Nicolas Notovitch (1858—?), a contemporary of Helena Blavatsky, published in 1894 the book La vie inconnue de Jesus-Christ [The Unknown Life of Jesus Christ], in which he explained that Christ had lived for about fifteen years in the East. Notovitch had allegedly heard in 1887, on his journey to India and Ladakh, that in the archives of Lhasa there lay an ancient document about the life of Jesus Christ, of which there were copies at great Tibetan monasteries, including Hemis Monastery in Ladakh. After some toing and froing, Notovitch said, the head of Hemis brought out the Tibetan text and read out to him the passages that were about the life of Christ and let him translate. All the high religious dignitaries to whom the Russian read the translation—the Metropolitan of Kiev, two cardinals, and a well-known philosopher—advised him against publishing this supposedly sensational “discovery.” But Notovitch would not be stopped and published his text first in French and then, reworked, in English.
Notovitch claimed, very wisely referring always to the lama he had allegedly met at Hemis Monastery, that the texts in which the life and works of Issa (Jesus) were described reached Tibet from India and Nepal. According to these texts, Jesus left Jerusalem when he was about fourteen years old and traveled with merchants in the region of the Indus (Sindh), where he settled down among the Aryas with the intention of perfecting himself in the laws of the great Buddha. After that Jesus crossed India and arrived in the Himalayas, in the region of present-day Nepal, where he devoted himself to the study of Buddhist texts. Eventually, as an itinerant preacher, he made his way back to the West via Kashmir, in the direction of Jerusalem, which he reached at the age of twenty-nine.
Many authors, especially J. Archibald Douglas and Gunter Gronbold, have demonstrated convincingly the “mental leaps” of Notovitch and his followers. Douglas visited Hemis Monastery eight years after Notovitch, and after meticulous questioning established that Mr. Notovitch’s conversations with the Ladakhi monks originated simply in Mr. Notovitch’s productive imagination and the whole thing was a literary fraud. Nevertheless, the book was a best-seller. The French edition reached eleven impressions within two years.
Start your day with a fresh perspective
Thank you for subscribing to Tricycle! As a nonprofit, we depend on readers like you to keep Buddhist teachings and practices widely available.