Mar John(1122 AD) and the legend of Prester John

Mar Johannan, was one of the legendary metropolitan of the Church of Malabar of St Thomas Christians, it is belived that in 1119 AD he went to Rome and received the ‘Pallium’ from Pope Calixtus II.During his visit, he exposed the Pope and the Cardinals the miracles that were wrought at the tomb of St. Thomas in Mylapore(The legend of Prester John began in earnest in the early 12th century with two reports of visits of this archbishop(Patriarch) of India to Constantinople then to Rome at the time of Pope Calixtus II ( 1119 - 1124 )) [1].Nothing much known about this prelate ie weather he was a native or a foreign missionary. Interestingly Prester John, hold the position of both the king and priest, which was a unique tradition of followed by the Malabar Arch Deacons.Another possibility is that the so called arch bishop of India was mentioning about the king of villavattom the legendary Christian dynasty in Malabar. The Villarvattom Estate was a vassal of the Chera kings and extended from the coastal islands of Chennamangalam, Maliankara and others to the north of and south of Udayamperoor. The capital of this kingdom was at Mahadevarpattanam in the island of Chennamangalam and later it was shifted to Udayamperoor when the Arab invaders attacked the island.The Udayamperor Church was built during the time of Mor Abor and Prodh but it is also believed that the Raja of Villarvattom was instrumental in getting it constructed.It may have been the fame of this christian dynasty that caused Pope Eugene in 1439 to send envoys to this king with a letter, which in Wadding’s Annales Minorum commences as follows:
”To my most beloved son in Christ, Thomas, the Illustrious Emperor of the Indians, Health and the Apostolic benediction. There often has reached us a constant rumour that Your Serenity and also all who are the subjects of your Kingdom are true Christians”
The envoys bearing this letter did not reach India, though. It is believed that at the death of the last king without issue, the kingdom lapsed to the Cochin royal family. However the local christians preserved the royal sceptre, which was a red rod probably made of wood, tipped with silver, having three small bells at the upper end. The sceptre was presented to Vasco da Gama when he came to Cochin for the first time. There has been no trace of this sceptre since then.


Alfred the Great King of Wessex (871-899)
A translation of the passage in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle for DCCCLXXXIII (DCCCLXXXIV) [883 / 884 A. D.] referring to the gifts sent by King Alfred to “Thomas in India”.
"And Alfred sends his alms to Rome, and also to Saint Thomas in India, according to a vow which he had made, when the hostile army wintered at London.And that same year Sighelm and Ethelstan carried to Rome the alms which the king had vowed to send thither and also to India, to St Thomas and to St Bartholomew, when they sat down against the army at London and there, thanks be to God, they largely obtained the object of their prayer after the vow. Asser bishop of Sherborne died and succeeded by Suithelm, who carried the alms of kin Alfred to St Thomas in India, and successfully came back from thence". [2]
We have no means of ascertaining whether Alfred’s famous mission to the shrine of St Thomas in India was a naval expedition through the Mediterranean; but that route was probably preferred to the long and more perilous journey through the deserts of central Europe and Asia. Whether his envoys reached the cost of Malabar by what is now called the “Overland route," that is, by way of Egypt, embarking again at Suez on the red Sea, or by the Euphrates and the Persian Gulf is also matter for speculation. That in the tenth century there were trading voyages from Egypt to India we learn from a geographical treatise written by Cosmos, a merchant of Alexandria surnamed. INDICO-PLEUSTES or the Indian navigator. It is probable that the fame of the precious gems and aromatic confections which Alfred`! Messengers imported from India may have assisted in turning the attention of free cities of Italy, now rising to importance, to the trade of the East. [2]


In a detailed study on the subject, Prester John:: Fiction and History, Meir Bar-Ilan(Senior Lecturer,Talmud Department and Jewish History Department,Bar-Ilan University, ISRAEL) comes to the conclusion that :

“Evidence emerging clearly from the text will immediately show that Prester John lived in India, or to be more precise, in Malabar (southern India)”.

