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WHERE WERE BETA ISRAEL (ETHIOPIAN JEWISH) MONASTERIES FOUNDED? THE REGIONS OF DÄMBƏYA AND SÄQQÄLT (NORTH OF LAKE ṬANA) AS A CASE STUDY [Abstract ID: 1303-02]
Numerous aspects of Beta Israel material culture, and among them, Beta Israel monasteries, have never been comprehensively studied before. From the mid-nineteenth century to the second half of the twentieth century, all Beta Israel monasteries were gradually abandoned. At present, no active Beta Israel monastery remains in Ethiopia. The precise location of the majority of these monasteries is known only to elders, both Beta Israel and their former neighbors in Ethiopia, who resided in the monasteries' vicinity in the past. The regions of Dämbəya and Säqqält, north of Lake Ṭana, were a focal point of the activities of both Protestant missionaries and Jewish emissaries active among the Beta Israel in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Both groups left extensive records of encounters with Beta Israel monks. These, together with oral accounts of members of the Beta Israel community, make these regions an ideal case-study of Beta Israel monasteries. This paper will examine the locations and individual history of a number of monasteries in Dämbəya and Säqqält, and address the following questions: where were they situated relative to Beta Israel and non-Beta Israel lay communities, geographical features and sanctified sites? What could have been the motivation behind the selection of these localities? Why and when were they abandoned, and were alternative sites selected in their stead? What can we ascertain regarding the roles and development of Beta Israel monasticism in these regions from the answers that emerge? And how are these aspects similar to or different from their Ethiopian Orthodox parallels?