The Biblical Ethiopia
"Ethiopia Stretching out her hands unto God. Psalm 68:32"
Beide-Mariam Ejigu Retta
I was astounded by Edwin Yamauchi's shortsighted article “ Sudan's Biblical History” in which he mentioned “The name of the modern country did not acquire the name Ethiopia until the 20th century. It had been called Abyssinia. But this misleads people, including the Ethiopians themselves to connect references to Ethiopia in the Septuagint and in the New Testament to their country.” Although what Mr. Yamouchi stated is very offensive to millions Ethiopians, I am writing this not in what appeared to be a fit of pique but to confute the deliberate error made by him. It is possible to debate in great depth with regard to this issue as the Ethiopian history is so immense and lots of supporting documents are available. Yet it is beyond the scope of this article to provide comprehensive review of the whole field. However, I just briefly outlined when and where the name Ethiopia originated and who is the Biblical Ethiopia?
First, according to the Ethiopian traditions, the name Ethiopia first was used after the Ethiopian King Aethiops I who reigned around 1860 BC and the natives have been called Ethiopians after him ever since. Therefore, the name Ethiopia originated 2000 years before Christ, even before the Greeks used it to describe the people below south of Egypt.
Second, since Judaism was introduced in Ethiopia around 950 BC Ethiopians annually used to go to Jerusalem to worship the God of Israel. This is backed by St. John Chrysostom who lived in the fourth century mentioned the presence of Ethiopians in the Holy City on the day of Pentecost. We know that Ethiopians have been worshipping the God of Israel since then. And the Ethiopians at the time and even now have been making pilgrimages to the Holy Land.
Even after the conversion from Judaism to Christianity, the Ethiopians have been paying visits to the Holy Land and established monasteries in most holy places wherever our Lord Jesus Christ taught and performed great deeds. And these holy places are still in our possession. Their presence, way of life and places possessed described by many European pilgrims throughout generations who also said “the Ethiopians are the most pious of all monks” in Jerusalem. One of the earliest European accounts about the presence of Ethiopian Christians in the Holy Land was the Latin Church father St. Jerome who lived in Bethlehem around 386 AD.
Third, the famous Ethiopian Church music composer St. Yared who lived in the sixth century has used the term Ethiopia in his Hymns.
Fourth, those resplendent Ethiopian monarchs mentioned in their correspondence “…Emperor of Ethiopia….” For instance Emperor Amde Tsion (letter-1) and Emperor Zera Yacoub (letter-2) who lived in the 14th century mentioned in their letters, they were Emperors of Ethiopia. These letters are currently archived at the Vatican Library.
Fifth, the famous Emperor Lebene Dingel who lived in the 16th century composed a prayer which later on added to the early morning prayer “Seatat” or the Horologium mentioned the term Ethiopia too.
The prophet Isaiah who lived in the 8th century BC tells us “Woe to the land shadowing wings, which is beyond the rivers of Ethiopia: that sends ambassador by the sea, in papyrus skiffs over the waters. Is.18: 1” First, this verse clearly indicates that the country must be on the West coast of the Red Sea which is Ethiopia as the neighboring kingdom at Napata was far from the Red Sea Coast and where the Niles join. Secondly, the kingdom at Napata or Meroe at the time tends to use the land route via Egypt. Thirdly, it is still very much in use of papyrus boats in Lake Tana, northwest of Ethiopia. Fourthly, on this chapter verse 3 it says, “…the signal being hoisted on the mountains, look!” If we take this verse, Ethiopia is the only mountainous region compare to the Sudan or Egypt. Therefore, it is the present Ethiopia which is mentioned in Isaiah.
The prophet Zephaniah (640-609 BC) prophesized that “ From beyond the rivers of Ethiopia my suppliants, even the daughter of my dispersed, shall bring mine offerings Zep.3: 10.” This prophesy clearly tell us that the long term commercial links between Israel and Ethiopia and above all the dispersed children of Israel would go back to the land of their ancestors. This exodus is a very recent event that thousands of Ethiopian Jews (the Falasha) immigrated to Israel.
Jeremiah (605 BC) mention “Now when Ebde-Melech the Ethiopian, one of the eunuchs which was in the kings house, heard that they had put Jeremiah in the dungeon…Jer.38: 7.” It has been a custom to use eunuchs in the house of the Ethiopian Royal household till the time of the last Emperor Haile Selassie. So we can see some kind of connection between the Royal household of Ethiopia and Israel. For instance It has been said by the classical writes or other travelers, the Ethiopians are known for being very amenable to reason and justice, a good natured, kind and so inclined to forgiveness that they readily pardon any injuries. The benevolent Ebde-Melech is one typical example.
Jeremiah also mention in chapter 46: 9 “Come up, ye horses; and rage, ye chariots; and let the mighty men come forth; the Ethiopian and the Libyans, that handle the shield; and the Lydians, that handle and bend the bow.” Many writes have been said about the bravery of Ethiopians army in the ancient times. For instance Alemida said “they sit a horse well, are quiet strong and healthy and are brought up and insured to foil, enduring hunger and thirst as much as can be imagined, and continue in the field for the greater part of the year, suffering all the discomfort and inclemency of sun, cold, rain and with little food. Marco Polo also said, “you must know that in the province of Abash, there are excellent soldiers, and many horsemen. They have great number of horses. And it is well for them that this is so, for they have to fight with Sultan of Aden (Adal), with that of Nubia, and with many more besides. On account of this constant practice in arms, they are deemed the best soldiers of all the provinces of India. The Yemeni Ambassador Hasen Bin Ahmed described “a people of great bravery, strong endurance, great numbers and a wide boundaries who could endure long journey and much suffering.”
Once again the Greek travelers and historians from ancient times provide us most helpful guide. They have left us very credible details of how their gods love the blameless Ethiopians, the whereabouts of this stupendous nation and the people. I will not go in details here as more said in the link given below but will mention a couple of points.
Ethiopia’s civilization probably reached its apogee during the Axumite period and in the latter 3rd century Mani wrote that Aksum was known as one of the four great powers of the world. Cosmas Indicoplestes who were in the 6th century refers constantly to “Ethiopia” and its capital “Aksum”. He tells us of the export from Ethiopia of nuggets of Gold, Ivory and species, Myrrh and others where obtainable at the market of Adulis and Aksum. Aeschylus also said about this land and its people as "...a land far off, a nation of black men... men who live hard by the fountain of the sun where is the river of Ethiopia."
As Professor Sergew Hable Selassie summarized in his book “The Ancient and Medieval History of Ethiopia”: in the very beginning this country which we call Ethiopia today was only part of the area known by the same name to the classical writers. These authors divided Ethiopia into two parts and this distinction was important because later the northern part was to become known as Nubia and the name Ethiopia was retained only for the region of the Axumite Empire.
As Mr. Yamouchi said foreigners used the term Abyssinia in the past, neverthless, Ethiopians have been addressed themselves for centuries as Ethiopians.
Mr. Yamouchi’s article is flagrantly disregarding the true meaning of the Bible and the United Bible society resolution. He is not the first one or the last one to mislead others by distorting the true meaning of the Bible in terms of Ethiopia but there have been others too in the past. In 1976 the American Bible Society has deliberately altered the term “Ethiopia” into “Sudan” in the Good News Bible. The Holy Synod of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church (EOC) strongly protested and denounced this malicious act. In response to the EOC the office of the United Bible Societies recognized the deliberate alteration made by the American Bible Society and assured that further reprints of the Good News Bible would be stopped. For more detail information and the resolution of the Holy Synod of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church please go to churchhistory/ethiopia
“Ethiopians shall bow down before him, and his enemies shall lick the dust.” Psalm 72: 9
30th May 2004