Notes on Walter Bauer’s “Orthodoxy and Heresy” – part 3 – Edessa

Today I’m looking at chapter 1 of Bauer’s Orthodoxy and Heresy, available here thanks to Bob Kraft. So I’m going to follow my own advice today and put the thesis into my own words.  However first, it’s necessary to work out what he is actually saying.

We need to remember what Bauer is trying to demonstrate, because he doesn’t come straight out with it in the introduction, nor in the chapter.  Here is Strecker’s summary, from his introduction to the 2nd edition:

In earliest Christianity, orthodoxy and heresy do not stand in relation to one another as primary to secondary, but in many regions heresy is the original manifestation of Christianity.

And, as I discussed in the previous post, Bauer’s purpose seems to be to see if he can build a case that there is evidence that some (all?) of the heresies have an independent link back to Christ (and his apostles?). 

It’s important to keep clearly in mind what we are supposed to be talking about, with any thesis, in order to determine whether the material presented actually supports the thesis, and to what extent. 

Here is the original table of contents:

General History since Alexander the Great     1-2
Earliest Christianity There: Sources and Their Value
      Eusebius and the Abgar Legend     2-12
      Edessene Chronicle to the Fourth Century     12-17
Reconstruction of Earliest Christian History
      “Orthodoxy” before Kûnê in the Fourth Century (Palût)     17-22
  Predecessors and Competitors of Palûtian Christianity:Marcion, Bardesanes,
      Mani, and Their Literature (Diatessaron, Pauline Epistles)     22-32
  Kûnê and the Emergence of a Powerful “Orthodoxy”: Dissemination of the Abgar Legend, Attacks on Rival Groups,
      Vindication of Paul through Acts of Paul/”3 Corinthians”     32-43

Let’s have a page-by-page summary of what is being said.   (I’m using the sections of the online text here, since we can all see them).  For, as I remarked in my previous post, it is important to put the claims into your own words, stripped of whatever prose presented them.  I have added a couple of notes under sections where I had immediate thoughts. 

 1. A few background lines on the history of the kingdom of Osrhoene, whose capital was Edessa.

2. Irrelevant chit-chat.

3. “When we ask how and when Christianity gained influence in this region, it is unnecessary to begin with a survey of the sources ” (!!!).  Instead starts talking about the Abgar legend, referencing Eusebius’ Church History, a source from 325 AD, as the basis for the origin of Christianity in Edessa. 

RP: I don’t quite follow why Bauer begins his examination of the evidence for the origins of Christianity – whenever it did arise, in the 1st or 2nd century (? — since he refuses to engage with the NT) – with Edessa, and, when he does so, with a text which no-one believes is authentic, and is 4th century.

4.  More Abgar.  References the Doctrine of Addai, from which the Abgar text must come, assigns it late 4th century date.

5.  Notes that no-one believes the Abgar letters are authentic.  Ranting about “ecclesiastical thinking”… “only thing that remains to be asked is whether the church father’s presentation is completely useless… or whether … we may still single out this or that particular trait”.  All scholars think the latter, he says.

6. Chapter 45 of Bardaisan’s Book of the Laws of the Countries (early 3rd century) states that an Abgar became a believer and stopped pagan castrations.  Asks which Abgar this is?

RP: Cureton’s translation says this is about circumcision, not castration;  but the ANF version says castration.  Whether the king was a Christian or follower of Bardaisan is not indicated.

7.  Asserts that “when he became a believer” is not part of original text, since Syriac may contain it, but Eusebius’ quotation of it in the PE VI, ch. 10, does not. 

RP:  The PE is here.  I wonder if we can determine for ourselves whether this is right, by comparing a larger extract?

And this is not dependent on nativity, for all Jews cannot have the same natal stars.

Moreover every seventh day, wherever they may be, they abstain from all work, and neither travel nor use fire: nor does his nativity compel a Jew either to build or to demolish a house, to work, to buy or to sell on the sabbath day, although on that same day Jews beget and are begotten, and sicken and die: for these are things not dependent on freewill.

In Syria and Osrhoene many used to mutilate themselves in honour of Rhea: hereupon king Abgar at one stroke commanded that those who cut off the genital organs should also have their hands cut off, and from thenceforth no one in Osrhoene mutilated himself. (PE)

As opposed to:

It is evident that what they do is not from Nativity: for it is impossible that for all the Jews, on the eighth day, on which they are circumcised, Mars should `be in the ascendant, ‘so that steel should pass upon them, and their blood be shed.

