Jewish History of Armenia

From: Moorad Alexanian (
Date: Fri Jun 16 2000 - 10:24:23 EDT

  • Next message: James W Stark: "Re: Atheistic portrayal of science in popular culture."

    Jewish History of Armenia

    ARMENIA, in Transcaucasia. Historically its boundaries embraced a much wider
    area in different periods. The Armenian diaspora is scattered in many
    countries of the world and still identifies its past history and future
    aspirations with the wider connotations of the term Armenia. Jewish
    historical, exegetical, and descriptive sources reveal knowledge of the
    variations in geographical area and history of this remarkable people. The
    fate and modes of existence of the Armenians have been compared in some
    essential features to those of the Jews.

    Much of the original Armenia is now the area of Kurdistan in Turkey.
    from the seventh to ninth centuries the Arab conquerors called by the name
    Armenia a province which included entire Transcaucasia, with the cities
    Bardhaa, now Barda in the present Soviet Azerbaijan, where the governors
    mostly resided, and Tiflis (now Tbilisi, capital of Georgia). The province
    also sometimes called Armenia in eastern sources. The Khazars were sometimes
    credited with Armenian origin: this is stated by the seventh-century
    bishop and historian Sebeos, and the Arab geographer Dimashqi (d. 1327). In
    the 13th to 14th centuries the Crimea and the area to the east were known as
    Gazaria (Khazaria) to western authors, and as Maritime Armenia to Armenian
    authors. The term Armenia often included much of Anatolia, or otherwise
    referred to cities on the Syrian-Mesopotamian route (now Turkey, near the
    Syrian frontier) such as Haran (Harran), Edessa (Urfa), and Nisibis

    Identification of Armenia in Literature
    In the past Armenia has been connected with the biblical Ashkenaz. The
    Armenians are termed "the Ashkenazi nation" in their literature. According
    this tradition, the genealogy in Genesis 10:3 extended to the populations
    west of the Volga. In Jewish usage Ashkenaz is sometimes equated with
    Armenia; in addition, it sometimes covers neighboring Adiabene (Targ. Jer.
    51:27), and also Khazaria (David b. Abraham Alfasi, Ali ibn Suleiman; cf. S.
    Pinsker, Likkutei Kadmoniyyot (1860), 208; S. L. Skoss (ed.), Hebrew-Arabic
    Dictionary of the Bible of David ben Abraham al-Fasi (1936), 159), the
    and the area to the east (Isaac Abarbanel, Commentary to Gen. 10:3), the
    Saquliba (Saadiah Gaon, Commentary, ibid.), i.e., the territory of the Slavs
    and neighboring forest tribes, considered by the Arabs dependent of
    as well as Eastern and Central Europe, and northern Asia (cf. Abraham
    Farissol, Iggeret Orhot Olam (Venice, 1587), ch. 3). In other expositions
    found in rabbinical works, Armenia is linked with Uz. The anti-Jewish
    attitudes prevailing in eastern-Byzantine (Armenian) provinces made the
    Targum identify it with the "daughter of Edom that dwellest in the land of
    Uz" (Lam. 4:21) or with "Constantina in the land of Armenia" (now
    between Urfa and Na\ibin (Nisibis). Hence Job's "land of Uz" is referred to
    as Armenia in some commentaries, for instance in those of Nahmanides and
    Joseph b. David ibn Yahya. The "Uz-Armenia" of Abraham Farissol is however
    the Anatolian region near Constantinople. Armenia is also sometimes called
    Amalek in some sources, and Jews often referred to Armenians as Amalekites.
    This is the Byzantine term for the Armenians. It was adopted by the Jews
    the Josippon chronicle (tenth century, ch. 64). According to Josippon,
    was conquered by Benjaminite noblemen under Saul (ibid., 26), and
    Benjaminites are already assumed to be the founders of Armenian Jewry in the
    time of the Judges (Judg. 19–21). Benjaminite origins are claimed by
    sectarian Kurds. The idea that Khazaria was originally Amalek helped to
    support the assumption that the Khazar Jews were descended from Simeon (I
    Chron. 4:42–43; Eldad ha-Dani, ed. by A. Epstein (1891), 52; cf. Hisdai ibn
    Shaprut, Iggeret).

