Thursday, October 6, 2022

The Myth of Apostle St. Thomas

Entrance to 

Nilakkal Sree Mahadeva Temple

There is no evidence to support the claim that Apostle St. Thomas preached in India. The historicity of St. Thomas is as doubtful as the historicity of other Biblical characters, including Jesus Christ. Missionaries and anti-Hinduism activists were responsible for popularizing the crackpot theory that, in 53 CE, St. Thomas reached India, where he baptized some natives, helped them in developing Christianized literature, and was eventually killed by a jealous Brahmin.

Rajiv Malhotra and Aravindan Neelakandan have devoted several pages in their 2011 book, Breaking India: Western Interventions in Dravidian and Dalit Faultlines, to unmasking the myth of St. Thomas. Here’s an excerpt from Chapter 8, “Digesting Hinduism into ‘Dravidian’ Christianity”:

“The story that places the Apostle St Thomas in India in 53 CE is a lingering medieval myth. It implicitly includes colonial and racial narratives; for instance, that the peaceful apostle ministered to the dark-skinned Indians, who turned on him and killed him. This myth, however, has no historical basis at all. Nevertheless, it has been shaped by various Christian churches into a powerful tool for the appropriation of Hindu culture in Tamil Nadu, by giving credit to ‘Thomas Christianity’ for everything positive in south Indian culture, while blaming Hinduism for whatever is to be denigrated. It further serves as a tool to carve out Tamils from the common body of Indian culture and spirituality.”

According to the two authors, in the first half of the twentieth century, the myth of St. Thomas arriving in India was rejected by most Christian scholars, including the famous Jesuit Indologist Father Henry Heras. Heras rejected the theory that the grave of St. Thomas had been found in Madras. The early missionary scholars like G U Pope tried to prove that ancient Tamil literature was influenced by Christian ideas but they could not come up with evidence to back their claims. In the 1970s, some missionaries, zealots like M. Deivanayagam, adopted a new strategy—they aligned with the leaders of the Dravidian movement. With the support of the Dravidian movement, the myth of St. Thomas was transformed into a political weapon. 

Malhotra and Neelakandan cite from reports which show that the missionaries have made large payments for fabricating the evidence that St. Thomas was in India in 53 CE: “Some enterprising churchmen went on to fabricate archeological evidence with heavy financial support from the Vatican. Suddenly, startling 'discoveries' were announced of St Thomas crosses being found near famous Hindu pilgrim centers. Naturally, this provocation created social tension, which provided fodder for international Christian propaganda claiming that the Hindus were attacking Christianity. One such hoax concerning the St Thomas myth involved the archbishop of the Madras diocese, and this was publicly exposed in the Madras High court in 1975.”

A Catholic priest claimed that he had found St. Thomas’s cross in Kerala, close to the site where the Nilakkal Sree Mahadeva Temple is located. It was clear from the beginning the cross was a hoax; it was not from 53 CE. But the Catholic establishment built a temporary church at the site. The five foot cross was consecrated at this church. Malhotra and Neelakandan note that the “Hindus saw this as an invasion of one of their most popular pilgrimage sites. Hindu temples throughout Kerala hosted black flags and priests wore black pendants in protest.” The cross mysteriously disappeared when there was a call for having it scientifically examined.

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