This volume contains a complete English translation of the famous Ethiopian work, The "Kebra Nagast", i.e. the "Glory of the Kings [of Ethiopia]". This work has been held in peculiar honour in Abyssinia for several centuries, and throughout that country it has been, and still is, venerated by the people as containing the final proof of their descent from the Hebrew Patriarchs, and of the kinship of their kings of the Solomonic line with Christ, the Son of God. The Kebra Nagast is a great storehouse of legends and traditions, some historical and some of a purely folk-lore character, derived from the Old Testament and the later Rabbinic writings, and from Egyptian (both pagan and Christian), Arabian, and Ethiopian sources.
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The Queen Of Sheba And Her Only Son Menyelek
E. A. Wallis Budge
Preface To The Present Edition
Preface To The First Edition
The Glory Of Kings
1. Concerning the Glory of Kings
2. Concerning the Greatness of Kings
3. Concerning The Kingdom Of Adam
4. Concerning Envy
5. Concerning The Kingdom Of Seth
6. Concerning The Sin Of Cain
7. Concerning Noah
8. Concerning the Flood
9. Concerning The Covenant Of Noah
10. Concerning Zion
11. The Unanimous Declaration of the Three Hundred and Eighteen Orthodox Fathers
12. Concerning Canaan1
13. Concerning Abraham
14. Concerning The Covenant Of Abraham
15. Concerning Isaac And Jacob
16. Concerning Rôbêl (Reuben)
17. Concerning The Glory Of Zion
18. How the Orthodox Fathers and Bishops Agreed
19. How this Book came to be found
20. Concerning the Division of the Earth
21. Concerning the Queen of the South
22. Concerning Tâmrîn, The Merchant
23. How The Merchant Returned To Ethiopia
24. How the Queen made ready to set out on her Journey
25. How The Queen Came To Solomon The King
26. How the King held converse with the Queen
27. Concerning the Labourer
28. How Solomon Gave Commandments To The Queen
29. Concerning the Three Hundred and Eighteen [Patriarchs]
30. Concerning How King Solomon Swore To The Queen
31. Concerning The Sign Which Solomon Gave The Queen
32. How the Queen brought forth and came to her own Country
33. How The King Of Ethiopia Travelled
34. How the young man arrived in his mother's country
35. How King Solomon Sent To His Son The Commander Of His Army
36. How King Solomon Held Intercourse With His Son
37. How Solomon Asked His Son Questions
38. How the King planned to send away his son with the children of the nobles
39. How They Made The Son Of Solomon King
40. How Zadok The Priest Gave Commands To David The King
41. Concerning the blessing of Kings
42. Concerning the Ten Commandments
43. How The Men Of The Army Of Israel Received [Their] Orders
44. How it is not a seemly thing to revile the King
45. How those who were sent away wept and made a plan
46. How They Made A Plan Concerning Zion
47. Concerning The Offering Of Azâryâs (Azariah) And The King
48. How They Carried Away Zion
49. How his Father blessed his Son
50. How they bade farewell to his Father and how the city mourned
51. How He Said Unto Zadok The Priest, "Go And Bring The Covering (Or, Clothing) Which Is Upon It (I.E., Zion)"
52. How Zadok The Priest Departed
53. How The Wagon Was Given To Ethiopia
54. How David [The King Of Ethiopia] Prophesied And Saluted Zion
55. How The People Of Ethiopia Rejoiced
56. Of The Return Of Zadok The Priest, And The Giving Of The Gift
57. Concerning The Fall Of Zadok The Priest
58. How Solomon Rose Up To Slay Them
59. How The King Questioned An Egyptian, The Servant Of Pharaoh
60. How Solomon Lamented For Zion
61. How Solomon Returned To Jerusalem
62. Concerning The Answer Which Solomon Made To Them
63. How The Nobles Of Israel Agreed [With The King]
64. How The Daughter Of Pharaoh Seduced Solomon
65. Concerning The Sin Of Solomon
66. Concerning The Prophecy Of Christ
67. Concerning The Lamentation Of Solomon
68. Concerning Mary, Our Lady Of Salvation
69. Concerning The Question Of Solomon
70. How Rehoboam Reigned
71. Concerning Mary, The Daughter Of David
72. Concerning The King Of Rômê (Constantinople)
73. Concerning The First Judgment Of ’Adrâmî, King Of Rômê
74. Concerning The King Of Medyâm
75. Concerning The King Of Babylon
76. Concerning lying witnesses
77. Concerning The King Of Persia
78. Concerning The King Of Moab
79. Concerning The King Of Amalek
80. Concerning The King Of The Philistines
81. How The Son Of Samson Slew The Son Of The King Of The Philistines
82. Concerning The Going Down Of Abraham Into Egypt
83. Concerning The King Of The Ishmaelites
84. Concerning The King Of Ethiopia And How He Returned To His Country
85. Concerning The Rejoicing Of Queen Mâkĕdâ
86. How Queen Mâkĕdâ Made Her Son King
87. How The Nobles (Or Governors) Of Ethiopia Took The Oath
88. How he himself related to his mother how they made him King
89. How The Queen Talked To The Children Of Israel
90. How Azariah Praised The Queen And Her City
91. This is what ye shall eat: the clean and the unclean
92. How They Renewed The Kingdom Of David
93. How The Men Of Rômê Destroyed The Faith
94. The First War Of The King Of Ethiopia
95. How The Honourable Estate Of The King Of Ethiopia Was Universally Accepted
96. Concerning The Prophecy About Christ
97. Concerning The Murmuring Of Israel
98. Concerning The Rod Of Moses And The Rod Of Aaron
99. Concerning the Two Servants
100. Concerning the Angels who rebelled
101. Concerning Him that existeth in Everything and Everywhere
103. Concerning the Horns of the Altar
104. More concerning the Ark and the Talk of the Wicked
105. Concerning The Belief Of Abraham
106. A Prophecy Concerning The Coming Of Christ
107. Concerning His Entrance Into Jerusalem In Glory
108. Concerning The Wickedness Of The Iniquitous Jews
109. Concerning His Crucifixion
110. Concerning His Resurrection
111. Concerning His Ascension and His Second Coming
112. How the Prophets foreshadowed Him in their persons
113. Concerning the Chariot and the Vanquisher of the Enemy
114. Concerning The Return Of Zion
115. Concerning The Judgement Of Israel
116. Concerning The Chariot Of Ethiopia
117. Concerning The King Of Rômê And The King Of Ethiopia
Kebra Nagast, E. A. Wallis Budge
Jazzybee Verlag Jürgen Beck
86450 Altenmünster, Loschberg 9
Cover Design: © Derek R. Audette - Fotolia.com
