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One of the several House of Sellassie projects in the year 2000 -- Ancient Ethiopian Texts.

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Ancient Ethiopian Texts

Pursuant to the policy of non-political support for Ethiopian cultural and humanitarian endeavors, the House of Sellassie of the Solomonic Dynasty, under the executive administration of HH Princess Esther Sellassie-Antohin, a meeting was held on Friday, December 3, 1999, between Princess Esther, her husband, Sir Anatoly Antohin, Dr. Charles Bryant-Abraham, Dr. Merril J. Bateman, President of Brigham Young University, and representatives of the Center for the Preservation of Ancient Religious Texts, in Provo, Utah. The objective of this meeting was the initiation of an ongoing effort to bring the ancient religious texts of Ethiopia to the attention of world scholarship to be done by digital photocopying and filming on the site of their permanent location in Ethiopia. There are an estimated 300,000 ancient religious texts of an inestimable value to world scholarship, perhaps well beyond that of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

President Bateman expressed his full support for this undertaking, The Haile Sellassie Ancient Ethiopian Religious Texts Project, for which an estimated $100,000 a year will be generated by Brigham Young University. It is thought that the completion of the project may exceed two million dollars. To orient the readership of EthioForum to the nature and capacity of the Center for the Preservation of Ancient Religious Texts, a research facility of Brigham Young University, we have scanned brief introductions to a few of its various departments as follows below.

Sharing the Knowledge of the Ancient World
In the summer of 1996, after a chain of events involving Emanuel Tov, the director of the international team of Dead Sea Scroll scholars and editors, and Noel B. Reynolds, then president of the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies (FARMS), an international conference on the scrolls was convened on the campus of Brigham Young University (BYU) in Provo, Utah. A major event at that conference was the demonstration of an electronic database that could make the scrolls searchable on CDs. So well received was the database that scholars and custodians of other ancient documents inquired whether the same technology could be used for their records as well. The demand for this technology and the unique skills of the FARMS organization prompted the formation of a subsidiary, the Center for the Preservation of Ancient Religious Texts, or CPART, which operates under the auspices of BYU. CPART is assigned the role of aiding scholars, clergy, governments and others in the preserving, imaging, and distribution of ancient writings. It offers three important services: (1) the preservation of significant religious manuscripts by microfilm, photography, and/or electronic scanning, (2) the digitization and incorporation of selected manuscripts into searchable electronic databases at minimal cost, and (3) the translation and publication of selected ancient and medieval texts.

Giving Life to the Dead Sea Scrolls
"Two years ago none of [the Dead Sea Scrolls publication team] knew where B YU was... Provo [Utah] has suddenly become the international center of Dead Sea Scrolls study. Weston Fields, founder and executive director, The Dead Sea Scrolls Foundation, Jerusalem Qumran, located some 18 kilometers east of Jerusalem near the northwest end of the Dead Sea, was little more than an obscure dot on the Jordanian map in 1947. Then things changed dramatically when some Bedouin shepherds found clay jars in a cave near the shoreline. In those jars were very ancient scrolls. These shepherds did not immediately recognize the true nature of the scrolls, but word of the discovery quickly escalated into pivotal archeological discoveries and even more resourceful surreptitious activity on the part of some of the local population. The world came to realize that Qumran was a major repository for ancient Jewish scriptures and other historical documents dating from the Second Temple (or Intertestamental) Period, which means they were twice as old as the medieval manuscripts that had previously served as the basis for our standard biblical texts. Archeologists eventually found thousands of scrolls and fragments in eleven different caves.

Rediscovering Early Eastern Christianity
While the beginnings of Christianity in the West are quite well known, the early stages of Eastern Christianity, and even much later developments, are shrouded in obscurity. And yet, many of the most significant developments in Christianity, such as the christological controversies of the early centuries, involved churchmen from the East. In 1996 FARMS was approached by a Syrian Orthodox Priest with a request to apply the technology which we had developed for the Dead Sea Scroll database to Syriac documents. In order to help us get started, he donated over 10,000 pages of microfilmed Syriac material to FARMS.
Initial research revealed that countless religious and historical manuscripts are preserved in that dialect of Aramaic, and there are religious groups in and from the Middle Last who still use that language for their liturgy and speak it in their homes. Ancient Syriac manuscripts are scattered throughout the monasteries of Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Iran. In an effort to be of service to those communities, and also in order to make this material more readily available to interested Western scholars, CPART has become engaged in the digitizing of Syriac manuscripts and in creating transcriptions for use in an electronic database. One of the areas that will be affected by the creation of such a database will be the discipline of New Testament text research. "The proposed electronic archive of Syriac manuscripts is highly desirable and will be unique in the field of Syriac computing. Bringing the ancient writings of the Syriac fathers into the electronic age, it will enable the scholar to discern texts and produce critical editions, the Syriac Christian to taste the fruits of her forefathers and the computer scientist to research OCR means for manuscript writing."

Eastern Thought & Western Media "It's a commendable project that is being produced by sound scholars with major reputations. I look forward to seeing the entire series."

Professor William Graham, Harvard University

For too long the intriguing world of Islamic thought has been virtually impenetrable for most of those in the West. A knowledge of Arabic or Persian was needed to delve into the works and words of Middle Eastern sages. Now, however, CPART's Islamic Translation Series is making the works of Arabic and Persian philosophers available in bilingual editions, using translations freshly produced for this series. The books are published by Brigham Young University and distributed by the University of Chicago Press. Scholars and students of Islamic culture and thought will be able to read the works more rapidly in the original and thereby more easily acquire the special vocabulary of Islamic philosophy Lay people will benefit from being able to read in translation works to which they had no previous access.
An important by-product of this project is the development of an electronic database containing these philosophical works. The electronic format Aill facilitate the generation of more comprehensive and up-to-date dictionaries for these languages than have been previously available and will facilitate study of the materials by linguists. CPART hopes eventually to expand this series beyond philosophy to include mathematics, science, history and literature.

If any of our readership has personal first hand knowledge of these ancient Ethiopian texts and is willing to assist us in our efforts to preserve for future generations these priceless manuscripts, Ethiopia's national heritage, please contact me off-line.

We will be working closely with the ecclesiastical authorities of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tawahedo Church and will maintain our strict policy of non-political involvement throughout the project.

What Brigham Young University can do is provide four things you earlier lacked to get the job done: 1. The financial base;
2. The technical expertise and state-of-the-art equipment to film the mss, both in Jerusalem and in Ethiopia.
3. The sophisticated experience to digitally computerize all Ethiopian ancient manuscripts; thus preserving them for humankind:
4. The production of software/CD's of all these ancient manuscripts, so that world scholarship in general, and Ethiopian scholars in particular can freely access them.

All of us are determined that there be no repeat of the log-jam that occurred with the Dead Sea Scrolls.

As you know, the House of Sellassie of the Solomonic Dynasty, under the executive administration of HH Esther Sellassie-Antohin, is committed to a policy of transparency and accountability. Because Dr. Tom Allredt is not a subscriber to EthioForum, I would ask you to keep the EthioForum readership openly and completely abrest of developments as you and Tom work them out. This is a subject dear to the heart of every Ethiopian and they deserve to know every detail as this drama unfolds.

Dr. Charles Bryant-Abraham, Secretary General
The House of Sellassie of the Solomonic Dynasty

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