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History of the Armenians, Moses Khorenats'i
Commentary on the Literary Sources by R. Thomson


In Armenian tradition Moses Khorenats'i has come to be known as the "father of history" (Patmahayr) and his History as the embodiment of the old Armenian literary heritage. Indeed, no other writer has preserved as much of the pre-Christian Armenian past as Moses, and the preeminent rank given his History is well justified. Yet Moses was not only attempting to place the early history of Armenia in a world setting and to put the legends and traditions of Armenia's heroes into a coherent schema, but he was also rewriting much of that history in a tendentious manner in order to glorify his patrons and to provide them with a splendid genealogy. Furthermore, he offers accounts that frequently differ from those in other sources, both Armenian and foreign; and he presents himself as a fifth-century scholar, though there are grave reasons for doubting this claim. Consequently, no work in Armenian literature has aroused such controversy.

But my purpose here is not to trace in detail the course of these controversies, where debate has often been influenced, wittingly or unwittingly, by unscholarly considerations of sentiment or bias. Rather, this introduction will seek to provide a general picture of Moses' literary background, his sources and methods. I shall then attempt to clarify Moses' purposes, to date his History, and to place it in the wider context of Armenian historical writing.

References to Moses in other Armenian writers

In the first paragraph of this History the author identifies himself as Moses (Movses) Khorenats'i. As with many other Old Testament names, that of Moses was popular in Christian Armenia, though more so in clerical and ecclesiastical circles than among the lay nobility. Khorenats'i means "from Khoren" or "Khorean," but no such town or village is otherwise attested. [1] Moses nowhere gives any precise information about his origins or his later career, save that he had been engaged in translating (III 65), but he does describe at some length his training as a scholar.

Moses wishes to convey a certain picture to his readers. He claims to have been active in the circle of pupils around Mesrop (the inventor of the Armenian alphabet) and Sahak the patriarch in the early fifth century. After the ecumenical council of Ephesus (431) various Greek texts, including the Scriptures, were brought by young Armenian scholars from the Byzantine empire to Armenia. Sahak and Mesrop made a revised version of the Armenian Bible based on these texts, but their work being "deficient," they sent Moses to Alexandria to study rhetoric (III 61). After studying in this now Christian city for an unspecified length of time, Moses made a grand tour to Rome (being blown to Italy while making for Greece), Athens, and Byzantium (III 62). Although he was looking forward to a gay time in the capital as a bold young man fond of dancing (III 68), the deaths of Sahak and Mesrop (in 439 and 440, respectively), cut short his travels and brought him back to Armenia. There he grew old as a scholar and translator, living under foreign domination (I 22). Moses makes no explicit reference to events after 440, except to bewail in general terms the hard times that had befallen Armenia (III 68).

His story is suspect on several counts. Apart from the pretentiousness of the claim to possess erudition and rhetorical aptitude far superior to those of his teachers—for which, not surprisingly, he was mocked by their successors (III 68)—Moses' whole account of his travels and study is a patchwork of quotations from Anania Shirakats'i's Autobiography, the Armenian version of Pseudo-Callisthenes' Alexander Romance, and various

homilies by Gregory Nazianzenus. [2] Furthermore, the name Mesrop is not found in other authors until the eighth century, the name Mashtots' being given to the inventor of the Armenian alphabet by all earlier writers. [3] But more telling is the fact that no Armenian source before the tenth century refers to Moses among the pupils of Sahak and Mashtots', many of whom are mentioned by name. Only after 900 is Moses' own claim taken up and echoed by later writers.

The only possible reference to Moses Khorenats'i in the early literature is in a letter attributed to Lazar P'arpets'i, writing about 500 A.D. He mentions a "philosopher" Moses, dead by then, whose words "dispelled ignorance." [4] This Moses had incurred the enmity of the monks and had suffered expulsion like Lazar himself. But there is no suggestion in Lazar that this Moses had composed any historical works. [5]

