In two field trips conducted by the JewsEast project (December 2015, October 2017), the second of which was a proper archaeological survey, an attempt was made to locate Betä Ǝsra’el monastic sites. In both cases, the information collected prior to fieldwork indicated the general location of the monasteries, and informants encountered during fieldwork pinpointed the exact location of the sites. In both cases, remains of structures erected by the Betä Ǝsra’el, including synagogues, dwellings and probable monastic compounds, could still be seen and identified.
A possible indication that some Betä Ǝsra’el genealogies contain information which can be traced back to medieval times can be found in the incorporation of the names of Betä Ǝsra’el monarchs within them. The name which features most prominently is that of the Betä Ǝsra’el monarch Gedewon. A Betä Ǝsra’el leader by that name plays a central role in accounts of wars against factions of the Betä Ǝsra’el waged by the Solomonic monarchs Śärṣä Dǝngǝl (1563-1597, Conti Rossini and Guidi 1807: 123, 170-171; Halévy 1907) and Susǝnyos (1607-1632, Kaplan 1992: 79-96; Pereira 1900: 116-118, 136, 209, 215-218, 387, 437, 441, 464, 553). However, mentions of a monarch bearing this name in Betä Ǝsra’el genealogies can arguably be considered generic: According to Betä Ǝsra’el tradition, prior to their conquest by the Solomonic Kingdom, they were ruled by a series of kings, all of which were named Gedewon (Ḥädanä Täqoyä 2011: 71-83).
Oral Sources and the Study of Betä Ǝsra’el History and Religious Life
The Betä Ǝsra’el cannot be considered an illiterate society. Betä Ǝsra’el clergy and religious scholars were required to learn to read as part of their education. While prayers were largely committed to memory and recited, texts, mainly holy books, were used (Kaplan 1992: 73-77). However, Betä Ǝsra’el historiography was, as we have seen, almost completely oral.
Sources Relating to Betä Ǝsra’el Monasticism and the Chronological Gap of the Middle Ages
The vast majority of sources shedding light on Betä Ǝsra’el monasticism date to the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries. These include accounts written by the above-mentioned Christian missionaries and representatives of World Jewry, as well as a number accounts written by scholars who encountered Betä Ǝsra’el monks (d’Abbadie 1851-52; Leslau 1949). A number of studies deal with Betä Ǝsra’el monasticism, and incorporate within them information from both written sources and the Betä Ǝsra’el oral tradition (Ben-Dor 1985; 1987; Kaplan 1992; Quirin 1992; Shelemay 1989).
Shedding Light on Medieval Betä Ǝsra’el (Ethiopian Jewish) Monasticism:
An Examination of Sources and Suggestions for Future Study
One of the most intriguing aspects of Betä Ǝsra’el (Ethiopian Jewish) history and religious life is this community’s monastic movement. Betä Ǝsra’el monasticism is the only type of Jewish or Judaic monasticism known to have existed in medieval or modern times. It is a monastic movement in the full sense of the term: The monks were celibate, lived in monasteries, observed ascetic practices and dedicated their lives to the worship of God.
