Abgar V of Edessa
Ruler of the kingdom of Osroene
Icon of Abgar holding the mandylion, the image of Christ (encaustic, 10th century, Saint Catherine's Monastery, Mount Sinai).
Born1st century BC
Diedc. AD 50
Saint Abgar
Venerated inCatholic Church
Eastern Orthodox Church
Oriental Orthodox Church

Abgar V (c. 1st century BC – c. AD 50), called Ukkāmā (meaning "the Black" in Syriac and other dialects of Aramaic),[a] was the King of Osroene with his capital at Edessa.[1]


Abgar V on an Armenian banknote

Abgar was described as "king of the Arabs" by Tacitus, a near-contemporary source.[2][3] Moses of Chorene depicted Abgar as an Armenian,[4][5] but modern scholarly consensus agree that the Abgarids were in fact an Arab dynasty.[6][7][8][9][10][11]

Armenian historian Moses of Chorene (ca. 410–490s AD) notes that Abgar V's chief wife was Queen Helena of Adiabene,[12] who according to Josephus was the wife of King Monobaz I of Adiabene.

Letter of Abgar to Jesus

Abgar V is said to be one of the first Christian kings, having been converted to the faith by Thaddeus of Edessa, one of the seventy disciples.[13][14]

The church historian Eusebius recorded that the Edessan archives contained a copy of a correspondence exchanged between Abgar of Edessa and Jesus.[15][16] The correspondence consisted of Abgar's letter and the answer dictated by Jesus. On 15 August 944, the Church of St. Mary of Blachernae in Constantinople received the letter and the Mandylion. Both relics were then moved to the Church of the Virgin of the Pharos.[17]

This account enjoyed great popularity in the East and in the West during the Middle Ages. Jesus' letter was copied on parchment, inscribed in marble and metal, and used as a talisman or an amulet. Of this correspondence, there survives not only a Syriac text, but an Armenian translation as well, two independent Greek versions, shorter than the Syriac, and several inscriptions on stone.[citation needed]

Scholars have disputed many aspects of this account such as whether Abgar suffered from gout or from leprosy, or whether the correspondence was on parchment or papyrus.[18]

The text of the letter was:

Abgar, ruler of Edessa, to Jesus the good physician who has appeared in the country of Jerusalem, greeting. I have heard the reports of you and of your cures as performed by you without medicines or herbs. For it is said that you make the blind to see and the lame to walk, that you cleanse lepers and cast out impure spirits and demons, and that you heal those afflicted with lingering disease, and raise the dead. And having heard all these things concerning you, I have concluded that one of two things must be true: either you are God, and, having come down from heaven, you do these things, or else you, who does these things, are the son of God. I have therefore written to you to ask you if you would take the trouble to come to me and heal all the ill which I suffer. For I have heard that the Jews are murmuring against you and are plotting to injure you. But I have a very small yet noble city which is great enough for us both.[19]

Jesus gave the messenger the reply to return to Abgar:

Blessed are you who hast believed in me without having seen me. For it is written concerning me, that they who have seen me will not believe in me, and that they who have not seen me will believe and be saved. But in regard to what you have written me, that I should come to you, it is necessary for me to fulfill all things here for which I have been sent, and after I have fulfilled them, thus to be taken up again to him that sent me. But after I have been taken up, I will send to you one of my disciples, that he may heal your disease and give life to you and yours.[20]

Egeria wrote of the letter in her account of her pilgrimage in Edessa. She read the letter during her stay around 384, and remarked that the copy in Edessa was "fuller" than the copies in her home (which was likely France).[21]

In addition to the importance it attained in the apocryphal cycle, the correspondence of King Abgar also gained a place in liturgy for some time. The Syriac liturgies commemorate the correspondence of Abgar during Lent. The Celtic liturgy appears to have attached importance to it; the Liber Hymnorum, a manuscript preserved at Trinity College, Dublin (E. 4, 2), gives two collects on the lines of the letter to Abgar. It is even possible that this letter, followed by various prayers, may have formed a minor liturgical office in some Catholic churches.[19]

This event has played an important part in the self-definition of several Eastern churches. Abgar is counted as saint, with feasts on 11 May and 28 October in the Eastern Orthodox Church, Thursday of the Third Week of Lent (Mid-Lent) in the Syriac Orthodox Church,[22] and daily in the Mass of the Armenian Apostolic Church.

