New Horizons in the Study of Early African Christianity

Wendy Elgersma Helleman

Independent researcher , Canada


Teaching early Christianity in Nigeria and elsewhere in Africa since 2002, has convinced this author how important it is for African Christians to know of the deep roots of Christianity in Africa, and recognize the important early African theologians, Tertullian, Origen, Athanasius and Augustine, just to name a few. This argument has a significant precedent among 19th century African Christians encouraged by the unbroken presence of Christianity from antiquity in Ethiopia. In the US, Thomas Oden promoted the study of pre-Islamic Christian Africa through the Centre for Early African Christianity, and publications like the series, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture. This Centre has also encouraged universities in Africa to get involved in deciphering archeological materials and documents from North African sites as evidence for Christianity from its earliest days; the study of such documents has recently been established at the University of Jos (Plateau State, Nigeria). These initiatives are doubly significant because Christianity is growing phenomenally throughout Africa and is often accused of being “mile wide and an inch deep”.


archeology, black, colonial, Ethiopia, Nubia, Orthodox, Africa, Early Christianity, studies

Afigbo A.E., South Africa after the Union, in: The Growth of African Civilisation, v. 2: The late Nineteenth Century to the Present Day, ed. A.E. Ayandele – A.E. Afigbo – R.J. Gavin – J.D. Omer-Cooper, London 1971, p. 237-267.

African Christianity: an African Story, ed. O.U. Kalu, Pretoria 2005.

Arnauld D., Histoire du christianisme en Afrique: les sept premiers siècles, Paris 2001.

Articles about Africa’s cultural, philosophical and religious roots: The Meaning of Africa Month (anon.) in: (accessed: 8.02.2022).

Baur J., 2000 Years of Christianity in Africa: an African History, 62-1992, Nairobi 1994.

Beckingham C. – Huntingford G.W.B., The Prester John of the Indies: A True Relation of the Lands of the Prester John, being the narrative of the Portuguese Embassy to Ethiopia in 1520, written by Father Francisco Alvares, London 2017. DOI:

Bowes K., Early Christian Archeology: A State of the Field, “Religion Compass” 2/4 (2008) p. 575-619. DOI:

Patout Burns J. – Jensen R.M. et al, Christianity in Roman Africa: The Development of Its Practices and Beliefs, Grand Rapids 2014.

Campbell J.T., Songs of Zion: The African Methodist Episcopal Church in the United States and South Africa, Oxford 1995.

CEAC Maiden Lecture & Launch (16 March 2020) (anon.) in: (accessed: 8.02.2022).

Chaillot Ch., The Ethiopian Orthodox Church, in: The Wiley-Blackwell Companion to African Religions, ed. E.K. Bongmba – J.K. Olupona, Malden 2012, p. 234-240. DOI:

Clarke C.R., Ogbu Kalu and Africa’s Christianity: A Tribute, “Pneuma” 32 (2010) p. 107-120. DOI:

Duncan G.A., Ethiopianism in Pan-African perspective, 1880-1920, “Studia Historiae Ecclesiasticae” 41/2 (2015) p. 198-218. DOI:

Earls A., Unearthed Ancient Church Confirms Christianity’s Rapid Spread to Africa (16 Dec. 2019), (accessed: 8.02.2022)..

Etherington N.A., The Historical Sociology of Independent Churches in South East Africa, “Journal of Religion in Africa” 10/2 (1979) p. 108-126. DOI:

Ethiopianism (anon.) in: (accessed: 18.02.2021).

Christianity in Independent Africa, ed. E. Fasholé-Luke – R. Gray – A. Hastings – G. Tasie, Bloomington – London 1978.

Finneran N., The Archaeology of Christianity in Africa, Stroud 2002.

Frend W.H.C., Archeology and Patristic Studies, “Studia Patristica” 18 (1985) p. 9-21.

From the Archive/ Mandela in Addis Ababa, 1962 (anon.) in: (accessed: 8.02.2022).

Fux P.-Y. et al., Augustinus Afer: Saint Augustin: africanité et universalité, Fribourg 2003.

Hassan F.A., The Aswan High Dam and the International Rescue Nubia Campaign, “The African Archaeological Review” 24/3-4 (2007) p. 73-94. DOI:

Hastings A., Christianity in Independent Africa, “African Affairs” 73 (1974) p. 229-232. DOI:

Hayes S., Orthodox Diaspora and Mission in South Africa, “Studies in World Christianity” 16/3 (2010) p. 286-303. DOI:

Hayes S., Orthodox Ecclesiology in Africa: A Study of the ‘Ethiopian’ Churches of South Africa, “International Journal for the Study of the Christian Church” 8 (2008) p. 337-354. DOI:

Hayes S., Orthodox Mission in Tropical Africa (undated), in: articles/orthodox-mission-in-tropical-africa (accessed: 26.02.2021).

