The Homiliary of the Archangel Michael contains a series of illuminations dedicated to honouring the Archangel Michael in Ethiopia’s rich Christian tradition.
A depiction of God dominates the composition of folio 3v, where he is adorned with a magnificent red robe and distinguished from the other figures by rays of light emanating from his head. Unlike the angelic and human figures depicted here, the artist portrays the deity with white hair, possibly influenced by Daniel 7:9, ‘And the hair of his head [was] like pure wool’.
The heads of four living creatures surround the octagonally-framed image of God: a bird, an ox, a lion, and a winged figure (the archangel Michael, to whom the homiliary is dedicated). Together these four images (reading the face of Michael as the face of a man) recall the living creatures surrounding God’s throne in Ezekiel 1:10 and Revelation 4:7. Positioned at the bottom of the illumination we find a figure representing the homiliary’s patron, in all likelihood a ruler of some description, Fasiladis. Although he still carries his sceptre, he lies prostrate, horizontal, before the throne and the presence of God. His gaze points towards the viewer, so as to avoid looking directly at the theophany above.
Job’s demeanour and attitude in chapter 38 results from a dramatic reversal. Up until this point in the narrative, he remains confident in his own righteousness and extremely vocal in refuting the arguments and accusations of his three companions. He envisaged approaching God, ‘like a prince’ (31:37) when they met face-to-face, so he could exonerate his name.
In chapter 38, however, Job’s demeanour transforms into one very like that of the donor depicted in the homiliary. The divine presence reduces Job to silence. With his mouth closed, he can only lie prostrate before Almighty God. Just as God’s depiction dominates the homiliary’s frame, so too God’s words—his relentless interrogation and questioning of Job, beginning in chapter 38—dominate the narrative from this point onwards in the book.
Heldman, M. 1993. ‘The Late Solomonic Period: 1540–1769’, in African Zion: The Sacred Art of Ethiopia, ed. by R. Grierson (New Haven: Yale University Press), pp. 253–54
38 Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind:
2“Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?
3Gird up your loins like a man,
I will question you, and you shall declare to me.
4“Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
Tell me, if you have understanding.
5Who determined its measurements—surely you know!
Or who stretched the line upon it?
6On what were its bases sunk,
or who laid its cornerstone,
7when the morning stars sang together,
and all the sons of God shouted for joy?
8“Or who shut in the sea with doors,
when it burst forth from the womb;
9when I made clouds its garment,
and thick darkness its swaddling band,
10and prescribed bounds for it,
and set bars and doors,
11and said, ‘Thus far shall you come, and no farther,
and here shall your proud waves be stayed’?
12“Have you commanded the morning since your days began,
and caused the dawn to know its place,
13that it might take hold of the skirts of the earth,
and the wicked be shaken out of it?
14It is changed like clay under the seal,
and it is dyed like a garment.
15From the wicked their light is withheld,
and their uplifted arm is broken.
16“Have you entered into the springs of the sea,
or walked in the recesses of the deep?
17Have the gates of death been revealed to you,
or have you seen the gates of deep darkness?
18Have you comprehended the expanse of the earth?
Declare, if you know all this.
19“Where is the way to the dwelling of light,
and where is the place of darkness,
20that you may take it to its territory
and that you may discern the paths to its home?
21You know, for you were born then,
and the number of your days is great!
22“Have you entered the storehouses of the snow,
or have you seen the storehouses of the hail,
23which I have reserved for the time of trouble,
for the day of battle and war?
24What is the way to the place where the light is distributed,
or where the east wind is scattered upon the earth?
25“Who has cleft a channel for the torents of rain,
and a way for the thunderbolt,
26to bring rain on a land where no man is,
on the desert in which there is no man;
27to satisfy the waste and desolate land,
and to make the ground put forth grass?
28“Has the rain a father,
or who has begotten the drops of dew?
29From whose womb did the ice come forth,
and who has given birth to the hoarfrost of heaven?
30The waters become hard like stone,
and the face of the deep is frozen.
31“Can you bind the chains of the Pleiʹades,
or loose the cords of Orion?
32Can you lead forth the Mazʹzaroth in their season,
or can you guide the Bear with its children?
33Do you know the ordinances of the heavens?
Can you establish their rule on the earth?
34“Can you lift up your voice to the clouds,
that a flood of waters may cover you?
35Can you send forth lightnings, that they may go
and say to you, ‘Here we are’?
36Who has put wisdom in the clouds,
or given understanding to the mists?
37Who can number the clouds by wisdom?
Or who can tilt the waterskins of the heavens,
38when the dust runs into a mass
and the clods cleave fast together?
39“Can you hunt the prey for the lion,
or satisfy the appetite of the young lions,
40when they crouch in their dens,
or lie in wait in their covert?
41Who provides for the raven its prey,
when its young ones cry to God,
and wander about for lack of food?