Entry to Jerusalem, from the Kebran Gospels by Unknown Ethiopian artist

Unknown Ethiopian artist

Entry to Jerusalem, from the Kebran Gospels, c.1375–1400, Manuscript illumination, Kebran Gabriel Church, Lake Tana, Ethiopia; MS Tanasee 1, Photo: © Michael Gervers, 2006

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Image and Liturgy

Commentary by

Hosanna to the Son of David!

Miniatures of the Entry into Jerusalem are attested in many medieval Ethiopic Gospel books where the episode often takes up a two-page spread to stress the triumphal character of the occasion.

In the Kebran Gospels, Jesus is surrounded by his disciples and rides towards a crowd that welcomes him by spreading garments on the road and waving palm branches (Matthew 21:8; Mark 11:8; Luke 19:36; John 12:13). Jesus is met by a group of children even though the canonical narratives do not mention them at this point in the story. Their presence foreshadows the account of the Cleansing of the Temple in Matthew (21:12–17) during which Jesus is praised by children who cry out ‘Hosanna’. Their acclamations anger the high priests and scribes, but Jesus explains and justifies their actions by reciting the first half of Psalm 8:2, ‘Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings thou hast brought perfect praise’, to prove that by accepting him as the Messiah the children are fulfilling this prophecy.

Looking more closely at the Kebran miniature, we can see a small figure perched upon the tree above the welcoming crowd and identified by a caption as Zacchaeus—a tax collector who climbed up a sycamore tree to see Jesus in Jericho. His story is peculiar to Luke’s Gospel (19:1–10) who uses it to show that through Jesus salvation becomes possible even for sinners such as Zacchaeus and to introduce the parable of the Ten Pounds/minas (19:11–27; a parallel of the parable of the Talents in Matthew 25:14–30).

In Ethiopia this pericope is read on Palm Sunday so the decision to include Zacchaeus was probably inspired by the liturgical practices of the Ethiopian church. However, the presence of Zacchaeus, in view of the connection with the parable of the Ten Pounds, also gives an eschatological dimension to the whole scene. In Matthew 25, this story is part of a group of parables about the kingdom of heaven. The eschatological connotations of this image are also brought into play by the sun and moon on the left page which evoke the prophecy of the destruction of the Temple (Matthew 24:29).

 

References

Gnisci, Jacopo. 2015. ‘The Liturgical Character of Ethiopian Gospel Illumination of the Early Solomonic Period: A Brief Note on the Iconography of the Washing of the Feet,’ in Aethiopia fortitudo ejus: Studi in onore di Monsignor Osvaldo Raineri in occasione del suo 80° compleanno, ed. by Rafał Zarzeczny (Rome: Pontificio Istituto Orientale), pp. 253–75


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