The Greek and Eastern Churches/Part 2/Division 4/Chapter 1

DIVISION IV

THE SYRIAN AND ARMENIAN CHURCHES

CHAPTER I

EARLY SYRIAN CHRISTIANITY

(b) Harnack, Expansion of Christianity, Book iv. Chap. iii. iii. 5; Tixeront, Les Origines de l'église d'Édesse, 1888; Texte u. Unters. ix. 1; Duval, La Litterature Syriaque (2nd edit., 1900); Burkitt, Early Eastern Christianity, 1904, and Introduction to Evangelion da Mepharreshe, 1904.

Four influences have combined to keep the extreme Eastern portion of Christendom apart from the main body of the Greek Church. These may be described respectively as geographical, political, linguistic, and doctrinal.

Geographically the churches of the Euphrates valley and those which were planted farther east were separated from the churches to the west of them by the Syrian desert, the crossing of which was an expedition, as Zerubbabel, Ezra, and Nehemiah had found in ancient times.

Politically the region in which they were situated when not independent was only connected with the Roman Empire at intervals, and was more continuously subject to Parthian and Persian sovereigns. At the time of the introduction of Christianity it was governed by its local rulers, whose names indicate an Arabian origin.

No doubt these two factors helped to establish the third. In their isolation the Christians retained their own language, which was a branch of the Aramaic that had once been picvaloiit over all the region between the Euphrates and the Mediterranean, but which had subsequently given place to Greek in the parts subject to the Roman Empire. This will account for the difference between the Aramaic of the Targums and some parts of the Old Testament and the Christian Syriac represented by versions of the Bible and those patristic writings that arose in Mesopotamia. The Palestinian Aramaic probably used by our Lord and His disciples, and in which perhaps St. Matthew wrote his Logia—unless he employed the classic Hebrew—was very soon superseded in the Church by Greek, the lingua franca of all the civilised races round the Mediterranean. It may have been the dialect of the "Gospel according to the Hebrews" and of the Ebionite Gospel; but it was not the language of the churches of Antioch and Western Syria. When, therefore, Christianity appeared in the distant region of the Euphrates, where a slightly different dialect was used, it came in a Greek form, and in the first instance its promoters had to provide translations of the Gospels and other Christian writings, since the people of the land did not understand Greek. These translations and the original Christian writings which sprang up in the same district in the local dialect came to be designated Syriac. In other words, Syriac is now the name of the language employed in the Christian literature of Eastern Syria, as distinguished from Aramaic, which was the slightly different and older language of Palestine, afterwards superseded by Greek. A church using the Syriac language and producing its own literature in that language inevitably tended to a certain individuality.

But these three influences—the geographical, the political, and the linguistic—were far outweighed in importance by the fourth, the doctrinal. This counted for much more than all the others put together. Deserts can be crossed, governments defied, languages translated; but heresy remains separated from orthodoxy by an impassable chasm. The Eastern Syrian Christians were early suspected of heresy imbibed from Tatian and Barsedanes. But the slight irregularities which might have been detected then were soon overcome. It is later that we see the great schisms produced first by Nestorian and then by the Monophysite heresies resulting in the establishment of the Nestorian and Jacobite Churches, both of them anathematised by the orthodox Church.

In the first place, then, we must understand that Syrian Christianity—in the early stages of its development—is the Christianity of the people speaking Syriac and living so far to the east that we scarcely think of their home as Syria at all Meanwhile the Greek-speaking Syrians in the west, with their headquarters at Antioch, are a different body of Christians, and form an integral portion of the Greek Church till they too are cut off, first by heresy, and then by Islam. The headquarters of Syrian Christianity, and at first apparently its only centre, was the city of Edessa, known in the vernacular as Urhai, and now represented by Urfa, the capital of the district which the Greeks named Osrhoene, situated to the east of the Euphrates. While it is uncertain at what time and by what means the city was evangelised, there can be no doubt that this was not later than the second half of the second century of the Christian era; possibly the new light began to dawn in this far-off Eastern capital even before the middle of that century. The legend of Addai and King Abgar, which would carry it back to the times of Christ's life on earth, is manifestly unhistorical. Eusebius repeats it without any question as to its genuineness;[1] and it is contained in a Syriac form in the Doctrine of Addai, an apocryphal book of "acts" written at the end of the third century or the beginning of the fourth. Apart from the absence of earlier testimony and the inherent improbability of the story, it is condemned by obvious anachronisms.[2]

