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Edited by Dr. E. LITTMANN




Preface .........................................................................VII
I. The Legend: text and translation .............................1
II. Notes on the Legend ...............................................14
The legends of the dragon and of the saints .................17
The journey of the Queen of Sheba to Solomon and her return to Abyssinia .....................................................................31
Menelik's journey to Jerusalem.....................................34
The story of the ark …………………………………..37

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Under the title Bibliotheca Abessinica I hope to publish from time to time studies
concerning the languages, the literatures and the history of Abyssinia. Each part will appear
separately, not at fixed intervals, but whenever material is available and time for this work is
at my disposal. The publication of this series has been made possible by the generosity
of a friend of Princeton University and by the enterprise of the well-known

publishing house of E. J. BRILL. To both I am therefore sincerely indebted.
Special attention will be paid to the languages and literatures of modern Abyssinia, a
promising and interesting field, in which much still remains to be done, although of course the
Ge`ez literature and language as well as the older history of the country are not to be
excluded. The future numbers will probably contain an English translation of the Chronicle
of King Theodore of Abyssinia, editions and translations of the ancient Amharic Songs of the
Kings, of Harari wedding songs, and of a collection of Tigre poetry. If possible, I shall
also publish a grammar and a dictionary of the Tigre language.
For much of the material to be published in this series I am indebted to the man to
whom this first number is dedicated, my friend R. SUNDSTROM of the Swedish Mission
in the Colonia Eritrea. It is largely due to his indefatigable zeal in studying the people, to
whom he brings a higher life and religion, that I have been encouraged to undertake this
Toward the end of the year 1902 he sent me the text which is published here: I began
to work on it at once, but found that without some further explanations from Herr
SUNDSTRÖM several passages were unintelligible to me. I therefore sent him a copy of
the manuscript and a tentative German translation, and after a time received back my copy
together with a number of emendations and comments, and a translation of the whole in
Swedish. Some differences between the first and the second copy and some of Herr
SUNDSTRÖM's comments (marked S.) are given in the foot-notes.
Concerning the provenance of the legend Herr SUNDSTROM writes me, as follows:
"The man who told me the story is of the Bet-Dyuk, a Tigre tribe in the valley of the
Anseba river, an hour north of Cheren. This man himself heard it told at Axum, when he was
there seeking cure of a disease, from which he was suffering. But the man who wrote the story
down for me at Gheleb is one of our evangelists of the Mensa tribe. The dialect of the
Bet-Dyuk, however, is the same as that of the Mensa. It is very possible that the
narrator changed the story in some respects according to his own ideas. Whether the
appearance of
Mary and the saints at the time of Solomon is due only to a mistake
of the narrator, I can not state: the same is to be said of the mention of the cross, of
the ark and the deacon at that time. It seems that the story was correctly reported,
since it is told in almost the same way in Hamazen. While traveling through this region I
was shown the place where the Queen of Sheba is said to have given birth to her son.
Not far from a village, Addi-Schmagali, a few hours northwest from Asmara, a large piece
of gneiss rock is shown where the event is said to have occurred."
In my notes on the legend which form the second part of this number I have tried to
trace the different elements of this interesting story, but have not aimed at absolute
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completeness. It should be mentioned, however, that after the main part of this number was
printed my friend Dr. CONTI ROSSINI called my attention to two versions of the
present legend which had escaped my notice: the one, translated from the Arabic, was
published by M. E. AMELINEAU on pp. 144
164, of his Contes et Romans de L'Egypte
Chretienne, Paris 1888, under the title "Comment le royaume de David passa aux mains du
roi d'Abyssinie; the other was reported by Captain R. PERINI in La Rassegna Nazionale.
The former agrees with the Tigre version in several respects, and among other details it
mentions the fact that the Queen of Sheba had a goat's hoof, of which deformity she was
healed in Jerusalem; PERINI's version is inaccessible to me. Again a short account of the
legend is given in La lista reale di Enda Yohannes, on p. 3 of Dr. CONTI ROSSINI's Ricordi
di un soggiorno in Eritrea, Asmara, 1903
which appeared after my manuscript had been
sent to the printers. Dr. CONTI ROSS1NI himself, who during his residence in the Colonia
Eritrea made very extensive and important explorations notwithstanding his many official
duties, collected interesting material concerning our legend also; he writes me that it is
known everywhere in Northern Abyssinia among many different tribes and peoples, and
therefore exists in a number of slightly different versions. His new material will
undoubtedly contribute much toward the legend of the Abyssinian Queen of Sheba.
