How Christians created their persecution mythology – Candida Moss

The Christian Martyrs' Last Prayer by Jean-Léon Gérôme

Prof. Candida Moss“There is an overpowering myth that Christianity was built on violent persecution by the Roman emperors. But that is very bad history—and sets a dangerous precedent for hyperbolic accusations of a ‘war on Christians’ today.” – Prof. Candida Moss

Crucifix by MichelangeloFor Christians, the crucifixion is the event that changed everything. Prior to the death of Jesus and the emergence of Christianity most ancient people interpreted oppression, persecution, and violence as a sign that their deity was either irate or impotent. The crucifixion forced Jesus’s followers to rethink this paradigm. The death of their leader was reshaped as triumph and the experience of persecution became a sign of elevated moral status, a badge of honor. The genius of the Jesus movement was its ability to disassociate earthly pain from divine punishment. As a result Christians identified themselves as innocent victims; they associated their sufferings with those of Jesus and aligned the source of those sufferings with the forces that killed Jesus. From the very beginning, victimhood was hardwired into the Christian psyche.

The enduring impact of this idea is evident in the rhetoric of modern-day Christians. In the weeks that followed the recent papal resignation, Cardinal Mahony of Los Angeles, who was accused of participating in the coverup of sexual abuse by priests, described himself in terms appropriate to a martyr: as a scapegoat who suffered like Jesus. Because of the nature of the crimes for which he is suspected, Mahony’s claims that he is being persecuted have been universally dismissed, but other similarly hyperbolic instances of American Christians crying “persecution” slip into the public square.

Cardinal Roger Mahony is the ex-Archbishop of Los AngelesThe belief that Christians are continuously persecuted has a basis in Scripture. In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus instructs his followers to take up their cross and follow him and predicts that his followers will be persecuted for his name. Then again, in the very same passage he predicts that some of those standing before him will not taste death before the arrival of his kingdom in glory. Why do we accept the prophecy of persecution when the statement about the disciples living until the last judgement clearly failed? The reason why Jesus’s statements about persecution have had such a pronounced impact on the formation of Christian identity is that this prophecy is believed to have been proven in the experiences of the early church. The church has suffered since the beginning, the argument goes, and we are persecuted now as we have always been.

But what if Christians were not always persecuted? What if there never was an “Age of the Martyrs”? When we look at the evidence, it becomes clear that the stereotype of cruel Roman emperors persecuting innocent Christians is a myth. From the Roman side, there is scant evidence for the persecution of Christians. It is not even clear that the Romans knew about the existence of Christians until the early second century. Even then they didn’t see Christianity as a religion. They describe it, rather, as a foolish superstition that could potentially harm local economies.  Christians undoubtedly died as a result of legislation passed during the reign of the emperor Decius (ca. AD 250), but not because he was targeting them. Intriguingly, not a word of our Roman evidence for his legislation refers to Christians.

Roman Emperor Diocletian

With the exception of the Great Persecution of Diocletian (AD 303-305), when Christians were indeed actively persecuted, it is difficult to find any examples of Roman emperors behaving as Christians typically portrayed them. Apart from this comparatively brief period, and an even briefer one during the reign of Valerian in 257-58, Roman emperors never targeted Christians for attack. At the beginning of the second century, the emperor Trajan actually stipulated that Christians were not to be sought out. Roman emperors simply don’t appear to have been that interested in Christians. For most of the first three centuries of their existence Christians flourished: they held lofty political positions, and were so comfortable under the Romans that they even constructed a prominent church across the road from the imperial palace in Nicomedia.

The overwhelming majority of Christians idealized martyrdom and suffering like Jesus, but very few of them died violently—and even fewer died as the result of the kind of persecution described in Sunday school. Romans had good reason to be concerned about Christians. Scandalous rumors of Christians participating in incestuous orgies and practicing cannibalism were widely circulated. More important, Christians sounded a lot like revolutionaries. In courtrooms they stated that they were unable to respect anyone but Christ, their new emperor. Roman officials had no problem executing political subversives—this was a world in which Jon Stewart would be executed for his institution-challenging satire. Ancient empires were accustomed to reshaping the religious identities of those they bested in war. The Romans magnanimously allowed conquered groups to maintain their own religious traditions and implement their Julian the Apostate presiding at a conference of Christians.own law at their own discretion. But this generosity ended when it became socially disruptive or politically subversive. Christians threatened the stability of the empire, and when we look at their interactions with Roman authorities, we might even find ourselves sympathizing with the Romans.

Given that the Roman evidence for persecution is so thin, the origin of our misunderstandings about the early church must, and does, lie with the early Christians themselves. There are literally thousands of stories of Christians martyrs being brutally tortured and killed, but the overwhelming majority of these were written long after the events they claim to describe. Who is responsible for these misunderstandings about history? And why did they alter the historical record? One of the reasons is the explosion of the cult of the saints, the passion for collecting and displaying holy relics, in the fifth century and beyond.  Everyone wanted a piece of the action and innumerable stories about martyrs were fabricated to support local churches and to attract pilgrims to particular towns.

St. Peter crucified upsidedown. In fact he never got to Rome and is not buried in St. Peter's Basilica.Even the earliest, most ostensibly trustworthy, martyrdom stories have been edited and reworked. The authors of these accounts borrowed from ancient mythology, changed the details of events to make the martyrs appear more like Jesus, and made the Roman antagonists increasingly venomous. Peeling back the layers of editorial work is like watching textual plastic surgery; even small changes radically alter our understanding of the subject. Legend maintains that the Apostle Peter asked to be crucified upside down out of humility, but comes from a sixth century rewriting. Fascinatingly, the earliest version of the story gives a very different and almost mysterious explanation. Other ancient authors were less artful. Lazy biographers of the saints sometimes pasted together the story of a martyr’s death from the writings of his colleagues and we can pull these apart without difficulty. We need not accuse the priest-scribes who created these accounts of any malicious deception, as these kinds of literary practices were fairly common at the time, but nor, certainly, can we conclude that they’re giving us the historical facts. Even if Christians choose to venerate individual martyrs—regardless of whether the stories are true or not—we should not leap to the conclusion that ancient Christians as a collective whole were constantly persecuted. We simply lack the necessary evidence to support such a claim. Faith in martyrs is one thing; historical claims about persecution are quite another.

Eusebius of CaesareaClaims about violent persecution may not be historically accurate, but in the hands of ancient Christian writers they did valuable work shoring up the authority of the church. The fourth-century historian Eusebius was able to use the stories of the martyrs to combat heresy and to establish the succession of bishops in the early church. When the origins of the episcopacy in France were clouded, Eusebius invented an anecdote in which Gallic martyrs wrote to the bishop of Rome recommending a particular candidate. When he wanted to demonstrate the errors of a particular heresy, he would cleverly tell a story in which a martyr denounced the schismatic group’s leader. This fascinating invention of the history of persecution set a precedent. Later generations of medieval copyists would do the same—inserting doctrinal formulae into the mouths of expiring martyrs. Eusebius began a long-lived tradition of equating dissent and disagreement with persecution. He argued that the church is fundamentally under attack and that, just as Roman officials attacked her in the past, now heretics attack her in the present. The essential idea is polarization: us against them, good against evil. Once Constantine allowed Christianity to become a state-sponsored religion in the fourth century, some Christians went on the offensive. They sought out pagan temples to destroy, with high hopes of dying and becoming martyrs. The memory of authentic persecution under Diocletian did not make Christians forgiving and generous toward the now disenfranchised pagans. The rhetoric of persecution perpetuated by early Christian writers, rather, created a polarized view of the world that only heaped violence on top of violence.

Dalit ChristiansThis idea of constant attack and Christian victim-hood is grounded in the myths of the early church, but it endures to this day. It is evident in the rhetoric of modern American media pundits, politicians, and religious leaders who proclaim that there is a war on Christianity in modern America. The problem with identifying oneself and one’s group as a persecuted minority is that it necessarily identifies others as persecutors. It is certainly the case that Christians—and members of other religious groups—around the world endure horrifying violence and oppression today. But it is rarely those voices or calls for action on their behalf that reach our ears. On the contrary, these experiences are drowned out by louder, local complaints.

Instances of oppression, violence, and persecution do not need a history of persecution or a commitment to victim-hood to support them. The mistreatment of Christians in modern India, for example, is not wrong because it is part of a history of persecution. It is just wrong. Nor is it somehow more outrageous than violence against Muslims or Hindus there.

[Sic: Christians in India are not and have never been mistreated. It is an absurd statement for the learned author to make. Christians are a very privileged minority community in India with social and political influence far exceeding their numbers. Isolated attacks on missionaries by exasperated Hindu individuals in Orissa and Madhya Pradesh, provoked by the aggressive conduct of the missionaries themselves, cannot be extrapolated into a "mistreatment of Christians in modern India". In fact from the 8th century to Francis Xavier SJthe 16th century, Christian refugees from West Asia and Persia, then Portuguese pirates and missionaries from Europe, were the perpetrators of the most heinous crimes in India including the destruction of Hindu temples in order to build St. Thomas churches, forced conversions to Christianity and conversions by stealth---inculturation---and the establishment of the most notorious and cruel Inquisition in Goa brought by Francis Xavier. - IS]

Most importantly, the myth of persecution can actually generate violence. At the beginning of the First Crusade, Pope Urban II promised Christian soldiers the rewards of martyrdom if they died in the conflict. The historical factors are complicated, and medieval European Christians did see themselves as under attack, but their actions cannot be dismissed as “self-defence.” This is a cautionary example for us. There is always the possibility that we have no sense of our own position in a conflict. Even though we cast ourselves as martyrs, we might be crusaders.

The example of Jesus that hangs at the centre of Christianity encouraged his followers to embrace suffering and to stand firm in times of persecution. But even if Christians are called to embrace suffering and victimization, we can do without a story of persecution that is inaccurate, unproductive, and polarizing. Nor should we build our interpretation of the present on errors about the past. – The Daily Beast, 31 March 2013

» Candida Moss is Professor of New Testament and early Christianity at the University of Notre Dame and the author of The Myth of Persecution.

St. Thomas and his Hindu assassin.

St. Thomas about to be speared by his Hindu assassin. This deeply offensive mural is found in the tomb shrine below St. Thomas Cathedral in Chennai.

