From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Abba 'Ěnbāqom (c.1470 – c.1565) was a religious leader of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church,[1] and translator and author, e.g., of the Anqaṣa Amin.[2] As Abbot at the leading monastery of Debre Libanos he became the Echage, the second highest eclessiastical office, as well as head of all Ethiopian monasteries, and was often regarded as the most influential person in the Ethiopian Church.[3][4][5]

Life and views[edit]

'Ěnbāqom was the baptismal name of the former Abu'l Fatḥ, who circa 1489 had immigrated from Muslim Yemen into Christian Ethiopia.[6][7] His father was said to have been nobility, his mother Jewish.[8] He arrived as a merchant trader, in the company of a returning Ethiopian who had been held captive in Yemen. Already 'Ěnbāqom was intensely involved in questioning his religious affiliation. Eventually, after much reading and discussion, he decided to convert and become a Christian. His teacher Petros, then Echage or Abbot of the leading Ethiopian monastery at Debre Libanos in Shewa, baptized him, giving him the name 'Ěnbāqom, the Ethiopian form of Habakkuk; while the Hebrew name signifies "savant", the Ethiopian has the connotation of "professor".[9]

After further prayer and learning 'Ěnbāqom circa 1500 became a monk at Debre Libanos.[10][11] By his study he acquired many languages, including: Arabic, Geez, Coptic, Hebrew, Syriac, Armenian, Portuguese, and Italian. Throughout his clerical life he worked to translate into Geez, the language of the Ethiopian Church, many Christian writings, e.g., John Chrysostom's Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews, and the story from India of Barlaam and Josaphat.[12] For his writings he won wide respect.

At the court of the Emperor Lebna Dengel, 'Ěnbāqom become the friend of the Abuna Marqos, the chief ecclesiastic in Ethiopia.[13] During this Emperor's reign 'Ěnbāqom became the Echage, i.e., the Abbot at the Debre Libanos monastery.[14] While at court 'Ěnbāqom also met the Portuguese priest Francisco Álvares.[15] Later this priest visited 'Ěnbāqom at the monastery, teaching him Portuguese and Latin.[16] Álvares reports that in 1520 he was at Dabra Libanos when the Emperor Libna Dengel installed a new Echage:

"He whom they made Ichee was also held to be a man of holy life, and he had been a Moor. As he was a great friend of mine, he told me all his life and said to me that when he was in his sect [i.e., a Muslim] he heard a revelation, which said to him: 'You are not following the right path; go to the Abima Marcos, who is head of the priests of Ethiopia, and he will teach you another path'. Then he came to the Abima Marcos, and related to him what he had heard, and the Abima Marcos had made him a Christian, and had taught him, and considered him as a son; and therefore the [Emperor] took this monk who had been a Moor for governor of this monastery... . This man had so much affection for me that he used not to leave me and always went about with me. [He] also mastered the Portuguese language, so we both understood one another very well."[17]

Álvares says that the new Echage also knew how to write Latin in good style. This, of course, sounds like 'Ěnbāqom; yet Álvares gives his name as Jacob.[18] Van Donzel, however, assures us that Enbaqom is this Jacob who Álvares describes in some detail.[19] Accordingly at the death of Petros, 'Ěnbāqom had become the eleventh Echage at Dabra Libanos,[20] which was the second highest office in the Ethiopian Church (after the Coptic Abuna).[12]

Yet 'Ěnbāqom next entered a long period of turbulence. He was accused of disloyalty to the Emperor Lebna Dengel, then tried and, in lieu of death, banished.[21][22] A year later the Emperor forgave and recalled him, but he may not have return as Abbot.[23][24] Instead, he may have withdrawn further southeast to Warab by the headwaters of the river Awash. Then during the years 1526-1543 there came upon them very destructive raids led by the Muslim Ahmad Gran which destabilized the region and threatened the continued existence of Christian kingdom.[25][26] During these decades of chaos and anarchy, 'Ěnbāqom kept on the move, relocating westward to Gafat then to Bizamo, both regions located south of the Abbay River or Blue Nile.[27]

