Friday, November 28, 2008

Ethiopic Manuscripts of the Bible

Visiting SBL 24-139 has been a wonderful experience, hearing a survey of all the Ethiopic manuscripts which are currently housed in North America and which will be, by and by, digitized and - at least in part - accessible in the internet. Steve Delamarter from George Fox University ( does the main work here, substantially helped by the Hill Museum and Manuscript Library:

The Bible in Classical Ethiopic, Ge'ez, is, despite its late appearance (most NT manuscripts date to the 12th-19th centuries, although Christianity entered Ethiopia before the 6th century), an important textual witness for two reasons: Ethiopia has been a long time virtually isolated from the Alexandrian and Byzantine mainstream Christianity, and most of the Ethiopic NT have been directly translated from the Greek.

I met Curt Niccum over there, whose edition of the Ethiopic Book of Acts will hopefully appear soon (so far, his edition proves the Book of Acts to have mostly Alexandrian, some D and some Byzantine readings).


  1. Martin,
    I am glad that you have blogged on this. I could not make it to the session and was curious about what was said. Two questions:

    1) How do we know that the Ethiopic are (solely) from the Greek? I see significant agreement with the Coptic in Horner's critical editions which makes me wonder if there is not some other influence.

    2) If they are from the Greek, why would they be unrelated to the Byzantine/Alexandrian traditions? True, they would not have the influence in the 5th, 6th, 7th centuries which the Syriac, Latin and Coptic had.

    How much we can know about the tradition with so many centuries of textual history (totally?) unaccounted for. Any time the Ethiopic presents a variant which does not agree with the early papyri, one could attribute it to the Vorlage or to any number of things having happened in the seven or so lost centuries of the tradition.

    Maybe I am just lazy and do not want to learn Ge'ez : )

  2. "most of the Ethiopic NT have been directly translated from the Greek"

    There are several possible interpretations here:
    1) Conjecture a change from 'have' to 'has', meaning that some sections, books, or passages of the Ethiopic version are a secondary translation from another version, with most being from a Greek vorlage

    2) Conjecture a change from 'NT' to "NTs", meaning that most extant Ethiopic mss are first-generation exemplars of the version from a common Greek vorlage, but those that differ textually have another source

    3) Trying to read the mind of the author (popular in evaluating internal evidence), it means that some of the extant Ethiopic mss could represent a secondary translation, but most are of a version taken directly from a Greek vorlage.

  3. Dear Chris,
    if you read Josef Hofmann's "Das Neue Testament in äthiopischer Sprache" in ANTF 5, you will see that many points can be made for a Greek Vorlage of the Ethiopic NT. Yet there were Syriac and some Coptic or even Arabic influences. Unfortunately, between the first translation of the Ethiopic and the oldest manuscripts still available, there is a gap of some 800 years. In Ethiopic you have a mixed text (Gospels Byzantine, Acts & Catholic epistles more or less Alexandrinian).

    For further first-hand information, see the "Encyclopaedia Aethiopica", Vol. I, article "Bible", pp. 563ff.

    Please find attached a few lines from my book "Der einzig wahre Bibeltext": (hope you don't mind the bad English :))

    Der Text der ältesten Hss, die ihrerseits auf das 4.-7. Jh. zurückgehen, spiegelt im Matthäus-Evangelium den frühen Mehrheitstext wider. Er stimmt in etwa ¾ aller Fälle mit M und in ¼ aller Fälle mit den frühen Zeugen überein (abgesehen von den Sonderlesarten). Das Markus-Evangelium hat in den ersten Kapiteln einige auffällige Beziehungen zum Codex W und bietet darüber hinaus einige „westliche“ Lesarten. Im Johannesevangelium liegen bei den ältesten Hss alexandrinische Lesarten (vor allem aus P66, Sinaiticus, aber auch aus Q [042], 33), „westliche“ (D [05]) und M-Lesarten (A [02], Y [044]) zu fast gleichen Anteilen vermischt vor . Dagegen ist der Text der Apostelgeschichte hauptsächlich von den alten Zeugen geprägt, mit einigen M-Lesarten . Auch in den Briefen ist der Äthiope durch die alte Textform geprägt, mit einer Minderheit von M-Lesarten . Obwohl die äthiopische Kirche weitgehend von der koptischen Kirche abhängig war (allein schon geographisch bedingt) , baut ihr ältester erhaltener Bibeltext (des 12. Jh.) auf die im 4.-7. Jh. überall verbreiteten griechischen Hss auf, die sich zunehmend vom frühen Text zum byzantinischen Text hin wandelten.

  4. Please tell me where I can find a list and/or bibliography of the Ethiopic Manuscripts of the Bible. such is essential for my studies.