David of Basra

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David of Basra, sometimes rendered Dudi of Basra[1] or David of Charax,[2] was a 3rd- and 4th-century CE Christian Metropolitan bishop who undertook missionary work in India around the year 300[1] (295 in some sources).[3] He is among the earliest documented Christian missionaries in India,[1][4][5] perhaps later only than the apostle Thomas, who may have visited India in the 1st century,[6] though sources for the period are fragmentary and sometimes confused.[1]


The account of David's mission comes from an originally Syriac-language source that appears in the Arabic-language Chronicle of Seert, a history of the Nestorian Church. The Chronicle was compiled some time after the 9th century from a number of Syriac sources,[1] and constitutes a major early source on the history of eastern Christianity.[7] The original document was also translated by the Assyrian historian Alphonse Mingana in his Woodbrooke Studies collection of early Christian Documents in Syriac, Arabic, and Garshuni.[8] It states that, during the patriarchate of Shahlupa and Papa, David visited and travelled throughout India, rather than settling there, and that he won converts to the Christian church.[8][9]

Historians have suggested that David's mission may have targeted communities in Southern India, on the assumption that an existing church there - either descended from the missionary work of the apostle Thomas, or founded by migrant Christians from elsewhere in the region - was in difficulties and required support.[2][8]

Mission context[edit]

Some sources describe David as an Arab;[10] others characterize him as a Persian doctor.[6] He came from the Sassanid empire, then a young and expanding polity under the rule of Narseh. Researchers have argued that David's mission should be seen in the context of that empire's expansionist political activities.[11] Though David's mission indicates the extension of the Persian church into India,[10] the Seert chronicle is the only surviving reference to David's activities and there is no evidence that his mission led to the establishment of a lasting Indian church in contact with Christianity elsewhere in the region.[6] Later evidence of a sustained Christian church on the subcontinent dates instead to at least 50 years after David's mission, with the somewhat contradictory reports of a Christian settlement on the Malabar coast led by the Syrian merchant Thomas of Cana.[6] This settlement is dated in some sources to around 350 CE, but in others is attributed to the 8th century.[1] Later in the 4th century, Byzantine sources attest to the dispatch, under Emperor Constantius, of one Theophilus as a missionary to India after 354.[1] David's mission was, though, an early sign of the nascent role of the diocese of Basra as a hub of missionary activity extending into southern Asia.[12]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Baum, Wilhelm; Dietmar W. Winkler (2003). The Church of the East: A Concise History. Routledge. p. 53. ISBN 0-415-29770-2. Retrieved 2 March 2009.
  2. ^ a b Bremmer, Jan N. (2001). The Apocryphal Acts of St. Thomas. Peeters Publishing. p. 145. ISBN 90-429-1070-4.
  3. ^ Symposium Syriacum 1972: Célébré Dans Les Jours 26-31 Octobre 1972 à L'Institut Pontifical Oriental de Rome : Rapports Et Communications. Pontificium Institutum Orientalium Studiorum. 1974.
  4. ^ Piepkorn, Arthur Carl (1977). Profiles in Belief: The Religious Bodies of the United States and Canada. Harper and Row. ISBN 978-0-06-066580-7.
  5. ^ Moffet, Samuel H. (1998). A History of Christianity in Asia. Orbis Books. p. 266. ISBN 1-57075-162-5.
  6. ^ a b c d Irvin, Dale T. (2001). History of the World Christian Movement. Continuum International. p. 203. ISBN 0-567-08866-9.
  7. ^ Wilmshurst, David (2000). The Ecclesiastical Organisation of the Church of the East, 1318-1913. Peeters Publishers. p. 89. ISBN 90-429-0876-9.
  8. ^ a b c Neill, Stephen (2004). A History of Christianity in India. Cambridge University Press. p. 41. ISBN 0-521-54885-3.
  9. ^ Missick, Stephen Andrew (2000). "Mar Thoma: The Apostolic Foundation of the Assyrian Church and the Christians of St. Thomas in India" (PDF). Journal of Assyrian Academic Studies. XIV (2): 33–61. Retrieved 2 March 2009.
  10. ^ a b Baum, Wilhelm (2004). Shirin: Christian, Queen, Myth of Love. Gorgias Press. p. 9. ISBN 978-1-59333-282-2.
  11. ^ Kreider, Alan (2001). The Origins of Christendom in the West. Continuum International. p. 130. ISBN 0-567-08776-X.
  12. ^ Barrett, David B. (2001). World Christian Trends, AD 30 - AD 2200. William Carey Library. p. 114. ISBN 0-87808-608-0.