Jews in Ethiopian Christian Literature

This is the first event of a webinar series. For additional details visit IAS Ethiopian Studies Series.
Convenors: Suzanne Akbari (IAS), Aaron Butts (CUA/IAS), Samantha L. Kelly (Rutgers U/IAS), Sabine Schmidtke (IAS)

Ethiopia has a long and complex history with Jews and Judaism. Perhaps most constitutive of the connection between the two is an Ethiopian tradition according to which the favor of the God of Israel, along with the ark of the covenant, was transferred from Israel to Ethiopia during the days of the biblical Solomon as a result of his amorous relationship with the Queen of Sheba. Earlier scholars invoked this tradition to explain everything from an alleged “Judaic component” of Ethiopian Christianity to the existence of the Beta Israel, or as they are sometimes called “Ethiopian Jews,” who lived in northern and north-western Ethiopia until their large-scale emigration to Israel between 1977 and 1991. In the last several decades, scholars have adopted a more critical approach to investigating Ethiopia’s interconnectedness with Jews and Judaism. In the present webinar, Steven Kaplan and Sophia Dege-Müller will address the status quaestionis of the Beta Israel and their origins as well as signal new directions in this area of research. Then Marcia Kupfer and Aaron Butts will explore how Ethiopian Christians have viewed Jews and Judaism in art and text, respectively, asking in particular what connections can be drawn between Ethiopian Christian views of Jews and Judaism and the Beta Israel. The webinar will conclude with a discussion addressing these and related questions.

Aaron Michael Butts is director of The Catholic University of America’s Institute of Christian Oriental Research and an Associate Professor in its Department of Semitic and Egyptian Languages and Literatures. He was a member of the Institute for Advanced Study from 2019-2020 and is currently a visitor there.




Aaron Butts