Nevertheless, the legend is important both on account of its popularity and because it contains hints of actual facts, for evidently it comes from earlier times than the age of the written records in which it is preserved. According to this legend, King Abgar, who is suffering from a terrible disease, having heard of the cures our Lord is working, sends for Jesus to come and heal him. Jesus, while not coming in person, writes him a letter in which He promises to send one of His disciples who will cure the king's disease. Although we have no ground for admitting this letter to be genuine, it has become a historic composition because of its wide acceptance and the immense veneration with which it has been regarded. It was found in the year 1900, preceded by the king's letter to Jesus, inscribed in Greek characters of about the age of Eusebius on a lintel at Ephesus. At the time of the Heptarchy our Anglo-Saxon ancestors copied the letter out and wore it as a charm "against lightning and hail and perils by sea and land, by day and night and in dark places."[3] Thus its subsequent history has given it a factitious value that makes it worth being quoted in full. The letter is addressed to the notary Hanan, who has found Jesus at the house of Gamaliel, the chief of the Jews. It runs as follows: "Go and say to thy Lord that sent thee unto me, Happy art thou, that though thou hast not seen me, thou hast believed in me; for it is written of me that they which see me will not believe in me, and they which see me not,—they will believe in me. Now as to what thou hast written to me, that I should come unto thee,—that for which I was sent hither hath now come to an end, and I go up unto my Father that sent me; but when I have gone up unto Him, I will send thee one of my disciples, that whatever disease thou hast he may heal and cure. And all that are with thee he shall turn to life eternal, and thy town shall be blessed and no enemy shall have dominion over it for ever and ever."[4] The reader must be struck with the antique tone of this document. In particular, the antithetical sentence, "They which see me will not believe in me, and they which see me not,—they will believe in me," is exactly in the style of the Oxyrhynchus Logia.[5]

Still following the legend, we see Addai, one of the "Seventy," despatched by Thomas to Edessa after the resurrection of Christ, with the result that the king is immediately healed; whereupon he and a great number of his people are converted to Christianity. Addai is said to have laboured at Edessa to the end of his life, and to have died a natural death. He is succeeded by Aggai, who suffers martyrdom under Ma'nu, a heathen son of Abgar, his legs being broken while he is sitting at church. Aggai having no time to ordain his successor Palut, the latter goes to Antioch and there receives ordination from Serapion. Here we come out of the mist of legend into the light of history. But Serapion did not become bishop of Antioch till a.d. 190. Evidently then Palut cannot be brought so near to one of our Lord's personal disciples as the story suggests. But he is important in another way, as we shall see later on. Palut represents the advent of Antiochene influence over the far-off Syrian Church beyond the desert and the river. Hitherto the Christianity of Edessa had been developing independently; and a very interesting course it was then taking. One could have wished, for the sake of freedom and variety, that it had been let alone altogether, so that we might have witnessed the profoundly instrucive spectacle of a Syrian Church, having its discipline and doctrine all to itself, working out its problems apart from the admixture of Greek philosophy and Roman methods of government which came in so early to modify primitive Christianity and translate it into the amalgam known as Catholicism. We cannot forget that the gospel had its origin in Syria; that it was first taught in Aramaic; that it began as an Oriental, Semitic faith. What should we have seen if it had been allowed to develop at least in one spot as still an Oriental, Semitic faith, without any admixture of Western civilisation?

