A story about the Prince of Edessa
13. The story about Thaddaeus is as follows: Because of His power to work miracles the divinity of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ became in every land the subject of excited talk and attracted a vast number of people in foreign lands very remote from Judaea, who came in the hope of being cured of diseases and disorders of every kind. Thus it happened that when King Abgar, the brilliantly successful monarch of the peoples of Mesopotamia, who was dying from a terrible physical disorder which no human power could heal, heard continual mention of the name of Jesus and unanimous tribute to His miracles, he sent a humble request to Him by a letter-carrier, begging for relief from his disease. Jesus did not immediately accede to his request, but honoured him with a personal letter, promising to send one of His disciples to cure his disease, and at the same time to bring salvation to him and all his kin. In a very short time the promise was fulfilled. After His resurrection and ascent into heaven, Thomas, one of the twelve apostles, was moved by inspiration to send Thaddaeus, himself in the list of Christ's seventy disciples, 1 to Edessa as preacher and evangelist of the teaching about Christ. Through him every word of our Saviour's promise was fulfilled.
Written evidence of these things is available, taken from the Record Office at Edessa, at that time the royal capital. In the public documents there, embracing early history and also the events of Abgar's time, this record is found preserved from then till now; and the most satisfactory course is to listen to the actual letters, which I have extracted from the archives and translated word for word from the Syriac as follows:
COPY OF A LETTER WRITTEN BY ABGAR THE TOPARCH TO JESUS AND SENT TO HIM AT JERUSALEM BY
THE COURIER ANANIAS
Abgar Uchama the Toparch 2 to Jesus, who has appeared as a gracious saviour in the region of Jerusalem - greeting.
I have heard about you and about the cures you perform without drugs or herbs. If report is true, you make the blind see again and the lame walk about; you cleanse lepers, expel unclean spirits and demons, cure those suffering from chronic and painful diseases, and raise the dead. 3 When I heard all this about you, I concluded that one of two things must be true - either you are God and came down from heaven to do these things, or you are God's Son doing them. Accordingly I am writing to beg you to come to me, whatever the inconvenience, and cure the disorder from which I suffer. I may add that I understand the Jews are treating you with contempt and desire to injure you: my city is very small, but highly esteemed, adequate for both of us.
He wrote this letter when the heavenly light had shone on him only a little while. It is desirable also to hear the letter which Jesus sent him by the same letter-carrier. It is only a few lines long, but very impressive. Here it is. 1
JESUS’ REPLY TO THE TOPARCH ABGAR BY THB COURIER ANANIAS
Happy are you who believed in me without having seen me!2 For it is written of me that those who have seen me will not believe in me, and that those who have not seen will believe and live.3 As to your request that I should come to you, I must complete all that I was sent to do here, and on completing it must at once be taken up to the One who sent me. When I have been taken up I will send you one of my disciples to cure your disorder and bring life to you and those with you.
To these letters is subjoined the following in Syriac:
After Jesus was taken up, Judas, also known as Thomas, sent to him as an apostle 4 Thaddaeus, one of the Seventy, who came and stayed with Tobias, son of Tobias. When his arrival was announced [and he had been made conspicuous by the wonders he performed], Abgar was told: 'An apostle has come here from Jesus, as He promised you in His letter.' Then Thaddaeus began in the power of God to cure every disease and weakness, to the astonishment of everyone. When Abgar heard of the magnificent and astonishing
1. The bracketed passages are wanting in some MSS. Possibly they were added by Eusebius to his final edition.
2. See John xx. 29. The whole letter bears a resemblance to that gospel.
3. This sentence is somewhat like Is. vi. 9.
4. The word 'apostle', meaning 'an emissary', is not used in the narrow sense, but simply to denote a person sent by Christ: the Greek word is the noun corresponding to the verb 'send', used in this sentence, in Jesus's reply, and in John passim.
things that he was doing, and especially his cures, he began to suspect that this was the one to whom Jesus referred when He wrote in His letter: 'When I have been taken up I will send you one of my disciples who will cure your disorder.' So summoning Tobias, with whom Thadckeus was staying, he said: 'I understand that a man with unusual powers has arrived and is staying in your house and is working many cures in the name of Jesus.' Tobias answered: 'Yes, sir. A man from foreign parts has arrived and is living with me, and is performing many wonders.' Abgar replied: ‘Bring him to me.’
So Tobias went to Thaddaeus and said to him: 'The Toparch Abgar has summoned me and told me to bring you to him so that you can cure him.' Thaddaeus answered: 'I will present myself, since the power of God has sent me to him.' The next day Tobias got up early and escorted Thaddaeus to Abgar. As he presented himself, with the king's grandees standing there, at the moment of his entry a wonderful vision appeared to Abgar on the face of Thaddaeus. On seeing it Abgar bowed low before the apostle, and astonishment seized all the bystanders; for they had not seen the vision, which appeared to Abgar alone. He questioned Thaddaeus.
