e-thi-o'-pi-a (kush; Aithiopia):

See a list of verses on ETHIOPIA in the Bible.

1. Location, Extent and Population:

Critically speaking Ethiopia may refer only to the Nile valley above the First Cataract, but in ancient as in modern times the term was often used not only to include what is now known as Nubia and the Sudan (Soudan), but all the unknown country farther West and South, and also at times Northern, if not Southern, Abyssinia. While Ethiopia was so indefinitely large, yet the narrow river valley, which from the First to the Fifth Cataract represented the main agricultural resources of the country, was actually a territory smaller than Egypt and, excluding deserts, smaller than Belgium (W. Max Muller). The settled population was also small, since in ancient as in modern times Egypt naturally drew away most of the able-bodied and energetic youth as servants, police and soldiers. The prehistoric population of Northern Nubia was probably Egyptian but this was displaced in early historic time by a black race, and the thick lips and woolly hair of the typical African are as well marked in the oldest Egyptian paintings as in the latest. But by the side of these natives of K'sh, the artist also represents various reddish-brown varieties; for from the beginning of historic time the pure Negro stock has been mixed with the fellaheen of Egypt and with the Sere population of the Arabian coast. The rulers of Ethiopia were generally of foreign blood. The Negroes, though brave and frugal, were slow in thought, and although controlled for centuries by cultivated neighbors, under whom they attained at times high official prominence, yet the body of the people remained uninfluenced by this civilization. The country which we now know as Abyssinia was largely controlled, from the earliest known date, by a Caucasian people who had crossed the Red Sea from Arabia. The true Abyssinians, as Professor Littmann shows, contain no Negro blood and no Negro qualities. In general they are "well formed and handsome, with straight and regular features, lively eyes, hair long and straight or somewhat curled and in color dark olive approaching brown." Modern discoveries prove their close racial and linguistic connection with Southern Arabia and particularly with the kingdom of Sheba (the Sabeans), that most powerful people whose extensive architectural and literary remains have recently come to light. The Sabean inscriptions found in Abyssinia go back some 2,600 years and give a new value to the Bible references as well as to the constant claim of Josephus that the queen of Sheba was a "queen of Ethiopia." The Falashas are a Jewish community living near Lake Tsana, of the same physical type and probably of the same race as other Abyssinians. Their religion is a "pure Mosaism" based upon the Ethiopic version of the Pentateuch, but modified by the fact that they are ignorant of the Hebrew language (Jewish Encyclopedia). It is uncertain when they became Jews. The older scholars thought of them as dating back to the Solomonic era, or at least to the Babylonian captivity. Since the researches of Joseph Halevy (1868), some date within the Christian era has seemed preferable, notwithstanding their ignorance of Talmudic rules. However, the newly discovered fact that a strong Jewish community was flourishing at Syene in the 6th century BC makes it clear that Jewish influence may have been felt in Ethiopia at least that early. Although Abyssinians are noted for their strict adherence to ancient custom, Jewish characteristics are prominent all over the entire country. The opening formula of the king in every official letter--"The Lion of the Tribe of Judah has Conquered!"--is no more Jewish than scores of ordinary phrases and customs. Although it is barely possible that some rites, like circumcision and observance of the Sabbath, may have been received from the ancient Egyptians or Christian Coptics (The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge Encyclopedia) yet a strong Hebrew influence cannot be denied. All travelers speak of the "industry" of the Falashas and of the "kindliness and grave courtesy" of the Abyssinians. Besides those named above there are many communities of mixed races in Ethiopia, but the ancient basis is invariably Negro, Semitic or Egyptian

See also the McClintock and Strong Biblical Cyclopedia.

2. History:

The ancient Greek writers are full of fantastic and fabulous stories about Ethiopia. Sometimes they become so puzzled in their geography as to speak of Ethiopia as extending as far as India; their notes concerning the miraculous fauna and flora are equally Munchausian. Homer praises the Ethiopians as the "blameless race," and other writers rank them first among all men for their religious knowledge. This latter notion may have had its origin from a priestly desire to consider the Ethiopian reverence for the priesthood--which had the power of life and death over the kings--as the Divinely ordained primitive custom, or it may have sprung from the fact that the Egyptian "Land of the Gods" was partly situated in Southern Abyssinia. It is suggestive that the Hebrew prophets never fell into these common errors but invariably "gave a very good idea of geographical and political conditions" (W. Max Muller). The oldest important historic document referring to Ethiopia is from the IVth Dynasty of Egypt. when Sneferu laid waste the land, capturing 7,000 slaves and 100,000 cattle.

