Armenian Versions, of the Bible
ar-me'-ni-an vur'-shuns, bi'-bl.
I. ANCIENT ARMENIAN
1. Circumstances under Which Made
2. The Translators
4. Results of Circulation
5. Printed Editions
II. MODERN ARMENIAN VERSIONS
III. ARMENIAN LANGUAGE
I. Ancient Armenian.
1. Circumstances under Which Made:
Armenia was in large measure Christianized by Gregory Lousavorich ("the Illuminator": consecrated 302 AD; died 332), but, as Armenian had not been reduced to writing, the Scriptures used to be read in some places in Greek, in others in Syriac, and translated orally to the people. A knowledge of these tongues and the training of teachers were kept up by the schools which Gregory and King Tiridates had established at the capital Vagharshapat and elsewhere. As far as there was any Christianity in Armenia before Gregory's time, it had been almost exclusively under Syrian influence, from Edessa and Samosata. Gregory introduced Greek influence and culture, though maintaining bonds of union with Syria also. When King Sapor of Persia became master of Armenia (378 AD), he not only persecuted the Christians most cruelly, but also, for political reasons, endeavored to prevent Armenia from all contact with the Byzantine world. Hence his viceroy, the renegade Armenian Merouzhan, closed the schools, proscribed Greek learning, and burnt all Greek books, especially the Scriptures. Syriac books were spared, just as in Persia itself; but in many cases the clergy were unable to interpret them to their people. Persecution had not crushed out Christianity, but there was danger lest it should perish through want of the Word of God. Hence several attempts were made to translate the Bible into Armenian. It is said that Chrysostom, during his exile at Cucusus (404-407 AD), invented an Armenian alphabet and translated the Psalter, but this is doubtful. But when Arcadius ceded almost all Armenia to Sapor about 396 AD, something had to be done. Hence in 397 the celebrated Mesrob Mashtots and Isaac (Sachak) the Catholicos resolved to translate the Bible. Mesrob had been a court secretary, and as such was well acquainted with Pahlavi, Syriac and Greek, in which three languages the royal edicts were then published. Isaac had been born at Constantinople and educated there and at Caesarea. Hence he too was a good Greek scholar, besides being versed in Syriac and Pahlavi, which latter was then the court language in Armenia. But none of these three alphabets was suited to express the sounds of the Armenian tongue, and hence, an alphabet had to be devised for it.
2. The Translators:
A council of the nobility, bishops and leading clergy was held at Vagharshapat in 402, King Vramshapouch being present, and this council requested Isaac to translate the Scriptures into the vernacular. By 406, Mesrob had succeeded in inventing an alphabet--practically the one still in use--principally by modifying the Greek and the Pahlavi characters, though some think the Palmyrene alphabet had influence. He and two of his pupils at Samosata began by translating the Book of Proverbs, and then the New Testament, from the Greek Meanwhile, being unable to find a single Greek manuscript in the country, Isaac translated the church lessons from the Peshitta Syriac, and published this version in 411. He sent two of his pupils to Constantinople for copies of the Greek Bible. These men were present at the Council of Ephesus, 431 AD. Probably Theodoret (De Cura Graec. Affect., I, 5) learned from them what he says about the existence of the Bible in Armenian. Isaac's messengers brought him copies of the Greek Bible from the Imperial Library at Constantinople--doubtless some of those prepared by Eusebius at Constantine's command. Mesrob Mashtots and Isaac, with their assistants, finished and published the Armenian (ancient) version of the whole Bible in 436. La Croze is justified in styling it Queen of versions Unfortunately the Old Testament was rendered (as we have said) from the Septuagint, not from the Hebrew. But the Apocrypha was not translated, only "the 22 Books" of the Old Testament, as Moses of Khorene informs us. This was due to the influence of the Peshitta Old Testament.
Not till the 8th century was the Apocrypha rendered into Armenian: it was not read in Armenian churches until the 12th. Theodotion's version of Daniel was translated, instead of the very inaccurate Septuagint. The Alexandrine text was generally followed but not always.
In the 6th century the Armenian version is said to have been revised so as to agree with the Peshitta. Hence, probably in Mt 28:18 the King James Version, the passage, "As my Father hath sent me, even so send I you," is inserted as in the Peshitta, though it occurs also in its proper place (Joh 20:21). It reads "Jesus Barabbas" in Mt 27:16-17--a reading which Origen found "in very ancient manuscripts." It contains Lu 22:43-44. As is well known, in the Etschmiadzin manuscript of 986 AD, over Mr 16:9-20, are inserted the words, "of Ariston the presbyter"; but Nestle (Text. Criticism of the Greek New Testament, Plate IX, etc.) and others omit to notice that these words are by a different and a later hand, and are merely an unauthorized remark of no great value.
4. Results of Circulation:
Mesrob's version was soon widely circulated and became the one great national book. Lazarus Pharpetsi, a contemporary Armenian historian, says he is justified in describing the spiritual results by quoting Isaiah and saying that the whole land of Armenia was thereby "filled with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea." But for it, both church and nation would have perished in the terrible persecutions which have now lasted, with intervals, for more than a millennium and a half.
5. Printed Editions:
This version was first printed somewhat late: the Psalter at Rome in 1565, the Bible by Bishop Oskan of Erivan at Amsterdam in 1666, from a very defective MS; other editions at Constantinople in 1705, Venice in 1733. Dr. Zohrab's edition of the New Testament in 1789 was far better. A critical edition was printed at Venice in 1805, another at Serampore in 1817. The Old Testament (with the readings of the Hebrew text at the foot of the page) appeared at Constantinople in 1892 ff.
II. Modern Armenian Versions.
There are two great literary dialects of modern Armenian, in which it was necessary to publish the Bible, since the ancient Armenian (called Grapar, or "written") is no longer generally understood. The American missionaries have taken the lead in translating Holy Scripture into both.
The first version of the New Testament into Ararat Armenian, by Dittrich, was published by the British and Foreign Bible Society at Moscow in 1835; the Psalter in 1844; the rest of the Old Testament much later. There is an excellent edition, published at Constantinople in 1896.
A version of the New Testament into Constantinopolitan Armenian, by Dr. Zohrab, was published at Paris in 1825 by the British and Foreign Bible Society. This version was made from the Ancient Armenian. A revised edition, by Adger, appeared at Smyrna in 1842. In 1846 the American missionaries there published a version of the Old Testament. The American Bible Society have since published revised editions of this version.
III. Armenian Language.
The Armenian language is now recognized by philologists to be, not a dialect or subdivision of ancient Persian or Iranian, but a distinct branch of the Aryan or Indo-European family, standing almost midway between the Iranian and the European groups. In some respects, especially in weakening and ultimately dropping "t" and "d" between vowels, it resembles the Keltic tongues (compare GaelicA (th)air, Arm. Chair = Pater, Father). As early as the 5th century it had lost gender in nouns, though retaining inflections (compare Brugmann, Elements of Comp. Greek of Indo-German Languages).
Koriun; Agathangelos; Lazarus Pharpetsi; Moses Khorenatsi (= of Chorene); Faustus Byzantinus; Chhamchheants; Chaikakan Hin Dprouthian Patm; Chaikakan Thargmanouthiunk'h Nak'hneants; The Bible of Every Land; Tisdall, Conversion of Armenia; Nestle, Textual Criticism of the Greek New Testament; Hastings, Dictionary of the Bible (five volumes); N.Y. Cyclopaedia of Biblical. and Theol. Lit.; Hauck, Real-encyklopadie fur protest. Theol. und Kirche.
W. St. Clair Tisdall