Armenian Gospels

This picture is taken from an Armenian book of gospels, produced in Isfahan in the 1500s.  The picture itself shows the moment in the Creation story in which God creates Eve from Adam's rib. This is a Christian book - the gospels tell of the life and teachings of Jesus Christ as recounted by his disciples Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. However, the Creation story comes from the Book of Genesis in the Old Testament. By including Old Testament illustrations in a Christian Bible, the artist was clearly stressing the continuities between the two religions.

What does this page show?

The inscription in the images describes the moment in the Creation story in which God creates Eve from one of Adam's ribs. The full figure of God dominates the picture. God is holding Eve with one hand and blessing her with the other, while Adam stands on the right of the frame. The sources of the four rivers of paradise - Pishon, Gihon, Tigris and Euphrates - are represented in the lower margin.

What's special about an Armenian gospel?

Armenia was the first country to adopt Christianity as its official religion. The country was converted to the religion at the start of the fourth century AD by St Gregory.

In Armenian, the sacred writings that make up the Bible are called 'Astuadsashuntch', which means 'breath of God'. The name reflects the importance given to the chanting of the gospels during church worship.

What language is this text written in?

The text is in classical Armenian, written in the Armenian alphabet. Until the beginning of the fifth century, Armenia had no written language of its own. Scriptures were written and used in Syriac in Persian Armenia, and in Greek in Byzantine Armenia.

The Armenian alphabet was invented in 405 by a priest called Mesrop Mashtots, who had abandoned a military career in favour of life as a monk. His phonetic 36-letter system is still used in Armenia today.

With the invention of its own alphabet, an Armenian translation of the Bible soon followed. The earliest surviving Armenian gospels date from the late ninth century.

Taken from: The Four Gospels in Armenian: God Creating Eve
Date: 1587
Copyright: By permission of John Rylands University, Manchester
Shelfmark: MS Arm.20, f.9