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AD 40

Arrival of Apostle Thomas in India


The acts of Thomas are not found in the Acts of the Apostles.  But an apocryphal book written around 200 AD called "Acts of Thomas", describes it with embellishments and exaggerations. “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.” (Harold W. Attridge: The Anchor Bible Dictionary, v. 6, p. 531) The style of the book is typical of the period and is written in the form of a dramatic story telling.  In the days when books were rare and not accessible to common man, the idea was to make the point clear with added techniques of keeping the major theme in tact while embellishing them with memorization fringes. Acts of Thomas, is thus an early Christian kind of novel, which was originally written either in Greek or Syriac


Until the middle of the nineteenth century, the historicity of the events and hence the traditions were questioned by scholars.  

“Did a king of the name of Gondophares reign over any portion of India, and was he a contemporary of the Apostolic age? Where was his kingdom situated? Was it practicable for the Apostle Thomas to have had access to it?

Should the above questions receive an affirmative solution, they would justify the inference that the recital in the Acts of Thomas in this point was based on historical knowledge; and further, that on this account the Acts themselves deserved closer study and examination.

The name of King Gondophares appears in the Syriac text of the Acts as Gudnaphar; in the Greek version as GoundaforoV : codd. Rand S of a later date give GoutaforoV and GoundiaforoV ; the longer Latin version, De Miraculis, does not reproduce the name of the king: he is throughout styled ‘rex’; it appears in the shorter Latin version, Passio, as Gundaforus: codd. QGR of Max Bonnet’s Acta Thomae give Gundoforus.

It was only about the middle of the nineteenth century that it became possible to say whether a king of that name ever existed and had reigned in India.

In 1854 General Alexander Cunningham, writing in the Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal (Vol.xxiii. pp.679-712), was able to say that in the preceding twenty years no less than thirty thousand coins bearing Greek and Indian legends, and extending over a period of more than three centuries, had been found in Afghanistan and the Punjab. A large, if not the greater, number belong to Greek princes who ruled over the country as inheritors of and successors to the conquests of Alexander the Great. Another portion bear the evidence of Scythian conquerors, confirmed also by other authorities, and of Parthian kings and rulers who had become masters of these territories. The coins of Gondophares, the king with whom we are concerned, belong to the latter category.” 


The exact route of Thomas is not clear.  We know that on the way to India, Thomas actually established churches in the Yemen.  This church was destroyed under the on rush of Islam around 600 AD,  It is likely that they went directly to Taxashilla (Taxila) the capital of King Gondaphores.  In that case it is sometime in 40s.  This is supported by the current understanding of the date of the Kingdom of Gondaphorus which came to an end in AD 50.  In that case he was in the region for nearly 10 to 12 years. 

The fragment of Acts of Thomas in Coptic

According to Church Tradition, the holy Apostle Thomas founded Christian churches in Palestine, Mesopotamia, Parthia, Ethiopia and India.  Actually Yemen was considered part  of Ethiopia since both were ruled by Queen Sheba and her dynasty.  Axum and Yemen were deeply involved in the trade network between India and the Mediterranean. Recent archaeological discoveries in Mareb, Yemen support the view that Sheba ruled from Mareb. The tradition asserts that Ethiopia was given by Sheba to her son from solomon.  Haile Selassie is considered as the 406th descendant of this dynasty.

A 17th Centuary drawing of St.Thomas going with Abbanes found in Denmark




The basic story is that a merchant Ambassador Habbanes (This is probably a Greek pronouncement of the name Appana. Habbanes was probably from the Kingdom of Pandhya Empire) and Thomas was sold to him as a master carpenter by his Master - Jesus the Carpenter. He was the ambassador for King Gondaphores the Indo-Parthian Kingdom of Indus Valley Area (Sind, Pakistan, Baluchistan and Afghanisthan). Takshasila, (The English version of the name is Taxila which was a University City in the Indus Valley) the capital of Hondaphorus Kingdom. He established a church in that region before he traveled to other areas of India. These churches were annihilated during the invasion of Kushan and Moghal dynasty.


It has also been suggested that Gondophares may be identical with Phraotes, a Greek-speaking Indo-Parthian king of the city of Taxila, met by the Greek philosopher Apollonius of Tyana around 46 CE according to the Life of Apollonius Tyana written by Philostratus.


The Ruins of Taxila, the Capitol of the Indo-Parthian Kingdom of Gondaphorus - now in Pakisthan

St. Thomas is said to have begun his missionary work here in India


The coins from Taxila with the seal and inscription of King Gudophorus as
"Maharaja - rajarajasamahata -dramia -devavrata Gundapharase"


The discovery of Gondophoras coins was made by one Charles Masson who worked in the Bengal European Artillery.  During his stay in Kabul he got interested in the antiquities.  In 1833 he undertook digging in Begram, the ancient Kapis and discovered 1565 copper coins and 14 gold and silver coins.  This brought alive the history of  the long forgotten Indo-Parthian Kingdom. 


