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

Feast of St. Thomas: Fr. Francis continues to perpetuate a history fraud on the Indian people – Ishwar Sharan

Thomas & Hindu assassin

Ishwar SharanThe story of St. Thomas’s Indian sojourn exists only in the Acts of Thomas. This long religious romance was probably  written by the Syrian Gnostic poet Bardesanes about 210 CE at Edessa, Syria. Bardesanes was familiar with India and had met and discussed Indian philosophy with Buddhist monks travelling west to Alexandria. It was therefore quite natural for him to place his moral fable about Judas Thomas in India, a land from which all kinds of religious ideas emanated.” – Ishwar Sharan

Mar ThomaThe Deccan Chronicle in Chennai carried on 2 July 2012 a “mystic mantra” column called “Feast of Thomas” by Fr. Francis Gonsalves, the principle of the the Jesuit-run Vidyajyoti Theological College in New Delhi. The feast for St. Thomas is celebrated on July 3rd every year in India. Fr. Francis knows better than this writer that the story of St. Thomas in India is untrue. He also knows that prestigious Jesuit schools in Europe would never refer to the Thomas in India story without first qualifying it as a unverified Gnostic moral fable. But Fr. Francis whose ancestors were Christian converts in Goa—by force or fraud we do not know—is an Indian Jesuit under a communal compulsion to deceive his congregation and support their fanciful apostolic aspirations for India.  And there is also the politics of which his religious order is more than famous–or should we say infamous. Fr. Francis has a candidate for the Indian presidency in the person of a deracinated tribal convert called Purno Sangma. Therefore Fr. Francis must continue to perpetrate the St. Thomas in India lie as he is aware that Thomas has already claimed India for Christ and that claim may soon be realized in the person of Purno Sangma. So Fr. Francis wrote:

Francis GonsalvesI’m often asked by the people here in India and abroad, “When did Christianity come to India?” “Indian Christianity is about 2,000 years old,” I reply, adding, “Ever since St Thomas, one of Jesus’ beloved disciples, came to India.” Thus, we have the so called “St Thomas Christians” — mainly from Kerala — whose ancestors received Jesus’ “Gospel” soon after his resurrection. On July 3, Christians will celebrate the feast of Saint Thomas.

The Gospel of John records three utterances of St Thomas that give glimpses of his character. First, when Jesus desires to go to Bethany, bordering Jerusalem, the disciples try to prevent him from going since he was almost stoned there for claiming kinship with God. Thomas, however, sticks by Jesus, and says, “Let’s also go that we may die with him” (John 11:16). This shows Thomas’ courage and his commitment to Jesus.

Second, when Jesus announces his imminent death and assures his disciples that he’ll prepare a place for them, he adds, “You know the way to the place where I’m going.” Thomas answers candidly, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” (John 14:5). This prompts Jesus to reply, “I am the way.”

Thomas’ third utterance gives not only him, but also gifts us the appellation “doubting Thomas”. Being no pushover, Thomas asks for “proof” before he believes the unprecedented news of Jesus rising from the dead. But, on meeting the Risen Christ, he exclaims: “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28). These words are etched in gold over the tomb of St Thomas at the San Thome Cathedral, Chennai: a magnificent 16th-century Gothic church visited by innumerable pilgrims.

Having lived in Chennai, I cherish unforgettable moments at monuments built in memory of Apostle Thomas. I remember that morning of Sunday, December 26, 2004, when I was presiding over morning worship at San Thome Cathedral and the mighty ocean came crashing down upon Marina beach, leaving us distraught at the destruction wrought by the tsunami.

Two other churches in Chennai commemorate the Apostle: one built in 1523 atop “Saint Thomas Mount” near the airport, and, another big, circular one constructed in 1972 on “Little Mount”. The former contains the “Bleeding Cross”, believed to have been sculpted on stone by St Thomas, while the latter rests beside the cave where the Apostle prayed.

Saints are not the exclusive property of one religion. St Thomas teaches us all three things: (a) to be courageous and committed to a cause; (b) to be candid and to clarify things when in doubt; and (c) to be critical of things outside human experience; yet, also to believe in God who forever remains “The Beyond” while inspiring us to exclaim, “My Lord, my God!” in the everyday ordinariness of life.Deccan Chronicle, Chennai, 2 June 2012

There is no historical evidence to support the legend that St. Thomas, called Judas Thomas in the Acts of Thomas, ever came to India. And when we say there is no historical evidence in Western literature, we say emphatically that there is no evidence for St. Thomas or Indian Christianity in ancient Tamil literature either. Even up to the tenth century and Raja Raja Chola’s time, Tamil literature has no record of Christians or Christianity being present in the land.

The story of Thomas’s Indian sojourn exists only in the Acts of Thomas. This long religious romance was probably  written by the Syrian Gnostic poet Bardesanes about 210 CE at Edessa, Syria. Bardesanes was familiar with India and had met and discussed Indian philosophy with Buddhist monks travelling west to Alexandria. It was therefore quite natural for him to place his moral fable in India, a land from which all kinds of religious ideas emanated.

Bardesanes (154–222)Bardesanes story is centred on the the moral imperative that all Christians must lead a chaste and celibate life. In the story he has Judas Thomas, who is presented as a look-alike twin brother of Jesus, persuade a newly married royal couple not to consummate their marriage. This angers the Parthian king of the desert land where Thomas is present and he has to flee for his life to another part of the country. Here he comes into contact with another Parthian king called Gundaphorus—possibly a first century king of  Gandhara i.e. North-West Pakistan—and promises to build him a palace. Thomas cheats the king of his money but succeeds in converting him to Christianity. He then leaves Gundaphorus and concerns himself with a talking donkey and a dragon who claims to be Satan. Thomas slays the dragon but because of his interest in converting the women and girls of the area to Christianity and alienating them from family life, is called before a third Parthian king called Mazdai—Mazdai being a Zoroastrian name not a Hindu name—and ordered to leave the country. When Thomas ignores the king’s warning and converts the queen and her son, the king in exasperation at the apostle’s evil deeds orders him executed. He is then speared to death by soldiers on a royal acropolis and the body immediately taken away to Edessa.

