The Man From Meroe

The Man From Meroe

Friday’s Column: Brent’s Bent

We know little about the treasurer from “Ethiopia,” introduced in Acts 8. How did he come to believe in Judaism? What was his given name? What happened to him after Phillip baptized him into Christ? A study of this enigmatic figure is fascinating.

Did you know that the treasurer’s homeland was known as the “Kingdom of Meroe”? The remnant of the once-powerful Kingdom of Kush ruled over even their Egyptian neighbors for a time. If you recognize the name “Kush,” it is because Noah had a grandson named “Cush” (cf. Genesis 10.6-8; Daniel 11.43). The “Ethiopians” are Cush’s descendants.

The “Kandake” line of queens ruled over Meroe. It is known as “Candace” in English Bible translations. The sequence of queens is likely named Candace, a famous empress who ruled the Kushites during Alexander the Great’s conquest. She was a well-known military general and tactician. According to legend, Alexander refused to invade “Nubia” for fear of being defeated by her.

The Ethiopian eunuch, as treasurer, would overlook an impressive treasury. Meroe was a prosperous kingdom due to her trade with the Romans and African tribes from Africa’s western grasslands. They traded with the Romans for gold and other sub-Saharan products until the third century AD. Meroe maintained prominence after their trade with the Romans declined in the early third century due to her ability to smelt iron. Meroe’s workers’ tools and weapons were sought after by her neighbors. Meroe eventually fell from grace and was conquered by her southern neighbor, Axum. This formerly independent state is now an integral part of Sudan.

Meroe’s inhabitants worshiped Egyptian gods and a few gods of their creation. Someone proselytized people in the region at an unknown point in antiquity. According to the Old Testament book of Jeremiah, Jews were living in lower Egypt just before Judah and Benjamin’s Babylonian captivity (cf. Jeremiah 44.1ff). God foresaw those fleeing south to avoid the Babylonians and warned them against their actions (cf. Jeremiah 42.19ff). The treasurer is an example of someone who converted to Judaism. There remain adherents to Judaism in the region today. 

What distance did the treasurer go to worship God? Meroe to Jerusalem was about 3,000 miles round trip. So, the treasurer was devout. And consider that once in Jerusalem, the Old Law prohibited his entry into the Temple proper because he was a eunuch and forbade entry. Thus, his desire to be close to God was strong!

Though we do not know the treasurer’s name, we know some of the Meroitic men’s surnames. Arkinidad, Amanislo, Pakheme, Shorkaror, Teritegas, and Yesbokheamani were some of their names. Such names are foreign to the English-speaking ear. It’s possible that the treasurer’s name sounded strange to Philip as well. 

What happened to the Ethiopian treasurer after he became a Christian? The treasurer returned to Meroe and converted Queen Candace and many of his fellow Meroites, according to Irenaeus and Eusebius, two Christian writers of the second century AD. They also stated that the treasurer was a martyr dying in Ceylon after preaching the Gospel throughout Arabia Felix (i.e., Yemen). Though we cannot verify the information of Irenaeus and Eusebius, it is consistent with the character introduced on the sacred page.

Brent Pollard

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