EZNIK OF KOŁB (KOŁBACʿI), Armenian Christian theologian and cleric. He was born ca. 374-80 in the province of Taykʿ. His work contains a refutation of the Zoroastrian religion. One of the students of the inventor of the Armenian alphabet, Maštocʿ, he was sent to Edessa (according to Koriwn, with Yovsēpʿ) and then Byzantium, where he became proficient in Syriac and Greek. He wrote a letter to Maštocʿ on the Council of Ephesus (431; preserved in the Knikʿ hawatoy, “Seal of Faith” of Catholicos Komitas, 7th cent.). After having been honored by Patriarch Maximianus at Byzantium, he returned to Armenia, and at Aštišat—then the seat of the Church—he presented to his fellow clergymen a translation of the canons of the Council of Ephesus. With St. Sahak, he labored also over an Armenian translation of the Bible. According to the historians Łazar Pʿarpecʿi and Ełišē (q.v.), one Eznik was ordained bishop of Bagrewand and was present at the Council of Aštišat; but Nicholas Adontz has argued that this was a different person (the name Eznik, or Eznak, means “little ox”; such animal names were then popular amongst Armenians: Koriwn, mentioned above, means “lion cub”).
Eznik’s major work is a theological treatise, focussed on the issue of good, evil, and free will, and directed principally against the various forms of dualism. It is preserved, without any title save attribution to its author, in a unique ms. of 1280 C.E. (Yerevan Matenadaran no. 1097) which was probably copied at the monastic academy of Glajor. The text was first published at Smyrna, 1762, with a preface by Yakob Nalean, Patriarch of Constantinople. The editor, Abraham vardapet, gave it the title Girkʿ ənddimutʿeancʿ, “Book of Refutations.” The Mekhitharist father Arsen Bagratuni, who edited the second edition (Venice, 1826) called it Ełc ałandocʿ, “Refutation of Sects.” Armenian scholars have embraced this title, which perhaps best describes the essence of the work. L. Maries argued for a more general, abstract title of his own, De Deo, but this perhaps fails to take adequate account of the historical urgency of Eznik’s polemic against encroaching Sasanians (who were supported by nearly half the Armenian nobles, the naxarars), backsliding natives (Maštocʿ had preached among these, in the region of Gołtʿn), learned Hellenists, and Gnostics (one recalls that Mani had written an Epistle to the Armenians)—the young Christian Church of Armenia was under siege. And after the partition of the country in 387 and the end of the Arsacid dynasty in Persarmenia in 428, the Church was the mainstay of the Armenians’ sense of nationhood. Moreover, one can perceive in Eznik the influence of the Panarion of Epiphanius (d. 403)—a “medicine chest” of the diverse existing heresies and their refutation, written for the benefit of two Syrian monks. Maries’ considerations seem divorced from this context; so Adontz and others have argued strenuously against his suggestion.
The Refutation is divided into four parts refuting the beliefs of “heathens” (hetʿanos), Persians, Greeks, and Marcionites. Heathen, or native Armenian beliefs mentioned, include the aralēz (a spirit-dog that licks slain heroes back to life), višap (dragon), nhang (a sea monster; lit., “dragger down”), Artawazd the imprisoned savior-king, and the supernatural properties of the mandrake plant (on these, see ARMENIA AND IRAN iii. ARMENIAN RELIGION and Russell, 1987b). The section on the Persians is a refutation of Zurvanism (on this section, see Zaehner, pp. 54-78, 419-28), deriving in part from the work of Theodore bar Konai and from the Peri tēs en Persidi magikēs of Theodore of Mopsuestia (a work on Zurvanism and Zoroastrian dualism itself addressed to an Armenian chorepiscopus whose name is rendered as Mastoubios—perhaps Maštocʿ). But the abundant Iranian vocabulary and mention of such an arcane figure as the demon Mahmī (otherwise known only from a Manichaean hymn: see Henning; Russell, 1987a) suggest Eznik might have used also primary Iranian sources, both written and oral (see Zaehner, p. 40). For the Marcionite sect, Eznik probably utilized the Refutation by St. Ephrem the Syrian, as well as the Peri Autexousiou (a refutation of Valentinian Gnosis) by Methodius of Olympus (d. 312).
Several other works are attributed to Eznik. These include: Harcʿumn Arjanay Arcrunwoy ew patasxanikʿ Eznkay Kołbacʿwoy ułłapʿar vardapeti, “The Questioning of Arjan Arcruni and the Responses of the orthodox doctor, Eznik Kołbacʿi” (another Arjan is mentioned by Ps.-Yovhannēs Mamikonean as the name of a 4th century pagan priest at Aštišat, so the name, at least, might be contemporary), a treatise on Creation (Vasn ararčʿutʿean: Eznik seems to have used the Homilies on the Hexaemeron of St. Basil of Caesarea [d. 379] as a source for his Refutations), and another on the monastic orders (Karg uxti ew vanacʿ). A number of phrases containing obscure words, and evidently drawn from discussions of mythological, herbalist, epic, and historical topics, are attributed to Eznik by Stepʿanos Roškʿean Kamenicʿacʿi (Stephen of Kamenets, Eastern Poland), in his Dictionary.
Text and translations. Eznik Kołbacʿi, De Deo, eds. and trs. Louis Maries and Charles Mercier, Patrologia Orientalis 28, Paris, 1959; modern Eastern Armenian tr. by A. A. Abrahamyan as Ełc ałandocʿ, Yerevan, 1970.
Studies. Rev. Z. Arzoumanian, Studies in Armenian Historiography: Eznik of Kolb. . ., New York, 1976 (containing useful bibliography).
W. B. Henning, Zoroaster: Politician or Witch-Doctor? Oxford, 1951.
J. R. Russell, “Mahmī Reconsidered,” Journal of the K. R. Cama Oriental Intitute 54, 1987a, pp. 74-80.
Idem, Zoroastrianism in Armenia, Cambridge, Mass., 1987b.
R. C. Zaehner, Zurvan: A Zoroastrian Dilemma, Oxford, 1955.
G. Zarbhanalean, Patmutʿiwn hay hin dprutʿean, Venice, 1932.
(James R. Russell)
Originally Published: December 15, 1999
Last Updated: December 15, 2012
This article is available in print.
Vol. IX, Fasc. 2, pp. 129-130
James R. Russell, “EZNIK OF KOŁB,” Encyclopædia Iranica, IX/2, pp. 129-130, available online at http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/eznik-of-kolb (accessed on 30 December 2012).