The Kebra Nagast (var. Kebra Negast, Ge’ez, kəbrä nägäst), or the Book of the Glory of Kings, is an account written in Ge’ez of the origins of the Solomonic line. The Kebra nagast (Glory of Kings), written from to , relates the birth of Menelik—the son of Solomon and Makada, the queen of Sheba—who became. The Kebra Nagast, by E.A.W. Budge, [], full text etext at

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A Sixth Century Kebra Nagast?. This article is a study of the historical events which are evoked in the Kebra Nagast and of some sources which were used by its compiler s. It is also a refutation of some theses that trace the original composition of this book, as well as of the story of Salomon and Sheba which is a part of it, back to the VIe – VIIe century.

Hegest sixth century was an extraordinary period in the negext of the Christian east, and particularly in Aksum and South Arabia, where a religious war was fought that confronted the Christian neget of Kiber with the Jewish Arab king of Himyar. Irfan Shahid, perhaps oibre best-known writer on the events of the time, and certainly one of the most informed, offered new interpretations of the causes and events of the Himyar war between the Ethiopian kkbre and the Yemeni king, and of the characters of the protagonists.

Part of this was based on his re-attribution of the Ethiopian epic Kebra Nagast to an earlier period than the fourteenth century date ascribed to it in its colophon a suggestion already made by Praetorius and others, and more recently supported by D. Shahid’s redating involves the concomitant supposition that King Kaleb would have subscribed already to the legend that King Solomon and the queen of Sheba were the ancestors of the Ethiopian royal dynasty1.

The writer s of the Kebra Nagast bestow a certain importance on Aksum’s. A barely comprehensible prophetic chapter, the last KN in the book, attributed to the Armenian saint Gregory the Illuminator, is devoted to Kaleb and to his sons Israel and Gabra Masqal:.

And the King of Rome, and the King of Ethiopia, and the Archbishop of Alexandria — now the men of Rome were orthodox — were informed that they were to destroy them [the Jews who had instituted persecutions in Najran and Armenia, respectively territories of Ethiopia and Rome, KN ]. And they were to rise up to fight, to make war upon the enemies of God, the Jews, and to destroy them, the King of Rome ‘Enya, and the King of Ethiopia Pinhas Phinehas ; and they were to lay waste their lands, and to build churches there, and they were to cut to pieces Jews at the end of this Cycle in twelve cycles of the moon.

Then the kingdom of the Jews shall be made an end of and the Kingdom of Christ shall be constituted until the advent of the False Messiah. They were to be mingled with David and Solomon their fathers. The one whom in faith they chose by lot to be named from the Kings of Rome was to be called the “King of Ethiopia”, and the King of Rome likewise was to bear the name of “King of Ethiopia” The date provided in this section is obscure.

On the other hand, if the text, when it mentions ‘this cycle’, referred to the end of the then current thirteenth cycle, the matter may have seemed prophetic, since this cycle would end in AD, about a century after the Kebra Nagast was written.

Kaleb is an historical person, unlike the legendary figures of the other prominent characters in the Kebra Nagast such as Ebna Hakim called in later versions of the legend, Menelik and his mother Queen Makeda the queen of Shebaand the Israelite contingent, sons of Solomon’s principal advisers, who supposedly came with.

Menelik to Ethiopia and founded the priestly and administrative classes. However, while Kaleb certainly existed, the way he is presented in the Kebra Nagast seems widely removed from any sort of factual historical recording. The chapter concerned is mystical, apocalyptic, in content. Of the Kebra Nagast, Irfan Shahid observes first that ‘the fantastic elements in the work Yet there is virtually no historical material in KN 1 17 at all.

It merely mentions war against the Jews, and provides the names of the rulers of Rome and Ethiopia involved. Such a document bears no comparison with the more sober record of the most significant record of the war, the Book of the Himyarites, nor for that matter with any of the other reports about the Himyar war which Shahid has so ably and so thoroughly studied elsewhere. All that the Kebra Nagast has in common with such accounts is that in one single chapter it cites, with utmost brevity and lack of clarity, certain incidents and the royal name Kaleb.

