From The History of the Church from Christ to Constantine by Eusebius

Yesterday I started reading Eusebius’ History for the first time; I’m surprised at how (gulp) enjoyable it is. Really. At times it seems to share more with ancient romance than history – but then there’s a great deal of romance in all ancient history. The legends certainly make for good reading; the following excerpt comes near the end of the first chapter devoted to Christ and his contemporaries. We are to imagine that at some point, perhaps not long after he delivered the sermon on the mount, Jesus was confronted with a letter delivered by a courier from King Abgar V of Edessa, at which point he asked Peter or one of the others for the nearest piece of parchment and stylus in order to dash off a speedy reply.

Abgarus, ruler of Edessa, to Jesus the excellent Saviour 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 the disease which I have. 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.

The answer of Jesus to the ruler Abgarus by the courier Ananias:

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.

Great stuff. According to Eusebius:

… written evidence of these things [was] taken from the archives of Edessa, which was at that time a royal city. For in the public registers there, which contain accounts of ancient times and the acts of Abgarus, these things have been found preserved down to the present time.

What’s not to like about the idea of Jesus receiving emissaries from far abroad? Well, for one thing, the letter is no longer considered authentic, but was rather made up by someone in Edessa (Armenia in our time) to promulgate a legend that the region was converted by earlier and more direct contact with the Lord than actually occurred. You can read more about the legend from the frequently reliable Wikipedia here, including something about an image of Jesus preserved on a towel that he’d used … and somehow it ended up in Armenia.

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