More on Armenian catenas

In my last post, I mentioned the existence of an Armenian catena on Acts, published in Venice in 1839, and evidently of interest for the study of the so-called ‘Western’ text of Acts.  Since then I have been attempting to locate a copy online, or, indeed, to determine its title.  This is no easy task, but I seem to be making some progress.   Can anyone help find a copy online?  Here is what I have.

In Siegbert Uhlig’s Encyclopaedia Aethiopica: A-C, p.679, I found this, which I do not attempt to transcribe: 


Armed with this information, a search in COPAC gave me this: 

Main author: John Chrysostom, Saint, d. 407. 
Title Details: Meknutʻiwn Gortsotsʻ Arʻakʻelotsʻ / Khmbagir arareal nakhneatsʻ Hoskeberanē ew Hepremē.
Series: Matenagrutʻiwnkʻ nakhneatsʻ
Published: Venetik : I Tparani Srboyn Ghazaru, 1839. 
Physical desc.: 458 p. ; 24 cm.
Subject: Bible.N.T. Acts — Commentaries.
Other names: Ephraem, Syrus, Saint, 303-373. 
Language: Armenian

Which is undoubtedly our volume, and this copy is in Cambridge University Library in the UK in the Rare Books room, shelfmark 825:1.c.80.23.  Of course that does not help much, but it is something.

Clicking on the title details gives the information that the editor (or something) is Hovhannēs Oskeberan.  Clicking more of the links finds another copy at Oxford, in the Oriental Institute, shelfmark 694.11 Act.j S, published “Venetik : S. Ghazar, 1839″ — we can see how this is the island of San Lazaro, the Mechitarist base, I think.   The main author again is given as Chrysostom.

As I’m sure you can imagine, I give these details, and variations, because these strangenesses and varieties are the reason why locating the volume is so difficult.  The more data we have, the better chance of finding a copy.

I also discovered an article by F. C. Conybeare, On the Western Text of Acts as evidenced by Chrysostom in the American Journal of Philology, 1896, 135f, where our interest begins with p.136 f.. This gives a number of interesting details on the book.  Since this will not be accessible outside the US, here are some salient details.

In the December of 1893 I translated from Armenian for Prof. Rendel Harris’s use a number of fragments of the commentary on the Acts written by Ephrem Syrus. These are contained in an Armenian catena on the Acts printed at the Mechitarist press of Venice in the year 1839. They are important because they attest that the text of the Acts used by Ephrem contained many of the glosses peculiar to the Codex Bezae. In his appendix, however, Prof. Harris threw out a hint which I have taken up and worked out in the following pages. For he recognised that one or two passages in the Greek commentary ascribed to Chrysostom are identical with fragments of Ephrem’s commentary as preserved in the Armenian. Chrysostom’s Greek does not, indeed, present many such points of contact; but I had already observed that the long and numerous extracts of Chrysostom preserved in the same Armenian Catena were different from the Greek text printed by Henry Savile; and that these differences were not attributable to the Armenian translator, but must have characterised the Greek which lay behind the Armenian. It then occurred to me to examine the Armenian text of Chrysostom with a view to see whether there were not more traces in it, than in the existing Greek, not only of an admixture of Ephrem, but of Bezan or Western readings. I was rewarded by finding many traces of Ephrem other than the two or three which Prof. Harris’s keen eyes had already detected; while of Bezan readings I found a copious harvest. These I now make public, along with some passages of the commentary which, though not reflecting a Western text, have an interest and are not found in the Greek form.

But first I may say a few words about the Catena itself. It consists of 458 closely printed pages octavo; and the matter is divided into 55 chapters, as is the existing Greek commentary of Chrysostom. A table of contents is prefixed also identical with the τῶν εις τὰς πράξεις ἠθικῶν πίναξ printed by Savile in volume IV, at the end of the work on the Acts. The arrangement of the Armenian Catena is thus based on Chrysostom. It is, as a rule, with a bit of Chrysostom that each chapter opens; and his excerpts occupy nine-tenths of the book. The Catena is printed from two codices, of which one is dated 1049 of the Armenian era, = A. D. 1601, and it contains, beside excerpts of Chrysostom, Ephrem and Cyril of Jerusalem, a few passages from Dionysius, Gregory of Nyssa, Gregory Nazianzen, Nerses Catholicos (Lambronatzi), Kiurakos and David the Philosopher. Nerses was born 1153, and his literary activity occupied the last 25 years of the century. Kiurakos belonged to the eleventh century. David the Philosopher was the translator of Aristotle and lived in the fifth century. The Catena therefore cannot have been compiled before the thirteenth century; nor is there good reason to suppose that all these writers had written commentaries on the Acts.