In the VIth Dynasty the Egyptians reached as far South as the Second Cataract and brought back some dwarfs, but did not establish any permanent control. In the XIIth Dynasty Egypt's real occupation of Ethiopia began. Usertesen III records his contempt by saying: "The Negro obeys as soon as the lips are opened. They are not valiant, they are miserable, both tails and bodies!" Notwithstanding this satiric reference, these naked Ethiopians clad in skins and tails of wild animals, compelled the Pharaoh to make several campaigns before he could establish a frontier at the Second Cataract beyond which no Negro could come without a permit. That the natives were not cowardly may be seen from the songs of triumph over their subjection and from the fact that every later Pharaoh encouraged them to enlist in his army, until finally the very hieroglyphic for archer became a Nubian. The XVIIIth Dynasty pushed the frontier beyond the Third Cataract into the splendid Dongola district and often boasts of the rich tribute from Ethiopia., in one case 2,667 "manloads" of ivory, ebony, perfumes, gold and ostrich feathers besides cattle, wild beasts and slaves. The chairs of ivory and the jewelry sometimes shown seem barbaric in style but excellent in workmanship. Copper and bronze factories and great iron foundries date also to a very early time in Ethiopia (PSBA, XXXIII, 96). The Ethiopian gold mines where hundreds of criminals toiled, with ears and noses mutilated, made gold in Egypt in the 15th century BC as "common as dust." The choicest son of the Pharaoh, next to him in power, was proud to be called "Prince of Kush." Amenhotep IV (1370 BC), the religious reformer, built his second greatest temple (the only one of his works now existent) in Nubia. The XIXth Dynasty sought to colonize Ethiopia., and some of the most magnificent temples ever built by man can be seen as far South as the Fourth Cataract. For over five centuries Egyptian rule was maintained, until about 1000 BC a war for independence began which was so successful that the victorious Ethiopian kings finally carried their armies against Thebes and Memphis and for a century (763-663) ruled all Egypt from Napata--which in religious architecture became the Southern Thebes--and for another century (and even at times during the Ptolemaic era) controlled upper Egypt. While the leaders of this revolution were doubtless descendants of exiled priests from Thebes, yet the mixture of Ethiopian blood is plainly discernible and is perhaps also shown in their "Puritan morals" (Petrie, III, 276) and spirit of clemency, so different from the legitimate Pharaohs. Shabaka = So (715-707) and Taharka = Tirhaqah (693-667), both mentioned in the Bible, were the last great kings of Ethiopia. When Tanutamen, son of Shabaka and nephew of Taharka (667-664), was forced by Ashurbanipal to give up his claim to Egypt and retire to the South, the influence of Ethiopia ceased. Cambyses (525-521) made Ethiopia tributary clear to the Third Cataract (compare Eze 30:4), while King Ergamenes, near the close of the 3rd century BC, broke forever the power of the Egyptian priesthood. Though the Romans held a nominal protectorate over Ethiopia, it was of so little importance as to be scarcely ever mentioned. After being expelled from Egypt the Ethiopians still continued to honor the gods of Thebes, but, as foreign influence ceased, the representations of this worship became more and more African and barbaric. Even after Christianity had triumphed everywhere else, the Nubians, as late as the 5th century AD, were still coming to Philae to give honor to the statue of Isis (Erman). In the 6th century AD a native king, Silko, established a Christian kingdom in the Northern Sudan with Dongola as its capital. This raised somewhat the culture of the land. In the next century the Arabs made Nubia tributary, though it took an immense army to do it. For six centuries thereafter Islam demanded a tribute of 360 slaves annually, and other treasure, though innumerable campaigns were necessary to collect it. The Nubian kings refused all overtures to become Moslems, and Christian churches multiplied along the banks of the Nile. In the 8th century Egypt was invaded by 100,000 Nubians to repay an insult given to the Coptic patriarch and to the sacred pictures in the Egyptian Christian churches. In the 13th century, David, king of Nubia, not only withheld tribute but invaded Egypt. He was terribly punished, however, by the Arabs, who sacked churches and tortured Christians clear to the Fourth Cataract. This was the beginning of the end. By the close of the 15th century almost every Christian altar was desolate and every church destroyed.

