RESOURCES FOR LEARNING GE'EZ: THE CLASSICAL LANGUAGE OF ETHIOPIA

RESOURCES FOR LEARNING GE'EZ-- THE CLASSICAL LANGUAGE OF ETHIOPIA

October 3, 2012

23: Decipher Texts 3 - Book of Psalms

An archivist from the Archdiocese of Toronto contacted me recently to help her identify a codex, having (correctly) posited that its language is Gэ'эz. The exact provenance of the codex is unknown, but it was acquired (either as a gift, or bought) by a French military officer serving in Africa in the 1950s. The officer later brought the codex to Canada and it is now part of the Lerman family estate. The director at the archive has kindly allowed me to put up an image. Here are the opening lines on the first page:




As some of you might have been able to figure out, the codex is an Ethiopic rendition of the Book of Psalms. The hand is quite clear although there are some orthographic peculiarities. The opening lines in the image are Psalm 1:1-2 with a thematic incipit. I've notated and transliterated them here to help you decipher them:


1:
ፍካሬ፡ዘጻድቃን፡ወዘኃጥኣን።
5:
ወዘኢነበረ፡ውስተ፡መንበረ፡
fэkkāre za-żādqān wa-za-xāŧ’ān
wa-za-’inabara wэsta manbara




2:
መዝሙር፡ዘዳዊት፡ሀሌሉያ
6:
መሥተሣልቃን
mazmur za-dāwit halleluyā
mašta šālqān*




3:
ብፁዕ፡ብእሲ፡ዘኢሖረ፡በምክረ፡ረሲዓ
7:
ዘዳሙ፡ሕገ፡እግዚአብሔ[][]
đu'  bээsi za-’iħora ba-mkэra rasi'ā*
za-dā'эmu* ħэgga эgzi’abħe[] šэ[…]*




4:
ወዘኢቆመ፡ውስተ፡ፍኖተ፡ኃጥኣን
8:
ወዘሕጎ፡ያነብብ፡መለተ፡ወሌ[…]
wa-za-’iqoma wэsta fэnota xāŧ’ān
wa-za-ħэggo yānabэb ma'ālata* wa-le[…]*

NOTES:
 ረሲዓ (rasi'ā) = missing a letter;  ረሲዓን (rasi'ān) i.e. the evildoers.
መሥተሣልቃን (mašta šālqān) = unusual spelling for መስተሳልቃን (mastasālqān) i.e. the scornful (pl.)
ሙ (da'эmū) = unusual spelling for ዳእሙ  (da’эmu) i.e. verily.
 ሥምረቱ эmэrtu) i.e. they observe
ለተ (ma'ālata) = unusual spelling for መዕልተ (ma'эlta) or perhaps መዓልተ (ma'ālta) i.e. through the day
ሌሊተ (lelit) i.e. night 



10 comments:

  1. Hello Hamza Mahmood,

    I came across your blog by accident via google (searching for Ge'ez material)...your blog is very intriguing

    But I'm very curious to your religious affiliation, your name is Arabic so I'm presuming you're Islamist...of course I could be wrong.

    Your blog on Ge'ez is amazing enough, but having this blog be created by an Islamist is out of this world amazing...I've always been told Islamists of Ethiopia/Eritrea reject Ge'ez outright in favour for Arabic, partially by wrongly associating Ge'ez with the Orthodox Tewahido Church

    Anyway, now you know why I'm curious...You don't have to reply here, for privacy's sake, let us correspond over E-mail, so please e-mail me your response (binyam.abraham1@gmail.com)

    Looking forward to your e-mail & hoping to work with in this area in the near-future

    - Binyam

    And

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Dear Binyam,

      I'm glad you've found this blog and are interested in this subject matter. Yes, you're correct -- I have a Muslim name because I'm Pakistani. I wasn't aware that Ethiopian / Eritrean Muslims rejected Ge'ez. As you may already know, Islam's birthplace (western Arabia) was squarely within the cultural, linguistic and religious sphere of influence of Ethiopia (i.e. Habesha) in the 6th-7th century. The Qur'anic text itself is replete with Ge'ez terminology, which is explained when we look at the earliest Muslim historical writings that report a very large presence of Ethiopians among the nascent community in Mecca and Medina. This even include the prophet Muhammad's surrogate mother, Umm Ayman, and one of his key companions, Bilal. Ethiopia (or rather "Abyssinia") thus plays a central role in the formation of the early Muslim community and it continues to be a crucial part of how modern Muslims imagine their community's distant past.

      Delete
  2. Thank-you Hamza, for this thought-provoking & interest-inducing 'blog-- are there any audio files of Ge'ez OT and/or NT available on the web? Any of Syriac? thx

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hmm, I'm not aware of any myself but I can ask some of my colleagues and let you know if they know of any. I'm sure youtube has snippets of Syriac (probably listed as "Chaldean") and Ge'ez liturgy, which includes biblical passages.

      Delete
  3. In line 7 of the picture, I can’t read እአብሔ ; am I wrong ?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh! Thank you for pointing that out Richard -- I left a blank in my transliteration of "እ(ግዚ)አብሔር" since I wanted to write out the ligature of gaml and zay (as in the manuscript) but couldn't figure out how to type it. I can't find it anywhere (in unicode) online either, so I've just gone ahead now and put in the two letters separately.

      Delete
    2. But is እግዚአብሔ to be transliterated « эgzi’abħe » or « ’эgzi’abħe » ? (In Gэ’эz, I don’t know even a word, a letter, except, maybe, because it’s almost a Greek letter, ፫; « digit 3 »…)

      Delete
    3. It could be transliterated either way -- with or without a glottal stop (ʾ). So far, I've been only noting the glottal stop (ʾ) if an ʾalf appears in the middle of a word (much like the normative transliteration of Arabic).

      Delete
    4. Don’t you think that a transliteration should be an exact letter-by-letter representation ? e. g. Greek ἄγγελος is “ággelos”, not “ángelos”… (Do you understand, assuming that, that identifying “эgzi’abħe” to እአብሔ was very difficult for me, whenceforth my comment…)

      Delete
  4. A ligature ? that’s why it was impossible for me to find this “letter” !… You’re the best !

    ReplyDelete

Comments / Corrections / Suggestions: