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The Booke of Beginnings

Or a True Historie of God's Creations



Excerpt from 'The Booke of Beginnings' (Theodore Goodman, Ph.D (ed.), Princeton University Press, 2011)

...for all things have both beginnings as they have endings – the life of Man is brief like unto the candle in a tempest – and so [it is with] the Creations of God for they, in number will be of the Divine Relation of 11, and when they are done, there will be no stars and no [memory for] there will be the void and God will rest from his works in this world.


The phone rang beside me at my work table jarring me from where I had been carefully reading and transcribing from photos of medieval documents kindly provided by a colleague in Europe. I blinked several times, re-focusing my myopic vision to the world beyond the computer screen, while the phone continued to jangle. Finally, emerged from a thousand years of history, I snatched it up and answered.

“Hello.”

“Theodore,” came the response, “it's Roger Sweeton from the Rare Books room at University library. I hope that I'm not disturbing.”

I had to smile at his hard-wired, British formality – the carry-over from a strict, upper-crust childhood before emigrating to Canada as a student in the 60's.

“You know, Roger,” I said, my voice smiling, “you can call me 'Ted' just like everyone else does.”

He chuckled softly on the line.

“Yes,” he answered, “of course, I can... Ted. May I inquire as to the progress of your 'Quest'?”

I sighed before responding and, briefly, my gaze trailed to the computer screen and the hi-res photo of the manuscript page.

“Scraps, Roger,” I stated with clear disappointment. “All I'm getting are scraps – not nearly enough to piece together the whole book. Sometimes I think that history has just gobbled it up and I'm going to have to accept that – sometime.”

“I am sorry to hear that, Ted,” he said, his voice reflecting his own sentiment.

Roger knew well of my 'pet-project' to reconstruct the entire 'Booke of Beginnings' and, in fact, from his position as Head Curator of the University's rare book collection, he had been instrumental in gaining me access and contacts for some of the world's largest document collections – including the Vatican's Secret Archives and the Dresden library.

The 'Booke' itself, remained, however, a mystery since there was no surviving copy of it that anyone had identified – only, as I had described to him, 'scraps' and some vague, extremely unsatisfying, historical references. The last, possible reference to a copy of it was from a 12th century inventory of the 'Scriptorium' at the Monastery of St. Clotilda in the Basque region of Spain. After that, there was nothing.

Of it's significance, there could be no doubt. In 1884, von Scheklenhausen had argued that, even considering it's unknown origins, it should be included among the apocrypha to the official canon of the Bible since it seemed to offer an entirely unique reading of the Genesis text. For this reason, he concluded that, despite our lack of knowledge – he had only 3 fragments to work from – it could represent a completely separate, manuscript lineage, parallel to the Bible, itself.

Del Rio's study of 18 fragments in 1912, also introduced a possible reference to the book in Flavius Josephus' 'History', in which, he stated:

'These people [the Ethiopians] have a book of beginnings which should be a book of endings because it describes the end of the world. They are very superstitious and guard this book jealously. Only their priests are allowed to study it. I am not certain they know the language in which it was written and that is unknown to me also.'

Many authorities were doubtful of the association, however, the connexion to early Christian sects in Ethopia made plausible, in later centuries, it's move through the expanding Arab world, from north Africa and, with the invaders, into the Iberian penninsula and, finally, to St. Clotilda in the north prior to the 12th century.

On the other end of the line, Roger politely cleared his throat.

“I might have something for you,” he stated simply.

I sat bolt upright.

“What do you mean?”

“It's a new shipment that we received from a contact in Italy. The volume is a 'quarto' – very large - a register of accounts from a monastery in northern Italy – it's almost 6 inches thick!”

“Wow! That's a lot of accounts for you!” I couldn't help but laugh knowing well of Roger's interest in 14th and 15th century land transactions – particularly inheritances.

“Indeed, it is, Theodore... ah.. Ted but, what brought you to mind, was the binding. It is bound in heavy boards because of the weight but the boards were covered in older parchment. There is a lot, Ted – many small pages stitched together and possibly from a single source. I had a look and there is writing. It is a very fine, miniature, medieval uncinate script. I remembered what you said about the...”

“St. Clotilda had the finest copyists in Europe at the time.”

“Exactly my point.”

“Can we unbind it?”

“I'll need to get permission from the Trustees but, essentially, they rubber stamp my decisions. If it gets us something interesting, I am all for it.”

“What could you read of it?”

“Almost nothing, my boy,” said Roger, chuckling. “You know well enough that medieval uncinate is not my forte. However, there was a marginal gloss which, I am assuming, is in the copyist's own hand. I was able to read that.”

“And?”

I heard, as I held my breath, papers shuffling on his desk. He returned.

“It said: 'These words are Unholy and against God but, by my vows and, according to the instructions of my Master, I, Antonio, son of Bartolo, will copy them faithfully. Amen.”

The waiting game began. While I continued to play out my schedule; a seeming unending train of freshman lectures, senior seminars, graduate seminars and faculty meetings – such was the life of a newly hired, university professor – in my mind, I did nothing but pace, running over the words that Roger had reported to me and wait to receive his call that the request to unbind the register had been approved. By the end of two weeks, I was going mad with impatience. When his call did come, his voice was triumphant.

“Theod...Ted... I didn't want to waste your time. The approval has been received. I've had the 'quarto' volume in the humid room for days, waiting for the parchment to soften. It's ready to unbind. You can come when you wish.”

Scarcely thanking him, I called the registrar to cancel my classes and caught a taxi to the rare book library.

“Easy,” instructed Roger. “Don't pull too hard or the membrane will tear. The parchment is very fragile now.”

A sweat had broken out across my brow. With tweezers, I slowly loosened the knot and began to un-stitch the pages. The piece of gut – tied for over a thousand years, resisted its changing form and tried to curl back. With a cotton-gloved hand, grown damp in the palm, I grabbed the end and attempted to straighten it. A half-hour later, the first page came free and, while Roger continued to battle the uncooperative string of gut, I, with my magnifying goggles already perched on the end of my nose, began studying the delicate page, now pressed flat between two sheets of glass.

The marginal gloss was there, as Roger had reported to me but, it was the text that drew gasps of exhilaration. It began as I had expected it to, the Ecclesiastic Latin flowing out in its familiar rhythm:

'In principit, Deus creavit...'

'In the beginning, God created the heavens and the Earth and...'

Thereafter, it became something utterly different:

'... and this He did many times (in pluralis), minding that each Creation, which was the Mind of God, He allowed from its beginning to its ending and then He would begin anew.'

I gasped, reading aloud, while the perfectly formed words danced in my magnified vision.

“It's incredible. We've found it, Roger.”



Excerpt from 'The Booke of Beginnings' (Theodore Goodman, Ph.D (ed.), Princeton University Press, 2011)

... you will know by the appearance of the Divine Relation, 11 – that which represents all oppositions – birth and death, good and evil, light and dark, that the end [of God's] Creation has come.
For on the Year which is 11, and in the Month which is 11, and on the Day which is 11, and at the Hour which is 11, and the Minute which is 11, there will be [no more minutes], or hours, or days, or months, or years for that which is the Beginning and the Ending, the Alpha and the Omega and, all which is, has been or may be, will cease to be, like the candle which, deprived of the flame, is engulfed by the darkness.

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