WHEN the English translation of the "Book of the Glory of Kings" appeared in 1922 it received a generous welcome from the gentlemen of the Press, and the approval of it by the public generally was shown by the fact that within two months from the day of publication a reprint was called for. The amusing and interesting character of the book which piles up fancy tales, fables, legends, folk-lore, dogma, mysticism and pious remarks on a substratum of historical fact was frankly admitted by all the reviewers, but a few of them raised the question of the historicity of the Book of the Glory of Kings. It must be said at once that we shall never know whether the queen who visitedSOLOMONwas a pure-bloodedABYSSINIANor an Arab queen fromYAMANorHADRAMAUTor some other part of the great Arabian peninsula. But the tradition that some "Queen of the South" did visitSOLOMONis so old and so widespread, that a kernel of historical fact, however small, must be hidden somewhere in it. It would not surprise me ifSIDNEY SMITHorC. J. GADDone day published in the great Corpus of cuneiform texts from the tablets in theBRITISH MUSEUMa Sumerian or Babylonian inscription telling how some great queen from latter-dayINDIApaid a visit to a king of one of the city states likeETANA, orMESANNIPADDAor the greatSARGONofAGADE, to be instructed in the wisdom and civilization of his day. The story of such a visit would be noised abroad among the nations around by the caravan men, and the scribes of the day would incorporate it in their historical romances. It is quite possible that the story ofSOLOMONand the Queen ofSHEBAis based upon one which is far older. Something like this has actually happened with the history ofGILGAMISH,1a king ofURUK, in the Ethiopic history of the exploits ofALEXANDER THE GREAT. In the latter work the scribe tells us how the Macedonian king sought for the waters of life, and how he made his way through inpenetrable forests and arrived at the sea of the waters of death,1and how he tried to fly up into heaven,2&c., all of which is described in the Epic ofGILGAMISH, the prototype ofALEXANDERto the scribe. The meeting ofGILGAMISHwith SIDURIthe "SÂBITU" i.e. "inn-keeper" or "ale-wife" finds its counterpart in the meeting ofALEXANDERwithḲUNDÂḲÂ(CANDACE), the queen ofETHIOPIA, which country, by the way,ALEXANDERnever invaded.ALEXANDERfound such favour withḲUNDÂḲÂthat she invited him to her private apartments and shared her bed with him. The beauty ofḲUNDÂḲÂovercameALEXANDERjust as the beauty ofMÂḲĔDÂovercameSOLOMON, and it is possible thatGILGAMISHfell a victim to the "ale-wife". The object of the Ethiopian scribe, ancient or modern, was to make a "good story", and he never allowed facts, or anachronisms, or names of persons or places, or even possibility or probability to hamper him.
The next question is, How far are theABYSSINIANSjustified in claiming definite kinship with theSEMITES? In dealing with this question the following facts must be considered. There is little doubt the aboriginal inhabitants ofABYSSINIAwere negroes or negroids who came from the valley of theNILE. At a very early period, which must be called prehistoric, tribes and peoples who lived on the western side of the peninsula ofARABIAmade their way across the sea fromASIAintoAFRICAin the south at some place likeBÂB-AL-MANDABand in the north at some place in the peninsula ofSINAI. In this way the influence of Asiatic peoples enteredABYSSINIA. Later a section of theHAMITES, whose language was akin to that of theLIBYANS,BERBERS, andEGYPTIANS, brought intoABYSSINIAa language which for convenience we may call "Ethiopic" though its more correct name is "Kushite". The translators of the Bible into "Ethiopic" identified, quite incorrectly,ABYSSINIAwithKÛSH, the Hebrew name for the country which we now callNUBIA. Owing to the intermingling ofSEMITESandHAMITESa Semitic element entered the Hamitic language at a very early period. The northern part ofABYSSINIA, that is, the mountainous section of it, became the principal settlement of theSEMITES, who are known as the "AGAW", and from them were probably descended many of theFALÂSHASor "Abyssinian Jews".
In the eleventh or tenth century beforeCHRISTa further invasion ofABYSSINIAby AsiaticSEMlTEStook place, and it was they who taught the Abyssinians the elements of civilization. The principal tribe of the invaders was called "ḤABASHA", and they came fromYAMANin westernSOUTH ARABIA. They gave the name of "ḤABESH" to this part ofAFRICAin which they settled, and it is from this that the modern name of "ABYSSINIA" is derived. The immigration ofSEMITESfromASIAwent on steadily during the following centuries, and the newcomers introduced the writing which was current at that time inARABIA, and trades, arts and crafts. Two or three centuries before the Christian era they succeeded in forming a kingdom, the capital of which was’AKSÛM. TheSEMITESwho settled in Upper, Middle, and LowerABYSSINIAbecame merchants and traders, and of such trade and commerce as existed at that time they were the originators and organizers. TheSEMITESwho settled in and about’AKSÛMwere known as the "’AG ‛ÂZIYÂN", i.e. the "free", and the language they spoke is called "GĔ‛ĔZ", now frequently called "ETHIOPIC". From this is derived the modern language ofTIGRAYcalled "TIGRIÑA". The language of theSEMITESin Middle and LowerABYSSINIA
Details of the downfall of the Semitic kingdom which had’AKSÛMfor its capital are wanting, but we know that its successor was ruled by kings who were pagans; among these wereAPHILAS,ENDYBIS, andALALMIDIS(’ELLA ‛AMÎDÂ), the father of‛EZÂNÂ, the ’Αειζανάςof theGREEKS, who reigned in the first half of the fourth century of our era.‛EZÂNÂ, who has been called the "CONSTANTINE OF ABYSSINIA" was the greatest king ofABYSSINIAknown to history , and he adopted Christianity as the national religion of his country. With the coming of Christianity Abyssinian literature came into existence.
From the facts summarized briefly in the preceding paragraphs it is clear that theABYSSINIANSorETHIOPIANS, as the people themselves prefer to be called, owe more to theSEMITESthan to theHAMITES, orNEGROES, orEGYPTIANS, orGREEKS, or any other people with whom they came in contact in the prehistoric or historic periods. TheSEMITESfound them negro savages, and taught them civilization and culture, and gave them the Holy Scriptures on which their whole literature is based, and set before their eyes shining examples of righteous kings, prophets, priests, and holy men. And from first to last there must have been a very large admixture of Semitic blood in theABYSSINIANSintroduced by marriage and concubinage.
