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Thomas was one of the 12 apostles of Jesus Christ. In the Synoptic gospels and the Book of Acts he is listed with the other apostles, but nothing else is written about him.

However, we are provided with far more information in the Gospel of John where Thomas appears in several scenes, the best known being where doubts the resurrection and demanded to feel Jesus' wounds before being convinced (20:24-9) - from which comes the term Doubting Thomas. In three of these passages (11:16; 20:24; and 21:2), Thomas is identified as "Thomas, also called the Twin (Didymus)". The name Thomas comes from the Aramaic word for twin. Syrian tradition, apparently aware of the awkwardness of the name "Thomas the Twin", states that his full name as Judas Thomas, or Jude Thomas, and as early as the Acts of Thomas (written in east Syria in the early 3rd century) he was identified with Jude, one of the brothers of Jesus Christ (Mark 6:3), and thus said to be the twin brother of Jesus.

Thomas is revered as a saint in both the Roman Catholic Church and in the Eastern Orthodox Church, and is remembered each year on St Thomas Sunday, which is always one week after Easter.

Thomas and India

Eusebius of Caesarea (Historia Ecclesiastica, III.1) quotes Origen as stating that Thomas was the apostle to the Parthians, but Thomas is beter known as the missionary to India. This tradition has been traced back to the end of the 2nd century, and is believed today by the various denominations of Saint Thomas Christians. The Acts of Thomas describes in chapter 17 Thomas' visit to king Gundaphoros in northern India; however, chapters 2 and 3 depict him as embarking on a sea voyage to India, thus connecting Thomas to southern India.

Thomas is also part of the legend of king Abgar of Edessa, for having sent Thaddaeus to preach in Edessa after the Ascension (Eusebius, HE 1.13; III.1; Ephraem also recounts this legend.)

The Portuguese encountered Christians in 1498 while exploring the Malabar coast, who traced their foundations to Thomas. However, they did not accept the legitimacy of local Malabar traditions, and they began to impose Roman Catholic practices upon the Saint Thomas Christians, some of whom conformed to become the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church; others revolted and organized themselves to become the Indian Orthodox Church; and a number have since joined other Christian denominations.

No written records of the apostle's voyage to India exist. Modern scholars doubt that Thomas did reach India; KS Latourette, in A History of the Expansion of Christianity does not allow the possibility of Christians coming to India by any route before the third century AD. He states that Christianity was brought to India in AD 345 by Syrian Christians fleeing persecution, led by the merchant Thomas of Cana.

Writings Attributed to Thomas

In the first few centuries of the Christian era, a number of writings, some espousing a Gnostic doctrine, were circulated that claimed the authority of Thomas. It is unclear why Thomas was seen as an authority for doctrine, although this belief is documented in Gnostic groups as early as the Pistis Sophia which states that Thomas, along with Philip and Matthew, were directed by Jesus Christ after the Resurrection to commit to writing "all of his words"; an early, non-Gnostic tradition may lie behind this statement.

The best known of these documents is the Gospel of Thomas, an apocryphal work. The introduction claims it is the work of "Didymos Judas Thomas" - who has been identified with Thomas. This work was discovered in a Coptic translation in 1948 at the Egyptian village of Nag Hammadi, near the site of the monastery of Chenoboskion. Once the Coptic text was published, scholars recognized that an earlier Greek translation had been published from fragments of papyrus in the 1890s. No Christian denomination has recognized this work as part of the Bible.