The classical language of Ge’ez, which has evolved into Amharic and Tigrean, is one of the four extinct languages but is the only indigenous writing system in Africa that is still in use. Ge’ez is still spoken in Orthodox Church services. The development of Ge’ez literature began with translations of the Old and New Testaments from Greek and Hebrew. Ge’ez was also the first Semitic language to employ a vowel system.
Many apocryphal texts such as the Book of Enoch, the Book of Jubilees, and the Ascension of Isaiah have been preserved in their entirety only in Ge’ez. Even though these texts were not included in the Biblical canon, among Biblical scholars (and Ethiopian Christians) they are regarded as significant to an understanding of the origin and development of Christianity.
Religious art, especially Orthodox Christian, has been a significant part of the national culture for hundreds of years. Illuminated Bibles and manuscripts have been dated to the twelfth century, and the eight-hundred-year-old churches in Lalibela contain Christian paintings, manuscripts, and stone relief.
Wood carving and sculpture are very common in the southern lowlands, especially among the Konso. A fine arts school has been established in Addis Ababa that teaches painting, sculpture, etching, and lettering.