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Dominance and Diversity: Kingship, Ethnicity, and Christianity in Orthodox Ethiopia

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The purpose of this article is to survey the history of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church with an emphasis on several features which are of significance for comparison to Syriac Orthodox Christianity. Although it focuses primarily on the period from 1270 during which 'Ethiopian' was a national rather than ethnic identity, it shares several themes with other papers in this volume. After considering the manner in which Christianity reached Ethiopia and in particular the central role played by the royal court in the acceptance and consolidation of the Church, attention is given to the claims of successive Ethiopian rulers and ethnic groups to be 'Israelites', that is, descendants of biblical figures most notably King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. The paper next considers the manner in which monastic movements, which emerged in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, were associated with ethnically based resistance to the expansion of the Christian kingdom. Other themes include the development of a tradition of biblical interpretation and Christological controversies. The paper concludes with a discussion of ongoing research concerning the Ethiopian diaspora which has developed in the period since the Marxist revolution of 1974.

Affiliations: 1: The Hebrew University of Jerusalem;, Email:


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