Liturgical Readings and Memory Uses of the Manuscripts of the Gospels of Abba Garima (Ethiopia, 6th-16th c.)

Anaïs Wion

The three Ethiopian manuscripts of the Gospel preserved at Abba Garima Monastery in Northern Ethiopia are known to be the oldest surviving examples of illuminated Gospel manuscripts. The proposed dates range from the 4th century, for the lowest, to the 9th century, for the highest. Despite the importance of these manuscripts, they remain very little studied. An analysis begun in 2019 by Sergey Kim has made it possible to collate these manuscripts and, for the first time, to establish a complete description of them. The codicological and palaeographical analysis provides new elements on this unknown period for Ethiopian manuscript studies, the ge’ez epigraphy stopping at the end of the Aksumite kingdom, in the 7th century, and the first manuscripts on parchment dating from the 12th centuries. The codices of Abba Garima are thus exceptional witnesses on the writing practices of the early Ethiopian Middle Ages. This study proposes, on the one hand, to analyse the sophisticated navigation processes in the Gospel text and, on the other hand, the various codicological marks that testify of the still unsuspected subtleties of the writing and reading practices for the Christian world of that period.

Moreover, the liturgical notes bear witness to linguistic borrowings which will allow a better understanding of cultural exchanges in the Eastern Christian world at that time.

Finally, one of the important discoveries promised by this study is about the nature of the “Ethiopian preface” of the Gospels. Its critical edition will undoubtedly make it possible to propose a new look at Christian texts, and further, at the Christianization of Ethiopia.

A final specificity of these manuscripts is that they contain land donation documents. This fact is not surprising in Ethiopia, where this method of copying and preserving archival documents is tusual up to the contemporary period. Nevertheless, this is again the earliest known evidence of a tradition that became later a standard. It consists of about ten documents, the oldest of which may date from the 7th century, and the most recent from the 16th century. They provide essential evidence for understanding the administration of the Christian kingdom in ancient times. The work of describing and editing the notes will be done in TEI-XML, in the Beta Masaheft interface, a large-scale collaborative project developed at the University of Hamburg (Hiob Ludolf center). This work will combine the new display of the photographs of the manuscripts, the cataloguing of the three volumes and an edition of the notes and the “Ethiopian preface”.







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