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E01890: The Acts of *Sharbel (martyr in Edessa, S01126) are written in Syriac in Edessa during the 5th c., describing the martyrdom of Sharbel and his sister *Babai (S01126) under Trajan, with an account of the recovery of their bodies, but with no reference to miraculous events.

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posted on 2016-10-04, 00:00 authored by sminov
Acts of Sharbel


The narrative opens with the mention of an edict issued by the Roman emperor Trajan in the 15th year of his reign, which was the year 416 of the Seleucid era, in which he urges provincial governors to increase sacrifices and severely punish those who do not comply with this demand. (p. 41 of the Syriac text in Cureton's edition)

The edict arrives at the city of Edessa on the 8th of Nisan (i.e. April), the day of a great pagan festival. The whole population of Edessa is said to be gathered in the middle of the city, taking part in the solemn pagan ceremony headed by the high-priest Sharbel, in the presence of king Abgar. (pp. 41-42)

The ceremony is interrupted by the bishop Barsamya, head of the Christian community of Edessa, who addresses to Sharbel a speech, in which he admonishes the high-priest to abandon idolatry and embrace Christianity. Persuaded by the bishop's arguments, Sharbel promises to renounce paganism and become Christian. On the next day, Sharbel and his sister Babai come to Barsamya and join the Christian community, getting baptised and confessing the Trinity. Having heard the news of Sharbel's conversion, many citizens of Edessa, including prominent ones, become Christians (pp. 42-45)

When Lysanias, 'the judge of the country', hears about these events, he has Sharbel arrested and brought in to be judged 'before the altar which is in the middle of the town'. The judge demands of Sharbel why he had left the worship of the gods, and threatens him with severe tortures if he will not denounce Christianity. (pp. 45-46)

When Sharbel refuses to comply, Lysanias orders him to be scourged with thongs and torn with combs. The martyr, however, remains steadfast in his decision not to offer sacrifices and abandon his newly acquired faith and is thrown into prison. The following extensive part of the narrative contains a graphic description of various kinds of torture that the judge inflicts upon Sharbel days later, when he is brought before him again. As these fail to make the martyr change his mind, with Sharbel responding to every torture with an apposite Christian response, Lysanias sentences him to be executed by being crushed in a vice, sawn in half, and finally beheaded by the sword. (pp. 46-60)

The martyr is taken outside the city, where he is executed after being allowed to offer a short prayer. At the moment of his death, the martyr's sister Babai is said to have 'spread out her skirt and caught his blood', uttering also a brief prayer. She is immediately denounced to the judge, who orders her to be executed at the same place. Babai dies under the tortures that follow. As the executioners leave, some local Christians steal the martyrs' bodies and bury them in the burial place of the father of Abshelama, the second bishop of Edessa. The execution is said to take place on the 5th of Ilul (i.e. September). (pp. 60-61)

The narrative concludes with the statement that bishop Barsamya was active in the days of Pope Fabianus. It is followed by an account of the failed attempt to expel foreigners and to remove the relics of the apostles Peter and Paul from the city of Rome, which took place during his episcopate. (pp. 61-63; see $E01943)

Text: Cureton 1864. Summary: Sergey Minov.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Sharbel and Babai, martyrs in Edessa, ob. 104 : S01126

Saint Name in Source

ܫܪܒܝܠ ܘܒܒܝ

Type of Evidence

Literary - Hagiographical - Accounts of martyrdom


  • Syriac

Evidence not before


Evidence not after


Activity not before


Activity not after


Place of Evidence - Region


Place of Evidence - City, village, etc


Place of evidence - City name in other Language(s)

Edessa Edessa Edessa Ἔδεσσα Edessa

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Composing and translating saint-related texts