A historian Moses is unknown to Armenian literature before the tenth century. John Catholicos (c. 850-c. 931) has only one specific reference to the "History of Moses Khorenats'i," [6] but he clearly knew it well and quotes it elsewhere without acknowledgment. Thomas Artsruni, writing about the same time as John Catholicos, has numerous explicit references to Moses. In his own version of the ancient history of the world after Noah, he cites Moses Khorenats'i, or Moses Kert'ol several times; [7] but he also refers to the fourth dprutiwn ("book" or "chapter") of Moses in which figure Ninos, Semiramis, Abraham, and the sixteenth dynasty of Egypt. [8] Thomas also notes Moses' description of the death of Trdat at the end of book II. [9] But two of his references call for more extended comment: his association of Moses, as the brother of Mambre, with disciples of Levond, who

was martyred in Persia in 451 [10] and the reference to a fourth book of Moses' History, bringing the story down to the time of Emperor Zeno. [11]

Mambre is the reputed author of several religious homilies. In Armenian tradition he is associated with a number of young scholars who accompanied Moses on his journey to Alexandria. But the only reference to him before the time of Thomas is in the preface to Elegy on the Cross, ascribed to David the Philosopher. [12] David lived in the seventh century, but this fake preface makes him the nephew of Moses; its evidence for the historical Moses, or Mambre, is worthless. It also refers to Moses as kert'olahyr.

At the end of his book I Thomas Artsruni identifies Moses' patron Sahak Bagratuni as the sparapet and aspet of Armenia, the predecessor in that office of Hamazasp Mamikonean and of the latter's more famous son Vardan, who was killed at Avarayr in 451. But Thomas has confused Hamazasp and Vardan with Vardan's brother Hamazasp and his nephew Vahan. For Sahak Bagratuni the sparapet died in 482 and was succeeded by Vahan. [13] According to Thomas it was Sahak who commanded Moses to write his history of Greater Armenia from Adam to the Emperor Zeno (474—491). But Moses' History ends long before Zeno's reign. For his support of the monophysite position Zeno was considered "blessed" by later Armenians, [14] in contrast to his predecessors who supported the council of Chalcedon. Perhaps Thomas introduces Zeno because of the role this emperor played in the later legends concerning Gregory and the elaborations on the History of Agathangelos. [15]

As for the "fourth book," Thomas says that Moses died in the time of Zeno "at the ripe old age of 120, as has been handed down in the fourth section (druag) of the promised History of Moses Khorenats'i." Moses does in fact twice make an abscure reference to a further historical book (I 12, III 67), but none such is known from any other source. Furthermore, Thomas is totally wrong in asserting that Koriun confirms the existence of this book. In the same passage Thomas claims that Moses was a

fellow student of Koriun, which seems to be nothing but an expansion of his supposed association with Mambre.

Thomas also calls Moses "the world-famous Kert'ol," [16] a title that became standard. Kert'ol means "poet," "grammarian," or "philologist." It is not found in the earliest writers but is common in translations of the Hellenistic school. [17] It was applied to Moses because of his claim to have engaged in translating and because of the attribution to him of the rhetorical work Yalags Pitoyits'. [18] Moses himself uses the term Kert'ol in the plural for "poets" (III 65). Later in the tenth century Moses Daskhurants'i calls Moses kert'olahayr ("father of poets/grammarians"), [19] a title that was to remain standard.

In the early eleventh century appeared the first lists of early Armenian historians that include Moses. Stephen of Taron puts Moses, "who was called the father of the kert'olk', equal to Eusebius," after Agathangelos and before Elishe. Stephen also claims that the great philosopher Moses introduced the art of rhetoric to Armenia and that he lived in the time of Peroz (shah of Iran, 459-483). Such could be read into Moses' own History. But Stephen is the first to state that Moses was from the province of Taron and became bishop of Bagrevand and Arsharunik'. [20] The later eleventh-century writer Gregory Magistros refers to Moses several times but without any details of his life. [21]

Twelfth-century writers have a more precise dating for Moses and his work. The chronicler Samuel of Ani claims that Moses died in 492, having written his History in 466. [22] At the beginning of the following century Mkhitar of Ani refers frequently to Moses as a source for his Chronicle but says nothing

specific about his date except for placing him between Koriun and Lazar in the second half of the fifth century. [23]

More detailed are the traditions found in Kirakos Gandzakets'i. He claims that Moses lived in the time of Leo the Great, emperor of Byzantium (457-474), and Peroz, King of Kings (459-484). He places Moses in a list of historians between Agathangelos and Elishe; he also knows of other works of his in addition to the History: the Petk' (the book of rhetoric noted above), the eulogy of Rhipsime and her companions, the Vardavar, the history of the holy Mother of God and her picture (presumably the supposed "Letter of Moses to Sahak Artsruni"), and other homilies and philosophical discourses. Kirakos includes Moses and his brother Mambre in a long list of pupils of Sahak and Mashtots'. [24]

