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In Search of the Apostles, "Thomas, the doubter?" part 1
If I'm totally honest, this hub is one of the main reasons I started this series!
To find out what happened to the early followers of Jesus, especially those whom the Bible doesn't tell us about. Thomas is a classic example, the Bible tells us nothing about him after the resurrection. I've often wondered what he got up to, can some of the stories I heard actually be true? Can he really have traveled as far as they claimed, and done the things he did? And if he did, then how does that change things?
Join some with an 'Ancient' faith
My history with Thomas
He's the culprit you know! he's the one got me interested in this church history stuff! (At least I blame him, but I was probably interested anyway). Here's how it happened.
It was the mid 1980s, I'd left the British Army a couple of years before and was travelling in eastern Turkey, there were four of us, on a 'mission trip’ that in reality meant we had not the slightest clue what we were doing, but we were there 'doing it’ and found ourselves just outside a place called Mardin.
Mardin is unusual because it's the only city in the east that's Arabic speaking, and it's largely Christian, just outside the city, halfway to a small town called Midyat was an old monastery belonging to the ancient Assyrian church.
I'm pretty sure it was a Thursday morning, we'd got there early because the local Christians told us every Thursday the Bishop held a Bible study, (this was an 'ancient traditional church’ and they 'ain't supposed to do those kinda things right?)
And he'd love to meet us!
See, in some of these older 'traditional’ Orthodox and Assyrian churches they love for visitors to 'bring a greeting’ from their home church, it brings a sense of all being 'one big family’
Anyway, after the meeting, the Bishop invited us to drink tea with him, genuine hospitality that you just don't turn down in the Middle East, so we accepted.
We got talking about the monastery, that he said dated right back to the third century.
“Is that when Christianity came to this area?” I'm not sure who asked it, but the question was asked.
“Oh no,” he replied to us, “the first church here was founded by the Apostle Thomas, on his way through to India!”
Could that be true? Could this little church and monastery trace it's history all the way back to the Apostles, and to one that we don't have any records of, that is except for a couple of verses in the New testament that don't really put him in that good a light!
Where we're talking about
Where we were staying. The only Arabic speaking city in Turkey, and it's still got a large Christian minority
May only be small, but significant as it's right on the border with Syria, right where the fighting with ISIL was
St Gabriel's Monastery near Midyat in Turkey
As it goes
Pretty much since that time I've been fascinated with the travels the Apostles must have made outside the Roman Empire at the time.
Remember, back then the Romans were pretty arrogant, they thought that their Empire was the civilized world, and everyone outside it was a 'Barbarian' uncultured, uncivilized and not really worth bothering about except for when you need some of their resources, then you just went and took them, by force.
In other words, pretty much like the west today.
But the Jews were different!
They were significantly different, and just like back then, when people didn't like those who were different, we don't like it today either.
A couple of hundred years before the Romans came along the Jewish nation was overrun, first by the Assyrians (from Northern Syria and Iraq, Nineveh is just outside modern day Mosul), the Babylon and finally the Persians.
The Assyrians and Babylonians had used a policy of deportation to control their populations, once they conquered you they hen forcibly displaced you from your home. The reason was that you probably worshipped a 'god' that was tied to your land, so if they deported you then they broke the ties to the local deities and would have to learn new ways of doing things, it also meant that you'd be 'good boys and girls' in the Empire, in the hope that one day you'd be allowed to go home!
The Jews were different.
They believed that one 'god' made everything, that means no matter where they were, they were still in a place he made, that meant they could worship him anywhere! Yes, they had a desire to 'go home to Jerusalem' and they still do (The passover meal used to end with the saying "Next year in Jerusalem") but they could still be Jews no matter where they went!
In Babylon, they'd developed a system of worship that didn't really need the Temple any-more, at least not as much, all they needed was twelve Jewish men and they could have a 'Synagogue' wherever they were!
Bet you didn't know the Jews went this far!
Back to reality
Remember back in the book of Acts, we've got Jews from all over the known world in Jerusalem there for the feast of Pentecost. From as far afield as Rome, Babylon, Ethiopia and even Iran!
That day thousands came to faith in Jesus, but they were from all over the place! What happened when they went back home? Back to their own cities and cultures, how would they know what to believe? There weren't any books at the time, it wasn't like they could 'load up with Bibles', "Buy a few worship CDs and we'll work it out!"
Remember, these were Jews, living 'dispersed' throughout pagan lands, people whom the disciples knew were dear to God's heart (They were Jews, and God's promises to Abraham were unconditional right?"
We've got no 'record' as such of what happened, but if you think (like most western Christian books indicate) they just sat around 'on their chuff' and did nothing, then you're very much mistaken.
By the way, if you think the persecution is only coming from Muslims, think again!
- The First Country to Officially Defend Christians Persecuted ... | Gleanings | ChristianityToday.com
Hungary has drawn criticism for favoring Christian over Muslim refugees from Syria and Iraq.
- Persecuted Christian leaders from war zones refused entry in the UK | UK | News | Daily Express
THREE archbishops from war-torn Iraq and Syria have been refused permission to enter the UK despite being invited to London to meet Prince Charles.
In the West, persecution of the Christians may have stopped with Constantine, in the East it never did!— Paulos Faraj Rahho, Archbishop of Mosul (Martyred in 2008 by ISIL)
What about the price of Cheese?
Okay, that's a nice history lesson, but what the heck does it have to do with the supposed subject of this hub? The Apostle Thomas.
I know that reading this hub, there are going to be those who'll think it's a nice story, some will want 'documentary evidence (especially with where I'll be going in the future showing the sheer idiocy of thinking an Emperor can control the church and 'dictate' what we believe as some claim) and there isn't any, but there's physical evidence of millions of believers (seven million in Kerala alone according to the video above) and of Jewish communities all through this region, even going as far as China by the end of the 1st century AD!
For me, everywhere I went for the next thirteen years I met Christians who traced their roots back, not to Western Missionaries, but right back to the Apostles themselves, and they'd all proudly tell me, it wasn't Peter, or Paul, or even John, but the doubter himself, Thomas, who came through and founded their church!
Thomas, the one who said, "Unless I can put my fingers in the nail holes, or my hands in his side!"
When the others said, "But we've seen him!" Thomas replied, "In your dreams!!"
Today, Christianity has become the most persecuted religion, where out of five people killed [for] religious reasons, four of them are Christians,— Hungary’s Minister for Human Resources, Zoltan Balog
No records, but lots of traditions
That's the reality, there's no record of how the Christian faith got as far as it did, just like there's no record of first century churches in places in the British Isles, but we know from archaeology that both existed!
With the Churches in the east, we've always known they were there, we've always had little hints at their history, in the next couple of hubs we'll try and explore the journey that tradition says Thomas took and see what we might find on the way.
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