merchants brought the account of “Jesus” to Himis, and that they had actually witnessed the crucifixion. Indeed, the text begins with “This is what is related on this subject by the merchants who come from Israel,” reflecting not that “Jesus” lived in India, but that the Jesus tradition was brought to India and Tibet (Notovich, 32). Notovitch’s text also did not state that Jesus was specifically at Himis: in fact, the lama stated that the Issa scrolls “were brought from India to Nepal, and from Nepal to Tibet.” Yet, upon returning to Himis through later visitors, the story eventually morphed into “Your Jesus was here,” meaning at Himis.
D.M. Murdock (March 27, 1960 – December 25, 2015), also known as Acharya S., an American author and classical scholar of religion who was a proponent of the Christ myth theory and administered a website called Truth be Known, had this to say: “Despite the popularity of the Jesus-in-India tale, the claim is not accepted by mainstream authorities, either Christian or secular. … It is not a question of a “historical Jesus” being in India and the East but of a variety of solar cults that worshipped a similar deity with similar rituals, doctrines and myths.” (She argued that Christianity is founded on earlier myths and the characters depicted in Christianity are based upon Roman, Greek, Egyptian, Iranian and Indian mythology – see Oahspe, below.)
Bart Ehrman, New Testament professor at the University of North Carolina, states that the “lost years of Jesus” are nothing more than a hoax, and that Notovitch gained fame and fortune from his story.
The Aquarian Gospel of Jesus the Christ (full title: The Aquarian Gospel of Jesus the Christ: The Philosophic and Practical Basis of the Religion of the Aquarian Age of the World and of the Church Universal) is a book by Levi H. Dowling first published on 1 December 1908. Dowling said he had transcribed the text of the book from the akashic records, a purported compendium of mystical knowledge supposedly encoded in a non-physical plane of existence.
This gospel offers a record of the lost eighteen years of Jesus, covering his travels and meetings with various masters and holy men in countries like India, Egypt, Assyria, Greece and Tibet. It also teaches many deeper truths not found in other books and sometimes clarifies or reinforces known teachings in the Bible.
• There are 18 unknown years of Jesus’ life missing in the Bible (ages 12 – 30), and these are documented as a time when Jesus travels to the centres of wisdom in western India, Tibet, Persia, Assyria, Greece and Egypt. In each of these places he is educated, tested, and teaches the religious leaders. Jesus inevitably proves that he is 'God's chosen one' (the Christ) in these locales and brings back this multi-cultural wisdom and confidence to Galilee and Judea.
• Jesus puts on the role of The Christ, but is not automatically Christ by nature. By making himself, through desire, effort, ability, and prayer, a fit vessel, Jesus enabled The Christ to dwell within him. Christ is therefore used as a term for the seemingly perfect human being that Jesus exemplified, a human being that has been “Christened” (anointed) and therefore made holy.
• Jesus came to Earth to show the way back to God via his lifestyle and teachings. He is the example we must model our own lives after, if we seek salvation.
• Reincarnation exists and karma (“You reap what you sow”) is the explanation for various injustices. Reincarnation allows people to settle debts they have incurred in past lives.
The work has been critically examined and several major “difficulties” have been identified. However, supporters of Dowling argue that within theosophical thought, figures such as Meng-Tse, Matheno, Miriam, Moses, and Elijah exist in an ascended state. As such, they communicated with Jesus after they had passed on from earthly existence.
Jesus in Britain: According to a popular legend, Joseph of Arimathea founded the Christian church in Britain. Specifically, Joseph is claimed as the founder of the church in Glastonbury. One of the many popular books (St. Joseph of Arimathea at Glastonbury; or, The Apostolic Church of Britain) that advances this claim was written by Lionel Smithett Lewis, vicar of Glastonbury, who claimed that Joseph was followed to England by Simon the Zealot, Aristobulus (mentioned in Rom. 16:10), Paul, and possibly Peter! Lewis also thought there might be “some truth in the strange tradition” that Joseph took Jesus as a youth to Cornwall with him during one of his business trips there as a tin merchant. Quite a few other books have been written defending the claim.
