Mahadeviyakka and the Acts of Thomas

I was recently reading the new translation of The Acts of Thomas by Harold Attridge, and was struck by the similarity between a phrase used in that text to the way the 12th century bhakti poet Mahadeviyakka (also known as Mahadevi) expresses herself.

In one of her poems, she expresses her devotion to Shiva as her lord and husband. And then she adds, “Take these husbands who die, decay, and feed them to your kitchen fires!”

In the Acts of Thomas 14, a bride who has responded to Jesus’ call to chastity by expressing her love for Jesus as lord and husband. Then in 14:7 she says, “I’ve not had intercourse with a husband who passes away – something that ends up in lewdness and bitterness of soul – because now I’ve been joined to a real husband.”

Religious traditions often find their way to similar language, symbolism, and expressions of devotion. I am wary of parallelomania, as readers will probably already know. Nevertheless, when two texts use similar language and have a purported connection with the same geographical region (South India), there is reason to at least raise the possibility that there might be some actual connection. Now, the texts are separated by centuries, and so it is unlikely to be a case of Mahadeviyakka reading the Acts of Thomas. But might there be a tradition of religious devotion in South India which had an impact on both Christianity and Hinduism there, over a very long period of time?

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