Doctrine of Addai

Standard abbreviations: Doctr. Addai

Other titles: Doctrina Addai, Teaching of Addai

Clavis numbers: CANT 89; BHO 24

Category: Apocryphal Acts

Related literature: Abgar Correspondence, Acts of Mar Mari, Finding of the True Cross (Protonike legend), History of John (Syriac), Mandylion of Edessa, Martyrdom of Sharbil, Travels of Egeria, Teaching of the Apostles (Syriac)

Compiled by: Jacob A. Lollar, Florida State University (

Citing this resource (using Chicago Manual of Style): Lollar, Jacob A. “Doctrine of Addai.” e-Clavis: Christian Apocrypha. Accessed DAY MONTH YEAR.

Posted October 2017.


The Doctrine of Addai presents a foundation myth for Christianity in the city of Edessa and for the introduction of Christianity into Mesopotamia writ large. It begins with King Abgar (ostensibly Abgar Ukkama, “the black,” or Abgar V, who ruled from 4 BCE to 7 CE, and again from 13 CE to 50 CE)  sending a letter to Jesus requesting that he come to Edessa to heal Abgar from his chronic illness and to provide him with a haven from the Jews who were threatening Jesus’ life. Jesus responds with his own letter saying that while he cannot personally visit Edessa, he will send one of his disciples to heal and minister to Abgar. In the earliest version of the legend (Eusebius, Hist. Eccl. 1.13ff), Jesus sends the apostle Thaddaeus to Edessa. In later traditions from Edessa, it appears that the apostle Thomas became associated with the evangelization of Edessa (as mentioned in Egeria’s travelogue from 384 CE). In the Syriac version it is Addai (or Addaeus), one of the seventy-two apostles (Luke 10) who is sent by Thomas to Abgar.

There are three main moments of the narrative: 1) when Abgar writes to Jesus and requests him to visit; 2) when Addai arrives in Edessa and announces his kerygma; and 3) the doctrine and instructions Addai leaves for the ecclesiastical legacy of the church of Edessa.

The First Moment (§§1–6)

The story is set during the 343 year of the Greeks, during the reign of Tiberius (so 31–32 CE). Abgar sends emissaries to Palestine, including Hanan the archivist, who writes down all the he sees and hears about the Messiah in Jerusalem, and reports them back to Abgar. The king then writes a letter and sends it with Hanan back to Jerusalem for Jesus, inviting him to come to Edessa, “to heal a certain illness which I have, since I believe in you. Furthermore I have heard that the Jews murmur against, persecute, and are seeking to crucify you in an effort to destroy you. I have a small and beautiful city in which two might live in peace” (Howard, Teaching of Addai, 9). Jesus responds that he cannot come himself, but will send an apostle. Significantly, Jesus tells Abgar, “As for your city may it be blessed and may no enemy ever rule over it” (Howard, Teaching of Addai, 9). This statement became a lasting legacy for Edessa, but is not mentioned in the earliest version by Eusebius. It is, however, mentioned by Egeria, who hears a story from bishop Eulogius about the city’s miraculous salvation from invading Persians on account of Jesus’ promise in the letter. This detail must have been inserted into the legend sometime between Eusebius and Egeria, possibly when the Nisibene refugees arrived in 363. Nisibis had its own glorious traditions about God’s unique protection over the city. Stories of Edessa’s divine protection influenced later histories, such as the Syriac Julian Romance.

Finally, Hanan draws a portrait of Jesus which is inserted into the archives. This portrait became a lasting icon of Edessa’s fame. Eusebius and Egeria both testify to the existence of the letters in Edessa’s archives, but neither mentions the portrait. The tradition developed further in the Acts of Mar Mari which says that the painters were unable to depict Jesus, so Jesus imprinted his face onto a cloth, later known as the Mandylion, which was brought back to Edessa. The cloth was moved to Constantinople in the tenth century.

