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Acts of Thomas

From Academic Kids

The early 3rd century text called Acts of Thomas is arguably the most Gnostic of the New Testament apocrypha, portraying Christ as the "Heavenly Redeemer", independent of and beyond creation, who can free souls from the darkness of the world. References to the work by Epiphanius show that it was in circulation in the 4th century. The complete versions that survive are Syriac and Greek. There are many surviving fragments of the text. Scholars detect from the Greek that its original was written in Syriac, which places the Acts of Thomas in Syria. The surviving Syriac manuscripts, however, have been edited to purge them of the most unorthodox overtly gnostic passages, so that the Greek versions reflect the earlier tradition.

Fragments of four other cycles of romances round the figure of the apostle Thomas survive, but this is the only complete one. It should not be confused with the early "sayings" Gospel of Thomas. "Like other apocryphal acts combining popular legend and religious propaganda, the work attempts to entertain and instruct. In addition to narratives of Thomas' adventures, its poetic and liturgical elements provide important evidence for early Syrian Christian traditions," according to the Anchor Bible Dictionary.

Acts of Thomas is a series of episodic Acts (Latin passio) that occurred during the evangelical mission of Judas Thomas ("Judas the Twin") to India. It ends with his "martyrdom" in which he dies pierced with spears because he'd earned the ire of the monarch Misdaeus because of his conversion of Misdaeus' wives and a relative, Charisius. He was imprisoned while converting Indian followers won through the performing of miracles.

Embedded in the Acts of Thomas at different places according to differing manuscript traditions is a Syriac hymn, The Hymn of the Pearl, (or Hymn of the Soul), a poem that gained a great deal of popularity in mainstream Christian circles. The Hymn is older than the Acts in which it has been inserted, and is worth appreciating on its own. The text is interrupted with the poetry of another hymn, the one that begins "Come, thou holy name of the Christ that is above every name" (2.27), a theme that was taken up in Catholic Christianity in the 13th century as the Holy Name.

The text is broken by headings: The First Act, when he went into India with Abbanes the merchant; The Second Act: concerning his coming unto the king Gundaphorus; Act the Third: concerning the servant; The Fourth Act: concerning the colt; The Fifth Act: concerning the devil that took up his abode in the woman; The Sixth Act: of the youth that murdered the Woman; The Seventh Act: of the Captain; The Eighth Act: of the wild asses; The Ninth Act: of the Wife of Charisius; The Tenth Act: wherein Mygdonia receiveth baptism; The Eleventh Act: concerning the wife of Misdaeus; The Twelfth Act: concerning Ouazanes (Iuzanes) the son of Misdaeus; The Thirteenth Act: wherein Iuzanes receiveth baptism with the rest; The Martyrdom of Thomas.

Thomas is often referred to by his name Judas. The manuscripts end "The acts of Judas Thomas the apostle are completed, which he did in India, fulfilling the commandment of him that sent him. Unto whom be glory, world without end. Amen.

Though Gregory of Tours made a version, mainstream Christian tradition rejects the Acts of Thomas as pseudepigraphical and apocryphal, and the Roman Catholic Church finally confirmed the Acts as heretical at the Council of Trent. See also Leucius Charinus

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