Exploring the biblical theology of Christian egalitarianism

Candace of Ethiopia, Kush

Forty generations of Kushite royalty are buried in pyramids at Meroë, the capital city of Kush.
(Wikimedia Commons.)

Candace of Ethiopia, or Kandake of Kush

In his famous Church History, Eusebius mentions the biblical account of Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch and notes, “Ethiopia even to the present day is ruled, according to ancestral custom, by a woman” (2.1.13 cf. Acts 8:27). I found this piece of information intriguing and so I went on a bit of a search to find out if there is some truth in his statement. As it turns out, there is.

There were several female rulers of Ethiopia, or Kush. (The ancient Kingdom of Kush, also known as Nubia, is often called Ethiopia in the Bible.)[1] The region that once belonged to the Kushite kingdom lies mostly in modern-day Sudan, which is situated directly south of Egypt. (Modern-day Ethiopia is still further south.)

Queen Candace of Ethiopia (Kush)

Kandake (or kendake or kentake), which means “great woman”, was used as a royal title or dynastic name for the queens of Meroë, the capital of Kush.[2] Some kandakes ruled in their own right. Others ruled with their husbands and seem to have had equal power with the king. At least one kandake was the ruler while her husband was her consort. Furthermore, some of these kandakes were warrior queens who led their armies into battle.

There were so many ruling queens that, like Eusebius, several other ancient writers assumed that Meroë was ruled mainly by women. Strabo, a geographer and historian (d. 24 CE), Pliny the Elder, a renowned natural philosopher (23–79 CE), Dio Cassius, a Roman consul and historian (155–235 CE), and others refer to some ruling kandakes in their writings,[3] but today we know of several more.

Carolyn Fluehr-Lobban writes, “Meroë claims at least ten regnant queens during the 500-year period between 260 BC and 320 AD, and no fewer than six during the 140-year period between 60 BC and 80 AD.”[4] The Ethiopian Eunuch in Acts chapter 8 may have been in charge of the treasury of the kandake Amantitere who ruled in 25–41 CE.[5]

The Meroitic state flourished at around the same time as the Greek Ptolemies and then the Romans (300 BCE–350 CE). There is a legend that in 332 BCE one kandake pushed back Alexander the Great, who was intent on advancing into Kush, so that he and his army had to retreat to Egypt. A more credible story is that Meroitic forces, led by the kandake Amanirenas, clashed with Roman forces in the first century BCE. In his Roman History (54.5), Dio Cassius provides an account of Amanirenas who revolted and waged war against the Romans but was eventually overpowered in 22 BCE by Gaius Petronius, the Roman prefect (or, governor) of Egypt. Even though the Kushites were overpowered, Rome made a peace treaty in 22 BCE that benefited the Meroites. This treaty lasted for three centuries.

Timothy Kendall, an archaeologist and expert in Nubian studies, describes the appearance of Amanirenas and some other kandakes.

Curiously, in the Roman account [of the peace treaty] it was noted that the Meroitic queen [Amanirenas] was “a very masculine sort of woman and blind in one eye.” This strange description is given substance by the even stranger portrayals of these ladies that appear in reliefs in their tomb chapels and temples. The successive Candaces Amanishakheto and Amanitore, for example, . . . are depicted as massive, powerful figures, enormously fat, covered with jewels and ornaments and elaborate fringed and tasselled robes. Their huge frames tower over their diminutive enemies, whom they are shown grasping brutally by the hair with one hand and dealing the coup de grace with the other. The social and aesthetic implications expressed by these reliefs are very different from those of Egypt, where women preferred to be portrayed as lithe and slim. This attribute, together with the facial scars worn by both the kings and queens of the Meroitic period, were the marks of physical beauty, common to central Africa . . . [6]

Kush, and other African nations such as Egypt[7] and the “real” Ethiopia south of Kush,[8] were sometimes ruled by women. These women were formidable rulers and some were effective military leaders. In the Bible, we see a strong woman, Deborah, who led Israel and went into battle (Judges 4:6-9). Salome Alexandra was the reigning queen of Judea in the years 76–67 BCE. Both Deborah and Salome Alexandra were excellent leaders and the people of Israel prospered under their leadership. It seems that women in leadership, even as rulers of nations, is neither a modern invention nor just a recent phenomenon.

