« Bardenhewer, Bertram Otto Bardesanes Barefooted Monks and Nuns »


BARDESANES, ɑ̄r´´de-sê´nîz (BAR-DAISAN): Gnostic; b. of Persian parents (Nuhama and Nasiram; cf. Chron. Edess., ed. L. Hallier, TU, ix, 1, Leipsic, 1892, 90; Michael Syrus), at Edessa, on the Daisan, on the 11th day of Tammuz (July), 154; d. there 222 (Moses of Chorene, Hist. Armen., ii, 63; Michael Syrus). He was educated with the princes at the court (Epiphanius, Hær., lvi, 1) and won distinction as well by his bodily excellences as for versatility of mind and the linguistic and scientific knowledge which he acquired. With his parents he went to Mabug (Hieropolis), where he became acquainted with Kuduz, a priest of the Dea Syra, who adopted him and taught him the doctrines of his cult. When twenty-five years of age, the priest sent him to Edessa, where he heard the preaching of the Christian bishop Hystaspes, was instructed by him, and baptized. He soon interested the Abgar of Edessa (Bar-Manu, c. 179-216) in the new religion. When Caracalla took Edessa (216-217), Bardesanes fled into Armenia, where he spent his time in writing and preaching, but returned afterward to Edessa.

Of his writings, Eusebius (Hist. eccl., iv, 30) and Theodoret (Hær. fab., i, 22) mention dialogues against the teachings of Marcion; Eusebius and Epiphanius (l.c.) mention also an apology. An Armenian church history, composed in his exile, was used as source by Moses of Chorene. Ephraem Syrus (Serm. adv. hær., liii) knew of a book of 150 psalms or hymns. By their hymns Bardesanes and his son Harmonius became the creators of the Syria, church hymn. Whether the hymns (e.g., the hymn on the destinies of the soul) preserved in the so-called Acts of Thomas (cf. W. Wright, Apocryphal Acts of the Apostles, i, London, 1871, 247) are to be traced to Bardesanes, is doubtful. Eusebius, Epiphanies, and Theodoret mention also a work of Bardesanes “On Fate,” which is extant under the title “The Book of the Laws of the Countries,” though apparently revised by one of his disciples. Finally, George, Bishop of the Arabians, quotes a passage from a work of Bardesanes on “The Mutual Synodoi of the Stars of Heaven.”

It is impossible to assign to Bardesanes in the present state of knowledge the place which he occupies in Gnostic speculation. Some affinity with Valentinianism can be established from the work which has been preserved, which, however, reproduces the views of Bardesanes in a revised form. But there can be no doubt as to his connection with the Babylonian Gnosis. He was certainly greatly influenced by Chaldean mythology and astrology. His cosmogonic speculations, which Hort (DCB, i, 254) rightly calls “strange Mesopotamian heathenism,” contain no special originality when compared with the Mandæan and Ophitic fancies. It is noteworthy that he retained the unity of the divine principle against the Marcionites, which does not preclude his speaking of an “eternal matter.” His “Christ" is that of the Docetæ (who had no real body and did not really suffer). He denied the resurrection of the flesh. He made a mysterious connection between the soul and the celestial spirits. But in this determinism he saw only a natural limitation which did not preclude the free volition of man. For the rest, he explained his speculations only in narrower circles and seems to have kept silent about them in the presence of the congregation. Church history must not forget that Bardesanes won Edessa for Christianity. His influence was still strong in the time of Ephraem, who opposed him vigorously and hated him as the head of the three-headed monster, Marcion, Mani, Bardesanes. Nevertheless the people took pleasure in Bardesanes’s fantastic religious poetry. Ephraem substituted orthodox hymns for the heretical, but retained the meter. The celebrated Rabulas (d. 435) seems to have been the first to put an end to Bardesanism in Edessa. But it was not confined to Edessa; it spread to the Southern Euphrates, to Khorasan, even to China. In the West it seems to have been without influence, and to the real West it never penetrated.

G. Krüger.

Bibliography: His Book of the Laws of Divers Countries is given in Eng. transl., ANF, viii, 723-734; a rich bibliography will be found in ANF, Bibliography, p. 108. Consult A. Merx, Bardesanes Gnosticus, Halle, 1863; A. Hilgenfeld, Bardesanes der letzte Gnostiker, Leipsic, 1864; idem, Ketzergeschichte des Urchristenthums, Leipsic, 1884; DCB, i, 250-260 (especially noteworthy); Harnack Litteratur, i, 184-191, ii part 2, 128-132; Krüger, History, pp, 75-77; F. Nau, Une Biographie inédite de Bardésane l’astrologue (from the chronicle of Michael Syrus), Paris, 1897; idem, Le Livre des lois des pays (Syriac and French), Paris, 1899; F. C. Burkitt, Early Eastern Christianity, London, 1904. On the use of his hymns by Ephraem Syrus consult H. Burgess, Hymns and Homilies of Ephraem Syrus, pp. xxviii-xl, London, 1853.

« Bardenhewer, Bertram Otto Bardesanes Barefooted Monks and Nuns »
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