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Ethiopian Monastic Translation: Dadisho Qatraya from Syriac to Ge‘ez

Robert A. Kitchen, Knox-Metropolitan United Church, Regina, Saskatchewan, Summer Fellow 2012

My research centers on the pilgrimage of one text through two languages: the Commentary on the Paradise of the Fathers by Dadisho Qatraya, a late seventh-century Church of the East spiritual author. Written in Syriac in the form of questions and answers from novice monks to the elder Dadisho, this text would eventually be translated into Arabic in the ninth and tenth centuries, and then translated from Arabic into Ge‘ez, or Ethiopic, during the fourteenth century.

I have been working on the translations of the Syriac and Ge‘ez texts to examine the nuances of the classic desert fathers’ stories, which indicate the priorities for a theology of the ascetic and monastic life in the late seventh-century Church of the East, and how the Ethiopian translator receives and adapts the questions and answers to fit the Ethiopian situation seven centuries later. The translator in most instances is faithful to the original Syriac dialogue, yet consistently deletes political, ecclesiastical, and historical details that would not be comprehensible to an Ethiopian novice monk. The primary function of both Syriac and Ethiopic texts is to provide the fundamentals of the life of asceticism and prayer for beginning monks, but in very different situations. Dadisho’s Commentary preserves the ascetic degrees of the upright and the perfect, which were previously thought to have faded away by the mid-sixth century, and the text, once fully analyzed, promises a new perspective on the development of asceticism in the Eastern churches.

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