St. Thomas: India’s own infamous Christian persecution myth – IS

Bardesanes wrote the Acts of  Judas Thomas, the source of the St. Thomas in India legend, as a moral fable to instil sexual discipline in his Edessene Christian congregation—the Church has always had a problem with sexual profligacy. He set the story in India as being the place of all kinds of exotic religions that he had heard about from travelling Brahmins and Buddhist monks. In his tale he has Judas Thomas—twin brother of Jesus no less—cheat a Persian king of large sums of money by promising to build him a palace. After he is caught, imprisoned, and later released, Thomas runs away and has a number of exciting adventures including a fight to the death with Satan. He meets another Persian king, who, initially showing him great kindness and generousity, loses patience with his wicked deeds and has him executed for abducting women and practising black magic.  This king, Mazdai by name—indicating a devotee of Zarathustra’s god Ahura Mazda—has Thomas buried in a royal tomb on a mountain in a desert country that is never named. Later in the 4th century, when West Asian Christian refugees brought the tale from Edessa to the Malabar Coast, Thomas is identified with India rather than Persia and even made the missionary of Nambudiri brahmins in order to give the new Christian community caste status. In Kerala the tale of Thomas grows and evolves with new additions made by new Christian migrants from Persia. It no longer reflects Bardesanes’ moral fable but rather a concocted mythology of Indian Christian identity. These Syrian Christians—as they are still called—are great travellers and merchants, and Marco Polo hears the tale from them, probably in Constantinople—as scholars now doubt that he ever went to China. The story of Thomas’s death—by accident according to Marco—and internment is included in his famous adventure book Il Milione published in Europe in the 13th century. Marco places Thomas’s tomb on the Coromandal Coast in an unnamed Tamil village rather than on a Persian mountaintop as in the Acts of Thomas. From this popular piece of travel fiction there is no going back, and the tomb of St. Thomas is identified with the great Kapaleeswara Shiva Temple in Mylapore by the Portuguese in the 16th century. They invade Mylapore, a prosperous port with a good harbour, have the Kapaleeswara Temple destroyed—it seems to have taken them fifty years to do this evil deed by encroachment and vandalism, and because they are resisted by the native Hindu population until it is overwhelmed by superior Portuguese fire-power—and build a fake St. Thomas tomb out of materials brought from Goa. Soon after the empty tomb is established a new St. Thomas Church is built over it by Dominican monks, where no church has ever stood before—then back-dated 1500 years to the 1st century!  The pious fable of  a Christian apostle’s persecution and death at the hands of a Hindu raja and his jealous brahmin priest is now established in South India and the world. The Christian community can claim—by the grace of Portuguese pirates!—to be the followers of the ‘original’ Christian religion brought by Thomas to the Tamil people. They can and do solicit recognition and money for it from the world Christian community. More important, the Hindu community that has generously hosted the Christian community in India since the 4th century, can be maligned and spiritually discredited as the vicious assassins of a Christian apostle and saint.  The fact that no scholar of Christian history, starting with the Early Church Fathers Clement and Origen, and the first official Christian historian Eusebius, to the learned historians of the last two hundred years including Pope Benedict XVI, subscribe to the details of this fable and support it as true, does not matter to the Indian Christian community in the least. They have got their dearly loved persecution tale with its blood and gore, and they are not going to let go of it even for the Pope in Rome. – The Ishwar Sharan Archive

See also

Marco Polo’s epic journey to China was a big con – Team Folks

IS IconMarco Polo is the first writer in history to locate the tomb of St. Thomas on a seashore. By so doing he revolutionizes the legend. All documents prior to him locate the tomb in a mountain of royal sepulchers in Parthia following the Acts of Thomas. Marco Polo is also the first writer to locate the tomb in South India, in a certain unnamed little town which the Portuguese later identified with Mylapore. Marco Polo probably never left Constantinople and collected his stories of China and the Fabulous East from Muslim and Syrian Christian merchants who travelled west to Constantinople to trade. Dante Alighieri, author of The Divine Comedy and Marco Polo’s contemporary, called him a liar and maintained that his book was full of falsehoods and fabrications. New research in Oxford agrees that the stories recorded in Il Milione—so-called because it contained a million lies—were either invented or recorded from travellers he met in the Constantinople bazaar, and that he had not actually visited the places he writes about. – Ishwar Sharan

Marco Polo

Marco Polo’s fake travelogue – Team Folks

Marco Polo, one of history’s greatest explorers, may in fact have been a con man, it has been claimed. The Venetian merchant adventurer claimed to have embarked on his epic journey across Asia and the Middle East in 1271 AD, at the age of 17, accompanied by his father, Niccolo, and uncle, Matteo. Their travels took them from Europe through Bukhara to China, where the Mongol ruler, Kublai Khan, is said to have made Marco Polo his emissary to the modern-day Middle East. They returned to Venice 24 years later, having also journeyed to Persia and Japan. Marco Polo’s account of his travels ignited the imagination of Europeans. It became an instant best-seller and has remained a source of inspiration and wonder to travellers ever since.

But now, a team of archaeologists suggest that Marco Polo probably never went further east than the Black Sea. They suspect he picked up second-hand stories of China, Japan and the Mongol empire from Persian merchants whom he met on the shores of the Black Sea and passed them off as his own adventures in Il Milione or The Travels of Marco Polo, one of the first travel books ever to be written. Following research in Japan, Professor Daniele Petrella of the University of Naples told the Italian history magazine, Focus Storia, that there were many inconsistencies and inaccuracies in Marco Polo’s description of Kublai Khan’s invasions of Japan in 1274 and 1281. “He confuses the two, mixing up details about the first expedition with those of the second” said Petrella.

“In his account of the first invasion, he describes the fleet leaving Korea and being hit by a typhoon before it reached the Japanese coast. But that happened in 1281 — is it really possible that a supposed eyewitness could confuse events which were seven years apart?” asked Patrella.

Marco Polo’s description of the Mongol fleet is also at odds with the remains of ships that the archaeologists have excavated in Japan. The Venetian wrote of five-masted ships, when in fact they had only three masts, said Petrella. The explorer claimed to have worked as an emissary to the court of Kublai Khan, but his name does not crop up in any of the surviving Mongol or Chinese records.

The professor’s findings may mean that one of the world’s greatest travel books was, sadly, just a gripping work of fiction. – Folks Magazine, 14 August 2011

Marco Polo's alleged route to China and back to Venice

St. ThomasMarco Polo and St. Thomas – Ishwar Sharan

This extract from The Myth of Saint Thomas and the Mylapore Shiva Temple follows the convention that Marco Polo did go to China but didn’t visit India on his return journey to Europe as claimed. The article above argues that new evidence indicates that Marco Polo may not have visited China either. Marco Polo’s claims and veracity were questioned even during his lifetime. His book  was known by the popular title Il Milione which means “a million lies”. – Editor

Marco Polo, the famous Venetian traveller, is said to have visited South India twice, in 1288 and 1292, where he saw a tomb of St. Thomas “at a certain little town” which he does not name. Many historians accept these dates and visits without question, and identify the little town that he speaks of with Mylapore. Yet it would appear that they are mistaken about the visits, as, indeed, was Marco Polo about the tomb of St. Thomas.[23]

Marco Polo left Acre, in Palestine, about 1272, carrying an introduction to the Mongol emperor, Kublai Khan, from his friend Pope Gregory X. He travelled with his father and uncle, by land, following the Silk Road north and east to China, which he reached about three years later. He remained in China for the next seventeen years, and was said to be at Yang-chou, in Kansu, around 1287. It is thus not possible for him to have been in South India in 1288 and this date can be rejected.

Macro Polo left China about 1292 with a fleet of fourteen ships, six hundred courtiers and sailors, and a princess whom he was to deliver to a khan in Persia. He sailed to Sumatra where he passed the monsoon, passed by the Nicobar Islands, passed through the Palk Strait into the Gulf of Mannar, stopped in Ceylon where he first heard the story of St. Thomas, then proceeded up the west coast of India and along the south coast of Persia until he reached Hormuz. From there he travelled by land to Khorasan with the princess, and then returned back down the Silk Road to Europe.

Macro Polo thus did not visit the Coromandel Coast in 1292 either, though this date still attracts many historians. Fosco Maraini, the Macro Polo authority at the University of Florence, in his Encyclopaedia Britannica article, is very positive about Marco Polo’s route and it did not include Mylapore.

We would like to leave Marco Polo here but unfortunately he wrote a book, or, rather, dictated it to a fellow prisoner in Genoa — Venice and Genoa were always quarrelling and Marco had been captured by Genoa — one Rustichello, a writer of chivalrous romances and popular fiction. The book was officially called the Description of the World but soon came to be known as the Il Milione (“The Million“), a name which has the implied meaning of “a million lies”. In it Marco Polo says that he visited every place that he describes, though this was obviously not possible and evidently not true of the Coromandel Coast. Dante Alighieri, author of The Divine Comedy and Marco Polo’s contemporary, seems to have regarded the book as a dangerous and impious invention. But it was an instant success in Venice and within a year was being read throughout southern Europe.

Macro Polo is the first writer in history to locate the tomb of St. Thomas on a seashore. By doing so he revolutionizes the legend. All documents in the world prior to his locate the tomb on a mountain in Parthia following the Acts of Thomas. Macro Polo is also the first writer in history to locate the tomb in South India, in a certain unnamed little town, though some Christian scholars argue that Metropolitan Mar Solomon of Basra, in his Book of the Bee, ca. 1222, did this before him. They identify Mar Solomon’s Mahluph with Mylapore, but do this after the fact of the Portuguese identification of Mylapore with St. Thomas. There is no existing original manuscript of the Book of the Bee — as there is none of the Milione — and various copies of it give various places of burial. One says “Mahluph” which has never been identified, a second “India” but not which India or where in which India, a third “Edessa”, and a fourth “Calamina”. Mar Solomon’s contemporary neighbour Bishop Bar-Hebraeus of Tigris, in his Matthaeus and Syriac-language Chronicle, ca. 1250, is more consistent. Like Mar Solomon (and the earlier writers mentioned below in note 23), he says that St. Thomas preached to the Parthians, Medes and Indians (some add Hyrcanians and Bactrians), but in his books he asserts that the apostle was killed and buried at Calamina.[24]

Macro Polo collected his stories of St. Thomas from the Muslims and Syrian Christians — who were known to Europeans as Nestorians — in the ports of Ceylon and Malabar. However, Leonardo Olschki, in Marco Polo’s Asia, accepts Marco Polo’s claim that he had visited a Christian shrine in the Coromandel Coast, and also the opinion that the identity of the town that contained the shrine was Mylapore, but he does not accept that the shrine was the tomb of St. Thomas. In his commentary on the Milione, he writes, “The shrine [of St. Thomas] is portrayed as isolated in a small village remote from everything, but the goal of continual pilgrimages consecrated by ancient and recent miracles. From Marco’s references we understand that it was then one of the characteristic Asiatic sanctuaries which, like the supposed tomb of the Magi in Persia, the Manichaean temple at Foochow, Adam’s sepulcher in Ceylon, and others not mentioned in the Milione, had from time immemorial served the purposes of the various successive cults there, which rose and fell in a fangled mass of traditions, legends, and reciprocal influences now well-nigh impossible to unravel or specify. They are reflected in Marco’s data and observations with regard to this dispersed Indo-African Christianity, of which almost nothing is known from other sources but which is still worthy of study.

