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Habesha people

Habeshas (Abyssinians)
Lebna Dengel.pngSelassie.jpgMenelik II.jpg
Image-TekleHaimanot.jpgMeles Zenawi.jpgIsaias Afwerki(2002).jpg
Lebna Dengel · Haile Selassie · Menelik II · Tekle Haymanot · Meles Zenawi · Isaias Afwerki
Total population
Regions with significant populations
 Ethiopia 34,045,400
 Eritrea 3,620,500
 Sudan 142,000
 United States 127,000
 Israel 120,000 [2]
 Somalia 58,000
 Italy 53,000
 Yemen 18,800
 United Kingdom 16,000
 Canada 16,000
 Sweden 12,000
 Norway 5,900
 Germany 5,800
 Djibouti 4,900
 Egypt 3,200

Ethiopian Semitic languages
Agaw · Arabic · Hebrew


Christianity (Ethiopian · Eritrean · P'ent'ay)
Sunni Islam · Judaism

Related ethnic groups

Semitic people · Cushitic people

The term Habesha (Ge'ez: ሐበሻ Ḥabaśā, Amharic (H)ābešā, Tigrinya: ? Ḥābešā; Arabic: الحبشةal-Ḥabašah) refers to the South Semitic-speaking group of people whose cultural, linguistic, and in certain cases, ancestral origins trace back to those people who ruled the Axumite Empire and the kingdom known as DʿMT (usually vocalized Diʿamat).

Peoples referred to as "Habesha" today include the Amhara, Tigray-Tigrinya and Tigre ethnic groups of Ethiopia and Eritrea, who are predominantly Oriental Christians and have been since AD 332, with exception to Tigre who are predominantly Muslim. The Amhara and Tigray ethnicities combined make up about 33% of Ethiopia's population (ca. 24.6 million Amhara, 5.5 million Tigray), while the Tigrinya and Tigre combined make up 85% (55% plus 30% respectively) of Eritrea's population (ca. 5 of 5.9 million).

The term also includes the Semitic-speaking Gurage and Harari people in Ethiopia, due to their common descent from the Ge'ez speaking Axumite civilization, and strong historical links to the Amhara and Tigray. While the term Habesha has come to be associated with adherents of the Orthodox Christian faith, the term actually predates the conversion of Axum to Christianity, and refers generally to speakers of Ethiopic (Ethiosemitic) regardless of religion. Thus the Harari who are almost exclusively Muslim are still considered Habesha.

In the broadest sense, the word Habesha may refer to anyone from Ethiopia or Eritrea, although some would exclude themselves from this association.[3]



The modern term derives from the vocalized Ge'ez: ሐበሣ Ḥabaśā, first written with a script that did not mark vowels as ሐበሠ ḤBŚ or in "pseudo-Sabaic as ḤBŠTM".[4] The earliest known use of the term dates to the second or third century AD South Arabian inscription recounting the defeat of the Aksumite Negūs ("king") GDRT of Aksum and ḤBŠT.[5] The term "Habashat" seems to refer to a group of peoples, however, rather than a specific ethnicity, as evidenced by a Sabaean inscription about the alliance between the Himyarite king Shamir Yuhahmid and Aksum under King `DBH in the first quarter of the 3rd century AD. They had lived alongside the Sabaeans who lived across the Red Sea from them for many centuries:

Shamir of dhū Raydān and Himyar had called in the help of the clans of Habashat for war against the kings of Saba; but Ilmuqah granted... the submission of Shamir of dhū Raydān and the clans of Habashat.[6]

The term "Habesha" was formerly thought by some[4] to be of Arabic descent (who used the word Ḥabaš, also the name of an Ottoman province comprising parts of modern-day Eritrea and Ethiopia), because the English name Abyssinia comes from the Arabic form.[7] South Arabian expert Eduard Glaser claimed that the hieroglyphic ḫbstjw, used in reference to "a foreign people from the incense-producing regions" (i.e. Punt, located mainly in the coastal area of Eritrea and Somalia) used by Queen Hatshepsut ca. 1460 BC, was the first usage of the term or somehow connected, a claim repeated by others; however, this etymology is not at all certain, given the large time difference in the usage of the terms.[4]


