Armenian Patriarch of Constantinople (Istanbul)
History of Armenian Bible
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. Several attempts were made to translate the
Bible into Armenian. 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
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.
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.
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.
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.
Source: International Standard Bible Encyclopedia