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Q&A

What does "Ethiopian" mean in George Liele's "Ethiopian Baptist Church"?

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The Wikipedia article for George Liele, a freed slave and the first American missionary, indicates that as part of his missionary work in Jamaica, he founded the "Ethiopian Baptist Church of Jamaica". Where does the connection to Ethiopia fit in? Was he or his family originally from Ethiopia, or were the Jamaicans he was serving originally from that region of Africa?

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It turns out that "Ethiopian" in this context was not meant to communicate the nation of Ethiopia, but more broadly to mean Black or African. Doreen Morrison writes:

[Liele] and his followers co-opted the notion of 'Ethiopianism' and began to refer to themselves as Ethiopian Baptists, Ethiopia being understood by the wider Church at that time as the Hebrew translation of the Greek word Ethiopia, meaning Black or African. (page 2)

The word carried a broader connotation in part because in biblical times little was known about Sub-Saharan Africa beyond Ethiopia.

As a result the term was convenient for Liele and his flock, Morrison explains, because it allowed them to embrace their African roots without controversy or emphasis on the enslaved condition of many of them.

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