Ethiopia's Old Christianity

Exciting news from one of Christianity’s earliest seats, and the UK Daily Mail:

The world’s earliest illustrated Christian book has been saved by a British charity which located it at a remote Ethiopian monastery.

The incredible Garima Gospels are named after a monk who arrived in the African country in the fifth century and is said to have copied them out in just one day.

Beautifully illustrated, the colours are still vivid and thanks to the Ethiopian Heritage Fund have been conserved.

The survival of the Gospels is incredible considering the country has been under Muslim invasion, Italian invasion and a fire in the 1930s destroyed the monastery’s church.

They were written on goat skin in the early Ethiopian language of Ge’ez.

There are two volumes which date from the same time, but the second is written in a different hand from the first. Both contain illustrations and the four Gospels. . . . Carbon dating, however, gives a date between 330 and 650 – which tantalisingly overlaps the date Abba Garima arrived in the country.

Ethiopians are old, old Christians;
who have persevered in the face of threat and invasion. They are stoic Christians, rather quiet but immovable, even though they are surrounded on all sides by inter-religious turmoil.

The Ethiopian Christians have long claimed to be the keepers of the Ark of the Covenant (a fascinating story), and we see an Ethiopian responding with great joy to the Word, in the Acts of the Apostles:

Then the angel of the Lord spoke to Philip, “Get up and head south on the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza, the desert route.”
So he got up and set out. Now there was an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of the Candace, 8 that is, the queen of the Ethiopians, in charge of her entire treasury, who had come to Jerusalem to worship,
and was returning home. Seated in his chariot, he was reading the prophet Isaiah.
The Spirit said to Philip, “Go and join up with that chariot.”
Philip ran up and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet and said, “Do you understand what you are reading?”
He replied, “How can I, unless someone instructs me?” So he invited Philip to get in and sit with him.
This was the scripture passage he was reading: “Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter, and as a lamb before its shearer is silent, so he opened not his mouth.
In (his) humiliation justice was denied him. Who will tell of his posterity? For his life is taken from the earth.”
Then the eunuch said to Philip in reply, “I beg you, about whom is the prophet saying this? About himself, or about someone else?”
Then Philip opened his mouth and, beginning with this scripture passage, he proclaimed Jesus to him.
As they traveled along the road they came to some water, and the eunuch said, “Look, there is water. What is to prevent my being baptized?”
Then he ordered the chariot to stop, and Philip and the eunuch both went down into the water, and he baptized him.
When they came out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away, and the eunuch saw him no more, but continued on his way rejoicing.

Cool stuff. Of all the Christian churches, the Ethiopian church may be the most mysteriously hopeful. Crossposted to Hot Air

About Elizabeth Scalia
  • Amy

    This one picture is so gorgeous! I was hoping you’d have more.

  • Michael

    I read that holding the second and third fingers outstretched in the picture means I am speaking or I testify to the truth. What a wonderful story. It’s nice to read about a old manuscript being found in the desert that the secularists can’t use to beat us over the head.

  • Michael

    I read that holding the second and third fingers outstretched in the picture means I am speaking or I testify to the truth. What a wonderful story. It’s nice to read about a old manuscript being found in the desert that the secularists can’t use to beat us over the head.

  • John Davies

    Amazing stuff how these have survived so well after all this time….fantastic!

  • Jared Gaites

    I love these, I hope they make some printed versions real soon.

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  • Tapestry

    Saint Phillip evangelized the Ethiopian and then was spirited away by an angel.
    Acts 8:26-40.
    I have always been filled with wonder that this one small act, by one Apostle, through the Holy Spirit, created a core nation that has held on to the Word of God through all the suffering and strife. That we could have only had that much courage in Europe and America. We could change the whole world!

  • Kathleen Wilson

    There is Christian revival in the land of Ethiopia. A new friend returned to Alaska from working in medical mission and intercessory prayer for 10 days over there. Thousands of believers responded to the Good News who had formerly been known as Ethiopian Jews.

  • Fuquay Steve

    Happy to see you guest hosting at hot air. Do you know AP and if so, can you pleassssse convert him or her, asap?

    [Heh. I can't convert anyone, only the Christ can, through the Holy Spirit. And I rather like Allah the way he is, a little intimidating but very big-hearted. -admin]

  • OldeForce

    My wife was in Ethiopia with the Peace Corps in the late ’60s. It just so happens that we have an Ethiopian woman with us for lunch – and quilting – today. Her family is on a trip to Ethiopia, but there was a problem with her visa, so we invited her to visit. She and her family are US citizens – her name comes up on one of those “lists”, but she isn’t the one Ethiopia doesn’t want back in country.

  • Susan

    This is such a beautiful story. Many thanks!

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  • Fuquay Steve

    But Christ works through you, I can see it in your blogs just about every day – secularism is great for some not so great for the rest of us. I know you and Ed can show him the light and the Lord will do the rest!

  • BOB R

    Let me make sure I have this right. This is the earliest “illustrated” manuscript, not the earliest “manuscript” itself?

    As far as the illustration, I don’t see a whole lot of symbolism that’s familiar, but it clearly depicts an Ethiopian. Fascinating, anyway.

    As an aside, does anybody but me find it funny that it could also be an ad for Nike running shoes?

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  • Charles

    Thanks for this wonderful post on an often “forgotten” branch of Christianity.

    I think that we here in the West too often forget that Christ’s disciples didn’t only come west (as in Peter and Paul to Rome); but spread out to Asia (as in St Thomas who was martyred in South India; as well as along parts of the silk route) and South to Ethiopia.

  • ryukyu

    There was a great episode of “Cities of the Underworld” on Ethiopia and how the King built and underground replica of Jerusalem after losing contact with them.

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