According to tradition, this king, Abgar V of Osroene (Ukkama or Uchomo, "the black"), being afflicted with leprosy, sent a letter to Jesus, acknowledging his divinity, craving his help and offering him asylum in his own residence; the tradition states that Jesus wrote a letter declining to go, promising, however, that after his ascension he would send one of his disciples.
Eusebius, Bishop of Caesarea in the early 4th century, found in the records of Edessa (former capital of Osroene) in c. 325 an exchange of two letters between Abgar and Jesus and published them in his Ecclesiastical History (i. 13). Eusebius also states that in due course Judas, son of Thaddaeus, was sent in 29 AD.
Another version is found in the Syriac Doctrina Addai (=Addaei, Addaeus = Thaddaeus), from the second half of the 4th century. Here it is said that the reply of Jesus was given not in writing, but verbally, and that the event took place in 32 AD. This Teaching of Addai is also the earliest full account of the icon, a painting of Jesus' face made from life during his ministry by Hannan, an agent of ailing King Abgar V, who enshrines it in one of his palaces. Greek forms of the legend are found in the Acta Thaddaei, the "Acts of Thaddaeus".
In yet another form of the story, derived from Moses of Chorene's mid-5th century History of the Armenians, it is said further that Jesus sent his portrait to Abgar, and that this portrait was preserved in Edessa.
These stories have given rise to much discussion. Most testimony of the 5th century, for instance Augustine and Jerome, is to the effect that Jesus wrote nothing. The correspondence was rejected as apocryphal by Pope Gelasius I and a Roman synod (c. 495). Biblical scholars now generally believe that the letters were fabricated, probably in the 3rd century AD, and "planted" where Eusebius eventually found them. Another theory is that the story was fabricated by Abgar IX of Osroene, during whose reign the kingdom became Christianized, as a way of legitimizing this religious transformation.
Text of the letter, transcribed from the Doctrina Addaei, is as follows:
See also: Christian mythology
Portions of text from 1911 Encyclopaedia Britannica