Navigation – Plan du site

AccueilThématiques13St. Yared in the Sǝmen Mountains ...

St. Yared in the Sǝmen Mountains of northern Ethiopia: The Ethiopian Orthodox and Betä Ǝsraʾel (Ethiopian Jewish) religious sites

Saint Yared dans les monts Sǝmen Éthiopie septentrionale : les sites religieux orthodoxes éthiopiens et Betä Ǝsraʾel (juifs éthiopiens)
Bar Kribus et Sophia Dege-Müller

Résumés

Les Betä Ǝsraʾel et les Chrétiens orthodoxes d’Éthiopie ne reconnaissaient pas mutuellement les mêmes personnages post-bibliques comme des saints. Une exception frappante est celle de Yared, possiblement le saint local le plus renommé de l'Église orthodoxe éthiopienne, traditionnellement reconnu comme étant le compositeur de nombreux éléments de la musique liturgique et des hymnes éthiopiens. Les Betä Ǝsraʾel identifient Yared comme un membre de leur communauté. Des lieux saints, reconnus par les Betä Ǝsraʾel et par les Chrétiens également, sont consacrés en son nom et se situent dans les montagnes du Sǝmen en Éthiopie septentrionale, à une grande proximité les uns des autres. Ces montagnes représentent un terrain de recherche unique pour ces interactions interreligieuses. Du XVe au XVIIe siècle, loin d'être un groupe minoritaire sous la domination chrétienne, les Betä Ǝsraʾel du Sǝmen étaient politiquement autonomes et parfois engagés dans des conflits militaires avec l'État chrétien. Yared est également reconnu comme un homme saint par les membres d'un troisième groupe religieux résidant dans le nord de l'Éthiopie - les Kǝmant. Cet article examine la localisation et les caractéristiques des sites qui lui sont dédiés dans les sommets montagneux du Sǝmen, ainsi que la nature des activités religieuses qui y sont menées. Il analyse leurs rôles dans la géographie sacrée de la région.

Haut de page

Texte intégral

We wish to extend our sincere thanks to all those who helped and advised us, and who provided us with information, including Prof. Hans Hurni, the former warden of the Sǝmen Mountains National Park, and his wife Yemisrach Nadew Woreta, who shared with us some of their extensive knowledge of the Sǝmen Mountains and aided us in our endeavour to locate the relevant sites; Sisay Sahile, Tadele Molla, Lukas Mauerhofer, Prof. Kay Kaufman Shelemay, Hewan Semon Marye, and Abebe Asfaw, all of whom contributed information regarding the Christian veneration of St. Yared; Abeje Medhanie, who provided us with information on the Betä Ǝsraʾel traditions regarding Abba Yared; the many people in the Betä Ǝsraʾel community who shared with us their knowledge (whose names we will not mention due to our decision to maintain the anonymity of informants), and Wovite Worku Mengisto, Tadela Takele, and Selamawit FsHa, who sought out individuals in the Betä Ǝsraʾel community with knowledge on this topic and took part in the subsequent interviews. We wish to extend our thanks to the Ethiopian Authority for Research and Conservation of Cultural Heritage (ARCCH) for enabling and supporting our fieldwork in the Sǝmen Mountains. The conclusions and any mistakes in the article are, of course, our own.

Research for this article has been carried out under the auspices of a project funded by the European Research Council (ERC) within the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovative programme (grant agreement no. 647467, Consolidator Grant JewsEast). Some aspects of the research leading to this article were funded by the Institute of Archaeology, the Center for the Study of Christianity, and the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel School for Advanced Studies in the Humanities at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, as well as by the Ben-Zvi Institute for the Study of Jewish Communities in the East and the Ruth Amiran Fund for Archaeological Research in Eretz-Israel.

Supported by a Minerva Fellowship of the Minerva Stiftung Gesellschaft für die Forschung mbH.

Introduction

  • 1 We define the term “local saint” as referring to saints who were traditionally active in Ethiopia a (...)
  • 2 The transliteration system of the Encyclopaedia Aethiopica will be used for terms in Ethiopian lang (...)
  • 3 The Christian sites dedicated to St. Yared in the Sǝmen have not been, to the best of our knowledge (...)
  • 4 In the past the term Fälaša has been widely used to refer to the Betä Ǝsraʾel, but this term is con (...)

1Among the local saints of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church,1 few, if any, can be considered as renowned and influential as Qəddus (St.) Yared, the composer, according to Ethiopian tradition, of numerous elements of Ethiopian Orthodox liturgical music and hymns.2 Traditions regarding this saint’s early life and acts in Aksum, Christian Ethiopia’s Late Antique capital, are widely known, much less so his association with the Sǝmen Mountains. In fact, the holy sites dedicated to him in these mountains have been virtually unknown outside of the local sphere until recently and have not yet been addressed in scholarly literature.3 One of the remarkable features of this holy man is that he is not only recognized as such by Ethiopian Orthodox Christians, but also by the Betä Ǝsraʾel (Ethiopian Jews),4 and at least recently, by the Kǝmant as well, with each community considering him an adherent of their religious tradition. No other example of a local saint or holy man shared by all or some of these religious traditions is known to us. Both Betä Ǝsraʾel and Ethiopian Orthodox holy sites associated with him are located in the Sǝmen Mountains, in close proximity to each other.

  • 5 S. Dege-Müller, B. Kribus, 2021.

2Modes of interaction between the Betä Ǝsraʾel and Ethiopian Orthodox Christians in association with the Sǝmen Yared sites have been addressed by the present authors in a separate publication, which did not examine the sites in detail.5 The present study seeks to examine these sites—their characteristics, development over time, associated religious activities, and pilgrimage practices. Through this examination, it plans to shed light on the roles of these sites in the sacred geography and religious and ideological discourse of each community, as well as on the historical processes that shaped them. Though information on the Kǝmant Yared traditions is at present too scarce for a detailed examination, their association with a specific site in the Sǝmen Mountains and the implications that arise from it for the role of the Sǝmen Mountains in this holy man’s commemoration, will also be examined. We will argue that sacred geography served, in the northern Ethiopian Highlands, as a realm of identity expression and interreligious discourse and hence should be examined along regional rather than solely denominational lines, taking into account its manifestation in the plurality of cultural and religious groups of a given region.

The Sǝmen Mountains and their role in Betä Ǝsraʾel history and Betä Ǝsraʾel—Ethiopian Orthodox interaction

  • 6 The Solomonic dynasty derives its name from its traditional descent from King Solomon and the Queen (...)
  • 7 For a detailed overview on this process, see S. Kaplan, 1992, p. 79-96; J. Quirin, 1992, p. 40-88.

3The Sǝmen Mountains constitute a unique test-case for examining interreligious interaction in Ethiopia involving the Betä Ǝsraʾel. The rise of the Christian Solomonic dynasty in 1270 was followed by a gradual process of territorial expansion and institution of Solomonic rule in regions beyond the former Solomonic heartlands.6 The consolidation of this dynasty’s rule in the regions inhabited by the Betä Ǝsraʾel (fig. 1) was accompanied by a military struggle (15th–17th century), in which autonomous Betä Ǝsraʾel factions were gradually brought under direct Solomonic control.7 The last region in which the Betä Ǝsraʾel maintained their political autonomy was the Sǝmen Mountains, where they were definitively defeated only by the Solomonic emperor Susǝnyos (r. 1607–1632).

Fig. 1: The regions formerly inhabited by the Betä Ǝsraʾel, with the Sǝmen Mountains highlighted

Fig. 1: The regions formerly inhabited by the Betä Ǝsraʾel, with the Sǝmen Mountains highlighted

Map created by Bar Kribus)

  • 8 Betä Ǝsraʾel oral tradition is a rich source of central importance in shedding light on their past— (...)
  • 9 For examples of mentions of these wars in Solomonic royal chronicles, see C. Conti Rossini, 1907, p (...)
  • 10 One example is the involvement of the Betä Ǝsraʾel leader Gedewon in the succession struggles that (...)
  • 11 See, for example, S. Kaplan, 1992, p. 57-59; J. Quirin, 1992, p. 52-57.

4Betä Ǝsraʾel political autonomy and the Betä Ǝsraʾel – Solomonic wars are described in the royal chronicles of Solomonic monarchs, feature prominently in the Betä Ǝsraʾel oral tradition,8 and are mentioned in contemporary sources written by Middle Eastern and European Jews.9 These accounts indicate that the relations of Betä Ǝsraʾel political leadership with the Solomonic kingdom were complex—Betä Ǝsraʾel political leaders were deeply involved in Solomonic politics.10 In the course of the wars, allegiance of individuals to each of the warring sides was not necessarily based on religious affiliation.11

  • 12 See, for example, Y. Kahana, 1977, p. 112, 154.
  • 13 Däǧǧazmač Wǝbe Ḫaylä Maryam was governor of the Sǝmen and surrounding regions from 1826 and of Sǝme (...)

5Following their final military defeat, the Betä Ǝsraʾel of the Sǝmen remained a significant part of this region’s population. At least some Betä Ǝsraʾel managed to retain or acquire land rights in the Sǝmen in later centuries, unlike many of their co-religionists outside this region who lived as tenants on land owned by Christians.12 Individuals to whom a Betä Ǝsraʾel descent was attributed exercised significant political power in this area, most prominently Däǧǧazmač Wǝbe Ḫaylä Maryam during the mid-19th century.13 Thus, the dynamics between the Betä Ǝsraʾel and Christian, Solomonic society were markedly different in the Sǝmen than in other regions of Solomonic Ethiopia, a situation which, as we shall see, had an impact on the community’s sacred geography and holy sites in this region.

  • 14 Two academic articles on the topic of Betä Ǝsraʾel holy sites were published prior to the survey, b (...)
  • 15 The earliest known historiographic texts of the Betä Ǝsraʾel date to the late 19th century. See S. (...)
  • 16 The term “oral history” refers to accounts relating to the narrator’s personal memories and lifetim (...)

6During the second half of the 20th century, virtually the entire Betä Ǝsraʾel community immigrated to Israel. As a result, the Betä Ǝsraʾel are no longer present as a community in Ethiopia, and their holy sites are largely abandoned, albeit serving as places of pilgrimage for community members residing in Israel. Prior to the present authors’ recent archaeological survey (see below), the material remains and precise locations of such sites had never been documented.14 Pre-late-19th century Betä Ǝsraʾel literature was almost exclusively restricted to scriptural and liturgical texts, while this community’s traditions (including those dealing with its holy men and holy sites) were transmitted orally.15 At present, due to a substantial cultural and linguistic gap that developed between the older and younger generations following the immigration to Israel, many aspects of Betä Ǝsraʾel oral tradition and oral history are undocumented and no longer being transmitted to the younger generation.16 The Betä Ǝsraʾel Yared traditions—alluded to briefly but not documented in detail prior to the present study—are one example of this.

The survey of Betä Ǝsraʾel monastic sites: A starting point for the present study

  • 17 D. McEwan, 2013.
  • 18 The survey was conducted under the auspices of the ERC project “Jews and Christians in the East: St (...)

7The Səmen Mountains and surrounding areas are almost completely unexplored archaeologically. Only one locality in these mountains, Däräsge Maryam, together with its immediate surroundings, has been the subject of detailed art historical research.17 The only archaeological research conducted in this region so far is the survey of Betä Ǝsraʾel monastic sites, led by the present authors.18 While the Yared sites themselves were not visited in the course of the survey, the information gathered and the methodology implemented were a starting point for the examination of these sites in context. This methodology, and the way it was implemented in the present study, will be briefly described here.

  • 19 The only archaeological study of Betä Ǝsraʾel sites published prior to our research was the excavat (...)
  • 20 Significant, in this regard, is the fact that many Betä Ǝsraʾel served as artisans, manufacturing p (...)
  • 21 The only attempt ever made prior to the immigration of the community to systematically record the l (...)

8Betä Ǝsraʾel material culture in Ethiopia has seen very little research and documentation;19 it is, however, very similar in appearance to the material culture of other inhabitants of the northern Ethiopian Highlands. Thus, at present, a site cannot be identified as affiliated with the Betä Ǝsraʾel based solely on an examination of its material culture.20 The precise location of most Betä Ǝsraʾel sites has not yet been documented.21 For this reason, a “traditional” archaeological approach—surveying all sites in a given region and identifying those affiliated with the Betä Ǝsraʾel based on material remains—would not have been effective. However, since many of these sites were active until the late-twentieth-century emigration of the Betä Ǝsraʾel, there is still a considerable number of people who remember them in detail. Based on the information provided by such individuals, it is possible to locate these sites and pinpoint their different components. This was accomplished in the course of our research in the following way:

9First, all available written and oral sources shedding light on the location and characteristics of relevant sites were examined, and interviews were conducted with members of the Betä Ǝsraʾel community, with a focus on specific sites, their location and characteristics. Second, historical and modern maps of the relevant regions were examined, and place-names identical or similar to those mentioned in the written sources and interviews were pinpointed. The general vicinity of such locations was also examined on satellite images. The third step was the archaeological survey, during which, based on the information obtained, we reached the general area of the targeted sites and inquired with present-day inhabitants of the area familiar with these sites regarding their precise whereabouts. We travelled with our informants to the sites and asked them to point out features related to the Betä Ǝsraʾel and describe the characteristics of the site prior to its abandonment. Measurements and photographs of the various features were taken, their outline traced with a GPS, and ground plans of surveyed sites were created. Following the fieldwork, a second round of interviews was conducted, with members of the Betä Ǝsraʾel community originally from the sites we visited or their vicinity. The footage recorded in the field was shown to the interviewees, and the questions focused on the identity of the features we documented and their appearance prior to their abandonment. Thus, it was possible to establish, with what seems to be a high degree of certainty, whether the identity of the features recorded in the field, as related to us during fieldwork, is indeed correct.

  • 22 A field trip was planned for 2021 and preparations made, but it was ultimately decided not to embar (...)

10In the course of our research on the Səmen Yared sites, it was not possible to visit the localities themselves, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, followed by the conflict in the region of Tǝgray, which borders the Sǝmen Mountains.22 However, all other phases of the process described were carried out: all available relevant written and oral sources, as well as cartographical material and satellite images, were examined. Based on this information, the general location of the sites was determined, and interviews were later conducted with members of the Betä Ǝsraʾel community familiar with the Betä Ǝsraʾel site commemorating Yared, in order to determine the accuracy of our identification. With regards to the Ethiopian Orthodox Yared sites, we were fortunately able to compensate, so to speak, for not being able to conduct fieldwork, by examining a series of videos and photographs depicting these sites, posted on YouTube and Facebook prior to our research. By comparing the landscape depicted in the footage with satellite imagery, we were able to establish the location of the sites and later to confirm this in communications with individuals familiar with the region. We hope and expect that future field trips to these sites will enrich our knowledge of the phenomena addressed in this study.

11While this study is an academic one, by examining sites associated with one of the most revered Ethiopian holy men and discussing in detail his importance in three religious traditions (a fact that was not widely known up until now) it will undoubtedly be of interest beyond academic circles. We therefore feel that we have a responsibility to present the results of our research in as precise a way as possible, without jumping to conclusions that might have an impact on the present dynamics between members of the three religious traditions or on the sites themselves.

  • 23 S.Dege-Müller, B. Kribus, 2021.

