Abgarus (ABAGARUS, AGBARUS; sometimes derived from the Arabic Akbar, "greater," but better from the Armenian Avag, "great," and air, "man;" see Ersch und Gruber, s.v. Abgar), the common name of the petty princes (or Toparchs) who ruled at Edessa in Mesopotamia, of one of whom there is an Eastern tradition, recorded by Eusebius (Eccl. Hist. 1:13), that he wrote a letter to Christ, who transmitted a reply. Eusebius gives copies of both letters, as follows:
"Abgarus, Prince of Edessa, to Jesus, the merciful Savior, who has appeared in the country of Jerusalem, greeting. I have been informed of the prodigies and cures wrought by you without the use of herbs or medicines, and by the efficacy only of your words. I am told that you enable cripples to walk; that you force devils from the bodies possessed; that there is no disease, however incurable, which you do not heal, and that you restore the dead to life. These wonders persuade me that you are some god descended from heaven, or that you are the Son of God. For this reason I have taken the liberty of writing this letter to you, beseeching you to come and see me, and to cure me of the indisposition under which I have so long labored. I understand that the Jews persecute you, murmur at your miracles, and seek your destruction. I have here a beautiful and agreeable city which, though it be not very large, will be sufficient to supply you with every thing that is necessary." To this letter it is said Jesus Christ returned him an answer in the following terms: "You are happy, Abagarus, thus to have believed in me without having seen me; for it is written of me, that they who shall see me will not believe in me, and that they who have never seen me shall believe and be saved. As to the desire you express in receiving a visit from me, I must tell you that all things for which I am come must be fulfilled in the country where I am; when this is done, I must return to him who sent me. And when I am departed hence, I will send to you one of my disciples, who will cure you of the disease of which you complain, and give life to you and to those that are with you." According to Moses of Chorene (died 470), the reply was written by the Apostle Thomas.
Eusebius further states that, after the ascension of Christ, the Apostle Thomas sent Thaddaeus, one of the seventy, to Abgar, who cured him of leprosy, and converted him, together with his subjects. The documents from which this narrative is drawn were found by Eusebius in the archives of Edessa. Moses of Chorene relates further that Abgarus, after his conversion, wrote letters in defense of Christianity to the Emperor Tiberius and to the king of Persia. He is also the first who mentions that Christ sent to Abgarus, together with a reply, a handkerchief impressed with his portrait. The letter of Christ to Abgarus was declared apocryphal by the Council of Rome, A.D. 494; but in the Greek Church many continued to believe in its authenticity, and the people of Edessa believed that their city was made unconquerable by the possession of this palladium. The original is said to have later been brought to Constantinople. In modern times, the correspondence of Abgarus, as well as the portrait of Christ, are generally regarded as forgeries; yet the authenticity of the letters is defended by Tillemont, Memoires pour Servir a L' Hist. Eccles. 1, p. 362, 615; by Welte, Tubing. Quartalschrift, 1842, p. 335 et seq., and several others. Two churches, St. Sylvester's at Rome, and a church of Genoa, profess each to have the original of the portrait. A beautiful copy of the portrait in Rome is given in W. Grimm, Die Sage vom Ursprung der Christusbilder (Berlin, 1843). The authenticity of the portrait in Genoa is defended by the Mechitarist, M. Samuelian. Hefele puts its origin in the fifteenth century, but believes it to be the copy of an older portrait. See the treatises on this subject, in Latin, by Frauendorff (Lips. 1693), Albinus (Viteb. 1694), E. Dalhuse (Hafn. 1699), Schulze (Regiom. 1706); Semler (Hal. 1759), Heine (Hal. 1768); Zeller (Frnkf. ad O. 1798); in German, by Hartmann (Jena, 1796), Rink (in the Mergenblatt, 1819, No. 110, and in Ilgen's Zeitschr. 1843, 2:3-26); and comp. Bayer, Hist. Edessana, p. 104 sq., 358 sq. See, also, Neander, Ch. Hist. 1:80; Mosheim, Comm. 1:95; Lardner, Works, 6:596; Stud. u. Krit. 1860, 3; and the articles SEE CHRIST, SEE IMAGES OF; JESUS.