It is rather difficult to take the legend of Jesus accompanying Joseph of Arimathea to England seriously when the earliest mention of Joseph at Glastonbury dates to around 1247. The tradition of Joseph travelling from anywhere to Britain cannot be traced back before about 1200. The earliest versions had Joseph going to England years after Jesus’ death and resurrection in a story that was entwined with lore about the Holy Grail, King Arthur, and other elements of medieval English legend. Not even John of Glastonbury’s account of the church’s history written a century later (c 1342) mentioned the story of the boy Jesus accompanying Joseph to England. William Blake’s famous poem “Jerusalem” in 1811 asked:
“And did those feet in ancient time,
Walk upon England’s mountain green:
And was the Holy Lamb of God,
On England’s pleasant pastures seen? ”
Given that there is no evidence for a belief in Jesus literally walking in England prior to Blake, his poem may actually have inadvertently contributed to that belief, which first emerges as an historical claim later in the nineteenth century. The notion has usually functioned more or less innocuously as the basis for some “bragging rights” about England’s Christian heritage.
Jesus in America: According to the Book of Mormon, Jesus appeared to a society of people called Nephites, who were descended from Israelites who had been living there for a millennium, somewhere in the Americas about AD 34.
The Book of Mormon’s significance goes far beyond the seemingly intriguing idea that Jesus might have appeared in the Americas. The main point of the book in the context of the Mormon religion is that the Bible is an insufficient guide to the Christian faith, which can only be properly understood with the Book of Mormon and other scriptures revealed through its author Joseph Smith and by becoming part of the church he founded.
As is the case with the stories of Jesus travelling to India, the earliest known source claiming that Jesus visited the Nephites in the Americas dates from the nineteenth century, namely, the Book of Mormon. To make matters worse, the Book of Mormon is also the only source referring to the existence of the Nephites.
Dying in Another Country: Another popular view is that Jesus did not actually die on the cross as the Canonical Gospels all report, but instead escaped execution and travelled to another land. The most popular of these theories claims that Jesus died in Kashmir, some 2,500 miles east of Jerusalem. This theory agrees with Notovitch that Jesus went to that part of India but claims that he went there after his public teaching ministry in Galilee and Judea, not before it. The claim was advanced originally in a 1908 book (“Jesus in India”) by Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, the founder of the Ahmadiyya movement, an Islamic sect that regards Ghulam Ahmad as the Messiah and Mahdi (a Final Leader in Islamic eschatology who is believed to appear at the end of times to rid the world of evil and injustice). German author Holger Kersten argued in his book, “Jesus lived in India", that both Notovitch and Ghulam Ahmad were correct and that Jesus had lived in Kashmir both before and after his public years in Israel.
Ahmed’s treatise suggests that Jesus, having survived crucifixion, discreetly left Roman jurisdiction for the East, starting his journey from Jerusalem and passing through Nisibis and Persia, eventually reaching Afghanistan where he met the Israelite tribes who had settled there after their escape from the bonds of Nebuchadnezzar centuries before. From here he travelled to Kashmir where some Israelite tribes had also settled and he lived there until his death at an old age.
Other authors have suggested that the resemblance between Buddhist and Christian teachings and between the lives of Jesus and Buddha as recorded in their respective scriptures indicate that Buddhist teachings must have reached Palestine and were incorporated by Jesus into his own teaching, or that he must have travelled to India pre-crucifixion. Ghulam Ahmad, however, asserts that Jesus reached India only after the crucifixion and that Buddhists later reproduced elements of the Gospels in their scriptures. He argues that Jesus also preached to Buddhist monks, some of whom were originally Jews, who accepted him as a manifestation of the Buddha, the ‘promised teacher’, and mingled his teachings with Buddha’s.