12In research conducted on multi-religious spaces, conflict between different religious groups surrounding holy sites is often emphasized. In the case at hand, we find no direct evidence for conflict surrounding the holy sites.23 Rather, it seems that each respective religion had its own, separate holy sites and was free to worship in these sites without interference. Thus, rather than emphasizing and seeking out competition, we hold to the following premise: that Yared’s heritage in the northern Ethiopian Highlands transcends religious boundaries, and that these sites should be viewed as indicative of the ways that each religious tradition developed and expressed this heritage. We hope that our study will play a part in documenting and preserving the heritage and legacy of this remarkable holy man for future generations.

The Yared traditions and their contexts

13In order to understand the Yared traditions as expressed in the different religions in context, one must begin by understanding the ideological framework of the relations between these religions and the setting within which these traditions are set. It should be stressed that we are not concerned here with examining the historicity of the events described in these traditions, but rather with understanding their roles in the respective societies and in interreligious discourse.

  • 24 See R. HaCohen, 2009; P. Marrassini, 2007. For an examination of the Betä Ǝsraʾel versions of this (...)

14Jewish–Christian relations in Ethiopia, both on a practical and an ideological level, are significantly different from such relations in the West and Middle East. Many core concepts taken for granted in the latter regions cannot be simplistically applied to Ethiopia. A concept which plays a key role in these dynamics in Ethiopia is that of Israelite heritage and ancestry. According to a tradition shared by the Ethiopian Orthodox and the Betä Ǝsraʾel, the Israelite religion was established in Ethiopia in the days of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. This tradition relates that the son of these two monarchs, following a visit to Jerusalem, was accompanied back to Ethiopia by a large number of Israelites, and in the years that followed, the Israelite religion became the dominant religion in the country. This tradition is expressed, in its Ethiopian Orthodox form, in a literary work known as the Kǝbrä Nägäśt (Glory of Kings) and commonly considered the national epic of Christian, Solomonic Ethiopia. It was compiled in the 14th century based on earlier material.24

  • 25 See, for example, Qes Ḥädanä Təkuyä, 2011, p. 71-72. This, of course, differs from the Ethiopian Or (...)

15According to Betä Ǝsraʾel tradition, the break between the two communities took place with the arrival of Christianity: those who remained faithful to the faith of their ancestors, the forefathers of the Betä Ǝsraʾel, departed from the capital and managed to maintain their sovereignty in the remote Sǝmen Mountains. Those who converted to Christianity reigned in Aksum and were the forefathers of the Amhara and Tǝgrayan peoples.25 From the Betä Ǝsraʾel perspective, the Yared traditions are set, so to speak, at one of the phases along this breaking point—at a time when the Israelites loyal to the old religion were departing Aksum and establishing themselves in the Sǝmen, against the backdrop of a military clash with the Christian Ethiopian state.

  • 26 For a discussion on sources mentioning Gäbrä Mäsqäl and his association with Yared, see M. Heldman,(...)
  • 27 For an overview of these events, see G. Bowersock, 2013.
  • 28 Kǝbrä Nägäśt 117. See R. HaCohen, 2009, p. 284-285; Sergew Hable Sellassie, 1972, p. 159-160.
  • 29 Getatchew Haile, 1982, p. 319-320; S. Kaplan, 1992, p. 39.

16In the Ethiopian Orthodox tradition, the reign of Gäbrä Mäsqäl, the Christian monarch who traditionally ruled during Yared’s lifetime, is considered part of a Christian golden age, brought about by his predecessor Kaleb.26 Though explicit mention of Christian–Jewish interaction is completely lacking in the Christian Yared traditions, it is arguably present in the broader context of the traditions regarding Gäbrä Mäsqäl and certainly present in the life of his predecessor: Kaleb is renowned for conquering the Jewish-ruled South Arabian kingdom of Ḥimyar in 525 CE and was thus considered a champion of Christianity against Judaism.27 A Christian Ethiopian tradition related in the Kǝbrä Nägäśt mentions a succession struggle between Gäbrä Mäsqäl (lit. “Servant of the Cross”) and his brother, named Ǝsraʾel (“Israel”) according to the Kǝbrä Nägäśt narration and Betä Ǝsraʾel (“House of Israel”) in other accounts. According to this tradition, Gäbrä Mäsqäl emerged from this struggle as the ruler of Ethiopia by divine providence.28 This has been interpreted in scholarship as possibly alluding to a struggle, in Aksum, between groups with conflicting religious views, one more committed to the Old Testament than the other.29 It should be noted that this is a scholarly interpretation of this tradition, rather than something mentioned explicitly in the tradition itself. Nevertheless, it seems likely that the broader context of the setting of the Yared traditions (with its connection to Jewish–Christian relations) inspired some elements in these traditions and played a role in the interreligious discourse expressed by them.

The Ethiopian Orthodox Yared traditions

  • 30 Getatchew Haile, 2017 highlights the different qualities of the five known manuscripts containing t (...)
  • 31 A. d’Abbadie, 1895, p. 219-220.
  • 32 Tedros Abraha, 2009, p. 331; Getatchew Haile, 2017, p. 280. The manuscript was copied for d’Abbadie (...)
  • 33 Getatchew Haile, W. Macomber, 1982, p. 67-68. The manuscript is accessible online through the readi (...)
  • 34 A. Brita, 2010, p. 57-58. The Nine Saint are acclaimed for the “Second Christianization” of Ethiopi (...)
  • 35 Scholars have pointed out the gradual development of Ethiopian liturgical music, and the chronologi (...)

17In examining the Yared traditions, we will begin with the Ethiopian Orthodox versions, which are documented more extensively and were committed to writing at an earlier date than their counterparts were. The main Ethiopian Orthodox sources that transmit the traditions about St. Yared are his Gädl (“Acts, Life”), the story of his life found in the Sənkəssar (Synaxary, saint’s calendar), and oral tradition. The textual tradition is not linear, but rather features variations in its small corpus of five known manuscripts.30 All known texts share common features, but in the endeavour to trace the traditions regarding this saint’s activities in the Sǝmen, minor details appearing only in some of the unpublished versions are sometimes the most important. The one version of the Gädlä Yared, from manuscript Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, d’Abbadie 227,31 which was edited and translated by Conti Rossini in 1904, appears to be the most corrupt.32 It was copied from another manuscript, allegedly from the 15th century, which has not been discovered so far. Currently the oldest known manuscript known to contain a version of Yared’s life dates to the 16th century: manuscript EMML 2054, a synaxary.33 Yared himself is also credited as the author of several Gädlat (pl. “Acts, Lives”) of important saints of the group known as the Nine Saints.34 The degree of historicity of the Yared traditions and the historical background for their development are a matter of scholarly debate.35

  • 36 See C. Conti Rossini, 1904.
  • 37 Gedewon is the Ethiopic form of the biblical name Gideon.

18According to the features common in the different narrations, Yared (known as Yared maḥletawi or maḥletay, “Yared the melodious”) was born in Aksum.36 He started at a young age the training to become a priest. After failing to memorize the Scriptures properly, he was punished and maltreated by his teacher Gedewon (sometimes called his uncle).37 Yared decided to run away, and he rested in a remote place under a tree. There he observed a caterpillar that struggled to climb up the tree and fell again and again. It succeeded only on the seventh attempt and ate the leaves on the tree. Yared understood from this that persistence is important. He returned to his teacher and memorized all the Scriptures within one day.

  • 38 Disappearing is a common topos for Ethiopian holy men and women.

19He became a deacon at the most important church in Aksum, Aksum Ṣǝyon, and later got married, but at one point he discovered that his wife was not faithful to him and was having an affair. Yared planned to kill her lover, but God intervened and sent him three birds from Eden. The birds took him to heaven where he entered the heavenly Jerusalem. There he heard the heavenly melodies and harmonious music praising God. When Yared returned to Aksum he reproduced these melodies in church, and all the people, the priests, and the emperor gathered to listen. At a later performance, Emperor Gäbrä Mäsqäl was so moved by the music that he struck his staff into Yared’s foot without noticing, and the blood started running down the floor (fig. 2). Yared himself, however, was so entranced from his singing that he did not notice it either and kept singing. The emperor felt remorse for having injured Yared and promised to fulfil any wish he might have. Yared asked for permission to leave Aksum and to become a monk, and the emperor granted his wish. Yared travelled south to the harsh environment of Ṣällämt in the Sǝmen Mountains. There he spent the rest of his life praying, fasting, and teaching the people, among them the Agäw. He died there—some say that he disappeared—and his grave remains unknown.38

Fig. 2: Yared’s foot being pierced by Gäbrä Mäsqäl’s staff; the three heavenly birds sit in the tree above

Fig. 2: Yared’s foot being pierced by Gäbrä Mäsqäl’s staff; the three heavenly birds sit in the tree above

Private collection, Oxford, photo from Mäzgäbä Səəlat, by Ewa Balicka-Witakowska.

20In the Ethiopian Orthodox version, in addition to the main narrative reported in Yared’s Gädl, there are several written sources dealing with other saints that narrate interactions with Yared and report on miracles he worked and how he conversed with the Virgin Mary. Most relevant for this study are those few texts that relate more information about Yared’s time in the Sǝmen Mountains. They all have in common that they are not contemporary with Yared’s alleged lifetime; while they do refer to earlier (“medieval”) time periods, their manuscripts are on the contrary rather young.

  • 39 Abbebe Desie, 2016, p. 113.
  • 40 Abbebe Desie, 2016, p. 18.
  • 41 C. Conti Rossini, 1904, p. 20.
  • 42 Getatchew Haile, 2017, discusses the quality of this manuscript EMML 1844 (p. 280). The manuscript (...)
  • 43 Getatchew Haile, 2017, p. 272, quoting EMML 1844, fol. 186rb.

21Possibly the first text to describe a pilgrimage to the tomb of Yared is the Gädlä Zena Marqos, the Acts of the 14th-century Ethiopian saint Zena Marqos. According to the text Zena Marqos travelled to the Sǝmen Mountains to pray at Yared’s grave (no place-name is provided), where he remained in prayer for seven days beseeching God to reveal Yared to him—a request that God finally granted. The text continues that Zena Marqos loved the Zema-hymns of Yared, but that there were many Agäw people who did not love the hymns.39 The Gädlä Zena Marqos is known from eleven manuscripts, none of which however antedates the 19th century.40 The reference to the Agäw people living in the same area, which was mentioned already in the Gädlä Yared,41 is also found in the manuscript catalogued as EMML 1844.42 This manuscript contains a collection of Vitae, one dedicated to Yared and relating that he spent his time in the Səmen teaching the local “Agäw people, whose language is different”.43

  • 44 For the Kǝmant, see F. Gamst, 2003; J. Quirin, 1998. For an overview regarding the scholarly debate (...)
  • 45 D. Appleyard, 2003. Chloé Darmon has worked on the relations between the Agäw and Amharic languages (...)

22These descriptions raise the question of whether this mention of Agäw people in the Səmen is a mention of groups affiliated in some way with the Betä Ǝsraʾel. Modern scholarship views both the Betä Ǝsraʾel and the Kǝmant as descendants of groups that resided in the north-western Ethiopian Highlands prior to its wide-scale Christianization.44 The languages widely spoken by both groups prior to the 20th century belong to the Agäw language family, the family of languages considered indigenous to this region and gradually widely replaced by Amharic and Tǝgrǝñña, the Semitic languages of the dominant Christian society.45 To this day, passages in the Agäw language previously spoken by the Betä Ǝsraʾel are preserved in their prayers.

  • 46 We extend our thanks to Anaïs Wion for sharing this information with us. The textual similarities o (...)
  • 47 S. Hummel 2016; Amsalu Tefera 2018.
  • 48 Täsfa Mikaʾel Gäbrä Śəllase, 1992/93, p. 262, for the month of Säne. Sergew Hable Sellasie, 1972, p (...)
  • 49 Täsfa Mikaʾel Gäbrä Śǝllase 1992, p. 262, EMML 7619, fol. 12ra; our translation.

23Precise information about the actual location of Yared’s tomb is found in two other texts, which are closely related to each other: the Dərsanä Uraʾel (“Homily of Uriel”), and the Tarikä nägäśt (“History of the Kings”) of Zuramba monastery, microfilmed as EMML 7619.46 The Tarikä nägäśt manuscript is not older than the 19th century. Although one can assume that an older version of the text exists, no older written source with this motif has been found so far. The Dərsanä Uraʾel has a complex textual tradition, and its final compilation is dated only to the reign of the Ethiopian monarch Mənilək II (1889–1913).47 Both texts contain an account of a trip that Yared, abunä Arägawi, and Emperor Gäbrä Mäsqäl ventured on through heavenly support, visiting Ṭana Qirqos, Zuramba, and other places in Bägemdər.48 The accounts end with Yared’s arrival in the Səmen Mountains and are one of the rare examples of written Ethiopian Orthodox sources produced prior to recent years to mention Yared’s presence in a specific locality in these mountains—Däbrä Ḥawi. Both texts continue: “from this Däbər [“mountain, monastery”] did Yared disappear from the eyes of the people, and he took his place with the angels in heaven”.49 Beyond these textual witnesses the name of Däbrä Ḥawi is rarely found in the sources.

The Betä Ǝsraʾel Yared traditions

  • 50 The Geʿez and Amharic term qes is currently used both among the Betä Ǝsraʾel and among the Ethiopia (...)
  • 51 After providing reference to Qes Bǝrhan’s narration, Quirin states: “in less detail, another Beta I (...)

24The Betä Ǝsraʾel Yared traditions were transmitted orally and had not, prior to this study, been committed to writing. This is in keeping with the oral nature of Betä Ǝsraʾel hagiography and historiography. The only published reference to these traditions which preceded this study appears in James Quirin’s monograph, The Evolution of the Ethiopian Jews. Based on interviews with two prestigious Betä Ǝsraʾel priests, Qes50 Bǝrhan Baroḵ and Qes Mənase Zeməru,51 Quirin states:

  • 52 J. Quirin, 1992, p. 25.

Yared is also remembered, however briefly, in Beta Israel oral traditions. He was said originally to have been a Beta Israel who was a son of a Gedewon [of the Gideonite dynasty]. One of Yared’s sons was named Israel and other descendants included a line of (Beta Israel) priests in Samen. In these traditions, Yared had been forced to convert to Christianity or be killed at the time of Gabra Masqal’s wars against the Beta Israel.52

  • 53 J. Abbink, 1990, p. 416-420; Qes Ḥädanä Təkuyä, 2011, p. 71-77; Getatchew Haile, 1982, p. 319-320; (...)
  • 54 See, for example, C. Conti Rossini, 1907, p. 108, 152-154; Pereira, E., 1892, p. 151-152, 271, 281- (...)
  • 55 Getatchew Haile, 1982, p. 319-320, who was, as far as we can tell, unaware of the Betä Ǝsraʾel Yare (...)

