Acts of Sharbel

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The Acts of Sharbel or the Hypomnemata of Sharbel[1] is a Syriac Christian martyrdom text about a pagan high priest who was martyred for converting to Christianity. The setting takes place at Edessa during the fifteenth year of Roman Emperor Trajan's reign and during the third year of King Abgar VIII's reign but is dated by scholars to the 5th century AD.[2]


The Acts of Sharbel was first translated in English by William Cureton in his Ancient Syriac Documents (London, 1864). He had used a single manuscript written in Syriac dated to the fifth or sixth century AD (Brit. Mus. Add. 14, 644).[3] B. P. Pratten also introduced an English translation, and his translation would be compiled with other Christian texts to be published in the Ante-Nicene Fathers (1871).[4] In 1874, Moesinger published a Latin translation in his Acta SS. Martyrum Edessenorum.[3]

Narrative overview[edit]

The text begins with the current timeline of Trajan's fifteenth year as the Roman Emperor and the third year of King Abgar VIII's rule.[2]

On the eighth day of the new year (Nisan), the populous commenced a celebration and worship of multiple gods. Particularly, the statues of gods Bel and Nebo were placed at the altar centered in the city. The high priest of the gods, Sharbel, was in charge of preparations of the altar. While organizing the altar, a Christian bishop named Barsamya had suddenly walked upon the altar to engage Sharbel publicly. Barsamya preached to him and the public, and doing so, Sharbel was greatly astonished by Barsamya's teachings he converted to Christianity at that very moment.[5]

After Sharbel's conversion, he would later be prosecuted and put to torture until his death along with his sister Babai for being Christians by the orders of Lysanias, a judge and by the Edessian governor. After their deaths, the bodies of Sharbel and his sister would later be stolen from the executioners by a group of men to be buried next to Bishop Abshelama's grave in the evening of the Sabbath.[6]

Composition and historicity[edit]

Despite the setting taking place during the reign of Trajan, biblical scholars consider the text spurious and date its composition to the 5th century AD.[7] Because of similar historicity, scholars associate the Acts of Sharbel with the Martyrdom of Barsamya. Scholars also compare these texts often to more considerable authentic Syriac Christian writings such as the Acts of Shmona and of Gurya and the Martyrdom of Habib in order to determine their textual historicities.[8] In account of the martyrs themselves, Gurya, Shmona, and Habbib's names are present in a Syriac martyrology calendar manuscript dated to 411 AD which list names of martyrs from Edessa. Likewise in his Carmina Nisibena, Ephrem the Syrian mentions the others but not Sharbel or Barsamya.[9]

The names of Addai's first Christian converts unique to the Doctrine of Addai are also written in the Acts of Sharbel and the Martyrdom of Barsamya. These names can be found inscribed in former pagan regions of Edessa dating back to the third and fourth century AD and aren't found much in Syriac sources from the fifth century AD or later. And according to Harold Attridge, the names of Addai's first Christian converts mentioned in Acts of Sharbel and the Martyrdom of Barsamya were written with literary concepts similar to the Syriac Christian texts Acts of Shmona and of Gurya and the Martyrdom of Habbib, which he concluded the authors of the Acts of Sharbel and Martyrdom of Barsamya were most likely paganist inserting their ancestral pagan ideology into the Christian community though the use of the Acts of Sharbel and the Martyrdom of Barsamya.[10]

Bel and Nebo[edit]

In the Acts of Sharbel, the text mentions Bel and Nebo as the primarily deities worshipped in Edessa.[11] Bel and Nebo are Babylonian idols worshiped in the New Year (Akitu). The Acts of Sharbel accurately timed the ceremonial worship of these idols according to Babylonian tradition.[12]


  1. ^ Burkitt 1904, p. 155.
  2. ^ a b Millar 1993, p. 464.
  3. ^ a b Lightfoot 1889, p. 69.
  4. ^ Roberts et al. 1887, p. 105.
  5. ^ Drijvers 1980, p. 35.
  6. ^ Roberts et al. 1907, p. 684.
  7. ^ Valantasis 2000, p. 414.
  8. ^ Millar 1993, p. 486.
  9. ^ Attridge & Hata 1992, pp. 223 & 224.
  10. ^ Attridge & Hata 1992, p. 228.
  11. ^ Drijvers 1980, p. 40.
  12. ^ Drijvers 1980, p. 43.


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