The original form of the Legend of the Queen ofSHEBAprobably came into being soon after the great invasion ofABYSSINIAby theSEMITESin the tenth century beforeCHRIST. In the opinion of theABYSSINIANSdivine authority was given to it by Our Lord by His words quoted in the Gospels (Matt. xii. 42; Luke xi. 31), and they never doubted thatSOLOMONwas the father of the son of the Queen ofSHEBA. It followed as a matter of course that the male descendants of this son were the lawful kings ofABYSSINIA, and asSOLOMONwas an ancestor ofCHRISTthey were kinsmen of Our Lord, and they claimed to reign by divine right. This belief was probably shared by the kings of the Semitic kingdom of’AKSÛM, which city was at a very early period regarded as a duplicate ofJERUSALEMand was called the "ZION OF ABYSSINIA". When theABYSSINIANSadopted Christianity in the second half of the fourth or the first half of the fifth century they decided to sever as far as possible their connexion with their pagan ancestors fromARABIA. TheSEMITESwho claimed kinship with theHEBREWSofJERUSALEMabandonedMAḤRAMand the other gods of theMINAEANSandSABAEANSin favour ofJAHWEH, the god of theHEBREWS. When theSEMITESwho were Christians had the Holy Scriptures translated intoGĔ‛ĔZthe translators used a script which, though based on the old writings of theMINAEANSandSABAEANS, was different from it in some very important particulars. The old inscriptions, like Hebrew, Syriac, Arabic, &c., read from right to left, but theABYSSINIANSdecided to read their texts from left to right, as did theBABYLONIANSandASSYRIANS. This decision was due probably to Greek influence. The letters of the old Arabian alphabets were entirely consonantal and vowels were expressed by the semi-vowel letters. Some genius, name unknown, discovered a way of expressing the vowels inGĔ‛ĔZby attaching short lines and minute circles to the consonants of the Sabaean alphabet and by modifying the forms of some of the consonants themselves. Thus theABYSSINIANSturned the old Sabaean alphabet into a syllabary. Two examples will make this clear.
The Sabaean letterበብቡቤባቢቦ
The Sabaean letterደድዱዲዳዴዶABYSSINIANSprovided for the expression of the "o" sound, which theASSYRIANSandBABYLONIANSfailed to do.
The translators of the Bible intoGĔ‛ĔZrejectedHABESH, the old name ofABYSSINIA, and in their version definitely gave the name ofETHIOPIA(’ÎTĔYÔPĔYÂ) to the region, the capital of which was’AKSÛM. They read that the "eunuch of great authority underCANDACEqueen of theETHIOPIANS'was called' a man ofETHIOPIA" (Acts viii. 27), and as the country over which that queen ruled was theKÛSHof the Old Testament, they rendered that name by "ETHIOPIA" (e.g. Psalms lxviii. 32.; lxxxvii. 4). Strictly speakingKÛSHwasUPPER NUBIA. The nameHABESHwas disliked by the indigenous peoples of the country , and though in the modern Amharic dictionariesHABASHÂis still to be found, the present-day native hates to be called "HABASHIYY", for by him it is regarded as an abusive epithet. Thus the Abyssinian Christian gained a new national name, a new script, and a new literature.
As Christianity spread southwards the idea of the Solomonic ancestry of the kings ofETHIOPIAin the period between the sixth and the thirteenth centuries gained ground everywhere. During this period many kings who were not of the Solomonic line reigned, and a group of them called theZÂGUÊwere masters ofETHIOPIAfor about 330 years. At length there appeared a member of the Solomonic line calledYEKUENÔ ’AMLÂK(1270-85) inSHOA, and with the help of the great saintTAKLA HAYMÂNÔThe expelled theZÂGUÊand became "King of the Kings ofETHIOPIA". In return for this help of the saint,YEKUENÔ ’AMLÂKagreed to give to the Church one-third of the revenues of his kingdom, and his successors have, on the whole, followed his example.
As regards the present edition of the Queen of Sheba little need be said. In the first edition of my translation of theKEBRA NAGAST(all vowels short) there were 31 plates containing monochrome photographs, reproductions oficoloured illustrations copied from Ethiopic manuscripts of the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries. The scenes and subjects represented were all of a religious character, but had no special reference to the Book of the Glory of Kings, for strangely enough that work is without illustrations. Nothing in a systematic way of publishing specimens of Ethiopian Art had been done beforeLADY MEUXpublished the coloured facsimiles of all the illustrations, both vignettes and full pages, from her two splendid manuscripts of the Miracles of the Virgin Mary and from the Life of Ḥanna the mother of the Virgin, and the Life of Mabâ‛ Ṣĕyon. I therefore added the 31 plates of illustrations from the manuscripts of the greatMAḲDALÂCollection now in theBRITISH MUSEUM, thinking that they would give the reader a good idea of the character of Ethiopian art generally. But it must never be forgotten that the art represented on the plates is not indigenous, for it is borrowed directly from or is based upon the paintings which were executed for the kings ofETHIOPIAbyFRANCISCO DI BRANCA-LEONE, a Venetian monk, who is commonly called "the Frank". He flourished in the reign ofZAR’A YÂ‛ḲÔB(A.D.1436-68). This monk came toABYSSINIAwith the view of converting the people to Christianity, and he is famous as "the Frank" who by the command of the king, carried on several debates withABBÂ GÎYÔRGÎSon the faith. When the king discovered that he was a painter as well as a monk, he set him to work at painting pictures of Our Lady and the saints to be hung up in the churches, and it was he who painted forBA’EDA MÂRYÂM(A.D.1468-78) the picture of the Virgin and the InfantCHRISTwhich exasperated theABYSSINIANS. He represented the Virgin holding the Child on her left arm as was customary in Europe, but theABYSSINIANSregarded the left hand as the "hand of dishonour", and they wanted to destroy the picture. This the king refused to permit, and it was hung in the’ATRONSA MÂRYÂM, a church in the town of the same name in the south ofAMḤARÂ, on the’ABÂY RIVER, and there it remained until the third year of the reign ofTHEOPHILUS(A.D.1709). In that year theGALLAScame and wrecked the church, and killed the priests, and the picture and the coffin containing the remains ofBA’EDA MÂRYÂMwere hurled over a precipice onSUNDAY,AUGUST23.
The Introduction and Translation given in the first edition of the Queen of Sheba are repeated herein practically unaltered. The readings of two or three passages have been, I hope, improved, and a few references added. To write the literary history of theKEBRA NAGASTI believe to be impossible at present, owing to the lack of material. We can never expect to find out what was the original form of the Legend of the Queen ofSHEBA, and it is impossible to assign dates to the various recensions of it which have been made in Coptic, Arabic, and Ethiopic. The sources of many of the legends reproduced in the great work are untraceable at present, and the unauthorized additions made to it by generations of scribes cannot with certainty be identified. It would be very interesting to know when theKEBRA NAGAST(all vowels short) began to be politically important, and regarded as the source of the invincibility of theABYSSINIANS. The success of the British Expedition underGENERAL NAPIERin 1868 disturbed their equanimity somewhat, but they comforted themselves by remembering that it was directed againstTHEODORE, who was after all only an impostor. The natives everywhere helped the British Army because they wished to see the usurper smashed. Had they been hostile the result of the expedition would have been different. The battle ofADWAshowed how theABYSSINIANScould deal with an army of European soldiers, and "unconqueredABYSSINIA" is now the fiery, passionate cry of every patriot ofETHIOPIAfrom’AKSÛMto the Equator.
