Ethiopia: 19th-century (mid to late). Small 4to (175 x 116 mm). Collation: [pi]2, followed by 11 gatherings of 10 leaves (the gatherings are numbered 1-11 in Ge'ez) followed by 1 gathering of 6 leaves (the gathering is numbered 12 in Ge'ez) = 118 ff. (modern foliation in pencil), COMPLETE. Contemporary Ethiopian blind-tooled goatskin over wooden boards (rebacked with original spine laid down), doublures of red patterned cloth, broad turn-ins blind-tooled with double and triple fillets. Preserved in a brown cloth case. Item #3642
OF CONSIDERABLE INTEREST TO STUDENTS OF AFRICAN BOOK ARTS: A PERFECT TEACHING EXAMPLE.
A modest but very well preserved Ethiopian manuscript on vellum. The Psalter is written in Ge'ez, the classical language of Ethiopia. Whereas Ge'ez is now almost extinct, it is still used as a liturgical language by Ethiopian Christians and Ethiopian Beta Israel Jews.
Due to Ethiopia's relative insularity, the process of creating manuscripts in this region remained relatively unchanged for centuries (indeed well into the 19th century). Our manuscript belongs to the second half of the 19th century, and exhibits many intriguing features. That it echoes the process of early Christian bookmaking is unmistakable. NB: EVERY PAGE of this manuscript has been digitized, and we are able to offer a very fullsome description prepared by Prof. David Appleyard (see below).
In the present volume, the principal text is of course the Book of Psalms ("Mazmura Dawit") which is followed by the Canticles of the Prophets ("Mahaleya Nabiyyat"), the Song of Songs, and the Weddase Maryam ("Praise of Mary"). At the beginning and end of the manuscript are various hymns of salutation ("Salam") to the Archangel Michael. The so-called Gate of Light ("Anqasa Berhan") is found in a number of Ethiopian Psalters but not here. The Ethiopian recension of the Psalms follows the Greek Septuagint numbering and has an additional psalm (Psalm 151) which is only accepted as canonical by the Eastern Orthodox Churches.
In our manuscript the text is written in at least two different Raqiq hands, in black with the usual rubrics in red (some now faded), designating the opening lines of textual divisions, occasional alternating lines in the beginning of major textual divisions, the name of God, and sometimes other names.
The only decoration herein consists of modest, at times even crude "Harags" (literarally: "vines") or ornamental headpieces, comprised of latticework or foliate design, sometimes colored in red ink or left uncolored. Harags often mark the beginning of text divisions, but here some occur between Psalms (e.g. fol. 27v). Some texts are separated only by a line of red dots.
The flyleaf at the beginning of the manuscript contains a number of pen trials in several somewhat untutored hands. The text closing the initial folio contains part of a Salam or hymn of salutation to St. Michael (repeated elsewhere in the text).
The manuscript is undated; the principal hand employed here is of a style called Raqiq (literally "slender") that has been in use from the 17th century until the present day. However, there are some small paleographic features, such as faint serifs at the top and bottom of vertical strokes, that suggest that the MS was written in the second half of the 19th centuring or later. The name of one of the later owners appears in bright blue / purple ink, which suggests that the invidual belonged to the late 19th or early 20th century (see below).
PROVENANCE: At the end of Psalm 60 (fol. 37v) the name of Walatta Kidan ("daughter of the Covenant") is inserted in the text. Another female owner's name, Walatta Gabre'el ("daughter of Gabriel), is written throughout the text, seemingly at random: bottom fol. 13v, added in blue and then erased above the first line of Psalm 51 (fol. 33v); again in the margin at Psalm 71 (fol. 44v); and again in purple above the opening Harag of the Canticles of the Prophets (fol. 91v).
COLLATION (numbers refer to folios):
1v-2v: Salams to the Archangel Michael.
3r-91r: Psalms, numbered up to 146, the last few being unnumbered.
91v-100r. Canticles of the Prophets. These are a collection of "songs" drawn from Old and New Testament sources: First Song of Moses (Ex 15: 1-19), Second Song of Moses (Deut 32: 1-21), Third Song of Moses (Deut 32: 22-43), Song of Hannah (1 Kgs [1 Sam] 2: 1-10), Prayer of Hezekiah (Is 38: 10-20), Prayer of Manasseh (apocryphal), Song of Jonah (Jon 2: 3-10), First Song of the Three Youths in the Furnace (Dan 3: 26-45), Second Song of the Three Youths in the Furnace (Dan 3: 52-56), Third Song of the Three Youths in the Furnace (Dan 3: 57-88), Song of Habakkuk (Hab 3: 1-19), Song of Isaiah (Is 26: 9-20), Song of Our Lady Mary, or the Magnificat (Lk 1: 46-55), Song of Zachariah (Lk 1: 68-79), Song of Simeon, or the Nunc Dimittis (Lk. 2: 29-32).
ff.100r-104v Song of Songs.
ff.104v-116r Weddase Maryam. This is an important office of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church and one of the three offices for the Virgin Mary. Tradition attributes it to Ephrem the Syrian (d. 373) or to Simeon the Potter, a Syrian poet of the 5th/6th century. Neither attribution, however, is tenable. More likely is that the Ethiopian text was translated from Christian Arabic in the second half of the 14th century, when a large number of such translations were made under the auspices of the Ethiopian metropolitan, Abba Salama the Translator.
ff.116r-119v Salams to the Archangel Michael (in a different hand).
CATALOGUER'S NOTE 1: all the parchment leaves are of course pricked with a plummet. Unusually, in our manuscript the outer turn-in of the front cover bears also bears evidence of pricking, THE SAME pricking as that which appears on the first vellum leaf: this is conclusive evidence that the gatherings were bound together BEFORE the sheets were pricked and rule, and -- by extension -- before the text was written.
CATALOGUER'S NOTE 2: We are grateful to Prof. David Appleyard for his invaluable work in cataloguing this manuscript.