Preaching of the apostle Thaddæus at Edessa; copy of five letters.
After the ascension of our Saviour, the Apostle Thomas, one of the twelve, sent one of the seventy-six disciples, Thaddæus, to the city of Edessa to heal Abgar and to preach the Gospel, according to the word of the Lord. Thaddæus came to the house of Tobias, a Jewish prince, who is said to have been of the race of the Pacradouni. Tobias, having left Archam, did not abjure Judaism with the rest of his relatives, but followed its laws up to the moment when he believed in Christ. Soon the name of Thaddæus spreads through the whole town. Abgar, on learning of his arrival, said: “This is indeed he concerning whom Jesus wrote to me;” and immediately Abgar sent for the apostle. When Thaddæus entered, a marvellous appearance presented itself to the eyes of Abgar in the countenance of the apostle; the king having risen from his throne, fell on his face to the earth, and prostrated himself before Thaddæus. This spectacle greatly surprised all the princes who were present, for they were ignorant of the fact of the vision. “Art thou really,” said Abgar to Thaddæus, “art thou the disciple of the ever-blessed Jesus? Art thou he whom He promised to send to me, and canst thou heal my maladies?” “Yes,” answered Thaddæus; “if thou believest in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the desires of thy heart shall be granted.” “I have believed in Jesus,” said Abgar, “I have believed in His Father; therefore I wished to go at the head of my troops to destroy the Jews who have crucified Jesus, had I not been prevented by reason of the power of the Romans.”
Thenceforth Thaddæus began to preach the Gospel to the king and his town; laying his hands upon Abgar, he cured him; he cured also a man with gout, Abdu, a prince of the town, much honoured in all the kings house. He also healed all the sick and infirm people in the town, and all believed in Jesus Christ. Abgar was baptized, and all the town with him, and the temples of the false gods were closed, and p. 705 all the statues of idols that were placed on the altars and columns were hidden by being covered with reeds. Abgar did not compel any one to embrace the faith yet from day to day the number of the believers was multiplied.
The Apostle Thaddæus baptizes a manufacturer of silk head-dresses, called Attæus, consecrates him, appoints him to minister at Edessa, and leaves him with the king instead of himself. Thaddæus, after having received letters patent from Abgar, who wished that all should listen to the Gospel of Christ, went to find Sanadroug, son of Abgars sister, whom this prince had appointed over the country and over the army. Abgar was pleased to write to the Emperor Tiberius a letter in these words:—
Abgars letter to Tiberius.
“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.”
Answer from Tiberius to Abgars letter.
“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 amongst 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.”
Abgar writes another letter to Tiberius.
“Abgar, king of the Armenians, to my lord Tiberius, emperor of the Romans, greeting:—
“I have received the letter written from your august Majesty, and I have applauded the commands which have emanated from your wisdom. If you will not be angry with me, I will say that the conduct of the senate is extremely ridiculous and absurd: for, according to the senators, it is after the examination and by the suffrages of men that divinity may be ascribed. Thus, then, if God does not suit man, He cannot be God, since God is to be judged and justified by man. It will no doubt seem just to my lord and master to send another governor to Jerusalem in the place of Pilate, who ought to be ignominiously driven from the powerful post in which you placed him; for he has done the will of the Jews: he has crucified Christ unjustly, without your order. That you may enjoy health is my desire.”
Abgar, having written this letter, placed a copy of it, with copies of the other letters, in his archives. He wrote also to the young Nerseh, king of Assyria, at Babylon:—
Abgars letter to Nerseh.
“Abgar, king of the Armenians, to my son Nerseh, greeting:—
“I have received your letter and acknowledgments. I have released Beroze from his chains, and have pardoned his offences: if this pleases you, give him the government of Nineveh. But as to what you write to me about sending you the physician who works miracles and preaches another God superior to fire and water, that you may see and hear him, I say to you: he was not a physician according to the art of men; he was a disciple of the Son of God, Creator of fire and water: he has been appointed and sent to the countries of Armenia. But one of his principal companions, named Simon, is sent into the countries of Persia. Seek for him, and you will hear him, you as well as your father Ardachès. p. 706 He will heal all your diseases and will show you the way of life.”
Abgar wrote also to Ardachès, king of the Persians, the following letter:—
Abgars letter to Ardachès.
“Abgar, king of the Armenians, to Ardachès my brother, king of the Persians, greeting:—
“I know that you have heard of Jesus Christ the Son of God, whom the Jews have crucified, Jesus who was raised from the dead, and has sent His disciples through all the world to instruct men. One of His chief disciples, named Simon, is in your Majestys territories. Seek for him, and you will find him, and he will cure you of all your maladies, and will show you the way of life, and you will believe in his words, you, and your brothers, and all those who willingly obey you. It is very pleasant to me to think that my relations in the flesh will be also my relations, my friends, in the spirit.”
Abgar had not yet received answers to these letters when he died, having reigned thirty-eight years.