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Memoirs of Edessa - And Other Ancient Syriac Documents - cover

Memoirs of Edessa - And Other Ancient Syriac Documents

Various Various

Translator B. P. Pratten

Publisher: CrossReach Publications

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Summary

The Syriac Documents here subjoined are to be regarded as interesting relics of the primitive ages, but neither wholly genuine nor in details authentic. They have been interpolated and corrupted so as to reflect, in some particulars, ideas wholly repugnant to those of Christian antiquity, and which first received currency in the period of the Iconoclastic controversy. Yet the pages of Eusebius bear witness to the Edessene legends as of very early origin, and it is reasonable to suppose that they rest on some inquiries made by the contemporary Abgar concerning the great Prophet who had appeared in Galilee. The visit of the Wise Men from the East, and the history of Naaman the Syrian, lend antecedent probability to the idea that such inquiries may have been made. The mission of Thaddæus seems a historical fact; and if he found Abgar predisposed to believe, and familiar with the story of the Christ, the growth of the whole fable is sufficiently accounted for. Let me quote Wake in the Preliminary Discourse to his Apostolic Fathers. He says: “That both the intercourse reported by Eusebius between our Saviour and this prince (Abgarus), and the report of the picture being brought to him, have been received as a matter of unquestionable truth in those parts, the authority of Gregorius Abulpharagius will not suffer us to doubt.… But Gelasius pronounced the epistle of our Saviour to be apocryphal.… Natalis Alexander judges both it and the reply of Abgar supposititious; and Dupin, after him, yet more solidly convicts it of such manifest errors as may satisfy all considering persons that Eusebius and Ephraem were too easy of belief in this particular, and did not sufficiently examine into it.”But I cannot do better than refer the inquirer to Jones’ work On the Canon, where, even in early youth, I found the whole matter, and the story of the portrait of our Saviour, attractive reading. I owe to that work my initiation into the study of what I am now endeavouring to elucidate, in some degree, for others. I subjoin the words of Lardner, in concluding his candid examination of the matter, as follows: “The whole history is the fiction of some Christian at Edessa, in the time of Eusebius or not long before. The people of Edessa were then generally Christians; and they valued themselves upon it, and were willing to do themselves the honour of a very early conversion to the Christian faith. By some one of them, or more united together, this history was formed, and was so far received by Eusebius as to be thought by him not improper to be inserted in his Ecclesiastical History.”I conclude that Eusebius was led to put some confidence in it by the antecedent probability to which I have referred, favouring the idea that some knowledge of Christ had penetrated the mind and heart of Abgar even in our Saviour’s lifetime. This idea receives some countenance from the fact recorded by St. Matthew: “His fame went throughout all Syria; and they brought unto Him all sick people that were taken with divers diseases,” etc.

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