(This story written parallel in Geez to page 12. Pp. 1-40)
King Menelik's mother was a Tigre girl named EtiyeAzeb(1). And [in her days] the
Tigre people were worshipping a dragon, and the sacrifice which they brought [to him] was
the following: each man among them gave in turn his firstborn daughter and an entalam (2)
of mead and an entalam (2) of milk to the dragon. 2. Now when the turn of Etiye-Azeb's
parents came, they tied her to a tree for the dragon. And to the place where she was tied to
the tree came seven saints (3) and seated themselves there in the shade. 3. And while they
were sitting there in the shade, she began to weep, and one of her tears fell upon them. And
when [this tear] had fallen upon them, they looked up and beheld her tied there, and they
asked her saying: "What art thou? Art thou Mary (4) or a human being?" 4. And she
answered them: "I am a human being." They said to her: "And why art thou bound
1) In English “Queen of the South”, i.e., “Queen of Sheba”.
2) This measure equals about 300 liters.
3) Var.: angels.
4) Var.: an angel.
"They have bound me in order that that dragon may devour me," said she. 5. They asked
her: "Is he on the other side of the hill or on this side?" "He is [the hill]" was her
answer. 6. And when they saw him, Abba-Cahama grasped his beard (1), and Abba
Garima said: "He has frightened me (2)," and Abba Mentelit said: "Let us seize him
(3)" and running he threw himself upon him and smote him. Thereupon all of them
attacked him and struck him with the cross and killed him. 7. And when they were killing
him, blood trickled on her, and it dropped on her heel, and her heel became an ass's
heel. 8. After that they freed her and said unto her: "Go now to thy village." And
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when she came to her village, the people of her village not knowing that the dragon was
dead, drove her away. Outside of the village she climbed a tree and stayed there
over night. 9. The next day she went [back] to them saying: "Come ye, and let me
shew you that he is dead." So they followed her, and [the dragon] appeared lying
dead before them. 10. And when they saw him lying dead, they said: "Let us make
her [our] chief! For if God had not given this to her, how could [the dragon] have
met his death through her?", and they made her their chief. And after she had become
chief, she made a girl like herself [her] minister.
1) Play on words ; in Tigre sehemu.
2) garramani
3) nemanatala
11. Thereupon she heard that [the following] was reported: In Jerusalem there is a king
named Solomon; whosoever goes to him, is cured of the disease which he has. 12. "If
thou shouldst go, as soon as thou shouldst enter his door, thy foot would become as it was
before" was said to her. 13. After she had heard this, she braided her hair so that she
resembled a man; [and her minister did the same]. Then she and her minister girded
themselves with saber[s] and went away. 14. When she was approaching, King Solomon
heard [of her]; it was said to him: "The King of Abyssinia is coming." "Bid him
enter!" said he. And when she came, as soon as she entered the door, her foot
became as it was before. 15. And she entered to the king and grasped his hand, [greeting
him]. The king ordered: "Bring bread, meat and mead!
", and they sat down to eat. And while they were eating, the [women] out of modesty ate (little of the meal) and drank little (of the beverage). So the king suspected that they were women. 16. When it grew evening, he gave order: "Make their beds for them!", and in one and the same room [with him] they made them, one opposite thee other. 17 And he took a skin with honey and hung it up in the room, and he put a bowl under it; also he made a hole in it (i.e., the skin), so that it would trickle. 18. Now it was his custom, when he was sleeping, to
keep his eyes half open, and when he was awake, to close them. 19 At night, while they
were resting, he fell asleep, and his eyes were half open. And the women said: "He
does not sleep; he sees [us]. When will he sleep?" While they spoke thus, he awoke,
and closed his eyes. "Now he has fallen asleep" they said and began to lick from the
bowl. So he knew [certainly] that they were women. 20. And he approached them both
and slept with them. Each one of them said to him:
“My deflowering has been accomplished (1)." And he gave each one of them a staff of
silver and a ring, saying unto them: "If it is a girl, let her take this staff of silver and
come to me; and if it is a boy, let him take this ring and come to me." And the
Queen of the South bought a mirror.
1) Literally: This means the purification from m}' flowers.
