Sunday, December 13, 2015

Is Anyone Out There Fluent In Armenian?

The thing is -- I'm not. Not even close. I recently obtained my first Armenian Bible, and I have no idea what sort of a Bible it is. Its ISBN number is 978-1843640660.

Now, I know some of you are shaking your heads and saying aloud, "What the Heck, Steve! Wouldn't it make more sense to get at least close to fluent in Armenian before getting books written in Armenian, ya big goof?!"

For some people, maybe most people, that might make more sense. My method of language acquisition tends to lean less on language courses and textbooks, and more on books written for native speakers, than average. Maybe my method actually doesn't make much sense for me, either, and reflects above all my lazy unwillingness to spend sufficient time in the drudgery of the textbooks. But occasionally, believe it or not, it has worked. Maybe my method makes more sense for someone who is autistic than for someone who is neurologically-typical.

Maybe it makes absolutely no sense at all. Please don't mistake me for an expert on language acquisition.

When I ask what sort of Bible ISBN 978-1843640660 is, I'm wondering what its relationship to the earliest Armenian translations is, and what the footnotes mean -- do they refer to textual variants, or to verses elsewhere in the Bible with similar content, or both, or something else? That sort of thing. I looked and looked for some indication of which version of the Armenian Bible might be considered standard, or even critical, by scholars, but, since I'm not fluent in Armenian, that was hard.

I'm interested in when and how the Armenian language was put into writing. The thing is this: some sources tell me that in the early 5th century, Mesrop Mashtots created the Armenian alphabet and John of Egheghiatz and Joseph of Baghin translated the Bible into Armenian, while other sources tell me that traditionally, the creation of the Armenian alphabet and the translation of the Bible occurred in the early 5th century. The problem is that word "tradition." It's a word very often used by scholars who are well-informed about a topic in the history of a religion, but determined to appear to most of their audience as if they were not well-informed, in order not to hurt people's feelings. For example: the scholar may begin a sentence very loudly by saying:


this piece of wood, which has been stored in this reliquary in this church since the 12th century, is said to have been a part of the True Cross," and then complete the sentence by mumbling very softly, "[...]although recent carbon-14 tests have shown that it comes from a tree which died in the 12th century."

So when some sources say that traditionally, Mesrop Mashtots created the Armenian alphabet and John of Egheghiatz and Joseph of Baghin translated the Bible into Armenian in the early 5th century, it makes me wonder whether those sources know something which they're not saying. Something like: those people did create the Armenian alphabet and translate the Bible into Armenian, but not that early. Or: some of the Bible was translated into Armenian then, and the rest later. Or: historians now wonder whether Mesrop Mashtots or John of Egheghiatz or Joseph of Baghin actually existed.

I don't want to upset anyone by wondering about such things. I just want to know what actually happened.

Of course, historians and we laypeople with a special interest in history know that investigating history, wanting to know what actually happened, always upsets a lot of people, no matter how good our intentions are, and that the upset is greatly increased whenever religion is involved. We can apologize over and over for doing what we do, or we can mumble or speak in code whenever we're afraid of offending someone -- or we can be interviewed for shows on the so-called "History Channels" and not worry about having to mumble, because we know that whatever we say will be edited all out of recognition anyway -- or we can grow thick skins and get on with it.

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