One day in seven, also, they and their children cease from all work, from all building, and from all travelling, and from all buying and selling; nor do they kill an animal on the Sabbath-day, nor kindle a fire, nor administer justice; and there is not found among them any one whom Fate compels, either to go to law on the Sabbath-day and gain his cause, or to go to law and lose it, or to pull down, or to build up, or to do any one of those things which are done by all those men who have not received this law. They have also other things in respect to which they do not on the Sabbathconduct themselves like the rest of mankind, though on this same day they both bring forth and are born, and fall sick and die: for these things do not pertain to the power of man. 

In Syria and in Edessa men used to part with their manhood in honour of Tharatha; but, when King Abgar became a believer he commanded that every one that did so should have his hand cut off, and from that day until now no one does so in the country of Edessa. (Syriac)

From this we see that the two versions differ quite a bit more than on just this phrase.  Either the Syriac has been expanded, not just by a couple of words, but by whole sentences and in detail; or else Eusebius PE is an abbreviated version.   Which of the two is the case is a matter for specialists, of course; but on the face of it Eusebius has abbreviated, as, in quoting large chunks of big books, he was bound to do all over the place.  We might suppose that, since everyone knew that King Abgar became a Christian, there was no need to spend space on saying so.

8.  “The rest of what is adduced in support of a Christian king of Edessa appears to me to be entirely without importance.”  Africanus in his chronicle (quoted by Syncellus) calls Abgar a “holy man”, but “This is not to be exploited as a Christian confession”; Eusebius’ quotation of the same for 2235 Anno Abrahae (218 AD) says “distinguished man”.  Claims Epiphanius Panarion 56.1.3 is using Africanus when discussing Bardaisan and calling Abgar “most pious and reasonable”.

RP: I’m trying to work out where Bauer is going.  Is the thread basically to debunk any evidence in favour of a Christian king of Edessa?  If so, that explains the Abgar stuff, and the Bardesan stuff.  Eusebius’ text is only extant in a late Armenian version and in Latin.  Jerome’s Latin for 2234 AA says “Abgar, a holy man, reigned at Edessa, as Africanus maintains.” (Abgarus, vir sanctus, regnavit Edessae, ut vult Africanus.)  I presume Bauer is using Karst’s German translation of the Armenian.  I have not been able to consult Epiphanius.  But it looks as if the text of Africanus may well have read “holy”.  I don’t understand Bauer’s contention that the Christian Africanus would call a pagan monarch “holy”.

9. Syriac romance of Julian the Apostate “from a manuscript no later than the seventh century” asserts no monarch followed Christ before Constantine.

RP: The Julian romance is a 6th century hagiographical text.  I don’t understand how this is evidence.

10. There are marble columns in Edessa, which might be from a Greek pagan temple mentioned in the Chronicle of Edessa, which have an inscription in Syriac letters of ca. 200 AD mentioning a Queen Chelmath who might be the wife of Abgar, who couldn’t have become a Christian if he had a pagan wife; and if he had, the inscription showing he had a pagan wife would have been removed.

RP: Not sure I follow the argument here.

11. Dio Cassius says Abgar was cruel.  So for him, “the Christian faith cannot have had a very deep effect”.

12. The point of everything so far: “The purpose of this criticism is to contest the assumption that the presence of a Christian prince and of a state church for Edessa around the year 200 is in any way assured.”  On to the next point: “the existence of ecclesiastically organized Christianity in Edessa at this time cannot be asserted with any confidence”.  Source is Eusebius Church History.  2 quotes in this showing Christians in Mesopotamia, 1 more (5.23.4) showing them in Osrhoene.  But ancient Latin translation of Eusebius by Rufinus omits the reference to Osrhoene.  Claims this plus phrasing means it is a later interpolation in Greek text of Eusebius.

RP: We need information on the Syriac and Armenian versions also.  The former exists in an ms. from 462 AD.  I have emailed a Syriacist to look.

13.  Eusebius doesn’t know much about Mesopotamia, and doesn’t reference much material from there, so there can’t have been much to know in his day.  Back to Abgar: Asks who benefits from the forgery of the Abgar letters. Ephraem of Edessa (d. 371) knows nothing of the letter, only of the sending of Addai.  Only mention of Abgar by Ephraim is in the appendix to his commentary on the Diatessaron.  Since we have no Syriac text, we may doubt whether it is authentic.