The legend of Prester John (also Presbyter John ), popular in Europe from the 12th through the 17th centuries, told of a mythical Christian and king said to rule over a Christian nation lost amidst the Muslims and pagans in the Orient. Written accounts of this kingdom are variegated collections of medieval popular fantasy. Reportedly a descendant of one of the Three Magi , Prester John was said to be a generous ruler and a virtuous man, with a realm full of riches and strange creatures, in which the Patriarch of St. Thomas resided. His kingdom contained such marvels as the Gates of Alexander and the Fountain of Youth, and it even bordered the Earthly Paradise. Among his treasures was a mirror through which every province could be seen.At first, Prester John was imagined to be in India ; tales of the " East Syrian " Christians' evangelical success there and of St. Thomas ' sub continental travels as documented in works like the Acts of St. Thomas probably provided the first seeds of the myth. After the coming of the Mongols to the Western world accounts placed the king in Central Asia ; eventually Portuguese explorers convinced themselves they had found him in Ethiopia . Prester John's kingdom was the object of an impossible quest, inspiring generations to search for it, but remaining out of reach.


The stories of St. Thomas proselytizing in India, which date back at least to the 3rd century had obvious influence on the legend. Distorted versions of the Church of the East’s movements in Asia had a hand as well. Additionally, a kernel of the myth may have been drawn from Saint Irenaeus 's quotes, recorded by the ecclesiastical historian and bishop Eusebius , on the shadowy early Christian figure John the Presbyter of Syria , supposedly the author of two of the Epistles of John (see the 5th-century Decretum Gelasianum ). The martyr bishop Papias had been Irenaeus' teacher; Papias in turn had received his apostolic tradition from John the Presbyter . Little links this figure to the Prester John legend beyond the name, however.
The legend began in earnest in the early 12th century with two reports of visits of an archbishop of India to Constantinople and of a Patriarch of India to Rome at the time of Pope Calixtus II ( 1119 - 1124 ). In 1177, Pope Alexander III sent his friend Master Philip to find Prester John; he never did.

(This paper was published as: M. Bar-Ilan, 'Prester John: Fiction and History', History of European Ideas, 20/1-3 (1995), pp. 291-298.)

A Hebrew book of Ben-Sira was published in 1519 in Constantinople, and its appendix includes 'a copy of the letter that Priesty Juan sent to the Pope in Rome'. Although this story has several versions, its main theme is: Once upon a time, in a very remote land there was a king who was not only a great king, but a Christian priest as well. The name of that king was Prester John, and he ruled over 72 countries. His land was rich in silver and gold, and many wonderful creatures lived there. That king wrote letters to several Popes in Rome, telling them that he was a faithful Christian, and was acquainted with all kinds of unknown beasts, such as: men with horns on their foreheads and three eyes, women who fought while mounted on horses, men that lived 200 years, unicorns, etc.
This legend, like many others, can be interpreted, though not without difficulty. Indeed, early scholars who investigated the subject proved that this legend has an historical nucleus, and it is possible to distinguish between fiction and history. However, to make the whole story clear will not be easy, and this paper aims to advance, only partly, the discussion of this historical legend.[3]The story of Prester John is known today from almost 100 manuscripts, written in several languages, including Hebrew, which are scattered throughout the libraries of Europe. Since there is no possibility or room to deal with all the details of this story, or all its versions, the discussion below will be based only on the Hebrew letters of Prester John as they were edited a few years ago. [4]
It is believed that the historical nucleus of the story is rooted in the coming of one 'John, the Patriarch of the Indians', who came to Rome in the pontificate of Calixtus II in 1122. From the middle of the 12th century onward it was accepted in Europe that Prester John, king and priest, was a ruler over territories in the East, though the area of his reign was not precisely defined. It is not an easy task to separate fiction and history in this legend, and therefore three subjects only will be discussed here: the geographical location of Prester John, the relationship between his letters and the Romance of Alexander, and the origin of the circulation of his Hebrew letters in Europe.

