Tabot

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An Ethiopian Priest carrying the Tabot

Tabot (Ge'ez ታቦት tābōt, sometimes spelled tabout) is a Ge'ez word referring to a replica of the Tablets of Law, onto which the Biblical Ten Commandments were inscribed, used in the practices of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. Tabot can also refer to a replica of the Ark of the Covenant. The word tsellat (Ge'ez: ጽላት ṣallāt, modern ṣellāt) refers only to a replica of the Tablets, but is less commonly used.

Etymology[edit]

According to Edward Ullendorff, the Ge'ez (an Ethiopian Semitic language) word tabot is derived from the Aramaic word tebuta (tebota), like the Hebrew word tebah.[1] "The concept and function of the tabot represent one of the most remarkable areas of agreement with Old Testament forms of worship."[2]

Description[edit]

A tabot is usually a 15-centimetre (6-inch) square, and may be made from alabaster, marble or wood from an acacia tree; however David Buxton states the maximum length of 40 cm (16 inches) is more common.[3] It is always kept in ornate coverings to hide it from public view. In an elaborate procession, which has often reminded literate onlookers of the sixth chapter of 2 Samuel where King David leads the people dancing before the Ark,[4] the tabot is carried around the church courtyard on the patronal feast day, and also on the great Feast of Timket (known as Epiphany or Theophany in Europe).[5] Buxton describes one such procession, on the festival of Gebre Menfes Qidus:

To the uninstructed onlooker the climax of the service came at the end, when the tabot or ark was brought out, wrapped in coloured cloths, carried on the head of a priest. As it appeared in the doorway the women raised the ilil, a prolonged and piercing cry of joy. When the tabot goes out of the Bete Meqdes ቤተ መቅደስ, everyone goes down to the floor and says a prayer. At first the tabot remained motionless, accompanied by several processional crosses and their attendant brightly colored canopies, while a group of cantors (dabtara) performed the liturgical dance so beloved of the Abyssinians. The dancing over, a procession formed up, headed by the tabot, and slowly circled the church three times in a counter-clockwise direction. Finally the tabot was carried back into the sanctuary; all was over and the assembly broke up. Now in modern times Tabot comes out each time there is a celebration, for example on Jesus' Baptism all churches from the area come together with their tabot and celebrate. AW[6]

Looting of tabots[edit]

Although Ethiopia was never colonised by the British, many tabots were looted by British soldiers during the 1868 Expedition to Abyssinia, also known as the Battle of Magdala, and is a cause of anger among Ethiopians.[7]

Repatriation of looted tabots[edit]

The return in February 2002 of one looted tabot, discovered in the storage of St John's Episcopal Church in Edinburgh, was a cause of public rejoicing in Addis Ababa.[8][9] Another was returned in 2003 after Ian McLennan recognised the ancient tabot at an auction in London. He bought it and donated it to the government of Ethiopia.[10]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Edward Ullendorff, Ethiopia and the Bible (Oxford: University Press for the British Academy, 1968), pp. 82, 122
  2. ^ Ullendorff, Ethiopia and the Bible, p. 82
  3. ^ David Buxon, The Abyssinians (New York: Praeger, 1970), p. 162
  4. ^ For example, Ullendorff, Ethiopia and the Bible, p. 83; Buxton, The Abyssinians, p. 32.
  5. ^ Donald N. Levine, Wax and Gold: Tradition and Innovation in Ethiopian Culture, (Chicago: University Press, 1972), p. 63.
  6. ^ Buxton, The Abyssinians, p. 65
  7. ^ The Guardian 1 June 2019
  8. ^ "Ethiopian joy as church returns Ark of Covenant; Handover may" by Jenifer Johnston, The Sunday Herald, January 27, 2002 (hosted by Find Articles)
  9. ^ "Ethiopia: Returning a Tabot" by Odhiambo Okite, Christianity Today, 22 April 2002
  10. ^ Damian Zane, "Raided Lost Ark returns home", BBC News, 1 July 2003, 11 may 2013

Further reading[edit]

  • C.F. Beckingham and G.W.B. Huntingford, "Appendix III, The Tabot" in their translation of Francisco Alvarez, The Prester John of the Indies (Cambridge: Hakluyt Society, 1961), pp. 543–8.

External links[edit]