THIS WEEK IN ARMENIAN HISTORY
(Prepared by the Armenian National Education Committee [ANEC])
Completion of the first printing of the Armenian Bible
(October 13, 1668)
After more than two and half years of work, the printing of the first edition of the Armenian Bible was finished in Amsterdam (Netherlands) in 1668. The tenacious efforts of Voskan Yerevantsi, a bishop of the Armenian Church, had finally achieved an elusive target that had been pursued for several decades.
Voskan (1614-1674) was the son of parents from Yerevan, who had been part of the deportation of Armenians from Eastern Armenia to Persia ordered by Shah Abbas I in 1604 and settled in New Julfa (Nor Jugha), the Armenian suburb of Ispahan founded by the Persian ruler. He studied at the monastery of All Saviors and, against the wishes of his parents, he was consecrated a celibate priest. After a few years of further study in Holy Etchmiadzin and Yerevan, he returned to New Julfa. Invited to Etchmiadzin by Catholicos Pilipos I Aghbaketsi in 1634, he was appointed abbot of the monastery of St. Sargis in Ushi, where he took classes in Latin, philosophy, geometry, and astronomy from the learned Dominican monk Paulo Piromalli, a Catholic missionary in Armenia, and taught Armenian to him.
In 1655 Catholicos Hakob IV Jughayetsi (1655-1680) sent his secretary, Movses Tzaretsi, to Europe with the aim of establishing a print shop. He did not find support in Italy and went to Amsterdam, where conditions were more favorable for printing, as the Netherlands were outside the sphere of influence of the Catholic Church. He was able to establish a print shop, but his attempt at printing the Armenian Bible ended in failure. Before his death in 1661, he asked his friend, the merchant Avetis from Jugha, to take over the print shop and continue his work. Avetis, at his turn, asked his brother, Voskan Yerevantsi, to come to Amsterdam. The latter had already been consecrated as bishop and was commissioned by the Catholicos to continue the task.
Bishop Voskan arrived in the Dutch port in 1664 and took over the direction of the “Holy Etchmiadzin and St. Sargis” print shop. Between 1664 and 1669, he printed 14 Armenian books, including the first printed book by a living Armenian historian, the Book of Histories by Arakel of Tabriz (1669). He and his disciples Karapet Andrianatsi and Ohan Yerevantsi started the printing of the Armenian Bible on March 11, 1666, which would result in a beautifully illustrated edition of 21 x 26 cm. (8.27 x 10.23 inches) and 1464 pages. This achievement would become enough to give Voskan Yerevantsi a place of honor in the history of Armenian printing, following the first printer of Armenian books, Hakob Meghapart.
Voskan moved his print shop to Livorno, Italy, in 1669, and three years later to Marseilles, France. He would print eight more books, including the first mathematical textbook, which was also the first printing in Modern Armenian, entitled Art of Calculus (Արհեստ համարողութեան, 1675). He died on February 4, 1674, before the printing of the textbook was complete. His print shop remained active until 1686 and a total of 40 books were printed.
The original text of the Armenian Bible has had ten editions since 1666 (the last one was printed in Vienna by the Mekhitarist fathers in 1929). Very Rev. Hovhannes Zohrabian’s edition, printed in Venice in 1805, is regarded as the most valuable by Biblical scholars.