The Structure of Argumentation in Pseudo-Axumite Hagiography IV: Conclusion

This is the fourth of four blog-posts going back to a paper at the International Congress at Leeds in 2017: I. Introduction II. Aregawi as Pachomios‘ son III. The saints’ interaction with the Aksumite kings IV. Conclusion

In conclusion, Stephen Kaplan wrote, though not specifically of the 9 saints, that “Ethiopian hagiographic literature, despite its saintly subject matter, did not partake of the exalted status of canonical literature. The monk writing a gadl felt free to shape and supplement his material to his purposes because he knew that no one was compelled to accept the truth of his narrative.” Behind this statement and its variants, which still find some currency in works on Ethiopian hagiography 30 years on, is an indefensible assumption which conflates the quality of the historical data with contemporary reception, that those works which are “canonical,” however that is determined, are more likely to be accepted by a contemporary audience. I wish to instead suggest that all historical claims are competitive claims, regardless of the genre in which they appear, and that it is incoherent to speak of these narratives as the work of authors filling in lacunae in historical knowledge with flights of fancy or to draw conclusions about the audience’s reception of its canonicity. These works are an attempt to create historical memory of Aksumite texts, not an attempt to modify an or intrude upon an existing established canon. Perhaps most interesting of all, then, is that for all the ideological grandstanding of the Solomonid dynasty and its contemporary apologists, for all their claims of supreme authority in the land and what Pierluigi Piovanelli called an unimpeachable pre-Christian pedigree of Solomonid kingship, a zadokite and levitical priesthood and judean aristocracy, they too were merely competitors in the medieval attempt to create and explain the historical continuity between medieval Ethiopia, and late antique Aksum.

Cite this article as: felegeselamyirga, "The Structure of Argumentation in Pseudo-Axumite Hagiography IV: Conclusion," in Africana, 21/11/2017,

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