“The authenticity of St. Thomas’s tomb at Mailapur is almost as doubtful as that of Adam’s in Ceylon. However, while the latter arouses Marco’s suspicions because, as he asserts, the Holy Scriptures place it elsewhere, his critical faculties are lulled by the evidence of the miracles that the apostle continued to work in favour of the Christians of that region. He therefore accepted the opinion of the Nestorians of India, who venerated St. Thomas as the patron of Asiatic Christianity, and was unmindful of those numerous fellow believers who, with more legitimate reasons, had set up a whole mythology about his legendary tomb at Edessa.

“The first to describe this celebrated Indo-Christian sanctuary and to spread its fame abroad with his book, Marco transformed a place of pilgrimage not very widely important into a centre of Christian piety and propaganda, almost a far eastern peer of Santiago de Compostela [in Spain] at the western limits of the European world, with the difference that the tomb of St. Thomas was guarded by Christians opposed to the Church of Rome. The monks who dwelt near by, according to Marco’s account, lived on coconut ‘which the land there freely produces’. These religious must have been fairly numerous if, thirty years later, [in 1322,] when the cult was already in its decline, Friar Odoric of Pordenone counted some fifteen buildings about the sanctuary. This had in the meantime become a Hindu temple filled with idols, lacking any visible trace of its ancient Christian cult.[25] Friar John of Monte Corvino, on the other hand, after having passed some thirteen months in that region almost contemporaneously with Marco’s visit, says nothing of the apostle’s tomb, and mentions the church only in passing.…[26]

“The story of the apostle’s martyrdom told to Marco by the people of the country is far from original, and is probably of local origin…. We read in the Milione that St. Thomas ended his days as the victim of a hunting accident when the arrow of a native pagan, aimed at a peacock, pierced the apostle’s right side while he was absorbed in prayer.…[27]

“No less worthy is the reference to Thomas’s apostolate in Nubia, which, according to information gathered by Marco at this sanctuary, was supposed to have preceded the saint’s sojourn in Coromandel; this would make Thomas the apostle of India and Africa, contrary to the legend that represents him as the evangelist of China.”[28]

Among the other stories told to Marco Polo by the Syrian Christians, is one that is very revealing. “We also learn from him,” writes Olschki, “of the first attempt known to us to suppress this cult, which was carried out … by the sovereign of that kingdom. Indeed, when a pagan ruler of the region filled with rice the church and monasteries of Mailapur, in order to put an end to the Christian practices of the Nestorian rites, the apostle threateningly appeared to him in a dream and made him so far change his ways as to exempt the faithful from all tribute and to safeguard the church from violation.”

Olschki calls this a conventional piece of hagiography, but there is more in it then the pious account of a saint exercising his occult power over a persecuting ruler.

The Hindu king did not of course violate a church — in all of Indian history there is no evidence of such acts; Hindu kings gave generous donations for the building of churches and had already done so in Malabar — nor would he have objected to the rites that were being performed in a Christian church. The king would have objected to Christian rites being performed in a Hindu temple, and would have certainly put a stop to them. He would have had the temple filled with raw rice as part of a suddhi (purification) or pratistha (consecration) ritual; or, again, he would have been doing anna abhisekam (food offering) to the Lord by filling the sanctum with huge quantities of cooked rice — even as it is done today in the great Shiva temples of South India.

What emerges from this story is that the Syrian Christians were worshipping in a Hindu temple, which they called a church, at least up to 1322 when Friar Oderic visited Mylapore. Henry Yule, in Cathay and the Way Thither, referring to Friar Oderic’s description of the church, declares, “This is clearly a Hindu temple.”[29]

Marco Polo did not visit Mylapore; indeed, Mylapore is not identified in the Milione though it may be inferred to be the destination of Christian pilgrims from later Portuguese tales. Marco Polo is only repeating the pious stories of Christians and Muslims — the latter also claimed St. Thomas; he was, they told Marco, not only an apostle from Nubia, but a Muslim apostle[30] — who apparently worshipped in a Hindu temple, each justifying his presence there by identifying the shrine with his own Thomas.[31] Ishwar Sharan, Chapter Seven


23. Some historians theorise that Marco Polo never left Constantinople to travel to China, but collected all his adventure stories from Muslim and Syrian Christian merchants who came to the great city to trade. They argue that he compiled these travel tales into a book and claimed them as his own experiences. Certainly in his own time he was not believed and Dante Alighieri called him a liar. In this book we assume the traditional story of his travels to be partially true.

24. Hippolytus, the third century Roman theologian and antipope, is the earliest writer to say that St. Thomas was martyred and buried at Calamina, which he claims is in India. He is followed at the end of the third century by Dorotheus of Tyre, and in the seventh century by Sophronius of Jerusalem and Isidore of Seville. Thomas Herbert identifies Calamina with Gouvea in Brazil, T.K. Joseph with Kalawan near Taxila, P.V. Mathew with Bahrain, and Veda Prakash with Kalamai in Greece. Calamina has never been identified and ancient Thebes northwest of Athens may be added to the list of conjectures. It was originally known as Cadmeia and often called that up to the end of the second century CE. Cadmeia when latinized becomes Calamina. The earth from the single grave of its twin heroes, Amphion and Zethus, was believed to contain great power and was protected, even as the earth of St. Thomas’s sepulchre was believed to heal. Cadmean or Thebean earth, called calamine, is pink in colour and used in medicine and metallurgy.

25.  The earliest records of the Madras area, including money-lenders’ accounts, go back to the fourth century CE. They identify Mylapore, Triplicane and Tiruvottiyur as temple towns. The Nandikkalambakkam describes describes Mylapore as a prosperous port under the Pallavas, the early-fourth-to-late-ninth century emperors of Kanchipuram, who patronized various schools of Hinduism including Jainism and Buddhism, built temples and generously supported the arts. There is no record of a Christian church or saint’s tomb at Mylapore before the Portuguese period, and Olschki is basing his comments on the wrong assumption that Marco Polo did visit Mylapore and that he found a church there. Friar Oderic is describing the original Kapaleeswara Shiva Temple on the Mylapore seashore (see Henry Yule’s comment: “This is clearly a Hindu temple.”), which the Tamil saint Jnanasambandar has positively identified as being there at least before the sixth century CE.

26. Friar John, in his letters from China (presumably sent to Rome), does not identify the St. Thomas church that he visited or say where it was located. Most scholars believe that he travelled in Malabar and the Konkan only.

27.  Olschki’s note: “Thus, St. Thomas was supposed to have been a victim but not a martyr — which would add further complications to the already tangled mass of fables concerning his apostolate and his end.”

28.  Olschki’s note: “The oriental ubiquity of St. Thomas’s apostolate is explained by the fact that the geographical term ‘India’ included, apart from the subcontinent of this name, the lands washed by the Indian Ocean as far as the China Sea in the east and the Arabian peninsula, Ethiopia, and the African coast in the west.”

29. See note 25.

30. See T.K. Joseph’s Six St. Thomases of South India: A Muslim Non-Martyr (Thawwama) made Martyrs after 1517 AD.

31. The Syriac “Thoma” and “Thama” and Arabic “Thuma” and “Thawwama” are variations of the name Thomas. They all have the same meaning —”born twin”— and were common names in the Christian and Muslim communities of India and West Asia. 

Marco Polo in DC 5 Aug 2011

Devasahayam Pillai: Church cashes in on virtuous Tamil psyche: – C.I. Issac

Professor I.C. IssacThe birth of newer saints will boost the morale of the nuns and clergy. In an age that criticizes the Church’s educational business and proselytism, miracles by native saints can attract more Hindus. Under the fascination of miracles of saints, if Hindus are converted to Christianity, no one can blame it as a proselytizing enterprise. That is the logic behind the elevation of people to sainthood in strategic regions. – Prof. C.I. Issac

Fr. Robert de Nobili SJThe Vatican in its third millennium is committed to plant its Cross over Asia as was done in previous millenniums over Africa and the Americas. In the case of Asia, the Church generally signifies India and particularly Tamil Nadu, the most vulnerable place of Hindu social formations of India (the reasons for this vulnerability are not the subject of this article).

Earlier in the seventeenth century, Roberto de Nobili of Montepulciano, Tuscany, a padre of the Society of Jesus, in his zeal to convert the Brahmins adopted their mode of life and so had to cut himself off completely from intercourse with fellow missionaries. Through fraudulence, he depicted the entire Hindu tradition as the corrupted form of Christianity. With this end he claimed to have discovered a fifth Veda which he called Jesus Veda. He worked in Madura, Mysore, and southern Karnataka till old age and almost complete blindness compelled him to retire to Mylapore.

Proselytism enterprises in the Tamil south attempted to baptize Thiruvalluvar and the Kural. In 1969, M. Deivanayagam with the blessings of the Church published a book in Tamil to portray Thiruvalluvar as the disciple of St. Thomas. The timely interference of national forces aborted the vicious and malicious designs of Arulappas and ‘Paul Iyers’ like Jayachandras of modern south India.

The forces of the Conversion Lobby is now experimenting with another strategy to bestow the halo of sainthood upon a traitor, Neelakanda Pillai, of the kingdom of Travancore. This 18th century convert is now being repackaged as ‘Devasahayam Pillai’ in the absence of any proper historical evidence, in order to build an icon of martyrdom to the cause of ‘faith’.

Swami VivekanandaAccording to the Catholic Church of Kanyakumari district, Neelakanda Pillai was an employee in the palace service of Travancore. Here it may be appropriate to quote Swami Vivekananda: “For every conversion that is lost to Hinduism, it is not just one lost, but one more enemy to Hinduism”.

During the Second Vatican Council (11 October 1962 to 8 December 1965) under pontiffs John XXIII and Paul VI, two thousand saints were removed from the nomenclature of ten-thousand-odd saints of the Catholic Church on the ground that there was insufficient evidence to their continuation in the galaxy of saints.

Pope John Paul II was known for his agenda of elevating 482 persons to sainthood; about 300 were put on a pedestal of different stages on the road to the final destination of sainthood. It was an all time record in the long history of 261 pontiffs so far. But his successor Benedict XVI is striving to overtake him. Yet Fr. Damien, who died on 15 April 1889 and served the ostracized lepers of Molokai in Hawaii, waited until 11 October 2009 in a long queue for sainthood. Fr. Damien’s elevation to sainthood is not beneficial to the Church from the conversion point of view.

The two thousand-odd saints had a purpose in the last millenniums and were served well. But in the changed scenario the Church has no use for them and so they were ousted from the pantheon of saints! Now the Vatican is running after Mother Theresa-like pragmatic saints who have acquired socio-political relevance in the contemporary world order. Several ‘removed saints’ are still adored in the Catholic churches of Kerala.

