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Doctrine of Addai

A Syriac document which relates the legend of the conversion of Edessa

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Doctrine of Addai (Lat. Doctrina Addaei), a Syriac document which relates the legend of the conversion of Edessa. It begins with the story of the letter of King Abgar to Christ (see The Legend of Abgar) and the reply of the latter, with some variations from the account drawn by Eusebius (Hist. Eccl., I, xiii) from the Edessene archives. The reply was not a letter, as Eusebius says, but a verbal message, together with a portrait of Christ (not in Eusebius). After the Ascension Judas Thomas sent Addai, one of the seventy-two Disciples, to Abgar. Addai (Thaddeus in Eusebius) healed the king of his sickness, and preached before him, relating the discovery of the True Cross by Protonice, wife of the Emperor Claudius; this, with all that follows, is later than Eusebius, being founded on the story of St. Helena. Addai then preaches to the people, who are converted. The heathen altars are thrown down, and the people are baptized. King Abgar induces the Emperor Tiberius to chastise the Jews for having crucified the Savior. Churches are built by Addai, and he makes deacons and priests. On his deathbed he appoints Aggai his successor, ordains the deacon Palut priest, and gives his last admonitions. He was buried in the sepulchre of the king’s ancestors. Many years after his death, Aggai, who ordained holy priests for the country, was martyred as he taught in the church by a rebellious son of Abgar. His successor, Palut, was obliged to go to Antioch in order to get episcopal consecration, which he received from Serapion, Bishop of Antioch, who “himself also received the hand from Zephyrinus, Bishop of the city of Rome, from the succession of the hand of the priesthood of Simon Cephas, which he received from Our Lord, who was there Bishop of Rome twenty-five years, in the days of the Caesar, who reigned there thirteen years” (evidently Nero is meant, who reigned from October, 54, to June, 68). The anxiety of the writer to connect the Edessene succession with Rome is interesting; its derivation from the Petrine See of Antioch does not suffice him.

The doctrine of the book is not unorthodox, though some expressions might be understood in an Apollinarian sense. The mention of Holy Scripture must be noticed: “They read in the Old Testament and the New, and the Prophets, and the Acts of the Apostles, every day they meditated on them”; “a large number of people assembled day by day and came to the prayer of the service, and to [the reading] of the Old and New Testament, of the Diatessaron”; “But the Law and the Prophets and the Gospel, which ye read every day before the people, and the Epistles of Paul, which Simon Peter sent us from the city of Rome, and the Acts of the twelve Apostles, which John, the son of Zebedee, sent us from Ephesus, these books read ye in the Churches of Christ, and with these read not any others, as there is not any other in which the truth that ye hold is written, except these hooks, which retain you in the faith to which ye have been called.” The canon therefore excludes the Apocalypse and all the Catholic Epistles; in this it agrees with Aphraates, Theodore of Mopsuestia, the Syriac stichometrical list of Cod. Sin. 10 (in Mrs. Lewis’s Catalogue of Sinai MSS.), and probably with Ephrem. The Syriac Church, indeed, never accepted the Apocalypse and the four shorter Catholic Epistles; the three longer were admitted at all events later than 400, at an uncertain date. The Diatessaron was employed by the Syriac Church from its composition by Tatian c. 160 until it was proscribed by the famous Bishop of Edessa, Rabbula (d. 435).

We seem to find firm historical ground in the statement that Palut was consecrated bishop by Serapion, who was Bishop of Antioch c. 191-212 and really a contemporary of Pope Zephyrinus. But this shows that Addai, who made Palut a priest, was not one of the seventy-two Disciples of Christ. The first Christian King of Edessa was in reality Abgar IX (179-214) who was converted soon after 201, and this date tallies with that of Palut. It is possible that Palut was the first Bishop of Edessa; but it is surely more likely that there was already a Church and a bishop under the pagan kings in so important a city. An early date for the Abgar legend is sometimes based upon the promise in the message of Christ: “Thy city shall be blessed, and no enemy shall again become master of it for ever.” It is argued that this could not have been invented after the sacking of the city under Trajan in 116; but the writer might have passed over this event after a century and a half. The confusion of dates can hardly have arisen before the latter half of the third century, and the Edessene Acts used by Eusebius were probably not very old when he wrote. The “Doctrine of Addai” is yet later. The Finding of the Cross must be dated some time later than St. Helena; the miraculous picture of Christ was not seen by the Abbess Etheria when she visited Edessa c. 385. Hence the date of the work may be c. 400.

The “Doctrine of Addai” was first published in Syriac in a fragmentary form by Cureton, “Ancient Syriac documents” (London, 1864, a posthumous work), with a translation; another translation in “Ante-Nicene Chr. Libr.”, XX. The full Syriac text was published by Phillips, with a translation (London, 1876). An Armenian version and (separately) a French translation, by the Mechitarist Father Leo Alishan, “Laboubnia, Lettre d’Abgar” (Venice, 1868).


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