Historically, Tigray Province and central Eritrea was where Ethiopian and Eritrean Habesha civilization had its origins. The first kingdom to arise was that of DʿMT in the 8th century BC. The Aksumite Kingdom, one of the powerful civilizations of the ancient world, was centered there from at least 400 BC to the 10th century AD. Spreading far beyond Tigray and Eritrea, it molded the earliest culture of Ethiopia and left many historical treasures: towering finely carved stelae, the remains of extensive palaces, and the ancient places of worship still vibrant with culture and pageantry.

  Ancient Period

  Coat of Arms of the Ethiopian Empire.

Throughout history, indigenous peoples had been interacting through population movement, warfare, trade, and intermarriage in the Horn of Africa region, resulting in a predominance of peoples speaking languages of the Afro-Asiatic family. The main branches represented were the Cushitic and the Semitic.[8] As early as the third millennium BCE, the pre-Aksumites had begun trading along the Red Sea. They mainly traded with Egypt. Earlier trade expeditions were taken by foot along the Nile Valley. The Egyptians main object in the trade from the Ethiopian region was to acquire myrrh, which the northern Horn of Africa region had much of (which they referred to as the Land of Punt).

The foundation of the Kingdom of Aksum is suggested to be as early as 300 BCE. Very little is known of the time period between the mid-first millennium BCE to the beginning of Aksum's flourish around the first century CE. Aksum is thought to be a successor kingdom of DʿMT, a kingdom in the early 1st millennium BC most likely centered at nearby Yeha.[9]

The Aksumite kingdom was located in the northern Ethiopian province of Tigray and Eritrea and it Aksum remained the capital until the seventh century CE. Aksum owes its prosperity to its location. The Blue Nile basin and the Afar depression are both within a close proximity of Aksum. The former is rich in gold and the latter of salt: both materials having a highly important use to the Aksumites. Aksum was also within an accessible distance to the port of Adulis, on the coast of the Red Sea, hence maintaining trade relations with other nations, such as Egypt, India, and Arabia. Aksum’s "fertile" and "well-watered" location produced enough food for its population as well as its exotic animals, such as elephants and rhinoceros.[10]

From its capital on the Tigray Plateau, Aksum was in command of the trade of ivory with Sudan. It also dominated the trade route leading south and the port of Adulis on the Gulf of Zola. Its success depended on resourceful techniques, production of coins, steady migrations of Greco-Roman merchants and ships landing on the port of Adulis. In exchange for Aksum’s goods, traders bid many kinds of cloth, jewelry, metals and steel for weapons.

At its peak, Aksum controlled territories as far as southern Egypt, east to the Gulf of Aden, south to the Omo River, and west to the Nubian Kingdom of Meroë. The South Arabian kingdom of the Himyarites and also a portion of western Saudi Arabia was also under the power of Aksum. At this point in time the majority of the citizens of Aksum were one of the ancestors of the present day Amhara and Tigray peoples, the Biher-Tigrigna, Tigrinya speakers and the Tigre of Eritrea.

  Medieval Period

Some time in the early Middle Ages, the Amharic and Tigrinya began to replace Geʿez, which eventually became extinct outside of religious use. Amhara warlords often competed for dominance of the realm with Tigrayan warlords. While many branches of the Imperial dynasty were from the Amharic speaking area, a substantial amount were from Tigray. The Amharas seemed to gain the upper hand with the accession of the so-called Gondar line of the Imperial dynasty in the beginning of the 17th century. However, it soon lapsed into the semi-anarchic era of Zemene Mesafint ("Era of the Princes"), in which rival warlords fought for power and the Yejju Oromo እንደራሴ enderases ("regents") had effective control, while emperors were just considered to be figureheads. The Tigrayans only made a brief return to the throne in the person of Yohannes IV, whose death in 1889 allowed the base to return to the Amharic speaking province of Shewa.

