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

Moses and Christian writers

In view of the general Christian character of Armenian literature, and the earlier writers in particular, [66] it is naturally to Christian authors—foreign and native—that Moses is primarily indebted. He was familiar with the Armenian versions rather than with the original texts of the Greek authors.


Of the Greek Christian writers the historian Eusebius of Caesarea had by far the greatest influence on Armenian historiography. His Ecclesiastical History was translated (from the Syriac version) in the earliest period of Armenian literacy; Moses attributes the initiative of this translation to Mesrop himself, but there is no corroborative evidence. [67] Eusebius' theme of God's providence active in historical events was echoed by most Armenian historians, though Moses himself does not draw such elaborate


moral lessons from the operation of God's providence as do some other Armenian writers. The exact date of the translation into Armenian of Eusebius' Chronicle is not clear. [68] The preface to Lazar's History shows knowledge of the Armenian version, but the original text of Lazar (who wrote at the turn of the fifth and sixth centuries) suffered later revision. [69] The Armenian version of the Chronicle was widely plagiarized by Moses, and later Armenian historians refer to the Chronicle explicitly. [70] The text was significant for Moses and not only for historical information; it also provided him with arguments concerning the nature of historical writing and the importance of accurate chronology.

Moses' debt to Eusebius, however, cannot be measured by the sole explicit reference he makes to the Ecclesiastical History. He frequently refers to named sources Eusebius quoted as if he was familiar with the originals. And as with Josephus, for example, Moses takes numerous themes from Eusebius, which he embroiders to bring Armenia into the mainstream of world history—in this case, the history of the Christian church.

Moses' reliance on Eusebius can be broken down into four categories: precise information about ancient, Roman, or church history; the use of sources from Eusebius as if Moses knew the original; quotations taken out of context and used in a literary fashion to add color to the narrative; and pure fantasy, or, more precisely, the tendentious use of his source to boost the supposed historical fortunes of Armenia.

Not surprisingly Moses uses the Chronicle extensively for historical information. Some examples are:

I 2 The description of Berossus.
I 3 The list of peoples with written histories.
I 5 The names for Ham's descendants; Metsrayim as Egypt.
I 6 Xisuthra lands in Armenia.
I 7 The Egyptian gods; Hephaistos.
I 8 The Parthian rebellion against the Macedonians.
I 10 The tyranny of Bel (but here Armenian traditions also play a part; see the appendix).
I 17 Zoroaster as king and magus of the Bactrians; in referring to Nines' death Moses has a different version against "as is said" (that is, in Eusebius).
I 19 Lists of names of Hebrews and Chaldaeans from Eusebius.
I 21 The history of Sardanapolos and Varbakes.
I 22 The list of Medes.
I 23 The reference to Ardamozan added to the biblical account of Senekerim's sons.
II 1 The history of the Macedonians and Parthians after Alexander.
II 2 The etymology of Siripindes.
II 8 The description of Nebuchadnezzar—a misinterpretation based on the Armenian version of the Chronicle.
II 13 The history of Chroesus of Lydia and Cyrus, the Persian king.
II 26 Abgar's title; Augustus makes Archelaus ethnarch.
II 27 Germanicus' triumph.
II 64 The name of Antoninus Pius; Lucius' temple.
II 68 The revolt of the Parthians against the Macedonians.
II 73 The succession of Roman emperors.
II 76 Deaths of the emperors Tacitus and Florian.
II 82 Definition of "chronology."
III 17 The fate of Midas.
Example of information taken from Eusebius' Chronicle and used to add color to Moses' narrative are the references to the games in II 79 and III 40.

Moses' use of Eusebius' Ecclesiastical History (EH) is somewhat more complex. Instead of a straightforward use of a historical source for background information or to add a picturesque detail, Moses instead intertwines fact and fiction.

