St Thomas Mount closed to public – HinduPost Staff

St Thomas Mount

HinduPostThe Catholic Church in Bharat acts like a state within a state in the Union of Bharat yet gives its feudal allegiance to the Pope in Rome! – HinduPost Staff

A tweet series on popular St. Thomas Mount in Chennai caught social media’s attention recently. This Mount is a beautiful hill located close to Chennai international airport. Many Christians in Bharat believe the myth that Thomas the Apostle stayed and was “martyred” on this hill, although researchers and scholars have found no evidence to back this claim. The St. Thomas Garrison Church is located at the bottom of this hill. A shrine dedicated to Mary was supposedly built in 1523 on top of the mount, by invading Portugese colonials. A flight of 160 steps leads up to the summit of the mount.

The tweet series mentioned that off late the shrine management has started restricting people who wish to come to the hill for activities other than praying; boards have been put up banning activities like walking, jogging, exercising etc on the hill.

St Doink Tweets

As mentioned in the tweet series, this board restricting entry has been put at the foot of the hill which clearly says morning and evening exercises are ‘banned’ on the hill :

St Thomas Mount Notice Board

Mr G. Christuraj, who is the Parish Priest & Rector at St. Thomas Mount National Shrine about this issue. We asked him if such boards have indeed been put aimed at banning the usual activities of residents / visitors other than praying, and if the entire hill is owned by the shrine management.

He confirmed that boards have been put up at both gates at the bottom of the hill to prevent morning / evening walking and exercises. The reason he gave is that people were misusing the “privilege” granted by the Church Management, and disturbing the prayer activities. He said that people can still access the hill for walking, jogging, exercises on the following conditions:

1. They should be “appropriately dressed”.

2. They should avoid coming during Church prayer times (morning, noon and evening).

3. They cannot come right to the top where the shrine is located unless they wish to pray.

Mr Christuraj claimed that the entire hill is owned by the Archdiocese of Madras—Mylapore, which comes under the Roman Catholic Church of India. It was originally “owned” by Portuguese missionaries who transferred control to the Church. He also added that locals themselves have expressed concern that some were using the hill as a “lovers park”, and hence the management had decided to take this step. He also confirmed that Army’s OTA (Officers Training Academy) too uses the hill at times (around once a month) but that is done with permission of the Church management.

But the signage boards clearly mention “banned” and hence, going by the above conversation with Mr. Christuraj, the text on the signage boards needs to be corrected—as walking is not “banned” but “restricted”. Mr Christuraj’s claim the entire hill is owned by the Catholic Church also needs to be probed.

Catholic Church: Largest non-agricultural land owner in Bharat

It is surprising that large pieces of land are still under the exclusive control of various Churches in Bharat, which were allotted to them as grants by British and other invaders. Unfortunately, these parts of land were not nationalized after independence. In various states, land reforms were effected which aimed at distributing the land evenly but it seems that land owned by Churches was not touched. There are very few details available on the internet and there is hardly any transparency in information regarding minute details of land owned by various Christian organizations and churches. As per this article written in 2014,  Catholic Church owns the largest portion of Bharat’s non-agricultural land. Note: this does not include the land holdings of the Protestant Churches and other Christian sects.

According to the census of 2011, official records state Christian population as approximately 27.8 million, constituting 2.3 percent of total Bharat’s population. So organizations that control just 2.3% of population own the largest portion of land after government in this country. How much more skewed can the allocation of this most valuable resource be?

In the past, Catholic groups have expressed concerns and asked for a white paper on land dealings by the Church bishops and related powerful people, as this news report suggests. The Catholic Church in Bharat acts like a state within a state in the Union of Bharat yet gives its feudal allegiance to the Pope in Rome. Contrast this to the way many large Hindu temples are controlled by the Government, donations offered by devotees siphoned off, and temple lands sold / leased for a pittance or encroached by political-criminal mafias.

While the Church and its organizations exercise absolute control over land allotted to it by old colonial masters, pastors attempting conversions to Christianity have dared to enter holy Hindu lands like sacred Tirumala hills.

