The first visit of Thomas AD 30~44 (Indo-Parthian kingdom) - The truth behind the Legend.

I’m a firm believer that truth is stranger than fiction; that the foundation of nearly every legend has some grain of truth to it. People rarely invent a story entirely from scratch; it’s based on something they’ve heard, seen, or read about.
There is no doubt that the Acts of Judas Thomas is a very imaginative reconstruction of the world of Judas Thomas and his travels and work in India. It is neither fiction nor history but it is both. It contains truth and fiction written in very lively narrative form reflecting both theology of the East Syrian church and the history of the origins of Christianity in India. This articles only consider the historicity of the apocalyptical work “acts of judas Thomas” which I consider an imaginative narrative of the works of Thomas between AD 30~44(year of the Assumption of Virgin Mary).

There are historians who argue that Thomas went only to the North West and they deny the south Indian tradition. Then there are others, who deny the Acts of Thomas as a reliable historical source and accept only the south Indian tradition.

There is a third group who argue for both places. Bishop Medlycott, H. Heras, J.N. Farquhar and S.H. Moffett are some of them. Medlycott thinks of two separate journeys, one from Palestine through Mesopotamia and Persia by land to north west India, the other, after a return to Palestine, via Egypt and Ethiopia and Socotra and thence across the Arabian Sea to Malabar. (Medlycott, op.cit.. pp. I47-148.) J.N. Farquhar thinks of one journey in the East. He says that St. Thomas first went to north western India travelling by sea and up the river Indus, but had to leave because of the Kushan invasions, which eventually wiped out the Christians of that region so that no trace remained. Then he left India by sea, landed in Socotra and spent some time there during which he made converts; and afterwards he sailed for India again and came to Malabar, from where in due course he crossed over to the east coast. He mentions that Thomas even went to Burma, and after returning to India he was martyred at Mylapore. (C.B. Firth op.cit.. pp. 16-17: IN. Farquhar, ‘The Apostle Thomas in North India and the Apostle Thomas in South India,’ Manchester, The Bulletin of John Ryland’s Library, x:l and xi:l.) .

The acts of Judas Thomas

The Twelve, says the Acts of Judas Thomas, gathered in Jerusalem to decide how to carry out their master's injunction to "teach all nations." They divided the world by lot, to determine which part each should evangelize. Thomas drew India. He resisted the mission. Indians, he said, were too hard-hearted to receive the message, and besides, he did not speak their language. Jesus appeared in a vision to reassure him: "Fear not, Thomas, because my grace is with you" Thomas still balked: "Send me, Lord, wheresoever’s you will, but to India I will not go."If we study the book of Martyrs of the East, it has written that while the Holy Spirit descended on the Jesus disciples, the majority of the disciples traveled to the different parts of the world to preach the Bible, but Thomas stayed in the Jerusalem.
Meeting with the emissary from Gundaphorus.