These incidents, and an account of Kaleb’s actions, comprise the whole of the narrative in those works which are certainly of sixth century composition, the Book of the Himyarites, or the letter s of Simeon of Beth Arsham. These same incidents — a war with the Jews in Yemen — and the same name, that of King Kaleb Ella Asbeha of Aksum, were to become the most well-known in almost the entire history of Ethiopia.

It is easy to agree with Shahid’s suggestion offered in his Appendix I, that the Kebra Nagast was recast in the form of an apocalypse in late mediaeval times. But Shahid’s idea that this ‘does not necessarily argue against an original composition which took place earlier in the sixth-seventh centuries’, leaves one wondering if this ‘original composition’, with its exiguous information, was in fact only a very tiny part of the final whole.

In short, nothing to do with the story of King Solomon, the queen of Neegst, and the Ethiopian dynastic succession, but merely the result of a compiler’s vague acquaintance with certain pages in the text of John of Nikiu or some similar ancient historian, combined perhaps with some of the available apocalyptic writings of the Copts.


Several of these are available, written in response to the Muslim conquest of Egypt, and they include such features as ‘the Christian reconquest of Egypt by the emperors of Ethiopa and Rome’ in the apocalypse of Samuel of Calamun. The apocalypse of pseudo-Methodius, dating to the last decade of the seventh century, also attributes to Ethiopia an important place in the great events of the last days.

Kebra Nagast – Wikipedia

Such material could have been employed by the writers of the Kebra Nagast, in later times, to add the final drama to their great work4. Although the Kebra Nagast in KN mentions Justin, Kaleb, Najran, and the destruction of the Jews, these are elements which could have been obtained from many different sources known wherever certain ecclesiastical histories and chronicles were available.

Perhaps one such source, for the compiler s of the Kebra Nagast, was an Arabic version of the history of John of Nikiu, which runs to the year Ethiopie version of this work now survives, having passed — like many other works in Ethiopian literature, and like the Kebra Nagast itself according to its colophon — through several translations, in this case from Greek to Arabic and from Arabic to Ge’ez5.

However, the Kebra Nagast does not employ John of Nikiu’s names Andas see below and Damnus for the two protagonists in the war, using the names Kaleb and Finhas instead.

These two names are found paired kibrre only in late Ethiopie literature. Apart from the Kebra Nagast, these names, with brief accounts of the Himyar war, are shared with the Ethiopie Synaxarium and the gadlat of Pantalewon and Aregawi, as well as that of Yafqeranna Egzi’6.

The Synaxarium is a translation, with later additions, from Coptic at the time of Hegest Seyon, a little after the redaction of the Kebra Nagast in Ge’ez; it and the Kebra Nagast share several stories7. The Gadla Pantalewon is begest later Ethiopie work written by an ecclesiastic whom Conti Rossini identifies as Yeshaq, consecrated metropolitan of Aksum aroundbut it is evident that the book is rather earlier in date.

Getatchew Haile remarks on a copy produced well before the coming of Yeshaq to Ethiopia, and Conti Rossini later noted a Gadla Abba Pantalewon among the books listed in the possession of the Ethiopian convent in Jerusalem ina list which incidentally does not include any other gadlat of the Nine Saints, nor the Synaxarium, nor the Kebra Nagast.

The Gadla Aregawi and Gadla Yafqeranna Egzi ‘ similarly belong among the late Ge’ez hagiographies, written a millennium or so after the events they purport to relate. The name Finhas or Pinhas, king of the Jews, not employed elsewhere in any negezt the earlier foreign records of the Himyar war, occurs in all four of these works.

