The Acts of Thomas

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The Acts of Thomas is a romance, composed in Syriac and translated into an extant Greek version at an early date. There are also translations into several other oriental languages.

The content of the work is of a similar kind to other apocryphal acts. The work describes the mission of the apostle Thomas to India. It consists of 13 sections, followed by an account of his martyrdom. Sections I-VI cover his time in North India, and the conversion of King Gudnaphar. Sections VII-XIII and the martyrdom cover his experiences in South India at the court of King Mazdai.

The text includes descriptions of liturgical rites for baptism and communion (#25-27, 49, 121, 132, 157) which are of importance for students of early Syriac liturgical history.

However the text is overtly heretical, with gnostic and Manichaean influences, and may have been reedited by these during the fourth century.

The text also contains two famous poems, which are of earlier date and incorporated by the compiler; the "Hymn of the Bride" (#6-7) and the "Hymn of the Pearl" (or "Hymn of the Soul", ##108-113).

Harold W. Attridge in The Anchor Bible Dictionary, v. 6, p. 531 writes:

Some sections, particularly the originally independent Hymn of the Pearl, presuppose conditions in the Parthian period, which ended with the establishment of the Sassanian Empire in 226 C.E. It is likely that Acts Thom. underwent redactional development, including adaptation by Manicheans, in the late 3d or 4th centuries.


Harold W. Attridge in The Anchor Bible Dictionary, v. 6, p. 531 gives the following details.

  • The major Syriac witness is London British Library Additional 14,645. This is dated to 936 AD.
  • The earliest Syriac witness is a fragmentary palimpsest, Sinai 30, dating from the 5th or 6th century.
  • The major Greek witnesses are Parisinus graecus 1510 and Vallicel. B 35, which are 11th century.
  • There are also partial Greek witnesses from the 10th century.


References to the text begin in the 4th century.

  • Epiphanius (Anac. 47.1 and 60.1.5) records its use by Encratites.
  • Augustine (de sermone domini in monte 1.20.65; contra Adiamantium 17; contra Faustum 14 and 22.79) attests its use by Manicheans, and allusions are found in the Manichean Psalms.
  • There are sporadic references until the 9th-century Byzantine patriarch Photius (Bibliotheca, Codex 114) and the 11th-century archbishop, Nicetas of Thessalonica, who paraphrased the work.


  • William Wright, Apocryphal Acts of the Apostles. London:Williams and Norgate (1871) 2 vols; vol.1 Syriac text, vol. 2 English translation: the translation of the acts of Thomas can be found on pp. 238-245. (Online here). Reprinted by Gorgias Press (search for 'Wright'), ISBN 1-59333-244-0.
  • A. F. J. (Albertus Frederik Johannes) Klijn, The acts of Thomas : introduction, text, and commentary. Leiden: Brill (First edition 1962, revised edition 2003). Series: Supplements to Novum Testamentum, vol. 5 (1st ed) vol. 108 (revised ed.). Physical: xii, 304 p; 25 cm (1st ed.) pp. xiv, 258 p; 25 cm (revised ed). ISSN: 9004129375 (alk. paper), 01679732. 'Text' is only an English translation, based on that of Wright.