The Second Moment (§§7–61)

According to Doctr. Addai, Judas Thomas sends Addai, one of the seventy-two, to Edessa. When he arrives, he stays at the house of Tobia, a local Jew, and Addai is then ushered into the inner circle of Abgar and the nobles of Edessa. He heals Abgar and proclaims the gospel to the nobles. Abgar confesses his own belief and then Addai preaches two sermons, one for Abgar and one for the people of Edessa. In the first sermon (which Griffith calls the “Catechizing of Abgar”), Addai tells a version of the Protonike legend and the finding of the True Cross. His sermon to the people highlights the narrative’s stance on Christology and “paganism.”

Doctr. Addai has a clear Nicene Trinitarian Christology. Addai affirms that Christ is the true God: “Therefore, we herald and proclaim this Jesus the Messiah, we glorify his Father with him, and we extol and worship the Spirit of his divinity, because thus we were commanded by him to baptize and purge those who believe in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit” (Howard, Teaching of Addai, 41). The narrative displays an unambiguous stance against “pagan” religion and specifically mentions worship of Bel and Nebo, sun and moon worship, and the cult of the Syrian Goddess (Tar’atha).

The Third Moment (§§62–103)

The final section of the narrative consists of Addai’s instructions for the legacy of the church in Edessa. Abgar sends a letter to Tiberius in an effort to make the Emperor accept Christianity. Significantly, the church in Edessa is linked to Antioch and to Rome. Addai has several disciples, including Aggai and Palut. After Abgar and Addai both die, Aggai, whom Addai appointed as his successor, faces severe persecution leading to his death. Since Aggai was “unable to lay his hands upon Palut” (Howard, Teaching of Addai, 105), to make him the official new bishop of the city, Palut goes to Antioch where he “received ordination to the priesthood from Serapion, Bishop of Antioch. Serapion himself, Bishop of Antioch, had also received ordination from Zephyrinus, Bishop of the city of Rome from the succession of ordination to the priesthood of Simon Peter who received it from the Lord” (Howard, Teaching of Addai, 105). This new succession not only provides apostolic authority to the line of Palut, it also secures Edessa’s position under the episcopal jurisdiction of Antioch, which would become a significant factor in the christological controversies of the fifth and sixth centuries.

Named historical figures and characters: Abdu, Abgar, Abshelama, Abubai, Addai (apostle), Aggai, Augustine (Abgarid queen), Barsamya (bishop), Bath Nical, Bel, Caiaphas, Claudius (emperor), Gaius Caesar, Garmai, Hanan, Herod Antipas, James (the Righteous), Jesus Christ, John (son of Zebedee), Thomas (apostle), Labubna, Ma‘nu (Abgarid king), Maryahb, Meherdath, Narses (Assyrian king), Nebo, Palut (bishop), Paul (apostle), Pontius Pilate, Protonike (wife of Claudius), Sabinus, Serapion (bishop), Shmeshgram, Peter (apostle), Tar’atha, Tiberius (emperor), Tobia, Zephyrinus (bishop).

Geographical locations: Antioch, Artica, Assyria, Beth Gubrin, Edessa, Eleutheropolis, Ephesus, Galilee, Golgotha, Haran, Italy, Jerusalem, Jordan River, Mabug, Mesopotamia, Palestine, Paneas, Philistia, Phoenicia, Rome, Samaria, Soba, Syria, Tiqnutha.


“Doctrine of Addai.” Wikipedia.

“New Testament Apocrypha.” An annotated bibliography of Syriac resources online. Administrators: Jack Tannous and Scott Johnson (contains links to versions and a list of known manuscripts).


3.1 Manuscripts and Editions

3.1.1 Armenian

Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, Arm. 88, fols. 122v– ? (12th cent.)

Venice, San Lazzaro degli Armeni monastery, 512 (1637)

Yerevan, Matenadaran, 941 , fol. 194v–196r, 224r (1689) ~ extracts

Alishan, P. Laboubnia, Letter d’Abgar, ou Histoire de la conversion des Édesséens par Laboubnia, écrivain contemporain des apôtres. Venice: Impr. mekhitariste de S. Lazare, 1868 (French translation).

