Anonymous prose hagiography

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Some of the following hagiographical texts can sometimes be dated to the 5th century because they are extant in very early manuscripts. Others are less certainly dated, but probably from this period.

Life of Abraham of Qidun and his niece Mary

This text has been wrongly attributed to Ephrem Syrus. An English translation exists of the portion on Mary.

This was translated into Greek, and thence into Latin. A 10th century nun, Hrotswitha of Gandersheim used the Latin text as a source for a play on this subject.


  • S. P. Brock and S. A. Harvey, Holy Women of the Syrian Orient, (1987) pp.26-36.

Life of the Man of God

English and French translations exist of this. The earliest form of the work was composed in Syriac. It was translated into Greek in a re-edited and expanded form, where the hero is now named Alexis. This longer version was subsequently translated back into Syriac, as well as into Latin. The Latin version then was the basis of various medieval French retellings.


  • FT by A. Amiaud (1889)
  • ET (from FT) by C. J. Odenkirchen (1978)

The Martyrdoms of Shmona, Gurya, and Habib

The three martyrs of Edessa were executed most likely in 297 and 309. The account of the death spread widely. The text was composed in Syriac, and translated into Greek. An English translation exists.


  • F. C. Burkitt, Euphemia and the Goth (1913)

The Teaching of Addai

This text recounts the story of the correspondence between Jesus and King Abgar the Black of Edessa in a much longer form, Eusebius of Caesarea gave the letters and the gist of the legend already in his Church History, book 1, ch. 13, in a Greek translation.

The additional material includes sermons preached in Edessa by Addai, and an early account of the Finding of the Cross (here by Protonike, wife of the emperor Claudius, rather than by Helena, mother of Constantine, as in the standard legend).

The text has much in common with the legends of Sharbel and Barsamya. It is quite possible that the whole group of texts was composed in Edessa in the 420-430's in a circle supporting Ibas against Rabbula.

Two English translations exist.


  • ET: G. Phillips (1876)
  • ET: W. Howard (1981)

Martyrdoms of Sharbel and Barsamya

These purely legendary accounts of martyrdoms in the reign of Trajan share many features with the Teaching of Addai.

An English translation exists.


  • ET: W. Cureton, Ancient Syriac Documents (1864), pp.41-72.

Euphemia and the Goth

This is the story of a young woman of Edessa who is forcibly married to a Gothic soldier who has been billetted in her mother's house. It is a local narrative from Edessa.

An English translation exists.


  • F. C. Burkitt, Euphemia and the Goth (1913)

Acts of the Persian Martyrs under Shapur II

The Persian emperor Shapur II persecuted the church in the 340's. This was the most severe persecution under the Sassanids. A considerable number of texts relating to this have come down to us, of varying date, value and reliability.

The oldest ones seem to have been written in the early part of the 5th century. These include the older of the two related Acts of the Catholicos Simeon bar Sabba'e, the martydoms of Miles, of Pusai, of Martha (English translations exist of these) and of several other martyrs.

In time, further stories were composed about these events.


  • S. P. Brock and S. A. Harvey, Holy Women of the Syrian Orient, (1987) pp.67-81. (ET of Martha, etc)

Acts of the Persian Martyrs under Yezdigerd I and Bahram V

This persecution took place in the early 420's. There is a group of short but important accounts of martyrdoms from this period. One of these accounts is attributed to a certain Abgar.

Martyrs dealt with are: Narsai (not the poet), Tataq, Jacob the Notary, the 10 martyrs of Beth Garmai, 'Abda, Peroz, and Mihrshabur.

The martyrdom of 'Abda is incomplete, but there is more information about the events extant in Greek, in Theodoret, Ecclesiastical History, Book 5, ch. 39.

Acts of the Persian Martyrs under Yezdgerd II

This persecution took place in the 440's, and several extensive accounts of martyrdoms have reached us. There is a cycle of tales about Pethion, where the story takes on legendary proportions.

An English translation exists of the martyrdom of Anahid.


  • S. P. Brock and S. A. Harvey, Holy Women of the Syrian Orient, (1987) pp.82-99. ET of Anahid, etc.

Life of Simeon the Stylite

This famous individual popularised leading a hermit's life on top of a pillar. His life was written shortly after his death in 459 by a monk of the monastery attached to the pillar. Together with the short eyewitness account by Theodoret in the Historia Religiosa, this is the most important source for the life of this influential pillar saint.

The Syriac life survives in at least two slightly different versions.

An English translation exists.


  • ET: R. Doran (1992)

The "Julian Romance"

This is a long piece of fiction which is bitterly hostile to Julian the Apostate (d. 363) and mainly concerned with his successor Jovian, portrayed in very eulogistic terms. The beginning of the work is lost. It was composed in Edessa, and probably belongs to the 5th century rather than the 6th as previous thought.

An English translation exists.


  • H. Gollancz, Julian the Apostate (1928). ET.

Life of Rabbula

Rabbula was bishop of Edessa from 411-436. This life is a panegyric.

Rabbula himself wrote in both Greek and Syriac. Of his Syriac works, only his translation of Cyril of Alexandria, On True Faith and some ecclesiastical canons survive.

An English translation of the life was in preparation by R. Doran, according to Brock's "Short Outline".

Prose homily on Abraham and Isaac

This relates to Genesis 22.

An English translation exists.


  • S. P. Brock, Orientalia Lovaniensia Periodica 12 (1981) pp. 225-60. Eng. Tr.