In the same century the historian Vardan adds further details to the life of Moses. With David the Philosopher he attended the council of Chalcedon to defend orthodoxy and was involved in a theological altercation with Melitos, metropolitan of Macedonia. [25] Not surprisingly, Moses defends the truth, the "one nature of the incarnate Word of God." This is a reference to the short treatise included in the Girk' T'lt'ots' and attributed to Moses Khorenats'i, bishop, the great Kert'olahayr, which is a defense of the monophysite position. [26]

Mkhit'ar of Ayrivank' in the early fourteenth century places Moses before Lazar but after Thomas, mentioning him under the year 449. [27] This astonishing reference to Thomas (Artsruni) as a fifth-century author must mean that Mkhit'ar knew of only the first book of Thomas's History, which deals with the history of Armenia to the middle of the fifth century and ends with a long reference to Moses. Thomas Artsruni's History was in fact hardly known in later centuries.

Stephen Orbelean, writing History of Siunik' in the fourteenth century, mentions Moses primarily in connection with some of his supposed pupils who were later bishops of Siunik'. [28] The later Lesser Chronicles repeat much of what had become

standard lore and place Moses at various dates in the second half of the fifth century. [29] A new story links him with Erzerum, where outside the city he built a church whose foundations had been laid by Mesrop. [30]

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1. However, a village Khorea in the province of Siunik' is mentioned in the History of Stephen Orbelean (early fourteenth century). See further Hasrat'yan, Lraber 1969.

2. See notes to III 62.

3. See II 10 n. 7.

4. Lazar, Patmut'iwn, p. 202. But whether this letter was written by the historical Lazar is not certain. The text of his History in the printed editions is not entirely that of the original; see Sanspeur, REA 1973-1974.

5. The identification of Moses Khorenats'i with Moses the philosopher is upheld by Hasrat'yan, Lraber 1969, and Polarean, Hay Grolner, among others.

6. John Catholicos, Patmut'iwn, p. 53.

7. Thomas Artsruni, Patmut'iwn, p. 25, 27, 29, 53, 85, 196, 133.

8. Ibid., p. 29. But Ninos, Semiramis, Abraham, and the sixteenth dynasty appear in chapter 5 of book I of Moses.

9. Ibid., p. 106.

10. Ibid., p. 85.

11. Ibid., p. 133.

12. David Anyalt', Matenagrut'iwnk', p. 5.

13. See Toumanoff, Studies, p. 339.

14. Girk' T'lt'ots', p. 49.

15. Cf. Van Esbroeck, AB 1971, and REA 1971.

16. Thomas, p. 106.

17. There has been some debate about the date when translations from Greek in the exceedingly literal fashion commonly called "Hellenistic" or "Hellenizing" began. But whether this was the late sixth or even late fifth century is not relevant here. Moses himself frequently uses calques on Greek compound words not found in the earliest writers, but it would be difficult to date his History on these grounds alone. On Moses' style see V. D. Arak'elyan, PBH 1975.

18. See Sgarbi, Rendiconti 1969.

19. Moses Daskhurants'i, Patmut'iwn, I 8.

20. Stephen of Taron, Patmut'iwn, pp. 7, 53, 79. Elishe describes the revolt of 450-451, so the placing of Moses is appropriate.

21. Gregory Magistros, T'lt'ere, pp. 9, 24, 63, 84.

22. See Samuel of Ani: Brosset, Collection, p. 385, for the date 466, and under year 492 (nib) for his death.

23. Mkhitar of Ani, Patmut'iwn, p. 15.

24. Kirakos, Patmut'iwn, pp. 28, 36.

25. Vardan, Hawak'umn, pp. 54-5.

26. Girk' T'lt'ots', pp. 22-8.

27. Mkhitar of Ayrivank (in Brosset, "Histoire chronologique"), pp. 25, 67.

28. Stephen Orbelean, Patmut'iwn, pp. 38, 56, 454.

29. Lesser Chronicles, 1:340 (A.D.4gi), 3:15 (A.D.474).

30. Ibid., 3:567.