Skip to main content
Humanities LibreTexts

The Kebra Nagast (Ethiopia, c. 1300s)

  • Page ID
    109013
  • \( \newcommand{\vecs}[1]{\overset { \scriptstyle \rightharpoonup} {\mathbf{#1}} } \)

    \( \newcommand{\vecd}[1]{\overset{-\!-\!\rightharpoonup}{\vphantom{a}\smash {#1}}} \)

    \( \newcommand{\id}{\mathrm{id}}\) \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\)

    ( \newcommand{\kernel}{\mathrm{null}\,}\) \( \newcommand{\range}{\mathrm{range}\,}\)

    \( \newcommand{\RealPart}{\mathrm{Re}}\) \( \newcommand{\ImaginaryPart}{\mathrm{Im}}\)

    \( \newcommand{\Argument}{\mathrm{Arg}}\) \( \newcommand{\norm}[1]{\| #1 \|}\)

    \( \newcommand{\inner}[2]{\langle #1, #2 \rangle}\)

    \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\)

    \( \newcommand{\id}{\mathrm{id}}\)

    \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\)

    \( \newcommand{\kernel}{\mathrm{null}\,}\)

    \( \newcommand{\range}{\mathrm{range}\,}\)

    \( \newcommand{\RealPart}{\mathrm{Re}}\)

    \( \newcommand{\ImaginaryPart}{\mathrm{Im}}\)

    \( \newcommand{\Argument}{\mathrm{Arg}}\)

    \( \newcommand{\norm}[1]{\| #1 \|}\)

    \( \newcommand{\inner}[2]{\langle #1, #2 \rangle}\)

    \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\) \( \newcommand{\AA}{\unicode[.8,0]{x212B}}\)

    \( \newcommand{\vectorA}[1]{\vec{#1}}      % arrow\)

    \( \newcommand{\vectorAt}[1]{\vec{\text{#1}}}      % arrow\)

    \( \newcommand{\vectorB}[1]{\overset { \scriptstyle \rightharpoonup} {\mathbf{#1}} } \)

    \( \newcommand{\vectorC}[1]{\textbf{#1}} \)

    \( \newcommand{\vectorD}[1]{\overrightarrow{#1}} \)

    \( \newcommand{\vectorDt}[1]{\overrightarrow{\text{#1}}} \)

    \( \newcommand{\vectE}[1]{\overset{-\!-\!\rightharpoonup}{\vphantom{a}\smash{\mathbf {#1}}}} \)

    \( \newcommand{\vecs}[1]{\overset { \scriptstyle \rightharpoonup} {\mathbf{#1}} } \)

    \( \newcommand{\vecd}[1]{\overset{-\!-\!\rightharpoonup}{\vphantom{a}\smash {#1}}} \)

    The introduction and notes have been prepared by John Terry (2021) and the translation is that of E.A. Wallis Budge, The Kebra Nagast (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1932) and the full version can be found online at Internet Sacred Text Archive (as well as copyright information here). A note on the translation: in the absence of more modern and accurate open-access translations, Budge's translation style includes stilted and archaic language (e.g. "mayest" or "lovest" for "may" and "love") that has no real connection to the original Ge'ez.

    Introduction to the Text

    The Kebra Nagast, often known as the “national epic of Ethiopia,” is a long text written in Ge’ez in the 1300s which details the history of Ethiopian monarchs who descend from King Solomon. This narrative is an invention of the fourteenth century meant to support the concept of a "sacred dynasty" anointed by God. The excerpts we’ll focus on most closely involve the relationship between Solomon and Makeda (the Queen of Sheba in the southern Arabian Peninsula), the rise of their son Menelik, the transporting of the Ark of the Covenant to his kingdom in Ethiopia, and the eventual conversion of Ethiopia (the kingdom of Axum) to Christianity in the 300s. The Kebra Nagast is an exceptionally powerful piece of political ideology and is seen by many modern Ethiopian Orthodox Christians as a historically accurate account attesting to a direct line between ancient, medieval, and modern authority.1

    Fig. 1: Major Ancient and Medieval African States (https://www.worldhistory.org/image/10453/map-of-ancient--medieval-sub-saharan-african-state/).

    Here is a general outline of the Kebra Nagast (with sections included below in bold):

    • The Trinity, which resides in the Tabernacle, creates the first man, Adam
    • Some of the main stories of Hebrew Scripture (such as Noah and Abraham) are retold
    • Queen Makeda of Sheba (who is mentioned in I Kings 10:1-13 and II Chronicles 9:1-12, and whose kingdom is possibly in Yemen/Ethiopia, straddling the Red Sea) hears about the legendary wisdom of King Solomon and visits him in Jerusalem from a merchant called Tamrin, who has been helping supply Solomon’s kingdom with building material for the Temple
    • After the exchange of gifts and conversation, Makeda converts to Judaism
    • After a celebratory banquet, Makeda and Solomon have sex, conceiving a son, Menelik (referred to in this translation as BAYNA-LEḤKEM)
    • Menelik is raised in Ethiopia but visits his father Solomon in Jerusalem as a teenager, where he is anointed king of Ethiopia after a few years studying the Torah
    • On departure, one among Menelik’s group steals the Ark of the Covenant, replaces it with a duplicate, and smuggles it to Ethiopia,
    • God tells Solomon in a dream not to pursue the Ark because it was his will that it leave Jerusalem, signifying the transfer of God’s favor to his kingdom
    • The author(s) resume a retelling of some of the main events of Hebrew Scripture
    • The story of Christ is retold, and the author(s) imply his descent from Solomon

    The Kebra Nagast can be seen as analogous to a spinoff of an original story––sort of like the multiple films and television series inspired by the original Star Wars trilogy. As we can see from the general outline above, the Kebra Nagast attempts to graft Ethiopian history onto biblical history. Many historians refer to this as “providential history,” a type of (mostly premodern) history writing that claims divine endorsement and guiding of specific human activities. Providential histories take for granted that the history of a certain people or state is anointed by God to do his will.

    Historical Context: Christianity in Medieval Ethiopia

    The Kebra Nagast claims an unbroken line from Solomon to the present, but in historical context it’s clear that the “Solomonic Dynasty” began as an ideology around 1270, when Yekuno Amlak overthrew the Zagwe Dynasty with the support of the church to form his own. In order to gain legitimacy, a new dynasty needs a powerful ideology, and the Solomonic Dynasty found one in claiming descent from Solomon himself. As a consequence, historians know comparatively little about the Zagwe Dynasty.

    As providential history the Kebra Nagast smooths over a complex religious history in east Africa. Even earlier than the Zagwe, the Kingdom of Axum began converting to Christianity in the 300s under King Ezana. Prior to this Axumites had practiced polytheistic religions prominent in both East Africa and southern Arabia. The Axumites developed a rich Christian tradition of coinage, architecture, and manuscript production so that by the time of the Zagwe there was already an ancient history of Christian rulership and culture on the ground in Ethiopia.

    Video: Aksum (UNESCO)

    The Garima Gospels
    Fig 2: The Garima Gospels, possibly the earliest known illustrated gospel book (c. 500s-600s), and an outstanding example of medieval Ethiopian manuscript production (image © Michael Gervers, University of Toronto).

    The Zagwe Dynasty’s most famous contribution to medieval Ethiopian Christianity is probably the complex of churches at Lalibela, named for King Lalibela, all of which are carved out of natural stone in the 1100s––in other words, they’re more sculptures than buildings.

