A study in profile as revealed in the Gospels
Call to be Doubting Tomas
“All ye, who boast of being spiritual children of the original Doubting Tom, you are invited now to swiftly shift into a rational mode worthy of him; for, you are going to discuss his character as revealed in the scripture. We shall look at him through the gospels. But, the important thing here is … please do not hesitate to throw up your doubts during the discussion. Gullible children in his spiritual bloodline ready to believe anything without evidence would put him to shame. So, please ask for evidence at every stage” – this was how Fr Zachariah, the Parish Priest, introduced the theme of the day at the family unit meeting.
The priest then asked the participants if they were acquainted with the recent book by the Pope entitled, “Jesus of Nazareth”.
President James said he had heard about the book. He had read a few reviews on the internet. And certain things mentioned in the reviews had made a deep impression on his mind. The Pope had reportedly stated in its Preface that the book was not meant to be an act of the magisterium; that meant it was not propped with papal authority. It was the offering of his own personal interpretation, and any one was free to contradict him. “What struck me most was (1) his deliberate effort to present the book as an abstract or statement of his personal opinions, and (2) his invitation to every one to contradict him. According to one critic, this invitation, as a motto of Pope Benedict XVI, has no precedent for a successor of St. Peter.”
Fr Z said, “Yes; that is my point. There is widespread misunderstanding today that anything stated by ecclesiastical authorities from Pope downward, whether it be on faith, on morals, on traditions, on legends, or on politics, carries the stamp of authority of the church, and that the laity is bound to accept them in toto without contradicting them even where the issues conflict with the individual’s reason. And so long as that kind of unsustainable notions hold you back, it would be difficult for you to meaningfully engage in our kind of discussions or even to be a thinking Christian. Of course there are the mysteries of our faith that are not amenable to rationalization by the human mind. To put in modern commercial idiom, such mysteries are non-negotiable; they are part of our faith, part of our creed, interpreted from time to time by the Church as an act of the magisterium. Such magisterial proclamations a Catholic is bound to believe and obey.”
Prof Peter butted in. “To me, St Thomas the Apostle was the first thinking Christian, endowed with a rational, skeptical disposition, who would not easily accept assumptions and hypotheses without evidence. He wouldn’t blindly go by what some apparently scatterbrained woman like Mary Magdalene would claim; he should have tangible, provable evidence. And, once such a person gets foolproof evidence, then no one can stop him; he would be unstoppable in ‘walking the talk’ of his new-found conviction, and there wouldn’t be a more committed believer and devotee than him. It was such a commitment that took him to the ends of the then known world to preach the gospel. It was such a zeal and commitment that took another Apostle, St Paul, through his epoch-making hurricane travels across the Roman Empire braving all obstacles.”
Prof Stephen said. “But, let me take the thread from where the Rev Fr was interrupted by respected Prof Peter. Unless we dissect things dispassionately and in the right spirit, through rational and dignified analysis of things and persons, our discussions would end up half done. In that spirit, let us examine the acts and statements of the characters appearing in the scripture as also the legends that have grown around them. To be specific, let us not hesitate to critically discuss the character of St Thomas as depicted in the gospels as also in his legends. In other words, let us all be Doubting Toms ourselves as Fr Z said in the beginning.”
Poet Roy observed that it occurred to him rather strange that Fr Z was now laying special emphasis on discussing the subject freely without being hampered by pre-conceived notions and childhood hangovers. “We had discussed Biblical topics at our previous meetings in a dignified and liberal manner, freely and frankly, in which process we had not hesitated to criticize even church fathers. So, why is this special emphasis for today’s topic?”
Engineer Antony thought Fr Z’s reference to Pope Benedict’s views and his invitation to every one to contradict him was quite appropriate today. “St. Thomas is the Apostle of India, and we have been fed on an overdose of his legends that glorify him and even deify him, thereby obscuring his true personality and character; and hence our discussions today run the risk of becoming subjective and getting compromised unless we are vigilant about it. Therefore, Fr Z’s special emphasis on the need for a consciously objective discussion is most relevant in discussing today’s topic.”