St. GeorgeOne such saint is St. George (Gee Varghese in Malayalam); he is dear to the Church materially and mystically and that is why the Church of Kerala renounced the dictum of the pontiff. St. George of Edthuva and Aruvithura are indivisible in Kerala Catholic faith because this saint is acceptable to the Hindus, especially from southern Tamil Nadu, and hence he is a money-minter for the Church. His morphology is rather more Hindu than Occident; hence his acceptance. Above all, the Church in an era of globalization is more pragmatic than any business firms of Kerala.

The focus of this study is the authenticity of the story of the execution of Neelakanda Pillai alias Devasahayam Pillai of Nattalam in the present day Kanyakumari district of Tamil Nadu by the Travancore Raja in 1752 on the ground that he embraced Christianity. The Catholic Church alleges that the Brahmin chief priest of the kingdom and certain members of the royal family along with the Nair jati levelled false charges of treason against Devasahayam Pillai before the Dalawa (dewan).

According to the advocates of Neelakanda Pillai’s sainthood, his conversion to the Christian faith generated intolerance amongst the upper jati Hindus / Nairs, thus they conspired against him; hence the case of treason. There are various other stories in circulation concerning the poignant end of Neelakanda Pillai. One story says that during the reign of Ramayyan Dalawa, authorities framed charges against him: disclosing of state secrets to rivals and Europeans. Dalawa ordered the execution of Neelakanda Pillai and he was taken on the back of a buffalo to Kuzhumaikkad where he was executed on charges of sedition.

Maharaja Uthram Thirunal Marthanda Varma (AD 1824-1860)Another story is that in 1752, the King and his Dalawa ordered his deportation from Travancore into the Pandya country at Aralvaimozhy. There, he was let off in the forest where he began deep meditations and people from adjacent villages began visiting him as a holy man.

Here the pertinent questions are whether the practice of religious persecution existed in the State of Travancore; whether Neelakanda Pillai converted to Christianity and specifically to Catholicism; whether a man from Nair jati embraced the Latin Catholic Church; if he converted to Catholicism was it possible to remain in the palace service, and what is the immediate purpose of elevating him to the sainthood.

P.K. Balakrishnan, author of Jati Vyavasthithiyum Kerala Charithravum (Mal. pub.1983, pp 342 ff), makes it clear that even though the social relations of Kerala were based on jati / birth-based discriminations, religion was not a matter of social concern. The great poet Vallathol attested to the harmonious co-existence of diverse religions as Kerala’s time tested tradition. Krishna Chaitanya, a noted social historian of Kerala writes: “The Keralite, whatever his religion, grows up in a multicultural milieu, which has been an established reality in the land for centuries” (Kerala, p 62).

Recently the Dalai Lama, while attending a Christian function at Cochin, attested to the age-old Indian tradition of equal respect for all religions (and not religious tolerance) in the following words: “India exemplified how different religious faiths and traditions could live in harmony and she is the noble paradigm spiritual harmony and coexistence” (Matrubhoomi Daily, The Hindu, Deccan Chronicle, Cochin 26 November 2012).

This traditional characteristic of Kerala society was acknowledged by an eminent historian: “The Hindu rulers of ancient Kerala followed a policy of enlightened religious toleration … The progress of the faith was, in many respects, due to the tolerant policy pursued by the rulers of Kerala…” (A. Sreedhara Menon, A Survey of Kerala History, 1970, pp 92, 104).

De Lannoy surrenders to Raja Marthanda Varma at ColachelAbove all, Marthanda Varma’s broadmindedness to accept De Lannoy, a Flemish Christian, as commander-in-chief of his forces is sufficient and self-explaining testimony to the general Hindu social psyche of the day. In short, Kerala’s track record in the history of harmonious coexistence of religions is exemplary of the broad Hindu outlook since the dawn of its civilization to the present. Hence a story of Devasahayam Pillai’s tragic end is fictitious and un-historic.

As Neelakanda Pillai hailed from an aristocratic Nair household of 18th century Travancore and was well placed in the palace service, the genuineness of the story of his conversion to Christianity is unbelievable and fabulous in the history of proselytism of Kerala. Social disability attributed to certain jatis by smriti rules, the ruling ideology of ancient Kerala, is the prime villain responsible for the mass exodus of certain jatis to alien religions in the changed political scenario.

In this situation, the conversion of a Nair before European domination over Kerala’s political life is an absurd story and an act of building castles in the air. If for the sake of argument one accepted the conversion of Neelakanda Pillai to Latin Catholicism, the question of his social acceptance in the highly jati conscious society is vital. One has to keep in mind that the Latin Catholics, even today, are untouchables to the Syrian Catholics of Kerala. Conversion would make his social rank in the mlechha (out-cast) category and thus he would miss his socio-political acceptance automatically.

Devasahayam PillaiThus, without any external intervention, all his social status and prerogatives along with his employment in the palace service would be automatically terminated. Hence there was no room for false fabrication of charges by a Brahmin priest against him. While in the palace service, Neelakanda Pillai was very clearly not converted to an alien faith.

A 20th century story associated with Neelakanda Pillai’s conversion is narrated by C.M. Augur in The Church History of Travancore (1902, Kottayam). It explains the story without any relevant documentary evidence. This is a deliberate conspiracy plotted by the Church.

Similarly, the Malayalam literary magazine Bhasposhini (Vol. XXVIII, No. 7, 2004), part of the Christian-owned Malayala Manorama group, published the story of the conversion of one Ramavarma, heir-apparent to the Cochin royal family, to Christianity under the influence of Dr. Herman Gundert, a Protestant missionary in 19th century Malabar. The cover story says he received baptism from Dr. Herman Gundert on 3 September 1856m and assumed the name Yakoob (Jacob) Ramavarman (1814-1858).

The story of his conversion is presented to the reading public in a more camouflaged manner by the magazine, which debates the question of the first autobiography in Malayalam and concludes that Yakoob Ramavarman is the first autobiographer of the Malayalam language. This is a paradox which was not noticed by three outstanding literary historians of Kerala, Ulloor S Parameswara Iyer, T.M. Chummar and Dr. K.M. George, but was discovered by Bhasposhini in its cover story. The irony is that T.M. Chummar and Dr. K.M. George are upper jati Christians of Kerala. The purpose of the debate over the nonexistent and unpublished autobiography was to give stimulus to the enterprise of apostasy in Kerala.

 Hermann Gundert (1814-1893)Anyway, the attempt did not produce any desired output. The reason is that Gundert was a Protestant and in Protestantism saints have no relevance; hence making and marketing Yakoob Ramavarman as a saint turned unfeasible for the time being. In short, the proselytism entrepreneurs of India who cast its covetous eyes over the unorganized Hindus are always eager to experiment newer and newer tricks to trap them and has a periodic recurring character (sambhavami yuge yuge).

Neelakanda Pillai’s alleged conversion to the Catholic faith under the influence of De Lannoy was another serious contradiction that persists in the fabrication of this story, which acquired impetus in the 1980s. Those who fabricated the above story did not know the then persistent politico-religious relations of the West.

De Lannoy was a Flemish subject and [naval commander of the Dutch East India Company] in communion with the Protestant Church. When the Dutch captured Fort Cochin, they occupied St. Antonio Church of the Catholics, where Vasco da Gama was buried, and changed it to St. Francis Church. Now this church belongs to CSI, a Protestant denomination. Later, the British occupied it and at the time of independence they handed it over to the CSI.

In Europe at the time of Neelakanda Pillai, the Catholics and Protestants were in a belligerent mood. Therefore De Lannoy would never allow Neelakanda Pillai to receive baptism from the Catholics. Moreover, at Udayagiri Fort, De Lannoy maintained a Protestant Church. Above all, the Dutch were the gurus of conversion in those days, so why would De Lannoy send Neelakanda Pillai to the Catholic fold for a simple ritual of baptism?

From the days of Roberto de Nobili (1606), the Papacy was enthused to convert the Tamil south but failed. In recent times it has attempted to hijack the great saint Thiruvalluvar, the spinal cord of Tamil identity, who lived a century before Jesus, by forging history! The church is peddling the story that Thiruvalluvar met Saint Thomas at Mylapore and converted to Christianity. This did not go down well and so now it is experimenting with Devashayam Pillai. The archival sources remain silent about Neelakanda Pillai’s conversion or execution.

Devasahayam PillaiThe birth of newer saints will boost the morale of the nuns and clergy. In an age that criticizes the Church’s educational business and proselytism, miracles by native saints can attract more Hindus. Under the fascination of miracles of saints, if Hindus are converted to Christianity, no one can blame it as a proselytizing enterprise. That is the logic behind the elevation of people to sainthood in strategic regions.

In an age of sons of the soil, such a strategy may yield better. The offertory of a Hindu to a wayside chapel of a designated saint does not fall in the category of an income-generating business, like educational institutions or hospitals. This benefits the Church in two ways – it can continue conversion and amass money without public censure. In an age of liberalization and globalization, marketing strategies are essential for the faith also. Hence European churches are using the potential of the Indian Church for outsourcing holy mass and other sacraments. In the marketability perspective, Kerala waysides are perfect spaces for the sale of saints and their miracles. – Vijayvaani, 5 Dec. 2012

» The author is a retired Professor of History, and lives in Trivandrum.

The fable of ‘Martyr’ Devasahayam Pillai: Church’s lies stand exposed – B.R. Gauthaman

Devasahayam Pillai Idol

The First Indian to become a Saint!

The Son of Soil becomes a Saint!

A great hullabaloo in the district of Kanyakumari!

As a first step towards making a Saint out of one Devasahaayam Pillai, the Pope declared him a ‘martyr’ on June 28, 2012. Frontline newspapers and magazines carried this news item as the day’s headlines and celebrated this announcement as if the whole world has been made holy.

Now what is the ulterior motive behind the beatification? Do the so-called facts rest on the solid foundations of history? Who becomes a ‘martyr’? Should we not turn the spotlight on these questions?

A martyr is none but a warrior, who enlists himself in the army of the Pope, who reigns in Europe thousands of kilometers away from Kanyakumari; and this ‘valiant martyr’ thrives in the conquest and conversion of the vanquished, in the process sacrifices his life. The 2nd-century Church Father Tertullian wrote that “the blood of martyrs is the seed of the Church,” implying that the martyrs’ willing sacrifice of their lives leads to the conversion of others.

As to the question of motive behind this ‘supreme sacrifice’, and the motive behind this beatification is verily religious conversion. This has been further confirmed by Pope John Paul II and he does not stop with that. He glorifies these ‘martyrs’ as “warriors conquering in the name of the Vatican”.

“The Church of the first millennium was born out of the blood of martyrs”, he says and calls on the universal Church not to forget the legacy of martyrs. He encourages taking up “these nameless, unknown soldiers as it were of God’s great cause.”

What is to be noted here is the phrase – “nameless, unknown soldiers”.

