Ketevan Goderdzishvili                                                                                                                                                              # 4

       Polemics with Paganism in Original Georgian Hagiography Works

The branch of Polemics in Georgia seemed to start earlier for several factors. Firstly, Georgia was surrounded by non-Christians. Secondly, very often Georgia served as the arena for battles of different kinds of Christianity heresy. For these reasons, Georgian literature had to make itself literal polemics, with the help of foreign tools and its own creation.

The aim of polemics was to abolish religion faith of oppositions and to confirm the falseness of their doctrine (Kekelidze 1951: 445).  

First original hagiography works mainly belong to the historical time, when Georgian people were fighting against Persians-(IV-VI) centuries. All martyrdoms which were created in this period, besides the passions which are described in them, are also the chronicle of cultural, social and religious activities of that period.   

Earlier Georgian hagiography by no means uses the “Apology” of Greek author- Aristide, as the source of polemics with Mazdaism, to underline and create the theory that Christianity is the only true religion.

The “Apology” of Greek Author Aristide of the second century, was addressed against antique paganism. But in Georgia, the passages from the “Apology” of Aristide, in which fire isn’t considered to be God, were used against Persian Mazdaism. This polemics is clearly visible in Original Georgian Hagiography works.  

By giving the title “Polemics with paganism in original Georgian hagiography works” to the present article we are trying to survive all Original Georgian hagiography works, in which we meet polemics with paganism. The title is still conditional, because we also survive such Georgian Hagiography works, in which there is polemics with Mazdaism and not with paganism. This fact is justified by the fact that in this polemics the “Apology” of Aristide is used, which was addressed against antique paganism. Aristide develops the thesis that fire is not  god, but a creature of god.

Before the adoption of Christian religion, Georgia was pagan.  But, Persian conquerors in our country were spreading Mazdaism or fire-worship. That is why, Georgian Christian literature takes the field against Persian religion-fire-worship and in this debate actively uses the “apology” of Aristide.

One more   interesting issue is the fact that almost the whole text of “Apology” which was considered to be lost, appeared included in the Greek edition of “Barlaam and Ioasaph”. Euthymius from Athos is considered to be its author (Goderdzishvili )

It is considered that the influence of Aristide on Georgian ecclesiastic literature must be begun from the period of Georgian king Mirian - the period when Georgia adopted a new doctrine- Christianity ( 337) (Giorgadze 2003: 12).

After the Christian religion become the doctrine of Georgia, Georgian culture and literature have a very close approach to culture and literature of Western Christian countries, mostly, with that of Bizantium. A number of Greek ecclesiastic literary pieces, such as, liturgies and martyrdoms were translated into Georgian. Simultaneously, a number of original hagiography works were written in Georgian and translated into Greek.

“Martyrdom of St. Shushanik” is the oldest Georgian hagiography work. Some sentences from this martyrdom are very close to the style of Aristide.

The faith of haven, which is expressed in “Martyrdom of St. Shushanik”, where the place of divine judgment and nothingness of our life is, is already formulated in a philosophic manner in “Life of Iodasaph” of IX-X Georgian hagiography work (Khintibidze 1999: 149).

Another important work of Original Georgian hagiography is “ Martyrdom of nine adolescents from Cola”. By the character the work must be of VI century, because a picture which is presented in this work belongs to the earliest period of Christianity. In this work we can clearly see how Christianity contradicts local paganism, not fire-worship. The content of this work is the following: “In the ravine near Mtkvari, which was called Cola, Christians and pagans were living together. Majority of population was pagan. The head of the ravine was also pagan. Nine pagan children of the age of 7-9 were playing with Christian children. They liked the habits of their friends. When the bell of Christian church was ringing and calling, Christian children were going to the church. Pagan children also were following them, but they weren’t allowed to enter the church because they weren’t Christians.  They were told to be baptized and come only afterwards. So, the pagan children secretly christened at night in the river Mtkvari because clergyman couldn’t do it at day time. Pagan parents got very angry and they reported this to their head who gave them the right to do with them anything they wanted. So,  pagan parents brought their children to the place where they had been christened, dug the hole, pushed their children and killed them with stones.”

As mentioned above, this work belonged to the period of early Christianity because the event which is described in this martyrdom seemed to be of this period (Monuments of Old Georgian Hagiographical Literature 1963: 184-185).

Another important work of original Georgian hagiography is “Life of St. Nino” which must belong to IX century. It is a part of “Mokcevai Kartlisai”.(aq targmanic chaurte). This piece of work was created with the purpose of reading in church and it made a cult of Georgian people educator- Nino. In it we can see a number of miracles: Nino cured  Queen Nana, her vine cross cured a number of diseased people, during hunting, king Mirian was saved by the god of Nino and not  by pagan idols. Nino was dealing with the power of divine. She was sleeping near Mtskheta when a strange divine man appeared, who gave her blessed book, which was  a guide for Nino in the process of Christianity spreading.

It is very interesting when the author describes idols of Armaz, Gaz and Gat. These figures seemed to be local people’s gods before  the appearance of St.Nino. By the will of Christian god, with the help of thunder, these idols were destroyed (Kekelidze 1951: 496).

From the period of polemics with Mazdaism (fire-worship) we have a number of very important Original Georgian hagiography works.

Firstly, we can speak about “Martyrdom of Rajden the first martyr”. Rajden was a Persian man. During his stay with Georgian king Vakhtang Gorgasali, he understood the content of Christianity and afterwards he became Christian. For this reason, he was arrested by Persian Shah and ordered to change her new religion and become again fire-worshipper. But he didn’t do it and was killed by Persians. The author of this work uses the apology of Aristide greatly. We can give a number of passages which resemble the “Apology” of Aristide (Sakartvelos Samotkhe :171).

