The cult of St. Thomas originated in and was centred at Edessa at least up to the eighth century when the Muslims began to invade Syria, and it is the considered opinion of many historians today that nobody in Asia was interested in this “second Jesus” — Judas Thomas was a look-alike twin brother of Jesus according to some authorities — except Edessa from where his cult radiated outwards. Syrian Christian merchants carried it westward to Ethiopia, eastward to India, and northward to the bazaars of Constantinople. This view was anticipated by the “St. Thomas” Christian Dr. G. Milne Rae of the Madras Christian College at the end of the 19th century.
Dr. Milne Rae wrote a famous book in 1892, The Syrian Church in India, which provoked severe criticism from the Syrian Christian community. In it he denies the Indian apostolate of St. Thomas, and in another research paper asks, “In what literature is the name of St. Thomas first associated with India? It will appear I think the home of that literature, the original hotbed in which it was reared, was no other than the Church of Edessa. For there is no place within the area occupied, by the language in which those books were written, that had any such interest in the fortunes and destiny of the Apostle. The story of Thomas preaching and his martyrdom in India is first found in the apocryphal Acts of Thomas and it is curious to note that throughout the work the Apostle is generally called Judas Thomas, a name which he also received in that group of documents which Eusebius found among the archives at Edessa. It is palpably a Gnostic work and students of Gnosticism, judging from the stages of development at which they find the heresy in the Acts, assign it to the end of the second century. It may have been written by Bardesanes. But whoever the real author was, I think the details of this work are not only consistent with the belief that they were put together by a member of the Edessene Church, but also defy explanation on any other hypothesis.”
Donald Attwater, in The Penguin Dictionary of Saints, with reference to L.W. Brown in The Indian Christians of St. Thomas, writes, “There is endless discussion about St. Thomas’s subsequent life. In particular, did he take the gospel to India, where for many centuries the Christians of Kerala have called themselves ‘St. Thomas Christians’? That he did so, and was martyred there, is the theme of a long document of the third or fourth century, called the Acts of Thomas. This is one of the most readable and intrinsically interesting of early Christian apocryphal writings; but it is no more than a popular romance, written in the interest of false Gnostic teachings (e.g. the virtual necessity of celibacy for Christians). It is not impossible that St. Thomas should have reached southern India, but the historical reality of his mission there cannot be considered proved. It is also said that he evangelized Parthia, and in the fourth century his relics were claimed to be at Edessa in Mesopotamia.”
Bishop Stephen Neill studied the St. Thomas legend carefully during his years in India, and lamented its spread among Indian Christians. He regarded the story as spurious history, and in History of Christianity in India: The Beginnings to 1707 A.D., writes, “A number of scholars, among whom are to be mentioned with respect Bishop A.E. Medleycott, J.N. Farquhar and the Jesuit J. Dahlman, have built on slender foundations what can only be called Thomas romances, such as reflect the vividness of their imaginations rather than the prudence of rigid historical critics.”
Bishop Neill is being charitable to Bishop Medleycott when he calls his India and the Apostle Thomas an imaginative romance built on slender foundations. Henry Love, in Vestiges of Old Madras, is even more forgiving when he writes, “Bishop Medleycott, who has sifted every shred of evidence on the subject, concludes that St. Thomas the Apostle preached and suffered on the Mount, but his arguments do not appear to be altogether convincing.”
Bishop Medleycott is the godfather of Thomas-in-India scholarship in India, and even in his day he was accused of working under religious, racial, regional, political, and linguistic influences. He was the Vicar Apostolic of Trichur from 1887 to 1896, the diocese in which the alleged landing-place of St. Thomas, Kodungallur, is located, and was the first European missionary bishop to be appointed by Rome to rule over the local Syrian Christian community. This community existed in a forgotten Kerala backwater that was overshadowed by San Thome at Mylapore, and Bishop Medleycott had a mandate – or believed he had a mandate – to raise Kodungallur’s status and prepare the ideological ground for the apostle’s “return”.
