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Ethiopic Manuscript Collections

Over the past century, the Princeton University Library has become one of the leading repositories for Ethiopic manuscripts in North America. Nearly all the manuscripts are in the Manuscripts Division, Department of Rare Books and Special Collections. There are more than 600 items arranged in five collections. Holdings include codices (bound manuscripts) and magic scrolls (amulets), dating from the 17th to 20th centuries, chiefly written in Ge'ez, the sacred language of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, with small amounts of text in Amharic. The principal collector was Robert Garrett (1875-1961), Class of 1897, of Baltimore, Maryland, who donated most of his extensive collection of manuscripts to the Library in 1942. Garrett acquired 101 Ethiopic codices and 147 magic scrolls from Enno Littmann (1875-1958), who led a Princeton expedition to Tigray, Ethiopia, in the autumn of 1905 (with Garrett's financial backing) and a German expedition to Aksum (Deutsche Aksum-Expedition) in the first few months of 1906. Collections continued to grow after 1942 by gift and purchase. Since the 1990s, Bruce C. Willsie, Class of 1986, has been the principal donor of Ethiopic manuscripts, especially magic scrolls. Included among Ethiopic bound manuscripts at Princeton are Bibles, Gospels, Psalters, homilies, liturgy, saints' lives and miracles, theology, law, compilations on magic and divination, and other texts. Pseudepigraphic manuscripts include the Book of Enoch, a pre-Christian text that was known in the New Testament and Patristic eras. Magic scrolls are also a product of Ethiopian Christianity as well as a reflection of popular religion and ritual practices. Their magical efficacy was based in large measure on a series of amuletic texts, incantations, prayers, formulas, invocations of divine names and helpful saints, and images, offering protection against disease, death in childbirth, everyday misfortune, demonic possession, and evil spirits. Most magic scrolls include the name of the person for whom they were produced. The Library has recently cataloged or recataloged its Ethiopic manuscript collections with generous support from the David A. Gardner '69 Magic Project, Princeton University, coordinated by the Council of the Humanities. Four of the five collections were cataloged by Professor David L. Appleyard, School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London. One collection (Princeton Ethiopic Manuscripts) was cataloged by Kesis Melaku Terefe, Virgin Mary Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahdo Church in Los Angeles, with assistance of Professor Wendy Laura Belcher, Department of Comparative Literature and Center for African American Studies, Princeton University.

One may either consult the combined Ethiopic Manuscripts in the Princeton University Library or individual finding aids:
Robert Garrett Collection of Ethiopic manuscripts ( C0774.03 )
Robert Garrett Collection of Ethiopic magic scrolls ( C0774.04 )
Princeton Collection of Ethiopic manuscripts ( C0776)
Princeton Collection of Ethiopic magic scrolls ( C1296)
Bruce C. Willsie Collection of Ethiopic magic scrolls ( C0943)


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