The Gnostic Society Library

Archive | Library | Bookstore | Search | Web Lectures | Ecclesia Gnostica | Gnostic Society

The Gnostic Apostle Thomas: "Twin" of Jesus

The Gnostic Apostle Thomas: "Twin" of Jesus?

by Herbert Christian Merillat


Table of Contents


Chapter 1. Go Ye Into All the World

Apocryphal Acts of the Apostles. Acts of Judas Thomas (AJT), as "twin" of Jesus in Syriac culture. Thomas goes to India with an agent of King Gundophorus.

Chapter 2. Passages to India

Where was "India"? Trade between the Roman world and India.

Chapter 3. The True Wedding

Introduction to Christian Gnostic movement through episodes of AJT: Role of female Wisdom (Sophia/Hakhmuth) in creation. Valentinian rite of the Bridal Chamber: symbolic spiritual union.

Chapter 4. Beyond the Law

Antinomianism: tendency to go beyond the Law, in asceticism or license; parallels with Paul; example of Augustine as a Manichean. Some libertine Gnostic sects: Simon Magus, Naasenes, Carpocratians.

Chapter 5. Land of Five Rivers (Punjab)

AJT account of Thomas at court of Gundaphorus; Gundaphorus in history at Taxila (Punjab), a major center of Buddhism; Conversion of Gundaphorus; More on Gnostic beliefs and rites; Motif of twin in AJT and elsewhere.

Chapter 6. A Saintly Rival

Apollonius of Tyana: pagan rival to Jesus/Thomas; his travels in India.

Chapter 7. Twinship

Acts 3-6 of AJT; Gnostic touches; three secret words spoken by Jesus to Thomas. Twin motif in Indian and Iranian myths and art.

Chapter 8. Land of Two Rivers (Mesopotamia)

Description of Edessa (modern Urfa, Turkey), seat of ancient Syriac-speaking culture, where AJT and other "Thomas" books were written. Rome versus Persia; political and cultural rivalry; Edessa caught between. Religions in Mesopotamia at beginning of third century (when AJT was written).

Chapter 9. Marcion (Second Century)

Marcion: preaches a True God of love, above the biblical creator-god of righteousness. Marcion's asceticism; rejection of Old Testament and Jewish elements in Christianity; Forms his own scripture based on Luke and epistles of Paul; Role of Marcion's scripture and church in shaping the Christian New Testament

Chapter 10. Son of the Leaping River(Bardaisan)

Bardaisan (165-222), a leading early Christian in Edessa. later attacked as heretical; once considered possible writer of AJT. His Dialogue on Fate -- role of nature, fate, and free will; customs of foreign countries; interest in astrology; knowledge of Hindus and Buddhists.

Chapter 11. Mani

Mani (216-277), "Apostle of Christ," "Paraclete," establishes own religion in Mesopotamia (then under Persian rule) Basic myth of Manicheism: perpetual conflict of Light and Dark, Good and Evil. Role of "Five Members of Mind." Based mainly on Christianity, with elements of Buddhism and Zoroastrianism; regarded as heresy by all three. Manicheism spreads through Asia and Europe as a major rival of Christianity; Use of Acts of Judas Thomas; Augustine as a Manichean quotes AJT.

Chapter 12. Medieval Pure Ones

Brief descriptions of a medieval offshoot of Manicheism: Cathars of southern France. Kabbala as Jewish gnosticism.

Chapter 13. After Constantine

Conversion of Constantine to Christianity (A.D. 312). Repercussions east of Euphrates; Persian persecution of Christians. Syriac poet-theologian Ephraim (4th century) attacks Marcion, Bardaisan, Mani.

Chapter 14. Thomas and Edessa

"Discovery" of Jesus-Abgar correspondence making Thomas and Thaddeus founders of Christianity in Edessa; possible motives and explanations. Nestorian Church of the East, claiming Thomas as founder, breaks with western churches in fifth century; becomes the Christian church of Asia. Later fate of Edessa.

Chapter 15. Land of Pepper

Last chapters of Acts of Judas Thomas;Thomas makes converts at court of King Mazdai in "India"; Hymn of the Pearl(motif of twin again); Conversion of noble ladies at Mazdai's court; martyrdom of Thomas; conversion of king. Malabar Coast (Kerala, India)description; local tradition of evangelization by Thomas, based in part on AJT.