48 Bloomsbury Street Bedford Square, W.C. 1 August 22, 1932
1 For his authentic history see Sidney Smith, Early History of Assyria, p. 34.
1 See the Epic of Gilgamish (British Museum), London, 1929.
2 See the "Legend of Etana" in Jastrow, Religion of Babylonia and Assyria, p. 519f.
This volume contains a complete English translation of the famous Ethiopian work, The "KEBRA NAGAST", i.e. the "Glory of the Kings [ofETHIOPIA]". This work has been held in peculiar honour inABYSSINIAfor several centuries, and throughout that country it has been, and still is, venerated by the people as containing the final proof of their descent from the Hebrew Patriarchs, and of the kinship of their kings of the Solomonic line withCHRIST, the Son of God. The importance of the book, both for the kings and the people ofABYSSINIA, is clearly shown by the letter that KingJOHNofETHIOPIAwrote to the late LordGRANVILLEin August, 1872. The king says: "There is a book called 'Kivera Negust' which contains the Law of the whole ofETHIOPIA, and the names of theSHÛMS[i.e. Chiefs], and Churches, and Provinces are in this book. I pray you find out who has got this book, and send it to me, for in my country my people will not obey my orders without it." (See infra, p. xxxv). The first summary of the contents of theKEBRA NAGASTwas published byBRUCEas far back as 1813, but little interest was roused by his somewhat bald précis. And, in spite of the labours ofPRÆTORIUS,BEZOLD, andHUGUES LE ROUX, the contents of the work are still practically unknown to the general reader in England. It is hoped that the translation given in the following pages will be of use to those who have not the time or opportunity for perusing the Ethiopic original.
TheKEBRA NAGASTis a great storehouse of legends and traditions, some historical and some of a purely folk-lore character, derived from the Old Testament and the later Rabbinic writings, and from Egyptian (both pagan and Christian), Arabian, and Ethiopian sources. Of the early history of the compilation and its maker, and of its subsequent editors we know nothing, but the principal groundwork of its earliest form was the traditions that were current inSYRIA,PALESTINE,ARABIA, andEGYPTduring the first four centuries of the Christian era. Weighing carefully all that has been written byDILLMANN,TRUMP,ZOTENBERG,WRIGHT, andBEZOLD, and taking into account the probabilities of the matter, it seems to me that we shall not be far wrong if we assign the composition of the earliest form of theKEBRA NAGASTto the sixth centuryA.D.Its compiler was probably a Coptic priest, for the books he used were writings that were accepted by the Coptic Church. Whether he lived inEGYPT, or inAKSÛM, or in some other part ofETHIOPIAmatters little, but the colophons of the extant Ethiopic MSS. of theKEBRA NAGASTsuggest that he wrote in Coptic.
In the succeeding centuries, probably as a result of the widespread conquests ofMUḤAMMADand hisKHALÎFAHS, the Coptic text was in whole or part translated into Arabic, and during the process of translation many additions were made to it, chiefly from Arabic sources. Last of all this Arabic version was translated into Ethiopic, and proper names underwent curious transformations in the process. According to the colophons of the MSS. in theBRITISH MUSEUM,OXFORD, andPARIS, the Arabic translation was made from the Coptic in the 409th "year of mercy", whenGABRA MASḲAL, commonly known asLÂLÎBALÂ, was reigning overETHIOPIA, i.e. betweenA.D.1314 and 1344. And the same authorities say that the Ethiopic translation was made subsequently by oneISAAC, of whom nothing is known save that he was an enthusiastic Christian visionary and patriot. His knowledge of history and chronology was defective, and his comparative philology is unusually peculiar, even for the period in which he lived.
In the colophonsISAACsays: "I have toiled much for the glory of the kingdom ofETHIOPIA, and for the going forth (manifestation ?) of the heavenlyZION, and for the glory of the King ofETHIOPIA." These words throw some light uponISAAC'Smotive in translating the book, and supply the reason for his devoted labour. He firmly believed: 1. That the lawful kings ofETHIOPIAwere descended fromSOLOMON, King ofISRAEL. 2. That the Tabernacle of the Law of God, i.e. the Ark of the Covenant, had been brought fromJERUSALEMto’AKSÛMbyMENYELEK,SOLOMON'Sfirstborn son, according to theETHIOPIANS. 3. That the God ofISRAELhad transferred His place of abode on earth fromJERUSALEMto’AKSÛM(AXUM), the ecclesiastical and political capital ofETHIOPIA. The means employed byMENYELEKfor obtaining possession of the Ark of the Covenant did not disturbISAAC'Sconscience in the least, nay he gloried in them, for manifestlyMENYELEKwas performing the Will of God in removing the tabernacle ofZIONfromJERUSALEM. God, according toISAAC, was satisfied that theJEWSwere unworthy to be custodians of the Ark wherein His Presence was, and the Ark wished to depart.ETHIOPIAhad stretched out her hands to God (Psalm lxviii. 31), and He went to her, with the Ark, to preside overMENYELEK'Skingdom, which was established in accordance with the commands that He had given toMOSESand the prophets and priests ofISRAEL.
It will be remembered that the line of kings founded bySOLOMONcontinued to reign even after theETHIOPIANSbecame Christians under the teaching ofFRUMENTIUSandADESIUS, the slaves of the merchantMEROPIUS, and that the line continued unbroken until the tenth century of our era.ISAACknew that God then permitted the line to be broken, and allowed theZÂGUÊkings to reign overETHIOPIAuntil the reign ofYĔKÛNÔ ’AMLÂK, who restored the Solomonic line in 1270, and he makes no attempt to justify God's action in this matter, or to explain it. We learn, however, from the first section of the colophon, that he wondered why God had neglected to have the Arabic version of theKEBRA NAGASTtranslated into the "speech ofABYSSINIA" at an earlier date, and why’ABU’L-’IZZand’ABU’L-FARAJ, who made the Arabic translation from the Coptic, did not make a rendering into Ethiopic also. In the explanation which he attempts to give, he reminds us that the Arabic translation appeared whilst theZÂGUÊkings were still reigning. As theKEBRA NAGASTwas written to glorify the Solomonic line of kings, and its editors and translators regarded theZÂGUÊkings not only as non-ISRAELITES, but as "transgressors of the Law", the appearance of a translation of it in the vernacular whilst theZÂGUÊwere still on the throne would be followed by the torture and death of its producers, and the destruction of their work.