And being [both] with child they returned to their country. 21. And both of them gave birth
to a son. When the boys were grown, the Tigre people said: "They are fatherless
children." And they asked their mothers. And their mothers answered them: "Your
father is King Solomon; he lives in Jerusalem." 22. And the son of the Queen of the
South resembled his father perfectly, [even] in his colour he was like King Solomon. Now
she said to him: "My son, thy father resembles thee. Take this mirror and go [to him];
for lie is very shrewd: he will hide himself from thee. And if thou seest another man sitting
on the throne, do not greet him!" 23. Then they went to Jerusalem. And when they
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arrived, King Solomon said: "If they are my sons, let them wait!" So he stayed away
from them three years, without showing himself to them. 24. After these three years he
said: "Let them come in"; but he had taken off his royal garment and dressed himself in
rags; and on his throne he had seated one of his people, and lie [himself] had gone into
the stable. 25. And when they entered, the other boy grasped the hand of the man who
was sitting on the throne, [to greet him]: but Menelik stood [still and] straight and looked at
his face in the mirror and [saw that] the man's colour was not like his. Then he turned in all
[directions], but did not find any one whose colour was like his. 26. After a while
Solomon looked out from the stable: [at once Menelik] went to him and took his
hand [to greet him]. Then said Solomon: "[Thou art] my true son; the other is my son
too, but he is a fool(1)", and he seated himself on his throne.
1) S.: en dumsnut.
27. Now his father used to say: "If cattle enter into a[nother man's] field, let the roprietor
of the field confiscate the cattle!" But he said: "Let the proprietor of the field take six
measures of grain" and rebuked [his father] asking: "How can the cattle be confiscated?"
28. Thereupon the people of the town complained to the king, saying: "How could
two chiefs rule over us? This thy son send away from us to his country!" "Let me
at least take counsel, and when I have done so, I will let you know" replied the
king. "Take counsel" said they. And he told this to his son, saying: "They have
complained to me saying: send thy son away from us, and they continue [to do so].
What shall we do now?" 29. Then he answered him: "Speak thus to them: Is he not my
first born son? Send ye your first born son[s] with him!"' So the king said to the
people of the town: "Is he not my first born son? Send ye also your first born son[s]
with him!" "It is well" they said, and each one of them sent his first born son with him."
30. And King Solomon said to his son: "Take the ark of Michael [with thee]!" But he
took the ark of Mary; and the cover of Mary's ark he put on Michael's ark, and the one
of Michael['s ark he put] on [the ark of] Mary. And taking his ark he went away. 31.
After a few days a storm rose in Jerusalem, and Solomon said: "Look for Mary's ark!" And
when they had looked, without taking off the cover, only having looked [at it], they said:
"It is there." But he repeated: "Take the cover off and look!" And when they took the
cover off and looked [at it], the ark of Michael appeared before them. And he sent a
messenger to his son saying: "Send it back to me!"; but he refused. 32. Now when they
came to Qayeh-Kor, a deacon named Gabra Heywat, who was carrying the ark, died, and
was buried there. And when they had buried him there, they intended to march
onward; but the ark could not(1) be lifted.
1)Literally: refused.
Then he (i.e., Menelik) said: "Dig him up and lay his body in a coffin;" and they
dug him up and laid his body in a coffin. 33. But when they would have marched
onward, [the ark] could not yet (1) be lifted. And again he said: "Dig up", and they
dug up and found his finger [sticking out of the coffin]. So they put it within the coffin.
34. Thereupon the ark was lifted, and they went on and entered Tigray. And after
they had entered Tigray, they came to Axum. Now Satan was building a house in order
to fight against God. But when they said: "Mary has come to thee", he destroyed it
and left it. 35. [There was] one big stone [which] he had raised in order to carry it, but
when they said: "She has come to thee", he left it and went away. And with those
stones with which he had been building, they built a church for Mary. But the big
stone is standing [there] upright even today.
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1) Literally : refused again.
The story of the Queen of Sheba, as we find it in this modern form, contains a
number of different elements, the majority of which however must have been connected
with this legend for many centuries. It is undoubtedly based on the same tradition that
found its literary expression in Chapters XIX sqq. of the famous Kebra Nagast (1). But
here, as Rosch has very justly stated in Jahrb. f. protest. Theol.1880, p. 555
the story is
told from the standpoint of a rationalistic purism, whereas in this new Tigre version we
find some traits which seem to be more original than those in the Kebra Nagast: these
elements, to my mind, have been handed down partly by oral tradition and must have been
known in Abyssinia even at the time when the literary rationalistic version was
composed, and only to a very small extent they may have been influenced later by
Arabic legends concerning Queen Bilqis. At the same time the whole has been interwoven
with several local Abyssinian traditions, which probably belonged originally to different
cycles of legends. But everything has been put here in chronological order and
arranged according to a certain system, which, although being in itself as anachronistic as
possible, has produced a natural sequence of the events and thus given to the story
the appearance of being a single connected narrative.