    Lalibela
    Fig. 3: The church of St. Georgia at Lalibela, a carved church in a cruciform shape (Wikimedia Commons)

    All of this matters because, by the time of the writing of the Kebra Nagast, promoters of the Solomonic Dynasty were drawing on an ancient Christian tradition nearly a millennium old. How could they hope to convince people in east Africa and beyond that they were the rightful continuators of this tradition of art, architecture, manuscript production, and theology? By locating their roots in the reign of King Solomon and claiming direct descent from him, they were able to provide powerful legitimacy to their rule, which, while it ceased in the late 1700s as a direct family line, continued to be claimed until the death of Emperor Haile Selassie in 1975––the so-called 110th descendant of Menelik.

    Excerpts

    Discussion questions have been added after each short section of the Kebra Nagast below. This can help break up the longer text for classroom use. General discussion and response questions include:

    1) What is the main argument of this text, and how do the authors seek to advance that argumet?

    2) Consider the implications of the Kebra Nagast. What range of reactions do you think there might have been when it was popularized in the medieval period?

    3) Think about national myths or stories you know about (either in your own country or elsewhere). What kinds of stories do people like to tell about their origins? How does this compare?

    24. How the Queen made ready to set out on her Journey

    And the Queen said unto them, "Hearken, O ye who are my people, and give ye ear to my words. For I desire wisdom and my heart seeks to find understanding. I am smitten with the love of wisdom, and I am constrained by the cords of understanding; for wisdom is far better than treasure of gold and silver, and wisdom is the best of everything that hath been created on the earth. Now unto what under the heavens shall wisdom be compared? It is sweeter than honey, and it makes one to rejoice more than wine, and it brightens more than the sun, and it is to be loved more than precious stones. And it fattens more than oil, and it satisfies more than dainty meats, and it gives [a man] more renown than thousands of gold and silver. It is a source of joy for the heart, and a bright and shining light for the eyes, and a giver of speed to the feet, and a shield for the breast, and a helmet for the head, and chain-work for the neck, and a belt for the loins. It makes the ears to hear and hearts to understand, it is a teacher of those who are learned, and it is a consoler of those who are discreet and prudent, and it gives fame to those who seek after it. And as for a kingdom, it cannot stand without wisdom, and riches cannot be preserved without wisdom; the foot cannot keep the [p. 22] place wherein it hath set itself without wisdom. And without wisdom that which the tongue speaks is not acceptable. Wisdom is the best of all treasures. He who heaps up gold and silver does so to no profit without wisdom, but he who heaps up wisdom—no man can filch it from his heart. That which fools heap up the wise consume. And because of the wickedness of those who do evil the righteous are praised; and because of the wicked acts of fools the wise are beloved. Wisdom is an exalted thing and a rich thing: I will love her like a mother, and she shall embrace me like her child. I will follow the footprints of wisdom and she shall protect me for ever; I will seek after wisdom, and she shall be with me for ever; I will follow her footprints, and she shall not cast me away; I will lean upon her, and she shall be unto me a wall of adamant; I will seek asylum with her, and she shall be unto me power and strength; I will rejoice in her, and she shall be unto me abundant grace. For it is right for us to follow the footprints of wisdom, and for the soles of our feet to stand upon the threshold of the gates of wisdom. Let us seek her, and we shall find her; let us love her, and she will not withdraw herself from us; let us pursue her, and we shall overtake her; let us ask, and we shall receive; and let us turn our hearts to her so that we may never forget her. If [we] remember her, she will have us in remembrance; and in connection with fools thou shalt not remember wisdom, for they do not hold her in honor, and she doth not love them. The honoring of wisdom is the honouring of the wise man, and the loving of wisdom is the loving of the wise man. Love the wise man and withdraw not thyself from him, and by the sight of him thou shalt become wise; hearken to the utterance of his mouth, so that you may become like unto him; watch the place whereon he hath set his foot, and leave him not, so that you may receive the remainder of his wisdom. And I love him merely on [p. 23] hearing concerning him and without seeing him, and the whole story of him that hath been told me is to me as the desire of my heart, and like water to the thirsty man."

    And her nobles, and her slaves, and her handmaidens, and her counselors answered and said unto her, "O our Lady, as for wisdom, it is not lacking in thee, and it is because of thy wisdom that thou loves wisdom. And to for us, if thou goes we will go with thee, and if thou sits down we will sit down with thee; our death shall be with thy death, and our life with thy life." Then the Queen made ready to set out on her journey with great pomp and majesty, and with great equipment and many preparations. For, by the Will of God, her heart desired to go to JERUSALEM so that she might hear the Wisdom of SOLOMON; for she had hearkened eagerly. So she made ready to set out. And seven hundred and ninety-seven camels were loaded, and mules and asses innumerable were loaded, and she set out on her journey and followed her road without pause, and her heart had confidence in God.

    25. How the Queen came to SOLOMON the King

    And she arrived in JERUSALEM, and brought to the King very many precious gifts which he desired to possess greatly. And he paid her great honour and rejoiced, and he gave her a habitation in the royal palace near him. And he sent her food both for the morning and evening meal, each time fifteen measures by the ḳôrî of finely ground white meal, cooked with oil and gravy and sauce in abundance, and thirty measures by the ḳôrî of crushed white meal wherefrom bread for three hundred and fifty people was made, with the necessary platters and trays, and ten stalled oxen, and five bulls, and fifty sheep, without (counting) the kids, and deer, and gazelles and fatted fowls, and a vessel of wine containing sixty gerrât measures, and thirty measures of old wine, and twenty-five singing men and twenty-five singing [p. 24] women, and the finest honey and rich sweets, and some of the food which he himself ate, and some of the wine whereof he drank.2 And every day he arrayed her in eleven garments which bewitched the eyes. And he visited her and was gratified, and she visited him and was gratified, and she saw his wisdom, and his just judgments and his splendor, and his grace, and heard the eloquence of his speech. And she marveled in her heart, and was utterly astonished in her mind, and she recognized in her understanding, and perceived very clearly with her eyes how admirable he was; and she wondered exceedingly because of what she saw and heard with him—how perfect he was in composure, and wise in understanding, and pleasant in graciousness, and commanding in stature. And she observed the subtlety of his voice, and the discreet utterances of his lips, and that he gave his commands with dignity, and that his replies were made quietly and with the fear of God. All these things she saw, and she was astonished at the abundance of his wisdom, and there was nothing whatsoever wanting in his word and speech, but everything that he spoke was perfect.

    And SOLOMON was working at the building of the House of God, and he rose up and went to the right and to the left, and forward and backward. And he showed the workmen the measurement and weight and the space covered [by the materials], and he told the workers in metal how to use the hammer, and the drill, and the chisel, and he showed the stone-masons the angle [measure] and the circle and the surface [measure]. And everything was wrought by his order, and there was none who set himself in opposition to his word; for the light of his heart was like a lamp in the darkness, and his wisdom was as abundant as the sand. And of the speech of the beasts and the birds there was nothing hidden from him, and he forced the devils to obey him by his wisdom. And he did everything by means of the [p. 25] skill which God gave him when he made supplication to Him; for he did not ask for victory over his enemy, and he did not ask for riches and fame, but he asked God to give him wisdom and understanding whereby he might rule his people, and build His House, and beautify the work of God and all that He had given him [in] wisdom and understanding.

