GREEKS, ARMENIANS, AND JEWS
The Jewish experience, then, has features that set it apart 1mm those of other peoples. But) is the trajectory of the Jewish people in the modern era unique? Can we find other peoples with a rich sacred history and shared memories distilled in canonical texts and other writings; and who have similarly endured a millennial fate of dispersion in the hope of restoration? There are a number of peoples who can boast a rich sacred history and memories enshrined in canonical texts and liturgies. They include the Orthodox Russians. the Ulster-Scots, the Afrikaners the Muslim Arabs, the Monophysite Amhara and the Catholic Irish. Here we have not only chosen peoples, but peoples with a highly developed and sacred documentary record of their ideals and experiences. Only within the monotheistic traditions can we find that exclusive and strong conception of chosenness, whereby a people of clear ancestral descent is covenanted with its God in a sacred homeland for the fulfilment of its moral duties and hence the salvation of the world.”
Yet even here all these peoples have remained rooted in their sacred homelands for centuries. Though oppressed and colonized by outsiders, they have never been expelled en masse, and so the theme of restoration to the homeland has played little part in the conceptions of these peoples. There are, however, two peoples, apart from the Jews, for whom restoration of the homeland and commonwealth have been central: the Greeks and the Armenians, and together with the Jews, they constitute the archetypal Diaspora peoples, or what John Armstrong has called ‘mobilized diasporas° Unlike diasporas composed of recent mi migrant workers—Indians, Chinese and others in Southeast Asia, East Africa and the Caribbean— mobilized diasporas are of considerable antiquity, are generally polyglot and multi-skilled trading communities and have ancient, portable religious traditions. Greeks, Jews, and Armenians claimed an ancient homeland and kingdom, looked back nostalgically to a golden age or ages of great kings, saints, sages and poets, yearned to return to ancient capitals with sacred sites and buildings, took with them wherever they went their ancient scriptures, sacred scripts and separate liturgies, founded in every city congregations with churches, clergy and religious schools, traded across the Middle East and Europe using the networks of enclaves of their co-religionists to compete with other ethnic trading networks, and used their wealth, education and economic skills to offset their political powerlessness)
But the parallels go further, Greeks, Jews, and Armenians after their subordination to others and emigration or expulsion from their original homelands became Diaspora ethno-religious communities cultivating the particular virtues and aptitudes of their traditions. These included a respect for scholarship and learning, derived from constant study of sacred texts (and in the Greek case some of their ancient secular texts seen through religious filters); and hence a generally high status accorded to religious scholars and clergy within each enclave. Allied to this was a marked aptitude for literary expression—poetic, philosophical, legal, liturgical, linguistic, and historical.
The resulting fund of documentary records encoding shared memories and interpretations increased in practically every generation, enriching the ethno-heritage of these communities. The rise of Diaspora communities in many lands further augmented that heritage through the growing emphasis on the autonomy of each community within a common ethno religious framework, institutionally, that autonomy was greatest in the Jewish case, where it was reinforced by the autonomy accorded to each rabbi and congregation: in the Armenian case, there was a greater hierarchy of priests; while in the Greek case, the Patriarchate in Constantinople and the higher clergy exercised a tighter supervision over the lower clergy in each congregation, at least in theory?
There were also more specific links between the three cthno-rcligious diaspora communities. In Greek Orthodoxy, the Church became the new Israel, and the Emperor a Priest-King after the manner of Mekhizedek, King of Salem. His capital, imperial Constantinople, was the new Jerusalem, with its ‘temple’ in Hagia Sophia, while Greek, the language of’ the New Testament, became the sacred language of a holy Orthodox community in place of Hebrew and the Jews. At the same time, Greeks emigrated to many cities throughout Europe and the Levant, especially after the fall of Constantinople, becoming as polyglot and culturally adaptable as the Armenians and Jews. In many Mediterranean and European cities, Greek Phanariot merchants and traders dominated the commerce of the Ottoman empire, utilizing their kinship networks and social and religious institutions to maximize not only their business and assets, but also their cultural capital. Diaspora Greeks became especially prominent from the eighteenth century in the development of printing and the press, and experienced a major intellectual revival in cities as far afield as Vienna, Venice, Odessa, Paris, and Amsterdam.-Armenians had even closer links with the Jews. The Armenian royal families had converted early to Christianity, claiming thenceforth to be the first Christian nation and the true heir of Israel. Armenians came to regard themselves as a chosen people, their kings and Bagratid nobles claimed Jewish descent, and their models of heroism were drawn from the Jews, notably Joshua and Judas Maccabeus. Like the Jews, Armenians lost their ancient kingdom on the field of battle (Avarayr, 451 CE) and were increasingly persecuted under the late Byzantine emperors after the final split with Greek Orthodoxy at the second Council of Dvin in 554 CE; many Armenians began to emigrate in this period and subsequently under the Muslim Arabs, some as far afield as Russia and India. Like the Jews, they yearned to return to their idealized mountain homeland with its revered sacred centre, Echmiadzin, and its holy mountain, Ararat; hut more and more of them made their fortunes in distant communities as traders and artisans, and experienced both an economic and intellectual revival in the early modern period.
In each case, the concept of chosenness played a central role. For Greeks and Armenians, the myth of ethnic election was both direct and transmitted. It was an act of God who had singled out a special community of His faithful to live according to His holy laws and receive His special blessings, the blessings being conditional on the holding of correct beliefs and the performance of sacred obligations. As with the Jews, the overriding purpose was to become a holy people beloved of God, a people of priests worthy of the status and location which God had bestowed on the community. But, unlike the Jews, Armenians and Greeks saw their election as a reward for receiving the true faith rejected by the Jews. The)’ were therefore required to supplant the Jews as the chosen people, and become the heirs of a people who had fallen from grace. In this sense, the chosen status of Greeks and Armenians was a legacy from the Jewish people, and only much later did the Orthodox community of true believers become imbued with Greek culture and a sense of Greek-speaking community, and to the outside world Orthodoxy became synonymous with Greek culture and origins. In the Armenian case, Gregorian Christianity was soon regarded as the peculiar possession of the Armenian kingdom and people, despite attempts to convert others to Gregorianism, with the result that the status of a chosen people was automatically conferred on the Armenian nation.