    Armenia is sometimes identified in literature with the biblical Minni (Pal.
    Targ., 51:27), based on onomatopoeic exegesis of Armenia = Har ("Mountain")
    Minni; similarly, Harmon (ha-Harmonah, Amos 4:3) is understood in the Targum
    to denote the region where the Ten Tribes lived "beyond the mountains of
    Armenia." Rashi identified Harmon with "the Mountains of Darkness," the term
    used by medieval Jews for the Caspian mountains, believed in the West to
    surround the kingdom of the Khazars (who were often taken for the Ten Lost
    Tribes) and to include the Caucasus. The reference in Lamentations Rabbah
    1:14, no. 42, does not refer to the passage of the Tribes through Armenia as
    is usually claimed, but more probably to the Jerusalem exiles' easy
    (harmonyah, "harmonious") route.

    Armenia has further been identified with the biblical Togarmah (Gen. 10:3).
    In Armenian tradition this genealogy has competed with the theory of
    Ashkenazi origins, and extended to the Scythians east of the Volga. The
    identification of Armenia as Aram (Gen. 10:22; 25:20; 28:5) is adopted by
    Saadiah Gaon and also occurs in Islamic literature.

    In the biblical age Armenia was conceived as the mountainous expanse in the
    north dominating the route from Erez Israel to Mesopotamia (via Haran or its
    neighborhood) and extending to (and beyond) the boundaries of the known
    world. The forested heights near the sources of the Euphrates and the Tigris
    stimulated Jewish commentators to develop geographical concepts concerning
    this area in regard to Paradise (Gen. 2:8 ff.), the divine "mount of
    in the north (Isa. 14:13), the connection of the two (Ezek. 28:13–16), and
    the rebirth of mankind after the Flood (Gen. 8:4ff.). The name Ararat (Gen.
    8:4; II Kings 19:37; Jer. 51:27) recalls the indigenous Armenian kingdom of
    Urartu, based on Lake Van.

    Connections and Similarities Between Jewish and Armenian History in
    Premedieval Times

    The Armenians had been formed as a people by 521 B.C.E. Both Armenia and
    Judea shared common overlords in the Persians, Alexander the Great, and the
    Seleucids, until their liberation during the Seleucid decline. The ancient
    kingdom of Armenia attained its apogee under Tigranes II. He invaded Syria,
    reached Acre, menaced the Hasmonean state, then retreated because of the
    Roman attack on Armenia (69 B.C.E.). The medieval Armenian historian, Moses
    of Chorene, claims that Tigranes settled many Jewish captives in Armenian
    cities, a statement reflecting the idea that the growth of cities and trade
    under Tigranes was likely to attract Jews. In fact many Jews settled in the
    area. Vassal kings appointed there by the Romans included the Herodians
    Tigranes IV (c. 6 C.E.) and Tigranes V (60–61) in Greater Armenia, and
    Aristobulus (55–60) in the western borderland, or Lesser Armenia. Under the
    more autonomous Parthian dynasty (85–428/33), the Armenian cities retained
    their Hellenistic culture, as the excavations at Garni (the royal summer
    residence) have shown. The Jewish Hellenistic immigration continued, and by
    360–370, when the Persian conqueror Shapur II reduced them by massive
    deportation to Iran, the cities were largely populated by Jews. The
    exaggerated figures recorded by the chronicler Faustus Byzantinus give
    Jewish families deported from five cities, against 81,000 Armenian families;
    the Jews formed the majority of the exiles from the three cities of
    Eruandashat, Van, and Nakhichevan.

    Halakhic studies never flourished in Greater Armenia, in contradistinction
    the center at Nisibis; the scholar R. Jacob the Armenian (TJ, Git. 6:7, 48a)
    is exceptional. However, Armenia is mentioned in the aggadic Targums. The
    mention of two "mountains of Ararat" upon which Noah's ark stood (Targ.
    Gen. 8:4) indicates that the location of Armenia found in Jewish Hellenistic
    sources (roughly adopted by the Muslims) was now identified with a place
    further north, in conformity with the Christian Armenian tradition, which
    won more general acceptance.

