3.7 Acts -- the Ethiopian Eunuch
But evangelism didn't stop with Samaritans. Philip was on a roll. An angel told him to travel south from Jerusalem to Gaza. On the road he met up with an Ethiopian eunuch, a treasury official "who had gone to Jerusalem to worship." This means he was either a convert or a proselyte. This leads to speculation as to how Judaism penetrated Ethiopia. In section 5.49 in the Old Testament study, we discussed the relationship of King Solomon to the Queen of Sheba. Non-Biblical legends say that they had a son named Menelik who founded the Solomonic Dynasty in Ethiopia. In this view, Judaism had deep (if tenuous) roots in Ethiopia. However, another possibility is that this official was a part of the Jewish Diaspora that spread Jews throughout the Middle East and southern Europe from the 8th Century BC on. We recall that, in the mid-5th C BC, Nehemiah (possibly a eunuch) was cupbearer to Artaxerxes of Persia. It is possible that the Ethiopian eunuch had a parallel career to Nehemiah's.
Whatever his lineage, he could not understand the messianic references in Isaiah:
"He was led like a sheep to the slaughter, and as a lamb before the shearer is silent, so he did not open his mouth" (Acts 8:32, Isa 53:7).
Philip explained the Scriptures and their fulfilment in Jesus Christ. This led to the official being baptized by the side of the road. This was the first known African believer in Jesus. Moreover, he was also a eunuch, another of Judaism's rejected classes (Deut 23:1).
Eusebius (4th C.) mentions this official:
"But as the preaching of the Saviour's Gospel was daily advancing, a certain providence led from the land of the Ethiopians an officer of the queen of that country, for Ethiopia even to the present day is ruled, according to ancestral custom, by a woman. He, first among the Gentiles, received of the mysteries of the divine word from Philip in consequence of a revelation, and having become the first-fruits of believers throughout the world, he is said to have been the first on returning to his country to proclaim the knowledge of the God of the universe and the life-giving sojourn of our Saviour among men; so that through him in truth the prophecy obtained its fulfillment, which declares that 'Ethiopia stretches out her hand unto God'" (Church History, Book 2.1.13).
Maybe Eusebius was wrong about this. If the official was a convert or a proselyte, he was not really a Gentile. Or, if he was part of the Jewish Diaspora like Nehemiah, he may have been of Jewish heritage, and not an African. Or he may have been a black Jew. Many possibilities, many speculations.