'Are you really a disciple of Jesus the Son of God, who said to me, "I will send you one of my disciples who will cure you and give you life"?'
'You wholeheartedly believed in the One who sent me, and for that reason I was sent to you. And again, if you believe in Him, in proportion to your belief shall the prayers of your heart be granted.'
‘I believed in Him so strongly that I wanted to take an army and destroy the Jews who crucified Him, if I had not been prevented by the imperial power of Rome from doing so.’
'Our Lord has fulfilled the will of His Father: after fulfilling it He was taken up to the Father.'
‘I too have believed in Him and in His Father.'
'For that reason I lay my hand on you in His name.'
When he did this, Abgar was instantly cured of the disease and disorder from which he suffered. It surprised Abgar that the very thing he had heard about Jesus had actually happened to him through His disciple Thaddaeus, who had cured him without drugs or herbs - and not only him but also Abdus son of Abdus, who had gout. He too came, and falling at his feet found his prayer answered through the hands of Thaddaeus, and was cured. Many other fellow-citizens of theirs Thaddaeus restored to health, performing many wonders and preaching the word of God.
After this Abgar said: 'It is by the power of God that you, Thaddaeus, do these things; and we ourselves were amazed. But I have a further request to make: explain to me about the coming of Jesus and how it happened, and about His power - by what power did He do the things I have heard about?'
Thaddaeus replied: 'For the time being I shall say nothing; but as I was sent to preach the word, be good enough to assemble all your citizens tomorrow, and I will preach to them and sow in them the word of life - about the coming of Jesus and how it happened; about His mission and the purpose for which His Father sent Him; about His power and His deeds, and the mysteries He spoke in the world, and the power by which He did these things; about His new preaching; about His lowliness and humility, and how He humbled Himself and put aside and made light of His divinity, was crucified and descended into Hades, 1 and rent asunder the partition which had never been rent since time began, and raised the dead; how He descended alone, but ascended with a great multitude to His Father; and how He is seated on the right hand of God the Father with glory in the heavens; and how He will come again with power to judge the living and dead.'
So Abgar instructed his citizens to assemble at daybreak and hear the preaching of Thaddaeus. After that he ordered gold and silver to be given to him. But Thaddaeus refused them and asked, 'If we have left our own property behind, how can we accept other people's?'
All this happened in the year 340. 2
1. It is worthy of note that this phrase should occur in an early Syriac document. The doctrine can be found in a number of N.T. passages, but nowhere in these words, which appear nowhere else at such an early date. They form, of course, a clause of the Apostles' Creed, a much later document produced in the West and never yet adopted by Eastern Christendom.
[HADES SIMPLY MEANS PLACE OF THE DEAD, SEE STRONG’S CONCORDANCE #7585 - Keith Hunt]
2. of the Seleucid era - apparently A.D. 30, the probable year of the Ascension.
[YES THEY HAVE IT CORRECT—— 30 A.D. WAS THE YEAR JESUS WAS CRUCIFIED; A FULL IN-DEPTH STUDY PROVING THIS IS CORRECT IS ON THIS WEBSITE. COULD THIS ALL BE CORRECT AND IN HISTORICAL MSS? YES, INDEED, FOR IT IS WRITTEN ALL THE THINGS JESUS DID AND SAID WOULD TAKE MANY MANY BOOKS— JOHN 21:25, JOHN’S WORDS A FIGURE OF SPEACH FOR MANY BOOKS, CERTAINLY NOT LITERAL, FOR EVEN IF EVERY HOUR OF EVERY DAY OF JESUS’ MINISTRY OVER 3 AND 1/2 YEARS HAD BEEN WRITTEN DOWN WE CANNOT TAKE JOHN BEING LITERAL - Keith Hunt]
Here we may leave for the present this valuable document, literally translated from Syriac. 1
COMMENTS BY THE COMMENTATORS OF EUSEBIUS——
1. The authenticity of this circumstantial story presents an interesting problem. It is generally regarded as mere legend, designed to create the belief that Christianity reached Mesopotamia very early indeed. But if, as scholars tell us, there is no other evidence that missionaries arrived there till a century later, there is equally no evidence that they did not. It would, indeed, be surprising if Christianity, which spread over almost the whole Empire with such remarkable rapidity, should have been withheld from an area so near Palestine, and one where a similar dialect was spoken. Let us not forget that while Edessa is only 180 miles from Antioch, the starting-point of all Paul's journeys, Ephesus is 500, Rome over 1,000, and Spain 2,000. Moreover, as Josephus tells us (Jewish War, p. 21), there was close contact between Jerusalem and the Jewish inhabitants of northern Mesopotamia, for whom he wrote the Aramaic original of his book.
It should be noted that the original Syriac, of which we possess a copy, does not say that Jesus wrote the letter, but that He gave a verbal message to Ananias, who wrote it down. In other respects Eusebius's version is more reliable than our text of the Syriac, which has been corrupted by the copyists.