‘East of the Euphrates- Early Christianity in Asia’ by T.V. Philip

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Note on the Author:

(The late) Dr. T.V. Philip, a noted Mar Thoma (St. Thomas) Nazranee Church Historian, had worked and taught in India, Europe, USA and Australia; his former students include many among the senior clergy and bishops of several Mar Thoma Nazranee Syrian (Syriac) Christian denominations. Dr. Philip had served as Professor at the United Theological College, Bangalore, Professor of Church History and Director, Board of Theological Education in India and Dean of Trinity Theological College in Brisbane, Australia. He has authored several publications, including “East of the Euphrates” outlining the spread of ancient Christianity in the east.

Content Summary:

While Paul and other missionaries were converting Greeks, Romans and the barbarian tribes in the west, there was equally a movement of Christianity to the East – Edessa, Persia, Arabia, Central Asia, China and India. Though the evidence of the presence of Christianity in some of the South East and East Asian countries is scanty and fragmentary, there is sufficient evidence to show that Christianity was present in Ceylon, Burma, Indonesia and Korea before the arrival of the western missionaries. It is a surprise to many people to learn that there was a large and widespread Christian community throughout the whole of Central Asia and that such countries as Afghanistan and Tibet which are considered today as lands closed to Christianity were once centres of Christian activity. This book is an introduction to the exciting and fascinating story of the movement of the gospel in Asian lands, east of the Euphrates. It explores the missionary impulses of the early Asian Christian communities and the theology that motivated them. It discusses the reason for its decline by AD 1500, after a millennium and a half of heroic efforts and phenomenal growth.


A general and brief introduction to the exciting and fascinating story of the movement of the Christian Gospel in Asian lands. Christianity came to Asia in the first century itself.

A History Ignored 1
Jewish Christianity and its Characteristics 5
St. Thomas: The Apostle of the East 9

No contemporary historian has recorded the Gospel’s eastward march, but there is no doubt that the Gospel did move east even while Paul was opening his mission in Europe. And however Western scholars may write their histories of the church, from time immemorial Asia has linked the church’s expansion eastward to the missionary travels of the apostle Thomas.

Origins of Christianity in Edessa 14
Characteristics of Early East Syrian Christianity 17
Church Life in the Third Century 27
East Syrian Church and Monasticism 30
Ephrem the Syrian 34
The School of Edessa 35

On the basis of new historical evidences available, it is possible to establish the fact that there was a Christian church in Edessa (Western Mesopotamia) in the first century, and not only there but also in other places in Mesopotamia.

Origins of Christianity in Persia 37
Church and the Persian State 40
The Re-organization of the Persian Church 42
The Persian Church and Nestorianism 46
Aphrahat, the Persian sage 49
The School of Nisibis 53
Theodore of Mopsuestia and the East Syrian Church 58

The earliest centers of Christianity in the East were: Edessa, Arbela in Parthia, and India. As long as the Roman emperors considered the Christians as enemies of Rome, the Persian emperors were inclined to consider them as friends of Persia. It was not until after Constantine’s death in AD 337 that the Christians began to be persecuted in the East.

Christianity among the Arabs 67
Christianity in Central Asia 69

When Christianity spread to Syria (probably by the end of the second or early third century) there is no doubt that some of the Arabs also became Christians. Islam which originated in Arabia in the seventh century was a great missionary religion. By the 13th Century, Islam became the prominent religion. Yet numerous bodies of the Nestorian Christians were still scattered over all Central Asia.

Origins of Christianity in China 76
Christianity at the time of the Mongols 86

There are traditions that Christianity found its way to China in the first century, but the earliest more reliable report is from Arnobius who wrote in 300 AD, stating that the Gospel had been preached in China. A definitely more reliable report comes from Patriarch Yeshuyab II in about 635 AD from an excavated inscription by him which was found in an excavation in 1625 AD.

India and the Western World in the First Century 91
The Origins of Christianity in India 93

From the evidence available to us, especially the East Syrian and Indian traditions, it is reasonable to believe that the Indian church has an independent origin, independent of Persian Christianity, in the apostolic activity of St. Thomas in the first century.

Chapter 7: CHRISTIANITY IN INDIA UP TO AD 1500 110-151
The visit of Pantaneus in the second century 110
The Indian Church and the Church of the East 114
Migration of Persian Christians to Kerala 118
The extent of Christianity in India before A.D. 1500 122
St. Thomas Christians and Missionary Activities 126
Social life of the Christian community during the early period 131
Ecclesiastical life of St. Thomas Christians 134
Christian theology in India 141
Christianity in India at the end of the fifteenth century 148

The expansion of Christianity in the East was not the work of Hellenistic Christian missionaries from Antioch, or a linear progression from Antioch. It was the work of Jewish Christian missionaries such as Addai in Edessa, Aggai and Mari in Persia and Thomas in India.


Contrary to what has been said by western historians, there is evidence to show, though very scanty and fragmentary, that Christianity found its way into South East and East Asian countries even before the coming of western missionaries, through the efforts of Nestorian merchants and missionaries from Persia or India or China or from all the three places.

Chapter 9: IN THE SHADOWS OF HISTORY 163-182
Political situation: Christianity under Islam 167
Foreignness of the Church 173
The proselytizing activities of the Roman Catholic missionaries 176
Decay of spiritual life in the Church 180

By AD 1500, the story of Asian Christianity, after a millennium and a half of heroic efforts and phenomenal expansion almost came to an end in several countries; so much so, the historians speak of the eclipse of Christianity in Asia. Reasons for the eclipse are suggested.

Bibliography 183

Index 189

Acknowledgement: Material prepared for Religion Online by Ted and Winnie Brockhttp://www.religion-online.org/showbook.asp?title=1553

Author Kuruvilla Cherian Amprayil can be reached on amprayilusa at gmail dot com

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  1. Nibin says


    i think its a book of great stufff… for my resarch of my ancestors…i need one copy as soft or hard copy. But i dont know how???

  2. Nort says

    Thanks, really good book.
    To Nibin: search on religion-online.org :))

  3. amprayil says

    Nibin (and others interested in the book “East of the Euphrates” by Dr. T.V. Philip):
    See http://www.religion-online.org/showbook.asp?title=1553
    You should be able to access all chapters through the links on that page.
    Hard copies may be available at CLS Bookstores or from ISPCK directly, perhaps.
    It is worth having a copy.

  4. Mathew George says

    Respected Amprayil Achen,
    Thank you very much for giving the site about the book “East of Euphrates” by Dr.T.V. Philip. It is very informative and I have downloaded it for further study. NSC Network is very very informative.

  5. P.J.Thomas says

    “East of Euphrates” by Dr.T.V. Philip.
    Details given here gives us a small idea of the culture of the Nasarani/ Syrian Christians, of Kerala.