Whatever the scholars may say against the myth of St. Thomas in Malabar and Mylapore―and some of them are high-ranking ecclesiastics of faith and integrity―India’s political leaders, in keeping with their own tradition of ignorance and arrogance, have declared differently. Jawaharlal Nehru wrote in one of his travel books, “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. Although these Christians have their religious head in Antioch or elsewhere in Syria, their Christianity is practically indigenous and has few outside contacts. … To my surprise, we also came across a colony of Nestorians in the South. I had laboured under the impression that the Nestorians had long been absorbed in other sects, and I did not know that they had ever flourished in India.”
Nehru’s ignorance about the Nestorians in Malabar is indeed surprising, considering that their church was the only Christian church in India from the fifth to the fifteenth century.
Dr. S. Radhakrishnan was more circumspect in his statement. He said, “Christianity has flourished in India from the beginning of the Christian era. The Syrian Christians of Malabar believe that their form of Christianity is apostolic, derived directly from the Apostle Thomas. What is obvious is that there have been Christians in the West Coast of India from very early times.”
But Dr. Rajendra Prasad’s St. Thomas Day speech at New Delhi, in 1955, where he parroted Nehru, was simply rash. He said, “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.…”
It is a matter of pride for Shashi Tharoor too, who, in 2012, in his book Pax Indica, asserts, “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.”
Tharoor is India’s favourite public intellectual and a Congress politician who sits in the Lok Sabha from Thiruvananthapuram. He is making an assertion about Thomas’s arrival in India and then qualifying it as “oral legend”. He is talking out of both sides of his mouth, indulging his Kerala Christian constituency. He is not very successful at telling the truth but he is entertaining.
More recently, Pranab Mukherjee, on a presidential visit to Finland in 2014 to meet Santa Claus, went overboard when he declared, “We, in India, also celebrate Christmas in quite a big way. Christianity was brought to India by Saint Thomas, the Apostle himself, in the year 52 AD. Thus, the faith was embraced by the people of India well before many European nations. Today, the number of Christians in India is about 24 million.”
Statements like these would not be of any consequence in most countries of the world, made as they are by self-seeking politicians for their constituents. But in India the politician has usurped the authority of the professional including the scholar, and their statements, thoughtless or motivated, are treated as God’s own truth by the people.
The myth of St. Thomas has also found sponsors in Chennai’s English-language press. Both The Hindu and Indian Express have published sanitised versions of the story on the children’s page of their newspapers after receiving copies of the first edition of this book. Their decision to do this was clearly made with malice aforethought and it has effectively put an end to any serious public discussion of St. Thomas in India.
Today The New Indian Express and The Hindu in Chennai remain the main sponsors of the tale, though they were displaced at one point by Tamil Nadu’s leading “secular” daily, Deccan Chronicle. These newspapers and The Times of India occasionally produce feature articles on the three churches in Chennai associated with the St. Thomas legend. This is not surprising as South Indian newspapers are deeply influenced by Christian interests and the nexus between their editors and the Church often runs wide and deep. Lots of money and votes are at stake, and even as we were writing in 2010, The New Indian Express published yet another St. Thomas article by a college girl, Shilpa Krishnan.
Shilpa Krishnan tells us, in her article “Under the bleeding cross”, that she is a Tamil Brahmin by birth and an agnostic by choice, not aware of the paradox that she is promoting an anti-Brahmin communal tale in her article, invented by religious fanatics who may well have killed one of her grandfathers when he was defending the Kapaleeswara Temple on the beach from the Portuguese. But in today’s secular socialist India, some Brahmin girls will do anything for money―and The New Indian Express and Madras-Mylapore Archdiocese have a lot of money. Indian newspapers operate like Taliban terrorists, hiding their evil acts behind a young women’s skirts and using children to get their communal, anti-Hindu message across to a gullible public.
TT Maps and Publications Ltd., the TTK guidebook producer set up by S. Muthiah, the Chennai pseudo-historian and St. Thomas advocate, has been as exploitative of the public trust and unprincipled in their conduct as the newspapers. They, too, after receiving a copy of the first edition of this book, have expanded on the fable of St. Thomas as history, bowdlerised the real story of San Thome Cathedral and the Kapaleeswara Temple, and published it all in their Chennai guide books.
Yet whatever effort Indian publishers have put into promoting the St. Thomas myth in Madras, it still belongs very much to the Roman Catholic Church and is subject to her various conceits. When she wants to present herself as being socially conscious―which she is not and has never been―then St. Thomas too must be presented as having a social conscience. In an Indian Express article called “In Memory of a Slain Saint”, in 1989, C.A. Simon writes, “The oppressed and the downtrodden followed [St. Thomas] and claimed equal status in society as it was denied them by the prevailing social norms. He condemned untouchability and attempted to restore equal status for women.”
C.A. Simon’s assertion is pure invention of course. St. Thomas was executed for crimes against society―whether in India or Parthia it does not matter here―and these crimes included the subversion of family life, enslavement of free-born women in the name of Jesus, and sorcery. Untouchability is still rampant among “St. Thomas Christians” today and has the sanction of the Church in the form of a bull issued by Pope Gregory XV (r. 1621-1623) authorising caste divisions within Catholic society. Indeed, the repressive social and religious theories contained in the Acts of Thomas and earlier Gospel of Thomas―which confines St. Thomas to Palestine―and in the New Testament itself, show these preposterous claims for St. Thomas to be motivated additions to a fable that is already over burdened with moralistic wonders.
41. Pranab Mukherjee is wrong on all counts. St. Thomas did not come to India nor did Christianity reach India before it reached Europe—it had already reached Greece, Italy, and Spain in the 40s CE. Nor is it true that “the faith was embraced by the people of India” at any time. Mukherjee is only repeating the popular tale that has been repeated by Indian politicians before him to catch Christian votes. This is to be expected of a Congress party man who idolises Deng Xiaoping and spends public money on a state tour to meet Santa Claus in a Finnish amusement park. Will his next official foray abroad be to Disneyland to meet Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck? Are Indians aware that it is just this kind of false and foolish statement by an Indian political leader that makes India a laughing-stock in Europe?
42. A second century Coptic copy of this Gnostic gospel, probably written in Syria, was discovered in Egypt in 1946. It contains the secret sayings of Jesus as recorded by St. Thomas. Some of the sayings in the Gospel are (identified by verse number):
(16) Jesus said: Perhaps men think that I came to cast peace on the world; and they do not know that I came to cast division upon the earth, fire, sword, war. For five will be in a house; there will be three against two and two against three, the father against the son and the son against the father. And they will stand because they are single ones.
(42) Jesus said: He who has (something) in his hand, to him it will be given; and he who has nothing, from him even the little he has will be taken away.
(56) Jesus said: He who will not hate his father and his mother cannot be my disciple. And he who will not hate his brothers and his sisters, and carry his cross as I have, will not become worthy of me.
(112) Simon Peter said to them: Let Mariham go away from us. For women are not worthy of life. Jesus said: Lo, I will draw her so that I will make her a man so that she too may become a living spirit which is like you men; for every woman who makes herself a man will enter into the kingdom of heaven.