New film to fill gaps in "missing years."
The birth and death narratives of Jesus are among the world's best known stories, even among non-Christians or the nonreligious. What Jesus was like in between, however, has always been a bit more of a mystery.
"Did he have zits? Did he have crushes? Did he play basketball?" asks Dale Martin, a religious studies professor at Yale University.
The answers are entirely unknown. From about age 13 until about 30, Jesus is absent from the pages of the New Testament. Martin said one of the reasons why so little is said about Jesus' teenage years is that he didn't really become "famous" until 100 to 200 years after his crucifixion.
"So why would anyone have even thought to record anything about his life as a teenager?" he asks.
Soon, some of those answers -- or at least Hollywood's best guess -- will be coming to a theater near you. Based on a book of the same title, "The Aquarian Gospel" will try to fill in the gaps of Jesus' "missing years."
Drew Heriot, whose previous credits include "The Secret," a bestselling but controversial self-help DVD that claims "to reveal the most powerful law in the universe," is set to direct the film, and said it will show Jesus not only as a young man but as a traveler to the East.
The $20 million film will follow Jesus as he follows the ancient Silk Road, with stops in India, Persia and Egypt among other places. Along the way, Jesus will come to know "the world's greatest seers and sages," and will reunite with the Magi who visited his crib in Bethlehem, say producers of the film.
When asked if the movie reflects his own personal beliefs, Heriot said that although it does in many ways, he prefers "to spend more time in the question than the answer.
"I find it always opens me up to a much richer and deeper exploration as a storyteller," he said.
Time lapses in Gospels
Plans for the film are just beginning to come together. Heriot said it will feature "live-action with significant visual effects ... different from anything people have seen before."
The role of Jesus has not yet been cast, but Heriot said he will be played by several different actors as he "grows from boy to man."
The idea for filling in Jesus' lost years is based on a time lapse found in the Bible itself. The Gospels of Mark and John don't mention Jesus' birth or childhood at all; both start with his baptism and launch straight into his public ministry.
In Matthew, Jesus returns from exile in Egypt and then suddenly goes public. The Gospel of Luke finds Jesus teaching in the Temple at age 12 and then, in the next chapter, has him start his public ministry at "about 30 years old."
What happened in between has been lost to history, or was seen by the Gospel writers as unimportant.
However, Daniel L. Smith-Christopher, a professor at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles and one of the consultants for the film, said "scholars and historians have debated the issue of Jesus visiting further East, as far as India or even Tibet, for centuries."
Life after crucifixion?
Fida Hassnain, former director of the Kashmir State Archives of Archeological Research and Museums, has spent a lifetime researching the idea that Jesus did not, as most Christians believe, die on the cross but rather, had a postcrucifixion life in India.
In fact, Hassnain believes Jesus' tomb is located in Kashmir.
In a recent interview with the British newspaper the Guardian, Hassnain said Buddhist scrolls mention Jesus' visits, and coins from that time period refer to Jesus. Still others have pointed out that trade routes between East and West were well traveled at the time.
But Jeffrey Siker, chairman of the theology department at Loyola Marymount, said no one particularly buys the idea that Jesus ever visited India.
Martin, from Yale, agrees, calling it "highly, highly unlikely," and said any Buddhist reference to Jesus is simply the result of one tradition pulling from another as "a way to validate itself." Islam, too, makes mention of Jesus in the Quran for the same reasons, Martin said.
Siker said Jesus' birth narratives in Matthew and Luke were written with theology, not history, in mind. The Gospel writers were "making theological points, not giving historical narrative," he said.
Despite his doubts about the plausibility of the plot, Martin said he has no problem with such a narrative -- as long as it's clear that the film is a work of fiction, not the retelling of history.
"It's certainly historically irresponsible if they are claiming that it's something more than fiction," he said. "That's not just irresponsible; that's lying."
Martin and Siker both said the film is likely to appeal to those who, for whatever reasons, reject the traditional Christianity of the West. And Siker said he "firmly expects that the evangelical church will broadly panic" over the movie.
Heriot, however, said the film isn't meant to divide believers. Instead, he hopes it will help "unify Jesus' message and story with other religions by clearly presenting the underlying principles of truth they all share."