In point of fact no such independent development was possible even in very early ages. Before the time of Palut, Greek influences had penetrated to Edessa, for the church in this city was in communication with its brethren farther west. Tatian's Harmony affords a proof of this statement, and at the same time a clear indication of the comparative separateness of the most ancient Syrian Christianity. In his Address to the Greeks[6] Tatian says that he was " born in the land of the Assyrians," but instructed in Greek doctrines and afterwards in those that he there undertakes to proclaim. Thus, like Justin Martyr, of whom he was a friend and disciple, Tatian came to Christianity after studying Greek philosophy. His writings cannot be dated later than about a.d. 175.[7] Now his Address to the Greeks and the titles of all his books are in Greek—including that of his Harmony, which he calls Diatessaron.[8] There is therefore a certain amount of probability that he compiled this in Greek, out of the original Greek text of the Gospels, and then translated it into Syriac. Against this conclusion, however, is the fact that its text is of the same type as that of the oldest separate Syriac versions of the Gospels,[9] which of course could not have been dependent on the Harmony. There is then also some probability that this was made from a previously existing Syriac version of the Gospels. But that supposition is confronted with a serious difficulty. No such version was known at Edessa, the one centre of the Syriac-speaking Christians, for it seems certain that Tatian's Harmony was the only form in which the Gospels were first read in the Church. Previously the Syrian Christians had been satisfied with preaching and oral traditions about Christ. It was Tatian who introduced the written gospel record to Edessa, and he did this in the form of a harmony of all four Gospels, as a method which commended itself to his own private judgment. Here was a convenient way of presenting the whole gospel story at once instead of confusing people by offering them four parallel and more or less divergent narratives. Tatian's influence at Edessa must have been considerable; for he succeeded in getting his book read in the church at that city. Thus, while the other churches were using the four Gospels in their services, the Edessene Church was using Tatian's Harmony. Here was a curious distinction bearing witness to the aloofness of the Christians of Mesopotamia.

After Justin suffered martyrdom at Rome, it would appear that Tatian became his successor as a teacher of Christianity in the imperial city. If so, it is probable that his unorthodox views had not yet been developed, or at all events not detected.[10] But in the year 172 he was excommunicated. Then he went to live in Syria, not far from Antioch, and later perhaps at his old home Edessa, where he is said to have died. All we know of his "heresy" is associated with the Roman period of his life. The omission of the genealogies of Jesus from his Harmony is an indication that his divergence from accepted doctrines had at least begun when he compiled that work. According to Irenæus,[11] he was a leader of the Encratites, or "Abstainers," people who repudiated marriage, meat, and wine. Irenæus also associated him with the Gnostics as inventing a doctrine of invisible aeons, like the followers of Valentinus, while in his asceticism he resembled Marcion. Origen attributes to him a doctrine of the demiurge, saying that he understood the words "Let there be light" as a prayer of the creating god of this world to the supreme God. These statements are not supported by evidence, and they are not confirmed by Tatian's extant writings. His omission of the genealogies from the Diatessaron may indicate his agreement with Marcion's Docetism, but that is all; we have no trace here or elsewhere in his extant writings of any nearer approach to Valentinian Gnosticism. It may well be that, leaving Rome under a cloud, Tatian carried with him to the East some notions that were unpopular with the ecclesiastical authorities in the West. But when he found himself again among his simple-minded fellow-countrymen in distant Edessa, he was not suspected of heresy, or his Harmony would not have been acceptable there; nor is there any reason to suppose that he spread very peculiar ideas or founded a school of heterodox teaching. Certainly these Syrian Christians did not become Encratites.

A little later the Church at Edessa obtained a notable convert in the person of Bardaisan, who was born in the year 154 and died in 222.[12] He was a man of scientific culture, but his mixture of astrological notions led to his expulsion from the Church, and he has come to be reckoned as one of the leaders of Syrian Gnosticism. Unlike Tatian, he was not ascetic. He did not join the Encratites; neither did he agree with Marcion in rejecting the Old Testament, or assigning the creation of the cosmos to a demiurge, a secondary god. According to the reports of his teaching, for which we are dependent on his opponents, his chief characteristic is the immense importance he attached to the power of evil, which he attributed in the first instance to Satan and then to the inherent malignity of matter, the origin of which he ascribed to Satan. Thus in the act of creation God formed the world out of pre-existent matter. It might be "the best of all possible worlds," but in a more limited sense than that in which Leibnitz used the phrase. The architect of the cosmos could only make the best of very objectionable material. In this way we are to account for the imperfections of nature and the evils of society. Here we have a combination of Persian and Greek conceptions. The important rôle assigned to a spiritual principle of evil is Zoroastrian; but the notion of a pre-existent matter out of which the Divine architect shapes the cosmos is Platonic. Now all this is more than doubtful. It has been gathered together from assertions and hints in Ephraim the Syrian and Western writers, some of which are but conjecturally connected with Bardaisan. So many of the Fathers accuse him of Gnosticism that it is probable there is some ground for their statements. Yet it seems as though his departures from conventional ideas have been greatly magnified. No trace of the Valentinian æons can be found even in his enemies' accounts of his tenets. We only possess one book which represents his views from his own side, and this contains nothing seriously unorthodox. It is the work commonly known as the dialogue "On Fate," but the actual title of which is The Book of the Laws of Countries. Dr. Cureton found and published a Syriac copy of it. The book purports to be written by a disciple of Bardaisan, but Mr. Burkitt considers this to be a literary device, and holds that Bardaisan himself was its author. Be that as it may, this book is our one ancient friendly account of the teaching of Bardaisan. The dialogue is a defence of free will against the astrological notion of a fate determined by the stars. It would seem to allow the influence of the stars in controlling physical phenomena. This notion is supported by a far-away perception of our modern scientific truth of the unity of nature and the interaction of all its parts. On the other hand, the argument goes to show that in the mind man possesses freedom; that his will is free; and that consequently his actions cannot be predicted by a study of the stars. Under the same stars different men act differently. This defence of free will is emphatically anti-Gnostic; Gnosticism, especially Valentinian Gnosticism, being rigorously necessarian.

