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Thomas and His Identical Twin Jesus, in the Acts of Thomas

In my previous post I mentioned the Apocryphal Acts of Thomas, a text that assumes Judas Thomas was actually Jesus’ twin brother.   Here I can describe the book itself, where the idea that the two are *identical* twins appears to move along the plot in a rather humorous way..  Here is what I say about the matter in my book Lost Christianities.




The Acts of Thomas narrates the adventures of Thomas, Jesus’ brother, in his missionary work on the way to and in India.  The plot is fairly basic.  The apostles draw lots to decide who will go to which region of earth to spread the gospel.  The lot for India falls to Thomas, who tells his companions that it is the last place on earth he wants to go: “Wherever you wish to send me, send me, but elsewhere.  For I am not going to the Indians!” (Acts of Thomas, 1).

The ascended Jesus, however, has other plans for his mortal twin.  An Indian merchant arrives …

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A Peculiar Story of Peter’s Martyrdom
Jesus’ Twin Brother, Thomas



  1. Avatar
    flshrP  September 4, 2018

    What a goofy document. The author makes the common error of assessing the purpose of something at the wrong level of analysis regarding chastity. Michael Shermer call this “Alvy’s Error” referring to Woody Allen’s character in the movie “Annie Hall”. Alvy won’t do his homework because he says that he’s learned that the universe is expanding and that someday everything will break apart and that will be the end of everything. His mother is pissed and asks what has the universe go to do with it? You’re here in Brooklyn. Brooklyn is not expanding. As Shermer says: we should assess our actions at the level of the human timescale of days, weeks, months and years (our lifespan) and not on the billions of years of the cosmic calendar and certainly not on the level of eternity.

  2. Avatar
    fishician  September 4, 2018

    This emphasis on celibacy seems to be a break from Judaism, which taught people to be fruitful and multiply. Did it develop from the belief that time was short, the end of the age is at hand, so turn away from earthly concerns including sex and family? Or was it just that all earthly (physical) pleasures were bad, compared to spiritual pursuits?

    • Bart
      Bart  September 6, 2018

      Yes, it was originally rooted in an apocalyptic view of the imminent crisis. But it also stressed the need to live for heaven as opposed to the pleasures of earth.

    • talmoore
      talmoore  September 6, 2018

      Celibacy was and is one of many forms of asceticism. Asceticism is an import concept in many religions, not just the Abrahamic ones. Indian religions (Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, etc.) and even Chinese religions (Confucianism and Taoism) honor and praise ascetics.

      There are many complex theories as to the origin of ascetic practices across human cultures (Nieztsche’s entire philosophy is built around explaining and criticizing such human glorification of asceticism, and I have developed my own theory in my research on the revolution of morality), but there are at least two direct ancient ideas connected to it.

      For one, asceticism appears to have a connection to ritual sacrifice. When we think of ancient sacrifices, we rightly think about the slaughter and cooking of a victim — normally some animal, but seemingly as often another human being — but a sacrifice could be any form of ritual offering and abstention for the sake of supplication to a supernatural power. In this mode, fasting could be considered a form of sacrifice. Severe austerity — such as we see with monks (both western and eastern), or with the ancient Cynics, or with Indian gurus, etc. — could be seen as a form of sacrifice. And, yes, celibacy or, more accurately, abstaining from ALL sexual pleasure would be a form of sacrifice.

      The second reason for celibacy, as explained by the ancients themselves, was the belief that the material world — which includes the material body — was corrupted and even evil. That is, the material that makes up the heavens (which appeared incorruptible and immutable, because the stars and planets never seem to change) is “good” so, therefore, the material world down here (which is definitely corruptible and mutable, because we see change and decay everywhere) was necessarily “evil” in comparison. Therefore, the ancients thought that interacting with the material-ness of our bodies was somehow tainting our immortal souls (which came from the heavens). And since sex was one of the basest things we could do — for what could be more animalistic than satisfying sexual urges? — the ancients considered sexual desire something that needed to be overcome in order for us protect our souls from the corrupting influence of the material world.