3. Bible References:

Winckler long ago proved that the Assyrians designated a district in Northern Arabia by the same name which they ordinarily applied to Ethiopia. Skinner (Genesis, 1910, 208) thinks the Hebrews also made this distinction and were therefore entirely right when they spoke of Nimrod as "son of Gush," since the earliest Babylonian dynasty had as a matter of fact a Semitic origin. There may be other references to an Arabian district, but undoubtedly the African Kush must be the one generally designated. This is referred to once in the New Testament and over 40 times in the Old Testament. Many secular monuments speak of the high honor paid to women in Ethiopia., and Candace (Ac 8:27) seems certainly to have been an official or dynastic name for a number of Ethiopian queens. One of the pyramids of Meroe was Candace's--her picture can still be seen at Kaga--and to her belonged the wonderful treasure of jewelry found in 1834 by Ferlini and now in the Berlin museum. Petronius (24 BC) raided Ethiopia for Rome and stormed the capital, but Candace sent ambassadors to Rome and obtained peace. The "eunuch" who may have been the treasurer of this very queen was probably "no black proselyte but a Jew who had placed the business ability of his race at the service of the Nubian woman" (W. Max Muller). In the Old Testament Ethiopia is spoken of with great respect, and several Bible characters are named Cushi (2Sa 18:21 the King James Version; Jer 36:14; Zep 1:1); even Moses married an Ethiopian wife (Nu 12:1), and Ebed-melek the Ethiopian is helper to Jeremiah (Jer 38:7). It is a great land situated beyond the frontiers of the civilized world (Eze 29:10), yet with Jews in its farthest district (Zep 3:10). It is very rich (Job 28:19; Isa 43:3); is engaged in trade with Arabia (Isa 45:14), and its citizens are proud of their nationality (Ps 87:4). Again and again the relation of Cush with Sheba is mentioned (Ge 10:7,28; Isa 43:3, etc.), which latter statement is strangely corroborated by the recently discovered Sabean inscriptions throughout Abyssinia. Its typical inhabitants have a color as unchangeable as the leopard's spots (Jer 13:23), are careless (Eze 30:9), but very warlike (Eze 38:5; Jer 46:9), giving "infinite" strength to Nineveh (Na 3:9), but who can be resisted by Israel because of Yahweh's favor (2Ch 16:8; Isa 20:5; 36:6). Yahweh is interested in the history of Ethiopia as well as Egypt (Isa 20:3), loves the children of Ethiopia as the children of Israel (Am 9:7), and the time is coming when Ethiopia shall yet stretch out her hands to Yahweh (Ps 68:31). Cush and Mizraim are correctly mentioned as political unit (Isa 20:4 f) , and several kings of Ethiopia are mentioned by name--Zerah (2Ch 14:9), So (2Ki 17:4) and Tirhaqah (2Ki 19:9; Isa 37:9). The statements concerning these kings have been pronounced incorrect because it seemed that Zerah could not possibly be an equivalent for Usarkon or So for Shabaka--the known kings of Egypt at those periods--and also because the reigns of Shabaka and Tirhaqah did not begin until after the dates at which in the Hebrew records they were called "kings of Ethiopia."

Recent, information, however, makes it clear that both Shabaka and Tirhaqah exercised royal authority in the Delta before they were given it farther south, and that the Hebrew transcription of names was very easy and natural. (See W. M. Flinders Petrie, Hist of Egypt, III, 280-309; Egypt and Israel (1911), 76-78.)