    26. How the King held converse with the Queen

    And the Queen MÂKĔDÂ spoke to King SOLOMON, saying, "Blessed art thou, my lord, in that such wisdom and understanding have been given unto thee. For myself I only wish that I could be as one of the least of your handmaidens, so that I could wash thy feet, and hearken to thy wisdom, and apprehend thy understanding, and serve thy majesty, and enjoy thy wisdom. O how greatly have pleased me thy answering, and the sweetness of thy voice, and the beauty of thy going, and the graciousness of thy words, and the readiness thereof. The sweetness of thy voice makes the heart to rejoice, and makes the bones fat, and gives courage to hearts, and goodwill and grace to the lips, and strength to the gait. I look upon thee and I see that thy wisdom is immeasurable and your understanding inexhaustible, and that it is like unto a lamp in the darkness, and like unto a pomegranate in the garden, and like unto a pearl in the sea, and like unto the Morning Star among the stars, and like unto the light of the moon in the mist, and like unto a glorious dawn and sunrise in the heavens. And I give thanks unto Him that brought me hither and showed thee to me, and made me to tread upon the threshold of thy gate, and made me to hear thy voice."

    And King SOLOMON answered and said unto her, "Wisdom and understanding spring from thee thyself. As for me, [I only possess them] in the measure in which the God of ISRAEL hath given [them] to me because I asked and entreated them from Him. And thou, [p. 26] although you do not know the God of ISRAEL, hast this wisdom which thou hast made to grow in your heart, and [it hath made thee come] to see me, the vassal and slave of my God, and the building of His sanctuary which I am establishing, and wherein I serve and move round about my Lady, the Tabernacle of the Law of the God of ISRAEL, the holy and heavenly ZION. Now, I am the slave of my God, and I am not a free man; I do not serve according to my own will but according to His Will. And this speech of mine springs not from myself, but I give utterance only to what He makes me to utter. Whatsoever He commands me that I do; wheresoever He wishes me to go thither I go; whatsoever He teaches me that I speak; that concerning which He gives me wisdom I understand. For from being only dust He hath made me flesh, and from being only water He hath made me a solid man, and from being only an ejected drop, which shot forth upon the ground would have dried up on the surface of the earth, He hath fashioned me in His own likeness and hath made me in His own image."

    • Characterize this first meeting between Solomon and Makeda. What are they both concerned with, and why?

    28. How SOLOMON gave Commandments to the Queen

    And the King answered and said unto her, "Verily, it is right that they (i.e., men) should worship God, Who created the universe, the heavens and the earth, the sea and the dry land, the sun and the moon, the stars and the brilliant bodies of the heavens, the trees and the stones, the beasts and the feathered fowl, the wild beasts and the crocodiles, the fish and the whales, the hippopotamuses and the water lizards, the lightning and the crashes of thunder, the clouds and the thunders, and the good and the evil. It is meet that Him alone we should worship, in fear and trembling, with joy and with gladness. For He is the Lord of the Universe, the Creator of angels and men. And it is He Who kills [p. 29] and makes to live, it is He Who inflicts punishment and shows compassion, Who raises up from the ground him that is in misery, Who lifts up the poor from the dust, Who makes to be sorrowful and Who to rejoice, Who raises up and Who brings down. No one can chide Him, for He is the Lord of the Universe, and there is no one who can say unto Him, 'What have you done?' And unto Him it is meet that there should be praise and thanksgiving from angels and men. And as concerning what thou says, that 'He hath given unto you the Tabernacle of the Law,' verily there hath been given unto us the Tabernacle of the God of ISRAEL, which was created before all creation by His glorious counsel. And He hath made to come down to us His commandments, done into writing, so that we may know His decree and the judgment that He hath ordained in the mountain of His holiness."

    And the Queen said, "From this moment I will not worship the sun, but will worship the Creator of the sun, the God of ISRAEL. And that Tabernacle of the God of ISRAEL shall be unto me my Lady, and unto my seed after me, and unto all my kingdoms that are under my dominion. And because of this I have found favor before thee, and before the God of ISRAEL my Creator, Who hath brought me unto thee, and hath made me to hear thy voice, and hath shown me thy face, and hath made me to understand thy commandment." Then she returned to [her] house.3

    And the Queen used to go [to SOLOMON] and return continually, and hearken unto his wisdom, and keep it in her heart. And SOLOMON used to go and visit her, and answer all the questions which she put to him, and the Queen used to visit him and ask him questions, and he informed her concerning every matter that she wished to enquire about. And after she had dwelt [there] six months the Queen wished to return to her own country, and she sent a message to SOLOMON, saying, "I desire [p. 30] greatly to dwell with thee, but now, for the sake of all my people, I wish to return to my own country. And as for that which I have heard, may God make it to bear fruit in my heart, and in the hearts of all those who have heard it with me. For the ear could never be filled with the hearing of thy wisdom, and the eye could never be filled with the sight of the same."

    Now it was not only the Queen who came [to hear the wisdom of SOLOMON], but very many used to come from cities and countries, both from near and from far; for in those days there was no man found to be like unto him for wisdom (and it was not only human beings who came to him, but the wild animals and the birds used to come to him and hearken unto his voice, and hold converse with him), and then they returned to their own countries, and every one of them was astonished at his wisdom, and marveled at what he had seen and heard.

    And when the Queen sent her message to SOLOMON, saying that she was about to depart to her own country, he pondered in his heart and said, "A woman of such splendid beauty hath come to me from the ends of the earth! What do I know? Will God give me seed in her?" Now, as it is said in the Book of KINGS, SOLOMON the King was a lover of women.4 And he married wives of the HEBREWS, and the EGYPTIANS, and the CANAANITES, and the EDOMITES, and the ÎYÔBÂWÎYÂN, and from RÎF5 and KUĔRGUĔ, and DAMASCUS, and SÛREST(SYRIA), and women who were reported to be beautiful. And he had four hundred queens and six hundred concubines. Now this which he did was not for [the sake of] fornication, but as a result of the wise intent that God had given unto him, and his remembering what God had said unto ABRAHAM, "I will make thy seed like the stars of heaven for number, and like the sand of the sea."6 And SOLOMON said in his heart, "What do [p. 31] I know? Perhaps God will give me men children from each one of these women." Therefore when he did thus he acted wisely, saying, "My children shall inherit the cities of the enemy, and shall destroy those who worship idols."

    Now those early peoples lived under the law of the flesh, for the grace of the Holy Spirit had not been given unto them. And to those [who lived] after CHRIST, it was given to live with one woman under the law of marriage. And the Apostles laid down for them an ordinance, saying, "All those who have received His flesh and His blood are brethren. Their mother is the Church and their father is God, and they cry out with CHRIST Whom they have received, saying, 'Our Father, Who art in heaven.'" And as concerning SOLOMON no law had been laid down for him in respect of women, and no blame can be imputed to him in respect of marrying [many] wives. But for those who believe, the law and the command have been given that they shall not marry many wives, even as Paul saith, "Those who marry many wives seek their own punishment. He who marries one wife hath no sin."7 And the law restrains us from the sister [-in-law],8 in respect of the bearing of children. The Apostles speak [concerning it] in the [Book of] Councils.

    • So far, is this conversation believable? Why or why not? What does it tell us about the preoccupations of the people who composed the Kebra Nagast?

    30. Concerning how King SOLOMON swore to the Queen

    And SOLOMON answered and said unto her, "I swear unto thee that I will not take thee by force, but thou must swear unto me that thou wilt not take by force p. 34 anything that is in my house." And the Queen laughed and said unto him, "Being a wise man why do thou speak as a fool? Shall I steal anything, or shall I carry out of the house of the King that which the King hath not given to me? Do not imagine that I have come hither through love of riches. Moreover, my own kingdom is as wealthy as yours, and there is nothing which I wish for that I lack. Assuredly I have only come in quest of thy wisdom." And he said unto her, "If you would make me swear, swear thou to me, for a swearing is meet for both [of us], so that neither of us may be unjustly treated. And if thou wilt not make me swear I will not make thee swear." And she said unto him, "Swear to me that thou wilt not take me by force, and I on my part will swear not to take by force thy possessions"; and he swore to her and made her swear.

