Christian astrologer and philosopher; b. Edessa, northwest Mesopotamia, 154; d. Edessa, 222. Bardesanes is often, though possibly erroneously, regarded as a leader of the Oriental school of gnosticism founded by the Egyptian valentinus. The many ancient and medieval accounts of the life and teachings of Bardesanes show little agreement about details. He was born of prominent pagan parents and educated by a pagan priest at Hierapolis (Mabog) in northern Syria. At age 25 he was converted to Christianity and was ordained a deacon or priest. Bardesanes wrote many works in Syriac that were later translated into Greek by his disciples. His many metrical hymns earned him the title of the father of Syriac poetry. His works on astrology and on India and Armenia are lost. Eusebius (H.E. 4.30) credits him with dialogues written against the Marcionites (see marcion) and the Valentinians (see valentinus). Bardesanes' personal doctrine is given by Philip, one of his disciples, in the Book of the Laws of the Countries (Patrologia syriaca 1.2:490–658), the oldest extant original composition in Syriac.
Bardesanes ranks as a heretical figure largely because his astrological and philosophical speculations were mingled with his Christianity. He taught explicit errors concerning the human body and the body of Christ. His influence as a teacher was widespread, however, and the sect continued by his disciples was vigorously opposed by St. Ephrem as a form of Gnosticism.
Bibliography: w. cureton, ed., Spicilegium Syriacum (London 1855). r. graffin, ed., Patrologia syriaca 1.2:490–658. f. nau, Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, 15 v. (Paris 1903–50) 2.2:391–401. e. beck, ed., Des Heiligen Ephraem des Syrers Hymnen contra Haereses Corpus scriptorum Christianorum orientalium v. 169 and 170. f. j. a. hort, A Dictionary of Christian Biography 1:250–60. l. cerfaux, Reallexikon für Antike und Christentum 1:1180–86. j. quasten, Patrology 1: 263–64.
[g. w. macrae]