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Jews, Judaism, and their Imaginaries in Late Antique and Early Medieval Georgia

Jewish communities have existed on Georgian territory since the turn of the first and second centuries AD. Soon thereafter, in the fourth century, the dynasts of eastern Georgia (Kartli, Iberia), Armenia Major, and Caucasian Albania embraced Christianity, thus opening floodgates to the deep Christianization of southern Caucasia. Although Jewish groups did not disappear with the dominance of Christianity, their image in Georgian literature (which itself was enabled by Christianity’s triumph) was usually projected through a Christian lens. I propose to study the images of Jews and Judaism in late antique and early medieval Georgian literature. I shall begin with an examination of Jewish imaginaries in Georgian hagiographical works, the earliest of which belongs to the fifth century. Such imagery reaches its apex in the prominent role assigned to Jews in the received conversion stories of the eastern Georgian king Mirian. The analysis will then turn to the less-frequent references to Jews and their faith in early, “pre-Bagratid” Georgian historiography. Special attention will be devoted to biblically-inspired allusions to the Jews. Among other things, I shall determine whether these allusions belong to the original, late antique texts or were “interpolated” by the medieval editor, the archbishop Leonti Mroveli.