  His Imperial Majesty Emperor Yohannes IV of Tigray origin, Emperor of Ethiopia and King of Zion, with his son and heir, Ras Araya Selassie Yohannes

. Some consider the Amhara to have been Ethiopia's ruling elite for centuries, represented by the line of Emperors ending in Haile Selassie I. Many commentators, including Marcos Lemma, however, dispute the accuracy of such a statement, arguing that other ethnic groups have always been active in the country's politics. One possible source of confusion for this stems from the mislabeling of all Amharic-speakers as "Amhara", and the fact that many people from other ethnic groups have Amharic names. Another is the fact that most Ethiopians can trace their ancestry to multiple ethnic groups. In fact, the last Emperor, Haile Selassie I, often counted himself a member of the Gurage people[citation needed] on account of his ancestry, and his Empress, Itege Menen Asfaw of Ambassel, was of Oromo descent.[11] The expanded use of Amharic language results mostly from its being the language of the court, and was gradually adopted out of usefulness by many unrelated groups, who then became known as "Amhara" no matter what their ethnic origin.

  Modern Period

Eritreans achieved independence from Ethiopia with the defeat of the Derg in 1991 and international recognition in 1993. Eritreans have long had a separate history from their neighbors, but were repatriated back with Ethiopia, after a 40-year Italian colonial rule, in 1961. The struggle for independence was sparked with the Eritrean dissatisfaction of Emperor Haile Selassie's choice of governor for the Eritrean kifle-hager (region), and resulted in Eritrean independence on May 24, 1991. During the 1970s, the TPLF (Tigray People Liberation Front), an ethnic group of Ethiopia, joined Eritreans in the war against the Derg. After the defeat of the Derg, the Tigray People's Front proceeded to rule Ethiopia and remains the ruling party.


The Imperial family of Ethiopia (which is currently in exile) claims its origin directly from the offspring of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba (Ge'ez: ንግሥተ ሣብአ nigiśta Śabʿa, who is named Ge'ez: ማክዳ Makeda in the Ethiopian account. The Ethiopian narrative Kebra Negast "Glory of Kings" contains an account of Makeda and her descendants. King Solomon is said in this account to have seduced the Queen, and sired a son by her, who would eventually become Menelik I, the first Emperor of Ethiopia. The tradition that the biblical Queen of Sheba was a ruler of Ethiopia who visited King Solomon in Jerusalem in ancient Israel is supported by the 1st century AD Jewish historian Flavius Josephus, who identified Solomon’s visitor as a queen of Egypt and Ethiopia.

In the past, scholars like Hiob Ludolf and Carlo Conti Rossini postulated that the ancient communities that evolved into the modern Ethiopian state were formed by a migration across the Red Sea of Semitic-speaking South Arabians around 1000 BC who intermarried with local non-Semitic-speaking peoples. Indeed, the ancient kingdom of Aksum ruled much of Southern Arabia including Yemen until the rise of Islam in the 7th century, and both the indigenous languages of Southern Arabia and the Amharic and Tigrinya languages of Ethiopia are South Semitic languages. However, the ancient Semitic language of Ethiopia, is now known to not have derived from Sabaean, and there is evidence of a Semitic speaking presence in Ethiopia and Eritrea at least as early as 2000 BC.[12] There is also evidence of ancient Southern Arabian communities in modern day Ethiopia and Eritrea in certain localities, attested by some archaeological artifacts and ancient Sabaean inscriptions in the old South Arabian alphabet. However, scholars like Stuart Munro-Hay point to the existence of an older D'MT kingdom, prior to any Sabaean migration ca. 4th or 5th c. BC, as well as evidence of to Sabaean immigrants having resided in Ethiopia for little more than a few decades[13] Furthermore, there is archeological evidence of a region in Northern Ethiopia and Eritrea also called Saba, now referred to as "Ethiopian Saba" to avoid confusion.

  Early nineteenth century warriors in Abyssinia

There is little archaeological evidence to verify the story of the Queen of Sheba and the longstanding presumption that Sabaean migrants had played a direct role in Ethiopian civilization has recently come under attack.[14] Sabaean influence is speculated by some recent authors to have been minor, limited to a few localities, and disappearing after a few decades or a century, perhaps representing a trading or military colony in some sort of symbiosis or military alliance with the Ethiopian civilization of D`MT.[13]

In the reign of King Ezana (ca. early 4th c. AD, the term is listed as one of the nine regions under his domain, translated in the Greek version of his inscription as Αἰθιοπία Aithiopía, the first known use of this term to specifically describe the region known today as Ethiopia (and not Kush or the entire African and Indian region outside of Egypt).[4] The 6th c. author Stephanus of Byzantium later used the term "Αβασηγοί" (i.e. Abasēnoi) in reference to:

an Arabian people living next to the Sabaeans together with the Ḥaḍramites. The region of the Abasēnoi produce[d] myrrh, incense and cotton and they cultivate[d] a plant which yields a purple dye (probably wars, i.e. Fleminga Grahamiana). It lies on a route which leads from Zabīd on the coastal plain to the Ḥimyarite capital Ẓafār.[4]

The Abasēnoi spoken of by Stephanus was located by Hermann von Wissman as a region in the Jabal Hubaysh (perhaps related in etymology with the ḥbš root). Other places names in Yemen contain the ḥbš root, such as the Jabal Ḥabaši, whose residents are still called al-Ahbuš (pl. of Ḥabaš).[15] The location of the Abasēnoi in Yemen may perhaps be explained by remnant Aksumite populations from the 520s conquest by King Kaleb; King Ezana's claims to Sahlen (Saba) and Dhu-Raydan (Himyar) during a time when such control was unlikely may indicate an Aksumite presence or coastal foothold.[16] Traditional scholarship has assumed that the Habashat were a tribe from modern-day Yemen that migrated to Ethiopia. However, the Sabaic inscriptions only use the term ḥbšt to the refer to the Kingdom of Aksum and its inhabitants, especially during the 3rd c., when the ḥbšt (Aksumites) were often at war with the Sabaeans and Himyraites.[15]

  South Arabian/Sabaean Origin theory

  Nigist (Queen) Makeda of Sheba

The Sabean theory was the most common one explaining the origins of the Habesha before the 20th century. It was first suggested by Hiob Ludolf and revived by early 20th century Italian scholar Conti Rossini. The theory states that at an early epoch South Arabian tribes, including one called the "Habashat" emigrated to the opposite African coast. According to this theory, Sabaeans brought with them South Arabian letters and language, which gradually evolved into the Ge'ez language and Ge'ez alphabet. However, though the Ge'ez alphabet did develop from Epigraphic South Arabian (whose oldest inscriptions are found in Ethiopia, Eritrea and Yemen), it is now known that Ge'ez is not descended from any of the Old South Arabian languages.[12]

In the large corpus of South Arabian inscriptions, however, there has never been mention of migration to the west coast of the Red Sea, nor of a tribe called "Habashat." All uses of the term date to the 3rd century AD and later, where they are always used in reference to the people of the Kingdom of Aksum.[17][18] In recent times, this theory has largely been abandoned.[19]


  Woman coffee farmer filling cups with coffee in Ethiopia

The way of life in the habesha countryside evokes images of Biblical times; camels, donkeys, and sheep are everywhere. Fields are plowed using oxen. The Orthodox Church is a large part of the culture. The church buildings are built on hills. Major celebrations during the year are held around the church, where people gather from villages all around to sing, play games, and observe the unique mass of the church, which includes a procession through the church grounds and environs.

Coffee is a very important ceremonial drink. The "coffee ceremony" is common to the Tigrinya and the Amhara. Beans are roasted on the spot, ground, and served thick and rich in tiny ceramic cups with no handles. This amount of coffee can be finished in one gulp if drunk cold, however, it is traditionally drunk very slowly as conversation takes place. When the beans are roasted to smoking, they are passed around the table, where the smoke becomes a blessing on the diners. The traditional food served at these meals consists of injera, a spongy flat bread, served with wat, a spicy meat sauce.