Footnotes

[1] In the Bible, “Ethiopia” refers to the region in Africa immediately south of Egypt. Its boundaries have shifted over time, but the northern boundary has always begun at modern-day Aswan.
Numbers 12:1 states that Moses’ second wife came from this region (i.e. Kush). Could she have been a kandake as Craig Keener suggests? Josephus identified Moses’ second wife as Tharbis, the daughter of the king of the Ethiopians (i.e. Kushites), and he mentions Meroë by name. Josephus’ account of the marriage (and treaty) between Tharbis and Moses in Antiquities 2.10.2 does not fit the sequence of time in the biblical record. You can read his account here.

[2] “Kandake” is often Latinised as “Candace”.

[3] Strabo gives an account of the “one-eyed kandake” Amanirenas in his Geography (17.1.54). Dio Cassius, in Roman History (54.5), also gives an account of Amanirenas. Pliny the Elder tells us in Natural History (6.35) that a queen was ruling Meroë at the time of Nero’s reign. Pliny also writes that “kandake” was the name, or title, of the queens in that country, “that name having passed from queen to queen for many years.”

[4] Carolyn Fluehr-Lobban, Nubian Queens in the Nile Valley and Afro-Asiatic Cultural History, a paper presented at the Ninth International Conference for Nubian Studies (August 20-26, 1998), 2.
The following list of kandakes of Meroë who ruled alone is taken from here. (See also the Wikipedia article on the Kandakes of Kush here.)

  • Shanakdakhete (c. 177–155 BCE)

  • Amanirenas (c. 40–10 BCE) fought against the Romans

  • Amanishakheto (c. 10 BCE–1 CE)

  • Amanitore (c. 1–20 CE)

  • Amantitere (c. 20–49 CE) is probably the kandake of Acts 8:27.

  • Amanikhatashan (c. 62–85 CE)

  • Maleqorobar (c. 266–283 CE)

  • Lahideamani (306–314 CE)

[5] Meroë was famous for its production of iron and was especially prosperous in the first century CE. (Source)

[6] The source of this quotation is no longer available online, and I am unable to locate the paper or book the quotation comes from.

[7] Cleopatra VII Philopater (70/69–30 BCE) is the best known female pharaoh who ruled Egypt in her own right. Historians know of fifteen women, in all, who ruled as pharaohs. Some of these were co-rulers with their brother-husbands.

[8] In her paper on Nubian Queens, Carolyn Fluehr-Lobban writes, “Three of the Ethiopian queens were central to significant turning points in dynastic history: 1) Makeda [Queen of Saba, hence “Sheba”] who founded the Menelik dynasty that ruled until the overthrow of Haile Selassie in 1974; 2) Queen Ahywa (regal name Sofya), who made Christianity the official religion of the Ethiopian kingdom in 332 A.D.; and 3) Gudit, the Jewish queen who founded the rival Zagwe dynasty, 933–1253 AD until the Amhara Solomonic line was restored (Quirin 1992: 12-19).” (Nubian Queens, 3)
Ethiopians and Yemenis (both are descendants of the Sabians) claim that the Queen of Sheba who visited Solomon was their queen. (Nubian Queens, 2) (Here is a link to an interesting video on the Queen of Sheba. And here is a short article about the queen of Sheba in the Bible.)

