BARDESANES (Βαρδησανης), Bardezanes, Bar Daisan—Syrian gnostic, poet, and astronomer, b. 154, d. 222.
Bardesanes taught and wrote in Edessa, and from 216 in Armenia. Eusebius (HE IV 30) and Epiphanius (Panarion IV 56) say that Bardesanes initially was an orthodox Christian (he was baptized at the age of 25) and had opposed the authors of various heresies (he engaged in polemics against Marcion, Apollonius, and others), but later was influenced by Valentinian Gnosticism and Mazda Gnosticism (Iranian Gnosticism). Bardesanes was one of the first Christian authors to write in Syriac. He was renowned as the author of hymns and psalms of a Gnostic character which were remarkable for their literary value (ed. J. J. Overbeck: S. Ephrem Syri, Robulae, Baloei […] Op. Selecta, Oxonii 1865); some state that he was also the author of the Odes of Solomon. He also wrote an extensive history of Armenia. Moses of Chorena cites fragments of this history. He wrote a dialogue On predestination (Περι ‘ειμαρμενης [Peri heimarmenes], Patrologia Syriaca, I, 2, 490–658), discovered in 1855. Eusebius also cites passages from this work (Praeparatio evangelica, VI 10, I–48); numerous citations from various writings are also found in the Latin Pseudo-Clement (Recognitiones, IX 19–29). The Arab Ibn Yakub also ascribes to Bardesanes other writings, but these have not been preserved in their integrity. They are: Light and darkness, The spiritual essence of truth, and Mobile essence (a treatise on astronomy, the Arab bishop George cites fragments of this work: Patrologia Syriaca, II 612–615). Bardesanes’s pupil Philip presents his doctrine in Liber Legum Regionum (Patrologia Syriaca, II 537–610) in a dialogue between Bardesanes and the Marcionite Avida.
Under the influence of Iranian Gnosticism, Bardesanes accepted the existence of two eternal roots or principles: the good, identified with the Father of all things (the right side), and evil, identified with the demiurge (the left side). They are parallel but evil is the weaker principle and is ultimately defeated by the good God. His eontology, on the other hand, shows clear influences of Valentinian gnosticism. Bardesanes taught that God the Father (and at the same time the cause of all things) emanated Christ the Son (who is also presented as the son) and the Spirit, Sister and Bride of Christ (identified with the moon). This pair in turn created four elements from which the invisible world arose, and gave life to other spiritual beings (eons). The eons with their parents inhabit seven planets (including the earth and moon) and thirty stars located in the constellation of the zodiac. The divine pair’s last work of creation is to make human souls that take on an ethereal body that is penetrated by the Mother’s spirit (pneuma). The visible world is the work of Satan, who created heaven and created earth following the model of the celestial world, who led man astray and imprisoned his soul in the material body. Man, constantly misled by the demiurge, did not know the true God. Therefore Christ assumed an illusory body (Docetism), descended to earth, and revealed to men the truth of his origin in order to complete the work of redemption. Bardesanes denied the ressurection of bodies since as the work of Satan they undergo destruction.
Bardesanes had many disciples (Bardesanites). The best known were his son Harmonios who like his father wrote poetry, the above mentioned Philip, probably the author of the apocraphyl Acts of Thomas, and Audios who continued Bardesanes’ astrology and a commented on his writings. Bardesanes’ heresy persisted until the fourth century in Edessa and in the lands of Mesopotomaia.
E. Peterson, ECat II 840–841; H. J. V. Drijvers, Bardesanes of Edessa, Assen 1966; J. Teixidor, La filosofia traducida: crónica parcial de Edesa en los primeros siglos, Sabadell-Ba 1991; idem, Bardesanes d’Edesse: la première philosophie syriaque, P 1992.
Anna Z. Zmorzanka