D. CATHERINE | 2017
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The late 4th century CE Syriac Doctrine of Addai (AKA. Thaddaeus) is a legendary text stating that the court archivist “Hannan” on request by King Abgar V of Edessa, Syria, had painted a “portrait” of Jesus during Hannan’s visit to Jesus. Another form of the same legend is recounted in the later Greek Acts of Thaddaeus. Then Moses of Chorene in his History of the Armenians repeats the legend and states that the portrait was preserved in Edessa. The legend was later reoriented by the Church historian Evagrius, Bishop of Edessa (c. 536-600 CE), who declared that the image of Jesus was “divinely wrought,” and “not made by human hands.”
“This latter concept of an ‘image not made by hands’ (acheiropoietos) formed the foundation on which the Eastern Orthodox doctrine of icons was later created in the 8th century. This doctrine held that Jesus made the first icon of himself by pressing a wet towel to his face, miraculously imprinting the cloth with his features—thus creating the prototype for all icons of Jesus, and an implied divine approval for their creation.” (Wikipedia)
Notwithstanding the distracting hype surrounding the controversial “Shroud of Turin” (apparently not related to the “Image of Edessa”)—and the fact that Eusebius (prior to the Doctrine of Addai and the texts which followed) made an inquiry into the alleged relationship and correspondence between King Agbar of Edessa and Jesus, in which Eusebius makes no mention whatsoever about any portrait or image—do we perhaps have in this “image of Jesus,” said to be “divinely wrought” and “not made by hands” (elsewhere: Jesus purportedly “pressing a wet towel to his face, miraculously imprinting the cloth with his features”)—merely an allegory of what we know as the hypostatic union of the human (“wet towel” = blood source: the human fetus ‘enclothed’ by the blood of the mother in utero) and the divine (the “Face/Presence” = the “Image of God” as logos alētheias)?
With regards to Hannan’s (John’s) “portrait of Jesus,” compare this image or icon (eikenai “be like, look like”) with the kenosis ‘self-emptying’ that is not only central to the Eastern Orthodox concept of becoming “like” Christ—becoming an eikon (likeness, portrait, ‘mirror-image’) of Christ by way of kenosis ‘self-emptying’ and thus either attaining henosis ‘union with God’ or theosis ‘divinization’—but may have subsequently also been adapted as a mystical allusion to the Incarnation (“pressing the Face/Presence onto the wet towel”)? Note that in Hebrew and Arabic, the divine ‘Face’ alludes to the divine Presence. Also, to be like, look like (eikenai) Christ is, at least in a gnostic sense, to be the “twin” of Christ or the equivalent preeminent Angel or Heavenly Being—hence the likely origin of the epithet or cognomen “Thomas/Didymus/Twin” (Aramaic Taum) associated with Judas Thomas / “Thaddaeus” / “Addai”.
In other words, not only is the body “the Temple of God, within which the Spirit of God dwells” (1 Corinthians 3:16; compare the Hebrew Shechinah ‘divine indwelling’), but the self that is emptied (kenosis) becomes as a tabula rasa, upon which the eikon or “portrait/likeness” of Christ = logos alētheias is imprinted.
Compare also the Eastern Orthodox practice of Hesychasm (Greek: ἡσυχασμός, hesychasmos, from ἡσυχία, hesychia, ‘stillness, rest, quiet, silence’).