  • To which army do these warriors belong to?
  • For whose cause is this army waging war?
  • Which nation is this marauding army conquering?
  • Which culture is this army destroying?
  • What is its motive?

The deeds of this army explain themselves. And to commit these very deeds alone the religion resting on the persona of Jesus Christ became a hand maiden for the ruthless army. Then the question arises about the role and functions, and the very purpose of this religion.

A religion is one, which elevates a person to a conscious state of his/her humanness, and from there on raises humans to a state of Divinity. There are no two opinions on this. If a religion were to adhere to the above enunciated and accepted principle, then it deserves to called religion. However if the core objective of this ‘religion’ is conquering lands and nations, the question arises, what should people belonging to this religion be called?

Furthermore, in the process of conquering nations, when these marauders attempt to convert the natives to Christianity through fraudulent means and threat, and when the natives  retaliate and kill some of these ‘warriors’, such ‘foreign legions’ who have been killed by the natives are those who are glorified by the Church establishment as ‘martyrs’.

It is to be remembered that this very same Pope John Paul II admitted shamelessly on this soil, on the auspicious day of Deepavalli, “We converted Europe in the first millennium; America in the second millennium; in the third millennium, we shall plant the Cross in the whole of Asia”.  

As remarked by Father Tertullian, the Catholic Church requires ‘harvest of souls’ and as a consequence, ‘martyrs’. To accomplish this task, the Church is seriously involved in unearthing ‘martyrs’ in Kerala, Tamil Nadu and North Sri Lanka. This fact has been admitted by the Kottar Diocese in their website.

“A suitable method for not forgetting the memory of the martyrs is to collect the essential documentation of their heroic testimony and update martyrologies”, believes Pope John Paul II.

The man who was caught in this ‘holy excavation’ is none other than ‘our own indigenous martyr’, Vedha-saatchi Devasahaayam Pillai. The history of Devasahaayam Pillai has been enumerated thus in the websites of Christian Assemblies:

 Devasahaayam Pillai was born Neelakantha Pillai in the year 1712 in the upper caste Nair family. Subsequently, he served in the Padmanabhapuram Palace belonging to the Thiruvithaangoor (Travancore) Princely State. It was during this period that he is acquainted with the Dutch general of Maarthaandavarma Raja, De Lannoy.

As a consequence of this association, he was attracted towards Christianity. In the year 1745, he was converted to Christianity by one Fr. Giovanni Battista Buttari of Vadakkankulam Church. On becoming a Christian, he adopted the name Devasahaayam Pillai and moved closely with the people belonging to the lower castes and converted them to Christianity too. Not able to tolerate these acts, the people belonging to the upper castes like the Brahmins and Nairs, instigated the king and leveled a spate of allegations upon him. Consequently, Devasahaayam Pillai was arrested on February 23, 1749. Between the three years – 1749 and 1752, Devasahaayam Pillai was put to untold tortures and finally at a place called Kaathaadi Malai, on the Nagercoil-Tirunelveli road, near, Aaralvaaimozhi he was shot dead on January the 14th by the soldiers of king Maarthaandavarma Raja.

What is the purpose of excavating this history? The website of Kottar Diocese explains it thus:

The past 259 years have shown such a continuity of presence of the Servant of God in the minds, piety, spirituality and prayer of the people of God in Tamil Nadu, south Kerala and northern Sri Lanka that he cannot be counted as one of “these nameless, unknown soldiers” in those areas. However, bereft of recognition by the Church and official acceptance by the authority in the Church, it is impossible to make such a meaningful event bear fruit in the Church and society at large.

What is the significance of the statement “to make such a meaningful event bear fruit in the Church and society at large”? The import of this statement is that Devasahaayam is a commodity, an instrument for the Church. The Church itself has made it amply clear that there is no spiritual motive behind this act, whatsoever.

If that be so, what are the areas in which this ‘commodity’ is to be utilized?

The answer to the aforesaid query is readily answered herein: “a continuity of presence of the Servant of God in the minds, piety, spirituality and prayer of the people of God in Tamil Nadu, south Kerala and northern Sri Lanka” leading to more religious conversion. (http://www.martyrdevasahayam.org/RELEVANCE-OF-MARTYRDOM.php)

But still the big HOW remains? And more still, WHICH footprints of tradition is the church scheming to destroy through the act of beatification? The puzzle has been unraveled by the Christians themselves on December the 2nd, 2012 at Nagercoil, where the beatification of Devasahaayam Pillai took place.

Cardinal Angelo Amato agreed to designate January 14 as the day to celebrate Devasahaayam Pillai Festival to mark the canonization of Devasahaayam Pillai. The date January 14 is significant. Januray 14 is Pongal, the joyous Hindu festival of harvest, celebrated with fervor in Tamil Nadu, Northern Sri Lanka and South Kerala. The Makara Jyothi of Sabarimala also appears on that day.

The website of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI) announces that Devasahaayam Pillai was murdered on January 14 or January 15. (http://cbci.in/FullNews.aspx?ID=648) (Retrieved on 30.11.2012). The CBCI is keeping the date of the murder of the “historic” Devasahayam Pillai conveniently open and flexible for only one reason.

The reason for this “seeming vagary” is that the Thamizh month of THAI is sometimes born on January 15. The design behind this “seemingly innocent vagary” is very apparent – to link the Christian Devasahayam Pillai Festival to the Hindu festival Pongal so that Christians may celebrate both. The ignoble motive being – to appropriate Pongal sometime in the near future as also being a Christian festival.

This is typical Church modus operandi in Enculturation.

Many Christian festivals have been so “created” in line with the festivals of the local people. In the process, the reasons behind these festivals and the cultural identities in the minds of the locals have all but been annihilated, for which history bears testimony. By keeping the date of the death of Devasahayam Pillai conveniently open, it is amply clear that the ‘Devasahaayam Pillai Festival’ too has been craftily created by the Church to destroy the ancient tradition of celebrating Pongal.

Religious conversions notwithstanding, the website of Kottar Diocese clears all vestiges of doubts, if any, about the political motives that lurk behind.

During the talk of Bl. John Paul II quoted above, delivered at Lourdes, he spoke of “a new kind of religious persecution” spreading in the world today. It is very true in India today. There is an anti-Christian atmosphere being spread by Hindu fundamentalists, fully supported by certain political outfits for their own political motives. It is as if the Indian Church has already entered into “an era of persecution.

Not just politics, Christianity dons many caps, adapting itself with the belief systems of the local people in whose midst it plans to plant the church and the cross. Inculturation, which means to fraudulently convert the natives using their own native symbols, cultural and religious practices, severing them from their native religious and cultural roots and thus conspiring to bring them under the suzerainty of the Church. This goal shall be achieved through the beatification of ‘martyr’ Devasahaayam Pillai, states the website of Kottar Diocese:

Another point that makes this martyrdom relevant today is the role the laity have to play in the mission of the Church Ad Gentes. The laity are not simply “belonging to the Church”, indeed “they are the Church”. It is then only natural that one speaks of the mission ad gentes of the Laity, because “The Church on earth is by its very nature missionary” and the missionary activity of the Church flows immediately from the very nature of the Church.

People may believe that such beatifications (that are designed for the very purpose of religious conversions) may be based upon strong historical foundations. More so, if such words like, ‘son of the soil’, ‘laity’ are suitably woven in, then the people of the regions would be overwhelmed and would never dream of investigating further to know the Truth. This is a fact that the Church knows only too well. However, on research, we stumble upon the fact that this fable of ‘son of the soil’ is contrary to the truth.

Renowned historian Sridhara Menon in an interview to The Pioneer dated 20.1.2004 asserts – “Leave alone execution, not even a single case of persecution was recorded in the history of Travancore in the name of religious conversion. It is a well-concocted story and a figment of the imagination.”

M.G.S. Narayanan, former Chairman of Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR), said that he had never come across any one named either Neelakantan Pillai or Devasahayam Pillai as the army chief of Martanda Varma in Kerala’ s history.

Shri Nagam Aiyya, who recorded the history of Travancore princely state observes, “It is one evidently started by the later converts, from a habit of apotheosizing their ancestors or heroes; so common among the people. (Travancore Manual Vol II page 129-130, M. Nagam Aiya)

These fiction writers have gone to great lengths to establish that Christians were tortured under the reign of the king of Travancore. On the contrary, what does history offer evidence to?

The very Maharaja of Travancore, who is said to have persecuted Devasahaayam Pillai on account of Pillai converting to the Christian religion and for converting others to Christianity, has in fact extended tax exemption for the lands that he gifted to the Church at Varappuzha. (Travancore Manual, Vol-I page 16, T.K.Veluppillai)

Devasahaayam Pillai allegedly was drawn to Christianity by the Dutch general De Lannoy, according to this church authored fable. “The Maharaja of Travancore, Kaarthigai Thirunaal met the expense of building Udayagiri church at the request of De Lannoy and granted a salary of 100 panams to the Vicar“, records Shri. TK Velupillai, in the Travancore Manual, Vol-I, page 16.

Far from being religious bigots, these kings may in fact even be termed foolish for entrusting the administration of the Devoswom Board to Col. Munroe, a European Christian.

It is pertinent to recall here that in the times when Neelakantha Pillai converted to Christianity, there were bloody and violent clashes between Catholics and Protestants in Europe and in other parts of the world.

This catholic-protestant internecine war had its echo in India too. On capturing the Kochi Fort, the Holy Antonio Catholic Church where the mortal remains of Vasco da Gama were interned after his death was renamed ‘Holy Francis Protestant Church”. This Church is presently under the control of the Protestant Church of South India (CSI).

The Dutch Da Lannoy was a Protestant Christian. His Church at Udaygiri Fort was a Protestant Church. Moreover, the Dutch in India were vested with the right to authorize baptism of the newly converted. Under such circumstances, why should De Lannoy send Neelakantha Pillai to a Catholic denomination for baptism into Christianity? Besides, would it not be ‘profitable’ to be baptized by the General of the Maharaja? What benefit would accrue to the upper caste Neelakantha Pillai, were he to be baptized by the Catholic Church, which had no political power then?

We have to conclude therefore that those who fabricated the fiction called “Devasahaayam Pillai”, had neither any knowledge of the socio-political climate of the Travancore princely state, nor did they have any idea of the then prevalent situation in Europe.

During the times of Maarthaanda Varma Maharaja, the army of Travancore had Izhavas, Christians and Muslims, records Shri. T.K. Velupillai in his Travancore Manual, Vol-IV, page 122, quoting Colonel Wilks.

Indian Historians would naturally be biased in favour of the Hindus; hence it is unacceptable to us, say the Christians but insist that the fiction that the Church peddles as history is the ultimate truth.

Let us take on their argument head on. Pope Clement XIV in his letter dated 2nd July 1774, to the Maharaja of Travancore expresses “his kindness towards the members of his Church resident in Travancore”. (Travancore Manual Vol-I, page 387, M. Nagam Aiya).