There is extant in Ethiopian literature a legend to the effect that when God madeADAMHe placed in his body a "Pearl", which He intended should pass from it into the bodies of a series of holy men, one after the other, until the appointed time when it should enter the body ofḤANNÂ,1and form the substance of her daughter theVIRGIN MARY. Now this "Pearl" passed through the body ofSOLOMON, an ancestor ofCHRIST, andCHRISTandMENYELEK, the son ofSOLOMONby the Queen ofSHEBA, were sons ofSOLOMON, and according to Ethiopian ideas they were akin to each other. ButCHRISTwas the Son of God, and, therefore, being the kinsman ofCHRIST,MENYELEKwas divine. AndISAACthe Ethiopian, holding this view, maintains in theKEBRA NAGASTthat the kings ofETHIOPIAwho were descended fromMENYELEKwere of divine origin, and that their words and deeds were those of gods.
Now the idea of the divine origin of kings inETHIOPIA, theSÛDÂN, andEGYPT, is very old, and it appears to have been indigenous. According to a legend given in theWESTCAR PAPYRUSinBERLIN, three of the great kings of the Vth dynasty inEGYPTwere the sons of the godRĀbyRUṬṬEṬ, the wife ofRUṬṬEṬUSER, high priest ofRĀ, and before the close of that dynasty every king called himself "son ofRĀ". Many a king ofEGYPTstates in his inscriptions that he reigned "in the egg", i.e. before he was born, and we are to understand that the egg was deposited in his mother by the form of the Sun-god, who was his father. Some of the sovereigns of the XVIIIth dynasty, certainly those who were the nominees of the priests ofȦMEN, were declared to be the actual children ofȦMEN, and to be of his substance. On the walls of the famous temple which the architectSENMUTbuilt for QueenḤATSHEPSUTin WesternTHEBES, there is a series of bas-reliefs in which the godȦMENis seen companying with the mother of that Queen, andḤATSHEPSUTregarded herself asȦMEN'Sdaughter. In the temple of Luxor there are bas-reliefs of a similar character, and the godȦMENis seen occupying the couch of the queen who became by him the mother ofȦMENḤETEPIII. This king was so thoroughly convinced of his divine origin that he caused an effigy of himself to be sculptured on the walls of the temple ofSÛLBin the EgyptianSÛDÂN, together with the figures of the great gods ofEGYPT. In fact he shared the worship of the people with the gods and goddesses ofEGYPT.RAMESES THE GREATwas held to be the son of the godPTAḤ-TANEN, and in the inscription on a stele atABU SIMBELthis god, in addressing the king, says: "I am thy father. Thou was begotten by the gods. All thy members are from the gods. I made myself assume the form of theRAM, the Lord of Tet-t, my seed stood in thy august mother"
A thousand years later a story arose inEGYPTto the effect thatALEXANDER THE GREATwas the son of the godȦMENofEGYPT, andALEXANDER'Scouncillors promptly took advantage of it to forward the fortunes of their lord. If, they argued,ALEXANDERis the son ofȦMEN, he is the lawful king ofEGYPT, and theEGYPTIANSmust acknowledge him as their king. But it was necessary for their purpose thatȦMENshould acknowledgeALEXANDERas his son, and they therefore took him to the Oasis ofSÎWAHin the Libyan Desert, and presented him to the godȦMENofLIBYA. The god admitted thatALEXANDERwas his son, the priesthood ofȦMENaccepted the declaration of their god, theEGYPTIANSbelieved that the holy blood ofȦMENflowed inALEXANDER'Sveins, and as a result he became the king of the South and the North, and Governor of the Domain ofHORUSwithout striking a blow. The native novelists and story-tellers, e.g. thePSEUDO CALLISTHENES, declared that whenNECTANEBUSII, the last native king ofEGYPT, fled fromEGYPThe went toMACEDON, where he established himself as a magician. Here he became acquainted with QueenOLYMPIAS, who wished to find out from him if her husband,PHILIP, intended to put her away. An intimacy sprang up betweenNECTANEBUSandOLYMPIAS, and he appeared to the queen one night in the form of the godȦMENofLIBYA, arrayed in all the attributes of the god, and begotALEXANDER THE GREAT. Tradition transferred the horns ofȦMENtoALEXANDER, and ancient Arab writers callALEXANDER"DHU’L-ḲARNÊN", i.e. "provided with two horns", a title that translates exactly one of the titles ofȦMEN, "Sepṭ ābui"
ISAAC, the editor and translator of theKEBRA NAGAST, and his fellow countrymen saw nothing strange in the fact thatMÂKĔDÂ, the virgin queen ofSÂBA, gave herself toSOLOMON, for she believed him to be of divine origin, and he was to her as a god. Moreover, he was the custodian of the "HeavenlyZION, the Tabernacle of the Law of God", whence he obtained daily the renewal of his divinity, and power, and authority. The Tabernacle of the Law had much in common with the arks or divine tabernacles of theBABYLONIANSandEGYPTIANS, which formed the places of abode of figures of gods or their most characteristic emblems. The ark ofBEL, the great god ofBABYLON, contained a figure of the god, and the king visited it ceremonially once a year, and sued with tears for forgiveness, and grasped the hand or hands of the sacred figure. The chamber in which the figure abode was believed to have been built by the gods. On high days and holy days the ark was carried by the priests in procession. InEGYPTthe arks of the gods were kept in chambers specially constructed for the purpose, and the figures of the gods were seated on thrones inside them. These arks were placed upon sledges or in boats and were carried by the priests in procession on great days of festival or on solemn days. We know from the inscriptions that the ark ofȦMENwas provided with doors that were kept bolted and sealed. On certain occasions the king had the right to break these seals and unbolt the doors, and look upon the face of the god. Thus, after his conquest ofEGYPT, the Nubian kingPIĀNKHIwent to visitRĀin his sanctuary nearHELIOPOLIS. He was received by theKHERḤEBpriest, who prayed that the fiends might have no power over him. Having arrayed himself in the sacred seṭeb garment, and been censed and asperged,PIĀNKHIascended the steps leading to the ark ofRĀand stood there alone. He broke the seal, drew the bolts, threw open the doors and looked upon the face ofRĀ. Having adored the Māṭet and Sektet Boats he drew together the doors and sealed them with his seal. In this wayPIĀNKHIwas recognized byRĀas the king of allEGYPT. It is not clear whether it was a figure ofRĀor the holy benben stone, the symbol of the god, whichPIĀNKHIlooked upon. Many of the sacred arks ofEGYPTcontained no figures of gods, but only objects symbolic of them; in the temples of Osiris the arks contained portions of the body of this god.
