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Finding Jesus' Lost Years

By Belinda Elliott Senior Producer - It’s being labeled “the greatest story never told.” Actually it’s been told and re-told by some Egyptian Christians for many years.  The documentary Jesus: The Lost Years examines the life of Jesus and his family during the time they spent in Egypt after fleeing from King Herod who had decreed that all the infant boys in Israel be killed.

The Bible provides very little information about what happened to Jesus during this time. The story is found in Matthew 2:13-15 where an angel appears to Joseph in a dream and tells him to take Mary and Jesus to Egypt and stay there until the death of King Herod.

Jesus would have been an infant at the time, and scholars believe the family stayed in Egypt about five years. But what did they do there? Where did they go? Author Paul Perry wanted to find out. Perry is the author of the New York Times bestseller Jesus in Egypt. His research for that book led him to team with award-winning filmmaker Norm Miles to produce his latest documentary, Jesus: The Lost Years.

The filmmakers released the film last year, but recently it was made available through Christian retail stores as a special two-DVD set.

Perry traces the “Holy Family Trail” that is believed to be the route that the holy family took through Egypt as they fled King Herod’s soldiers. He stops at various sites along the way to talk with archeologists and members of the clergy. His route is based on the oral traditions that have been passed down for generations in the Coptic (Egyptian) Orthodox Church. Many of these oral traditions come from a vision that Pope Theophilus was said to have had in the 5th century.

Along the way Perry meets priests and scholars at these sites who claim to have artifacts from the time period. One artifact is a footprint said to have been left by the Christ child himself. At another site, the Al-Muharraq Monastery where it is believed that the holy family stayed for a little over six months, Christians have preserved a stone that Jesus was believed to have slept on. The stone is now an altar in the Church of the Virgin Mary.

According to the traditions of the Coptic Church, this stone altar is a fulfillment of the prophecy found in Isaiah 19:19-20: In that day there will be an altar to the Lord in the heart of Egypt, and a monument to the Lord at its border. It will be a sign and witness to the Lord Almighty in the land of Egypt. The Al-Muharraq Monastery is located in the geographic center of Egypt, thus putting the stone in “the midst of Egypt.”

Perry also investigates stories of flashes of light appearing over churches that have been built on the historical sites, as well as the well-publicized event of a vision of Jesus’ Mother Mary appearing to millions on the dome of a church in Zeitun (near Cairo) in 1968.

Stories like this one combined with stunning photography and the exploration of a number of fascinating historical sites make the documentary a treat to watch. However, the film offers very little in the way of concrete answers about the holy family’s time in Egypt.

The documentary explains that in the Coptic Church oral traditions carry just as much weight as written ones. So Coptic Christians readily accept the traditional stories about these historical sites and the holy family’s time there as being factual. One Coptic priest explains that these stories have been passed down from congregation to congregation rather than from individual to individual. If one member were to overhear someone telling the story incorrectly, that person would correct the storyteller. “That’s the self correcting aspect that many people don’t consider,” the priest says.

Perry readily admits in the film that though the stories and sites lend credence, they do not equal “proof by western standards,” and he says that he found “nothing that would withstand the scrutiny of western archeologists.”

In fact, Perry himself remains somewhat skeptical about the authenticity of the Holy Family Trail until an event at the end of his trip changes his mind. He photographs a steeple on a church in Egypt. When he looks at his camera’s display, the image has been captured with a spray of orange light surrounding the steeple. A member of the clergy there tells him that it is the instance of a miracle like those they have seen at other times when flashes of light have appeared over church steeples.

To Perry it was an answer to prayer. Near the end of the journey he says that he prayed about the film’s pressing question, “Is the Holy Family Trail true?” He believes that the orange spray of light over the church steeple was his confirmation, “Yes, the trail is authentic.”

Viewers may remain unconvinced, but the documentary does accomplish one important thing. Regardless of what route the holy family traveled, the film does bring this ancient family to life. Perry says that through visiting the sites and hearing the stories he was moved by the impact that Christ has made on the people of Egypt. “His presence announced a new religion,” he explains. And unlike the many gods of the Egyptians during the time that pharaohs ruled, Jesus was not an abstract deity; He was a living God.

Perhaps this is the film’s best feature. It vividly paints a picture of the type of lands, people, and traditions that existed during Christ’s day – many of them unchanged by time. And regardless of whether viewers accept these historical sites and stories as fact as Coptic Christians do, one has to be impressed by the intensity of their faith that is sometimes lacking in western churches.

Overall, Jesus: The Lost Years is a fascinating journey and one that is well worth the trip.

Purchase your copy of Jesus: The Lost Years

Learn more about the film at

Read more about the Holy Family Trail from Egypt State Information Service

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