The Ethiopian manuscripts published in digitised format by the British Library are to the best of our knowledge not in copyright under Ethiopian law. However the British Library recognises broader interests in the cultural heritage which the Ethiopian manuscripts represent. The manuscripts included are often of a religious nature, and the Library has taken considerable care not to distort or alter the underlying material. We ask users also to show appropriate respect in reusing the digital images of the Ethiopian manuscripts, which should not be altered or reused in ways that might be derogatory or offensive to the Ethiopian communities for whom they are of special cultural importance.
Unlike the King James Bible, which contains 66 books, the Ethiopic Bible comprises a total of 84 books and includes some writings that were rejected or lost by other Churches.
This manuscript, however, only contains the four gospels and the first eight books of the Old Testament. It was created in the 17th century, but is a replica of an earlier 15th-century manuscript.
The scribe who wrote the text and the artist who decorated it are unknown; however, it is likely that the manuscript was created in Gondar, probably for the local church, Dabra Birham Selasse, meaning ‘Mount of the Light of the Trinity’ which stands on high ground just outside the city. This church flourished under the Emperor Iyasu I Yohannes, under whose reign (1682–1706) Christian art and learning flourished.
On this page is an image of Saints Luke and John, the Evangelists, both holding squares of parchment on which to write their gospels. Around the image is a type of illumination called a harag, which means the tendril of a climbing plant. A harag is made of bands of coloured lines interlaced in a geometrical pattern and used to frame a page in an Ethiopian manuscript. Each harag is noticeably different from any other, even within the same manuscript.
The manuscript is part of the Magdala Collection, which was given to the British Museum Library in 1868 by the Secretary of State for India. The volume retains its original wooden bindings covered with stamped leather and lined with silk.