Carrière, Auguste, La Légende d’Abgar dans l’“Histoire d’Arménie” de Moïse de Khoren. Paris: Imprimerie nationale, 1895.

Langlois, M. V. Collection des Historiens anciens et modernes de l’Arménie. Paris, 1867 (translation in vol. 1, pp. 317–25).

Leloir, Louis. Écrits apocryphes sur les apôtres. CCSA 4. Turnhout: Brepols, 1992 (translation of Venice 512, pp. 703–704).

3.1.2 Greek (see Acts of Thaddaeus; CANT 299)

3.1.3 Syriac

London, British Library, Add. 14654, fol. 33 (5th cent.) ~ fragmentary

London, British Library, Add. 14535 (9th cent.) (Link to Wright’s catalogue:

London, British Library, Add. 14644, fols. 1–9 (6th cent.) ~ fragmentary

St. Petersburg, Imperial Public Library, Syr. 4, fols. 1v–7v, 54, 9r–34r (5th/6th cent.)

Cambridge Mass., Harvard Houghton Library, Syr. 93, fol. 58r (ca. 700) ~ fragment

Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, Syr. 62 (1501) ~ fragments

Vatican, Biblioteca Apostolica, Borg. sir. 148, fols. 107v–111r (1576) ~ fragments

Cureton, William, ed. Ancient Syriac Documents Relative to the Earliest Establishment of Christianity in Edessa and the Neighbouring Countries, from the Year after Our Lord’s Ascension to the Beginning of the Fourth Century. London / Edinburgh: Williams and Norgate, 1864 (edition based on British Library Add. 14654 and Add. 14644, pp. 5–23 in Syriac numbering).

Esbroeck, Michel van. “Le manuscrit syriaque Nouvelle Série 4 de Leningrad (Ve siècle).” Pages 211–19 in Mélanges Antoine Guillaumont. Contributions à l’étude des christianismes orientaux. Cahiers d’Orientalisme 20. Genève: Patrick Cramer, 1988.

Howard, George, The Teaching of Addai. SBLTT 16, Early Christian Literature Series 4. Chico, California: Scholars Press, 1981 (re-edition of Phillips with translation).

Meshtcherskaya, Elena H. Legenda ob Avgare. Rannesirijskij literaturnyi pamjatnik. Moscow, 1984 (photographic facsimile of the St. Petersburg manuscript with translation into Russian).

Phillips, George, ed. The Doctrine of Addai, the Apostle, now First Edited in a Complete Form in the Original Syriac, with an English Translation and Notes. London: Trübner & Co., 1876 (edition based on St. Petersburg, Syr. 4).

3.2 Modern Translations

3.2.1 English

Cureton, William, ed. Ancient Syriac Documents Relative to the Earliest Establishment of Christianity in Edessa and the Neighbouring Countries, from the Year after Our Lord’s Ascension to the Beginning of the Fourth Century. London / Edinburgh: Williams and Norgate, 1864 (translation of Cureton’s edition, pp. 6–23).

Phillips, George, ed. The Doctrine of Addai, the Apostle, now First Edited in a Complete Form in the Original Syriac, with an English Translation and Notes. London: Trübner & Co., 1876.

Howard, George, The Teaching of Addai. SBLTT 16, Early Christian Literature Series 4. Chico, California: Scholars Press, 1981.

3.3.2 French

Desreumaux, Alain, ed. Histoire du roi Abgar et de Jésus. Apocryphes 3. Paris: Brepols, 1993.

3.3.3 German

Illert, Martin, Doctrina Addai. De imagine Edessena / Die Abgarlegende. Das Christusbild von Edessa. Fontes Christiani 45. Turnhout: Brepols, 2007.