    Another original Georgian martyrdom is “Passion of Abibos Nekreseli”, in which the polemics of Aristide is shown more clearly. Abibos came to Kartli with 13 Asyrian fathers to help build the monasteries. In this period Persian religion was spread in Kartly. One day Abibos switched off fire- which was a main god for Persians. Persians claimed Abibos guilty for killing their god, but Abibos said that he only switched off fire, the thing which was made by real God. For this reason, he was punished and killed by Persians (Monuments 1963: 45).

Another important monument of Original Georgian hagiography is “Passion of Evstate Mtskheteli”. This work is dated by VI century. In this martyrdom we can clearly see a number of parallels with the “Apology” of Aristide, a Greek philosopher.  It is clear that the author of this martyrdom uses and knows greatly the Bible and ancient martyrdoms. The author uses and borrows “Apology” of Aristide and “Diatesaron” of Tatian. In science, it’s outlined that this martyrdom is the first work in Georgian hagiography in which polemical footprint is clearly visible.

  Evstate from Mtskheta, was a man, Persian by origin, a magi, who was well educated and informed in all regions, knew well cultural diversities, idols, but still, he was searching the truth and chose Christianity as a true and the only religion. In the text we can read his words expressed against Marspan during his second arrest. In the second part of his speech, he certainly denied adolescence, which is a fundamental item in Aristide. Polemical regulations are most important. For Evstate, fire-which is the main god for Persians, is nothing but the one in creatures of God, who is in haven, one can use it, make fire and one can blow it. He also expressed his attitude against luminary cult. He says that the sun, the moon, stars are creatures of god and not gods themselves (Monuments 1963: 45).

Mr. Elguga Khintibidze makes a remark that the author of this martyrdom is very close to the style of Aristide. 

Finally, we should focus on the benefits of the spirit story about “Barlaam and Iodasaph” in the Georgian edition “The Wisdom of Balahvar”.

The plot of this story is as follows: The king of India, Abener is the enemy of Christian religion and Christian people. He has the only son Iodasaph. Before his birth, the astrologists predicted him that his son would become strong but he would receive a new doctrine. For not being like that, he managed and hired a lot of beautiful servants. They had to look after him for one reason. Prince Iodasaph would see only beauty, happiness and not understand what illness and death are. He would neither see old people. But Iodasaph wanted freedom. He asked his father and went for journey. As it is in the “Life of Buda”, he saw a number of needy and hopeless. After this a Christian man, Barlaam, came to him, christened him and went back to the desert. Father King is worried about it. He decided to celebrate an open discussion in which his Vizier Nachor must be in opposition with  Barlaam and manage to make a negative interpretation of Christianity. Before this discussion Prince Iodasaph told Nachor about the wisdom of Christianity. During this discussion, Nachor was stimulated with the wisdom of Christianity. As for Iodasaph, he spoke with him by the help of God. He starts his speech vice versa to what king had told him. He begins to advocate Christianity. After this fact, everybody in the kingdom became Christian. King’s son Iodasaph refuses to be the king, denied his title and went to the desert for praying and thinking.

The churches of middle centuries have forgotten a fairy content of this story and they placed Barlaam and Iodasaph near the names of martyrs in Christian calendars. The author of this novel unintentionally makes the interpretation of the religion of Buda in a Christianity way.

One important factor is that, as I mentioned above, a big part of Nachor’s speech is a Greek original of the “Apology” of Aristide.

The popularity of this novel must be started from the Greek edition of this story.

In the process of studying the Greek edition of this novel, Georgian sources and Georgian versions of it attracted attention of a number of literature specialists. So, the subject of the origin and the author of “Barlaam and Iodasaph”, which is a great problem for Bizantium-researchers, simultaneously, appeared to be the main researching subject for Georgian philology.

Therefore, another important issue is that the “Apology” of Aristide, which was considered to be lost, appeared in Oriental Christian Literature: In Syrian completely and in Armenian in fragments. Georgian authors used the “Apology” of Aristide extensively. So, I think, that it is not surprising that the lost “Apology” returned in a Georgian way. As it is estimated for today, the Greek text of “Apology” nearly completely is included in a Greek novel “ Barlaam and Iodasaph” whose  oldest manuscripts are dated by the beginning of XI century. If we realized the mostly spread version of the Authorship of this novel, that it was created in the mountain of Athos, by the Georgian writer Euthymius , who was working in Athos, on the base of Georgian version of the “  Life of Iodasaph”, or  “Barlaam and Iodasaph”, we can easily outline the fact, that the lost text of  the “Apology” of Aristide  in the early middle centuries, must be returned to Greek literature from Georgian, or Oriental Christian literature.     


  1. Giorgadze 2003: GiorgadzeM. “The Apology of Aristide in Old Georgian Martyrdoms”. Paris, 2003.

  2. Goderdzishvili: Goderdzishvili K. Several Aspects in research of the Apology of Aristide” Publishing House Logos.

  3. Kekelidze 1951: Kekelidze K. The History of Old Georgian Literature”, Tbilisi, 1951.

  4. Khintibidze 1999:Khintibidze E. Philosophy in Medieval Centuries Georgia. Collection dedicated to Korneli Kekelidze 120 years anniversary. Tbilisi, 1999.

  5. Monuments 1963: Monuments of Old Georgian Hagiographical Literature, Book I, Academy of Sciences, Tbilisi 1963.



Volume 3, Issue 2


Rustaveli Institute of Georgian Literature

Georgian Electronic Journal of Literature