Cyril of Alexandria’s lost “Commentary on Hebrews” now available in English!

Last year we heard that the lost Commentary on Hebrews by Cyril of Alexandria had been rediscovered in three Armenian manuscripts in the Matenadaran library in Yerevan, the Armenian capital.  The publisher has now produced an edition in Armenian with facing English translation!

The price is about $60, which is not expensive.  It is available from here.  Details:

Item number: 100702
Title: Commentary on the Letter to Hebrews (Classical Armenian with English translation) / Մեկնութիւն Եբրայեցւոց թղթոյն (գրաբար բնագիր և անգլերեն թարգմանություն)
Author: Cyril of Alexandria
Language: Classical Armenian, English
Publication date: 2021
Publisher: Ankyunacar Publishing

This is the first English translation of the newly found Armenian manuscript of Cyril of Alexandria, which is his most comprehensive text of the Commentary on the apostle Paul’s Letter to the Hebrews. It contains the full commentary by Cyril of the first three chapters of the Letter to the Hebrews.

Only fragments from the Greek original and Armenian and Syriac translations of the Commentary of the Letter to Hebrews by St. Cyril of Alexandria (†444) were known until now.

The present Armenian critical text and the English translation are placed on facing pages.
The book has an index for both Armenian and English texts.

ISBN 978-9939-850-51-1
395 pages
size 13.5×21 cm

Cover of Cyril of Alexandria, “Commentary on Hebrews”

This is excellent news!  It means that anybody who buys this will be among the first to read the work since ancient times, and certainly among the first ever English-speakers to read it.

Maybe I shall get myself a copy for Christmas!


The rediscovery of Philo, Eusebius’ Chronicon in Armenian

A number of otherwise lost works of antiquity are preserved in Armenian.  The monks of the Mechitarist order, Armenians based in Venice, were responsible for the first publications of these, usually with a Latin translation.  Such was their scholarly reputation that, when the French Revolutionaries conquered Venice, under a certain Napoleon, and seized almost all the monasteries, the Mechitarists uniquely were left along.

One of their publications was the Chronicon of Eusebius.  The Greek original, in two books, is lost.  St. Jerome came across a copy in Constantinople in 379 AD, and translated book 2 into Latin, thereby beginning the process of western historical study of dates and events.  But the Armenian translation from the Greek does not include Jerome’s additions, and also includes book 1.  As ever with Eusebius, book 1 is full of direct quotations from now-lost ancient authors such as Alexander Polyhistor.

Today I came across a fascinating paper by Anna Sirinian, “‘Armenian Philo’: A survey of the literature”, in S.M. Lombardi &c, Studies on the Ancient Armenian Version of Philo’s Works, Brill (2010), 7-44 (Preview), which describes the discovery of the lost works by Philo, and also, around the same time, of the manuscript of Eusebius’ Chronicon.

I thought that a couple of lively pages from this article might be of interest to many outside of Philo enthusiasts.  Note that I have not included the many and very useful footnotes.  My OCR software has mangled the various above-letter items in the transcription of Armenian, but I doubt that matters here.  Consult the Google Books preview for the full text.

Anna Sirinian (p.10):

At the end of the eighteenth century, the Mechitarist Fathers reaped the fruits of their intense activity of research in the field of ancient and medieval Armenian literature with an amazing double discovery. Eusebius’s Chronicon emerged from an Armenian manuscript at Constantinople, while Philo’s treatises were found in the Armenian Cathedral at Lvov (then Poland). Thus some works of these two fundamental writers, whose Greek originals are not extant, were brought back to light. Here, in short, is the story of these two discoveries.

In 1791, during a journey across Poland in search of manuscripts, the Mechitarist Father Yovhannes Zohrapean, also known as Giovanni Zohrab (1756-1829), came across an old dusty book stored away in the Armenian Cathedral at Lvov: it was a complete codex of the corpus of ‘Armenian Philo’. This superb parchment codex had been copied in 1296 by the scribe Vasil in an elegant bolorgir (minuscule), by order of the philosopher-king Het’um II.  Having identified the contents, Zohrab finally obtained permission to take the manuscript back to Venice, where it was copied before being given back.