The Ark of the Law whichMENYELEKcovered and stole from the Temple ofJERUSALEMwas probably a copy of that made byMOSES, and to all intents and purposes it was a rectangular box, made of hard wood plated with gold, and measuring about four feet long, two feet six inches wide, and two feet six inches deep. It was provided with a cover upon which rested the Mercy seat and figures of the Cherubim. In theKEBRA NAGASTno mention is made of the Mercy seat and the Cherubim, but we read there thatMOSESmade a case in shape like the "belly of a ship", and in this the Two Tables of the Law were placed. To theETHIOPIANSthis case symbolized theVIRGIN MARY; the case made byMOSEScarried the Word in stone, and Mary carried the Word Incarnate. It cannot be assumed that the Ark stolen byMENYELEKwas carried in a sacred boat like an Egyptian shrine, even though the "belly of a ship" is mentioned in connection with it. In several chapters of theKEBRA NAGASTthe "chariot of the Tabernacle of the Law" is mentioned, a fact which suggests that in later days at least the sacred box was provided with a carriage or sledge. History is silent as to the place where the Tabernacle of the Law was finally deposited, but Ethiopian tradition asserts that it survived all the troubles and disasters that fell upon theABYSSINIANSin their wars with the Muslims, and that it was preserved at’AKSÛMuntil comparatively recent times.
In the short introduction that follows I have given a sketch of the literary history of theKEBRA NAGAST, with references to the authorities on the subject, and I have made an abstract of its contents in narrative form which will, I hope, be useful. A full discussion of every portion of the work, with extracts giving the original texts of the authorities used and quoted byISAACthe scribe, would fill another volume, and the cost of printing, paper, and binding is now so great that the idea of producing such a book has been abandoned. A translation of the Arabic text describing how the Kingdom ofDAVIDwas transferred fromJERUSALEMtoETHIOPIAhas been added, for this interesting document is practically unknown in England. The pictures of events described in the Old and New Testaments, given in this book, are taken from Ethiopic MSS. in theBRITISH MUSEUM; they show as nothing else can the religious beliefs and traditions of theETHIOPIANS, and at the same time they serve as examples of the drawings and designs with which they illustrated their manuscripts. Nearly all of them depict Scriptural events described or referred to in theKEBRA NAGAST.
1 See the History of Hannâ, edited and translated by myself, in Lady Meux MSS. 2-5, p. 164.
1 Trans. Soc. Bibl. Arch., vol. vii, plate facing p. 119, ll. 3 and 4 (ed. Naville).
1. The Manuscripts of theKEBRA NAGASTand their Arrival in Europe. The Labours ofBRUCE,DILLMANN,PRÆTORIUS,WRIGHT,ZOTENBERG, andBEZOLD. KingJOHN'SLetter to LordGRANVILLE. Date of Compilation of theKEBRA NAGAST. The Ethiopian Work Based on Coptic and Arabic Sources, &c.
TheKEBRA NAGAST, or the Book of the Glory of the Kings [ofETHIOPIA], has been held in the highest esteem and honour throughout the length and breadth ofABYSSINIAfor a thousand years at least, and even to-day it is believed by every educated man in that country to contain the true history of the origin of the Solomonic line of kings inETHIOPIA, and is regarded as the final authority on the history of the conversion of theETHIOPIANSfrom the worship of the sun, moon, and stars to that of the Lord God ofISRAEL.
The existence of theKEBRA NAGASTappears to have been unknown in Europe until the second quarter of the sixteenth century, when scholars began to take an interest in the country of "PRESTER JOHN" through the writings ofFRANCISCO ALVAREZ, chaplain to the Embassy whichEMMANUEL, King ofPORTUGAL, sent toDAVID, King ofETHIOPIA, under the leadership ofDON RODERIGO DE LIMA(1520-1527). In the collection of documents concerning this Embassy,ALVAREZincluded an account of the King ofETHIOPIA, and of the manners and customs of his subjects, and a description in Portuguese of the habits of theETHIOPIANS(alcuni costumi di esso SerenissimoDAVID, e del suo paese e genti, tradotta di lingua ethiopica in Portogalese);1and in his Ho Preste Joam das Indias (COIMBRA, 1540), and his Historia de las cosas d'Etiopia (ANVERS1557,SARAGOSSE1561 andTOLEDO1588) this account was greatly amplified.2
In the first quarter of the sixteenth century,P. N. GODINHOpublished some traditions about KingSOLOMONand his sonMĔNYĔLĔKorMĔNYĔLÎK, derived from theKEBRA NAGAST,1and further information on the subject was included by the Jesuit priestMANOEL ALMEIDA(1580-1646) in his Historia ger̄al de Ethiopia, which does not appear to have been published in its entirety.MANOEL ALMEIDAwas sent out as a missionary toETHIOPIA, and had abundant means of learning about theKEBRA NAGASTat first hand, and his manuscript Historia is a valuable work. His brother,APOLLINARE, also went out to the country as a missionary, and was, with his two companions, stoned to death inTIGRÉ.
Still fuller information about the contents of theKEBRA NAGASTwas supplied byF. BALTHAZAR TELLEZ(1595-1675), the author of the Historia general de Ethiopia Alta ov Preste Joã e do que nella obraram os Padres da Companhia deJESUScomposta na mesma Ethiopia pelo Padre Manoel d'Almeyda. Abreviada com nova releçam e methodo pelo Padre Balthezar Tellez,COIMBRA, 1660, folio. The sources of his work were the histories ofMANOEL ALMEIDA,ALFONZO MENDEZ,JERONINO LOBO, and FatherPAYS. The Historia ofTELLEZwas well known toJOB LUDOLF, and he refers to it several times in his Historia Æthiopica, which was published atFRANKFORTin 1681, but it is pretty certain that he had no first-hand knowledge of theKEBRA NAGASTas a whole. Though he regarded much of its contents as fabulous, he was prepared to accept the statement ofTELLEZas to the great reputation and popularity which the book enjoyed inABYSSINIA.
Little, apparently, was heard in Europe about theKEBRA NAGASTuntil the close of the eighteenth century whenJAMES BRUCEofKINNAIRD(1730-1794), the famous African traveller, published an account of his travels in search of the sources of theNILE. When he was leavingGONDAR,RÂS MICHAEL, the all-powerful Wazîr of KingTAKLA HAYMÂNÔT, gave him several most valuable Ethiopic manuscripts, and among them was a copy of theKEBRA NAGASTto which he attached great importance. During the years thatBRUCElived inABYSSINIAhe learned how highly this work was esteemed among all classes ofABYSSINIANS, and in the third edition of his Travels1(vol. iii, pp. 411-416) there appeared a description of its contents, the first to be published in any European language. Not content with this manuscriptBRUCEbrought away with him a copy of theKEBRA NAGASTwhich he had made for himself, and in due course he gave both manuscripts to the Bodleian Library, where they are known as "Bruce 93" and "Bruce 87" respectively. The former, which is the "Liber Axumea" ofBRUCE'STravels, was described at great length byDILLMANN,2who to his brief description of the latter added a transcript of its important colophon.3Thanks toDILLMANN, who printed the headings of all the chapters of the Fĕtha Nagasti in the original Ethiopic, there was no longer any doubt about the exact nature and contents of the work, though there was nothing in it to show exactly when and by whom the work was compiled.
