A Man for the Times: Jesus and the Abgar Correspondence in Eusebius of Caesarea’s Ecclesiastical History

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Abstract

Perhaps the most extraordinary story about Jesus to survive from antiquity is one of the least often told. It runs as follows: Towards the end of his life, Jesus's reputation has spread out from Palestine and reached the terminally ill Abgar V (also known as Abgar the Black), toparch of Edessa, the capital city of the kingdom of Osroëne. Abgar writes to Jesus requesting that he visit Edessa and heal him. In return he offers sanctuary from the Jews and shared rule of his city. The story preserves the text of both this letter and Jesus's reply, in which he declines to visit (citing his upcoming engagements in Jerusalem), but promises to send a disciple in his stead. After Jesus's death, the apostle Thomas, moved by divine impulse, sends Thaddaeus, one of the seventy (Luke 10:1–24), to Edessa. Escorted to Abgar's court, Thaddaeus cures him along with one Abdu son of Abdu. The newly converted Abgar gathers his citizens to hear Thaddaeus preach, and the story ends with the Christianization of Abgar's kingdom.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)563–587
JournalHARVARD THEOLOGICAL REVIEW
Volume110
Issue number4
Early online date22 Sept 2017
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2017

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