Armenian Jerusalem

The Hebrew University of Jerusalem has spearheaded the

publication of an English translation of a virtually unknown

Armenian medieval epic that graphically expresses the yearning

of the first people to convert to Christianity for salvation and


The translation into English, the first ever, was the work of the noted Armenologist, Michael Stone, director of the university's Armenian studies program, balancing literary felicity with faithfulness to the original, uncovering medieval Armenian poetic tradition through its more than 6,000 gracefully translated lines.   Stone's work has brought alive the brilliance of paradise, the wickedness of Satan, and the inner struggle of the first man and woman, Adam and Eve, in his rendition of the early 15th CE epic "Adamgirk: The Adam Book of Arakel of Siwnik." Stone notes that the theme of Adam and Eve has fascinated Armenians for centuries. "By the time Arakel composed his treasure in 1401, the Armenians had nurtured an extensive apocryphal literature about the first couple," he says. "Yet, although there were Adam and Eve poems before Arakel, none is as long, complex and intriguing as his work. Faced with the pressures of external events, with the erosion of the church and its faith, Arakel's interweaving of theological tradition and text with lyrical language and vivid imagery produced a remarkable work," he adds. Arakel, who was an abbot of the famous University Monastery of Tatew, depicts Adam as a "newborn flower" whose "body shone like a spark, for the light of the spirit inflamed him," in a resplendent vision of Paradise. At the time he wrote his epic, Armenia was suffering under the yoke of foreign subjugation, following the collapse of the Kingdom of Cilicia, and provided just the right kind of succor for his people. Stone says the work is comparable in scope and range to classics such as John Milton's "Paradise Lost." He has not attempted to retain any meter or rhyming pattern. "My aim was to navigate between the Scylla of over-literalism and the Charybdis of inaccuracy for the sake of literary effect," he says. Arakel was born about 1350 CE in 'Siwnik, a region separated from the central Ararat province by a range of mountains, and enjoying a sort of autonomy with its own which was kingdom founded in 987 CE and lasted until the 12th Century when the Mongol hordes overran Armenia. Under the Mongols, the region prospered thanks to the sagacity and diplomacy of the ruling princely family. With Prince Elikum Orbelian at the helm, Siwnik became a cultural and religious center, attracting artists, architects, writers and intellectuals. Arakel has a distinguished ancestry. His maternal uncle, and mentor, was none other than Grigor of Tatew. He was ordained bishop of Siwnik by 1401 and was Abbot of Tatew in the early fifteenth century. Grigor held his nephew in great esteem referring to him as "my humble nephew in the flesh, born poet, virtuous Arakel." "Grigor and Arakel, labored from within the walls of the important monastery of Tatew to make Armenian tradition secure and, through the educational system they developed, to transmit learning and faith to their students," Stone notes. At Grigor's urging, Arakel began an epic poem on the story of Adam and Eve, producing four versions, which Stone has now translated into English. Arakel also composed a second biblical epic, the Book of Paradise, which is shorter and held in less esteem. "Adamgirk" is being published by Oxford University Press and is available at all good bookshops or directly from OUP ( in the UK and in the US). "Arakel writes extremely powerful narrative poetry, as in his description of the brilliance of paradise, of Satan's mustering his hosts against Adam and Eve, and Eve's inner struggle between obedience to God and Satan's seduction," according to the blurb.
Market day in the Old City