Scholar discovers 6th-century Ethiopian Old Testament

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A doctoral student at Durham University in England has discovered the existence of  the oldest known copies of books of the Ethiopic Old Testament. The books date back to the early sixth century.

Ted Erho, a postgraduate student in the Department of Theology and Religion, made the find while examining microfilms of classical Ethiopic (Ge’ez) manuscripts at the Hill Museum and Manuscript Library (HMML) at Saint John’s University in Minnesota.

Working with previously-uncataloged manuscripts from HMML’s Ethiopian Manuscript Microfilm Library, Erho has identified the second oldest Ethiopic manuscript in existence (the oldest is the famous Abba Garima Gospels), which also contains the oldest known copies of books from the Old Testament. This manuscript, EMML 6977, dates prior to the Solomonic Era in Ethiopia, which began in 1270 CE and contains the books of Job and Daniel, as well as two homilies.

He also identified the oldest known major Ge’ez codex of the Old Testament (EMML 9001), which contains the entire Book of Jubilees, considered to be a canonical book by the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. Its presence in this manuscript is now the oldest known copy of the Book of Jubilees.

By studying the typography and script of the documents, Mr Erho was able to date the Old Testament books. He commented, “Apart from the obvious scholastic interest, the discovery of such an old manuscript is highly significant culturallyIt is truly a treasure for Ethiopia, which has lost so much knowledge of its pre-modern history due to the theft, destruction, and decay of its manuscripts throughout the last millennium.

“In view of this background, it is in no way an exaggeration to say that this manuscript has survived against rather considerable odds. At the same time, Ethiopia is one of the few nations to retain a manuscript culture, in that even today religious texts are commonly written out by scribes for use throughout the church. This manuscript is a reminder of the roots of this tradition, blending the past with the present.”

See also Garima Gospels found to be oldest surviving Christian illustrated manuscripts

Sources: Hill Museum & Manuscript Library, Durham University

Sharan Newman