This post (part 1 of 3) is about the “Lefāfa Ṣedeḳ: Book of Life”, also known as the “Bandlet of Righteousness” with the subtitle “An Ethiopic Book of the Dead.” The book of the dead subtitle is definitely a play on the Egyptian Book of the Dead, but is this a similar style text? Actually, it is. This Ethiopic text is quite the interesting read as it features a discussion between Mary and Jesus where she asks how to escape the tortures of Gehenna and he gives her the various secret divine names that she will use to bypass hell. The text is heavily influenced by Egyptian literature and has the Gnostic thought of using “secret names” to bypass the rulers for ascension. If you recall reading my three part posts regarding the “Liber Requiei Mariae” (Book of Mary’s Repose), Jesus gives Mary the secret names that will allow her to bypass the rulers of the world. The text, at least the English translation I read, did not include any such names. The Lefāfa Ṣedeḳ does! I see this text as a companion piece that goes with the Liber Requiei Mariae. So, with that in mind, let’s take a look at this fascinating text!
The text is split into eight sections. The intro to the text describes this book written by the Father before Christ was born onto Mary. Knowing this information would be later requested, hence why it is written before the “events” that would later come about. The first section of the book has Christ appearing to Mary in the “place where the righteous have their habitation in the Garden, and in the place where sinners dwell in torment in hell”. Witnessing this, Mary becomes troubled and asks her son how they (she and her kinfolk) are to be spared from the devouring fire. Jesus denies her request as he states once this information is out, it will spread onto others and eventually be used by sinners to escape any responsibility for their actions (a “Get out of Jail FREE” card if you will). Mary says to him “Wherefore did I carry Thee in my womb for nine months and five days?” and begins to weep a great deal afterwards. This causes Jesus to feel empathic towards his mother. He says he will go speak to his Father regarding this situation.
Jesus went before his Father and said “Behold, Mary, my mother is weeping. Give me the Mashafa Haywat (i.e. the Book of Life), which thou didst write with Thy holy hand before I myself was brought forth by Mary, the Virgin who now sitteth upon her chariot of the Kîrûbêl (cherubim), thy Throne.” The Father fulfills this request and tells Jesus to give Mary the information she seeks and to inform her that nothing will be hidden from her.
With a gold pen, Jesus begins to write in a book. As he was doing this, a light cloud hovered over them. Seven pavilions (veils) of fire surround them and no one knew what was being written until Christ spoke to Mary. He said to her “Take this book which I have given unto thee. And thou shalt not reveal it to the man who is not able to bear it, or to keep guard over this Book, but only to the wise who believe on Me, and who walk in My commandments. And whosoever hath gotten possession of this book, shall neither descend into the place of torment nor into Sî’ôl (Sheol). And moreover, whosoever shall carry it, and whosoever shall attach it to his neck, his sins shall be remitted to him. And if he repeateth it with his voice at the time of the Offering (Eucharist), his sins shall be remitted to him, and he shall be cleansed from the pollution of sin. And if they (priests) shall make at the bier (tomb) the sign of the seal of SOLOMON thrice with this book, after he is buried, the angels shall conduct him in through the gates of life. And they shall make him to arrive before God, and shall introduce him into the kingdom of heaven.”
Now this is very interesting! This book, or as I would like to call it, an “amulet”, is present in the “Liber Requiei Mariae” but amulets are commonplace in all types of traditions from antiquity to the present. Various gnostic groups used amulets (I have a few from antiquity, perhaps a future blog post subject) that typically had the Greek letters ΙΑΩ on them, usually around the figure of Abrasax/Abraxas, though that deity was not always present. As you can see, this text is a Christian incantation ritual guide. The Egyptian influences will definitely become more and more apparent.
The next step Jesus takes is to tell his mother his secret names for procuring life and salvation. With the two is a servant by the name of STEPHEN. He will show up in the text quite a bit, along with another servant by the name of WALDA. Rather than trying to type out these divine names, I will take a picture of the text. Here is the first group:
The next set of secret names, the servant STEPHEN says so that mercy and compassion will be shown upon him:
After the recitation of these names, Jesus tells Mary that the mercy of his Father is complete and perfect, and if men believe his name, he will judge them life and salvation.
The second section (spell) starts right away with the phrase “In the Name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost, One God.” Jesus then wrote the following names:
These names were directed towards the servant STEPHEN to recite to avoid the smoke of the place of torment. The servant WALDA then requested from the Lord the names that were given to Peter. These are the names that were given to her:
After the recital of these names, the following phrase is proclaimed:
SÂDÔR ‘ALÂDÔR DÂNÂT ‘ADÊRÂ RÔDÂS
What exactly are these five words? According to the translator, these words are a corruption of the phrase: SATOR AREPO TENET OPERA ROTAS. This phrase is a palindrome; hence it can be read the same forwards and backwards (in simplistic terms, think of the word RACECAR). This phrase was also used to form a magical square, such as:
The translator also states that this wording comes from an even earlier Roman phrase: “SAT ORARE POTENter ET OPERAre RatiO TuA sit”. In terms of this particular story, the phrase that is to be recited to close the ritual represents the five wounds of Jesus Christ, or as the text likes to state, “In the five nails of the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ”.
My first blog entry of this fascinating text will end here. Those interested in reading this text, I could not find it online anywhere. Ethiopic non-canonical Christian texts, particularly those of an esoteric nature, are pretty hard to come by, especially in English. I found on Amazon a reprint of the 1929 book “Bandlet of Righteousness: An Ethiopian Book of the Dead” by E.A. Wallis Budget. It’s pretty cheap and the version I purchased was by Kessinger’s Legacy Reprints. Unfortunately, no photos of the actual Ge’ez text accompany the text.
Featured artwork: 17th century Ethiopian iconography of Mother Mary and Jesus