Is Pope Clement XIV lying? Or is Pope John Paul II lying? Or Is the Kottaar Diocese lying? Or is the incumbent pope, Pope Benedict lying? If the king gave grants of land to the church, if there were Christians in the king’s army, if the king entrusted the administration of the Devasvom to a foreigner, who was also a Christian, these self-contradictory ‘facts’ by subsequent popes cannot all be true. So who really is lying?

For the sake of the General De Lannoy who allegedly drew Devasahaayam Pillai to Christianity, De Lannoy, the Maharaja of Travancore Maarthaanda Varma waged war against the General of Anjango. Do you know the reason? De Lannoy fell in love with the daughter of the General of Anjango! (Travancore Manual, Vol II, page 130, M. Nagam Aiya)

If the fable, fiction and fraud scripted by the Church today to beatify ‘Martyr’ Devasahaayam Pillai is to be believed, then Maharaja, Maarthaanda Varma, who gladly waged war for a lovelorn Da Lannoy, ordered the torture and shooting this man whom Da Lannoy converted to his faith.

In this Christian fable, the minister Raamaiyyan Dalavai is said to have disapproved of the close association of De Lannoy with Devasahaayam Pillai and this is also purportedly one of the reasons for the anger of Raamaaiyyan Dalavai against Devasahaayam Pillai. This closeness aggravated Dalavai’s vengeance or so goes the fraudulent narrative of the spin doctors fabricating the story of this ‘martyr’ who was tortured to death by the Maharaja of Travancore.

It is recorded  by T.K.Velu Pillai in his Travancore manual Vol IV, page 77, that  capital punishment is awarded to crimes (1) inciting or committing acts of insurrection, and pre-meditating or attempting the death of the Raja, (2) Murder, (3) Gang robbery

Based on these observations, we have to view the history of Travancore as recorded by Shri Nagam Aiya.

Probably as a palace official, Nilakanda Pillai was detected tampering with political secrets, on the strength of which action must have been taken against him, years after he was converted to Christianity. Baptism could not have had anything to do with it….” (Travancore Manual, Vol-II, page 130, M. Nagam Aiya)

This fraudulent rendition of history does not stop with the religious conversion of Devasahaayam Pillai; it flavors the narrative with a contemporary caste-conflict human interest element. “Since, he mixed with the people of lower castes, the people of higher castes began hating him, hence he was killed“. The Church has shamelessly inserted the caste factor into this fiction. Needless to say there is not even an iota of historical evidence of inter-caste conflict.

What is the past record of the “secular and holy” Catholic Church? If we are to understand the ‘yeoman service’ rendered by the Catholic Church to eradicate untouchability, then we may have to turn to the order of Pope Gregory XV, titled Bulla Romanae Sedis Antistitis, dated January 31, 1623,  which accedes to the requests of the missionaries to accommodate themselves to certain caste practices and usages of the new converts.

This papal bull was issued 120 years before Neelakantha Pillai converted to Christianity. Until now, this proclamation has not been withdrawn or modified. As a result, untouchability against dalit Christians and segregation continues to rage with full force in Indian Churches till date.

Even in Vadakkan Kulam, where Devasahaayam Pillai is purported to have been converted to Christianity, did not the Vellala Christians and other caste Christians refuse to go to the same Church and when they did, did they not sit separately? How did Christianity which proclaims loudly that is against untouchability and caste itself, claim to have eradicated casteism, and permit this to happen in the times of Devasahaayam Pillai and in the very Church of Devasahaayam Pillai? How can it explain the practice of untouchability and segregation in its churches even today?

A fictitious incident is given the colour of Truth, painted with the brush of social reform and to this gigantic fraud, the Vatican has extended its seal of approval and legitimacy.

Is it valour, is it piety to destroy the tradition of a country and the culture of its native populace by honoring these so-called  warriors or “martyrs” as the Church calls them, who in reality harvested the souls of Hindus and betrayed the trust of the people who welcomed them and allowed them to build their churches in their midst and generously allowed them to practice an alien religion?

There is no meaning in posing these queries to the Pope, his bishops, cardinals and his foot-soldiers. In the process of establishing the rule of the Pope, if a warrior of the Christian army dies, he becomes a martyr. The same warrior, if he butchers the people of the conquered lands, he becomes a “Saint”. This is the history of Christianity and this is how Christianity expanded across continents and this is how Christianity became global.

A House of Inquisition should be established to torture those who refuse to convert to Christianity in India, wrote St. Francis Xavier. For this purpose, he wrote a letter to King John III in 1545 (Source: Joseph Wicki, Documenta Indica, Vol. IV, Rome, 1956) and by establishing the House of Inquisition at Goa, Francis Xavier was instrumental in the genocide of the Hindus of Goa. Today, this Francis Xavier is a Saint! In his name, there is a Church at Kottaar in Kanyakumari District of Tamil Nadu! Besides, there are many such churches in other parts of Tamil Nadu and North Sri Lanka!

Today, this same Kottar Diocese has beatified Devasahaayam. Not surprising because Kanyakumari has a very large Christian population and the man who killed for Jesus Christ and in the name of the Pope has converted significant numbers of Hindus in the coastal areas of Southern Tamil Nadu too. For converting the few remaining Hindus, the fiction of this Christian ‘warrior-cum-martyr’ who was tortured and killed by the Maharaja of Travancore has now been scripted by the Church.

The self-serving ungrateful Church, with this fraudulent rendition of history has made a murderer of a noble and generous Hindu king and Hindu society has been portrayed as a regressive society. The Hindus have been painted as a barbaric race. Indeed, a fraud has been committed.

What is the net result? The son of the soil is a martyr and a saint – through such enticing proclamations, the Christian laity is instigated to do more to convert Hindus and to plant the cross in every village .

Weaving such fiction and selling fables as facts is nothing new to the Church and they are past masters in this craft. The fable of St. Thomas, who supposedly landed on the shores of Mylapore Beach, in Chennai is one such fable. This fictitious “Thomas” (doubt not) was created, was ‘made’ to stay at Chennai and was ‘made’ to be murdered by a Brahmin priest and in an attempt to package the fiction as fact, the Church continues to maintain that the skeletal remains of the ‘fictitious’ Thomas is interned in the Santhome Basilica. Worshipping relics is a calculated Abrahamic tactic.

Just like the St. Thomas fairy tale is the Devasahaayam fairy tale. To put it bluntly, the Church does not have a shred of evidence even for the historicity of Jesus Christ. It does not matter to Hindus at all but to Christians who dismiss the Hindu religion as myth and pass off their religion as history, it should matter that they cannot prove the historicity of Jesus Christ.

And that is precisely the reason why, the present Pope observed that, Jesus Christ may have been actually born 200 to 500 years before the officially accepted date and year of his birth. If that be so, then the fundamentals of Christianity are on shaky ‘historical’ foundation.

Secular intellectuals and politicians should tell us if this beatification of the Soldiers of Christ who want to conquer our land and reduce to rubble the land of the Cheras, Cholas and the Pandyas is moral, ethical and in the real interest of communal harmony.

A fraud is a fraud is a fraud.

 

St. Thomas in India: True or False? – N.S. Rajaram

N.S. RajaramHere is the substance of the St. Thomas story: First, if he existed he was a twin brother of Jesus which is unacceptable because Jesus was the Only Son of God. Next, he could not have preached Christianity in 52 AD because Christianity and the New Testament came into existence only in the fourth century, after the Council of Nicaea called by Roman Emperor Constantine in 325 AD. The first Christians came to India with the Syrian merchant Thomas in 345 AD escaping persecution in Persia. Lastly, the Namboothari Brahmins settled in Kerala only after the fourth century AD, so could not have been converted by Apostle Thomas in 52 AD using the Bible from three centuries later. – Dr. N.S. Rajaram

St. ThomasAccording to Christian leaders in India, the Apostle Thomas came to India in 52 A.D., founded the Syrian Christian Church, and was killed by the fanatical Brahmins in 72 A.D. His followers built the St. Thomas Church near the site of his martyrdom. Historians however say this apostle, even if he existed, never came to India. The Christian community in South India was founded by a Syrian (or Armenian) merchant Thomas Cananeus in 345 AD. He led four hundred refugees who fled persecution in Persia and were given asylum by the Hindu authorities.

This story was too commonplace to attract converts. So Christian leaders identified the merchant Thomas with Apostle Thomas and created the dramatic story of the Apostle’s persecution and death at the hands of the “wicked” Brahmins of South India. This became current in the 16th century when the Portuguese gained control of the west coast of India and forced the Syrian Christians to follow the Catholic faith. The Portuguese also destroyed the Kapaleeswara Temple that originally stood on the site now occupied by the San Thome Cathedral on the beach.

Kapali TempleThe creation of this myth and the history is told in detail by the Canadian scholar Ishwar Sharan in his famous book The Myth of St. Thomas and the Mylapore Shiva Temple. The purpose of the myth was to create a local martyr. Christianity depends heavily on the appeal of martyrs who are projected as victims like Jesus Christ. Then as now, Church leaders liked to pose as victims to generate sympathy and propaganda. But no matter how much they tried, the Hindus of India refused to supply the Portuguese with martyrs. So they were forced to create their own. So they turned the merchant Thomas into the Apostle Thomas killed by the Hindus.

In his foreword to Ishwar Sharan’s book, the Belgian scholar Koenraad Elst wrote: “In Catholic universities in Europe, the myth of the apostle Thomas going to India is no longer taught as history, but in India it is still considered useful. Even many vocal ‘secularists’ who attack the Hindus for relying on myth in the Ayodhya affair, off-hand profess their belief in the Thomas myth. The important point is that Thomas can be upheld as a martyr and the Brahmins decried as fanatics.”

San Thome CathedralTargeting Brahmins to undermine Hinduism was a favorite tactic among missionaries. Elst gives the true picture: “In reality, the missionaries were very disgruntled that the damned Hindus refused to give them martyrs (whose blood is welcomed as ‘the seed of the faith’), so they had to invent one. Moreover, the church which they claim commemorates St. Thomas’ martyrdom at the hands of Hindu fanaticism, is in fact a monument of Hindu martyrdom at the hands of Christian fanaticism. It is a forcible replacement of two important Hindu temples (Jain and Shaiva) whose existence was insupportable to the Christian missionaries.”

Another motivation for the myth was to erase the unsavory record of the Catholic Church’s close association with the Portuguese pirates and even worse, the Goa Inquisition inspired by St. Xavier. But serious scholars including Christians have rejected this myth as we shall soon see.

Who was this Apostle Thomas and why was his name invoked? The main sources relating to Apostle Thomas are two Gnostic (non-Biblical) texts known as the Acts of Thomas and the Gospel of Thomas. According to them Thomas was the twin brother of Jesus. For this reason the Thomas myth is not accepted by the Vatican because of a doctrinal problem: Jesus as the Only Son of God cannot possibly have a twin brother. (Greek for Thomas is Didymus, which means twin brother.)