Jesus in Japan: According to apocryphal religious writings known as the Takenouchi Documents, it was not Jesus who was crucified on Golgotha, but in fact it was his younger brother, Isukiri. After being captured by the Romans, it is said that Jesus escaped by switching places with his younger brother, taking only a lock of the Virgin Mary’s hair and one of his brother’s ears while he fled to Japan. After settling down in Shingo, Jesus is said to have had three children with a local woman before dying of natural causes at the age of 106. It is even believed that many of the village’s current inhabitants are the descendants of that holy blood.
It appears that the Takenouchi Documents, (found in 1936 and conveniently destroyed during World War II) were the work of cosmoarcheologist Wado Kosaka who would later gain fame by attempting to contact aliens on live television. That last fact kind of says it all about this claim.
The Urantia Book: According to Wikipedia, “The Urantia Book” (sometimes called The Urantia Papers or The Fifth Epochal Revelation) is a spiritual, philosophical, and religious book that originated in Chicago, United States sometime between 1924 and 1955. The authorship remains a matter of debate, no human author having been designated. Instead, it is written as if directly presented by numerous celestial beings appointed to the task of providing an “epochal” religious revelation. It has received various degrees of interest ranging from praise to criticism for its religious and science-related content, its unusual length, and the unusual names and origins of the authors named within the book.
The text introduces the word “Urantia"”as the name of the planet Earth and states that its intent is to “present enlarged concepts and advanced truth.” The book aims to unite religion, science, and philosophy. Its large amount of content on topics of interest to science is unique among documents said to have been received from celestial beings. Among other topics, the book discusses the origin and meaning of life, mankind’s place in the universe, the history of the planet, the relationship between God and people, and the life of Jesus.”
There are none of the “tales” outlined above, but it does go into great detail about the birth, childhood and early teenage years of Jesus and there are recognisable elements from the Canonical Gospels, particularly that of Matthew in the birth narrative. If nothing else, it is worth reading for the insights about life in those days. These are found in Part IV, “The Life and Teachings of Jesus,” which is the largest part at 775 pages, and is often noted as the most accessible and most impressive, narrating a detailed biography of Jesus that includes his childhood, teenage years, family life, and public ministry, as well as the events that led to his crucifixion, death, and resurrection. Its papers continue about appearances after he rose, Pentecost, and, finally, “The Faith of Jesus.”
Now we take a walk down a very strange pathway, you might even say embark on a Science Fiction adventure, the Book of Oahspe.
Oahspe: A New Bible is a book published in 1882, purporting to contain "new revelations" from "...the Embassadors of the angel hosts of heaven prepared and revealed unto man in the name of Jehovih..." It was produced by an American dentist, John Ballou Newbrough (1828–1891), who reported it to have been written by automatic writing, making it one of a number of 19th-century spiritualist works attributed to that practice. The text defines adherents of the disciplines expounded in Oahspe as "Faithists", and the names are very strange indeed.
Oahspe consists of a series of related books chronicling earth and its heavenly administrations, as well as setting forth teachings for modern times. Included within it are over 100 drawings. The title page of Oahspe describes its contents with these words: “A New Bible in the Words of Jehovih and His Angel Ambassadors. A Sacred History of the Dominions of the Higher and Lower Heavens on the Earth for the Past Twenty-Four Thousand Years together with a Synopsis of the Cosmogony of the Universe; the Creation of Planets; the Creation of Man; the Unseen Worlds; the Labor and Glory of Gods and Goddesses in the Etherean Heavens; with the New Commandments of Jehovih to Man of the Present Day.”
“The Great Spirit”, “Ormazd”, “Egoquim”, “Agoquim”, “Eloih”, “The I Am”, and “Jehovih” are some of the names used throughout Oahspe as the name of the Creator.