Hedstrom D.L.B, Archaeology of Early Christianity in Egypt, in: The Oxford Handbook of Early Christian Archeology, ed. D.K. Pettegrew – W.R. Caraher – T.W. Davis, Oxford 2019, p. 665-680.

Helleman W.E – Gaiya M.B., Early Christianity: A Textbook for African Students, Carlisle 2019.

Kalu O.U., Ethiopianism and the Roots of Modern African Christianity, in: The Cambridge History of Christianity, v. 8: World Christianities, ed. S. Gilley – B. Stanley, Cambridge 2005, p. 576-592. DOI:

Lawler A., Church Unearthed in Ethiopia Rewrites the History of Christianity in Africa (10 Dec. 2019), in: (accessed: 8.02.2022).

Makris G.P., The Greek Orthodox Church and Africa: Missions between the Light of Universalism and the Shadow of Nationalism, “Studies in World Christianity” 16/3 (2010) p. 245-267. DOI:

Mayerson P., A Confusion of Indias: Asian India and African India in the Byzantine Sources, “Journal of the American Oriental Society” 113/2 (1993) p. 169-174. DOI:

Migration corridors: Ethiopia – South Africa (anon.), in: (accessed: 18.02.2021).

Odamtten H.N.K., Edward W. Blyden’s Intellectual Transformations: Afropublicanism, Pan-Africanism, Islam, and the Indigenous West African Church, East Lansing 2019. DOI:

Oden T.C., How Africa Shaped the Christian Mind: The African Seedbed of European Christianity, Downers Grove 2007.

Oden T.C., The African Memory of Mark: Reassessing Early Church Tradition, Downers Grove 2011.

Oden T.C., Early Libyan Christianity: Uncovering a North African Tradition, Downers Grove 2011.

Ogren D.A., The Coptic Church in South Africa: The Meeting of Mission and Migration, “Hervormde Teologiese Studies” 70/1 (2014) p. 1-7. DOI:

Pattengale J., The ‘First-Century Mark’ Saga from Inside the Room: My reflections after eight years of silence, “Christianity Today E-magazine” (28 June 2019), in: (accessed: 8.02.2022).

Pawliková-Vilhanová V., The Archeology of Ancient Christianity in Nubia and its Encounter with Islam, in: Eastern Christianity, Judaism and Islam between the Death of Muhammad and Tamerlane (632-1405), ed. M. Galik – M. Slobodnik, Bratislava 2011, p. 99-119.

Ross E.G., African Christianity in Ethiopia, “Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History” (New York 2000) in: (October 2002; accessed: 8.02.2022).

Rukuni R. – Erna O., Africanism, Apocalypticism, Jihad and Jesuitism: Prelude to Ethiopianism, “Hervormde Teologiese Studies” 75/3 (2019) p. 1-10. DOI:

Sabar A., A Biblical Mystery at Oxford, “The Atlantic” (14 May 2020) in: (accessed: 8.02.2022).

Silverberg R., The Realm of Prester John, Athens 1996.

Stevens S.T., Incorporating Christian communities in North Africa: Churches as bodies of communal history, in: The Oxford Handbook of Early Christian Archeology, ed. D.K. Pettegrew – W.R. Caraher – T.W. Davis, Oxford 2019, p. 645-664. DOI:

Sundkler B., Bantu Prophets in South Africa, London 1961.



Helleman, W. E. (2022). New Horizons in the Study of Early African Christianity. Vox Patrum, 81, 127–156.

Wendy Elgersma Helleman
Independent researcher


Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

Pursuant to the Act on Copyright and Related Rights of February 4, 1994, the Author of the publication grants the Publisher of the journal "Vox Patrum" a non-exclusive and free license to use the Work submitted for publication for an indefinite period of time on an unlimited territory in the following fields of use:
a. In the field of recording and reproducing the work - producing copies of the work using a specific technique, including printing, reprographic, magnetic recording and digital technology;
b. Within the scope of trading in the original or copies on which the work has been recorded - marketing, lending or renting the original or copies;
c. In the scope of disseminating the work in a manner other than specified in point b - public performance, exhibition, display, reproduction, broadcasting and rebroadcasting, as well as making the work available to the public, so that everyone can have access to it at a place and time chosen by them.
Moreover, the Author allows the Publisher free of charge to use and dispose of the compilations of the Works.
The publisher may grant sub-licenses.
Third parties may use the Works and other materials containing or based on the Works in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 (also known as CC-BY-NC 4.0) license pattern.