Salman Rashid

Travel writer, Fellow of Royal Geographical Society

St Thomas in Taxila

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Among its proudest displays, the Cathedral of Lahore exhibits a small cross in a glass case. Known as the Taxila Cross, it was found in 1935 just outside the ruins of Sirkap, the second city of Taxila, and is commonly believed to signify that Christianity had taken root in the subcontinent shortly after the crucifixion of Christ.

The ‘proof’ supporting this theory is a manuscript titled The Acts of St Thomas that was discovered in 1822 in Syria. According to this document, St Thomas having been assigned by Jesus to teach the gospel in India, arrived by boat at the seaside capital of King Gondophares. Working miracles, he successfully converted the king and all his subjects to Christianity.

Now, whenever the Acts was compiled and even in 1822 when it surfaced in Syria, Taxila had not yet been discovered. Only serious historians well-acquainted with the history of Alexander knew that it lay somewhere to the east of the Indus River in Punjab – and not by the sea as the manuscript claims. Therefore whoever wrote the spurious document on St Thomas had only a smattering of history.

When the cross was discovered in 1935, Cuthbert King the British deputy commissioner of Rawalpindi, evidently knew of The Acts of St Thomas and seized upon this find as ‘proof’ of the existence of Christianity in Punjab as early as the 1st century CE. His belief was strengthened by the fact that newly-excavated Sirkap did indeed date back to the 1st century.

Driven by religious zeal, King completely overlooked the fact that the cross was not discovered inside any identifiable stratum of the ruins but outside in a field by a farmer. And so based entirely on ignorance and enthusiasm, the belief took root that St Thomas had converted northern Punjab to Christianity at a very early date.

According to historians the cross and its derivative the swastika are two of the oldest talismans in much of the world and coins found from Taxila pre-dating Christianity are marked with the cross. Of paramount interest in this regard is the statement of Minucius Felix, a Christian writer of the early 3rd century CE. He states that the Christians ‘neither want nor worship the cross as the pagans do.’ This was so because under the Romans, crucifixion was a common method of implementing the death sentence – and until they had converted, the Romans were famous for executing Christians on the cross.

It was not until the 4th century when emperor Theodosius (reigned 379-95) had abolished death by crucifixion that cross lost its cruel and oppressive connotation and came to be used as a symbol of faith recalling the suffering of Christ. It was only then that Christians began to use the cross as a talisman around the neck or in their homes and churches.

Consequently, even if the Taxila Cross had actually been found within a verifiable stratum in the excavation and pre-dated the reign of emperor Theodosius, it would not have signified the existence of Christianity in Punjab in the 1st century CE.

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posted by Salman Rashid @ 11:52,


At 10 March 2013 at 19:05, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Another myth busted. Thanks SR.

Nayyar Julian

At 10 March 2013 at 19:07, Blogger the ethical man said...

St Thomas reached India from Calicut port Kerala in 1st century..even before christianity reached Europe..

The people he converted in Kerala are still called Syrian Christians..

How he reached Taxila is wonder to me..!! because he was killed on the order of an probably Tamil Indian king ..cause he wanted to convert him and also he ridiculed Tamil local Gods ..

At 11 March 2013 at 08:56, Anonymous Salman Rashid said...

@the ethical man

True. This thing about St Thomas in Taxila is only a myth. He never came here. The detail can be found in my book The Salt Range and the Potohar Plateau (pg 46-48).

At 4 April 2013 at 23:17, Anonymous Anonymous said...

There are mutiple ancient documents indicating that early christians and even jesus travelled to this part of the world. This is not a myth and even there is documentary evidence.

At 14 September 2013 at 11:56, Blogger Adnan Daniel said...

According to Eusebius' record, the apostles Thomas and Bartholomew were assigned to Parthia (modern Iran) and India. By the time of the establishment of the Second Persian Empire (AD 226), there were bishops of the Church of the East in northwest India, Afghanistan and Baluchistan (including parts of Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan), with laymen and clergy alike engaging in missionary activity...

At 13 November 2014 at 12:55, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Not just St.Thomas but Christ also travelled to India. It is also mentioned in old Indian and Budhist writings

At 24 April 2016 at 16:26, Blogger fertileeast said...

Nothing wrong with all these hypothesises,so far back in history who is right who is wrong is of no consequences,legends in any case have always been founded in some kind of truth,I remember reading this book telling the story of jesus,thomas and mary " on the road " to india,with mary having her tomb in marri and jesus samadhi in srinagar while fellow thomas enshrined on the outside of madras,well no harm makes history reads like sherlock holmes,life after all is not that serious. Love very much this blog of yours makes fantastic reading on a sunday hot afternoon in tamil nadu

At 25 April 2016 at 15:48, Blogger Salman Rashid said...

You're very kind Fertile East. Thank you so much.


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Deosai: Land of the Gaint - New

The Apricot Road to Yarkand

Jhelum: City of the Vitasta

Sea Monsters and the Sun God: Travels in Pakistan

Salt Range and Potohar Plateau

Prisoner on a Bus: Travel Through Pakistan

Between Two Burrs on the Map: Travels in Northern Pakistan

Gujranwala: The Glory That Was

Riders on the Wind

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