The Church in Bharat should seriously consider giving up a large chunk of its humongous land holdings, much of it in prime urban areas, which was bequeathed to it by European colonials who captured the same from natives. This land should be redistributed to benefit local communities. Or the Government has to take steps to nationalize this land bank currently under Church control, and use the same in a transparent manner for the nation’s development. – HinduPost, 16 September 2016

Our Lady of Expectation Church on St Thomas Mount

See also

  1. A Feast of St Thomas – Ishwar Sharan
  2. Pope Benedict denies St Thomas evangelized South India – Ishwar Sharan
  3. The Legend of St Thomas in India is neither factual nor secular – Koenraad Elst


The legend of St Thomas in India is neither factual nor secular – Koenraad Elst

St. Thomas

Koenraad ElstThe Roman Catholic Church in India owes Hindus an abject apology for the blood libel she has perpetuated for centuries, falsely charging Hindus with the murder of Thomas even as she falsely charges Jews with the murder of Jesus. – Ishwar Sharan

A predictable component of platitudinous speeches by secularist politicians is that “Christianity was brought to India by the apostle Thomas in the 1st century AD, even before it was brought to Europe”. The intended thrust of this claim is that, unlike Hinduism which was imposed by the “Aryan invaders”, Christianity is somehow an Indian religion, even though it is expressly stated that it “was brought to India” from outside. As a matter of detail, St. Paul reported on Christian communities living in Greece, Rome and Spain in the 40s AD, [1] while St. Thomas even according to his followers only came to India in 52 AD, so by all accounts, Christianity still reached Europe before India. [2] At any rate, its origins lay in West Asia, outside India. But this geographical primacy is not the main issue here. More importantly, there is nothing factual, nor secular, about the claim that Thomas ever came to India.

Thomas of CanaThat claim is a stark instance of what secularists would denounce in other cases as a “myth”. By this, I don’t mean that it was concocted in a backroom conspiracy, then propagated by obliging mercenary scribes (the way many Hindus imagine the colonial origins of the “Aryan invasion myth” came into being). It came about in a fairly innocent manner, through a misunderstanding, a misreading of an apocryphal text, the miracle-laden hagiography Acts of Thomas. This is not the place to discuss the unflattering picture painted of Thomas in his own hagiography, which credits him with many anti-social acts. The point for now is that the text never mentions nor describes the subcontinent but merely has the apostle go from Palestine eastwards to a desert-like country where people are “Mazdei” [Zoroastrian] and have Persian names. This is definitely not lush and green Kerala. Not only is there no independent record of Thomas ever coming near India, but the only source claimed for this story, doesn’t even make this claim either.

However, we know of a Thomas of Cana [3] who led a group of Christian refugees from Iran in the 4th century, when the christianisation of the Roman empire caused the Iranians to see their Syriac-speaking Christian minority as a Roman fifth column. The name “Thomas Christians” may originally have referred to this 4th-century leader. [4]

Then again, those refugees may also have been “Thomas Christians” before their migration to India in the sense that their Christian community had been founded in Iran [viz. Church of Fars] by the apostle Thomas. That he lived and worked in some Iranian region is attested and likely, but in no case did he ever settle in India.

Eusebius of CaesareaThe Church Fathers Clement of Alexandra, Origen and Eusebius confirm explicitly that he settled in “Parthia”, a part of the Iranian world. From the 3rd century, we do note an increasing tendency among Christian authors to locate him in a place labelled “India”, as does the Acts of Thomas. But it must be borne in mind that this term was very vague, designating the whole region extending from Iran eastwards. [5] Remember that when Columbus had landed in America, which he thought was East Asia, he labelled the indigenous people “Indians”, meaning “Asians”. Afghanistan is one area that was Iranian-speaking and predominantly Mazdean [Zoroastrian] but often considered part of “India”. Moreover, in some periods of history it was even politically united with parts of “India” in the narrow sense. So, Afghanistan may well be the “Western India” where Pope Benedict placed St. Thomas in his controversial speech in September 2006, to the dismay of the South Indian bishops.

While the belief that Thomas settled in South India came about as an honest mistake, the claim that he was martyred by Brahmins was always a deliberate lie, playing upon a possible confusion between the consonants of the expression “be ruhme”, meaning “with a spear”, and those of “Brahma” (Semitic alphabets usually don’t specify vowels). That was the gratitude Hindus received in return for extending their hospitality to the Christian refugees: being blackened as the murderers of the refugees’ own hero. If the Indian bishops have any honour, they will themselves remove this false allegation from their discourse and their monuments, including the cathedral in Chennai built at the site of Thomas’s purported martyrdom (actually the site of a Shiva temple). Indeed, they will issue a historic declaration expressing their indebtedness to Hindu hospitality and pluralism and pledging to renounce their anti-Hindu animus.