Chapter 16. St. Thomas Christians

Other legendary migrations of Christians from Mesopotamia; elements of the local tradition St. Thomas Christians become, in effect, a high caste in the Hindu system.

Chapter 17. The Portuguese Arrive

Medieval friars travel in India; Marco Polo visits Thomas's tomb. Arrival of Vasco da Gama in 1499; Relations between Portuguese and Thomas Christians in first half of 16th century; increasing friction; Arrival of Archbishop Menenez.

Chapter 18. Thomas versus Peter

Clash between Menenez and Archdeacon George. Synod of Diamper in 1599 accepts Rome and Peter; detailed articles of Synod substitute Roman Catholic articles, rituals, books, and organization for those of Thomas Christians. Arrival of Dutch and banishment of foreign clerics. Relics of St. Thomas; churches in Madras; tomb; translation of his bones to Edessa; later travels of the relics.

Chapter 19. Wandering in the East

Inquiry as to why Thomas was said to have visited certain places. Dominican Friar Vincent Maria's list of Thomas's legendary destinations apart from southern India: Edessa and Mesopotamia; China and central Asia.

Chapter 20. Wandering in the West

South America: Brazil and Mexico. Medieval references to Thomas in England and France. Fate of the Nestorian church in Western politics.

Chapter 21. Buddha as a Christian Saint

Sketch of legends of the Buddha's life Parallel tale of Barlaam and Josaphat; Buddha as a Christian saint. Earlier religious currents moving between West and East, including Mithraism

Chapter 22. Buddhism and Gnosticism

Buddhism and Gnosticism compared: similarities and divergences. Role of "Wisdom"; negative view of the world; Five Members of Mind and five mental skandhas; stages of spiritual ascent; origins of monasticism; trade and art links between Roman world and India; ideas about salvation.

Chapter 23. Gospel of Thomas

Discovery of 4th-century Gnostic library at Nag Hammadi in Egypt, including the Gospel of Thomas -- Sayings of Jesus purportedly recorded by Thomas, his special confidant. Some striking differences from the New Testament canon.

Chapter 24. When the Two Become One

Theme of conjunction of opposites and symbols of mystical union ("when left becomes right"; "the male with the female, neither male nor female.") Mystical experience symbolized in male-female union and various cultures; Women in Gnostic texts as confidantes of Jesus--Salome and Mary Magdalene.

Chapter 25. Knowing Oneself

Thomas addressed by Jesus as "the one who knows himself" in the Book of Thomas the Contender; Self-knowledge as one theme of Gospel of Thomas and certain Gnostic texts. "From the stroke of one tittle": Basilides' myth of creation and emergence of humankind. Focus on Five Members again; notions of mind, consciousness, self (ancient and modern).

Chapter 26. Experiences of Oneness: An Aside

Jung as a modern gnostic. Modern experiences: Emerson, Tillich, Quakers.

Chapter 27. Lady Wisdom Again

Is Jewish Wisdom tradition the primary source of Gospel of Thomas? Major differences between the two. Closeness of "Thomas" and Gnosticism in general to other Wisdom traditions; to Cynics. Thomas as exemplar of the teachings of the early "Jesus Movement"--wanderer without home, family, possessions.

Chapter 28. Oneness: Some Other Early Views

Plotinus close to Thomas. "Love" in the Gospel of Thomas and early traditions

Chapter 29. The Thomas Books

A recapitulation of the "Thomas" literature--books ascribed to him, or in which he has a significant role: Gospel of John, Gospel of Thomas, Book of Thomas the Contender, Acts of Judas Thomas, Infancy Gospel of Thomas, Pistis Sophia.

Chapter 30. Knowing Thomas

A summary chapter. Two traditions: Thomas as founder of churches and Thomas as expounder of a distinctive message. Thomas a Gnostic? Review of distinctive Gnostic elements. Thomas in Mesopotamia-Syria and Egypt.


Recent interest in Thomas and Asian mystical systems. Relationship between gnostics and mainstream Christians.

Click here to go to the Introduction.

The Gnostic Apostle Thomas (c) 1997 Herbert Christian Merillat.


Archive Note: Herbert Christian Merillat died in April of 2010 at the age of 94 (see obituary in The Washington Post.) Mr. Merillat, was an expert in international law; he also wrote two books about the Battle of Guadalcanal, which he had seen firsthand during World War II.

He finished and published this book on Thomas when we was 81 years old -- it was a work of love. We are pleased to continue hosting his work here at the The Gnosis Archive.