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The Creed of Half Japan, by Arthur Lloyd, [1911], at

p. 71


The Legend of St. Thomas

The last chapter will, it is hoped, have prepared the mind of the reader for accepting the idea that the beginnings of Christianity and of the Mahāyāna were nearly related in time, in place, and in idea. Nicolas of Antioch, who became a worshipper of Caulaucau, was certainly a contemporary of the Apostles; the testimony of St. Cyril and others, to say nothing of the Buddhist Sūtra of which we have found a chapter embedded in the "Pistis Sophia," may be taken as evidence of local connection in Alexandria, and the testimony of the same two books may be taken to show that there was a connection (some might call it a confusion) of thought in Gnostic minds between S’akyamuni and Christ.

An early Christian legend, given in the Apocryphal Acts of St. Thomas, and supported by the testimony of Eusebius and others, connects the Apostle St. Thomas with the valley of the Indus. The legend has undoubtedly been much embellished by later additions, but competent scholars have concluded that it is quite possible that it may rest on a substratum of fact. Let us examine the story. 1

Eleven of the original Apostles (Matthias is not mentioned) are supposed to have been together in Jerusalem.

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[paragraph continues] They were, we may presume, in possession of their Master's commandment to go into all nations, and were considering how to fulfil the commandment. "We portioned out the regions of the world in order that each one of us might go into the region that fell to him, and to the nation to which the Lord sent him." They then proceeded to cast lots, a procedure quite in accordance with what we know from the Acts, and "by lot, then, India fell to Judas Thomas, 1 also called Didymus or the Twin."

But Thomas did not wish to go. He pleaded "the weakness of the flesh," "and how can I, being a Hebrew man, go among the Indians to proclaim the truth?" What we know of St. Thomas from the Canonical Gospels makes his hesitancy on this occasion quite natural—in him.

Then Christ appears to him in the night. "Fear not, Thomas," He says; "go away to India, and proclaim the word; for My grace shall be with thee."

But Thomas is not to be moved: "Wherever Thou wishest to send me," he says, "send me elsewhere; for to the Indians I am not going."

But Christ overrules the obstinate refusal of his doubting Apostle. A merchant has arrived from India, with a commission from a certain King Gundaphorus, to buy him a carpenter, and for three pounds Christ sells him His servant Judas, "who also is Thomas." The slave-dealing need not stop us. It only amounts to saying than Thomas came to be sold as a slave to an Indian merchant, and that people saw in the circumstance the overruling finger of God. But Gundaphorus is a historical personage, whose identity has been brought to light by the industry of the pioneers of modern historical research, and was an

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[paragraph continues] Indo-Parthian king, ruling in the Indus valley. Thus St. Thomas goes, according to one story, to India; according to another, to Parthia. Both stories may be true, supposing that he went to Indo-Parthia. Gundaphorus had a long reign, from A.D. 21 to A.D. 60, and he ruled over the districts of Arachosia, the lower Indus, Herat, and Peshawur. He was a great ruler, for the Scythian hordes of the Yuetchi had not yet swept down upon his territories, and, like great rulers, he immortalized himself in stone. He was a mighty builder, and his buildings were artistically adorned. We shall see in discussing Gandhāra art, which is the art of North-West India at the beginning of the Christian era, that it is dominated by Græco-Roman conceptions, and a recent discovery at Peshawur has given the world the name of a Greek architect for the stūpa erected by the Scythian King Kanishka in honour of S’akyamuni's relics. It is, therefore, an altogether possible story that St. Thomas should fall into the hands of kidnappers, and be taken, as a slave skilled in building and architecture, to the court of a great Indian king, thus fulfilling, in spite of himself, the desires of his Master.

The Indian merchant, Abbanes, having made his purchases, returns to his master in Indo-Parthia. "They began, therefore, to sail. And they had a fair wind, and they sailed fast until they came to Andrapolis, a royal city." The Syrian trade with India went overland as far as the head of the Persian Gulf, and thence by sea to the mouth of the Indus. If St. Thomas was sold as a slave and taken to India, it would be by that route that he would be taken. Andrapolis means the "city of the man," and Purushapura, the modern Peshawur, has the same meaning. Purushapura was, as the legend says, actually the royal city of Gundaphorus.

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After being for some time in the service of Gundaphorus, at Andrapolis, or Purushapura, where he did much preaching of the gospel, St. Thomas goes to a neighbouring kingdom, the sovereign of which appears as Misdeus or Basdeo. The second of these names gives us an Indian form, Vasudeva, and it is known that a king of this name was reigning, contemporaneously with Gundaphorus, at Matharā on the Jumna.

It is on the strength of evidence such as this that scholars such as Fleet, Smith, Dahlmann, and others have concluded that it is quite possible that the story of St. Thomas the Apostle having preached the Gospel of Christ in North-West India is well within the bounds of probability, though the same cannot be said of the other story, which tells us that he preached in South India, and was buried at Mailapûr, near the coast of Madras. This much, however, we can say of it. There is a constant tradition in South India which for centuries has connected the shrine of Mailapûr (or Meliapore) with the death, not the preaching, of St. Thomas; and the so-called Christians of St. Thomas can be traced, not certainly to Apostolic times, but to a period of great antiquity. In A.D. 78 there is a Pallava king reigning at Mailapûr and its neighbourhood, and Ceylon tells of another king, named Shálivahana, 1 who was a Takshakaputra, "son of a carpenter," i.e. a Christian—a follower of Christ, or a follower of Thomas the Carpenter. The phrase is a Gnostic one; at some later time I shall show traces of a Gnostic connection between the Alexandrian Gnosis, a Tamil poet from Mailapûr, and Kōbō Daishi.

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For present purposes, I shall assume that the earlier portion of the St. Thomas legend is at least so far true that there actually was Christian preaching at a very early period in North-West India. What I have to say in the next chapter may (or may not) be found to confirm the truth of the ancient legend.


71:1 "Acts of the Holy Apostle Thomas" in "Ante-Nicene Fathers," vol. viii. p. 535.

72:1 Cf. Eusebius, "Ecc. Hist.," i. 13.

74:1 J.R.A.S, vol. xvii. The Pallavas, or Parthians, seem to have carried on an extensive commerce both with the West and the East. It seems probable that Gondopharus and Vasdeo were both Parthians and if so, the Pallava king at Mailapûr may have been Vasdeo.

Next: Chapter IX. The Call from China