This series is propaganda and little more. (I should write this a dozen more times but I don’t want to waste my time typing or your time reading.) This series claims to be an investigation, but they only seem to find out what they already knew. (I’m shocked, I tell you, shocked!) The series states “Finding Jesus discovers fascinating new insights into the historical Jesus, utilizing the latest scientific techniques and archaeological research.” So, in this episode (Doubting Thomas) the singular scientific attempt to gain new information is the testing of a relic thought to be an arm bone of the disciple Thomas. The interesting thing is that it was found in India. Oh, and I have yet to observe a new insight, fascinating or not, but that is just my humble opinion.
As with all of the past episodes I have seen the first half hour of this show is a restatement of the scriptural account of the characters under examination. Of course there are re-enactments. I really have sympathy for the actor chosen to play Jesus because, try as he might he does come across as smarmy from time to time. Tough role to play. (I am not a god, but I play one on TV.)
The talking heads offer such gems as “Christianity came to India … why not by St. Thomas?” I don’t know, why not Howard the Duck?
They get the sciencey question out immediately, namely will C-14 dating of a relic support the Christian tradition of St. Thomas going to India, there to create churches and baptize many Indians? This is, of course, a tease as they will not answer this question until the very end of the show.
Since the New Testament drops the disciples of Jesus like a hot rock after the resurrection narrative, the show calls upon just snippets from the Gospel of John, you know the one written a hundred years after the actual events and many decades after the first three had been in circulation. (The author of “John” had axes to grind and grind them he did.) In addition they call on the Acts of the Apostles which, if you have read it, doesn’t say much at all about the apostles/disciples unless you consider Paul to have been one. (You know Paul, the “apostle” who only met Jesus in his fevered mind.) But not to worry, just because the normal sources have little to nothing to say about the disciple Thomas, we are rescued by The Acts of Thomas, written at least two hundred years after the supposed events of the gospels. This document was in circulation in the 4th C. CE and has been dated to the 3rd C. 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. I take note that such documents are considered apocryphal (translation: of doubtful authenticity, spurious) by official sources, at least until they are needed to support Christian arguments and then they become “Christian traditions.”
So, we are treated to re-enactments of events described in The Acts of Thomas as if it were holy scripture. Hey, its a good story, so what the heck.
We get breathlessly interrupted with breaking news that we now have evidence that a king who was mentioned in the Acts of Thomas, but who was thought to be mythical, seems to have been a real person. The source was the discover in the 19th C of coins with his name and likeness on them. So much for the latest scientific techniques. The coins were dated to about 60 CE.
But we are told about the Christians in southern India who have been there since the 3rd C. CE and possibly could have been there as early as the 2nd C CE and, oh, what the heck, could possibly even date back to the 1st C CE. Realize that to these people a possibility is a wide-open thing. One of the talking heads chipped in with “Since many people went to India, Thomas could have, too.” Brilliant!
It turns out that the spice trade had already established a healthy degree of contact between southern India and the west. (This is common knowledge.) There was even a community of Jews in place about that time, presumably mostly merchants.
Let ’em take a moment and establish a few time markers. The gospels do not list the ages of the disciples, but since these were all working members of the local communities of the area, we assume they were not children. This would be especially true since if the disciples were to be of any use, they had to have some standing in the community. So, as a rough guess, they would be around Jesus age. This would make Thomas roughly 60 years old in 60 CE, then.
Okay, gang, back to the show!
So, according to Indian traditions, Thomas did his missionary work establishing churches and baptizing folks right and left, but because he was converting many high cast people, he started receiving some negative attention. When he converted the local king’s wife and son, the king had enough and sent a troop of men to hunt down Thomas and pierce him with spears. He was supposedly buried in 72 CE. At that time, he would have been around 70 years old, but the enactment had him still a rigorous middle aged man. Maybe he has some of Methuselah’s blood in him or maybe they did a lousy (aka dishonest) job of re-enacting the scene.
They took the time to repeat the tease again, asking whether testing of the holy relic, said to be the arm bone of St. Thomas, would lend credence to this story?