The same applies for the gadlat of Pantalewon and Aregawi. In the Kebra Nagast the matter is presented in apocalyptic form; the king of Ethiopia, later defined as Kaleb, will destroy Finhas, while the king of Rome, later defined as Justinus, will destroy ‘Enya KN Neither of these names, ‘Enya and Finhas, one would expect from a contemporary writer of the sixth century. These basic errors, this confusion from sentence to sentence, do not sound at all like the writing of a contemporary or near contemporary to the events of the war, familiar with the protagonists.

They appear to emerge from the confusion of information from ill- understood sources. Despite the arguments advanced by Shahid — which like most of his work are stimulating, ingenious and widely researched, and which certainly do need consideration in any analysis of the Kebra Nagast — it is very difficult to accept the Kebra Nagast as the sixth-seventh century work negdst he advocates.

It is true that there are puzzling features. If we accept a fourteenth century Kebra Nagast compiled from certain earlier sources, it is still difficult to penetrate the motive behind the seemingly pointless task. Despite the usual assumption that ‘the final redaction of the book undoubtedly took place under the patronage of Kire Seyon and with the purpose of fostering the ambitions of his dynasty Instead, it praises the ambitious governor of Intarta in Tigray province, Ya’ibika Egzi’, who was patron of Yeshaq, the leader of the ‘translators’ and writer of the colophon.

We may perhaps seek an explanation for this presentation in the ambitions of the Tigray governor, rather than the patronage of the Solomonid emperor. The compiler appears to ignore Islam, certainly the great enemy of the Nebest empire in Amda Seyon’s day, though there is a suggestion of awareness of Amda Seyon’s Hadya war against the Muslims. The text is brief, simply alluding to names and events without any sort of background. It supplies no detail whatsoever, and moreover is couched in obscurantist apocalyptic phraseology attributed to Gregory the Illuminator, whose Vita, or life-story, together with those of other Armenian saints, was only translated into Ge’ez, interestingly enough, in late mediaeval times, at about the same period as the redaction of the Kebra Nagast All this permits little confidence in the book as a contemporary or near contemporary work of the time of Kaleb, of the sixth or the seventh century, even with the possibility of emendations and additions; but nor does.

Nevertheless, the odds seem to me to overwhelmingly favour the latter date rather than the former for the greater part of the work. Linguistic analysis does not seem to help much in elucidating the origins of the work.

Doresse argued that the Kebra Nagast was composed in Ge’ez, and not translated from Arabic. Shahid, howe-ver, declares for a Coptic original, with an intermediate stage, Arabic, ‘vouched for by the colophon but This would seem conclusive enough if Shahid later, in the grip of a new idea concerning the flowering of literary activity in sixth century Aksum, did not also suggest that.

If so, the Coptic version from which the Arabic was made, as stated in the colophon, would have been a translation from the Ge’ez. Works can get lost but survive nefest a translated version, which in turn is translated back into the original language of composition In this case, presumably the Ge’ez version we have now, with its neologisms, kibee considerably from the putative original Ge’ez version? It is true that it has often been assumed that the Solomon-Sheba story was known in ancient times in Ethiopia.


Shahid, for example, wrote that. Unlike the legend of Alexander, the Legend is not just a good story; a political theory, that of Imperial Ethiopian sovereignty, is based on it, and it is impossible to believe kibbre the Ethiopian kings would have left a legend that negesst their claims to imperial sovereignty uncommitted to writing until the fourteenth century.

This line of reasoning might rather lead one to suggest that the legend was not committed to writing earlier because it was not known until the fourteenth century, as least in the ‘imperial’ form it took then, for there is no trace of this legend in Aksumite times, when it was neither envisaged nor needed.

The kings of Aksum derived their monarchical justification from their supposed filial relationship with the god Mahrem provided the presentation offered by Ezana’s inscriptions were universally negesy.

Ezana made a subtle adjustment of this claim in his titulary after the acceptance of Christianity, replacing the expression ‘son of the invincible Mahrem’ with the phrase. This seems to have been found satisfactory.