Medleycott soon discovered that this was not very hard to do. The old tradition of St. Thomas was still alive in Malabar, in medieval Syrian wedding songs and “evidence” left behind by those pious forgers and pirates, the Portuguese, and he had Syrian priests to advise him. There was also the Acts of Thomas, which nobody knew in the original and which no Christian priest would dare to teach to his congregation. All that was needed was inventive Catholic scholarship to turn a local Kerala Christian tradition into world history.
Bishop Medleycott won the day with his work, though he didn’t live to see it. St. Thomas was “returned” to Kodungallur in 1953, in the form of a piece of bone from the elbow of his right arm. The relic was a gift from the clergy of Ortona, Italy, where the apostle’s Church–authenticated remains had lain since 1258. They had been brought to Ortona from Edessa by way of Chios in Greece, and, according to one tradition that is repeated today as factual if unverified, had arrived in Edessa from “India” between 222 and 235 CE. In the Acts of Thomas the bones were transferred to Mesopotamia from “India” – the “desert country” of King Mazdai – in the lifetime of the Persian king.
Eugene Cardinal Tisserant, the other imaginative writer of oriental church history, led the “second coming” to Kodungallur 1953, and he later proceeded to Mylapore with another bit of Ortona bone for the cathedral there. For the first time in history both sites in India associated with St. Thomas in legend and story could truly say that they possessed the apostle’s relics.
This event and the alleged first century coming of the apostle were commemorated by the Government of India with postage stamps that were issued in 1964 and 1973. The first stamp depicts the silver bust of St. Thomas that is in the cathedral at Ortona, which contains his complete skull, and the second shows the eighth century Persian “St. Thomas” cross on St. Thomas Mount near Madras. That neither these artifacts nor the relics, or, for that matter, the legendary event that they celebrate, are Indian, is one of the ironies that is part of the history of the story of St. Thomas in India.
Wikipedia with its free-for-all constitution and arbitrary, secretive contribution and editorial oversight system lacks all credibility. Many of its articles on Christianity in India are propaganda projects set up to project a particular Christian world view.
But Bishop Medleycott’s victory went further. He got himself named as the St. Thomas authority in the prestigious Encyclopaedia Britannica, Fifteenth Edition, 1984, along with Chevalier F.A. D’Cruz, editor of the old Mylapore Catholic Register and author of St. Thomas the Apostle in India.
The unsigned main entry for St. Thomas in the Encyclopaedia is muddled and dissembling and simply wrong in some places. After giving the New Testament references, it says, “Thomas’ subsequent history is uncertain. According to the 4th century Ecclesiastical History (aka Church History) of Bishop Eusebius of Caesarea, he evangelized Parthia (modern Khorasan). Later Christian tradition says Thomas extended his apostolate into India, where he is recognized as the founder of the church of the Syrian Malabar Christians, or Christians of St. Thomas. In the apocryphal Acts of Thomas, originally composed in Syriac, his martyrdom is cited under the king of Mylapore at Madras ….”
The Acts does not “cite” this at all of course; it does not even remotely suggest it. There is no known record that Mylapore had a king in the first century and if it did, he was not a Zoroastrian with the name of Mazdai. What the Christian propagandist is doing here, is conflating Mylapore Shiva’s title Mahadeva — which he wrongly identifies as the name of a supposed first century human king of Mylapore — with the name of the Persian king, Mazdai, who executed Thomas for crimes against women in the Acts of Thomas.
This is a very crude concoction and it is astonishing that the editors of the Encycopaedia Britannica (and Wikipedia as we will see) have fallen for the verbal subterfuge.
The story in the Acts and the Mylapore legend have nothing in common, though the latter can be said to exist only because of the former. Further on the article says, “He allegedly visited the court of the Indo-Parthian king Gondophernes … though some of the Acts of Thomas is probable, evidence remains inconclusive.”
Now even if some of the Acts is accepted as probable, the composer of this entry still hasn’t got the story right. He uses the word “allegedly” for the visit of St. Thomas to the court of Gondophernes – assuming that Gondophernes is the same as Gundaphorus — when he could correctly cite the Acts for the reference.
