Kebra Nagast Chronicles (The Book of the Glory of the Kings of Ethiopia) (Writer)


(13th century) chronicle

The Kebra Nagast Chronicles contain the history of the origins of the line of Ethiopian kings who claimed descent from Solomon. The text is widely perceived to be the authority on the history of the conversion of the Ethiopians from their indigenous, animistic worship to Christianity.

The book opens with the origins of the Christian religion, beginning with the decision of the Trinity to make Adam. It asserts that the Trinity lived in Zion, the Tabernacle of the Law of God. The foremost purpose of the Chronicles is to legitimize the authority of the Solomon line of the Ethiopian kings. They were credited with the bringing of Christianity to the eastern kingdom of Ethiopia, or Axum, as it was known in those days. The text suggests that Christ descended from Solomon. The main theme deals with the legendary relationship between Queen Makeda of Sheba and King Solomon of Jerusalem.

The Chronicles describes Makeda as a beautiful, intelligent, and wealthy queen who lives in the southern regions of the African continent. She desires to meet King Solomon after hearing about his power and wisdom. Makeda leaves her kingdom and travels to Jerusalem, where she is won over by the king’s wisdom and his staunch faith. She decides that her descendants will abandon their worship of the sun and adopt Christianity as their new religion. After frequent visits with the king, Makeda eventually sends a message informing Solomon of her impending return to her country. The king invites her to a banquet and requests that the queen spent the night on his couch. Makeda agrees on the condition that the king promises not to take her by force. In return, she grants Solomon’s request not to take anything that is in his house. The richness of the meats of the banquet unfortunately made the queen extremely thirsty, and when she seizes a vessel of water to drink, the king surprises her by accusing her of breaking her promise. Unable to suppress her thirst, Makeda agrees to sleep with Solomon, and from their union springs a line of Ethiopian kings.

The Kebra Nagast Chronicles became known to the Western world through European excursions into Africa during the 16th century. Many sources indicate that P. N. Godinho (a traveler, historiographer, or writer) was probably the first European to publish accounts of King Solomon and his son, Menyelek, in the first quarter of the 16th century. In the following century, Baltazar Teilez (1595-1675), author of the Historia General de Etiopia Alta (1660), incorporated stories from the Chronicles into his text. Later authors, including Alfonson Mendez and Jeronimo Lobo (1595-1678), used information from the Kebra Nagastin their histories. The most complete and possibly least-known of the translations is the History of the Kings of Ethiopia by Enrique Cornelio Agrippa, published in 1528. Manuel Almeida (1580-1646), a Jesuit priest who went to Ethiopia as a missionary, learned about the Kebra Nagast and translated the chronicles in his History of Ethiopia.

The original text remained unknown until explorer James Bruce’s travels to Ethiopia near the close of the 18th century. Bruce (1730-94), who went to Ethiopia in search of the Nile, received several valuable Ethiopian manuscripts from King Takia Haymanot of Gondar. Among these was a copy of the Kebra Nagast. The third volume of Bruce’s Travels in Search of the Sources of the Nile (1790) contained a detailed description of the contents of the original text. The documents obtained during Bruce’s expeditions now reside in the Bodleian Library at Oxford University.

The various versions of the Kebra Nagast and generations of copying and recopying by scribes have made the task of dating and ascertaining the identity of the compilers exceedingly difficult. Scholars such as Almeida and E. A. Wallis Budge were nonetheless fully aware of the value of this text. As Budge writes in his preface to his translation, “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.”

An English Version of the Kebra Nagast Chronicles

Budge, E. A. Wallis. The Queen ofSheba and Her Only Son Menyelek (I). London: Oxford University Press, 1932.

A Work about the Kebra Nagast Chronicles

Brooks, Miguel F. A Brief History of the Kebra Nagast. Lawrenceville, N.J.: Red Sea Press, 1996.

Next post:

Previous post: