Program Particulars: Preserving Words

Program Particulars

*Times indicated refer to Web version of audio

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(02:35–04:58) Music Element

"The Multiples of One" from Awakening, performed by Joseph Curiale


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(14:06–15:31) Music Element

"Reading from a Sacred Book" from Melos, performed by Vassilis Tsabropoulos, Anja Lechner, U.T. Gandhi


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(20:38–22:50) Music Element

"Melos" from Melos, performed by Vassilis Tsabropoulos, Anja Lechner, U.T. Gandhi


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(26:24–28:54) Music Element

"Trahison" from OK Cowboy, performed by Vitalic


(30:58) Theft of Manuscripts in Ethiopia

Ethiopia and other African countries are seeing ancient manuscripts and artwork leave the continent, sometimes illegally, at an accelerated pace. Poverty and political instability have contributed to this phenomenon, particularly since there's a growing appetite among Western collectors to buy these goods, thereby compounding the problem. TIME magazine reports:

It is the West's growing enthusiasm for African objects that has placed many of them in jeopardy. Most of Mali's archaeological sites, including graves built into the cliffs along the World Heritage-listed Bandiagara escarpment, have been looted. Ethiopia is struggling to protect its oldest silver Coptic Christian crosses and medieval manuscripts […] Tourists scoop up some of the illicit bargains, but the best artifacts are bought by dealers filling orders from Europe, the U.S. and South Africa. […] One catalyst for the booming trade is poverty. Villagers, many of whom have turned to Islam or Christianity and reject the idols of their forefathers, see no point in holding on to the artifacts when they can barely afford to feed their families.

Steve Delamarter, a professor of Old Testament studies at George Fox Evangelical Seminary in Portland, Oregon and a researcher at HMML, undertook a large-scale effort to retrieve and preserve Ethiopian manuscripts. What started out as a project to catalogue a mall group of manuscripts grew larger as the project evolved and continues to grow as he talked to more people in Ethiopia, at academic institutions in England and the U.S., and various owners in North America. In a paper for the Society of Biblical Literature, Delamarter writes about the looting of Ethiopian manuscripts in the past and today:

My experiences in Ethiopia had sensitized me to the plight of Ethiopia's cultural heritage. Manuscripts by the thousands have been transported out of the country. The instance that gets the most attention these days is the so-called "Maqdala incident": a hostage standoff between Ethiopia and England escalated into a military expedition, in which England eventually made off with so much loot that it took fifteen elephants and two hundred donkeys to carry it all. But the number of manuscripts that left the country in 1868, perhaps around a thousand, does not begin to compare to the numbers that have left the country by means of countless individual transactions between tourists and dealers and more recently as a result of the economic engine surrounding ebay. In the worst-case scenarios, unscrupulous dealers in the United States and Europe buy manuscripts, cut them up into single pages and sell them leaf-by-leaf on the Internet. The manuscripts that survive the ebay experience intact usually find their way into private hands; though they still have all their pages, they are, for all practical purposes, lost to the world. There do not appear to be any easy or certain remedies for this situation, particularly for a single individual with limited means. But, photography provides one avenue for preserving at least images of a manuscript even if not the manuscript itself. And, with the advent of digital photography, this is even more the case.

Some Maqdala tabots were returned to Ethiopia in 2002 and 2003 after being discovered in a cupboard of a church in Edinburgh, Scotland and at an auction in London. A tabot, which represents the Ark of the Covenant holding the tablets of the Ten Commandments, is sacred to Ethiopian Orthodox Christians. Hundreds of thousands of Ethiopians celebrated in the streets hoping to see the tabot:

"Adorned in resplendent vestments made of bright velvet and gold and carrying silver and gold processional crosses, thousands of priests and religious elders from Addis Ababa's 106 Orthodox churches led a procession from the airport to Addis Ababa's Trinity Cathedral, where the wooden relic will be stored. Beating drums, they chanted in the ancient language of Ge'ez welcoming the tabot home. Ethiopians sang and danced alongside the processional cortege as it made the four hour journey along the 11 km (7 miles) route to the cathedral.

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(35:09–35:48) Music Element

"Mulu Abeba" from Memories of Ethiopia, performed by


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(37:09–37:49) Music Element

"Part VIII" from The Wind, performed by Kayhan Kalhor


» Enlarge the image Mor Gabriel is the oldest surviving Syrian Orthodox monastery. Seven nuns and four monks occupy separate wings, along with local lay workers and guests. The monastery continues to serve as an educational and ordinational institution for the Church.

Mor Gabriel is the oldest surviving Syrian Orthodox monastery. Seven nuns and four monks occupy separate wings, along with local lay workers and guests. The monastery continues to serve as an educational and ordinational institution for the Church.

(38:22) Monastery in Southeast Turkey

Mor Gabriel is one of the oldest Syriac Christian monasteries in the world. Built in 397 AD, the monastery is perched along the foothills of Midyat in the region known as Turabdin — Syriac for "mountain of hermits" — near the Syrian border. A small community of nuns and monks live on premises. The monastery describes itself as a kind of "second Jerusalem" for Syriac Christians. Its religious significance, unique architecture, and Byzantine mosaics draw scores of visitors each year.

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(41:42–42:47) Music Element

"Tannaim" from Bar Kokhba, performed by John Zorn


(47:00) The Rule of St. Benedict

The Rule of St. Benedict was written by Benedict of Nursia during the sixth century in Europe. "Rule," coming from the Latin word regula, indicates a guide to live by much like, as Chittister describes, a hand railing assists one up and down a flight of stairs. The pope St. Gregory the Great wrote that Benedict "wrote a Rule for monks that is remarkable for its discretion and clarity of language." Consisting of a prologue with 73 chapters, the Rule teaches about the monastic values of humility, silence, obedience, and provides basic instructions for daily living. The first line of the prologue reads:

"Listen carefully, my child, to your master's precepts, and incline the ear of your heart. Receive willingly and carry out effectively your loving father's advice, that by the labor of obedience you may return to Him from whom you had departed by the sloth of disobedience."

Originally written for men, the Rule is rarely followed literally by religious orders. Benedictines place an emphasis on work and self-sufficiency of the monastery or priory, which is rooted in its local community. They lead lives of contemplation and celebration of the liturgy, but not to the point of isolation and hermitage. Benedictines are renowned for their focus on education of the young and their dedication to the writings and manuscripts of the early Church fathers.

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(49:44–51:53) Music Element

"Jesu Dulcis Memoria" from Polyphonic Motets and Gregorian Chants, performed by The Monks of St. John's Abbey


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(51:50–52:21) Music Element

"An Animated Description of Mr. Maps" from Lost and Safe, performed by The Books


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is the executive director of the Hill Museum & Manuscript Library at Saint John's Abbey and University.

is a MacArthur Fellow and the curator of the Ethiopian Study Center at the Hill Museum & Manuscript Library at Saint John's Abbey and University.

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