These errors are deliberate and motivated, given their context and arrangement, and this St. Thomas entry in the Encyclopaedia has been written by a Catholic scholar who not only subscribes to the apostle’s alleged South Indian adventure, but wishes to place the Mylapore tale over that of the Malabar tradition. He does this by mixing the North Indian legend, represented by the Acts, with the South Indian fable that the Portuguese left in Mylapore, to promote his particular South Indian masala view. He gets away with the deception because nobody has read the Acts of Thomas and studied its references to the kings Gundaphorus and Mazdai (Persian), (Misdaeus in Greek, Misdeos in Latin), and the execution of Judas Thomas on a mountain that contained an ancient royal tomb.
We decided to call the Encyclopaedia Britannica’s bluff and on 19 September 1996 sent a letter pointing out the errors in the St. Thomas entry, and a copy of our book (second revised edition) to the Encyclopaedia’s editor-in-chief in Chicago. The editorial division representative Anthony G. Craine replied to us on 18 October 1996. He wrote, “We have received your book, and we have subsequently reviewed our coverage of Saint Thomas. While the Saint Thomas article that appears in the current printing of the Encyclopaedia Britannica differs slightly from the 1984 article to which you refer in your book, the current article does convey the same basic information. We have concluded that the portion of the article that refers to Thomas’ later life places too much emphasis on the unlikely scenario of his traveling to, and being martyred in India [emphasis added]. We have referred this information to the appropriate editor so that the article can be revised in future printings of Britannica. We appreciate your bringing this matter to our attention.”
We did not pay any more attention to the matter until February 2010 when we began updating The Myth of Saint Thomas and the Mylapore Shiva Temple and had a look at the St. Thomas entry on the Encyclopaedia Britannica website. It begins like this, “Saint Thomas (born, probably Galilee, died AD 53, Madras, India …)” and continues, “Later Christian tradition says Thomas extended his apostolate into India, where he is recognized as the founder of the Church of the Syrian Malabar Christians, or Christians of St. Thomas. In the apocryphal Acts of Thomas, originally composed in Syriac, his martyrdom is cited under the king of Mylapore at Madras, where are to be found St. Thomas Mount and San Thomé Cathedral, his traditional burial-place….” It is virtually the same article as in the 1984 Fifteenth Edition, with the same absurd claim that the Acts of Thomas cites the king of Mylapore as his executioner.
The entry for Kottayam, the centre of Syrian Christianity in India, says in part, “The town is a centre of the Syrian Christian community, which traces its origin to the apostle St. Thomas, who is believed to have visited Kerala in 53 CE and to have established seven churches on the Malabar Coast.” The entry for Christians of Saint Thomas reads, “The origins of the Christians of St. Thomas are uncertain, though they seem to have been in existence before the 6th century and probably derive from the missionary activity of the East Syrian (Nestorian) Church — which held that, in effect, the two natures of Christ were two persons, somehow joined in a moral union — centred at Ctesiphon.”
None of these entries are correct but the reference to Kottayam and Madras, giving the specific date of 53 CE for St. Thomas, is just a reworking of the Encyclopaedia’s 1984 entry. The various dates for St. Thomas’s arrival in India and death in Madras are inventions that were added to the legend in the nineteenth century. The editor has not kept his promise and has maintained the same information about St. Thomas and India in different wording. The charge that the Encyclopaedia Britannica is a Catholic encyclopaedia intent on promoting a traditional Christian point of view remains. It has always been that way with the Encyclopaedia: Joseph McCabe the great linguist and historian of early Christianity, could not get it to correct and change its wrong entries for early Christian history either.
Bishop Medleycott with his papal mandate and imperial urges, totally discredited as a historian of Christianity in India, remains the last word on St. Thomas in India in all Catholic encyclopaedias and, believe it or not, the Internet’s modern, up-to-date Wikipedia as well.
