BOOK REVIEW: Jesus in Kashmir: The lost tomb
by Geetika Kaw Kher on 02 Nov 2008 9 Comments

Suzanne Olsson’s Jesus in Kashmir: The lost tomb is an eclectic mix of science fiction, hypothetical racial claims, and a good number of fantastic speculations and possibilities. The entire work is aimed at justifying the legitimate (sic) claim of Jesus to the throne of Kashmir, on account of his having allegedly been buried in a tomb named ‘Roza Bal’ near Srinagar.

What seems to have instigated the author to write the book is the ‘deliberate’ proclamation of the site as an Islamic one, and the misuse of money donated to the shrine by Islamic fundamentalists. So far so good…

But to prove her point, she has gone to absurd lengths to situate all famous Biblical patriarchs in or around India. Olsson approaches the problem like a theorem and moves step by step from Adam, Noah, Abraham, and finally to Jesus, and identifies them with Hindu deities or personalities. Such a linear approach fails miserably when applied to cultural or religious studies. Negation of all other possible interpretations and meanings to reach a preconceived conclusion makes the work shallow and full of loopholes.

Right in the beginning, the author in all humility admits she hasn’t taken careful notes or references as most of the language of texts and inscriptions was unfamiliar to her. Yet for someone claiming to have come up with startling new discoveries such an admission is disastrous and puts a question mark on the credibility of the entire work. Rather than approaching the ‘issue’ in a scholarly manner, incidentally the only way to question history unless one is writing fiction, she resorts to seeking phonetic similarities between Jewish and Hindu tongues to come up with wild assumptions, such as Abraham, the Jewish prophet, was raised to a status of divinity in India and called Brahma; Saraswati (goddess of learning and arts) is the Sanskritized form of Sarah!

She writes: “It is difficult for a Hindu to accept that Brahma and Sarasvati were Jewish prophets who they turned into gods and their most sacred texts were begun by and perhaps influenced by the Jewish prophets and scribes who once called the soul of mother India home” (p. 133). Such statements betray something like a colonial hangover, besides a total ignorance of Hindu religion and culture. 

Wherever in India Olsson sees a ‘six pointed star’ or a ‘lion,’ she automatically dedicates it to the Jews. By this logic, the ‘Chakreshwari’ shrine atop Hari Parbat hill in Kashmir, a highly venerated and historical site of Kashmiri Pandits, automatically becomes a Jewish shrine related to the house of David. 

Her poor knowledge about the importance of ‘Sricakra’ (the yantra of Devi Sharika) is revealed by a callous remark on ‘dejehoru’ (an ear ornament worn by married women based on the sricakra): “This style (dejeharu) has now become limited to a few shepherd girls because girls in villages and towns regard it as too old fashioned. These exquisite little jewelry pieces can now be purchased for a few rupees in local shops in Srinagar who are anxious to dispose of these valueless old fashioned granny items…” (p. 211).

It would be too much to expect Olsson to have an inkling of the tantric concept of union of masculine and feminine elements (something similar to Sankhya concept of Purusha and Prakriti ) that these two inverted triangles symbolize.

I would like to stress that symbols like lion, eagle, serpent, cross, star, wheel, etc., are used all over the world. Lots of folk stories from various parts of the world seem to follow similar motifs. It is futile to see these similarities as the influence of one culture on another. They can be understood better in the context of the ‘theory of collective unconscious’ proposed by Carl Jung - there are certain things humans do instinctively. It would be preposterous to suggest that a Jewish baby learnt to suckle from a Muslim one, one or vice versa. Basing any work only on such parallels leads nowhere.

Interestingly, wherever references from texts like ‘Talmud’ and ‘Rajatarangini’ do not fit in her scheme of things, she finds fault with the writer or compiler of the text. Thus she found reference to a minister Sandimatti in Rajatarangini, who was put on a stake by the king as he feared the minister would usurp his throne. She promptly linked Sandimatti to Jesus, though the dates of the two men don’t match: “Because Sandimatti was born long before Jesus we can assume either Kalhana erred by applying the crucifixion story to the wrong man in the wrong years, or this might represent Joseph, father of Jesus (or Joseph of Arimathea). We can be quite certain that Kalhana’s crucifixion story was erroneously applied to the wrong time, and perhaps the wrong man”

Such an audacious conclusion helps her link Sandimatti with Solomon, and she sees the temple atop Shankaracharya Hill (renamed Takht-e-Sulaiman by Islamic rulers) as the temple of Solomon! Stein had clearly stated that the ancient name of the hill was Gopadri and there was a temple of Jyesthesarudra built on top of the hill by Gopaditya, a shrine dedicated to Siva as the name suggests. He considered its allocation to Sandimatti totally baseless and a concoction of later Islamic scholars (Rajatarangini, trans. A. Stein, Vol. 1, Book I, Verse 341 and note 341).

Olsson’s identification of Harwan in Kashmir with the final resting place of Aaron (brother of Moses) merely on the basis of phonetic similarity with Mount Hor fades in comparison to Stein’s scholarly derivation of Harwan from Shadarhadvana, used by Kalhana, and meaning forest of six saints (Rajatarangini, trans. A. Stein, Vol. 1, Book I, Verse 171 and note 171).

The book is replete with such uncertain claims, but a major problem she encounters in linking biblical patriarchs with kings of Kashmir is the adherence of most kings to Shaivism, and Shiva can with no stretch of the imagination be compared to any biblical prophet and hence could not be appropriated. Rajatarangini, whether talking of Sandimatti, Meghvahana, Pravarasena II or Ranaditya, calls them all devotees of Siva. In the case of Sandimatti (whom she identifies with Solomon) there is a clear reference to his worshipping of Sahastralinga (thousand lingas), his ash-smeared body indicating adherence to the Pashupata Shaivite stream. The identification of Pravarsena with Jesus falls flat in the light of his strong Shaivite leanings, as do claims that he had to do anything with Buddha or the fourth Buddhist Council (Rajatarangini, trans. A. Stein, Vol. 1, Book I, Verse 170 and 129).

Based on all this paraphernalia, Olsson finally identifies ‘Roza Bal’ as the final resting place of Jesus. According to her, shortly after the arrival of Islam in Kashmir, the tomb and the casket were opened and the rod removed, hence we have no solid proof to link it with Jesus. She finds a family who claim descent from Jesus, and appeals to all humanity to save the tomb and snatch it from the hands of Islamic fundamentalists.

About Mary Magdalene she writes: “...while they were there (in Magadha) Magdalene’s father became ashamed of some inappropriate childish behaviour and abandoned her to the Brahmin priests, who used her as a temple prostitute. It was in the temple where Jesus entered for studies that he met Magdalene. It was here in India where the paths of Jesus and Mary crossed” (p. 333).

Interestingly, the Catholic Secular Forum (CSF) has demanded an apology from the airline Spicejet and withdrawal of an article in its in-flight magazine that portrays Roza Bal as the tomb of Jesus. CSF General Secretary Joseph Dias said: ''There is no evidence to prove that Jesus fled from Israel and in fact, the Garden Tomb near Calvery, where he died, has millions of tourists compared to the unheard tourist spot near Srinagar. This strikes at the fundamentals of Christian faith.'' The whole exercise of writing this book is self-defeating.

Jesus in Kashmir: The lost tomb
Suzanne Olsson
First Print; Bangkok Thailand 2001, Revised ed. June 2008
Gulshan Publishers, Residency Road, Srinagar, Kashmir
Price: $22.99
Number of pages: 438
ISBN 978-1-4184-7986-2

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