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Stone, Michael E.
Armenian Apocrypha Relating to Angels and Biblical Heroes.
Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature Press 2016. 322 S. = Early Judaism and Its Literature, 45. Kart. US$ 55,95, ISBN 978-1-62837-154-3.
Neben dem angegebenen Titel in dieser Rezension besprochen:
Stone, Michael E.: Adam and Eve in the Armenian Tradition: Fifth through Seventeenth Centuries. Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature 2013. 764 S. = Early Judaism and Its Literature, 38. Kart. US$ 89,95. ISBN 978-1-58983898-7.
Michael Stone has dedicated a lifetime to exploring stories on Biblical personae, concepts or events preserved in Armenian. The extensive amount of sources, published and translated by S. in the last five decades, have different origins and contexts of composition. Some are translations – mainly from Greek and Syriac – often preserved only in Armenian, others are first-hand compositions in Armenian based on the Biblical narrative, but most represent a combination of translated material that was paraphrased, expanded, transformed or even commented upon in peculiar ways in the Armenian milieux. The results of S.’s editions, translations and analysis are well known to Armenologists, Biblical scholars, and those of Second Temple Judaism. The two books reviewed here represent two different aspects of S.’s scholarship which are emblematic of his contributions to these fields at large. I will start my review with the most recent publication – Armenian Apocrypha Relating to Angels and Biblical Heroes.
The book brings together heterogeneous texts of para-biblical type, with varying degrees of dependence on the Bible, a commentary and translation into English. It is divided into four parts and in each texts are grouped according to their subject matter. Part One, with the subtitle »Biblical and Associated Traditions«, includes texts whose chief interest is in numbers and lists. Here we find compositions that give the number and names of the hours of the day and night; fifteen signs of judgement; twelve gifts lost by Adam at his expulsion from Paradise and their enumeration; the dimensions of the Ark, etc. Part Two is more specifically dedicated to chronological and genealogical lists, concordances between various Biblical and historical persons and events, as well as reflections on universal and historical epochs. Part Three focuses on angelology and sources that elaborate on the ranks of angels, the duties assigned to each rank, the fallen angels and the reasons for that, etc. This section includes some Question and Answer texts that possibly testify to the popularity of the theme in a monastic school context. Finally, Part Four, which occupies half of the entire book, has lengthier texts which are retellings and redactions of Biblical narratives concerned with such subjects as the building of the Tower of Babel, stories on Isaac, Abram and Joseph, the life of Moses and the Exodus from Egypt. One of the most remarkable sources in this Part is the so-called Third Story of Joseph. It includes a lengthy and noteworthy homiletic closure, where the anonymous author reflects, among others, on the concept and significance of »freedom« – from personal to political to spiritual – or the value of »patience« in the face of oppression of the author’s community (presumably Armenian monasteries) by »all nations«. Each text has a brief introduction, where S. discusses any previous publications, the manuscripts examined by him and their relationship, as well as remarks on any unique features that a given text might exhibit. Then, an English translation is provided, supplied with comments on sources, including the Bible itself, as well as linguistic peculiarities of interest.
This book, like S.’s other contributions within the SBL series Early Judaism and Its Literature, has the great merit of putting into circulation often neglected, so-called minor texts. The English translation ensures their diffusion beyond the specialised domain of Armenian Studies. Moreover, the juxtaposition of various ver-sions of the same text in one collection, makes this an indispensable research tool for scholars who aim to evaluate the reception and transformation of Biblical traditions within the Armenian literary tradition. It also allows the reader to trace a core that remains unchanged in any given cluster of sources against variations, and to acquire an overarching view on the popularity and development of specific themes and topoi. It is only through the publication of multiple variants of similar texts, as carried out by S., that one may discover typical Armenian elaborations grafted on Biblical stories. One piquant example is the claim of Abrahamic origin of the Armenian Arsacid dynasty.
The edition of these texts must serve as a necessary first step towards a more thorough research aimed at exploring the historical background and time-frame of the composition of single texts, as well as a more detailed analysis of the manuscript evidence and context of their transmission. S. provides rather brief information on the relevant manuscripts and his presentation of their rela-tionships is at times touched upon only in a summary fashion. This is counterbalanced by useful tables supplied for some texts-clusters, where S. lays down the most significant variations. As expli-citly admitted by S. throughout the pages of the book, a number of texts published here represent only a sample of a much vaster kindred material extant in manuscript form.
