Christianity has been the chief religion in Ethiopia since the 14th century.
Christianity has been the chief religion in Ethiopia since the 14th century.

Ethiopia is mentioned in the Bible many times, often to describe the land of the sons of Cush, one of Ham’s sons -- and Noah’s grandson -- as related in Genesis. The Queen of Sheba, according to an Ethiopian holy book called the “Kebr Nasgasht,” was of Ethiopian origin. In fact, the world’s “earliest illustrated Christian book,” a portion of the Gospels in Ge’ez, an ancient Ethiopian language, was found in 2010 in a mountaintop monastery in Ethiopia.

Christianity in Ethiopia

An early Ethiopian manuscript depicts an angel with two men.
An early Ethiopian manuscript depicts an angel with two men.

According to the 2007 census, approximately 60 percent of Ethiopians consider themselves Christians. Of that 60 percent, almost 44 percent are Ethiopian Orthodox Christians, members of the Tewahedo Church, the “predominant … Christian church in Ethiopia.” Historians believe that Christianity became the official religion in Ethiopia in the 4th century A.D.; in fact, Orthodox Ethiopians claim that the Bible's Ark of the Covenant is housed in a cathedral in Aksum. The Roman Catholic Church recognizes Frumentius as the missionary responsible for first introducing the Christian religion to Ethiopia.

Sheba

King Solomon welcomes the Queen of Sheba.
King Solomon welcomes the Queen of Sheba.

According to the Ethiopian national holy book, the “Kebra Negast,” in the 10th century B.C., an Ethiopian ruler, the Queen of Sheba of Biblical legend, traveled to Jerusalem to seek the wisdom of Solomon. When the two kings met, they had a son, Menelik, and Sheba brought him back to Ethiopia to become the first emperor. Sheba’s voyage to Jerusalem and subsequent birth was at least somewhat corroborated in 2012 when researchers analyzed the genetic makeup of many Ethiopians. Their DNA suggested that the native population had mixed with "Egyptian, Israeli or Syrian populations about 3,000 years ago ... the time the queen ... is said to have ruled the kingdom of Sheba."

Bible Translations

Christianity became official in Ethiopia in either the 4th century or 5th century -- depending upon the source that you consult -- and the Bible was translated into the native Ge’ez language and revised in the 14th century. In 1840, the Bible was first translated into the more popular language of the day, Amharic, and it subsequently underwent several translations. Emperor Haile Selassie approved a version in 1962 in Amharic. The current translation of the Old Testament is not a translation from the Hebrew, nor is the translated New Testament from the Greek, according to Roman Catholic sources.

The Canon

Lalibela, Ethiopia, has 12 medieval churches carved out of rock.
Lalibela, Ethiopia, has 12 medieval churches carved out of rock.

The Biblical canon, that is, those “books of the Bible officially accepted by a church or religious body as divinely inspired,” of the Tewahedo Church includes 81 books. Its narrow canon contains books such as Enoch, Jubilees and three books of Makabis, which are commonly accepted by other Orthodox Christians. The narrow canon is the Haile Selassie version. The broader canon includes all the books in the narrower canon, plus books such as an Epistle to Clement, the Josippon, two books of the Covenant and four books of Sinodos. The broader canon has not been reprinted since the early 20th century.