Armenia’s Role in the Religious Ideas of the Ancient World – Artak Movsisyan

Armenia’s Role in the Religious Ideas of the Ancient WorldInformation about Armenia in Bible has great value because it mainly relates to the most fateful religious events: world creation and revival of the humanity after the Great Flood.

The Book of Genesis tells that God created humanity in Eden, from which four rivers originated: Euphrates, Tigris, Pishon, and Gihon. Experts still debate over which rivers the last two correspond to, but one of them is undoubtedly Araxes River.

Because Tigris and Euphrates originate from the Armenian Highlands, the Garden of Eden with its tree of the knowledge of good and evil has been located in the Armenian Highlands.

The Book of Genesis also tells that sometime later, God decided to destroy humanity for their sins through the Great Flood, after which Noah’s Ark found rest on Mount Ararat. This means that Armenia is factually viewed as a sacred territory in the Bible. After all, the humanity was created and also found rebirth there.

Other sources of the ancient world also contain similar ideas. In particular, Mesopotamian mythology worshipped a deity of wisdom Aya, who along with the Mother Goddess created humanity in the Armenian Highlands. In Sumerian Mythology, Aratta, a predecessor state to Armenia, has been considered a country of immortals and sacred laws.

Interestingly, Gilgamesh, the main character of the Akkadian “Epic of Gilgamesh”, in search for immortality travelled upwards along the flow of the Euphrates River towards Aratta. Along the way, Gilgamesh passed through mountains Masius and Masion, which edged the Armenian Highlands from the south. This motif was repeated in a novel dedicated to Alexander the Great, in which he sought immortality and reenacted the route of a renowned hero of ancient world Gilgamesh.

Armenia has been so deeply associated with immortality in antiquity that it got featured in two ancient literary works, one dedicated to Gilgamesh and the other to Alexander the Great. Both characters sought the “flower of immortality”, which corresponded to the Biblical Tree of Life.

The Armenian Highlands has been viewed as a sacred land and a place of gods’ dwelling in the mythologies of ancient peoples. Such ideas have been particularly common among the indigenous people of the Highlands, the ancestors of Armenians. The fragments of those ancient beliefs are represented in Christian Armenian literature.

The religious center of Greater Armenia was the province of Higher Armenia. It was described in “Ashkharhatsuyts” (“World Atlas”) as follows: “This province, as its name implies, is indeed not only above the rest of Greater Armenia but also the whole world, and that’s why it is called the world’s peak. This province spawns rivers towards all sides of the world. Higher Armenia is the house to four large rivers.”

Interestingly, in the world atlas, Eden is mentioned to have been on the left-hand side of the province. Another section of the book recounts that after the rebirth of the humanity in Armenia, the people yet speaking a single language moved westward to the country of Senaari (Sumer) and decided to build the Tower of Babylon.

Hittite sources also contain mentions of Armenia being a refuge for the sun, which has been rising from within the “eastern” Lake Van. This also corresponds to other legends, which described Lake Van as the place the sun rises from at the beginning of the day and descends into in the evening.

All this gives some food for thought for Armenians. Armenia has been considered a sacred place not only by their ancestors but also peoples who haven’t been related to Armenians. But among all places, why does the Armenian Highlands play the most important role in ancient mythologies? What kind of a sacred mystery is hidden in the distant past?

Artak Movsisyan

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