The Doctrine of Addai (1876). Preface




English Translation and Notes






THE MS. of which a portion is here edited, belongs to the Imperial Public Library of St. Petersburg. It is in fine condition, written in a bold Estrangelo character, comprising several works besides the one now published, and is apparently of the sixth century. It is the only known MS. which contains the Syriac text of "The Doctrine of Addai, the Apostle," entire. There exists in the British Museum a MS. of this work, which forms one of the ancient Syriac documents edited and translated by the late Dr. Cureton, and published after his death. That MS., however, is very imperfect. It does not contain so much as a half of the entire text, and consequently the value of the work in so mutilated a condition is greatly impaired.

Addai, according to Eusebius, was one of the seventy, or according to this document, the Armenian version, and "The Doctrine of the Apostles," one of the seventy-two disciples. "Whatever may be the explanation of this numerical discrepancy, it must in either case be inferred that Addai was one of the second batch of disciples, ordained by our Lord to the office of the ministry (Luke x. 1). The purpose of his mission to Edessa is stated in |iv the beginning of the document. Abgar, the then king of Edessa, sent Hannan, the keeper of the archives, and others to Sabinus, the deputy in the east of the emperor Tiberius, with letters concerning the affairs of the kingdom. The messengers, having most probably heard of the fame of Christ, took that opportunity of going to Jerusalem to see Him. Having entered that city, they saw Christ, and rejoiced. Hannan wrote down what he saw and heard of Christ, for the sake of making a full report to Abgar of our Lord's wonderful deeds on his return to Edessa. The king was greatly impressed by what was related to him, and as he himself was afflicted with a disease, and unable to obtain a cure, he wrote a letter to Jesus, entreating Him to come and heal him. Hannan, the bearer of the letter, delivered it to Jesus. A verbal reply was returned by our Lord to Abgar, in which He promised that after He had gone up to His Father, He would send one of His disciples to cure him of the disease. After Christ had ascended to heaven, Addai was the disciple selected by Judas Thomas to go on the mission to Edessa. His arrival at the city was soon made known to Abgar, who sent immediately for him. Abgar, surrounded by his nobles, received Addai, and he in their presence cured the king of the disease from which he had for a long time been suffering.

A very important inquiry is that which concerns the genuineness, the authorship, &c., of "The Doctrine of Addai, the Apostle." Into this inquiry it is necessary to |v enter. When we consider the great deeds of Addai, his miracles, and the success of his labours as an evangelist, we might reasonably infer that some written account of them would soon appear. Accordingly we find it stated at the conclusion of the document, that, agreeably to the custom of the kingdom, Labubna, the king's scribe, "wrote these things of Addai, the Apostle, from the beginning to the end;" whilst Hannan, the king's sharrir, placed the account among the records. As to the expression "from the beginning to the end," we understand no more than that all which was written of the doings of Addai, and deposited in the archives of Edessa, was written by Labubna. The report drawn up by him might have consisted only of memoranda of the principal acts and chief points of the teaching of Addai, or he might have written in the main the document as we now have it. The latter is the opinion of Dr. Alishan, who translated the Armenian version of "The Doctrine of Addai," under the title of "Lettre d'Abgar." His words are:----"Notre opinion est qu'il est en grande partie rédigé par Laboubnia, Archiviste d'Edesse, contemporain d'Abgar et des disciples de notre Sauveur." I am inclined to this opinion; for if we except certain interpolations, the whole history seems to be consistent with itself, as if it issued from the pen of one and the same individual. The interpolations are considerable. In one place the Acts of the Apostles are mentioned, in another the Epistles of St. Paul; but |vi neither the Acts nor the Epistles could have been known to the Church in the time of Addai. In another place it is recorded that a large multitude assembled day by day for prayer and to read the Diatessaron of Tatian, which was not compiled till about the middle of the second century. The paragraph in p. 50 of the translation, about the ordination of Palut by Serapion, Bishop of Antioch, is contradicted in p. 39, where it is said that Palut was ordained an elder by Addai. The narrative of the portrait of our Lord painted by Hannan, which follows immediately after Abgar's letter, and our Lord's reply is not alluded to by Eusebius, although he has followed the Syriac both before and after this statement. This circumstance shows that, if it formed a part of the Syriac text in his time, he did not believe in the truth of what was related. Other passages are met with which contain internal evidence that they did not form a part of the original text. The story of the invention of the cross by Protonice or, as the name is elsewhere written, Petronice must have been written by some person who was very ignorant of the Roman history of the time when the apostles were living. This is obviously an interpolation, and this and several other passages carry on the face of them their own condemnation. A question arises at what time or times might these interpolations have been introduced into the document. They do not appear to be so many, but that we may fairly assume, in the absence of evidence to the contrary, |vii that they were made by the same individual. The circumstance of the mention of Tatian's Diatessaron shows that they could not have become a part of Addai's work till after the Diatessaron was compiled, and had begun to be used in the Syrian Church. The interpolations, therefore, could not have been introduced till towards the close of the second century. So much for the upper limit. The next question is, Where is the lower limit to be placed? From what follows, I think we may be able to answer sufficiently this question. Eusebius has devoted a chapter of his Ecclesiastical History to Abgar, and the planting of the church at Edessa by Addai. The Syriac of this chapter, from the letter of Abgar to the end is substantially the same as the Syriac of the corresponding portion of our document. "Whoever will take the trouble to compare the two, will find that the variations are not many. He will, I think, be satisfied that Eusebius had our writing before him, when he wrote the thirteenth chapter of the first book of his Ecclesiastical History. Eusebius says:----" The very letters themselves were taken by us from the archives of Edessa." But although the word us is used, it does not follow that the extract was made by himself from the archives. He probably did not make it, for it is not known that he was ever at Edessa. He might have consistently employed the pronoun us, if the extract, which constitutes a chapter of his history, had been made by a person living at a previous period, who |viii wrote, as he himself afterwards did, on the affairs of Abgar, and the origin of the Church at Edessa. It is, indeed, conjectured by Grabe and others that Eusebius might have got the substance of what we find in the thirteenth chapter from the Chronographia of Sextus Julius Africanus; but I can find very little evidence to support that conjecture. It is much more probable that Eusebius would have before him a work professing to have been written by a contemporary of Addai, and written too in Syriac, the language of the country. He himself says that what is contained in his chapter from the letter of Abgar to the end was translated from Syriac into Greek.