4. The Church in Abyssinia:

Sem influence entered Abyssinia at least as early as the 7th or 8th century BC (see above), and the kings of Axum claimed descent from Menelek, Son of Solomon, but the first certain information concerning the kingdom of Axum comes from the middle of the 1st centuryAD , at which time Axum was a rich capital, and its ancient sacredness was so great that from that period clear down to the 19th century the kings of Abyssinia would travel there to be crowned. There is no reason to doubt that Frumentius (circa 330 AD) was the first to introduce Christianity. Merope of Tyre, according to the often-told story, when returning from India with his two nephews, was captured and killed off the Ethiopian coast, but the two boys were carried to the Abyssinian king; and although one perished the other, Frumentius, succeeded in converting the king and his people to Christianity, and later was himself consecrated by Athanasius of Alexandria as the first Metropolitan of Ethiopia, taking as his title Abu Salama ("Father of Peace"). From that time until now, with but one single interruption, the Abuna ("Father") has always been appointed by the Patriarch of Alexandria and, since the 13th century, has been by legal necessity not a native Abyssinian, but a Copt.

After the Council of Chalcedon (450 AD) condemned all as heretics who did not accept the "double nature" of Christ, both the Egyptian and Abyssinian churches separated themselves from Rome, believing so thoroughly in the Deity of Christ as to refuse to accept His humanity as essential "nature." In the 5th century a great company of monks entered Abyssinia, since which time the monastic tendency has been strongly marked. About 525, Caleb, king of Axum, attacked the Homeritae across the Red Sea--either for their persecution of Christians or their interference with his trade--and for some half a century controlled a large district of Arabia. At this time Abyssinian trade was extensive. Greek influence was also felt, and the Christian cathedral at Axum was a magnificent work of architectural article The early churches were protected by heavy surrounding walls and strong towers. The invasion of Africa by Islam in the 7th century required 300 years of battle for the preservation of Abyssinian liberty and Christian faith. It alone of all the African states succeeded in preserving both--but its civilization was destroyed, and for 1,000 years it was completely hidden from the eyes of its fellow- Christians in Europe. Occasionally during those centuries a rumor would reach Europe of a "Prester John" somewhere in the Far East who was king of a Christian people, yet it was a thrilling surprise to Christendom when Pedro de Cavilham in the 15th century discovered this lost Christian kingdom of Abyssinia completely surrounded by infidel pagans and bigoted Mohammedans. When, early in the 16th century, the Negus of Abyssinia sent an envoy to the king of Portugal asking his help against the Moslems, the appeal was met with favor. In 1520 the Portuguese fleet arrived in the Red Sea and its chaplain, Father Francisco Alvarez, 20 years later stirred the Christian world by his curious narratives. Not long afterward, when the Arabs actually invaded the country, another Portuguese fleet was sent with a body of military, commanded by Christopher de Gama. These 450 musketeers and the six little pieces of artillery gave substantial aid to the endangered state. Father Lobe tells the story. The Abyssinian king must have been grateful for such help, yet presently the strenuous efforts of the Portuguese clergy to convert him and his people to the Roman Catholic faith became so offensive that Bermudez, the most zealous missionary, was compelled to leave the country and the Jesuits who remained were mistreated. Other efforts to win the Abyssinian Christians to renounce the Monophysitic heresy and accept the doctrine and control of Rome were somewhat more successful. Early in the 17th century Father Pedro Paez, an ecclesiastic of much tact, won the king fully to his faith, and under his direction many churches were erected and advantageous government works carried on. However, his successor Mendez lacked his conciliatory ability and, although a punishment of seven years' chastisement was proclaimed against recalcitrants, the opposition became so violent and universal that the Negus Sysenius finally abdicated in favor of his son Fasilidas, who in 1633 sent all Jesuits out of the country and resumed official relations with the Egyptian church. Since then, although many efforts have been made, no controlling influence has ever been obtained by Rome. Once more, for over a century, Abyssinia became completely hidden from the eyes of the outside world until James Bruce, the explorer, visited the country, 1770-72, and made such a report as to arouse again the interest of Christendom. The translation of the Bible, which was made by his Abyssinian guide, was adopted and published by the British and Foreign Bible Society, and in 1829 the Church Missionary Society sent out Gobat and Kugler as the first Protestant missionaries to Abyssinia, who were followed shortly after by some Roman Catholics. Owing chiefly to the opposition of native priests the Protestants were expelled in 1838 and the expulsion of the Roman missionaries followed in 1854. In 1858 a Copt who had been influenced as a youth by a Protestant school, became Abuna, and Protestant missionaries were again admitted, but succeeded in doing little permanent work owing to the political disturbances while King Kesa (Theodore)--the Napoleon of Africa--was attempting to consolidate native resources and build up an African empire. At this period the influence of Great Britain began to be felt in Abyssinia. After the suicide of Theodore (1868) and especially after Menelek II had succeeded in making himself emperor (1899), this influence became great. During the 20th century missionaries have been able to work in Abyssinia without much danger, but the Moslem influence is so preponderating that little has been attempted and little done. The religion of the Crescent seems now almost completely victorious over the strange land which for so many centuries, alone and unhelped, held aloft in Africa the religion of the Cross. (See especially The Mohammedan World of Today, by Zwemer, Wherry, and Barton, 1907; Missionary World, 1910-11.)

