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ABYSSINIANS AND HEBREWS.
Under the term Abyssins, Dr. Prichard, in his invaluable work upon the natural history of man, includes all the different nations that now inhabit the lofty plain of Abisha or Abyssinia. of these nations, the Amhara, he remarks, “ So striking is the resemblance between the modern Abyssinians and the Hebrews of old, that we can hardly look upon them but as branches of one nation, and if we had not convincing evidence to the contrary, and knew not for certain that the Abramidæ originated in Chaldæa, and to the northward and eastward of Palestine, we might frame a very probable hypothesis, which would bring them down as a band of wandering shepherds from the mountains of Habesh, and identify them with the pastor kings, who, according to Manetho, multiplied their bands in the land of the Pharaohs, and being, after some centuries, expelled thence by the will of the gods, sought refuge in Judea, and built the walls of Jerusalem. hypothesis would explain the existence of an almost Israelitish people, and the preservation of a language so nearly approaching to the Hebrew in intertropical Africa.” The learned ethnologist goes on to observe—“ It is certainly untrue; and we find no other easy explanation of the facts which the history of Abyssinia presents, and particularly of the early extension of the Jewish religion and customs through that country, for the legend which makes the royal house of
Such an 32
OF THE ANCIENT ASMACH.
Menilek descend from Solomon and the Queen of Sheba, is as idle a story as ever monks invented to abuse the reverent ignorance of their lay brethren.”
Herodotus, and other ancient historians and geographers, have recorded the migration of a vast body of discontented native soldiers from Egypt, in the time of Psammeticus. These, we are told, to the number of 240,000, retired to the country of Ethiopia, where they were kindly received by the Emperor. They assisted him in his wars, and in return were apportioned, as a residence, some country on the confines of Ethiopia, from which they were to drive a rebellious people to make room for themselves. Herodotus places this country
upon the Nile, at about the same distance beyond Meroë as this last is from Elephantine, or fifty days' journey ;” and he also adds, that “the Antomali (deserters) are known by the name of Asmach, which, being translated, signifies “ standing on the left hand' of the King.” It is a most remarkable circumstance that the reason or origin of the name of the country of Gurague, literally “ on the left side,” has long been a question of interest with every Abyssinian traveller, but none have given any satisfactory explanation for what reason this particular, and evidently significant, name was first applied. The situation of the Amhara with respect to the Abi or Bruce's Nile at once accounts for the designation, as they live upon the left hand of the stream as it flows south
AND MODERN GURAGUE.
from lake Dembea, whilst that portion of this people still retaining their ancient name and purity of descent, the present Gurague occupy a country similarly situated with respect to the river Zebbee, or Azzabi, or Assabinus, the Ethiopian Jupiter. Abi and Abiah, other names for branches of the Nile in Abyssinia, are expressive of father or king, evidently from having been, at a former period, the chief objects of worship by the people inhabiting their banks. “Asmach,” and “Gurague,” bear, therefore, the same interpretation, “ to the left of the king,” and none other can explain the circumstance of the latter name being given to the Amhara. It appears, however to have been bestowed in contra-distinction to the “Gongas,” or “Kongue,” a people who originally occupied the right banks solely of the Abi and Abiah.
This singular correspondence between mach” of the Grecian historian, and “Gurague” of modern travellers, would be alone, perhaps, inconclusive evidence that these terms apply to the same people or country, but some additional evidence may be drawn from the
be drawn from the account which Pliny gives of these Egyptian fugitives. On the authority of Aristocreon, he states, that “Seventeen days from Meroë is Esar, a city of those Egyptians who fled from Psammeticus, and entered the service of the monarch of that country, and in return received a considerable tract of territory upon the confines, from which the Ethiopian
prince ordered them to expel a tribe of people, at that time in rebellion against him, and this migration of the Egyptian troops, introducing the arts and manners of a refined nation, had a very sensible effect in civilizing the Ethiopians.” The most interesting particulars we gather from this information, is the name of the city, or, as I presume, the chief seat of these fugitives, Esar.
By a singular coincidence in the Old Testament, we are told that Esau is Edom, and although I am not going to infer from this alone, any connexion between that patriarch and the Ethiopian city, Esar, yet the philological analogy between the scriptural proper names, curiously enough, also exists between those of profane history; for the Esar and Amhara of our subject, express the very same idea as Esau and Edom, which by all Biblical commentators, is allowed to be the colour red. “And the first came out red, all over like an hairy garment; and they called his name Esau.” (Genesis xxv. 25.)
In the present Dankalli language, and I think also, in that of ancient Meroë, Assar sig. nifies red. In the Persian, I am given to understand that the planet Mars is called Azer, from its characteristic colour, a circumstance of significant import when it is considered that the word Calla, from which is derived Galla, “ Ab” the root of Abi, and “Nil,” from which comes Nile, with others I have yet to speak of, as designations of
places in Abyssinia, are all referable to the same language. To return, however, to Esar, and its connexion with the colour red, for it is the same with Esau, and that it is the same as Edom in Hebrew, I advance the testimony of Dr. Stukeley, who, speaking of the Red Sea, remarks, “ That sea had its name from Erythras, as the Greeks and the same Pliny write; who is Edom, or Esau, brother of Jacob. The words are synonymous, signifying red."* Amhara, also bears the same interpretation in Amharic, and although it has another meaning, that of beautiful, this is only because of the national taste directing the name of the favourite complexion among them, to be employed as the term for beauty itself. The Dankalli slave-merchant well understands this, for a light-red Abyssinian girl is the Circassian of oriental harems. In Arabia, where the original word still conveys the more common idea, we find “ 'hamah” employed to express the colour red.
In this manner, I connect the “ Asmach” of Herodotus, with Gurague of modern travellers, and the Esar of Pliny, with the Amhara of the present day, and from these two mutually corroborating correspondencies, the identity of the modern Abyssinians of Dr. Prichard with the Automali of Herodotus may perhaps be deduced, and the difficulty of accounting for a Hebrew people, situated on the Abyssinian plateau only requires * Dr. Stukeley. “Stonehenge, a British Temple,” page 53.