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Thinking Back on a Productive Residency

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The following is a guest post by Levon Avdoyan, Armenian and Georgian Area Specialist in the Library of Congress African and Middle Eastern Division.

As Jason Steinhauer mentioned in his recent blog post about studying the Middle East at the Library of Congress, the Library’s African and Middle Eastern Division is among the most important repositories in the world for research materials on the Middle East. Since its inception, the Kluge Center has hosted numerous scholars interested in our collections; one of the most productive of these scholarly residences was that of Dr. Michael Stone, professor emeritus of Hebrew University, who spent four months in 2003 as a distinguished visiting scholar.

Stone is a prolific author on Armenian topics and a scholar of biblical apocryphal literature, much of which focuses on the story of Adam and Eve. One of the founders of the influential Association Internationale des Etudes Arméniennes, Stone was a longtime president of the organization and is a personal friend. In conversations with him in 2003, I learned that he was researching the Adamgirkʻ (the Book of Adam) by the Armenian poet, Aṛakʻel of Siwnetsʻi, (1350-1422) and that he would be on sabbatical from Hebrew University. I mentioned that the Library owned a manuscript of the work that had been copied in 1653 by the priest, Abraham, at the churches of Surb Astuatsatsin (the Holy Mother of God) and Surb Kʽaṛasunkʽ (The Holy Forty [Martyrs]) in Aleppo. Stone’s residency at the Kluge Center became the perfect opportunity to examine these Armenian treasures.

Stone and his wife, the gifted art historian, Dr. Nira Stone (who, alas, passed away in 2013) arrived in August 2003 for four months. They soon became a fixture in the Kluge Center and the African and Middle Eastern Division reading room. As part of his research, Stone diligently examined the Library’s Adamgirkʻ manuscript. He carefully evaluated this curious epic poem–partly a dialogue between Adam, Eve, and God, and partly a comparison of the Old Testament Adam with the New Testament Adam, Jesus Christ–with the intention of translating the work and appending a commentary. He finished his evaluation of the Library’s copy in time to deliver a talk at the Kluge Center on October 23, 2003. The completed translation and commentary would be published in 2007.

Michael Stone
Michael Stone delivers a lecture titled “ A Hidden Treasure: The Armenian Adam Epic by Arakel of Siwnik,” October 23, 2003. Photo courtesy the author.

This was hardly the sum of Stone’s accomplishments while in residence. I showed both him and his wife the other riches among the Armenian rarities in the Near East Section and they were particularly struck by two illuminated missals (texts of the divine liturgy of the Armenian Church copied for the use of the celebrants) and a rich piece of inscribed ecclesiastical fabric that had long been in the Library’s collections.

The two missals had both been copied in 1722. The Stones determined that both appeared to have come from the same workshop, probably in the region of Armenia Minor in the environs of Sebastia (Sivas) and Tʽokhatʽ of modern Turkey. Together they subjected both pieces to textual and artistic scrutiny, which led to a detailed article about these richly decorated manuscripts, titled “A Pair of Armenian Manuscript Missals in the Library of Congress” and published in the Revue des Etudes Armeniénnes.

Manuscript of the Adamgirkʻ
Incipit page of the Near East Section’s manuscript of the Adamgirkʻ by Aṛakʻel of Siwnetsʻi. Photo courtesy African and Middle Eastern Division, Library of Congress.
Armenian Missal, 1722
Peacock marginal illumination in one of the Near East Section’s Armenian Missals, 1722. Photo courtesy African and Middle Eastern Division, Library of Congress.

Not satisfied to end there, the Stones invited me to explore with them the 17th century ecclesiastical fabric and its inscription. We were aided in the analysis of the fabric and its embroidery by the expert of advice of Yasmeen Khan and Tamara Ohanyan of the Conservation Division of the Library of Congress, and in consultation with Dr. Mattiebelle Gittinger and Ms. Sumru Belger Krody at the Textile Museum. This led to a third publication, “A Textile of the Year 1741 in the Library of Congress Bearing an Armenian Inscription,” also published in the Revue des Etudes Armeniénnes.

Armenian Ecclesiastical Fabric
Armenian Ecclesiastical Fabric (1741?). Photo courtesy African and Middle Eastern Division, Library of Congress.

I often think back on those short but intensive four months which produced three major works based on the Armenian rarities at the Library. The experience serves as a wonderful example of how the Kluge Center has fostered so much valuable scholarship based on the marvelous collections of the Library of Congress.

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