    And the King went up on his bed on the one side [of the chamber], and the servants made ready for her a bed on the other side. And SOLOMON said unto a young manservant, "Wash out the bowl and set in it a vessel of water whilst the Queen is looking on, and shut the doors and go and sleep." And SOLOMON spoke to the servant in another tongue which the Queen did not understand, and he did as the King commanded, and went and slept. And the King had not as yet fallen asleep, but he only pretended to be asleep, and he was watching the Queen intently. Now the house of SOLOMON the King was illumined as by day, for in his wisdom he had made shining pearls which were like unto the sun, and moon, and stars [and had set them] in the roof of his house.

    And the Queen slept a little. And when she woke up her mouth was dry with thirst, for the food which SOLOMON had given her in his wisdom had made her thirsty, and she was very thirsty indeed, and her mouth was dry; and she moved her lips and sucked with her mouth and found no moisture. And she determined to drink the water which she had seen, and she looked [p. 35] at King SOLOMON and watched him carefully, and she thought that he was sleeping a sound sleep. But he was not asleep, and he was waiting until she should rise up to steal the water to [quench] her thirst. And she rose up and, making no sound with her feet, she went to the water in the bowl and lifted up the jar to drink the water. And SOLOMON seized her hand before she could drink the water, and said unto her, "Why hast thou broken the oath that thou hast sworn that thou would not take by force anything that is in my house?" And she answered and said unto him in fear, "Is the oath broken by my drinking water?" And the King said unto her, "Is there anything that thou hast seen under the heavens that is better than water?" And the Queen said, "I have sinned against myself, and thou art free from [thy] oath. But let me drink water for my thirst." Then SOLOMON said unto her, "Am I perchance free from the oath which thou hast made me swear?" And the Queen said, "Be free from thy oath, only let me drink water." And he permitted her to drink water, and after she had drunk water he worked his will with her and they slept together.

    And after he slept there appeared unto King SOLOMON [in a dream] a brilliant sun, and it came down from heaven and shed exceedingly great splendor over ISRAEL. And when it had tarried there for a time it suddenly withdrew itself, and it flew away to the country of ETHIOPIA, and it shone there with exceedingly great brightness for ever, for it willed to dwell there. And [the King said], "I waited [to see] if it would come back to ISRAEL, but it did not return. And again while I waited a light rose up in the heavens, and a Sun came down from them in the country of JUDAH, and it sent forth light which was very much stronger than before." And ISRAEL, because of the [p. 36] flame of that Sun entreated that Sun evilly and would not walk in the light thereof. And that Sun paid no heed to ISRAEL, and the ISRAELITES hated Him, and it became impossible that peace should exist between them and the Sun. And they lifted up their hands against Him with staves and knives, and they wished to extinguish that Sun. And they cast darkness upon the whole world with earthquake and thick darkness, and they imagined that that Sun would never more rise upon them. And they destroyed His light and cast themselves upon Him and they set a guard over His tomb wherein they had cast Him. And He came forth where they did not look for Him, and illumined the whole world, more especially the First Sea and the Last Sea, ETHIOPIA and RÔM.9 And He paid no heed whatsoever to ISRAEL, and He ascended His former throne.

    And when SOLOMON the King saw this vision in his sleep, his soul became disturbed, and his understanding was snatched away as by [a flash of] lightning, and he woke up with an agitated mind. And moreover, SOLOMON marveled concerning the Queen, for she was vigorous in strength, and beautiful of form, and she was undefiled in her virginity; and she had reigned for six years in her own country, and, notwithstanding her gracious attraction and her splendid form, had preserved her body pure. And the Queen said unto SOLOMON, "Dismiss me, and let me depart to my own country." And he went into his house and gave unto her whatsoever she wished for of splendid things and riches, and beautiful apparel which bewitched the eyes, and everything on which great store was set in the country of ETHIOPIA, and camels and wagons, six thousand in number, which were laden with beautiful things of the most desirable kind, and wagons wherein loads were carried over the desert, and a vessel wherein one could travel over the sea, and a vessel wherein one could [p. 37] traverse the air (or winds), which SOLOMON had made by the wisdom that God had given unto him.

    • Consider the issues of gender roles and consent in this section. Why does Solomon trick Makeda into sleeping with him? How do you think the medieval audience of this story would interpret it?

    31. Concerning the sign which SOLOMON gave the Queen

    And the Queen rejoiced, and she went forth in order to depart, and the King set her on her way with great pomp and ceremony. And SOLOMON took her aside so that they might be alone together, and he took off the ring that was upon his little finger, and he gave it to the Queen, and said unto her, "Take [this] so that thou may not forget me. And if it happen that I obtain seed from thee, this ring shall be unto it a sign; and if it be a man child he shall come to me; and the peace of God be with thee! Whilst I was sleeping with thee I saw many visions in a dream, [and it seemed] as if a sun had risen upon ISRAEL, but it snatched itself away and flew off and lighted up the country of ETHIOPIA; peradventure that country shall be blessed through thee; God knows. And as for thee, observe what I have told thee, so that thou may worship God with all thy heart and perform His Will. For He punishes those who are arrogant, and He shows compassion upon those who are humble, and He removes the thrones of the mighty, and He makes to be honored those who are needy. For death and life are from Him, and riches and poverty are bestowed by His Will. For everything is His, and none can oppose His command and His judgment in the heavens, or in the earth, or in the sea, or in the abysses. And may God be with thee! Go in peace." And they separated from each other.

    32. How the Queen brought forth and came to her own Country

    And the Queen departed and came into the country of BÂLÂ ZADÎSÂRĔYÂ10 nine months and five days after she [p. 38] had separated from King SOLOMON. And the pains of childbirth laid hold upon her, and she brought forth a man child, and she gave it to the nurse with great pride and delight. And she tarried until the days of her purification were ended, and then she came to her own country with great pomp and ceremony. And her officers who had remained there brought gifts to their mistress, and made obeisance to her, and did homage to her, and all the borders of the country rejoiced at her coming. Those who were nobles among them she arrayed in splendid apparel, and to some she gave gold and silver, and hyacinth and purple robes; and she gave them all manner of things that could be desired. And she ordered her kingdom aright, and none disobeyed her command; for she loved wisdom and God strengthened her kingdom.

    And the child grew and she called his name BAYNA-LEḤKEM.11 And the child reached the age of twelve years, and he asked his friends among the boys who were being educated with him, and said unto them, "Who is my father?" And they said unto him, "SOLOMON the King." And he went to the Queen his mother, and said unto her, "O Queen, make me to know who is my father." And the Queen spoke unto him angrily, wishing to frighten him so that he might not desire to go [to his father] saying, "Why do you ask me about thy father? I am thy father and thy mother; seek not to know any more." And the boy went forth from her presence, and sat down. And a second time, and a third time he asked her, and he importuned her to tell him. One day, however, she told him, saying, "His country is far away, and the road thither is very difficult; would you not rather be here?" And the youth BAYNA-LEḤKEM was handsome, and his whole body and his members, and the bearing of his shoulders resembled those of King SOLOMON his father, and his eyes, and his legs, and his p. 39 whole gait resembled those of SOLOMON the King. And when he was two and twenty years old he was skilled in the whole art of war and of horsemanship, and in the hunting and trapping of wild beasts, and in everything that young men are wont to learn. And he said unto the Queen, "I will go and look upon the face of my father, and I will come back here by the Will of God, the Lord of ISRAEL."

