Dr. Robert Hewsen, the Henry S. Khanzadian Kazan Visiting Professor for the Armenian Studies Program delivered his second of a three-part lecture series on “The Conversion of Armenia to Christianity” on Thursday, November 1. Dr. Hewsen’s lecture entitled “The Conversion of King Trdat: Reading Between The Lines” detailed the early 4th century king’s life and his conversion by St. Gregory the Illuminator as based on the account recorded by the Armenian chronicler Agathangelos. The lecture also detailed modern scholars’ identification of discrepancies with the work and Dr. Hewsen’s own interpretations of the historical document.
Agathangelos’ account of the conversion has become the traditional historical account of the conversion of King Trdat. It tells of a traitor known as Anak, who was employed by the Persian king to assassinate the King Trdat’s father. As punishment for his crime, Anak and his family were slain. Only one son, Gregory, was saved from death and for his protection was taken to Caesarea and raised as a Christian.
Gregory returned to Armenia and served as a Christian at the royal court. He was discovered by the king and cast into a pit, where he survived for fifteen years. For years under King Trdat’s rule, persecution of Christians ran rampant. As retribution for these sins, King Trdat was transformed into a wild beast. His sister Khosrovidukht had a dream in which an angel told her to release Gregory from his years of isolation in the deep pit. After hi release, Gregory transformed the king back to human form and then baptized King Trdat and his entire household. Thus, according to Agathangelos, King Trdat in 301 AD proclaimed Christianity the sole state religion of Armenia and a mass conversion of the Armenian people followed.
A crowd of more than 75 people assembled in the Alice Peters Auditorium on campus, and sat captivated throughout the lecture. Professor Hewsen gave an eloquent description of a modern scholar’s ideas about the discrepancies of Agathangelos’ account of the conversion. The audience listened with interest as Dr. Hewsen himself interpreted Agathangelos’ account as a way to define the circumstances of the conversion of the king and not as an eyewitness account to the event.
The impact of this lecture on audience members was evident in remarks made after the lecture. Words such as “enlightened,” “exemplary,” “awesome,” and “praiseworthy” were used to describe Dr. Hewsen’s lecture. When asked to share her thoughts on the lecture, Jayne Dangerfield, a student at Fresno State, said “I didn’t know what to expect, I came to this lecture after seeing a news brief about it in The Collegian. I never expected to be so intrigued by the subject matter. Dr. Hewsen was really passionate about the subject matter he presented.” Another audience member said, “I never really expected Dr. Hewsen to go into such detail on the various discrepancies in the work of Agathangelos’ historical account, I thought it was really interesting to hear and I appreciate that they were presented in a way that was easy to understand.”
Dr. Hewsen’s three part lecture series on the Conversion of Armenia offers a view into his course “The Conversion of Armenia to Christianity” which is being offered this fall at California State University, Fresno. It is the only course on the conversion of Armenia to Christianity being offered at a university in the United States this year.
In the third part of the lecture series, “The Conversion of the Armenian People,” Dr. Hewsen will address the conversion of the common people of Armenian, leading to the establishment of Christianity as the national faith.
That lecture will be held at 7:30 PM on Thursday, December 6, 2001, in the Alice Peters Auditorium on campus.