YESHAQ II (d. c. 1500)
After the death of Abuna Gabr’el in 1458, neither Negus Zar’a Ya‘qob (1434-1468) nor his son Ba’eda Maryam (1468-1478) asked the Coptic patriarch in Alexandria to send a new metropolitan to Ethiopia. The exact reasons for this are unknown, but such an attitude indicates the formation of an autonomous current at the heart of the Ethiopian church. According to the Life of Marha Krestos (Kur, CSCO 331, pp. vii, 76-81), ninth abbot of Dabra Libanos, during the ninth year of Ba’eda Maryam’s reign (1477), the negus convened a great synod attended by a large number of prelates. The subject was to decide about their relations with the Coptic church, accused by one part of the Ethiopian clergy of “disturbing the Coptic faith and of eating food proscribed by law.” The accusers asked that the prelates proceed to the immediate election of a metropolitan “chosen by the people of Ethiopia” and thus were asking that the Ethiopian church separate itself from the church of Egypt. Marha Krestos opposed this request, considering it to be contrary to tradition and canonical law. He proposed sending an exploratory mission to Egypt with the authority, should it prove feasible, to ask for a new metropolitan. The assembly approved the thesis of separation by four hundred votes to three hundred; but the negus agreed with Marha Krestos, so there was no schism. However, the death of Ba’eda Maryam in 1478 prevented the delegation from being sent to Egypt. Only after the beginning of Eskender’s reign (1478-1494) was it possible for an Ethiopian mission to leave the country and begin negotiations with the Coptic patriarch.
Aware of some danger, the Coptic patriarch showed his skill by sending several Coptic prelates to Ethiopia. The first group comprised four persons: Bishop Yeshaq (the new metropolitan), Bishop Marqos (destined to succeed Yeshaq), the coadjutor bishops Mika’el and Yohannes, and Qummus Yosef. Later, certain other Coptic prelates also arrived in Ethiopia, among whom was a bishop Ya‘qob, who was supposed to succeed Marqos as metropolitan. However, his death before that of Marqos prevented this.
According to the Liber Axumae, Yeshaq arrived in Ethiopia in 1474 of the Ethiopian calendar (A.D. 1481-1482). Other documents state that he arrived near the end of 1481, but information about his episcopate is fragmentary. He seems to have played a part even on a literary level, for to him is attributed an Ethiopian redaction of the Life of Saint Pantalewon (one of the Nine Saints in the Ethiopian tradition) and a hymn in honor of the Virgin Mary.
According to the Life of Marha Krestos, Abuna Yeshaq accompanied the negus Eskender to Dabra Libanos upon his visit to this monastery. At this time, Yeshaq ordained several priests and proceeded to the solemn coronation of Abbot Marha Krestos. Further, according to the Life of the Estifanosite monk ‘Ezra, Yeshaq retracted the long-standing excommunication of the heretical Estifanosites, which would indicate an attenuation of the prejudices against this movement.
The date of Yeshaq’s death is unknown, but it can be approximated. Kur has proposed that he must have died before Negus Eskender (1494) because in the Life of Marha Krestos, Yeshaq is no longer mentioned after the accession of Na’od to the throne. However, there is a formal text that dismisses this argument. In fact, according to the Life of ‘Ezra, “while this monk resided at the court of Naod, metropolitan Yeshaq died, and Abuna Marqos succeeded him in this duty.” Since other information states that ‘Ezra lived at Na’od’s court for nine years, until the death of this king in July 1508, it is easy to conclude that Yeshaq died during the first years of the sixteenth century. His successor was Marqos I, who had come with him to Ethiopia.
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- Cerulli, E. Etiopi in Palestina, Vol. 1, pp. 386-88. Rome, 1943. Guidi, I. “Le liste dei metropoliti d’Abissinia.” Bessarione 6, ser. 2 (1899):9-10.
- Kur, S. Actes de Marha Krestos. In CSCO 331, pp. vii, 76-81. Louvain, 1972.
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- . “Sul metropolita Yeshaq d’Etiopia.” Rendiconti della Reale Accademia dei Lincei 1, ser. 8 (1946):7-17.
- . Vitae Sanctorum Antiquiorum, Vol. 1, Acta Yared et Pantalewon. In CSCO 27, pp. 37, 56. Louvain, 1955.
- Taddesse Tamrat. Church and State in Ethiopia 1270-1527, p. 290. Oxford, 1972.