(E·thi·oʹpi·a), Ethiopian (E·thi·oʹpian) [Gr., Ai·thi·o·piʹa, meaning “region of burnt faces”].
Ethiopia was the name applied by the ancient Greeks to the region of Africa S of Egypt. It thus corresponded generally with the Hebrew “Cush,” which embraced primarily the present Sudan and the northern part of modern Ethiopia. In Egyptian texts this region was likewise known by the name “Keesh.” When the Septuagint translation was made, the translators used the Greek “Ethiopia” to render the Hebrew “Cush” in all but two passages (Gen. 10:6-8; 1 Chron. 1:8-10). The Authorized Version follows this rendering in all cases except Isaiah 11:11, where it uses “Cush” instead of “Ethiopia”; the Revised Standard Version likewise follows the Septuagint except at Genesis 2:13 and Ezekiel 38:5. Some other translations (NW, JB) prefer Cush in yet other texts where the identification with ancient Ethiopia is not made certain by the context. As shown in the article on CUSH, the name “Cush” can also apply to peoples of Arabia.
The area originally designated by the name “Ethiopia” now consists of semiarid plains in the N, savannas and plateau land in the central region and tropical rain forest toward the S. One-time capitals of ancient Ethiopia were Napata and Meroe. Meroe was the seat of a kingdom in which the right of kingship was carried through the female line rather than the male. The queen mother was thus the one from whom her kingly son derived his right to the throne and at times may have been the virtual ruler of the land. The name Candace is mentioned by Greek and Latin writers as a title used by several such Ethiopian queens, evidently including the one referred to at Acts 8:27.
THE ETHIOPIAN EUNUCH
The Ethiopian eunuch who was ‘over the treasures’ of Queen Candace, and to whom Philip preached, was obviously a circumcised Jewish proselyte. (Acts 8:27-39) He was thus not viewed as a Gentile and hence did not precede Cornelius as the first uncircumcised Gentile convert to Christianity. (Acts chap. 10) For him to engage in worship at the temple in Jerusalem would require that the Ethiopian have been converted to the Jewish religion and aIso his having been circumcised. (Ex. 12:48, 49; Lev. 24:22) In view of the Mosaic law forbidding the entry of castrated persons into the congregation of Israel (Deut. 23:1), it is evident that the Ethiopian was not a eunuch in a fleshly sense. The Hebrew word for “eunuch” (sa·risʹ) in a broad or special sense also meant an officer, as at Genesis 39:1, where an officer of Pharaoh, Potiphar, a married man, is called a sa·risʹ. Had he been an actual eunuch the Ethiopian officer would not have been a proselyte and, if not a proselyte, Philip would not have baptized him, since the good news had not yet begun to be extended to the uncircumcised Gentiles.
Ethiopia (Cush) is one of the lands among which the Jewish exiles were scattered after the Babylonian conquest of Judah. (Isa. 11:11) Hence, this Ethiopian official may have had association with Jewish persons in his area or perhaps in Egypt, where many Jews resided. His copy of the scroll of Isaiah was likely a copy of the Greek Septuagint translation, originally made in Alexandria, Egypt. Since the Ethiopian kingdom had become partly Hellenized from the time of Ptolemy II (309-246 B.C.E.), this official’s being able to read the Greek language would not be unusual. His becoming a Jewish proselyte and his subsequent conversion to Christianity were in fulfillment of Psalm 68:31.
The original language of Ethiopia is undetermined; by the close of the eighth century B.C.E. Egyptian hieroglyphic writing was being used for official Ethiopian inscriptions. A native language and script called Meroitic is known from the century prior to the start of the Common Era and for some centuries thereafter. The language called Ethiopic was the vernacular language during the Common Era up until the fourteenth century. It is of Semitic origin as is the present-day language of modern Ethiopia called Amharic. The Encyclopedia Americana (1956 ed., Vol. 10, p. 547) states that during the time of Roman control there was a great influx of Arabian peoples into this region and that the population continued to be mainly Arabian from the fourth century C.E. on.