new book!

While I (Joshua) have had several peer-reviewed articles published, I am very happy that my first book chapter, “Connections and Collaborations among the Nubian, Coptic, and Ethiopian Churches,” has just been published in:

Gitau, Wanjiru M., and Mark A. Lamport, eds. Globalizing Legacies:  The Intermingling Story of Christianity in AfricaPreface by Gina Zurlo and Mark A. Lamport.  Introduction by Mark Shaw.  The Global Story of Christianity Series:  History, Context, and Communities 3.  Cascade Books, 2023.
The book can be ordered directly from the publisher here, or from wherever you prefer to buy books.

This multi-author text discusses the story of Christianity in Africa from three perspectives:  “Narrated in Historical Context,” “Expressed in a Grand Church Family Mosaic,” and “Encounters Twenty-First Century Issues.”

After the series introduction by Dana L. Robert, the preface co-written by Gina Zurlo and Mark A. Lamport, and Introduction by Mark Shaw, Kyama Mugambi and Rudolf K. Gaisie begin with “Antiquity: Connections among African Church Fathers in North Africa and the Mediterranean.”  Then Stanislau Paulau examines “The Beginnings of Christianity in Sub-Saharan Africa: Kingdom of Aksum and the Christian World of Late Antiquity.”  Next Fohle Lygunda li-M jumps forward several centuries to explore the contributions of “European Pioneers to Tropical Africa” without neglecting the importance of African agency and the many contributions of Africans who are too often “ignored pioneers” in narratives of Christian history on the continent.  Akintunde E. Akinade then explores “Christianity and the Slave Trade” while Uchenna D. Anyanywu covers “The African-Black American Missionary during the Missionary Era.”

Often histories are told from a limited perspective.  Protestant and Roman Catholic and Orthodox and Pentecostal history texts often ignore contributions of the other traditions.  The second section offers four chapters looking at the whole of Christian history on the continent as the stories of an extended family.  My (Joshua’s) chapter starts by exploring “Connections and Collaborations among the Nubian, Coptic, and Ethiopian Churches” in the ancient and medieval periods.  (Nubia was in the area now known as Sudan, and Nubian and Ethiopian Christianity are ancient examples of indigenous African Christianity in sub-Saharan Africa.)  Moving ahead to the modern period, Stan Chu Ilo tells the story of “The Catholic Church and Networks of Evangelism,” Modisa Mzondi explores “Protestants Working Together,” and Joseph Bosco Bangura examines “Salvation in African Pentecostalism.”

The third section brings us to the twenty-first century.  Harvey Kwyani explores “New Kinships: Christianity and the Formation of New Identities among Convert Communities” and Tharcisse Gatwa discusses “Christianity and Nation-State Formation.”  Next, Georges Pirwoth Atido writes on “Christianity, Wars, and Ethnic Challenges.”  Sampson M. Tieku turns to the influence of the prosperity gospel in “Christianity Encounters the Gospel of Health and Wealth: A Ghanian Case Study.”  Finally Wanjiru M. Gitau closes with “Transtemporal Connections: African Christian History as Intellectual History.”  The book also includes a timeline, provided by Brett Knowles, as an appendix.

Along the way in her chapter, Wanjiru observes that “there exists a continuous history of Christian presence on the African continent. Beginning with its foundations in Alexandria, the church flourished in North Africa, as well as Ethiopia, for some six hundred years. When Carthage, the last Christian stronghold [in North Africa], fell to Arabs in 697, King Mecurios of Nubia built up a Christian kingdom that stretched from the Aswan to the Blue Nile” — I will add that there was a Nubian Christian presence as far inland as the shores of Lake Chad. “After that kingdom succumbed to Turkish-Islamic attacks in 1270, the nine-hundred-year-old Ethiopian church was revived in the mountains of Ethiopia under Yikunno Amlak and Takla Haymanot. By the 1520s, Afonso, king of Kongo, in tropical Africa, had embraced Christianity and established a Christian kingdom that sustained links with Rome for three hundred years. By 1792, Moravian Protestants established a mission station in South Africa, while repatriated slaves established a church in Sierra Leone with intent to evangelize the interior. From there the flow of modern missions established Christianity throughout the continent” (244).