I. Where Prester John Resided: India or Ethiopia
The former editors of the letters of Prester John, E. Ullendorff and C. F. Beckingham still wonder where Prester John lived. On page 10 they write:The Hebrew letters give no indication of identifying Prester John with the ruler of Ethiopia.Though it is true that Ethiopia is not mentioned in the letters, it will be seen later that this statement is misleading. The editors for their part are consistent: in pp. 32-33 they present a Latin text with its Hebrew translation (and an English text where the Latin is missing) as follows:

Praete janni invenitur ascendendo in Kalicut in arida... and this is true proof and well-known knowledge about the Jews who are found there near Prester John.The editors make this comment on the text:If this refers to India, see W. J. Fischel article COCHIN in Encycl. Jud. ...If it relates to Abyssinia, the reference may well be to the Falashas.This indecisive statement seems to be both the result of the learned scholars' long interest in Ethiopia, and the background of the legend that placed Prester John either in Africa or more specifically in Ethiopia. However, reading the Hebrew letters of Prester John shows that this assumption concerning the vague location of Prester John cannot, regretfully, be taken seriously. Evidence emerging clearly from the text will immediately show that Prester John lived in India, or to be more precise, in Malabar (southern India).

Connecting Prester John with India is inevitable from the Hebrew text on the one hand, while data from the legend will support the Indian origin on the other.First of all, India is mentioned several times in these letters (pp. 41, 89, 107, 119, and more). Second, Kalicut which was one of the most important port-cities in Malabar in southern India (the place where Vasco da Gama was sent), is mentioned in one of the letters.Third, these facts would definitely suffice but further evidence appears in the form of statement:

And in the large India is buried the body of St. Thomas the Apostle.[5]That is, the author knew that St. Thomas was buried in India, a belief held by the Christians of southern India.[6]Not only that, but the author of the letters knew (p. 133) about 'St. Thomas holiday', that is, apparently, St. Thomas memorial day held by the same Christians on July 3rd.[7]
Fourth, the author of the letters mentioned that pepper grew in his land (pp. 55, 91, 131), vegetation typical to Malabar in southern India, and not to Ethiopia. [8] Fifth, there are some stories in the letters concerning warriors riding elephants (pp. 71, 101, 123). It is well known that unlike the African elephant only the Asian elephant could be trained. That is to say that the letters include information about India (with which the West is more familiar than it is with Burma or Siam where trained elephants live as well), and has nothing to do with Ethiopia. [9]

Hence, after studying all the features independently and then together it is inevitable to reach the unquestionable conclusion that Prester John hailed from India. That is: the letters of Prester John tell a story about India, not Ethiopia, and it is unfortunate that legendary medieval opinions have survived and can still be found in modern scholarship. It will not be out of place here to stress that the confusion between India and Ethiopia is ancient, and was generated by the two countries' geographic location which is beyond Egypt and the Red Sea, so totally remote from Europe. [10]This naive European confusion of two different countries (so far from each other), was enhanced by traders from eastern Africa (Somali and Ethiopia), who sold goods without revealing that they were middlemen only. For example, in Ancient Rome many thought that cinnamon was imported from eastern Africa, though it actually came from India. [11]

A Black Malabari Jewish family in Cochin
Apparently, this confusion persisted as a result of the fact that both in India and Ethiopia, 'eastern' Christians lived in their own kingdom, surrounded by pagans. And, if this is not enough to confuse any medieval man whose geographical knowledge was limited anyhow, there is another fact that adds to the confusion: the letters of Prester John tell about black priests. For example: '...about the Jews... as we have heard all the time from the black priests who have come and are coming daily' (p. 33). Any layman might associate these black priests with Africa, without knowing that a major part of the population in southern India is black. Since Christians lived there, it would not be unreasonable to assume that black priests lived there as well (it should be kept in mind that the Jewish community in Cochin, on the coast of Malabar, was divided into 'white' and 'black' Jews).[12]Here are a few reasons why Prester John was searched for in Africa, though, as is claimed above, a careful reading of the text reveals that the search should have been made in India, not Africa (which even in medieval Europe could have been known).