      The Jewish and Christian celibates we see in history — from Jesus and Paul, to Pope Francis — are all following in this ancient traditional ascetic view.

  3. Avatar
    JohnDaugherty  September 4, 2018

    Every now and then we hear claims that Jesus spent his teens and 20’s in India. Maybe it was his twin brother Thomas! Thomas spent his time in India, got in some trouble over there and never wanted to go back. Now Jesus forces him to go back and he gets in trouble again!

    • Bart
      Bart  September 6, 2018

      Yes, the legends are probably connected somehow. BUT, the idea that Jesus went to India, is a modern legend, not an ancient one, invented by 19th century forgers of “new” Gospels.

  4. Telling
    Telling  September 4, 2018

    Can we really say the Gospel of Thomas is calling Thomas Jesus’ twin brother? If “Thomas” actually means “twin” in Aramaic then it would follow that Thomas is called the twin brother in the canonical gospels.

    But I don’t see either of these sources indicating Thomas to be Jesus’ twin brother, but rather is a twin (one of twins). His common real name “Judas” would necessitate a secondary name. Seems to me “the twin” is such an identifier.

    Knowing that James was said to be Jesus’ brother, why wouldn’t Thomas all the more so have been identified as such if it were true?

    Am I missing something?

    • Bart
      Bart  September 6, 2018

      In the Acts of Thomas he is definitely the twin specifically of Jesus. Historically there may have been a follower of Jesus called “the twin,” but that just meant he happened the twin brother of *someone* (anyone!)

      • Telling
        Telling  September 7, 2018

        My mistake, Bart, I had “Gospel of Thomas” in mind with I shot back the post. There are pundits who believe the Gospel of Thomas indicates or suggests Thomas as Jesus’ twin brother, which is surely not the case. “Acts of Thomas” as you cite, is entirely a different issue.

        You would agree, wouldn’t you, that nothing in _Gospel_ of Thomas indicates anything more than he was called the Twin (as in the canonical gospels)?

        • Bart
          Bart  September 9, 2018

          Gospel of Thomas appears to come from Syria, where the name Judas Thomas is attested, so the idea that the author thought of him as Jesus’ twin is completely plausible I should think.

          • Telling
            Telling  September 9, 2018

            Bart, I don’t understand.

            If name Thomas, as recorded in the canonical gospels, means “twin” in Aramaic and Hebrew, which it does according to a quick internet search, and that this purportedly doesn’t mean that Thomas was Jesus’ twin,

            Then why would the name “Judas Thomas” as recorded in the Gospel of Thomas mean a twin of Jesus, as you and other historians suggest?

            What does it matter where the gospel was purportedly from?

          • Bart
            Bart  September 10, 2018

            It doesn’t mean that in isolation, but only because we know that in Syria, whence this Gospel appears to have come, there were traditions that he was a twinc specifically of Jesus.

          • Telling
            Telling  September 10, 2018

            Okay, I see what you mean and that’s a valid point, but I wonder if some wanting to knock the “heretical” gospel are making the sensational claim to more discredit it. Because, as you agree, in isolation it says exactly what the canonical gospels say.

          • Bart
            Bart  September 12, 2018

            Interesting idea. I’m not sure. That’s certainly never been my own motivation! I think it’s a fascinating possibility that the one who knows these secret teachings is none other than Jesus’ twin brother.

  5. Avatar
    Pattylt  September 4, 2018

    …which would end the human race. Or at least, end that sect of Christianity!

    I swear sometimes humans do not think things through! 😂

  6. Avatar
    jdh5879  September 4, 2018

    Have you heard of the Rozabal Shrine in Srinagar Kashmir India. There is a tiny Muslim sect (and locals wanting to promote tourism) that claim Jesus is buried in the shrine. There is also a Buddhist monastery (now in ruins) that is supposedly a location where Jesus attended a famous Buddhist meeting in 80AD. Souvenirs are available for purchase.

    The stories of Jesus in India are not just aimed at gullible tourists – they date back to the 19th Century. They were part of attempts to explain the striking similarities between Christianity and Buddhism.

