University of Regensburg, Germany
Research Title: Apocrypha and the Construction of Cultural Consciousness of Islamicate Societies
Dr. Dorfmann-Lazarev, PhD and Habilitation at ÉPHÉ – Sorbonne, is a lecturer in Armenian civilization at the University of Aix-en-Provence. His monographs and articles are concerned with the South Caucasus and with the cross-cultural development of ecclesiastical institutions in Syria, South Caucasus, and Anatolia. In his recent publications, he has focused on the transmission of apocrypha and on the phenomenon of cultural blending in apocrypha. He is the editor of Apocryphal and Esoteric Sources in the Development of Christianity and Judaism: The Eastern Mediterranean, the Near East, and Beyond (Brill, 2021). At ANAMED he is leading research on the sources that attest diverse representations of the origins of humankind in Christianity and Islam.
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Fellow’s End of the Academic Year Research Report:
Apocrypha and the Construction of Cultural Consciousness of Islamicate Societies
My work at ANAMED involved:
—The preparation of the article “Between the Planes and the Mountains: The Albanian-Armenian Marches in the Twelfth Century and David of Gandzak (ca. 1065–1140)” which will be published in the Handbook of Caucasian Albania, eds. Jost Gippert and Jasmine Dum-Tragut, Berlin: De Gruyter (planned for winter 2022/23); and
—The final stages of editorial work on Sharing Myths, Texts and Sanctuaries in the South Caucasus: Apocryphal Themes in Literatures, Arts and Cults from Late Antiquity to the Middle Ages (postface by Jean-Pierre Mahé, Membre de l’Institut; postscript by George Hewitt, Member of the British Academy), Studies on Early Christian Apocrypha 19, ed. I. Dorfmann-Lazarev, Leuven: Peeters, which is expected to appear in May 2022.
The edited volume
Over millennia, numerous peoples that have inhabited the South Caucasus have preserved, or have gradually acquired, profound cultural affinities. The essays composing the volume enable the reader to look at this region as an organic cultural space. In order to investigate the ties uniting different Caucasian peoples, the book focuses on three ancient Christian cultures of the region—Armenian, Caucasian Albanian, and Georgian—without forgetting, however, about the relations of the Biblical religious world with Islam and Yezidism, also enrooted in the Caucasus.
Without taking into consideration the enduring contacts existing between the Armenians, the Georgians, and the Caucasian Albanians, one cannot account, for example, for the almost simultaneous rise of their literature at the beginning of the fifth century CE. Furthermore, only a combined approach to their cultures, and to the region as a whole, can enable us to explain some of the most remarkable developments in the South-Caucasian artistic traditions, such as the simultaneous shaping across the entire region, between the end of the sixth and the first half of the seventh century CE, of the famous style in church architecture which is known as “cross-octagon,” which later would also influence the shaping of Islamic architectural traditions in Anatolia. Although the South Caucasian languages have diverse, and sometimes very remote origins, they are often close phonetically and share numerous common roots, lexemes, syntactical structures, and phraseology. The Caucasian peoples’ oral traditions, rites, poetry, and visual arts often resort to common images and symbols, although diverging in numerous important nuances which frequently elude the external observers.
Attempts to account for this shared cultural repository have seldom been undertaken. In order to take a few steps in this direction and to allow for a comprehensive approach to the South Caucasus—and especially for the sake of transcending formal religious boundaries dividing the South Caucasian nations—the book looks at apocryphal and mythological themes in texts, in worship, and in visual arts. In the Christian East, and notably in Armenia and Georgia, the boundaries of the Biblical Canon have never been as precise as in the Latin West, and Biblical codices often included texts that in the West were rejected and forgotten. Apocrypha thus became an important medium of cultural transmission far beyond the perimeters of the Churches’ normative traditions. The references to national heroes and to mythological and sacred topography present in Apocrypha make this literature a particularly convenient lens through which to observe cultural interaction and blending. Divergent versions of the same legends have been preserved in Armenian, Georgian, and other languages of the South Caucasus; Christian sanctuaries have been attended and venerated in different ways by Muslims or Yezidis.
Numerous apocryphal texts have enjoyed high popularity for centuries; some versions of their accounts were transmitted orally in local dialects even until the early modern period. Most of these sources, written or oral, have never been verified by any formal authority; consequently, the beliefs and the ideas that they convey, while preserving faithfully some original elements, sometimes underwent important regional transformations between their first introduction into the South Caucasus during Late Antiquity and early modern times. A number of apocryphal motifs in texts and in visual arts reflect ancient myths shared by peoples belonging to different religious traditions; other apocryphal motifs were transmitted from Christianity to Islam. Therefore, whilst focusing on Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages, the chapters composing the volume incidentally extend their enquiries to later times in order to apprehend the amplitude of the religious phenomena to which apocryphal sources give voice.