Along the way they describe how the Indian Christians claim that Thomas was their source of knowledge and that they had two songs that mention his teaching, etc. and how they preserve the practice of the time of segregating women and men in the church. Apparently they hadn’t read Acts of the Apostles because the Jerusalem church was in all kinds of hot water with the Jews for allowing women and men to mix in must public endeavors. These people had preserved the Jewish tradition, not a Christian one. (Details, details.)
If only, more of the documents from the time of Thomas were available, but … hold on moment, I have to stop laughing … okay, wait … in 1599 the Thomas Christians in India were declared heretics by the Pope and the Portuguese came around and burned all of their documents! But the irrepressible commentators responded with, well, in the absence of documents, you just have to have take the events on faith! (Okay, just breathe, slowly, catching my breath.) No sense of irony was detected.
Along the way, they pointed out that the songs of the Indian Thomas Christians had been preserved for 1800 years and that many of the traditions in the region were in almost complete agreement, something that occurred almost nowhere else. This was delivered as if it were some kind of miracle, rather than, since it was so unusual, it was probably an example of contamination. Again, no irony was detected.
They also toss out the “fact” that Thomas, upon arriving in India was given an audience with the king. This is clearly made up as there were all kinds of Jews already in residence and Thomas was not even a merchant with something to sell. he was, in fact, a nobody who didn’t even speak the local language. Why would the king want to meet with him. The document doesn’t say, so this was inserted just to establish that everyone thought that Thomas was an important person. (Realize this is just a few months after the events of the death of Jesus and Christianity didn’t take off for many, many decades, so there is no way the king would have heard of Thomas or Jesus and been curious.
They also glibly tossed out that in those pre-literate times, there were bards (I doubt the Indians called them “bards”) whose task it was to memorize and preserve the songs, so that explained why those Indian songs about Thomas had come down to us, unchanged over 1800 years. Uh, no. Studies of bards have shown a very wide range of versions of stories being told by the same bards! The gist of the stories stayed the same, but the length and details varied a great deal. Just like musicians who know how a tune goes, will improvise it different one nigh differently from the previous, bards seem to do the same, so I doubt very much that these songs are the “same songs” created regarding Thomas in India 1800 years ago. Hell we had a debate about the lyrics of Louie, Louie that wasn’t resolved when the song was till on the radio. YouTube currently has a video up entitled “The True Lyrics of Louie, Louie.”)
They also had the audacity to claim the snippet from the Gospel of John in which the resurrected Jesus presents himself to Thomas in which Thomas greets him with the words “my lord my god” as the only time in the New Testament in which Jesus is recognized as god. In a pig’s eye. John has Jesus referring to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost as three entities within just a few pages. So, the utterance, if real could very well have been “My Lord, my God (has delivered you back to us). I am sure you can come up with myriad other insertions that would make sense. Realize that this was a community of Jews. If Thomas had claimed some man was really Yahweh, he would have been torn apart by a mob for the vilest kind of blasphemy. I can’t imagine that Jesus, even if he were god, would want anyone saying it out loud (and getting torn apart) and I am equally sure that Thomas would have swallowed his tongue before he said such a thing.
Shameless, utterly shameless.
Oh, and when Thomas is finally executed for pissing off the local king, we are treated to the usual “that’s just the cost of following Jesus” BS. But, how about arrogance, the chutzpah, the idiocy. Convert the King’s wife and son to a foreign religion? I can imagine there were warnings given, which were of course ignored, because to hell with anyone else’s sensitivities, he was on a holy mission from God! (Cue the soundtrack of The Blues Brothers.)
Oh, the C-14 testing of the arm bone of Thomas relic, remember that? The date? It came out 130-330 CE. I have to wonder if any of these supposed holy relics can pass even a basic test of authenticity. Are they all fakes?
Oh, the capper! What do you expect the researcher said upon delivering the news of the failed test? Are you sitting down? He said “Not Thomas … but it is really old, one of the oldest” (relics ever dated). “Wow, that’s great!”
Shameless, utterly shameless.
If I were a Christian, I would want these people taken out in a field and stoned.