Cult Activities - Relics

Bodily relic - blood


The Acts of Sharbel narrate the martyrdom of Sharbel, a pagan priest who converted to Christianity, and his sister Babai, who were executed in the city of Edessa in Roman Mesopotamia, supposedly during the reign of the emperor Trajan, in the year 104. An original Syriac composition, it was almost certainly produced in the city of Edessa, the site of Sharbel's martyrdom and later commemoration. Although, the work claims to be written down as an official record (Syr. hypomnemata) by two alleged contemporaries, the notaries Marinus and Anatolus (p. 61), it is highly unlikely that this account was produced before the first quarter of the 5th century. Against an early dating is the fact that the name of Sharbel is absent from the Syriac Martyrology of 411 (E00465), whose author does mention commemoration of such Edessene martyrs as Shmona, Gurya and Habbib. Moreover, the presence of several anachronisms as well as traces of the acquaintance of the author with such works as the 4th c. Martyrdom of Habbib and the 5th c. Teaching of Addai make the second or third quarter of the 5th century the most likely time of its composition (see Duval 1889). A terminus ante quem for the Acts is provided by the fact that the narrative of Sharbel's martyrdom was known to the West-Syrian poet Jacob of Serugh (c. 451-521), who dedicated one of his metrical homilies to him (see E01976). There is not yet a critical edition of the Acts. Its Syriac text was published for the first time by Cureton on the basis of ms. British Library Add. 14644, dated to the 5th or 6th century (see Wright 1870-1872, vol. 3, 1083-1086). Later on, it was again published by Bedjan, who apparently used a later manuscript. Syriac text: Cureton 1864, pp. 41*-63*; Bedjan 1890-1870, vol. 1, pp. 95-119; English translation: Cureton 1864, pp. 41-62; Pratten 1871, pp. 56-80; Latin translation: Mösinger 1874, pp. 4-18. For general information, see Greisiger 2006; Greisiger 2012, 185-190.


The Acts bear witness to the local cult of the martyr Sharbel in the city of Edessa, which apparently developed no earlier than the second quarter of the 5th century. As has been suggested by Sebastian Brock, the probable purpose of the Acts (as well as of the Acts of Barsamya) was to provide upper-class circles of Edessa with 'two prominent martyrs from a much earlier date than Shmona, Gurya (under Diocletian) and Habib (under Licinius), all three of whom came from villages surrounding Edessa' (Brock 2011, 266). Although the work exhibits clear traces of later literary developments, especially in the prolonged and detailed description of the tortures inflicted upon Sharbel, it is noteworthy that no miracles are ascribed to the martyr or his relics.


Main editions and translations: Cureton, W., Ancient Syriac Documents Relative to the Earliest Establishment of Christianity in Edessa and the Neighbouring Countries, from the Year after Our Lord’s Ascension to the Beginning of the Fourth Century (London / Edinburgh: Williams and Norgate, 1864). Bedjan, P., Acta martyrum et sanctorum. 7 vols (Paris / Leipzig: Otto Harrassowitz, 1890-1897). Mösinger, G., Acta S. S. martyrum Edessenorum Sarbelii, Barsimaei, Guriae, Samonae et Abibi. Fasciculus 1: Acta S. S. martyrum Sarbelii et Barsimaei (Oeniponti: Libraria Academica Wagneriana, 1874). Pratten, B.P., Syriac Documents Attributed to the First Three Centuries (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1871). Further reading: Brock, S.P., “Syriac Hagiography,” in: S. Efthymiadis (ed.), The Ashgate Research Companion to Byzantine Hagiography. Vol. 1: Periods and Places (Farnham, England: Ashgate, 2011), 259-283. Duval, R., “Les actes de Scharbil et les actes de Barsamya,” Journal asiatique VIII, 14 (1889), 40-58. Greisiger, L., “Šarbēl, Baḇai, Märtyrer in Edessa,” in: F.W. Bautz and T. Bautz (eds.), Biographisch-bibliographisches Kirchenlexikon, Band 26. Ergänzungen 13 (Nordhausen: Bautz, 2006), 1311-1315. Greisiger, L., “Saints populaires d’Édesse,” in: A. Binggeli (ed.), L’hagiographie syriaque (Études syriaques 9; Paris: Paul Geuthner, 2012), 171-199. Wright, W., Catalogue of Syriac Manuscripts in the British Museum, Acquired since the Year 1838. 3 vols (London: Trustees of the British Museum, 1870-1872).

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