Posts Tagged ‘Ge’ez’

The Language of Ancient Sheba in Yemen

January 14, 2016

Sheba Solomon Islam

Persian painting of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba, from the poems of Farid al-Din Attar, 1472.

Yemen is the location of the ancient kingdom of Sheba, whose Queen is mentioned in both the Bible and the Qu’ran as having visited King Solomon. In the Bible, he tested her with hard questions, which some commenters believe were riddles. In Islam, Solomon wished to know whether she and her people worshipped God – Allah – or the sun. The kingdom of Sheba itself was located at Marib. Archaeologists have excavated a pre-Islamic religious sanctuary, the Mahram Bilqis, which is named after her. Bilqis is the name given to her in Muslim legend, though she is not named in the Qu’ran. The sanctuary, mahram, has been associated with her since the rise of Islam in the 7th century AD.

In addition to the remains of its buildings, and great feats of architectural engineering, such as a magnificent dam intended to provide the country with much needed water, archaeologists have also uncovered a number of inscriptions, and have been able to reconstruct this ancient civilisation’s language. It’s
Semitic, and so is related to Hebrew and Arabic, and was part of a family of languages spoken in the five or so different kingdoms that existed in south Arabia before the rise of Islam. As a South Arabian language, it is one of the ancestors of Ge’ez, the ancient literary and religious language of Ethiopia, which was colonised by settlers from that part of Arabia. In Ethiopian legend, Solomon and the Queen of Sheba married, and the Queen later travelled to Ethiopia, where she became the founder of the Abyssinian monarchy, according to their national epic, the Kebra Nagast, or ‘Glory of Kings’.

The linguistic remains have been so complete, that a dictionary of the Sabaic language, by A.F.L. Beeston, W.W. Muller, M.A. Ghul and J.Ryckmans, was published by the University of Sanaa in Yemen in 1982.

Sabaic Dictionary Front

Sabaic Dictionary Arabic

Here’s a short list of some words from that ancient tongue. As a Semitic language, like ancient Hebrew and Arabic, on the consonants were written, so the actual pronunciation is unclear.

Affair, matter, undertaking, ‘kln
Blood, Dm
Body, person, grbt
Camel, ‘bl
Cattle, Bqr
Cultivated field, Dbr
Famine, ‘wfy-n
Father, ancestor, ‘bw
Folk, people, community, ‘hl
Garden, orchard, gnt
To give, to grant, ‘dw
Goats, ‘nz
God, ‘l
Goddess, ‘lht
Grain crops, corn, meal, ‘kl
Grandchild, Hfd
Health, prosperity, Bry
Land, territory,
country, cultivated Ground, ‘rd
Man, male, ‘ns
Mother, ‘mm
Place, occasion, Brt
Sea, coast, plain, Bhr
Servant, serf, ‘bd
Sheep, D’n
Son, daughter, child,
descendant, family member, Bnw
To take, to seize, to capture, ‘hd
Woman, female, wife, ‘nt
World, ‘lm.

My fear is that the war in Syria will lead to the destruction of Yemen’s ancient monuments and its invaluable archaeological remains, either through ordinary military action, or a deliberate act of destruction by ISIS. Daesh have done their best to destroy the ancient pre-Islamic heritage of the other nations they’ve taken over, in part of Iraq and Syria, as well as the religious shrines, monuments and mosques of Muslims they judge to be of the ‘wrong’ faith, like the Shi’a and ordinary, moderate Muslims. Quite apart from the horrors and death inflicted on the Yemeni people themselves in this conflict. Remember, the civilian casualties in the Saudi drone strikes, aided by America, are 50% +. The Yemeni people have a brilliant, fascinating past, and like its people, it needs to be protected.

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ISIS Atrocity in Yemen

March 21, 2015

Yesterday came the news that a suicide bomber had killed forty people at a mosque in Yemen. The country is currently torn in a civil war between its Sunni population and government, and the Houthi tribe, who are Shia. It was first feared that the bomber was a member of the latter. He wasn’t. Nor was he a member al-Qaeda, who were also initially suspected of involvement.

