Saturday, 28 June 2014

Book review: The Unknown Life of Jesus Christ

The Unknown Life of Jesus Christ
Nicolas Notovitch
Translators: J H Connelly & L Landsberg
Hachette India 2013
First Edition 1890

Ridiculous.  That's the word that springs to mind as you read the back page blurb; it is off-putting to know that the author later confessed to having cooked up a story as important as this.  You are left wondering if what you are reading is fact or fiction.

The way the book progresses also does not help matters.  Instead of talking about Jesus in India, Notovitch elaborately describes his own travel details.  Right at the beginning of the book, there are two chapters of his sojourn across northern Indian and the Himalayas, with his coterie of helpers (read slaves) who translate the local language for him and attend to his every need and whom he condescendingly describes as 'my Hindu', his horror at seeing shrines dedicated to 'horrible Hindu idols', and the trouble he took in getting to the monasteries where he encountered 'ugly' Tibetans spinning the prayer wheel, and the likes.

There are sweeping conclusions about Hinduism, its caste system, and religious rituals, typically based on a western man's limited and lackadaisical understanding of these issues, which of course take on a hue of correctness over a period of time, because a white sahib has written it!  There is a laughable conclusion about the writer of Hindu scriptures; according to Notovitch, Krishna wrote all of them and divided the Vedas - hence he is also called Vyasa!  I rest my case.

When we finally get to the bits regarding Jesus' life in India, we are not sure how much of it to believe.  Basically it is a re-telling of the events recorded in several versions of the Bible, with the addition of Jesus' Indian experiences - his encounter with Brahmins, whom he countered by uplifting Shudras, his dabble with 'Djainism' (Jainism for you and me), and his final asceticism in a Buddhist monastery in Ladakh.  All this is supposed to have happened during his childhood, before he returned to Israel and went about sermonising and gaining disciples, prior to his ultimate crucifixion.  There is a typically short-sighted evangelistic comment about how good it would have been if the whole of India, with its large population, had taken to Issa, and followed the 'true path'.  

That all this was investigated and ridiculed by no less a personage as Max Muller means that one can safely overlook this fact/fiction.  This is a pretentious, bigoted, patronising drivel by a discredited 'traveller'.  Read it only for entertainment purposes if you have nothing better to do.   

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