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From Accidentality to Bible Research

Doctor of Philology Natia Mirotadze, as a young scientist, was awarded the Rustaveli National Science Foundation prize for outstanding achievements in science in 2023. Natia is currently employed at the Georgian National Center of Manuscripts and serves as an invited lecturer at the Institute of the Georgian Language at Tbilisi State University. As Natia notes, although TSU was not her conscious choice at first and she actually found herself at the university “accidentally”, her identity as a scientist will always be connected to TSU. She discusses how she ended up at TSU and what ties her to the university. During the interview, Natia spoke so engagingly about her research topic that we decided to provide readers with the longest possible version of the conversation.


The 20-year history of relations with TSU, which will never end...

I graduated from Tbilisi State University in December 2021, after defending my thesis on “Readings of the Book of Kings in Georgian Lectionaries: Relation to Georgian and Greek Sources.” As a result, I have earned a doctorate in philology. Currently, I serve as a senior research fellow at the Department of Codicology and Textology at the Korneli Kekelidze Georgian National Center of Manuscripts. In addition, I am an invited lecturer at the Department of Ancient Georgian Language and Textological Studies at the Institute of the Georgian Language in TSU.  


It can be said that my decision to enroll in Tbilisi State University was not well-thought-out, and I ended up there by chance, thanks to my mother. I had decided to become a teacher while still in school, influenced by my family members who were also teachers.  My mother's mother was a philologist, my father's mother was a teacher of chemistry and biology, and my grandfather was a teacher of mathematics. Since my early childhood, my grandmothers have shared with me various stories about their first lessons and professional experiences. As a result, teaching has always been associated with happy summer vacations spent with my grandmothers. However, after reading a book about teaching, I realized that becoming a teacher was my true calling. Despite my interest, I recognized that I would not excel as a physics, chemistry, or mathematics teacher based on my abilities. The Georgian language's grammar came effortlessly and easily to me, although I was always too lazy to learn poems in literature. When I expressed my desire to become a Georgian language teacher, my parents advised me to enroll in philology. My mother submitted my documents to Ivane Javakhishvili Tbilisi State University. In September 2004, my relationship with TSU began after a year of preparation and entry exams. This relationship has lasted almost 20 years and will continue indefinitely, as I will always be a part of TSU.


I value Tbilisi State University primarily for its teachers. Tedo Uturgaidze, Shukia Apridonidze, Elene Koshoridze, Vakhtang Imnaishvili, Natela Kutelia, Tengiz Kikacheishvili, Leila Geguchadze, Zurab Chumburidze, Leli Baramidze, Damana Melikishvili, Zaza Aleksidze, Revaz Siradze, Denis Dgebuadze, Zurab Kiknadze, Ushangi Sakhltkhutsishvili, Zaur Medzvelia, Gulnara Kalandarishvili, Mari Nikolaishvili, Ana Kharanauli, Darejan Tvaltvadze, Rusudan Tsanava, Magda Mchedlidze, Ramaz Kurdadze, Marine Beridze, Lela Tsikhelashvili, Tamar Aptsiauri, Victoria Jugeli and many others - these are the people with whom I associate the university. They have taught me a great deal about Georgian philology and human relations. Among them, I would like to mention Tedo Uturgaidze, who encouraged me to continue my scientific work, and Ana Kharanauli, who supervised both my master’s and PhD theses, and with whom I continued this scientific work. Under her guidance, I learned research methodology, article writing, report preparation and presentation, establishing and maintaining business relations, teamwork, and appreciating my own and others’ work. I did not only learn about research methods, but also about textology, translation, and bibliology. She introduced me to the international scientific community, and I attribute all my progress and success to her expertise, knowledge, and skills.


Georgian Bible as a subject of research

My research focuses on Georgian Bible textology and translation theory and Bible philology in general, as well as the textology and publishing of ancient Georgian translations, Georgian paleography and codicology, the description and cataloging of Georgian manuscripts, ancient Georgian language.


After completing my master’s degree, I became involved in a project financed by the Rustaveli Foundation. The project focused on creating an ancient Georgian - ancient Greek philosophical and theological dictionary. The project was carried out at the scientific base of TSU under the leadership of Damana Melikishvili and Ana Kharanauli. With funding from the Rustaveli National Science Foundation, I have prepared a synoptic edition of the old Georgian versions of the Book of Esther, a phototype and diplomatic edition of the Ioane Petritsi translation, as well as translations of the Elements of Theology according to manuscript H-1337 (in collaboration with Damana Melikishvili), a catalog of palimpsests stored at the Georgian National Center of Manuscripts (together with a group of researchers), a catalog of Georgian manuscripts transcribed abroad (together with a group of researchers).