It was ISIS, yet again.

This is extremely disturbing. It’s not just that forty innocents were murdered and a house of worship desecrated for no other reason than that they and it belonged to a different faith, though this is bad enough. It’s because ISIS also attempts to destroy the very culture, including the ancient monuments, of the peoples it conquers and rules. I’ve blogged several times this week, including today, about the cult’s destruction of the Assyrian antiquities in Iraq, their smashing of art treasures in a museum in Mosul, the bulldozing of the ancient Assyrian city of Nimrod and their destruction of the mosques and shrines to the Patriarch Seth, revered in Islam as the Prophet Sheth, St. George, also revered in Islam as Jerjis, and the Prophet Jonah, known in the Qu’ran as Yunus. They also attempted to demolish one of the earliest minarets built in Iraq, but were fortunately prevented by the local people.

Yemen is also vulnerable to this destruction. It is, like the rest of the Middle East, a country with ancient and rich history. The city of Marib was the capital of the ancient South Arabian civilisation of Saba, known in the Bible as Sheba, whose queen visited King Solomon to test him with ‘hard questions’. This episode is also mentioned in the Qu’ran, and the Muslim name for the Queen is ‘Bilqis’. According to the chapter in the Qu’ran, the Surat al-Naml, which means ‘The Ants’ in English, Solomon could understand the language of birds. He was brought news of the Queen of Sheba by the hoopoe. the same sura also describes the destruction of the town’s great dam, the remains of which are still extant. The South Arabian languages spoken in the Gulf are also the origin of the modern majority languages of Ethiopia, Amharic, Tigre, and Tigrinya, which are all descended from the medieval language, Ge’ez. And the Ethiopian people themselves in their national epic, the Kebra Nagast, or ‘Glory of Kings’, traced their descent from King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba.

The British Museum has a gallery devoted to the ancient cultures of Yemen, and a little while ago they staged an exhibition of its antiquities and the archaeology of this rich and ancient country. Any attack on these would be yet another blow against adab and the culture, not only of Islam and the Arabs, but of the world.

Evolution, Race and African Civilisation: A Remedial Course for Kippers

June 27, 2014

A few days ago I reblogged a piece from Still Laughing At UKIP, reporting the massive racial abuse and vilification directed against the Labour MP, Chuka Umunna, by the Kippers on Facebook after he had the audacity to observe that they weren’t actually very good at spelling and grammar. The article’s ‘Racism. Uncontrolled, Mass Racism’, and it’s at http://stilllaughingattheukip.wordpress.com/2014/06/23/racism-uncontrolled-mass-racism/, if you want to check it out for yourself. The racist remarks reported by the Kipper Smoker include the crass, racial insults of ‘monkeys’ and ‘spear chuckers’ to describe Blacks, as well as remarks that people of ancient African extraction are ‘uncivilised’. So let’s go through a few facts about evolution and African civilisation, just to straighten the record.

Archaic Features in First Human Colonists in Europe Compared to Africa

The comments about ‘monkey’s recalls the daft and dangerous racial hierarchies Europeans drew up in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, which placed White Europeans at the top of the evolutionary ladder as the apex of human evolution, and Blacks at the bottom. The lowest rung was occupied by Aboriginal Australians. Below them were Orang-Utans, which Europeans were originally unsure whether they were human or apes. Science has overturned this classification, and I cannot see any modern, ethical archaeological department ever endorsing such claims that certain sections of the human species are inferior to Whites, no matter what the authors of the infamous ‘Bell Curve’ may claim about innate differences in cognitive ability between different ethnic groups.

