The Armenian Alphabet, A Vision From God

The Armenian Alphabet, A Vision From God

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The Armenian alphabet is the script developed for the writing of the Armenian language. This alphabetic writing system was developed during the 5th century AD and is still in use today.

The Armenian alphabet not only allowed the Armenian language to be written, but also played a crucial role in the preservation of the national identity of the Armenian people. The Armenians continue to place great importance on their alphabet, and this is visible in the Armenian Alphabet Monument, which was erected in Byurakan in 2005.

Unlike the Latin alphabet, that most people are familiar with, the Armenian alphabet contains 39 letters. When the alphabet was first created it contained 36 letters, 7 of which are vowels and the other 29 consonants.

Three more letters were added later on, resulting in the Armenian alphabet having 39 letters. These three letters were added in order to facilitate the writing of translations. It may be added that each of the original letters have a numerical value, which meant that the alphabet could be used for mathematical calculations and for the recording of calendar dates as well.

While written Armenian remained more or less unchanged since the creation of its alphabet, spoken Armenian had split into two distinct dialects by the 19 th century, i.e. Eastern and Western Armenian. The former was known also as ‘Armenian of Russia’, and is based on the dialects of Yerevan and Tbilisi, the capitals of Armenia and Georgia respectively, whereas the latter was known also as ‘Armenian of Turkey’ and is based on the dialect of the Armenian community in Istanbul.

The Armenian language itself predates its alphabet. Armenian is an Indo-European language, a family of languages that includes most of the languages of Europe, the Iranian Plateau, and northern India. It has been speculated that the Armenians may have arrived in the areas surrounding Lake Van, Sevan, and Urmia as early as the second half of the 2 nd millennium BC. By the middle of the following millennium, the Armenians had replaced the local Urartians.

Evidence for this can be found on the Behistun Inscription , which was commissioned by the Achaemenid ruler Darius I , known also as Darius the Great. On the inscription are the names ‘Armina’ and ‘Armaniya’, the earliest known reference to Armenia.

Armenia is mentioned on the Behistun Inscription. ( पाटलिपुत्र)

The Creation of the Armenian Alphabet

In the subsequent centuries, Armenia was mentioned by various ancient authors. It seems, however, that the Armenians did not create records of their own. Till this day, no document (be it stone inscriptions, manuscripts, or legends on coins) with Armenian letters dating to before the 5th century AD has been discovered. On the other hand, the existence of a pre-5th century AD Armenian script is attested to in the works of some ancient authors.

As an example, Philo of Alexandria, a Hellenistic Jewish philosopher who lived between the 1 st century BC and the 1 st century AD, wrote that On Animals was translated into Armenian. On Animals was a work by Metrodorus of Scepsis, a Greek philosopher and historian who lived between the 2 nd and 1 st centuries BC.

Metrodorus was also a close friend and court historian of the Armenian king, Tigranes the Great , so he would have been familiar with the Armenian alphabet. As another example, Hippolytus of Rome, a 3 rd century AD theologian, wrote that the Armenians were one of the nations that had their own distinct alphabet.

In any case, the Armenian alphabet is popularly thought to have only been invented during the 5th century AD. According to tradition, the alphabet was created in 405 AD by Saint Mesrop Mashtots, an Armenian monk, theologian, and linguist. Mesrop was born around 360 AD into a noble family.

Saint Mesrop Mashtots created the Armenian alphabet. (Taron Saharyan~commonswiki / )

According to Koryun, one of Mesrop’s pupils and biographer, the saint was a polyglot, being fluent in a number of languages, including Greek, Persian, and Georgian. He is recorded to have studied Classical languages under Saint Nerses I, an Armenian patriarch. After his studies, Mesrop became a monk, around 395 AD, and was later ordained as a priest.

Mesrop founded several monasteries and spread Christianity to the remote areas of the country, where the people were still practicing Mazdaism, the religion that dominated Armenia prior to the coming of Christianity. Incidentally, Armenia is considered to be the first country to have adopted Christianity as its state religion, i.e. in 301 AD, during the reign of Tiridates III.

Although Armenia was already a Christian state by the time of Mesrop’s birth, it is likely that most of the population were only nominally Christians. Since they could not read the Bible, many Armenians had a limited understanding of their religion. In addition, there were no Bibles written in Armenian, since there was no writing system for the language.

Still, knowledge of Christianity could be transmitted orally to the general population by men like Mesrop, so the problem was not without a solution. In 387 AD, however, Armenia lost its independence, and was divided between the Byzantine and Sassanian Empires, the two superpowers of the region at that time. It was feared that the Armenians would lose their national identity, as a result of assimilation into either Byzantine or Sassanian society. Therefore, something had to be done to preserve the national identity of the Armenians.

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Armenian manuscript, 5 th - 6 th century. The Armenian alphabet was created to preserve the Armenian culture. (Bogomolov.PL / )

It was Mesrop who came up with a solution, i.e. the invention of the Armenian alphabet. The saint was supported in this endeavor by Vramshapuh, who appointed Mesrop as his chancellor.

Vramshapuh ruled Armenia from 389 AD to 414 AD as a Sassanian client king. Although Mesrop is traditionally credited with the ‘invention’ of the Armenian alphabet, it may perhaps be more appropriate to say that he ‘re-invented’ it, since, according to the ancient sources, Mesrop modified a much older Armenian script that had been lost, rather than created a completely new set of letters.

Was the Armenian Alphabet Recreated From a Lost Script?

One version of the story is provided by Koryun. The tale begins with Vramshapuh receiving news that a Syrian bishop by the name of Daniel made an unexpected discovery of a forgotten Armenian script. The king related the story to his chancellor, Mesrop, and Sahak Partev (known also as Isaac of Armenia), the Armenian patriarch at the time.

Statue of Vramshapuh and Mesrop Mashtots near the Armenian Alphabet Monument. (Yerevantsi / CC BY-SA 4.0

The two men realized the significance of the discovery and urged the king to find a way to bring the script back to Armenia. Therefore, Vramshapuh sent a man called Vahrij with a message to Habel, a priest and close friend of Daniel. When Habel received the king’s message, he went immediately to Daniel, obtained the script from his friend, and sent it to the king.

Koryun claims that the script reached Vramshapuh in the fifth year of his reign. After seeing the script, Mesrop and Sahak asked the king for some young children with whom they could experiment with the alphabet. Seeing that the experiments of the two men were a success, the king ordered the alphabet to be taught throughout the kingdom.

After two years of using the alphabet, however, Mesrop and Sahak realized that the letters were insufficient for the writing of the Armenian language. Therefore, the two men decided that the letters needed to be updated and modified.

As hard as they tried, however, Mesrop and Sahak were unable to accomplish this task. Finally, it was through divine intervention that a solution was found. According to Koryun, one day, Mesrop received a vision from God, who instructed and aided the saint in the modification of the ancient letters, thus creating the 36 letters of the Armenian alphabet.

Influences on the Armenian Alphabet

In Koryun’s tale, the Armenian alphabet was reinvented from an older script, which indicates that Mesrop did not pluck the letters out of thin air. Scholars have been speculating about what this ancient script may have been. One suggestion is that the Armenian alphabet was based on the Pahlavi script, which was used for the writing of Middle Persian languages.

Some sources believe Pahlavi script, shown here, inspired the Armenian alphabet. (PawełMM)

This script was derived from Aramaic and was used to write new Zoroastrian religious texts, as well as to translate the existing Avestan scriptures. Therefore, this script would have been used in Armenia in a religious context prior to the arrival of Christianity. The Armenian alphabet also shows the influence of Greek, which is not entirely surprising considering that it was one of the alphabets used to write Christian scripture.