A few years earlier, in 1787,13 an erudite friend of the Mechitarists at Constantinople, Georg Dpir Ter Yovhannisean (1737-1811), better known by his nickname ‘Palatec’i’, had let them know of the existence of Eusebius’s manuscript at the Armenian Patriarchal Library in that city.[14]

The famous scholar Mkrtic’ Awgerean (1762-1854)—alias Giovanni Battista Aucher, also a Mechitarist Father—bears witness to his early interest in this codex.  He requested and obtained from Palatec‘i a copy of this manuscript at San Lazzaro island, Venice, where it arrived in October 1790.  Aucher suspected the quality of Palatec’i’s copy, and in due course, in 1793, ordered a new copy from him. In effect, Palatec’i had indeed interpolated the original at a few points the first time, but the new copy was faithful to the original down to the most minute details. It was Giovanni Zohrab, then stationed at Constantinople, who carried this second copy back to Venice in 1794.

Twenty years went by without the news of this amazing double discovery ever getting beyond the restricted circle of the Mechitarists and their erudite friends. The silence was broken by another discoverer and editor of ancient texts of the time, Angelo Mai (1782-1854), who published the news in the pamphlet De Philonis Iudaei et Eusebii Pamphili scriptis ineditis aliorumque libris ex Armeniaca lingua convertendis dissertatio cum ipsorum operum Philonis ac praesertim Eusebiis speciminibus, scribente Angelo Maio A[mbrosiani] C[ollegii] D[octore] ex notitia sibi ab Armeniacorum codicum dominis impertita, Mediolani, Regiis typis 1816. Having been told of the existence of ‘Armenian Philo’ by Francesco Reina, Mai had spoken to Father Zohrab, ‘clarissimus doctor Armenius’, who had told him of both these discoveries during a trip to Milan. Through the information gathered from Father Zohrab, Mai could also offer a description of the two manuscripts, a list of Philo’s works in Armenian and even a provisional Latin translation of the Chronicon, in anticipation of the definitive publication of this work in the near future.

Two years later, in 1818, the Armenian version of the Chronicon was published twice over: first Angelo Mai and Giovanni Zohrab published it, exclusively in Latin translation, in Milan; Aucher’s Armenian edition with facing Latin translation was then published at Venice a few weeks later. According to Giancarlo Bolognesi, there is evidence to think that Giovanni Zohrab was vying with Aucher and effectively deprived him of his rights to publish the text exclusively. While Aucher was in Constantinople looking for other possible witnesses with which to compare Palatec’i’s second, more accurate copy, Zohrab took advantage of his absence and took possession of the first—interpolated—copy of Eusebius. In his introduction, Aucher bitterly points out how the recent Milanese publication had been obtained “ex priori illo exemplo, quod a Georgio exscriptore interpolatum diximus, clam nobis, me vero Venetiis absente, Mediolanum delato”.

A similar path was followed in the edition of ‘Armenian Philo’. Here too one may find the pair Mai-Zohrab on one side, and Aucher on the other. But it was Aucher this time who eventually edited the Armenian translation of all Philo’s lost Greek texts between 1822 and 1826. For this purpose he used the Venetian copy of the manuscript discovered at Lvov by Zohrab.26 This copy had been executed by several Mechitarist Fathers under Aucher’s direction. It bears two colophons, the first written by Zohrab to commemorate his fortunate discovery of the ancient exemplar at the Lvov library, the second—written immediately after the first—by Aucher himself. The latter confirms that the exemplar had been brought to San Lazzaro by Zohrab; however, he adds that he has himself worked on the text by completing some missing portions (lrac’uc’ak’ in the plural) of it with the help of another ancient copy discovered at Constantinople.

But there is extant also another copy of the Lvov manuscript, dated by the colophon 1816, this time the work of Zohrab exclusively. This second copy only contains ‘Armenian Philo’ of the lost Greek works, and it is now preserved at the National Library of Paris. In the colophon, Zohrab declares that, after collaborating with Mai in the publication of the Latin translation of the Chronicon, printed in 1816 in the pamphlet De Philonis Iudaei et Eusebii Pamphili scriptis ineditis, cited above, he had also prepared the Latin translation of ‘Armenian Philo’ having collated Philo’s text with another exemplar whose identification remains vague. He adds, however, that he could not utilize this text because of “incidental difficulties” (xapanarar attic’ i veray haseal, argelin zsorays gorcadrut’iwn) …

What fun!  And how interesting to hear the details of this frantic rivalry!