It is true that physiologically Aboriginal Australians have many archaic features, such as a pronounced brow ridge. This is hardly surprising considering just how ancient these people are, having colonised the continent about 40,000 years ago. They are, however, just as human as every other part of the human race. Their facial features are also very close to those of the ancestral humans that colonised Europe at about the same time. Skeletons showing Australian Aboriginal characteristics from that remote epoch have been found in Southern France. A little while ago I went to a seminar at Uni taken by an American professor, who was one of the world’s greatest authorities on early man and the Neanderthals. He pointed out that the skeletons of the early modern humans – Homo Sapiens Sapiens recovered from that period have archaic features, and are less gracile than African skeletons from the same period. If you want to put it crudely, at that stage the ancestors of modern Europeans were less evolved than their cousins in Africa. Despite their physiological differences, they were still Homo Sapiens Sapiens. Their appearance does not saying anything about their essential humanity.

Ancestral Skull

Ancestral Modern Human Skull from Broken Hill, South Africa. The first humans to colonise Europe 30-40,000 years ago had similar features

Africa: Continent of Many Cultures and Civilisations

Now let’s deal with the claims that Africans are somehow ‘uncivilised’. For a start, Africa is a continent, not a single country, and contains a plethora of cultures and peoples, whose lifestyles can vary considerably. The Bushmen of South Africa – the Khoisan peoples – are hunter gatherers, while many of the peoples of East Africa were traditionally nomadic pastoralists, herding their cattle across the Savannah. Others have long been settled in village as settled farmers and agriculturalists. And some of these peoples have developed highly advanced civilisations.

Ancient and Christian Nubia

The Nubians of the Sudan took over much of the culture of ancient Egypt, and for a time even ruled the ancient Land of the Nile. Regardless of the claim that the Ancient Egyptians themselves were Black, there was a dynasty of Black pharaohs, whose empire stretched into the Ancient Near East. One of these was the pharaoh Taharqa, who is mentioned in the Bible for his part in struggling with the Assyrians for the control of the various minor, Near Eastern states dominated by these two superpowers, like ancient Israel. The Nubians later converted to Christianity, and had a literate, Christian civilisation with strong links to Egypt and the Byzantine Empire until the country was conquered by Islam in the 14th century. Archaeologists have been studying the remains of their ancient culture since that part of Africa was opened up to Europeans in the 19th century.

Ethiopia

Further east is the equally ancient culture of Abyssinia, now Ethiopia. This too is also extremely ancient. There were early centres of civilisation at Meroe and then Aksum. Although Meroe was a literate civilisation, they spoke a language completely unrelated to any other, so that although their inscriptions can be read, scholars at still at a loss to know what they mean. The main languages of modern Ethiopia, Amharic, Tigre and Tigrinya, are descended from Ge’ez, which in turn is descended from the South Arabian languages, such as Sabaic, when colonists from these civilisations conquered and settled there well over 2,000 years ago. It converted to Christianity under its king, Ezana, in the fourth century, before the Anglo-Saxons had managed to over-run Roman Britain.

The Swahili in East Africa

South of Ethiopia, the great Muslim civilisation of the Swahili emerged later in the Middle Ages. They adopted not only Islam, but also other features of Islamic and Arabic life and culture. They built impressive cities from blocks of coral taken from the east African reefs, which were covered with a kind of lime wash produced by burning the same coral. In their time, they created some of the most outstanding examples of Islamic architecture, some of which can still be seen today in places like Zanzibar.

Nok, Benin and the Great Civilisations of West Africa

On the other side of Africa, other civilisations emerged which reached an extremely high level of civilisation. Africans in what is now Nigeria began smelting iron early, long before Europeans, in c. 1800 BC, due to the natural iron bloom available in the region. The earliest African artistic culture outside ancient Egypt, the Nok, appeared in Nigeria in the 3rd century BC. This is known for its highly stylised sculptures, the artistic skill of which has drawn admiration from modern art experts and connoisseurs. Other West African cultures also have been the subject of considerable scholarly interest for the high standard of their art, such as Ife and Benin. Both of these cultures produced extremely naturalistic metal sculptures. The Benin bronze heads, produced to form part of a shrine to the rulers’ life-force, are justly famous and are found in many European collections after they were looted by punitive raids by the British in the 19th century after they expanded into the region.