1)Professor Bezold's edition and translation of this important work is now in the press.
The Tigre legend agrees with the story of the Kebra Nagast in the following points: 1) The
"Queen of Sheba" or the "Queen of the South" (1) was an Abyssinian princess. It is
known that in popular tradition the court of this queen was connected with a certain
locality in the province of Tigre, called Dabra Makeda (2). 2) The Queen of Sheba
while in Jerusalem slept with Solomon in the same room where their marriage was
consummated. In the Kebra Nagast Solomon puts a vessel with water in the room;
from this the queen drinks and thus breaks her oath not to touch any of the King's
property, so that in turn Solomon becomes free of his oath not to touch her. This
episode is probably reflected in the skin with honey which according to the present
version Solomon hangs up in the room; but the purpose of this incident has been
changed, since another trait, viz. the distinction between male and female, (see below)
has been introduced. However, our story is partly in close keeping with the Kebra
Nagast with regard to the description of the events of this night. This will be shown
by the following parallel columns:
1) Negesta Azeb (in Geez alphabets and in Greek) cf. Matth. 12: 42; Luke 11:31.
2) Cf. Praetorious, Fabula de regina Sabaea apud Aethiopes, p. 29, ann. 3.
Tigre Version.
Kebra Nagast.
Vs. 16. ... and in one and the
Ch 30: 5 ... and the king
same room they made them
ascended on his bed on one
(viz., their beds), one oppo-
side, and for her they pre-
site the other.
pared a bed on the other side.
Vs. 19. And the women said:
"He does not sleep; he sees
Ch. 30: 7. .., and she looked
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us. When will he sleep?"
at the king Solomon, and
While they spoke thus, he
it seemed to her that he
awoke and closed his eyes
was sound asleep..
"Now he has fallen asleep"
they said.
3) When the Queen departed, Solomon gave her his ring as a token for her son, if she
should bring forth a male child. This is of course a very common feature of folktales, and
many parallels could be cited from other literatures. 4) The son of the Queen, Menelik, went
back to Jerusalem and when leaving his father to return to Abyssinia, he took many of the
noble Hebrew youth with him. 5) The "ark" of the temple of Jerusalem was stolen by
Menelik and brought to Axum. The details about this theft, about Mary's ark and Michael's
ark, which do not occur in the Kebra Nagast, probably contain old tradition, but they seem
to be a later addition to this story.
As regards the differences between the Tigre legend and the Kebra Nagast, the mere
presence of the ass's heel shows us that the person of the Queen in the former has
preserved some very ancient traits. Furthermore we notice that several cycles of Abyssinian
legends have contributed to make up the present form: 1) the legend of the dragon or
serpent; 2) the legend, or rather partly historical tradition of the seven - originally nine - saints;
3) the legend of the buildings and obelisks at Axum. Of these, as we shall see below, nos. 1
and 2 have been connected with each other for at least 400 or 500years; but it is here that
we find both of them in connection with the story of the Queen of Sheba for the first time.
The legends of the dragon on and of the saints.
(Verses 1-10).
The legends and myths of dragons and serpents are common to almost all peoples of the
world. I need scarcely cite all the Indo-European parallels; for it is well known that from
India to Ireland almost everywhere the dragon plays a great role in folklore. Usually the
dragon receives maidens as tribute, or he himself carries off the girls of the country: then a hero
comes and kills the monster. As to the details in these legends it may suffice to quote
Grimm, Deutsche Mythologie, Berlin 1876, pp. 569 sqq., 817 sq., 833 sq.; Mannhardt, Wald-
und Feldkulte,II, Berlin 1877
pp. 53 sqq. Very instructive are the two Afghan tales published by
P. Lerch in Orient und Occident I, PP 751
4 as Ein Beitrag zu den Localsagen uber
Drachenkämpfe. Also in China and Mexico dragon stories are very common.
