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Abgarus of Edessa

Abgarus of Edessa (4 B.C. - 7 A.D. and 13 A.D. - 50 A.D.) ruled the kingdom of Osroene in Mesopotamia, at the same time Jesus lived in Palestine.

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:

Abgar Ouchama to Jesus, the Good Physician Who has appeared in the country of Jerusalem, greeting:

I have heard of Thee, and of Thy healing; that Thou dost not use medicines or roots, but by Thy word openest (the eyes) of the blind, makest the lame to walk, cleansest the lepers, makest the deaf to hear; how by Thy word (also) Thou healest (sick) spirits and those who are tormented with lunatic demons, and how, again, Thou raisest the dead to life. And, learning the wonders that Thou doest, it was borne in upon me that (of two things, one): either Thou hast come down from heaven, or else Thou art the Son of God, who bringest all these things to pass. Wherefore I write to Thee, and pray that thou wilt come to me, who adore Thee, and heal all the ill that I suffer, according to the faith I have in Thee. I also learn that the Jews murmur against Thee, and persecute Thee, that they seek to crucify Thee, and to destroy Thee. I possess but one small city, but it is beautiful, and large enough for us two to live in peace.

The Doctrina then continues:

When Jesus had received the letter, in the house of the high priest of the Jews, He said to Hannan, the secretary, "Go thou, and say to thy master, who hath sent thee to Me: 'Happy art thou who hast believed in Me, not having seen Me, for it is written of Me that those who shall see Me shall not believe in Me, and that those who shall not see Me shall believe in Me. As to that which thou hast written, that I should come to thee, (behold) all that for which I was sent here below is finished, and I ascend again to My Father who sent Me, and when I shall have ascended to Him I will send thee one of My disciples, who shall heal all thy sufferings, and shall give (thee) health again, and shall convert all who are with thee unto life eternal. And thy city shall be blessed forever, and the enemy shall never overcome it.'"

(†According to Eusebius, it was not Hannan who wrote the answer but Jesus himself.)

See also: Christian mythology

Portions of text from 1911 Encyclopaedia Britannica

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