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Jesus’ Twin Brother, Thomas

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.

Most of this is taken from my book Lost Christianities

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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 some time 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.

One might wonder how some early Christians could have thought that Jesus had a twin brother.   If, after all …

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Thomas and His Identical Twin Jesus, in the Acts of Thomas
Thomas, the Synoptic Gospels, and Q

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Comments

  1. Avatar
    Leovigild  September 3, 2018

    If only we had a time machine and could go back to 1860 and ask Jesus’ younger brother, Hong Xiuquan, about it.

    3
  2. Avatar
    ardeare  September 3, 2018

    A couple of years ago I purchased your classroom book, “The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings.” On page 185 (copyright 2000), it reads, “Thus, Didymus Judas Thomas was Jesus’ twin brother.” The student using the book underlined it and in the margin, wrote, “What????”

    3
  3. Avatar
    william.thomas.cox  September 3, 2018

    With Matthew presenting Jesus as something of a new Moses, was there ever an attempt to make his brother Jude the new Aaron? Or was this fulfilled by others (John the Baptist? Peter? Paul?), or was the parallel just not addressed or even rejected as being something the Messiah wouldn’t need?

    1
  4. Robert
    Robert  September 3, 2018

    Is there any indication whatsoever that the groups of early Christians who believed Thomas to be ‘the twin’ brother of Jesus also considered either the gospel of Matthew or that of Luke to be authoritative or otherwise believed in a virgin birth?

    More generally, do we know how widespread belief in a virgin birth was among the various gnostic or Thomasine groups?

    The gospel of Philip (which does not make reference to Thomas) does say that Mary did not conceive by the (feminine) Holy Spirit and that Jesus also had another father in addition to his heavenly father. Though it still refers to Mary as a virgin in some (purely symbolic?) sense:

    “Some said, ‘Mary conceived by the Holy Spirit.’ They are in error. They do not know what they are saying. When did a woman ever conceive by a woman? Mary is the virgin whom no power defiled. She is a great anathema to the Hebrews, who are the apostles and the apostolic men. This virgin whom no power defiled […] the powers defile themselves. And the Lord would not have said ‘My Father who is in Heaven’ [Mt 16,17], unless he had had another father, but he would have said simply ‘My father’.”

    • Bart
      Bart  September 4, 2018

      Of course all we can go on are the few texts we have….

      1
  5. Liam Foley
    Liam Foley  September 4, 2018

    While I firmly believe the Historical Jesus had a human father, I suppose that it is entirely plausible he had a twin brother (that would explain why people claimed he rose from the dead!….it was his twin….I’m kidding….sort of). Despite being theoretically possible Jesus had a twin, but with this being an old source far removed from Jesus’ time, are there any Scholars that support this as plausible?

    1
    • Bart
      Bart  September 4, 2018

      None that I know of.

      • Avatar
        spindrift  September 5, 2018

        this one looms large for me as a (the best?) natural explanation for a “ressurection”. this view was significantly reinforced by my having misidentified a friend i had trained with every week for five years!

        one day i questioned him about something he was doing that made no sense to me only to discover i was talking to his identical twin, a person i didn’t know existed. had i not been told of his identity, i would have left with absolute certainty of having seen something about which i was entirely mistaken. the power of this has haunted me ever since.

        2
  6. talmoore
    talmoore  September 4, 2018

    Dr. Ehrman, what it looks like happened — and, of course, this is mere speculation on my part — is that there was a member of Jesus’ inner twelve who was named Judas (heb. Yehuda), and, like most people of that time who had such extremely common names, he was given a distinguishing sobriquet. (Cf. the sobriquets of other followers of Jesus with extremely common names: one Simon was “Peter”; the other Simon was “the Zealot”; one James was “Boanerges”; the other James was “bar Alphaeus”; etc.) We even have the names of disciples that are clearly their sobriquets, not their actual given names, such as Bartholomew, whose actual given name was probably something like John or Simon or James (i.e. Jacob) or even Judas again. In the case of the disciple Thomas, his actual given name may have been Judas, but he acquired the distinguishing sobriquet “Thomas” for the obvious reason that he was someone’s twin — probably not the twin of Jesus, but of a brother who was never ultimately connected with the Christian movement.

    It was only many years later, down the road, that Christians who were not personally familiar with Judas “the Twin” were asking why he was called “The Twin”. And since true believers are wont to find deep meaning and purpose in just about every extraneous detail of their founding myths, they presumed that the meaning of Judas Thomas must have some kind of grand significance. And, clearly, the greatest significance would be that Judas Thomas was the twin of Jesus himself. So a rumor to that effect spread and, eventually, became gospel…so-to-speak.

    To me, that is pretty much the most parsimonious and plausible explanation

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  7. Avatar
    Meiguoji  September 4, 2018

    Hi Bart- I am a HUGE fan. Thank you for your life’s work!

    Regarding the concept reportedly present in the Talmud and later made known by Celsus- that Jesus is the progeny of a Roman Soldier named Pantera and Mary (who was possibly raped by Pantera). Reportedly Jesus was was known as Yeshua ben Pantera. Have critical historians completely discredited this claim?

    1
    • Bart
      Bart  September 6, 2018

      Yes, thoroughly. I should note that the Talmud is actually centuries after Celsus; he’s the first to report the rumor. My guess is that it originated among those who had heard that Jesus had some “unusual” circumstances surrounding his birth.

  8. Avatar
    luigi  September 7, 2018

    So many people named Judas. Was it a fairly common name?

    1
  9. kadmiral
    kadmiral  September 11, 2018

    Bart, have you ever seriously explored star myths being fictionalized into narrative form across religious cultures? It may sound far-fetched at first, but the most likely answer to this twin riddle is found in the stars:

    http://www.starmythworld.com/thomas-didymos

    The NT and other texts are preserving knowledge of the stars in a literary, narrative fashion; which is why Jesus has a twin. Of course not historically true. You showed an example in the “twin” parallel in your post in the example of Amphitryon. This cannot be mere coincidence. In both cases, the authors are taking knowledge of the stars/constellations and creating a narrative for their own religious purposes that retains the myth.

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