Moses of Khoren

Moses of Khoren #

Introduction #

by Agop Hacikyan, et al.

Մովսէս Խորենացի, historian and bishop.

Life of Moses #

One of the most prominent names among authors of the golden age of Armenian literature is Moses of Khoren, renowned for his History of the Armenians, traditionally thought to be a work of the 5th century. Among medieval Armenian authors Moses was revered as kertoghahayr, father of philology, and then as patmahayr, father of history. However, starting with M.V. de La Crose in the middle of the eighteenth century, and followed by A. Gutschmid and A. Carrière, a number of authors began publishing critical studies that cast doubt not only on the date of Moses’ authorship, but also on the veracity of his narrative. His detractors doubted the existence of some of his sources; they claimed to find borrowings from authors of later periods and thus moved the date of composition of his History to the eighth or ninth century (for a summary of these issues, see The Movses Xorenac’i Controversy below).

From a few scraps of autobiographical information and from traditional sources, it is possible to piece together the details of Moses’ life. He was born between 410 and 415 in the village of Khorni in the province of Taron. His early teachers wre Mesrop Mashtots an Sahak Partev. After the Council of Ephesus (431), when Armenians undertook to retranslate the Bible from the Greek, Moses was among a group of students who were selected to be sent to Alexandria, one of the great centers of learning at the time, in order to perfect their education and prepare for the task. After six or seven years of studying and mastering the Greek language, philosophy, theology, and the art of rhetoric, the group returned home, making short stops at Rome, Athens and Constantinople along the way.

The had been expected a joyous welcome, but found only gloom and disappointment. Their beloved teachers, Mesrop Mashtots and Sahak Catholicos, were dead; furtherome, the Arsacid dynasty had come to an end and the country was groaning under Persian rule. Moses and his fellows, who had come home armed with knowledge and filled with fervor for the service of their countrymen, were not only met with indifference and apathy, but with outright hostility and persecution. The reason behind this adversity was the attitude of the Syriophile clergy who, encouraged by the Persian rulers to suppress the Greek influence, could not tolerant highly educated young scholars fresh from Greek centers of learning. Thus Moses, abandoned and persecuted, secluded himself in a remote cave and dedicated his time to translation. After many years of bitterness and poverty, when he was already past sixty, he was discovered by Catholicos Giut, one of his old classmates, who ordained him bishop and created conditions favorable to his commitment to literary pursuits. It is at this time that prince Sahak Bagratuni commissioned Moses to write the history of the Armenian people from its origins to his own day, a book that would prove to be the crowning work of Moses’ life. He must have finished this work around 480. The date of his death is not certain. A few minor works are also attributed to Moses, but his magnum opus is the History of the Armenians.

References #

  1. Acikyan, A. J., Basmajian, G., Franchuk, E. S., & Ouzounian, N. (2000). The Heritage of Armenian Literature: Volume I. From the Oral Tradition to the Golden Age. Detroit: Wayne State University Press.

  2. The Movses Xorenats’i Controversy: When did this Armenian historian live and write? (Prepared by Robert Bedrosian).

Additional resources #

  1. Movsēs Xorenac’i (in Encyclopedia Iranica).

  2. Whiston, W. (1728). Armenian records taken out of Moses Chorenensis. London.

  3. Stepanyan, A. (2021). Khorenica: Studies in Moses Khorenatsi. Yerevan State University.

  4. Topchyan, A. (2006). The Problem of the Greek Sources of Movsēs Xorenac’i’s History of Armenia. Leuven: Peeters