Marco PoloThomas remained in the Parthian royal acropolis in all records until Marco Polo put his tomb on the seashore in an unnamed little town in South India. Marco, who never came to India, was repeating the stories told to him by Muslim and Syrian Christian merchants he met in Constantinople.

This is how St. Thomas got to South India. The Portuguese who knew Marco’s book Il Milione decided quite arbitrarily that Mylapore was the unnamed little town Marco was referring to—and Mylapore also had a good harbour and a great temple that could be turned into an apostle’s tomb. As they say, the rest is history—and a falsified history at that!

Though Bardesanes represents Judas Thomas as a second Christ, he does not represent him as a good man. What we gather from the story in the Acts, and what Fr. Francis and his Church neglect to tell the faithful, is that

  • Jesus was a slave trader who sold Thomas to Abbanes for thirty pieces of silver;
  • Thomas was an antisocial character who lied to his royal employer and stole money from him;
  • Thomas ill-treated women and enslaved them;
  • Thomas practised black magic and was executed for disobeying the king’s order to stop and leave the country;
  • Thomas was Jesus’s twin brother, implying that the four canonical Gospels are unreliable sources which have concealed a crucial fact, viz. that Jesus was not God’s Only Begotten Son. In fact, Jesus and Thomas were God’s twin-born sons. In other words, accepting the Thomas legend as history is equivalent to exploding the doctrinal foundation of Christianity.

San Thome CathedralEnough said about St. Thomas.

About San Thome Cathedral which houses his fake tomb—the real tomb for St. Thomas is at Ortona, Italy—it has been established by reputed Jesuit and Indian archaeologists that the church stands on the ruins of the original Kapaleeswara Shiva Temple destroyed by the Portuguese in the sixteenth century. So do the churches at Little Mount and Big Mount stand on ruined Murugan and Shiva temples respectively. The “Bleeding Cross” Fr. Francis refers to and which is kept in the Portuguese church on Big Mount, has these words carved around the edge of it in Pahlavi script: “My lord Christ, have mercy upon Afras, son of Chaharbukht the Syrian, who cut this.” The cross is dated by experts to the eighth or ninth century.

Apostle Thomas was a Jew and the Roman cross would have been an abhorrent symbol to him. Certainly he did not bring a cross—or a Bible for that matter—to India. Christians did not use the Roman cross as an religious symbol until the third century or later. They used a fish sign with the Greek word ΙΧΘΥC (ikhthus meaning “fish”)—and acronym for JESUS—inscribed in its body to identify themselves and their cult. Curiously Indian Christianity has never referenced or employed a fish symbol in its religious culture. This is because the cross was brought to India by Syrian Christian refugees after the fourth century.

Arun ShourieWe wish to assure Fr. Francis and the Christian congregations that he has deceived, that Hindus are not going to demand the return of temple property the Church has forcefully taken from them over the centuries. But we do feel an apology for past crimes is in order and that some restraint is observed when perpetuating the communally-charged St. Thomas tale among the faithful—especially as Thomas’s persecution and death are falsely attributed to a Hindu king and his Brahmin priests. Arun Shourie has stated that the apology should include the following items:

  • an honest accounting of the calumnies which the Church has heaped on India and Hinduism; informing Indian Christians and non-Christians about the findings of Bible scholarship [including the St. Thomas legend];
  • informing them about the impact of scientific progress on Church doctrine;
  • acceptance that reality is multi-layered and that there are many ways of perceiving it;
  • bringing the zeal for conversion in line with the recent declarations that salvation is possible through other religions as well.

Archbishop ChinnappaBesides this apology, we feel the Archbishop of Madras-Mylapore may donate a piece of the vast estate Bishop’s House stands on for a memorial to the courageous Hindus who resisted the Portuguese when they with the help of Franciscan, Dominican and Jesuit priests were destroying the Kapaleeswara Shiva Temple by the sea.

The Archbishop of Madras-Mylapore, who may be an honest man unlike his predecessors, also must stop perpetuating the claim that Tiruvalluvar was a disciple of Thomas and a Christian convert. Anybody who has read the Tirukurral can see that this claim is a malicious falsehood.

The St. Thomas legend is part of Indian history and Indian history must be told according to the known facts, not according to the fabricated anti-national theories of Indian Jesuits and Marxist historians. Even Pope Benedict has denied that St. Thomas came to South India—never mind that his editors changed his statement the next day to include South India because Kerala’s bishops had threatened secession or worse if the Church did not support their dearly held tale of origins.

Pope Benedict XVIDr. Koenraad Elst, educated in Europe’s most prestigious Catholic university in Leuven, Belgium, writes in his foreword to The Myth of Saint Thomas and the Mylapore Shiva Temple: “It is clear enough that many Christians including the Pope have long given up the belief in Thomas’s Indian exploits, or—like the Church Fathers—never believed in them in the first place. In contrast with European Christians today, Indian Christians live in a 17th century bubble, as if they are too puerile to stand in the daylight of solid historical fact. They remain in a twilight of legend and lies, at the command of ambitious “medieval” bishops who mislead them with the St. Thomas in India fable for purely selfish reasons.”

What a sad observation on Indian Christians who have access to the best education and health care in the country. And what an shrewd observation on Indian bishops who are probably the most wealthy and politically astute caste in India today.

Thomas tomb at Ortona

Thomas tomb Mylapore

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