Thursday, April 7, 2022

Georgian Saints and their New Testament

           When looking over the “List of Greek Church Fathers” and the “List of Latin Church Fathers” in the Introduction to the UBS Greek New Testament, covering writers from Clement of Rome to John of Damascus (d. 750), did you ask, “Where’s the list of Armenian and Georgian Church Fathers?” 

          Probably not.  But an incomplete effort to improve the situation was made about 70 years ago when David Marshal Lang wrote Lives and Legends of the Georgian Saints (Ó 1656 The Macmillan Co., NY).  Lang was the Lecturer in Georgian at the University of London.  Lives and Legends of the Georgian Saints offers only a sample of rich resources that could – and should – expand our knowledge of the New Testament used by early (and later) Christian saints.  It has ten chapters.  Most of its chapters have been imitated or reproduced online.      

1 – St. Nino and the Conversion of Georgia.  This is drawn mainly from Histori Ecclesiastica (Church History) 10:11, by Tyrannius Rufinus (d. 410), and expanded by Georgian versions of Nino’s life which Lang describes as having “assumed their definitive shape” in the 900s-1000s.

          A summary can be found at this link.  A biography of St. Nino is here.  This Georgian version of events includes the narrative of Nino’s reception of the grape-vine cross when she had a vision of the Virgin Mary, and the martyrdom of princess Ripsime, a description of the idols of Armazi and Gatsi, and a story about Christ’s tunic, and about how King Mirian and Queen Nana were converted in the days of Constantine.   

2 – The Nine Martyred Children of Kola.   This account describes the conversion and martyrdom of nine children in the 500s.  Lang reports that it was drawn from a manuscript at Mount Athos from the 900s.  One interesting detail is its statement that when the children were baptized in a cold stream, in the name of the Father and the Son and they Holy Ghost, “then the water gave out great warmth, just like a bath,” which is vaguely reminiscent of the detail of Christ’s baptism, as described by the second-century writer Justin Martyr, (in Dialogue with Trypho, ch. 88) that when Jesus stepped into the water, “a fire was kindled in the Jordan.”

          The text includes an inexact quotation of either Matthew 19:29 or Mark 10:29 or Luke 14:26 (or an amalgamation of all three passages):  “Whoever will not leave his father and mother, his sisters and brothers, his wife and children, and will not take up his cross and follow me, the same is not worthy of me.”  The phrase about taking up one’s cross appears to be thrown in from Mark 8:34.            Matthew 19:29 does not mention one’s wife in Codex Vaticanus – but this word should be included in that verse, as it is not only in the Georgian text but also in an overwhelming number of witnesses of all sorts.

          Another citation is from Matthew 10:21, or Mark 13:12 (or both):  “Brother shall put brother to death, and the father the son, and fathers and mothers shall rise up against their children and kill them.”   Another interesting tradition that is mentioned in this source is that Jesus was baptized at night.

           The names of the nine martyred children of Kola are given here.

 3 – A Martyred Princess:  the Passion of St. Shushanik.  This account, Lang reports, was composed between 476 and 483 by Jacob of Tsurtav, and is the basically the oldest Georgian composition in existence.  Its protagonist is Queen Shushanik, whose husband, King Varsken, apostasized.  In the course of the description of Shushanik’s non-compliance with Varsken and his allies, the author mention s that Shushanik had a copy of the Gospels and “the holy books of the martyrs.”  Shushanik endured beatings, chains, isolation, and imprisonment in a hut full of lice and fleas, and near the end of her earthly life her body was afflicted with worms.    

          More details about the martyrdom of St. Shushanik can be found here.

4 – A Militant Ascetic:  Peter the Iberian Bishop of Mayuma by Gaza.  Lang’s account of the accomplishments of Peter the Iberian (who lived in the 400s) is mainly based on a Syriac translation of a Greek text composed by John Rufus, one of Peter the Iberian’s followers.  The earliest manuscript of this Syriac text is from the 700s.  Peter’s ministry covered a lot of ground:  first he was stationed in Jerusalem, then in Mayuma-near-Gaza, then in Alexandria, then in Oxyrhynchus, then in Alexandria again, and also in the regions of Gaza an Arabia.

          More about Peter the Iberian’s career is told by Cornelia Horn in the book Asceticism and Christological Controversy in Fifth-Century Palestine.

 5 – A Forerunner of St. Francis:  David of Garesja.  The sources for the biography of this Georgian saint are not particularly ancient.  It comes from the writings of Arsenius II of Georgia, around the mid-900s.  David of Garesja’s biography appears to have been considerably embellished over the years; it included a narrative about a talking dragon – “large and fearsome” “with bloodshot eyes and a horn growing out of his forehead.”   It also conveys a picture of David of Garesja as a person concerned for all kinds of living creatures, as shown in an episode in which he protects a partridge from the hawk of a hunter, who was converted as a result of the encounter.