Besides a further historical and philological study, another possible direction of research that seems worthy of note is the inter-religious aspect of the transmission of these texts and traditions. S.’s comments to the English translations can be surprisingly re-vealing. We learn that some of these Armenian texts preserve ma-terial found only in Rabbinic sources, indicating the reception of ancient Jewish lore in the Christian Armenian milieux. Its channels are yet to be traced. Following this lead, it would be fruitful to compare some of the retellings of the Biblical narrative collected in Part Four of the book to the genre of midrash or targum of Late Antic and Medieval Judaism since the procedure of expansion and, in the process, commentary on the Biblical material appears to be similar. However, such features could be appreciated only upon a further study into the period and historical context of the composition of these texts. This remains to be carried out by scholars in the future, who will certainly benefit from the availability of the texts due to S.’s painstaking collection of these obscure sources from manuscripts.
The volume Adam and Eve in the Armenian Tradition: Fifth through Seventeenth Centuries represents what one imagines as the next logical step of research to be built on S.’s earlier publications of relevant para-biblical texts. In fact, S. has already made a major contribution to the study of the literature on Adam and Eve in Armenian. However, while previously he had focused on texts (transla-tions or original compositions) whose main subjects were the Protoplasts and their story, in this book S. traces the reception of those narratives and topoi in the so-called »native« literature. This in-cludes sources composed in Armenian with various aims and within various genres, such as historiography, Biblical exegesis, theological treatises, scholastic compendia, homilies and poetry. Here S. has undertaken the monumental task of scrutinising an enormous body of literature and extrapolating all significant references to the Genesis account of the creation of the first human couple, along with various relevant details. The result – a volume of more than six hundred pages – is a multi-faceted, complex mosaic of traditions that speak for the creativity of approaches to and interpretations of the Biblical text, placed in a diachronic perspective, and drawing readers’ attention to tendencies that characterised each period of time.
The book is divided into two parts. The shorter Part I includes a discussion and presentation of the contents of the sources. Those are then published in the original and translation in the larger Part II.
Part I is arranged diachronically by authors taken into consideration, including remarks on difficulties in dating certain authors and compositions. While the copious material is organised chronologically, it is held together also by means of singling out recurrent central themes which are numbered in a way as to allow an easy cross-reference throughout the book. This facilitates one’s orientation in the abundant material and permits one to appreciate the popularity of given themes in some periods or their disuse in others. The reasons behind such tendencies are not considered in this already voluminous publication and await a future analysis. S. also points out whether certain themes were unique to a single
author or to the Armenian tradition only, or whether they were diffused in Christian apocrypha in different languages, as well as medieval Jewish sources. In an Appendix to Part I S. provides a case study of tracing one specific theme – Satan and the Serpent – across centuries and pointing out transformations, adaptations and elaborations on the question of the relationship between the two (e. g. their identification as one or distinction into two entities). In this case too, the historical-religious context of such changes are not taken into consideration. It is S.’s hope that the Appendix may serve as a kind of a blue-print for future studies focusing on other themes attested in the sources collected in the book.
Part II contains all the sources discussed in Part I, together with an English translation and comments, arranged chronologically. S.’s comments reflect upon textual sources (often Biblical), philolo-gical/linguistic peculiarities, or other noteworthy aspects of a given source. Some of the texts included are rather famous and well-researched. For example, Agat‘angełos or Grigor Narekac‘i are hardly unknown in Armenian studies or beyond. Yet, pointing out a specific theme – that focused on the Protoplasts and relevant traditions – and placing them within a larger spectrum of medieval Armenian sources, allows readers to view these celebrated authors from a different perspective, as snapshots within a larger cultural production. Moreover, it permits us to evaluate the reception and diffusion of Biblical motifs in the Armenian literature, with its peculiarities or, vice versa, similarities compared to other neighbouring cultures. The book contains also much novel material, especially texts dated to after the fifteenth century. Here some unusual or unique sources are published for the first time. One remarkable example is an Amulet preserved in the Matendaran (Yerevan) whose content is now avail-able for further research. No less interesting, and also quite amusing, is an anonymous polemical poem against the tobacco from the seventeenth century – History of Impure Tobacco – which connects the planting of the tobacco by »Jannes and Jabres« to the fall of Adam and Eve and their expulsion from Paradise. There are many more authors and compositions included in the volume that, even if not unknown, have rarely been the focus of scholarly attention. Take, for example, Yovhannēs K‘orepiskopos (8th c.), Catholicos Zak‘aria Jagec‘i (9th c.), Awetik‘ Mahtesi (16th–17th cc.) to name a few. Thus, a larger contribution of S.’s book is to draw our attention to the wealth of compositions in Armenian, particularly post-dating the fifteenth century, that merit scholarly attention beyond the specific topic covered in this book. An alphabetical list of all the authors, with a brief biographical notice, is a most welcome addition that will guide a non-specialist’s reading of the sources.
This monumental achievement is sure to stimulate future research into a more detailed analysis of the historical context and possible reasons for the developments that now can be traced in
the reception of themes related to Adam and Eve in the Armenian literature.