However, in the Middle Ages it was not known where Prester John lived, and adventurers went looking for him. In the 13th century Marco Polo identified Prester John with the Khan of the Kereit, a tribe in Mongolia which was then Nestorian Christian. Others continued searching for him in China. In the 15th century the Portugese looked for Prester John all over Africa, when others were sure that the legendary king was living in Ethiopia. In the middle of the 16th century the King of Ethiopia was nicknamed 'Prester John' by the Europeans, and it should be noted that the description of the search for Prester John reads like a detective story.[13] Apparently, in the 17th century, after the Europeans had learned that there was no one by the name of Presterr John living in Ethiopia, the story was abandoned and considered a legend until the beginning of historical research in the 19th century.Whatever the facts were, it is important to stress that according to the Hebrew letters of Prester John, there is no doubt that he lived in India. If it was not known until then, probably because experts in the subject concentrated on retracing the medieval search for Prester John, thus disregarding the geographical facts appearing in the letters, and failing to analyze the Hebrew letters with the necessary care.

II. The geographical origin of the letters of Prester John
Compared with the confusion about India and Ethiopia, it seems that tracing the geographical origin of the letters of Prester John will be much easier since most sources hint that the letters were composed in Italy.It was S. Krauss who claimed that several Hebrew words in these letters reflect Italian, as is easily seen.[16]To this linguistic conclusion one should add the fact that historically, Italian Jews were mostly familiar with the letters as is seen in several letters written by Italian Jewish sages writing from the Land of Israel, letters that show some knowledge of Prester John (Pietro Juan, Priesti Juani).[17]It is evident in the book of Yosipon, a book that was written in 10th century Italy,[18] that Italian Jews were acquainted with the Romance of Alexander which influenced the letters of Prester John, as stated above. Besides, it seems that the interest the author(s) found in letters sent to different Popes reflects his geographical proximity to Rome. Needless to say that from these facts no definite conclusion can be drawn, though they all strengthen the Italian origin of the letters. However, there are two pieces of evidence that tie Italy with Prester John's kingdom in India.

In a book written in 16th century Italy, Masoret haMasoret, by R. Eliahu Levita, this story is written:Now, when I was in Rome, I saw three Chaldeans, who arrived from the country of Prester John, having been sent for by Pope Leo X. They were masters of the Syriac language and literature, though their vernacular language was Arabic. The special language, however, wherein the books were written, as well as that of the gospels of the Christians which they brought with them was Syriac, which is also called Aramean, Babylonian, Assyrian... Pope Leo X. had sent for them, in order to correct by their Codices his exemplar of his New Testament, which was written in Latin. ...Now I saw them reading this (Syriac) Psalter without points, and asked them, Have you points, or any signs to indicate the vowels? and they answered me: "No! but we have been conversant with that language from our youth till now, and therefore, know how to read without points.[19]
Here is a direct contact of a Jew of Rome with people (that is: priests), from the country of Prester John in the pontificate of Pope Leo X (1513- 21). Though the precise location of these people is not mentioned, it is clear that Eliahu Levita wrote of Nestorians that is Christians that lived in northern Syria, southern Iraq and India. There is evidence that in the 18th century a rich Jew from Cochin financed bringing a Nestorian patriarch from Iraq to Malabar, India,[20] and it is assumed that there were strong relationships between Christians in Iraq and India even centuries earlier. That is to say that an Italian Jew identified the location of Prester John with a place where Christians read the New Testament in Aramaic that is Syriac. This does not specifically indicate that India was the location of the legend, though Christians there used to read Syriac but it is needless to say that Ethiopia is not under consideration here.
Note:Joseph, the Indian is a famous character in the History of Medieval India. He was a Christian priest from Malabar who had travelled to Mesopotamia(1490), Europe(1502), visited the Holy Patriarch of the East and ordained as a Priest by Him, and also visited the Holy Patriarch of the Western Church- the Pope of Rome and declared the identity and ecclesiology of the St Thomas’ Christians to western Christianity in the year 1502. Joseph was interviewed by the Signoria of Venice and his accounts were written by an unknown European and have been published as 25 editions in seven different European languages. These accounts are considered as jewels in the history of that time period.Rev. Fr Antony Vallavanthara C. M. I. has done a very unique research on narrations of Joseph, the Indian and their original publications. He has traced all the available texts and versions of narrations and has conducted a critical study about its contents, the authorship, and the original text and published a book “India in 1500 A D, The narrations of Joseph, the Indian.” published by Gorgias Press, USA. He has presented the initial sources of the narrations in Italian, Latin and Dutch with English translations in the book with his detailed analysis
Another example of evidence that connects Prester John in India to Italy is seen in the famous Hebrew book Igeret Orhot Olam, written by Abraham Farissol (1452-1528) a few years before his death:

In the library I found in chapter 58 of the second part of the book (F. Montalboddo, Paesi Novamente Retrovati) E Novo Mondo (etc., Milano 1508) that from Lisbon the capital of Portugal to Kalicut in Asia, the beginning of India there are 3800 parasangs... and in that chapter it is explicit that Praeti Jiani (=Prester John) is beyond Kalicut in the land far from the sea. And this is real evidence and famous knowledge concerning the Jews that dwell there near Praeti Jiani as we have already heard all our lives from black brothers that come every day and tell in clarity the presence of many Jews with them. Of these brothers there are in Rome a sect of some thirty of them dwelling in a new stage (monastery) established for them.[21]That is, in the 16th century a learned Rabbi from Ferrara identified the place of Prester John in the vicinity of Kalicut (Malabar, India), with the help of an Italian book.[22] Whatever were Farissol's ideas concerning identification of the Jews under Prester John with the lost ten tribes, he was right in his conclusion that in the Kalicut area there were Jews, those who are known today as the Jews of Cochin.All this means that the Hebrew letters of Prester John on the wonders of India, and the Jews peacefully living there, originated among Jews in Italy. On the one hand, these letters continued legendary traditions about India, while on the other hand they were the first to tell the story of the Jews in India (supposedly of the lost ten tribes).
Obviously, in the above discussion there is no definitive solution to all the problems raised in the letters of Prester John. More assignments await the scholar, which will entail such a detailed comparison between the different versions of the letters, especially between the different languages involved, identifying more historical events in the letters (such as wars), and finding more parameters separating fiction from history in the letters. In any event, the kingdom of Prester John should be identified with India, and if this identification has been vague until now, it seems that connecting the letters to the Romance of Alexander together with other Indian issues cancels all probability of finding Prester John in Africa. It is really high time to find out how the confusion between India and Africa as the land of Prester John came into being.
The letters of Prester John were translated into Hebrew and spread in Italy, letters that dealt with the connection between certain Popes and Christians in India, Christians who were well-acquainted with Jews who unlike their contemporaries in Europe were not persecuted. Not only was India considered as a wonderland in that era, with exotic unknown animals, black Christians and other miracles, but even Jews lived there. They were later to be known as the Jews of Cochin, and who is the man who would not like to visit that wonderland of a king and a priest, Prester John in India?

The Travels of Sir John Mandeville - search for the “fountain of youth”