Tatian and Bardaisan were the two men of brains in the early Syrian Church. It is unfortunate for the history of that Church that they both lie under suspicions of heresy, the one having been condemned in the West, the other in his own country. Had there been vigour of intellect enough at Edessa to have won over Bardaisan to the views of his fellow-Christians, or charity enough to have found room for him in spite of his peculiarities, he would have been a brilliant light in the Church. He was the one Syrian who made a serious attempt to lift

"The burden of the mystery,
… the heavy and the weary weight
Of all this unintelligible world."

But the mediæval chronicler from whom we learn the chief facts of his career concludes with the anathema, "May his name be accursed."

After a period of persecution, during which they were cut off from contact with their brethren on the western side of the desert, the Syrian Christians of Edessa came for a time under the influence of the Greek Church at Antioch. This was owing to the Roman reconquest of their country and temporary absorption of it into the empire in the year 210. On the restoration of communication with Antioch which followed, Serapion, then the bishop of that city, feeling some concern for the isolation of the Syrians and some fear lest they should drift away from the main current of Catholic life, its customs and its beliefs, ordained them a bishop in full sympathy with the Greek Church of Antioch, in the person of Palut—previously mentioned in connection with the early legends—who proceeded to Edessa and took up the succession of the episcopate, which seems to have been interrupted by the persecution. His followers were called "Palutians," a significant fact which indicated a division in the Church, and points to the fact that this interference on the part of Antioch was not at first welcomed by the Syrians. But while the followers of Bardaisan necessarily stood aloof, as did the Marcionites who were also to be found in Mesopotamia now or later, the main body of the Church was soon reconciled. The Palutians, who represented the orthodox Greek Church at Edessa, came to be fused with the rest of the Church, and thus the connection with Antioch generally recognised.

There is no evidence that Serapion had any fault to find with the doctrine taught in this church. He disliked the use of Tatian's Harmony in the public worship, not however because he held it to be a heretical perversion of the Gospels, nor because it came from the hand of a heretic, but simply because it was a compilation, and not the Gospels in their original form as these were used in other churches. Hitherto this was all the people of Edessa knew of the New Testament. They had the Old Testament in Syriac, probably the version of the Old Testament now contained in the Peshitta, which seems to have been a Jewish translation made prior to the founding of a Christian Church in Mesopotamia; and they had the Diatessaron. That was their Bible. But now Palut brought them a New Testament consisting of the four Gospels, Acts, and the fourteen epistles ascribed to St. Paul, together with a revised edition of the Old Testament. Palut's Syrian Gospels—possibly his own translation, as Mr. Burkitt supposes—appear to be those known to us in the Curetonian and Siniatic manuscripts. They received the title of Evangelion da Mepharreshe.[13]

You cannot make a horse drink by taking him to the water, nor can you make a church adopt a new version of Scripture by introducing it to that version, as we have seen in the case of our Revised Version. The Diatessaron was the old Church lesson book of the Syrians; it contained the gospel story on which they had been brought up from their childhood. Palut was quite unable to induce them to give it up in favour of the four Gospels that he had brought them. It continued to be used in Edessa and the other churches of Eastern Syria for more than two centuries after this. Indeed, its popularity grew, and it penetrated farther north as Christianity slowly spread in that direction.