    • What does the Makeda mean by "I am your father and your mother"? What do you think this statement has to do with the overall argument of the text?

    46. How they made a plan concerning ZION

    And while AZÂRYÂS12 was asleep at night the Angel of the Lord appeared unto him, and said unto him, "Take to thee four goats, each a yearling—now they shall be for your sins, thyself, and ’ÊLMEYÂS, and ’ABÎS, and MÂKRΗand four pure sheep, yearlings also, and an ox whereon no yoke hath ever been laid. And thou shalt offer up the ox as a sacrifice on the east side of her [p. 69] (i.e., ZION), and the sheep and the goats to the right, and left thereof, and at the west of it, which is close to its exit. And your Lord DAVID shall speak to SOLOMON the King and shall say unto him, 'One thing I ask from thee, O father, I would offer up a sacrifice to the holy city JERUSALEM, and to my Lady ZION, the holy and heavenly Tabernacle of the Law of God.' And SOLOMON shall say unto him, 'Do so.' And DAVID shall say unto him, 'Let the son of the priest offer up sacrifice on my behalf, even as he knows'; and he will give thee the command, and thou shalt offer up the sacrifice. And thou shalt bring forth the Tabernacle of the Law of God after thou hast offered up the sacrifice, and I will again show thee what thou shalt do in respect of it as to bringing it out; for this is from God. For ISRAEL hath provoked God to wrath, and for this reason He will make the Tabernacle of the Law of God to depart from him."

    And when AZÂRYÂS awoke from his dream he rejoiced greatly, and his heart and his mind were clear, and he remembered everything that the Angel of the Lord had shown him in the night, and how he had sealed him [with the sign of the Cross], and given him strength and heartened him. And he went to his brethren, and when they were gathered together he told them everything that the Angel of God had shown him: how the Tabernacle of the Law of God had been given to them, and how God had made blind His eye in respect of the kingdom of ISRAEL, and how its glory had been given to others, and they themselves were to take away the Tabernacle of the Law of God, and how the kingdom of SOLOMON was to be seized by them—with the exception of two "rods", and how it was not to be left to ÎYÔRBĔ‛ÂM (REHOBOAM) his son, and how the kingdom of ISRAEL was to be divided. And [AZÂRYÂS said], "Rejoice with me. I rejoice because it hath been shown unto me thus; for the grace of their priesthood and [p. 70] kingdom shall depart with us, and it shall be by the Will of God. Thus said he (i.e., the Angel) unto me. And now come ye, and let us go and tell DAVID our Lord so that he may say to his father, 'I will offer up a sacrifice.'"

    And they went and told [DAVID, the son of SOLOMON] and he rejoiced, and he sent to YÔ‛AS (BENAIAH),13 the son of YÔDÂḤÊ, to come to him, that he might send him to his father, and he came. And DAVID sent him to his father SOLOMON, and he said unto him, "Send me away, for I will depart to my own country, together with everything that thy goodness hath given me; and may thy prayers accompany me always wherever I go. But now there is one petition which I would make unto thee, if peradventure I have found grace with thee, and turn not away thy face from me. For I thy servant am going to depart, and I wish to offer up a sacrifice of propitiation (or, salvation) for my sins in this thy holy city of JERUSALEM and of ZION, the Tabernacle of the Law of God. And peace [be] with thy majesty."

    47. Concerning the offering of AZÂRYÂS (AZARIAH) and the King

    And YÔ‛ÂS (BENAIAH), the son of YÔDÂḤÊ, went and told King SOLOMON, and the King rejoiced over it and commanded them to make ready the altar of offering so that his son might sacrifice. And he brought and gave unto him that which he had vowed to God, one hundred bulls, one hundred oxen, ten thousand sheep, ten thousand goats, and ten of every kind of animal that may be eaten, and ten of every kind of clean bird, so that he might offer libations and sacrifices to the God of ISRAEL; and twenty silver sâḥal of fine white flour, each weighing twelve shekels, and forty baskets of bread. All these things did SOLOMON the King give unto his son DAVID. And again DAVID sent a message saying, "Let AZÂRYÂS the priest offer up sacrifice on my behalf"; and SOLOMON [p. 71] said unto him, "Do that which thou wishest." And AZÂRYÂS rejoiced because of this thing, and he went and brought from his father's flock an ox whereon never yoke had been laid, and four yearlings of the goats and four clean yearlings of the sheep. And the king went to offer up sacrifice, and the priests made themselves ready, and the poor folk were gathered together, and the birds of the heavens rejoiced, and they were all united in their great gladness that day. And AZÂRYÂS mingled [his offerings] with the offerings of the king, and he made an offering with his vessels, even as the Angel of God had commanded him to do by night. And then, after they had offered up their sacrifices, they went back to their houses and slept.

    48. How they carried away ZION

    And behold, the Angel of the Lord appeared again to AZÂRYÂS and he stood up above him like a pillar of fire, and he filled the house with his light. And he raised up AZÂRYÂS and said unto him, "Stand up, be strong, and rouse up thy brother ÊLMĔYÂS, and ’ABĔSÂ, and MÂKARÎ, and take the pieces of wood and I will open for thee the doors of the sanctuary. And take thou the Tabernacle of the Law of God, and thou shalt carry it without trouble and discomfort. And I, inasmuch as I have been commanded by God to be with it for ever, will be thy guide when thou shalt carry it away."

    And AZÂRYÂS rose up straightway, and woke up the three men his brethren, and they took the pieces of wood, and went into the house of God—now they found all the doors open, both those that were outside and those that were inside—to the actual place where AZÂRYÂS found ZION, the Tabernacle of the Law of God; and it was taken away by them forthwith, in the twinkling of an eye, the Angel of the Lord being present and directing. And had it not been that [p. 72] God willed it ZION could not have been taken away forthwith. And the four of them carried ZION away, and they brought it into the house of AZÂRYÂS, and they went back into the house of God, and they set the pieces of wood on the place where ZION had been, and they covered them over with the covering of ZION, and they shut the doors, and went back to their houses. And they took lamps and set them in the place where [ZION] was hidden, and they sacrificed the sheep thereto, and burned offerings of incense thereto, and they spread purple cloths over it and set it in a secret place for seven days and seven nights.

    • The "doors of the sanctuary," that is, the Holy of Holies where the Ark was housed in the Temple, can only be open by the chief priest. What specifically are the authors implying in this part of the story?

    49. How his Father blessed his Son

    And then the King of ETHIOPIA rose up to depart to his country, and he came to his father that he might pray on his behalf, and he said unto him, "Bless me, father"; and he made obeisance unto him. And the King raised him up, and blessed him, and embraced his head, and said, "Blessed be the Lord my God Who blessed my father DAVID, and Who blessed our father ABRAHAM. May He be with thee always, and bless thy seed even as He blessed JACOB, and made his seed to be as many as the stars of heaven and the sand of the sea. And as ABRAHAM blessed ISAAC my father even so shall thy blessing be—the dew of heaven and the spaciousness of the earth—and may all animals and all the birds of the heavens, and all the beasts of the field, and the fish of the sea, be in subjection unto thee. Be thou full, and not lacking in fullness; be thou perfect, and not lacking in perfection; be gracious, and not obstinate; be in good health, and not suffering; be generous, and not vindictive; be pure, and not defiled; be righteous, and not a sinner; be merciful, and not oppressive; be sincere, and not perverse; be long-suffering, and not prone to wrath. And the enemy shall be afraid of thee, and your adversaries shall cast [p. 73] themselves under the sole of thy foot. And my Lady ZION, the holy and heavenly, the Tabernacle of the Law of God, shall be a guide unto thee at all times, a guide in respect of what thou should think in your heart and should do with thy fingers, whether it be far or near to thee, whether it be low or high to thee, whether it be strong or weak to thee, whether it be outside or inside thee, whether it be to thee in the house or in the field, whether it be visible or invisible to thee, whether it be away from or near to thee, whether it be hidden from or revealed to thee, whether it be secret or published abroad to thee—unto thee our Lady ZION, the holy and heavenly, the pure Tabernacle of the Law of God, shall be a guide." And DAVID was blessed, and he made obeisance, and departed.