In 1870 (?)FRANCIS PRÆTORIUSpublished,4with a Latin translation, the Ethiopic text of Chapters xix to xxxii of theKEBRA NAGASTedited from the manuscript at Berlin (Orient. 395), whichLEPSIUSacquired fromDOMINGO LORDA, and sent to theKÖNIGLICHE BIBLIOTHEKin 1843. To the Berlin text he added the variant readings supplied from the MSS. Orient. 818 and 819 in theBRITISH MUSEUMby ProfessorW. WRIGHTofCAMBRIDGE. In 1877WRIGHTpublished a full description of the MS. of theKEBRA NAGASTin theMAḲDALÂCollection in theBRITISH MUSEUM. The work of Praetorius made known for the first time the exact form of the Ethiopian legend that makes the King ofETHIOPIAto be a descendant ofSOLOMON, King ofISRAEL, byMÂKĔDÂ, the Queen of’AZÊB, who is better known as the "Queen ofSHEBA".
In August, 1868, the great collection of Ethiopic manuscripts, which the British Army brought away fromMAḲDALÂafter the defeat and suicide of KingTHEODORE, was brought to theBRITISH MUSEUM, and among them were two fine copies of theKEBRA NAGAST. Later these were numbered Oriental 818 and Oriental 819 respectively, and were described very fully and carefully by Wright in his Catalogue of the Ethiopic MSS. in the British Museum, London, 1877,1No. cccxci, p. 297, and in the Zeitschrift der Deutschen Morgenländischen Gesellschaft, Bd. xxiv, pp. 614-615. It was the fate of Oriental 819, a fine manuscript which was written in the reign of’ÎYÂSÛI,A.D.1682-1706, to return toABYSSINIA, and this came about in the following manner. On 10 Aug., 1872, PrinceKASA, who was subsequently crowned as KingJOHN IV, wrote to EarlGRANVILLEthus: "And now again I have another thing to explain to you: that there was a Picture calledQURATA REZOO, which is a Picture of our Lord and SaviourJESUS CHRIST, and was found with many books atMAGDALAby the English. This Picture KingTHEODOREtook fromGONDARtoMAGDALA, and it is now in England; all round the Picture is gold, and the midst of it coloured.
"Again there is a book calledKIVERA NEGUST(i.e.KEBRA NAGAST), which contains the Law of the whole ofETHIOPIA, and the names of theSHUMS(i.e. Chiefs), Churches, and Provinces are in this book. I pray you will find out who has got this book, and send it to me, for in my Country my people will not obey my orders without it".
When a copy of this letter was sent to theBRITISH MUSEUMthe Trustees decided to grant KingJOHN'Srequest, and the manuscript was restored to him on 14 December, 1872. KingJOHN'Sletter proves that very great importance was attached to theKEBRA NAGASTby the Ethiopian peoples, even in the second half of the nineteenth century.M. HUGUES LE ROUX, a French envoy from the President of the French Republic toMENYELEK II, King ofETHIOPIA, went toADDIS ALEMwhere the king was staying, in order to see this manuscript and to obtain his permission to translate it into French.Having made his request toMENYELEK IIpersonally the king made a reply, whichM. LE ROUXtranslates thus: "Je suis d'avis qu'un peuple ne se défend pas seulement avec ses armes, mais avec ses livres. Celui dont vous parlez est la fierté de ce Royaume. Depuis moi, l'Empereur, jusqu'au plus pauvre soldat qui marche dans les chemins, tous les Éthiopiens seront heureux que ce livre soit traduit dans la langue française et porté à la connaissance des amis que nous avons dans le monde. Ainsi l'on verra clairement quels liens nous unissent avec le peuple de Dieu, quels trésors ont été confiés à notre garde. On comprendra mieux pourquoi le secours de Dieu ne nous a jamais manqué contre les ennemis qui nous attaquaient".The king then gave orders that the manuscript was to be fetched fromADDIS ABEBA, where the monks tried to keep it on the pretext of copying the text, and in less than a week it was placed in the hands ofM. LE ROUX, who could hardly believe his eyes. Having described the manuscript and noted on the last folio the words, "This volume was returned to the King ofETHIOPIAby order of the Trustees of theBRITISH MUSEUM, Dec. 14th, 1872.J. WINTER JONES, Principal Librarian".M. LE ROUXsays: "Il n'y avait plus de doute possible: le livre que je tenais dans mes mains était bien cette version de l'histoire de la Reine de Saba et de Salomon, que Négus et Prêtres d'Éthiopie considèrent comme le plus authentique de toutes celles qui circulent dans les bibliothèques européennes et dans les monastètes abyssins. C'était le livre que Théodoros avait caché sous son oreiller, la nuit où il se suicida, celui que les soldats anglais avaient emporté à Londres, qu'un ambassadeur rendit à l'Empereur Jean, que ce même Jean feuilleta dans sa tente, le matin du jour où il tomba sous les cimeterres des Mahdistes, celui que les moines avaient dérobé".1With the help of a friendM. LE ROUXtranslated several of the Chapters of theKEBRA NAGAST, and in due course published his translation.2
The catalogues of the Ethiopic MSS. inOXFORD,LONDONandPARIS, which had been published byDILLMANN,WRIGHTandZOTENBERG, supplied a good deal of information about the contents of theKEBRA NAGASTin general, but scholars felt that it was impossible to judge of the literary and historical value of the work by transcription and translations of the headings of the chapters only. In 1882 under the auspices of the Bavarian Government,DR. C. BEZOLDundertook to prepare an edition of the Ethiopic text edited from the best MSS., with a German translation, which theROYAL BAVARIAN ACADEMYmade arrangements to publish. After much unavoidable delay this work appeared in 1909, and is entitled Kebra Nagast.Die Herrlichkeit der Könige (Abhandlungen der Königlich Bayerischen Akademie, Band XXIII, Abth. 1, Munich, 1909 [Band LXXVII of the Denkschriften]).The text is prefaced by a learned introduction, which was greatly appreciated by Orientalists to whom the edition was specially addressed. The chief authority for the Ethiopic text inBEZOLD'Sedition is the now famous manuscript which was sent as a gift toLOUIS PHILIPPEbySÂHLA(orSÂHLÛ)DĔNGĔL, King ofETHIOPIA, who died early in 1855. According toZOTENBERG(Catalogue des manuscrits Éthiopiens, p. 6) this manuscript must belong to the thirteenth century; if this be so it is probably the oldest Ethiopic manuscript in existence. Though there seems to be no really good reason for assigning this very early date to the manuscript, there can be no doubt as to its being the oldest known Codex of theKEBRA NAGAST, and thereforeBEZOLDwas fully justified in making its text the base of his edition of that work. I have collated the greater part of theBRITISH MUSEUMCodex, Oriental 818, with his printed text, and though the variants are numerous they are not of great importance, in fact, as is the case in several other Codices of theKEBRA NAGAST, they are due chiefly to the haste or carelessness or fatigue of the scribe. AsBEZOLD'Stext represents theKEBRA NAGASTin the form that the Ethiopian priests and scribes have considered authoritative, I have made the English translation which is printed in the following pages from it.
