Hollywood takes action hero Jesus to India
by Randeep Ramesh, The Guardian, November 19, 2007
Film based on Aquarian Gospel to cover years left out of New Testament
New Delhi, India -- Hollywood is to fill in the Bible's "missing years" with a story about Jesus as a wandering mystic who travelled across India, living in Buddhist monasteries and speaking out against the iniquities of the country's caste system.
The result is the Aquarian Gospel, a $20m movie, which portrays Jesus as a holy man and teacher inspired by a myriad of eastern religions in India. The Aquarian Gospel takes its name from a century-old book that examined Christianity's eastern roots and is in its 53rd reprint.
The film's producers say the movie will be shot using actors and computer animation like 300, the retelling of the Battle of Thermopylae, and will follow the travels of Yeshua, believed to be the name for Jesus in Aramaic, from the Middle East to India. Casting for suitable Bollywood and Hollywood actors has begun.
"The Bible devotes just seven words to the most formative years of Yeshua's life saying: 'The boy grew in wisdom and stature'. The [film] will follow Christ's journey to the east where he encounters other traditions, and discovers the principles that are the bedrock of all the world's great religions," said Drew Heriot, the film's director, whose credits include the cult hit The Secret.
The film, which is due for release in 2009, sets out to be a fantasy action adventure account of Jesus's life with the three wise men as his mentors. Although the producers say the film will feature a "young and beautiful" princess, it is not clear whether Jesus is to have a love interest.
The producers say they are hoping for commercial and spiritual gains. "We think that Indian religions and Buddhism, especially with the idea of meditation, played a big part in Christ's thinking. In the film we are looking beyond the canonised gospels to the 'lost' gospels," said William Sees Keenan, the producer, who is currently making Lindsay Lohan's Poor Things.
"We are looking at new themes. In our story Jesus was loyal to the untouchables [in India] and he defended them with his life by saying that everyone could read the Vedas [Hindu holy books]," said Mr Keenan, a "lapsed Catholic".
The theory that Jesus's teachings had roots in Indian traditions has been around for more than a century. In 1894 a Russian doctor, Nicholas Notovitch, published a book called The Unknown Life of Christ, in which he claimed that while recovering from a broken leg in a Tibetan monastery in the Ladakh region, close to Kashmir, he had been shown evidence of Christ's Indian wanderings. He said he was shown a scroll recording a visit by Jesus to India and Tibet as a young man. Indian experts claim that documentary proof remains of this Himalayan visit.
"I have seen the scrolls which show Buddhist monks talking about Jesus's visits. There are also coins from that period which show Yuzu or have the legend Issa on them, referring to Jesus from that period," said Fida Hassnain, former director of archaeology at the University of Srinagar.
Hassnain, who has written books on the legend of Jesus in India, points out that there was extensive traffic between the Mediterranean and India around the time of Jesus's life. The academic pointed out that in Srinagar a tomb of Issa is still venerated. "It is the Catholic church which has closed its mind on the subject. Historians have not."
More dramatic are the claims that Buddhism had prompted the move from the "eye for an eye" ideology of the Old Testament to "love thy neighbour" in the New Testament.
In 1995 a German religious expert, Holger Kersten, claimed that Jesus had been schooled by Buddhist monks to believe in non-violence and to challenge the priesthood. Kersten's book remains a bestseller in India.
The Catholic church in India dismisses the film as just "Hollywood filmmakers in search of a new audience rather than the truth". Aware that religious passions are easily inflamed, after the Da Vinci Code film sparked protests among Indian Christians, its spokesman said that a movie about Jesus in India was plainly "fantasy and fiction".
"I have personally investigated many of these claims and they remain what they first seem: fiction," said John Dayal, president of the All India Catholic Union which represents 16 million churchgoers. "I am sure it will make money but I do not think it will displace thousands of years of biblical thought."
In 1935 a Shinto priest claimed that instead of being crucified, Jesus had fled to Japan where he lived to be 112. He married a Japanese woman, had three daughters and became a respected teacher and prophet
Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code, which has sold more than 80m copies, suggests that the church suppressed Jesus's real story and that he had a family of his own. A central character in modern times discovers she is a direct descendant of Jesus and Mary Magdalene, who fled to what is now France after the crucifixion
The Lost Gospel of Judas is based on a manuscript found in the Egyptian desert in 1970 and claims Jesus enlisted a beloved and heroic Judas to betray him as part of a divine plan
Titanic director James Cameron's film about the lost tomb of Jesus in Jerusalem suggests that graves containing the remains of Jesus and Mary Magdalene were discovered in 1980.