25The explicit mention, in the Betä Ǝsraʾel tradition, of a familial link between Yared and the Gideonite dynasty is significant: According to Betä Ǝsraʾel tradition, following their departure from Aksum, the community established itself in the Sǝmen Mountains and was ruled, until its final defeat at the hands of the Solomonic monarchy, by a dynasty of seven or nine kings, all bearing the name Gedewon.53 And indeed, a Betä Ǝsraʾel ruler in the Sǝmen bearing this name is mentioned extensively in the chronicles of the Solomonic monarchs Śärṣ́ä Dǝngǝl (1563–1597) and Susǝnyos.54 In this context, it is intriguing that, as stated above, the Ethiopian Orthodox Yared tradition also mentions a familial link between Yared and an individual by the name of Gedewon.55

  • 56 In accordance with the norms of ethnographic research, we will maintain the anonymity of our inform (...)

26Several brief narrations relating to Yared were provided to us by members of the Betä Ǝsraʾel community.56 The most detailed account was provided by a Betä Ǝsraʾel elder from the region of Wägära, which borders the Sǝmen on the west (see fig. 1). When we inquired of him regarding the holy site of Abba Rid (which we shall discuss in detail below), he mentioned that Abba Rid was Abba Yared (in reference to the individual the site is named after) and narrated an account he had heard from Qes Bǝrhan Baroḵ:

  • 57 The interview was conducted by Bar Kribus and Tadela Takele, 14 March 2017. The account was narrate (...)

We say he was Jewish, and the Christians say he was Christian … He went to learn where the mäloksewočč are [from the mäloksewočč]. He did not succeed at all. Six years he learned, tried, did not succeed. But he became frustrated, he returned to his village. On the way, it rained. He sat under a tree … Now he looks, a worm climbs … climbs, falls, climbs, falls. The seventh time—it climbed and ate. He looked—‘Maybe I’ll succeed during the seventh year!’ He returned; he learned in a year what he didn’t succeed learning in six years.57

  • 58 This term was used both by the Ethiopian Orthodox and by the Betä Ǝsraʾel. See A. Damon-Guillot, 20 (...)

27The elder confirmed that Yared (in the Betä Ǝsraʾel tradition) was a composer of zema (liturgical music).58

  • 59 For a detailed overview on the mäloksewočč, their way of life, religious functions, and leadership (...)

28The reference to Yared as having studied under the mäloksewočč calls for a brief explanation regarding this institution and its significance in Betä Ǝsraʾel religious life: The religious leadership of the Betä Ǝsraʾel was headed by a priesthood, which included lay priests (qesočč, sg. qes) and high priests (mäloksewočč, sg. mälokse). Unlike the qesočč, who were part of lay society, the mäloksewočč dedicated their lives completely to the worship of God and the religious leadership of the community and observed purity laws necessitating physical separation from the laity.59 It should be noted that the Betä Ǝsraʾel mäloksewočč are commonly referred to as monks in popular and scholarly literature. However, since the English term “monk” is often associated with Christianity—and here we are dealing, rather, with a Betä Ǝsraʾel institution with unique features—many in the Betä Ǝsraʾel community prefer the usage of their own terminology in reference to this institution. Out of respect for the community’s wishes, we are employing this terminology here.

  • 60 For an overview on the decline of this institution, see S. Kaplan, 1992, p. 150-151; B. Kribus, 202 (...)

29The mäloksewočč served as the supreme religious leaders of the Betä Ǝsraʾel and were charged with training and consecrating the lay clergy. Novices from the Betä Ǝsraʾel community who pursued a religious education would commonly spend several years studying under them. During this time, in order to be able to come in regular contact with the mäloksewočč, the novices observed purity laws comparable to those which they observed, and resided in the same compound, in isolation from the outside world. It was only with the decline of the institution of the mäloksewočč from the late 19th century that the lay priesthood took charge of advanced religious instruction and initiation into the priesthood.60 Thus, the mention, in the Betä Ǝsraʾel Yared tradition, of Yared’s receiving instruction from the mäloksewočč is a reference to a priestly novitiate.

  • 61 Among the Betä Ǝsraʾel, some holy individuals were considered prophets and hence referred to by the (...)
  • 62 This was related to us by Abeje Medhanie, a historian and member of the Betä Ǝsraʾel community.

30A second important distinction between the Yared traditions of the two religious groups—and indeed, between the concepts of holy men in the two religious traditions—has to do with terminology: The title qəddus (saint) was not, to the best of our knowledge, used by the Betä Ǝsraʾel to refer to their holy men. Rather, they used the honorary title abba (lit. “father”), which in Ethiopia was commonly used to denote mäloksewočč and monks, but could also refer to priests or elderly or prestigious individuals.61 Hence, among the Betä Ǝsraʾel, Yared was known as Abba Yared rather than Qəddus Yared.62 It seems likely that this choice of title implies a detachment from Christian concepts of sainthood, as well as a close affinity between holy men and the institution of the mäloksewočč. Thus, we will use the term “holy man” rather than “saint” to refer to revered individuals from the Betä Ǝsraʾel community.

  • 63 For the complete, detailed narrations, see Wovite Worku Mengisto, Kribus, forthcoming.

31Additional mentions of Abba Yared (in some narrations, Abba Rid; see below) by members of the Betä Ǝsraʾel community shed further light on the Betä Ǝsraʾel traditions regarding this holy man.63 One member of the Betä Ǝsraʾel community, originally from the Sǝmen Mountains, related that Abba Rid was a member of the Gideonite dynasty, whose family was from Aksum, a great man, who served as a leader and teacher and had many students. When Christianity spread in the kingdom, he could no longer teach there, and the authorities sought to execute him. He fled to the Sǝmen Mountains, where he resided on a high mountain and continued to teach. One day, as he was spending time in seclusion on the mountain, he disappeared. The people searched for him but could not find him. His students continued to lead the community. The place where he lived and disappeared was considered sanctified and was named after him—Abba Rid.

  • 64 ʿEzana is the 4th-century Aksumite monarch who was the first such monarch to officially embrace Chr (...)
  • 65 Torah is the Hebrew term for the Pentateuch, the Five Books of Moses. In Hebrew, the language in wh (...)

32A second member of the Betä Ǝsraʾel community from the Sǝmen related that when the Aksumite king ʿEzana converted to Christianity,64 civil war broke out between those who stayed true to the Torah and those who embraced Christianity.65 At that time, Yared was the high priest. He composed many melodies. Due to the conflict, many Jews left Aksum in order to be able to continue to observe their religion. A large group of Jews went to the Sǝmen and crowned Gedewon as their king. Yared also departed to the Sǝmen, together with fifty students, to a place with a large cave. This place is named after him—Abba Rid.

33As stated above, it is striking that Ethiopian Orthodox, Betä Ǝsraʾel, and Kəmant Yared traditions all associate Yared with specific sites in the Sǝmen Mountains and that these sites are different in the traditions of each religious group. A brief overview of the geography of the region in which the sites are located, and concerning the characteristics of holy sites of the religious traditions addressed here, will be followed by a detailed examination of the Sǝmen Yared sites and associated traditions.

The Sǝmen Mountains: A brief geographical overview

34The Sǝmen Mountains (fig. 3) are located east and north-east of the Wägära Plateau and are delimited in the east by the Täkkäze River. The Mäšäḥa River, flowing south, divides these mountains into two clusters, west and east of it respectively: Ǧan Amora and Bäyäda. The Heights of Ǧan Amora are delimited in the west and south-west by the Bälägäz River, which flows south-eastwards before converging with the Täkkäze. The northern part of the Sǝmen, or High Sǝmen, reaches a maximum elevation of 4533 m at Ras Dašän in the northern end of the Heights of Bäyäda. North of the northern ridgeline of the Sǝmen (fig. 4), the terrain descends steeply to the province of Ṣällämt, which is delimited by the Sǝmen in the south and the Täkkäze in the north and north-east.

Fig. 3: The Sǝmen Mountains and surrounding regions

Fig. 3: The Sǝmen Mountains and surrounding regions

Map created by Bar Kribus.

  • 66 The Sǝmen Mountains were formed due to volcanic activity—much of the Sǝmen constitutes the eroded r (...)

35Of special significance to the topic at hand is a ridge that connects the Heights of Ǧan Amora with those of Bäyäda, north of the Mäšäḥa River. This ridge departs from the Bwaḥit Pass to the north, curving eastwards and south-eastwards and connecting with the Heights of Bäyäda 2.6 km north of Ras Dašän, thus roughly forming a crescent shape with its convex end facing north. Two mountain peaks that form part of this ridge bear names that indicate their association with St. Yared—Abba Yared (4416 m), in the northern part of the ridge, and Qəddus Yared (4442 m), 6.6 km south-east of Abba Yared and 8.6 km north-north-east of Ras Dašän.66 And indeed, the various sites associated with Yared in the Sǝmen are either on or near these peaks.

  • 67 The location of several relevant localities in the Sǝmen that do not appear on this map were kindly (...)

36Several of the sites mentioned in the sources dealing with Yared appear on the Simen Mountains map produced by Hurni et al. (2003). Based on their location, as well as additional information, it was possible to identify the general area in which the holy sites associated with this saint are located.67

Fig. 4: The northern ridgeline of the Sǝmen, viewed from Č̣ənəq, 2017

Fig. 4: The northern ridgeline of the Sǝmen, viewed from Č̣ənəq, 2017

Photo taken by Sophia Dege-Müller.

Holy sites in the Betä Ǝsraʾel and Ethiopian Orthodox religious traditions

  • 68 A. Gori, 2011; S. Kaplan, 2011a; D. Nosnitsin, 2015.

37Ethiopian Orthodox holy sites are the most widely known and widely researched from among the groups addressed here; hence, only general features of relevance to the topic at hand will be discussed, and the overview will be limited to holy sites within Ethiopia. As in other Churches, localities associated with the acts of saints or with divine intervention, as well as burial places of saints, are often the site of churches or monasteries that serve as places of pilgrimage. Prestigious relics have also been known to attract pilgrimage to the establishments in which they are kept. While pilgrimage to holy sites is not limited to specific times, annual holidays associated with specific locations serve as times of mass pilgrimage to these places. Notable among sites that serve as focal points of such pilgrimage are Aksum and Lalibäla, both considered holy cities and equated with Jerusalem. Dust from the tomb of a saint, as well as holy springs (ṣäbäl), often associated with prestigious religious compounds, are believed to contain miraculous healing qualities.68

  • 69 For an overview of Betä Ǝsraʾel holy sites and pilgrimage to such sites, with specific examples, se (...)

38Most Betä Ǝsraʾel holy sites were sanctified due to their association with Betä Ǝsraʾel holy men. Some such places are located where traditionally members of the community performed acts of bravery demonstrating their commitment to their religion. It is believed that such sites are places where miracles took place—most notably, fire would descend from the heavens and consume the sacrifices offered by the community, as a demonstration of God’s favour.69

  • 70 According to the Betä Ǝsraʾel religious tradition, Betä Ǝsraʾel holy sites can only be accessed by (...)

39Unlike Christian holy sites, which are mostly church or monastic compounds (sometimes with associated holy springs), Betä Ǝsraʾel holy sites were commonly open-air venues, at times with an associated prayer house. A central motif in Betä Ǝsraʾel pilgrimage to such sites is purity—only members of the Betä Ǝsraʾel community, and only in a severe state of purity, could enter the sites (a tradition that was respected by the non-Betä Ǝsraʾel inhabitants of the region).70 During their stay at the site, members of the community would consume only uncooked legumes soaked in water, purify themselves daily by immersion in water, and pray frequently. It was believed that those who had reached a sufficient degree of purity and devotion would receive healing, or a message from the divine in their dreams. It was also believed that these sacred places were guarded by wild animals, which would harm people who entered them in a state of insufficient purity. Some such sites were holy springs believed to possess healing qualities, and pilgrimage to them entailed ablution.

The Ethiopian Orthodox sites commemorating St. Yared in the Səmen Mountains

  • 71 በኅቡእ፡ ወበክቡት።, C. Conti Rossini, 1904, p. 22.
  • 72 Sergew Hable Sellasie, 1972, p. 166; Oestigaard, Gedef Abawa Firew, 2013, p. 77.

40In accordance with his Gädl, St. Yared’s veneration centres around the town of Aksum, for which it is renowned in Ethiopia on a national level. The Gädl ends rather abruptly with Yared moving to Ṣällämt and teaching the local Agäw population. He ended his life in “secret and concealment”.71 There are, however, regional centres in which this saint is venerated (fig. 5). Among these are famous centres for traditional church education, and specifically—musicological classes (zəmmare, “sing, praise”), with a strong and clear connection to Yared. One is the monastery of Zuramba, where Yared is said to have composed his zəmmare hymns, or according to another tradition was even involved in its foundation, together with Zämikaʾel Arägawi (also known as abunä Arägawi), one of the Nine Saints. It is claimed that Yared’s prayer staff and his sistrum are still kept in the monastery. The other is Ṭana Qirqos, an island monastery on Lake Ṭana. Here they claim to still have an original manuscript of Yared’s Dəggwa (book of the liturgical music) and the ink container that he used to write it with.72

  • 73 When trekking the vicinity of the sites dedicated to Yared in the Səmen Mountains National Park, lo (...)

41The connection of Yared to these two monasteries, with his paraphernalia, is very popular in the oral tradition and features, as we have mentioned above, in the Dərsanä Uraʾel and the Tarikä nägäśt of Zuramba. While these two places are renowned for their connection to Yared, Däbrä Ḥawi was, until recently, known mainly in local circles—in the Səmen Mountains and adjacent areas.73 A major factor in this is probably its remote location in the High Səmen and the strenuous hike in rugged mountain terrain required to access it.

Fig. 5: Ethiopian Orthodox monastic and ecclesiastical centers in which St. Yared is venerated

Fig. 5: Ethiopian Orthodox monastic and ecclesiastical centers in which St. Yared is venerated

Map created by Bar Kribus.

  • 74 The first three are films that were produced for the Ethiopian Orthodox Täwaḥədo Church (EOTC) TV c (...)

42The monastery of Däbrä Ḥawi has recently been the subject of a series of Ethiopian documentary films and has subsequently achieved fame on a national level.74 The footage in the films and the detailed accounts appearing in them of the Səmen Ethiopian Orthodox Yared sites and associated traditions shed considerable light on the topic at hand. Additional Ethiopian Facebook and Twitter accounts include photographs of the different sites. Most of these sources are very recent, roughly from October 2019 to May 2020. This might be due to the commemoration date of Yared, which is celebrated on 19 May (Gənbot 11 in the Ethiopian calendar). Some of the sources might have led up to this feast day. The films allow insight into the layout of the area, which includes at least three Christian sites associated with Yared. These are frequented by pilgrims, but the challenging journey to reach the area in the High Səmen is repeatedly mentioned.

  • 75 Amba is a Gəʿəz word used to refer to a mountain, often of table-top shape.
  • 76 We could not yet establish the connection between these two saints, or why Krəstos Sämra is also ve (...)
  • 77 Mummification is common as a natural phenomenon in the Ethiopian Highlands, mostly due to the very (...)

