Lecture 2 – First Hour
Evangelization East of Euphrates
“Then how does each of us hear them in his own native language? We are Parthians, Medes, and Elamites, inhabitants of Mesopotamia, Judea, Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the district of Libya near Cyrene, as well as travelers from Rome, both Jews and converts to Judaism, Cretans and Arabs, yet we hear them speaking in our own tongues of the mighty acts of God.” (Acts 1:8-11)
Bardaisan, an Edessene Gnostic philosopher, wrote ca. 196 AD: “Nor do our [Christian] sisters among the Gilanians and Bactrians have any intercourse with strangers.” (Book of the Laws, in Patr. Syr. II, 607). By the end of the second century, it is clear that in Edessa it is well known that in Bactria, by the Baltic See, Christians assert their adherence to their religion’s morality in contrast with the pagans’ custom. What happened between Pentecost through the end of the second century?
The Apostles of the East, i.e. of Mesopotamia, Persia, India:
a. The following references to Parthia as the field for Thomas’ apostolate, are the reporting of history scholars who methodically rely on historic sources:
1- Eusebius (in The History of the Church, III, I, 1 of 325 AD): “… Meanwhile, the holy apostles and disciples of our Saviour were scattered over the whole world. Thomas, tradition tells us, was chosen for Parthia… This is exactly what Origen [(+ 254 AD) tells us in Volume III on his Commentary on Genesis [Patrologia Graeca, 12, 91].”)
2- Ruffinus of Aquila (+ 410 AD) in his Ecclesiastic History I, 9, 2, considers Thomas primarily as the Apostle of Parthia.
3- The Recognitions of Pseudo-Clement, written in Syria during the 4th century but referring to an earlier Acts of Peter,assert the same Parthian field of apostolate for Thomas.
b. The Edessenian tradition of Thomas with apostolate in India:
1- The Dedascalia of the Apostles (c. 250 AD): “India, and all its countries, and those bordering on it even to the farthest sea, received the Apostle’s hand of priesthood from Judas Thomas, who was guide and ruler in the church which he built there” (See Cureton, Ancient Syriac Documents).
2- The Acts of Thomas: It is the conclusion of many scholars that it was composed around the middle of the 3rd Century, by a Gnostic Edessene Syriac author; nonetheless the Hymn of the Pearl Chapter 10 must be prior to 226 AD, because it speaks of the Parthians as rulers of the land. The book is emphatically imbued with heavy Gnostic ascetism, using Thomas and the Hindu ambiance of Brahmas as a suitable arena for its sickly anti-marriage ideas. Regarding the historic context, it narrates how one of the Twelve, Judas Thomas, was constrained to go to India, accepting his lot for preaching the Gospel.
The core of the story revolves around the court of a king Gundaphara, proven to be a historic figure who ruled over the Bactrian kingdom on India’s northwestern borders from Kabul to the Ganges, east and west of Hindus river, from the year 19 AD to the middle of the century, making him contemporary to the apostolate of St. Thomas in that area around 45/46 AD. (See S. Moffett, Christianity in Asia, I, pp. 26-44).