Lost ancient text found in Armenia: Cyril of Alexandria’s Commentary on Hebrews

Excellent news today via Matthew R Crawford.  It seems that Cyril of Alexandria’s lost Commentary on Hebrews has been discovered.  It is preserved in three Armenian manuscripts held in the Matenadaran library in Yerevan, the Armenian capital.  An edition has been prepared, and is for sale here at BooksFromArmenia.com, for the modest sum of around $30.

Apparently it’s about 43,000 words in length, filling 220 pages.  So this is not a small work.  The editor of the critical text is Hacob Keosyan.  ISBN 978-9939-850-44-3.  At that price, I think they may sell quite a few copies.  I’m tempted myself.

The fragments of the Commentary on Hebrews are listed in the Clavis Patrum Graecorum under CPG 5209 (3).  It’s in vol. 3, page 8.  They were edited by Philip Pusey in an appendix to his edition of the Commentary on John, and also appear in the PG 74, cols. 953-1006.  There are Greek, Latin, Syriac and Armenian fragments.

Last year Joel Elowsky produced a translation of Cyril, entitled “Commentaries on Romans, Corinthians, and Hebrews” through IVP, so he has been unfortunate in his timing.

There is an article: Parvis, “The Commentary on Hebrews and the Contra Theodorum of Cyril of Alexandria”, JTS 26 (1975), 415-9.  From this I learn that Cyril’s commentary is, inevitably, directed against one of his political-religious foes.  In this case it is Theodore of Mopsuestia.  It is referred to by one of his opponents, and so must have been written before autumn 432.  It must have been written after his feud with Nestorius began in 428.

It is always good to recover a text from the night.  Let us hope that someone can produce an English translation of it soon.

The other point that comes to mind is that we need a new and fuller catalogue of the Matenadaran in Yerevan.  What else is there, one might wonder?

UPDATE: I have found another article on the web here, in Russian, by “Priest Maksim Nikulin”.  The English abstract reads:

In the present article the author studies one of the exegetical works of St. Cyril of Alexandria, his Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews. This work has been preserved only in fragments contained in catenae, florilegia, and quotations by other authors. The author identifies the texts that have survived to our day and the testimonies of later authors, who confirm that St. Cyril had written a Commentary on Hebrews. The author then provides an overview of the existing publications of this work with an indication of the manuscripts used by scholars of each edition. The author provides the opinions of different scholars about the dating of the work, all of which date it to the anti-Nestorian period of St. Cyril’s life, afer 428 AD. The author comments on the valuable insight by P. M. Parvis, who found in this work a fragment of St. Cyril’s polemics against the Antiochian exegesis and Christology of Teodore of Mopsuestia. The author also considers the hypothesis of P. E. Pusey, who believed that two works of different genres were composed by St. Cyril commenting on Hebrews, as well as the opinions of other scholars about this hypothesis. The author comments on the Armenian fragments of this work studied by J. Lebon. Finally, the author provides a hypothesis about the structure of the work.

I imagine that Dr Nikulin will be excited by the new discovery!

19 thoughts on “Lost ancient text found in Armenia: Cyril of Alexandria’s Commentary on Hebrews

  1. That is just incredible–written over fifteen centuries ago. I wonder if, say, Fulton Sheen’s books will still be around that far in the future.

  2. Hi Roger. Thanks for the post. Just a quick clarification: David Maxwell is translating and I’m editing the material from Cyril on Romans, 1&2 Corinthians and Hebrews. We have not published it yet with IVP as we’re finishing up the introduction. We also just heard this news from Matthew that this was available. Unfortunately, neither of us know Armenian. It would be nice to include but I’m not sure how best to do it. Any suggestions would be appreciated.

  3. Hi Joel, thanks for clarifying. If you’ve not published then you have the option to delay and find an armeniologist to do the new text. Maybe IVP can help?

  4. In God’s providence a treasure is uncovered for such a time as this. May this work exalt the Lord Jesus as Cyril does in his other writings, and, indeed, as Hebrews does so clearly.

  5. Given the length of this newly-found work, my suggestion to Joel Elowsky would be to publish Maxwell’s ongoing work as “Volume One: The Pauline Material” which puts out 1-2 Corinthians and Romans only. Volume Two would then be a collaboration between Maxwell and some Armenophone who can publish “Volume Two: Hebrews” on its own.

  6. Thanks for the note, Roger. Your suggestion is what I’m currently in discussions with IVP about. I think it should work, but we’re just double checking some things, especially concerning the length. Then I can be in touch with the scholars that were previously suggested. Thanks for your help.

  7. I am Khachik Grigoryan, the managing director of Ankyunacar Publishing, the publisher of Cyril’s Commentary on Hebrews in Armenian.
    Like most of you, we are excited about this finding. And we also are eager to have the English translation. I’d like to let you know that here at our publishing house we have a knowlegeable group of specialists of Classical Armenian, translators, theologians and editors who have graduated from Armenian and Western Universities, ready to carry out this job. Now we are looking for financial support for implementing the translation and publication of this super-valuable work.
    We would appreciate if anyone suggests a proper foundation or other means of support.

  8. We (the Institute for Classical Christian Studies) were hoping to publish this as part of the Ancient Christian Text Series with IVP. David Maxwell has already translated the fragments and we were planning on bundling the English translation of the Armenian together with the fragments. InterVarsity usually does an advance and then a share in the royalties. I had contacted Roberta Ervine (St Nerses) to do a translation, but so far, after an initial contact, I have heard nothing more.

  9. Glad to hear from Joel Elowsky and you.
    Ankyunacar Publishing has made serious efforts during more than 20 years on publishing yet unpublished works of Armenian and non-Armenian Medieval Fathers, both in Armenian, in English and other languages.
    Actually, we would like to publish the English translation of our book at our publishing house or at least in cooperation with a Western company like IVP. We have had such a succesful cooperation with an Austrian publishing house recently.
    Besides this, there is a copyright issue connected with our contract with the compiler of the text.
    We have already started the translation process and any help would be warmly appreciated.

  10. Hi Khachik. Thank you for the clarification. I have been in touch with IVP. They may be interested but had some further questions: They have asked me to find out what the copyright covers and what is included in the compilation. There may be an interest on IVP’s part in licensing the English rights from you (although I cannot speak for IVP itself – they just indicated an interest). We also already have the Hebrews fragments translated into English and think this might be valuable to include both.
    Perhaps to spare Roger the effort of moderating this conversation (thank you Roger), you could email me directly at jelowsky@gmail.com.

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