But could he hit a curveball?
January 13, 2018 8:33 AM   Subscribe

The post-truth gospel. In 1894 Nicolas Notovitch's The Unknown Life of Jesus Christ was published and briefly became a huge, global story. The book claimed that during the 18 undocumented years of Jesus’s life – the gap in the Bible between his childhood and the beginning of his ministry in Palestine – he had visited India, Nepal and Tibet and trained with yogis as a Buddhist monk. When skeptics investigated, the story began to unravel. Today, Notovitch is virtually unknown. But is it possible that his claim that Jesus had trained as a Buddhist was a misdirection and the book had a more subtle ulterior motive?

The author of the first-link, (the post-truth article) is author Marcel Theroux, the older brother of documentary filmmaker Louis Theroux. His most recent novel is a work of fiction, The Secret Books which includes a look at the life of a real-life historical figure: Nicolas Notovich. The paper published a profile of Theroux this past September and asked him why he had chosen to investigate Notovich. Also see: The Secret Books by Marcel Theroux review – the power of stories to shape reality.

BBC Documentary: Jesus in India

Wikipedia has more on Notovitch
posted by zarq (26 comments total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
 
This is fascinating. Thank you zarq.
posted by saturday_morning at 9:13 AM on January 13 [2 favorites]


The ironic thing is that information travelled West and there are two medieval saints based on the life of the Buddha.
posted by sukeban at 9:19 AM on January 13 [13 favorites]


While I am glad to have learned about the charming rogue Notovitch (the stress, by the way, is on the second syllable: no-TO-vich), Theroux doesn't sound like someone with a firm grasp of reality ("I’ve always been inclined to give Notovitch the benefit of the doubt"), and I wouldn't take anything he says as, er, gospel. For instance: "Notovitch published almost a dozen books in his life, but only one in his native language, Russian." But Russian Wikipedia lists eleven books in Russian, starting with Патриотизм [Patriotism] (St. Petersburg, 1880). And the first link (the only one I've read, per my usual laziness and preference for single links) is oddly scattered. Anyway, I'm glad for the post. (I don't get the title, though. Am I missing a cultural reference?)
posted by languagehat at 9:39 AM on January 13 [7 favorites]


“The post-truth gospel”? Isn’t that all of them?

I’ve always been inclined to give Notovitch the benefit of the doubt. But as I reread his book in my empty hotel, I was struck by its air of implausibility. There’s no positive evidence that Notovitch is lying, but we might expect stronger evidence to support his enormous claim

Funny; that’s exactly how I feel whenever I watch a Louis Theroux “documentary.”
posted by Sys Rq at 9:42 AM on January 13 [1 favorite]


And did those feet, in ancient times
Walk on England'sIndia's mountains green?
Seriously, although I have an enduring fondness for purported secret histories (I liked Holy Blood, Holy Grail even after its bogosity was revealed), I also like the idea that Jesus just hung around Judea and did carpentry, occasionally venting a provocative or even heretical idea when he was drunk, until a chance encounter with a traveling preacher named John the Baptist when he was thirty or so kicked something loose in him.
posted by Halloween Jack at 9:48 AM on January 13 [13 favorites]


(I don't get the title, though. Am I missing a cultural reference?)

Oh, it's a ridiculously dumb reference to the a line in the movie Major League, thrown in for no good reason. :)

Thank you (sincerely!) for picking apart at least one of Theroux's claims about Notovitch.
posted by zarq at 10:04 AM on January 13 [2 favorites]


Also, I apologize for misspelling Notovitch's name twice in the post. It does indeed have two "t"'s.
posted by zarq at 10:06 AM on January 13


The thing is, if Jesus knew Greek (which would not be strange for a diaspora Jew from his age since it was the lingua franca of the Eastern Mediterranean, but realistically he came from a village in Galilee and probably only spoke Aramaic fluently — the travels of the apostle Paul are a good example of how wide a Greek-speaking Jewish guy could travel and be understood) and had gone backpacking, what he would have found before arriving to India is the hellenistic Buddhist kingdoms of central Asia which at the time were ruled by Iranian-descended Zoroastrians but still held a population of Greek-speaking Buddhists. That's only marginally more believable but regrettably lower on the orientalist exoticism bit.
posted by sukeban at 10:09 AM on January 13 [20 favorites]


I was raised Christian but somehow it never occurred to me that most of Jesus' life is missing. What a sloppy narrative! While we're fixing that up, can we also fix the thing where there are two important characters both named Mary? It's awfully confusing. The Rashomon thing with 4+ gospels can stay, but it might be worth considering a more plausible origin story without such a simple, ribald alternative interpretation.
posted by Nelson at 10:38 AM on January 13 [7 favorites]


