The Ethiopian Eunuch and Simeon Niger: Negroe Saints?

‘Baptism Of The Eunuch’ -Van Heemskerk 

It can be demonstrated that the Ethiopian eunuch baptized by Philip in Acts chapter 8 was a Judaean serving in the Ethiopian court and not ethnically Ethiopian. This man was making a pilgrimage to the temple (vs. 27) where only Judaeans were permitted (Acts 21.28-29, 24.5-6, the Temple Warning inscription) and was in possession of a scroll containing the book of Isaiah (vs. 28). He was also converted before Cornelius and the agreement to convert the nations (Acts 10, 15.7). Judaeans are elsewhere referred to as Parthians, Medes, Elamites, Cretes and Arabians according to their residence and not their ethnicity (Acts 2.5-11) and this is certainly the case with the Ethiopian eunuch. The fact that the Ethiopian eunuch was a Judaean was also known to the early Christian writers Irenaeus and Pontius. Here in his work ‘Against Heresies’ (4.23.2) Irenaeus indicates that the Ethiopian eunuch was learned in the Scriptures:

“2. For this reason, also, Philip, when he had discovered the eunuch of the Ethiopians’ queen … immediately when [Philip] had baptized him, he departed from him. For nothing else [but baptism] was wanting to him who had been already instructed by the prophets: he was not ignorant of God the Father, nor of the rules as to the [proper] manner of life, but was merely ignorant of the advent of the Son of God, which, when he had become acquainted with, in a short space of time, he went on his way rejoicing, to be the herald in Ethiopia of Christ’s advent. Therefore Philip had no great labour to go through with regard to this man, because he was already prepared in the fear of God by the prophets. For this reason, too, did the apostles, collecting the sheep which had perished of the house of Israel, and discoursing to them from the Scriptures, prove that this crucified Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the living God; and they persuaded a great multitude, who, however, [already] possessed the fear of God. And there were, in one day, baptized three, and four, and five thousand men.”

Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch, Decani Monastery, Kosovo.

One might, at a stretch, claim that the Ethiopian eunuch wasn’t necessarily a Judaean just because he was familiar with Scripture, but the context provided by the very next passage in Irenaeus’ book (4.24.1) precludes that interpretation:

“1. Wherefore also Paul, since he was the apostle of the Gentiles, says, I laboured more than they all. For the instruction of the former, [the Judaeans] was an easy task, because they could allege proofs from the Scriptures, and because they, who were in the habit of hearing Moses and the prophets, did also readily receive the First-begotten of the dead, and the Prince of the life of God, — Him who, by the spreading forth of hands, did destroy Amalek, and vivify man from the wound of the serpent, by means of faith which was [exercised] towards Him.”

Another early Christian source (‘The Life of St. Cyprian’ chapter 3) is very explicit that the Ethiopian eunuch was a Judaean:

“3. The apostle’s epistle says that novices should be passed over, lest by the stupor of heathenism that yet clings to their unconfirmed minds, their untaught inexperience should in any respect sin against God. He first, and I think he alone, furnished an illustration that greater progress is made by faith than by time. For although in the Acts of the Apostles the eunuch is described as at once baptized by Philip, because he believed with his whole heart, this is not a fair parallel. For he was a Judean, and as he came from the temple of the Lord he was reading the prophet Isaiah, and he hoped in Christ, although as yet he did not believe that He had come; while the other, coming from the ignorant heathens, began with a faith as mature as that with which few perhaps have finished their course.”

The bust of Pescennius Niger, the Hall of Busts, Vatican.

Many claim that Simeon “that was called Niger” (Acts 13.1) was so called on account of being a Negroe or otherwise non-Adamic. It is hardly unique for White people to be called black as we see in the use of the term Black Irish or the name Hugh the Black, a Frankish Duke of Burgundy in the 10th century. My own wife’s English maiden name is Black, and I assure you, she is no Negroe. Note that Niger (Strong’s G3526) in this context is a name of Latin origin (Strong’s and Thayer’s s.v.) and it was common for Romans to take the names of colours in reference to their hair colour (e.g. Rufus/red or Flavus/yellow, Oxford Latin Dictionary s.v.). The Roman Emperor Pescennius Niger was so called in reference to his swarthy neck which stood in contrast to the rest of his body (Historian Augusta, Life of Pescennius Niger 6.6). Simeon was undoubtedly racially akin to his fellow Judeans who were certainly far from black.

Published by SloanVSutherland

"I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord"

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