On 23 March 2008 the Deccan Chronicle, Chennai’s leading “Christian” newspaper―Paul Johnson, Paulo Coelho, the Jesuit Fr. Francis Gonsalves, and the professional Christian Hindu-baiter Kancha Ilaiah Shepherd are its religious columnists―published the following item “St. Peter not the first Pope” on its last page. Definitely, it was a “bottom line” article. It said:
The Apostle Peter, also known as St. Peter, was not the first Pope and he never went to Rome, a new documentary has claimed.
In the documentary, The Secrets of the Twelve Disciples on Channel 4 [in the UK], prominent academics have accused the Vatican City of misleading the world over the fate of St. Peter whose journey to Rome, the Church claims, led to the spread of Christianity in the West.
According to its presenter Dr. Robert Beckford of Oxford Brookes University [in the UK], “We found there is no scientific evidence to support the idea that St. Peter was buried in Rome, but yet the rival theory has not got out because it challenges the Church.
“If you undermine its basis for power you undermine the Church. It is tragic that the faith gets reduced to manipulating the facts and to one Church trying to make itself superior to others.”
Indeed, it is tragic that Christian believers have been manipulating history from the very inception of Christianity, and we wonder if Dr. Beckford isn’t up to the same tricks himself. He is a Christian theologian and Christian theologians have been revising history to fit their theological needs ever since “prophecies” of the birth of Jesus were interpolated into various Old Testament books. There is also the great scandal of Josephus, where early Christians rewrote parts of his history of the Jews to make it look like Jesus was a real historical person. In fact there is no evidence for a historical Jesus outside of the New Testament stories. This is an extraordinary circumstance considering the public drama he is supposed to have played out in Palestine and all the Jewish, Greek and Roman scholars who were alive and writing books at the time.
As for the first pope, it can only be Sylvester I, the fourth century Bishop of Rome whose successors would inherit Emperor Constantine’s title Pontifex Maximus―Latin for “greatest priest”―upon the emperor’s death. Constantine had already given Sylvester his red slippers―which only Roman emperors could wear―and built the first cathedral church, known today as the St. John Lateran Archbasilica, for the Bishop of Rome.
It could be argued that Emperor Constantine himself was the first pope as he carried the title Pontifex Maximus his whole life. But the problem is nobody knows if he ever formally converted to Christianity. The more credible story has him forcefully baptised on his deathbed by his mother Helena, who was a fanatic convert to the new Jesus cult.
But to return to Dr. Beckford and his documentary of the Christian apostles which includes a section on St. Thomas in India―a section the Deccan Chronicle was careful to leave out of its news item. The Channel 4 web page for The Secrets of the Twelve Disciples says:
Robert Beckford also tries to find out if there is any truth in the story of Thomas, who, according to one tradition, founded Christianity in India in 52 AD. Most western scholars dismiss this but archaeological digs in India shows a trade with Rome and ancient Jewish settlements, indicating that the story could be true. In 1599, Portuguese colonists tried to destroy the traditions and practices of the Thomas Christians. Do the western Churches still have an interest in trying to marginalise them?
When we contacted Channel 4 and asked what were Dr. Beckford’s conclusions about St. Thomas in India, they replied that “Channel 4 is not responsible for third-party websites” and directed us to the program maker Carbon Media Limited. The Carbon Media web page for The Secrets of the Twelve Disciples has this blurb:
In this revealing two-hour C4 special, theologian Robert Beckford travels across the globe―to Jerusalem, India, Greece, Spain, Italy and Turkey―to reassess the fate of the 12 disciples.
Queries sent to Carbon Media Ltd. about the film’s content on St. Thomas in India were not replied to, so we wrote to Dr. Robert Beckford himself and asked him to give us his opinion of the St. Thomas in India legend. We promised to reproduce his statement without editing or alteration. Still, he, too, did not reply.
We then went to YouTube and found the documentary The Secrets of the Twelve Disciples on the video-sharing website.
Dr. Beckford does not believe the legend that St. Peter went to Rome but he does believe the legend that St. Thomas came to India.
