A Copy of a Letter written by Our Blessed Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ

And found eighteen Miles from Iconam, sixty-three Years after our Blessed Saviour’s Crucifixion. [Epistola Jesu ad Agbarum]

n.p. [London] n.p.. [c1725].

Single sheet broadside. 370x275mm. Some tears and chipping to the edges and worming affecting the text but it is clearly legible and overall in good condition. It is illustrated by a woodcut of Jesus (looking rather like Charles I) holding an orb and with a crown of thorns floating above his head which is surrounded by a sunburst halo. A circular border around this image reads: "Fairer then the Children of Men PSALXLV". The final line of the text reads "wise. A Man, for his singular Beauty far exceeding all the Sons of Men". These points, together with the distance from Iconiam and the number of years (63) after the Crucifixion all conform to the 1725 edition located at the British Library under ESTC number T205815. There appears to be no earlier edition in English. It is scarce, copies being located at the NLS, Bodleian and UCLA, in addition to the BL copy.

This celebrated document which claims to show a letter written by Jesus Christ expounding his teaching on the keeping of the Sabbath and going to Church. The heading states that the letter was found under a stone at the foot of the Cross. The letter from King Agbarus of Edessa (then in Mesopotamia, now in Anatolia, Turkey) is an invitation to Jesus to visit him and cure his diseases, Agbarus having heard how Jesus can heal the sick “without Herbs or Medicines”. Jesus replies by saying that he must fulfil the work for which he was sent by God but that after his Ascension, “I will send one of my Disciples, who shall cure thy Distemper, and give Life to thee”. The document concludes with Lentulus’s Epistle to the Senate of Rome. Although it seems obvious to us that the letter is an outrageous fake, it was believed to be real by many in the fourth century, and even found its way into liturgical use (in Syriac and Celtic rites). The earliest complete version of the letter and the accompanying story was discovered by Eusebius (263-339AD) among a cache of Syriac documents in the archives of Edessa. It has been suggested (without evidence) that Eusebius invented the story and forged the letter himself.