"Jehan de Mandeville", translated as "Sir John Mandeville", is the name claimed by the compiler of The Travels of Sir John Mandeville, a book account of his supposed travels, written in Anglo-Norman French, and first circulated between 1357 and 1371. The most recent scholarly work suggests that The Travels of Sir John Mandeville was “the work of Jan de Langhe, a Fleming who wrote in Latin under the name Johannes Longus and in French as Jean le Long.”Jan de Langhe was born in Ieper (Ypres) early in the 1300s and by 1334 had become a Benedictine monk at the abbey of Saint-Bertin in St. Omer which was about 20 miles from Calais.
The Fountain of Youth is a legendary spring that reputedly restores the youth of anyone who drinks of its waters. Tales of such a fountain have been recounted across the world for thousands of years, appearing in writings by Herodotus, the Alexander romance, and the stories of Prester John. These earlier accounts clearly inspired the popular medieval fantasy The Travels of Sir John Mandeville, which also mentions the Fountain of Youth as located at the foot of a mountain outside Polombe (modern Kollam) in India. Due to the influence of these tales, the Fountain of Youth legend remained popular through the European Age of Exploration.
Narratives of John Mandeville-"Jehan de Mandeville", translated as "Sir John Mandeville", is the name claimed by the compiler of The Travels of Sir John Mandeville, a book account of his supposed travels, written in Anglo-Norman French, and first circulated between 1357 and 1371.In this famous work The Travels of Sir John Mandeville. He describes Malabar.Polombe, hille,. Mount Polumbum, named here as the site of the Fountain of Youth [Polomee (Bomk). The city of Quilon (Polumbum) on the Malabar coast of India. “Bomk” is probably a corruption of Lombe, Archiprotapaton- Reported title of the prelate of Polumbum (Quilon) on the Malabar coast of India. Probably from the Nestorian title Archiprotopapas, mentioned in The Letter of Prester John, the Book’s source for the foregoing account of the Fountain of Youth.]
About his journey to Malabar and the pepper
From thence men go by sea toward Ind the more to a city, that men clepe Sarche, that is a fair city and a good. And there dwell many Christian men of good faith. And there be many religious men, and namely of mendicants.After go men by sea to the land of Lomb. In that land growth the pepper in the forest that men clepe Combar. And it grow nowhere else in all the world, but in that forest, and that endureth well an eighteen journeys in length. In the forest be two good cities; that one high Fladrine and that other Zinglantz, and in every of them dwell Christian men and Jews, great plenty. For it is a good country and a plentiful, but there is overmuch passing heat.
And we shall understand that the pepper growth in manner as doth a wild vine that is planted fast by the trees of that wood for to sustain it by, as doth the vine. And the fruit thereof hangeth in manner as raisins. And the tree is so thick charged, that it seemeth that it would break. And when it is ripe it is all green, as it were ivy berries. And then men cut them, as men do the vines, and then they put it upon an oven, and there it waxeth black and crisp. And there is three manner of pepper all upon one tree; long pepper, black pepper and white pepper. The long pepper men clepe SORBOTIN, and the black pepper is clept FULFULLE, and the white pepper is clept BANO. The long pepper cometh first when the leaf beginneth to come, and it is like the cats of hazel that cometh before the leaf, and it hangeth low. And after cometh the black with the leaf, in manner of clusters of raisins, all green. And when men have gathered it, then cometh the white that is somedeal less than the black. And of that men bring but little into this country; for they beyond withhold it for themselves, because it is better and more attempre in kind than the black. And therefore is there not so great plenty as of the black.
In that country be many manner of serpents and of other vermin for the great heat of the country and of the pepper. And some men say, that when they will gather the pepper, they make fire, and burn about to make the serpents and the cockodrills to flee. But save their grace of all that say so. For if they burnt about the trees that bear, the pepper should be burnt, and it would dry up all the virtue, as of any other thing; and then they did themselves much harm, and they should never quench the fire. But thus they do: they anoint their hands and their feet [with a juice] made of snails and of other things made therefore, of the which the serpents and the venomous beasts hate and dread the savour; and that maketh them flee before them, because of the smell, and then they gather it surely enough.
Also toward the head of that forest is the city of Polombe. And above the city is a great mountain that also is clept Polombe. And of that mount the city hath his name.And at the foot of that mount is a fair well and a great, that hath odour and savour of all spices. And at every hour of the day he changeth his odour and his savour diversely. And whoso drinketh three times fasting of that water of that well he is whole of all manner sickness that he hath. And they that dwell there and drink often of that well they never have sickness; and they seem always young. I have drunken thereof three or four sithes, and yet, methinketh, I fare the better. Some men clepe it the well of youth. For they that often drink thereof seem always young-like,and live without sickness. And men say, that that well cometh out of Paradise, and therefore it is so virtuous.
About Hindus &their rituals in Malabar.
In that country they make idols, half man half ox. And in those idols evil spirits speak and give answer to men of what is asked them.And when any man dieth in the country they burn his body in name of penance; to that intent, that he suffer no pain in earth to be eaten of worms. And if his wife have no child they burn her with him, and say, that it is reason, that she make him company in that other world as she did in this. But and she have children with him, they let her live with them, to bring them up if she will. And if that she love more to live with her children than for to die with her husband, men hold her for false and cursed; ne she shall never be loved ne trusted of the people. And if the woman die,before the husband, men burn him with her, if that he will; and if he will not, no man constraineth him thereto, but he may wed another time without blame or reproof.