The anonymous compiler, however, does seem to have used classical Armenian versions, long anterior to his own age, of the entire commentaries at least of Chrysostom and of Ephrem; for in his dedicatory address to the Lord John, brother of the king and bishop of the province of the divinely preserved fortress of Maulevon and of some part of the lofty castles, and also overseer of the renowned and holy congregation of Goner, he writes thus (p.9):

“Thou badest me set before myself the original, and from the broad and copious interpretation of the Acts of the Apostles with level judgement (or ? taking passages of equivalent meaning) contract and arrange in brief the longer treatises .. . However, though intricate, ’tis nevertheless a plain and trodden path and likewise smooth and firm, which I was bidden by thee to pursue, more particularly because I have to guide me, as it were, bright torches and unapproachable suns—namely, the skilful Lord Ephrem, taught of God, and the famous Chrysostom, fountain of Christian lore. Clasping whose heavenward feet in fear, I humbly pray that they first pardon my temerity and then assist my weak faculties, so that I may cope with their profound and brilliant interpretations of the Acts of the holy Apostles; that I may string together and interweave like precious pearls their interpretations in some places differing and sometimes concordant . . . But they that have wider capacity and are strong in understanding will, in order to slake their thirst, have recourse to the fountains of the wise which stretch like a sea—I mean to the extensive original commentaries, from which the following exposition has been so much abridged and summarised.”

The above proves (i) that the Armenian compiler had the longer commentaries in his hands, and (2) found that they sometimes differed from one another, but sometimes agreed. The former of these facts is more explicitly avowed in the title which, after the above preface, is prefixed to his work: “From the original and extended commentaries on the Acts of the Apostles of the Saints, the Lord Ephrem and the blessed John Chrysostom, the following abridgement has been compiled. As thou perceivest, in their several places are written in against their respective comments the names of the Saints, by order of the Lord John,” etc.

It is therefore not vain to hope that the whole of Ephrem’s commentary on the Acts may yet be recovered in Armenian. It must surely be lurking in the monastic library of Edschmiadzin or of Jerusalem. The Mechitarists of Venice, however, declare that their library does not contain it, and it could hardly have escaped their eyes. This Catena is the only commentary on the Acts which I myself could discover there. In view of the peculiar differences which there are between the Armenian and the Greek forms of Chrysostom’s commentary, it is not superfluous to add here the gist of the colophon appended to this Catena. It is entitled

“The prayer of the new possessor and labour-loving renewer of the original commentary (or interpretation) from which this (i. e. the Catena) was abridged.” It runs thus: “In the year of the creation 6501, of the advent of the Saviour 1077, of the Chosrovian reckoning of the race of Hajk (i. e. of the Armenians) 525, in the reign of Michael, son of Dukas (spelt Dukads), and in the patriarchate of Kosmas and Gregory, son of Gregory Palhavouni; I having been elevated to the throne of my forefather, Saint Gregory, and according to the providence (or foresight) of Saint Isaac, being hard put to it by the persecution with the sword of the Scythians, came to the sumptuous resting-place (or abode = μονή) of Saint Constantine. And after eager search I found the guerdon of many, the magnificent interpretation of the Acts of the Apostles of the great John Chrysostom, (full of) brilliant and helpful teaching. And having met with a learned rhetor Kirakos advanced in Greek and Armenian studies, I caused him in his generous zeal to translate the desired prize of my spirit. And having received it with hearty joy, as if it were the tablets of the first prophet, I crossed with great toil the wide stretch of Libya and of the Asiatic gulf, and by the providence of the Spirit I came to the portion of Shem in the lower slopes of Taurus, to the abode of the saints wherein angels dwell. And there I found the learned and grace-endowed Kirakos, my son in spirit and pupil of the great scholar George, my successor (or vicar). And he eagerly undertook, according to the gifts of the Spirit richly bestowed on him, to restore anew the adulterated (i-odeim/upa) language of the rhetor, changing it into the fluent and harmonious idiom of our race . . .”

From the above it is clear that the version of Chrysostom from which this Catena was compiled was made in A. D. 1077 from a Greek copy found in a monastery of S. Constantine; and that this first version made by the rhetor Kirakos was remodelled and changed into pure Armenian by another Kirakos in the region of Taurus. Where the monastery of Constantine was, I know not; but as the writer crossed Libya and the Asiatic gulf on his way to the Taurus therefrom, he probably started from Cyrene, went by land to Alexandria and thence by sea to Iskanderoun. If so, we have here a text of Chrysostom’s commentary coming from Cyrene in the eleventh century.

The version of Ephrem’s commentary used by the compiler of this Catena may have been made along with the rest of the versions of Ephrem in a still earlier epoch of Armenian literature, perhaps in the seventh or eighth century. It was made by some one who had the Armenian vulgate at his elbow, for the citations are always given according to the text of that vulgate. So also are the citations of Chrysostom.

The article, which is full of interesting material, goes on to quote selections from the catena.  Conybeare was rather an eccentric, and his conclusions must be taken cautiously in general, but it is good to see someone who has not merely copied information from some secondary source.

2 Responses to “More on Armenian catenas”

  1. RL

    > Clicking on the title details gives the information that > the editor (or something) is Hovhannēs Oskeberan

    Actually Hovhannēs Oskeberan should be the Armenian for John Chrysostom (Johannes the Goldenmouthed).

  2. Roger Pearse

    Oops. Thanks for picking up on that!