The Motif of the Apocalyptic Abyssinian III: The “Thin-Legged Ethopian” in Muslim Sources

This is the third of five blog-posts going back to a paper at the International Congress at Leeds in 2017: I. Giving the Horn of Africa an eschatological meaning in mappae mundi after the fall of Acre 1291 II. The north-east edge of the world on medieval mapsIII. The “thin-legged Ethopian” in muslim sources IV. The interplay of Muslim and Christian traditions V. Conclusions

There was however an additional reason to believe in the Abessinian ability to fight Muslims. There is a Hadith from an early Islamic tradition in which the apocalyptic Abessinian – Dhu’l  suwaqatayin  al Habaschi (the thin- legged Abessinian) takes part. The hadith states that an Abessinian will destroy the Ka’aba at the End of the Days after Jesus kills Gog and Magog. In all probability, this tradition reflects a traumatic memory from the year 570, in which an Abessinian invasion to Mecca using elephants failed.

Ethiopian troops with elephants attacking the Kaaba in Mekka. (turkish Version of Siyar-i-Nabi (life of the Prophet) 16th. century). From: Baum, Wilhelm, Äthiopien und der Westen im Mittelalter. Die Selbstbehauptung der christlichen Kultur am oberen Nil zwischen dem islamischen Orient und dem europäischen Kolonialismus (Einführungen in das orientalische Christentum 2) Klagenfurt 2001. Tafel 8, unpaged.

Muslim exegesis attributes Surah 105 (The elephant) to this event. Scholars considered this tradition alluding to the historical subjugation of the Sabean Himyarite kingdom in South Yemen by the Abessinian viceroy Abraha. This event is documented in inscriptions dated in 543 and 547. The Abessinan motif appeared first in the earliest Hadith collection of Nu‘aym ibn Hammad (Kitab al- fitan) during the first half of the 9th century and was integrated into the classical Ahadith collections of alBukhari and alMuslemi soon after.

Early Ahadith on apocalyptic Abessinian.

It should be noted that Islam as a newly emerging religion believed in a short eschatological horizon which lasts only seventy years.

Sunan Abu Dawud: Book 36, Hadith 4241 on Islam’s short eschatological anticipation.

This Hadith did not remain within Muslim apocalyptic belief.

Contrary to common knowledge, early Syrian apocalyptical texts, such as the Apocalypse of Pseudo-Methodius, do not mention an apocalyptic Abessinian. But in the History of of the Coptic Patriarchs of Alexandria one finds traces of this Muslim motif in the life of Patriarch Cyril (1078- 1092). This motif can be detected as well in the Ethiopian (Ge’ez) apocalyptic text which is dated to early 15th century (The 10th Vision of [Pseudo]Apa Shenuda). From early Hadiths until William Adam’s Directorium ad passagium faciendum in 1332, about 20 texts could be traced as having included this motif. Half of them are in Latin and Old French.

The life of Coptic Patriarch Cyril (1078- 1092) embedded in the History of the Patriarchs of the Egyptian Church.
Ethiopian version of the 10th vision of (Pseudo) Apa Shenuda (dated before 1424).









If we look at the stemma how the motif might have moved from early hadith to Latin prophecies and recuperatio literature one can detect a missing link between early Islamic tradition and oriental Christian texts. This link should be identified with the corpus of the Pseudo-Clementine apocalyptical texts, especially those that were circulating in Damiette during the 5th crusade. The Pseudo-Clementine texts are mostly unedited.

Oliver of Paderborn mentions the Liber Clementis  in his Historia Damiatina (=HD). A comparison of his report with Jacques of Vitry’s 7th letter about the Arabic prophecies indicates that both authors refer to the same two Arabic Pseudo-clementine books, which were shown to both authors by oriental Christians in Damiette. Liber Clementis, which is also known as the Apocalypse of Peter, is considered to be the third part of the Arab Book of Rolls or Kitab al Magal. These prophecies were supposedly told by St. Peter to his pupil Clement under the condition not to disclose them to anyone. This third part exists in 23 unedited Arabic manuscripts. One copy in Karshuni (Arabic in Syrian letters) was translated into English by Alphons Mingana. There is proof of an intertextual relationship between the Karshuni version of the Apocalypse of Peter and the Liber Clementis which circulated in Damiette. In the Apocalypse of Peter , a Christian ruler, described as a young Lion, would enter the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem on Sunday, the third day of April (i.e. on Easter Sunday 1222) and would place his crown on the cross. The same date appears in the Historia Damiatina (Chapter 56) when the kings from West and East would meet in Jerusalem before the end of the world.

Most of the manuscripts were amended by copyists who also functioned as authors that updated the prophecies. This pattern of producing apocalyptic texts is characterized by a creative neurosis among the anonymous authors who use cryptic language but allude to events that are still identifiable by their contemporary readers. Thus we are left to decypher long cryptic descriptions of longforgotten events.

Cite this article as: Mordechay Lewy, "The Motif of the Apocalyptic Abyssinian III: The “Thin-Legged Ethopian” in Muslim Sources," in Africana, 27/11/2017,

Mordechay Lewy

Mordechay Lewy, Ph. D.

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