The influence of Greek is also visible in the resemblance of certain Armenian letters to Greek ones (not only visually, but also in the letter / sound order), the presence of letters for vowels, and the direction of writing, i.e. from left to right. In addition, a Greek by the name of Rufanos is believed to have helped Mesrop and Sahak when they created the Armenian alphabet.

According to tradition, the first sentence written by Mesrop after the invention of the Armenian alphabet was “To know wisdom and instruction; to perceive the words of understanding”. These words are from the Old Testament Book of Proverbs. Indeed, the first thing that Mesrop did with the new alphabet was to translate the Bible into Armenian.

Thus, the first popular Armenian Bible, the so-called ‘Mesropian Bible’, was produced by 410 AD. The original copy of Mesrop’s translated bible seems to have not survived. The ‘oldest surviving example of the Armenian alphabet’ is a subject of debate, though there are several contenders for this title.

One of these, for instance, is the Armenian inscription on the ‘Armenian Bird Mosaic’. This mosaic was discovered in 1894 near the Damascus Gate and the Musrara Quarter, in Jerusalem. From its style and iconography, the mosaic has been dated to the 5 th / 6 th century AD. The Armenian inscription on the mosaic reads as follows:

“To the memory and redemption of all the Armenians, whose names are known only to God”.

Works like the Armenian Bird Mosaic were created after the development of the Armenian alphabet. (Vissarion / )

Other mosaics with Armenian inscription dating to the same period have also been found in Jerusalem. Another contender is the so-called ‘Narses Cross’, a silver cross with a single red garnet set in a gold filigree at the center.

Like the ‘Armenian Bird Mosaic’, the ‘Narses Cross’ has been dated to the 5 th / 6 th century AD. The Armenian inscription, which is found along the perimeters of the cross, translates as follows:

“I Nerseh Koms p‘ar˙ sinful and unworthy made this holy redeeming cross for [the church of] Saint Step‘anos in the village of P‘ar˙akert for the remission of my sins and for the repose + of the souls of our fathers and ancestors and for the prosperity and peace of Armenian houses and our villages and the family of Xorxor˙unik‘.”

Returning to the story of Mesrop, the saint did not stop at the translation of the Bible. The next thing he did was to send scholars to Constantinople, Alexandria, and Rome to search for biblical and literary manuscripts. As one might expect, these were translated into Armenian.

Mesrop is credited with the writing of a collection of biblical commentaries, the translation of patristic works, and the construction of liturgical prayers and hymns on an eight-tone scale. In other words, it was Mesrop who laid the foundation for a national Armenian liturgy, which in turn served to preserve the national identity of the Armenians.

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Mesrop translated the Biblical works into Armenian using the newly created Armenia alphabet. (Fæ / CC BY-SA 4.0 )

Needless to say, Mesrop is a highly revered figure in Armenia. He died in 440 AD and his body was taken to the village of Oshakan, in the Aragatsotn Province, not far from the town of Ashtarak. Three years after Mesrop was buried in Oshakan, a church was built over the saint’s grave. Appropriately, it was named Saint Mesrop Mashtots Church.

The church was damaged and renovated a number of times throughout its history, and the current structure dates to the 1870s. The church is a well-known pilgrimage site, thanks to the saint’s reputation.

The invention of the Armenian alphabet by Mesrop is still a source of great pride for the Armenians even today. This is clearly seen in the creation of the Armenian Alphabet Monument. The monument is essentially a group of 39 giant stone carvings, one for each of the 39 letters of the Armenian alphabet.

The monument was created by J. Torosyan, an architect, in 2005, on the occasion of the Armenian alphabet’s 1600 th birthday. The monument is situated in Byurakan, a village on the slopes of Mount Aragats. As it is located not far from Oshakan, it is a tribute not only to the Armenian alphabet, but also to Mesrop Mashtots, the man who created it.

History of the Armenian Church

The origin of the Armenian Church dates back to the Apostolic age. According to the ancient tradition well supported by historical evidence, Christianity was preached in Armenia as early as the second half of the first century by the two disciples of Jesus Christ, namely, St. Thaddeus (John 14:22-24) and St. Bartholomew (John 1:43-51). During the first three centuries Christianity in Armenia was a hidden religion under heavy persecution.

It was at the beginning of the fourth century, 301 AD, that Christianity was officially accepted by the Armenians as the state religion. It should also be remembered that the idea of Christianity as state religion was an innovation at that time.

St. Gregory the Illuminator, the patron Saint of the Armenian Church, and King Thiridates III, the ruler of the time, played a pivotal role in the official Christianization of Armenia. It is a well recognized historical fact that the Armenians were the first nation to formally adhere to Christianity. This conversion was followed in the fourth and fifth centuries by a process of institutionalization and Armenization of Christianity in Armenia.

Events of the fifth century were critical to the making of a distinctively Armenian Christian culture and identity. The foremost of these was the invention of the Armenian alphabet by the monk Mesrob Mashdots and his compatriots. Translations of scripture, commentaries, liturgy, theology, and histories were made. In addition, the fifth century witnessed the first flowering of original Armenian literature. An example is Yeznik Koghbatsi’s doctrinal work, Refutation of the Sects. The Battle of Avarayr in 451 against Persia, although a defeat for the Armenians under Vartan Mamigonian, has been remembered as critical for winning the Armenians the right to practice their Christian belief.

The invention of the Armenian alphabet brought on the Golden Age of Armenian literature. Students were sent to the centers of classical and Christian learning in Edessa, Caesarea, Constantinople, Antioch, Alexandria, and Athens, to prepare themselves to translate the Bible, the liturgy, the important writing of Greek and Syrian church fathers, and classical literature–Greek and Latin–into Armenian. The Bible, translated from the Septuagint, was finished in a few years it and most of the Patristics were translated within thirty years but the whole process, including the translation of secular books, lasted some two hundred years.

The “Holy Translators” are highly revered in the Armenian church. Many of the works translated have since been lost in their Greek or Syriac original, but have been preserved in the Armenian.

Original works were also composed during the Golden Age, including works on history, philosophy, hagiography, homilies, hymns, and apologetics. Later works on the sciences were written. While much has been lost due to the ravages of war and time, many are preserved today in the great library of the Matenadaran (in which, for example, there are almost three hundred manuscripts of Aristotle’s works) in Yerevan and in the Armenian monasteries at Jerusalem, Venice, and Vienna. Thus, the Armenian church provided the Armenian people with a strong national culture just at the time the Armenian state was losing its political independence.

A Migrating Catholicosate

St. Gregory the Illuminator became the organizer of the Armenian Church hierarchy. From that time, the heads of the Armenian Church have been called Catholicos and still hold the same title. St. Gregory chose as the site of the Catholicosate then the capital city of Vagharshapat, in Armenia. He built the pontifical residence next to the church called “Holy Mother of God” (which in recent times would take on the name of St. Etchmiadzin, meaning the place where the Only-Begotten Son has descended), according to the vision in which he saw the Only-Begotten Son of God coming down from heaven with a golden hammer in his hand to locate the site of the new cathedral to be built in 302. The continuous upheavals, which characterized the political scenes of Armenia, made the political power move to safer places. The Church center moved as well to different locations together with the political authority.

Thus, in 485, the Catholicosate was transferred to the new capital Dvin. In the 10th century it moved from Dvin to Dzoravank and then to Aghtamar (927), to Arghina (947) and to Ani (992). After the fall of Ani and the Armenian Kingdom of Bagradits in 1045, masses of Armenians migrated to Cilicia. The Catholicosate, together with the people, settled there. It was first established in Thavblour (1062), then in Dzamendav (1072), in Dzovk (1116), in Hromkla (1149), and finally in Sis (1293), the capital of the Cilician Kingdom, where it remained for seven centuries. After the fall of the Armenian Kingdom in Cilicia, in 1375, the Church also assumed the role of national leadership, and the Catholicos was recognized as Ethnarch (Head of Nation). This national responsibility considerably broadened the scope of the Church’s mission.