Fresco from Varaga St. Gevorg church chapel showing king Abgar with image of Christ

Critical scholarship

A number of contemporary scholars have suggested origins of the tradition of Abgar's conversion apart from historical record. Walter Bauer argued the legend was written without sources to reinforce group cohesiveness, orthodoxy, and apostolic succession against heretical schismatics.[23] However, several distinct sources, known to have not been in contact with one another, claimed to have seen the letters in the archives, so his claim is suspect.[24]

Significant advances in scholarship on the topic have been made[25] including Desreumaux's translation with commentary,[26] M. Illert's collection of textual witnesses to the legend,[27] and detailed studies of the ideology of the sources by Brock,[28] Griffith[29] and Mirkovic.[30] The majority of scholars now claim the goal of the authors and editors of texts regarding the conversion of Abgar were not so much concerned with historical reconstruction of the Christianisation of Edessa as the relationships between church and state power, based on the political and ecclesiological ideas of Ephraem the Syrian.[31][32][30] However, the origins of the story are still far from certain,[33] although the stories as recorded seem to have been shaped by the controversies of the third century CE, especially as a response to Bardaisan.[31]

Letters of Abgar to Tiberius

Letters between Abgar V and the Roman Emperor Tiberius are also recorded in history, by for instance the Armenian historian Movses Khorenatsi, scholars have argued for the core of these being essentially authentic based on:[34]

This work seems to preserve very ancient material, such as the information on the friendship between Abgar, correctly called toparkhês of Edessa, and the prefect of Egypt, in my view probably A. Avillius Flaccus, who ruled Egypt AD 32 to 38—just the years of Vitellius’ mandate in the Near East and of the Abgar-Tiberius correspondence—and is well known to us thanks to Philo, In Flaccum, 1-3; 25; 40; 116; 158. He was one of the most intimate friends of Tiberius; he was born and grew up in Rome with Augustus’ nieces, obtained the government of Egypt, a direct possession of the emperor, and probably helped the good relationship between Abgar and Tiberius that is evident in their correspondence.

Abgar's initial letter to Tiberius read:[35]

Abgar, king of Armenia, to my Lord Tiberius, emperor of the Romans, greeting:— I know that nothing is unknown to your Majesty, but, as your friend, I would make you better acquainted with the facts by writing. The Jews who dwell in the cantons of Palestine have crucified Jesus: Jesus without sin, Jesus after so many acts of kindness, so many wonders and miracles wrought for their good, even to the raising of the dead. Be assured that these are not the effects of the power of a simple mortal, but of God. During the time that they were crucifying Him, the sun was darkened, the earth was moved, shaken; Jesus Himself, three days afterwards, rose from the dead and appeared to many. Now, everywhere, His name alone, invoked by His disciples, produces the greatest miracles: what has happened to myself is the most evident proof of it. Your august Majesty knows henceforth what ought to be done in future with respect to the Jewish nation, which has committed this crime; your Majesty knows whether a command should not be published through the whole universe to worship Christ as the true God. Safety and health.

Tiberius' reply read:

Tiberius, emperor of the Romans, to Abgar, king of the Armenians, greeting:— Your kind letter has been read to me, and I wish that thanks should be given to you from me. Though we had already heard several persons relate these facts, Pilate has officially informed us of the miracles of Jesus. He has certified to us that after His resurrection from the dead He was acknowledged by many to be God. Therefore I myself also wished to do what you propose; but, as it is the custom of the Romans not to admit a god merely by the command of the sovereign, but only when the admission has been discussed and examined in full senate, I proposed the affair to the senate, and they rejected it with contempt, doubtless because it had not been considered by them first. But we have commanded all those whom Jesus suits, to receive him among the gods. We have threatened with death any one who shall speak evil of the Christians. As to the Jewish nation which has dared to crucify Jesus, who, as I hear, far from deserving the cross and death, was worthy of honour, worthy of the adoration of men — when I am free from the war with rebellious Spain, I will examine into the matter, and will treat the Jews as they deserve.

See also


  1. ^ Arabic: أَبْجَر ٱلْخَامِس أُوكَامَا, romanizedʾAbǧar al-Ḫāmis ʾŪkāmā,[citation needed] Syriac: ܐܒܓܪ ܚܡܝܫܝܐ ܐܘܟܡܐ, romanizedʾAḇgar Ḥmīšāyā ʾUkkāmā,[citation needed] Armenian: Աբգար Ե Եդեսացի, romanizedAbgar Hingerord Yedesatsi,[citation needed] Greek: Ἄβγαρος, Latin: Abgarus.[citation needed]