3.3.4 Italian

Casadei, Monica, Didascalia di Addai. Introduzione, traduzione e note. Testi dei Padri della Chiesa 87. Monastero di Bose: Qiqajon, 2007.

3.3.5 Russian

Мещерская, Елена Никитична, Апокрифические деяния апостолов. Новозаветные апокрифы в сирийской литературе. Москва: Присцельс, 1996.

3.3.6 Spanish

González Núñez, Jacinto, La Leyenda del rey Abgar y Jesús: Orígenes del cristianismo en Edesa. Apócrifos cristianos 1. Madrid: Ciudad Nueva, 1995.

3.3 General Studies

Bauer, Walter, Rechtgläubigkeit und Ketzerei im ältesten Christentum. Beiträge zur historischen Theologie 10. Tübingen: J.C.B. Mohr (Paul Siebeck), 1934.

Bonet Maury, G. “La légende d’Abgar et de Thaddée et les missions chrétiennes à Édesse.” RHR 16 (1887): 269-83.

Brock, Sebastian P. “Eusebius and Syriac Christianity.” Pages 212–34 in Eusebius, Christianity, and Judaism. Edited by Attridge, Harold W. and Hata, Gohei. Studia Post-Biblica 42. Leiden / New York / Köln: Brill, 1992.

Buffa, Adolphe. La légende d’Abgar et les origines de l’Église d’Édesse. Étude historique et critique. Genève : Jules-Guillaume Fiek, 1894.

Calzolari, Valentina. “Réécriture des textes apocryphes en arménien: l’exemple de la légende de l’apostolat de Thaddée en Arménie.” Apocrypha 8 (1997): 97–110.

__________. “La transmission et la réception des apocryphes syriaques dans la tradition arménienne.”  Pages 169–95 in Les apocryphes syriaques. Edited by Muriél Debié, Alain Desreumaux, and Florence Jullien. Études syriaques 2. Paris: Geuthner, 2005.

__________. “‘Je ferai d’eux mon propre peuple.’ Les Arméniens, peuple élu selon la littérature apocryphe chrétienne en langue arménienne.” RHPR 90.2 (2010): 179–97.

Desreumaux, Alain. “La Doctrina Addaï: le chroniqueur et ses documents.” Apocrypha 1 (1990): 249–68.

__________. “La figure du roi Abgar d’Édesse.” Pages 31–45 in Edessa in hellenistisch-römischer Zeit: Religion, Kultur und Politik zwischen Ost und West. Beiträge des internationalen Edessa-Symposiums in Halle an der Saale, 14.-17. Juli 2005. Edited by Lutz Greisiger, Claudia Rammelt and Jürgen Tubach. Beiruter Texte und Studien 116. Beirut: Orient-Institut / Würzburg: Ergon Verlag, 2009.

__________. “Das Neue Testament in der Doctrina Addaï.” Pages 233–48 in Christian Apocrypha: Receptions of the New Testament in Ancient Christian Apocrypha. Edited by Jean-Michel Roessli and Tobias Nicklas. Novum Testamentum Patristicum 26. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2014.

Devos, Paul. “Égérie à Edesse. S. Thomas l’apôtre. Le roi Abgar.” AnBoll 85 (1967): 381–400.

Drijvers, Han J.W. “Facts and Problems in Early Syriac-Speaking Christianity.” SecCent 2 (1982): 157–75.

__________. “Jews and Christians at Edessa.” JJS 36.1 (1985): 88–102.

__________. “Apocryphal Literature in the Cultural Milieu of Osrhoëne.” Apocrypha (1990): 231–47.

__________. “The Image of Edessa in the Syriac Tradition.” Pages 13–31 in The Holy Face and the Paradox of Representation: Papers from a Colloquium at the Bibliotheca Hertziana, Rome and the Villa Spelman. Edited by Herbert L. Kessler and Gerhard Wolf. Villa Spelman Colloquia 6. Bologna: Nuova Alfa, 1998.