Ife Sculpture

Sculpture of a king of Ife. Similar works have been found in terracotta dating from before the 12th century.

Benin Bronze

Benin Bronze from Shrine to Ruler

These cultures also impressed European observers and traders when they first encountered them in the 16th and 17th centuries. They commented on the size of the cities they encountered, as well as the chastity of the indigenous women, which they considered to be far greater than their own. These civilisations did practise much that struck Europeans as barbaric, such as human sacrifice. What surprised them about this, however, was that such a cultured and civilised people should actually engage in such horrors. Captain Denman of the West African Squadron, charged with suppressing the slave trade between Africa and America, stated this in his evidence to a parliamentary inquiry in the 1840s. When asked whether mass human sacrifice really existed amongst the peoples of Dahomey, Ashanti and other cultures in the region, he replied that it did, and that it ‘was remarkable, given the achievements they have made in most of the arts of civilisation’. In other words, what shocked Europeans wasn’t that the Africans committing these atrocities were barbarous savages, but actually the complete opposite: they were highly civilised, and so the massacres they committed were even more shocking and horrifying by contrast to the rest of their civilisation.

Akure Place

Plan of the palace of the Deji of Akure, showing how complex great African buildings may be.

Benin pic 2

View of the City of Benin, published 1668 by the Dutch explorer, Dapper

North of these pagan civilisations was the great Islamic empire of Mali. Access to a plentiful supply of gold made it one of the richest civilisations in West Africa. So rich, that when its ruler passed through Egypt in the 12th century on the hajj, the Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca, the amount of gold he and his retainers carried was so great that it actually through the country into a recession. Mali was also an important religious and intellectual centre, in which the scientific literature of the Muslim world also circulated. Scholars have uncovered vast libraries of ancient manuscripts preserved in the empire’s mosques from the Middle Ages. Amongst the treasures of this civilisation are manuscripts of the heliocentric system, showing the Earth and planets moving around the Sun, which Muslim scholars discovered independently of Copernicus about two centuries earlier.

Non-Ptolemaic Moon

Non-Ptolemaic Model of the Moon’s orbit, produced by the Turkish astronomer Qutb al-Din al-Shirazi in 1285. Similar works were copied and circulated amongst scholars in Mali.

Further south, in Zimbabwe, is the great stone fort from which the country takes its modern name. This vast structure is so impressive that previous European scholars could not believe it had been built by Africans, and instead attributed it to the Arabs or Chinese. I’ve got a feeling that some of the Ufolks may well believe it was built by ancient space aliens. Examination of the ruins themselves, however, show that it is indeed African in design and construction, similar to the way wooden houses are built by the peoples of the area.

Zimbabwe Fort1

The Temple at the Great Fort of Zimbabwe

There may also have been many other African civilisations, of which we currently know little, simply because the evidence for them has not survived. Africans tend to build in wood, rather than stone, a material that is particularly vulnerable to the continent’s climate and attack by termites. We only know of those civilisations that have either survived to the present day, such as Dahomey, Ashanti and the other contemporary Nigerian cultures, or who built in stone. Other civilisations may have existed which built in wood, the evidence for which perished over the centuries. However, merely because the evidence has not survived, does not mean that such civilisations weren’t there in the first place.

The Kippers racially abusing and insulting Umunna thus reveal just the extent of their own vile bigotry, but also how little they know about human evolution and African culture and civilisation. While these are fairly exotic topics, they’re not so arcane that only a few scholars know about them. There have been some excellent TV series on them, aimed at the general public. These include The Incredible Human Story on the BBC, presented by Time Team’s own Dr Alice Roberts. The BBC also produced a series on human evolution, presented by the avuncular, moustachioed Dr Robert Winston. Further back in the 1990s, Channel 4 also screened a series on human evolution, which presented the case that the early human colonist of Europe were actually Black. Again, an entirely respectable viewpoint, considering that all modern humans arrived out of Africa.