Over a century and a half later Kaleb, too, referred to himself as ‘son of Tazena’, both on his inscription and on his coins, with the addition of ‘servant of Christ’ on the inscription. As far as we can detect, these kings of Aksum do not seem to have suffered from the lack of any further titles to bolster their legitimacy. They seem to have abandoned without much concern whatever ‘divinity’ the epithet ‘son of Mahrem’ might have bestowed ikbre them without troubling to replace it with anything more than the confirmation of their royal descent, and their recognition of Christ as their master.

Nevertheless, Shahid envisages that after the conversion to Christianity the Ethiopian kings had to address the problem of ‘a new source or basis for their kingly power’. Instead of the simple change noted above, confirmed by the rulers’ own inscriptions, he postulates that the legend of Solomon and the queen of Sheba was employed; ‘the Negus could not be descended from Christ himself, but he could be descended from Solomon If the minds of these Aksumite kings were so deeply occupied with this legend, and set the very ‘source and basis of their kingly power’ upon it, how was it that, unlike the later Solomonids in whose titularies the mention of Solomon so often appears, no primary source or secondary record from the reasonably extensive repertoire available — particularly with reference to Kaleb and the Himyar war — ever even hints at such pretensions?

The royal titularies are quite extensive, detailing the various royal names and the lands engest which the kings ruled, as well as epithets like ‘son of the invincible Mahrem’ or ‘servant of Christ’. Why, if this Solomonic claim were indeed made, and of such keystone importance to their theory of kingship, did they not add, as did their Amhara successors, ‘son of Solomon, son of David’ or similar? We seem to be very far from the definite assertion of Johnson: There are kibee other oddities in KN which ring false for a work supposedly near-contemporary with Kaleb ‘s reign.

Would anyone at the time have credited that Emperor Justin was really a descendant of Adrami, third son of Solomon and king of ‘Rome’, and thus a lesser relative of the king of Ethiopia, descendant of Solomon’s firstborn? Justin was of Illyrian peasant origin, ‘uncouth in the extreme, utterly inarticulate and incredibly boorish’ — as nastily recorded by Procopius in his Secret History He succeeded Emperor Anastasius in ‘after his rise to military and.

Would anyone, even the most sanguine of Aksumites, or negset most vain of Aksumite kings, have credited a story in which Justin, the master of a vast empire, soon to become neges vaster, albeit temporarily, under Justinian, could be the minor partner in territorial division with Aksum?

Shahid’s suggestion that Egypt was included in Ethiopia’s share of the oikoumene in the Kebra Nagast account negwst by that time the negus had become the recognised protector of all monophysites is ingenious, but simply does not ring true. Why not add monophysite Syria and Armenia as well? There is little trace of Aksumite influence in Justin’s Egypt, except for the despatch of a bishop to Ethiopia by the patriarch, while Kaleb’s conquest of the Yemen, his most ‘imperial’ act, was itself very soon to prove an expensive failure.

Emperor Justin was a persecutor of monophysites, scarcely the appropriate hero for the setting envisaged by the Kebra Nagast. The statement at the beginning of KN that the ‘men of Neges were orthodox’ in the time of Himyar war may indicate, not as Shahid suggests that one phase of the war occurred in the time of Justin’s predecessor, Emperor Anastasiusa monophysite sympathiser, but that the compiler was ignorant of the exact situation. Justin is said to have written to Patriarch Timothy of Alexandria, a monophysite, asking him to persuade Kaleb to assist the Najranites, and other later Arab records declare that ‘Caesar’ suggested that Christian Habash Aksum was the best place for the Najranites to seek help.

Kebra Nagast

The purpose in hand, whether for religious reasons, trade benefits, or any other reasons that we cannot now detect, was to destabilise the government of Himyar. Other differences could be temporarily sunk to serve this urgent need. In solving this question of Ethiopian intervention in Himyar during Anastasius’ reign, much depends on the interpretation from the dated inscriptions of the kings of Himyar, and whether the Himyarite era employed in these texts began in BC or No really conclusive evidence yet determines this.

Shahid favours this interpretation, suggesting that ‘Enya is ‘a mutilated form’ of Anastasius