Ethiopian history is at least as old as the biblical story of Queen of Sheba. This article is based on the biblical story of Solomon and the Queen of Sheba, as told in the book of kings 10:1-3, which begins “and the queen of Sheba heard of the fame of Solomon concerning the name of the lord, she came to prove him with hard questions she came to Jerusalem with very great train, with camels that bore spices, and very much gold, and precious stones and when she came to Solomon. She commanded with him of all that was in her heart”.

The biblical text goes on claim that “King Solomon gave unto the Queen of Sheba all her desire, what ever she asked, beside that which Solomon gave of his royal bounty”. After this she reportedly turned and went to her own country.

The Kebra Nagast version of the story, which is much longer and more elaborate than that in the bible, made four additional   claims

(1) That Sheba, who is also referred to as Makeda, was an Ethiopian queen;

(2) That she gave birth by Solomon to a son, called Menelik;

(3) That the later subsequently visited his father in Jerusalem, after which he returned to Ethiopia, taking with him the ARK of the covenant; and

(4) That  Menelik founded a dynasty from which all later Ethiopian monarchs were descended; of whom the last Emperor was Haile Silassie who was also overthrown by the communist regime in 1975.

The Kebra Nagast, according to an Arabic passage included therein, was written by an Ethiopian cleric called Yeshaq who was the Nebura-ed, or lay governor, of the holly city of Aksum, in the north of the country.

The Kebra Nagast, it may be noted, was not the first work of antiquity to claim that Ark of the Covenant had been taken to Ethiopia. This belief had been expressed the century earlier by the American writer Abu Salih.

He declares the two tables of stone, inscribed with the finger of god with the commandment which he ordained for the children of Israel ‘the ark he adds, had been carried in to Ethiopian ‘by’ a large number of Israelites descended from the prophet David’ the Kebra Nagast differs from Abu Salih in that it attempts to explain how the ark was supposedly brought to Ethiopia.

The text which based on the bible, but is far more elaborate, claims that Makeda, the queen of Sheba, visited Solomon to learn of his wisdom, and subsequently accepted the religion of Israelites she was then prevailed up on by a stratagem to share his bed.

However, not many records exist that relate the Judaism influenced Queen of Sheba  and Aksum, which is mostly pagan. Aksum is the place that the ark of the covenant is believed to exist to this day and where one can see Sheba’s bathing pool and ruins of her palace.

History doesn’t tell that Sheba is the founder of the Aksumite kingdom. But the kingdom was one of the greatest African civilizations after Egypt and Meroe.

It flourished in the 1st millennium BC and ruled part of present Ethiopia, Eritrea, Sudan and reached as far as part of the southern Arabian Peninsula.

It had trading relationships with Mediterranean countries, the Byzantine Empire and India. Its achievements in the arts and architecture were so extraordinary that they had a profound cultural influence in the region for centuries.
Evidence of this outstanding civilization is provided by the astonishing monuments that make Aksum a city unique in the world and one of the UNESCO World Heritage sites.

The word Aksum derives from the Semitic root Aksum meaning green and dense garden; or from the Agaw word ak and the Semitic suffix sum, respectively meaning water of the chief like the Mai Shum reservoir to the north of the city; or from the legendary Emperor Aksumawi; or, finally, from a Geez root meaning the site of diamond.

Inscriptions provide evidence that the kingdom had developed its own language, Geez, from which Amharic and Tigrinya are frequently said to originate and that is still used by Ethiopian Church.

High standards in the making of pottery, metal and glass products were realized, and the outstanding achievements in the arts and architecture can still be admired in present – day Aksum.

Eskinder Hailu - Manager, Highway Tours

Eskinder Hailu
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