Two Catholicosates within the Armenian Church

The existence of two Catholicosates within the Armenian Church, namely the Catholicosate of Etchmiadzin (the Catholicosate of All Armenians), Etchmiadzin-Armenia, and the Catholicosate of the Great House of Cilicia, Antelias-Lebanon, is due to historical circumstances. In the 10th century, when Armenia was devastated by Seljuks, many Armenians left their homeland and came to settle in Cilicia where they re-organized their political, ecclesiastical and cultural life. The Catholicosate also took refuge in Cilicia.

In 1375 the Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia was destroyed. Cilicia became a battleground for hostile Seljuks, Mamluks and other invaders. In the meantime Armenia was having a relatively peaceful time. The deteriorating situation in Cilicia on one hand and the growing cultural and ecclesiastical awakening in Armenia on the other, led the bishops of Armenia to elect a Catholicos in Etchmiadzin. The latter was the original seat of the Catholicosate, but it had ceased to function as Catholicosal See after 485. Thus, in 1441, a new Catholicos was elected in Etchmiadzin in the person of Kirakos Virapetsi. At the same time Krikor Moussapegiants (1439-1446) was the Catholicos of Cilicia. Therefore, since 1441, there have been two Catholicosates in the Armenian Church with equal rights and privileges, and with their respective jurisdictions. The primacy of honor of the Catholicosate of Etchmiadzin has always been recognized by the Catholicosate of Cilicia.

Throughout much of its history, the Armenian Orthodox Church has been an instrument of the Armenian nation’s survival. It has been the Church, indeed, that has preserved Armenian national consciousness during the many centuries in which there was no Armenian state.

The Armenian Church played a significant role in the succession of Muslim empires in which its faithful were located. Because some of these were divided according to religious affiliation, the leaders of the Armenian were, in fact, also politically responsible for their communities. The Armenian Church was greatly affected by two phenomenon in the twentieth century: the genocide in Turkey, in which 1.5 million died, and the Sovietization of eastern Armenia, which ushered in seven decades of official atheism. The Genocide essentially destroyed the church in Turkey, where only a remnant remains. It has also profoundly affected the way in which the Armenian Church approaches the idea of suffering in this world.

The Church thrived in the Armenian Diaspora, and regained its strength in newly independent Armenia (1990’s).

The Creation Of Armenian Alphabet

Mesrop Mashtots was born in 362 AD, in the village of Hatsekats, Armenia.

Sahak Partev, the Armenian catholicos, tasked Mashtots with creating a new Armenian alphabet.

Until that time, most written versions of Armenian were in Greek.

Mesrop Mashtots – The Creator of Armenian Alphabet

The alphabet begins with the letter A as Astvats (meaning God). and ends with Q as Qristos (meaning Christ). Later, however, three more letters appeared.

  1. և (yev). This is actually a conjunction which means ‘and”. It is used only in minuscule. Therefore when using capitals, it must be written like two letters- ԵՎ. On the beginning pronounced “yev”, in the middle of the word “ev”.
  2. Օ. Eastern Armenians use it at the beginning of the words when it should be pronounced as “o”, instead of “Ո”(vo). Western Armenians commonly use it in the middle of the words.
  3. The last one is ֆ (F).

Originally there were 36 letters in the Armenian alphabet. Three letters were added in the 10th-12th cc, for a total of 39 letters.

The original 36 letters of the alphabet were in 4 rows of 9 letters.

However, before Armenia adopted the Arabic numeral system, each letter represented a number.

The first row of letters was for the numbers 1-9, the second row for 10’s-90’s, the third row 100’s-900’s, and the fourth for 1000’s-9,000.

Hence, the letters in old Armenian represent 1996.

You will find this number system inscribed on old monuments in Armenia, as well as on a few modern ones (the Matenadaran for example).

In addition, the first sentence in Armenian using the alphabet is:

“Know wisdom and instruction perceive the words of understanding.” (Mesrop Mashtots)

The Armenian Alphabet Before St. Mesrob: the Mystery of Bishop Daniel’s Script

In 301 AD, the Kingdom of Armenia became the first state in the world that adopted Christianity as an official religion.

In 387 AD, however, Armenia entered a difficult period in its history. Armenia was losing its independence, as Persia and Byzantium conspired to divide the country. Christianity began declining in Persia-influenced part of Armenia. In many provinces, people revived pagan traditions.

At that time, Mesrob Mashtots held the position of secretary and interpreter at the royal court in the capital city of Vagharshapat. He received his primary education at a Greek school back home in Taron. He was also fluent in Greek, Persian, and Syriac.

St. Mesrob’s biographer Koryun described St. Mesrob as a valiant warrior and talented administrator. He earned respect at the court both for his good knowledge of martial arts and his personal skills.

Two concerns caused Mashtots’ initiative to create a separate alphabet for Armenians.

First, Armenians could not read the Holy Bible in Greek or Syriac. They could not understand sermons in those languages as well. This was a factor that accelerated the erosion of Christian faith in the countryside.

The second factor was a renewed threat of cultural assimilation due to the stronger role of Syrian clergy and pro-Persian feudal lords in Armenia. It was a kingdom whose independence was visibly eroding.

St. Mesrob grasped the full scope of these problems when, in around 395 AD, he temporarily left the royal court on an evangelizing mission to Armenia’s province of Syunik (today’s Armenia’s easternmost province) and the neighboring district of Goghtan (in present-day Nakhichevan, Azerbaijani Republic).

Upon his comeback to the capital city of Vagharshapat, Mesrob Mashtots met with Katholikos Sahak Partev (338 AD – 439 AD), the head of the Armenian Church, who offered St. Mesrob his full support.

Sahak Partev was from the family of St. Gregory the Enlightener, the founder of the Amaras Monastery. He is the co-author of the Armenian Alphabet. Similarly to St. Mesrop, the Armenian Church canonized Sahak Partev and Armenians often refer to him as Sahak the Great.

Armenian Church’s formal endorsement of Mashtots’ proposal at its synod coincided with King Vramshapuh’s return to the capital city from his trip to Mesopotamia. There the Armenian monarch tried to mediate a controversy connected with the exile of St. John Chrysostom by Aelia Eudoxia (died in 404 AD). the Empress consort of the Byzantine Emperor Arcadius.

Medieval authors report that while in Mesopotamia, King Vramshapuh found out about the existence of a certain old Armenian script, in possession of Bishop Daniel of Edessa. The king learned of the synod’s decision. Then, he dispatched his confidante Vahrich Khaduni to Mesopotamia to bring a sample of Daniel’s letters to the royal court for inspection by St. Mashtots and St. Sahak.

The origin of the Danielian script remains a matter of intense academic debate since no samples of it survived.

It is known — from Koryun and Movses Khorenatsi, and other authors as well — that the script had been adapted for Armenian. The arrangement of the letters was also according to the order of the Greek alphabet. The pattern that St. Mesrob used for all of the three alphabets he created.

The most common hypothesis about the source of the Danielian script suggests that it represented an earlier Armenian writing system. Semitic calligraphy was the base. It, however, was abandoned in ancient times due to its main shortcoming — inability to correctly reflect the phonetic structure of Armenian. Or, alternatively, it was forgotten due to the failure of the state to support its spread and popularization.

St. Mesrob’s disciple Koryun details that when the Danielian script arrived in Armenia, his tutor began using the letters without delay.

However, the inherent imperfections of the Danielian writing system rendered St. Mesrob’s teaching and translation efforts unproductive.

After two years of struggling with Bishop Daniel’s script, St. Mesrob left Armenia on his own trip to Mesopotamia. He then started seeking guidance from Greek and Syrian rhetoricians in the cities of Edessa and Samosata.

