Hollywood is to fill in the Bible's "missing years" with a story about Jesus as a wandering mystic who travelled across India, living in Buddhist monasteries and speaking out against the iniquities of the country's caste system.
Film producers have delved deep into revisionist scholarship to piece together what they say was Jesus's life between the ages of 13 and 30, a period untouched by the recognised gospels.
The result is the Aquarian Gospel, a $20m movie, which portrays Jesus as a holy man and teacher inspired by a myriad of eastern religions in India. The Aquarian Gospel takes its name from a century-old book that examined Christianity's eastern roots and is in its 53rd reprint.
The film's producers say the movie will be shot using actors and computer animation like 300, the retelling of the Battle of Thermopylae, and will follow the travels of Yeshua, believed to be the name for Jesus in Aramaic, from the Middle East to India. Casting for suitable Bollywood and Hollywood actors has begun.
"The Bible devotes just seven words to the most formative years of Yeshua's life saying: 'The boy grew in wisdom and stature'. The [film] will follow Christ's journey to the east where he encounters other traditions, and discovers the principles that are the bedrock of all the world's great religions," said Drew Heriot, the film's director, whose credits include the cult hit The Secret.
The film, which is due for release in 2009, sets out to be a fantasy action adventure account of Jesus's life with the three wise men as his mentors. Although the producers say the film will feature a "young and beautiful" princess, it is not clear whether Jesus is to have a love interest.
The producers say they are hoping for commercial and spiritual gains. "We think that Indian religions and Buddhism, especially with the idea of meditation, played a big part in Christ's thinking. In the film we are looking beyond the canonised gospels to the 'lost' gospels," said William Sees Keenan, the producer, who is currently making Lindsay Lohan's Poor Things.
"We are looking at new themes. In our story Jesus was loyal to the untouchables [in India] and he defended them with his life by saying that everyone could read the Vedas [Hindu holy books]," said Mr Keenan, a "lapsed Catholic".
The theory that Jesus's teachings had roots in Indian traditions has been around for more than a century. In 1894 a Russian doctor, Nicholas Notovitch, published a book called The Unknown Life of Christ, in which he claimed that while recovering from a broken leg in a Tibetan monastery in the Ladakh region, close to Kashmir, he had been shown evidence of Christ's Indian wanderings. He said he was shown a scroll recording a visit by Jesus to India and Tibet as a young man. Indian experts claim that documentary proof remains of this Himalayan visit.
"I have seen the scrolls which show Buddhist monks talking about Jesus's visits. There are also coins from that period which show Yuzu or have the legend Issa on them, referring to Jesus from that period," said Fida Hassnain, former director of archaeology at the University of Srinagar.
Hassnain, who has written books on the legend of Jesus in India, points out that there was extensive traffic between the Mediterranean and India around the time of Jesus's life. The academic pointed out that in Srinagar a tomb of Issa is still venerated. "It is the Catholic church which has closed its mind on the subject. Historians have not."
More dramatic are the claims that Buddhism had prompted the move from the "eye for an eye" ideology of the Old Testament to "love thy neighbour" in the New Testament.
In 1995 a German religious expert, Holger Kersten, claimed that Jesus had been schooled by Buddhist monks to believe in non-violence and to challenge the priesthood. Kersten's book remains a bestseller in India.
The Catholic church in India dismisses the film as just "Hollywood filmmakers in search of a new audience rather than the truth". Aware that religious passions are easily inflamed, after the Da Vinci Code film sparked protests among Indian Christians, its spokesman said that a movie about Jesus in India was plainly "fantasy and fiction".
"I have personally investigated many of these claims and they remain what they first seem: fiction," said John Dayal, president of the All India Catholic Union which represents 16 million churchgoers. "I am sure it will make money but I do not think it will displace thousands of years of biblical thought."
In 1935 a Shinto priest claimed that instead of being crucified, Jesus had fled to Japan where he lived to be 112. He married a Japanese woman, had three daughters and became a respected teacher and prophet
Buddhism is the successor of the tribal Hindu faith. LaoZi is the greatest prophet of the Dao. Siddhartha Gautama is Saint Ioasaph in the Orthodox & Catholic Christian Churches. Jesus Christ can, in truth, be called a Buddha. He is the Eternal Dao, who is also One with the Father & Holy Spirit in the Holy Trinity. Apostolic Christianity is the successor of not only the tribal Jewish religion but also the 3 in 1 San Jiao He Yi faith of Buddhism, Daoism & Confucianism combined.
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Thank you for posting this report.
Although as an Orthodox-Catholic Christian, I have never accepted the notion Jesus went to India, I am intrigued by the possibilities the story might hold on film.
I also would like to believe that if Jesus had gone to India, he would have challenged the caste system.
Thank you for your article.
This is fabulous!!!
Oh, the fundies will not be liking this at all!
This puzzles me. The Jesus I find in the Gospels, especially the synoptics, is firmly rooted in the Hebrew prophetic tradition. His references are drawn from there and his words about the impending judgment of Israel and destruction of Jerusalem sound a clear note of messianic proclamation. His call to repent and take part in God's reign, forsaking all other agendas (and, yes, embracing active non-violence) was a clear alternative to the views advocated by Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes and others.
It doesn't seem to me that any benefit is gained by Buddhists and other Eastern traditions attempting to claim a link to him, nor do I see any distinctively Eastern strains in his teachings.
When you say you don't see any distinctively Eastern teachings in Jesus' ministry, are you excluding the Gospel of Thomas?
About the movie, I just hope they don't pick Keanu to play Jesus. ;-)
Yes, I am excluding the Gospel of Thomas and the other non-canonical texts. They don't show similarity continuity with the synoptics, Gospel of John and the ancient prophetic traditions of Israel. Where the Gospel of Thomas is concerned, it's as if the synoptics were taken, ripped apart and rebuilt along roughly gnostic lines. I've always wondered why the Jesus Seminar would even include this particular non-canonical Gospel, since it is clearly distant from the events and culture of first century Palestine. It has odd elements too, like the seemingly chauvinistic comments attributed to Jesus that don't sync well with what he said and did in the synoptics and John.
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