Sometime in May 2008 we looked at the Thomas the Apostle page on Wikipedia. It did not have very much to say about St. Thomas in India except for the usual fabricated dates of arrival in Kerala and death by assassin’s hand in Madras. On the talk page we noted a demand by the rabid Hindu-hating Chennai-based missionary and co-conspirator of Catholic “free-thinker” Deivanayagam, Alexander Harris of The Last Days Harvest Ministries and Appius Forum, that our website The Ishwar Sharan Archive link Hamsa.org (now defunct: in archive) be removed from reference. But the main article page included Pope Benedict’s categorical statement made at the Vatican on 26 September 2006, that St. Thomas did not come to South India, and this encouraged us to try our hand at Wikipedia editing. We felt assured that Wikipedia was interested in facts that could be verified, not just Indian Christian traditions – Indian Christians are not able to distinguish between their beliefs and historical evidence; they think beliefs and facts are the same thing – and decided to contribute to the Thomas the Apostle article. We adopted the username Vena Varcas and introduced our self on the Thomas the Apostle talk page with the following statement:
Historicity of St. Thomas Controversial and Disputed
The editors of this article will have to consider the fact that all references to Thomas in Indian Christian tradition and folklore have been rejected as unhistorical by responsible Christian scholars and ecclesiastics (barring a few like Medleycott and Arulappa) for the past two centuries. The elaborate and confusing mythology of Thomas is not factual or verifiable and cannot ethically be represented as true history in an encyclopaedia. These pious legends may have a role to play in religion but they do not have a place in Indian history writing unless they are identified and qualified for the general reader.
The reputed Christian historian A. Mingana has written in The Early Spread of Christianity in India that “What India gives us about Christianity in its midst is indeed nothing but pure fables”. This is true about the Thomas tradition in India and in the numerous other places it exists in Asia except perhaps Edessa where it originated. Any serious article about Thomas in India, or the various controversial and disputed places of pilgrimage associated with him, should be unambiguously declared as faith-based and historically unverified. To do otherwise in an encyclopaedia article is intellectually dishonest and misleading and amounts to little more than religious propaganda created in the interests of a certain theological point of view.
The Trichur bishop Medleycott wrote his Thomas history with ulterior motive and is the favourite scholar of Thomas protagonists who quote him at length (including the EB which is a known Catholic-biased encyclopedia). He has been discredited by the renowned Christian historian Bishop Stephen Neill. Neill spent many years in India researching Indian Christian Thomas traditions and the Thomas legend and wrote in 1985, in History of Christianity in India: The Beginnings to 1707 A.D., that “A number of scholars, among whom are to be mentioned with respect Bishop A.E. Medleycott, J.N. Farquhar and the Jesuit J. Dahlman, have built on slender foundations what can only be called Thomas romances, such as reflect the vividness of their imaginations rather than the prudence of rigid historical critics.”
Bishop Neill goes on to say, “Millions of Christians in India are certain that the founder of their church is none other than the apostle Thomas himself. The historian cannot prove 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.”
The point is that this article Thomas the Apostle is a matter of Indian Christian faith, not Indian history, and it should not be presented in an encyclopedia as Indian history. Some parts of the article are neutral and other parts are just fiction propped up with facts and figures, names and dates, or some doubtful reference. In some cases the article assumes too much, and in others it shows extreme bias. In fact, the whole project shows bias in its declared intention, when it treats as proven a legend that most respected world historians declare is fiction and unprovable. What the article needs is review and revision by a neutral historical critic who has no Indian Christian axe to grind. Is this possible in the Wikipedia scenario? Would the article’s administrator and watchdog with his declared special interests ever permit it? — Vena Varcas (talk) 15:55, 15 May 2008 (UTC)
We then set to work on the Wikipedia Thomas the Apostle article adding verifiable references and short sections with citations. Every statement we made was supported with an authoritative reference from a recognized historian of Christianity. We were very careful not to delete any material already posted on the page or refer to the demolition of the Kapaleeswara Temple in Mylapore by the Portuguese. However, as our contribution progressed, Mylapore did come into the picture and we introduced it with a reference to Swami Tapasyananda of the Ramakrishna Math in Mylapore and the article he had written in Vedanta Kesari called “The Legend of a Slain Saint to Stain Hinduism.”