43The first and most important site is Däbrä Ḥawi or Ḥawi Amba,75 featuring the cave in which Yared lived and where he disappeared, which is now a monastery (we will refer to it here as the Cave Monastery). It also contains a holy water source (ṣäbäl), apparently called Abbay Yared, and which may also stand in connection to Abunä Arägawi. The spring is believed to have strong healing properties, especially curing blindness and other illnesses. According to the accounts in the documentaries, the cave consists of several chambers. A small church building, built in modern times outside of the cave, against the cliff, serves to protect the cave entrance from rocks falling down from above. The endemic baboon species, called Gelada (Č̣əlada) or bleeding-heart monkey, inhabit the rocky cliffs of the national park, occasionally causing rocks to fall when artistically climbing up and down the faces of the cliff. The church is dedicated to two saints: Yared and the female saint Krəstos Śämra.76 One of the cave’s chambers is called ənənum (“let us sleep”). It was too dark for the camera to film, but the narrator explains that is like “walking on snow” and that it still houses the bodies of Yared’s disciples.77 Another chamber is the actual place that Yared disappeared in. This is where the holy spring is located as well. The Cave Monastery seems to be the most ancient of the three Christian Yared sites, and it might be associated with the place where he disappeared as stated in some of the traditions.

  • 78 Most probably from the chamber with the holy spring (personal communication with Abebe Asfaw, 30 Ma (...)

44There is yet another legend connected to the cave. There is holy ash within it that is collected by the faithful and said to have very powerful healing properties. Sacred ash is common in many churches and monasteries, originating from the incense that is burnt during Mass. In the case of Yared’s cave, it is said to originate on its own.78 In the documentary this ash is also featured; the monks explained that it was sent from heaven by angels. Every day it is there and can be collected: “It is special; its colour is different.”

45The Cave Monastery is too small to actually house the monastic community. The community lives a bit further down into the valley in the second site, which we will term the Valley Monastery. The monastery consists of several huts for the monks and the nuns, as well as community buildings, which are used for weaving and other crafts, and is surrounded by a small village. It is emphasized in the documentaries that the small church building in the Cave Monastery is run down, and the monks and nuns are hoping for financial support to rebuild it. The late archbishop of Gondar, abunä Elsaʿ, visited Däbrä Ḥawi in 2016 and promised a new (quite large) church building in the Valley Monastery. The constructions had begun in 2020, but any progress in the construction after this initial stage is unknown to us.

46Both the first and second site are referred to as Däbrä Ḥawi Qəddus Yared. The third site is the “stone seat” on which, according to legend, Yared sat for 22 years teaching the people, and which is called Hocho (Hoč̣č̣o[?]).79 Very spectacular photographs of this site can be found online. It is described as situated on the most rocky and steep mountaintop in the area, which is always cold and on which there is snow. The photographs depict a stone heap on a mountain peak, comprised of basalt field stones with rough edges, at the centre of which there is a circular depression surrounded by standing stones, with additional standing stones lining its centre.80 So far, we could not find any reference to this “stone seat” in written sources. However, in the documentaries a modern-day painting of Yared sitting in this seat and surrounded by his disciples is featured.

  • 81 This is the number of hours indicated in the documentaries.

47The climate in the three sites is described in the documentaries as very cold. This is indeed typical of the High Səmen. Living conditions, even at the lowest site, are described as rough and difficult. Based on the descriptions in the films, it seems that all three are roughly located along one line, with the stone seat on the top of a mountain, the Cave Monastery a three-hour climb down, against a cliff, and the Valley Monastery another three hours further down into the valley.81 While the summit is completely devoid of vegetation, only some shrubs can be seen surrounding the Cave Monastery and on the cliff. In the Valley Monastery even some agriculture (including the cultivation of fruit trees) is possible.

  • 82 See images in H. Hurni, 1982, p. 91. This was also reported by Marco Degasper (14 May 2020), and by (...)

48Based on the detailed landscape shots in the documentaries, Google Earth images and the information provided by Hans Hurni, we were able to clearly georeference the Valley Monastery (13.310108, 38.353765). It appears as the church of “Kiddus Yared” in a section of the updated Simen Mountains map Prof. Hurni has kindly shared with us. Identifying the precise location of the summit on which the “stone seat” is located is more challenging. A location on the Qəddus Yared mountain seems likely, based both on the distance as described in the documentaries and on the sharp and rocky landscape apparent in the footage, which is more typical of Qəddus Yared than of Abba Yared, the latter peak having a much softer geography.82 The Valley Monastery is located at an altitude of circa 3000 m, while the peak of Qəddus Yared is some 1400 m higher. Assuming that the cave is halfway between these two points, it seems to be a rather challenging climb.

  • 83 This tradition was told to Hans Hurni in 1975 by a local man, near Bwaḥit pass (personal communicat (...)

49One of the other famous endemic animals of the Səmen, the Walia ibex, is featured in an oral tradition about Yared. It is said that the saint travelled to the Holy Land, to visit Jerusalem, and returned riding this ibex. Thus, the Walia ibex was introduced to the Səmen Mountains.83

The Betä Ǝsraʾel holy site of Abba Rid

  • 84 W. Leslau, 1974, p. 637.
  • 85 Qes Asres Yayeh, 1995, p. 60-61.
  • 86 Qes Ḥädanä Təkuyä, 2011, p. 66.

50One of the prestigious holy sites of the Betä Ǝsraʾel is the holy site of Abba Rid in the High Səmen. The earliest description of this site written by a member of the Betä Ǝsraʾel community is that of Taamrat Emmanuel, a Betä Ǝsraʾel scholar and public activist. It appears in his account of Betä Ǝsraʾel mäloksewočč and holy places, based on information obtained from members of the Betä Ǝsraʾel community, and was published by Wolf Leslau: “Abba Rid, in Sämen, near Dǝbǝl. It was described to me as a place nearly always covered with ice, and that sometimes even under the ice, the half-naked faithful adore and pray.”84 To this description, Leslau adds a footnote stating: “Here follows a short paragraph in which Taamrat attempts to identify Abba Rid with Abba Yared, the Christian hymn writer (about 550), but the text is not very clear.” Abba Rid is also counted among the seven holy mountains mentioned by the Betä Ǝsraʾel priest Qes Asres Yayeh85 and appears in a list of Betä Ǝsraʾel holy sites in which miracles would take place that was compiled by the Betä Ǝsraʾel priest Qes Ḥädanä Təkuyä.86

  • 87 The qes uses the Hebrew term Roš ha-Šanah, which refers to the Jewish holiday of New Year.
  • 88 Qes Ḥädanä Təkuyä, 2011, p. 59.

51Qes Ḥädanä also mentions a cave located on a mountain: “In the district of Sǝmen and in the area of Telemt [Ṣällämt] at Falashoshge”. He relates that the cave has a door, which opens only on New Year,87 and that once, when the door was open, a young shepherd was grazing his flock nearby. The sheep ran into the cave and the shepherd ran after them, but before they could leave, the door closed. A search for the shepherd was organized, but he was not found. The following New Year, the residents of the village prayed near the cave. During their prayer, the door opened, and the shepherd and his flock came out. He had grown, and the flock had increased in number. The villagers rejoiced and returned to their village singing and praising God. It was said that the cave was the place of the righteous.88

  • 89 See Wovite Worku Mengisto, Kribus, forthcoming.

52While Qes Ḥädanä did not state explicitly that the cave in question is located in Abba Rid, a second narration of this tradition, by a Betä Ǝsraʾel priest originally from the Səmen Mountains, confirms this:89 According to this narration, on the mountain of Abba Rid there was a cave, with a door that opens on the first of each month. Once, a sheep entered the cave, and when the shepherd entered to retrieve it, the door closed. The shepherd’s family searched for him, but to no avail. After a month, when the door opened again, the shepherd and the sheep came out of the cave unharmed.

  • 90 Qes Ḥädanä Təkuyä, 2011, p. 62. For an overview on the various traditions relating to Abba Ṣəbra, s (...)
  • 91 Qes Ḥädanä Təkuyä, 2011, p. 64. The Hebrew script in which the name of this locality is written ('א (...)

53Qes Ḥädanä also mentions the site of Abba Rid as the birthplace of Abba Ṣəbra, the first mälokse of the Betä Ǝsraʾel (who, according to Betä Ǝsraʾel tradition was a contemporary of the Solomonic monarch Zärʾa Yaʿəqob, 1434–1468), and adds that Abba Ṣəbra was educated there for a long time.90 Elsewhere, the qes relates that Abba Ṣəbra is from the locality of ʾBRʾǦ in the province of Səmen.91 A tradition viewing Abba Rid as Abba Ṣəbra’s birthplace is an indication of the prestige of this site—Betä Ǝsraʾel mäloksewočč served as the supreme religious leaders of the community, and Abba Ṣəbra, as first and foremost among them, is held by the community in the highest regard.

  • 92 See, for example, Sh. Ben-Dor, 1985, p. 43.
  • 93 Qes Gobäze Baroḵ, 2007, p. 6 (Amharic section), p. 4 (Hebrew section).

54A few additional narrations of Abba Ṣəbra’s life relate that he was originally from the Sǝmen.92 The Betä Ǝsraʾel priest Qes Gobäze Baroḵ mentions a specific place-name in this region—he relates that Abba Ṣəbra was from Bäyäda.93 While the ridge in which the site of Abba Rid is most likely located (see below) is not strictly speaking in the Heights of Bäyäda, it is considered part of the present-day administrative region (wäräda) of Bäyäda. This is repeatedly mentioned in the above-mentioned documentaries on Däbrä Ḥawi. Hence, this ridge may have been traditionally considered part of Bäyäda. Alternatively, the qes’ mention of Bäyäda may be a reference to a village by the name of Bäyäda, which, according to the Simen Mountains map, is located on the heights bearing this name.

55A fascinating description of Betä Ǝsraʾel mäloksewočč living in a holy site in the Sǝmen by the name of Abba Yared appears in the account of the Jewish emissary Haim Nahoum, following his visit to various Betä Ǝsraʾel communities in Ethiopia in 1908. When describing the practices of Betä Ǝsraʾel mäloksewočč, Nahoum relates:

  • 94 In actuality, Betä Ǝsraʾel mäloksewočč would refrain from physical contact with any member of the B (...)
  • 95 In this section, Nahoum refers to the mäloksewočč as priests (kahən is the Ethiopic term for priest (...)
  • 96 H. Nahoum, 1908, p. 123.

They [the mäloksewočč] have a horror of women. They will not taste any dish prepared by one of them. And they perform ablutions every time an object is presented to them from female hands.94 The Kahen95 of Abba Yared (Simen), which we have not seen have, we were told, even more austere manners: each time they touch a married Falasha, they perform ablutions.96

  • 97 See S. Dege-Müller, B. Kribus, 2021, p. 269-271.
  • 98 The name of this locality is most likely a form of the name “Fälašoččge”, which literally means “th (...)

56As we recently suggested, the similar sounds of the names Abba Yared and Abba Rid, and the fact that Abba Rid is associated with Yared (who is known as Abba Yared) in the Betä Ǝsraʾel tradition seem to indicate that these two sites are one and the same.97 If this is indeed so, it would indicate that the Betä Ǝsraʾel holy site or its immediate vicinity was inhabited by Betä Ǝsraʾel mäloksewočč at the time of Nahoum’s visit—and that the mountain known today as Abba Yared or its vicinity can be tentatively identified as the location of Abba Rid (figs. 6-8). This is also in accordance with the other localities mentioned in association with the holy site: Dǝbǝl, described by Taamrat Emmanuel as located near Abba Rid, is located 5.4 km south-south-west of Abba Yared and 6.4 km west-south-west of Qəddus Yared. Fälašošge, mentioned by Qes Ḥädanä as the site of the mountain in which the miraculous cave is located, is probably the village that appears in the above-mentioned Simen Mountains map under the name Felashasigi, 9.5 km east-north-east of Abba Yared and 8.1 km north-north-east of Qəddus Yared.98 A locality by the name of ʾBRʾǦ, mentioned by Qes Ḥädanä parallel to Abba Rid as the place of origin of Abba Ṣəbra, does not appear on this map. However, a locality bearing a similar name, Bärǧe, appears on the map, 5.2 km south-south-east of Abba Yared and 3.3 km west-south-west of Qəddus Yared. The likely proximity of this site to Abba Rid seems to be the reason that the qes refers to both as Abba Ṣəbra’s place of origin.

Fig. 6: Sites associated with Yared

Fig. 6: Sites associated with Yared

Map created by Bar Kribus.

Fig. 7: Ras Dašän and the Heights of Bäyäda, viewed from the vicinity of the Bwaḥit Pass, 2017

Fig. 7: Ras Dašän and the Heights of Bäyäda, viewed from the vicinity of the Bwaḥit Pass, 2017

Photo taken by Sophia Dege-Müller.

Fig. 8: The ridge on which the peaks of Abba Yared and Qəddus Yared are located, viewed from the vicinity of the Bwaḥit Pass, 2017

Fig. 8: The ridge on which the peaks of Abba Yared and Qəddus Yared are located, viewed from the vicinity of the Bwaḥit Pass, 2017

Photo taken by Sophia Dege-Müller.

57If indeed the site of Abba Rid is on Mt. Abba Yared, such a location would explain why two peaks in the Səmen—Qəddus Yared and Abba Yared—are named after the same holy man. The former might have been the centre of Christian pilgrimage, and the latter of Betä Ǝsraʾel pilgrimage.

  • 99 See Wovite Worku Mengisto, B. Kribus, forthcoming.

58Two members of the Betä Ǝsraʾel community from the Səmen Mountains mentioned Betä Ǝsraʾel pilgrimage to Abba Rid during the holidays, especially Passover. Pilgrimage would entail spending several days at the site in study and prayer.99

  • 100 See Y. Kahana, 1977, p. 154-155; B. Kribus, V. Krebs, 2018, p. 326-327.
  • 101 See S. Dege-Müller, B. Kribus, forthcoming; B. Kribus, 2019, p. 165-168; W. Leslau, 1974, p. 629.
  • 102 Personal communication with Selamawit FsHa.

59Abeje Medhanie related that the holy site of Abba Rid was not the site of Yared’s burial, but rather an area where he lived. And indeed, among the Betä Ǝsraʾel, burial sites were considered impure and were not regularly accessed by the community. Members of the community would typically enter a cemetery only for the purpose of burying the dead and were required to purify themselves afterwards.100 Some Betä Ǝsraʾel holy sites included, within their compound, the burial place of a prestigious holy person, but it seems that the focal point of veneration at these sites was not at the burial place, but rather locations where the person in question traditionally lived.101 Abeje added that the community believes that the place has healing power—barren men and women could conceive after visiting the site.102

Saint Yared in the Kǝmant tradition

  • 103 F. Gamst, 1969; J. Tubiana, 1955; 1999. We would like to thank the anonymous reviewer for bringing (...)
  • 104 J. Quirin, 1998; O. Tourny, 2009.
  • 105 Zelealem Yelew, who studied the Kǝmant language, states: “I suspect that the Kemant religion will d (...)
  • 106 F. Gamst, 1969, p. 35, 37. In Ethiopian Orthodox Christianity, the title qəddus is also used to ref (...)

60The Kǝmant religious tradition, which past studies have defined as “Pagan-Hebraic” due to its featuring both Old Testament-derived traditions and traditions of a likely local origin, is the least studied of the three religious traditions addressed here. Very few studies examine Kǝmant religious life in detail,103 and a few others briefly describe specific elements of Kǝmant religion.104 In recent years, the vast majority of the Kǝmant have embraced Ethiopian Orthodox Christianity, and very few adherents of the Kǝmant religious tradition remain.105 Among the Kǝmant, the title Qəddus is used to refer to prestigious holy men of the past and to angelic beings, some biblical, others, as far as is known, without parallel in the two above-mentioned traditions.106

  • 107 F. Gamst, 1969, p. 27-28, 35; J. Tubiana, 1955.
  • 108 F. Gamst, 1969, p. 27 states that such prayer houses were built to prevent Christians from viewing (...)

