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Department of the Study of Religions

Mr Afework Hailu Beyene

BA (GU), MTh (EGST) MA (AAU, Addis Ababa) MA (VU, Amsterdam)


Afework Beyene
Mr Afework Hailu Beyene
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Thesis title:
The Shaping of Judaic Identity of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church: Historical and Literary Evidence
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PhD Research

The conversion of Ezana of Aksum c. 330 CE to Christianity was a major landmark in the history of Ethiopia. Since the medieval period, in addition to reflecting re the presence of Jews in Ethiopia, European travellers and scholars have characterised the Ethiopian Orthodox Church (EOC) as being Jewish in character: the works of Edward Ullendorff epitomised this opinion in the twentieth century. This thesis investigates the formation of the ‘Jewish character’ of the EOC arguing that it was through a gradual, complex socio-politico-cultural development which took place over many centuries. It employs epigraphic evidences to (re)examine the religious profile of Aksum in the fourth century in order to ascertain the role of Judaism. Whilst there is hardly an evidence for Judaism in an official capacity during the fourth century, the translation of the Bible into Ethiopic which took place during the sixth century helped to forge the tradition of a Judaio-Christian identity for the EOC. Lacunae in our knowledge of Ethiopia’s history following the fall of Aksum have made it difficult to ascertain what other developments took place between the eighth and thirteenth centuries except for as scant evidence as provided during the Zagwé. However, what apparent is the development of Judaic heritage of the EOC accompanied the emergence of the ‘Solomonic’ dynasty and the translation of the works of ‘the Church Fathers.’ This heritage was particularly developed and shaped during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, as is seen in debates about the place of Sabbath and further theologising and contextualising effort on ‘Judaic elements.’