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  • Print publication year: 2012
  • Online publication date: May 2012

8 - The Bible in Armenian

from Part I - Texts and Versions


The introduction of the Bible to Armenia (situated in southern Caucasia) and the process behind its translation and reception there reflect several broader socio-political, religious and cultural trends evolving in the eastern Roman empire and western Asia over the period of Late Antiquity. The syncretistic polytheism that had characterised the Hellenistic era was yielding to different monotheistic faiths, and a number of missionary religions became catalysts in the development of new writing systems to propagate their beliefs. One of the most significant facets of this movement was the expansion of Christianity within the region and its transition from being an illicit practice on the margins of society to achieving the status of dominant social and cultural arbiter around the Mediterranean and beyond in the post-Constantinian era. The elaboration of doctrine kataphatically (employing reason) through debate by councils and definition in creeds, together with the apophatic spirituality (beyond reason) being explored by monks and ascetics and the supreme devotion of the martyr, inspired a new understanding of the holy and the process of transforming material reality into a vehicle for the spirit, which in turn found expression in popular piety through new forms of pilgrimage. This dynamic only served to heighten the status of the Bible as the physical embodiment of the divine word, its corporality enhanced by the employment of capacious parchment codices to replace the more fragile papyrus scroll.

Historical matrix

After the relatively peaceful coexistence between Rome and Persia under the Parthian dynasty, Sasanian ascendancy in the early third century ce drew the regional powers into renewed conflict over hegemony in the Near East. The contours of this engagement between Armenia's neighbours naturally impacted on the state's own political and religious development. As one or other power gained the advantage, Armenia was incorporated within its administrative network, while under the customary stalemate it enjoyed autonomy as a buffer state. Similarly, whereas the cultic statues widespread in Armenia since the Hellenistic period paralleled those in Roman usage, as the Sasanians had espoused a more orthodox aniconic form of Zoroastrianism, they instituted a periodic purge of such images there under their rule. Consequently, as Christianity attained a critical mass politically in the Roman empire, it triggered a movement toward its establishment in Armenia, while provoking a counter-reaction in Persia.

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