This single attributed reference to a Hindu scholar was too much for the Kerala Christian Wikipedia page administrator Tinu Cherian (Cherian Tinu Abraham). Within an hour of the post, he deleted our reference to Swami Tapasyananda and rolled back the other postings we had made that day. It was a real surprise to us. Where we had made an effort not to interfere with earlier postings, we discovered that the same courtesy was not extended to us and that we would not be informed when we had “offended” Tinucherian’s Christian enterprise. We abandoned Wikipedia as a waste of time and effort and our contributions were soon perverted or deleted altogether.
The concocted absurdities found in the Wikipedia Thomas the Apostle article today, which lacks citations and references that stand up to scrutiny, can be exposed with a single example: the statement in the Thomas and India subsection of the article says that the king who executed Judas Thomas for sorcery and crimes against women, Mazdai (Misdaeus in Greek), was “the local king at Mylapore”. This is a preposterous statement. The name Mazdai (or Masdai) is Persian and specifically identifies a person who is Zoroastrian by religion. Mazdai identifies a worshiper of Ahura Mazda and is a synonym for Zoroastrianism. Associating the Acts of Thomas and its Persian king Mazdai with Mylapore is motivated Christian scholarship – something Dr. M. Deivanayagam of the Madras–Mylapore Archdiocese would produce – and the fact that the Wikipedia administrator Tinu Cherian allows such unsupported statements to stand unchallenged shows that he is deeply involved in the crime of writing a deliberately false and perverted history of Christianity in Mylapore.
Within an hour of the post, Tinu Cherian deleted our reference to Swami Tapasyananda and rolled back the other postings we had made that day.
Wikipedia with its free-for-all constitution and arbitrary, secretive contribution and editorial oversight system lacks all credibility. Every fact checked with this Internet reference has to be checked someplace else if it is to be accepted as authoritative. Many of its articles on Christianity in India are propaganda projects set up to project a particular Christian world view. This is to be expected: the wiki editing system invites India’s cultural enemies, Christian missionaries and other western neo-colonialists, to propound their hostile, anti-Indian theories. Its administrators are not authorities on the subjects they oversee (Tinu Cherian is a Bangalore software engineer who knows nothing about St. Thomas and the history of Christianity in India except for what his pious mother may have told him) and their personal prejudices soon become evident and interfere with factual and cited contributions. Wikipedia is the perfect platform for Christian propaganda in India and is being used for that purpose with great effect in its Christianity in India project. This Wikipedia series even employs the symbol of a cross superimposed on a light blue map of India, a symbol that is highly offensive to the majority Hindu population who identify India as their mother and civilizational homeland.
The fabulous and false “facts” about St. Thomas and India found in the Encyclopaedia Britannica and its Internet sister Wikipedia make the ancient Greek historian and geographer Strabo into a prophet (he was a contemporary of Jesus and Thomas). He said, “Generally speaking the men who have written on India were a set of liars.” And so it is with the contributors to the mainstream encyclopedias and dictionaries that reference Indian history today.
And closer to home, Sri Aurobindo, in The Foundations of Indian Culture, referred to “the intemperate … vomit of false witness, hatred, [and] uncharitableness … that are the mark of a certain type of Christian literature….”
Falsely accusing the native Hindu population of an ancient India that gave 4th century Syrian Christian refugees from Persia funds and land to build churches, with the murder of their patron saint Mar Thoma, is a blood libel and falls into the category of “intemperate vomit of false witness, hatred, and uncharitableness”. Christians are perceived to be an educated and modern secular community, but we see from their fabricated encyclopedic writings on St. Thomas (many of which have appeared after the publication of our 1991 essay) that they are the most superstitious of Indian communities with an obsessive allegiance to an authoritarian and very corrupt medieval Indian church.
