Jesus in India

Jesus in India

The topic of the documentary Jesus in India is certainly an interesting and provocative one, but in the end there’s just not enough meat to it. It’s like a detective story where you spend a fair amount of time getting to know the investigators and why they’re working on this case, you hear a lot of people put forth various theories of the case backed by minimal evidence at most, and you see some of the investigation itself, but the detective work mostly doesn’t go anywhere and the story peters out.

In a sense that’s not the filmmaker’s fault. This is real life rather than fiction, so you can’t force the investigation to turn up definitive answers or sensational findings. For all your best intentions, sometimes you get Geraldo at Capone’s vault. I think they tagged along to see what would happen with the investigation, not much did, so they just did the best they could with the footage they had.

The suggestion is that Jesus spent many years in India and surrounding areas (what is now Pakistan, Kashmir, Tibet), either during the time from about age 12 to age 28 that isn’t covered in the Gospels, or after he survived his crucifixion and snuck away from the Romans, or both.

The movie mostly focuses on the efforts of Edward T. Martin to prove the hypothesis. Martin doesn’t come across as a complete kook, nor totally closed-minded (he clearly would prefer the hypothesis be true, but he doesn’t dogmatically insist he already knows it is), but he’s a layman who’s just done whatever limited amount of digging even an obsessed layman can do in an area that cries out for trained specialists in archeology, ancient languages, religious history, etc.

In fact there’s disappointingly little scholarly material in the movie. Besides Martin, the bulk of the other people interviewed (who mostly support the hypothesis) are along the lines of a Hare Krishna, or an American New Age type follower of that Autobiography of a Yogi guy. Only infrequently do we get a few seconds with someone like Elaine Pagels, who to me has a lot more credibility. I’d have to think a scholarly inquiry into this matter by the likes of her would have been more valuable, and more interesting.

By the way, her position, which I take it is the position of mainstream academia, is I suppose where I am on the question myself. Namely that the evidence is quite minimal that Jesus was ever in India, and the likelihood that he was is small, but there’s nothing that renders it completely far-fetched. Far too little is known about his life to say for sure, but it’s unlikely he ever strayed that far from home. (In the movie, they say a traveler of that time would have taken roughly a year to get to India and a year to get back.) So maybe, but probably not.

Because not all that much happens with the investigation, there’s a fair amount of what feels like filler. Some is a matter of personalizing the story by showing a lot of Martin himself. But he’s really not that interesting, even as an obsessive. Not that he’s a bad guy, but I felt like the film wanted us to see him as this intriguing person, thinking outside the box, somewhere on the borderline between genius and nut, but he didn’t draw me in.

The “filler” also includes various characters speculating about what proving Jesus spent time in India would mean in terms of unifying the world’s religions and the world’s people. That’s a little more interesting, but it highlights how a lot of this is just wishful thinking. They think that establishing that Jesus went to India and learned from Hindus and Buddhists would make people realize how related all the major world religions are and make them get along better, so naturally they’re inclined to believe it happened.

The problem is, it wouldn’t have that result. I mean, look at how closely related Judaism and Christianity are. That hasn’t exactly made them bosom buddies throughout history. If this hypothesis were proven, all that would happen is Hindus would be a little more arrogant that even the Western religions are offshoots of theirs, and fundamentalist Christians would cover their ears and treat the matter like evolution.

Plenty of religious folks in the movie, by the way, do their part to impede the investigation, in one way or another.

For example, one piece of evidence (a very, very thin reed) is that some Russian “explorer” about a century ago produced a book which he claimed was a translation he’d made in person at a Buddhist monastery of a 2,000 year old manuscript telling about a figure who visited there who sounds a lot like Jesus. Furthermore, he claimed some cardinal told him the Vatican has dozens of sources backing up the notion that Jesus went to India, but the cardinal insisted on confidentiality so he couldn’t identify him.

So Martin goes to the monastery, and the Buddhists tell him, “Gosh we’d like to help you, but we’ve never gotten around to cataloguing all our thousands of years old books, so we have no idea if we have such a manuscript. We were gonna organize all that awhile back, but our leader left and told us to hold off on that project until he gets back, which was forty years ago.”

Then he goes to the Vatican, and when he asks to see the supposed dozens of documents, he’s told indignantly that the whole notion of Jesus being in India is silly.

Then there’s the alleged tomb of Jesus in Pakistan. (There’s one for Mary too; one theory is that Jesus brought her along when he left home after surviving the crucifixion.) Local officials angrily insist the tomb is actually that of some prominent Muslim of centuries ago, and are pleased with themselves for having sealed it off and prevented Western troublemakers from doing DNA or other research within it.

Anyway, the evidence at the start of the movie is meager but suggestive, and the evidence at the end of the journey is meager but suggestive. It would have been great for the film if they’d discovered the equivalent of the Dead Sea Scrolls gathering dust somewhere in a monastery in India, but no such luck.

Jesus in India is not a complete waste of time, and it’s not a poorly made documentary, but there just isn’t enough interesting material to live up to the initial promise of the topic.

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