Houses in rural areas are built mostly from rock, dirt, and timber poles. The houses blend in easily with the natural surroundings. Many times the nearest water source is more than a kilometer away from the house. In addition, people must search for fuel for the fire throughout the surrounding area.

The Habesha people have a rich heritage of music and dance, using drums and stringed instruments tuned to a pentatonic scale. Arts and crafts and secular music are performed mostly by artisans who are regarded with suspicion. Sacred music and iconic art is performed by monastically trained men.

The Harari culture meanwhile is deeply Islamic, as is its art and architecture. It has developed unique art forms, such as its polyphonic singing style, its rich tradition of Zikr, and ornamentation. Harar's legacy of leather book-binding of Qurans and other religious books is renowned in the Islamic world. The ancient walled city with its white-washed walls and narrow alleyways is reminiscent of the medinas and casbahs of the Near East. Harar has been the epicenter of Islamic learning and culture in the Horn and East Africa for a millennium.

  Language and Literature

All Habesha people speak Semitic languages, which originate from the Ancient language of Ge'ez. The Ge'ez language is classified as a South Semitic language. It evolved from an earlier proto-Ethio-Semitic ancestor used to write royal inscriptions of the kingdom of DʿMT in Epigraphic South Arabian. As a member of South Semitic, it is closely related to Sabaean, and the Ge'ez alphabet later replaced Epigraphic South Arabian in the Kingdom of Aksum (although Epigraphic South Arabian was used for a few inscriptions into the 8th century, though not any South Arabian language since DʿMT). Early inscriptions in Ge'ez and Ge'ez alphabets have been dated2 to as early as the 5th century BC, and in a sort of proto-Ge'ez written in ESA since the 9th century BC. Ge'ez literature properly begins with the Christianization of Ethiopia (and the civilization of Axum) in the 4th century, during the reign of Ezana of Aksum. While Ge'ez is an extinct language that is now only used in Ethiopian Orthodox churches, the many languages that have branched off from it are Tigre, Tigrinya, Amharic, Harari, Gurage, and Argobba among others. While Tigre is a direct descendant from Ge'ez, Tigrinya was derived from Tigre. Amharic formed approximately 200–300 years after Tigrinya. Amharic belongs to the transversal group of South Ethiopic Semitic languages which also includes Harari and Argobba. All Semitic languages in Ethiopia are derived from Ge'ez.



  The Chapel of the Tablet at the Church of Our Lady Mary of Zion allegedly houses the original Ark of the Covenant.

The Habesha empire centered in Axum and Adowa was part of the world in which Christianity grew. The arrival of Christianity in Tigrayan lands happened about the same time that it arrived in Ireland. The Tigrayans, in fact, had been converted to Christianity hundreds of years before most of Europe. Many Tigrayan churches were cut into cliffs or from single blocks of stone, as they were in Turkey and in parts of Greece, where Christianity had existed from its earliest years. The church is a central feature of communities and of each family's daily life. Each community has a church with a patron saint.

Ethiopia has often been mentioned in the Bible. A well-known example of this is the story of the Ethiopian eunuch as written in Acts (8: 27): "Then the angel of the Lord said to Philip, Start out and go south to the road that leads down from Jerusalem to Gaza. So he set out and was on his way when he caught sight of an Ethiopian. This man was a eunuch, a high official of the Kandake (Candace) Queen of Ethiopia in charge of all her treasure." The passage continues by describing how Philip helped the Ethiopian understand one passage of Isaiah that the Ethiopian was reading. After the Ethiopian received an explanation of the passage, he requested that Philip baptize him, which Philip obliged. Queen Gersamot Hendeke VII (very similar to Kandake) was the Queen of Ethiopia from the year 42 to 52. The Ethiopian Orthodox Church was founded in the fourth century by Syrian monks. Historically, the Ethiopian and Eritrean churches have had strong ties with the Egyptian Coptic Church, the Egyptian Church appointing the archbishop for the Eritrean Church. They gained independence from the Coptic church in the 1950s, although the Eritrean Orthodox Church has recently reforged the link.

