Apostle Thomas again

Klaus Karttunen Klaus.Karttunen at HELSINKI.FI
Tue Jun 8 10:32:54 UTC 1999

Dear Colleagues
Sorry that I am rather late wit h my reply. I had to switch my e-mail to a
new machine, and it took some time to have it running again.

As to the question of Ganesan, Cosmas mentions twice, in 3, 65 and 11, 14,
Christian communities in South India and Sri Lanka, with a Persian bishop,
but he does not mention Thomas' death. In fact he does not mention Thomas
at all, in this I made a mistake. Sorry!

Of course the legend of Thomas' death near Madras is not true, as I think I
made clear in my first message, but it was wise that Bal Prasad did not
vouch for the veracity of his "paraphrase". Even the names of scholars were
wrong: instead of C-J De la Vallee-Poussin and Robert Garbe,  Louis de La
Vallee-Poussin and Richard Garbe.

As to the Acts of Thomas, it is an apocryphal work, and no more history
than other such legends. This kind of literature is common in many
religions. As far as I know, no serious scholar is taking it as part of the
Bible or as a historical source, although it may contains some points
originating in history (such as the name of Gondophares-Gudhaphar). The
point is that it is a genuine work of the fourth century and can be used as
a source for ideas then current among Christians in the West. It is thus
among the earliest sources locating Thomas' mission and its end in India.
But as I said, nothing here points to South India, rather to the Indus

I do agree with Bal Prasad that there is no evidence of Thomas having
travelled to India (only the spurious tradition nevertheless much earlier
than the Portuguese), but I wonder, whether he visited Ethiopia and Arabia
either. The earliest tradition seems to restrict his travels to Edessa (now
Urfa in southeastern Turkey, then a principality under Parthian suzerainty).

Stephens quotes a few "Greek" (mostly Latin) Christian sources on India.
His second extract, Jerome (in Latin) about Pantaenus and Bartholomew hails
from the (Greek) Ecclesiastical History of Eusebius (early 4th century).
Many more passages can be found in the old collection by W. R. Phillipps in
Indian Antiquary 32, 1903, 1-15 and 145-160. It shows that it was common
belief in the West since the 4th century (but not earlier) that Thomas went
to India (though not to the South).

As to Mylapore, attempts to identify it with Calamina, the traditional
place given as Thomas' burial "in India", do not seem convincing. The first
to mention Thomas' grave in Mylapore is thus Marco Polo (3, 18 in Yule -
Cordier) in the 13th century. John of Montecorvino visited a church of
Thomas on way to China in 1292, this probably was in the South. In 1345
John of Marignolli, another Catholic envoy to China, also visited Mylapore.
Thus the Mylapore tradition was earlier than the Portuguese, although they
certainly made much of it.

Michael Rabe asked about the stone cross found near Mylapore. See A. C.
Burnell, Indian Antiquary 3, 1874, 308-316. If anybody knows a more recent
source, please inform.

I was afraid that somebody will take up the story of Jesus visiting India.
There are two traditions, both quite recent. One is propagated by the
Ahmadiyyas, another by the Russian charlatan Notovich about hundred years
ago. I do not know the German book still defending it, but I think Günter
Grönbold, Jesus in Indien. Das Ende einer Legende (Munich 1985) has said
everything that is necessary.

There are at least 10 books and some 50-60 articles about Thomas
traditions, but I think my answer is long enough without listing them. I am
not theologian and not much interested in history of Christian missions, so
I would like to drop the subject now.



Klaus Karttunen
Institute for Asian and African Studies
Box 59, 00014 Helsinki, Finland
tel. +358-9-191-22224, fax. +358-9-191-22094

More information about the INDOLOGY mailing list