Palut was succeeded by ‘Abshelama, and he by Barsamya, who suffered martyrdom under Decius or Valerian (a.d. 250–260). Edessa also suffered from the persecutions under Diocletian and Licinius, when there were at least three martyrs, Shamona, Guria, and Habbib, whose story has been preserved. Then came peace, and for a time there is little to record in the obscure history of the Syrian Church. Three Syriac compositions in particular assigned to the fourth century call for some notice. These are the Doctrine of Addai, the Homilies of Aphraates, and the Writings of St. Ephraim; but the last-named works are the only Syrian patristic writings that have taken a prominent place in ecclesiastical literature. The Doctrine of Addai contains the legend of Abgar, the missionary work of Addai, that is to say, the apostle Thaddæus, and the labours of his disciple and successor, the martyr Aggai. Although it is manifestly apocryphal and unreliable, it contains much ancient material; but this has been worked over so that in its present form the book cannot be ascribed to an earlier date than the fourth century. Its theology is post-Nicene. The Homilies of Aphraates are twenty-two in number, ten of which are asssigned to the year 337, and twelve to the year 344. A separate homily, On the Cluster, is assigned to the year following. Aphraates, or Afrahat, was a monk and a bishop said by tradition to be the head of the convent of St. Matthew near Mosul. The Homilies constitute one work which is a systematic exposition of the Christian faith, arranged as an acrostic, each homily beginning with one of the twenty-two letters of the alphabet in order. The work, however, does not consist of speculative theology; it deals chiefly with the relation of faith to the Christian life and to moral conduct, especially emphasising the indwelling of the Spirit of Christ in men, who thus become temples of God.

The Holy Spirit is referred to in the feminine gender, as in the Gospel according to the Hebrews, and probably for the same reason; while the Greek word for Spirit is neuter,[14] the Syriac is feminine.[15] But innocent as was the cause of it, this custom easily lends itself to the Gnostic idea of couples. Aphraates holds firmly to the Divinity of Christ; but he defends it in a way that shows how little he is influenced by contemporary discussions among the Greek theologians. Following the remarkable argument of Christ in the Fourth Gospel,[16] he supports the doctrine by appealing to instances of the name of Divinity being given to men. He also uses the argumentum ad hominem, urging that it is better to worship Jesus than to worship kings and emperors. He adds that Christ has called us sons, making us His brothers. This is altogether aside from the Homoousian doctrine; it indicates a free handling of the problem untrammelled by the phrases of fixed creeds or the pronouncements of authoritative counsels. And yet, as Mr. Burkitt points out, "on the one hand, he was wholly penetrated by the Monotheism of the Catholic religion; on the other, his loyalty and devotion to his Lord assured him that no title or homage was too exalted for Christians to .give to Jesus Christ, through whom they had union with the Divine nature."[17] Nevertheless there is one point at which Aphraates is not only freer and therefore fresher than the standard orthodoxy of the Greeks, but glaringly at variance with Catholic usage and doctrine. This is in his treatment of marriage in relation to baptism. He will only allow celibates to be baptised. He does not regard marriage as a sacrament, nor does it appear that he permits any religious sanction for it. Thus with Aphraates, only virgins, widows, and widowers, or husbands and wives who have separated from one another, may be admitted to the full privilege of the Church, since only the baptised are allowed to come to the communion. Married people then must remain in the outer court of the catechumens, as mere "adherents." He has two grades of Christians; but only the upper grade is really in the Church. This is just like the position taken up by the Marcionites, and later that of the Manichæans. Mr. Burkitt even puts forth the startling theory that at this time it was held by the Church of Edessa as a whole. But we know too little about that church to take its silence as an evidence of its agreement with Aphraates. On the other hand, the silence of Antioch on the subject affords a powerful argument against the hypothesis. Surely the Edessene Christians would have been denounced in no measured terms by the orthodox Greeks if they had agreed with the Marcionites in this matter.