This Takhth-i-Bahi Stone 17" long and 14.5" broad has the inscription
"In the twenty-sixth year of the great King Gudaphara in the year three and one hundred, in the month of Vaishakh, on the fifth day"


“The Indo-Parthian kingdom was founded by the first of several kings named Gondophares in the late first century BC. Gondophares, as well as being a Saka king, was probably a member of the Suren family, one of the seven major noble houses of the Parthians, whose feifdom was in Seistan, by now known as Sakastan, on the eastern borders of the Parthian empire. Indo-Parthia expanded to the east, sometimes as vassals of the Parthians and sometimes independently, eventually stretching to Pakistan and northern India. Indo-Parthia suffered major defeats at the hands of the Kushans in the late first century AD, and eventually was reduced to the area of Sakastan and Arachosia until their conquest by the Sassanians during the 3rd century AD.”


Gondophares-Sases, c.35-55 AD
British museum


Pahlavas / Indo-Parthians

The expansion of the Kushans was checked by the Indo-Parthians, or Pahlavas, who had their origins in Persia. Gondophares was a vassal of the Parthian Arsacids, and it was he who declared his independence from them and ventured eastwards to establish his own kingdom in present day Afghanistan, Pakistan and northern India, sharing domination of the region with the Indo-Scythians



c.AD 10  The Indo-Greek kingdom disappears under Indo-Scythian pressure.

Pockets of Greek population probably remained for some centuries under the subsequent rule of the Kushans and Indo-Parthians.


c.AD 20 – 50 Gondophares Parthian vassal who declared independence


c.20 Gondophares ventures east and establishes an independent Indo-Parthian kingdom in Afghanistan

c.50 - 65 Abdagases I  Nephew

c.60  Satavastres

c.70 Sarpedones

c.70 Orthagnes / Orthagnes-Gadana

c.75 The Kushan ruler, Kadphises, subdues the Indo-Scythians and establishes his kingdom in Bactria and the valley of the River Oxus, defeating the Indo-Parthians and recapturing the main area of their kingdom. The Pahlavas survive in northern India and Pakistan, mainly Sakastan and Arachosia.

c.77  Ubouzanes Son.

c.85 Sases / Gondophares-Sases

c.90 Abdagases II

c.100 The neighbouring Kushans capture former Indo-Greek Arachosia (Medieval Ghazi) from the Indo-Parthians.

c.100 – 135 Pacores / Pacores is the last king with any real power. One more Indo-Parthian king follows him but in diminished circumstances, and virtually unknown to history

? Known from numismatic evidence only.

c.140? By this date, if not before, the last Indo-Parthians are conquered by the Kushans.


"Gondophares" was probably a title held by many kings of the period who ruled the Indo-Parthian Kingdom. The name Gondophares is a latinization of Greek ΥΝΔΟΦΕΡΡΗΣ, from Old Persian Vindafarna meaning "May he find glory." Indian names include 'Gondapharna', 'Guduvhara' and Pali 'Gudaphara'. Gondophares is 'Gastaphar' in Armenian. “Gundafarnah” was apparently the Eastern Iranian (Sistani) form of the name.

Coin of Gondophares (20-50 AD CE), first king of the Indo-Parthians
Obv: Bust of Gondophares
Rev: Winged
Nike holding a diadem, and Greek legend: ΒΑΣΙΛΕΩΣ ΣΩΤΗΡΟΣ ΥΝΔΟΦΕΡΡΟΥ ("of King Gondophares, the Saviour").

On the coins of Gondophares, the royal names are Iranian, but the other legends of the coins are in Greek and Kharosthī. Kharosthi is developed from Hebrew.

Gandhara's language was a Prakrit or "Middle Indo-Aryan" dialect, usually called Gāndhārī. Texts are written right-to-left in the Kharoṣṭhī script, which had been adapted for Indo-Aryan languages from a Semitic alphabet, the Aramaic alphabet. Gandhāra was then controlled by the Achaemenid dynasty of the Persian empire, which used the Aramaic script to write the Iranian languages of the Empire.

Semitic scripts were not used to write South Asian languages again until the arrival of Islam and subsequent adoption of the Persian-style Arabic alphabet for New Indo-Aryan languages like Urdu, Punjabi, Sindhi and Kashmiri.  Kharosthi script died out about the 4th century. However, the Hindko and the archaic Dardic and Kohistani dialects, derived from the local Indo-Aryan Prakrits, are still spoken, though the Afghan Pashto language is the most dominant language of the region today


As such there is every reason to assume that the poetic work Act of Thomas is based on real historical facts and that the Indian Traditions are highly reliable. The Acts of Thomas (Ch. 17) describes Saint Thomas' visit to King Gondophares in northern India. When Acts was being composed, there was no reason to suppose that a king named "Gondophares" had ever really existed. However, the discovery of his coins in the region of Kabul and the Punjab, and the finding of a votive inscription of his 26th regal year that was unknown until 1872, provided evidence that his reign commenced in 21 C.E. until c. 47 C.E. Thus, one scholar surmises, "It is impossible to resist the conclusion that the writer of the Acts must have had information based on contemporary history. For at no later date could a forger or legendary writer have known the name."