Unfortunately, none of the Codices of theKEBRA NAGASTgives us any definite information about the compiler of the work—for it certainly is a compilation—or the time when he wrote, or the circumstances under which it was compiled.DILLMANN, the first European scholar who had read the whole book in the original Ethiopic, contented himself with saying in 1848, "de vero compositionis tempore nihil liquet" (Catalogus, p. 72), but later he thought it might be as old as the fourteenth century.ZOTENBERG(Catalogue, p. 222) was inclined to think that "it was composed soon after the restoration of the so-called Solomonic line of kings", that is to say, soon after the throne ofETHIOPIAwas occupied byTASFÂ ’ÎYASÛS,orYĔKÛNÔ ’AMLÂK, who reigned fromA.M.6762-77, i.e.A.D.1270-1285. A Colophon, (see pp. 228, 229)which is found in several of the Codices of theKEBRA NAGASTinOXFORD,LONDONandPARIS, states that the Ethiopic text was translated from the Arabic version, which, in turn, was translated from the Coptic. The Arabic translation was, it continues, made by’ABU ’L-‛IZZand’ABU ’L-FARAJ, in the "year of mercy" 409, during the reign ofGABRA MASḲAL(’AMDA SEYÔN I), i.e. betweenA.D.1314 and 1344, whenGEORGEwas Patriarch ofALEXANDRIA. These statements are clear enough and definite enough, yetDILLMANNdid not believe them, but thought that the whole Colophon was the result of the imagination of some idle scribe (ab otioso quodam librario inventa). The statements about the Ethiopic version being made from the Coptic through the Arabic, he treated as obvious fictions (plane fictitia esse), and he condemned the phrasing of the Colophon because he considered its literary style inferior to that used in the narrative of theKEBRA NAGASTitself (dictio hujus subscriptionis pessima est, et ab oratione eleganti libri ipsius quam maxime differt).ZOTENBERG(Catalogue, p. 223, col. 1) a very competent scholar, saw no reason for doubting the truth of the statements in the Colophon generally, but thought it possible that an Arab author might have supplied the fundamental facts of the narrative, and that the author or authors of the Ethiopic version stated that the original source of their work was a Coptic archetype in order to give it an authority and importance which it would not otherwise possess. On the other hand,WRIGHTmerely regarded theKEBRA NAGASTas an "apocryphal work", and judging from the list of kings at the end of the work in Oriental 818, fol. 46B,which ends withYĔKWĔNÔ ’AMLÂK, who died in 1344, concluded that it was a product of the fourteenth century (Catalogue, p. 301, col. 2).
A careful study of theKEBRA NAGAST, made whilst translating the work into English, has convinced me that the opening statements in the Colophon are substantially correct, and that it is quite possible that in its original form the Arabic version of the book was translated from Coptic MSS. belonging to the Patriarchal Library atALEXANDRIA, and copies of this Arabic translation, probably enlarged and greatly supplemented by the scribes in the various monasteries ofEGYPT, would soon find their way intoETHIOPIAorABYSSINIA, viâ theBLUE NILE. The principal theme of theKEBRA NAGAST, i.e. the descent of the Kings ofETHIOPIAfromSOLOMON, King ofISRAEL, and the "Queen of the South, or the "Queen ofSHEBA", was certainly well known inETHIOPIAfor centuries before theKEBRA NAGASTwas compiled, but the general treatment of it in this work was undoubtedly greatly influenced by supplementary legends and additions, which in their simplest forms seem to me to have been derived from Coptic and even Syrian writers.
It is well known that the Solomonic line of kings continued to rule overETHIOPIAuntil that somewhat mythical womanESTHER, orJUDITHas some call her, succeeded in dethroningDELNA’ADand placing on the throneMARÂ TAKLA HÂYMÂNÔT, the first of the elevenZÂGUÊkings, who dispossessed the Solomonic kings for three hundred and fifty-four years (A.D.914-1268) and reigned atAKSÛM. Written accounts of the descent of the kings ofETHIOPIAfromSOLOMONmust have existed inETHIOPIAbefore the close of the ninth centuryA.D.and these were, no doubt, drawn up in Ethiopic and in Arabic. During the persecution of the Christians inEGYPTandETHIOPIAby theMUḤAMMADANSin the tenth, eleventh, and twelfth centuries, many churches and their libraries of manuscripts perished. We may, however, be sure that the Solomonic kings, who settled in the province ofSHOAduring the period of theZÂGUÊdomination, managed to preserve chronological lists and other historical documents that contained the Annals of their predecessors.
The second part of the Colophon mentions’ABU ’L-‛IZZand’ABU ’L-FARAJas being concerned with translating the book into Arabic, and makes oneISAAC(?), who was apparently the Ethiopian translator, ask why they did not translate it into Ethiopic. In answer to this question he says that theKEBRA NAGASTappeared during the period of theZÂGUÊrule, when it is obvious that the publication of any work that supported the claims of the Solomonic kings would meet with a very unfavourable reception, and cause the death of its editors and translators. Therefore it is fairly certain that theKEBRA NAGASTexisted in Arabic in some form during the three and a half centuries of theZÂGUÊrule, and that no attempt was made to multiply copies of it in Ethiopic until the restoration of the line of Solomonic kings in the days ofYĔKÛNÔ ’AMLÂK(A.D.1270-1285). The Ethiopic work as we know it now is probably in much the same state as it was in the days ofGABRA MASḲAL. (‛AMDA ṢĔYÔN) in the first half of the fourteenth century of our era. OfISAACwe unfortunately know nothing, but there seem to be no good grounds for attributing the complete authorship of theKEBRA NAGASTto him. Yet he was evidently not merely a scribe or copyist, and when he speaks of the greatness of the toil which he undertook for the sake of the glory of the heavenlyZION, andETHIOPIAand her king, he seems to suggest that he was the general redactor or editor who directed the work of his devoted companionsYAMHARANA-’AB,ḤEZBA- KRESTÔS,ANDREW,PHILIP, andMAḤÂRÎ-’AB.
Now, however important theKEBRA NAGASTmay have been considered by the Ethiopians in bygone centuries, and notwithstanding the almost superstitious awe with which the book is still regarded inABYSSINIA, we are hardly justified in accepting it as a connected historical document. But it is undoubtedly a very fine work, and many sections of it merit careful consideration and study. For many of the statements in it there are historical foundations, and the greater part of the narrative is based upon legends and sayings and traditions, many of which are exceedingly ancient. The legends and traditions are derived from many sources, and can be traced to the Old Testament and ChaldeanTARGÛMS, to Syriac works like the "Book of the Bee", to Coptic lives of saints, to ancient Ḳur’ânic stories and commentaries, to apocryphal books like the "Book ofADAMandEVE
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