Drijvers, Jan Willem. “The Protonike Legend, the Doctrina Addai and Bishop Rabbula of Edessa.” VC 51.3 (1997): 298–315.

Esbroeck, Michel van. “Le roi Sanatrouk et l’apôtre Thaddée.” Revue des études arméniennes NS 9 (1972): 241–83.

Griffith, Sidney Harrison. “The Doctrina Addai as a Paradigm of Christian Thought in Edessa in the Fifth Century.” Hugoye: Journal of Syriac Studies 6.2 (2003): 269–92.

Jurasz, Izabela. “La légende syriaque de l’invention de la Croix (Doctrine d’Addai 16–30). Implication politiques et théologiques.” Pages 91–119 in Apocryphes chrétiens des premiers siècles. Mémoire et traditions. Edited by François-Marie Humann and Jacques-Noël Pérès. Théologie à l’université 7. Paris: Desclée de Brouwer, 2009.

Kaufhold, Hubert. “Die ‘Lehre des Apostels Addai’ (‘Lehre der Apostel’). Zur Überlieferung pseudo-apostolischer Kanones in der syrischen Literatur.” Pages 102–28 in Paul de Lagarde und die syrische Kirchengeschichte. Göttingen: Göttinger Arbeitskreis für syrische Kirchengeschichte, 1968.

Krueger, Derek. “Textual Bodies: Plotinus, Syncletica, and the Teaching of Addai.” Pages 133–58 in Writing and Holiness: The Practice of Authorship in the Early Christian East. Edited by Idem. Divinations: Rereading Late Ancient Religion. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004.

Mirkovic, Alexander, Prelude to Constantine: The Abgar Tradition in Early Christianity. Studies in the Religion and History of Early Christianity 15. Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang, 2004.

Palmer, Andrew. “King Abgar of Edessa, Eusebius, and Constantine.” Pages 3–30 in The Sacred Centre as the Focus of Political Interest : Proceedings of the Symposium Held on the Occasion of the 375th Anniversary of the University of Groningen (5-8 March 1989). Edited by H.T. Bakker, A. W. Goudriaan Entwistle, and G.J. Meulenbeld. Groningen: Forsten, 1992.

Peppermüller, Rolf. “Griechische Papyrusfragmente der Doctrina Addai.” VC 25.4 (1971): 289–301.

Ramelli, Ilaria L. “Possible Historical Traces in the Doctrina Addai.” Hugoye: Journal of Syriac Studies 9.1 (2006): 51–127.

__________. “The Narrative Continuity Between the Teaching of Addai and the Acts of Mari: Two Historical Novels?” Pages 411–50 in Narratives of Egypt and the Ancient Near East: Literary and Linguistic Approaches. Edited by Fredrik Norland Hagen, J. Johnston, W. Monkhouse, Kathryn Piquette, and J. Tait. OLA 189. Leuven: Peeters, 2011.

__________. “The Possible Origin of the Abgar-Addai Legend: Abgar the Black and Emperor Tiberius.” Hugoye: Journal of Syriac Studies 16.2 (2013): 211–23.

__________. “Two Syriac ‘Apocryphal Acts of Apostles’: The Doctrina Addai and the Acta Maris.” Pages 77–94 in In Mari Via Tua: Philological Studies in Honour of Antonio Piñero. Edited by Israel M. Gallarte and Jesús Peláez. EFN 11. Córdoba: El Almendro, 2016.

Ross, Steven Kirk. Roman Edessa: Politics and Culture on the Eastern Fringes of the Roman Empire, 114–242 CE. London / New York: Routledge, 2001.

Saint-Laurent, Jeanne-Nicole. Missionary Stories and the Formation of the Syriac Churches. Transformation of the Classical Heritage 55. Oakland, California: University of California Press, 2015.

Tixeront, Louis-Joseph. Les origines de l’église d’Édesse et la légende d’Abgar. Paris: Maisonneuve, 1888.