and Tibet, are generally lost. Coptic and Ethiopic sources are more plentiful but generally of more recent date and more recently written and/or copied. Only a few Nubian sources have survived.

However, Christian texts and peoples were scattered throughout Asia and parts of non-Latin/Greek-speaking Eastern Africa by the beginning of the fourth century. In order to understand the complexities of that period, it is essential to begin with the texts and traditions that gave these groups their identities. We will therefore survey the developments in early northern Mesopotamia by focusing on materials suggestive of what one finds as the fourth century opens. Then after a brief discussion of the fourth century in Syria and Persia, which are more fully documented, the focus shifts to national or ethnic expressions of Christianity, the experience of each of which differed according to larger socio-political and economic developments.

The beginnings of Christianity in Asia: Shadowy origins

Scholarly theories and ancient myths of the origins of Asian Christianity have, since the fourth century, focused on Edessa (ancient and modern Urfa), a city where the Christian version of Aramaic known as Syriac was developed and where the first Armenian alphabet was apparently also created. While it is probable that there was a Christian presence in Edessa from the earliest days of Christianity, little can be known about that development. There are three primary theories: (1) the Thomas traditions; (2) the Abgar-Addai traditions; and (3) Jewish origins.

The Thomas traditions

There are two early texts that lend some credence to the theory that Thomas brought Christianity to Edessa, or to a variant of that theory. The Acts of Thomas are an account of Thomas the apostle of Jesus from perhaps the early third century (before 226), written in Syriac. Versions of the text survive in Syriac, Greek, Armenian, Arabic, Coptic and Ethiopic. The best textual witness is the earlier unrevised Greek version. Allusions to the text are found in a variety of Christian and Manichaean texts. Its internal references are to Western Asia and to India. Its closest known literary relationships are to Syriac Christian texts, although it would appear to have influenced later Buddhist traditions as well. This text is different from the Gospel of Thomas, an early gospel attributed to Thomas that circulated in early Syriac churches, as well as Western churches.

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