ASHER BEN LEVI(known also as 'Abd al-MasiḦ):

Legendary boy convert and, subsequently,Christian martyr; lived toward the end of the fourth century in Sinjar, between Nisibis and Mosul in Mesopotamia. He was born of Jewish parents. As a boy he lived all alone and was shunned by his Christian and Zoroastrian companions. One day he begged to be allowed to eat with the Christian boys; but they refused to allow him to do so until he became a Christian. As the church of the village was at some distance, the boys themselves baptized him; performing all the necessary ceremonies and giving him the name "'Abda da-MeshiḦa" (Servant of the Messiah). They even pierced his ears, and hung in the right ear an earring, a custom not observed by the Jews. Asher's mother hid him from his father, who was a rich man and head of the Jewish community, fearing his wrath if the story should become known.

The boy then had visions of Jesus, of hell, and of his own death. A bishop, happening to be in the village, blessed him. On a Sabbath-day, when his father held a feast, the boy's conversion became known because he refused to eat with Jews. Asher ran off to the well where he had been baptized, but was killed there by his father. The boys who had baptized him found the body and buried it. A few days afterward a company of merchants camping near by saw a light burning over the grave and smelt fragrant odors coming from beneath the stone. They were Christians and took the body away, a rich man promising to build a church in the boy's honor. Over the place where the grave had been a little church was built, with the inscription, "This is the place of martyrdom of the Messiah's martyr, 'Abd al-MasiḦ." After a time the father grew old and was troubled by evil spirits. He had to be taken to the place where his son had died, and together with all his household embraced Christianity. The day of Asher's martyrdom is given as the twenty-seventh of Tammuz (July), 390.

There is probably no historical background to the story, as the Arabic form of the name, "'Abd al-MasiḦ," shows that it is of much later origin than the text would have us believe. In the Syriac, "'Abda da-MeshiḦa" does not occur as a proper name.

  • The text of this Syriac legend was first published with a Latin translation by Corluy in Analecta Bollandiana, 1886, v. 5-52;
  • and the text alone was republished in Bedjan's Acta Martyrum et Sanctorum, i. 173 et seq., Paris, 1890.
  • Compare also Zeitschrift für Katholische Theologie, 1887, ii. 196;
  • Wright, Catalogue of Syriac Manuscripts, p. 1146;
  • Steinschneider, Polem. und Apolog. Lit. p. 115;
  • Assemani (Bibliotheca Orientalis, III. i. 285) mentions an Arabic account of Asher's conversion;
  • according to J. Bollig, however, the manuscript does not contain it.
  • But in MS. Arab. No. 145 of the Vatican Library there is a Tractatus de Animo Rationali, Auctore Abdelmessia Israelita, and also by the same author, Articuli Breves de Trinitate et Unitate Dei, composed in 1241 at Cairo.
  • Steinschneider has confounded the two 'Abd al-MasiḦs.
T. G.
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