Ethiopian texts rich source for Biblical research

curt niccum

Thanks to a donation from an alumnus, the Special Collections at the Center for Restoration Studies at ACU now houses two Ethiopian religious texts dating back to the turn of the 19th century, with some handwritten notes likely more than 400 years old.

The Special Collections, housed in ACU's Margaret and Herman Brown Library, exists as a valuable resource for preserving and studying Biblical history. 

Dr. Curt Niccum ('92 M.Div.), associate professor of New Testament, said ACU alum and movie production designer Nelson Coates ('84) discovered the texts while searching for props for a film set he was designing. Coates, whose films include "Antwone Fisher" and "Runaway Jury," purchased the texts and donated them to the center.

"Both books contain liturgical works associated primarily with Mary. The smaller size suggests they were copied for personal devotion. The smaller codex is written in a very fine hand with musical notations added in very tiny script," Niccum says. "Both probably date around the turn of the 19th century, but one of them has older leaves added from two older manuscripts, one of which was probably copied in the 1600s."

The documents are written in Ge'ez, the ancient language of Ethiopia. Niccum said numerous faculty members and students at ACU have the ability to read the language, meaning the manuscripts will serve as a tool for glimpsing into the past.  

"The value of a collection, in my opinion, has a direct correlation with the usefulness of that collection. I am regularly contacted by libraries and monasteries all over the world seeking to know more about what they actually possess. These documents will not sit in a box in some dusty corner of an archive. They will be actively studied and their artistry appreciated by students for generations to come," he says.

In addition to aiding students studying the texts, the addition of the manuscripts continues to enhance ACU's reputation as an institution committed to diverse and hands-on education.

There are opportunities for education, and not only for my Ethiopic students. The manuscripts can help visitors to ACU to comprehend some of the issues related to transmitting scripture through the millennia before the advent of the printed Bible.

"These texts bring opportunities. There are opportunities for education, and not only for my Ethiopic students. The manuscripts can help visitors to ACU to comprehend some of the issues related to transmitting scripture through the millennia before the advent of the printed Bible," Niccum says. "There are opportunities for enhancing ACU's reputation as a university that embraces diversity and fosters research in a wide variety of disciplines. Naturally this highlights the work of the ACU Brown Library and the quality of its Special Collections. As work progresses on making these and other texts available electronically, the prestige of the institution will grow."

Niccum believes a firm understanding of history allows individuals to better understand themselves, correcting mistakes of the past. For him, ACU's commitment to expanding its Special Collections indicates a desire to preserve cultural heritage.

"Appreciation of others' heritages contributes to a global perspective that promotes mutual understanding. In other words, we not only better know ourselves, we can better know others. At a time when other universities are selling collections to meet budget shortfalls, I am glad that ACU's Brown Library and alumni like Nelson Coates are devoted to expanding our horizons," he says.

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