61The only two written accounts at our disposal describing Kǝmant holy sites in detail were written by Gamst and Tubiana,107 and the documentation of such sites remains a desideratum for future research. Both accounts relate that Kǝmant worship commonly took place in the open-air, most notably in sacred groves. Gamst relates that these groves were known as degena and that prayer houses (šawang) are known to have been used in the late 20th century.108 Degena are dedicated to culture heroes and are used either for burial or as the site of worship on an annual holiday associated with the individual the holy site is dedicated to. Tubiana and Gamst also mention other types of Kǝmant sacred sites, typically located on prominent topographical features. These include sites dedicated to the supreme God (Mäzgǝna) and other supernatural beings, and sites believed to be the abode of spirits and known as qole. Burial places of the highest-ranking religious leaders (wämbär) can also be considered sacred, though religious ceremonies are not conducted in them.

62The case of the Kǝmant traditions regarding Yared and associated sites in the Səmen Mountains is different from the two above-mentioned groups, for two reasons. First, perhaps due to the scarcity of documented information on the Kǝmant religious tradition in general, the only documented references to a Kǝmant Yared tradition date to recent years. In addition, while the Səmen was one of the main focal points of Betä Ǝsraʾel population throughout the history of this community and was also home to a substantial Christian population (at least following Solomonic expansion into the region), the focal points of Kǝmant population in Ethiopia are the regions of Č̣əlga, Säqqält, and Armač̣əho (see fig. 1). Nevertheless, a few accounts posted in social media narrate a Kǝmant version of Yared’s acts and notably link his activities to specific sites in the Səmen. One example is a statement by a Kǝmant activist:

St. Yared who is considered as the father of church melodies was the priest of the Kemant Higelibona religion.109 He was kidnapped at mount Aber of Semien mountains. That place was the one important site of Kemant religious education. The former Kemant name of Yared was Yaren. The Kemants have a Degna (forest temple) in the name of Yaren at Chilga.110

  • 111 Pictures can be found in F. Rosen, 1907, p. 457 and H. Hurni, 2005, p. 25, 26, 27.
  • 112 F. Rosen, 1907, p. 458; H. Hurni, 2005, p. 15, with a picture of the church on p. 24.

63Mount Aber is the name of a steep mountain peak at the northern-western extension of the Səmen. Its rugged peak reaches a height of 3653 m and can be seen from the Gondär-Aksum highway.111 In addition, a locality by the name of Aber and a ridge by that name appear in the Dima map produced by the Ethiopian Mapping Authority (1998). This may be the mountain referred to in the above-mentioned account. It is notable that this locality is not in the immediate proximity of the other Yared sites discussed here (fig. 3); however, also here we find a church dedicated to Yared. Hurni in his 2005 report calls it Dabiya Kidis Yared church (Däbiya Qəddus Yared), and Felix Rosen describes it as a monastery in 1907.112 Rosen further mentions the Betä Ǝsraʾel presence throughout the highlands of the Səmen.

  • 113 Personal communication with Guesh Solomon, 2021. H. Hurni, 2005, p. 14 states that Gilbena is the f (...)

64It should be noted that we were recently informed of yet another Yared site, also in the vicinity of those described here. According to the scholar Guesh Solomon, born in Ṣällämt, local tradition claims that Yared’s cave and church is located in Gəlbena (ግልቤና, on maps often “Gilbena”), but except for locating it on the map we were not able to inquire further regarding this site.113

Yared’s role in the sacred geography of the Sǝmen

65In order to truly understand the Yared holy sites in the Sǝmen and the interreligious dynamics they reflect, the chronology of the sites must be addressed. Did the sites of one religious group precede those of the other? Did they develop in interaction with each other? And what was the political and religious context of their initial appearance and later development? Unfortunately, the information at hand does not allow us to answer these questions in full. At this point, we can put forward some suggestions based on what is currently known regarding the history of the two respective communities in the Sǝmen.

  • 114 The source commonly recognized in scholarship as the earliest to mention a group indisputably assoc (...)

66First, it is notable that despite the turbulent political history of these two religious communities in the Sǝmen, such sites, at least in recent years, existed side by side, a state of affairs which likely reflects a substantial degree of mutual respect and good will of the religious communities in question. Historically, the Sǝmen shifted from being a completely autonomous region largely populated by the ancestors of the Betä Ǝsraʾel (prior to the 13th–14th century Solomonic expansion), to a Betä Ǝsraʾel-governed autonomous region partially integrated in the Solomonic state (15th–17th centuries), to a Christian-governed region with a substantial Betä Ǝsraʾel population (up to the 20th century), to a region devoid of any Betä Ǝsraʾel population (at present).114 Thus, one can speculate that if the Yared sites of both religious communities are indeed of substantial antiquity, they would have been active side by side first under Betä Ǝsraʾel rule, and then under Christian rule. The Kǝmant tradition adds another level to this discussion which we cannot investigate at present.

  • 115 See, for example, E. Pereira, 1900, p. 151-152, 271, 283.
  • 116 For a discussion regarding the locations and characteristics of these strongholds, see B. Kribus, f (...)

67That the area in question is at the heart of the former Betä Ǝsraʾel autonomous region is reflected in the location of Betä Ǝsraʾel strongholds that were the focal point of the Betä Ǝsraʾel–Solomonic wars during the reign of the Solomonic monarch Susǝnyos. While pinpointing the precise locations of these strongholds remains our aim in future research, the names of the localities in which they were situated appear in Susǝnyos’ royal chronicle.115 Similar or identical names appear in the above-mentioned Simen Mountains map and yet others in its future updated edition, kindly indicated to us by Prof. Hurni. It is very likely that the former strongholds are located at or near the modern-day localities bearing the same name. Of special significance is the stronghold of Sägänät, which Susǝnyos’ chronicle describes as the seat of the leader of the Betä Ǝsraʾel political autonomy, Gedewon.116 The proximity of these localities to the Yared sites is striking (fig. 9).

Fig. 9: Sites dedicated to St. Yared and Betä Ǝsraʾel strongholds mentioned in Susǝnyos’ chronicle

Fig. 9: Sites dedicated to St. Yared and Betä Ǝsraʾel strongholds mentioned in Susǝnyos’ chronicle

Map created by Bar Kribus.

  • 117 M.-L. Derat, 2003; S. Kaplan, 2007, p. 988-989.

68The foundation of monasteries and churches was an integral element of Solomonic expansion and consolidation, and such institutions played a central role in Solomonic Ethiopia, as centres of Christianization, administration, religious education, commerce, and welfare.117 It may therefore be that following the demise of Betä Ǝsraʾel autonomy in the Səmen, local Christian sites of worship were strengthened or founded. The extent and scope of such a phenomenon remains to be determined.

69The proximity of the three communities’ Yared sites to each other, when examined together with their respective Yared traditions, seems to indicate the Səmen Yared sites and traditions are in dialogue with each other. It can be tentatively assumed that here, too, the legitimacy of each community as the heir of the biblical Israelites is put forth. An indication that the landscape of the Səmen played a symbolic role in the dialogue between the two communities (albeit in a different context) is found in the royal chronicle of the Solomonic monarch Śärṣ́ä Dǝngǝl (1563–1597). In the description of the first of this monarch’s three campaigns against the autonomous Betä Ǝsraʾel of this region (dated 1579), it is stated:

  • 118 C. Conti Rossini, 1907, p. 99; our translation.

Here we shall write the account of the insolence of Rädaʾi [the Betä Ǝsraʾel leader] […] He called the mountains of his towns by the names of the mountains of Israel. One he called Mt. Sinai and a second Mt. Tabor and there are others, the names of which we have not mentioned. How evil is the pride of that Jew who likened his mountains to the mountains of the Land of Israel, on which God descended and revealed upon them the mysteries of His kingdom.118

  • 119 Examples include the towns of Däbrä Tabor (Mt. Tabor), Däbrä Sina (Mt. Sinai), and Nazret (Nazareth (...)
  • 120 S. Kaplan, 1992, p. 87 suggests that this act was viewed both as asserting Rädaʾi’s sovereignty ove (...)

70A similar practice of giving names of biblical mountains to localities in Ethiopia is common among Ethiopia’s Christian population.119 This is the only example known so far of such a practice among the Betä Ǝsraʾel. What is striking about this description is not only that the Betä Ǝsraʾel leader chose to equate his domain with biblical Israel, but also that this was viewed as an affront by the Solomonic chronicler (and hence, probably, by Solomonic authorities). This demonstrates the role of sacred geography in the discourse between the two communities.120

71However, it should be taken into account that while both religious communities commemorated Yared at close proximity to each other, the sources relating to each community examined so far do not mention the religious sites or pilgrimage of the religious other. None of the Christian informants we have communicated with so far were aware of the Betä Ǝsraʾel holy site and vice versa. Thus, interreligious interaction and discourse does not seem to have been a dominant factor in the experience of the two respective communities with regards to the Yared holy sites, at least in recent years.

Conclusions: Sacred geography in the Sǝmen Mountains as a realm of interreligious discourse

72Some of the cultural and religious features of the peoples of the northern Ethiopian Highlands transcend religious boundaries. Among these are aspects of the heritage of St. Yared, who is held in high regard by adherents of three Abrahamic faiths in this region—Ethiopian Orthodox, Betä Ǝsraʾel, and Kǝmant. In all these denominations, the Sǝmen is seen as a focal point of Yared’s activities. The research leading up to this article is the first to address in detail the traditions dealing with Yared’s acts in the Sǝmen, the sites commemorating him there and the manifestations of his traditions and heritage in multiple religious traditions.

  • 121 J. Abbink, 1990.

73Abbink has demonstrated that some of the Ethiopian Orthodox and Betä Ǝsraʾel traditions regarding their distant, mythical past form one domain of discourse, in which each community argues its legitimacy as the true heir of the biblical Israelites.121 Both communities share basic narratives (most notably the Kǝbrä nägäśt narrative outlined above), but some of the details as well as the meanings attributed to the narrative in each community differ, thus expressing the respective community’s worldview. Here, it is demonstrated that accounts of Yared’s life are also part of this interreligious discourse—and that this discourse was expressed not only in oral tradition, but also in sacred geography. Yared, the divinely inspired composer of sacred melodies, is a powerful symbol. He is linked, as demonstrated above, through the traditional setting of his acts, to wider themes and concepts associated with Israelite identity in Ethiopia. In a Betä Ǝsraʾel context, the Sǝmen Mountains are no less powerful a symbol—they are the focal point of Betä Ǝsraʾel sacred geography in Ethiopia, symbolizing the community’s kingship and bravery in its struggle with the Solomonic Kingdom and serving as the seat of its supreme religious leadership.

74Both the Betä Ǝsraʾel and the Ethiopian Orthodox Christians established holy sites in Yared’s honour in the Sǝmen which serve as places of pilgrimage. The sites of the two respective communities were near each other, but not immediately adjacent. These sites are first mentioned in relatively recent written accounts, dating from the 19th and early 20th centuries for the Christian and Betä Ǝsraʾel centres respectively. However, the accounts incorporate earlier, oral material that cannot be precisely dated.

75While there is no direct evidence for interaction between the two communities in association with the Yared sites, the proximity of the sites to each other and their location at the heart of the former Betä Ǝsraʾel autonomous region are striking. The reference to people speaking other languages (Agäw in this case), or with other ethnic backgrounds, in the Christian sources may be an allusion to interaction with the Betä Ǝsraʾel. It is also striking that the Kǝmant traditions regarding Yared also recognize a site in the Sǝmen Mountains as being linked to Yared, in the direct vicinity of which a Christian church dedicated to Yared is found. With Gǝlbena a fourth site relating to Yared is located within the same area. This highlights the centrality of the Sǝmen in the Yared traditions and as a place where this holy man was commemorated.

76The research presented here is a first, important step in the endeavour to understand Yared’s heritage as manifested in the three religious traditions examined here and in the Sǝmen Mountains. A next, crucial step, which we hope will be possible in the future and that has the potential to significantly enrich our understanding, is the examination of the sites in situ.

77It is hoped that this examination of the Yared traditions and sites in a specific (albeit unique) local context—the Səmen Mountains—will serve as a demonstration of the potential of examining interreligious dynamics at a regional and local level, taking into account the specific features and history of the region at hand. Since in Ethiopia many of the local traditions were not expressed in written form, a comprehensive examination must take into account oral traditions and religious expression in the form of sacred geography, religious sites, and associated material culture. In the case of the regions and religious groups examined here, these valuable sources of information are rapidly vanishing. Documenting and understanding them while they are still available can significantly enrich our understanding of religious life in the Ethiopian Highlands.

Haut de page

Bibliographie

d’Abbadie, A., 1859, Catalogue raisonné de manuscrits éthiopiens appartenant à Antoine d’Abbadie, Paris, Imprimerie impériale.

Abbebe Desie, 2016, The Gəʿəz acts of Abba Zena Marəqos: Critical edition and translation, PhD dissertation, Addis Ababa University.

Abbink, J., 1990, “The enigma of Beta Esra’el ethnogenesis. An anthro-historical study”, Cahiers d’études africaines, 120, p. 397-449.

Almeida, M., 1907, Historia Aethiopiae. Liber V-VIII, Rome, C. de Luigi.

Amsalu Tefera, 2018, “A fifteenth ­century Ethiopian homily on the Archangel Uriel”, Aethiopica. International Journal for Ethiopian and Eritrean Studies, 21, p. 87-119.

Appleyard, D., 2003, “Agäw: Agäw languages”, in S. Uhlig (ed.), Encyclopaedia Aethiopica, vol. 1, Wiesbaden, Harrassowitz Verlag, p. 139-142.

Asres Yayeh, Qes, 1995, Traditions of the Ethiopian Jews, Thornhill, Ontario, Kibur Asres.

Ben-Dor, Sh., 1985, “Ha-meqomot ha-qədošim šel Yehūdey ʾEtiyopiyah” [The holy places of Ethiopian Jewry], Peʿamim, 22, p. 32-52.

Ben-Dor, Sh., 1987, “Ha-masaʿ lə-ʿever ʾEreṣ Yiśraʾel: Ha-sipur ʿal Aba Mahari” [The journey towards Eretz Israel: The story of Abba Mahari], Peʿamim, 33, p. 5-31.

Bowersock, G.W., 2013, The throne of Adulis. Red Sea wars on the eve of Islam, Oxford, Oxford University Press.

Brita, A., 2010, I racconti tradizionali sulla seconda cristianizzazione dell’Etiopia. Il ciclo agiografico dei Nove Santi, Napoli, Univ. degli Studi di Napoli “L’Orientale”.

Bustorf, D., Meckelburg, A., Dege-Müller, S., 2018, “Introduction: Oral traditions in Ethiopian studies”, in A. Meckelburg, S. Dege-Müller, D. Bustorf (eds.), Oral traditions in Ethiopian studies, Wiesbaden, Harrassowitz Verlag, p. 1-24.