    Medieval Times
    Medieval Armenia consisted of a group of Christian feudal principalities,
    under foreign overlordship for most of the time. The cities were smaller,
    with a more ethnically homogeneous population than formerly, and generally
    excluded Jews. The Armenians joined the Monophysite current of Christianity,
    which here (as in Ethiopia) opposed the claims of the Byzantine church to
    hegemony by claiming closer connections with the ancient Israel. Moses of
    Chorene attributed a Hebrew origin to the Amatuni tribe and to the Bagratuni
    (Bagratid) feudal dynasty of Armenia. The Bagratids, who claimed King David
    as their ancestor, restored the Armenian kingdom, which lasted from 885 to
    1045, when it fell to the Muslim invaders. The royal branch, whose
    descendants remained in Georgia until 1801, also spread the fashion of
    claiming Israelite genealogies and traditions in this Orthodox Christian
    territory. The downfall of the Armenian kingdom was followed by general
    decline. Many Armenians settled in Cilicia (a Byzantine province in Asia
    Minor) and founded the Kingdom of Lesser Armenia, an ally of the Latin
    Kingdom of Jerusalem, lasting until 1375, when it fell to the Mamluks.
    Armenian Jewry ultimately disappeared as a distinct entity, although a part
    was absorbed into Kurdish Jewry.

    Armenia in Legend as the "Jewish Country"

    Armenia figures prominently in tales from the medieval and early modern
    periods about the existence of autonomous settlements of "free Jews." The
    kingdom of the legendary Christian eastern emperor, Prester John, who was
    overlord or neighbor of a Jewish land, is sometimes placed near Armenia. The
    14th-century Ethiopic historical compendium, Kebra Negast, states that
    Ethiopia will assist "Rome" (Byzantium) in liquidating the rebel Jewish
    "in Armenia" (Eng. tr. by E. A. Wallis Budge as Queen of Sheba (1922),
    225–6). The 14th-century Travels of Sir John Mandeville, a geographical
    compilation, states that the Caspian Jews, the future Gog and Magog, are
    tributaries to the queen of Armony, Tamara of Georgia (1184–1212).

    The Armenian diaspora is the closest historical parallel to the Jewish
    Diaspora, and a comparison of the two reveals much in common. Both suffered
    loss of statehood and underwent the process of urbanization. They traveled
    similar migrationary routes, adopted similar trades, received special
    charters of privilege, and established communal organizations. They also
    faced similar problems of assimilation, survival, and accusations made
    against a dispersed people, and underwent similar psychological stresses. In
    the Ukraine, both the Jews and the Armenians were accused of having
    the livelihood of indigenous merchants and artisans by the communal
    solidarity they manifested against competition. The massacres of the
    Armenians have also been explained as a revolt by the exploited masses.
    During the depopulation of Ottoman Armenia by the massacres and deportations
    of World War I, the Germans planned to "send Jewish Poles" to resettle the
    country. The Jewish population in Soviet Armenia numbered 10,000 in 1959.

    [Abraham N. Poliak]

    In Israel
    Mosaics with Armenian inscriptions point to an Armenian population in
    Jerusalem as early as the fifth century C.E., and scribal notes on
    manuscripts indicate a school of Armenian scribes of the same period. In
    Armenian history 21 bishops of Jerusalem are mentioned in the Arab period.
    1311 a certain Patriarch Sarkis preserved the independence of the
    patriarchate when Erez Israel came under Mamluk rule. In the early 17th
    century the patriarchate was short of funds but Patriarch Krikor Baronder
    (1613–1645) succeeded in raising large sums from Armenians in various parts
    the world over, and constructed an Armenian quarter in Jerusalem. There was
    long dispute over the rights to use the monastery of St. James, and in 1813
    the sultan Mahmud II granted it to the Armenians over the objection of the
    Greek Orthodox. In 1833 a printing press was founded which has published
    liturgical and ritual books as well as a monthly periodical Sion (since
    1866). In 1843 a theological seminary was founded. In the 20th century the
    community has been centered around the patriarchate and the Monastery of St.
    James, and the Church of the Archangels, all in the Armenian quarter of the
    old city of Jerusalem, and the Church of St. Savior on Mt. Zion. These
    institutions have over the centuries inherited a large collection of
    manuscripts donated by bishops and pilgrims, firmans granted by sultans and
    caliphs, and specially commissioned religious articles for the services of
    the cathedral. The library of manuscripts in Jerusalem is exceeded in size
    only by the collection in Soviet Armenia. Though always available to
    in the past, these treasures were exhibited to the general public for the
    first time in 1969.

    [Editorial Staff Encyclopaedia Judaica]

    This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : Fri Jun 16 2000 - 10:22:56 EDT