Gundaphorus despatches Habban to find an architect

Meanwhile, the King of the India (Indo-Parthian kingdom) decided to build a palace for his kingdom; therefore he was looking for the architecture. Hence he sent his ambassadors to the Jerusalem to find someone for his project. The ambassadors met a man who told them; I do have a servant which is a skilled architecture. Afterward Thomas has been introduced to them. Thomas understood that he is his Lord and Master. First he refused to accept the offer and travel to the India, because the India’s name meaning the end of the world. Nevertheless his lord ordered him to go and said to him:”at this moment you have to preach the bible in that region. Consequently he was sold by 20 coins to the Indian client .And also the man told him: your Master was sold by 30 coins. Are you more valuable than him? Thomas honored the order and started his journey to the India.During his journey to the India he stopped in the Mesopotamia and Persia, and became a preacher and forerunner of the Jesus doctrines. Later on he asked one of his pupils by the name of Addi to continue preaching the Bible in these regions. Thomas passed through several lands but he never stops his preaching the Bible. A lot of the people converted to the Christianity faith and they have been baptized by him.
Severed Hand and a Heavenly Wedding-In the royal city of Andrapolis.
Andropolis a Royal City
According to the Acts of Judas Thomas, the apostle and his new master first touched land in a city called Andrapolis. There the local king was celebrating the marriage of his only daughter. A royal message commanded everyone in town, citizen and foreigner alike, high or low, to take part in the wedding feast and to show appropriate jubilation. Reluctantly, Thomas went to a banqueting hall, but he took no part in the festivities. He ate no food and drank no wine, reclined at table with his eyes cast down, and ignored an attentive Jewish flute-girl, who thought him the handsomest man in the hall.A cupbearer, taking umbrage at Thomas's glum withdrawal, clouted him on the ear. Thomas responded with an odd prophecy. His God, he said, would forgive his assailant in the world to come, "but in this world He will show His wonder on the hand which smote me, and I shall see it dragged along by a dog." Thomas then sang a wedding hymn in Hebrew--not in celebration of the royal marriage then in progress but in praise of a spiritual union in a celestial realm. The song begins with praise of "the maiden" who is "the daughter of light." "Truth rests upon her head." Those who had received the light of the "Father of all" and had been enlightened by the vision of their Lord, "glorified and praised, with the Living Spirit, the Father of Truth and the Mother of Wisdom."
In the festive company only the flute-girl had understood Thomas's words to the offending servitor, for he had spoken in Hebrew. And only she had understood the words of his Hebrew hymn. Now she threw herself at Thomas's feet, exclaiming that he was either God or the apostle of God. She told the assembled guests of his prophecy about the cupbearer's hand, which all had seen in the dog's mouth. Word of this astonishing episode reached the king, who then had Thomas brought to his daughter's bridal chamber to pray for and bless the newlyweds. There, after the demonstration of his prophetic powers in the incident of the cupbearer's hand, he was to bless the newlyweds. Thomas prayed to his Lord, invoking him as, among other things, "he that reveals hidden mysteries and makes manifest words that are secret." At the end of his prayer he blessed the young couple, and then he left the room.The groom likewise renounced worldly marriage, and was thankful that Thomas had set him free from temporal things and held him worthy of those that are immortal and everlasting.
He thanked the Lord also for showing him how "to seek myself and know who I was and who and in what manner I now am, that I can again become that which I was." Outraged, the king ordered that Thomas be brought before him. The apostle, however, had already left that royal city, one step ahead of the king's police; he went with Habban to the court of King Gundaphorus. Habban had brought the disciple; it will be recalled, to build a palace for the Indian king.
With the king Gundaphorus (Indo-Parthian king).

Thomas is introduced to the King

Questioned about his skills by Gundaphorus, Thomas replied that he was a carpenter and a builder. (Thomas is portrayed in religious art as holding a carpenter's rule and square. In the middle Ages he became the patron saint of architects, masons, and stone cutters.) He could make "pillars, temples, and courthouses for kings." Could Thomas build a palace for him, the monarch asked. Yes, he could both build and furnish such a structure. The king took him outside the city gates, discussing practical matters such as foundations and building methods, and pointed out where he wanted the palace. But Thomas said that, because the ground was marshy, he could not begin work until winter came. He did, however, sketch the ground plan with a stick. Gundaphorus was apparently satisfied. Having to absent himself from his capital for a long time, he left Thomas money and departed.
According to the Acts of Judas Thomas the apostle hewed no timbers and laid no stones for Gundaphorus. Upon the king's return to his capital friends told him that Thomas had built nothing, but had been giving everything to the poor, preaching a new god, healing the sick, driving out devils, and performing other wonders. "We think him to be a sorcerer," they said. And yet, they added, he was so simple and kind, praying and fasting continually, eating only bread, drinking only water, wearing always the same old garment, that he must be considered a righteous man or an apostle of the new god.
Gundaphorus sent for Habban and Thomas. "Have you built me the palace?" he asked the apostle. "Yea," was the response? The king asked when they could go to see it. You cannot see it now, said Thomas, "but when you depart this life, then you shall see it." In a fury, the king ordered that Thomas and Habban be chained and cast into prison. Having further thought about appropriate punishment, he decided to have them flayed alive, then burnt. The apostle, meanwhile, cheerfully assured Habban he had nothing to fear if he would believe in God. Then "you shall indeed be set free from this world, but from the world to come you shall receive

Thomas restores Kings brother to Life

Before the royal sentence could be carried out, the king's brother Gad (The historic Gundaphorus had a brother whose name is usually transliterated as Guda) fell sick, rapidly worsened, and died. Angels took Gad's soul up to heaven, showed him celestial palaces, and asked which of these he would like to have. He chose one. When told that it had been built by Thomas and reserved for his brother, Gad asked to be allowed to visit earth and try to persuade the king to sell it.Miraculously restored to life, at least briefly, Gad begged his brother to let him have the heavenly palace. What palace? asked the king. The one built by that Christian who is now in prison, the Hebrew slave whom you want to punish for deceit, was Gad's reply. The king then realized what eternal benefits lay in store for him as a result of the apostle's good deeds. He freed Thomas and Habban. Moreover, Gundaphorus asked Thomas to pray that he be forgiven for what he had earlier done, and that he might "become a worthy inhabiter of that dwelling" and "a servant [to] this God whom you preach." His brother joined in this entreaty. Full of joy, Thomas praised Lord Jesus for revealing the truth to these men and prayed that they be received into the fold. The brothers begged to receive "the seal of the word." The necessary preparations were made and the king and his brother were baptized. Thomas continued his preaching, making many converts.
Then Thomas was sent for by another king called Mazdai in another part of India to heal his wife and daughter who were possessed of devils. The women were restored to sanity and they decided to abandon marriage. Many members of the royal family were converted. The king was angry and put Thomas to death. Later when one of the king’s sons became insane, they opened Thomas’s tomb hoping that a touch of the holy man’s bones may cure the child. But the grave was found empty. However, the king took some dust from the tomb and put it on the child. The child was cured and the king became a Christian.

