Kingdom of Semien
Map of the Beta Israel territory in Ethiopia
|Common languages||Ge'ez, Kayla and Qwara|
The Kingdom of Semien (Hebrew: ממלכת סאמיאן), sometimes referred to as the Kingdom of Beta Israel (Hebrew: ממלכת ביתא יש��אל), refers to a legendary kingdom of the Beta Israel putatively centered in the northwestern part of the Ethiopian Empire that is said to came to an end in 1627 during the reign of emperor Susenyos I.
According to modern Beta Israel tradition, their forefathers land was also called the "Kingdom of the Gideons", after the name of a putative dynasty of Jewish kings that are said to have ruled it. Eldad ha-Dani, mentioned that the Tribe of Dan exiled voluntarily and established an independent kingdom. Between the 15th century and the early 17th century the Ethiopian Empire referred to the kingdom as "Falasha". Another name which was very common in the 16th and 17th centuries was the "Kingdom of Semien"– given to the kingdom after the area which it dominated after it lost control over the regions of Dembiya and Wegera.
The beginning of a conversion process of the Aksumite kingdom to Christianity is thought to have occurred with the arrival of two Syrian brothers Frumentius and Aedesius, sometime in the reign of Ezana.  The conversion, bringing with it Hebraizing elements, was partial, initially was limited to the court and probably affected only the caravan trading route areas between Aksum and Adulis. Neither Judaizing nor Christianizing local populations would have fitted into what we later define as normative Judaism or Christianity, but were syncretic mixtures of local faiths and new beliefs from bears of these respective religions. Later legend speaks of a revolt by Jews taking place at this period but there is no evidence that directly support this story, and its historicity is considered unlikely. A strong possibility exists that the Christian Kaleb of Axum, who had dispatched military contingents to fight against the Judaizing Dhu Nuwas of the Arabian peninsula kingdom of Himyar banished opponents to Semien, which later emerged as a Beta Israel stronghold. Nothing in the historical record from the 6th-to the 13th centuries, however, has allowed scholars to make anything more than very tentative hypotheses concerning the Jewish communities of that time. Legends surrounding a Jewish queen called Judith (Gudit) have been dismissed by Ethiopian specialists like Edward Ullendorff as without foundation in any historical facts.
The Golden Age of this putative Beta Israel kingdom would have taken place, according to the Ethiopian tradition, between the years 858–1270. The stories of Eldad ha-Dani spread the notion of just such an entity, though scholarly confidence in the veracity of many elements in his book is deeply divided: the majority of scholars dismiss its pretensions to conserve authentic history, but a small number consider that his narrative is the earlier to refer to the people much later known as Falasha. According to Steve Kaplan, neither Eldad nor Benjamin of Tudela seem to have had any direct first-hand knowledge of Ethiopia. By the 16th century, David ben Solomon ibn Abi Zimra accepted the Jewishness of the Beta Israel but knew they were wholly unfamiliar with the Talmud.
Wars and collapse
In 1270 the Christian Solomonic dynasty was established and set out to consolidate its hegemony by subjugating the independent highland. The drive towards religious and political unification took on momentum after Amda Seyon (1314-1344) came to power, and thereafter a succession of leaders campaigned in the northwest provinces of Semien, Wegera, Tselemt, Tsegede and Dembiya where the Judaized population were concentrated. . There is no evidence for a unified Beta Israel dominion at this time. Judaized groups were dispersed, politically divided,- some being allied to the Emperor - and were referred to as "like Jews" (Ge'ez ከመ:አይሁድ kama ayhūd), or the "sons of Jews".
Emperor Yeshaq (1414–1429), who had allies among the Beta Israel, conquered Semien and Dambiya, whose governors were Jewish. Fiefs (gult) were distributed to secure loyalty and reward supporters, and Yesheq assigned such gult land to his allies. These owners (bala-gult) could tax the peasants, who nonetheless in the Ethiopian tenure system still remained the hereditary proprietors. He introduced one innovation, however, regarding this hereditary property (rist). It could be retained by those willing to convert to Christianity and as a consequence, a portion of the Judaized community (ayhud) lost their land. Yeshaq decreed, "He who is baptized in the Christian religion may inherit the land of his father, otherwise let him be a Falāsī." This may have been the origin for the term "Falasha" (falāšā, "wanderer," or "landless person").
Between the years 1529 until 1543 the Muslim Adal Sultanate armies with the assistance of forces from the Ottoman Empire invaded and fought the Ethiopian Empire and came close to extinguishing the ancient realm of Ethiopia. During that time period the Jews made a pact with the Ethiopian Empire. The leaders of the Kingdom of Beta Israel changed their alliance during the war and began supporting the Muslim Adal Sultanate armies. The Adal Sultanate armies did not see in favor the Jewish kingdom's change of alliance and continued the fight against them, and later on conquered different regions of the Jewish Kingdom, severely damaged its economy and killed many of its members. As a result, the leaders of the Beta Israel kingdom turned to the Ethiopian empire and their allies the Portuguese and requested their assistance in conquering the kingdom regions back from the Adal Sultanate. The forces of the Ethiopian empire eventually succeeded in conquering the kingdom and freeing Ethiopia from Ahmed Gragn. Nevertheless, the Ethiopian empire decided to declare war against the Jewish Kingdom of Semien due to the Jewish leaders' change of position during the Ethiopian–Adal War. With the assistance of Portuguese forces from the Order of the Jesuits, the Ethiopian empire, under the rule of Emperor Gelawdewos, invaded the Jewish kingdom and executed the Jewish king Joram. As a result of this battle, the areas of kingdom became significantly smaller and now included only the region of the Semien Mountains.
