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!


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, sctimes.com 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!


More Armenian info

I’m still trying to find out about Armenian catenas and biblical commentaries.

It seems that there are not many references to books in Armenian on the net. Apparently the Mesrop Mashtots Matenadaran, the Institute of Old Manuscripts, Yerevan (not the same as the Armenian National Library) has a new website. Unfortunately it is only in Armenian now. But you may see there many beautiful miniatures. One can search on that site in the bibliographies too, to find what is there in the Matenadaran collection (although presumably only if you know Armenian and can type Armenian text).

There is also a website of publications by the Gandzasar Theological Centre where my contact works and the Publishing House of Holy Etchmiadzin. She adds:

I’m still adding annotations in that section of the website and there are still many books that need to be added there. I think I’ll put there also that bibliography of biblical commentaries when I get it. So you’ll have more references for published Armenian texts. You may check our website from time to time to see the additions.  http://www.vem.am/en/topics/books-1/

The bibliography of biblical commentaries and catenas in Armenian is something we should all be interested in, and I will add more details as I find out more.

UPDATE: some commentaries in classical Armenian are available here and here.  There is also a critical edition of the classical Armenian translation of Gregory of Nyssa, On the making of man!


The Armenian manuscripts of the French National Library

The catalogue of Armenian manuscripts at the French National Library tells an interesting story of how the pre-revolution holdings were assembled. 

It all starts when Francis I of France entered into a treaty with the Grand Turk, and established a permanent ambassador in Constantinople.  This opened the Turkish state to French scholars in search of Greek texts.  Bindings of Henri II in the Royal collection show that Armenian manuscripts were being acquired in the middle of the 16th century.  But it was only in the second half of the 17th century, under the influence of Colbert, that a definite policy of acquiring Armenian mss came into being, as an official letter to the traveller Antoine Galland (1646-1715) shows, sent just before his third voyage to the East in 1679.  This instructed him to buy:

“…all the ancient Armenian books that can be found, and above all books of history by a certain author named Moses [of Khorene] in that language; also Armenian translations of the bible, written in ancient times, because an Armenian bible has recently been printed in Holland.” [1]

Colbert was interested in Armenian affairs, not least because there was an Armenian colony at Marseilles involved in the trade to Persia and India, and he arranged for Louis XIV to grant permission on 11 August 1669 to an Armenian bishop-cum-printer Oskan of Yerevan to operate at Marseilles.  This in turn sparked interest among Paris litterateurs like Richard Simon and Eusebe Renaudot in what bishop Oskan was doing.  These court Catholics made use of creeds as part of the literary war against Protestantism, to demonstrate the antiquity of catholic formulations.  A Dominican sent by Colbert to Ethiopia acquired one Armenian ms. in Cyprus on the way.  Others were bought from French merchants or travellers.  In this sort of way 165 Armenian mss were gathered in the Royal library alone prior to the French Revolution. 

Colbert himself acquired mss, as did other great persons of state or religious orders.  The collection of Renaudot went with the rest of his rich library to the Maurist fathers of St. Germains-des-Pres, which was seized at the revolution.

The first French scholar to interest himself in the study of the Armenian language was Petis de la Croix (1653-1716).  His father had been secretary-interpreter to the French ambassador in Constantinople for more than 20 years, from 1670.  De la Croix himself was a translator for the king.  He left a large Armenian-French dictionary in manuscript, assisted probably by the former Armenian patriarch of Constantinople and Jerusalem, who had been removed from Constantinople by the ambassador, the Marquis de Feriol, and held under arrest in the Bastile from 1706 until his death in 1711.  During his arrest the patriarch copied a number of Armenian mss now in the BNF.  Renaudot was authorised to negotiate with him concerning his possible release and return to the East.

A mission to the East in 1728-30 by Sevin and Fourmount resulted in the acquisition of 134 pieces.  A letter home by Sevin on 22 Dec. 1728 reveals optimism:

“Most of the works of Nestorius, Dioscorus, and some other famous heretics, have been translated into that language [Armenian] and it would be important to recover them, as well as various historical pieces composed in ancient times by the Armenians.  One of them, a friend of Fonseca, flatters himself that he has the power to supply us with these things but as the books of the Armenians are very carefully written and also mostly decorated with figures of plants and animals, a very high price is placed on them, which prevented me from buying the six that he brought to me, consisting of New Testaments, Rituals, and translations of St. Chrysostom, which it would be easy to find again.” 

In a last minute note on the same letter Sevin adds:

“Since I wrote the above, Mr. Fonseca has shown us in a house 160 Armenian mss, i.e. more than there are in all the libraries of Europe altogether, and even in all of Constantinople.  These mss are composed of commentaries on scripture, translations of the fathers, ancient works of theology and books of history; the most important is that of Armenia, which is not to be had at Paris for less than £500.  We have been promised also the history of the martyrs of Palestine by Eusebius, a piece which we don’t have in Greek, and which would throw a considerable light on the first three centuries of the church.  The acquisition of so many manuscripts in one language is very important, and there would be some risk in awaiting your order to buy it.”

Sevin went on to buy the mss anyway, for a total of £15,000, an incredible sum, and then, naturally ran into difficulties.  Sevin also stated that he would have to steal one ms, because the church to which it belonged could not sell its possessions.  The end result of his efforts, tho, was to substantially augment the holdings of the library further.

[1] Henri Omont, Missions archeologiques francaises en Orient au XVIIe et XVIIIe siecles, 1, Paris, 1902, p.206.