… that the Black People mentioned by name in the Bible were invariably prominent individuals?
… that the Black People mentioned by name in the Bible were invariably prominent individuals? Part IV: New Testament.
The most prominent Black Person mentioned in the New Testament of the Bible is undoubtedly the Ethiopian eunuch of the Book of Acts. Literally a eunuch is a castrated male; however, sometimes those referred to as eunuchs were not actually castrated. However, certainly some, and perhaps most, were castrated. Monarchs (kings and queens) often found it convenient, and perhaps safe, to have eunuchs as trusted advisors who often were very powerful in their own right.
The account of evangelist Phillips’ encounter with the Ethiopian Eunuch goes as follows:
“But an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Get up and go south to the road that runs from Jerusalem down to Gaza.” (This is a desert road). 27 So he got up and went; and there was an Ethiopian eunuch [a man of great authority], a court official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was in charge of all her treasure. He had come to Jerusalem to worship, 28 and he was returning, and sitting in his chariot he was reading [the scroll of] the prophet Isaiah.” (Acts 8: 26-28, AMP).
Let us note that this Ethiopian was a man of great authority, a court official in charge of all the treasure of Candace (or Kandake), queen of the Ethiopians. Candace, or Kandake, is a title like Pharaoh. Clearly this Ethiopian was an important and prominent person, from an empire that spanned a huge area from the 1st Cataract to beyond the 6th Cataract of the Nile. To appreciate how important he was, we need to know something about this country that his queen ruled over. We do not know the name of this court official but we do know the name of the queen. She undoubtedly was Queen Amanikhatashan who ruled the Ethiopian Empire from her capital of Meroe from 62 AD to 85 AD. We know her name because we have the names of all the kings and queens who ruled Ethiopia (Cush or Nubia) in an unbroken line over a period of almost 1,200 years, from 806 BC to 320 AD1.
In my blog of April 18, 2020, I made the following observation, “As far back as 5,000 years (3,000 B.C.), they [the Ethiopians] were renowned for their economic and military prowess. The ancient Greeks were of the opinion that Egypt began as a colony of Ethiopians (just like the British colonized America). Isaiah 18:2 describes them as a nation,
“Which sends ambassadors by the sea,
Even in vessels of papyrus on the surface of the waters.
Go, swift messengers, to a nation [of people] tall and smooth (clean shaven),
To a people feared far and wide,
A powerful and oppressive nation
Whose land the rivers divide.” (AMP)
During the reign of Queen Amanikhatashan, Cush (Ethiopia) was still a powerful nation who had fought the Romans to almost a standstill after Rome had taken over Egypt. The wars with the Romans took place under the reign of an earlier Kandake, Queen Amanishakhete (41 BC-12 BC). Consequently the Nubians signed a peace treaty with the Romans and the two empires established diplomatic relations. The Nubians initially used hieroglyphic writing but by the time of Queen Amanikhatashan, the Nubians had developed their own alphabetic writing which has not yet been deciphered. The featured image at the head of the blog shows Queen Amanikhatashan and the Meroitic alphabetic script of the Ethiopians.
Returning to the scriptural reference, we see that the Ethiopian was on his way back home after a visit to worship in Jerusalem when the Holy Spirit told Philip to catch up with the chariot. Interestingly Phillip heard the eunuch was reading a scroll of the Prophet Isaiah. Philip asked him if he understood what he was reading and the Ethiopian’s response was how could he understand if he had no one to explain it to him? The passage he was reading was,
“Like a sheep He was led to the slaughter;
And as a lamb before its shearer is silent,
So He does not open His mouth.
“In humiliation His judgment was taken away [justice was denied Him].
Who will describe His generation?
For His life is taken from the earth.” (Acts 8: 32-33, AMP)
Verse 35 says, “Then Philip spoke and beginning with this Scripture he preached Jesus to him [explaining that He is the promised Messiah and the source of salvation]. As they rode along, the eunuch exclaimed, “Look! Water! What forbids me from being baptized?” 37 Philip said to him, “If you believe with all your heart, you may.” And he replied, “I do believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.”] 38 And he ordered that the chariot be stopped; and both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water, and Philip baptized him. 39 When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord [suddenly] took Philip [and carried him] away [to a different place]; and the eunuch no longer saw him, but he went on his way rejoicing. (Act 8: 36-39, AMP).
It is interesting to see how quickly the Ethiopian responded once the gospel was preached to him. In effect he said, there is water; so let’s do this thing right now! He responded the way one is supposed to respond to baptism; he came out of the water rejoicing. Can there be any doubt that he spread the word in Egypt along the way and once he got back home.
His ordering the chariot to stop clearly demonstrates that the eunuch was not driving the chariot. Indeed, there can be no doubt that he had a large armed escort accompanying him. The capital city of Meroe was renowned for being fabulously wealthy and he was the treasurer for the queen who reigned over this wealthy city and the whole Ethiopian empire.
The Roman centurion Cornelius is considered to be the first Gentile converted to Christianity. Recall how the Lord had to prepare Peter and the ones with him for their mission to share the Gospel with Cornelius; in their minds their mission was only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. Cornelius’ conversion is related in Chapter 10 of the book of Acts but the Ethiopian eunuch’s conversion is related two chapters before that, chapter 8. This Ethiopian evidently was not considered a Gentile. This explains why he had traveled hundreds of miles, coming from the ends of the earth like the Queen of Sheba, to worship at the Temple in Jerusalem. Thus it appears that this man was a Jew or a Jewish proselyte.
In the first verse of Acts 13, we are told that, “In the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen … and Saul.” (NIV). They were gathered for fasting and praying before laying hands on Barnabas and Paul before sending them out. Niger is a Latin word meaning black which in this case is a Latin word spelled with Greek letters, an explanation given by the Amplified translation. In other words, he was known as Simeon the black one. But what is more important is that he was an early church leader at Antioch, a prophet or a teacher, clearly a prominent person.
Simeon was not the only black person who was part of the early church. There were still lots of black folk in Western Asia in the first century AD, and I am sure that many became Christians.
Notes and References
- Adams, William Y. (1977). Nubia: corridor to Africa. Princeton, N. J.: Allen Lane, Princeton University Press, pp. 251-252.