Ezana: First Christian King of Ethiopia

R&I – TxPAT ***

Ethiopia has long been one of the weirder countries in continental Africa. For most of its existence it’s been one of the few African nations to have had an extensive Jewish identity. It’s also home to many Muslims. Most intriguingly however is the fact that Ethiopia birthed the first Christian kingdom, the Kingdom of Aksum.

In the 4th century C.E. Aksum(Ethiopia) was economically at the center of the world. Through Jewish and Arab mercantile intermediaries the kingdom connected trade from both the Greek and Roman world to India and Subsaharan Africa. It was a hub of migrating cultures and exotic gold. Indians, Arabs, Greco-Romans, Christian Syrians, Jews, Pagans, and other African peoples all had a foot in Aksum and Aksum profited from it all.

Aksum itself was a unique admixture of Africanized Jewish culture and native Paganistic peoples. The native language of Geez itself is related to Hebrew. Geez as well as Greek was widely spoken by the elite of Aksum. The abundance of Greek enabled trade with the Roman Empire to be fairly easy. With that trade however came an influx of Christian ideals.

Ezana himself was born into a Pagan household. He modeled himself the descendant of the deity Mars at a young age. However all of that would change with the introduction of one Syrian slave.

Frumentius was a Christian Syrian and religious scholar who alongside his cohort(possibly brother) were kidnapped by the then king of Aksum, Ezana’s father. Ezana was a young and impressionable young man. As is often the truth with out of touch royals who were unaware of their people’s customs Ezana soon became more enamored with the wisdom of Frumentius rather than focusing on the religious beliefs of his people.

Frumentius made an impression on the royal family and thus made lemonade out of lemons by teaching Christianity to the many Jewish and Pagan peoples of Aksum. Ezana would become his most important convert. The young and malleable Ezana took to the enslaved Frumentius’s Christian teachings and grew into a proud Christian himself.

Ezana was a warlord who fought his kingdom’s neighbors but more importantly he cemented Christianity in Ethiopia. More intriguingly is the fact that his kingdom’s version of Christianity evolved separately from Europe’s. Ethiopia was eventually cut off from Europe which caused Ethiopian Christianity to take on its own unique culture and interpretation. The Ethiopian branch preserved the Book of Enoch while the rest of the Christian world forgot the book. It wasn’t until the 17th century that the Book of Enoch was “rediscovered” by western Christians.

Ezana, the king of Africanized Jews, Pagans, Fetishists and Folk Mythologists, converted to Christianity because of his family’s foreign slave. Such an unorthodox relationship shaped the history of east Africa and created the earliest Christian kingdom in written history.

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Some Questions:
1. Why is it that the religious beliefs of a nation’s elite, such as the case with Ezana, sometimes differ from that of its people?
2. Has Christianity influenced the history of east Africa more in a positive way or more in a negative way? Explain.

Dollarmenu Jesus