The website oahspestandardedition.com/OSAC/Who_was_Jesus_of_Nazareth.html has this to say: “As is shown from Oahspe, the Nicean Council invented a composite character called “Iesu”, drawing upon the mythmaking tradition of constructing a person from a title, similar to the construction of the first Joshua, Conqueror of Canaan appearing in the Ezra Bible i.e. the Old Testament (See The Myth of the Invasion of Canaan). Although aspects of the Essene Joshu’s life and teachings were included in the composite Iesu story that came out of the Council of Nicea, more ancient iesus such as Zarathustra (whose life-story had previously been woven into various mythical personages) became a part of the Christian Iesu story.”
Further, according to Oahspe, the “virgin birth” originates from the life-story of the original Zarathustra: “And the child's mother’s name was Too’che, and the father's name Lo’ab. Too’che herself was su’is born, and before she conceived, was obsessed by Sa’moan, an angel; and during the time of maternity she was not suffered to wake from her unconscious trance. And by the loo’is [certain angels], her soul was often taken to high heaven (etherea) to see its glories, and then returned to inhabit her own body. Thus, the child was born of All Light, and at that same time the obsession fled, and Too’che proclaimed within the city that no man was father to the child, but that she conceived from All Light, believing so, because she was unconscious during gestation.”
“Also from Zarathustra’s life-story are found other details such as wise men searching for the babe and the king’s search for the infant and the proclamation that infants were to be put to death unless the babe was found; feeding the thousands of hungry; bringing the dead back to life and being put to death and appearing to the living after three days.” (Oahspe, Book of God's Word)
Joel Bjorling is a specialist in the field of new and alternative religions, and had this to say about Oahspe: “Oahspe sharply criticizes the Christian faith. Its claims about the life of Jesus, the Bible, and the historical Christian faith likely cannot stand the scrutiny of critical Biblical or historical analysis. Like any other channeled work, its content is of questionable origin. Some may conclude that it is the product of demon spirits, and others will presume that it is the result of the author’s subconscious mind.”
That notwithstanding, the Oahspe website mentioned above is a fascinating site and well worthy of further study for those with an enquiring mind.
I have looked at the “lost years of Jesus” and the years after the crucifixion, where it is said he travelled back to India and Tibet under the guise of ‘Yus Assaf’ and continued his teachings. Of course there is no evidence that is 100% reliable. I searched the internet quite diligently looking for the tiniest mention of Jesus during these “lost years” to try and get an answer that contained a modicum of accuracy. It’s not quite the thankless task that it sounds. It was very interesting and, in some senses, actually broadened my knowledge. It’s like many things – what you find can be interpreted however you want to, it depends on the context you apply to it.
Also, there are a lot of links in the New Testament between Jesus and Buddhism, but it could just be coincidence. All religions have the same golden threads running through them. No-one will know for sure, it’s up to the reader to believe what feels comfortable.
At the end of it all it is simplest just to accept that Jesus remained in Nazareth, learning and practising the trade of Carpentry. After all it was his ministry and the lessons he gave us all that was the important part.
Some further books which may be of help;
Capt, E. Raymond, The Traditions of Glastonbury,
Ellis, Peter B., Our Druid Cousins,
Huc, M. L’Abbé, Christianity in China, Tartary, and Thibet,
Moor, Edward, Simpson, ed., The Hindu Pantheon,
Nunos de Santos, Arysio, The Unknown Life of Jesus Christ–Comments,
Prajnanananda, Swami, Christ the Saviour and the Christ Myth,
Prophet, Elizabeth Clare, The Lost Years of Jesus,
Roerich, Nicholas, Altai-Himalaya,
Ahmad, Khwaja Nazir, Jesus in Heaven on Earth,
Kersten, Holger and Gruber, Elmar, The Original Jesus: The Buddhist sources of Christianity,
Pappas, Paul C, Jesus’ Tomb in India: Debate on His Death and Resurrection.
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