And it was in Samosata, in 406 AD, where, after many discussions and consultations with the top minds of his time, St. Mesrob came up with the final version of the Armenian Alphabet. Medieval historians never failed to depict this event as an expression of divine will.

Armenian Alphabet Monument

Armenian Alphabet Monument

The Armenian Alphabet monument is dedicated to the creation of the alphabet by Mesrop Mashtots. It was built in 2005 on the eastern slope of Aragats mountain, in the village of Artashavan.

It consists of 39 stone carved statues of the Armenian letters. According to the plan of the famous architect Jim Torosyan, the monument was founded to commemorate the 1600th anniversary of the Armenian alphabet creation. It was also designed by him.

Besides the letters, there are also other sculptures in the Park. “Tumanyan with his heroes”, “Gregory the Illuminator”, “Creation of the letters, 405”, “Khachatur Abovyan” and “Mkhitar Gosh”.

If you go a little bit uphill from the monument, you will see the 33-meter high cross which symbolizes Jesus Christ’s age at the time he was crucified. It consists of 1711 big and small metal crosses that symbolize the age of the Christian Armenia.


The Armenian language has three phases.

All of them are the result of the natural evolution of language.r:


Classical Armenian or “Grabar”. Armenians used it from 5th to 19th centuries.

It is the “language of books” (scholarly language in the Middle Ages) with borrowings from the Iranian languages. The Armenian Church still uses it.

This period was very rich in religious works. a great example is the translation of the Bible. It is called the “Queen of Translations” because of the beauty and perfection of the language. Also, due to its fidelity to the text.


Middle Armenian. Used from 11th to 15th centuries.

It was the “language of the country” or “vulgar” language of common people. It gradually replaced the written form. Middle Armenian also became a literary language in the 19th century.


Modern Armenian or “Ashkharabar” began in the 19h century. It has two branches:

Spoken in Armenia, based on the dialect of Yerevan.
Spoken by the diaspora after the genocide of 1915, based on the dialect of Constantinople. Now western Armenians use it.

Armenian forms an independent branch of the Indo-European language family. Armenian is most similar to Greek. It, however, has many borrowed words from such Indo-Iranian languages as Pushto and Persian. In fact, during the very early periods of its classification, people considered Armenian an Iranian language because of its large number of Iranian loan words.

The sound system of Armenian is atypical of Indo-European languages. It has ejective sounds. Ejectives are sounds one can make by using the vocal cords(not the lungs) to push out air. Armenian has seven nominal cases. The language distinguishes two numbers, singular, and plural.

In addition, Armenian does not have a grammatical gender. The position of the indefinite article varies between Eastern and Western Armenian. In the Eastern variety, it precedes the noun, in the Western, it follows the noun.

Every verb stem has two forms, called bases. One for the simple past tense and past participle. The other for all other tenses, moods, and participles. Word order in Armenian is subject-verb-object.

In Armenian, though, the subject of the sentence usually comes in front of the verb or action. For example, “I like food” would be “I food like”.

There is also the double negative in the language.

So, “Nobody came” would be “Nobody didn’t come”.

Today about six million people speak Armenian, although the total population of the Republic of Armenia is only 3 million (94 % are ethnic Armenian). Thus, nearly half of Armenian speakers today live outside their historic homeland, mostly in Iran (370,000), Syria (299,000), Lebanon (235,000), Egypt (100,000), and the United States (175,000).

The creation of the Armenian alphabet was a very important event for Armenians. It was the key that allowed Armenians to preserve their culture and identity. Therefore, they had an exceptional longevity while others disappeared.

The Armenian name of the Lord

The earliest attestation of the sign has been found on petroglyphs in Metsamor, Armenia (see pictures below) and has been dated to 3.000 BCE. The sign itself was known for it’s use by Mithraic priests in pre-Christian Armenia. Later, during the creation of the Armenian Alphabet (405 A.D.), Mesrob Mashtots incorporated it into the Armenian alphabet and gave it a sacred place as the 7th letter of the alphabet. As such it was adopted by the Armenian Church and to date can be admired on top of the altars of Armenian Churches. Its significance to the Church is well explained by the following article.

Sign on a marble Khatchkar (Cross Stone) in the Holy Etchmiadzin.

If you walk into any given Armenian Orthodox Church, you may notice something over the altar, or at least most of them. You may either see the single letter ‘Eh’ (Է) directly at the top, such as the picture to the left demonstrates, or you may see the words ‘Asdvadz Ser Eh’ (in Armenian letters) with the English translation ‘God Is Love’ following it. In the case of the latter, the letter ‘Eh’ (Է) is still directly above the altar.

What is so special about the letter ‘Eh’ (Է) that it deserves such a prominent place over the church altar? First, let’s look at its meaning. In the phrase ‘God is Love’, the word for is is ‘eh’, thus, ‘Asdvadz Ser Eh’ (transliteration: ‘God Love Is’). So, the letter/word ‘Eh’ (Է) literally means ‘is’ or ‘he is’, which , to those familiar with the Old Testament, may sound like a reference to God Himself.

In Exodus chapter 3, the prophet Moses encountered God in the burning bush. As God was instructing Moses to deliver His people from Egypt, Moses asked, “If I come to the

Altar of the Armenian Church of the Forty Martyrs, Aleppo

Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” God said to Moses, “I am who I am.” He said further, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘I am has sent me to you.’

God told Moses that His name is ‘I am’, or technically ‘Is’, or ‘He Who Is’. Thus, God is a being who just IS, and it is only the eternal God who can call Himself by this name. In Armenian, it is the letter/word ‘Eh’ (Է) that serves as the name for ‘I am’ or ‘he is’, and just as Moses realized the ‘Eh’ (Է) to be dwelling in the burning bush, so too does the Armenian Church realize that God (Eh) dwells at the church altar.

Furthermore, ‘Eh’ (Է), when pronounced, makes the sound of a breath, and so the idea of God being the breath of life is attached to this letter. Also, the letter ‘Eh’ (Է) happens to be the 7th letter of the Armenian alphabet. Symbolically, 7 is known as the number of perfection, or completion. Throughout the Bible, the number 7 is attributed to several acts of God, and to God Himself, so the letter ‘Eh’ (Է) takes on even further significance.Thus, for the Armenian Church, the letter ‘Eh’ (Է) and its meaning is considered to be Holy. It is not only symbolic, but ‘Eh’ (Է) is the name of God.

Another interesting fact in the Armenian alphabet, only the letter Է (Ē) can be added as a prefix or a suffix and form a new word. There is no other letter that can be applied in such manner according to the rules of Armenian grammar. Therefore, Է (Ē), is not only a simple letter or a character, but is also a Word in and of itself.

Etymology according to Wikipedia: Old Armenian է (ē), from Proto-Indo-European *h₁es- (“to be”).

Armenian letter Է (Ē) found in Metsamor (3,000 BCE) Sketch of the Armenian letter Է (Ē) found in Metsamor (3,000 BCE)


Mesrop Mashtots was born in a noble family ("from the house of an azat" according to Anania Shirakatsi) in the settlement of Hatsekats in Taron [8] (identified as the village of Hac'ik in the Mush plain), [9] and died in Vagharshapat. He was the son of a man named Vardan. [10] Koryun, his pupil and biographer, tells us that Mashtots (in his work he does not mention the name Mesrop) received a good education, and was versed in the Greek and Persian languages. [8] On account of his piety and learning Mesrop was appointed secretary to King Khosrov IV. His duty was to write in Greek and Persian characters the decrees and edicts of the sovereign.

Leaving the court for the service of God, he took holy orders, and withdrew to a monastery with a few chosen companions. There, says Koryun, he practiced great austerities, enduring hunger and thirst, cold and poverty. He lived on vegetables, wore a hair shirt, slept upon the ground, and often spent whole nights in prayer and the study of the Holy Scriptures. This life he continued for a few years.