The footnote 14 specifies more information about the manuscript of the Chronicon:

14. This manuscript, dated to the thirteenth century, is currently preserved at the Matenadaran in Erevan with the shelfmark n. 1904, cf. O. Eganyan, A. Zeyfunyan, P‘. Ant’apyan, C’uc’ak Jeragrac’ Mastoc‘i anvan Matenadarani [Catalogue of the Manuscripts in the Matenadaran Library], I, Haykakan SSH GA Hratarakc’ut’yun, Erevan 1965, 671. Apparently, Palatec’i himself came across this manuscript during his travels in search of ancient codices on behalf of the Mechitarist Fathers: as he was about to drink from a well in the Samaxi region, in the southern ranges of the Caucasian mountains, he found the ancient book of the Chronicon used as a covering across the opening of the drinking hole: cf. A. Ayvazyan, Sar hay kensagriiteanc‘ [Armenian Biographies], I, Constantinople 1893, 49-51 (cit. from B. C’ugaszean, Georg Dpir Palatec’u geank’i ew gorcuneut’ean taregrut’iwn 1737-1811 [Chronology of the Life and Works of Georg Dpir Palatec’i], Gind, Erevan 1994, 91-92). The complex history of this manuscript and its various journeys between Jerusalem, Constantinople, Ejmiacin and Erevan, deserve further study, which I propose to undertake elsewhere.

Let us hope Dr. S. finds the time to publish that study, which can only be interesting.  Few of us can work with Armenian sources, and someone who can must do work of lasting value.

I have read elsewhere the tale of the discovery of the codex; but as I heard it, it was being used as a cover for a water-jug, rather than a well.  It would be good to clarify this point.


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, 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!


Armenian version of Chronicle of Michael the Syrian now in English

This morning I received an email from Robert Bedrosian, the translator into English of a great number of Classical Armenian texts:

The English translation of Michael the Great’s Chronicle is now online.  It may be freely copied and distributed.

This is incredibly good news!

The Chronicle of Michael the Syrian is the largest medieval chronicle.  It was composed in Syriac, and has come down to us in a single Syriac manuscript, of which the beginning is lost; some abbreviated Arabic versions, and a condensed version in Armenian, which alone preserves the opening portions of the work.



Armenian sources online at Robert Bedrosian

Robert Bedrosian writes to say that he has created a new collection of Armenian patristic materials on his website here.  In this he is rather too modest.  It is a cornucopia of PDF’s of Armenian materials.

Anyone who has ever tried to locate an Armenian edition of an ancient text will know that it is a lesson in pain.  Those of us who are not Armenian-speakers find it impossible to construct useful searches in Google Books.

The page begins with catalogues of Armenian manuscript holdings; in Munich, Paris, Oxford and others.  Much material in this language is unpublished, so these are valuable insights into available materials, all by themselves.

Then we pass to editions of Philo, and then patristic and liturgical texts.  These include many of the publications of the Mechitarist Fathers of Venice, all valuable, often referenced in bibliographies, and dreadfully hard to find online.  I noted two editions of Severian of Gabala, also sermons of John Chrysostom, and material by Timothy Aelurus, Eznik of Kolb, and so on.

After this we pass into editions of the bible in classical Armenian (or Grabar).  Finally there are some very useful reference volumes.

I don’t know of anyone but Robert Bedrosian who could have made such a collection.  But in so doing he has made accessible a world of useful material!


An Armenian version of Ephraim’s commentary on Hebrews?

An email in the ABTAPL list raised a very interesting question.

In the IVP Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, in the volume on Hebrews, there is an excerpt from Ephraim the Syrian.  Looking at the reference, we find this:

Marco Conti, trans. Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews. Works of Ephrem in Armenian.  ACCS translation project.

Except that no publication appears to exist.  According to IVP:

Marco Conti (Ph.D., University of Leeds) is professor of medieval and humanistic Latin literature at the Ateneo Salesiano and lecturer in classical mythology and religions of the Roman Empire at the Richmond University in Rome.

In 1836, the Mechitarist Fathers in Venice published the works of Ephraim from the ancient Armenian versions, in 4 volumes.  Some of Ephraim’s works, indeed, no longer exist in the original Syriac, and the Armenian versions are all there is.  A bibliography is here.  But I have not been able to locate this Venice edition online.