Then, there is this. Life has its twists and turns, the Muslims 'round there think it is so, calling it the Tomb of Amir Yusef, Amir the son of Joseph. I read one account where they kind of smirk about it, and they revere him too, so they end up with his tomb, calling him a Sufi, saint. Precioussss secrets.
posted by Oyéah at 10:39 AM on January 13 [2 favorites]


And did those feet, in ancient times
Walk on England'sIndia's mountains green?


the one time I ever actually talked to a Mormon missionary (I was stuck next to him on an airplane), he said much the same of the great American plains, and that the natives spoke of a Christlike character in their folklore. I was maybe fifteen at the time and even then, it sounded about as plausible as a sci-fi/fantasy narrative ...
posted by philip-random at 10:49 AM on January 13 [1 favorite]


Christopher Moore did a fun job of retelling this story in his "Lamb - the Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Friend".
Gore Vidal took a more sci-fi direction with his "Live from Golgotha".
posted by Mesaverdian at 11:21 AM on January 13 [15 favorites]


Here’s John Prine’s take.
posted by Sys Rq at 11:41 AM on January 13 [3 favorites]


Huh, so that’s where Christopher Moore got the plot for Lamb.
posted by Captain l'escalier at 11:44 AM on January 13 [6 favorites]


Really interesting. Thanks.
posted by bongo_x at 11:45 AM on January 13


Then, there is this. Life has its twists and turns, the Muslims 'round there think it is so, calling it the Tomb of Amir Yusef, Amir the son of Joseph.

Jesus has a tomb in Japan, too.
posted by sukeban at 11:51 AM on January 13 [2 favorites]


The Christian / Indian connection I have always found so fascinating are the Saint Thomas Christians in Kerala. Their tradition is that Thomas the Apostle came to Kerala in 52 AD and founded the church there. It's plausible that's the actual historical truth. And the idea that Thomas went to India dates back to the 3rd century in Roman tradition, it's a very old story.
posted by Nelson at 12:08 PM on January 13 [5 favorites]


Jesus has tombs the way some people have summer homes

(this handbasket is surprisingly spacious)
posted by Iris Gambol at 12:16 PM on January 13 [16 favorites]


I first heard about Notovitch's book as a teenager in Nashville around 1974. I had a summer job doing landscaping, and one of my fellow diggers was living on The Farm, Stephen Gaskin's commune in Summertown, and told me about the book. I thought it sounded like a tall tale but later on, having read a few more books, put it in the context of Tolstoy's attempts to redefine Christianity (which got him excommunicated-- honorable company to be in). The Ladakh monastery tale is just window-dressing, imho.
posted by homerica at 12:33 PM on January 13 [1 favorite]


> Oh, it's a ridiculously dumb reference to the a line in the movie Major League, thrown in for no good reason. :)

Thanks! Somehow I never saw that movie.

> Also, I apologize for misspelling Notovitch's name twice in the post. It does indeed have two "t"'s.

Actually, Notovich is a better transliteration of Нотович, and since he's hardly as famous as Tchaikovsky I don't see any pressing need to preserve an archaic version of the name (after all, we now talk about Pavel Milyukov, not Paul Miliukoff as they did back in the day).
posted by languagehat at 1:34 PM on January 13 [4 favorites]


and then there's Teenage Jesus + the Jerks
posted by philip-random at 2:57 PM on January 13 [2 favorites]


And did those feet, in ancient times
Walk on England'sIndia's mountains green?
Well, once Jesus hit 11th level, he could get the spell Wind Walk, so he could probably travel wherever he wanted.
posted by happyroach at 3:05 PM on January 13 [2 favorites]


[deleted bizarre Mormon derail that's unrelated to the topic of this post]
posted by Eyebrows McGee (staff) at 4:36 PM on January 13 [4 favorites]


Christopher Moore did a fun job of retelling this story in his "Lamb - the Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Friend".

Outstanding book. Do recommend. Must read.
posted by RolandOfEld at 8:05 PM on January 13


To add even more (obfuscation?), there's the story of how Jesus escaped crucifixion (you see, it was his brother who was crucified), went east, settled in Shingo, Japan, and died there, after marrying and having children.
posted by zardoz at 12:38 AM on January 14 [1 favorite]


These unfortunate words were elaborated into a doctrine by Christian clerics like John Chrysostom in the fourth century who declared the Jews, as a race, guilty of an unpardonable offence.

But his election updates are really useful...
posted by Merus at 3:45 AM on January 14 [2 favorites]


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