Christians in South India who identify themselves as St. Thomas Christians claim that their ancestors were blessed by Apostle Thomas in 52 A.D. who preached from the Bible. This has no historical basis as we shall see. In fact, there is no evidence that Thomas even existed. His “history” is full of contradictions as will become apparent.

Marco PoloAs just observed the Portuguese missionaries who came to India in the 16th century found that they could not do without a local martyr and created the myth of St. Thomas claiming that he was martyred in India. They gave no explanation as to how they discovered it more than 1500 years later. Marco Polo is supposed to have mentioned it but there is no authentic manuscript that can be attributed to him. Then there is the question of how he discovered it more than a thousand years later.

There is even a tomb that is supposed to contain his martyred remains in Mylapore in Chennai. But the problem is there are several such memorials spread across Persia, Acre (Israel) and a few other places dating to different times, all laying claim to be the place where Apostle Thomas was martyred and buried!

After examining all the evidence, the late Father Heras, former Director of the Historical Research Institute, St. Xavier’s College, Bombay, said in 1953 that he was convinced that the tomb of St. Thomas was not in Mylapore. He had earlier said, quite emphatically in The Aravidu Dynasty of Vijayanagara, that the Portuguese account of their discovery of some relics was “a most barefaced imposture [with] all elements of a forgery.” Heras was himself a Jesuit father but also an eminent historian.

Henry HerasThis is not the end of the story, for while denying the myth because it challenges Jesus as the “Only Son of God” the Vatican wants to have it both ways. On September 27, 2006, Pope Benedict XVI gave a speech at St. Peter’s in Rome in which he recalled an ancient tradition claiming that Thomas first evangelized Syria and Persia, then went on to Western India, from where Christianity also reached Southern India. Syrian Christians derive status within the caste system from the tradition that they are converted Namboothiris (Brahmins), who were allegedly evangelized by St. Thomas after he allegedly landed in Kerala in AD 52.

There are serious problems with this theory: the Namboothiris started settling in Kerala only from the fourth century onwards, which means they did not exist at the time the alleged St. Thomas allegedly came to Kerala. So we have a possibly non-existent apostle preaching in the first century from a text, the New Testament, dating to the fourth century, to a people, the Namboothiris who settled in the fourth century or later. In reality the Pope’s original statement at St. Peter’s, reflected the geography of the Acts of Thomas, i.e. Syria, Parthia (Persia / Iran) and Gandhara (Afghanistan / Northwest Pakistan) — all far removed from Kerala in the southernmost tip of India.

Bleeding CrossThis is not the end to the contradictions. If Thomas landed in Kerala in 52 AD, he could not have taught from the Christian Bible (New Testament) with its four gospels which came into existence only in the fourth century. In fact Christianity did not exist at the time because there was no Christian scripture! In addition, the famous St. Thomas Cross supposedly brought by him made its appearance in Kerala only in the fourth century, about the same time as the Namboothiri Brahmins. So it is quite possible that the highly ornate St. Thomas Cross [with Hindu motifs carved in it] was borrowed from the Namboothiris, having nothing to do with St. Thomas or even Christians. The Church borrowed its cross from the Egyptians and the oldest so-called St. Thomas Cross is a pagan Persian symbol.

Prof. Francis Xavier Clooney, SJAs if this were not confusing enough, Father Francis Clooney, a theologian with the Harvard Divinity School has stated that St Thomas had preached in Brazil, no matter that Brazil as we understand today was unknown in his time. According to Clooney, one Ruiz de Montoya, writing in Peru in the mid-seventeenth century, thought that since God would not have overlooked the Americas for fifteen hundred years, and since among the twelve apostles St. Thomas was known for his mission to the “most abject people in the world, blacks and Indians,” it was only reasonable to conclude that St. Thomas had preached throughout the Americas:

“He began in Brazil – either reaching it by natural means on Roman ships, which some maintain were in communication with America from the coast of Africa, or else, as may be thought closer to the truth, being transported there by God miraculously. He passed to Paraguay and from there to the Peruvians.”

St. Thomas Book CoverSo here is the substance of the St. Thomas story. First, if he existed he was a twin brother of Jesus which is unacceptable because Jesus was the Only Son of God (born to a virgin). Next, he could not have preached Christianity in 52 AD because Christianity and the New Testament came into existence only in the fourth century, after the Council of Nicaea called by Roman Emperor Constantine in 325 AD. The first Christians came to India with the Syrian merchant Thomas in 345 AD escaping persecution in Persia. This was probably because Roman and Persian empires were great rivals. The Namboothiri Brahmins settled in Kerala only after the fourth AD, so could not have been converted by Apostle Thomas in 52 AD using the Bible from three centuries later.

Finally, the myth was created by Portuguese missionaries in the sixteenth century with the help of pirates. They destroyed also the Kapaleeswara Temple and a Jain temple building the church known as San Thome Cathedral in 1504. It acquired its present status and recognition as a cathedral (grand church) under British patronage in 1893. It was also the Portuguese who converted the Syrian Christians to the Catholic faith.

So, all these contradictions have to be reconciled before the myth of St Thomas can be taken seriously. – Folks Magazine, 7 November 2009

» Editor’s Note: Historians do not agree about the date for the coming of Namboothiri Brahmins to Kerala. Marxist historians make their arrival as late as the sixth century AD. However with the identification of the Namboothiri priest Mezhathol Agnihothri (b. 342 AD), the date can be moved back to the fourth century. Namboothiri historians themselves do not give a date for the arrival of their community in Kerala from North India.

» Dr. N.S. Rajaram has referred to the second (1995) edition of The Myth of Saint Thomas and the Mylapore Shiva Temple for this article. The second edition is now out of print and not available on-line. However the third (2010) edition, which contains everything in the second edition, revised with corrected dates and many new references, is available on The Ishwar Sharan Archive.

See also

The Gospel of Judas: New light on Christian origins – N.S. Rajaram

Dr. N.S. RajaramWhy are these momentous findings of Christian historical scholarship little discussed in India when the media is willing to give space to discredited Jesus lived in India stories and proven fakes like the Shroud of Turin? Is it because the English-language media is dominated by a convent-educated elite that doesn’t want to report controversial findings? Or do Indian churches and their leaders still see themselves as serving colonial masters and have no tradition of critical Biblical scholarship?” - Dr. N.S. Rajaram

Judas IscariotThere has been a revolution in Biblical scholarship beginning with the discovery of the Gnostic Gospels at Nag Hammadi in Egypt and the Dead Sea Scrolls at Qumran in Israel, both in the years following the Second World War. But Church leaders in India have kept their followers in ignorance of all this while continuing to peddle discredited stories like the St Thomas Myth and other pre-enlightenment falsehoods like accusing the Jews for the crucifixion of Jesus. The reasons for this are twofold: (1) the abysmal state of Biblical scholarship in India; and (2) the low opinion of Indian Christians among Western scholars — a holdover from the colonial era. Many of them still see Indian Christians as second class Christians who blindly follow whatever they are told and incapable of appreciating scholarly research. Here is an example of what Biblical scholarship has exposed.

For nearly two thousand years, Judas Iscariot has been reviled as the archetypical betrayer for which the Jews have been made to pay a terrible price. A recently discovered ancient text known as the Gospel of Judas gives a radically different picture: Judas, far from being a traitor was Jesus’s closest disciple to whom, and to whom alone, Jesus entrusted the most important task needed to fulfil his mission on earth — to die for the sins of mankind. In handing Jesus over to the Romans, Judas was doing exactly what his master ordered him to do. Without it, and the crucifixion that followed, there would be no Christianity.

Elaine PagelsThis is the dramatic, not to say shocking message of the Gospel of Judas, one of the forty-odd gospels that were in circulation during the first four centuries of Christianity. This is described in fascinating detail in Reading Judas by Elaine Pagels and Karen King, two of the world’s greatest biblical scholars. It is accessible to the general reader though one is helped by some familiarity with recent biblical discoveries like the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Nag Hammadi Manuscripts.

Karen  KingI will discuss the Dead Sea Scrolls (known in scholarly circles as the Qumran texts) in a later article, but here we shall be looking at one of the more remarkable of the Nag Hammadi finds, the Gospel of Judas. The story of its discovery is no less dramatic than what it has to say — though not quite so dramatic as the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls also. Here it is in brief.

Nag Hammadi (meaning ‘geese grazing grounds’) is a small town in Egypt located on the west bank of the Nile about 80 kilometers north-west of Luxor. It was established by Mahmoud Pasha Hammadi, who was a member of the Hammadi family in Sohag, Egypt. Mahmoud Pasha Hammadi created Nag Hammadi for the indigenous people from Sohag who were forced to abandon their homeland by the British occupation. In recognition of this, the new town was given the name Hammadi.

Gospel of JudasIn December 1945, some local farmers discovered a sealed earthenware jar containing thirteen leather-bound papyrus manuscripts, along with loose pages torn from another book. One of the books was burnt as fuel by their mother who obviously did not know their value. The writings in these texts, known as codices, date back to the 2nd century AD. The contents of the Coptic-bound codices were written in Coptic, though the works were probably all translations from Greek. The Nag Hammadi codices contain the only complete copy of the Gospel of Thomas as well as a copy of the Gospel of Judas.

The Gospel of Judas was acquired by the Maecenas Foundation of Geneva, Switzerland where they now reside. The president of the Maecenas Foundation, Mario Roberty, suggested the possibility that the Maecenas Foundation had acquired not the only extant copy of the Gospel, but rather the only “known” copy. Roberty went on to make the suggestion that the Vatican probably had another copy locked away. As he put it:

Mario Roberty“In those days the Church decided for political reasons to include the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John in the Bible. The other gospels were banned. It is highly logical that the Catholic Church would have kept a copy of the forbidden gospels. Sadly, the Vatican does not want to clarify further. Their policy has been the same for years. No further comment.”

Roberty provided no evidence to suggest that the Vatican does, in fact, possess any additional copy. But there is a problem — the Vatican’s secrecy about its holdings. While the contents of one part of the Vatican library have been catalogued and have long been available to researchers and scholars, the remainder of the library, however, has no public catalogue. Vatican says that researchers may view any work within, but they must first name the text they require. This is impossible for those who do not know what is contained by the secret library! The Gospel of Judas may well be one of them, but we don’t know. So it had to be pieced together by Biblical scholars from fragments found at Nag Hammadi.

Judas is radically different from the gospels in the New Testament we are familiar with. The standardization of the New Testament with its four canonical gospels that we know today — of Mark, Luke, Matthew and John — took place in the fourth century. This, as scholars including Pagels and King point out had the effect of lowering the message from a spiritual to a material plane with the story of Jesus’s body escaping from the grave with a resurrected body. To a non-believer or a scientifically informed person, this supposed miracle seems absurd. But it remains the foundation of Christian belief.

