The Armenian people trace their origins back to the ancient kingdom of Urartu, which existed in eastern Anatolia from the 9th to 6th centuries BC. They adopted Christianity as their state religion around 301 AD, making Armenia the first nation to do so. The Armenians have a long and rich history in the Bible lands and their kingdom bordered ancient Assyria, Babylon, and Persia at various points throughout their history.
While the Armenians are not explicitly mentioned by name in the Bible, there is evidence to suggest that they may be referred to indirectly in a few key passages. Examining these biblical references within their historical context gives insight into the interactions between the Armenians and the peoples written about in the Bible.
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- The Armenians descended from an ancient kingdom called Urartu located in eastern Anatolia.
- Armenia was the first kingdom to adopt Christianity as its state religion in 301 AD.
- The Armenians inhabited lands bordering the ancient Assyrian, Babylonian, and Persian empires.
- Though not directly named, the Armenians may be referred to indirectly in Isaiah 37, Jeremiah 51, and Ezekiel 27 & 38.
- Examining these potential Armenian references sheds light on their relationship with neighboring biblical peoples.
- The Kingdom of Urartu
- Potential Armenian References in Isaiah
- Potential Armenian Reference in Jeremiah
- Potential Armenian References in Ezekiel
The Kingdom of Urartu
The Armenian people trace their ancestry back to the Kingdom of Urartu, an ancient civilization centered around Lake Van in eastern Anatolia (modern-day Turkey). Urartu existed as a regional power from the 9th to 6th centuries BC. Records and inscriptions found throughout the region confirm the existence of Urartu, which rivaled the Neo-Assyrian Empire at the height of its power. The Urartians worshipped a pantheon of ancient gods and spoke an isolate language, Urartian, which was written in a cuneiform script.
The name “Armenia” comes from the region around Lake Van called “Ararat” in Hebrew. The name Ararat was translated as Armenia by the Greek historian Herodotus in the 5th century BC. While the Urartians referred to themselves as the Kingdom of Biainili, they came to be known as the Armenians over the centuries. The Armenian language evolved from the Urartian language and retains many similarities to this day.
So while the name Armenia is not found in the Bible, the kingdom that became the Armenian people is very much present within the biblical world as the Kingdom of Urartu. They inhabited lands that bordered the great empires written about in the Bible, from Assyria to Babylon and Persia. Examining the Bible in its historical context reveals indirect references to the Armenian kingdom of Urartu and its interaction with biblical peoples.
Potential Armenian References in Isaiah
The prophetic book of Isaiah contains a few passages that may make indirect references to the Kingdom of Urartu and its dealings with the Assyrian empire. Isaiah provides details on the interactions between the biblical king Hezekiah of Judah and the Assyrian king Sennacherib during the late 8th century BC.
Isaiah 37:38 – Death of Sennacherib
“Now it came to pass, as he was worshiping in the house of Nisroch his god, that his sons Adrammelech and Sharezer struck him down with the sword; and they escaped into the land of Ararat. Then Esarhaddon his son reigned in his place.” (Isaiah 37:38 NKJV)
This passage relays how Sennacherib’s sons assassinated him while he was worshipping his god Nisroch. The sons then fled to the “land of Ararat”, which scholars widely consider a reference to the Kingdom of Urartu. As a regional rival of Assyria, Urartu would have been a natural place for the traitorous sons to seek refuge from Assyrian retaliation. The Armenians of Urartu likely gave asylum to the Assyrian princes after this coup.
Isaiah 37:13 – The Letter to Hezekiah
“Did the gods of the nations deliver those whom my fathers destroyed, Gozan and Haran and Rezeph, and the people of Eden who were in Telassar?” (Isaiah 37:12 NKJV)
This verse mentions several cities conquered by the Assyrians, including Gozan and Haran. Gozan is likely a reference to the Urartian city of Guzana while Haran was probably under Urartian control or within its sphere of influence at this time. The passage notes how these cities were unable to be saved by their gods from the Assyrian onslaught.
While not a direct mention of Urartu, the inclusion of these cities suggests the Kingdom of Urartu was within the scope of Assyrian military expansion and conquest. The Armenians of Urartu ultimately could not resist assimilation into the Assyrian and succeeding empires.