After the execution of king Joram, King Radi became the leader of the Beta Israel kingdom. King Radi also fought against the Ethiopian Empire which at that period of time was ruled by Emperor Menas. The forces of the Jewish kingdom managed to conquer the area south of the kingdom and strengthened their defenses in the Semien Mountains. The battles against the forces of emperor Menas were successful as the Ethiopian empire forces were eventually defeated.
During the reign of emperor Sarsa Dengel the Jewish kingdom was invaded and the forces of the Ethiopian empire besieged the kingdom, the Jews survived the siege, but at the end of the siege the King Goshen was executed and many of his soldiers as well as many other Beta Israel members committed mass suicide.
When the Ethiopian empire forces invaded to Semien region they encountered resistance from the new king Gideon VII. The forces of the Ethiopian empire eventually decided to end the blockade and the Jewish kingdom was restored.
During the reign of emperor Susenyos, the Ethiopian empire waged war against the Jewish kingdom and managed to conquer the kingdom and annex it to the Ethiopian empire by 1627.
Legendary heads of a Gideonite dynasty
According to a Beta Israel legendary tradition the following list constitutes a dynasty of their ancestors' kings.
- Phineas – the first Beta Israel leader during the time period of emperor Ezana of Axum.
- Gideon IV – the father of Queen Judith.
- Queen Judith – (c. 960 – c. 1000) destroyed the Aksumite Empire.
- Gideon V – (1434–1468) said to have led a revolt against the emperor Zara Yaqob.
- Joram –Beta Israel leader during the time period of emperor Gelawdewos of Ethiopia.
- King Radi – King of the Beta Israel after King Joram during time period of emperor Menas of Ethiopia.
- King Caleb – King of the Beta Israel after King Radi during time period of emperor Sarsa Dengel of Ethiopia.
- King Goshen – King of the Beta Israel during time period of emperor Sarsa Dengel.
- King Gideon VII – King of the Beta Israel during time period of emperor Susenyos of Ethiopia.
- King Pinchas – King of the Beta Israel after Gideon VII.
- 'No church anywhere in the world has remained as faithful to the letter and spirit of the Old Testament as the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. Numerous biblical customs have survived in the practice of Ethiopian Christians.. Thus for example, male children are circumcised on the eighth day after birth. The Saturday Sabbath long held sway in Ethiopia and figured prominently in the rituals, liturgy, theological literature, and even politics of the Church. Traditional Ethiopian dietary laws conform closely to those of the Old Testament, and the three-fold division of churches in Ethiopia clearly replicates the architectural structure of the Temple in Jerusalem.' 
- Bruce 1804, p. 485.
- Kaplan 1993, p. 94. sfn error: no target: CITEREFKaplan1993 (help)
- Kaplan 1992, pp. 17-18.
- Kaplan 1992, pp. 33-34.
- Kaplan 1992, p. 35.
- Kaplan 2007, p. 500.
- Kaplan 1992, pp. 43-33.
- Seeman 1991, p. 15.
- Pankhurst 1997, p. 79.
- Kaplan 2003, p. 443.
- Kaplan 2007, pp. 500-501.
- Kaplan 2007, p. 501.
- Kaplan 1992, pp. 67-68.
- Kaplan 2003, p. 553.
- Andersen, Knud Tage (2000). "The Queen of the Habasha in Ethiopian History, Tradition and Chronology". 63 (1). Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies: 31–63. JSTOR 1559587. Cite journal requires
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- Kaplan, Steve (1988). "The Invention of Ethiopian Jews: Three Models". 33. Cahiers d'Études Africaines: 645–658. JSTOR 4392496. Cite journal requires
- Kaplan, Steve (1992). The Beta Israel: Falasha in Ethiopia: From Earliest Times to the Twentieth Century. New York University Press. ISBN 978-0-814-74848-0.
- Kaplan, Steve (2003). "Betä Əsraʾel". In Uhlig, Siegbert; Bausi, Alessandro; Crummey, Donald; Goldenberg, Gideon; Yemām, Bāya (eds.). Encyclopaedia Aethiopica. 1. Harrassowitz Verlag. p. 553.
- Kaplan, Steve (2007). "Beta Israel". Encyclopedia Judaica. 3 (2 ed.). Thompson Gale. pp. 499–508.
- Pankhurst, Richard (1997). The Ethiopian Borderlands: Essays in Regional History from Ancient Times to the End of the 18th Century. The Red Sea Press. ISBN 978-0-932-41519-6.
- Quirin, James Arthur (1992). The Evolution of the Ethiopian Jews: A History of the Beta Israel (Falasha) to 1920. University of Pennsylvania Press. ISBN 978-0-812-23116-8.
- Fauvelle-Aymar, François-Xavier (April 2013). "Desperately Seeking the Jewish Kingdom of Ethiopia: Benjamin of Tudela and the Horn of Africa (Twelfth Century)". 88 (2). Speculum: 383–404. JSTOR 23488846. Cite journal requires
- Seeman, Don (Summer 1991). "Ethnographers, Rabbis and Jewish Epistemology: The Case of the Ethiopian Jews". 25 (4). Tradition: A Journal of Orthodox Jewish Thought: 13–29. JSTOR 23260928. Cite journal requires