Conti Rossini, C., 1904, Vitae Sanctorum Antiquiorum I. Acta Yārēd et Panṭalēwon (Corpus Scriptorum Christianorum Orientalium. Scriptores Aethiopici 17), Rome, Carlo di Luigi.

Conti Rossini, C., 1907, Historia regis Sarṣa Dengel (Malak Sagad) (Corpus Scriptorum Christianorum Orientalium 21), Paris, E Typographeo Reipublicae.

Damon-Guillot, A., 2014, “Zema”, in A. Bausi, S. Uhlig (eds.), Encyclopaedia Aethiopica, vol. 5, Wiesbaden, Harrassowitz Verlag, p. 174.

Dege-Müller, S., 2020a, “The manuscript tradition of the Betä Ǝsraʾel (Ethiopian Jews): Form and content. A preliminary analysis”, Comparative Oriental Manuscripts Studies Bulletin, 6 (1), p. 5-40.

Dege-Müller, S., 2020b, “The monastic genealogy of Hoḫwärwa Monastery—A unique witness of Betä Ǝsraʾel historiography”, Aethiopica. International Journal of Ethiopian and Eritrean Studies, 23, p. 57-86.

Dege-Müller, S., Kribus, B., 2021, “The veneration of St. Yared—A multireligious landscape shared by Ethiopian Orthodox Christians and the Betä Ǝsraʾel (Ethiopian Jews)”, in M. Burchardt, M. Giorda (eds.), Geographies of encounter: The making and unmaking of multi-religious spaces, New York, Palgrave Macmillan, p. 255-280.

Dege-Müller, S., Kribus, B., forthcoming, “Betä Ǝsraʾel (Ethiopian Jewish) – Ethiopian Orthodox interaction in the Səmen Mountains of northern Ethiopia: A view from the Betä Ǝsraʾel religious center of Səmen Mənaṭa”, in B. Kribus, Z. Pogossian, A. Cuffel (eds.), Material encounters between Jews and Christians from the Silk and Spice Routes to the Highlands of Ethiopia, York, ARC Humanities Press.

Derat, M.-L., 2003, Le domaine des rois éthiopiens (1270-1527). Espace, pouvoir et monachisme, Paris, Éditions de la Sorbonne.

Douglas, M, 2003, Purity and danger, Oxon, Routledge.

Faitlovitch, J., 1910, Quer durch Abessinien. Meine zweite Reise zu den Falaschas, Berlin, Verlag von M. Poppelauer.

Finneran, N., 2007, “Lalibäla”, in S. Uhlig (ed.), Encyclopaedia Aethiopica, vol. 3, Wiesbaden, Harrassowitz Verlag, p. 482-484.

Flad, J.M., 1869, The Falashas (Jews) of Abyssinia, trans. S.P. Goodhart, London, William Macintosh.

Gamst, F., 1969, The Qemant. A Pagan-Hebraic peasantry of Ethiopia, New York, Holt, Rinehart and Winston.

Gamst, F., 2003, “Agäw: Agäw ethnography”, in S. Uhlig (ed.), Encyclopaedia Aethiopica, vol. 1, Wiesbaden, Harrassowitz Verlag, p. 142-143.

Getatchew Haile, 1982, “A new look at some dates of early Ethiopian history”, Le Muséon. Revue d’études orientales, 95 (3-4), p. 311-322.

Getatchew Haile, 2017, Ethiopian studies in honour of Amha Asfaw, New York, n.pub.

Getatchew Haile, Macomber, W., 1982, A catalogue of Ethiopian manuscripts microfilmed for the Ethiopian Manuscript Microfilm Library, Addis Ababa and for the Hill Monastic Manuscript Library, Collegeville. Vol. VI: Project numbers 2001-2500, Collegeville, Minnesota, Hill Monastic Manuscript Library.

Gobäze Baroḵ, Qes, 2007, Beyṯ ha-Kəneseṯ ʾAbūna ʾAbaʾ Ṣabra. Beʾer Ševaʿ [The Abuna Abba Sabra Synagogue. Be’er Sheva], Be’er Sheva, Mulu Gobäze Baroḵ.

Gori, A., 2011, “Ṣäbäl”, in S. Uhlig, A. Bausi (eds.), Encyclopaedia Aethiopica, vol. 4, Wiesbaden, Harrassowitz Verlag, p. 431-432.

HaCohen, R., 2009, Kǝḇod ha-Melaḵim. Ha-ʾEpos ha-Leʾumi ha-ʾEtiyopi [Kebra Nagast. Translated from Geʿez, annotated and introduced by Ran HaCohen], Tel Aviv, Haim Rubin Tel Aviv University Press.

Ḥädanä Təkuyä, Qes, 2011, Mə-Gondar lə-Yerūšalayim. Moṣaʿam, toldoteyhem ve-qorot ḥayeyhem šel Yehūdey ʾEtiyopiyah [From Gondar to Jerusalem: The origin, history and lives of the Jews of Ethiopia], Beit Shemesh, Mishkan.

Heldman, M., Shelemay, K.K., 2017, “Concerning Saint Yared”, in A. McCollum (ed.), Studies in Ethiopian languages, literature, and history. Festschrift for Getatchew Haile presented by his friends and colleagues (Aethiopistische Forschungen 83), Wiesbaden, Harrassowitz Verlag, p. 65-93.

Hirsch, B., 2020, “Le récit des guerres du roi ʿAmda Ṣeyon contre les sultanats islamiques, fiction épique du xve siècle”, Médiévales, 79, p. 91-116.

Hummel, S., 2016, “The disputed Life of the saintly Ethiopian kings ʾAbrǝhā and ʾAṣbǝḥa”, Scrinium, 12, p. 35-72.

Hurni, H., 1982, Klima und Dynamik der Höhenstufung von der letzten Kaltzeit bis zur Gegenwart (Teil II gemeinsam mit Peter Stähli), Bern, Geographica Bernensia.

Hurni, H., 2005, Decentralised development in remote areas of the Simen Mountains, Ethiopia. Dialogue Series, NCCR North-South, Berne, University of Berne.

Kahana, Y., 1977, ʾAḥim šəḥorim. Ḥayim be-qereḇ ha-Falašim [Black brothers. Life among the Falashas], Tel Aviv, Am Oved.

Kaplan, S., 1992, The Beta Israel (Falasha) in Ethiopia. From the earliest times to the twentieth century, New York and London, New York University Press.

Kaplan, S., 2007, “Monasteries”, in S. Uhlig (ed.), Encyclopaedia Aethiopica, vol. 3, Wiesbaden, Harrassowitz Verlag, p. 987-993.

Kaplan, S., 2011a, “Pilgrimages: Christian pilgrimages”, in S. Uhlig, A. Bausi (eds.), Encyclopaedia Aethiopica, vol. 4, Wiesbaden, Harrassowitz Verlag, p. 151-153.

Kaplan, S., 2011b, “Solomonic Dynasty”, in S. Uhlig, A. Bausi (eds.), Encyclopaedia Aethiopica, vol. 4, Wiesbaden, Harrassowitz Verlag, p. 688-690.

Klein, R., 2007, We do not eat meat with the Christians: Interaction and integration between the Beta Israel and Amhara Christians of Gonder, Ethiopia, PhD dissertation, University of Florida.

Kribus, B., 2019, The monasteries of the Betä Ǝsraʾel (Ethiopian Jews), PhD dissertation, Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Kribus, B., 2022, Ethiopian Jewish ascetic religious communities: Built environment and way of life of the Betä Ǝsraʾel, Leeds, ARC Humanities Press.

Kribus, B., forthcoming, “The battlefields of the ‘Ten Lost Tribes’ in Ethiopia. Tracing the geographical and material culture aspects of the wars between the Betä Ǝsraʾel (Ethiopian Jews) and the Christian Solomonic Kingdom”, in A. Knobler, A. Cuffel, D. Stein Kokin (eds.), Proceeding of the Workshop “The Ten Lost Tribes: Cross-cultural perspective”, Bochum, March 2017.

Kribus, B., Krebs, V., 2018, “Betä Ǝsraʾel (Ethiopian Jewish) monastic sites north of Lake ana: Preliminary results of an exploratory field trip to Ethiopia in December 2015”, Entangled Religions, 6, p. 309-344.

Leslau, W., 1947, “A Falasha religious dispute”, Proceedings of the American Academy for Jewish Research, 16, p. 71-95.

Leslau, W., 1974, “Taamrat Emmanuel’s notes on Falasha monks and holy places”, in S. Lieberman, A. Hyman (eds.), Salo Wittmayer Baron jubilee volume, Jerusalem, American Academy for Jewish Research, p. 623-637.

Marrassini, P., 2007, “Kǝbrä nägäśt”, in S. Uhlig (ed.), Encyclopaedia Aethiopica, vol. 3, Wiesbaden, Harrassowitz Verlag, p. 364-368.

Mauerhofer, L., 2016, The geomorphological heritage of the Simen Mountains National Park. Inventory, evaluation and management strategies, MA dissertation, Université de Lausanne.

McEwan, D., 2013, The story of Däräsge Maryam. The history, buildings and treasures of a church compound with a painted church in the Semen Mountains, Vienna, Zurich and Berlin, Lit Verlag.

Nahoum, H., 1908, “Mission chez les Falachas d’Abyssinie”, Bulletin de l’Alliance israélite universelle, 33, p. 100-137.

Niervergelt, B., 1981, Ibexes in an African environment. Ecology and social system of the Walia Ibex in the Simen Mountains, Ethiopia, Berlin, Heidelberg and New York, Springer Verlag.

Nosnitsin, D., 2007, “Krəstos Śämra”, in S. Uhlig (ed.), Encyclopaedia Aethiopica, vol. 3, Wiesbaden, Harrassowitz Verlag, p. 443-445.

Nosnitsin, D., 2015, Veneration of saints in Christian Ethiopia. Proceedings of the international workshop Saints in Christian Ethiopia: Literary Sources and Veneration, Wiesbaden, Harrassowitz Verlag.

Oestigaard, T., Gedef Abawa Firew, 2013, The source of the Blue Nile: Water rituals and traditions in the Lake Tana, Newcastle upon Tyne, Cambridge Scholars Publishing.

Payne, E., 1972, Ethiopian Jews: The story of a mission, London, Olive Press.

Pereira, E., 1892, Chronica de Susenyos, Rei de Ethiopia, vol. 1, Lisbon, Imprensa Nacional.

Perruchon, J.F.C., 1889, “Histoire des guerres d‘ʿAmda-Ṣyon, roi d’Éthiopie”, Journal asiatique, 14, p. 271-363, 381-493.

Phillipson, D.W., 2012, Foundations of an African civilisation. Aksum and the Northern Horn 1000 BC – AD 1300, Rochester, New York, James Currey, Boydell & Brewer Inc.

Quirin, J., 1992, The evolution of the Ethiopian Jews. A history of the Beta Israel (Falasha) to 1920, Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania Press.

Quirin, J., 1993, “Oral traditions as historical sources in Ethiopia: The case of the Beta Israel (Falasha)”, History in Africa, 20, p. 297-312.

Quirin, J., 1998, “Caste and class in historical north-west Ethiopia: The Beta Israel (Falasha) and the Kemant, 1300-1900”, Journal of African History, 39, p. 195-220.

Richman, E., Biniyam Admassu, 2013, Simien Mountains National Park. A traveller’s guidebook, Frankfurt, Frankfurt Zoological Society.

Rosen, F., 1907, Eine deutsche Gesandtschaft in Abessinien. Mit hunterundsechzig Abbildungen und einer Karte, Leipzig, Verlag von Veit & Comp.

Sergew Hable Sellasie, 1972, Ancient and medieval Ethiopian history to 1270, Addis Ababa, United Printers.

Shelemay, K.K., 1989, Music, ritual, and Falasha history, East Lansing, Michigan State University Press.

Šihāb ad-Dīn Aḥmad bin ʿAbd al-Qāder bin Sālem bin ʿUṯmān, 2003, The conquest of Abyssinia [16th century], trans. P.L. Stenhouse, Hollywood, California, Tsehai Publishers and Distributors.

Solomon Gebreyes Beyene, 2019, “The tradition and development of Ethiopic chronicle writing (sixteenth-seventeenth centuries): Production, source, and purpose”, in A. Bausi, A. Camplani, S. Emmel (eds.), Time and history in Africa, Milan, Biblioteca Ambrosiana, p. 145-160.

Stern, H.A., 1862, Wanderings among the Falashas in Abyssinia. Together with a description of the country and its various inhabitants, London, Wertheim, Macintosh and Hunt.

Summerfield, D.P., 2003, From Falashas to Ethiopian Jews. The external influences for Change c. 1860-1960, London and New York, Routledge Curzon.

Täsfa Mikaʾel Gäbrä Śəllase, 1993, ድርሳነ፡ ዑራኤል። ግዕዝና፡ አማርኛ [Dərsanä ʿUraʾel. Gəʿəzənna Amarəñña], Addis Abäba, n. publs.

Tedros Abraha, 2009, “Quotations from Patristic writings and references to early Christian literature in the Books of St. Yared”, Le Muséon, 122, p. 3-4.

Tourny, O., 2009, “‘Kedassie’. A Kemant (Ethiopian Agaw) Ritual”, in S. Ege, H. Aspen, Birhanu Teferra, Shiferaw Bekele (eds.), Proceedings of the 16th International Conference of Ethiopian Studies, vol. 2, Trondheim, Department of Social Anthropology, Norwegian University of Science and Technology, p. 1225-1233.

Tubiana, J., 1955, “Chez les derniers Kemants païens d’Éthiopie. J’ai assisté au sacrifice de Djaguirho”, Sciences et voyages, 110/2, p. 40-47.

Tubiana, J., 1999, “Le grand mythe des Kemant”, in A. Rouaud (ed.), Les orientalistes sont des aventuriers. Guirlande offerte à Joseph Tubiana par ses élèves et ses amis, Saint-Maur, Éditions Sépia, p. 69-85.

Vansina, J., 1985, Oral tradition as history, Madison, Wisconsin, University of Wisconsin Press.

Waldman, Menachem, Rabbi, 1989, Meʿever le-Naharey Kūš. Yehūdey ʾEtiyopiyah ve-ha-ʿAm ha-Yehūdi [Beyond the rivers of Ethiopia. The Jews of Ethiopia and the Jewish people], Tel Aviv, Ministry of Defense.

Wovite Worku Mengisto, Kribus, B., forthcoming, Ḥayim Yehūdiyim bə-Arṣam šel ha-Gidʿonim. Qehilat Beyṯa Yiśraʾel (Yehūdey ʾEtiyopiyah) bə-Harey Səmen [Jewish Life in the Land of the Gideonites: The Betä Ǝsraʾel (Ethiopian Jews) in the Sǝmen Mountains], Tel Aviv, State Corporation of Ethiopian Jewish Heritage Center.

Zelealem Yelew, 2002, “Sociolinguistic survey report of the Kemant (Qimant) language of Ethiopia”, Journal of Language Survey Reports, 2002-031, p. 1-33.

Maps

Hurni, H. et al., Centre for Development and Environment, Institute of Geography, University of Bern. Simen Mountains [map]. Edition 2. 1:100,000. Bern: Stämpfli and Co., 2003.

Ethiopian Mapping Authority. Dima, 1338 A4 [map]. Edition 1. 1:50,000. ETH 4. Addis Ababa: Ethiopian Mapping Authority, 1998.

Facebook sources

የቀጨኔ ደብረ ሰላም መድኀኔዓለምና ደብረ ትጉሃን ቅዱስ ገብርኤል ቤተ ክርስቲያን ፍኖተ ሕይወት ሰንበት ትምህርት ቤት [The Qechene Debre Selam Medhanialem and Debre Teguhan Qeddus Gabriel Church Fenota Heywot Sunday School]. (n.d.). In Facebook [Facebook Page]. Retrieved June 2, 2020, from https://www.facebook.com/1620932764891482/photos/pcb.2013802145604540/2013802058937882/?type=3&theater

Phillip Socrates. (n.d.). In Facebook [Facebook Page]. Retrieved September 14, 2020, from https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=263794938046401

Phillip Socrates. (n.d.). In Facebook [Facebook Page]. Retrieved July 14, 2021, from https://www.facebook.com/kemantemanucipationnetwork/photos/230144921757704

YouTube videos

Ethiopian Orthodox Täwaḥədo Church (EOTC) TV channel on YouTube, 31 October 2019: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yBitU3r4Jz0, last accessed June 2, 2020.

Ethiopian Orthodox Täwaḥədo Church (EOTC) TV channel on YouTube, 14 March 2020, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GvBbeSP69ck, last accessed June 2, 2020.

Ethiopian Orthodox Täwaḥədo Church (EOTC) TV channel on YouTube, 18 March 2020, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=39ZwyKqiy1U, last accessed June 2, 2020.

Ahaz tube TV channel on YouTube, 12 April 2020, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p89av9, last accessed June 2, 2020.

Haut de page

Notes

1 We define the term “local saint” as referring to saints who were traditionally active in Ethiopia and whose veneration originated there. The national church of Ethiopia, which is today officially known as the Ethiopian Orthodox Täwaḥədo Church, will be referred to here as the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.

2 The transliteration system of the Encyclopaedia Aethiopica will be used for terms in Ethiopian languages throughout this paper. Modern Ethiopian personal names will appear as they are commonly spelled by the individual in question or appear in publications.

3 The Christian sites dedicated to St. Yared in the Sǝmen have not been, to the best of our knowledge, mentioned in scholarly literature at all. Only one brief mention in an academic publication of the Betä Ǝsraʾel site associated with this holy man exists: W. Leslau, 1974, p. 637; see also reference to this mention in Sh. Ben-Dor, 1985, p. 48.

4 In the past the term Fälaša has been widely used to refer to the Betä Ǝsraʾel, but this term is considered derogatory and is hence no longer commonly used.

5 S. Dege-Müller, B. Kribus, 2021.

6 The Solomonic dynasty derives its name from its traditional descent from King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. The last of its monarchs, Ḫaylä Śǝllase I, was overthrown in 1974. See S. Kaplan, 2011b.

7 For a detailed overview on this process, see S. Kaplan, 1992, p. 79-96; J. Quirin, 1992, p. 40-88.

8 Betä Ǝsraʾel oral tradition is a rich source of central importance in shedding light on their past—and for many aspects of their history and religious life, the only sources available. The same holds true for many minority groups in Ethiopia, including the Kǝmant. However, using oral traditions to better understand past events poses considerable methodological challenges: Such traditions are commonly recorded centuries after the events they describe, and they tend to evolve to fit changing ideals or needs. In the case of the Betä Ǝsraʾel, the need to respond to criticism regarding their religious practices has certainly had an impact on their oral traditions. Nevertheless, aspects of Betä Ǝsraʾel oral tradition, when examined critically and insofar as they correspond with information provided by written sources, have been invaluable in shedding light on this community’s pre-modern past. See, for example, J. Quirin, 1993. For an overview on the usage of oral traditions as historical sources in Ethiopian Studies and of methodological issues involved, see A. Meckelburg, S. Dege-Müller 2018. In the present study, we examine such oral traditions mainly to shed light on concepts and discourse of the religious groups addressed and their expressions in the holy sites under study. We do not address the degree of historicity of the events described in these traditions or attempt to draw conclusions, based solely on oral accounts, regarding the distant past.

9 For examples of mentions of these wars in Solomonic royal chronicles, see C. Conti Rossini, 1907, p. 84-113; E. Pereira, 1892, p. 150-153, 155-156, 278-279, 280-284. For a general overview on this literary genre with reference to its chronology and characteristics, see Solomon Gebreyes Beyene, 2019. For an overview of texts written by Middle Eastern and European Jews mentioning these wars, see M. Waldman, 1989, p. 35-91. For descriptions of these wars in books written by Betä Ǝsraʾel priests and based on the Betä Ǝsraʾel oral tradition, see Qes Asres Yayeh, 1995, p. 123-134; Qes Ḥädanä Təkuyä, 2011, p. 71-83. A few Portuguese accounts (see, for example, M. Almeida, 1907, p. 442-444) and one Islamic chronicle (Šihāb ad-Dīn Aḥmad, 2003, p. 378-379) also mention the Betä Ǝsraʾel – Solomonic wars and Betä Ǝsraʾel political autonomy.

10 One example is the involvement of the Betä Ǝsraʾel leader Gedewon in the succession struggles that would culminate with the rise of Susǝnyos to the Solomonic throne. See S. Kaplan, 1992, p. 88-91.

11 See, for example, S. Kaplan, 1992, p. 57-59; J. Quirin, 1992, p. 52-57.

12 See, for example, Y. Kahana, 1977, p. 112, 154.

13 Däǧǧazmač Wǝbe Ḫaylä Maryam was governor of the Sǝmen and surrounding regions from 1826 and of Sǝmen and Tǝgray from 1835 to 1855. See D. McEwan, 2013, p. 16-25. On the traditions attributing a Betä Ǝsraʾel descent to him, see J. Quirin, 1992, p. 106, 118, 138-139.

14 Two academic articles on the topic of Betä Ǝsraʾel holy sites were published prior to the survey, based mainly on accounts provided by members of the Betä Ǝsraʾel community. See Sh. Ben-Dor, 1985; W. Leslau, 1974.

15 The earliest known historiographic texts of the Betä Ǝsraʾel date to the late 19th century. See S. Dege-Müller, 2020b; W. Leslau, 1947. In recent years, several publications narrating Betä Ǝsraʾel oral traditions have been compiled by members of this community. See, for example, Qes Gobäze Baroḵ, 2007; Qes Ḥädanä Təkuyä, 2011.

16 The term “oral history” refers to accounts relating to the narrator’s personal memories and lifetime. The term “oral tradition” refers to narrations that are repeated from generation to generation (A. Meckelburg, S. Dege-Müller, D. Bustorf, 2018, p. 3-4; J. Vansina, 1985, p. 12-14).

17 D. McEwan, 2013.

18 The survey was conducted under the auspices of the ERC project “Jews and Christians in the East: Strategies of Interaction between the Mediterranean and the Indian Ocean” (JewsEast) at the Center for Religious Studies of the Ruhr University, Bochum, Germany, and the Institute of Archaeology of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel, and in collaboration with and under the supervision of the Ethiopian Authority for Research and Conservation of Cultural Heritage (ARCCH). A preparatory field trip in December 2015, led by Bar Kribus and Verena Krebs, was followed by two survey seasons, in October 2017 and October 2019, led by the present authors. Fieldwork took place mainly in the regions of Səmen, Wägära, and Dämbəya. For a detailed overview of the survey and the sites examined in its course, see B. Kribus, 2019; 2021; B. Kribus, V. Krebs, 2018.

19 The only archaeological study of Betä Ǝsraʾel sites published prior to our research was the excavations conducted by Rebecca Klein in the former Betä Ǝsraʾel village of Abwara (R. Klein, 2007).

20 Significant, in this regard, is the fact that many Betä Ǝsraʾel served as artisans, manufacturing pottery and metal tools that were purchased and used by non-Betä Ǝsraʾel inhabitants of the respective regions. Thus, such items manufactured by the Betä Ǝsraʾel are also found in abundance in non-Betä Ǝsraʾel sites and cannot serve to identify a site as affiliated with the Betä Ǝsraʾel.

21 The only attempt ever made prior to the immigration of the community to systematically record the location of Betä Ǝsraʾel villages, the World ORT Census of 1976, produced a schematic map, devoid of topography and a geographical coordinate system (unpublished), on which several of the villages are marked. However, due to its inaccuracy, the map is indicative of the general, rather than the precise location of these sites. It does not include Betä Ǝsraʾel-related sites that were not villages, such as holy sites.

22 A field trip was planned for 2021 and preparations made, but it was ultimately decided not to embark on fieldwork due to the security situation in the region at the time.

23 S.Dege-Müller, B. Kribus, 2021.

24 See R. HaCohen, 2009; P. Marrassini, 2007. For an examination of the Betä Ǝsraʾel versions of this tradition and the ways in which they are in dialogue with the Ethiopian Orthodox version, see J. Abbink, 1990.

25 See, for example, Qes Ḥädanä Təkuyä, 2011, p. 71-72. This, of course, differs from the Ethiopian Orthodox perspective, which sees Christianity as the culmination of the biblical, Israelite religion.

26 For a discussion on sources mentioning Gäbrä Mäsqäl and his association with Yared, see M. Heldman, K.K. Shelemay, 2017, p. 70-78.

27 For an overview of these events, see G. Bowersock, 2013.

28 Kǝbrä Nägäśt 117. See R. HaCohen, 2009, p. 284-285; Sergew Hable Sellassie, 1972, p. 159-160.

29 Getatchew Haile, 1982, p. 319-320; S. Kaplan, 1992, p. 39.

30 Getatchew Haile, 2017 highlights the different qualities of the five known manuscripts containing the Gädlä Yared and argues that the texts about Yared cannot be considered a Gädl in the classical sense, as the traditions differ too much and do not present a uniform text. He comes to the conclusion that a new edition is needed, which should use EMML 1844 as “base text” (p. 280).

31 A. d’Abbadie, 1895, p. 219-220.

32 Tedros Abraha, 2009, p. 331; Getatchew Haile, 2017, p. 280. The manuscript was copied for d’Abbadie. See M. Heldman, K.K. Shelemay, 2017, p. 70. While it was common practice by travellers to commission manuscript copies, these copies did not always yield the best results, as the scribes were not always experts; see S. Dege-Müller, 2020a, p. 26.

33 Getatchew Haile, W. Macomber, 1982, p. 67-68. The manuscript is accessible online through the reading room at vhmml.org. The EMML (Ethiopian Manuscript Microfilm Library) is hosted at the HMML (Hill Museum and Manuscript Library) in St. John’s University, Minnesota.

34 A. Brita, 2010, p. 57-58. The Nine Saint are acclaimed for the “Second Christianization” of Ethiopia. The elite of the early Ethiopian state (the Kingdom of Aksum) embraced the Christian faith in the mid-4th century. The Nine Saints, according to tradition, arrived in the 5th–6th centuries in this kingdom from different parts of the Byzantine Empire and were instrumental in spreading Christianity to its rural hinterland. The degree to which the traditions dealing with these saints reflect historical events is subject to scholarly debate.

35 Scholars have pointed out the gradual development of Ethiopian liturgical music, and the chronological gap between the Aksumite setting of the Yared traditions and the earliest known manuscripts containing such accounts (see, for example, Getatchew Haile, 2017; M. Heldman, K.K. Shelemay, 2017).

36 See C. Conti Rossini, 1904.

37 Gedewon is the Ethiopic form of the biblical name Gideon.

38 Disappearing is a common topos for Ethiopian holy men and women.

39 Abbebe Desie, 2016, p. 113.

40 Abbebe Desie, 2016, p. 18.

41 C. Conti Rossini, 1904, p. 20.

42 Getatchew Haile, 2017, discusses the quality of this manuscript EMML 1844 (p. 280). The manuscript is accessible online through the reading room at vhmml.org.

43 Getatchew Haile, 2017, p. 272, quoting EMML 1844, fol. 186rb.

44 For the Kǝmant, see F. Gamst, 2003; J. Quirin, 1998. For an overview regarding the scholarly debate on the development and early history of the Betä Ǝsraʾel, see J. Abbink, 1990; S. Kaplan, 1992, p. 13-43, 53-78; J. Quirin, 1992, p. 7-30.

45 D. Appleyard, 2003. Chloé Darmon has worked on the relations between the Agäw and Amharic languages. This research, however, remains unpublished for the moment. We thank the anonymous reviewer for this information.

46 We extend our thanks to Anaïs Wion for sharing this information with us. The textual similarities of these two texts have also been noticed by Asfaw Tilahun Feleke, who just recently finished his thesis studying the Zuramba manuscript. We are grateful to him for sharing the relevant sections from his thesis with us. Since his thesis is still unpublished, we refer to his elaborations here: https://cfee.hypotheses.org/2639.

47 S. Hummel 2016; Amsalu Tefera 2018.

48 Täsfa Mikaʾel Gäbrä Śəllase, 1992/93, p. 262, for the month of Säne. Sergew Hable Sellasie, 1972, p. 166 re-narrates a similar story (most probably based on oral traditions), which relates that the group spend two full years on the island of Ṭana Qirqos. A similar version is also reported by M. Heldman, K.K. Shelemay, 2017, p. 67-68, fn. 8. We extend our thanks to Kay Kaufman Shelemay for sharing her notes on Yared with us.

49 Täsfa Mikaʾel Gäbrä Śǝllase 1992, p. 262, EMML 7619, fol. 12ra; our translation.

50 The Geʿez and Amharic term qes is currently used both among the Betä Ǝsraʾel and among the Ethiopian Orthodox to refer to priests.

51 After providing reference to Qes Bǝrhan’s narration, Quirin states: “in less detail, another Beta Israel informant said both Kaleb and Gabra Masqal fought wars against the Beta Israel”, in reference to Qes Mənase’s narration. Thus, it seems that the Yared tradition documented by Quirin is based primarily on Qes Bǝrhan’s account.

52 J. Quirin, 1992, p. 25.

53 J. Abbink, 1990, p. 416-420; Qes Ḥädanä Təkuyä, 2011, p. 71-77; Getatchew Haile, 1982, p. 319-320; J. Quirin, 1992, p. 21-26.

54 See, for example, C. Conti Rossini, 1907, p. 108, 152-154; Pereira, E., 1892, p. 151-152, 271, 281-283.

55 Getatchew Haile, 1982, p. 319-320, who was, as far as we can tell, unaware of the Betä Ǝsraʾel Yared traditions but was aware of the significance of the name Gedewon with regards to Betä Ǝsraʾel kingship, dated the reign of an Ethiopian monarch by the name of Gäbrä Mäsqäl to the 9th century. He suggested that the name Gedewon, in the Ethiopian Orthodox Yared traditions, may reflect an historical figure who, at a time of religious strife between supporters of Christianity and monotheists who resisted religious reforms, departed from the capital to more peripheral areas together with his followers. He associates the latter with the Betä Ǝsraʾel. J. Quirin, 1992, p. 25, following Getatchew Haile, raises the possibility that the historical Yared either joined or established a group in the Səmen associated with the Betä Ǝsraʾel.