But the part of the work which Eusebius translated does not appear to contain any thing, which would warrant us to regard it as an interpolation. We cannot, therefore, say whether the interpolations existed in the Syriac text used by Eusebius; but the following evidence renders it highly probable that they did. In p. 19 of the French translation of the Armenian version is the following note:----"Moïse de Khorène dans sa relation du voyage des Stes. Rhipsiméennes, cite et Patronicée et la sainte Croix, dont elle portait un morceau, qui ensuite par hérédité arriva a Rhipsimée, mais encore elle est mentionnee dans 1'ancien calendrier ecclesiastique, attribué au S. Isaac l'arrière petit fils de S. Gregoire l'illuminateur, et qui occupa la chaire patriarcale de 389 a 439; on y lit, le 17 mai; Fête de |ix l'Invention de la Croix, cherchez dans la Lettre d'Abgar; Patronicée et lisez-la." We infer from this quotation that the letter of Abgar (this is sometimes found as the title of the work) containing the story of Protonice was known in the fourth century, that Protonice had then a place in the calendar of the Armenian Church, and that the festival of the Invention of the Cross existed in that century. The festival was founded, as we read in this extract, on the strength of what is related in our document. The story itself must have been much older than the institution of the festival, or it would not have been believed in as a discovery in the time of St. James. We may, therefore, fairly conclude that our work contained the story of Protonice, and if so, it contained the other interpolations when it was made use of by Eusebius.1

What has been advanced goes to show that this ancient Syrian document is to be regarded in the main as genuine. The question of its genuineness has given rise to much controversy. It is one of very great importance, and demands a candid and patient consideration. Many able scholars, such as Baronius, |x Tillemont, Cave, Grabe, and the late Dr. Cureton, have arrayed themselves on the side of the genuineness of the work, which is also defended in the Bollandist Acta Sanctorum. I confess that when I first entered upon the inquiry respecting its genuineness, I did so with a strong prejudice against it. As I proceeded, however, the prejudice became weaker and weaker, till it finally disappeared. I will endeavour to lay before the reader, some additional reasons which, in conjunction with those already brought forward, have produced the conviction in my own mind that the claim of the work to genuineness is well founded, and that the objections which have been raised against it may be satisfactorily met.

First: it is historically true that Abgar Ukkama was king of Edessa in the time of our Lord. Having been long afflicted with a disease, and having heard of the miraculous cures effected by Christ, there is surely nothing more probable, nothing more natural, than that he should write a letter to our Lord inviting Him to Edessa to remove the affliction under which he was labouring. But then our Lord is said to have written a letter in reply. This has caused----and it is not surprising that it should----great opposition. It has been made the main argument of the opponents of the genuineness of the work. It is inconceivable, they say, that if Christ wrote a letter, it should have been hidden for three centuries in the archives of Edessa. Christ is not known to have written anything else. If |xi Christ had written a letter to Abgar, it would have been a part of sacred Scripture, and placed at the head of the New Testament; &c., &c. The arguments on which the decree of Gelasius was founded, A.D. 494, against the genuineness of the work rest mainly on the letter of our Lord. Happily for me, it is no part of my duty to answer the arguments which have been advanced against the supposed letter. According to the St. Petersburg MS., and in this it is supported by the Armenian version, the reply of our Lord was merely a verbal message, returned through Hannan to Abgar. He said to Hannan, "Go and say to thy lord," &c. As a further proof that it could have been only a verbal message, it is expressly stated in p. 5 of the translation that Hannan related to Abgar everything which he had heard from Jesus, as His words were put by him in writing. If there be reasons why our Lord did not write a letter, there can be none against a verbal message. This mode of reply was consistent with what our Lord did on other occasions. It was a verbal reply to the question of John the Baptist, which He sent through His messengers (Luke vii. 22). That the reply of our Lord was a written letter is, therefore, an error, and the error was committed by Eusebius. It is not difficult to explain how Eusebius fell into this mistake. He knew that the reply was in writing, and kept in the archives, and he supposed that our Lord Himself had put it in writing, whereas it was done by Hannan. |xii 