As for African civilisation, there have been a number of blockbusting series. Back in the 1980s there were a couple, one on BBC 2, presented by the Black African scholar Dr Ali Mazrui, and another on Channel 4 presented by the White afrocentrist historian, Dr Basil Davidson. More recently, BBC 4 and 2 screened a series, Lost Kingdoms of Africa, presented by a Black British art historian. I’m afraid the only thing I can remember about this chap’s name is that he was Gus somebody, and his name was double-barrelled. And that, like all archaeologists and intrepid explorers, he wore the de rigueur Indian Jones felt hat. This was also well worth watching, and there was a book to accompany the series. It’s great series like that which provide the strongest argument for retaining the BBC, and keeping television out of the mitts of Murdoch.

Africa’s Problems those of Human Evil, Corrupt International Economic and Political System

Terrible atrocities and crimes against humanity are being committed in Africa, by kleptocratic dictators and army generals, who are a blight on the human race. These have gained power partly through the profound economic and social problems of their nations, but also through the complicity of Western politicians, industrialists and financiers. The difference and superiority of western, scientific and industrial culture is only very recent. Western Europe only began to overtake Islam scientific and technologically in the 17th century, and there were still areas in which the Muslim world was superior in the 18th. Well into the 19th century, much of western Europe was ruled by absolute monarchs, whose societies rested on serfdom, the effective enslavement of their peasants. One American historian of the Balkans has pointed out that while the Turks in the 19th century were seen as barbaric for taking the heads of those they slew in battle, this was actually common amongst American bounty hunters out West. Before the development of cheap, efficient photography, the only way you could prove that you had successfully hunted down and killed a dangerous criminal was to take their heads.

Africa is beset by many severe problems, but this is not because its people are somehow less ‘evolved’ or ‘uncivilised’. Indeed, for much of human history, the opposite has been true. The continent’s problems come from a number of causes, which include the legacy of colonialism, a corrupt and unfair international economic system, and simple pure, unrestrained human evil. The last knows no difference in colour, and affects every culture. Including the upper echelons of the Tory party, and even now clouds the judgment of Kippers towards their fellows.

Ethiopian Martyrs under WW 2 Italian Fascism

June 1, 2013

The Ethiopian Coptic Church is one of the most ancient churches in Africa. The country converted to Christianity under King Ezana in the fourth century. The currency he established was on a par with the Roman denarius, so that the country could freely trade with Rome. The Copts are Monophysites, who believe that Christ had only a divine nature, while Chalcedonian Christians in the western churches – Roman Catholics, Protestants and Greek and Russian Orthodox consider that Christ was both human and divine. The theological argument for this is that Christ’s humanity was swallowed up in His divinity, in the same way a small drop of water is swallowed up by an immense ocean. As I understand it, the liturgical language of the Church and the Ethiopian Bible is Ge’ez, an ancient language descended from the South Arabian languages. It’s therefore a semitic language, related to Hebrew, Arabic, and Syriac, the language of the Syrian Orthodox church, which is itself descended from Aramaic, the language probably spoke by our Lord Himself. The Ethiopian Orthodox Church received its Christianity from the Egyptian Copts. During the succeeding centuries the Ethiopians were in communion with the other eastern Orthodox churches, and translated a series of theological and other religious works from Coptic and Aramaic.

The Book of Enoch

The Ethiopian Orthodox Bible also contains a book not in the Western Biblical canon – the Book of Enoch. This is about the journey of the prophet Enoch to heaven. It contains a series of passages describing the Fall of the Angels and predicting the arrival of the Messiah at the End of Time. This Messiah is called the Son of Man, the title, which Christ uses of Himself in the Gospels.

