John Manis served a fulltime LDS mission in the republic of Armenia, where he was able to experience firsthand the richness of Eastern Christianity and gain a solid understanding of the Armenian language. Upon returning to BYU, Manis wished to continue his study of the Armenian language and of the ancient Christian literature and traditions preserved in Armenian, but has had to work independently for the most part. As he says himself, “It has been hard to find classes that even come close to my interests in eastern Christianity, but this grant gives me an opportunity to not only explore my interests now, but also to prepared for more specialized graduate studies”.
The Armenian Genesis commentary that they will study is attributed to the Syriac author Ephrem of Nisibis (d. 373 A.D.). Though Ephrem did indeed write a commentary on Genesis, the Armenian commentary is not a translation of that work, but rather of another, later commentary which no longer survives in Syriac. Since the Armenian commentary draws on the works of the great Syriac scholar Jacob of Edessa (d. 708 AD) as well as other Syriac commentaries it is clear that it was composed no earlier than the ninth century. Though some of the sources for the Armenian commentary have been identified, scholars have failed to notice the abundant parallels between this commentary and the ancient Syriac homilies on the Old Testament Patriarch Joseph. The inclusion of material from these homilies in the Armenian Commentary’s treatment of Genesis 37-50 suggests that this work is a unique attempt to absorb the exegetical expansions and comments of homiletic tradition into the commentary tradition proper.