Prof. Michael Stone Lectures in Michigan:
Presentation on a Jewish Community in Medieval Armenia a Great Success




by Gerald E. Ottenbreit, Jr.

Dearborn, Michigan--Nearly 200 interested people, both from the Armenian American and the Jewish American communities, crowded the AGBU Alex Manoogian School in Southfield, Michigan on February 4, 2002 to hear Dr. Michael E. Stone give a captivating presentation on "Stones from the River: The Lost Jews of Armenia." Prof. Stone was in the Detroit area the weekend of February 2, as the guest of Dr. Dennis R. Papazian, Director of the Armenian Research Center of the University of Michigan-Dearborn, and Dr. David Weinberg, Director of the Cohn-Haddow Center for Judaic Studies at Wayne State University, Detroit.

The evening began with Dr. Nadya Sarafian, principal of the AGBU School, a cosponsor of the evening's lecture, giving a fulsome introduction to Prof. Papazian. Dr. Papazian then acknowledged the presence of special guests in the audience, in particular Dr. Weinberg, whose Center sponsored Dr. Stone's February 3rd lecture on "Scholars and the Dead Sea Scrolls: New Discoveries and New Insights;" Rabbi Dov Loketch; Fr. Garabed Kochakian, pastor of St. John's Armenian Church, another cosponsor of the evening's lecture; Fr. Diran Papazian, pastor emeritus of St. John's; Prof. Kevork Bardakjian, director of the Armenian Studies Program of the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor; Mr. Dickran Toumajan, lecturer in Armenian at Wayne State University; and Mr. George Zeltzer, cochairman of the Cohn-Haddow Board of Directors.

Dr. Papazian then introduced the speaker, Dr. Michael Stone, Professor of Armenian Studies and Gail Levin de Nur Professor of Religious Studies, Hebrew University of Jerusalem. The presentation, which included slides and overhead projections, discussed an archeological excavation of a heretofore unknown Jewish cemetery in the small village of Eghegis (Yeghegis, Elegis), 20 miles slightly northwest of Jermuk on the Eghegis River, which flows into the Arpa River, once an important city and the capital of the Vayots Dzor region during the rule of the Orbelians in the thirteenth century and also a thriving city during the Pax Mongolica which succeeded the rule of the Orbelian family.

Since it was not on a major trade route, it lost its importance after the Mongol Empire fragmented and the Middle East fell into anarchy. The cemetery had first been brought to Dr. Stone's attention by Bishop Abraham Mkrtchyan of the Syunik (Siwnik) Diocese of Armenia.

Dr. Stone first began excavations in 1998. On that expedition to Armenia, he took with him an archeologist and a professional photographer. Subsequently, he made arrangements with the Institute of Archeology of the National Armenian Academy of Sciences, and the excavations have been continued by the Armenian team, headed by Husik Melkonian.

The gravestones, which look somewhat like circular columns flat on one side, were placed over the length of the grave. They were first discovered in the cemetery, although some stones--as well some Armenian khachkars--were being used as flooring in nearby water mills and as a foundation of a nearby footbridge over the river. The inscriptions are mostly in Hebrew, with some in Aramaic. They date from the mid-thirteenth century to 1337 A.D., while the dates themselves are in Seleucid era dating which begins in 312/11 B.C. when Seleucus, one of Alexander the Great's generals, seized Babylon and established his own Hellenistic kingdom.

These inscriptions are the first physical proof that there was a Jewish community in Medieval Armenia. Dr. Stone pointed out in the lecture that there are similar finds from the Ukraine, Wurtzberg in Germany, and as far east as Afghanistan, but that such sites are absolutely minuscule in number.

Aside from Hebrew and Aramaic inscriptions, the stones also have several graphical designs depicting an ox, an eagle, a lion, and two slightly different wheel of life designs. Based on Jewish and Armenian iconographic tradition, Dr. Stone concludes that the gravestones, although inscribed by Jewish artisans, were quarried at the same mines and had their pictorial decorations applied by the same craftsmen who made contemporary Armenian gravestones, such as those of the Orbelian family on the other side of the village. An additional surprise was the discovery of an Armenian inscription that mentioned the purchase of a plot of land by an Armenian from a Jew, considering that throughout the Middle Ages in Europe Jews were not permitted to own land. This discovery was at Spitakavor Astuadzadznin.

Dr. Stone intends to return to Eghegis this coming May. A preliminary report will be published in the next number of The Journal of Jewish Studies, and in Hebrew in Pe'amim Quarterly, Jerusalem. A book length study in English and Armenian will appear later in the Monumenta Palaeographica Medii Aevii, Series Hebraica.

Refreshments were provided after the presentation by Dr. Sarafian, Mr. Chuck Yessaian, and Mr. Arsen Sanjian. Dr. Stone was available to answer questions from the audience.

While he was in the region, Dr. Stone was able to have extensive discussions with the Armenian Research Center's Director, and his host, Professor Dennis Papazian. These discussions, as well as touching on issues of importance for Armenian studies at the university level, explored possibilities of cooperation between the Hebrew University's burgeoning Armenian studies program and the Armenian Research Center at the University of Michigan-Dearborn. Prof. Stone visited the Armenian Research Center's premises, and was deeply impressed by the wealth of resources for Armenian studies that have been assembled by Prof. Papazian. Joint scholarly ventures are foreseen, including conferences and publications.

A gala reception was held in honor of Prof. Stone at the home of Drs. Dennis and Mary Papazian Saturday evening with over 40 guests from the University of Michigan-Dearborn, Wayne State University, the Armenian American community, and the Jewish American community. Special guests included Dr. Daniel Little, Chancellor of the University of Michigan Dearborn, and Dr. Robert Simpson, Provost, as well as dignitaries from Wayne State University.

Dr. Stone's address on behalf of the Cohn-Haddow Center was devoted to "Scholars and the Dead Sea Scrolls: New Discoveries and New Insights." Nearly 200 people filled to capacity the lecture hall at the Oakland Center of Wayne state University on Feb. 3 to hear him tell the story of the edition of Dead Sea Scrolls. The completion of the official edition was celebrated in 2001. Stone addressed the challenges now facing scholars of ancient Judaism and Early Christianity in light of the discovery of this unparalleled hoard of first-hand ancient documents. He spoke on the role of the Hebrew University and of the Orion Center for the Study of Dead Sea Scrolls, which he founded in this undertaking. Following the lecture, he was hard put to leave the hall because of the long and lively question and answer session.

Prof. Dennis Papazian presides as Prof.. Michael Stone fields questions, AGBU School, St. John's Church campus, February 4, 2002

A large audience listening to Prof. Michael Stone lecture, AGBU School, St. John's Church campus, February 4, 2002.

Prof. Dennis Papazian showing some of the riches of the Armenian Research Center, University of Michigan-Dearborn, to Prof. Michael E. Stone, February 4, 2002.

 

Fr. Garabed Kochakian accompanies Prof. Michael Stone and Prof. Dennis Papazian on a visit to the Manoogian Museum, St. John's Armenian Church, Southfield, Michigan, February 4, 2002.

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