Over 5 million of these people are Coptic Orthodox, with one priest for every 92 members—the highest concentration in Ethiopia. The remainder are Muslims. There are many Muslims in Tigray Province, but they generally belong to other ethnic groups. The Tigray are reported to have fewer than 500 evangelical believers.[citation needed] There are more believers among the Tigrinya in Eritrea.

  This leather painting depicts Ethiopian Orthodox priests playing sistra and a drum.

The faith of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church is very intimately woven into the culture of the Tigrinya people and is central to their way of life. A number of unique beliefs and practices distinguish Ethiopian Orthodox Christianity from other Christian groups; for example, the Ark of the Covenant is very important. Every Ethiopian church has a replica of the Ark. Also, the Ethiopian Church has a larger biblical canon than other churches.

Church services are conducted in Ge´ez, the ancient language of Ethiopia and Eritrea. Ge´ez is no longer a living language, its use now confined to religious contexts, occupying a similar place in Ethiopian church life to Latin in the Roman Catholic Church.

Other Ethiopian Orthodox practices include such things as fasting, prescribed prayers, and devotion to saints and angels. A child is never left alone until baptism and cleansing rituals are performed. Boys are baptized forty days after birth, whereas girls are baptized eighty days after birth.

Defrocked priests and deacons commonly function as diviners, who are the main healers. Spirit possession is common, affecting primarily women. Women are also the normal spirit mediums. A debtera is an itinerant lay priest figure trained by the Church as a scribe, cantor, and often as a folk healer, who may also function in roles comparable to a deacon or exorcist. Folklore and legends ascribe the role of magician to the debtera as well.

A number of Ethiopian Christians adhere to various forms of Pentecostalism or Anabaptism, collectively referred to as P'ent'ay.

  Similarities to Judaism and Islam

The Ethiopian church places a heavier emphasis on Old Testament teachings than one might find in the Roman Catholic or Protestant churches, and its followers adhere to certain practices that one finds in Orthodox or Conservative Judaism. Ethiopian Christians, like some other Eastern Christians, traditionally follow dietary rules that are similar to Jewish Kashrut, specifically with regard to how an animal is slaughtered. Similarly, pork is prohibited, though unlike Kashrut, Ethiopian cuisine does mix dairy products with meat- which in turn makes it even closer to Islamic dietary laws (see Halal). Women are prohibited from entering the church during their menses; they are also expected to cover their hair with a large scarf (or shash) while in church, but contrary to popular belief and the actual practice of most other Christian denominations, it is not in the Old Testament that this is commanded, but rather in the New (1 Cor. 11). As with Orthodox synagogues, men and women are seated separately in the Ethiopian church, with men on the left and women on the right (when facing the altar). However, women covering their heads and separation of the sexes in the Church building officially is common to many Oriental Orthodox, Eastern Orthodox and Catholic Christians and not unique to Judaism. Ethiopian Orthodox worshippers remove their shoes when entering a church, in accordance with Exodus 3:5 (in which Moses, while viewing the burning bush, is commanded to remove his shoes while standing on holy ground). Furthermore, both the Sabbath (Saturday), and the Lord's Day (Sunday) are observed as holy, although more emphasis, because of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, is laid upon the Holy Sunday.