RP. Syriac text now known.  No idea what it says!  It’s a little odd to call Ephraem Syrus “Ephraem of Edessa” – he only lived there at the very end of his life.  Note that the argument here is switching ad hoc between Edessa and Mesopotamia.  Which are we studying?  — The two are very far from identical.

14.  Speculation about motives of compiler of Abgar letters.   “Thus we find the Abgar saga to be a pure fabrication, without any connection with reality, which need not have emerged earlier than the beginning of the fourth century …, and which says nothing certain about the Christianity of Edessa in an earlier time.”  Says Acts of Thomas come “from this region” and are “much earlier.”

15.  ‘I pose the question: With respect to the history of the church of Edessa, how well does the widely held view stand up, that in the various cities at the beginning there existed communities of orthodox Christians — naturally orthodoxy is understood to involve a certain development and unfolding — who form the genuine kernel of Christianity, and alongside are minorities of those who are “off the track” and are regarded and treated as heretics? I raise the question as to how well it stands the test, and find the answer, it stands up poorly. Up to now nothing has spoken in its favor.’

RP: It looks as if Bauer has forgotten to debunk other Eusebius testimonies.  But doesn’t this argument manufacture silence and then argue from absence of evidence?

16. Chronicle of Edessa records flood of church in Edessa in 201 AD.

17.  Dionysius of Tell-Mahre (776) repeats the statement, but omits mention of church.   Bauer introduces mention of this by “Finally, it is also not my intention to seek cover behind the Chronicle of Dionysius of Tell Mahrê …” and then gives details.  Then claims unlikely that church existed, or that a pagan would have recorded it, and claims Christian interpolation.

RP: Isn’t this saying something which will undermine the reader’s trust in the text while loudly refusing to do so?  That seems a bit like manipulation of the reader to me.

18.  Strange speculative argument that a later flood and rebuilding must have been projected backwards.

19.  Extracts of Chronicle of Edessa.

20. Claim that text was composed by Christian of 6th century, but not all of it because otherwise it would mention Abgar.  Early part must be “from a person who was still aware that the earliest history of Christendom in Edessa had been determined by the names of Marcion, Bar Daisan, and Mani”, since Marcion (“Marcion departed from the church”, says the Chronicle of Edessa) and Mani never went to Edessa, this must refer to the importance of their followers; and the absence of mention of a Christian bishop is evidence of non-existence or unimportance for the same reason.  ‘If these three, and only these — with no “ecclesiastical” “bishop” alongside of them — are specified by name in a Christian Chronicle of Edessa, that indicates that the form of religion and of Christianity which they advocated represents what was original for Edessa.’  And ‘Ecclesiastically organized Christianity, with cultic edifice, cemetery, and bishop, first appears at the beginning of the fourth century’.

RP: Bauer is arguing the last point from what appears, or does not appear, in the 6th century Chronicle of Edessa

21. The first bishop mentioned is Kune.  Three previous bishops are mentioned elsewhere; Palut, Abshelma, and Barsamya; in the Doctrine of Addai and hagiographical material of the 5th century.  Only Palut will be discussed.  Statements in DA about him; DA is unhistorical, particularly any idea that Peter ordained him bishop.

RP: Doctrine of Addai is here.  Why start with obviously unhistorical material, rather than Ephraem’s statements about Palut?  Because Bauer wants to throw doubt on the whole of the data by association?  This is not good.  Is there an anti-Catholicism strain starting to appear in the material about unimportance of bishops?  A legacy of German ‘protestant’ attitudes and protestant-catholic disputes?

22. Irrelevant stuff attacking importance of bishops.

23.  More of the same.  “Links” between Antioch and Edessa in the 4th century must have been weak, since a recent biography of Chrysostom never mentions Edessa.

24. More, ending with a claim that this shows that there is “there is no confirmation of the claim” in the DA that Palut was a bishop.

25.  Ephraem’s Madrasha 22 against heretics tells us of Palut.  He was leader of the Christians in Edessa at the end of the 2nd century.  ‘But we must remove from his hand the episcopal staff …  It is quite possible that Palût’s own group called him “bishop.”‘  Says he and his congregation must have been unimportant because not mentioned in Chronicle of Edessa

26.  Most important is that Palut and his people appear later than the heretics, who were known as Christians locally.  The heretics in question must have been Marcionites.  The real Christians had to call themselves and be known as Palutians. 