FROM that country men pass by many marches toward a country, a ten journeys thence, that is clept
Mabaron; and it is a great kingdom, and it hath many fair cities and towns. In that kingdom lieth the body of Saint Thomas the apostle in flesh and bone, in a fair tomb in the city of Calamye; for there he was martyred and buried. And men of Assyria bare his body into Mesopotamia into the city of Edessa, and after, he was brought thither again. And the arm and the hand that he put in our Lord's side, when he appeared to him after his resurrection and said to him, NOLI ESSE INCREDULUS, SED FIDELIS, is yet lying in a vessel without the tomb. And by that hand they make all their judgments in the country, whoso hath right or wrong. For when there is any dissension between two parties, and every of them maintaineth his cause, and saith that his cause is rightful, and that other saith the contrary, then both parties write their causes in two bills and put them in the hand of Saint Thomas. And anon he casteth away the bill of the wrong cause and holdeth still the bill with the right cause. And therefore men come from far countries to have judgment of doubtable causes. And other judgment use they none there.Also the church, where Saint Thomas' lieth, is both great and fair, and all full of great simulacres, and those be great images that they clepe their gods, of the which the least is as great as two men.


[1]The realm of Prester John,Silverberg, pp. 29–34.

[2]The whole works of King Alfred the Great: with preliminary essays illustrative of the history, arts, and manners, of the ninth century, Volume 1 ,Alfred (King of England)Printed and published for the Alfred Committee by J.F. Smith, 1852 Page 78,79,311.
[3] On the whole subject, see: H. Yule, 'Prester John', Encyclopaedia Britannica, 11th ed. (1910-1911), XXII, colms. 304-307; S. Krauss, 'Priesti Juani', Luah Eres-Israel (Lunz), IX (1904), pp. 107-111 (Hebrew); Karl F. Helleiner, 'Prester John's Letter: A Mediaeval Utopia', The Phoenix, XIII (1959), pp. 47-57; Robert Silverberg, The Realm of Prester John, Garden City: Doubleday & Company 1972.