James recalled an awkward experience he had at St Peter’s Square in Vatican in 2003, on the occasion of Mother Teresa’s beatification. During his conversation with his priest-friend from Kerala, James casually expressed some doubts about St Thomas’s visit to Malabar in AD 52. This priest, in spite of his known disposition as a non-traditionalist, abruptly swung around and interjected, “Then what are we, who claim to be his children? Are we not living testimony to his mission in Kerala? Are we children without a father?” Taken by surprise, James thought better of continuing with the subject.
Politician Rosaline agreed. “St Thomas was nicknamed Doubting Tom for very good reason. But we, his children, often behave like Gullible Toms! We have the disposition to believe in legends rather too readily on too little evidence. What a paradox! Strange that most of us have failed to inherit his spiritual genes!”
Sr. Ann said there could be different opinions and interpretations on such legends. “They might at best be reckoned as personal opinions, and should not be allowed to get into our discussion.”
Prof Peter agreed with Sr. Ann. “Time for us to proceed with the topic. Also, let us be clear on this: that the character of St Thomas cannot be considered in isolation; we should holistically consider the context. That means a study of all the Apostles comparing and contrasting with St Thomas would be appropriate, especially because he was a most unique character among the Apostles.”
The Twelve Apostles
Dr Susan struck here a note of caution. She said the gospels revealed very little about most of the Apostles, making a genuine character study of the Apostles a difficult task. For instance, Thomas does not appear anywhere in the earlier three gospels except in a nominal way and, but for John’s gospel, no one would have known of the greatness of this Apostle in any way distinct from that of Simon the Zealot or of Judas Thaddeus. “I am tempted to imagine that we would have had a lively Apostle Simon the Zealot, had another evangelist thought of projecting him to life. Martha and Mary do not find any mention in the first two gospels, and they would have been lost to posterity but for Luke and John. Mother Mary likewise does not feature in the Synoptic gospels except in Jesus’ childhood; it is in John’s gospel that she comes to life and glory. Understandably, gospels were not intended to be biographies or history; their single objective was to convey the Good News. In that process, the characters of many of those great men and women in the life of Jesus have failed to get the kind of attention that would satisfy modern curiosity.”
Alice Teacher agreed. She said, “Let me try to rephrase it in contemporary idiom. The disciples were handpicked by the Teacher himself…. Yes, by the greatest of human resource managers. He could see through them. Their lowly and illiterate backgrounds did not obscure his view. In them he saw great potential and chose them as his disciples; and they were made even greater through some three years of rigorous ‘residential coaching’ under his personal care. Of course they were human beings with different character traits as could be imagined. Some of them appear in the gospels as rather impulsive, rustic, boorish, childish, selfish, quarrelsome, skeptic and slow in understanding. Yet, at the same time, it is difficult from a macro angle to imagine any one of them being of a greater or lesser stature than others, especially since the gospel writers have not projected them adequately or with uniform justice as Dr Susan has suggested. So, let us consider the issue based on whatever is mentioned in the scripture and stop worrying over what is not mentioned in them.”
Poet Roy said “Yes, consider the known, and ignore the unknown. And, based on the known, in my view, only four of the disciples, namely Peter, John, Thomas and Judas Iscariot would merit our attention today, because they showed distinct personality traits and character. “The other eight are presented in a rather colourless manner, and hence I feel we may not profit much by discussing and speculating over them at this stage.”
Prof Stephen startled the group with his strongly expressed view that even Apostle John had the appearance of a somewhat defectively constructed character. “He is an enigma to me. He appears several times in the gospels; yet descriptions about him fail to provide him a cogent character. He was probably the ‘beloved disciple’ who leant against Jesus’ chest during the Last Supper; it was perhaps he himself who was known to the high priest and followed Jesus and Peter to his court for the trial; Jesus committed his mother probably to the same beloved disciple who, along with the women, stood by the cross; early on in the mission, he and his brother were nicknamed ‘Boanerges’ (i.e. sons of thunder) for whatever reason not revealed in the gospels; he was one of the inner circle of three disciples; he received the trust and consideration of Jesus next below only Peter; he was a fisherman, his other fishing comrades being Peter and Andrew, along with his brother James; his father Zebedee owned fishing boats; his mother, like any ordinary woman, was greedy and ambitious on behalf of her sons as narrated in Matthew 20: 20-28; why, according to Mark, it was these two brothers themselves who directly approached Jesus seeking positions of primacy in heaven; in the Acts, he along with Peter is described as uneducated; but the gospels do not provide a cogent picture of his character. We have only a kind of bio-data about him.”