However in 1895 they published a Latin translation of the commentaries on the letters of Paul.  This I did find, here.  And in the PDF, on p.217 of the PDF (p.200 of the printed text) there is the start of material on Hebrews!

It would be interesting to know whether Dr Conti prepared a complete translation of Ephraim’s Commentary on Hebrews.  I hope to find out!


Armenian mss photographed in Syria by HMML

Via Paleojudaica I learn of an interesting article on the PanArmenian website.

PanARMENIAN.Net – Hill Museum & Manuscript Library at St. John’s University completed a manuscript preservation project in the Middle East shortly before the violence worsened in Syria, reports.

“This was our last current project in Syria, and we had done actually a series of projects – about six of them in Syria – in different locations,” said the Rev. Columba Stewart, executive director of the Collegeville-based library.

However, HMML-trained technicians in Aleppo, Syria, were able to complete the digitization of 225 Armenian manuscripts belonging to the Armenian Orthodox Diocese of Aleppo – one of the largest Armenian collections in Syria.

“We began the work before the current turmoil in Syria, and this particular project was finished just as the situation started to get bad in Aleppo, which had been quiet until fairly recently,” Stewart said during a call from Bethlehem. …

“We also work on Islamic projects, so our interests transcend particular denominations or religious groups because all of this handwritten manuscript heritage is really the heritage of all humankind,” Stewart said.

HMML has now completed a series of projects in Aleppo that have included important collections belonging to the Syriac Orthodox, Syriac Catholic and Greek-Catholic communities, for a total of 2,150 digitally preserved manuscripts. …

Adam McCollum is the lead cataloger of Eastern Christian manuscripts at HMML and will be responsible for getting the Armenian collection cataloged once it is at the HMML.

“Once the library has entered into a partnership with people who have collections of manuscripts, a studio is set up there with a digital camera, and entire manuscript collections are photographed and put onto hard drives and mailed back to us,” McCollum said.

One digital copy of the Armenian collection will stay with Bishop Shahan Sarkissian and the Armenian Orthodox Diocese of Aleppo. HMML will keep an additional digital copy of the collection in a highly secure location.

“The general populace in these places is still pretty safe – at least at this point – but we have no idea what’s going to happen in the future,” he said of HMML’s continuing work in Iraq, Lebanon, Turkey, as well as in Ethiopia, southwest India and Malta.

I think that we must all wish this enterprise well.  HMML is doing a rescue job here, and a very necessary one. 

Before the first world war, scholars were very excited to discover that the “mountain Nestorians” in the Turkish empire, in what is now the north of modern Iraq and Iran, were still speaking Syriac.  It was discovered that they had preserved manuscripts of various important patristic works previously thought lost.  They were based in the mountains in order to resist Moslem attacks, mainly by Kurds.  American missionaries set up a base at Urmia and copied whatever they could access.  The Archbishop of Seert, Addai Scher, became a well-known scholar and collected a number of irreplaceable items, including a complete Syriac translation of Theodore of Mopsuestia’s lost work, De incarnatione, discovered in 1905 and unpublished.  

Then the war came, and the Turks orchestrated genocidal attacks on the Armenians in 1915, but also on Christians generally.  Scher was murdered and his library vanished, taking with it any chance that men could ever read De incarnatione.  The losses of manuscripts in that period were severe. 

Likewise the violence in Iraq after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein once again led to Moslem violence against Christians, and the loss of cultural treasures.

The revolutions going on at the moment — and I have no idea what is truly happening there, and I don’t believe our media reports — are very likely to involve the destruction of irreplaceable material. 

The work of HMML in making copies of manuscripts is undoubtedly a wise precaution.

Armenian literature itself is much better known than Old Slavic, but simply cataloguing those manuscript, as Adam McCollum is to do, will itself make material more accessible. 

I once wanted to learn if there was any catena material in Armenian.  I was defeated by the fact that all the titles, in the catalogues of manuscripts that I consulted, were in Armenian script and so unreadable!  A web catalogue will not have this problem.

Yesterday the Slavicists were talking about the need for a Clavis listing all works and authors known in the language, and assigning each a numeric reference.  Is there a Clavis for classical Armenian, I wonder?  If not, why not?


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.


Armenian bibliography of bible commentaries/catenas

I’m still looking for Eznik Petrosyan’s book on Armenian bible commentaries. I have now found somewhere online where this item is available.  My interest is in catenas, of course.  The book is published by the Armenian Bible Society, who have a website.  It’s here.

