It is a shared belief among Christians and Muslims that Jesus Christ died on the Cross and soon thereafter ascended into heaven. Everyone does not share the belief and for years books have emerged saying Jesus survived the Crucifixion and went to India. In 2010 several international news organizations ran stories of the tomb of Jesus in a town called Srinagar in Kashmir. The BBC, the Times of Britain, and The Times of India all carried the story. The tomb is also mentioned in Lonely Planet’s guide to Kashmir, and more recently, Trip Advisor reviews cover the tomb as well.
How Would Jesus Have Ended Up in India?
The first question is, what did Jesus do in the period called the ‘lost years.’ At age twelve, Jesus was left behind by Mary and Joseph for a brief period. When they went to get him he was in a temple preaching to religious teachers. “After three days they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of doctors, both hearing them and asking them questions.” It is rarely questioned just how a twelve-year-old could hold court with learned rabbis. Little is known of his education. He was visited by three wise men from the east at his birth. Could his education have started at an early age? It is believed that an inheritance of knowledge and philosophy passed between Egypt and Persia into Judaism and finally into Christianity. After the story of his teaching and learning, there is no record of anything he did between then and the age of thirty, when he was baptized by John the Baptist. The Gospels simply say he “increased in wisdom and stature.” This remarkably covers eighteen years of the life of Jesus in one sentence.
A number of authors have put forward the idea that he had traveled along the Silk Road to Asia. The Silk Road was the main route from lands dominated by Rome all the way to China. From Israel to India is about four thousand miles, and one would take a year to cover that distance at a rate of about ten miles a day.
In India his education might have continued. Six hundred years before the time of Jesus, Buddha brought enlightenment to India. There are numerous similarities between the two. They were both conceived in a miraculous manner. Their mothers’ names were similar, Maya for Buddha, Mary for Jesus. They both fasted. They both overcame the temptations of the devil. They both began their missions at age thirty and both traveled with disciples. They renounced earthly riches and challenged the religious elite that included the Brahmans and Pharisees.
One of the early proponents of the Jesus-in-India story was a Russian by the name of Nicholas Notovitch who published the journey of his own in his 1894 book The Unknown Life of Christ. He had traveled the same route until he was injured from falling off his horse. He recuperated in a monastery where he was shown scrolls of the story of Jesus. His Buddhist hosts translated for him the story of the man they referred to as Issa, or sometimes St. Issa. He claimed Issa had studied and preached with Jains, Buddhists, and Zoroastrians in Persia before returning to Jerusalem. He was not received well. He claimed a cardinal told him that the Vatican has sixty different texts that tell of the life of Jesus in India. When he was called on to reveal the name of the cardinal he said he had promised to keep it a secret.
Another early work was Masih Hindustan Mein (meaning Jesus in India) published in 1899 by Ghulam Ahmad. He was a devout Muslim with a title that has been granted to only thirteen men throughout history. The title was “Mujjadid.” He was referred to as the Promised Messiah and founder of the Ahmadiyya Muslim community. His references include the Quran, the Bible, medical books, historical records, oral traditions. He also claimed a revelation directly from God.
A more recent work by theologian Holger Kersten, Jesus Lived in India, published in 1987, discusses the survival of Jesus from the cross. He says that victims usually don’t die sometimes for days. For this reason bones are broken which brings on death faster. Jesus was only on the cross for about six hours. Then a Roman soldier Longinus pierced him with a spear. Blood and what appeared as water flowed from the wound. This prevented the bones being broken and Jesus was simply taken off the cross. His body was then treated with herbs and restoratives like aloe. Several scholars and researchers have cast doubt on the death of Jesus because of the quantity and quality of the ointments used within the tomb. What is mentioned in the Gospels appears to be recuperative treatment rather than treating the body of a deceased man. Aloe is native to southwestern Saudi Arabia. It is a fleshy, juicy plant that survives in dry climates. It had been used as medicine for two thousand years before Jesus was born. Nicodemus who treated Jesus also used myrrh. It is recorded to have disinfectant properties and, again, was used to treat wounds. Myrrh was sometimes mixed with labdanum to make bandages that would protect against infection. It is used for healing wounds, skin inflammations and burns.
The Second Coming
Jesus recovered and spent as much as forty days with his disciples. He instructed them to preach especially to the Jews that had fled Jerusalem in both directions.