    53. How the Wagon was given to Ethiopia

    And they halted by GÂZÂ, the city of the mother of the king, which SOLOMON the king had given to the Queen of ETHIOPIA when she came to him. And from there they came in one day to the border of GĔBĔṢ. (EGYPT), the name of which is "MESRÎN". And when the sons of the warriors of ISRAEL saw that they had come in one day a distance of thirteen days' march, and that they were not tired, or hungry, or thirsty, neither man nor beast, and that they all [felt] that they had eaten and drunk their fill, these sons of the warriors of ISRAEL knew and believed that this thing was from God. And they said unto their king, "Let us let down the wagons, for we have come to the water of ETHIOPIA. This is the TAKKAZÎ which flows down from ETHIOPIA, and waters the Valley of EGYPT"; and they let down their wagons there, and set up their tents.

    And the sons of the warriors of ISRAEL went and drove away all the people, and they said unto [DAVID] their king, "Shall we tell thee a matter? Can you hold it [secret]?" And the King said unto them, "Yes, I can [hold it secret]. And if ye will tell it to me I will never let it go forth or repeat it to the day of my death." And they said unto him, "The sun descended from heaven, and was given on SINAI to ISRAEL, and it became the salvation of the race of ADAM, from MOSES to the seed of JESSE, and behold, it is with thee by the Will of God. It is not through us that this hath been done, but by the Will of God; it is not through us that this [p. 79] hath been done, but by the Will of Him that fashioned it and made it hath this happened. We wished, and God hath fulfilled [our wish]; we agreed concerning it, and God made it good; we held converse [concerning it], and God performed; we meditated [upon it], and God devised the plan; we spoke, and God was well pleased; we directed our gaze, and God directed it rightly; we meditated, and God hath justified. And now God hath chosen thee, and is well pleased with thy city, to be the servant of the holy and heavenly ZION, the Tabernacle of the Law of God; and it shall be to thee a guide for ever, to thee and thy seed after thee if thou wilt keep His command and perform the Will of the Lord thy God. For you will not be able to take it back, even if you wish, and thy father cannot seize it, even if he wishes, for it goes of its own free will however it wishes, and it cannot be removed from its seat if it doth not desire it. And behold, it is our Lady, our Mother and our salvation, our fortress and our place of refuge, our glory and the haven of our safety, to those who lean upon it."

    And AZÂRYÂS made a sign to ÊLMEYÂS, and he said unto him, "Go, beautify, and dress our Lady, so that our King may see her." And when AZÂRYÂS had said this, King DAVID was perturbed and he laid both hands upon his breast, and he drew breath three times and said, "Have You in truth, O Lord, remembered us in Your mercy, the castaways, the people whom You have rejected, so that I may see Your pure habitation, which is in heaven, the holy and heavenly ZION? With what shall we requite the Lord in return for all the good things which He hath done for us? there being with Him no glory and praise! He hath crowned us with His grace, so that we may know upon earth His praise and may all serve Him according to His greatness. For He is the Good One to His chosen ones, and unto Him belongs praise for ever."

    [p. 80]

    And King [DAVID] rose up and skipped about like a young sheep and like a kid of the goats that has sucked milk in abundance from his mother, even as his grandfather DAVID rejoiced before the Tabernacle of the Law of God. He smote the ground with his feet, and rejoiced in his heart, and uttered cries of joy with his mouth. And what shall I say of the great joy and gladness that were in the camp of the King of ETHIOPIA? One man told his neighbor, and they smote the ground with their feet like young bulls, and they clapped their hands together, and marveled, and stretched out their hands to heaven, and they cast themselves down with their faces to the ground, and they gave thanks unto God in their hearts.

    54. How DAVID [the King of ETHIOPIA] Prophesied and Saluted ZION

    And King [DAVID] came and stood up before ZION, and he saluted it, and made obeisance to it, and said, "O Lord God of ISRAEL, to You be praise, because You do Your will and not the will of men. You make the wise man to forget his wisdom, and You destroy the counsel of the counselor, and You raise the poor man from the depth, and You set the sole of his foot upon a strong rock. For a full cup of glory is in Thy hand for those who love Thee, and a full cup of shame for those who hate Thee. As for us, our salvation shall go forth out of ZION, and He shall remove sin from His people, and goodness and mercy shall be poured out in all the world. For we are the work of His hands, and who shall rebuke us if He loves us as ISRAEL His people? And who shall reprove Him if He raises us up to heaven His throne? For death and life are from Him, and glory and dishonor are in His hand, He hath the power to punish and to multiply His compassion, and He can be wroth and multiply His mercy, for it is He who tries the heart and the reins. [p. 81] He gives and He takes away, He plants and He uproots. He builds up and He throws down. He beautifies and He deforms; for everything belongs to Him, and everything is from Him, and everything exists in Him. And as for thee, O Tabernacle of the Law of God, salvation be whither you go, and from the place whence you go forth; salvation be in the house and in the field, salvation be here and be there, salvation be in the palace and in the lowly place, salvation be on the sea and on the dry land, salvation be in the mountains and in the hills, salvation be in the heavens and on the earth, salvation be in the firm grounds and in the abysses, salvation be in death and in life, salvation be in thy coming and in thy going forth, salvation be to our children and to the tribe of thy people, salvation be in thy countries and in thy cities, salvation be to the kings and to the nobles, salvation be to the plants and to the fruits, salvation be to men and to beasts, salvation be to the birds and to the creeping things of the earth; be salvation, be an intercessor, and a merciful one, and have regard for thy people. Be unto us a wall, and we will be unto thee a fence; be thou a king unto us and we will be thy people; be thou a guide unto us and we will follow after thee. And be not impatient, and mark not closely, and be not angry at the multitude of our sins, for we are a people who have not the Law, and who have not learned Your praise. And from this time forward guide us, and teach us, and make us to have understanding, and make us to have wisdom that we may learn Your praise. And Your name shall be praised by us at all times, and all the day, and every day, and every night, and every hour, and all the length of time. Give us power that we may serve You. Rise up, ZION, and put on thy strength, and conquer your enemies, and give us strength, our queen, and put thou to shame those who hate thee, and make to rejoice those who love thee."

    [p. 82]

    And then he made a circuit and said, "Behold ZION, behold salvation, behold the one who rejoices, behold the splendor like the sun, behold the one adorned with praise, behold the one who is decorated like a bride, not with the apparel of fleeting glory, but the one who is decorated with the glory and praise which are from God, whom it is meet that [men] shall look upon with desire and shall not forsake; whom [men] shall desire above all things and shall not reject; whom [men] shall love willingly and shall not hate; whom [men] shall approach willingly and shall not keep afar off. We will draw nigh unto thee, and do not thou withdraw far from us; we will support ourselves upon thee, and do not thou let us slip away; we will supplicate thee, and do not thou be deaf to us; we will cry out to thee; hear thou our cry in all that we ask of thee, and desire not to withdraw thyself from us, until thy Lord cometh and reigns over thee; for thou art the habitation of the God of heaven."

