Jesus’ twin brother, Thomas….bet you’re wondering, did Jesus have a twin brother? I have mentioned in passing that there were some early Christians who thought that one of Jesus’ brothers, Jude (or Judas: both are translations of the same Greek word), was actually a twin. Not just of anyone, but of Jesus himself. Some readers have expressed surprise in the most succinct way possible, by asking: “Huh??”
I talk about the matter in a couple of my previous publications, especially when speaking about early Christian apocryphal texts that deal with the missionary exploits of the apostles after Jesus’ death.
We have several of these, including an Acts of Thomas. Like the other apocryphal Acts (such as the more famous Acts of Thecla – an account of the adventures of the apostle’s Paul most famous legendary convert, an upper-class woman named, obviously, Thecla), this one celebrates the virtue of celibacy and sexual renunciation, and it actually uses the idea that Jesus’ had an *identical* twin to advance its views. I’ll explain how it does that in the next post. In this one I’ll deal directly with the background issue, of how Jesus could have an identical twin brother.
Twin Jesus: Apocryphal Texts
The view of sexual renunciation found in the Acts of Thecla recurs in other Apocryphal Acts as well. One of the most intriguing is the Acts of Thomas, an account of the exploits of the apostle Thomas, probably written in Syria sometime in the third century.
It is a famous account, in that it is the first to present the well-known legend that the apostle Thomas became a missionary to India. One of the most striking features of the text is that it assumes that this apostle Thomas was Jesus’ brother. The name Thomas, in fact, is an Aramaic equivalent of the Greek word Didymus, which means “twin.” Thomas was allegedly Jesus’ identical twin, otherwise known as Jude (Mark 6:3), or Didymus Judas Thomas.
Jesus’ Twin Brother, Thomas, and The Virgin Mary
One might wonder how some early Christians could have thought that Jesus had a twin brother. If, after all …
If, after all, his mother was a virgin, and, presumably, Jesus was the unique Son of God that she bore – how could she at the same time bear a mortal brother, his twin, his identical twin? Unfortunately, none of the texts that present or presuppose the tradition gives us any hint.
We do know of a parallel situation in ancient Greek and Roman mythology, however, instances of a son of a god who is born to a mortal and who has a twin brother whose father was human. The best-known example is the Greek god Heracles (Roman Hercules), whose mortal twin was Iphicles. The story of their conception intrigued ancient storytellers.
Amphitryon and the Question Did Jesus Have a Twin Brother
It was retold many times, perhaps most memorably in a humorous play titled Amphitryon, by the Roman playwright Plautus, in the second-century b.c.e. The plot goes like this. Amphitryon is a general in the Greek army who leaves his pregnant wife Alcmena in order to go off to war. The night before he returns, Zeus looks down upon Alcmena and becomes awestruck by her ravishing beauty. Assuming the shape of Amphitryon, Zeus comes to her, claiming to have returned from battle.
They spend the night in a passionate embrace; so much does Zeus enjoy the tryst that he commands the constellations to stop their motion so as to prolong the night. As it turns out, when he finally departs, many hours later, Amphitryon himself actually returns home, dismayed and distraught that Alcmena isn’t overjoyed at seeing him after his long absence—not understanding, of course, that she thinks she has just spent a wild night frolicking in his arms.
Her divine encounter has left Alcmena doubly pregnant. She eventually gives birth to two sons: Iphicles, the human son of Amphitryon, and Heracles, the divine son of Zeus. Did the ancient Syrian Christians know tales such as this and think that it might be possible for Jesus and Judas to be twins, born at the same time of the same mother, one being the Son of God and the other the son of Joseph?
Conclusion: Jesus’ Twin Brother Thomas
Did the Syrians who considered Thomas to be twin Jesus imagine something roughly similar in his case? That Joseph and Mary had conceived a child through sexual intercourse and that subsequently (or perhaps before) she conceived through the Holy Spirit? One cannot very well object that this is not taught in the New Testament. Remember: these people did not yet have the New Testament. But they did have traditions about Jesus’ family – including the tradition that one of his brothers was actually a twin.