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BETA ISRAEL MONASTIC PRAYER-HOUSE ARCHITECTURE: AN EXAMINATION OF ARCHAEOLOGICAL, TEXTUAL AND ETHNOGRAPHIC SOURCES [Abstract ID: 0211-09]
One of the most intriguing aspects of Beta Israel society is the existence of the Beta Israel monastic movement, and the central roles of the monks as leaders of the community and shapers of its religious life. Beta Israel monks observed strict purity laws, which necessitated physical separation from the laity. But, on the other hand, they offered the laity spiritual guidance, and served as teachers and leaders of the liturgy. Thus, they were required to come in constant contact with the lay community. The focal point of such contact was often the prayer-house compound. This paper will examine the architecture of Beta Israel prayer-house compounds, and the ways in which such compounds serving both a lay and a monastic community were designed to accommodate monastic requirements. This examination will be based on results of a recent archaeological survey of Beta Israel monastic sites (November 2017), as well as documented accounts of visits to Beta Israel villages and interviews with members of the Beta Israel community, and with former neighbors of the Beta Israel in Ethiopia. An attempt will be made to situate Beta Israel monastic prayer-house architecture within the context of general trends of prayer-house architecture in the northern Ethiopian Highlands, to pinpoint similarities and differences, and, through this examination, to shed further light on the characteristics of Beta Israel monasticism.