Potential Armenian Reference in Jeremiah
The prophet Jeremiah details the conquest of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon in the early 6th century BC. In his writings, Jeremiah warns surrounding nations that they will soon be destroyed by God’s appointed instrument – Babylon. One such nation appears to be Urartu:
“Set up a banner in the land, Blow the trumpet among the nations! Prepare the nations against her, Call the kingdoms together against her: Ararat, Minni, and Ashkenaz.” (Jeremiah 51:27-28 NKJV)
The kingdom called upon here to assemble against Babylon is Ararat, which again likely refers to the kingdom of Urartu. The names Minni and Ashkenaz also denote kingdoms within the Armenian Highlands. So in this passage, Jeremiah prophecies that Armenia/Urartu would be part of the force gathered by God to overthrow Babylon, the instrument which previously conquered them.
While Urartu as a distinct kingdom had largely dissipated by the early 6th century BC, the tribal groups within the region seemingly remained intact. This brief mention in Jeremiah indicates these tribal ancestors of the later Armenians still inhabited areas around the traditional Urartian homeland by the time the Babylonians rose to power.
Potential Armenian References in Ezekiel
The Old Testament prophet Ezekiel contains symbolic passages that some scholars interpret as making veiled references to the kingdom of Urartu and its most important city of Tushpa:
Ezekiel 27 – Lament over Tyre
“They of Persia and of Lud and of Phut were in thine army, thy men of war: they hanged the shield and helmet in thee; they set forth thy comeliness.” (Ezekiel 27:10 NKJV)
“The men of Dedan were thy merchants; many isles were the merchandise of thine hand: they brought thee for a present horns of ivory and ebony.” (Ezekiel 27:15 NKJV)
In Ezekiel’s lament over the city of Tyre, he describes how its great wealth and materials were acquired through trade. Verse 10 mentions Persia providing warriors while verse 15 notes Dedan traded ivory and ebony.
Scholars suggest “Dedan” may be a possible reference to the Urartian capital Tushpa due to the similarity in Hebrew. Additionally, the kingdom of Urartu was renowned for its ivory work and ebony furniture. Verse 15 implies a trading relationship between Tyre and the region of Urartu, with luxury goods exchanged between these kingdoms.
Ezekiel 38 – Gog and Allies
“Gomer and all its troops; the house of Togarmah from the far north and all its troops—many people are with you.” (Ezekiel 38:6 NKJV)
In Ezekiel’s prophecy against Gog, the house of Togarmah is noted as being part of the enemy alliance. Togarmah is considered a reference to the Urartian kingdom, as there are Urartian texts referencing a region called “Togarmel” as part of its domains. So in this passage, Armenia/Urartu seems again to be considered part of a coalition of nations, this time against Gog.
While the Armenian Urartian kingdom had faded by Ezekiel’s time in the 6th century BC, the Armenians were still seen as inhabiting a distinct region around their traditional homeland. The Armenians remained an identifiable group throughout their subjugation by the Assyrian, Babylonian, and Persian empires.
In summary, while the name Armenia does not directly appear in the Bible, there are a handful of potential references to the ancient Kingdom of Urartu and the tribal groups that became the Armenian people. Examining the Bible in light of history reveals how the Armenian kingdom interacted with and was viewed by the great biblical empires of the ancient Near East.
The Armenian Highlands were home to a powerful kingdom in Urartu that rivaled Assyria at its peak in the 8th century BC. However, the Assyrian empire under Sargon II conquered the Urartian capital in the late 8th century BC, ending the kingdom as an independent state. Armenia then was fought over and ruled by the succeeding empires of the Neo-Babylonians and Persians up through the conquests of Alexander the Great.
While the Armenians fell under foreign rule for centuries, they maintained their cultural identity and ancestral ties to the lands around Ararat. The indirect biblical references imply the Armenians inhabited areas in and around their traditional homeland throughout the entire biblical period.
The Armenians re-emerged as an independent kingdom in the early medieval era in the 4th century AD. As the first Christian state, Armenia holds an important place in the history of the Bible lands and the spread of early Christianity in the region. Examining the Armenian people through their potential biblical references gives greater insight into the complex geopolitics and interactions between biblical civilizations.