    • Bart
      Bart  September 6, 2018

      I don’t recall ever hearing that! To my knowledge, the idea that Jesus went to India first started cropping up in the 19th century, in forged Gospels. But I’d be happy to learn otherwise!

  7. Avatar
    forthfading  September 4, 2018

    Dr. Ehrman,

    Do scholars give any credibility to this third century writing? Is there anything that could possibly be historical based on the methods available to historians?


    • Bart
      Bart  September 6, 2018

      No, nothing particularly historical about it. It’s an important document for reasons other than the insights it gives into what really happened after Jesus’ life. It reveales the religious investments of a Christian community of the second century — itself an interesting topic.

  8. Lev
    Lev  September 5, 2018

    I remember reading Acts of Thomas for the first time last year and being taken aback at the anti-sex theme. It’s quite disturbing that there were early Christians that held these views, and also puzzling given that Paul specifically teaches against this in 1Cor7:3: “The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband.”

    Bart – have you ever written anything on the development of early Christian views on sexuality? I am curious how early Christians came to hold such anti-sex views.

    • Bart
      Bart  September 6, 2018

      It’s a major field of scholarship, but I haven’t written extensively about it. I’m thinking about it though. In my mind I’m calling the book “Early Christian Sex.”

  9. Avatar
    DavidNeale  September 5, 2018

    Which books of (what later became) the NT did the author of the Acts of Thomas know, do you think? (Sorry if this is a silly question.)

    • Bart
      Bart  September 6, 2018

      Actually it’s a great question! He doesn’t quote any of the books, so did he know them? By the end of the second Christian century he surely knew a bunch of them. But he doesn’t tip his hand. Too bad — we wish we knew.

      • Avatar
        DavidNeale  September 8, 2018

        I was reading the (archaic 1924) translation on Early Christian Writings. I was intrigued by the note to the effect that the cryptic comment at Acts of Thomas 27 “Come, elder of the five members, mind, thought, reflection, consideration, reason; communicate with these young men” was a reference to Manichaean cosmogony. Is that true, or does more recent scholarship say otherwise? http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/actsthomas.html

        I also spotted at 53 what looks like a reference to Matthew 7 (“…but in thy works art manifested unto us: and in thy many acts we have known thee so far as we are able, and thyself hast given us thy gifts without measure, saying: Ask and it shall be given unto you, seek and ye shall find, knock and it shall be opened unto you…”) Does that suggest that the author knew Matthew? Or could he have gotten it from another source?

        • Bart
          Bart  September 9, 2018

          Really don’t know about the Manichaen references; and yes, possibly he knew Matthew — or it was such a common saying that he heard it elsewhere.

  10. Avatar
    Hormiga  September 5, 2018

    > Jesus goes on to show that children are an enormous burden, that they either become demon-possessed, diseased, or lazy burdens, destined for heinous sins and ultimate condemnation.

    Well, Jesus may have had a couple of points there… 😉

  11. Avatar
    Rita Gomes  September 5, 2018

    Dear Bart, a doubt arose when reading this text.
    If Jesus assumed his corporeal dress, how did the merchant not perceive the match with Thomé?

    • Bart
      Bart  September 6, 2018

      I think Jesus’ raiment must have been more brilliantly white! 🙂

  12. Avatar
    PeteSammataro  September 7, 2018

    Prof Ehrman,

    There is an astonishing detail in the story from the Acts of Thomas that you discussed. You wrote that Jesus told a merchant that he had a slave (his twin brother) who would be ideal for the job of building the merchant’s castle. You also wrote that Jesus completed a bill of sale to the merchant.

    Of course, I do not believe this story is an historical fact. I find it astonishing, however, that early Christians seemingly would accept the notion of Jesus as a slave trader. Worse, the slave he reportedly trades is his own brother. That’s not a very endearing picture.

    Would early Christians have been troubled by the image of Jesus as someone who sold his brother into slavery? If so, was the author trying to make some kind of point?

    • Bart
      Bart  September 9, 2018

      Probably not! Slavery wasn’t a moral issue for most anyone back then.

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