In 1532 the monastery at Debre Libanos had been torched, enveloped in flames due to the forces of Ahmad Gran.[28] 'Ěnbāqom in that year sent a letter in Arabic addressed to Ahmad Gran, writing that he should stop destroying churches and monasteries (whose libraries held the literary history of the people), and that he should stop killing priests and monks. Ahmad Gran evidently replied in effect that as a Muslim he respected the Jewish Torah and the Christian Gospels, so he would not burn churches and would limit the killing to those who resist.[29] 'Ěnbāqom book in Geez Anqasa Amin grew out of this letter to Ahmad Gran.[30][31]

Because of his unusual background, 'Ěnbāqom was better able to address Christian Ethiopians about effective ways to understand and to resist Islam. From such a partisan point of view, he was in an "admirable position to meet their needs, and his presence was seen as providential. While Ahmad did all he could to capture and execute him, 'Ěnbāqom moved from place to place comforting the faithful."[12]

The new Emperor Galawdewos returned 'Ěnbāqom to favor, making him his councilor in war. Perhaps too the learned 'Ěnbāqom influenced Galawdewos when he wrote his well-known "Confession of Faith" which diplomatically presents a theological and liturgical response to the Catholic Church.[32][33] The next Emperor Menas allowed the monk to become the Echage again at Debre Libanos. In a few years later 'Ěnbāqom would see his last.[34]

Abba 'Ěnbāqom sought "to provide spiritual and intellectual leadership for the Ethiopian Church, and to translate works and ideas from the rest of Christendom, thus bringing a richer theology from abroad and higher standards of clerical education... ."[35] The Ethiopian Church celebrates his life on the 21st of miyazya (corresponding to April 29) in the liturgical year.[36]

Anqaṣa Amin[edit]

His book Anqasa Amin [Gateway of Faith], written in Geez, was an expansion and scholarly development of his 1532 letter in Arabic to the Muslim invader Ahmad Gran.[37] It is perhaps the only Ethiopian Church writing with so many quotations from and references to the Qur'an ('Ěnbāqom relied on his memory for many of these).[38] The book is polemical, however, and was never popular.[citation needed] The arguments employed by Enbaqom "seem mostly drawn from the standard Arab Christian responses to Islam." For example: Jesus in the Qur'an has greater stature than many Muslims will admit.[39]

'Ěnbāqom on occasion draws some interesting parallels. The Muslim Laylat al-Qadr [night of power or night of decrees] during Ramadan commemorates the first revelations of the Qur'an to Muhammad, when it is said that the angels and the Spirit will descend until dawn. For 'Ěnbāqom this refers to Noel, Christmas night, when the Deity came here to earth, the night of his birth, when bands of angels filled the sky singing, "Glory to God in the highest and peace to his people on earth!"[40]

'Ěnbāqom discusses the process of his own coverstion to Christianity, which began when he heard a passage from the Qur'an discussing Jesus in the divine plan.[41] According to 'Ěnbāqom, many Muslims then held three false beliefs about Christianity: that God had a wife and a son; that Christians worship trees, stones, and images; and that Christians admit of three Gods.[42]

Two original arguments made by 'Ěnbāqom have been noted.[43] First, that the Qur'an relies on only one language, Arabic, and the Judaic scriptures on Hebrew with some Aramaic. The Christian Gospels, however, communicate effectively their spiritual message in many different languages.[44] Second, the Qur'an and the Judaic scriptures give prescriptions for war and the like. Christian scriptures do not, but are addressed to the welfare of the poor.[43]

The Anqasa Amin is an argumentative work, written in the midst of long-term and widespread chaos, destruction, and death. In it 'Ěnbāqom demonstrates familiarity with Christian doctrine and prior Christian polemics, and also with Muslim religious literature.[45]


