Epistles of Christ and Abgarus

ABGARUS, EPISTLES OF CHRIST AND, ăb’ gə rəs. Two short apocryphal letters preserved in Euseb. Hist. I. 13, in the context of a legend which he claims to have tr. himself from Syr. documents in the archives of Edessa. According to Quasten, Eusebius shows knowledge of the Gr. Acts of Thaddaeus (Lipsius, Acta apostolorum apocrypha I. 273ff.), but Eusebius wrote only of a story about Thaddaeus; Bauer (NTAp I. 438) dates these Acts to the 6th cent.

Abgar, king of Edessa, afflicted with a terrible disease, writes to Jesus to ask for healing, in terms suspiciously reminiscent of the gospels. Having heard of the hostility of the Jews, he offers Jesus his own city as a safe place of refuge. Jesus replies in markedly Johannine language, declining the invitation because he has a mission to fulfill in Pal., but promising, “when I am lifted up,” to send one of His disciples. The sequel tells how the promise was fulfilled after the Ascension when Judas Thomas sent Thaddaeus to Edessa.

The legend enjoyed wide currency in several languages. In the expanded VS in the Syr. Doctrine Addaei (c. 400; ed. Phillips, The Doctrine of Addai, the Apostle [1876], Abgar’s messenger takes back not a letter but a portrait of Jesus (in the Acts of Thaddaeus, it is a handkerchief); about the same period the pilgrim Aetheria testifies that the story was known in the W. Augustine (contra Faustum 28:4) and Jerome (in Ezek. 44:29) both affirm that Jesus left nothing in writing, and the correspondence is declared apocryphal by the Decretum Gelasianum. Abgar V of Edessa was contemporary with Jesus, but the legend, unknown before Eusebius, is an obvious fiction, prob. compiled for propagandist purposes.

Bibliography

J. Quasten, Patrology I (1950), 140ff.; W. Bauer in NTAp I. 437ff.