Engineer Antony was rather unsure about Prof Stephen’s assertions. He said, however, it was a paradox that this seemingly shy, boyish, obedient, unassertive and uneducated John could be acquainted with the high priest and could be bold enough to stand by the cross defying Roman soldiers. And such a complex character would in later years write such a scholarly, philosophical, heavily theological, poetic masterpiece of the gospel that bears his name. If he himself wrote it, he must have done it after undergoing a crash course in Greek literature and philosophy in his later life. Also, one may imagine that he had a profound transformation, nay, transubstantiation, after the Pentecost, like all other Apostles.
Singer Tony observed that he had always been puzzled over Jesus’ description of this diffident John as a son of thunder. This too is an unsolvable paradox. So, in totality, I agree, his descriptions in the four gospels put together suffer some inconsistencies here and there.
Prof Stephen resumed his unfinished thought. “As rightly observed by Dr Susan, the gospels were written to convey the Good News and were not intended to be biographies of the characters appearing therein. Yet, as the narratives progress through the four gospels, a somewhat incomplete biography of the chief protagonist, namely Jesus Christ, evolves from their pages. Apostle Peter emerges as a distant second line leader, a kind of inadequate deputy. The contradictions and ambivalences in him look as if they were part of his character. John comes in the third position, getting some share of space and attention in the gospels. He appears to be a born assistant rather than a leader. While Peter seemed having the potential to be shaped into a future leader, John was cut out for the role of a trustworthy assistant, an errand boy. He would not survive as the number one man, as the leader. He could be a ‘sidekick’ in today’s management jargon.”
There was a murmur of disapproval from some of the participants. Dr Susan came to his rescue. She said, “To rephrase Prof Stephen, it was not John, but his unintended biography emerging from the gospels that is ‘defective’. Imagine for a moment that a historian of the caliber of Josephus Flavius or a biographer like Suetonius or Plutarch was engaged to write biographies of the apostles. They would have presented to us very different kinds of individuals as the disciples of Christ.”
The discussants noticed Fr Z flashing an admiring smile towards psychologist Dr Susan.
Roy took a thread from Dr Susan. He said, “I would imagine the twelve apostles depicted by Josephus would be real men with feet on earth, and not the kind of bearded yet conspicuously effeminate, overly humble, other-worldly characters painted by pious artists of medieval times.”
Poet Roy likens six disciples to silent movie artistes
Roy observed that six of the disciples, namely, James, Andrew, Matthew, Simon the Zealot, Judas Thaddeus and James the son of Alpheus, rarely if ever opened their mouth anywhere in the gospels. It is a given in literary criticism that one’s character is revealed through direct speech more than through third party descriptions. One’s character is directly revealed through one’s own articulations. Direct speech can be self-revealing, and even be self-indicting. In the absence of direct speech, it is less easy to evaluate one’s character. These six disciples put in occasional appearance in the gospels like guest artistes in old silent movies without subtitles.
Secretary Leelamma thought James opened his mouth at least twice along with his brother John: once to invoke fire to fall from heaven upon some unfriendly village and another time to seek favoured positions in heaven. “However, I agree with Roy concerning Matthew: no direct speech of his has been recorded. This tax collector was probably an educated man with a wide network of friends; and I imagine he was not a silent follower of Jesus. Andrew spoke just once to inform Jesus about a lad with some loafs of bread and some fish nearby; that is all we hear from him. Simon the Canaanite was a Zealot. And Zealots are supposed to be of fiery disposition. But no word from this Zealot finds a place in the scripture. Absolutely silent as him was James the Less. Judah Thaddeus opened his mouth just once. So, on the whole I accept Roy’s metaphor for them as silent movie artistes.”
