New book examines “lives” of Saint Gregory, Illuminator of Armenia

450px-gregory_the_illuminat1.jpgStatue of Saint Gregory at the Vatican.
Ann Arbor, Mich. – The conversion of Tiridates, king of Armenia, to Christianity by Saint Gregory the Illuminator at the beginning of the fourth century, is narrated in the History of the Armenians attributed to an unknown Agathangelos. The story was widely disseminated, and Saint Gregory became famous throughout the Christian world.

The Armenian text of Agathangelos’s History has been printed many times in the last three hundred years, and translated into English, French, and Italian.

Less well known is the fact that versions of the conversion with significant differences from the known Armenian History are found in Greek, Arabic, Syriac, and other languages. Ultimately, these derive from Armenian texts which were not preserved, and in the process of transmission further changes were introduced.

The most important of these early variants of the known tradition are found in Greek, Arabic, and Syriac. Now, for the first time, they have been translated into English, and are presented in comparison with each other and the surviving Armenian.

In his Introduction Professor Thomson traces the development of traditions concerning the life and work of Gregory the Illuminator as found in Armenian writers down to the fourteenth century. When such traditions are considered together with the versions of Agathangelos found in other languages, a more nuanced picture of the development of the early Armenian Church emerges.

The image of Saint Gregory was not fixed from the beginning, but underwent development over the centuries. A detailed commentary, a copious bibliography, and a map enhance the value of this publication for all interested in the history and literature of Armenia in the context of the Eastern Christian world.

Robert W. Thomson is Calouste Gulbenkian Professor of Armenian Studies emeritus in the University of Oxford. From 1969 to 1992 he was Mashtots Professor of Armenian Studies at Harvard University, and from 1984-1989 Director of Dumbarton Oaks in Washington, D.C. He has edited texts in Armenian, Syriac, and Greek, and has published numerous translations and studies of historical, philosophical, and theological works written in Armenian, Georgian, and Syriac. In 1995 he was elected a Fellow of the British Academy.

Robert W. Thomson, The Lives of Saint Gregory: The Armenian, Greek, Arabic, and Syriac Versions of the History Attributed to Agathangelos, translated with Introduction and Commentary. Ann Arbor: Caravan Books, 2010. ISBN 978-0-88206-118-4. Pp. 546. Map. $90.00.