Academic journal article Jewish Bible Quarterly

The Solomon and Sheba Story in Ethiopia

Academic journal article Jewish Bible Quarterly

The Solomon and Sheba Story in Ethiopia

Article excerpt

The Solomon and Sheba story has great mythopoeic power, and over the centuries has stirred the imagination of millions. The courtly tale of the meeting in ancient Jerusalem of the two famous monarchs (I Kg. 1-10) has cast a long shadow, and has reverberated through the ages and across the world. In Ethiopia, it is not merely a literary masterpiece, it is a master text and a foundation document. Indeed, it is a holy document, much like the Hebrew Bible to the Jews and the Koran to the Moslems. Indeed, it forms the most illustrious expression of traditional Abyssinia's religious cultures.

The story derived from the Bible was early known in Ethiopia, and the Queen of Sheba was venerated as the national ancestress of the Ethiopian people. The story had a long period of gestation and growth there, and the concise, even terse, biblical account inspired centuries of popular imaginative additions. Ultimately, it came to include a great and tangled skein and conflation of cycles of tales and legends before it was finally committed to writing in the 14th century C.E. As the centerpiece and piece de resistance of Ethiopia's national saga and epic the Kebra Nagast [The Glory of Kings] the tale takes up at least half of this epic. Compiled, redacted, co-coordinated and edited by the nebura ed [prior and governor] Yeshaq of Axun, the epic legitimized for eternity the Solomonic dynasty of Ethiopian Kings. (The late Haile Sellassie I, called the Lion of Judah, was the 225th ruler of this dynasty.)

The Kebra Nagast was first brought to Europe from Ethiopia by the intrepid mid-18th century Scottish explorer James Bruce of Kinnaird in two copies, which were catalogued by August Dillmann in 1848. …

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