Armenia, so long the battle-ground of Romans and Persians, lost its independence in 387, and was divided between the Byzantine Empire and Persia, about four-fifths being given to the latter. Western Armenia was governed by Byzantine generals, while an Armenian king ruled, but only as feudatory, over Persian Armenia. The Church was naturally influenced by these violent political changes, although the loss of civil independence and the partition of the land could not destroy its organization or subdue its spirit. Persecution only quickened it into greater activity, and had the effect of bringing the clergy, the nobles, and the common people closer together. The principal events of this period are the invention of the Armenian alphabet, the revision of the liturgy, the creation of an ecclesiastical and national literature, and the readjustment of hierarchical relations. Three men are prominently associated with this work: Mesrop, Patriarch Isaac, and King Vramshapuh, who succeeded his brother Khosrov IV in 389. In 394, with the help of blessing of Armenia's Catholicos, Sahak Partev, Mesrop set out on a mission of spreading the word of God to a pagan or semi-pagan people.

Mesrop, as noted, had spent some time in a monastery preparing for a missionary life. With the support of Prince Shampith, he preached the Gospel in the district of Goghtn near the river Araxes, converting many heretics and pagans. However, he experienced great difficulty in instructing the people, for the Armenians had no alphabet of their own, instead using Greek, Persian, and Syriac scripts, none of which was well suited for representing the many complex sounds of their native tongue. Again, the Holy Scriptures and the liturgy, being written in Syriac, were, to a large extent, unintelligible to the faithful. Hence the constant need of translators and interpreters to explain the Word of God to the people.

Mesrop, desirous to remedy this state of things, resolved to invent a national alphabet, in which undertaking Isaac and King Vramshapuh promised to assist him. It is hard to determine exactly what part Mesrop had in the fixing of the new alphabet. According to his Armenian biographers, he consulted Daniel, a bishop of Mesopotamia, and Rufinus, a monk of Samosata, on the matter. With their help and that of Isaac and the king, he was able to give a definite form to the alphabet, which he probably adapted from the Greek. Others, like Lenormant, think it derived from the Avestan. Mesrop's alphabet consisted of thirty-six letters two more (long O and F) were added in the twelfth century.

Medieval Armenian sources also claim that Mashtots invented the Georgian and Caucasian Albanian alphabets around the same time. Most scholars link the creation of the Georgian script to the process of Christianization of Iberia, a core Georgian kingdom of Kartli. [11] The alphabet was therefore most probably created between the conversion of Iberia under King Mirian III (326 or 337) and the Bir el Qutt inscriptions of 430, [12] contemporaneously with the Armenian alphabet. [13]

The first sentence in Armenian written down by St. Mesrop after he invented the letters is said to be the opening line of Solomon’s Book of Proverbs:

Ճանաչել զիմաստութիւն եւ զխրատ, իմանալ զբանս հանճարոյ:
Čanačʿel zimastutʿiwn ew zxrat, imanal zbans hančaroy.
«To know wisdom and instruction to perceive the words of understanding.»

The invention of the alphabet around 405 was the beginning of Armenian literature, and proved a powerful factor in the upbuilding of the national spirit. "The result of the work of Isaac and Mesrop", says St. Martin, [15] "was to separate for ever the Armenians from the other peoples of the East, to make of them a distinct nation, and to strengthen them in the Christian Faith by forbidding or rendering profane all the foreign alphabetic scripts which were employed for transcribing the books of the heathens and of the followers of Zoroaster. To Mesrop we owe the preservation of the language and literature of Armenia but for his work, the people would have been absorbed by the Persians and Syrians, and would have disappeared like so many nations of the East".

Anxious that others should profit by his discovery, and encouraged by the patriarch and the king, Mesrop founded numerous schools in different parts of the country, in which the youth were taught the new alphabet. It is historically proven, that Saint Mesrop himself taught in Amaras monastery of Artskah region of Armenia (located in contemporary Martuni region of unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic). [ citation needed ] But his activity was not confined to Eastern Armenia. Provided with letters from Isaac he went to Constantinople and obtained from the Emperor Theodosius the Younger permission to preach and teach in his Armenian possessions. Having returned to Eastern Armenia to report on his missions to the patriarch, his first thought was to provide a religious literature for his countrymen. Having gathered around him numerous disciples, he sent some to Edessa, Constantinople, Athens, Antioch, Alexandria, and other centres of learning, to study the Greek language and bring back the masterpieces of Greek literature. The most famous of his pupils were John of Egheghiatz, Joseph of Baghin, Yeznik, Koryun, Moses of Chorene, and John Mandakuni.

The first monument of this Armenian literature is the version of the Holy Scriptures. Isaac, says Moses of Chorene, made a translation of the Bible from the Syriac text about 411. This work must have been considered imperfect, for soon afterwards John of Egheghiatz and Joseph of Baghin were sent to Edessa to translate the Scriptures. They journeyed as far as Constantinople, and brought back with them authentic copies of the Greek text. With the help of other copies obtained from Alexandria the Bible was translated again from the Greek according to the text of the Septuagint and Origen's Hexapla. This version, now in use in the Armenian Church, was completed about 434.

The decrees of the first three councils — Nicæa, Constantinople, and Ephesus — and the national liturgy (so far written in Syriac) were also translated into Armenian, the latter being revised on the liturgy of St. Basil, though retaining characteristics of its own. Many works of the Greek Fathers also passed into Armenian. The loss of the Greek originals has given some of these versions a special importance thus, the second part of Eusebius's Chronicle, of which only a few fragments exist in the Greek, has been preserved entirely in Armenian. In the midst of his literary labors Mesrop revisited the districts he had evangelized in his earlier years, and, after the death of Isaac in 440, looked after the spiritual administration of the patriarchate. He survived his friend and master by only six months. The Armenians read his name in the Canon of the Liturgy, and celebrate his memory on 19 February.

Saint Mashtots is buried at a chapel in Oshakan, a historical village 8 km (5.0 miles) southwest from the town of Ashtarak.

Saint Mesrop is listed officially in the Roman Martyrology of the Roman Catholic Church his feast day is February 17.

Virtually every town in Armenia has a street named after Mashtots. In Yerevan, Mashtots Street is one of the most important in the city center, which was previously known as Lenin Street (Lenin Prospect). There is a statue to him at the Matenadaran, one at the church he was buried at in Oshakan village, and one at the monument to the alphabet found on the skirts of Mt. Aragats north of Ohanavan Village. Stamps have been issued with his image by both the Soviet Union and by post-Soviet Armenia.

The Order of St. Mesrop Mashtots, established in 1993, is awarded for significant achievements in economic development of the Republic of Armenia or for accomplishments, such as in science, culture, education or public service, and for activities promoting those fields.

Mashtots also produced a number of liturgical compositions. Some of the works attributed to him are: «Մեղայ քեզ Տէր» (Meġay k’ez Tēr, “I have sinned against you, Lord”), «Ողորմեա ինձ Աստուած» (Voġormea inj Astuac, “Have mercy on me, God”), «Անկանիմ առաջի քո» (Ankanim aṙaǰi k’o, “I kneel before you”) and «Ողորմեա» (Voġormea, “Miserere”), all of which are hymns of repentance. [ citation needed ]

How Armenia &ldquoInvented&rdquo Christendom

ONLY A WEEK PRIOR TO HIS ATTACK on Poland in September, 1939, Adolf Hitler reportedly delivered a secret talk to members of his General Staff, urging them to wipe out the Polish race. “After all,” he argued, “who remembers today the extermination of the Armenians?”

Hitler was referring to the genocide of nearly 1.5 million Armenian Christians at the hands of Ottoman Turks from 1915 to 1923 in what is now eastern Turkey. Turkish authorities deny the atrocities ever took place, but the story of bloodbath in Armenia is one of the well-documented tragedies of our time.