The last and by far the best known of these Syrian writers is St. Ephraim, commonly called "Ephraim the Syrian." He was a child of Christian parents,[18] born about the year 308 in Mesopotamia, probably at Nisibis. He died at Edessa in the year 373. All sorts of marvels are attributed to him in his youth, and he is credited by his biographer with singular precocity. There is no doubt that he was drawn by the fame of St. Basil to visit that great man at Cæsarea, by whom he was powerfully influenced. The rumour of an invasion of heresy at Edessa sent him back to his native land, where he became a champion of the orthodox faith, but living as an anchorite in his cell. Ephraim's name has obtained prominence in Church history somewhat disproportionate to his ability and achievements. Perhaps this is partly due to the fact that his works have been preserved and that they bulk largely in theological libraries. Still, as a commentator he shows real wisdom, coming between the literalism of Antioch and the allegorising of Alexandria, in endeavouring to bring out the true spiritual significance of Scripture. But he was more popular in his own day as a hymn-writer—why, it is difficult to say, since his hymns are obscure, allusive, prolix, and dreary. He threw his doctrinal teaching into the form of verse, and taught choirs to chant orthodoxy, as Arius had taught his followers to chant heresy. His Carmina Nisibena have a more mundane character, for they treat of the struggle between Sapor and the Romans for the possession of Nisibis. The work of Ephraim best known in subsequent times is his Sermo de Domino, a treatise on the Incarnation, in which he teaches that the taking of manhood into God was in order that men might receive the Divine nature. Thus he accepts the thoroughly Greek notion of salvation by the Incarnation. At the same time he agrees with the mystical idea of salvation resulting from union with Christ as consisting in the redeemed man becoming a dwelling-place for God. He holds a peculiar doctrine of the Charismata, according to which the privileges of Israel are gathered up in Christ and then distributed by Him, so that the ancient grace of the priesthood is thus transmitted to the Christian Church.

A curious Syrian work of an entirely different character written about this time is the Acts of Judas Thomas,[19] which tells how the apostle went to India and built a palace for the king in heaven. This is a popular religious story, which Dr. Rendel Harris has shown to be blended with the classic myth of the Dioscuri. The strange notion underlying this story is that Judas, "not Iscariot," but the other apostle Judas, who is named "Thomas," a word which means "twin,"[20] was the twin-brother of Jesus.[21] The book has been regarded as heretical; and it agrees with Aphraates in requiring celibacy in the baptised. Evidently, then, there was a strong tendency in that direction at Edessa, although it cannot be proved that this entirely dominated the Church in that city even during its free and independent age. The novel contains some mystical elements in the prayers attributed to St. Thomas, indicating that like Aphraates its author was not fettered by the phraseology of Catholic orthodoxy, simply because he was a member of a church that was developing on its own lines without interference from the main body of Christendom.

With the Acts of Thomas is associated a Syrian Christian poem known as the Hymn of the Soul, originally a separate composition but now incorporated in the story. It is not really a hymn at ail, but an allegory in verse telling of the adventures of the soul which has come from its heavenly home to earth and is performing tasks assigned to it as the way for its return. This idea is worked out in the form of the pilgrimage of a prince to Egypt in quest of the serpent-guarded pearl.

Thus far, then, we have seen the Syrian Church at Edessa going its own way and working out its own ideas of Christian truth and life, no doubt with the "mediocrity" of ability which, as Renan says, characterises everything Syriac, and certainly without producing any really great men, but still with a certain freedom, originality, and variety that interest us in contrast with the growing uniformity of Catholic standards in the main body of the Church. Early in the fourth century this isolation was disturbed, and for the second time the Eastern Syrian Church was brought more into line with the orthodox Greek Church at Antioch. This was the work of the great ecclesiastic Rabbulas, a native of Chalcis (Quinnesrîn, i.e., "Eagle's Nest") in Syria, who had a heathen priest for his father but a Christian mother. Having come to personal decision for his mother's religion, he went to Jerusalem and then down to the Jordan to be baptised. On his return he renounced his wife and his property, sent his children to convent schools, and went first to the monastery of St. Abraham at Chalcis, and, since that was not severe enough for him, afterwards to a cave in the desert, where he lived the life of a hermit. Thus he won fame in the Church, and in the year 411 he had his reward. He was then appointed bishop of Edessa by a synod at Antioch. Rabbulas proved to be an energetic disciplinarian, especially aiming at correcting the irregularities, that is to say, the national or local peculiarities, of his diocese, by bringing his flock into line with the Greek-speaking Church. With this end in view he made a dead set against the Diatessaron, ordering it to be removed from all the churches, and commanding the four separate Gospels to be substituted for it. But he did not circulate the old Syriac gospels of Palut; his gospels were in a text more nearly agreeing with the Syrian Greek text used at Antioch in his day. This was the text of the Peshitta, which does not appear in earlier Syrian writings, but which henceforth becomes the text of Syrian Christian literature. It is reasonable, therefore, to infer that it was Rabbulas who introduced the Peshitta New Testament, which was to be used as the recognised version of the Church, as the Syrian "Vulgate."

