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James R. Russell

This study deals with a short text on a small piece of paper, a conversational glossary, found in the Cairo Geniza. It is likely to be nearly a millennium old, and consists of a list of twenty Judaeo-Arabic words and phrases with their equivalents in Armenian written in Hebrew script. It suggests that members of the two communities met in a convivial setting, possibly a Barekendan (Mardi Gras) party where an official was parodied as a goat in effigy— a custom encountered in other Armenian celebrations of the holiday at Lvov in the 16th century; and Tiflis, in the 19th. The other words in the list reflect economic and cultural realia of the 11th-13th centuries.

James R. Russell

The Biblical tale of Balaam and his taking donkey was elaborated in the Babylonian Talmud: Balaam commits bestiality with the animal and this is accounted one of his failings as a pagan prophet, which accumulate as he tries and fails to curse the Children of Israel. This aspect of testing, probably transmitted by Jews of Iran and Sasanian Mesopotamia, probably becomes the source of an Iranian folk myth about a demonic ass called "mantrier". The myth enters Armenia from there and becomes a legend about the trial that a Christian holy man successfully overcomes.

James R. Russell

Abstract

Unordained clergy make Armenian prayer scrolls, which go back to the amulets against the Child-stealing Witch. They are analogous to the MSS of Ethiopian Christians, made often by charismatic and socially marginal figures. This art found a niche in East Christian society; but none was provided for the appropriately named "outsider" art and the art of the insane in the West, which often expresses religious visions and sentiments that the artistic and mental health establishments—rather than an ecclesiastical order this time!—have forced to the margin of society or beyond it.

Despite the early efforts of Frederic Macler, though Armenian magical and talismanic texts have been edited and published there has been little study of the art as such of the manuscripts that contain them. Perhaps because of their greater flamboyance and their situation partially in an African context, it is the analogous material of the Ethiopian Christian tradition that has received art historical attention. And modern avowedly religious art of almost any kind in the West became so generally marginalised in criticism that much of it, including the art of people labelled insane, has come to be studied, if at all, under the rubric of art brut or outsider art. Since the makers of folk-religious-magical art in Armenia (the tirac'u) and in Ethiopia (the debtera) are sometimes marginal figures like outsider artists, I have attempted in this essay to initiate an approach to Armenian magical and talismanic art that employs the comparative method and takes advantage of the insights of studies of outsider art, the art of the psychologically abnormal, and the art of self-taught religious visionaries.

James R. Russell

The Animal Style that characterizes Scythian art came into Armenia and Russia, where it is attested in bas-reliefs on churches; and the epic Song of Igor's Campaign, a unique verbal reflection of it, inspired Pushkin and his descendants in their poetic visions.

James R. Russell

Abstract

The hapax framaštaq in the Babylonian Talmud is a loan from a Middle Iranian slang word for the penis; from its base comes the common Armenian verb hrmštkel, “to shove in”, which is not attested in Classical texts and might have had an obscene connotation in ancient times that it no longer possesses.

Janice R. Russell and James T. Richardson