James Russell to Unravel ‘An Armeno-Hebrew Mystery’ at NAASR

BELMONT, Mass.—Prof. James R. Russell, Mashtots Professor of Armenian Studies at Harvard University, will give a lecture entitled “An Armeno-Hebrew Mystery: Or, a 1,000-Year-Old Armenian Text in a Cairo Synagogue and the Stories It Tells” on Thurs., Nov. 3 at 8 p.m., at the National Association for Armenian Studies and Research (NAASR) Center, 395 Concord Ave. in Belmont.

In the waning years of the 19th century, a traveling scholar happened by chance on a store-room at the back of a Cairo synagogue filled to the ceiling with medieval manuscripts: letters, poems, sacred books, economic documents, etc., that could not simply be thrown away, as they employed the sacred Hebrew script. Like a fly trapped in amber, the documents of the Cairo Geniza (which literally means “treasure house”) provide a vivid and detailed primary record of the life and letters of the Middle East in the centuries just after the beginning of the second millennium.

Among the items preserved in the Geniza is a short Armenian word list, with translation into Judeo-Arabic. Since the Armenian words are written out in Hebrew characters, we know exactly how they were pronounced; and the curious selection of vocabulary invites one to speculate upon the occasion for which they might have been compiled. Both the Geniza record and Armenian sources enable us to recreate that context, and to enter, very briefly, a long lost world.

Russell has been the Mashtots Professor of Armenian Studies at Harvard since 1992. His books include Bosphorus Nights: The Complete Lyric Poems of Bedros Tourian, Armenian and Iranian Studies, The Book of Flowers, An Armenian Epic: The Heroes of Kasht, Zoroastrianism in Armenia, and Hovhannes Tlkurantsi and the Medieval Armenian Lyric Tradition.

Admission to the event is free (donations appreciated). The NAASR Center is located opposite the First Armenian Church and next to the U.S. Post Office. Ample parking is available around the building and in adjacent areas. The lecture will begin promptly at 8 p.m.

For more information about the lecture, call (617) 489-1610, e-mail hq@naasr.org, or write to NAASR, 395 Concord Ave., Belmont, MA 02478.

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