Thanks to the funding provided by the Faculty of Humanities at Ivane Javakhishvili Tbilisi State University, I have had the opportunity to conduct research trips to Kutaisi Historical and Ethnographic Museum, Svaneti Ethnographic Museum, and Matenadaran (Yerevan). During these trips, I worked alongside other students in the Master’s degree program in Philology of the Christian East and Doctoral programs in Georgian Bible to record and study Georgian manuscripts preserved there.


What does the Georgian Bible mean? What makes it so different and unique? The Georgian/Greek... Bible and similar expressions are abbreviated versions of the Georgian/Greek translation of the Bible. This translation is commonly referenced by bibliologists in their writings and speeches. As you know, Georgian writing, Georgian literary language originated from the translation of the Bible. Research on the ancient Georgian translation of the Bible is a crucial aspect of Georgian humanities. In addition to the fact that the history of the Georgian literary language, the development of the language, lexicology, the influence of the style of the Bible on the original writing should be studied based on the old Georgian translations of the Bible, the Georgian Bible is also very important for researching the Greek Bible. The ancient Georgian translation of the Bible made in the 4th -5th centuries or even earlier is an important source for reconstructing the history of the old Greek translation of the Greek Bible, the Septuagint, and determining the original text. Therefore, research on the Georgian Bible is significant from both Georgian and international perspectives. I am pleased that my scientific activity has gone in this direction.


As I have already mentioned, the Georgian translation of the Bible is interesting in itself, for Georgian philology, and also for the history of the Greek translation of the Bible. Therefore, at the first stage of the research, we should determine which stage of the history/development of the Greek text the Georgian translation reflects. To achieve this goal, we compare the Georgian and Greek texts verbatim and then analyze the similarities and differences. Based on this analysis, we establish the relationship of the translation to the Greek sources. There are several ancient Georgian translations of the Book of Kings. One of them is directly preserved in the biblical manuscripts, and the other is preserved in in the lectionary manuscripts. Before we continue, let’s explain what a lectionary is: it is a liturgical collection arranged on a calendar, which describes the liturgy to be celebrated on this or that holiday and indicates which passages from the Old and New Testaments are to be read during the liturgy. These passages are called readings. The Georgian lectionary manuscripts contain a large part of the Book of Kings in the form of readings. Lectionary and biblical scholars have always been interested in the question of whether the readings in the lectionary are the same texts as those in the biblical manuscripts, or whether the lectionaries and the biblical manuscripts have different translations. Clarifying this was another goal of my dissertation. In the case of the Book of Kings, the lectionary readings are a different translation from the text found in the biblical manuscripts and are derived from the L-text form of the Septuagint. To explain what the L-text form of the Septuagint is would take us too far. Those who are interested can read my dissertation or write to me and we can talk about the textology of the Bible and the master’s program - Philology of the Christian East - within the framework of which they will study the philology of the Bible and become researchers of the Georgian Bible.


Practical advice for young researchers and not only...

I always advise everyone, not only the young generation, to choose a job and a profession that they love and enjoy doing. If it is philology, they should choose it. Maybe the material benefits are higher in some professions, but when you do what you love and you are successful, a person feels appreciation and satisfaction that cannot be outweighed by the material side. Moreover, dedication to one’s work is sometimes rewarded materially. In addition to their own interests, they should choose such a program that will help them acquire the basic skills of scientific and research activities, choose a supervisor who will carefully and repeatedly read and correct their writing, constantly and repeatedly correct their own articles or reports in accordance with the supervisor’s comments, while they are students, learn as much as possible, especially research languages, read a lot, participate in discussions, develop professional skills, do their work with scientific integrity and equip themselves with patience, and their work will definitely be appreciated. I recommend this to myself as well.


While studying for my master’s degree, I received financial support from the Shota Rustaveli National Science Foundation to attend an international conference abroad for the first time. In the subsequent years, I attended the Septuagint Summer School in Göttingen, Germany twice. Although I met and got acquainted with important scholars in the field of bibliology during my studies at this summer school, with whom I later formed a close professional relationship, and it can be said that the ancient Georgian translation of the Book of Esther began to gain international recognition through these schools, I was unable to obtain funding to participate in these schools. I say this because participation in a summer school with a strong scientific reputation should be financed for a student, and it would be beneficial if the university or a foundation could provide funding.  