Our Lord, in this answer to Abgar, made no revelation of Himself which He did not make to those disciples who were in attendance on Him. He informed Abgar that He was going to His father; but this communication He repeatedly made to His followers. See John xiv. 12, 28; xvi. 10; &c.

Again, in the discourse of Addai to the assembled Edessenes, and in his farewell address, there are passages which we find in the Gospels; but this circumstance cannot be cited as evidence against the genuineness of the work. Though these passages are found in the Gospels, it does not follow that they are quotations, or that the Gospels were written at the time these discourses were delivered. They consist of striking sayings of our Lord, which from the time they passed His lips would be sure to become current among His followers, and would be frequently cited. They might have existed, and most probably did exist, traditionally among the first Christians, and became well known to them, and would be certain to be highly appreciated. The passages to which I particularly refer are:----p. 10, "The gate of life is strait," Matt. vii. 13, 14; p. 19, "Behold now is the son of man glorified," John xiii. 31; p. 27, "Behold your house is left desolate," Matt, xxiii. 38; p. 41, "Their angels behold the face of the invisible Father;" compare Matt, xviii. 10; p. 43, "He is gone to prepare for His worshippers blessed mansions;" compare John xiv. 2. In p. 9, Addai |xiii says,----"We were commanded by our Lord to be without purses and scrips;" see Luke x. 4. On the other hand, the reading of the Diatessaron, in p. 34, the reading of the Law and the Prophets and the Gospel, and the Epistles of St. Paul and the Acts of the Apostles, in p. 44; the reading of the Old Testament and the New, and the Prophets and the Acts of the Apostles, in p. 33, must have been interpolations made at a subsequent period by some one, who did not understand what he was writing. Remove these interpolations, and the one in p. 50 already referred to, and especially the story of the Invention of the Cross by Protonice, the most barefaced of all, and you have nothing in the document which bears the aspect of being counterfeit. I do not say that there may not be other insertions made after the time of Labubna; but they are not apparent on the surface.

To return to the discourse, we find the first part of it devoted to an exposition of the great doctrines of Christianity. There is no ambiguity in the assertion of these doctrines. The incarnation is not more clearly set forth by St. John, nor the atonement by St. Paul, than both these doctrines are by Addai. The resurrection of all men, and the judgment to follow, are also distinctly and impressively declared. But that which seems to constitute the burden of the discourse, and that with which the latter part is much occupied, is the |xiv idolatry of those who were listening to the words of Addai. No more conclusive logic against the worship of images and created things is to be met with in the present day. The effect of his preaching was great. By the power of that discourse numbers were persuaded to forsake the idolatry which they had practised, and to embrace the worship of the invisible God. Addai, in his farewell discourse, charges those who were ordained to the ministry, the deacons and priests, to take heed to the duties of their office; for before the judgment-seat of Christ, they would be required to render an account. There are some parts of this address which remind the reader of passages to be met with in the Epistles of St. Paul to Timothy. The duty of the minister is very impressively set forth, and as a whole, it is a model of a pastoral address. Throughout the two discourses, we find nothing but the utterances of pure and eternal truth; discourses worthy of the time in which Addai lived, and worthy of one ordained to the Christian ministry by Christ Himself.

The great antiquity of this document must invest it with deep interest from every point of view. It stands chronologically at the head of Syriac classics, and is certainly to be regarded as important both for theological and linguistic purposes. Impressed with this consideration, I have been induced to submit the Syriac text in |xv its unmutilated state, with an English translation and notes, to the judgment of the public.

I beg to express my grateful thanks to Professor Wright for his valuable assistance in correcting the proof-sheets.


[Footnote numbered and moved to the end]

1. * The story of the Invention of the Cross by Helena, the mother of Constantine, is identical in nearly all the details with this by Protonice. There can be no doubt that one story gave rise to the other; and as the story of Protonice takes chronological precedence, the inference is that the Invention of the Cross by Helena is nothing more than a repetition of this Oriental fable.

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