Queen Candace of Ethiopia (Kush)

Relief of Amanitore Kandake, who ruled c. 1–20 CE, found in Wad ban Naqa, a town of Meroë. (Wikimedia Commons)

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Related Articles

The Queen of Sheba and 3 other powerful female leaders in the Bible
The (Im)propriety of Bible Women with Authority
Three Obscure Old Testament Women with Clout
What’s in a name? Deborah, Woman of Lappidoth
Deborah and the “no available men” argument
Philip’s Prophesying Daughters

A five-minute lecture by Craig Keener, All about the African empire that the official in Acts 8:27 was from, is here.
More information about Meroë (300 BCE–350 CE) here.

artigos em portugues sobre igualdade entre homens e mulheres no lar e na igreja

16 thoughts on “Queen Candace of Ethiopia

  1. Thank you so much for digging this out and posting it. I have been wondering about the eunuch’s queen of Ethiopia for many years. This gives greater clarity, along with a place to start doing more research.

  2. Really interesting. I had wondered about the Ethiopian eunuch’s Jewish roots. The latter part of Acts 8:27 says, “This man had gone to Jerusalem to worship.” Also, after his introduction to Christ, and his baptism into the faith through Philip, and being a man of importance, being in charge of all the treasure of the Kandake, I wonder if he had a hand in the early church growth in Kush.

    You cited Carolyn Fluehr-Lobban who wrote, “Queen Ahywa (regal name Sofya), … made Christianity the official religion of the Ethiopian kingdom in 332 A.D.” Even though this is a few centuries later, I cannot help but believe that the saving knowledge of Christ grew through the leadership of the kingdom because of this man’s conversion.

    Thank you for this posting.

    1. I believe the Ethiopian eunuch brought the gospel back to his own country, too. I am also certain that he didn’t travel alone and that some of his companions and/or servants may have heard Philip’s message and become Christians too.

      As you may know, the Ethiopians have had a long association with the Hebrews and Judaism, and there is a legend that Jeremiah sent the Ark of the Covenant to Ethiopia, so that it would not be desecrated when the (Gentile) Persians conquered Judah.

      1. Correction Ma’m, Ethiopians are the Original Jews!
        Not Cossack Whites!

        1. I neither think nor state that “Cossack Whites” are “the original Jews.” Nor do I think that Ethiopians are Cossack Whites.

          Both Danesba and I acknowledge the Jewish heritage of the Ethiopians. We’re talking about the Ethiopian eunuch taking the message of Jesus back to his homeland.

  3. I am very, very interested in learning all about the “Candace” name. Thank you so much for sharing your information.

    I have been doing quite a bit of reading on this name/title and its associations. Really beginning to unfold so many level of my wishes, desire, and who and what I am truly made of. There is much truth to all that I have read and understood.

    I love the part that states the ark of the covenant was send to Ethiopia. I would like to learn more information, do you have more?

    Candace

    1. Hi Candace,

      You certainly have a regal name. 🙂

      I watched a documentary that investigated whether the Ark of the Covenant was currently in Ethiopia. I found the testimony of people who said it was in Ethiopia unconvincing.

      If you google “Ark of the Covenant, Ethiopia” you might find some good information.

    2. There are two stories about the Ark of the Covenant being brought to Ethiopia. The first is that Menelik I, the son of Solomon of Israel and Queen Saba (Sheba) of Ethiopia, brought it to Ethiopia. The other version is that King Solomon ordered his officials to send their first sons to Ethiopia along with Menelik, and that the officials then secretly gave the Ark to their sons.

      Ethiopians believe the Ark that has been safely kept in the Church of Tsion Mariam (Zion Merry) in Ethiopia (Asus Town) is the original Ark of the Covenant. No one including the Patriarch of Ethiopia is allowed to enter the room where the Ark is placed. A priest (until he dies) is responsible to keep (and handle) the Ark. He never leaves the compound. Immediately before he dies it is his responsibility select a priest, by means of a vision, who will replace him.

      Some writers have written about the Ark (e.g., Graham Hancock).

  4. To clarify the matters in specific: The Ethiopian eunuch who is mentioned in the Bible was a Cushite, or from north Sudan, because in the ancient time Sudan was called Ethiopia. Ethiopia the modern country was called Abyssinia or Axum. Second there are no Candaces in the history of the modern Ethiopia, rather the Candaces are the Cushite queens in north Sudan, as they are called by people. Third, Meroe city is in north Sudan, so the eunuch man was a Cushite from Nubia, south of Egypt. Cushite or Nubian people in north Sudan received the message of Christ as first people in Africa ever in 37AD. Thanks.