[4] The Hebrew letters of Prester John were printed in Constantinople 1519, and later in: A. Neubauer, 'Collections on the Lost Ten Tribes and the Children of Moses', Qobes al Yad, IX (1888), pp. 1-74 (Hebrew); E. Ullendorff and C. F. Beckingham, The Hebrew Letters of Prester John, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982.
[5] Actually, the Hebrew text reads 'the unclean Thomas', because the Hebrew translator did not want to admit the holiness of one of the apostles, and therefore changed the title.
[6] On the Christians of southern India that relate their beginning to St. Thomas, see: L. W. Brown, The Indian Christians of St Thomas, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1956.
[7] See: Brown. p. 50; Silverberg (n. 1), pp. 16-35.
[8] Pepper was one of the exports of India from ancient times. See: R. H. Warmington, The Commerce between the Roman Empire and India, second revised edition, London: Curzon Press, 1974, pp. 180 ff. On the export of exotic animals from India, see there p. 145 ff.
[9]See: Warmington, pp. 150-152.
[10] See: Yule (n. 1); A. M. Haberman (ed.), The Writings of R. Abraham Epstein, Jerusalem: Mosad haRav Kook, 1950, I. pp. 58-60 (Hebrew); S. Krauss, 'New Light on Geographical Informations of Eldad Hadani and Benjamin of Tudela', Tarbiz, VIII (1937), pp. 208-232 (Hebrew).
[11]See: Warmington (n. 6), pp. 187-188, 216.
[12] J. B. Segal, 'The Jews of Cochin and Their Neighbours', H. J. Zimmels and J. Rabbinowitz (eds.), Essays presented to Chief Rabbi Israel Brodie, Jews' College Publications, London: The Soncino Press, 1967, pp. 381-397; Shalva Weil, 'Symmetry between Christians and Jews in India: The Cnanite Christians and the Cochin Jews of Kerala', Thomas H. Timberg (ed.), Jews in India, New York - London: Advent Books Inc., 1986, pp. 177-204.
[13] For the search for Prester John, especially in Africa, see: E. D. Ross, 'Prester John and the Empire of Ethiopia', Arthur P. Newton (ed.), Travel and Travellers of the Middle Ages, New York: Barnes & Noble, 1968 (first published in 1926), pp. 174-194; C. F. Beckingham, 'The Quest for Prester John', Bulletin of The John Rylands University Library, LXII (1980), pp. 290-310.
[14] Y. Dan, 'Alilot Alexander Mokdon, Jerusalem: Bialik Institute, 1969 (Hebrew); idem, Hasipur Ha'Ibri beYemei haBinaim, Jerusalem: Keter, 1974, pp. 100-108 (Hebrew).
[15] Compare: C. E. Nowell, 'The Historical Prester John', Speculum, XXVIII (1953), pp. 435-445.
[16] Several Italian words remained in the Hebrew text. For example: 'sea Orinosho' (p. 59); 'that I am great princip in the world' (p. 71); 'kingdom of Women, that is regno femminorio' (pp. 126-127); 'many precious stones, like carbuncles, amethysts, zaffiri, diaspiri', etc. (pp. 130-131). However, the editors were aware of the possibility that some words were taken from ancient French, Provencal, and so on.
[17] See: A. Yaari, Igerot Eres Israel, Ramat-Gan: Massadah, 1971 (Hebrew), p. 93 (a letter by R. Joseph da Montagna near Venice); pp. 118, 132, 133, 136, 141 (letters of R. Obadia of Bertinoro); p. 176 (a letter by R. Israel of Perugia). Prester John is mentioned several times in connection with David Reubeni, though it is possible that he heard the whole issue from his Christian investigators. See: A. Z. Eshkoli, Sipur David Reubeni, Jerusalem: The Israeli Society for History and Ethnology, 1940 (index); and in p. 188 'alli indiani di prete Giani', which was translated into Hebrew as 'similar to the Indians of Prieti Jani (Ethiopians)'.
[18] See: D. Flusser, Sefer Yosipon, Jerusalem: Bialik Institute, 1981, II. pp. 136, 216 ff.
[19] Eliahu ben Asher Ashkenazi (Elias Levita), Masoret HaMasoret (first published: Venice 1538), edited by C. D. Ginsburg, in: Harry M. Orlinsky (ed.), The Library of Biblical Studies, New York: Ktav, 1968, pp. 130-131.
[20]Walter J. Fischel, 'Cochin in Jewish History', Proceedings of the American Academy for Jewish Research, 30 (1962), pp. 37-59 (esp. p. 51).
[21] Abraham Farissol, Igeret Orhot Olam, Venice 1587, ch. 25 (Hebrew).
[22] David B. Ruderman, The World of a Renaissance Jew: The Life and Thought of Abraham ben Mordecai Farissol, Cincinnati: Hebrew Union College Press, 1981, pp. 134 ff.

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