Early Christianity in Afghanistan
Afghanistan has been the crossroads of many civilizations throughout its history. Those who have traveled Afghanistan’s roads and mountain paths and settled there have brought along with them many beliefs and traditions.
Many of these were major world religions that are still part of our world today, such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam. While some of these religions are no longer practiced in Afghanistan, evidence of their existence there remains.
Many relics of these ancient civilizations have been found scattered throughout the countryside, though many have been destroyed or sold to those outside the country.
Other proofs of the existence of these communities can be found in historical accounts found in ancient manuscripts. One of the major world religions that once existed in Afghanistan was Christianity.
Christian civilization played a major role in the social-religious development of the region for over a thousand years. Unfortunately, very little is known about Christianity’s existence in the region because of the destruction of the civilization by many conquerors as well as the lack of interest among scholars and researchers studying the region’s past.
The presence and the memory of Christian societies in this land have been slowly and systemically removed from its history. However, if further investigation is done we will find information giving us a deeper understanding and a greater appreciation for this segment in Afghanistan’s past.
In this article evidence of the coming of Christianity into the region and proof that a strong Christian community existed and even flourished in the land known today as Afghanistan will be brought to light.
The Rise of Christianity in the Region of Afghanistan
The area which is now known as Afghanistan has a past history of multi-ethnic and religious groups. Today many archeological artifacts attest to the many cultures and religions of its past. The most evident today are those of the Greek and Buddhist period.
However, before these periods, one mono-theistic religion was evident in the land after the powerful Babylonian kingdom conquered and brought what was the nation of Israel into exile (726-586 BC). Those taken into exile were settled throughout the Babylonian kingdom, including the areas of Persia and Afghanistan and as far the borders of India.
Even during the reign of the Persian kings when the Jews were allowed to return to their homeland, probably starting in 580 B.C. under the Persian King Cyrus, many Jews remained in the land where they had settled in exile.
The spread of Christianity did not solely depend on the presence of Jews; however, it enabled the cause of the Christian faith as Christians claimed Christ as the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies, prophecies well understood by the Jewish people. Included in the early writings of the Christian church are hints of Jewish infusion. Yet how was the message of Christ carried to both the local Jewish population and the original population of the Persian frontier, Afghanistan and the Bactrian territories in the North?
One legend, which has recently gained greater validity, states that Thomas, the disciple and apostle of Jesus, was the first to bring the Gospel to the people of India and even farther north. Much of this information has been taken from the book of Acts of Thomas, an apocryphal book probably written in the fourth century.
This book details accounts of Thomas being sold as a slave to representatives of a great Indian King Gundaphar, who wanted a carpenter to build his new palace. Thomas reluctantly went to India, but rather than building the king’s palace, he spread the message of Christ throughout the area.
It is said that even Gundaphar became a Christian. This story has been deemed false because historical evidence of the king Gundaphar has not been found in any of India’s records. However, coins with the name Gundaphar inscribed on them have recently been found in India, and even as far as the Kabul valley in Afghanistan.
Today there are thousands of these coins in museums throughout the world. A stone tablet with the name of Gundaphar inscribed was also found some Buddhist ruins outside of the city of Peshawar, Pakistan. These tablets were dated and shown to have been made during the time of Thomas.
Further evidence can also be taken of Thomas’ travel into the region as thousands of Indians today call themselves Thomas Christians after what they believe to be the founder of their church. These are but a few facts showing that Christians came into India and its northern territory in the very early years of Christianity and mostly likely brought by the disciple and later apostle Thomas of Christ.
Other historical writings record early Christian missionary effort reaching those throughout the Persian Empire, during the Parthian dynasty in the first and second century AD.
One historical document called Doctrine of the Apostles names three missionaries, Addai, Aggai, and Mari, who traveled great distances to preach and start new Christian communities throughout the Persian Empire. Addai first brought the message of Christ to Edessa and Nisibis, once major Persian centers located near the eastern borders of modern-day Turkey.
Aggai and Mari were credited with taking the gospel into Arabia and the borders of India. Another document, The Book of the Laws of Countries, one of the oldest documents in Syriac literature relating to Christianity in central Asia, reports that before the end of the Parthian dynasty in 224 AD, Christianity had not only spro the steppes of central Asia including east of Bactria, the northern area of what is now Afghanistan.
Also the manuscripts of The Chronicle of Acites the tremendous expanse of Christianity throughout the land of Persia. In new communities, churches were seen and churches and monasteries were being built.
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