By Prof. Paulos Milkias (PhD)
Published on December 31,2016
Updated on January 1,2017
In my book review of Dr. Fikre Tolossa’s published work, I asked proof for 13 questions regarding the most difficult conundrums his monograph has generated due to its obscure setting between fiction, fact, religion and astrology. However, in the author’s last posting, not a single “proof of scientific nature” was presented to cement its claimed factual underpinning. Instead of taking responsibility for the dubious sources he liberally used and involving in plain levelled intellectual discourse, Dr. Fikre delves into self-serving vituperation and defensive rant and attempts to pass the buck. The burden of the proof does not lie with me because I did not introduce strange views and unheard of realities: he did. So, he can’t wiggle out: it is his duty to render iron-clad verifiable proofs for what he claims to be historical facts.
All I asked for is present plausible proofs. Dr. Fikre points to the 45 references he has listed at the end of his book as researched proofs. He says: “I didn’t make up the Ethiopian history I enshrined in my book. I used literature available on the book market, which can be easily verified, as I have listed them as bibliography.” Unfortunately, far from being reliable proofs, many of the sources in the bibliography are suspect. Without further ado, I will quote several more statements of his and ask if he can provide reliable proofs for them as well.
One concerns the statement he makes that “God ordered Melchizedek to send his son Ethel who was named …Ethiop later on by God, to go and settle in Ethiopia at the islands of Lake Tana.” Second he says “the Amara and the Oromo are the descendants of one man – Melchizedek, King of Salem the highest priest of God on Earth, founder of Jerusalem to whom Abraham and other kings bowed and paid tithes to receive his blessings.” Third he says: “The Agazi, tribe [those who spoke Ge’ez] who were brought from Gaaza (here enter the Palestinians!) by Menelik I fought for him when Ethiopian tribes warred against him, treating him as a Jewish “keles” [Interesting that they would use such Amharic pejoratives 3,000 years ago!] And fourth, he says: “Ethel went to Ethiopia and settled in what is today known as Gojam; God changed his name from Ethel to “Ethiop” meaning ‘the gift of yellow gold to God’; thus, not only Ethel became Ethiop, but the land in which he settled also started to be called “Ethiopia”; He mentions 9 children born to him by name one of them being Tola and adds the comment, “by the way, the name of my uncle, the brother of my father Tolossa, was Tola.)” Dr. Fikre: Congrats for finding a name sake for your uncle but do you really consider what are quoted above as historical facts? Or are these passages from the scriptures or other religious texts? This work is not history at all; it is a melange of religion and mythology. If not, I ask you to prove otherwise.
You ask how history can be science. Yes, it can and it is science for it lends itself like all other social science disciplines to rigorous human effort to comprehend the history of the natural world and the way in which the natural world functioned in the past with reliable evidence as the basis of that understanding. Science varies from religion or mythical lore in that it has an exit clause for its propositions. If evidence or a set of data cannot support their postulate or if they do not correspond closely with the conjectures that they have come up with, scientists alter their views completely. It is this methodological commitment to accepting the implications of evidence that is consistent with the suppositions or to rejecting one that is contradictory to it that forms the foundation of social science enquiry.
Indeed, there is a striking contrast to verifiable truth on the one hand which, in Aristotelian syllogism can be arrived at through inductive logic as it pertains to the physical sciences, and religion or mythical lore which are based on blind belief or faith which lend themselves only to deductive logic – the kind that Dr. Fikre presently expounds based on an arcane manuscript. But for deductive logic to be accepted at face value, there is one basic requirement: the universal i.e. the major premise has to be full proof. Metsafe Dejan Shewa on which Dr. Fikre depends for most of his conclusions has not been proven to be authentic. Therefore, it cannot be the basis of any valid major premise. In this, the author is committing the fallacy of Begging the Question. An argument begs the question when it employs a premise that no one who didn’t already accept the conclusion would root for. The individual employing it presupposes the truth of the very thing he is trying to prove. In brief, it is a form of argument in which the conclusion appears an identical twin of the major premise. In both cases, the verdict is that if the major premise has not been proven to be accurate, then the conclusion is also not accurate.
A scientific historical analysis is like the one Dr. Getachew Haile recently wrote on Ethiomedia under the rubric: “Sample Notes on the Oromo Migration to Central and Northern Ethiopia and their Contribution to the History of their Country.” This piece has all the ingredients of scientific historical research with reliable primary and secondary sources. Dr. Fikre has to try to emulate Dr. Getachew if he wants to make veritable scholarly research. If not, he will continue to wallow in a world where reality is distorted and nothing can be proven to be deductively trustworthy.
One should keep in mind that researching the past is not just a blind pursuit of forgotten people and events surrounding them. Researching the past should withstand the tests of rigour and an iron clad backing of reason, a rebuttal of myth, a way of looking at the past with the same exactitude that we require when we analyze present political figures and events. They should also be inherently compatible and non-contradictory. In connection with this, it is quite amusing that in a major twist of logic, Dr. Fikre says: ‘it is absurd to characterize historical evidences as “scientific”’ and then claims that he has presented a “scientific” proof. These dual statements are clearly contradictory and paradoxical.
A scholarly book is only as good as the sources used in it. To be reliable, it must be based on trustworthy, academic sources. A scholar’s major responsibility in eliciting scientific results is to fathom the variance between fact and fiction as well as differentiating reliable from unreliable sources. Far from being scientific, D. Fikre’s sources are terribly weak. He has provided two sets of endnotes to support his claims. In the first set, 31 out of 63 are based on the assumed scholarly authority of Meriras Belai (aka Aman Belai) the “discoverer” of Metsehafe Djan Shewa. In the second set, he has quoted 56 sources out of which 30 are again attributed to the assumed scholarly authority of Meriras Belai. It is clear that to a large extent, Dr. Fikre depended on Meriras’ document which makes it incumbent that for the bizarre claims he makes to be accepted, the authenticity of the manuscript has to be ascertained before everything else. Worse still, among the 45 bibliographical references he proudly quotes as his scientific proofs, there is Wikipedia that anybody can write and anybody else can edit. So, for Dr. Fikre, no matter the motive for writing this book, the sources he used remain his Achilles heel.
Regarding the manuscript, Metsehafe Djan Shewa, Dr. Fikre has written: “as for bequeathing the ancient manuscripts found at Jebel Nuba to the Ethiopian National Museum, their discoverer is willing to do so, if Dr. Paulos can guarantee their safety.” Please note that I shall make sure that the Ethiopian National Museum would give it the same protection it gives to the fossil of Dinkinesh (aka Lucy.) I shall also make sure that a specialist scholar examine the integrity of the manuscript and the whole story behind it because my enquiry to the Nubian antiquities has yielded a negative response. They say that they have never heard of the discovery of a manuscript called Metsehafe Djan Shewa in Gebel Nuba (Nuba Mountains) or any other locality in Sudan or the Aswan region of Egypt.
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