Among the Semitic peoples dragons and serpents have always been very prominent in
mythology and in folklore. The Babylonian dragon myth (1) is well known: it is even
reflected in many passages of the Old and New Testaments. Moreover the serpents have been
very important in the demonology of Semitic heathendom (2). In Abyssinia especially, with
Semitic as well as with Kushitic peoples, we find a great many superstitions relating to
serpents. Many of them have been reported by Paulitschke in his various works on the peoples
in southern North-East Africa. Furthermore Cecchi (3) tells us that when the pilgrims of the Galla
sect of Abba Muda arrive at the cave of their chief, where he lives with the serpent, they
first offer with prayers a sacrificial meal to the serpent and then receive Abba Muda's
1) Cf. Cheyne in Encyclopaedia Biblicia coll. 1131
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2) Cf. among others Nöldeke, Die Schlange nach arabischem Volksglauben in Zeitschr f. Völkerpsychol. u.
Sprachswiss. I pp. 412 sqq., Encyclop. Bibl. IV s.v. Serpents, Wellhausen, Reste arabischen
, pp. 152 sqq.
3) Funf Jahre in Ostafrika (German translation) p. 50.
All this belongs to the religious sphere and might more or less be called a cult of
serpents. But the best known Abyssinian serpent legend is the one of King Arwe ("ser-
pent"), whom the people place at the beginning of their history, in a similar way as
the first king of Edessa (1) is said to be the son of a serpent. Here the tradition applies,
as it were, to the political sphere. But the two spheres are by no means kept separate. In
almost all forms, in which we know this tradition, we hear not only that Arwe was king, but
also that the people worshipped him. Thus Ludolf's Ethiopic friend Gregorius told him:
traditionem antiquam inter suos esse vetustissimo Aethiopum ingentem serpantum pro
Deo coluisse: atquc hinc esse, quod quidam Arwaeum pro primo Rege habeant: illum
autem a quodam (Geez:Angabo): Angabo occisum, qui ob andax hoc facinnus Rex creatus,
successores habuerit Sabanuturn et Gedurum (2). It is therefore interesting to note also that
in the Tigre Version vs. 1 the first copy said LtgezuE (In Geez) "were ruled by",
which in the second was changed to Lemeluka(InGeez) "worshipped him", and that here the
dragon (Geez:AsHalet) is female (3). This legend of the King Serpent at the beginning
of Abyssinian history is given in Ethiopic sources as well as by European travelers.
Of the former may be mentioned here: the lists of Abyssinian kings published by
Dillmann in Z.D.M.G., VII, PP. 341 sqq., and the chronicle published with translation and
very copious notes by Basset, in his Etudes sur L'histoire d'Ethiopie'). (4) For the latter
see the interesting discussion of "A lenda da Arve" by F. M. E. Pereira in his Historia
dos Martyres de Nagran, Lissabon 1899, pp. L sqq.
1) Duval, Histoire d'E'desse, pp. 21, 31, 37 sq.
2) Ludolf, Historia Aethiopica L. II. C. 2.
3) Cf. W. H. Ward in Amer. Journ. of Sem. Lang. and Litt., Jan. 1898, PP 94 sqq.
4) Cf. especially the first annotation (Journ. Asiatique, VIIme Serie, Tome 17, 1881, P. 414)
It seems to me that that version which places Arwe at the beginning of the history
of Abyssinia is the most original one, and that in later times popular Christian tradition
tried to connect this old legend in some way with Christian personalities so that the
deliverance of the nation from the great evil should be owed to Christian heroes. In
exactly the same way the Afghan story of the dragon makes the Muhammedan hero
Ali the slayer of the monster and thus the deliverer of the country
. For this purpose
the Christian Abyssinians chose the nine saints, who came to the country about the year
500 A. D., to develop Christianity there, and about whose names many legends grew up
in the sequel. Their names are as follows: 1) Za-Mika'el Aragawi; 2) Pantaleon; 3)
Isaac Garima; 4) Afse; 5) Guba; 6) Alef, sometimes called `Os; 7) Mata` or
Yem`ata; 8) Liqanos; 9) Sehma. The first three are the best known and most renowned;
indeed, as far as we know, the vitae of these three only are extant: the vita of Aragawi
was published by Guidi, that of Pantaleon is contained in a manuscript of the
d'Abbadie collection, that of Garima was edited by Conti Rossini. Again two of the first
three and, curiously enough, the last one are given by name in the Tigre legend; for I do not
hesitate to identify Abba Mentelit (vs. 6), the saint who first struck the dragon, with
Abba Pantaleon, and I believe that the transformation of this name to Mentelit may be due
only to popular etymology (memanatala, see above p. 5). More particulars about the nine
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saints are to be found in an article published by Dillmann, "Zur Geschichte des Axumitischen
Reiches im 4.-6. Jahrhundert"(1), pp. 24-27. That most of these monks or saints came very
probably from Syria, perhaps by the way of Southern Arabia, was shown by Guidi, Le
Traduzioni degIi Evangeli in Arabo e in Etiopico, Rome 1888, p. 33, annot., and by
Hackspill in Zeitschr. f. Assyriol. XI, pp. 153 sqq.