  1. ^ E. J. Donzel at 17-28, who references the Geez Gadl ["acts" or "struggles"] of Enbaqom per Lanfraco Ricci.
  2. ^ E. J. Donzel at 29-43 (see Bibliography).
  3. ^ Francisco Álvares at I: 262, note 2 by the editors Beckingham and Huntingford.
  4. ^ Chris Prouty and Eugene Rosenfeld at 53.
  5. ^ The Echage (or Etchegé or Ĕčägē) was "a position no other foreigner has held, before or since." David Buxton at 133.
  6. ^ E. J. Van Donzel at 24-25. There was also opinion that Enbaqom originated in Iraq, Syria, or Persia. Van Donzel at 25-28. Cf., discussion of other suggested theories by Van Donzel at 162-165.
  7. ^ Enrico Cerulli (at 17), perhaps followed by David Buxton (at 132), considered that prior to his baptism Enbaqom was also called Salik. Yet Van Donzel mentions that Salik was a translator of Enbaqom noted in a colophon of 1583, long after Enbaqom's death. Van Donzel at 30.
  8. ^ Lanfraco Ricci at 13: 102-103.
  9. ^ E. J. Van Donzel at 17.
  10. ^ The site at Debre Libanos (Däbrä Lībanos) was chosen and the monastery founded by the revered Ethiopian saint Tekle Haymanot in the 13th century. Däbrä Asbo was its original name. Taddesse Tamrat at 169-174.
  11. ^ E. J. Van Donzel at 21.
  12. ^ a b c Getachew Haile.
  13. ^ The Abuna then by tradition was a Coptic priest of Egypt, chosen by the Patriarch in Cairo and sent to Ethiopia as its Abuna or Metropolitan, becoming head of the Ethiopian Church. Taddesse Tamrat at 107-108.
  14. ^ Van Donzel at 21-22. Lebna Dengel reigned from 1508 to 1540.
  15. ^ Father Álvares had accompanied the Ethiopian ambassador Matewos when he returned home from Lisbon in 1515. Francisco Álvares, the editors' (Beckingham and Huntingford's) "Introduction" at 2-3.
  16. ^ Adrian Hastings at 145.
  17. ^ Francisco Álvares at I: 262-263 (Chapter 67).
  18. ^ The editorial notes to Álvares do not address the identity of "Jacob", the new Echage or Ichee (which Álvares translates as prior or abbot) at the Debre Libanos monastery. Francisco Álvares. Cf. at I: 262-263 (Chapter 67).
  19. ^ E. J. Van Donzel at 20-21. Van Donzel also states that Enbaqom was baptized not by Abuna Marqos (per Álvares) but by the former Echage Petros (as mentioned here above [text at note 3]).
  20. ^ E. J. Van Donzel at 19, quoting from the Ethiopian Synaxaire [Lives of the Saints]; cf., E. A. Wallis Budge at III: 818.
  21. ^ Richard Pankhurst.
  22. ^ Banished to Gunei, probably located south of Lake Tana. Map in Van Donzel at xx.
  23. ^ E. J. Van Donzel at 23.
  24. ^ Contra: Getachew Haile, who writes that 'Ěnbāqom was the Echage at Debre Lebanos for "close to forty years".
  25. ^ J. Spencer Trimingham at 76-98 discusses these events and Ahmad Gran [Ahmad the left-handed]. Much of his early victories were due to the firearms and the soldiers supplied him by the Ottomans. In their defeat, with destruction and death about them for many years, Christians were likely to become confused and susceptible to conversion. Eventually, in 1541 a Portuguese force of 400 arquebusiers under the command of Christovão da Gama landed and evened up the fight, Galawdewos then being the Emperor. The Muslim threat would recede after 1542 when Ahmad Gran was killed in battle. Timingham at 77, 87-89.
  26. ^ E. J. Van Donzel at 9-12. Van Donzel gives 1543 as the end of Gran, saying that the subsequent Christian reconquest of lost lands met with little resistance.
  27. ^ Richard Pankhurst.
  28. ^ E. J. Van Donzel at 23.
  29. ^ E. J. Van Donzel at 36.
  30. ^ Adrian Hastings at 145. Hastings dates the firing of Debre Libanos to 1540, and the letter to 1542.
  31. ^ J. Spencer Trimingham at 90,n1 dates the book to circa 1550. Contra: Van Donzel at 38,n1.
  32. ^ Adrian Hastings at 143-145, 147.
  33. ^ Galawdewos in J. M. Harden at 104-107.
  34. ^ Richard Pankhurst. Pankhurst (perhaps following Van Donzel) dates his death to 1565, when over 90 years of age.
  35. ^ Adrian Hastings at 147.
  36. ^ E. J. Van Donzel at 29.
  37. ^ Enbaqom near the start of his book refers to Ahmad Gran using his title of Imam. E. J. Van Donzel at 169, 171 [text].
  38. ^ Cf., E. J. Van Donzel at 60.
  39. ^ Adrian Hastings at 145-146.
  40. ^ E. J. Van Donzel at 73 [commentary], 187-188 [text].
  41. ^ E. J. Van Donzel at 183, 185 [text].
  42. ^ E. J. Van Donzel at 90-91 [commentary], 189, 201, 227, 237 [texts].
  43. ^ a b Adrian Hastings at 146.
  44. ^ E. J. Van Donzel at 148-151.
  45. ^ E. J. Van Donzel at 35-39, 57-59. Yet Enbaqom is not without errors, e.g., at 162 [commentary], 255 [text].



