Coming of Judaism

Traditions in the early churches of Ethiopia maintain that much of the country once held Jewish beliefs and culture as part of its religious legacy. It is possible that Judaism may have entered (modern-day) Ethiopia as early as the 8th century BCE. Although these speculations are based on just a few somewhat controversial material pieces of evidence, there has not been any good counter-explanation regarding their presence or appearance into Ethiopian history, which substantially increases the possibility of the Jewish Pre-settlement Theory.

What we call the Jewish Pre-settlement Theory essentially states that starting around the 8th century BCE until about the 5th century BCE, there was an influx of Jewish settlers both from Egypt and Sudan in the north, and southern Arabia in the east. Whether these settlers arrived in great numbers is yet a matter of debate. What is certain, however, is that these settlers must have preceded the arrival of Christianity. Evidence for their presence exists not only in historical books, but also material artifacts quite depicting ancient Jewish ceremony. For instance the Temple at Yeha (in Tigray province), which is said to have been erected in the 6th century BCE, is believed to an architectural copy of other Jewish temples found in Israel and Egypt during the pre-Babylonian era (before 606 BCE). Another example is found on the monastery islands of Lake Tana (northern Gojjam), where several archaic stone altars, fashioned in the manner of Jewish sacrificial alters of pre-8th century BCE Israel, have been found not only preserved in good condition but also containing blood residue. The manner of the blood placed on the stone altars was found to be typical to a culture that strongly adhered to Mosaic Law.

Although not written until the early medieval era, it is around this time that paramythical stories such as the affair of King Solomon with Makeda Queen of Saba, or Queen of Sheba, and the coming of the Ark of the Covenant take place. Although the subject matter is highly controversial, it is said that Queen Makeda—who supposedly ruled over a very small area in modern-day southern Eritrea—made a long distance pilgrimage to Jerusalem as a result of her fascination with his famed wisdom. During her stay, King Solomon was so much entranced with her beauty and her fidelity, that he felt that he had to have her. So one evening, he ordered his royal cooks to increase the amount of pepper in the meal which would be served for dinner. However, he also ordered the water bearers not to give anyone any water unless specifically authorized by him and to also place a jug of water in his bedchamber. Queen Makeda, realizing his trickery, played along with him thinking that she could easily go without water for the evening. Her self-confidence unfortunately proved to be quite too high when she, unable to cope with her dehydration, finally gave in to his desire and slept with him for a drink of water. This affair was what led to the birth of King Menelik I. The legend further says that at age twenty-five, Menelik returned to Jerusalem and covertly stole the Arc of the Covenant.