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The Cross and the River: Ethiopia, Egypt, and the Nile

Haggai Erlich
The Cross and the River: Ethiopia, Egypt, and the Nile
ISBN: 978-1-55587-970-9
ISBN: 978-1-62637-192-7
ISBN: 978-1-58826-154-0
2001/249 pages/LC: 2001019385

"This fascinating book explores the relationship between Egypt and Ethiopia from early history through the end of the 20th century.... Clearly and elegantly written, it offers a crucial view into history usually glimpsed only by historians of the Middle East."—Eve M. Troutt Powell, International Journal of Middle East Studies

"An important book not only in Ethiopian and North African historiography, but also an original contribution to an area which ... has rarely been tackled in a comparative modern historical framework."—Irma Taddia, Journal of Modern African Studies

"The Cross and the River ... explodes many myths surrounding the historical relationship between Egypt and Ethiopia.... The author's descriptive powers, so resonant in his recounting of specific incidents, allow the reader to participate in the sensation of being party to distant but momentous events.... In chronicling the past, the author draws conclusions that shed light on the predicaments of the present."—Gamal Nkrumah, Al-Ahram Weekly Online

"This eagerly awaited book is ... a complex, richly textured discussion ... satisfyingly detailed."—Peter P. Garretson, Journal of African History

"It is meticulously researched, bridges countries and areas usually relegated to separate mental compartments, and elaborates in detail a theme of undeniable significance for both Egyptian and Ethiopian history."—Donald Malcolm Reid, American Historical Review

"The first [book] to give a rational explanation for the complex millennial Ethiopian-Egyptian dispute over the Nile waters enshrouded by myth in the past and confusion in the present.... Erlich skillfully leads the reader through the three themes that have governed Egyptian-Ethiopian relations for nearly two millennia.... This is a splendid and thought-provoking history."—Robert O. Collins, International Journal of African Historical Studies

"A fascinating and stimulating study of the relations between Ethiopian Christianity and Egyptian Islam, inextricably linked by the river Nile."—Emeri van Donzel

"Haggai Erlich has presented us with an excellent and long overdue study on Ethiopia, Egypt, and the Blue Nile. He bridges the religious, cultural, and ethnic gaps between the two countries, examining the legacies, myths, and mutual perceptions that have burdened their relations throughout history."—Gabriel Warburg

"Two lands and two religions, linked by one of the world's great rivers.... Erlich tells a fascinating story."—Stuart Munro-Hay


The ongoing Egyptian-Ethiopian dispute over the Nile waters is potentially one of the most difficult issues on the current international agenda, central to the very life of the two countries. Analyzing the context of the dispute across a span of more than a thousand years, The Cross and the River delves into the heart of both countries' identities and cultures.

Erlich deftly weaves together three themes: the political relationship between successive Ethiopian and Egyptian regimes, the complex connection between the Christian churches in the two countries, and the influence of the Nile river system on Ethiopian and Egyptian definitions of national identity and mutual perceptions of "the Other." Drawing on a vast range of sources, his study is key to an understanding of a bond built on both interdependence and conflict.


Haggai Erlich is professor emeritus of Middle East and African history at Tel Aviv University.


  • Introduction: The Crisis of the Nile.
  • Christianity and Islam: The Formative Concepts.
  • Medieval Prime: The Legacies of the Solomonians and the Mamluks.
  • Modern Rediscovery and Fatal Collision.
  • Nationalism and Mutual Perceptions.
  • Stormy Redefinitions,1935-1942.
  • From Compromise to Disconnection,1945-1959.
  • Ethiopian Concepts of Egypt, 1959–1991.
  • Egyptian Concepts of Ethiopia, 1959–1991.
  • Conclusion: The 1990s and The Legacies of History.