    Thus spoke DAVID the King, the son of SOLOMON, King of ISRAEL. For the spirit of prophecy descended upon him because of his joy, and he knew not what he said and he was like PETER and JOHN on the top of Mount TÂBÔR.14 And they all marveled and said, "This, the son of a prophet, is he to be numbered among the prophets?"

    • For a faithful audience in medieval Ethiopia, what does David's prophecy confirm for them?

    55. How the People of ETHIOPIA Rejoiced

    And [the people of ETHIOPIA] took flutes, and blew horns, and [beat] drums, and [played on] pipes, and the Brook of EGYPT was moved and astonished at the noise of their songs and their rejoicings; and with them were mingled outcries and shouts of gladness. And their idols, which they had made with their hands and which were in the forms of men, and dogs, and cats, fell down, and the high towers,15 and also the [p. 83] figures of birds, [made] of gold and silver, fell down also and were broken in pieces. For ZION shone like the sun, and at the majesty thereof they were dismayed. And they arrayed ZION in her apparel, and they bore the gifts to her before her, and they set her upon a wagon, and they spread out purple beneath her, and they draped her with draperies of purple, and they sang songs before her and behind her.

    Then the wagons rose up (i.e., resumed their journey) as before, and they set out early in the morning, and the people sang songs to ZION, and they were all raised up the space of a cubit, and as the people of the country of EGYPT bade them farewell, they passed before them like shadows, and the people of the country of EGYPT worshipped them, for they saw ZION moving in the heavens like the sun, and they all ran with the wagon of ZION, some in front of her and some behind her. And they came to the sea AL-AḤMAR, which is the Sea of ERITREA (i.e., the RED SEA), which was divided by the hand of MOSES, and the children of ISRAEL marched in the depths thereof, going up and down. Now at that time the Tabernacle of the Law of God had not been given unto MOSES, and therefore the water only gathered itself together, a wall on the right hand and a wall on the left, and allowed ISRAEL to pass with their beasts and their children and their wives. And after they had crossed the sea God spoke to MOSES and gave him the Tabernacle of the Covenant with the Book of the Law. And when the holy ZION crossed over with those who were in attendance on her, and who sang songs to the accompaniment of harps and flutes, the sea received them and its waves leaped up as do the high mountains when they are split asunder, and it roared even as a lion roars when he is enraged, and it thundered as doth the winter thunder of DAMASCUS and ETHIOPIA when the lightning smites the clouds, and the sound thereof mingled with the sounds of the musical instruments. p. 84 And the sea worshipped ZION. And whilst its billows were tossing about like the mountains their wagons were raised above the waves for a space of three cubits, and among the sound of the songs the [noise of the] breaking of the waves of the sea was wonderful. The breaking of the waves of the sea was exceedingly majestic and stupefying, and it was mighty and strong. And the creatures that were in the sea, those that could be recognized, and those that were invisible, came forth and worshipped ZION; and the birds that were on it flapped their pinions and overshadowed it. And there was joy to the Sea of ERITREA, and to the people of ETHIOPIA, who went forth to the sea and rejoiced exceedingly, and with a greater joy than did ISRAEL when they came out of EGYPT. And they arrived opposite Mount SINAI, and dwelt in ḲÂDÊS, and they remained there whilst the angels sang praises; and the creatures of the spirit mingled their praises with [those] of the children of earth, with songs, and psalms, and tambourines joyfully.

    And then they loaded their wagons, and they rose up, and departed, and journeyed on to the land of MEDYÂM, and they came to the country of BÊLÔNTÔS, which is a country of ETHIOPIA. And they rejoiced there, and they encamped there, because they had reached the border of their country with glory and joy, without tribulation on the road, in a wagon of the spirit, by the might of heaven and of MICHAEL the Archangel. And all the provinces of ETHIOPIA rejoiced, for ZION sent forth a light like that of the sun into the darkness wheresoever she came.

    58. How SOLOMON Rose up to Slay them

    Thus spoke King SOLOMON. And the King rose up in wrath and set out to pursue [the men of ETHIOPIA]. And when the King, and his nobles, and his mighty men of war rose up (i.e., had set out), the elders of ISRAEL, and the widows, and the virgins gathered together in the house of God, and they wept for ZION, for the Tabernacle of the Law of God had been taken away [p. 87] from them. Now after ZADOK had remained [senseless] for a season, his heart returned to him. And then the King commanded that the soldiers should go forth on the right hand and on the left, on the chance that some of the [fugitives] might turn aside through fear of the theft. And the King himself rose up and followed the track of the road of the men of ETHIOPIA, and he sent out mounted horsemen, so that they might [ride on before him and] find out where they were, and might return and bring him news [of them]. And the horsemen journeyed on and came to the country of MESR (EGYPT), where the men of ETHIOPIA had encamped with their king, and where they had made peace with ZION, and they rejoiced. And the soldiers of King SOLOMON questioned the people, and the men of the country of EGYPT said unto them, "Some days ago certain men of ETHIOPIA passed here; and they traveled swiftly in wagons, like the angels, and they were swifter than the eagles of the heavens." And the King's soldiers said unto them, "How many days ago is it since they left you?" And the men of EGYPT said unto them, "This day is the ninth day since they left us." And some of the King's horsemen who returned said unto King SOLOMON, "Nine days have passed since they left EGYPT. Some of our companions have gone to seek for them at the Sea of ERITREA, but we came back that we might report this to thee. Bethink thyself, O King, I beseech thee. On the second day they went forth from thee, and they arrived on the third day at the river TAKKAZÎ [of] the land of MESR (EGYPT). And we being sent forth by thee from JERUSALEM, arrived on the day of the Sabbath. And we came back to thee to-day [which is] the fourth day of the week. Consider in thy wisdom the distance which those men traversed." And the King was wroth and said, "Seize the five of them, until we find out the truth of their words."

    [p. 88]

    And the King and his soldiers marched quickly, and they came to GÂZÂ. And the King asked the people, saying, "When did my son leave you?" And they answered and said unto him, "He left us three days ago. And having loaded their wagons none of them traveled on the ground, but in wagons that were suspended in the air; and they were swifter than the eagles that are in the sky, and all their baggage traveled with them in wagons above the winds. As for us, we thought that you had, in thy wisdom, made them to travel in wagons above the winds." And the King said unto them, "Was ZION, the Tabernacle of the Law of God, with them?" And they said unto him, "We did not see anything."

    60. How SOLOMON Lamented for ZION

    And SOLOMON entered into his tent, and wept bitterly, and said,

    "O God, will You take away the Tabernacle of Thy Covenant from us in my days? If only You had taken away my life before this which You have taken away in my days! For You cannot make Your word to be a lie, and You cannot break Your Covenant which You made with our fathers, with NOAH Your servant who kept righteousness, [p. 90] and with ABRAHAM who did not transgress Your commandment, and with ISAAC Your servant who kept his body pure from the pollution of sin, and with ISRAEL, Your holy one, whom You made many by the Holy Spirit, and called ISRAEL, and with MOSES and AARON Your priests, in whose days You made the Tabernacle of the Law to come down from heaven upon earth, to the children of JACOB Your inheritance, with Your Law and Your Commandment, in the form of the constitution of the angels. For You had already founded ZION as the habitation of Your glory upon the mountain of Your sanctuary. And again You gave it to MOSES that he might serve it nobly upon the earth, and might make it to dwell in the 'Tent of Witness', so that You Yourself might come there from the mountain of Your sanctuary, and might make the people to hear Your voice, so that they might walk in Thy Commandments."

