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Archiv für Religionsgeschichte

Ed. by Bickel, Susanne / Frankfurter, David / Johnston, Sarah Iles / Pironti, Gabriella / Rüpke, Jörg / Scheid, John / Várhelyi, Zsuzsanna

Together with Beard, Mary / Bonnet, Corinne / Borgeaud, Philippe / Henrichs, Albert / Knysh, Alexander / Lissarrague, Francois / Malamoud, Charles / Maul, Stefan / Parker, Robert C. Y. / Shaked, Shaul / Stroumsa, Gedaliahu Guy / Tardieu, Michel / Volokhine, Youri

CiteScore 2018: 0.26

SCImago Journal Rank (SJR) 2018: 0.132
Source Normalized Impact per Paper (SNIP) 2018: 0.435

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Utility and Variance in Late Antique Witnesses to the Abgar-Jesus Correspondence

J. Gregory Given
Published Online: 2016-12-06 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/arege-2015-0011


This article analyzes two sets of late antique witnesses to the Abgar-Jesus correspondence: the discussion of the letters in the literary record of the 4th-6th centuries and the Coptic version of the correspondence, as preserved in amulets and ritual formularies. I approach each of these sets with a particular interest in how the texts’ forms-both the textual variants contained within them and the physical objects upon which they are inscribed-may reflect practices of engagement with the letters, drawing attention to the ways in which ancient readers, scribes, and ritual specialists grappled with questions about these texts’ source, attribution, stability, and reliability. The available evidence suggests that ancient readers, hearers, and users of the Abgar-Jesus correspondence were not particularly concerned with questions of “canonical authority” and “genuineness;” these texts were put to use not because they were demonstrably “authentic,” but because they worked. While a number of features suggest the letters’ origins as part of an “epistolary fiction,” these texts were nevertheless received as efficacious in matters of life and death. Their utility for particular scriptural practices trouble the modern distinctions between “authentic” and “forged,” “real” and “fictional,” “canonical” and “apocryphal,” and demand a recalibration (if not total overhaul) of these analytical categories as applied to antiquity.

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Published Online: 2016-12-06

Published in Print: 2016-12-01

Citation Information: Archiv für Religionsgeschichte, Volume 17, Issue 1, Pages 187–222, ISSN (Online) 1868-8888, ISSN (Print) 1436-3038, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/arege-2015-0011.

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