The Kebra Nagast, the Ethiopian “Book of Kings”

This article is also available in: Italiano

The Kebra Nagast represents a key book for Ethiopian culture, so tied to its Solomonic origins, which are narrated here in depth

Kebra Nagast

The “Kebra Nagast”, in the Ge’ez language “The Glory of the Kings”, proclaims the descent of the Ethiopian monarchy from the lineage of David, to which Jesus Christ himself belongs. The oldest part of the book originates between the 4th and 6th centuries AD. C. The “Kebra Nagast” is a dense and fascinating sacred text that lends itself to multiple readings. It is the compelling and poetic tale of the love between Solomon and Makeda, the queen of Sheba, a story only subtly hinted at in the Bible. It is a classic of the sacred literature of Christian Africa and is, finally, the fundamental text of Rastafarianism.

Kebra Nagast

The “Kebra Nagast” is in fact sacred for all believers of the Rastafarian religion, convinced that Ethiopia is the new Israel and that the Negus Neghesti Haile Selassie I is literally a returned Christ, the one who concretely fulfills the prophecy on the earthly kingdom that must establish before the end of the world. At the center of the book is the transfer to Ethiopia from the Jerusalem Temple of Zion, the Ark of the Covenant, a concrete sign of the divine presence in the world. From Judea to Ethiopia to Jamaica and its yearnings for liberation, the Ark, a symbol of justice and hope to trust and to fight for, today represents the profound legacy of this book to future generations.

Between faith and tradition

A clarification must be made immediately: from what we understand, the Kebra Nagast itself is not “sacred”, but the stories that are told in it are. Having said this, it is probably unclear but, to be clear, during their masses this book is not read, but the Bible; as mentioned, however, it is the stories of the Kebra Nagast that are sacred. For those belonging to this religion, in fact, the queen of Sheba was not only a beautiful mistress of Solomon, but she represents a sort of more independent and dedicated “proto Maria” to knowledge. This aspect will be noticed with extreme clarity, as Solomon will use a stratagem to force the queen to grant him her virginity.

Kebra Nagast
The meeting between Solomon and the Queen of Sheba

The sovereign, moreover, is an essential character for tradition, as it is due to her the first bond with God and the Ethiopians who, until recently, venerated the Sun and nature. Its union with the biblical prophet will represent the birth of a new blessed people, able to stand as a beacon for humanity after the disastrous Jewish fall.

The sad fate of Solomon and the glory of Zion

Even more than Menelik, it will be Solomon who will be the most interesting character ever, eternally torn between present and future, between glory and infamy. At the beginning of the text, in fact, Solomon is in his moment of greatest splendor and wealth, yet, he will begin to perceive his own mistakes and those of his people, so much so that he will receive precise warnings from God. The Divine will reproach him several times, warning him that, in gratitude to his father David, his kingdom will be resplendent, but that of his son, Rehoboam, will be catastrophic.

Kebra Nagast

To confirm this, God will also warn Solomon that Zion, the Ark of the Covenant, will be taken away by His will and there will be nothing He can do. In Jewish culture, the Ark of the Covenant was the place where the 10 commandments entrusted to Moses were placed, representing the physical presence of God on earth. This estrangement symbolizes the end of the favorite and exclusive relationship reserved for the Jewish people, a catastrophe for those who have seen the basis of their fortune in faith. The great prophet will thus find himself in the very painful condition of being the last moment of joy before the great pain, yet, precisely because of the divine will, he can do nothing to change it.

In addition to Sheba and Solomon

Obviously the meeting between the two great figures mentioned above is not the only element in the book, which also tells of exquisitely biblical episodes, such as those concerning Adam, Noah, Abraham and their descendants; the thing that surprised me most, from this point of view, is the origin of the king of Babylon. Knowing the great hatred felt by the Rastafari world for that city, I was certain that it had been attributed to some evil king, an element which is entirely absent in the text.

Kebra Nagast

Instead, a strongly present element is a reference to the coming of Jesus, which however, if at the beginning of the work is extremely marginal (if present), at the end it becomes an almost cumbersome presence. The frame of the entire Kebra Nagast is a meeting between the Fathers of the church presided over by Gregorio Nisseno, therefore a reference to Christ is not surprising; the problem, to my taste, is the way in which everything is dealt with. In the rest of the text, in fact, it is the genealogy of Solomon to be in the foreground and “he who will come” is spoken of at most in a whisper; at the end it seems that all, referring to the most varied topics, were actually prophesying the coming of Jesus.

Kebra Nagast is an extremely particular and fascinating book, which will be able to enrich the most curious readers with new episodes concerning the life of noble prophets and believers. The text, however, is not very easy to understand and, although the Italian version is calibrated for the general public, I recommend reading it only to those who are already accustomed to dense and / or religious works.

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