The Prince and the Plunder

A book on how Britain took one boy and piles of treasures from Ethiopia

A Bible from the mission’s chief medical officer (Or.MS.655)

Published / by Andrew Heavens / Leave a Comment

What: A Bible written in Ethiopic or Amharic

Where: Edinburgh University Library, 30 George Square, Edinburgh EH8 9LJ

One of 11 manuscripts in Edinburgh University Library written in Amharic or Ge’ez. Two of them – this Bible and a two-volume collection of the Acts of St George – are positively linked with the battle of Magdala in the catalogue. Two others were “procured – i.e. not necessarily looted – on some of the British mission’s stop-overs on their way there.

The catalogue entry labels this manuscript Or.MS.655 and reads: “[Bible. Psalms.] Ethiopic/Amharic. From King Theodore’s library at Magdala. Presented by Dr Currie, Inspector General of Hospitals and Principal Medical Officer of the Abyssinian Expedition, to Professor Christison, Edinburgh, July 1869, and presented by Christison to the Library, November 27, 1869.”

The two other manuscripts in the library “procured” on the way are Or.MS.656 [Bible. Psalms.] Ethiopic/Amharic and Or.MS.673 Portion of the Gospels (?). Parchment Scroll. Ethiopic/Amharic. 

The arrival of the last two, as well as a copy of the Gospels currently in the National Library of Scotland, is described in Volume 8 (1868-70) of The Proceedings of the Antiquaries of Scotland. This says: “The large book, believed to be the Priest’s Bible, or rather the one belonging to the church, and from which he explained to his people, was procured in a church between Adabagah and Dongalo, about thirty-two or thirty-three miles south of Adigrat. The smaller book and scrolls were mostly procured in the neighbourhood of Senafe, from churches and villages. One of the boos was said to be the Psalms … Presented … by Captain Charles McInroy, Staff Service, Madras.”

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