The Beta Israel in Ethiopia: From Earliest Times to the Twentieth Century

The origin of the Black Jews of Ethiopia has long been a source of fascination and controversy. Their condition and future continues to generate debate. The culmination of almost a decade of research, The Beta Israel (Falasha) in Ethiopia marks the publication of the first book-length scholarly study of the history of this unique community.

In this volume, Steven Kaplan seeks to demythologize the history of the Falasha and to consider them in the wider context of Ethiopian history and culture. This marks a clear departure from previous studies which have viewed them from the external perspective of Jewish history. Drawing on a wide variety of sources including the Beta Israel’s own literature and oral traditions, Kaplan demonstrates that they are not a lost Jewish tribe, but rather an ethnic group which emerged in Ethiopia between the 14th and 16th century. Indeed, the name, Falasha, their religious hierarchy, sacred texts, and economic specialization can all be dated to this period. Among the subjects the book addresses are their links with Ethiopian Christianity, the medieval legends concerning their existence, their wars with the Ethiopian emperors, their relegation to the status of a despised semi-caste, their encounters with European missionaries, and the impact of the Great Famine of 1888-1892.

Kaplan’s definitive treatment will be of interest to students and scholars of Jewish history, African history, and comparative religion, as well as anyone interested in Jewish affairs and the modern Middle East.

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