We usually think of the process of myth-making as something that happened in ancient times and over many centuries. Not so. Myth-making is alive and well and the myths made today spread faster and become more widely accepted than in the past mainly because of modern communications. Take the 'Jesus lived in India' myth for example. In 1894 a Russian journalist, Nicalos Notovitch about who little is known, published a book called The Unknown Life of Jesus which was rapidly translated into English and several other languages and attracted a much attention. In the book, Notovitch claimed that during a journey to Ladakh in 1887 he had broken a leg, been put up at the famous Himis Monastery and while there the abbot had read out to him an ancient document called Life of Saint Issa, Best of the Sons of Men. It told of Jesus' visit to Kashmir/Ladakh/Tibet where he studied with Buddhist masters and of his eventual return to Palestine where he taught, was crucified and died. Some years later a Jewish merchant visiting Kashmir/Ladakh/Tibet met the teachers of Jesus, heard of Jesus and wrote an account of his 'unknown years.' Notovitch claimed that the life of Issa was fairly well-known in Kashmir etc and even that detailed accounts of his life in India were to be found hidden away in the Vatican's secret archives. In other words, Notovitch's story had all the ingredients that would make it an irresistible to certain people - the 'wisdom of the East', the romance of the Himalayas, an alternative to conventional Christianity and a good old-fashioned Catholic conspiracy. The book attracted a lot of attention despite being panned by most reviewers.
But then the big guns were brought to bear on it. Prof. Max Muller, the most widely known and respected scholar of his generation gave his verdict on Notovitch's book. He started by pointing out that despite the claim that the life of Issa was well-known it did not appear in any of the catalogues of the literature of Tibet (and there many of these catalogues, some of them very ancient). He continued by highlighting some of the extraordinary coincident in the book. 'If we understand Mr. Notovitch rightly, this life of Christ was taken down from the mouths of some Jewish merchants who came to India immediately after the Crucifixion.' Muller asked how these Jewish merchants happened, among the uncounted millions of India, to meet 'the very people who had known Issa as a casual student of Sanskrit and Pali in India…and still more how those who had known Issa as a simple student in India, saw at once that he was the same person who had been put to death under Pontius Pilate…Two things in their account are impossible, or next to impossible. The first, that the Jews from Palestine who came to India in about 35 A.D should have met the very people who had known Issa when he was a student at Benares; the second, that this Sutra of Issa, composed in the first century of our era, should not have found a place either in the Kandjur or in the Tandjur.' As Muller was writing his article about Notovitch's book he receive a letter from an Englishwoman friend who happened to have just visited Himis Monastery. It was dated Leh, Ladakh, June 29, 1894, and read in part, 'Yesterday we were at the great Himis monastery, the largest Buddhist monastery up here, - 800 lamas. Did you hear of a Russian who could not gain admittance to the monastery in any way, but at last broke his leg outside and was taken in? His object was to copy a Buddhist life of Christ which is there. He says he got it and has published it since in French. There is not a single word of truth in the whole story! There has been no Russian here. No one has been taken into the Seminary for the past fifty years with a broken leg!'
In June 1895 Professor J. Archibald Douglas of Agra wrote a letter to the papers concerning Notovitch. He was at that time a guest in the Himis monastery, enjoying the hospitality of the very abbot who was supposed to have imparted the Unknown Life to Notovitch. Douglas found that no memory of any foreigner with a broken leg lingered at Leh or at Himis. The abbot of Hemis indignantly repudiated the statements ascribed to him by Notovitch, and said that no traveler with a broken leg had ever been nursed at the monastery. He stated with emphasis that no such work as the 'Life of Issa' was known in Tibet, and that the statement that he had imparted such a record to a traveler was an invention. When Notovitch's book was read to him he exclaimed with indignation, "Lies, lies, lies, nothing but lies!" Further, the abbot had not received from Notovitch the presents Notovitch reported having given him - a watch, an alarm clock, and a thermometer. In fact, he didn’t even know what a thermometer was. The Victorians took great note of their scholars and scientists and The Unknown Life of Jesus Christ quickly lost its appeal and was relegated to well-deserved obscurity.
But literary frauds (and there are many of them) have an amazing ability to hang on - just think of the Book of Mormon, the Protocol of the Elders of Zion and the Mahatma Letters (these last two perpetrated by Russians incidently). The Unknown Life of Jesus Christ was to become anything but 'unknown' and to take on a life of its own.