1). See P. I,erch, Orient und Occident, I, p.753
Many parallels to this occurrence might be quoted from other
The reason why these nine saints were made the deliverers from the serpent does
not seem to be accidental. For it is not only very natural that men, who were as famous as
these should be considered performers of almost every great deed, but we know also that in
the lives of Abyssinian saints snakes and serpents occur very often. Thus for instance in
the life of Za-Mika'el Aragawi, one of the leaders of these very nine saints, we read that a
serpent sixty cubits long carried the saint up to a high mountain
. That Arwe was killed
through the intervention of the nine saints, is mentioned several times in Abyssinian
literature. One of these passages is a hymn in honour of Za-Mika'el Aragawi, which is
given by Ludolf in his Historia Aethiopica L. Ill. c. 3, and of which I enclose here a
Hail to Mika'el, who was called Aragawi:
For he walked in wisdom and his ways were prudence;
With him was [God], who is [tri]une (in one nature).
Hail to the saints, who united in concord,
By prayer to destroy the reign of Arwe.
1) Abhandl. Berl. Akad.. 1880.
2) Guidi, II "Gad/a Aragawi", Roma, Acc. dei Lincei, 1895, p. 16; small edition, ib.
1896, pp. 47 (In Geez) sqq.
The most detailed form, however, in which this legend occurs is found in the homily on
Abba Garima, the edition of which we owe to the zeal of Dr. Conti Rossini (1). Since
the editor of this interesting document has attached no translation to his publication, I give
here an English rendering of the passage in question, which is found on pp. 153
(lines 123-284):
"And while they (viz., the nine saints) were in this situation, a certain governor of
Aksum came to them and spoke to them saying: 'There is a large serpent, and he is
king over the land Ethiopia, and all governors worship him. And they give him as his
tribute a virgin of great beauty: they anoint and adorn her and bring her to the (2)
serpent and leave her alone. Then the (2) serpent devours her. And they have been in
this condition for 13 (var. 15; perhaps Geez: 6 and 5 instead of Geez: 8 and 5.) years.
And the length of this serpent is 170 cubits, and his bredth is 4 cubits, and his teeth
measure one cubit. And his eyes resemble a fiery flame, and his eyebrows are black as a
raven, and his whole body is like lead and iron. And when he drinks, l07 measures do
not suffice him; and they bring him as his food every day 10 cows and 10 bulls, 1000
goats, l00 sheep and ten thousands of ten thousands of birds; and he has a horn on him
3 cubits long (3). And when he walks, his noise is heard for an eight days' journey.'
And when the brethren heard this, they wondered and were astonished and amazed, and
Page 10
they said to the governor: 'Doest thou truly say so?' He answered: `Yea, truly. If ye do
not believe me, let one of you come and see!'
1) L'Omilia di Yohannas, vescovo d'Aksum, in honore di Garima, in Actes du XIe Congres
Intern. des Orientalistes, Paris 1898, Sect. IV, pp. 139

2) Geez: We’itu: seems to be used here as an article, probably influenced by the
Tigray language; cf W.Z.K.M, XVI, p. 223.
3) See also Zotenberg, Cat. Ms. Eth. Bibl. Nation., p. 251, ba, and Wright,
Cat. Eth. MSS. Brit. Mus., p. 17, col. a.
Then Abba Pantaleon said to Saint Isaac: `My son, what shall we do?' And Saint
Isaac said to him: `Let my brother `Os come and let us go quickly and see the
serpent and [know], whether it is true or false. But ye elder men wait for us, till we
come back to you, and pray ye!' And these [two] saints and the governor rose and went;
and they found the serpent according to his custom walking from place to place with many
governors following him and princes walking in front of him. And when they were at
a distance of
miles, they heard the sound of thunder, and the earth trembled with the sound
of thunder, and the mountains were shaken, and the princes adored him. And when the holy
Abba `Os saw the fearsome serpent, he was afraid and terrified and fell upon his face.