Sr. Ann asked, with a trace of sarcasm in her voice, “Roy, how come you haven’t consigned Nathanael Bartholomew too into the silent movie category? He opened his mouth just once, whereas James spoke twice.”
Roy explained, “Yes, Nathanael spoke just once. He exclaimed ‘Can anything good come from Nazareth!’ That one line has sparkled over the centuries. What wit, this! Had it been uttered for the first time in modern times, that phrase would have turned into a prized catch line for our journalists.”
“That is a smart observation, Roy” encouraged Prof Peter. There was a murmur of general appreciation for the poet.
Roy continued. “Nathanael’s witty dialogue in Chapter 1 of John’s Gospel made him look like a man of our times. This brief episode had the liveliness of a colour movie scene. And after this brief, brilliant scene, he too moved in to the silent movie zone.”
Alice Teacher wondered if that little line could at all be regarded as that witty as Roy would like us to believe! What Nathanael meant to convey was a very limited idea. According to the scripture, the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem. Nazareth hadn’t featured anywhere in ancient prophesies. So, he was surprised at Philip’s excitement about having identified one from Nazareth as the Messiah of whom Moses and other prophets had foretold. If that line seemed to pop out and “sparkle”, it was just because the gospel writer had given it a poetic twist.
“That is a brilliant observation, Alice” Prof Peter responded. “However, we may also keep in view that we are going by what is written in the gospels.”
President James said the Synoptic gospels somewhat directly delivered the Good News to the world; and most of the disciples were silent witnesses in them. “There is more drama and much more direct speech by the disciples in St John’s gospel than in the Synoptics. Also, Evangelist John had introduced a larger number of disciples and friends into the framework of his gospel to deliver his theology. Notably, disciples and friends like Nicodemus, Martha, Philip, Nathanael and Thomas come alive for the first time in Johannine gospel. They became vehicles for some of the profound pronouncements of Christ. Nicodemus served the purpose of expounding the ‘born-again’ concept; Martha for the ‘I-am-the-life-and-the-resurrection…’ theology; Thomas for ‘I-am-the-way-the-truth-and-the-life’ theology and his climacteric exclamation “My-Lord-and-my-God” and more. Philip appears more ore less as an ordinary, everyday kind of guy; and Nathanael we have already discussed….
“That leaves Peter and Iscariot among the Twelve for our discussion. Of course a detailed discussion of Thomas needs to follow.”
Fr Z intervened to remind the group that there was already some time-overrun in the discussion. “So, I suggest deferring the discussion on Peter to a future meeting. And let us proceed now straight to Iscariot and Thomas.”
Prof Stephen said he would liken the Judas Iscariot of the gospels to a modern rebel politician in low democracies, greedy for money and power with little moral or spiritual values to guide him. When Mary of Bethany used an expensive ointment on Christ, he saw it as a waste of money that could otherwise have been used for feeding the poor. “On the face of it, he spoke sense. But he was not sensitive enough to grasp the context. And, apparently the poor were far from his mind. It was money that bothered him; not the poor. He would fit in as a practical politician!”
Politician Rosaline was not amused about Iscariot’s description as a politician. “Politics is a noble profession, a profession of service meant to bring long term benefits to vast populations. There are black sheep everywhere, more so where opportunities for handling public funds can lead to temptations. This is true with all public servants including ecclesiastical officials. But I do agree on this with Prof Stephen: Iscariot’s criticism of the waste of costly ointment was not motivated by altruism.”
Prof Stephen gave her a knowing smile. “As to his betrayal of Jesus, I am confused. Even without his help, the state intelligence agencies could easily have apprehended Jesus. Iscariot was probably disillusioned when he learned that the kingdom Jesus spoke about was not of this world. Jews had sensed his alienation and had sought and received his help. The ‘princely sum’ in the form of thirty silver coins they handed to him was more of an honorarium than a consideration for his service.”