5. Beliefs and Practices:

In creed, ritual, and practice, the Abyssinian church agrees generally with the Coptic. There are seven sacraments and prayers for the dead, high honor is paid to the Virgin Mary and to the saints; fasts and pilgrimages are in much favor; adults are baptized by immersion and infants by affusion. A blue cord is placed about the neck at baptism. An extract from one of the Gospels, a silver ring, an ear pick and a small cross, often very artistic, are also worn about the neck. No charms or beads or crucifixes ("graven images") are worn. The Jewish as well as the Christian Sabbath is kept sacred, and on an average every other day during the year is a religious holiday. The people are ignorant and superstitious, yet impress observers with their grave kindliness and seem at times eager to learn. The clergy can marry before but not after ordination. Priests must be able to read and recite the Nicene Creed (the "Apostles' Creed" is not known), but do not understand the Ge`ez language in which the liturgies are written. They conduct many and long services and attend to the ceremonial purifications. Deacons must also be able to read; they prepare the bread for the Holy Sacrament and in general help the priests. The monastic clergy have chief care of the education of the young--though this consists mainly in Scripture reading--and their head, the Etshege, ranks next to the Abuna.

The ancient churches were often basilican, but modern native churches are quadrangular or circular. The Holy of Holies always stands in the center, and is supposed to contain an ark. Tradition declares that the ark in the cathedral at Axum is the original ark from Solomon's temple. An outer court surrounds the body of the church, which is freely used by laymen and as a place of entertainment for travelers. Very crude pictures are common. These show both Egyptian and European influence, and are probably not merely decorations but have a relation, as in Egyptian thought, to spiritual advancement in this life or the next (compare Budge, Introduction to the Lives of Maba' Segon and Gabra Krestos, 1898). The services consist of chanting psalms, reading Scriptures and reciting liturgies.

6. Abyssinian Literature:

The Abyssinian canon (Semanya Ahadu) consists of 46 Old Testament and 35 New Testament books. Besides the usually accepted books, they count Shepherd of Hermas, Synodos (Canons), Epistles of Clement, Maccabees, Tobit, Judith, Wisdom, Ecclesiasticus, Baruch, 4 Ezra, Ascension of Isaiah, Book of Adam, Joseph ben Gorion, Enoch and Jubilees. The Ethiopic texts of the two latter give these books in the most ancient form, and their discovery has led to much valuable discussion. The use of the Ge`ez language in which these are written dates back to a time shortly before the introduction of Christianity. From the 5th to 7th centuries AD, the literature is almost exclusively translated from Greek writers or adaptations of such writings. Quotations abound from Basil, Gregory, Ignatius, Athanasius, Epiphanus, Cyril, Dioscurus, etc. The second literary period begins 1268, when the old "Solomonic" Dynasty regained its place and continues to the present; it consists mainly of translations from the Arabic. In both periods the topics are few: liturgies, hymns, sermons, the heroic deeds of the saints and their orthodoxy. Each saint uses the four Holy Gospels, as David his four stones, to kill every heretical Goliath (compare Goodspeed and Crum, Patrologia Orientalis,IV , 1908). A large place is given to miracles and magic prayers and secret names (compare Budge, Miracles of the Virgin Mary, 1900, and "Magic Book of Disciples,"JAOS , 1904). The legends or histories are occasionally well written, as the famous "Magda Queen of Sheba" (English Translation by Mrs. J. Van Vorst, 1907), but usually are as inferior in style as in thought (compare Littmann, Bibliotheca-Abessinica, 1904). A few specimens of "popular literature" and many Abyssinian "proverbs" are extant (JAOS, XXIII, 51-53; XXV, 1-48; Jour. asiatique, IV, 487-95).

7. Nubian Literature:

The modern Nubian does not write, and his ancient predecessors wrote but little. Even in the days of the Pharaohs the hieroglyphics in most Nubian temples were written so poorly as to be almost unintelligible, and in later pre-Christian monuments put up by native rulers the usual tablets accompanying the Divine tableaux are often left blank. Some centuries before our era the necessary monumental inscriptions began to be composed in the Nubian language, though still written in hieroglyphics. Shortly after the beginning of the Christian era a native cursive writing begins to be used on the monuments, closely resembling the Egyptian demotic, from which undoubtedly its alphabet was derived (F. L. Griffith in Areika). Finally, after Nubia became Christian (6th century), another native system appears written in Greek and Coptic letters. Lepsius found two such inscriptions on the Blue Nile and numbers have since been discovered, but until 1906 these were as unreadable as the other two forms of Nubian writing. In that year Dr. Karl Schmidt found in Cairo two precious fragments of parchment which had been owned by some Nubian Christians of probably the 8th or 9th century. One of these contained a selection of passages from the New Testament--as was ascertained by comparing it with the Greek and Coptic Scriptures. By the aid of bilingual cartouches several proper names were soon deciphered. New inscriptions are now being brought to light every few months, and undoubtedly the translation of this important tongue, which contains the "history of an African Negro dialect for some 2,000 years" and also the religious history of the long-lost Christian church of the Sudan, will soon be accomplished. The other fragment found by Schmidt was a curious Hymn of the Cross, well representing the ancient Ethiopian hymnology:

"The cross is the hope of Christians;

The cross is the resurrection of the dead;

The cross is the physician of the sick;

The cross is the liberator of the slave," etc..

--James H. Breasted in Biblical World, December, 1908; Nation, June 2, 1910.

8. Exploration:

Scientific observation of Nubia began with Burckhardt (1813), Cailliaud, and Waddington (1821), and especially with Lepsius (1844), but excavation in the proper sense was begun by the University of Chicago (1905-7), followed (1907-10) by expeditions sent out by the Royal Academy of Berlin, University of Pennsylvania, University of Liverpool, and Oxford University.


Besides the works quoted above, among recent Encyclopedias, see especially Encyclopedia Britannica (11th edition) (11th edition) and New Sck-Herz; and among the more recent books: James T. Bent, The Sacred City of the Ethiopians (1893); Glaser, Die Abessinier in Arabien und Afrika (1895); A. B. Wylde, Modern Abyssinia (1901); R. P. Skinner, Abyssinia of Today (1906); Th. Noeldeke, Die athiopische Litteratur (1906); Louis J. Morie, Les civilisations africaines (1904); Littmann, Geschichte der athiopischen Litteratur (1907); W. Max Muller, Aethiopien (1904); Petrie, Hist of Egypt (1895-1901); J. H. Breasted, Temples of Lower Nubia (1906); Monuments of Sudanese Nubia (1908); A. E. Weigall, Report of Antiquities of Lower Nubia (1906); E. A. W. Budge, The Egyptian Sudan (1907); Kromrei, Glaubenslehre und Gebrauche der alteren abessinischen Kirche (1895); M. Fowler, Christian Egypt (1901); Dowling, Abyssinian Church (1909); "Meroe," the City of the Ethiopians, by Liverpool University Expedition (1909-10); University of Pennsylvania Publications, Egyptian Dept., Eckley B. Coxe, Jr., Expedition to Nubia, I-IV (1909-11); Archeological Survey of Nubia; and Egyptian government reports.

Camden M. Cobern

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