    Now I know that You esteem Your inheritance more lightly than your people ISRAEL. And until this present it was with us, and we did not minister unto it rightly, and for this reason You are angry with us, and You have turned Your face from us. O Lord, look not upon our evil deeds, but consider the goodness of our forefathers. My father DAVID, Thy servant, wished to build a house to Your Name, for he had heard the word of Your prophet, who said, 'Which is the house for My habitation, and which is the place for Me to rest in? Is it not My hands that have made all this, says the Lord,16 Who rules everything?' And when he had meditated upon this You said to him, 'It is impossible for thee to build this, but he who has gone forth from thy loins shall build a house for me.'17 And now, O Lord, Your word hath not been made a lie, and I have built Your house, You being my helper. And when I had finished building Your house, [p. 91] I brought the Tabernacle of the Covenant into it, and I offered up sacrifices to Your thrice-holy Name, and You looked on these [benevolently]. And the house was full of Your glory, the whole world being filled with Your Godhead, and we Your people rejoiced at the sight of Your glory therein. And this day it is three years since that time, and Thou hast snatched away Thy light from us that You may illumine those that are in darkness. Thou hast removed our honor that You might honor those who are unworthy; You hast blotted out our majesty that You may make majestic him that is not majestic; Thou hast taken away our life that You may build up him whose life is far from Thee.18

    [...]

    O Queen, we have been negligent in respect of the Commandment of God. We have loved the words of the liars more than the word of the priests. We have wished to gaze upon the face of our women rather than upon the face of God in repentance. We have loved to look upon our children rather than to hear the word of God. We have consoled ourselves more with the sardius stone19 than with the administering right judgment to the orphans. We have loved to look upon our honour rather than to hear the voice of God. We have loved the word of foolishness more than the words of the wise. We have loved the words of fools more than hearing the words of the Prophets. Woe be unto us! Of our own free will we have polluted our life. Woe be unto us! Woe be unto us! The repentance and mercy which God loveth we have not done. Woe be unto us! He gave us glory, and we have thrown it away. He made us very wise, and of our own free will we have made ourselves more foolish than the beasts. He gave us riches, and we have beggared ourselves even [to asking for] alms. We looked upon our horses, and forgot our coming back. We have loved fleeting things, and we have not recognized those that abide. We have made our days to deride our life, we have preferred the luxuriousness of food, which becomes dung, to the food of life which endures for ever. [We have put on] the garments of apparel which benefit not the soul, and have put off the apparel of glory which is for ever. Our governors and the people do what God hates, and they love not what God loves, love of their neighbors, and lowliness, and graciousness, and mercy for the poor, and patient endurance, and love of the house of God, and the adoration [p. 94] of the Son. But what God hates is, augury by birds,20 and idolatry, and enquiry of witches, and divination, and magic, and flies, and ’aḳarînô,21 the animal that hath been torn, and the dead body of a beast,22 and theft, and oppression, and fornication, and envy, fraud, drink and drunkenness, false swearing [against] neighbors, and the bearing of false testimony [against] neighbors.

    All these things which God hates they do. And it is because of them that God has taken the Tabernacle of His Covenant away from us and hath given it to the people who do His Will and His Law, and His Ordinance. He hath turned His face from us and hath made His face to shine upon them. He hath despised us and hath loved them. He hath shown mercy unto them and hath blotted us out, because He hath taken away the Tabernacle of His Covenant from us. For He hath sworn an oath by Himself that He will not abrogate winter and summer, seed time and harvest, fruit and work, sun and moon, as long as ZION is on the earth, and that He will not in wrath destroy heaven and earth, either by flood or fire, and that He will not blot out man, and beast, and reptiles and creeping things, but will show mercy to the work of His hands, and will multiply His mercy on what He hath formed. And when God takes away the Tabernacle of His Covenant He will destroy the heavens, and the earth, and all His work; and this day hath God despised us and taken from us the Tabernacle of His Law."

    And while SOLOMON was saying these things he ceased not to weep, and the tears ran down his cheeks continually.

    And the Spirit of Prophecy answered and said unto him, "Why are you sorrowful? For this has happened by the Will of God. And [ZION] hath not been given to an alien, but to thy firstborn son who shall [p. 95] sit upon the throne of DAVID thy Father. For God swore unto DAVID in truth, and He does not repent, that of the fruit of his body He would make to sit upon his throne for ever, in the Tabernacle of His Covenant, the Holy ZION. And I will set him above the kings of the earth, and his throne shall be like the days of heaven and like the ordinance of the moon for ever.23 And He who sits on the throne of the Godhead in the heavens shall rule the living and the dead in the flesh for ever. And angels and men shall serve Him, and every tongue shall praise Him, and every knee shall bow to Him in the abysses and in the rivers. Comfort yourself with this [word], and get thee back to thy house, and let not thy heart be wholly sad."

    And the King was comforted by this [word], and he said, "The Will of God be done, and not the will of man." And again the Angel of God appeared unto him openly, and said unto him, "As for thyself, thou shalt build the house of God, and it shall be glory and as a support for thee; and if thou wilt keep His Commandment and wilt not serve other gods thou shalt be beloved by God, even as DAVID thy father."

    • Analyze the language, images, and references Solomon uses to describe his sorrow at having lost the Ark of the Covenant. How does the "Spirit of Prophecy" answer him, and how does this connect to the overall argument of the Kebra Nagast?

    Footnotes

    [1] Joshua J. Mark, "Queen of Sheba," World History Encyclopedia, last modified March 26, 2018 (https://www.worldhistory.org/Queen_of_Sheba/). Accessed June 22, 2021.

    [2] Such lavish gift-giving would have been typical in East Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, and the Levant (eastern Mediterranean) at the time of the Kebra Nagast's composition.

    [3] Makeda, if she existed, would have worshipped several different gods of Arabian indigenous faith systems, including the moon god Almaqah, whose temples have been studied by archaeologists on both sides of the Red Sea (in Arabia and Africa).

    [4] I Kings 11:1.

    [5] This refers to Upper Egypt (or southern Egypt, where elevation is higher).

    [6] Genesis 22:17.

    [7] Paraphrasing I Corinthians 7.

    [8] Referencing Leviticus 18:18.

    [9] Rome.

    [10] This refers to Ethiopia.

    [11] Menelek (there are multiple spellings in English when transliterated from Ge'ez).

    [12] Azariah was probably the son of the high priest Zadok under Solomon (1 Kings 4:2). In the Kebra Nagast he assists Menelek in his quest to take the Ark of the Covenent to Ethiopia.

    [13] Benaiah was one of David's commanders (II Samuel 23:20; I Chronicles 27:5).

    [14] Matthew 17:4; Luke 9:33. Mount Tabor was the site in Christian scripture where Jesus transfigured into a divine being in front of his disciples.

    [16] Isaiah 66:1.

    [17] I Chronicles 22:8-9

    [18] In this passage Solomon is reminding God that Israel is his chosen people and that Solomon himself had built a glorious temple to house the Ark of the Covenant, where the spirit of God lives.

    [19] The sardius is a red precious stone mentioned in Exodus 28:17 and elsewhere.

    [20] "Augury by birds" refers to any attempt to determine the will or intent of the gods by studying the flight patterns of birds, and sometimes sacrificing them.

    [21] This probably refers to Ekron (II Kings 1:2), a city-state that housed a large sanctuary to the god Baal.

    [22] Many ancient cultures studied the internal organs of sacrificed animals, especially cattle.

    [23] Psalms 72:11; Psalms 89:3-4, 27, and 29; Psalms 132:11-13.

    Tags recommended by the template: article:topic-category


    The Kebra Nagast (Ethiopia, c. 1300s) is shared under a not declared license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by LibreTexts.

    • Was this article helpful?