II 10 Eusebius bears witness that in the Edessene archives are to be found all the acts of the early Armenian kings; these had been transferred from Nisibis and Sinope. This is entirely Moses' own invention based on the reference in EH I 13 to the archives in Edessa from which Eusebius claims to have taken the story of Abgar's correspondence with Jesus. Since Moses has made Abgar an Armenian king, it was not difficult for him to push the fraud a little further and claim that the archives contained Armenian material.

II 24 Abgar's father was Arsham, an Armenian king. Moses has added a nonexistent character to the stage

of history, transforming the Syrian Abgar's nickname Ukama ("black") via the Armenian translation Arjn to Arsham. The fictitious Arsham is then described as King Tigran's nephew; his reign coincided with that of Herod, for which Moses has adapted Josephus.

II 26ff. The importance of Abgar is that it was in his city of Edessa that Addai/Thaddaeus first preached the Gospel. Moses was familiar with the basic story in Eusebius and the elaborations of the Armenian version of the Doctrine of Addai attributed to Labubna. When using material common to both Eusebius and Labubna, Moses generally follows the Armenian version of Eusebius; see especially II 30 n. 5, 31 n. 1, 32 n. 2, 33 n. 3.

II 29 Moses' account of John the Baptist's death and the war between Herod and Aretas (Aretas' daughter had been Herod's first wife whom he repudiated in favor of Herodias) is from EH I 10. Moses adds the gratuitous information that "the brave Armenians" helped defeat Herod.

II 35 The account of Helen of Adiabene is taken from the Armenian version of EH II 12, not from Josephus directly as Moses claims. But as part of Moses' "Armenianizing" of history, he makes Helen the chief of Abgar's wives!

II 60 Moses has taken his account of Bar Kochba's revolt from EH VI 6. Eusebius quotes Ariston, so Moses pretends to be following Ariston's account directly— as with Josephus in II 35.

II 66 Moses' sketch of Bardaisan is also taken from EH IV 26. But here again Moses gratuitously introduces Armenia, claiming that Bardaisan visited Ani and translated the temple history into Syriac. This "temple history" is one of Moses' imaginary written sources for Armenian tradition. See further II 48 for "Olympius," the supposed author of the "history."

II 75 Here also Moses invents a "history"; this time he attributes it to Firmilian, bishop of Caesarea, of whom he knew from the Armenian version of EH VI 27. Firmilian died soon after 268, but Moses claims that his history mentions the martyrdom of Peter of Alexandria in the ninth year of (Diocletian's) persecution (311). Peter's death was known to Moses from

EH VII 32; his references to the persecutions of Maximian (read Maximin) and Decius come from the same source.


The only other non-Armenian historian to whom Moses was greatly indebted is the early fifth-century Socrates. His Ecclesiastical History was translated into Armenian in 696/7, and to it was attached the legendary Acts of Silvester—itself translated into Armenian in 678. [71] A shorter version of Socrates was later excerpted from the Armenian text, but opinion is divided as to whether the Shorter Recension (SR) of Socrates shows knowledge of Moses Khorenats'i or vice versa. Movsesean, editor of the two recensions, holds that the Armenian reviser of Socrates was familiar with Moses and borrowed extracts from the latter's History. Akinean, on the other hand, explains the parallels between Moses and the SR of Socrates by holding that Moses was acquainted with both the longer and the shorter recensions. [72] It seems more likely that the minor parallels between Moses and the SR of Socrates are due to Moses rather than the reviser of the Long Recension (LR) who would occasionally look up what Moses had said on a certain topic and then copy him instead of the LR. This is especially true where the verbal parallels do not refer to the same episode (for example, I 13 at note 5). The only Socrates to whom Moses refers by name is the Athenian philosopher (II

The important feature to stress here is that Moses was familiar with at least the LR of Socrates and with the Acts of Silvester. Not only did he use these works as unacknowledged sources, he also indulged in his usual habit of adapting the information he found there ad maiorem gloriam Armeniae.