Sri RamaSecularists keep on reminding us that there is no archaeological evidence for Rama’s travels, and from this they deduce the non sequitur that Rama never existed, indeed that “Rama’s story is only a myth”. But in Rama’s case, we at least do have a literary testimony, the Ramayana, which in the absence of material evidence may or may not be truthful, while in the case of Thomas’s alleged arrival in India, we don’t even have a literary account. The text cited in the story’s favour doesn’t even have him come to a region identifiable as South India. That is why Christian scholars outside India have no problem abandoning the myth of Thomas’s landing in Kerala and of his martyrdom in Tamil Nadu. I studied at the Catholic University of Louvain, and our Jesuit professor of religious history taught us that there is no data that could dignify the Thomas legend with the status of history.

This eliminates the last excuse the secularists might offer for repeating the Thomas legend, viz. that the historical truth would hurt the feelings of the Christian minority. 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 mentioned above) 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. – Extracted from the foreword to The Myth of Saint Thomas and the Mylapore Shiva Temple, Voice of India, New Delhi, 1995.

» Dr Koenraad Elst is a Flemish Indologist and historian from Belgian who frequently visits India to lecture. He is a leading Voice of India author.


1. India’s political leaders are fond of telling their constituents and the nation that Christianity arrived in India before it arrived in Europe. This historical conceit is not true. Apostle Paul says in Romans 15:24 & 15:28 that he plans to visit Spain (which already had a Christian community). In Acts 19:21 he travels from Ephesus to Greece—Macedonia and Achaia—en route to Jerusalem, and then on to Rome. This took place in the 40s CE—some historians say he was writing after 44 CE. So even if it was true that Apostle Thomas landed in Kerala in 52 CE—the spurious date is of 19th century origin—Christianity would still have arrived in Europe a decade earlier. – IS

Jawaharlal Nehru2. Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru provides an excellent example of how some innocents abroad lap up lies sold by powerful organizations. “You may be surprised to learn,” he wrote his daughter, Indira, on April 12, 1932, “that Christianity came to India long before it went to England or Western Europe, and when even in Rome it was a despised and proscribed sect. Within a hundred years or so of the death of Jesus, Christian missionaries came to South India by sea…. They converted a large number of people.” (Glimpses of World History, OUP reprint, fourth impression, 1987, quoted by Sita Ram Goel in History of Hindu-Christian Encounters: AD 304 to 1996, Second Revised Edition, Voice of India, New Delhi, 1996.) – IS

3. Thomas of Cana, known variously as Thomas of Jerusalem, Thomas the Merchant and to Syrian Christians as Knai Thoma, led the first group of 72 Syrian Christian families to India in 345 CE. There is no record of Christian communities in India prior to this date. Thomas of Cana and his companion Bishop Joseph of Edessa also brought with them the tradition of St Thomas the Apostle of the East. Later, Christian communities in Kerala would identify Knai Thoma with Mar Thoma—Thomas of Cana with Thomas the Apostle—and claim St Thomas had arrived in Kerala in AD 52 and established the first Christian church at Musiris—the ancient port near present day Kodungallur—the main trading center of the day.

The Rev Dr G. Milne Rae of the Madras Christian College, in The Syrian Church in India, did not allow that St Thomas came further east than Afghanistan (Gandhara). He told the Syrian Christians that they reasoned fallaciously about their identity and wove a fictitious story of their origin. Their claim that they were called “St Thomas” Christians from the 1st century was also false.

4. Syrian Christians were called Nasranis (from Nazarean) or Nestorians (by Europeans) up to the 14th century. Bishop Giovanni dei Marignolli the Franciscan papal legate in Quilon invented the appellation “St Thomas Christians” in 1348 to distinguish his Syrian Christian converts from the low-caste Hindu converts in his congregation.

5. 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.Ancient writers used the designation “India” for all countries south and east of the Roman Empire’s frontiers. India included Ethiopia, Arabia Felix, Edessa in Syria (in the Latin version of the Syriac Diatessaron), Arachosia and Gandhara (Afghanistan and Pakistan), and many countries up to the China Sea. In the Acts of Thomas, the original key text to identify St Thomas with India (which all other India references follow), historians agree that the term India refers to Parthia (Persia) and Gandhara (Afghanistan-Pakistan). The city of Andrapolis named in the Acts, where Judas Thomas and Abbanes landed in India, has been tentartively identified as Sandaruck (one of the ancient Alexandrias) in Balochistan. – IS

San Thome Cathedral: This tableau of St. Thomas and his Hindu assassin was built after the publication of Ishwar Sharan's book in 1995. Its objective is to malign the Hindu community with the accusation of the murder of a Christian apostle and saint, and to further the propagation of the St. Thomas legend which has made India's bishops very wealthy and supports their political claim on India.

