To the editors:
The staff of the Reader should know that the significance of Professor Sheehan's "revelations" pertaining to the historicity of Jesus Christ goes far beyond what he has revealed [April 21]. And one wonders whether or not Professor Sheehan is as "radical" as he would like us to believe or whether, in fact, Professor Sheehan is no more than a very willing "spokesman" for a church which appears to be crumbling to the dust, and needs someone like Sheehan to keep the boat afloat by offering a new "interpretation." An interpretation, on the one hand, "radical" enough to withstand the onslaught of the growing body of evidence regarding the post-crucifixion life of Jesus Christ, but "conservative" enough to keep the "taffy" (borrowing Sheehan's metaphor) from breaking, by offering all that is left of Church-Christianity--the essence of Christ's teachings.
Are we to believe that a scholar of the stature of Professor Sheehan is unfamiliar with the very recent work of a young, German scholar named Professor Holger Kersten (Jesus Lived in India, His Unkown Life Before and After the Crucifixion, Element Book Ltd., London, 1986.)? And what about the work of Professor Andreas Faber Kaiser (Jesus Died in Kashmir, Jesus, Moses and the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel, 1978)? Would Professor Sheehan have us believe that he is unfamiliar with the travels of the Russian historian and scholar, Nicholai Notovich to the Buddhistic Lamaseries of Northern India in 1887, where he discovered mention of one Yus Asaph (Leader of the healed), as having traveled to that area, married, bore children, and lived to the age of 120, and who the local inhabitants claim was none other than Jesus Christ?
Would Professor Sheehan have us believe that he is unfamiliar with the work of Ghulam Ahmad (Jesus in India, Tabshir Press, Qadian, 1889), whose work was the first to expose what is now becoming a growing belief--that Christ survived the crucifixion physically and did what he was supposed to do (something Professor Sheehan would agree to) since he was sent NOT to the Gentiles, but to his people--he travelled to Northern Hodu (India), where ten of the 12 tribes of Israel had been scattered, in order to complete his mission of telling the Children of Israel about the Kingdom of God? Could it really be possible that he is unfamiliar with that monumental work, Jesus In Heaven On Earth, by Nazir Ahmad? Is it possible that Professor Sheehan does not know of the current work of Professor Fida Hassnain (State Director of Archaeology in Kashmir, Northern India), who is studying the Roza Bal (Prophet's tomb), in which Jesus Christ (Yus Asaph) is believed to be buried, and to which all of the above-mentioned works refer?
Professor Sheehan does not know, are we to believe, that there is someone (Basharat Saleem) who claims to be a living descendant of Jesus Christ and has genealogical charts and records to substantiate his claim; and who at least one scholar takes seriously?
In a few days, I will be sending you a manuscript entitled The Scheme. It is a novel I wrote which (for the first time in fiction form) exposes the issue of Christ's tomb in India. It has been accepted and will be published after necessary editing. The novel is not about this issue, per se, and it appears incidental to my novel. The Scheme is about the issue of the misuse of dogma (I am in 100% accord with Professor Sheehan regarding the danger of dogmatists--of whatever religion).
I am not a scholar. I am a novelist. But one wonders why no mention is ever made of the absolutely tremendous work being done in the field of the post-crucifixion life of Jesus Christ. Recent work! The Tomb of Jesus Christ is located on Kan Yar street in the city of Srinagar, Jammu and Kashmir, Northern India. The evidence regarding Jesus' travels to that area after his ordeal on the cross, and his eventual settling down in that area, is growing.
Here is my challenge:
I challenge Professor Sheehan to widen his scholarship. I challenge Professor Sheehan to examine the works of those scholars outside of the Catholic intelligentsia (current and old) who hold that Christ survived the crucifixion (not an unusual thing to do, since crucifixion did not necessarily mean instant death--recall Pilate's surprise when "Joseph of Arimathea" requested Christ's body: "And Pilate marvelled if he were already dead: and calling unto him the centurion, he asked him whether he had been any while dead . . ." Mark 15, vs. 44.) but particularly the studies of the Tomb of Jesus which are being done by a professor of international renown, Professor Fida Hassnain, Doctor of Indology and Archaeology, author of several books, director of the Kashmir Research Centre for Buddhist Studies, and a member of the International Conference for Anthropological Research here in Chicago.
The fact is, the whole "theory" of salvation (the very reason, we are told by Church Christianity, that Christ was crucified) crumbles to the dust if, in fact, it is shown that Jesus Christ was a mortal who did what every other mortal does. (How much more interesting would have been The Last Temptation of Christ had the author of that book and the producer of that film known that Christ possibly did enjoy sex, have children, etc.) The existence of the Tomb of Jesus Christ and the manuscripts which exist in the Lamaseries (Buddhistic monasteries) in that area, stand as growing threats to the very life of Church Christianity (as opposed to the true Christianity which Sheehan is so "boldly" advocating).