Apocryphal traditions allow us not only to study the endurance of various motifs in time but also to build bridges across linguistic, religious, and territorial divides of the South Caucasus. Such bridges are indispensable for giving a comprehensive account of the life of their inhabitants. Indeed, from remote antiquity until recent times, the South Caucasus was characterized by a highly discontinuous settlement of diverse ethnic, linguistic, and religious groups across its expanses. Such territorial disruptions were further accentuated by the Islamic colonization of the region that began in the early eighth century CE. Zoroastrians, Christians, and Muslims, Abkhazians, Armenians, Caucasian Albanians, Georgians, Kurds, and Turkic peoples lived in close neighborhoods with each other and with multiple, numerically smaller, peoples of the Caucasian highlands. With a remarkable steadiness, various peoples occupied adjacent defiles or even inhabited diverse climatic zones within a single valley, as well as building neighboring quarters of the same town or the same city. Multilingualism and close familiarity with the neighbors’ traditions were essential features of the South Caucasus.
The study focuses on the city of Gandzak/Gandja and the basin of the river Kur (Kür/Kura) in its middle course. From the middle of the tenth century CE, Ganjak had been the main center of gravity for Muslim power in the southeastern Caucasus. I compare the presence of the Church of Caucasian Albania at Gandja and in the pre-Caspian planes and in the easternmost spurs of the Lesser Caucasus facing the city. Special attention is devoted to the activity of David of Gandzak (ca. 1065–1140), which affords a lens through which to observe cultural interaction in these marchlands between Armenia and the former Caucasian Albania (land later known to Muslim authors as Arran).
David’s “Admonitory Exhortations”[i] contain important information concerning relationships between the Muslim majority of Gandja and other cities and towns in the lowlands of the former Albanian kingdom and their Christian inhabitants and are especially instructive of the close contacts by Armenians and Kurds in the first half of the twelfth century CE. David’s book has but very seldom been used as a source of history of the South Caucasus because it does not easily fit into any known category of historical documents. The role that the contacts documented by him played in the subsequent history of the southeastern Caucasus, i.e., firstly in the former Caucasian Albania then also across a considerable part of Armenia, has not so far been acknowledged in scholarship. My enquiry relies on a renewed textual analysis of the preserved recensions of the “Admonitory Exhortations.” I show that David’s book sheds light on a crucial stage in the Islamization of the southeastern Caucasus and Eastern Anatolia.
David of Ganjak’s book reflects a learned cleric’s reaction to the assimilation of Armenians within the Muslim majority of the city. Nominally Muslim, the Kurdish population of the Kura valley had only superficially been Islamicized, maintaining syncretic religious practices. In the absence of centers of Islamic learning in the South Caucasus, syncretic beliefs and practices proliferated in the midst of its Muslim populations. From the Albanians and Albanian Armenians whom they had absorbed into their midst since the beginning of the tenth century CE, the Kurds inherited rudiments of Christian rites, pious practices, and superstitions. The shared veneration of holy places, holy men, and sacred objects, as well as the apocryphal legends telling of common prophets, populated the religion of the newcomers with familiar figures, symbols, rites, and sacred spaces, thus rendering it accessible for Christians and, consequently, facilitating the intermingling of Armenians and Kurds in various spheres. The symbiosis of the two societies, to which David gives voice, was but the first stage in the process of Islamization of the southeastern Caucasus.
David’s book represents the first collection of texts preserved in Armenian to possess a juridical form, whose character is not strictly ecclesiastical. It is also the first attempt in Armenian literature to define in legal terms various instances of contact with Muslims. As the history of the book’s textual transmission shows, it was widely received as a truly legal document, undergoing diverse adaptations, even becoming a reference in various Armenian communities for more elaborate codes of laws. Many of those syncretic religious practices which are documented in the Exhortations are also reflected in sources—Syriac, Greek, Ottoman, and Western—relating to Mesopotamia and Asia Minor. Nowhere else, however, do we find an attempt at classifying such practices in as systematic a way as in David’s book.
[i] cf. Ch. Dowsett, The Penitential of David of Ganjak Arm. 4. (Corpus Scriptorum Christianorum Orientalium) (Louvain, 1961).