Although very rare, few sites with typical Post-Meroitic materials occur in Eastern Sudan. A site characterized by Post-Meroitic materials most likely associated with a cemetery with tumuli was identified in the northern part of the region, South of Jebel Ofreik and east of the ford of Goz Regeb, a traditional gateway between Eastern Sudan and the Butana, while further sites with typical Post-Meroitic materials were recently recorded north of the Khor Umm Sitebah, Jebel Abu Gamal. Continue reading The Archaeology of the medieval period in the Sudan Red Sea: A New Perspective IV→
The Red Sea: The geographical location, Geology and History
The Red Sea was among the very first regions of the Middle East to be studied and explored by Enlightenment Europe, for as early as 1766 by the French cartographer. Shortly thereafter the publication of the royal Danish expedition to Arabia provided the first detailed account of the Hijaz and Yemen, to which can be added James Bruce’s publication of his travel in Ethiopia and Nubia. This may therefore be regarded as the beginning of the historical and archaeological study of the red sea region. A number of Studies were conducted on the left and right bank of the Red Sea area until now. Continue reading The Archaeology of the medieval period in the Sudan Red Sea: A New Perspective III→
In spite of the corrupted texts they rely however on the Hadith motif of the apocalyptic Abessinian. This hadith is embedded in the prophecy of Agap with three other Islamic apocalyptic motifs. The first is the cold wind Zamharir (Surah 76:13), misspelled as Zaniel (et a Zaniel, id est septemtrione, veniet ventus magnus).The second is the pregnant camel that did not find any water in the well which is called Zamzam (Et apparebitcamelapascens et pregnans habens fetus et exibit aquam Zamzam nomen cisterne et non inveniet aquam claram ad bibendam). The origins of the motif of the she camel comes from Surah 81:4-( “when the pregnant camel shall be neglected”). The pregnant camel’s right to drink water from the well is mentioned in Surah 26:155-156. The third is the appearance of Mexadeigen (et apparebit postea Mexadeigen, id est Antichristus). This Mexadeigen is no other than latinised Masikh ad-Dajjal, the Islamic version of Antichrist. Continue reading The Motif of the Apocalyptic Abyssinian V: Conclusions→
The problem, among others is that the area has not benefitted from much archaeological investigation in spite of associations that of important findings by earlier investigators. The reasons for this are to be found in the remoteness of the location and the difficulty of the terrain of the area. The works of the early scholars that investigated the sites hint on tombs that are believed to be of great antiquity because of the Islamic inscriptions on them especially in Khor Nubt, Arkaweet and its borders.
Besides, recent archaeological reconnaissance carried out by researchers evidenced long habitation of the region in the past even though some places are now arid, rocky, dry and inclement for easy human occupation.
The visit to the area, the scant extant literature on it, does not befit the importance of archaeology as a discipline and an occupation in the Sudan that is naturally blessed with potential sites.
This paper sets out preliminary observations of the recent archaeological work and landscape history of eastern Sudan, which deals in broad outline with the archaeology and history of eastern Sudan during the medieval period. The results of archaeological work carried out over the last season in the area provided that the archaeology in the region has been flourishing, and also provided important information relating to the earliest occupation of the medieval settlement and Islamic trade activity in the area. Continue reading The Archaeology of the medieval period in the Sudan Red Sea: A New Perspective I: Introduction→
Defining between Ethiopia, Nubia, and India in medieval European sources has been seen to problematic in scholarship for decades. This is highlighted no better by the late antique ethnonyms for Aksum and Nubians and the later medieval, post 12th century, ethnonyms of Abyssinia and Nubia, with Ethiopia being a vague catch-all term in the centuries in between. India, on the other hand, had never been a united land area to name as Ethiopia and Nubia had been. India was divided into numerous kingdoms at any one time throughout the medieval period, such as the Western and Eastern Chalukya Empires, the Chola Empire, the Delhi Sultanate, and the Vijayanagar/Karnata Empire to name a few. Continue reading Defining Ethiopia, Nubia, and India in Medieval Europe→
The evidence of an existing Liber Clementis, written in Arabic with the Abessinian/Nubian motif is reported by Latin authors who were staying in Egypt with the crusading army in Damiette. During the 5th crusade, parts of the Liber Clementis, including several early Muslim motifs, such as the apocalyptic Abessinian, were translated and edited into Latin, Old French and Provençal upon the initiative of Cardinal Legate Pelagius. His military leadership sanctioned by the pope was contested by the king of Jerusalem. As a result he needed to strengthen his position. Continue reading The Motif of the Apocalyptic Abyssinian IV: The Interplay of Muslim and Christian Traditions→
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. Continue reading The Motif of the Apocalyptic Abyssinian III: The “Thin-Legged Ethopian” in Muslim Sources→