Ethiopia: The First Christian Nation?

March 04 2013
For centuries, historians have widely accepted the argument that Armenia was the first Christian nation. This important claim has become a source of national pride for Armenians and has remained virtually undisputed for centuries — until now.
Armenians will likely be up at arms when they learn that a new book — “Abyssinian Christianity: The First Christian Nation?” — is challenging their claim, presenting the possibility that Abyssinia (modern-day Ethiopia and Eritrea) was the first Christian nation.
To be sure, the book doesn’t conclusively assert that Ethiopia was the first nation to adopt Christianity as its state religion. However, it will surely challenge the confidence of modern church historians with groundbreaking evidence.
The Weakness Of Armenia’s Claim
Armenia’s claim on this meaningful title is primarily based upon the celebrated fifth-century work of Agathangelos titled “The History of the Armenians.” In it, he says as an eyewitness that after the Armenian King Trdat III was baptized (c. 301/314 A.D.) by St. Gregory the Illuminator, he decreed Christianity was the state religion.

The truth is that we have no solid proof to support this account. We are forced to rely solely on the authenticity of Agathangelos and his contemporaries. These historians try to liken the conversion of Trdat III to that of Constantine’s, even though the baptism of Constantine is questionable, as was his own personal “conversion.”
Michael Richard Jackson Bonner, a linguist at Oxford University, contends that Agathangelos had a clear agenda. He “wished to stress the independence and uniqueness of the Armenian church … [and ‘The History’] is a tendentious compilation, which has expanded and elaborated earlier traditions … and greatly increased the prestige of the patriarchs of the fifth century.”
In addition, recent studies date “The History of the Armenians” to c. 450 A.D., making it impossible for Agathangelos to have been an eyewitness. If Armenia’s claim is based on nothing more than oral history, how can it hold any more credibility than Ethiopia’s own Christian legends?
As for the spread of Christianity in Armenia, historian Peter Brown argued that “Armenia became a nominally Christian kingdom” after the king’s baptism. The Armenian people in fact “did not receive Christianity with understanding … and under duress.”
Where Ethiopia Differs
The Acts of the Apostles describe the baptism of an Ethiopian eunuch shortly after the death of Christ. Eusebius of Caesaria, the first church historian, in his “Ecclesiastical History,” further tells of how the eunuch returned to diffuse the Christian teachings in his native land shortly after the Resurrection and prior to the arrival of the Apostle Matthew.
Before the Ethiopian king Ezana (whose kingdom was then called Aksum) embraced Christianity for himself and decreed it for his kingdom (c. 330 A.D.), his nation had already constituted a large number of Christians.
During the persecutions of Diocletian (284-305 A.D.), commerce ports like Adulis, along the Red Sea, served as a sanctuary for Christians in exile, and the Christian faith began to grow rapidly in these areas. Pagans still comprised the religious majority at this time, but, as historian Kevin O’Mahoney argued, the Christian faith first took root in “the upper social classes and gradually spread downwards to become the religion of the people.”
Such was the religious climate that St. Frumentius faced when his ship was pillaged by the native Ethiopians at the start of the fourth century A.D. The Ethiopian king spared his life, and Frumentius received a place of honor at the royal court. In this position, he nourished the Christian faith by locating Christians and helping them find places of worship. He also educated the king’s heir, Ezana, and converted him to Christianity.
For this people, Ezana’s conversion became a public conversion for Aksum, and Christianity continued to serve as a point of reference for the nation. Unlike the case of Armenia, we have tangible proof of this conversion:
Historians have uncovered a public acknowledgement of the Christian faith from Ezana. Also, coins bearing Ezana’s image depict the cross after his conversion.
As the authors of “Abyssinian Christianity” conclude, “the promotion of the new faith developed into the single point of personal and public identification and unity for Abyssinians.” Christianity became the centralizing force behind the Ethiopian empire, which endured through 1974, despite religious and political threats from all sides.
Can a nation only become Christian if there is an official decree from its sovereign? If that were the case, then the Kingdom of Edessa would be the first Christian city-state (in modern terms) in c. 218. As we see with Abyssinia, and Israel before it, a nation isn’t confined to political boundaries. Rather, it is defined by a group of people who share a common heritage.
For the Ethiopians, this shared heritage was Christianity.
Brendan Pringle is a graduate of the National Journalism Center and the editor of “Abyssinian Christianity: The First Christian Nation?” For more details about the book, visit


  1. Actually I do not think Armenians will dispute on this. Armenian are actually the first people who adopted Christianity from Ethiopia, not only Christianity but plus the Geez script. Armenians alphabet is Geez. They adopted Geez in the 4th century. Even they know the single Armenian priest who adopted Geez script. You can check the Armenian alphabet which is Geez. While we threw away our Geez. Armenians developed alphabet to be their own version. I did learn all these from Armenian themselves. They do not deny their historical connection with Ethiopia liturgically and as well as lingual via Geez.

