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It is unfortunate that history yields so little information about this significant person who translated the Arabic Bible into Amharic in the eighteenth century. The account that is known to us comes from William Jowett’s 1822, “Christian Research in the Mediterranean.” This story states that Asselin de Chereville, the French Councillor in Cairo in the early 1800s, befriended Ethiopian Abu Rumi and discovered that he was fluent in classical Arabic. The motive behind Councillor Asselin de Cherville’s encouraging Abu Rumi to launch into the translation of the Bible from Arabic into Amharic, Abu Rumi’s mother’s tongue, is unknown. From extant information it appears that the French Councillor financed Abu Rumi during the years that he worked on the project on Tuesdays and Saturdays at the French Embassy.
The completed translation of 9,539 pages in octavo size was purchased by William Jowett of the Church Missionary Society for the sum of £1250. The British and Foreign Bible Society willingly reimbursed Jowett for this amount and published the Gospels in 1824, the New Testament in 1829 and the complete Bible in 1840.
Ethiopianist Edward Ullendorff commented, “Abu Rumi’s version, with minor changes and amendments, held sway until Emperor Haile Sellassie I ordered a new translation of the entire Bible which appeared in 1960/61.” The Abu Rumi translation of the Bible into Amharic, the common language spoken by adherents of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, did much to bring renewal into this ancient church. For previous centuries this large African church was dependant on Ge’ez, the language used in church liturgy since the seventh century.
E. Paul Balisky
Solomon Dejene. “Biography of Abu Rumi of Abu Abreham,” a term paper presented to the Ethiopian Graduate School of Theology for the course, “Ethiopian Church History,” 2000.
This article, received in 2014, was written by Dr. E. Paul Balisky, a former lecturer in the Ethiopian Graduate School of Theology, a participating member of DACB. Paul and his wife Lila now reside in Grande Prairie, Alberta, Canada.
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