Identification of Armenia in Literature, Jewish Virtual Library

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In past Armenia has been connected with the biblical Ashkenaz. The Armenians are termed “the Ashkenazi nation” in their literature.

According to this tradition, the genealogy in Genesis 10:3 extended to the populations west of the Volga. In Jewish usage Ashkenaz is sometimes equated with Armenia; in addition, it sometimes covers neighboring *Adiabene (Targ. Jer. 51:27), and also Khazaria (David b. Abraham Alfasi, Ali ibn Suleiman; cf. S. Pinsker, Likkutei Kadmoniyyot (1860), 208; S.L. Skoss (ed.), Hebrew-Arabic Dictionary of the Bible of David ben Abraham al-Fasi (1936), 159), the Crimea and the area to the east (Isaac Abrabanel, Commentary to Gen. 10:3), the Saquliba (Saadiah Gaon, Commentary, ibid.), i.e., the territory of the Slavs and neighboring forest tribes, considered by the Arabs dependent of Khazaria, as well as Eastern and Central Europe, and northern Asia (cf. Abraham Farissol, Iggeret Orḥot Olam (Venice, 1587), ch. 3).

In other expositions found in rabbinical works, Armenia is linked with *Uz. The anti-Jewish attitudes prevailing in eastern-Byzantine (Armenian) provinces made the Targum identify it with the “daughter of Edom that dwellest in the land of Uz” (Lam. 4:21) or with “Constantina in the land of Armenia” (now Viransehir, between Urfa and Naṣībīn (Nisibis). Hence Job’s “land of Uz” is referred to as Armenia in some commentaries, for instance in those of Naḥmanides and Joseph b. David ibn Yaḥyā.

The “Uz-Armenia” of Abraham Farissol is however the Anatolian region near Constantinople. Armenia is also sometimes called Amalek in some sources, and Jews often referred to Armenians as Amalekites. This is the Byzantine term for the Armenians. It was adopted by the Jews from the *Josippon chronicle (tenth century, ch. 64).

According to Josippon, Amalek was conquered by Benjaminite noblemen under Saul (ibid., 26), and Benjaminites are already assumed to be the founders of Armenian Jewry in the time of the Judges (Judg. 19–21). Benjaminite origins are claimed by sectarian Kurds.

The idea that Khazaria was originally Amalek helped to support the assumption that the Khazar Jews were descended from Simeon (I Chron. 4:42–43; Eldad ha-Dani, ed. by A. Epstein (1891), 52; cf. Ḥisdai ibn Shaprut, Iggeret).

Armenia is sometimes identified in literature with the biblical Minni (Pal. Targ., 51:27), based on onomatopoeic exegesis of Armenia = Har (“Mountain”) Minni; similarly, Harmon (ha-Harmonah, Amos 4:3) is understood in the Targum to denote the region where the Ten Tribes lived “beyond the mountains of Armenia.”

Rashi identified Harmon with “the Mountains of Darkness,” the term used by medieval Jews for the Caspian Mountains, believed in the West to surround the kingdom of the Khazars (who were often taken for the Ten Lost Tribes) and include the Caucasus. The reference in Lamentations Rabbah 1:14, no. 42, does not refer to the passage of the Tribes through Armenia as is usually claimed, but more probably to the Jerusalem exiles’ easy (harmony, “harmonious”) route.

Armenia has further been identified with the biblical Togarmah (Gen. 10:3). In Armenian tradition this genealogy has competed with the theory of Ashkenazi origins, and extended to the Scythians east of the Volga. The identification of Armenia as Aram (Gen. 10:22; 25:20; 28:5) is adopted by Saadiah Gaon and also occurs in Islamic literature.

In the biblical age, Armenia was conceived as the mountainous expanse in the north dominating the route from Ereẓ Israel to Mesopotamia (via Haran or its neighborhood) and extending to (and beyond) the boundaries of the known world.

The forested heights near the sources of the Euphrates and the Tigris stimulated Jewish commentators to develop geographical concepts concerning this area regarding Paradise (Gen. 2:8 ff.), the divine “mount of meeting” in the north (Isa. 14:13), the connection of the two (Ezek. 28:13–16), and the rebirth of mankind after the Flood (Gen. 8:4 ff.). The name Ararat (Gen. 8:4; II Kings 19:37; Jer. 51:27) recalls the indigenous Armenian kingdom of Urartu, based on Lake Van.

by Jewish Virtual Library

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