The university is now one of the only places in the world where students can learn Ge’ez.
Tens of thousands of ancient Ethiopian manuscripts – maybe more – have collected dust for over a century because they are written in what is now a rarely studied language, Ge’ez.
But a new course at the University of Toronto is teaching a new generation of students to understand the ancient Semitic language so that one day they can access this long-lost trove of knowledge.
This week, Professor Robert Holmstedt of the department of Near and Middle Eastern civilizations welcomed 25 students and members of Toronto’s Ethiopian community to the first day of an introductory course on Ge’ez, which like Latin, is only used in religious services, in this case for the Ethiopian Orthodox and Catholic churches.
With this course, U of T becomes one of the only places in the world where students can learn the fundamentals of Ge'ez. The program came about through several significant donations, including from The Weeknd, the Ethiopian community and the Faculty of Arts & Science.
Department chair Professor Tim Harrison has said that he hopes, with continued support, U of T will eventually add more courses and be positioned to launch the first Ethiopian studies program in North America.
Since the subject is so rarely taught, Holmstedt had to invent course materials and revise one of the only Ge’ez textbooks in English, the 40-year-old Introduction to Classical Ethiopic: Ge'ez by Thomas O. Lambdin. Ge’ez is a window into an ancient culture and offers insights into other Semitic languages, he said.
“I like giving students access to things that 99.5 per cent of the world doesn’t have access to,” he said. “It’s part of advancing our knowledge and the pursuit of truth. This is the very nature of the university. We can’t leave this behind.”
Michael Gervers, a history professor at U of T Scarborough, helped launch the course with a $50,000 donation and a call to Toronto's Ethiopian community to contribute.
The call was answered and the donation matched by none other than Toronto native and Grammy-award winning artist Abel Tesfaye, a.k.a. The Weeknd.
The campaign for the language course has a $200,000 goal and has received support from the Faculty of Arts & Science and the Bikila Awards organization, a local Ethiopian community group named after Olympic marathoner Adebe Bikila.
Read more at: www.utoronto.ca