II 83 Moses (wrongly) claims that Constantine married Diocletian's daughter and then gives an account of his victories with the divine emblem, his persecution of the church—for which he was afflicted with leprosy—and his conversion and baptism by Silvester, bishop of Rome. These episodes are based on the Armenian version of the Acts of Silvester. The
Armenians are neatly introduced into this romance by the suggestion that when Constantine was seeking a cure for his leprosy, he asked King Trdat to send magicians from Persia and India. Here the LR refers merely to Persian doctors, but the SR says that neither Persian nor Armenian doctors could cure Constantine.

II 86 Moses gives an account of the conversion of Georgia through the efforts of Nune. This is based on Socrates I 20, though Socrates does not name the captive Christian woman who converted the king's wife. Here is a particularly clear case of Moses' tendentiousness. The amendments to his story are all designed to show the preeminence of Armenia: Mihran, prince of Georgia, is made a subject of Trdat (II 85); Nune is made a companion of Rhipsime—the nun martyred by Trdat before his own conversion—who had fled to Georgia; after Mihran's conversion, when Nune asks Gregory in Armenia what to do next, he tells her to destroy the idols and to set up crosses (as he had done in Armenia; cf. Agathangelos §§769, 770, 782); and Moses suggests that "Agathangelos informs us" about Nune's preaching; although the reference is only to the regions evangelized by Gregory (Aa §842). [73]

II 89-90 Moses' account of Arianism is based on the Armenian Socrates (I 6, 8). The reference to Constantine deporting the Arians "to the mines" is paralleled only in the SR.

III 33 The death of Valens is based on Socrates IV 38; here also the verbal parallels in Armenian are closer to the SR than to the LR.

III 52 The reference to portents in Constantinople after the exile of John Chrysostom is based on Socrates VI 18, 23.

III 54 A brief phrase mentioning Arcadius' death is from Socrates, LR to VII 1.

III 57 A brief phrase describing John Chrysostom ("fountain of the church") is paralleled in SR to VI 14, 19. There are also patristic parallels for this phrase.

III 67 Two sentences from the eulogy of Saint Silvester in

the Armenian version of the legendary Acts of Silvester are applied by Moses to Mesrop.
There are also several occasions where Socrates' Church History may have served Moses as a source, but where there are no direct verbal borrowings. [74]


Another Greek source Moses borrows from extensively is Gregory Nazianzenus, "the theologian," whose orations were well known in Armenia. [75] Moses never quotes Gregory by name and only refers directly to his father (II 89). But with Gregory in mind he cites "one of the ancients" (II 92), "one of the fathers," or "someone" (III 68) as the source of an appropriate remark or proverb; and on another occasion he quotes the Bible, following the Greek text of Gregory in its Armenian translation against the Armenian vulgate (II 83). There are also numerous verbal parallels between Moses and Gregory that do not reflect any common situation. [76]

More important are the occasions when Moses uses Gregory as a direct historical source or when he appropriates suitable phrases for literary effect. Examples of Gregory's being used for a historical source are:

II 89 Details of the death of Arius (In laudem magni Athanasii).
III 13, 17 Details of Julian's persecutions and death (Invectiva adv. Julianum).
Examples of literary borrowings from Gregory are:
II 80 The description of Gregory the Illuminator's sons (In laudem Basilii magni).
II 91 The description of Gregory the Illuminator's last days (Ad patrem).
III 37 The description of battle standards (Invectiva adv. Julianum).
III 65 The description of Sahak's oration at the Persian court (In laudem Basilii magni); the description of Samuel as antipatriarch (In laudem Athanasii).
III 67 The eulogies of Sahak and Mesrop (from various orations).
Most interesting of all is the description of himself as an "old and sick man" (II 65), taken from the funeral oration on Saint Basil. Since the identity of the author of this History is a complete enigma, we have no means of corroborating this remark. It is perhaps unwise to assume (with the generality of scholars in Armenia) that Moses is being more candid here than elsewhere.