  1. Hist Eccl. i. 13.
  2. Thus it refers to Eleutheropolis in Palestine, a name that was first attached to the place by Septimius Severus in a.d. 200. Moreover, the legend can be accounted for in some measure by the discovery of the actual fact that was the germ out of which it grew through the very natural confusion of two persons of the same name; and to account for a legend in this way is always the clinching argument that demolishes its claim. Abgar ix., a later king of Edessa, paid a visit to Rome during the bishopric of Zephyrinus (a.d. 202–218), and the name of Zephyrinus is also connected with Edessa through Serapion of Antioch. This Abgar may well have sent an embassy to Eleutheropolis. His earlier namesake could not possibly have done so nearly two centuries before the name of the place existed.
  3. Dom Kuyper's Book of Cerne, p. 205, cited by Burkitt, Early Eastern Christianity, p. 15.
  4. Burkitt, pp. 13, 14.
  5. A seeming proof of great antiquity may be found in the last sentence, which promises Abgar that no enemy shall have dominion over his town for ever and ever. This sentence, which is contained in the Ephesian inscription as well as in the Doctrine of Addai, is discreetly omitted by Eusebius, who thus shows that he is aware of the sack of Edessa by Lucius Quietus, under Trajan. And yet, to place it at a more ancient date than that is to set back the origin of Christianity too early for all the other evidence. Therefore we seem driven to reverse the argument, and to see in this statement a reason for dating the letter considerably later, when the disaster was not in mind. At all events, one thing is certain: it could not have been written in the earlier decades of the first century when that horror was in the memories of the Syrian Christians.
  6. Chap. xlii.
  7. Lightfoota.d. 155–170;. Westcott—a.d. 150–175; Harnack—the Address to the Greeks, a.d. 152–153.
  8. Διατεσσάρων, i.e. "Harmony"—with an allusion to the four principal notes of music, not, as was formerly supposed, to the four Gospels out of which it is constructed. Cf. the word "Diapason."
  9. The Curetonian and the Sinaitic.
  10. Irenæus states that he did not express any of his objectionable views till after Justin's martyrdom. Adv. Hær. i. 28.
  11. Ibid.
  12. According to the account of him in Michael the Syrian, who lived as late as the end of the twelfth century, but who seems to have had ancient authorities to work upon. See Chabot, Michel le Syrien.
  13. i.e. "The gospel of the separate ones." See Burkitt, Evangelion da Mepharreshe. This is much nearer to the Diatessaron than to the later Peshitta, and yet it differs in some respects from the former work, which bears traces of Tatian's Roman residence, in its more or less Western text, agreeing with Codex Bezæ and the old Latin version.
  14. πνεῦμα.
  15. ܕܢܝܳܐ
  16. John x. 33–36.
  17. Burkitt, Early Eastern Christianity, to which book, and also its author's Evangelion da Mepharreshe, this sketch of earlier Syrian literature is largely indebted.
  18. This is what he says himself, and it must be accepted in opposition to the assertion of his Acta, that his father was a priest at a heathen idol temple. See Opp. Syr. ii, 499, cited in Smith's Dict. of Chr. Biog. vol. ii. p. 137a.
  19. Wright's Apocryphal Acts, pp. 159–165.
  20. Θωμᾶς = תָּאוֹם‎. So we read three times in the Fourth Gospel, Θωμᾶς ὁ λεγόμενος Δίδυμος, John xi. 16, xx. 24, xxi. 2.
  21. See Rendel Harris, The Dioscuri in the Christian Legends.