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

Moses and the Bible

In view of the ecclesiastical stamp of Armenian historiography in general and of Moses' wide theological reading in particular, it is natural to begin this inquiry with a discussion of Moses' use of biblical themes. It is remarkable that Moses quotes from biblical books directly only fourteen times in the whole of his History, and only some twenty or so close allusions can be adduced. [50] However, Scripture does provide Moses with a wealth of unacknowledged material.

Moses' attitude toward the Bible is explicit: it can provide information about historical events of the past; it can contain prophetic utterances that Moses can see fulfilled in events of his own time, thus confirming the preordained will of God; or it can provide useful examples and parallels that edify the reader— or at least lend verisimilitude to Moses' own narrative.

In the first place, Scripture provides a historical record. Moses contrasts the lack of written information about the Armenian past with the literature of the Jewish historians (here biblical authors, not Josephus; I 3). But in addition to information about the fortunes of Israel, the Bible also contains facts about the beginnings of the world and its early population. Since all mankind is descended from Noah through the lineage of his three sons, Sem, Ham, and Japheth, the Armenians too have a place in the biblical genealogies; so the most ancient heroes of Armenian tradition are grafted onto the biblical schema, thus providing a point of chronological reference. Moses is here indebted to Eusebius' Chronicle for both his general approach and more specifically for the texts of the genealogies (I 5, 19).

The Bible continues to provide historical information down to Christian times. For example, Jeremiah refers to the kingdom of Armenia, giving Moses another chronological checkpoint (I 22). The story of the murder of Senekerim (Sennacherib), by his two sons, who then fled to Armenia, brings a more pertinent connection between historical events outside Armenia and local history. Through one of Senekerim's sons, Sanasar, various Ar-


menian noble families could claim an Assyrian origin (I 23).

Sometimes a historical event or period mentioned in the Bible provides a useful comparison. Such was the time of anarchy and unrest in Israel after the Judges, which had a parallel in the desire for independence on the part of Bakur, bdeashkh of Aldznik' (III 4). But Moses Khorenats'i goes beyond the mere noting of parallels to inferences that are not justified by any explicit statements in the Bible. For example, Luke informs us that Christ was born at the time that Augustus Caesar had decreed a universal census. Since Armenia was a province of Rome, Roman agents must have come to Armenia bringing the image of Augustus, which they set up in every temple. Luke does not mention Roman agents going to the provinces or the images of Augustus, but Moses has embroidered the episode as a means to introduce another apocryphal story about war between Herod and the contemporary king of Armenia (II 26). Or again, Moses connects the reference in John 12 to Greeks who wished to speak to Jesus with the messengers from King Abgar to Jesus as mentioned in the Abgar legend (1131). Clearly Scripture was no more sacrosanct to the inventive Moses than any other written source.

Scripture also provides numerous prophetic statements whose realization comes much later. For example, the origin of the Parthians is traced back to the promise made by the Lord to Abraham concerning the offspring of his second wife (II 1).

The most numerous category of biblical references is that of edifying parallels and comparisons. These are fairly commonplace; for example:

II 88 Licinius is compared to the leopard or Ethiopian who cannot change his nature (Jer. 13:23).

II 91 Gregory's relics were hidden like those of Moses (Deut. 34:6); Aristakes is described as a "spiritual sword" (Eph. 6:17; Heb. 4:12) and Gregory as a "divine palm tree" (Ps. 91:13-14).

II 92 There are numerous biblical parallels in the lament over the present sad times.

III 7 Bishop Jacob is angry, like Moses leaving Pharaoh (Exod. 11:9), and there are various biblical parallels to the cursing of the land.

III 17 Tiran is blinded like Sedekiah (4 Kings 25:7). III 63 Sahak quotes Ps. 73:19 to justify his conduct. III 66 The Armenian princes refer a saying of Jesus (Matt. 18:7) to themselves; the Persian king Yazkert did

not realize that "the Lord scatters the intentions of the heathen" (Ps. 32:10).

III 68 There are extensive biblical allusions describing the loss of Sahak and Mashtots'.

Frequently Moses does not acknowledge his biblical source. Many of such allusions are clear, but occasionally a fortuitous parallelism may have occurred. For example, in I 13 Aram pierces the forehead of Mades with an iron nail; the same word (ts'its') is used in Judges 4:21 for the nail with which Jael pierced Sisera's temples. Was the parallel in Moses' mind? But the parallel was undoubtedly conscious in II 40: seventeen men fell from the city wall like "early-ripening fig trees" blown down in a violent storm, a simile based on the "early-ripening fig" of Isaiah 28:4.

Of all the biblical writings, however, the books of Maccabees have left the greatest unacknowledged imprint on Moses' History. Here Moses follows a general trend among early Armenian historians who were struck by the parallels between the struggle of the Maccabees against the Seleucids and that of the Armenians against the Persians. In Moses there is only one such reference to the Maccabees: in III 68 Antiochus and Matathias are cited as an example of resistance to oppression. (The reference in II 14 to Judas Maccabaeus is for comparative dating; no other parallel is made there.) But on numerous occasions Moses has taken his description of some event or circumstance from the Armenian text of the first two books of Maccabees. For example:

I 24 The description of Tigran I's battle array is modeled on that of Antiochus in 1 Mace. 6:39 and 2 Mace. 5:3 (cf. also III 37).

II 2 The description of the Roman empire comes from 1 Mace. 8:3.

II 9 The description of the profanities imposed on the Jews in Armenia by Arshak I is modeled on Antiochus's persecution in 1 Mace. 1:43.

II 13 Artashes' military prowess is modeled on that of Antiochus in 2 Mace. 5:21.

II 47 The description of noble insignia has parallels in 1 Mace. 11:58.

II 52 The description of Smbat is based on that of Eleazar in 2 Mace. 6:23.

III 37 The description of the battle of Dzirav is based on 1 Mace. 6:39 and 2 Mace. 5:3 (cf. also I 24).


There is nothing surprising in these several parallels. Faustos was the first to use the text of Maccabees for battle descriptions; Koriun, Agathangelos, Lazar, and Elishe were all indebted to Maccabees for numerous turns of phrase. Indeed the general use in Armenian of awrenk' to denote the Christian religion is probably derived from the Armenian version of Maccabees. [51]

It is not necessary to expand here on Moses' use of biblical terminology, for the major points are already clear. Scripture gives Moses both a historical framework and a series of edifying examples. But more importantly for Moses' own approach to historiography, he can take liberties with his source, building fantastic stories out of a few sober details; he also frequently takes passages from unacknowledged sources and uses them for literary effect in an entirely different context. Both of these characteristics can be seen not only in Moses' use of biblical material but in his general attitude to all written sources.

Moses does not always follow the Armenian textus receptus of the Bible verbatim. He takes liberties with the text to suit his own purposes, or paraphrases rather than gives a literal rendering. On one occasion (II 88) he follows the Greek Septuagint against the Armenian and Syriac Peshitta, mentioning the "Ethiopian" rather than the "Indian" who cannot change his skin. But here Moses is probably translating the biblical text of Gregory Nazianzenus, whom he is quoting. The rendering in II 31 of John 12:20 does not follow any of the standard versions but is a simplified version, probably Moses' own.

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50. See the index of biblical allusions and quotations.

51. See in general Thomson, JTS 1975.