« Samson, a Welsh saint Sarbelius, a Edessan martyr Saturninus »

Sarbelius, a Edessan martyr

Sarbelius (1) (Sharbil). Syriac Acts of Sarbelius and other Edessan martyrs are in Cureton's Antiq. Mon. Syr. (1864), and a Latin trans., with abundant illustrative matter, was pub. by Moesinger (Innsbruck, 1874). According to them, Sarbelius was chief priest of the idol-worship of Edessa. Trajan, in the 15th year of his reign (also described as the 3rd of Abgarus, the 7th king, and the 416th of the era of Alexander the Great), commanded the rulers of the provinces to see that sacrifices and libations were renewed and increased in every city, and to punish with torture those who refused to take part. Barsimaeus, the bp. of the Christians, accompanied by a priest and deacon, thereupon waited on Sarbelius and warned him of his responsibility in leading so many to worship gods made with hands. They briefly told him of the doctrine concerning our Lord's Incarnation and death, taught by Paluth, the disciple of Addai the apostle, and believed in by the earlier king Abgarus. Sarbelius was at once converted, baptized that night, and made his appearance next day clad in his baptismal robes. A great multitude, including some chief men of the city, were converted with him. The Acts then relate how the governor Licinius brought Sarbelius before him and commanded him to sacrifice. As each form of torture was tried without success, Licinius ordered a new and more severe one, 18 being described. Finally, Sarbelius was put to death with new tortures, being partially sawn asunder and then beheaded, his sister Barbea being martyred with him. There are separate Acts of Barsimaeus, evidently by the same hand. They relate how he, after the martyrdom of Sarbelius, was brought before the tribunal and similarly tortured. But a letter, ordering persecution to cease, arrived from Trajan, who had been convinced of the excellence of Christian morality and of the general agreement of their laws of conduct with the imperial laws.


These Edessan Acts acquired very considerable celebrity. Moesinger published an Armenian translation, and Sarbelius is commemorated in the Greek Menaea and the Latin Martyrologies under Jan. 29 and Oct. 15. There is also a Thathuel, commemorated Sept. 4, whose story is identical with that of Sarbelius. Moesinger argued that the extant Acts were written by a contemporary of Sarbelius and were historically trustworthy; but his arguments are too weak to deserve serious refutation. Two marks of fiction are obvious: the extravagant amount of tortures alleged, and the familiarity of Sarbelius with N.T., which would have been noteworthy in a Christian of long standing in a.d. 105, but is incredible in a newly-made convert. He is made to quote the Gospels several times, the Psalms, and Romans. We may ascribe the Acts to the latter part of 4th cent. They are probably later than Eusebius, who shews no knowledge of the story; but are largely employed in a sermon, printed by Moesinger, by James of Sarug (d. 522). There is a strong family likeness between the Acts of Sarbelius and those of Habibus, and of Samona and Guria, also given in Cureton's work. Since the latter martyrs are said to have suffered under Diocletian, the former Acts, which seem to have the same origin. are at least no earlier.


« Samson, a Welsh saint Sarbelius, a Edessan martyr Saturninus »
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