See also

About the St Thomas reference in Shashi Tharoor’s book Pax Indica – Poulasta Chakraborthy

Shashi Tharoor

St Thomas by Georges de la Tour  (1593 – 1652)This sounds like a good story. And that’s what it is: a good story. All those statements on Thomas made by Tharoor, Nehru and Prasad are not based on any solid historical evidence. They are just repetitions of a well established legend. – Poulasta Chakraborthy

Page 280 of former minister and current Member of Parliament, Shashi Tharoor’s book Pax Indica contains an interesting assertion.

Christianity arrived on Indian soil with St. Thomas the Apostle (‘Doubting Thomas’), who came to the Malabar Coast sometime before 52 CE and was welcomed on shore, or so oral legend has it, by a flute playing Jewish girl. He made many converts, so there are Indians today whose ancestors were Christians well before any Europeans discovered Christianity.

Although Tharoor identifies the incident of St. Thomas being welcomed to Malabar by a flute-playing Jewish girl as part of folklore, he states that the arrival of St. Thomas to the Malabar Coast as a historical fact.

The good news is that he’s not the first one to state that myth as a historical truth. The biggest of political leaders in India have obediently accepted this historical myth. In one of his works, the nation’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru wrote:

Few people realise that Christianity came to India as early as the first century after Christ, long before Europe turned to it, and established a firm hold in South India….

This statement was repeated in a different way by Dr. Rajendra Prasad in his St. Thomas Day speech at New Delhi, in 1955:

Remember St. Thomas came to India when many countries in Europe had not yet become Christian and so these Indians who trace their Christianity to him have a longer history and a higher ancestry than that of Christians of many of the European countries. And it is a matter of pride for us that it happened….

This famous legend as well as the assertion that Christianity came to India before it went to Europe is a tactic to make it a sort of indigenous religion, even if it came from the Middle East. The statements made by our great leaders are based on the following incidents:

St. Thomas, one of the twelve apostles of Christ (itself a disputed fact), came to India in 52 CE. He landed at Maliankara (Cranganore) in Kerala, preached the Gospel, produced miracles, and got many converts.

Then he went to Mailepuram (Mylapore), and from there to China, but after some time returned to Maliankara, and from there came again to Mylapore where he spent the rest of his life preaching, converting a large number of the low-caste Hindus.

The aforesaid points make St. Thomas appear as socio-religious reformer who aimed to ameliorate the woes of local residents—specifically those suppressed under the caste system. As every tale of reformers goes St. Thomas was also disliked by the orthodox elements (which in the Indian context are the Brahmins) of the land that were determined to finish him. This risky situation made Thomas take refuge in a cave at a mountain located near the present St. Thomas Mount. Unfortunately the great Saint was murdered by one of those zealous Brahmins at St. Thomas Mount. His body was brought to Mylapore and buried in 73 CE.

This sounds like a good story. And that’s what it is: a good story. All those statements on Thomas made by Tharoor, Nehru and Prasad are not based on any solid historical evidence. They are just repetitions of a well established legend.

Syrian bishop with Pope Benedict

Now let’s see what some historical, and even Christian religious texts have to say about this tale:

  1. D. Burnell, in an article in the Indian Antiquary of May 1875, writes, “The attribution of the origin of South Indian Christianity to the apostle Thomas seems very attractive to those who hold certain theological opinion. But the real question is, on what evidence does it rest? Without real or sufficient evidence so improbable a circumstance is to be at once rejected. Pious fictions have no place in historical research.”
  2. Prof. Jarl Charpentier, in St. Thomas the Apostle and India, writes, “There is absolutely not the shadow of a proof that an Apostle of our Lord be his name Thomas or something else — ever visited South India or Ceylon and founded Christian communities there.”
  3. Rev. J. Hough, in Christianity in India, writes, “It is not probable that any of the Apostles of our Lord embarked on a voyage … to India.”
  4. Cosmas the Alexandrian, a 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 as noted in his Christian Topography. There is no mention of any Thomas in his works.
  5. Regarding the fabled Apostle of Jesus, Thomas, early Church Fathers like Clement of Alexandria, Origen and Eusebius had stated outright 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 an Ecclesiastical History, the second edition of which survives and is a valuable source of early church history. None of those sources speak of St. Thomas visiting India.
  6. Bishop Stephen Neill who had spent many years in South India examined the St. Thomas story as late as 1984. “A number of scholars,” wrote Neill, “among whom are to be mentioned with respect Bishop A.E. Medlycott, J.N. Farquhar and Jesuit Dahlman, have built on slender foundations what can only be called Thomas romances, such as reflect vividness of their imagination rather than the prudence of historical critics…. Millions of Christians in India are certain that the founder of their church was none other than the apostle Thomas himself. The historian cannot prove it to them that they are mistaken in their belief. He may feel it right to warn them that historical research cannot pronounce on the matter with a confidence equal to that which they entertain by faith.”

