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International Conference "Sharing Myths, Texts and Sanctuaries in the South Caucasus: Apocryphal Themes in Literatures, Arts and Cults from Late Antiquity to the Middle Ages"

Dienstag 25. Februar 2020, 00:00 Uhr - Donnerstag 27. Februar 2020, 00:00 Uhr

"Sharing Myths, Texts and Sanctuaries in the South Caucasus: Apocryphal Themes in Literatures, Arts and Cults from Late Antiquity to the Middle Ages" - International Conference Regensburg, 25–27 February 2020

The aim of this conference is to inaugurate the study of the South
Caucasus regarded as an organic cultural space. By the South Caucasus
we imply the vast region that stretches from the Black Sea in the west to
the Caspian Sea in the east and from the southern slopes of the Greater
Caucasus in the north to Lake Van in the south. At its centre rises Mount
Ararat which in Biblical exegesis, in mythology, in popular etymology, in
the shaping of sacred space and in visual arts has since remote antiquity
been associated with the universal flood and with the descent of Noah’s

Over millennia, numerous peoples that have inhabited the South
Caucasus have preserved, or have gradually acquired, profound cultural
affinities which justify this innovative approach. In order to make a first
step in this direction we propose to focus on three Christian cultures of the
region, Armenian, Caucasian Albanian and Georgian (here and elsewhere
listed in the alphabetical order), without, however, excluding other
religions present in the South Caucasus. It is for this reason that as our
starting point we have chosen Apocryphal and mythological themes in
texts, in worship and in visual arts: in the Christian East, and notably in
Armenia and in Georgia, the boundaries of the Biblical Canon have never
been as precise as in the Latin West, and Biblical codices often included
various texts which in the West were rejected and forgotten. Apocrypha
thus could become an important medium of cultural transmission. The
references to sacred figures of national histories and to sacred topography
present in apocrypha makes this literature a particularly convenient lens
through which to observe cultural interaction and blending. Divergent
recensions of the same legends have been preserved in Armenian and in
Georgian. Apocryphal literature reflects contacts between different peoples
inhabiting the South Caucasus and even between their different religious

Numerous apocryphal texts enjoyed high popularity along centuries;
some versions were even transmitted orally until early modern period in
local dialects. Most of these sources, written or oral, have never been
verified by any formal authority; consequently, the beliefs and the ideas
that they convey underwent important transformations between their first
introduction into the South Caucasus during Late Antiquity and early
modern times. Moreover, a number of apocryphal motifs in texts and in
visual arts reflect myths shared by peoples belonging to different religious
traditions. Therefore, in order to apprehend the amplitude of the religious
phenomena to which these sources give voice we shall not restrict our
inquiry to Late Antiquity but also extend it to the Middle Ages and even to
later times. Apocryphal sources allow us, therefore, not only to study the
endurance of various motifs in time, but also to build bridges across
linguistic and religious divides of the region.

From the eighth century and until recent times the South Caucasus was
characterised by a highly discontinuous settlement of various ethnic,
linguistic and religious groups across its expanses: Zoroastrians,
Christians and Muslims; the Abkhazians, Armenians, Caucasian
Albanians, Georgians, Kurds and Turkic peoples lived in close
neighbourhood with each other and with numerous other, 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 neighbouring quarters of a
single town. Multilingualism and close familiarity with the neighbours’
traditions were essential features of the South Caucasus.

Today, however, this region is intersected by multiple state borders, a
number of which remain permanently closed. These borders divide nations
that during the twentieth century have largely lost their multi-ethnic and
multilingual character. As a consequence, autarkic and nationalist
perspectives on philology and historiography have often prevailed in the
national schools. Moreover, also in the West, as in a mirror, various
neighbouring cultures of the South Caucasus have often been treated
independently from each other. Yet a true advance in the study of this
region, which would even make possible a change in the extant scholarly
paradigms, can only be achieved if this compartmentalised approach is
overcome. We hope that this new scholarly undertaking may help to
establish a closer collaboration between the academic worlds of various
South-Caucasian nations and, thus, also to contribute to their mutual

In view of the anchorage of our first conference in Late Antiquity it can
hardly be overstated that the Christianisation of the South-Caucasian
peoples―the Armenians, the Caucasian Albanians and the
Georgians―was deeply entangled. Without taking into consideration the
enduring contacts that existed between the three one cannot account, for
example, of the almost simultaneous rise of their literatures at the
beginning of the fifth century. Furthermore, only a combined approach to
their cultures, and to the region more widely, can enable us to explain
some of the most remarkable developments in South-Caucasian artistic
traditions, such as the simultaneous shaping across the entire region,
between the end of the sixth and first half of the seventh century, of the
famous style in church architecture, which is known as ‘Cross-octagon’.

Below, three of the possible topics of papers are listed:
– Parabiblical sources and elaboration of the accounts of the origins:
universal, national and regional; their role in the development of
historiographic and artistic traditions;
– the relationships between local Christian cultures and their respective
collections of parabiblical sources: how the distinct sets of apocrypha
reflect the shaping of distinct cultural and spiritual individualities (with
regard to the doctrine, the ideas of the divine, the ritual and liturgical
practices, the artistic traditions, the elaboration of religious symbols and
the interpretation of national history); what particular metaphysical
queries, introduced through Christianisation, does each set reflect?
– Parabiblical sources and mysticism; how do the parabiblical sources
reflect and describe religious experience: visions, dreams, theophanies,
divine presence, holiness, sacred space?

Igor Dorfmann-Lazarev


Andreasstadel, Andreasstraße 28, Regensburg






Heterotopien religiöser Autorität im spätantiken Christentum (FOR 2770)

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Tel.: +49 941 943-5972

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Tel.: +49 941 943-5971