  Mosque in Harar

Islam in Ethiopia dates to 615. During that year, a group of Muslims were counseled by the Prophet Muhammad to escape persecution in Mecca and migrate to Abyssinia, which was ruled by, in Muhammad's estimation, a pious Christian king (al-najashi). Muhammad's followers crossed the Red Sea and sought refuge in the Kingdom of Aksum, possibly settling at Negash, a place in present-day Northern Ethiopia, Tigray region. Moreover, Islamic tradition states that Bilal, one of the foremost companions of Muhammad, was from Ethiopia, as were many non-Arab Companions of Muhammad - in fact, Ethiopians were the single largest non-Arab ethnic group who were Muhammad's companions. Among these was Umm Ayman who was the care-taker of the Prophet Muhammad during his infancy, a woman that he referred to as "mother".[citation needed] Ethiopia was thus the earliest home outside of Arabia for the dispersal of the Islamic world faith. Ethiopia is almost evenly split between Orthodox Christians and Sunni Muslims.

Most of Ethiopia and Eritrea's Muslims are Sunni Muslims and much as in the rest of the Muslim world, the beliefs and practices of the Muslims of Ethiopia and Eritrea are basically the same: embodied in the Qur'an and the Sunnah. There are also sufi orders present in Ethiopia. According to the 1994 census of Ethiopia (with similar numbers for the 1984 census), about half of its population is adherent of Islam and members of the Muslim community can be found throughout the country. Islam in Ethiopia is in the Oromo and Ogaden region.

The most important Islamic religious practices, such as the daily ritual prayers (ṣalāt) and fasting (Arabic: صومṣawm, Ethiopic ጾም, ṣom - used by local Christians as well) during the holy month of Ramadan, are observed both in urban centers as well as in rural areas, among both settled peoples and nomads. Numerous Ethiopian Muslims perform the pilgrimage to Mecca every year.


Judaism in Ethiopia is believed to date from very ancient times. Precisely what its early history was, however, remains obscure. The now dominant Coptic Ethiopian Church claims it originated from the visit of the Queen of Sheba to King Solomon back in the tenth century BCE. This visit is mentioned in the Hebrew Scriptures (I Kings 10:1), Sheba was a kingdom that stretched from Ethiopia to the south of the Yemen. Yemen is very close to Ethiopia across the Red Sea, and it has been recorded that modern Ethiopia has been heavily influenced by the ancient Sabean kingdom. Moreover, the details of the queen's visit, including the alleged theft of the Holy Ark as well as Solomon getting her pregnant with a child who established the "Solomonic" lineage in Ethiopia, as given in Christian Ethiopian tradition, were written in the Kebra Nagast the Ethiopian chronicle of its early history. The oldest known existing copies of which date from as far back as 13th century. Jewish Ethiopians are mentioned in both the Torah Old Testament as well as the Christian New Testament. It is clear that the Jewish presence in Ethiopia dates back at least 2500 years. 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 & Sudan in the north, and southern Arabia in the east.[citation needed] 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 in material artifacts depicting ancient Jewish ceremonies. For instance the temple at Yeha (in Tigray province), which is said to have been erected in the 8th century BCE, is believed to be an architectural copy of other Jewish temples found in Israel and Egypt during the pre-Babylonian era (before 606 BCE).[citation needed] 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.[citation needed] The manner of the blood placed on the stone altars was found to be typical of a culture that strongly adhered to Mosaic Law.[citation needed]

  King Tekle Haimanot of Gojjam

The chief Semitic languages of Ethiopia also suggest an antiquity of Judaism in Ethiopia. "There still remains the curious circumstance that a number of Abyssinian words connected with religion -- Hell, idol, Easter, purification, alms -- are of Hebrew origin. These words must have been derived directly from a Jewish source, for the Abyssinian Church knows the scriptures only in a Ge'ez version made from the Septuagint"[20]

Beta Israel traditions claim that the Ethiopian Jews are descended from the lineage of Moses himself, some of whose children and relatives are said to have separated from the other Children of Israel after the Exodus and gone southwards, or, alternatively or together with this, that they are descended from the tribe of Dan, which fled southwards down the Arabian coastal lands from Judaea at the time of the breakup of the Kingdom of Israel into two kingdoms in the 10th century BCE. (precipitated by the oppressive demands of Rehoboam, King Solomon's heir), or at the time of the destruction of the northern kingdom of Israel in the 8th century BCE. Certainly there was trade as early as the time of King Solomon down along the Red Sea to the Yemen and even as far as India, according to the Bible, and there would therefore have been Jewish settlements at various points along the trade routes. There is definite archaeological evidence of Jewish settlements and of their cultural influence on both sides of the Red Sea well at least 2,500 years ago, both along the Arabian coast and in the Yemen, on the eastern side, and along the southern Egyptian and Sudanese coastal regions.

