What happened to Jesus?

The ongoing debate as to whether Jesus was a historical figure or a unified character created later by cobbling together various legends circulating at that time is pretty interesting. But suppose that we grant that such a figure actually lived, and that his life corresponded broadly to the narratives found in the Bible, but do not accept his divinity and the resurrection. It is fairly easy to discount the miraculous elements of his life but the difficult remaining question is what happened to him in the end?

This BBC documentary sent to me by a friend explores this question and it is fascinating with a lot of information that was hitherto unknown to me.

One theory is that Jesus died on the cross and was buried and that his remains were found much later in an ossuary by the Knights Templar, a militant order of monks that went to Palestine to try and halt the advance of Islam. Recognizing the explosive nature of their find, they secretly brought the remains back to France and reburied them in a location that has yet to be found.

Another theory is that Jesus did not die on the cross but either went into a death-like coma induced by shock and later recovered in the tomb or that the death was a pre-planned hoax by him and some followers. But if Jesus did not die, what did he do afterwards? He would still have been a condemned man and could not live openly in Palestine.

One theory is that he married Mary Magdalene and that the two of them sailed off to France and settled down and raised a family. The more intriguing theory is that Jesus spent the formative years of his life from 14 to 29 (about which the Gospels say nothing) in India where he learned about Buddhism and lived there as a monk before returning to Palestine. This would explain the origins of some of his teachings, which do not have any roots in Judaism. After his ‘death’, he then returned to India and lived as a respected prophet and teacher in the Kashmir region where he died at the age of 80. There is a tomb there that supposedly houses his remains.

Of course if you don’t believe that Jesus was divine, none of this has any practical consequences. Rather it is a nice historical puzzle for scholars to grapple with, like whether Shakespeare wrote his plays. If you have 50 minutes to spare, the documentary is worth watching. I found it very absorbing and well done.