Still, it’s unfortunate that Armenia (today located directly east of Turkey and west of the Caspian Sea) is now known for this story above any other. It says nothing about the people of Armenia, or the part they have played in global Christianity. For contribute they did, in a manner that might surprise even a seasoned church historian.

Tortured for Christ

No man has more stature in the Armenian church today than Gregory the Illuminator. While not the first to bring Christianity to Armenia, Gregory is, at least in the minds of Armenians, the nation’s spiritual father and the people’s patron saint.

Born into a wealthy family around 257, Gregory nevertheless had a rough beginning—his biographer, Agathangelos, tells us Gregory’s father murdered the Armenian king and paid for it with his life. But the boy was rescued from the chaos following the murder, and his new guardians raised him as a Christian in Cappadocia (east-central Turkey). There, according to Agathangelos, Gregory “became acquainted with the Scriptures of God, and drew near to the fear of the Lord.”

When Gregory’s tutors told him of his father’s wickedness, Gregory approached the murdered king’s son, Tiridates, to offer his service (all the while concealing his identity). Tiridates accepted Gregory’s offer, but when Gregory refused to worship Anahit, an idol the king had raised in gratitude for military successes, Tiridates became furious: “You have come and joined us as a stranger and foreigner. How then are you able to worship that God whom I do not worship?”

Tiridates tortured Gregory, hanging him upside-down and flogging him, then fastening blocks of wood to his legs and tightening them. When these tactics failed, he tried even more gruesome measures. Still the saint refused to bow the knee. Tiridates then learned that Gregory was the son of his father’s murderer, and he ordered that the missionary be thrown into a “bottommost pit” filled with dead bodies and other filth. There Gregory sat for 13 years, surviving only on bread a widow threw down each day after receiving instruction to do so in a dream.

Converting the King

At about this time a beautiful woman named Rhipsime arrived in Armenia, fleeing an enforced marriage to the Roman emperor Diocletian. Tiridates took a liking to her too, and took her forcibly when she refused to come to him. But “strengthened by the Holy Spirit,” she fought off his advances and escaped. Furious, Tiridates ordered her execution, and that night Rhipsime burned at the stake. Her abbess Gaiane soon followed her in death, along with 35 other companions.

The king, still lusting after Rhipsime, mourned her death for six days, then prepared to go hunting. But God visited on him a horrible punishment—Agathangelos calls it demon possession—reducing him to insanity and throwing his court into chaos. Tiridates’ sister had a vision to send for Gregory, imprisoned so long ago. People laughed at the idea Gregory might still be alive, but recurrent visions finally convinced a nobleman, Awtay, to visit his pit. Astonished to find the missionary living, Awtay brought him to meet the king, who was feeding with swine outside the city.

Tiridates, along with other possessed members of his court, rushed at Gregory. But Gregory “immediately knelt in prayer, and they returned to sobriety.” Tiridates then pleaded for Gregory’s forgiveness, and the king and his whole court repented of their sin and confessed faith in Christ.

Assessing Gregory’s Legacy

Scholars disagree over how much Agathangelos’s history can be taken at face-value. After all, he wrote his book in 460 (Tiridates is believed by Armenians to have converted in 301), and much of his story has elements of hagiography that lead one to wonder whether the events ever happened. But even skeptics acknowledge that Gregory was a real person with considerable ecclesiastical influence in Armenia—the signature of his son and successor Aristakes can be found among those ratifying the Council of Nicaea in 325. And even if we can document little about the man, his pre-eminence among Armenia’s heroes of the faith is unassailable.

Why? First, Gregory persuaded the king to build a string of churches across Armenia, beginning with Holy Etchmiadzin— according to some scholars the oldest cathedral site in the world and an important pilgrimage site for all Armenians. The seat of the Armenian church would pass to other cities, but Gregory “established” Christianity in Armenia via this church.

Gregory also introduced Christian liturgy to Armenia. These rites consisted of psalmody, scriptural readings, and prayers recited in Greek or Syriac. After Mesrop Mashtots invented an Armenian alphabet at the beginning of the fifth century, both the Bible and the liturgy were translated into the Armenian language.

Most importantly, Gregory set in motion the mass conversion of Armenia to Christianity. According to Agathangelos, the king ordered all pagan shrines to be torn down, and Gregory proceeded to baptize more than 190,000 people into the new faith. Whether the nation converted as quickly as Agathangelos implies is difficult to discern. Certainly by the fifth century, Armenia was well on its way to becoming a “Christian” nation.

Armenia is an ancient—if not the oldest—model for what we now call Christendom. Church historian Kenneth Scott Latourette notes that the Armenian church “was an instance of what was to be seen again and again, a group adoption of the Christian faith engineered by the accepted leaders and issuing in an ecclesiastical structure which became identified with a particular people, state, or nation.”

Certainly the Roman Empire is a prime example of this, but Armenia is at least as old, and perhaps a more impressive example given the invasions and persecution it endured at the hands of the Turks (and before them, Arabs and Persians). Indeed even Byzantium attempted to bring Armenia within its orbit, but the nation resisted, arguing that its apostolic origins were on par with Rome.

So lest you assume Rome is our first example of Christendom, think again. Long may Armenia’s church endure. CH

By Steven Gertz

[Christian History originally published this article in Christian History Issue #85 in 2005]

Armenia Churches

One of Armenia’s nicknames is the “land of churches.” The country has over 4000 churches and monasteries. It is the home of the oldest cathedral in the world, Echimiazin Armenian Apostolic Church.

There’s also the Zvartnots Ruins, which UNESCO has listed as a heritage site. It was the first circular three-story church. It lasted only three centuries before an earthquake destroyed it.

Armenians later learned to build more stable rectangular-based churches. The new structures could better withstand the shaking of the earth.

What Do We Know About the Ancient Armenian Version of the Bible?

EDWARD D. ANDREWS (AS in Criminal Justice, BS in Religion, MA in Biblical Studies, and MDiv in Theology) is CEO and President of Christian Publishing House. He has authored over 140 books. Andrews is the Chief Translator of the Updated American Standard Version (UASV).

As a brief overview of versions, we have the Syriac versions (an Aramaic dialect) from the second century onward, the Latin versions with the Old Latin from the latter part of the second century onward. Eusebius Hieronymus, otherwise known as Jerome gave us a revision of the Old Latin version in 383 C.E. By the third century, the first translation of the Greek NT was published in Coptic. The Gothic version was produced during the fourth century. The Armenian version of the Bible dates from the fifth century and was likely made from both the Greek and Syriac texts. The Georgian version was finished at the end of the sixth century, which exhibited Greek influence, but it had an Armenian and Syriac source. The Ethiopic version was produced about the fourth or fifth century. There are various old Arabic versions. Translations of parts of the Bible into Arabic were produced about the seventh century, but the earliest evidence is that of a version made in Spain in 724. The Slavonic version was produced in the ninth century by the two brothers, Cyril and Methodius. Keep in mind, most scholars would argue that the Syriac versions and the Latin versions are generally speaking the most important when it comes to textual studies.

The Armenian Version of the Bible designated by (arm) dates from the early fifth century C.E., which includes all of the New Testament and was likely, prepared from both Greek and Syriac texts. It is often called the “queen of the versions” and many regards it as both beautiful and accurate. The New Testament is a very literal translation, which, of course, is quite helpful to textual criticism.

The Armenian Bible is due to Saint Mesrob’s early-5th-century translation. The first monument of Armenian literature is the version of the Holy Scriptures. Isaac, says Moses of Chorene, made a translation of the Bible from the Syriac text about 411. This work must have been considered imperfect, for soon afterward John of Egheghiatz and Joseph of Baghin were sent to Edessa to translate the Scriptures. They journeyed as far as Constantinople and brought back with them authentic copies of the Greek text. With the help of other copies obtained from Alexandria, the Bible was translated again from the Greek according to the text of the Septuagint and Origen’s Hexapla. This version, now in use in the Armenian Church, was completed about 434.