Ethiopian Society and Church Similar to Old Testament

The Church itself, and traditional Ethiopian society, has been described as very similar to that of the Old Testament. According to the ancient epic of the Ethiopian emperors, the Kebra Nagast, the country’s monarchs are descended from Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. The lyre is still played in Ethiopian, and as in King David’s time. The churches each possess a copy of the Ark of the Covenant. Ethiopian men also wear the tobe, a kind of toga. The country’s great buildings include a number of churches cut into the very rock itself, so that they are below ground level. These were built in the Middle Ages to protect them from attack from the neighbouring Muslim peoples. Many traditional Ethiopian names are direct statements or references to Christian theology. For example, the name of the former Emperor Hailie Selassie, means ‘Power of the Trinity’.

Invasion of Ethiopia and Defeat of Italian Army during World War II

During the Second World War Ethiopia was attacked and conquered by Fascist Italy as part of Mussolini’s project to create a revived, Roman Empire in the Mediterranean and Africa. This included a brutal extermination campaign in the Ethiopian countryside in 1937 under Marshal Rodolfo Graziani. Graziani was responsible for a series of atrocities during Italian invasion of Libya, earning him the nickname ‘the Hyena of Libya’. During his campaign in Ethiopia Graziani was responsible for killing a quarter of million Ethiopians. These atrocities were in response to an attempted assassination on Graziani in Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa. After its failure, the assassins fled to the ancient monastery of Debra Libanos. Graziani order the massacre of the monastery’s monks and nuns, as well as the citizens of Addis Ababa itself, and directed a campaign of terror against educated Ethiopians. The Fascist colonial regime finally ended in 1941 when British and Ethiopian forces entered Ethiopia from Sudan. On May 5, 1941, the Emperor Hailie Selassie re-entered the ancient capital of Addis Ababa. Older people in the area around Bath and Bristol in the English West Country remember that during the War, Hailie Selassie’s children were sent to safety in Bath.

Selassie’s Overthrow

In the event, Hailie Selassie’s failure to modern the country and his cover-up of a famine in one of the Empire’s provinces resulted in him becoming increasing unpopular. He was overthrown in a coup in 1973, which ushered in a Marxist, military dictatorship until Communism itself finally fell. The great rock cut churches have been featured in a number of programmes on the BBC, including one where they were visited by the great architectural historian and broadcast, Dan Cruikshank.

The Legend of St. Tekla Haymanot and the 1985 Famine

In 1985 Collins published a retelling of the legend of the Ethiopian saint, St. Tekla Haymanot, by Elizabeth Laird and an Ethiopian priest, Abba Aregawi Wolde Gabriel, to raise money for Oxfam’s campaign against the Ethiopian famine. It was that famine that prompted Bob Geldof’s Band Aid and Live Aid records and concert to provide relief for its African victims. The frontispiece contained a prayer, written in Ge’ez that is recited at the festivals of St. Tekla Haymanot and the other saints of the Orthodox Church. The prayer gives glory and praise to God, Our Lady, and Christ’s Cross. The priest requests that the prayer may rise before the Lord’s throne, and praises Him for providing the bread and wine of Holy Communion, and food and clothing.

“Of him who has given us to eat this bread,
Of him, who has given us to drink this cup,
Of him, who has prepared fr us our food and
our clothing.”

Sources
‘Africa, Italian East (AOI, Africa Orientale Italiana)’, ‘Ethiopian War’, ‘Graziani, Rodolfo’, and ‘Selassie, Hailie’, in Philip V. Cannistraro, ed., Historical Dictionary of Fascist Italy (Westport, Connecticut/ London: Greenwood Press 1982)

Elizabeth Laird and Abba Aregawi Wolde Gabriel, The Miracle Child: A Story from Ethiopia (London: Collins 1985).

Edward Ullendorf, The Ethiopians: An Introduction to Country and People, 3rd Edition (Oxford: Oxford University Press 1973).