And to top them all, in September 2006, Pope Benedict XVI himself declared that Thomas never came to India. But his declaration was toned down after a complaint from the so-called St. Thomas Christians who still believe Thomas came to India and converted their ancestors. Now the question: where did it all begin?

Bardaisan / BardesanesThe chief source of this tale is a Gnostic Syrian fable, Acts of Thomas, written by a poet named Bardesanes at Edessa around 201 CE. The text says the apostle went from Palestine eastwards to a desert-like country where people are ‘Mazdei’ (a term used for Zoroastrians) and have Persian names. The term “India” in Acts is used as a synonym for Asia.

The Acts 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. Even in this story, it is clear that St. Thomas never visited India.

Thomas of CanaThere is another popular fable among Indian Christians about one Thomas of Cana, a merchant who led a group of 400 Christians from Babylon and Nineveh, out of Persia in the 4th century CE, when Christianization of the Roman Empire motivated the Persians to persecute their Syriac-speaking Christian minority. These Christians apparently landed in Malabar around 345 CE.

Based on this tale, a section of St. Thomas Christians believe Thomas of Cana to be known as St. Thomas.

And so it is clear that nothing much is known about St. Thomas beyond these stories which have been refuted by historical evidence.

Even after reading the refutation of this tale of St. Thomas by strong historical evidence, the likes of Tharoor will claim that these ‘fables’ are historical facts, in no less than a full length book of the genre Pax Indica belongs to. The reason is not far to seek: Tharoor’s parroting of the St. Thomas myth arises from the Indian secularist template for keeping the secular fabric of India intact.

Sita Ram GoelBut there are deeper, more fundamental reasons why the St. Thomas myth must be debated and re-debated.

The reason is given in detail by Sita Ram Goel in his Papacy: Its Doctrine and History.

Firstly, it is one thing for some Christian refugees to come to a country and build some churches, and quite another for an apostle of Jesus Christ to appear in flesh and blood for spreading the Good News. If it can be established that Christianity is as ancient in India as the prevailing forms of Hinduism, no one can nail it down as an imported creed brought in by Western imperialism.

Secondly, the Catholic Church in India stands badly in need of a spectacular martyr of its own. Unfortunately for it, St. Francis Xavier died a natural death and that, too, in a distant place. Hindus, too, have persistently refused to oblige the Church in this respect, in spite of all provocations. The Church has to use its own resources and churn out something. St. Thomas, about whom nobody knows anything, offers a ready-made martyr.

Thirdly, the Catholic Church can malign the Brahmins more confidently. Brahmins have been the main target of its attack from the beginning. Now it can be shown that the Brahmins have always been a vicious brood, so much so that they would not stop from murdering a holy man who was only telling God’s own truth to a tormented people. At the same time, the religion of the Brahmins can be held responsible for their depravity.

Fourthly, the Catholics in India need no more feel uncomfortable when faced with historical evidence about their Church’s close cooperation with the Portuguese pirates, in committing abominable crimes against the Indian people. The commencement of the Church can be disentangled from the advent of the Portuguese by dating the Church to some distant past. The Church was here long before the Portuguese arrived. It was a mere coincidence that the Portuguese also called themselves Catholics. Guilt by association is groundless.

To reword a phrase used by the famed novelist S.L. Bhyrappa ‘Secularism can never be strengthened by projecting historical lies.’ Hence it is imperative for students of history as well as those claiming to be historians to challenge these distortions in our public discourse. – India Facts, 1 August 2014


  1. Ishwar Sharan, The Myth of St. Thomas and the Mylapore Shiva Temple
  2. Sandhya Jain, Merchant Thomas to Saint Thomas
  3. Tejasvi Surya, The Mylapore St. Thomas Myth that just doesn’t seem to die: Part 1 [and 2]
  4. Ishwar Sharan, Wikipedia & Encyclopaedia: Their counterfeit St. Thomas entries exposed

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

Marco Polo's alleged route to China and back West via India

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 identify. Many historians accept these dates and visits without question, and following the Portuguese 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.

Marco 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. New research reveals that 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. The scholars at Oxford suggest that the stories recorded in Il Milioneso-called because it contained a million lieswere 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 may never have left Constantinople where he collected his stories from Muslim and Syrian Christian traders. (Deccan Chronicle 5 Aug 2011)

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 by none other than the famous poet Dante Alighieri. His book, properly called Book of the Marvels of the World was known by the popular title Il Milione which means “a million lies”. – IS

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 Marvels 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 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. 

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