RP: This is not what Ephraem actually says, tho, but an inference from it.  The heretics called them Palutians is what he says.  It does not even say that any Christian used that name, although the strength of his denunciations of anyone who allowed themselves to be so named rather suggests it.

27.  Did the Marcionites just call themselves Christians?  Bauer quotes the Life of Mar Aba, who died in 552.  Rejects text as a whole, but proposes to use this bit of it.

28.  Description of what Life says.

29.  “This story reveals that even at a relatively late date, Marcionites designated themselves as the Christians”, forcing Christians to call themselves Messianists. “Is it not reasonable to suggest that something similar was true with respect to the beginnings of Christianity in Edessa? That would be an excellent explanation of why the orthodox call themselves Palûtians until far into the fourth century, or at least are known by that name to the public.”

RP: A bit dodgy, this.  Bauer fails to point out that the events take place, not in Edessa, but some distance away in Persian-controlled Mesopotamia; not in the second century, or the fourth, but in the sixth.  The Marcionites may not have been there very long; the policies of Justinian would have caused a migration; and doubtless the Persian authorities didn’t much care.  There is no indication as to why this should relate to Edessa.  Nothing in Ephraem says that Christians usually called themselves Palutians, still less that anyone but the heretics did.

30.  Marcion, Bardesan and Mani were the heretics against whom the early writers most often write.  Aphrahat’s attack instead on Marcion, Valentinus and Mani accounted for by assertion that Valentinians turned into followers of Bardesan.  Patristic references quoted that Bardesan was influenced by Valentinus.

RP: Reference of Eusebius HE  “6.30.3″ should be “4.30.3″.

31.  Ephraem Syrus names other heretics, but these are the important ones in the 4th century.

32.  Marcionites only suppressed with state aid by Rabbula in 5th century.  Hagiographical Life of Rabbula quoted as evidence.

33.  Quotes from Life about suppression of Bardesanites and Manichaeans and Jews.

34.  Attack on Rabbula for suppressing them.  “Thus it would be illegitimate for one to reason back from the situation which Rabbula had brought about by force, and to use this as a corrective to the picture that we have discovered for the time of Ephraem when orthodoxy in Edessa still occupied a quite secondary place.”

RP: Is anyone suggesting that we project Rabbula’s Edessa back onto the 2nd century?  If so, who?

35.  Claim that situation in Edessa “would hardly have been much different” to that in Armenia.  Marutha of Maiperqat quoted on the number of heretics.

RP: Text quoted is not quite clear, but references given to I. E. Rahmani in Studia Syriaca 4, Documenta de antiquis haeresibus, 1909, pp. 76-80 and Syriac pp. 43-98.  Seems to be an anti-heretical writing.  Not quite clear how this is relevant.

36.  Bauer now moves from tentative assertions to this: “In the picture that the representatives of the church sketch, it is precisely the detail about a great apostasy from the true faith that is seen to be incorrect — in any event, it is not true of Edessa. Here it was by no means orthodoxy, but rather heresy, that was present at the beginning. Christianity was first established in the form of Marcionism, probably imported from the West and certainly not much later than the year 150.”  Bardesan is later, and only disputed with Marcionites; the Christians were too insignificant.  Sources: Eusebius, HE 4.30.1; Theodoret, Haer. 1.22; Hippolytus Refutatio, 7.31.1.

RP: Sources quoted show that Bardaisan only disputed with Marcionites?  Eusebius doesn’t, and seems to reflect a period before Bardesan became a heretic; nor does Hippolytus.

37.  Irrelevant speculation about what scriptures Bardesan used in Edessa.

38.  Irrelevant speculation that Bardesan used the Diatessaron.

39.  More of the same.

40.  Speculation that if Bardesan had used the Diatessaron, and been very influential, this would explain why the Syriac churches used a book compiled by a heretic; because there were so few real Christians.

41.  More speculation about use of Diatessaron.  Letters of Paul ‘must’ have been used, because Marcion used them.  Ephraem and a Syriac canon of ca. 400 both use an order of the letters found in Marcion, which shows ‘We observe how “heretical,” or better “original” conditions affect later epochs and how even the ecclesiastical structure cannot avoid this.’

