And when you're going to a strange foreign country, it's a good idea to talk to someone who's been there...
So they asked Giordano for a little advice. He travels a lot, has been many times in India, and is a talented photographer. Giordano made a selection from his hundreds of slides, and my wife and I were invited to see the show.
Cristina could identify most of the places without being told, and from the conversation between her and Giordano I understood that as the slides progressed that we were moving generally east and north. And even if they hadn't told me when we crossed the border into Kashmir, I would have known that it was a different country. It looked much more green and tranquil. Most of the photos centered around an enormous lake and the houseboat that had hosted Giordano, and later Lorenzo and Cristina.
Then, among the slides of Srinagar, the capital of Kashmir, a monument appeared that was obviously religious in nature. Giordano said in a offhand manner, "This is the tomb of Jesus." Lorenzo and Cristina nodded uh-huh, and Giordano went on to the next slide. "What was that?" I asked, more than a little irritated and almost offended.
Giordano explained that this tomb purports to be the tomb of Jesus - our Jesus - and the story is that he didn't die on the cross, but that after his wounds healed he traveled to Kashmir, where he married, had children, and died of old age.
Giordano promised to lend me a book he'd bought there, and soon after Lorenzo delivered me a photocopy. The book is called Jesus Died In Kashmir by Andreas Faber-Kaiser, and it was published in London in 1978 by either Sphere Books or Cox & Wyman or the author. The first page is not clear at all, and mixes up the publishing history with the copyright information so it's hard to tell. The publisher's address is not given. The book is small, about 100 pages, and neither well-written nor well-organized.
The first chapter gives an account of Jesus' boyhood trip: he is supposed to have gone to Kashmir at the age of 13 to study Buddhism. His gospel of love pleased the Buddhists, but the Hindus saw it as a challenge to the caste system and the power of the brahmins. Jesus moved to Persia, but the Zoroastrian priests also saw him as a threat and escorted him out of their city. At that point Jesus returned to Israel. This story came to the author through an Indian scholar who, during a stay in a Russian monastery, found a diary written in the last century by two missionaries. The diary was written in German, which unfortunately the Indian was unable to read, but he noticed on one page the names "Nicholai Notovich" and "San Issa" so he photographed the facing pages and had them translated when he returned home.
According to these pages, Nicholai Notovich was travelling in the northern part of Kashmir, which is known as little Tibet, and there in a lamasery, in exchange for an alarm clock and a thermometer, was told the story of "Issa, a son of Israel" who visited the lamasery about 2000 years ago. Issa (or Isa or Yuza, as we will see later) is a version of the name Jesus, just as Jesus is the Anglicized version of a name that is something like Yeshua, or Joshua.
The second chapter of the book sustains that an examination of the Turin Shroud proves that Jesus was still alive when he was taken from the cross. The contention is that if he died on the cross that "all the blood would have coagulated in the lower parts of his body" and that he would not have bled when wrapped in the shroud.
The third chapter says that the ten lost tribes of Israel are to be found among the Afgans, Kashmiri, and other eastern nations. To demonstrate this, the author gives a chart showing similarities between various Hebrew words and place names in Afganistan and Kashmir.
Next, the author tells the story of Jesus' travels after the crucifixion. After the crucifixion wounds were healed, Jesus set out with his mother Mary and the apostle Thomas in search of the ten lost tribes of Israel. Mary died in Pakistan, not far from the Kashmir border. Jesus continued on to Kashmir, while Thomas moved to southern India where he died after establishing a Christian community. The tombs of all three exist and are venerated by pilgrims of various faiths.
Faber-Kaiser goes into a lot of detail about these movements; he tries to scrape up whatever he can from the New Testament and Josephus to try to make it seem like Jesus really did head east, but none of it is very convincing. On the other hand, the stories from Kashmir do have something new, interesting, and different. There is a pretty story about Jesus' arrival in Kashmir. It describes him as tired, world-weary, in need of rest. The story is set in a green and peaceful plain that today is called the Plain of Jesus. The man who encountered Jesus offered to find a woman who could cook and clean for him, and... Jesus made it clear that he only wanted her to cook and clean, nothing else. But in the end he married the woman and had several children by her. After a tranquil life he died of old age.
What is remarkable about this story and the rest of the Kashmiri tradition of Jesus is the complete absence of any fantastic or supernatural element. They don't credit him with any miracles or preaching; it seems like he stopped in Kashmir because he needed rest, peace, healing, anonymity.
The book also includes an interview with a man who claims to be Jesus' descendant. His name is Sahibzada Basharat Saleem. I don't know what one should expect from someone who claims to be Jesus' descendant, but all that one can conclude from the interview is that Basharat is a nice man.
The precise location of Jesus' tomb is given: it is in the Khanyar district of Srinagar, which is the capital of Kashmir. The tomb is called the Rozabal, which means the prophet's tomb, and Jesus' name is given as Yuza Asaf.
Mary's tomb is near Murree in Pakistan, about 100 miles west of Srinagar at a place known as Pindi Point.
