It’s one of the greatest mysteries in history. What happened to Jesus when he all but disappeared from the scriptures at 12-years-old only to resurface at around 30 to begin his ministry?
Of course, the widely accepted Christian belief is that he spent these years plying his trade as a carpenter in Galilee, but there’s little reference to that in the bible.
This gaping hole in Jesus’ life has led to several theories. The most prevalent ones range from somewhat credible, to questionable, to bat sh*t bonkers. Could Jesus have studied Hinduism and Buddhism in India, communed with Druids in Great Britain, become an adopted son of Japan, or travelled throughout the Americas?
These alternate histories, or alternate facts if you like, are an industry in themselves. If any or some were true, it would shatter the beliefs and foundation of Christianity.
But there’s such a lack of irrefutable evidence for each one that they need to be taken with a big sack of salt. Here’s a look at these nonetheless fascinating theories.
Jesus studies Hinduism and Buddhism in India
One of the most prevalent theories is that Jesus trained with mystics in the Himalayas. “Russian aristocrat, Cossack officer, spy, and journalist” Nicolas Notovitch claimed in an account of his 1894 trip to the Himis monastery in Tibet to have seen the 3rd Century AD manuscript, the Life of Saint Issa, Best of the Sons of Men, detailing Jesus’ missing years. It claimed Jesus, called Issa by monks, studied under yogis in India, Nepal and Tibet.
Others have also claimed to have set their eyes upon the manuscript, said to remain hidden by Buddhists in a Himalayan monastery. Adding to the theory is the idea that Jesus survived the crucifixion and returned to India, and is in fact buried there.
Jesus visits Great Britain with his uncle
The theory that Jesus visited Britain as a young man gained momentum with the poem Jerusalem written by William Blake with the verses “And did those feet in ancient time / Walk upon England’s mountains green? And was the Holy Lamb of God / On England’s pleasant pastures seen?”
As legend would have it, Jesus travelled some 2,000 years ago to the West Country with Joseph of Arimathaea, a tin trader who some believe was Jesus’ uncle. Jesus is said to have studied with Druids in Glastonbury, the idea being that Druidism held some similarities to the Christian faith. The theory has it that Jesus built a chapel there.
Documentary And Did Those Feet posits that Jesus may have come to Britain to further his learning.
"If somebody was wanting to learn about the spirituality and thinking not just of the Jews but also the classical and Greek world he would have to come to Britain, which was the centre of learning at the time,” the film’s director and producer Ted Harrison told The Independent, but admitting there’s no archeological finds that he knows of to back this up.
Of course, Britain is at the heart of the Holy Grail legend, the cup said to be used by Jesus at the Last Supper, and in one theory used by Joseph of Arimathaea to collect Jesus’ blood during his crucifixion. As one Arthurian legend would have it, the medieval military order the Knights Templar seized the holy grail during the Crusades.
Jesus goes to Japan
Here’s a fascinating idea; at 21-years-old legend has it that Jesus became a disciple of a Buddhist master near Mount Fuji, immersing himself in Japanese culture and learning the language.
But it’s what supposedly happened later that is really bonkers. As Smithsonian Magazine reports, a variation on one of the many ‘Swoon’ theories (which argue that Jesus never died) posits that his younger brother Isukiri took his place on the cross.
Jesus then returned to Japan with his brother’s severed ear and a lock of the virgin Mary’s hair, settling down in the northern mountain hamlet of Shingo with a farmer’s daughter named Miyuko, and fathered three daughters. He grew garlic!! He died aged 106!!
It’s a legend that has a huge following. Every year some 20,000 people visit Shingo, also known as Kirisuto no Sato (Christ’s Hometown) to the supposed site of Jesus’ burial (cared for by a local yoghurt factory!), a modest mound with a cross on top. His brother’s ear is said to be interred next door.
Jesus visits tribes in The Americas
Is this one’s true, then Jesus really must have got around. Archeologist L. Taylor Hansen in her book He Walked the Americas explores Native American legends that say a “White Prophet” visited tribes throughout Peru, South and Central America, Mexico and North America in his missing years.
According to the legends, this “White Prophet” had the ability to speak in a thousand languages, raise the dead and heal the sick, not unlike biblical descriptions.
Explore the later days of Jesus with the documentary series The Last Days of Jesus, airing on SBS Sunday nights at 7:35pm. You can stream earlier episodes in this fascinating series on SBS On Demand: