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Ethiopian Eunuch

Ethiopian Christianity, Bible in


The Bible has for centuries played a primary role in
Ethiopian Christianity. The kingdom of Aksum (1st
to 7th cent. CE.) in the northern highlands of Ethiopia Christianized in the middle of the 4th century
(early, if compared with other areas of sub-Saharan
Africa) by initiative of Frumentius, a young man
reportedly coming from Tyrus and travelling along
the Red Sea routes, and submitted immediately afterward to the religious authority of the Egyptian
bishop of Alexandria (so for many centuries to
come, till 1950; Brakmann) provided the historical setting where the earliest translation of the Bible
into Ethiopic (or Geez) took place with the OT
depending upon the Greek of the LXX, and a Greek
Vorlage for the Ethiopic version of the NT as well
(Zuurmond). Positive evidence for an ante-6th-century dating of the translation are quotations of biblical texts in Aksumite inscriptions issued by kings
of the early 6th century, whereas later epigraphic
attestations from the 9th to the 12th/13th centuries
witness to the continuity of the tradition and to the
liturgical use of the biblical text. Manuscript evidence with the exception of a couple of very problematic manuscript witnesses dating not earlier
than the 13th century attests that the ancient
Greek-based version of the OT (ancient Ethiopian) was revised on the basis of Arabic (sometimes
Syriac-based) versions already in the 14th century
(vulgata), while a further revision was conducted
upon a Hebrew text later, around the 16th century
(academic recension; Knibb 1999). The hypothesis of an ancient Hebrew layer of Jewish origin in
the Ethiopic OT due to the presence of Jewish communities in the country, as well as the often repeated hypothesis of a NT translated by Syriacspeaking missionaries at the turn of the 5th/6th
centuries on the basis of a non-Greek especially
Syriac Vorlage, have no serious basis and are essentially the result of terminological misunderstandings and artificial historiographical reconstruction
(Polotsky; Marrassini). Relevant sections of the NT
still await adequate critical editions (esp. Luke and
Acts), even though the Gospels of Matthew, Mark,
and John and some Pauline Epistles have been dealt
with in serious and reliable contributions. Much
worse is the situation for the OT, for which very
few reliable editions are available, the partial old
one by A. Dillmann in the 19th century still remaining a milestone in Ethiopian biblical text-criticism. Apocryphal texts represent a positive exception in this context.
Rooted in a late antique tradition that is still
scarcely attainable to us in its very early stage, Ethiopian Christianity displays a notable and original
tradition of biblical commentary and exegesis. Now
orally performed in Amharic (the main vernacular
language of the medieval and modern phase of the
Christian Ethiopian kingdom) and not in Geez (the

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language spoken in the late antique kingdom of Aksum, and later in use as the only language of written knowledge), this corpus of exegesis and interpretation assumed its definitive form (the so-called
andemt tradition) later in the course of the 17th
and 18th centuries. It has certainly been developed
through a long process of elaboration that is only
partially witnessed by Geez and Amharic texts.
Traces of early, original biblical exegesis begin to
appear in several Ethiopic literary works from the
14th century or earlier. The most impressive case in
point is that of the Kebra nagast, the famous historical novel that rewrites the story of the meeting of
king Solomon and the Queen of Sheba (Mkedd,
Queen of the South, in the Geez text), and of their
son Bayna Lekem (better known as Menelik in
later traditions). Undoubtedly a legitimation of
monarchy on the basis of Israelite descent, the Kebra
nagast consists of large sections of proper biblical
exegesis in addition to the novelistic rewriting of
the biblical episode. It, however, is just one of the
many vehicles in which the widely spread ideology
that Ethiopian Christiniaty is the legitimate heir to
Israel (Verus Israel) appears. This process of imitatio
Veteris Testamenti as in other Christian Oriental
cultures is well attested in cultic and liturgical
practices, as well as in art, architecture, and daily
life, and the Bible constitutes its ultimate and constant reference.
Bibliography: Bll, V., Die Amharischen Andemta Kommentare zur Liturgie und zur Bibel, in Studia Aethiopica: In
Honour of Siegbert Uhlig on the Occasion of his 65th Birthday (ed.
id. et al.; Wiesbaden 2004) 2328. Brakmann, H., Die Einwurzelung der Kirche im sptantiken Reich von Aksum (Bonn
1994). Cowley, R. W., Ethiopian Biblical Interpretation: A
Study in Exegetical Tradition and Hermeneutics (UCOP 38; Cambridge 1988). Knibb, M. A., Translating the Bible: The Ethiopic Version of the Old Testament (The Schweich Lectures of the
British Academy 1995; Oxford 1999). Knibb, M. A., The
Ethiopic Translation of the Psalms, in Der Septuaginta-Psalter und seine Tochterbersetzungen (ed. A. Aejmelaeus/U. Quast;
MSU 24; Gttingen 2000) 10722. Marrassini, P., Ancora sul problema degli influssi siriaci in et aksumita, in
Biblica et Semitica: Studi in memoria di Francesco Vattioni (ed. L.
Cagni; IUO.S 59; Napoli 1999) 32537. Polotsky, H. J.,
Aramaic, Syriac, and Geez, JSS 9 (1964) 110. Uhlig, S.
(ed.), Encyclopaedia Aethiopica, 4 vols. (Wiesbaden 2003, 2005,
2007, 2010). Ullendorff, E., Ethiopia and the Bible (The
Schweich Lectures of the British Academy 1967; Oxford
1988). Zuurmond, R., Novum Testamentum Aethiopice: The
Synoptic Gospels: Edition of the Gospel of Mark (thF 27 AB;
Stuttgart 1989).

Alessandro Bausi

Ethiopian Eunuch
The account of the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8 : 26
40) appears in a section of Acts that marks the transition from the beginning of the Gospel in Jerusalem to its proclamation in all of Judea and to the
Gentiles (8 : 112 : 25), before the systematic Antio-