The legend that St. Peter went to Rome is not true, as Dr. Beckford maintains. There is no historical evidence for St. Peter in Rome. Vatican City is built on an ancient pre-Christian necropolis and St. Peter’s Basilica, also built by Constantine, is constructed over a cave temple of Mithra that existed in this vast graveyard which once stood outside the walls of Rome.
But the legend that St. Thomas came to India is not true either. There is no historical evidence for St. Thomas in India except Bardesanes’ pious romance called the Acts of Thomas. The ancient churches attributed to St. Thomas in Kerala―there are seven and a half of them―were built by a second migration of Syrian Christians who arrived from West Asia in the eighth and ninth centuries. They are all built on Hindu temple foundations, the remains of which have been attested to by Christian writers themselves.
The Syrian Christian traditions of St. Thomas are not history. They are only pious traditions. To argue, as Dr. Beckford does, that because there was an ancient sea trade between West Asia and India, St. Thomas must have come to India, is amateurish and motivated scholarship. It is communal propaganda, not history. And herein lies the secret to Dr. Beckford’s “documentary” film on the secrets of the apostles.
Dr. Beckford is a reader in Black Theology and Culture at Brookes University in Oxford. He is also a leader of the black Caribbean Pentecostal Church in England. He holds great animosity for the Roman Catholic Church. Roman Catholic traditions are not true as they are the traditions of an elitist white man’s church, while the traditions of the Syrian Christians are true because Dr. Beckford sees them as a marginalised community and a victim of Roman Catholic imperialism.
Dr. Beckford is wrong on all counts. The Syrian Christians are one of India’s best educated and wealthiest communities. They are also India’s most caste-conscious “white” community. No brown Dalit Christian has ever set foot in their houses or churches. When the Portuguese arrived in India in the sixteenth century, the community aligned itself with the invaders against the Hindu community who had originally given them refuge and social status. That the Syrian Christians later suffered at the hands of the Jesuits because they wouldn’t give allegiance to the Roman pope, is a different matter. You can say it served them right for their ingratitude and treachery.
Again, to return to Dr. Beckford the black theologian and innovative historian and his belief that St. Thomas came to India in the first century―an idea that is only found in the third century Acts of Thomas―we draw his attention to Dr. Koenraad Elst’s article “St. Thomas and Anti-Brahminism” in this book. Dr. Elst writes:
Briefly, if it is true that the apostle Thomas came to India, then the following information furnished by the Acts of Thomas is also true:
• Thomas was an antisocial character;
• Jesus was a slave trader;
• Thomas was Jesus’s twin brother, implying that the four canonical Gospels are unreliable sources which have concealed a crucial fact, viz that Jesus was not God’s Only Begotten Son. In fact, Jesus and Thomas were God’s Twin-born Sons. In other words, accepting the Thomas legend as history is equivalent to exploding the doctrinal foundation of Christianity.
The original Christian doctrine on equality has been expressed by St. Paul, who opposed attempts by slaves to free themselves because “we have all been freed in Christ” and that should be enough. St. Paul’s Letter to Philemon is actually a covering note which he sent along with a runaway slave whom he returned to the legal owner, the Christian convert Philemon.
For St. Paul on slavery see Ephesians 6:5-9, Colossians 3:22-25 & 4:1, 1 Timothy 6:1-2, and Philemon. See also 1 Peter 2:18-25, which begins: “Servants, be subject to your masters with all fear; not only to the good and gentle, but also to the forward.
What does Dr. Beckford the theologian have to say about this?
Dr. Beckford’s African ancestors were slaves brought from Ghana to Jamaica by European Christian traders who had a well-developed “theology of slavery” to justify their inhuman trade. Considering this and the “divinely inspired” pro-slavery quotations above, why does Dr. Beckford still run after the white man’s god?
The documentary The Secrets of the Twelve Apostles seems to have disappeared off of the internet. Oh well, we will try to keep its memory alive here so that Dr. Beckford can tell his grandchildren about how he was duped by the Syrian “St. Thomas” Christians of India, in India.