Kebra Nagast

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The Kebra Nagast; or, The Queen of Sheba and Her Only Son Menyelek
by Unknown, translated by Sir Ernest Alfred Wallis Budge

THE QUEEN of SHEBA & her only SON MENYELEK BEING THE HISTORY of the DEPARTURE OF GOD & HIS ARK of THE COVENANT FROM JERUSALEM TO ETHIOPIA, AND THE ESTABLISHMENT of THE RELIGION OF THE HEBREWS & THE SOLOMONIC LINE OF KINGS IN THAT COUNTRY. A COMPLETE TRANSLATION of the KEBRA NAGAST WITH INTRODUCTION BY SIR E. A. WALLIS BUDGE, M.A., LITT.D., D.LITT., LIT.D., F.S.A., SOMETIME SCHOLAR OF CHRIST'S COLLEGE, CAMBRIDGE, AND TYRWHITT HEBREW SCHOLAR. KEEPER OF THE DEPARTMENT OF EGYPTIAN AND ASSYRIAN ANTIQUITIES IN THE BRITISH MUSEUM.

NOW FIRST PUBLISHED WITH 31 ILLUSTRATIONS FROM ETHIOPIC MSS. IN THE BRITISH MUSEUM BY THE MEDICI SOCIETY, LIMITED, LONDON, LIVERPOOL, AND BOSTON, MASS., MCMXXII.

First edition Feb., 1922.

Reprinted April, 1922.

PREFACE[edit]

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 importance of the book, both for the kings and the people of Abyssinia, is clearly shown by the letter that King John of Ethiopia wrote to the late Lord Granville in August, 1872. The king says: "There is a book called ' Kivera Negust' which contains the Law of the whole of Ethiopia, and the names of the Shûms [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. xxvii.) The first summary of the contents of the Kebra Nagast was published by Bruce as far back as 1813, but little interest was roused by his somewhat bald précis. And, in spite of the labours of Prætorius, Bezold, and Hugues 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.

The Kebra Nagast is a great storehouse of legends and traditions, some historical and some of a purely folklore 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 in Syria, Palestine, Arabia, and Egypt during the first four centuries of the Christian era. Weighing carefully all that has been written by Dillmann, Trump, Zotenberg, Wright, and Bezold, 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 the Kebra Nagast to the sixth century a.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 in Egypt, or in Aksum, or in some other part of Ethiopia matters little, but the colophons of the extant Ethiopic MSS. of the Kebra Nagast suggest that he wrote in Coptic.

In the succeeding centuries, probably as a result of the widespread conquests of Muhammad and his Khalifahs, 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 the British Museum, Oxford, and Paris, the Arabic translation was made from the Coptic in the 409th "year of mercy," when Gabra Maskal, commonly known as Lâlîbalâ, was reigning over Ethiopia, i.e. between a.d. 13 14 and 1344. And the same authorities say that the Ethiopic translation was made subsequently by one Isaac, 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 colophons Isaac says: "I have toiled much for the glory of the kingdom of Ethiopia, and for the going forth (manifestation ?) of the heavenly Zion, and for the glory of the King of Ethiopia." These words throw some light upon Isaac's motive in translating the book, and supply the reason for his devoted labour. He firmly believed: 1. That the lawful kings of Ethiopia were descended from Solomon, King of Israel. 2. That the Tabernacle of the Law of God, i.e. the Ark of the Covenant, had been brought from Jerusalem to Aksum by Menyelek, Solomon's firstborn son, according to the Ethiopians. 3. That the God of Israel had transferred His place of abode on earth from Jerusalem to Aksûm (Aksum), the ecclesiastical and political capital of Ethiopia. The means employed by Menyelek for obtaining possession of the Ark of the Covenant did not disturb Isaac's conscience in the least, nay he gloried in them, for manifestly Menyelek was performing the Will of God in removing the tabernacle of Zion from Jerusalem. God, according to Isaac, was satisfied that the Jews were unworthy to be custodians of the Ark wherein His Presence was, and the Ark wished to depart. Ethiopia had stretched out her hands to God (Psalm lxviii, 31), and He went to her, with the Ark, to preside over Menyelek's kingdom, which was established in accordance with the commands that He had given to Moses and the prophets and priests of Israel.

It will be remembered that the line of kings founded by Solomon continued to reign even after the Ethiopians became Christians under the teaching of Frumentius and Adesius, the slaves of the merchant Meropius, and that the line continued unbroken until the tenth century of our era. Isaac knew that God then per