There is one notable error that made into print, albeit only in the timeline.  On p. 258 for the year 231, Knowles writes:

«The church of Caesarea ordains Origen as a presbyter, but this ordination is held to be invalid because he had made himself a eunuch (based on his literal interpretation of Matt 19:12); consequently, he is excommunicated by his home church of Alexandria. [Greco-Roman World, Middle East: Egypt]».

However, there is no evidence that Origen castrated himself.  There is evidence, however, that this was a slander against him.  It should be well-noted that Origen consistently valued allegorical interpretation over literal interpretation (except in matters of straightforward historical narrative) and in his commentating on Matthew 19:12 he explicitly states that the text should not be taken literally.  Demetrius, the bishop of Alexandria, did excommunicate Origen, but did so on the grounds that as Origen was from Egypt, he could only be ordained by the bishop of Alexandria.  (It should also be noted that Demetrius was jealous of Origen’s popularity, which was the result of Origen’s greater ability as both a preacher and a scholar.)  But though Demetrius excommunicated Origen, no one who was not under Demetrius’s ecclesial authority recognized that excommunication.  The bishop of Caesarea-Maritima certainly did not, nor did the patriarchs of Jerusalem, Antioch, or Rome (this was, of course, before the rise in importance of Constantinople).  Thus when Origen died, he died as a Confessor of the Church — that is, he faithfully endured torture for his faith but was not killed outright, because the Roman authorities were hoping for a recantation on the part of such a universally revered church leader and had thus commanded the torturers to ensure that Origen was not made a martyr.  His body and health were broken, however, and he died some months after his release.

The issue is confused because later “Origenism” was explicitly condemned.  But Origen himself was not an “Origenist” and no Council condemned him or his work.  But of course a pall of suspicion was cast upon Origen and his body of work because of the heresies of the so-called Origenists, but this was well after his own day.  As Origen died several years after the passing of Demetrius, Origen was in full communion with the Church universal at the time of his death.

The interpretation that Knowles has given is very common, and has been repeated in untold numbers of “standard” Church History texts.  An examination of the primary sources, however, does not bear this out.  Other than that, he has done a masterful job on the timeline and I am grateful to whomever proposed including it.

There are a few key dates that Knowles did not include which I would have added:

  • Before 450  King Silko of Nobadia becomes the first Nubian ruler to convert to Christianity.  [Sudan]
  • ca. 530–70  Yared the Melodious (501 – ca. 571–76) develops the music and hymnody that is used to this day in the Ethiopian and Eritrean Orthodox liturgies.  [Aksum:  EthiopiaEritrea]
  • ca. 1331–35 Ibn al-Dawādārī writes a text (in Arabic) that provides contemporary evidence of the existence of well-established Christian communities within the (Islamic) empire of Mali during the reign Mansa Musa (reigned c. 1312 – c. 1337).  These are sub-Saharan African Christian communities in West Africa before the age of European exploration.  [MaliNigerBurkina FasoGuineaSenegalThe GambiaMauritaniaCôte d’Ivoire]
  • ca. 1400–50  Abba Estifanos (1380 – c. 1450) led a reformation movement in Ethiopia that in many ways presaged the later Protestant Reformation in Europe.  The Stefanite movement was persecuted by emperor Zara’ Ya’eqob (reigned 1434–1468).  [Ethiopia]
  • 1534 Abba Mika’el [aka Michael the Deacon], an Ethiopian Christian, meets with Martin Luther and his colleagues in Wittenberg.  [EthiopiaGermany]
  • 1991 On 29 December, President Frederick Chiluba declares Zambia to be a Christian nation.  [Zambia]