This is the ninth in a series of profiles of the presenters at the upcoming 2015 York University Christian Apocrypha Symposium to be held September 25-26 at York University in Toronto. Only a few weeks away! Remember, if you register for the symposium, you will receive drafts of the papers in advance, thus enabling you to participate more fully in the discussions that follow. For registration information, visit the YCAS 2015 web site (HERE).
Rice holds master’s degrees from Boston University (MTS, 2001; STM, 2002) and Harvard Divinity School (ThM, 2004). He is presently working on the Story of Joseph of Arimathea and the Armenian version of the Epistle of James to Quadratus for the second volume of New Testament Apocrypha: More Noncanonical Scriptures. He serves on the executive board of the North American Society for the Study of Christian Apocryphal Literature and continues to advise current research for the Contexticon.
“The Apocryphal Tale of Jesus’ Journey to India: Nicolas Notovitch and the Life of Saint Issa Revisited”
When Nicolas Notovitch published The Unknown Life of Jesus Christ in 1894, he presented the public with the contents of an ancient scroll which he claimed to have discovered at a Tibetan Buddhist monastery in the foothills of the Himalayas. To the astonishment of everyone, this document—entitled the Life of Saint Issa—described how Jesus had spent most of his formative years in India, sitting at the feet of Brahmins and Buddhists before returning to Galilee to begin his public ministry. Of course, the Life of Saint Issa turned out to be a fake written by none other than Notovitch himself. But his tale of Jesus in India had a significant impact on the development of non-mainstream religious movements throughout the twentieth century, from Mirza Ghulam Ahmad and the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community to Elizabeth Clare Prophet and the Church Universal and Triumphant. Stories of Jesus in India continue to entice the popular imagination in the present day, and are frequently incorporated into the search for alternative and often syncretistic forms of Christianity. But above all, Notovitch’s Life of Saint Issa and other similar tales may be construed as belonging to a much broader corpus of apocryphal Christian literature which began in antiquity and endures in the present. In my paper, Notovitch will thus serve as the focal point for a larger discussion of modern apocrypha, a body of writings that has generally been neglected in Christian Apocrypha research. I will first consider the historical circumstances and personal motivations of Notovitch himself in order to understand why he forged the Life of Saint Issa at all. I will then demonstrate how Notovitch’s tale and other modern apocrypha not only exhibit literary continuity with other apocryphal Christian writings of past and present, but also offer important perspectives on the cultural contexts out of which they have arisen.