  See also


  1. ^ Compound from the Ethiopian Semitic languages speakers and Central Cushitic languages speakers
  2. ^ Ethiopian Population In Israel
  3. ^ "About Us". Abesha.com. Archived from the original on 2007-08-06. http://web.archive.org/web/20070806011125/http://www.abesha.com/basic/AboutUsP.html. Retrieved 2007-08-22. "The name of this web page was chosen due to our desire to select a neutral and commonly shared term of reference for both Ethiopians and Eritreans. Since the site's inception, however, we have learned that many in Ethiopia do not associate with the term 'Habesha', as it excludes groups such as the Oromo, the Somali, and the many Southern Nationalities And Peoples. We have also learned that there are a number of Eritreans who do not refer to themselves as 'Habesha' such as Rashaidas, Kunamas and others." [better source needed]
  4. ^ a b c d e Herausgegeben von Uhlig, Siegbert, Encyclopaedia Aethiopica: D-Ha. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag, 2005. pp. 948.
  5. ^ Stuart Munro-Hay, Aksum: A Civilization of Late Antiquity (Edinburgh University Press. 1991), p. 39.
  6. ^ Munro-Hay, Aksum, p. 66.
  7. ^ Munro-Hay, Aksum, p. 19.
  8. ^ Munro-Hay, Aksum, p. 62
  9. ^ Munro-Hay, Aksum, p. 4
  10. ^ Pankhurst 1998, 22-3
  11. ^ Emperor Haile Selassie I, Part 1, Official Ethiopian Monarchy Website.
  12. ^ a b Herausgegeben von Uhlig, Siegbert. Encyclopaedia Aethiopica, "Ge'ez" (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag, 2005), p. 732.
  13. ^ a b Munro-Hay, Aksum, p. 57.
  14. ^ Pankhurst, Richard K.P. Addis Tribune, "Let's Look Across the Red Sea I", January 17, 2003.
  15. ^ a b Herausgegeben von Uhlig, Siegbert, Encyclopaedia Aethiopica: D-Ha. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag, 2005. pp. 949.
  16. ^ Munro-Hay. Aksum, p. 72.
  17. ^ Matthew C. Curtis, "Ancient Interaction across the Southern Red Sea: cultural exchange and complex societies in the 1st millennium BC", in Red Sea Trade and Travel (Oxford: Archaeopress, 2002), p. 60
  18. ^ A. K. Irvine, "On the identity of Habashat in the South Arabian inscriptions" in Journal of Semitic Studies, 10 (1965), pp. 178-196
  19. ^ Stefan Weninger. "Ḥäbäshat", Encyclopaedia Aethiopica: D-Ha.
  20. ^ Monroe, Elizabeth (2001). The History of Ethiopia. London: Simon Publications. p. 40. ISBN 1-931541-62-0. 


  • Eduard Glaser: Die Abessinier in Arabien und Afrika. München 1895, S. 8 f.
  • Wilhelm Max Müller: Asien und Europa nach altägyptischen Denkmälern. Leipzig 1893, S. 116.
  • Wolbert Smidt: Selbstbezeichnung von Təgrəñña-Sprechern (Habäša, Tägaru, Təgrəñña); in: Bogdan Burtea / Josef Tropper / Helen Younansardaroud, Studia Semitica et Semitohamitica [Festschrift für Rainer Voigt], Münster 2005, S. 385 ff., 391 f.
  • Hatem Elliesie: Der zweite Band der Encyclopaedia Aethiopica im Vergleich; in: Orientalistische Literaturzeitung, Band 102, Heft 4-5, Berlin 2007, S. 397 ff. (398-401).


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