Judith (fl. 10th c.)

views updated

Judith (fl. 10th c.)

Queen of the Falashas. Name variations: Esther; Esato; Yehudit. Flourished in Ethiopia in the 10th century.

According to tradition, Judith was a Jewish queen of the Falashas, who fought the Christian persecutors of her people. The Falashas are a population of Black Jews who trace their origins to Menelik, the legendary son of Solomon and Sheba . Although this claim is of dubious historicity, Judaism in Ethiopia is of great antiquity and a testament to the degree of social and economic contacts with both southern Egypt (where Jews settled in significant numbers, especially under the Ptolemies) and with that part of Arabia lying directly across the Red Sea from Ethiopia. In fact, northern Ethiopia was ruled by a dynasty claiming descent from Menelik, from the 2nd to the 4th century. By the 4th century, however, the Christianization of Ethiopia had begun, and those who remained faithful to their, by that time, ancestral faith fled south into the mountainous interior of their country. There they long existed in rugged isolation, until the press of northern conquest drove Christianization southward, especially in the form of monastic communities: they themselves establishing a control of land, traditionally pastoral, which was essential to the maintenance of the herds upon which the Falashas depended.

In part inspired by Queen Judith in the 10th century, the Falashas fought back against Christian encroachment and forced conversion. Although little concrete is known about her career, it is clear from the fact that there remains a considerable population of Falashas today to the south of Lake Tana, and from the fact that this region constituted an independent Jewish province of the kingdom of Ethiopia until the 17th century, that her counter-offensive—aimed primarily at the churches and monasteries which intended first to convert her people before politically incorporating them—was successful in checking the religious and cultural absorption of her people.

William Greenwalt , Associate Professor of Classical History, Santa Clara University, Santa Clara, California

About this article

Judith (fl. 10th c.)

Updated About encyclopedia.com content Print Article