A BLACK JEW FINDS HIS MESSIAH
Rick Aharon Chaimberlin, Litt.D.

When Yeshua began his earthly ministry, He said, "Go not in the way of the Gentiles, and do not enter any city of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the House of Israel." [1] Later on He said, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the House of Israel."[2] The Good News of the Jewish Messiah was meant only for the Jews at that time.

After Messiah's death and resurrection, He said, "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and in earth. Go therefore, and make talmidim (disciples) of all nations, immersing[3] them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit."[4] Remarkably, the Good News of the Jewish Messiah was now being made to the Gentiles as well.[5]

Rav Shaul said, "I am not ashamed of the Good News, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first, and also to the Greek."[6] Rav Shaul maintained this order wherever he preached about the Messiah. He always witnessed first the Jews in each community of the Galut[7] that he visited.[8]

In Acts chapter 10, we read of the first time that the Good News actually went to Gentiles who had not actually first converted to Judaism.[9] But before the Good News of Messiah could go to the Gentiles, it had to go forth to even the isolated community of Black Jews in Ethiopia. Philip was chosen for this task. There are some who assert that this Ethiopian was a Gentile, which I personally find absurd. The Black Jews of Ethiopia were known as Falashas, meaning "exiles" or "strangers" in the Amharic language of Ethiopia. They prefer to call themselves the "Beta Israel," or "House of Israel." They suffered anti-Semitic persecution for hundreds of years in Ethiopia, and suffered a further indignity of not being accepted as Jews by the Rabbinic establishment in Israel until the 1980's. Since then, they have been accepted as Jews. Israel mounted a massive airlift in 1991 in which most of the Falashas were brought to Israel on El Al jumbo-jets. For this mission, they removed the seats so that as many people as possible could be crowded onto the planes. On one flight, there were over 1,000 persons, a record number never since surpassed by any other flight. None of the passengers on these flights had ever been on a plane before. Babies were even born on the planes, so occasionally more people got off the planes than got on. To the horror of the El Al crew, some even started fires on board to heat up food they brought along. The fires were soon extinguished, fortunately.

The term "Ethiopia" is actually of Greek origin, from aethein (to burn) and ips (face).[10] The origin of the "Beta Israel" is open to dispute. The Rabbis in Israel decided that they were descended from the tribe of Dan, but I have no idea on how they came to such a determination. Although dark-skinned, they are ethnically different from the other people of Ethiopia. Some feel that they are descended from Israelites who had intermarried with black converts in Ethiopia.

There is also the Ethiopian legend that when the Queen of Sheba went to Israel to see Solomon, that she returned to Ethiopia pregnant with Solomon's son, whom she named Menelik. The royal family of Ethiopia considered itself to be descended from Solomon and Menelik. The last member of the royal dynasty was King Haile Salassie, who was deposed in a coup in 1974. Until that time, Ethiopia always had warm and friendly relations with Israel.

The "Beta Israel" of Ethiopia continued to observe Torah during their long separation of 2,000 years from the rest of the world Jewish community, even observing Torah stricter than Orthodox Jews in some circumstances. They were very concerned about ritual purity. After doing business with non-Jews, they would bathe in a river before returning to their Falasha villages, and took ritual baths for all other kinds of ritual uncleannesses. As a result, the non-Jews of Ethiopia would accuse the Beta Israel of "stinking of water." Their language is Ge-ez, which is called Old Ethiopic, and is Hebraic in origin.

In Acts 8, we read of an Ethiopian eunuch had come to Jerusalem to worship. Curiously, D'varim (Deuteronomy) 23:1 says, No one who is emasculated, or has his male organ cut off, shall enter the assembly of YHWH." If this Ethiopian were truly a eunuch, he would be forbidden to worship in the Temple. I would assume that he had come to Jerusalem for one of the three pilgrimage festivals[11], although the writer of Acts doesn't tell us this. However, if he were truly a eunuch, he would have come all the way to Jerusalem and not even be allowed to worship in the Temple. That says volumes about his spirituality. God took note of such Godly eunuchs:

"For thus saith YHWH unto the eunuchs that keep my Sabbaths, and choose the things that please Me, and take hold of the covenant: 'Even unto them will I give in my house and within my walls a place and a name better than of sons and daughters. I will give them an everlasting name that shall not be cut off.'" Isaiah 56:4-5.

The other possibility is that he might not have been a eunuch after all. The Greek word translated "eunuch" is "eunouchos," which according to Strong's Concordance can mean eunuch (that is, a castrated male), an unmarried man, or an impotent man.

In a supernatural intervention into the affairs of men, an angel spoke to Philip, telling him, "Arise and go forth to the road that descends from Jerusalem to Gaza."[12] He did as he was instructed, and met the Ethiopian eunuch, an official who was in charge of the treasure of Candace, Queen of Ethiopia. Philip heard him reading from the prophet Isaiah, and said to him, "Do you understand what you are reading?" The Ethiopian replied, "How can I, except some man guide me?" The passage was from Isaiah 53:7-8: "He was led as a sheep to slaughter; and as a lamb before its shearer is silent, so he does not open his mouth. In humiliation his judgment was taken away. And as for his generation, who considered that he was cut off from the land of the living, for the transgression of my people for whom the stroke was due."

Wow! What an opportunity to share the Good News! The Ethiopian invited Philip to come up and sit with him. Philip began with this passage and "preached Yeshua to him."[13] The Ethiopian believed, and asked to be mikvahed ("immersed," or baptized). Then "the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away, and the eunuch saw him no more, but went on his way rejoicing.

The Ethiopian eunuch returned to Ethiopia, where he brought the Good News to the people of Ethiopia. Eventually the Coptic Church evolved out of the early assemblies of believers in Ethiopia. The original Coptic Church of Ethiopia observed the Sabbath on the seventh day and celebrated the Biblical Holy Days of Leviticus 23 until they were persuaded by European Christians to switch to Sunday observance and celebrate the "Christian" holidays instead.

1. Matthew 10:6. The terms "Israel" and "Jews" were used generically, meaning anyone from any of the 12 tribes, just as they are still used today. Hundreds of years earlier, there was a distinction made between Israel as the northern tribes, and Judah as the southern tribes, but that distinction evaporated in the Inter-Testamental period.
2. Matthew 15:24.
3. "baptizing."
4. Matthew 28:19
5. Well, there goes the neighborhood!
6. Romans 1:16. The term "Greek" was used generically to mean any Gentile, regardless of nationality.
7. "Diaspora" or "Exile."
8. For examples of this, see Acts 13:5,14; 14:1; 16:13; 17:1-2; 18:4,26.
9. The Good News had also gone to the Sa-maritans, but they were considered "half-Jews."
10. As quoted from Dr. David Stern's Jewish New Testament Commentary, page 250.
11. Deuteronomy 16. The three pilgrimage fes-tivals in which adult males were to travel to Jerusalem were Pesach (Passover), Shavuot (Weeks), and Sukkot (Booths).
12. Acts 8:26.
13. Acts 8:35