Fr Z intervened once again. “We are yet to take up the character of the main protagonist. Let us begin his case now.”
Prof Peter said, “Roy had just now bestowed the silent movie metaphor on six disciples because no meaningful utterances of theirs are recorded in the gospels. Among the remaining six, Apostle Thomas was perhaps the only disciple who comes in the modern 3D film category. In the Johannine gospel, he pops out from the first century silver screen and comes to us and speaks like a 21st century man, exhibiting our kinds of incredulity and sharing our kinds of cynicism.”
Prof Peter continued, “Jesus’ friend Lazarus is sick. His sisters send word to Jesus, who is now camping outside Judea. Jesus is unmoved. He tells the disciples that the sickness wouldn’t bring him death but glory to the Son of God. The disciples are unable to relate. Of late, the Rabbi is increasingly resorting to riddles, causing much confusion and doubts among them. He and the disciples have been communicating from different planes. Jesus announces a couple of days later that Lazarus is dead. And now he wants to go there. Disciples are wary. They say it would be risky to enter Judea again; only the other day had the Jews made an attempt at stoning Jesus to death. None is willing to face the risk. Yet another bewildering dialogue from Jesus…, followed by sullen silence from the disciples. Peter sits there with his face downcast. Thomas thereupon takes a desperate initiative and breaks the stalemate …”
The Prof paraphrased Thomas’s apology:
‘This Rabbi is saying things that are incomprehensible to us. Lazarus is dead anyway. What good is there now in braving the risk and going to Judea? Yet he wants us to go there with him. Knowing him as we do, he is not going to budge. We have the option to leave him…. But, think about the situation. For better or worse, we have put in our lots with him. For full three of our best years in life we have been wandering with him and toiling with him and sharing his excitement. And what shall we do if we leave him now? What kind of life awaits us in the world outside without him? Therefore, my brethren, let us not abandon him at this stage. If we abandon him now, we would be abandoning ourselves. Therefore, let us go with him. If death awaits us, let us face it together. And, as it had happened in the past, it might even turn out to be for our good. Who knows?’ ”
Poet Roy was the first to express his appreciation for the effective way the Professor paraphrased the Biblical line. He added, “But I have heard the same line being interpreted differently thereby evoking different kinds of moods. One interpretation is that Thomas was being sarcastic. Another is something like this:
‘You servile guys will eventually fall in line with him and follow him in a sulk. And I would have no alternative but to cling with you. So, let us all go and die with him!’
I have also read somewhere that Thomas was cursing the situation. But then readers interpret according to their perception. Personally I am inclined to take the line of the Professor.”
Fr Z said he too was with Professor Peter. The Rev Fr then invited the group to take up the greatly more momentous occasions in the Apostle’s life as recorded in the gospel.
Thomas’s confusion about the Way
Advocate Dimmy made a reference to the poignant scene (John 14) in which Christ was consoling the disciples. “He was trying to communicate with them in a language that went over their head, thereby adding to their acute discomfort. They heard him saying he would go to his Father and prepare a place for them in his Father’s mansion. Then he utters another mysterious statement: ‘Where I go you know, and the way you know’. The disciples were utterly disconsolate with the Master’s serial statements that sounded other-worldly and scary. Grief-stricken and tongue-tied, they sat there immobilized. Only Thomas among them had the energy and the presence of mind to seek clarification about the ‘way’ the Master just now mentioned. And that prompts Him to drop the bombshell of his supreme theology:
‘I am the way, the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father except through me’.
It was Apostle Thomas who acted as the leader of the group at such a defining moment. Why other Evangelists omitted to mention about such a leader-figure in their gospels is a mystery to me.”
Fr Z said he was spellbound by Dimmy’s well-presented description. Now, who will initiate the Doubting Tom episode? Engineer Antony raised his hand.
