Remarkably little is known about the history and practices distinguishing the various ‘Thomas Christians’ in India prior to the fifteenth century, despite the fact that their oral tradition asserts that the first Community was founded in Malabar (southern India) by Christ’s brother in the first century AD.
Western clerics questioned their differences from Roman doctrine even before the arrival of Portuguese, but thereafter Rome used both force and persuasion to make the Indian Christians of Malabar submit to papal authority in all matters related to religious text, rites and imagery. Older books and works were so thoroughly eliminated that we have now little evidence of the Communities’ history or practice throughout the previous thousand, or possibly fourteen hundred years.
While I do think this matter is relevant for an understanding of the Voynich manuscript’s imagery – and perhaps even its written text – I want to move on to consider the ‘bathy’ and ‘pharma-‘ sections, so below is simply a selected bibliography (Reading List) and some quotations for anyone who might care to read futher.
Vadakekara’s substantial work is often cited, though not easily obtained:
1. Benedict Vadakekara, St.Thomas Christians: A Historiographical Critique, Delhi: Media House, 1995.
– it was reviewed by Cyriac Pullapilly in the Catholic Historical Review, Vol.86, No.4 (Oct. 2000) pp.718-720.
Vadakekara’s criteria for defining the earliest among the groups are stated clearly enough, but somewhat problematic. He nominates those who follow the ‘Law of Thomas’ and for whom Syriac is the liturgical language and who simultaneously observe similar caste regulations and rituals to the Hindus’.
Since Christian liturgical ritual was not established at the time when Thomas is said to have established the first community, so Vadakekara is here tacitly endorsing the official histories of the Malabar church proposed by Rome and by the Syrian Orthodox church: viz. that the first community was settled not in the 1stC AD but by an influx of various Christians from Syria in the 3rdC AD. It is also true, as both the author and his reviewer say, that this is not the only region – there are several in the middle east and Asia – where Christians hold that their ancestors were converted by Christ’s brother Thomas in the 1stC AD.
“In the middle of the fourth century intelligent and educated Egyptian Greeks believed that a visit to India would be good for mind and soul, and might repay the enterprise needed to make the journey. A land route was not always open, in view of Roman-Persian [i.e. Sasanian] relations. The sea-passage depended on the Axumites and their Indian contacts [an Indian prince being resident there at the time]… Greeks, however were not commonly seen in that part of the world, and if they appeared at an awkward moment in the development of competition for the pepper trade, they were liable to be ill-received…” p.31
The Congregation.. in Cochin on the Malabar coast has in its possession until today two copper plates on which are engraved in ancient Tamil language, written in the archaic and obsolete Vatteluttu script, certain privileges granted to a Joseph Rabban many centuries ago by the Hindu ruler of Malabar… These copper plates cherished… as their most precious historical documents, as their charter, their original settlement deed (sásanam) are deposited in an iron box, known as Paneal, in the ‘Paradesi’ Synagogue .. and carefully guarded by its Elders’.note 2: Paradesi, meaning ‘foreigner’ is applied to the ‘white Jews’ and their synagogue built in 1568 and after its partial destruction by the Portuguese in 1662 was renovated in 1664. It … adjoins the northern end of the palace of the rajah of Cochin. (p.230)
The Christians have … two mutually exclusive sections.. While Kerala Christians today seldom acknowledge this division, it has been the theme of bitter polemic in the past .. The Malayalam names for the Christian divisions are always Tekkumbhagar-Vadakumbhagar, but [among] the English equivalents .. Northist-Southist is most common…