Theological Orthodoxy

For a long time several historians considered the Acts of Judas Thomas as of no historical value. They pointed out that the teaching of the Acts was unorthodox and the stories told were fantastic. The aim of the author was to establish the doctrine that marriage is sinful and Christians ought to abstain from it, and therefore the book was of Gnostic origin. Today historians are inclined to take more seriously the historical value of the Acts of Thomas and its theological orthodoxy. F.C. Burkitt, Arthur Voobus and several other historians have shown that the emphasis on celibacy and abstinence from marriage belonged to an authentic tradition of the Syrian church till the fourth century. L.W. Brown observes, "The great stress on celibacy as a way of salvation, and the emphasis on the miraculous are not in themselves proof of a non-Catholic origin for the Acts, as even in the time of Aphrates only the unmarried could be baptized in Edessa." (LW. Brown, op.cit,, p.43.).R. Murray points out how at several points the Acts of Thomas reflect the theology of the East Syrian church. Reflecting the asceticism of the East Syrian church, the Acts tells how Thomas refused to receive silver and gold from people. In Acts six of the book, Thomas thanks God that he has become an ascetic and a pauper and wanderer for God. The East Syrian writers when they speak of incarnation, speak of Christ putting on the body as a garment. Murray writes," ‘Christ put on the body’. This simple image of clothing is the Syriac fathers’ favourite way of describing the Incarnation. It occurs consistently in the Acts of Judas Thomas, while inDidascalia it comes as a heading.... (R. Murray, op cit., p.69.) Again Murray says, "The invocations to the Mother-spirit to descend on the candidate for baptism in the Acts of Judas Thomas are typical of early Syriac literature." (Ibid., p. 80.) Drivers also points out that the literary heritage of the early Syriac-speaking church is reflected in the Acts of Thomas, Odes of Solomon and in Tatian’s Diatessiron.


Till the middle of the 19th century, no king by the name Gundaphorus was known in Indian history. Since AD 1834 numerous coins have been found in the Punjab and Afghanistan bearing his name in Greek on one side and in Pali on the other, and they are dated to be from the first half of the first century. In some coins the name of Gad, his brother is also found. There is also a stone inscription (now in Lahore museum) containing his name and dates which tell us that he was an Indo-Parthian prince in the north western part of India (from AD 19-45) at the time when St. Thomas is supposed to have come there. In this connection Stephen Neill has raised an important point. "We have no means of knowing how it came about that the name of Gondophorus whose time and succession had wholly vanished from the earth was still remembered in a syriac speaking country at least a century, perhaps considerably more than a century, after his death". Stephen Neill himself answers it thus: "It appears that there had been more contact between north-west India and the countries now known as Iran and Iraq, than had been generally supposed. (Stephen Neill, A History of Christianity in India, Cambridge University Press, 1984, p.28.) He is certainly right in pointing out the frequent contact between north-west India and the countries now known as Iraq and Iran in the early centuries of the Christian era. But contacts alone need not retain in Edessa the memory of a Parthian king after a century and half. What Stephen Neill failed to recognise was the possibility of a tradition existing in Edessa at the time of the writing of the Acts of Thomas that Thomas worked in the kingdom of Gundaphorus. Whatever else may be legendary, one thing is certain that the author of the Acts of Judas Thomas was fully aware of a tradition in Edessa of St. Thomas’s work in the kingdom of Gundaphorus in north west India. As L.W. Brown notes there was a considerable Jewish colony in north-western India in the first century, which might have attracted the attention of the first Christian missionaries.

