Connections and Similarities Between Jewish and Armenian History in Premedieval Times

Armenian-Jewish friendship ArEv symbol

The Armenians had been formed as a people by 521 B.C.E. Both Armenia and Judea shared common overlords in the Persians, Alexander the Great, and the Seleucids, until their liberation during the Seleucid decline. The ancient kingdom of Armenia attained its apogee under Tigranes II.

He invaded Syria, reached Acre, menaced the Hasmonean state, and then retreated because of the Roman attack on Armenia (69 B.C.E.).

The medieval Armenian historian, Moses of Chorene, claims that Tigranes settled many Jewish captives in Armenian cities, a statement reflecting the idea that the growth of cities and trade under Tigranes was likely to attract Jews.

In fact many Jews settled in the area. Vassal kings appointed there by the Romans included the Herodians Tigranes IV (c. 6 C.E.) and Tigranes V (60–61) in Greater Armenia, and Aristobulus (55–60) in the western borderland, or Lesser Armenia. Under the more autonomous Parthian dynasty (85–428/33), the Armenian cities retained their Hellenistic culture, as the excavations at Garni (the royal summer residence) have shown.

The Jewish Hellenistic immigration continued, and by 360–370, when the Persian conqueror Shapur II reduced them by massive deportation to Iran, the cities were largely populated by Jews.

The exaggerated figures recorded by the chronicler Faustus Byzantinus give 83,000 Jewish families deported from five cities, against 81,000 Armenian families; the Jews formed the majority of the exiles from the three cities of Eruandashat, Van, and Nakhichevan.

Halakhic studies never flourished in Greater Armenia, in contradistinction to the center at Nisibis; the scholar R. Jacob the Armenian (TJGit. 6:7, 48a) is exceptional. However, Armenia is mentioned in the aggadic Targums.

The mention of two “mountains of Ararat” upon which Noah’s ark stood (Targ. Yer., Gen. 8:4) indicates that the location of Armenia found in Jewish Hellenistic sources (roughly adopted by the Muslims) was now identified with a place further north, in conformity with the Christian Armenian tradition, which had won more general acceptance.

by Jewish Virtual Library

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