It would probably take volumes to examine the damage which Church Christianity--with its emphasis on the external--has done to the ability of its followers to search for and find God within. But suffice it to say that therein lies the significance of the "discovery" of the Tomb of Jesus: it represents a fresh chance for "Christians" to turn inward and do exactly as Sheehan suggests--find the God who is everpresent and has "settled" amongst us, rather than worship a human being whose purpose was no different than the purpose of previous prophets: to turn our attention to God without the intercession of self-appointed divines. As the German scholar, Dr. Holger Kersten, said on page 10 of his recent 1986 work, Jesus Lived In India:
"Two millennia have passed since the bold young Jesus first tried to extricate humanity from the bond of official Churches, with their ecclesiastical bureaucracy, their laws and their figureheads, their inflexibility, their strife in matters of exegesis, their hierarchy and claims to unique authority, and their cult, idolatry and sectarianism. [Sound familiar, Professor Sheehan?] Jesus wanted the direct communication between God and Mankind, and did not intend to foster any ambitious ecclesiastical careers. But Jesus' voice no longer reaches us in its natural directness. Access to it can only be gained by privileged experts and through the arbitration of a professional corps. Jesus has been managed, marketed, codified and 'booked.'"
But perhaps Sheehan is familiar with this issue (although he denied it when I asked him at the Loyola debates a couple of years ago, during the question-answer period. I have the uncut video of these debates), and has opted to attempt to steer a dying Church on a course which will allow it to survive in the face of the growing body of evidence surrounding the post-crucifixion life of Jesus Christ. Perhaps Sheehan is, in fact, the savior of the Church. Because perhaps he realizes that if someone doesn't offer an interpretation regarding the mission of Christ which is more in line with current research pertaining to his post-crucifixion life, then the existence of Church Christianity (as opposed to the true Christianity which Sheehan quite rightly supports) is threatened. And perhaps it is just too much to risk ushering in the possible collapse of such a powerful institution by exposing its parishioners too fast to such startling history.
I find it awfully difficult to believe that a scholar knows nothing about this. I know about it, and I don't have a single degree. But I feel that the subject of a possible post-crucifixion life of Jesus Christ is absolutely fascinating and terribly important. And it (quite obviously) brings up several disturbing questions.
If it is shown that Christ married and had children, what of the Catholic priesthood? Rather than go any further, though (my time is limited), I ask you and the readers to think about the questions this raises. This has to be the single most important issue in Western (or Eastern) Christianity. Why is it that the world-wide Anglican church issued a statement in 1978 (as a response to a conference entitled, The First International Conference on the Deliverance of Jesus Christ From the Cross, which was held in London and attended by 1,500 people from around the world) that said that it realized that the "death" of Jesus Christ appears, on the surface, to be an "affront to divine justice." That is because it is an affront to Divine justice.
The subject of the historicity of Christ is (as Professor Sheehan very well knows) the subject of the day in the field of religion. There are some who believe that this is the very reason why the Catholic Church wants to quickly bury the issue of the Shroud of Turin (remember?). Why did the Catholic Church limit the number of laboratories which it would allow to carbon-date the Shroud of Turin? Could it be because it knows that the authenticity of the Shroud (don't believe that that controversy is over) does not prove the divinity of Christ but, rather, his humanity? How can we be sure that the samples which the church allowed to be taken from the Shroud for carbon-dating, were true samples? For instance, everyone knows that the Shroud suffered a fire in the year 1532. Perhaps the samples given to the handpicked scientists were samples taken from re-woven parts of the Shroud, and this is why the Shroud was dated back only to the middle ages. Again: perhaps. Perhaps the Church was afraid that if the carbon-dating proved that the Shroud of Turin was genuine, this would show that Christ physically survived the cross. And if this is so, then what is atonement? (No one can atone for the sins of human beings. We will stand before God and be held responsible for our own deeds--and so too will Jesus Christ, God's holy messenger.)
Hardly any one mentions the Church's fears regarding the Shroud of Turin except those real scholars who know that scholarship cannot be true, objective scholarship if it is confined within one belief-system. It is criminal that the Church did not allow all the laboratories concerned to examine the Shroud of Turin (which some believe was Christ's "burial" cloth). In fact, it backed out of its original agreement--with no explanation--allowing only one laboratory to examine the samples. And when the "conclusion" was reached that the Shroud was dated back 700 years, the scientists who were not allowed to do their own testing strongly protested and questioned the validity of the results. This appeared in the Chicago Tribune.
Finally, I have a challenge for the Reader or ANY publication with the resources: I challenge your staff to travel to the area of Northern Kashmir and bring back to Chicago the story pertaining not only to the Tomb of Jesus Christ, but the WHOLE ISSUE (as opposed to the partial issue brought out by Sheehan) of the possible post-crucifixion life of Jesus Christ.
I am certain that Holger Kersten, Andreas Faber Kaiser, Fida Hassnain, and others who are probably working in this field will offer their support. One thing for certain: it would be a first. Not even National Geographic has attempted this.
Perhaps Christians will find an enhanced Christianity (as Sheehan suggests) if they can find and learn about Christ's teachings in India after the cross. Incidentally, pilgrims from around the world travel to Kan Yar street to visit Christ's tomb (but I suppose I should say "alleged" tomb).
Abu B. Salahuddin
a/k/a Nathaniel Chisholm
author of The Scheme