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E02324: The Story of the *Man of God (ascetic of Edessa, S01211) is written in Syriac in Edessa during the 5th c. Describes the life of an anonymous ascetic, with no reference to miraculous events.

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posted on 2017-02-03, 00:00 authored by sminov
The Story of the Man of God

Summary (short recension):

The narrative opens with a brief introduction, relating that its main protagonist originated from the city of Rome and was active during the time of bishop Rabbula. The narrator extols the holy man's virtues, putting emphasis on his love of poverty, fasting and chastity. (pp. 17-18 of Doran's translation)

The holy man is said to be the only offspring of a rich and noble couple living in Rome. Already as a child, he exhibits an inclination to self-abasement, adopting a humble and chaste attitude. (pp. 18-19)

When he reaches marriageable age, his parents arrange to betroth him. However, when the time of the wedding arrives, the holy man secretly escapes. He goes to the city's harbour, where he embarks on a ship bound for Syria. He disembarks in the city of Seleucia and proceeds to Edessa. (pp. 19-20)

From then on, the holy man stays in Edessa, pursuing an ascetic life-style. He spends the daytime in the city's church and the martyrion, fasting until the evening. In the evenings, he begs for alms, limiting himself to an amount sufficient for his daily ration of food. During the nights, he prays, standing in the cruciform position. (pp. 20-21)

An episode follows in which the servants sent by the holy man's parents to find him visit Edessa, but fail to recognise him, disguised as a beggar. (p. 21)

After long time, a certain 'custodian' discovers that the holy man spends his nights standing in prayer. Impressed, the custodian tries to persuade the latter to reveal his past. The holy man in the end agrees to do so and tells the custodian his life story, binding him by oath not to disclose it to anyone. This makes the custodian increase his own ascetic efforts. (pp. 22-23)

Another long period of time passes, and the holy man falls ill. The custodian brings him to 'the place of strangers' (from Greek xenodocheion, 'hospice') where he soon dies and his body is buried together with other strangers. (p. 23)

When the custodian returns to the hospice and discovers that the holy man had just been buried, he rushes to bishop Rabbula and reveals to him the whole affair, while imploring him that 'that clean and pure body be honoured with great honour and pomp, and be laid in a special place'. Astonished, the bishop hastens to the burial place, accompanied by members of the clergy. Notwithstanding all their efforts, however, they fail to recover the saint's body, which mysteriously has disappeared, leaving behind only a heap of rugs. (pp. 23-24)

The story of the holy man and the miraculous disappearance of his body have a lasting effect on Rabbula, who from that moment on is said to devote himself exclusively to the care for the poor and strangers. (pp. 24-25)

The narrative concludes with the statement that the story of the holy man was publicly proclaimed as well as put down into writing by the custodian – 'Now this narrative about the man of God which we told above was publicly proclaimed by that custodian who was the friend of the blessed one. It was also written down by him for a record. For he took care and interrogated the saint with oaths and curses and [the saint] made known to him all his former exalted life and his later abased life and did not conceal anything from him.' (p. 25)

Text: Amiaud 1889. Translation: Doran 2006. Summary: Sergey Minov.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

man of God from Edessa, ob. 5th c. : S01211

Saint Name in Source

ܓܒܪܐ ܕܐܠܗܐ

Type of Evidence

Literary - Hagiographical - Lives of saint


  • 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 - Miracles

Miracle after death Other specified miracle

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - monks/nuns/hermits The socially marginal (beggars, prostitutes, thieves)


The Story of the Man of God is an account of the life of an unnamed holy man, who supposedly was active in the city of Edessa during the bishopric of Rabbula (412-436). An original Syriac composition, it was almost certainly produced in Edessa, at some point after the death of Rabbula. There exist two recensions of this work, the short and the long one. There is a consensus among scholars that the short recension represents the earliest version, whereas the long one is later and derivative. A terminus ante quem for the Story is provided by the fact that its short recension appears in several manuscripts from the 6th century, such as ms. British Library Add. 14644, 17177 and 12160 (see Wright 1870-1872, vol. 3, pp. 1084, 1074, 1090). Syriac text: Amiaud 1889, 3*-26*; English translation: Doran 2006, 17-34; French translation: Amiaud 1889, 1-17; Russian translation: Paykova 1990, 101-107. For general information, see Drijvers 1982, 1996; Paykova 1986.


This Story of an unnamed ascetic in the city of Edessa during the fifth century is unusual. No miracles are ascribed to the holy man himself, and his body miraculously disappears, so it is probably primarily a moral tale, with the intention of teaching respect for the poor, rather than that of fostering an active cult. The story circulated among the monastic communities and was reproduced in the Constantinopolitan hagiographic legend of Ioannes Kalybites (E07145) and the Roman one of Alexios (E07119).


Main editions and translations: Amiaud, A., La légende syriaque de Saint Alexis, l’homme de Dieu (Bibliothèque de l’École des hautes études IV, Sciences historiques et philologiques 79; Paris: É. Bouillon, 1889). Doran, R., Stewards of the Poor: The Man of God, Rabbula, and Hiba in Fifth-Century Edessa (Cistercian Studies Series 208; Kalamazoo, Michigan: Cistercian Publications, 2006). Paykova, A.V., Легенды и сказания в памятниках сирийской агиографии (Палестинский сборник 30 [93]; Ленинград: Наука, 1990). Further reading: Drijvers, H.J.W., “Die Legende des heiligen Alexius und der Typus des Gottesmannes im syrischen Christentum,” in: M. Schmidt and C.F. Geyer (eds.), Typus, Symbol, Allegorie bei den östlichen Vätern und ihren Parallelen im Mittelalter. Internationales Kolloquium, Eichstätt 1981 (Eichstätter Beiträge 4; Regensburg: Friedrich Pustet, 1982), 187-217. Drijvers, H.J.W., “The Man of God of Edessa, Bishop Rabbula, and the Urban Poor: Church and Society in the Fifth Century,” Journal of Early Christian Studies 4:2 (1996), 235-248. Paykova, A.V., “К вопросу о происхождении “Жития Алексия, Человека Божьего”,” Палестинский сборник 28 [91] (1986), 158-169. 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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