The Gondopharid dynasties, and other so-called Indo-Parthian rulers, were a group of ancient kings who ruled in present-day Afghanistan, Pakistan and Northern India, during or slightly before the 1st century AD. For most of their history, the leading Gondopharid kings held Taxila (in present-day Pakistan) as their residence, but during the last few years of their existence the capital was at Kabul (present-day Afghanistan). These kings have traditionally been referred to as Indo-Parthians, as their coinage was often inspired by the Arsacid dynasty, but they probably belonged to a wider groups of Iranian tribes who lived east of Parthia proper, and there is no evidence that all the kings who assumed the title Gondophares, which means ”Holder of Glory”, were even related.. Recent research by R.C. Senior shows with some certainty that the king who best fits the references in acts of Thomas is Gondophares-Sases, the fourth king using the title Gondophares.There are some claims based on historical, anthropological, and linguistic evidence indicating that the Southern Indian kingdom of the Pallavas was originally founded by the Parthians, either from Iran or from the territories of the Indo-Parthians in northwestern India, also called Pahlavas in Indian literature. These Pahlavas of Indo-Iranian descent would have migrated Southward and first settled in Krishna river valley of present day coastal Andhra Pradesh. This region is called Palnadu or Pallavanadu even today. Pallavas later extended their sway up to Northern Tamil region and established a flourishing empire.

The Royal City of Andrapolis.

Historians differ as to the exact location of Andrapolis, whether it was within India proper or a nearby place. In the story it is said that Abban and Thomas first landed in a royal city called Andrapolis. According to Warmington, Andrapolis was the capital of the Andhra Kingdom in Deccan and was in India. Some even argue that it was the ancient port muzhiris in south India but considering the all the options it should be the present day Bombay region (i.e. with Jewish population and under Andra dynasty or Satavahanas).Act gave some idea about the Jewish presence in Andrapolis i.e. Jewish flute-girl). (The Bene Israel of Bombay or Sibor- The traditions of the community trace their descent to Jews who escaped persecution in Galilee in the 2nd century BCE, though the Bene Israel resemble the non-Jewish Maratha people in appearance and customs. The Bene Israel, however, maintained the practices of Jewish dietary laws, circumcision and observation of Sabbath as a day of rest).

St Thomas Christian tradition in Urmia(Iran).

"Lift up a banner in the land! Blow the trumpet among the nations! Prepare the nations for battle against her; summon against her these kingdoms: Ararat, Minni and Ashkenaz. Appoint a commander against her; send up horses like a swarm of locusts. Jeremiah 51:27.

The Mannaeans (country name usually Mannea; Akkadian: Mannai, possibly Biblical Minni, מנּי) were an ancient people who lived in the territory of present-day Iran and Azerbaijan, around the 10th to 7th centuries BC.In the Bible (Jeremiah 51:27) the Mannaeans are called the Minni. According to the place and personal names found in Assyrian and Urartian texts, the Mannaeans, or at least their rulers, spoke Hurrian, a non-Semitic and non-Indo-European language with no modern language connections.The city of Urmia (Urmiyeh), in northwest of Iran, is considered one of the ancient cities of the country and a Cradle of Christian civilization. The people of urmi is famous for their deep devotion to marth mariyam, Marthoma , St. Cyriacus (Mar Kuryakus). Mart Maryam Church - Urmia belived to be stabled in 1st century. This church structure is considered to be the oldest existing church building in the world (with minor renovations). The claim that the area was the birthplace of Zoroaster, or even the burial site of one or two of the Zoroastrian priests who allegedly traveled to Bethlehem for Christ’s birth indicate that the city has been one of the largest religious and scientific centers of the ancient times.

Lake Urmia (Azerbaijani: اورمو گؤلو, Persian: دریاچه ارومیه, Daryâcheh-ye Orumiyeh (or Oroumieh), ancient name: Lake Matiene) is a salt lake in northwestern Iran, near Iran's border with Turkey. The lake is named after the provincial capital city of Urmia, originally a Syriac name meaning city of water. Its ancient Persian name was Chichast (meaning, "glittering"--a reference to its glittering mineral particles suspended in the lake water and its shores.Lake Matianus (Latin: Lacus Matianus) is an old name for Lake Urmia. It was the center of the Mannaean Kingdom, a potential Mannaean settlement represented by the ruin mound of Hasanlu was on the south side of Lake Matianus. Mannae was overrun by a people who were called Matiani or Matieni, an Iranic people variously identified as Scythian, Saka, Sarmatian, or Cimmerian.Tradition tells us that when St. Thomas, one of the apostles of Christ,was on his journey to India, he passed and spent a night near Urmia Lake in Persia.; and on the very spot where he rested that night, a church was erected. The same church is still to be found on the borders of Urmia Lake, a little village called Mar Nochah (the Lord`s resting-place) sur-rounding it.The third of july of every passing year is named St. Thomas day and is as a holiday. And the superstition still reigns that there is healing to gain for all kinds of sicknsses for everybody who the third of july will bath in the waters of Urmia Lake or in the spring of St. George, near the lake.

No comments:

Post a Comment