56 In accordance with the norms of ethnographic research, we will maintain the anonymity of our informants to maintain their privacy, with the exception of scholars contributing information. Names of historical individuals who are no longer living, as well as names of individuals mentioned in full in scholarly literature, will be mentioned here.

57 The interview was conducted by Bar Kribus and Tadela Takele, 14 March 2017. The account was narrated in Hebrew; our translation.

58 This term was used both by the Ethiopian Orthodox and by the Betä Ǝsraʾel. See A. Damon-Guillot, 2014; K.K. Shelemay, 1989.

59 For a detailed overview on the mäloksewočč, their way of life, religious functions, and leadership roles, see B. Kribus, 2022.

60 For an overview on the decline of this institution, see S. Kaplan, 1992, p. 150-151; B. Kribus, 2022, p. 22-26.

61 Among the Betä Ǝsraʾel, some holy individuals were considered prophets and hence referred to by the title näbiyy (prophet); see Sh. Ben-Dor, 1987, p. 9, 11, 16, 29; J.M. Flad, 1869, p. 36-38.

62 This was related to us by Abeje Medhanie, a historian and member of the Betä Ǝsraʾel community.

63 For the complete, detailed narrations, see Wovite Worku Mengisto, Kribus, forthcoming.

64 ʿEzana is the 4th-century Aksumite monarch who was the first such monarch to officially embrace Christianity. His conversion is attested in Aksumite inscriptions dated to his reign, and related events are described in Byzantine texts. See D. Phillipson, 2012, p. 93-102.

65 Torah is the Hebrew term for the Pentateuch, the Five Books of Moses. In Hebrew, the language in which the interview was carried out, the term “staying true to the Torah” is often (as in this case) used in reference to staying true to the Jewish faith.

66 The Sǝmen Mountains were formed due to volcanic activity—much of the Sǝmen constitutes the eroded remains of a Hawaiian-type shield volcano. Qəddus Yared is located near the volcanic centre, and Ras Dašän and Bwaḥit along its outer core. See L. Mauerhofer, 2016, p. 60; E. Richman, Biniyam Admassu, 2013, p. 17-19.

67 The location of several relevant localities in the Sǝmen that do not appear on this map were kindly indicated to us by Prof. Hans Hurni, who is currently working on an updated edition of the map.

68 A. Gori, 2011; S. Kaplan, 2011a; D. Nosnitsin, 2015.

69 For an overview of Betä Ǝsraʾel holy sites and pilgrimage to such sites, with specific examples, see Sh. Ben-Dor, 1985; W. Leslau, 1974; B. Kribus, 2019.

70 According to the Betä Ǝsraʾel religious tradition, Betä Ǝsraʾel holy sites can only be accessed by Jews, and only after purification and prayer. Any violation of this is seen as significantly harming the sanctity of the site. From our experience, Betä Ǝsraʾel holy sites can easily be viewed from outside the sanctified area without violating their sanctity. We implore anyone wishing to visit such sites to respect the rules of conduct of the Betä Ǝsraʾel community.

For an examination of the role of purity in different religious traditions and contexts, see M. Douglas, 2003.

71 በኅቡእ፡ ወበክቡት።, C. Conti Rossini, 1904, p. 22.

72 Sergew Hable Sellasie, 1972, p. 166; Oestigaard, Gedef Abawa Firew, 2013, p. 77.

73 When trekking the vicinity of the sites dedicated to Yared in the Səmen Mountains National Park, local guides, scouts, or cooks occasionally speak about Yared’s cave, where he disappeared, or even ask for permission to leave to visit his site to fetch some holy water. Personal communication with Marco Degasper (14 May 2020) and with Lukas Mauerhofer (20 May 2020).

74 The first three are films that were produced for the Ethiopian Orthodox Täwaḥədo Church (EOTC) TV channel on YouTube: 31 October 2019: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yBitU3r4Jz0 last accessed 2 June 2020; 14 March 2020: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GvBbeSP69ck last accessed 2 June 2020; 18 March 2020: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=39ZwyKqiy1U last accessed 2 June 2020, the latter two provided the most useful information. The fourth is a film produced for Ahaz tube on YouTube, 12 April 2020: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p89av9ABXsA last accessed 2 June 2020.

75 Amba is a Gəʿəz word used to refer to a mountain, often of table-top shape.

76 We could not yet establish the connection between these two saints, or why Krəstos Sämra is also venerated at this site. However, Krəstos Śämra, who flourished in the 14th/15th century, is also associated with Ṭana Qirqos (like Yared), and her veneration saw a new impetus in the 19th century with new sites being associated with her in very different parts of the country. See D. Nosnitsin, 2007, p. 445a.

77 Mummification is common as a natural phenomenon in the Ethiopian Highlands, mostly due to the very dry weather conditions and low humidity. Here in the high altitudes, the low temperatures might also have supported the mummification process. Another site in Gondär, called Ǝnənum Abo, shares a similar oral tradition: a cave filled with bodies of holy people (personal communication with Sisay Sahile, 26 May 2020).

78 Most probably from the chamber with the holy spring (personal communication with Abebe Asfaw, 30 May 2020; he further narrates a prophecy about Yared, according to which there will be a pandemic virus and those who have his ash will be spared from it.)

79 The etymology of the word Hoč̣č̣o has not been established. There is a place on the trekking map called “Hoch”, but its location is further to the east on another mountain, overlooking the valley of Sägänät—which in the past seems to have been the central seat of Betä Ǝsraʾel rulers; see below.

80 https://www.facebook.com/1620932764891482/photos/pcb.2013802145604540/2013802058937882/?type=3&theater, last accessed 2 June 2020.

81 This is the number of hours indicated in the documentaries.

82 See images in H. Hurni, 1982, p. 91. This was also reported by Marco Degasper (14 May 2020), and by Hans Hurni (26 May 2020) in private communications.

83 This tradition was told to Hans Hurni in 1975 by a local man, near Bwaḥit pass (personal communication from Hans Hurni, 19 May 2020); cp. also B. Niervergelt, 1981, p. 35.

84 W. Leslau, 1974, p. 637.

85 Qes Asres Yayeh, 1995, p. 60-61.

86 Qes Ḥädanä Təkuyä, 2011, p. 66.

87 The qes uses the Hebrew term Roš ha-Šanah, which refers to the Jewish holiday of New Year.

88 Qes Ḥädanä Təkuyä, 2011, p. 59.

89 See Wovite Worku Mengisto, Kribus, forthcoming.

90 Qes Ḥädanä Təkuyä, 2011, p. 62. For an overview on the various traditions relating to Abba Ṣəbra, see Sh. Ben-Dor, 1985, p. 41-45; B. Kribus, 2019, p. 117-130.

91 Qes Ḥädanä Təkuyä, 2011, p. 64. The Hebrew script in which the name of this locality is written ('אבראג) is unvocalized. Therefore, the precise pronunciation of this name cannot be ascertained based on this text alone.

92 See, for example, Sh. Ben-Dor, 1985, p. 43.

93 Qes Gobäze Baroḵ, 2007, p. 6 (Amharic section), p. 4 (Hebrew section).

94 In actuality, Betä Ǝsraʾel mäloksewočč would refrain from physical contact with any member of the Betä Ǝsraʾel laity and with any non-Betä Ǝsraʾel. Objects touched by the laity would, at least in some cases, have to be purified in order to be touched by Betä Ǝsraʾel mäloksewočč. The mäloksewočč could only accept raw material for food preparation from the laity and could only eat food prepared by themselves or other mäloksewočč. See B. Kribus 2019, p. 106-108; H. A. Stern, 1862, p. 196-197, 251.

95 In this section, Nahoum refers to the mäloksewočč as priests (kahən is the Ethiopic term for priest). It is clear that he is referring to mäloksewočč, since he mentions that the priests in question are unmarried and ascetic (H. Nahoum, 1908, p. 123), and among the Betä Ǝsraʾel, marriage was a condition for initiation into the lay priesthood. See J. M. Flad, 1869, p. 35. The reference to Betä Ǝsraʾel mäloksewočč as priests is not surprising, since numerous sources do not distinguish between these two offices. See, for example, J. Faitlovitch, 1910, p. 70-73. And indeed, one of the unique features of the Betä Ǝsraʾel mäloksewočč is that they served as a high priesthood. See B. Kribus, 2019b.

96 H. Nahoum, 1908, p. 123.

97 See S. Dege-Müller, B. Kribus, 2021, p. 269-271.

98 The name of this locality is most likely a form of the name “Fälašoččge”, which literally means “the place of the Fälaša”. “Fälaša” is a term that was commonly used to refer to the Betä Ǝsraʾel but is at present seldom used due to its having acquired derogatory connotations.

99 See Wovite Worku Mengisto, B. Kribus, forthcoming.

100 See Y. Kahana, 1977, p. 154-155; B. Kribus, V. Krebs, 2018, p. 326-327.

101 See S. Dege-Müller, B. Kribus, forthcoming; B. Kribus, 2019, p. 165-168; W. Leslau, 1974, p. 629.

102 Personal communication with Selamawit FsHa.

103 F. Gamst, 1969; J. Tubiana, 1955; 1999. We would like to thank the anonymous reviewer for bringing Tubiana’s publications to our attention.

104 J. Quirin, 1998; O. Tourny, 2009.

105 Zelealem Yelew, who studied the Kǝmant language, states: “I suspect that the Kemant religion will die out even before the Kemant language,” as he encountered only five people that still claimed to follow the Kǝmant religion. See Zelealem Yelew, 2002, p. 8. It is only our speculation, but since the Kǝmant are currently engaged in a struggle for autonomy, this number may have risen.

106 F. Gamst, 1969, p. 35, 37. In Ethiopian Orthodox Christianity, the title qəddus is also used to refer to angels.

107 F. Gamst, 1969, p. 27-28, 35; J. Tubiana, 1955.

108 F. Gamst, 1969, p. 27 states that such prayer houses were built to prevent Christians from viewing Kǝmant ceremonies.

109 In an Amharic account (more detailed than the one quoted here) written by the same activist, this term is spelled ǝgälbuna. See Philip Socrates, 14 July 2021, https://www.facebook.com/kemantemanucipationnetwork/photos/230144921757704

110 Philip Socrates, 14 July 2020, https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=263794938046401

111 Pictures can be found in F. Rosen, 1907, p. 457 and H. Hurni, 2005, p. 25, 26, 27.

112 F. Rosen, 1907, p. 458; H. Hurni, 2005, p. 15, with a picture of the church on p. 24.

113 Personal communication with Guesh Solomon, 2021. H. Hurni, 2005, p. 14 states that Gilbena is the former capital of the Ṣällämt wäräda.

114 The source commonly recognized in scholarship as the earliest to mention a group indisputably associated with the Betä Ǝsraʾel and residing in the Səmen is the chronicle of the Solomonic monarch ʿAmdä Ṣǝyon (13141344). See J.F.C. Perruchon 1889, p. 293. For a recent study questioning this source’s historicity, see B. Hirsch, 2020.

115 See, for example, E. Pereira, 1900, p. 151-152, 271, 283.

116 For a discussion regarding the locations and characteristics of these strongholds, see B. Kribus, forthcoming.

117 M.-L. Derat, 2003; S. Kaplan, 2007, p. 988-989.

118 C. Conti Rossini, 1907, p. 99; our translation.

119 Examples include the towns of Däbrä Tabor (Mt. Tabor), Däbrä Sina (Mt. Sinai), and Nazret (Nazareth) and the monastery of Däbrä Ṣǝyon (Mt. Zion). In the case of the Ethiopian Orthodox holy town of Lalibäla (Roḥa), several elements are named after different holy sites in Jerusalem and its vicinity, as part of an endeavour to define this town as a second Jerusalem. See N. Finneran, 2007.

120 S. Kaplan, 1992, p. 87 suggests that this act was viewed both as asserting Rädaʾi’s sovereignty over the Səmen and as a challenge to Śärṣä Dǝngǝl’s claim to be a successor of the biblical King Solomon (a central source of legitimacy of the monarchs of the Solomonic dynasty).

121 J. Abbink, 1990.

Haut de page

Table des illustrations

Titre Fig. 1: The regions formerly inhabited by the Betä Ǝsraʾel, with the Sǝmen Mountains highlighted
Crédits Map created by Bar Kribus)
URL http://journals.openedition.org/afriques/docannexe/image/3564/img-1.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 247k
Titre Fig. 2: Yared’s foot being pierced by Gäbrä Mäsqäl’s staff; the three heavenly birds sit in the tree above
Crédits Private collection, Oxford, photo from Mäzgäbä Səəlat, by Ewa Balicka-Witakowska.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/afriques/docannexe/image/3564/img-2.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 487k
Titre Fig. 3: The Sǝmen Mountains and surrounding regions
Crédits Map created by Bar Kribus.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/afriques/docannexe/image/3564/img-3.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 1,2M
Titre Fig. 4: The northern ridgeline of the Sǝmen, viewed from Č̣ənəq, 2017
Crédits Photo taken by Sophia Dege-Müller.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/afriques/docannexe/image/3564/img-4.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 223k
Titre Fig. 5: Ethiopian Orthodox monastic and ecclesiastical centers in which St. Yared is venerated
Crédits Map created by Bar Kribus.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/afriques/docannexe/image/3564/img-5.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 197k
Titre Fig. 6: Sites associated with Yared
Crédits Map created by Bar Kribus.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/afriques/docannexe/image/3564/img-6.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 1,1M
Titre Fig. 7: Ras Dašän and the Heights of Bäyäda, viewed from the vicinity of the Bwaḥit Pass, 2017
Crédits Photo taken by Sophia Dege-Müller.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/afriques/docannexe/image/3564/img-7.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 244k
Titre Fig. 8: The ridge on which the peaks of Abba Yared and Qəddus Yared are located, viewed from the vicinity of the Bwaḥit Pass, 2017
Crédits Photo taken by Sophia Dege-Müller.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/afriques/docannexe/image/3564/img-8.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 356k
Titre Fig. 9: Sites dedicated to St. Yared and Betä Ǝsraʾel strongholds mentioned in Susǝnyos’ chronicle
Crédits Map created by Bar Kribus.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/afriques/docannexe/image/3564/img-9.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 1005k
Haut de page

Pour citer cet article

Référence électronique

Bar Kribus et Sophia Dege-Müller, « St. Yared in the Sǝmen Mountains of northern Ethiopia: The Ethiopian Orthodox and Betä Ǝsraʾel (Ethiopian Jewish) religious sites »Afriques [En ligne], 13 | 2022, mis en ligne le 21 décembre 2022, consulté le 01 février 2023. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/afriques/3564 ; DOI : https://doi.org/10.4000/afriques.3564

Haut de page

Auteurs

Bar Kribus

Ruhr University, Bochum (Germany)

Sophia Dege-Müller

Ruhr University, Bochum (Germany)

Haut de page

Droits d’auteur

CC-BY-NC-ND-4.0

Creative Commons - Attribution - Pas d'Utilisation Commerciale - Pas de Modification 4.0 International - CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/

Haut de page
  • Logo Institut des mondes africains
  • DOAJ - Directory of Open Access Journals
  • Revue soutenue par l’Institut des sciences humaines et sociales du CNRS
    CNRS - Institut national des sciences humaines et sociales
  • OpenEdition Journals
Rechercher dans OpenEdition Search

Vous allez être redirigé vers OpenEdition Search