Since attending my first international conference, I have participated in numerous international scientific conferences; I attended one of them with funding through student projects. Additionally, during my doctoral studies, I spent three months at the University of Louvain-la-Neuve in Belgium as part of the Erasmus exchange program from Ivane Javakhishvili Tbilisi State University. I went on several business trips to the Göttinger Septuaginta Institute and the University of Helsinki through various projects funded by the Rustaveli National Science Foundation. I was also awarded a Humboldt scholarship for a research visit to Göttingen and Bonn.


Due to the links established during summer schools, conferences, and research visits, I was employed in a research project implemented by the Department of Biblical Studies and Ecclesiastical History of the Faculty of Catholic Theology of the University of Salzburg. The project involved a new interpretation of the textual history of the Book of Esther based on newly discovered materials, including the ancient Georgian translations of the Book of Esther.


During my stay at the University of Salzburg, an Erasmus exchange program was launched, between the Faculty of Theology of the University of Salzburg and the Faculty of Humanities at TSU. One student has already visited Salzburg, and another will be sent the following academic year. I hope that the program will continue smoothly in the future. The experience and contacts gained during my four years at the University of Salzburg are valuable assets to my professional development.


Until 2020, the exchange program between the University of Salzburg and Georgian higher education institutions was limited to political sciences. In 2020, I participated in the preparation of a grant proposal for the University of Salzburg, which included the bibliology doctoral program of the TSU Faculty of Humanities in the exchange program.  Additionally, I prepared a grant proposal for 2023 that includes sending a doctoral student in the fall semester of 2024. To the best of my knowledge, our segment is included in this year’s project as well (I am no longer directly involved in this matter since I left Salzburg). Currently, the exchange program with the Department of Biblical Studies and Ecclesiastical History of the Faculty of Catholic Theology of the University of Salzburg is only available for doctoral students. However, the program may be expanded to students of other levels and fields in the future.


On the 2023 Rustaveli National Science Foundation Award for Outstanding Achievements in Science...


The foundation biennially announces a competition for the award. This year the competition was announced in seven different fields, including humanities. To participate, young scientists prepare project proposals that describe their scientific activities and special achievements, as well as their efforts to promote science through public lectures, newspaper, radio and TV interviews. The project proposals are evaluated by experts based on various criteria, and the young scientist with the highest evaluation in each field is awarded a premium of GEL 6,250. I also participated in the competition and was awarded the prize.


What made the Book of Esther appealing to a young researcher? I chose to work on the Book of Esther for my master’s thesis without prior knowledge or attraction to it. However, upon closer examination, I found it to be an incredibly fascinating history book. In this regard, I will provide a brief history of the text. In the case of ancient texts, textual variation refers to the changes that occur during the process of copying from manuscript to manuscript, after the text has been fixed in written form. These changes are reflected in modern editions. The history of some texts is uneventful and limited to copyist errors, while others undergo significant changes due to various circumstances. Copyists or translators may not simply translate or rewrite the text, but may modify it by adding, subtracting, or replacing content. The Book of Esther is a biblical book that underwent creative treatment by a translator and two other authors. The Septuagint version of the Book of Esther was created by translating the Hebrew, and then translating the Alpha text and another Greek text. The latter was only preserved in its complete form in the ancient Latin translation. The Georgian tradition is unique in having a complete translation of the Alpha text of the Bible, preserved only in the Bible of Oshki. Even more surprising and interesting is the second ancient Georgian translation of the Book of Esther, which combines all the existing forms of the Book of Esther, including the Septuagint, the Alpha text, the third Greek text, and even the one that has not been preserved elsewhere. The story is intriguing and cannot be easily summarized. Following Esther, I intend to publish my thesis. My plans involve digital humanities. I hope, we will implement a large institutional project and create electronic databases of manuscript descriptions, lines and watermarks, and a parallel corpus of the Georgian Bible...


Currently, I am an invited lecturer at TSU. The projects mentioned above are likely to be implemented at the Georgian National Center of Manuscripts, where I serve as a senior research fellow. My identity as a scientist will always be linked with TSU. In addition to receiving my higher education and profession at TSU, I also made valuable friendships there.