  • E. A. Wallis Budge, The Book of the Saints of the Ethiopian Church (Cambridge 1928), 4 volumes; translation of the Synaxaire.
  • E. J. Van Donzel, 'Ěnbāqom, Anqaṣa Amin (La Porte de las Foi). Introduction, texte critique, traduction (Leiden: E. J. Brill 1969). The text of Enbaqom is at 165-263, with facing pages of Geez in its alphabet and the French translation; Van Donzel's introduction and scholarly apparatus are at 1-164 and 265-302.
  • Lanfraco Ricci, "La Vite di Enbaqom e di Yohannes, Abbati di Dabra Libanos di Scioa" in Ressagna di Studi Etiopici (Roma e Napoli), at 13: 91-120 (1954); 14: 69-107 (1959). This is a translation from the Geez of the Gadl [Acts or Struggles] of Enbaqom and of Yohannes, both Abbots at the Dabra Libanos monastery in Shewa.
  • Francisco Álvares, Verdadera Informaçam das terras do Preste Joam das Indias (Lisbon: Luís Rodrigues 1540), edited and translated as The Prester John of the Indies (Cambridge University for the Hakluyt Society 1961), two volumes. Here an 1881 English translation is revised, with commentary, and edited by C. F. Beckingham and G. W. B. Huntingford.
  • Galawdewos, "Confession of Faith" at 104-107 in J. M. Harden, An Introduction to Ethiopic Christian Literature (London: S.P.C.K. 1926).


  • Enrico Cerulli, Storia della letteratura etiopica (Milan 1956).
  • Getachew Haile, "Enbaqom" in Biographical Dictionary of Christian Missions, edited by Gerald H. Anderson (Grand Rapids, Michigan: W. B. Eerdman's Publishing 1998).
  • Adrian Hastings, The Church in Africa, 1450-1950 (Oxford University Press 1994).
  • Richard Pankurst, "Abba 'Enbaqom, Iman Ahmad Ibn Ibrahim, and the Conquest of Ethiopia" in the Addis Triburne, November 25, 2003, reprinted by the Awdal News Network.
  • Taddesse Tamrat, Church and State in Ethiopia 1270-1527 (Oxford University: Clarendon Press 1972).
  • J. Spencer Trimingham, Islam in Ethiopia (Oxford University 1952); reprint: Frank Cass, London, 1965.


  • David Buxton, The Abyssinians (New York: Praeger, 1970).
  • Chris Prouty and Eugene Rosenfeld, Historical Dictionary of Ethiopia (Metuchen NJ: The Scarecrow Press 1981).