Ethiopianhistory.com tells us that “Ge’ez is to Ethiopia as Latin is to the west. Ge’ez, like Latin, was not used as a spoken language for a very long time. But like Latin, Ge’ez is the precursor of Ethiopia’s three major Semitic languages.”
With tooled-leather covered wood boards, this bible, or Gospel Book printed in red and black on vellum is a testament to the conversion of an Ethiopian king to Christianity in the fourth century; a central text of Ethiopian Orthodox Christianity traces the origins of the Ethiopian imperial line to the union of the Queen of Sheba with the Jewish King Solomon.
The coptic binding with boards covered in thin leather allows the book to open flat. Too large for a personal prayer book, it was perhaps used in ritual observance. The first illustration shows contemporary men (perhaps a priest and an acolyte) kneeling on a prayer rug with a book open beside them.
The pages that begin and end the book are vividly illustrated with stylized portraits including a Virgin and Child on the second page. The colors and patterns of the draperies and costumes suggest current African textiles, and the figures have distinctive qualities, such as large, almond-shaped eyes with pronounced whites, and brows that extend from the noses, reflecting the Ethiopian makers. The final figure is carrying a rifle, yet holds a shield, connecting the period of the book with the historical past.
The careful lettering and the precise diacritical marks give evidence of the care taken in creating this book. Although the illustrations show skilled artistry, the illuminations on several manuscript pages are filled in with green wash that does not correspond exactly to the outlines beneath. Some of the "illuminating" appears to have been done at a later date by various artists.