Thomas’s Skepticism concerning Resurrection
Engineer Antony said only Thomas, among the Apostles, had the guts to be himself when the resurrection story was brought to him. Other apostles rather too easily fell for the women’s story; they believed because either their faith in Jesus was so strong or they were easily given to believing in the preternatural. Thomas stood his ground like a 21st century cynic. Against peer pressure to believe, he set his terms. He would not believe merely by seeing; he should physically examine the phantom of the resurrected Christ. When the ‘phantom’ appeared the next time, ‘it’ gently invited him to examine ‘its’ body. And Thomas promptly obliged by placing his finger at the wound on ‘its’ side. Realization mingled with repentance flooded through him, and he fell down with the anguished cry, “My Lord and my God!” That cry has reverberated in the Christian heart ever since, over the centuries.
James said, “A typical 21st century man! Apostle Thomas was a human being with flesh and blood like us, wearing shirt and pants. As Prof Peter said, a 3D film character indeed. Hard to believe a 21st century man lived in the 1st century! Thomas knew Jesus and believed in him.”
Sr. Ann observed that Apostle Thomas was fortunate that he could touch the risen Lord. “But, today if anyone puts forth a pre-condition like that in its literal sense, she would be disappointed. Yet, she can feel the Lord, not by physically touching him but by touching him in spirit. That, according to me, is the essence of what Jesus said, ‘Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.’ Those who have not seen by their physical eyes should see him with their spiritual eyes. Otherwise it will be well-nigh impossible to believe in God.”
Singer Tony had his take. “I have always thought that the risen Christ was rebuking Thomas when he said to him, ‘Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed’. I must thank Sr. Ann for correcting my impression. Christ was teaching us a very important lesson through the instrumentality of Thomas that no one can truly believe without seeing. As they say, to see or to touch is to believe. Thank you Sister Ann.”
Secretary Leelamma remembered the teaching in the old catechism as expounded by the Rev Fr the other day: God created us to know him, love him and serve him as a pre-condition for us to join with him eternally in heaven. “Here Apostle Thomas wanted to know the risen Christ by touch, thereby unwittingly demonstrating for the benefit of the posterity the need for every one to know God before being able to say, ‘My Lord and my God’. We see a great St Thomas here, a man who had his own mind, who could believe with all his spirit and with all his strength, because he knew.”
Singer Tony thought that possibly all the twelve disciples were modern in spirit, who could jump out from the 1st century silver screen towards the present generation. If only some contemporary writer had made their authentic biographies as Dr Susan said!
James said legends had it that Thomas was a carpenter. However, going by John 21:1-3, he might as well have been a fisherman. But then, man’s earthly professions are immaterial and irrelevant in the eyes of God.
Fr Zachariah said, “We have had a fruitful discussion, an informed discussion. All of you had come prepared. During the tea session, some of you had suggested inclusion of a discussion of St Thomas’ legends as well; but that in itself would take more than a single session. Some of the legends may appeal to reason, some others are extravagant and hard to believe; and personal opinions can be subjective. I myself would give very low priority to discussing them. My concern at present is discussion of the canonical scripture and not misleading legends. Yet, as some of you would prefer a discussion of the legends, I would grant five minute time now. Let us begin with President James; he had an unpleasant experience with a priest in Rome about the legend of St Thomas’s arrival at Muziris in AD 52. Come on, James, shoot. But, be brief.”
St Thomas and AD 52
James said St Thomas might have visited Malabar any time during AD 50-60. “The year 52 is a plausible year for his landing, because there is no evidence for or against it. His arrival cannot be related to any known historical event and hence historically the year 52 as such is un-provable either way. Even Christ’s year of birth is uncertain. But we do know that the historical figure Herod the Great died in BC 4; so, going by Matthew and Luke, Jesus was born before that year. The date of Dec 25 is not Christ’s birthday; that date is knowingly given for celebration. So the Western Church is flexible about these dates. In contrast, the Easterners are absolutely sure about AD 52.”
James added, “That is what I mentioned while in Rome, for which I received an emotionally surcharged dressing down from my priest-friend as if, by casting doubts about the year AD 52, I were questioning his very legitimacy!”