 6 – The Passion of St. Eustace the Cobbler.  The individual known as Eustace was called Gvironbandak when he was a pagan, but took them name Eustace after being baptized.  Following a description of Eustace’s conversion, faithful testimony, and imprisonment, Eustace presents a summary of Biblical events, as he recollects them as they had been presented to him by an individual named Archdeacon Samuel, beginning in the days of Abraham, and moving quickly to  Moses’ reception of the Ten Commandments, David’s reign, and the Incarnation; the account then gets more detailed. 

          Eustace’s presentation of Archdeacon Samuel’s summary of Biblical events has some embellishments; for example:  the voice at Jesus’ baptism says, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased.  Hear him and live.”  The lame man who had been afflicted for 38 years (cf. John 5) was healed and “arose immediately and walked nimbly and glorified God.”  When Jesus turned waters into wine, it was “his disciples,” rather than the servants, who drew the water and filled the jars.  When Jesus feeds the five thousand, it happens where there was “a beautiful meadow.”  When Jesus walks on the water, according to Archdeacon Samuel, “Christ and His disciples walked on the sea as if on dry ground, and their feet were not wetted.”   At the raising of Lazarus, when Jesus says, “Lazarus, come forth,” Lazarus comes forth joyfully.

          Archdeacon Samuel also skips any mention of Jesus’ trial before Pontus Pilate, and focuses on the trial “before the high priests and elders” before His crucifixion.  The account puts a somewhat anti-Semitic spin on things; instead of recording Jesus’ prayer from the cross, Archdeacon Samuel reports that Jesus said, “My Father, I have fulfilled all things, and Israel would not hear me, but they have inflicted so great a torment as this upon me.”  After Jesus’ resurrection, in Archdeacon Samuel’s version of events, Jesus appears to the twelve disciples on Mount Tabor, and there they “kissed His sacred feet” before Christ commissioned them to “go out among the towns and villages and country places from end to end of the world and perform miracles and marvels and feats of healing, and convert the heathen and baptize them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, and teach them all that I have told you.  Behold, I am with you all the days of your life and until the end of the world.  Freely you have received, and freely give to them also.  

          Eustace is eventually martyred, and his body is taken to the city of Mtskheta.

 7 – The Martyrdom of Abo, the Perfumer from Baghdad.  Abo was martyred by Muslims on January 6, 786, which puts him just a bit beyond the chronological boundaries of patristic evidence.  The account of his martyrdom was written by John, son of Saban, who was an eyewitness. 

          Abo is depicted quoting from the Matthew 5:16 (without the phrase “in the house”), and when asked about his faith, he acknowledges that he was born a Saracen but when he learned the gospel, he rejected his former faith, “as being a man-made creed based on fables thought up by human subtlety and invention.”         

          Though threatened with torture, Abo was resolute and as his martyrdom approached he repeatedly expressed his faith in Jesus Christ, and he repeated (from Psalm 119) “Blessed are the undefiled in the way, who walk in the law of the Lord,” and (from Luke 23:42) “Lord, remember me when Thou comest into Thy kingdom.”    Near the text’s conclusion, John 12:26b is cited in a slightly expanded form:  “If anyone serve me, he will receive honour from my Father, which is in heaven.”  This expansion corresponds to the form which the verse has in f13.

8 – Gregory of Khandzta and the Georgian National Revival.  Gregory of Khandzta was not martyred; he lived to be 100  and died in 861.  In this narrative of his life, a few New Testament passages are used, including Matthew 5:16 and Second Thessalonians 3:10b.  Lang points out that Georgians assigned the beginning of the world to 5604 B.C., rather than the usual Greek 5508 B.C.

 9 – The Georgian Athonites.  This chapter begins with a brief review of the careers of a few Georgians who resided at Mount Athos around the year 1000, including John the father of Euthymius, and John Tornik.   This is followed by a description of the building of the Iviron monastery.  Then Euthymius takes center-stage; his prolific translation-work is described, before an account is given of Euthymius’ death due to injuries suffered as the result of riding on a mule that bolted when Euthymius had stopped to assist a beggar.

          The next part of this chapter is mainly a report of a discussion between George the Athonite and the Patriarch of Antioch (Theodosius III).  More information about the Georgians at Mount Athos can be found here.

10 – The Passion of Queen Ketevan.  Queen Ketevan was martyred in 1624.  This brief chapter describes how she was offered a choice between a place in the harem of the king of Persia, and “death with great torments.”  Ketevan chose to be faithful to Christ,  and was tortured with red-hot pincers and then strangled.

          This is a book well worth acquiring and reading, not only for some insights into the Georgian text of the New Testament, but also to gain some historical information and edification.



Maurice A. Robinson said...

"a narrative about a talking dragon – large and fearsome with bloodshot eyes and a horn growing out of his forehead." Smaug?

Also: "Father, Sun, and Holy Ghost" might need correction....

James Snapp Jr said...

Correction made; thanks!

Daniel Buck said...

Is this ƒ13 reading also found in extant Georgian NT mss?

Unknown said...

Thoroughly enjoyed this!