The enigma of Abgar:
Within the first few pages of the venerated History of the Christian Church, by Eusebius, occurs a peculiar story, which brings up a lot of questions.
Abgar was supposedly king of the Edessa region circa 30 A.D. According to Eusebius, he somehow got word of the miracle-cures being performed by one Jesus of Nazareth and wrote Him a letter, to which Jesus responded by promising to later send a disciple.
So accustomed are we Christians to our specific picture of Christ from the Bible that it is difficult, for me at least, to picture him writing a letter or even dictating to an amanuosis. The Gospels present no hint of him ever doing such. Then again, He is never mentioned fluffing his pillow or washing His hands but surely He did at some point.
The closest that we come to such a dictation, is more of a verbal command than anything else: Tell that fox (Herod) and we are not told whether anyone dared comply with that request.
But that is a trivial issue. Writing a letter is no sin and if He did, He did.
Bigger item number one: If these are genuine words of Jesus, even if they are approximated elsewhere in the New Testament, they are scripture. And if scripture, then they are a precious fragment that belongs within the canon, not buried in an old book that apparently only scholars read anymore.
Bigger item number two: This text seems to thrust a spear into the heart of scholarship that early Christians considered themselves still under the Jewish umbrella – just sectarian rivals as it were. Jews were erring brothers, not an alien race, not Christ-killers or demon spawn to be caricatured, despised and persecuted. That attitude came later as Gentiles took over leadership of the church and misunderstood the position of the first Christians.
Abgar, however, is presented as a man full of rage against apparently the whole Jewish nation for purportedly holding the still-living Christ in contempt. If his letter is genuine, then Christian anti-Semitism is much older and began even while Christ was yet alive.
If Eusebius were simply presenting a hoary old legend that he heard from a friend of a friend, the enigma might not be so perplexing. But he insists that he read the Abgar story first hand, from the official files of Edessa. That alone wouldn’t prove its purported date, provenance and authorship, but it would certainly strengthen the case.
And yet in my 30-plus years of being a Christian and reading every author from C.S. Lewis to Pope John Paul, I have never heard this story before.