He, too, could not stay in Jerusalem, as he would be a wanted man. He headed East again, with his mother Mary. One Indiana-Jones-type researcher, Edward Martin, worked with the Peace Corps in Afghanistan, Pakistan and India. There he discovered the work of a newspaper editor, Aziz Kashmiri, who would go on to write a book on the subject: Christ in Kashmir. He became obsessed with the possibility and traveled the Silk Road to learn more. He tells the story of being in a bar on the Silk Road. There he commented on the name of the beer he was drinking. The name was Murree. He said it sounds like a brewery named for an Irishman or a Scot. The bartender said the name was from Mary. Martin then asked if she was an English woman. The bartender replied she was Mary the mother of Jesus. She had died on the long journey and the place of her burial became known as Murree (now Mari). It is near Islamabad. The tomb of Mary has a sign that specifically says she was the mother of Jesus. At some point the British tore down the tomb to build a fort. They did not believe that it could be the tomb of the mother of God. The locals were horrified and one by one carried the stones of the tomb to a nearby location and rebuilt it.
The Catholic Church teaches that the mother of Jesus simply ascended to heaven. It is her third feast day along with the Annunciation and the Immaculate Conception. By the year 700 the Feast of the Assumption had become Rome’s largest annual event. The church, however, waited until 1950 to incorporate the Assumption into its dogma. Ed Martin would go on to write a book on his own King of Travelers: Jesus Lost Years in India.
After the death of his mother, the story goes, Jesus then continued to Kashmir where he lived to a great age. He most likely studied and taught. He may have specifically reached out to the Jews of the Diaspora. This was a movement that sent Jews to Spain in the west and India in the east. Jesus in India in the first chapter claims a population of “lost sheep of Israel” in India. One of the early works that was not allowed in the New Testament was a gospel called The Acts of Thomas. Thomas went to India to seek out the “lost tribes.” There is little doubt that Thomas reached India. Along the Malabar Coast, there exists a large community of Christians along with seven churches. They remained alive and well when the Portuguese colonized India in 1522. Today a large Cathedral of St. Thomas stands in Mylapore. One remarkable story in the Acts of Thomas describes a wedding ceremony in Taxila in India where both Thomas and Jesus attended. The date was AD 49, more than a decade after the crucifixion.
After a long life, Jesus was buried in a tomb called the Rozabal, meaning “Honored Tomb,” although there is disagreement over just who is being honored. Some believe it is of a prophet Yuz Asaf, meaning Jesus. Muslims regard Jesus as a prophet. In the Koran, Jesus is also referred to as Issa.
The tomb resembles a small house. It is located on the Khan Yar Street, a main avenue in Srinagar. Visitors are warned to dress like locals and not to take photos if they try to visit. While a sign outside the tomb refers to the occupant as Yuz Asaf, Muslims are divided on who is Yuz Asaf. Some believe there is a great man inside; others are vocally against claiming it to be Jesus as that would be an insult to Islam. A nearby Throne of Solomon Temple states that Yuz Asaf declared his prophet-hood in the year 54 (which may actually refer to AD 78).
The rectangular building has an entrance chamber. The opening to the east has a common graveyard. Muslim graves are not usually built with structures. The tomb of Issa is built of bricks and mortar raised over an ancient stone sepulcher. Inside the large stone structure that makes up the original tomb, walls have been plastered over with cement. One stone slab has two carved footprints with wounds showing where the feet of Jesus were nailed to the cross. To some this is a clear indication that the man buried within is the same man that was crucified in Jerusalem.
While the tomb is under the first floor of the house, there is still the worry that it is not safe from vandalism. It is in a Muslim neighborhood, and soldiers are stationed around it to protect it. While it is protected, recently it has been covered in green paint to indicate it is a Muslim tomb.
Since the 2010 publicity, the area around the tomb is no longer quite so remote. The many news articles, books, and documentaries have drawn a lot of attention from around the world. There is even a popular thriller, The Rozabal Line, which has become a sort of Da Vinci Code in India.
The tomb of Yuz Asaf in Rozabal: ‘Tomb of the Prophet.’ Some evidence points to a first-century origin. Curiously, the draped sepulcher seen through the window is aligned east to west, as in Jewish tradition, whereas Muslim tombs are placed on a north-south axis. (Photography is now prohibited and the shrine has been closed.)
Exterior of the Rozabal shrine
Edward Martin with Buddhist prayer wheels in Dharamsala, India (photo by Paul Davids)