  2. I have not read the article except for the title. Where did this Brenden got this title “The First Christian Nation”. I will be glad if it is true.
    We received this religion from Egypt/Syrians Coptics. May be this guy purposely skiped the history.
    In fact Islam arrived first in Ethiopia before Africa even Mecca. So Ethiopia is the first Muslim country. This is true and we have to be proud. Ethiopia also second Christian country in Africa after Egypt period.
    This is true history. If you don’t believe in this then you can tell the world even we have the Arc of Covenent in our country and surely they will believe us while laughing at our back.
    Let us grow. First or last doesn’t bring any award. Let us stop this feudal mentality of lie and deception to get aid from outside.

    • Ante dedeb ye areb gered-the wannabe islam fanatic-you are a stranger during the 7 century when mohammed’s followers seek a refuge-so you see-you are a refugge-that does not make a country who gave shelter to the wonderer arab shiritam an islamic country! Do not interpret a historical incident to suit your loath to islamize and Arbaized ethiopia!
      Second, Our christianity is a direct extension of our orit belief-do not put us under the fold of the coptics! they have their own historical route! our christianity a result of the preaching of Matthew and philip while the coptics is as a result of mark!
      About the Ark of the covenant, read your faggot araba’s adventure to steal it as if it is somekind of an object! Bushity nehe!

  3. I’ve read a book by Gert Muller recently. He conclusively stated that z Eden Paradize is located on z land between North Ethiopia,south west Eritrea and North East sudan. May be we’ll 1 day hear that z black jesus was from Ethiopia.

  4. I was in Armenia some four decades ago where a tourist guide in a Museum confirmed Ethiopia precedes Armenia in accepting Christianity. In that Museum I saw an old book written on a parchment written in Geez presented by the Ethiopian Church.

  5. Some of you guys are laughable. Have you ever heard of Agazians? Where did they live? What was their language? What is the relationship between Geez and the language of Agazians?

  6. It will not be long before the ethno-fascist Tigre people liberation front destroys all the churches. Churches are being torched, looted and the land confiscated by the woyane. The livelihood of the Priests and deacons have been taken away and they were forced out of the churches and left destitute.

  7. If Abyssinia is first let it be. Then what? you brag about your assimilation? If Abyssinia is first why the pope was imported from Egypt? the first is last in Christianity?

  8. @Habesha and Summi
    If u have envy on every thing Ethiopians have, all what u said is correct. But I am sorry for u since all your wishes are not true. Ethiopia has done a lot in relation to christianity before Egypt heard about it. The administrative issue that pope was coming from Egypt is another complex issue. U can read if have interest.

  9. Well done. Th e root of christainity is thee old testment. Phillp told by Gods angel to go to see the ethiopian eunch, he was reading Isaiah 53. Well this one first that one last bla bla…. This is not the point. Our God and savior said you can do greater things than I did. But still we haven’t see anyone from romania, Argentina, Saudi Arabia or anywhere all we can only read and support only our own pride. Now we have theology professors, doctors, experts and institutes but still we ,can not see the person who can not read and write ,like the heart break man ,Peter, John, Paual, Steven, Philip and others. Why not now, Is God only the past? The protestant the big liars, catholic, orthodox or all on Earth now serving money therefore now we all are the last unbeliever of Christ

  10. wegen
    I feel sorry for you for believing in legendary history and also mostly lie. Have your read true Ethiopian history by credible historian lately if there is one? There is only one historian in Ethiopia who have at least better credibility than feudal liar priest historians of the past and present. His name is Prof Labesso. He is Coptic (Orthodox) like you.
    If you want challenge his findings then talk to him.
    What did you say Mr extreme believer in tert tert history. You said Ethiopia (there was no Ethiopia at that time) has done a lot in relation to christianity before Egypt heard about it. Show us the prove again?
    Do you know upto 1950 Egyptian Copts used to sing for you in Ethiopian Coptic Church. By the way how old are you?
    I hope you don’t get offended for spilling out the truth for you. I don’t have slightest right to insult your religion. But I tell you as it is.
    I really don’t have interest in this subject but you guys are in the dark so I try to bring light in the dark.

    • Habesha,
      Only people or individual who have no known history get easily emotional and offended. But we have a history and social system that helps us to remain calm in adversity let alone with insult with someone without known history of his/her own. Yes, Yared was an Egyptian singer who produced exceptional gospel songs, Egyptians help us in having our own alphabet, they were writing all the litrature we have, all the arts and architecture we proudly possess, all medicine and food technologies we have etc. U better learn from Habesha if u are wise sir. I think u are craving to be one of the Habesha with decorated history. please cool down and reach at them, they can share you what they have and they are also wise enough to learn from u if u have something to share with.

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