The first sentence in Armenian written down by St. Mesrop after he invented the letters is said to be the opening line of Solomon’s Book of Proverbs:

Ճանաչել զիմաստութիւն եւ զխրատ, իմանալ զբանս հանճարոյ:

Čanačʿel zimastutʿiwn ew zxrat, imanal zbans hančaroy.

“To know wisdom and instruction to perceive the words of understanding.”

Armenia claims the honor of being the first kingdom to accept Christianity as its official religion. The founder of Armenian Christianity was Gregory the Illuminator (ca. 257-331), an Armenian of royal lineage who had received Christian training at Caesarea in Cappadocia. Toward the end of the third century, he returned to his native land in order to undertake missionary work. Among his converts verts was Tiridates I, king of Armenia, who then sent out a herald to command all his subjects to adopt Christianity. Thus, by royal edict, Christianity was made the established religion of Armenia and was embraced by the populace through wholesale baptisms.

In his program of evangelism, Gregory was assisted by co-workers workers from various backgrounds-Armenians trained in Hellenistic culture as well as Armenians under Syrian influence. During this period, before the invention of the Armenian alphabet, hooks and documents existed only in Greek and Syriac, and their translation was left to oral interpretation. Consequently, it was through such cultural bridges that the Armenians received both Greek and Syriac Christianity, as well as the literature of both these peoples.

The earliest attempt to construct an Armenian alphabet was made by a certain Bishop Daniel. Since he was a Syrian, he probably ably took the Aramaic alphabet as a pattern. According to the historian Koriun, the alphabet was found to be unsuitable for representing the sounds of the Armenian language. The foundation of Armenian literature, including the translation of the Bible, dates from the early part of the fifth century. The chief promoters of this cultural development were the catholicos (primate) of the Armenian Church, Sahak (ca. 350-439), a descendent of Gregory the Illuminator, and Sahak’s friend and helper, Mesrop (Mesrob or Mashtotz, ca. 361-439), who had exchanged a military career for the life of a monk, missionary, and teacher.

At length and with the help of a Greek hermit and calligrapher, Rufanos of Samosata, about A.D. 406 Mesrop succeeded in producing ing an Armenian alphabet of thirty-six letters, twenty letters coming ing directly from Greek, twelve others being formed according to a Greek model, and four being taken from Syriac.

After creating the Armenian alphabet, Mesrop gathered about him a band of keen scholars. Sending some of them to Edessa, to Constantinople, and as far as Rome in search of manuscripts of the Scriptures and of ecclesiastical and secular writers, he inaugurated a program of translation that enriched and consolidated Armenian culture. The first book of the Bible that Mesrop translated was the Book of Proverbs, which was followed by the New Testament. With the help of Sahak and perhaps other translators, the rest of the Old Testament was finished about 410-14.

Among noteworthy features of the Armenian version of the Bible was the inclusion of certain books that elsewhere came to be regarded as apocryphal. The Old Testament included the History of Joseph and Asenath and the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, and the New Testament included the Epistle of the Corinthians to Paul and a Third Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians.

Many other uncanonical writings of the Old Testament are preserved served in Armenian manuscripts. These include The Book of Adam, The History of Moses, The Deaths of the Prophets, Concerning King Solomon, mon, A Short History of the Prophet Elias, Concerning the Prophet Jeremiah, The Vision of Enoch the Just, and The Third Book of Esdras (being chapters 3-14 of Second Esdras in the Apocrypha of the King James Version and including in chapter 7 the lost section of verses 36 to 105). – Bruce Metzger. The Bible in Translation : Ancient and English Versions (p. 40-41).

Isaac or Sahak of Armenia (354–439) was the Patriarch of the Armenian Apostolic Church. Even though Sahak had been abandoned as an orphan at an early age, he still managed to come away with an exceptional literary education in Constantinople, especially in the Eastern languages. Around the time that Sahak was elected as the Patriarch of the Armenian Apostolic Church, the Armenians were suffering serious difficult times. In 387, Armenia had been divided between the Byzantine Empire and Persia. On the Byzantine side, Armenians were not allowed to use the Syriac language, which had to be replaced with the Greek language. This greatly affected their worship, as well as Hellenizing the Armenians in the Byzantine territory. On the Persian side, the Armenians were prohibited from using Greek, with Syriac being the chosen language. This could have greatly influenced the culture of the Armenians, removing their national unity. Sahak sponsored Saint Mesrop (c. 362-440), an Armenian linguist, who invented the Armenian alphabet (c. 405). After that, Mesrop began to translate the Christian Bible. This was a monumental step in strengthening the Armenian national identity.

The Armenian version has a record number of copies, at 1,244 cataloged by Rhodes (with hundreds more in the Soviet Union). It is an accurate and literal rendering of the Greek New Testament. Over one hundred of the Armenian manuscripts stop at verse 8 at the end of Mark chapter 16. “One copy of the Armenian Gospels, dated to A.D. 989, says that the last twelve verses of Mark 16 were added by “the presbyter Ariston” (who is mentioned by Papias in the early second century as one of the disciples of the Lord).” [1]

Original Greek Writings and Early Copies

Early Papyri100-175 C.E. (P 4/64/67 P 32 P 46 P 52 P 66 + P 75+ P77/103 P 87 P 90 P 98 P 109 P 118 P 137 P 104

175-250 C.E. P 8 P 9 P 12 P 15 P 16 P 17 P 18 P 19 P 24 P 28 P 37 P 50 P 51 P 53 P 70 P 78 P 80 P 86 P 88 P 89 P 91 P 92 P 114 P 119 P 120 P 129 P 131 P 132 P 134

250-300 C.E. P 3 P 6 P 7 P 10 P 21 P 54 P 62 P 81 P 93 P 94 P 102 P 112 P 117 P 122 P 123 P 127 P 130 P 139

Ancient Versions

Syriac Versions—Curetonian, Philoxenian, Harclean,
Old Latin
Palestinian, Sinaitic, Peshitta
Coptic Versions
Gothic Version
Armenian Version
Georgian Version
Ethipic Version

Early Greek Uncial MSS.—Vatican 1209 (B), Sinaitic (א), Alexandrine (A), Ephraemi Syri rescriptus (C), Bezae (D), etc.

Latin Vulgate
Sixtine and Clementine Revised Latin Texts

Greek Cursive MSS.

Fam. 1. Early in the twentieth century, family of witnesses that includes manuscripts 1, 118, 131, and 209
Fam. 13. 13, 69, 124, 230, 346, 543, 788, 826, 983, 1689, and 1709). They were copied between the eleventh and fifteenth centuries
MS. 28. Eleventh cenrury
MS. 33. Ninth century
MS. 61. 16th century
MS. 69. 15th century
MS. 81. 1044 C.E.
MS. 157. 1122 C.E.

