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Stone, Michael E.


Armenian Apocrypha Relating to Abraham.


Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature 2012. 290 S. = Early Judaism and Its Literature, 37. Kart. US$ 38,95. ISBN 978-1-58983-715-7.


Zara Pogossian

With this book Michael Stone, a leading expert in Armenian studies and Second Temple Judaism, has made another important contribution to both fields. The work presents fifteen Armenian texts from a variety of genres about Abraham and related traditions, along with English translations and comments. Most of this ma-terial is published for the first time, allowing access to some intriguing and rare texts both in the original Armenian and in English. It will surely stimulate further research in a number of directions, such as the reception and development of apocrypha in general and in the Armenian Christianity in particular, the textual interaction between Jews, Christians and Muslims as evidenced in this par-ticular case, the use of apocryphal material to articulate certain aspects of specifically Armenian theology, to name a few.
The »General Introduction« to the volume provides overall information on narratives about Abraham found in Armenian texts, placing them in the context of Armenian Christianity and literature. But S. also highlights the on-going, centuries-long process of retelling Biblical stories and the cross-fertilization that occurred between Jewish, Christian and Muslim narrative motifs relating to Abraham, a Patriarch revered by the members of all three faith communities. Notes to individual texts draw the read­ers’ attention to specific instances of such mutual borrowings and/or possible influences. S. then discusses the complex and complicated relationships between the various texts published in the volume. He points out certain narrative units that are repeated in a number of texts, sharing many similarities but also developing distinct story-lines: too close to be completely independent from each other, but too far to represent »recensions« in the traditional sense of the word. This feature leads S. to characterize the overall chain of transmission and the resultant web of stories as an »embroidered Abraham saga«, an insightful term which underlines the difficulties one faces when dealing with any open texts. He also notes the herculean efforts that one would need to undertake in order to reach any kind of conclusions as to the diachronic development of these stories or their »genealogy«, a task that is made even more difficult given the on-going evolution of this material based on heterogeneous sources. Thus, later stories and manuscripts may well include very old traditions, mixed with newer ones and seri-ously challenge the tracing of neat genealogical lines. Given this complexity, two tables provide a helpful guide into chief narrative units found in the Armenian Abraham saga, indicating the Biblical verses that gave rise to a given episode and, in the second table, providing a separate listing of incidents not found in the Biblical story, such as the Story of the Crows, lists of Abraham’s ten trials, various tales relevant to Melchizedek, Mamr ē, the Descendants of Abraham, and the Armenization of Biblical genealogies.
The »General Introduction« also touches upon the sources of the various stories, not only in the Armenian, but also Greek and Syr-iac traditions and posits a close familiarity with the Syriac material, especially the Jubilees. Biblical exegesis also appears as an important channel of transmitting certain narratives. Among those, S. singles out the Commentaries on the Genesis ascribed to Ełišē (possibly fifth century) and Step‘anos Siwnec‘i (late seventh-eighth century). The latter seems already to know certain »embroidered traditions« and could become the lower limit for dating the evolution of Abraham traditions. Another location where those interested in earlier traditions on Abraham can find useful references is Appendix 2, which notes the occurrence of themes found in this volume among earlier Armenian writers.
As mentioned above, fifteen texts are presented with English translations. Different editorial strategies have been employed. In some cases S. provides a diplomatic edition, in others a text based on two or more manuscripts is provided. The decision to publish the critical apparatus after the text may be inconvenient for readers who wish to look at the variants below the base text, but does not present a major problem. When two texts are closely related but contain also important differences (such as Text no. 11), S. has opted for publishing two columns, with one text in each, thus, highlighting their differences and similarities. Each of the fifteen texts presented is preceded by an Introduction, which provides information on the manuscripts used, some of the linguistic characteristics of the given text, its genre and contents, such as the specific narrative unit(s) included, expanded or commented upon. The variety of genres presented range from elenchic texts, such as Biblical genealogies or the Ten Trials of Abraham, to poetry, sermons and ma-terial included in hagiographical collections, including the Synaxarion. They attest not only to the popularity of Abraham traditions in the Armenian culture, but can serve as starting points for analyzing the two-directional process of cultural interaction and influences. Thus, on the one hand one may take these texts to ex-plore the influence and dissemination of Jewish traditions and narratives in Christian cultures, particularly the Armenian culture, including their Christianization. On the other hand, more than a simple »influence« the texts stand to emphasize the creative process that the narratives generated on the »receiving« end. It is through this perspective that we can appreciate the development of certain themes or ideas by Armenian authors, whatever their exact origin may have been, based on Biblical or extra-Biblical material. Thus, a Sermon Concerning the Sodomites (Text no. 12) indicates the type of theological interpretation that narrative units underwent to suit the needs of an author who was possibly preparing instruc-tional material. But a very different type of information can be gathered from a Poem on Abraham, Melchizedek, Lot (text no. 8). The very subtle allusions to topoi found in Abraham traditions in­dicate how well-known those must have been to the audience of the poem.
I would like to draw attention again to S.’s important methodological reflections on the edition of the so-called open texts and his solution. The decision to publish many texts, sometimes based on only one or at any rate not a great number of manuscript witnesses, belonging to different genres which are clearly related to each other, even if one is at pains to describe the type of relationship between them, can serve as a model for the edition of open texts. Moreover, the popularity of apocryphal stories and the potentially vast manuscript tradition on each of them often discourages scholars from undertaking critical or any kind of editions. It is to be hoped that S.’s study will encourage others to tap further into the vast apoc-ryphal material available in Armenian and make it accessible to the scholarly world. In such a case, S.’s editorial methodology will turn out to be of great utility as well.