Bibliography of Armenian Biblical Commentaries
( Bishop Yeznik Petrossian & Armen Ter-Stepanian )

Code  BIBLIOGRAPHY | ISBN  9993052841 | Pages   129 | Format  300 X 210 X 13 | Language  Armenian Eastern | Weight (kg)  0.600 | Publisher  The Bible Society of Armenia | Published  2002 |

Compiled by Bishop Yeznik Petrossian (Holy Etchmiadzin) and Armen Ter-Stepanian (Matenadaran). This volume represents many years of tireless effort to unearth details of Biblical commentaries authored by Armenian scholars.

The price is “5.000” AMD.  This is the Armenian Dram, the currency of Armenia.  I think we would say 5,000AMD, which is about $13. 

But … there seems no way to place an order for a copy!  How very, very weird.  So I have sent them an email.


An Armenian catena on the Catholic epistles

My learned Armenian correspondant Seda Stamboltsyan has been looking in the electronic catalogue of the Matenadaran at Yerevan for us.  She reports at least one Armenian catena in the catalogue, which includes material by Eusebius.

Doing so was not entirely straightforward, as the search tool is somewhat cranky.  You have to get the exact word correct — searching for “euseb” will not bring up “eusebius”.  Since the endings will vary, depending on case, this is a little bit of a pain.  But typing “eusebi” (genitive case) gave 53 results; “eusebios” produced 14.  Among them was this entry:

     Խմբագիր մեկնութիւն է. վկայութիւններ են բերուած հետեւեալ հեղինակներից՝ Կիւեղ Աղեկսանդրացի, Պիմեն, Սեւեռիտոս, Ներսէս, Յովհան Ոսկէբերան, Բարսեղ Կեսարացի, Իսիքիոս Երուսաղէմացի, Դիոնեսիոս Աղէկսանդրացի, Որոգինես, Թէոդորիտոն, Ապողինար Լաոդիկեցի, Եւսեբիոս Կեսարացի, Դիդիմոս, Ամոն, Տիմոթէոս, Աթանաս, Եփրեմ Ասորի։


“[Manuscript number] 667662
This is a collective commentary [i.e. catena]. Testimonies are brought from the following authors: Cyril of Alexandria, Pimen, Severitos, Nerses, John Chrysostom, Basil of Caesarea, Hesychios of Jerusalem, Dionysius of Alexandria, Origen, Theodoriton, Apolinarius of Laodicea, Eusebius of Caesarea, Didimus, Amon, Timothy, Athanasius, Ephrem the Syrian.”

Clicking through gave more info.  Folios 1-235 are commentaries on the Catholic epistles, and the authors above are for this.  Plainly this is a catena.  There was also a bit of bibliography: “cf. Vienna N 48 (Tashian, Bibliography, 234-243). Also: PO, t43, N193.”  The shelfmark is Mashtots Matenadaran ms. N 1407. Date: 1596. The place where it was written is not mentioned. Scribe: Priest Pawłos (Paul).

Seda reminds us that not all the manuscripts in the Matenadaran have been catalogued to this level of detail yet.  Four volumes were published, and the electronic catalogue is based on these.  The fifth volume has just been published, but not yet incorporated into the online catalogue.  However there are about 17,000 mss. in the Matenadaran.  Each volume is around 500 mss, so there is a considerable distance still to go.

There is a brief catalogue of all the mss, but it doesn’t go to this level of detail.

PO 43 does indeed contain a publication of an Armenian catena on the Catholic epistles:

Volume 43. La chaîne arménienne sur les Épîtres catholiques. I, La chaîne sur l’Épître de Jacques / Charles Renoux…

So there is a publication with French translation in PO 43/1 (N193), Turnhout 1985; 44/2 (N198), 1987; 44/1-2 (205-206), 1994; 47/2 (N210), 1996.   I queried the manuscript numeral, as that didn’t look like a shelfmark to me.  (It’s probably the electronic catalogue’s database primary key!)

Seda Stamboltsyan tells me that she has been doing  translations from Classical Armenian into modern Armenian, also editing and proofreading texts in Armenian, preparing critical editions of Classical Armenian texts.  I think those of us that are illiterate, at least in Armenian, can be very grateful to her for her efforts!