The impact of Syriac texts on Armenian literature was stronger in the more strictly theological rather than the historical fields—for example, hymnography, homiletics, and biblical exegesis. Hence, their influence on Moses is less easily discernible. On the other hand, in the hagiographical Agathangelos, for example, ideas and traditions of Syrian origin play an important role. [77]

There is only one Syriac source of importance for Moses that purports to be a historical (in this case, legendary) work: the Teaching of the Apostle Addai. It had been translated into Armenian in the fifth century, receiving some tendentious alterations in the process even before Moses adapted it. [78] This work is an elaboration of the Abgar story found in Eusebius' Ecclesiastical History (I 13), itself known to Moses from the Armenian Eusebius. The kernel of the story is the correspondence between Abgar, king of Edessa, and Jesus and the subsequent conversion of Abgar to Christianity worked by the apostle Thaddaeus, [79] one of the seventy-two. What began in Syriac as a defense of the apostolic origin of Christianity in Edessa was then adopted by the Armenians, for the Armenian version of the story (known as Labubna) has Thaddaeus leave Edessa to evangelize "the East." [80]


In Armenian tradition (as early as Faustos), Thaddaeus had become not merely the earliest Christian missionary in Armenia but a martyr put to death by King Sanatruk. [81]

Moses' additions to the story revolve around greater Armenian participation in the affairs of Edessa. Not only has Abgar been made an Armenian king (II 26) and Edessa the Armenian capital (II 27), but numerous Syrian notables mentioned in the Teaching of Addai, and hence in the Armenian version, have been turned into eminent Armenian princes (II 29-30). The most significant such adoption is that of the Jew Tobias—in whose house Thaddaeus is said to have resided—as a Bagratid prince who had fled Armenian persecution. His conversion to Christianity (II 33) [82] makes him the first Armenian Christian— an important aspect of Moses' enhancement of the position of the Bagratids. Furthermore, Moses claims that Labubna placed in the Edessan archives (that is, Armenian archives; II 27), an account not only of the story of Thaddaeus but of events in Sanatruk's days (II 36). Here again is a patently fraudulent claim by Moses to be basing his narrative on genuine archival sources.

Labubna has also furnished Moses with a few other useful pieces of information not directly concerned with Thaddaeus, notably the names of the pagan deities worshipped in Armavir (II 8) and those of Nisibis (II 27) later transferred to Edessa.

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66. Cf. Thomson, SP 1975.

67. See II 10 at n. 8.

68. See Eusebius: Karst, Chronik, pp. xxxiv-xxxviii.

69. See Sanspeur, REA 1973-1974.

70. See reference in note 68 above.

71. See the introduction to Ter Movsesean's edition of the Armenian text.

72. Akinean, HA 1948.

73. Aa refers to the Armenian text of Agathangelos.

74. See II 88 n. 2; III 13 n. 2, 17 n. 2, 29 n. 3, 30 n. 1, 33 n. 4, 61 n. 1.

75. See in general Zarp'analean, Matenadaran, pp. 346-58; Liidtke, OC 1913, p. 264; Sinko, De traditione.

76. See I 4 n. 14, 6 n. 8; Fables n. 4; II 10 n. 6, 38 n. 1, 63 n. 3; III 13 n. 3, 61 n. 11, 62 notes passim.

77. See references to Aphrahat and Ephrem in the index of Thomson, Teaching, and Thomson, Agathangelos, p. xliv.

78. For the Syriac text see the bibliography s.v. Teaching of the Apostle Addai, and for the Armenian text, s.v. Labubna.

79. Eusebius calls him Oa.3da.Ios; the Syriac translation has hdy (Ms. A) or tdy (Ms. B); the Armenian Eusebius has T'adeos. The Syriac Teaching of the Apostle Addai calls him 'dy; the Armenian adaptation ("Labubna") Ade; Moses has the form T'adeos, Adde being reserved for the Aggai of the Syriac. In Labubna, Ade is used for both Thaddaeus and Aggai.

80. Labubna, p. 43.

81. On this development see Van Esbroeck, REA 1972.

82. At the time of the conversion of King Abgar and the populace of Edessa.