But it is not only international English-language reference works that repeat the falsehood that St. Thomas came to South India and was murdered in Madras by hostile Hindus. Indian reference books repeat the St. Thomas tale because they are too lazy to do any original research of their own and simply copy existing sources which are usually Christian or western sources. For example, the Christian Internet reference Indianetzone in its long self-persuading entry for St. Thomas treats him as Kerala’s first Christian missionary. They wax eloquent about the old St. Thomas traditions in Kerala and how everybody believes them so they must be true. Fine for the Christian faithful, but this is story telling not India history writing. A lie does not become truth with old age and much repetition by Christian priests! We have twice contacted the editors and given them the known historical data on St. Thomas, but to no effect. They block our comments, delete our registration from their site, and refuse to acknowledge our mail. Like the Encyclopaedia Britannica and Wikipedia, Indianetzone is deeply attached to its fictitious and fabulous St. Thomas entry and will not let it go for a more prosaic and truthful account of Christianity’s origins in India.
If St. Thomas lived at all — and we have no positive evidence for this either — it was in Palestine and Syria, and it was in Syria and Persia, or Parthia, that he proselytised the inhabitants and established churches. This is what the most ancient Alexandrian tradition maintains and what the seventh and eighth century Metropolitans of Fars, Mar Isho Yahb and Mar Thiomothy, testify to when they refuse to submit to the Patriarch of the Eastat Seleucia–Ctesiphon because their Persian church had been established by Thomas while his had not. The Edessene tradition is a case of Edessa glorifying an apostle they considered their own — Thomas had visited their city and they possessed his bones — at the expense of India — if of course the “India” of the Acts doesn’t simply mean Persia.
- We also wrote the Vatican requesting information about St. Thomas in India. The Prefect for the Congregation for the Causes of Saints replied to us on 11 September 1996. He said in part, “… Nor do we have other data regarding Saint Thomas since this Archive was begun in 1588. His life is the object of the research of historians which is not the particular competence of this Congregation.”
- G. Ananthakrishnan in the Times of India, Mumbai, 26 Dec. 2006, reports: “Pope Benedict XVI made the statement [about St. Thomas] at the Vatican on September 27, . Addressing the faithful during the Wednesday catechises, he recalled that St. Thomas first evangelised Syria and Persia, and went on to western India from where Christianity reached Southern India. The import of the statement was that St. Thomas never travelled to south India, but rather evangelised the western front, mostly comprising today’s Pakistan.” Though the Pope is a declared enemy of Hindu India, he is a scholar and had reported the known facts about St. Thomas and his missionary journey to Syria and Parthia. He had said, ” … Thomas first evangelised Syria and Persia and then penetrated as far as western India, from where Christianity reached also South India” (It is another matter that his editors on the Vatican website changed this sentence the next day to read that Thomas himself had reached South India).
- Wikipedia: Usertalk: Vena Varcas
- The churches that are traditionally said to have been established by apostles were known by the names of the cities or countries that they were established in. The famous four were the Churches of Alexandria by Mark, Jerusalem by James, Antioch by Peter and Paul, and Rome by Peter. The Church of Edessa was said to have been established by Addai the disciple of Thomas and the Church of Fars by Thomas himself. But there was no Church of Muziris (as Kodungallur was known to the Greeks and Romans) or Shingly (as it was known to the Jews) or Malabar or India in the first centuries CE.
- The Church of Seleucia was said to have been established by Aggaeus the disciple of Addai of Edessa in the second century CE.
- The term “India” was used as a synonym for Asia in many ancient documents. Prof. Leonardo Olschki writes, “The oriental ubiquity of St. Thomas’s apostolate is explained by the fact that the geographical term ‘India’ included 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.” He also says, “The Nestorians of India venerated St. Thomas as the patron of Asiatic Christianity — mark, not of Indian Christianity.”
- This article is compiled out of material from The Myth of Saint Thomas and the Mylapore Shiva Temple and a version of it was posted on Acta Indica in 2010.