We know so little about the treasurer from “Ethiopia” to whom we are introduced in Acts 8. How was he converted to Judaism? What was his name? What happened to him following his baptism into Christ? A study of the this enigmatic figure is quite interesting.
Did you know that the country from which the treasurer came was known as the “Kingdom of Meroe”? It was the remnant of the once powerful Kingdom of Kush that, for a while, controlled even their Egyptian neighbors. If the name, “Kush,” looks familiar to you, it is because Noah had a grandson named, “Cush” (cf. Genesis 10:6-8; Daniel 11:43). The “Ethiopians” are descendants of Cush.
Meroe was ruled by a line of queens known as “Kandake.” It is translated in English translations of the Bible as, “Candace.” The line of queens is most likely named for a famous empress named Candace that ruled the Kushites during the conquest of Alexander the Great. She had been a renowned military general and tactician. Legend states that Alexander refused to invade “Nubia” for fear that he would be defeated by her.
As treasurer, the Ethiopian eunuch would overlook an impressive bursary. Meroe was a wealthy kingdom because of her trade with the Romans and African tribes from the western grasslands of Africa. They traded gold and other sub-Saharan products with the Romans until about the third century AD. After their trade diminished with the Romans, early in the third century, Meroe maintained her prominence because of her ability to smelt iron. The tools and weapons fashioned by the workers of Meroe were desired by her neighbors. Eventually, Meroe lost her standing and was conquered by her southern neighbor, Axum. Today, that which was Meroe is a part of the country of Sudan.
Religiously, the inhabitants of Meroe worshiped Egyptian gods and a few gods of their own creation. Apparently, at some point, Judaism was introduced to the region. (The Old Testament book of Jeremiah shows that Jews were living in lower Egypt just prior to the Babylonian captivity of Judah and Benjamin.–cf. Jeremiah 44:1ff. God knew that there would be those fleeing south to escape the Babylonians and warned them against their actions.–cf. Jeremiah 42:19ff. ) The treasurer is an example of one who proselyted to the Jewish faith. There continues to be many followers of Judaism in the same region today.
How far did the treasurer travel to worship God? It was about 3,000 miles, round trip, from Meroe to Jerusalem. Thus, he was quite devoted to his adopted faith. Once in Jerusalem, he would have been denied entry into the Temple proper since the Old Law forbade entry there to eunuchs. Yet, he still maintained great piety. Obviously, his desire to draw near to God was great!
Though we do not know the treasurer’s name, we do know some of the popular names of the Meroitic men. They had names such as Arkinidad, Amanislo, Pakheme, Shorkaror, Teritegas, and Yesbokheamani. Such names are exotic to the English-speaking person’s ear. Perhaps the treasurer’s name was exotic to Philip, too.
What happened to the Ethiopian treasurer following his conversion to Christianity? According to Irenaeus and Eusebius, two Christian writers of the second century AD, the treasurer returned to Meroe and converted Queen Candace, as well as many of his fellow Meroites. They wrote, further, that the treasurer was martyred in Ceylon after having preached the Gospel throughout Arabia Felix (i.e., Yemen). Though true that we are unable to verify the information of Irenaeus and Eusebius, it does seen consistent with the character to whom we are introduced to within the sacred page.