chapter  3
16 Pages

Judaism, Christianity and Islam

Meanwhile Ezana consolidated his position and established his sovereignty on both sides of the Red Sea but showed no great haste to embrace Christianity. His early coins bear the pagan symbol of the crescent and the disc which is also found on Sabaean monuments and was almost universal in the ancient Near East, including Egypt, while his early inscriptions extol the war god Mahrem. It was only towards the end of his reign, just before the middle of the fourth century, that his coins carried the Christian emblem of the cross. Possibly his decision to adopt Christianity as

It is usually considered that the earliest proof of the Ethiopian conversion to Christianity is the dedicatory formula contained in Ezana's last triumphal inscription, in which he boasts of his conquest of Meroe. Instead of giving thanks to a pagan god Ezana praises 'the power of the Lord of Heaven who is in Heaven and on Earth victorious over that which exists'. He gives credit for his victory to 'the power of the Lord of All' and, as 'the Lord of Heaven ... is now victorious for me and has subjugated my enemies for me in justice and in right [I will rule] doing no injustice to the people'. 1

Nowhere in the inscription, written in archaic Ge'ez and discovered at Axum, is there any reference to Christianity but the terms 'Lord of Heaven' and 'Lord of All' and the call for justice have a distinctly Hebraic ring. A similar formula was used in a bilingual Himyaritic-Hebrew inscription of about the same period found in 1969 in south Arabia near the ancient Sabaean capital of Zafar. It describes the dedication of a jewish place of worship and includes the words: ' ... through the power and grace of his Lord, who has created his soul, the Lord of the living and the dead, the Lord of Heaven and Earth, who has created everything'. 2 Both inscriptions are reminiscent of the 103rd Psalm (verse 19) 'The Lord hath established his throne in the heavens; and his kingdom ruleth over all'; and of the prophet Nehemiah, who 'fasted and prayed before the God of Heaven'.3 Rather than expressing a specifically Christian sentiment this inscription ofEzana's appears to mark a monotheistic position which is neither pagan nor Christian. It seems to reflect the influence of judaism at a time, possibly just prior to the king's adoption of Christianity, when the jewish religion had attained a position of some importance on both sides of the Red Sea.4