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04. Western Institutions help spread St.Thomas Myth

Chapter Four

“During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.” – George Orwell

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 racial, religious, regional, linguistic, and political influences. He was the Vicar Apostolic of Trichur from 1887 to 1896, the diocese in which the alleged landing-place of St. Thomas, Cranganore, 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 Cranganore’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 local 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 Cranganore―now 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 the Basilica of St. Thomas the Apostle in 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 Cranganore, 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 his 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 artefacts 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.

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 of Bishop Eusebius of Caesarea, he evangelised Parthia (modern Khorasan). Later Christian tradition says Thomas extended his apostolate into India, where he is recognised 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, as we have shown by direct quotation; it does not even remotely suggest it. There is no known record of a king in Mylapore in the first century, and if the town did have a raja he was not a Zoroastrian with the name of Mazdai. 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 masalaview. He gets away with the deception because nobody has read the Acts of Thomas and studied its references to the kings Gundaphorus and Mazdai (in Persian, Misdeus in Latin, Misdeos in Greek), and the execution of Judas Thomas on a mountain that contained an ancient royal sepulchre.

On 19 September 1996 we decided to call the  Encyclopaedia Britannica’s  bluff and sent a letter, with a copy of this book (second revised edition), to the Encyclopaedia’s editor-in-chief in Chicago pointing out the errors in their St. Thomas entry. 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 travelling 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 this book and had a look at the St. Thomas entry on the Encyclopaedia Britannica website. It says very little about St. Thomas and we could not access the complete article, but it begins like this, “… born, probably Galilee, died AD 53, Madras, India …” 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 encyclopedia 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 encyclopedias 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, that our then website link 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,[15] and this encouraged us to try our hand at Wikipedia editing. We felt assured that Wikipedia was interested in verifiable facts and not just Indian Christian traditions―Indian Christians are not able to distinguish between their beliefs and historical facts; they think beliefs and facts are the same thing―and decided to contribute to the Thomas the Apostle article. We adopted the user name Vena Varcas and introduced ourself 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 encyclopedia. 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 Indiathat, “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 encyclopedia 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 RC-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 Wikipediapage administrator Tinucherian (Cherian Tinu Abraham). Within an hour of the post, he deleted our reference to Swami Tapsyananda 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 has neither citations or credible references, can be exposed with a single example: the statement in the Thomas and India subsection of the main article that the king who executed Judas Thomas for sorcery and crimes against women, Mazdai (Masdai), was “the local king at Mylapore”. This is a preposterous statement. The name Mazdai is Persian and specifically identifies a person who is Zoroastrian by religion. Mazdaism 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.” Deivanayagam of the Madras-Mylapore Archdiocese would produce―and the fact that the Wikipedia administrator Tinucherian 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.

Wikipedia by 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 some place 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 (Tinucherian is a Bangalore software engineer who knows nothing about St. Thomas and the history of Christianity in India) 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 gold 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 civilisational 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.[16]

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 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 East at Seleucia-Ctesiphon because their Persian church had been established by Thomas while his had not.[17] The later 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 Parthia or Persia.

15.  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, [2006]. 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.

16. A friend of this writer had in 2011 created an “Ishwar Sharan” page in Wikipedia with the help and encouragement of a Wikipedia editor called Chiswick Chap. Some months later the page was attacked and vandalised by another Wikipedia editor called Arun. Arun obviously worked with the Kerala Christian mafia who watch over and closely control Wikipedia’s “Christianity in India” pages. The page made for this writer was deleted at its creator’s request, as the content of the page had been grossly perverted and politicised. Wikipedia operates like a Stalinist re-education camp and though it pretends anybody can create and edit a page, in fact the pages are controlled by anonymous administrators who are both ignorant of the subjects they administer and very abusive of their absolute editorial powers.

17. 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. Lastly, the Church of Seleucia-Ctesiphon, properly called the Church of the East, was said to have been established by Aggaeus the disciple of Addai of Edessa in the second century CE. But there was no Church of Muziris (as Cranganore-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.

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