There are also directions to Moses' tomb, which is also in Kashmir, on the top of Mt. Niltopp, about 38 miles north-northwest of Srinagar near Bandipur. The path to the top begins at Aham Sharif. It is a arduous, unmarked, two-hour climb. The people of the area don't want the tomb's existence to be publicized.
What is one to make of all this? Is there anything attractive or compelling in these ideas, or is it just rubbish from cover to core?
The story of Nicholai Notovich can be discarded without any difficulty. But not because it passed through so many (and all unknown) hands: from the old lama to Nicholai Notovich (whoever he was) to a pair of German missionaries to an Indian "scholar", who happened to photograph the single page from thousands of pages of a diary in a language unknown to him... not because we have no idea who any of these people are... but because there is simply no reason to believe that the story is true. If Jesus' teaching had some element of Buddhism, Hinduism, or Zoroastrianism, maybe we could entertain the idea that he'd gone east as a young man. However, Jesus' teaching is almost absolutely new - love was never before the heart of any doctrine, and social concerns (care for the sick and elderly) were never before treated as an expression of one's love of God. Epicurianism is similar, with its exaltation of friendship and the equality of all people, but nothing in the East resembles it. Jesus' teaching and way of living has no obvious origin in any movement or teaching that could be called foreign (foreign to him and his countrymen, I mean).
No one knows where Jesus was or what he did before he began his public ministry, but the most likely explanation is that he stayed generally in the area of Galilee where he grew up, and - like the Baptist - was a member of an Essene group. His teachings resemble the Essene teachings - again, with the addition of the message of love - but do not seem to derive from any larger sphere of influence. In spite of his traditional flight to Egypt, we cannot see anything that could be called Egyptian (let alone Persian or Indian) in his teaching or way of life. Again, there is nothing in what we know of him that he couldn't have found at home.
In addition, the story of the boyhood trip doesn't resolve the question of where Jesus' teaching came from. It says he went to study Buddhism, etc., but when he arrives he is already preaching his own gospel. If he brought his teaching with him, he didn't need to come and learn it.
The argument based on the Turin Shroud doesn't move me at all. It's true that I'm not a coroner, so I'm not qualified to have an opinion on the behavior of a crucifixion victim's wounds, but aside from that, I don't find the Turin Shroud convincing in itself. I already find it hard to believe that this piece of cloth is the same used to wrap Jesus' body 2000 years ago, so I am unable to regard it as evidence or even proof of Jesus' physical state in the tomb.
On the other hand, the idea that Jesus went looking for the ten lost tribes is not as far-out as it sounds, although not for the reason Faber-Kaiser thinks. His list of similar-sounding words proves nothing at all. But who are these ten lost tribes, and how exactly were they lost?
After the death of King Solomon, there was disagreement about which of his sons should be king. The result was a civil war that split the nation into two parts. The southern part, which contained Jerusalem, the temple, the priesthood, and Solomon's throne, belonged to Judah and another tribe. The northern part was inhabited by the ten rebellious tribes. These two Hebrew nations were constantly at war, and the rupture was never healed. About 600 years before Christ the Assyrians carried off the entire northern nation - the ten tribes - and no one knows what became of them. The most probable explanation is that those who didn't die in the invasion/deportation were assimilated into the Assyrian population. You must remember that it was neither a large nor cohesive group of people. They had abandoned the Hebrew religion, which in any case was neither strong nor unifying at that time.
Even in Jesus' time their traces must have been long gone, and if he did go east in search of the ten tribes he must have been disappointed, but still he may have tried.
Moses' tomb is not authentic, in my opinion. Anything is possible, but it's more likely that Moses died somewhere to the south or west of Israel, not north or east. Perhaps the idea was that he too needed a rest, and that at the end of his life came to the peaceful green Kashmir. It's true that the Bible says "no one knows where Moses is buried," but this doesn't mean he was buried in Kashmir any more than it means that he was buried in Kansas. Mary, on the other hand, is supposed to have remained in Ephesus with the apostle John until she died of old age. This is what Polycarp, one of the first-century Christian writers, says, anyway. Polycarp was a intimate friend of the apostle John and is our last contact with someone who really knew Jesus. Maybe one of the other Marys is buried in Pakistan - there were three, after all, who followed Jesus.
Faber-Kaiser doesn't say much about Thomas, but he should have. It would have helped add a bit of weight to his argument, since Thomas really seems to have arrived in India. The Christian tradition says he went to India; the Indians say he arrived in India, and an Indian Christian tradition that claims origin in him dates back to the first century. His tomb is in India, and - ironically enough - there is no reason to doubt about Thomas.
What about Jesus? What can be said?
In the end, after excluding a lot of the nonsense in which the story has been wrapped, I have to admit that I don't know whether Jesus died in Kashmir. I don't see any way to exclude it as a possibility, unless one could determine when the Kashmiri traditional stories first appeared, or unless an archeologist discovers something by examining the tomb. Fortunately or unfortunately, Jesus was not concerned with leaving behind an accurate or complete story of his life. I think he had good reasons, and knew very well that trusting himself to a strictly oral tradition was sure to produce misunderstandings and mysteries. And I believe he would be tickled by the story of the tomb in Kashmir - even if he knew that it wasn't true.
[ 1 January 1998 ]