Critical Texts

[1516] Erasmus Text
[1522] Textus Receptus
[1550] Stephanus Text

[1774–1775] Griesbach Greek New Testament
[1881] Westcott and Hort Greek New Testament
[1943–1977] Bover Greek New Testament – 5th edition
[1933–1984] Merk Greek New Testament – 10th edition
[1898–2012] Nestle-Aland Greek New Testament – 28th edition
[1966–2015] United Bible Societies Greek New Testament – 5th edition

English Translations

The Wycliffite Bible (1382 1388)
Tyndale and the First Printed English New Testament (1526)
Coverdale and the First Complete Printed Bible in English (1535)
Matthew’s Bible (1537)
Taverner’s Bible (1539)
The Great Bible (1539)
Edmund Becke’s Bibles (1549 1551)
The Geneva Bible (1560)
The Bishops’ Bible (1568)
The Rheims-Douay Bible (1582-1610)
The King James Bible (1611) – Revision of Early English Translations

Between the King James Bible and the Revised Version

Edward Harwood’s New Testament (1768)
Charles Thomson’s Bible (1808)
Noah Webster’s Bible (1833)
Julia E. Smith’s Bible (1876)
The British Revised Version (1881-85)
American can Standard Version (1901)

Early Modern English Versions

The Twentieth Century New Testament (1901 1904)
Weymouth’s New Testament in Modern Speech (1903)
Moffatt’s Translation of the Bible (1913 1924-25) 25)
Smith and Goodspeed’s American Translation (1923 1927)
The Revised Standard Version (1952)
The Jerusalem Bible (1966)
The New American Bible (1970)
The New English Bible (1970)
The New International Version (1978)
Jewish Translations 142 Translations Sponsored by the Jewish Publication Society (1917 1985)
Heinz W. Cassirer’s New Testament (1989)
David H. Stern’s Complete Jewish Bible (1998)
The Lexham English Bible (2012)

Revision after Revision

The New American Standard Bible (1971 updated ed. 1995, 2020)
The New Jerusalem Bible (1985)
Revised New Testament, New American Bible (1986)
The Revised English Bible (1989)
The New Revised Standard Version (1990)
The English Standard Version (2001)
The Christian Standard Bible (2017)

[1] Paul D. Wegner, A Student’s Guide to Textual Criticism of the Bible: Its History, Methods & Results (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2006), 281.

(Wegner 2006, p. 271) Location of the Origins of the Versions

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The Church of Armenia

Formerly Armenian Patriarch of Constantinople (Istanbul)

History of Armenian Bible

Armenia was in large measure Christianized by Gregory Lousavorich ("the Illuminator": consecrated 302 AD died 332), but, as Armenian had not been reduced to writing, the Scriptures used to be read in some places in Greek, in others in Syriac, and translated orally to the people. A knowledge of these tongues and the training of teachers were kept up by the schools which Gregory and King Tiridates had established at the capital Vagharshapat and elsewhere. As far as there was any Christianity in Armenia before Gregory's time, it had been almost exclusively under Syrian influence, from Edessa and Samosata. Gregory introduced Greek influence and culture, though maintaining bonds of union with Syria also.

When King Sapor of Persia became master of Armenia (378 AD), he not only persecuted the Christians most cruelly, but also, for political reasons, endeavored to prevent Armenia from all contact with the Byzantine world. Hence his viceroy, the renegade Armenian Merouzhan, closed the schools, proscribed Greek learning, and burnt all Greek books, especially the Scriptures. Syriac books were spared, just as in Persia itself but in many cases the clergy were unable to interpret them to their people. Persecution had not crushed out Christianity, but there was danger lest it should perish through want of the Word of God. Several attempts were made to translate the Bible into Armenian. In 397 the celebrated Mesrob Mashtots and Isaac (Sachak) the Catholicos resolved to translate the Bible. Mesrob had been a court secretary, and as such was well acquainted with Pahlavi, Syriac and Greek, in which three languages the royal edicts were then published. Isaac had been born at Constantinople and educated there and at Caesarea. Hence he too was a good Greek scholar, besides being versed in Syriac and Pahlavi, which latter was then the court language in Armenia. But none of these three alphabets was suited to express the sounds of the Armenian tongue, and hence, an alphabet had to be devised for it.

A council of the nobility, bishops and leading clergy was held at Vagharshapat in 402, King Vramshapouch being present, and this council requested Isaac to translate the Scriptures into the vernacular. By 406, Mesrob had succeeded in inventing an alphabet--practically the one still in use--principally by modifying the Greek and the Pahlavi characters, though some think the Palmyrene alphabet had influence. He and two of his pupils at Samosata began by translating the Book of Proverbs, and then the New Testament, from the Greek Meanwhile, being unable to find a single Greek manuscript in the country, Isaac translated the church lessons from the Peshitta Syriac, and published this version in 411. He sent two of his pupils to Constantinople for copies of the Greek Bible. These men were present at the Council of Ephesus, 431 AD. Probably Theodoret (De Cura Graec. Affect., I, 5) learned from them what he says about the existence of the Bible in Armenian. Isaac's messengers brought him copies of the Greek Bible from the Imperial Library at Constantinople--doubtless some of those prepared by Eusebius at Constantine's command. Mesrob Mashtots and Isaac, with their assistants, finished and published the Armenian (ancient) version of the whole Bible in 436. La Croze is justified in styling it Queen of versions Unfortunately the Old Testament was rendered (as we have said) from the Septuagint, not from the Hebrew. But the Apocrypha was not translated, only "the 22 Books" of the Old Testament, as Moses of Khorene informs us. This was due to the influence of the Peshitta Old Testament.

Not till the 8th century was the Apocrypha rendered into Armenian: it was not read in Armenian churches until the 12th. Theodotion's version of Daniel was translated, instead of the very inaccurate Septuagint. The Alexandrine text was generally followed but not always.

In the 6th century the Armenian version is said to have been revised so as to agree with the Peshitta. Hence, probably in Mt 28:18 the King James Version, the passage, "As my Father hath sent me, even so send I you," is inserted as in the Peshitta, though it occurs also in its proper place ( Joh 20:21 ). It reads "Jesus Barabbas" in Mt 27:16,17 --a reading which Origen found "in very ancient manuscripts." It contains Lu 22:43,44 . As is well known, in the Etschmiadzin manuscript of 986 AD, over Mr 16:9-20 , are inserted the words, "of Ariston the presbyter" but Nestle (Text. Criticism of the Greek New Testament, Plate IX, etc.) and others omit to notice that these words are by a different and a later hand, and are merely an unauthorized remark of no great value.

Results of Circulation:

Mesrob's version was soon widely circulated and became the one great national book. Lazarus Pharpetsi, a contemporary Armenian historian, says he is justified in describing the spiritual results by quoting Isaiah and saying that the whole land of Armenia was thereby "filled with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea." But for it, both church and nation would have perished in the terrible persecutions which have now lasted, with intervals, for more than a millennium and a half.

This version was first printed somewhat late: the Psalter at Rome in 1565, the Bible by Bishop Oskan of Erivan at Amsterdam in 1666, from a very defective MS other editions at Constantinople in 1705, Venice in 1733. Dr. Zohrab's edition of the New Testament in 1789 was far better. A critical edition was printed at Venice in 1805, another at Serampore in 1817. The Old Testament (with the readings of the Hebrew text at the foot of the page) appeared at Constantinople in 1892 ff.

Modern Armenian Versions.

There are two great literary dialects of modern Armenian, in which it was necessary to publish the Bible, since the ancient Armenian (called Grapar, or "written") is no longer generally understood. The American missionaries have taken the lead in translating Holy Scripture into both.

The first version of the New Testament into Ararat Armenian, by Dittrich, was published by the British and Foreign Bible Society at Moscow in 1835 the Psalter in 1844 the rest of the Old Testament much later. There is an excellent edition, published at Constantinople in 1896.

A version of the New Testament into Constantinopolitan Armenian, by Dr. Zohrab, was published at Paris in 1825 by the British and Foreign Bible Society. This version was made from the Ancient Armenian. A revised edition, by Adger, appeared at Smyrna in 1842. In 1846 the American missionaries there published a version of the Old Testament. The American Bible Society have since published revised editions of this version.

Watch the video: The Armenian Alphabet Friends #2


  1. Murchadh

    To be honest, at first I did not fully understand, but the second time I got it - thanks!

  2. Vunris

    your idea is brilliant

  3. Tzefanyahu

    It's unlikely.

  4. Gusho

    Not in it business.

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