42.  Few Christians or heretics in Edessa in 2nd century (Book of the Laws of the Countries 32 and 40).  Bauer asks when Christians really became a factor: claims Kune, from the Chronicle of Edessa, is responsible.  Chronicle of Joshua the Stylite (6th century) mentions a house of Mar Kune; claims Kune was not martyred, and so the existence of a church shows that Kune was special in some way.

RP: English versions of Bardesanes book do not have chapter divisions; unable to locate texts supposed to show this.  Joshua ref to “Mar Kona” is here: “the church of Mar Kona, which had been constructed by the ancients with great pains…”.

43.  Speculation as to Kune’s period of office (early 4th century).

44.  Speculation that Kune fabricated the Abgar correspondence.  Heretics did not trace back their teaching earlier than their founders, Marcion or Bardesanes, not to Jesus; Basilides does claim teaching in secret from the apostle Matthias.

45.  Reiterates claim that Kune was forger.  “We need not make excuses for the Edessene bishop to whom we attribute such a deed. He lived in an epoch in which the growth of Christian legends flourished,…” followed by mention of 4th century frauds and accusations against bishops.

46.  Suggestion that apostles used “questionable” methods, based on homily of Jacob of Serug (6th century) containing legend about Peter and Paul.

RP: Probably the intention is to suggest that such an attitude was commonplace in the region, and attributed to apostles, rather than serious intent to attack apostles?

47.  Continued claim that Kune was forger, and that Christians generally don’t find it objectionable.

48.  “That the apostolic teaching, which is identical with the conception of orthodoxy of all times and places, had been present long before there was heresy is also the view of Edessene orthodoxy of the fourth century.” Quote from Ephraem.

49.  Claims that Bardesanes had never been a Christian, but had once been a Valentinian and had never “shared the faith of the church” (HE 4.30)Story from Theodore bar Koni about Bardesan and how he became a Christian, but later apostastised. 

RP: I think this rather misrepresents Eusebius here: “He indeed was at first a follower of Valentinus, but afterward, having rejected his teaching and having refuted most of his fictions, he fancied that he had come over to the more correct opinion. Nevertheless he did not entirely wash off the filth of the old heresy.”

50.  Story how Mani had once been a presbyter.

RP: I think the argument consists of giving obvious fictional examples of how the founders of heresies are all supposed to be clergy frustrated in personal ambition, apparently with the aim of suggesting that this common motive for schism is never actually true or cannot be relied on.  That’s logically unsound, if I got that right.

51.  The 4th century church used 3 Corinthians, the Bardesanites did not.  Since 3 Corinthians was forged as part of the Acts of Paul ca. 180, (‘Thus we see here quite clearly an officer of the “great church” perpetrating a “forgery” that focuses upon an apostle.’) after Bardesan, this shows that the failure to use the text as scripture means that the Bardesanites are a more accurate reflection of the early situation in Edessa than the real church.

52. Speculation that Kune introduced 3 Corinthians into the canon in Edessa.

53.  Speculation that Acts of Paul came to Edessa.  More speculation about Kune’s motives and actions and attitudes.

RP: Which, considering all we know about him is that he was bishop in 313 and built a church, is curious.

54.  “We are concerned with the beginnings. And the investigation of these beginnings for the history of Christianity in Edessa has made us aware of a foundation that rests on an unmistakably heretical basis. In relation to it, orthodoxy comes to prevail only very gradually and with great difficulty, becoming externally victorious only in the days of Rabbula…”

I admit that I was glad to get to the conclusion.

The next stage is to review this and boil it down into a handful of lines of argument.

Let me note one argumentation technique which I think is being used here, and is new to me.

It goes like this.  When attempting to controvert some well-established fact, he starts by finding some hagiographical text, which is obviously nonsensical, that happens to contain the statement he is attacking.  He then solemnly debunks that text as being nonsense, and associates the fact that it is nonsense with the statement he is anxious to refute.  The reader, therefore, already has in his mind the idea that some of the sources that contain the statement are untrue; has observed Bauer debunking a text which the reader already knows is false; and is pre-conditioned, unconciously, to agree with further debunking, of some real evidence for the statement.

Don’t really like this sort of thing.  Let any argument be put squarely, based on the best evidence, and that discussed.

2 Responses to “Notes on Walter Bauer’s “Orthodoxy and Heresy” – part 3 – Edessa”


  1. Roger Pearse

    PS: It is slightly sobering to reflect that it took 5 hours of my life to write that post.

  2. Bauer, Eusebius HE, Rufinus and Edessa – and the Syriac text at Roger Pearse

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