  1. ^ Vailhé, Siméon (1913). "Edessa" . In Herbermann, Charles (ed.). Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.
  2. ^ Ring, Steven. "History of Syriac texts and Syrian Christianity - Table 1". www.syriac.talktalk.net. Archived from the original on 2018-02-27. Retrieved 2018-02-26.
  3. ^ "The Annals 12.12".
  4. ^ Nersessian, Vrej (2001). Treasures from the Ark: 1700 Years of Armenian Christian Art. Oxford University Press. p. 224. ISBN 978-0892366392.
  5. ^ Armenian Van/Vaspurakan - p.68, Richard G. Hovannisian
  6. ^ Bowman, Alan; Garnsey, Peter; Cameron, Averil (2005). The Cambridge Ancient History: Volume 12, The Crisis of Empire, AD 193-337. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9780521301992.
  7. ^ "Osroëne | ancient kingdom, Mesopotamia, Asia".
  8. ^ Skolnik, Fred; Berenbaum, Michael (2007). Encyclopaedia Judaica. Macmillan Reference USA. ISBN 9780028659435.
  9. ^ Roberts, John Morris; Westad, Odd Arne (2013). The History of the World. Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780199936762.
  10. ^ "ABGAR Encyclopaedia Iranica". www.iranicaonline.org.
  11. ^ Laet, Sigfried J. de; Herrmann, Joachim (1996). History of Humanity: From the seventh century B.C. to the seventh century A.D. UNESCO. ISBN 9789231028120.
  12. ^ Movses Khorenatsi. "History of Armenia" . In Roberts, Alexander; Donaldson, James; Coxe, Arthur Cleveland; Schaff, Philip (eds.). Memoirs of Edessa And Other Ancient Syriac Documents. Ante-Nicene Fathers. Vol. VIII. Translated by Pratten, Benjamin Plummer. Chapter 10..
  13. ^ Chapman 1913.
  14. ^ Fortescue, Adrian (1913). Lesser Eastern Churches. ISBN 978-0-9715986-2-1.
  15. ^ Walsh, Michael J. (1986). The triumph of the meek: why early Christianity succeeded. Harper & Row. p. 125. ISBN 9780060692544. The story about this kingdom which Eusebius relates is as follows. King Abgar (who ruled from AD 13 to 50) was dying. Hearing of Jesus' miracles he sent for him. Jesus wrote back - this correspondence, Eusebius claims, can be found in the Edessan archives - to say that he could not come because he had been sent to the people of Israel, but he would send a disciple later. But Abgar was already blessed for having believed in him.
  16. ^ In his Church History, I, xiii, ca AD 325.
  17. ^ Janin, Raymond (1953). La Géographie ecclésiastique de l'Empire byzantin. 1. Part: Le Siège de Constantinople et le Patriarcat Oecuménique. 3rd Vol. : Les Églises et les Monastères (in French). Paris: Institut Français d'Etudes Byzantines. p. 172.
  18. ^ Norris, Steven Donald (2016-01-11). Unraveling the Family History of Jesus: A History of the Extended Family of Jesus from 100 Bc Through Ad 100 and the Influence They Had on Him, on the Formation of Christianity, and on the History of Judea. WestBow Press. ISBN 9781512720495.
  19. ^ a b Leclercq, Henri (1913). "The Legend of Abgar" . In Herbermann, Charles (ed.). Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.
  20. ^ "CHURCH FATHERS: Church History, Book I (Eusebius)".
  21. ^ Bernard, John. "The Pilgrimage of Egeria". University of Pennsylvania. Palestine Pilgrims' Text Society.
  22. ^ "Feast: Mid-Lent/King Abgar".
  23. ^ Bauer 1971, Chapter 1.
  24. ^ "CHURCH FATHERS: History of Armenia (Moses of Chorene)".
  25. ^ Camplani 2009, p. 253.
  26. ^ Histoire du roi Abgar et de Jésus, Présentation et traduction du texte syriaque intégral de la Doctrine d’Addaï par. A. Desreumaux, Brepols, Paris 1993.
  27. ^ M. Illert (ed.), Doctrina Addai. De imagine Edessena / Die Abgarlegende. Das Christusbild von Edessa (Fontes Christiani, 45), Brepols, Turnhout 2007
  28. ^ S.P. Brock, Eusebius and Syriac Christianity, in H.W. Attridge-G. Hata (eds.), Eusebius, Christianity, and Judaism, Brill, Leiden-New York-Köln 1992, pp. 212-234, republished in S. Brock, From Ephrem to Romanos. Interactions between Syriac and Greek in Late Antiquity (Variorum Collected Studies Series, CS644), Ashgate/Variorum, Aldershot-Brookfield-Singapore- Sydney 1999, n. II.
  29. ^ Griffith, Sidney H. (2003). "The Doctrina Addai as a Paradigm of Christian Thought in Edessa in the Fifth Century". Hugoye: Journal of Syriac Studies. 6 (2): 269–292. doi:10.31826/hug-2010-060111. ISSN 1097-3702. S2CID 212688514. Archived from the original on 21 August 2003. Retrieved 25 January 2017.((cite journal)): CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link)
  30. ^ a b Mirkovic 2004.
  31. ^ a b Camplani 2009.
  32. ^ Griffith 2003, §3 and §28.
  33. ^ Mirkovic 2004, pp. 2–4.
  34. ^ Ramelli, Ilaria (2011). "Possible Historical Traces in the Doctrina Addai". Hugoye: Journal of Syriac Studies.
  35. ^ "CHURCH FATHERS: History of Armenia (Moses of Chorene)". www.newadvent.org. Retrieved 7 May 2023.