    1. Thanks, Julla. I believe my article mentions most of this.

      The only thing I didn’t mention is that the present day country of Ethiopia was known as Abyssinia from around 1137 AD, and, before that, the kingdom of Axum.

      I agree, it is quite likely that the Nubian people in north Sudan were the first people in Africa to receive the message of Christ. 😀

      1. The name Candace does exist in Ethiopian history as “Hendoke.” When I visited Jerusalem some years ago I noticed the Palestinians used the name “Kush” referring to Ethiopians. I am of the opinion a large area that included North Sudan to Yemen was probably one Kingdom.

      2. Yes. Ethiopians accepted Christianity through the eunuch at the time of Apostles.
        In the 4th century AD Ethiopia accepted Christianity as a state religion.

  5. He was not a eunuch, for no eunuch was allowed to worship in the Temple. The better Hebrew translation is “servant”.

    1. Hi Aundrae,

      The Ethiopian official is referred to in Greek as an εὐνοῦχος (eunouchos, i.e. a eunuch) no less than five times in Acts 8. (The New Testament bookof Acts was originally written in Greek, not Hebrew.)

      Other Greek words are typically translated as “servant” in the New Testament but not εὐνοῦχος. This link has every instance of εὐνοῦχος in the New Testament: http://biblehub.com/greek/2135.htm

      As both a eunuch and a (presumably) gentile convert to Judaism, the man from Ethiopia would not have been permitted beyond the courtyard of the Gentiles in the first-century temple at Jerusalem.

      You can see the different courts in this illustration: http://www.bible-history.com/jewishtemple/JEWISH_TEMPLE00000018.jpg

      Furthermore, after the Babylonian captivity, which ended in 538 BC, the laws of Deuteronomy 23:1-8 and Leviticus 21:18-20, which restricted eunuchs and gentiles, were relaxed. Read the wonderful words of the Lord in Isaiah 56:1-8 here: https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Isaiah+56&version=NIV

      Here is Isaiah 56:7b where the Lord is speaking about people like the Ethiopian eunuch: “Their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house will be called a house of prayer for all nations.” This does not mean, however, that the eunuch himself was able to approach the altar.

      Here is a short article about the gathering of outcasts, including eunuchs,mentioned in Isaiah 56: https://www.enterthebible.org/resourcelink.aspx?rid=475

  6. “Ethiopians and Yemenis (both are descendants of the Sabians) claim that the Queen of Sheba who visited Solomon was their queen.”

    Even though it would not surprise me if it turns out that the Yemenite Kingdoms started out as offshoots of Cushite Kingdoms, it seems to me that given the normative practice of having powerful women rulers, it would make better sense if the Queen of Sheba was in Cushite territory versus Yemenite. This would then make the Kandake of Acts 8:27 a cultural, if not genetic descendant, of the Queen of Sheba. Of course, it is always possible that at that time the Kingdoms were once connected and that she was indeed Queen of both areas.

    Psalm 72:10: “May the kings of Tarshish and the coasts and islands bring tribute, the kings of Sheba and Seba offer gifts.”

    Unfortunately, the archaeology of both countries has a great deal of catching up to do. A fortunate offshoot of Sudan’s intention to establish dams (and potentially flooding the remains of Cushite civilizations) is that it’s pushing archaeologists (and funding) to do some proper research before all is lost. And if evidence of the existence of the Kingdom of Sheba in Cush should subsequently arise then the Yemenites (and Islam in general) would have to do some re-evaluations, since a narration about Saba/Sheba in chapter 34 verses 15-17 in the Quran bears an uncanny resemblance to the Marib Dam in Yemen (and it’s failure). Islamic Hadiths also propose that Saba in Yemen was an Arab nation https://sunnah.com/urn/642540

    Joshua 24:27: “And Joshua said to all the people, ‘You see this stone. It will be a witness against us…'”

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