- ABGAR (Lat. Abgarus): Name (or title) of eight of the kings (toparchs) of Osrhoene who reigned at Edessa for a period of three centuries and a half ending in 217. The fifteenth of these kings, Abgar V., Uchomo ("the black," 9-46 A.D.), is noteworthy for an alleged correspondence with Jesus, first mentioned by Eusebius (Hist. eccl., i. 13), who states that Abgar, suffering sorely in body and having heard of the cures of Jesus, sent him a letter professing belief in his divinity and asking him to come to Edessa and help him. Jesus wrote in reply that he must remain in Palestine, but that after his ascension he would send one of his disciples who would heal the king and bring life to him and his people. Both letters Eusebius gives in literal translation from a Syriac document which he had found in the archives of Edessa. On the same authority he adds that after the ascension the Apostle Thomas sent Thaddeus, one of the seventy, to Edessa and that, with attendant miracles, he fulfilled the promise of Jesus in the year 340 (of the Seleucidan era=29 A.D.). The Doctrina Addaei (Addaeus = Thaddaeus; edited and translated by G. Phillips, London, 1876), of the second half of the fourth century, makes Jesus reply by an oral message instead of a letter, and adds that the messenger of Abgar was a painter and made and carried back with him to Edessa a portrait of Jesus. Moses of Chorene (c. 470) repeats the story (Hist. Armeniaca, ii. 29-32), with additions, including a correspondence between Abgar and Tiberius, Narses of Assyria, and Ardashes of Persia, in which the "king of the Armenians" appears as champion of Christianity; the portrait, he says, was still in Edessa. Gross anachronisms stamp the story as wholly unhistorical. Pope Gelasius I. and a Roman synod about 495 pronounced the alleged correspondence with Jesus apocryphal. A few Roman Catholic scholars have tried to defend its genuineness (e.g. Tillemont, Memoires, i., Brussels, 1706, pp. 990-997; Welte, in TQ, Tubingen, 1842, pp.335-365), but Protestants have generally rejected it. See JESUS CHRIST, PICTURES AND IMAGES OF.
- (K. SCHMIDT.)
BIBLIOGRAPHY: R. A. Lipsius, Die edessenenieche Abgarsage, Brunswick, 1880; K. C. A. Matthes, Die edessenische Abgarsage,. Leipsic, 1882; ANF, viii. 702 sqq.; L. J. Tixeront, Les origines de l'eglise d'Edesse et la legende d'Abgar, Paris, 1888; Lipsius and Bonnet. Acta apostolorum apocrypha, vol. i., Leipsic, 1891; W. T. Winghille, The Letter from Jesus Christ to Abgarus and the Letter of Abgarus to Christ, 1891; Harnack, Litteratur, i. 533-540, ib. 1893; TU, new ser. iii., 1899, 102-196.