Upper caste conversion
At a nod from Fr Z, Poet Roy raised his hand. He said, “By profession and financial status, Jesus and his disciples were at the lower end. In the circumstances, it is difficult to visualize the Apostle travelling all the way from Palestine to distant Malabar in order to pick and choose upper caste people for God’s salvation. By casting him in that role, are we not making him out to be a traitor to his Master and to his own theology? Unthinkable. His intent was probably to bring the good news to the Jewish diaspora then in India. But, as in Rome and elsewhere, Jews (as also the later Brahmins in Malabar), with their long traditions, were steadfast in their inherited beliefs and customs; and hence they were unlikely to readily eschew their mother-religion and embrace a new one. So in all likelihood, he might also have preached to a cross section of the local people and successfully brought them to Christ.”
More number of hands went up. The Rev Fr said it was time to conclude. However, he could not possibly dissuade anyone from speaking. “It is your right to express yourselves.” Engineer Antony received the nod.
Antony said it was strange that extravagant myths grew around the Apostles after the departure of Christ from the world. “Take the cases of apostles James, Bartholomew, Andrew, Philip or Thomas. Apostle James proceeded to Spain soon after the Pentecost and laboured there for the rest of his life. He returned to Jerusalem in AD 46 to receive early martyrdom. His body was conveyed to Spain in a stone boat carried by angels through the ‘Pillars of Hercules’ (modern Gibraltar) and was buried in north-west Spain. His tomb was re-discovered in the ninth century. This discovery motivated Christian Spaniards to unite against the Moors who had conquered vast tracts of Spain….”
Fr Z intervened and said popular legends of this kind were outside the pale of the accepted creed. In any case, the apostles themselves were not responsible for those stories that grew around their names over the years. “If St Thomas were to visit Kerala once in a while like Mahabali, he would be wonderstruck by the widespread legends about him, for instance, about the hero of the so-called Rambaan Songs!”
Poet Roy butted in, “As a tourist, St Thomas would notice a duplicate Thomas having taken his place in Kerala. The Apostle would be confused if he himself is the real one or just a myth.” Over the clamour of protests from the participants, Roy was heard quoting some outlandish riddle somewhat on these lines:
Local man to tourist Thomas: ‘If you are not a myth, then whose reality are you?’
Another local man: ‘And if you are not reality, then whose myth are you?’…”
Leelamma said this was blasphemy to the core. Unfazed, Roy said blasphemy meant irreverent behavior against God and sacred objects and not about myths.
Prof Stephen said myths grow easily around great personages. “One of the myths in the 3rd century book known as Acts of Thomas is that the Apostle was the twin brother of Jesus! Why, just because the name Thomas or Didymus meant ‘twin’? Is this a sufficient reason to come to such a fantastic inference? He could have been the twin brother of someone else.”
Poet Roy opined that the Acts of Thomas read like a historical novel with more fiction than fact. “Some historical figures like Gondophares or Gondophernes have been inserted therein to lend some credibility to the story. By the way, Gondophernes was the title of a series of rulers in Parthia and not a personal name; it was a title like the Pharaoh of Egypt or the Mithridates of old Persia or the Shahanshah of Iran.”
Singer Tony vehemently asked Roy if he had read the book at all. Roy conceded he had not. Tony retorted that, if he had not read the book, it would be absolutely inappropriate for him to discuss its assumed contents here.
Sr. Ann advised Roy, and suggested to Fr Z, that the decent thing under the circumstances would be to skip the legends from the scope of the discussion.
The octogenarian Prof Peter gestured to President James and to Fr Z that the meeting could be concluded.
Fr Z said, “Some of you here might concur with the opinions expressed by Roy. Others may not. Extravagant legends are created by gullible people, and they are embellished and celebrated over the years. Such legends might contain some fragments of truth; but good many of such unfounded stories would be unworthy of an Apostle of Doubting Tom fame. And there can be different opinions on them, some even leading to emotional conflicts, if not schisms. So, we are not discussing legends any further. Our objective was to study and interpret the scripture. That, in my view, has been well accomplished. Thank you all for making this a fruitful discussion.”
The Rev Fr set the agenda for the next meeting. That was about Apostle Peter. And the meeting concluded with a vote of thanks to Fr Zachariah.
K X M John
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