St. ThomasThe Gospel of Judas, along with its companion Gospel of Thomas belongs to the category of early Christian texts knows as Gnostic. (Thomas was Jesus’s twin brother [according to the Acts of Thomas], so who was the Only Son of God?) The word ‘Gnostic’ is derived from the Greek gnosis — cognate to the Sanskrit ‘gnana’ (or jnana) — meaning spiritual knowledge. According to Lost Christianities by Bart Ehrman there were “Christians who… believed in one God. But there were others who insisted there were two. Some said there were thirty. Others said there were 365.”

A remarkable feature about the Gnostic Gospels is that they seem to have borrowed heavily from Hindu and Buddhist practices. This is easy to understand considering that Persia was then under the Arsacids or the Parthians. They served as the link between the Indian and the Roman worlds. This is now a major area of research, but not in India.

John Marco AllegroTo give an idea of how diverse early Christianity was, some said that Jesus never died, while some others claimed he was never born meaning Jesus was a fictional character. This is the view also of several modern scholars who have studied the Dead Sea Scrolls, especially Robert Eisenman and John Allegro. John Allegro, a very famous Biblical scholar wrote: “I would suggest that many incidents [in the Gospels] are merely projections into Jesus’s own history of what was expected of the Messiah.” In other words, Jesus was a fictional character created to project some religious ideas. (We will have occasion to look at Allegro and his work relating to the Dead Sea Scrolls in a future article.)

Allegro was persecuted and hounded out by Church authorities for expressing such views. It was no different nearly two thousand years ago. The key figure in suppressing texts which “encourage believers to seek God within themselves with no mention of churches, let alone clergy” was Irenaeus, a Syrian theologian who was the bishop of Lyon. He is particularly harsh on Judas with his claim of having received secret knowledge (gnosis) as the favored disciple of Jesus. It was the claim also of Mary Magdalene in her Gospel. Yes, there is a Gospel of Mary Magdalene also. It was discovered as far back as 1896, but have Christians in India been told about it?

St. Irenaeus of LyonIrenaeus’s program was to suppress diversity and impose total uniformity of belief and practices. As Pagels observes “the teachings Irenaeus labelled as ‘orthodox’ tend to be those that helped him and other bishops consolidate scattered groups of Jesus’s followers into what he and other bishops envisioned as a single, united organization they called the ‘catholic (universal) church.’ The diverse range … they denounced as ‘heresy’… could be antithetical to the consolidation of the church under the bishops’ authority.”

One can see that the overriding concern of the early Church fathers was exercising political control over the followers. Irenaeus’s program was taken a major step forward in the fourth century by Athanasius, bishop of Alexandria. He fixed the New Testament substantially in the form we have it today by selecting four gospels out of more than forty then known, and assigning them to Mark, Luke, Matthew and John.

St. AthanasiusAthanasius’s theological consolidation of Christianity was paralleled by political consolidation. At the Council of Nicea in 325 AD, Eusebius, bishop of Caesarea, persuaded Emperor Constantine to extend protection to this version of Christianity or Nicene Christianity. Armed with this power, it was a relatively easy matter for Eusebius, Athanasius and others to suppress the Gnostics and other competing versions of Christianity. Church dominance became complete when Theodosius in 391 AD declared Nicene Christianity the only legitimate religion in the Roman Empire.

Why are these momentous findings little discussed in India when the media is willing to give space to discredited Jesus lived in India stories and proven fakes like the Shroud of Turin? Is it because the English-language media is dominated by a convent-educated elite that doesn’t want to report controversial findings? Or do Indian churches and their leaders still see themselves as serving colonial masters and have no tradition of critical Biblical scholarship? By doing so they have yielded the space to politico-religious entrepreneurs like John Dayal and outright charlatans like Valson Thampu (principal of St. Stephen’s College, New Delhi). Fortunately, Biblical scholars in the West, like Pagels, King, Allegro, Eisenman and a host of others have not allowed their beliefs to come in the way of truth even though most of them belong to the Christian faith. – Folks Magazine, 27 June 2012

» N.S. Rajaram is the author of The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Crisis of Christianity.

St. Thomas: The making of an “Indian” apostle – Sandhya Jain

Sandhya Jain“The claim that Christianity came to India before it went to Europe is a ploy to make it a sort of native religion, even if it came from West Asia. The origin is a Gnostic Syrian fable, Acts of Thomas, written by poet Bardesanes at Edessa around 201 CE. The text never mentions or describes the sub-continent, but says the apostle went from Palestine eastwards to a desert-like country where people are ‘Mazdei’ (Zoroastrian) and have Persian names. The term India in Acts of Thomas is a synonym for Asia.” – Sandhya Jain

Dr. R. NagaswamyAs Christian evangelists intensify efforts to bring India under their sway, their brethren in the south are trying to (mis)use current excavations at Pattanam to revive the myth of Apostle Thomas arriving in the country in the first century AD and establishing a fledgling community. They are trying to link the ancient port of Muziris with Pattanam, where Thomas reputedly landed, though Muziris was more logically Kodungalloor, where the river joins the sea. R Nagaswamy, former director, Tamil Nadu Archaeological Survey, debunks this mischief and avers that none of the literature on the life of St Thomas claims that he came to India.

Yet, so strenuously has the myth been perpetuated that Swami Devananda Saraswati (pen name Ishwar Sharan), a Canadian born into a Protestant family who became a Smarta Dashanami sanyasi at Prayag in 1977, decided to get to its historical roots. The Myth of Saint Thomas and the Mylapore Shiva Temple (updated third edition, Voice of India), is the fruit of his labours.

Thomas & Hindu assassinSharan was intrigued by the story of the alleged murder of the apostle by a conniving Brahmin. In September 2006, Pope Benedict XVI declared that Thomas never came to India, but Rome later fell silent after a nudge from the Archdiocese of Madras-Mylapore. The myth includes the implausible conversion of Tiruvalluvar by the foreign evangelist, though Tamil scholars believe the sage lived around 100 BCE, perhaps even 200 BCE.

The claim that Christianity came to India before it went to Europe is a ploy to make it a sort of native religion, even if it came from West Asia. The origin is a Gnostic Syrian fable, Acts of Thomas, written by poet Bardesanes at Edessa around 201 CE. The text never mentions or describes the sub-continent, but says the apostle went from Palestine eastwards to a desert-like country where people are ‘Mazdei’ (Zoroastrian) and have Persian names. The term India in Acts of Thomas is a synonym for Asia.

The Acts of Thomas identifies St Thomas as Judas, the look-alike twin of Jesus, who sells him into slavery. The slave travels to Andropolis where he makes newly-weds chaste, cheats a king, fights with Satan over a beautiful boy, persuades a talking donkey to confess the name of Jesus, and is finally executed by a Zoroastrian king for crimes against women. His body is buried on a royal mountain and later taken to Edessa, where a popular cult rises around his tomb.

Thomas of CanaOne Thomas of Cana led a group of 400 Christians (from seven tribes and 72 families) from Babylon and Nineveh, out of Persia in the 4th century, when Christianisation of the Roman Empire made the Persians view their Syriac-speaking Christian minority as a Roman fifth column. The ‘Thomas Christians’ could originally have referred to this merchant. They reputedly landed at Cranganore in Malabar in 345 CE. Sharan warns this migration cannot be treated as historical fact, but says that Cosmas the Alexandrian, theologian, geographer and merchant who traded with Ethiopia and Ceylon, visited Malabar in 520-525 CE and provided the first acceptable evidence of Christian communities there in Christian Topography. This Thomas was probably ‘converted’ (metamorphosed) to St Thomas.

Early Church Fathers like Clement of Alexandria, Origen and Eusebius are explicit that Apostle Thomas settled in ‘Parthia’, and established a church in Fars (Persia). This is supported by the 4th century priest Rufinus of Aquileia, who translated Greek theological texts into Latin, and the 5th century Byzantine church historian, Socrates of Constantinople, who wrote a book on ecclesiastical history, the second edition of which survives and is a valuable source of early church history. Nothing much is known about St Thomas. He was called the Apostle of the East in West Asia and India until 1953, when the Church demoted him to Apostle of India, dislodging St Francis Xavier.

Marco PoloBetween the 4th and 16th centuries, the Syrian Christians of Malabar reinvented the tale several times, finally bringing St Thomas to India to evangelise the heathen. In the 13th century, Marco Polo embellished the tale with a South Indian seashore tomb and in the 16th century the Portuguese transferred this seashore tomb to Mylapore. They created their own redactions of the Acts of Thomas and began destroying temples in the port city and building their St Thomas churches, pretending these were the sites of Thomas’s martyrdom and burial.

The primary objective of the Thomas-in-India or Jesus-in-India stories is to vilify Brahmins and malign the Hindu religion and community. The second is to present Christianity as an indigenous religion — not a piece of Western imperialism. A deeper aim is to insinuate it as the ‘original’ religion of the Tamil people. Finally, it is to help Syrian Christians maintain their caste identity, their claim to be Jews or Brahmins, descendants of Namboodiris converted by St Thomas in the 1st century.

Ishwar Sharan cites a wealth of historical, textual and epigraphic material to prove how various authors and travellers like Marco Polo, mistakenly or deliberately, falsified evidence regarding St Thomas. He traces Marco Polo’s mischief to a book the legendary explorer dictated to fellow prisoner and writer, Rustichello, when he was captured by Genoa. The book became a hit in Europe, and the myth of a St Thomas’s tomb on a seashore was firmly planted.

San Thome Bishop's MuseumGerman scholars, whose work remains to be translated into English, have consistently maintained that most 16th and 17th century churches in India contain temple rubble and are built on temple sites, just as in Europe they took over pagan sites. In fact, at the end of the 19th century, a landslip on San Thome beach revealed carved stone pillars and broken stones of mandapam found only in Hindu temples.

The Portuguese in the 16th century had one of their earliest settlements at San Thome, and razed many Hindu temples to the ground. Vijayanagar’s ruler, Rama Raya, waged war on them in Mylapore and Goa simultaneously to save Hindu temples. After his victory, he exacted a tribute from them for their vandalism. But when Vijayanagar fell before the Muslim armies at the Battle of Talikota (1565), the Portuguese resumed their iconoclasm.

The Myth of Saint Thomas and the Mylapore Shiva Temple is a treasure trove of information that an article cannot do justice to; it’s a must read for lovers of Hindu temples and history.

Ishwar Sharan, The Myth of Saint Thomas and the Mylapore Shiva Temple, 3rd Edition, Voice of India, Delhi, 2010; Pages: 407; Price: Rs 450 - VijayvaaniThe Pioneer, Sept 13, 2011

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