But the holy Abba Isaac stretched his hand forth, raised him and made him stand up and said
to him: `Why art thou afraid, reverend father? Hast thou not heard what Saint John
the son of Zebedee said: `because fear hath torment (1)? And now let us go back, my
brother, to our brethren and let us tell them what we have seen. God's will be done!'
And they both went on. And while they were walking, they saw them from a distance
and they said to them: `[Are ye] well?' And the holy men said: `Yea, [we are]
well.' Then the others asked them saying: `Have ye found the story of the serpent
[true] or not?' They answered: `We have seen him as the governor has said. And we
have seen, how dreadful and formidable he is, and how the earth trembling could not
bear him, nor the mountains encompass him; and this father fell on his face for fear of
him.' And the brethren blamed Abba `Os saying: `Why wast thou afraid and tookest
fright at a mortal being? And how when our Lord comes with fear and trembling and
awe - what wilt thou say? But now, our brethren, let us pray to the Lord our God and let
us beseech him, that we may gain salvation for Ethiopia and that he may make to rule over
it a king from Jesse's root and from David's stem, and let us fast day and night.' Thus the
saints spoke among one another, and when they had finished their counsel, they went into
their dwellings and fasted day and night, and they were all united in mind and thought and
heart. And they spread their hands to heaven towards the East, saying: (Here follows
a long prayer in which God's great deeds in nature and in history are praised and deliver-
ance from the serpent is asked; 11. 168-2o8). Thus they continued praying 40 days and 40
nights without tasting food or water, except on 4 sundays, and these were counted with the
fasting. And while they were gathered together, Michael and Gabriel, the archangels,
came, resembling monks who were strangers, and they said to them (old Greek
alphabets) three times. And the saints asked them: `Who [are ye]?' The angels
answered: `We are servants of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost, one God.'
They said to them: `If ye are servants of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost,
ye are truly our brethren.' And they entered to them and they embraced one another with a
spiritual embracing and they stayed with them, speaking of the great deeds of God
Page 11
and words of profit and words of faith and words of the scriptures. And after they had
finished - speaking with one another, they said to the angels: `Whence have ye come,
our brethren?' They answered: `From far away.' And they asked them again: `From
what place?' They said to them: `From Mount Sinai', and continued: `After God had
seen your labour, he sent us to visit you.' Then they asked: `How many months ago did ye
depart from Mount Sinai?' They answered: 'By the will of God we have come to you in this
hour.' When the saints heard this, they rose and praised God and fell down before him. And
when the time for the meal had come, Saint Isaac rose and began to wash the feet of
Michael, and the holy father `Os washed the feet of Gabriel. And after they had finished
washing the feet of the holy angels and had drunk [the water with] their dust, they reclin-
ed for the meal, and the light came down as usual. And before the meal was finished,
they heard a voice around them saying: `Peace be unto you, my beloved ones. I have
heard your prayer, and lo, I have sent Michael and Gabriel to you, and they are at
your table, and all that you wish, they shall do for you!' When the saints heard this,
they left their table and fell down before their lord and praised his wonders. And the
saints said to the angels: 'Ye seemed to us to be men like we, our lords!' And the
angels said: `Christ sent us, when he saw your labour and your eminent patience. And now
ye will behold the wonders of the Lord. But now, our brethren, peace be unto you!' Thus
speaking they were hid from them and ascended to heaven. And the saints wondered and
were amazed and astonished by the wonders of the Lord the whole night until morning, and
they did not slumber nor sleep. And after that God sent a mighty flash down from
heaven upon the cursed serpent and cut him in twelve parts striking him with [his] fiery
sword. And the next day, they rose to pray at the time of daybreak, and when the sun
rose, they finished their prayer, and the 9 brethren were together in one place. (Afterwards
Christ visits them and goes with them to see the dead serpent, 11. 245
1) 1 John 4: 18.
Another much shorter version of this story was also published by Conti Rossini. In his
Note Etiopiche 1) he edited and translated into Italian a legend in the Tigray language
which is very closely related to our Tigre version, as will be seen from the following
English translation:
"Going from Adua to Aksum there is plain called Hasabo. Now I asked, saying: `For
what reason is it that they have called it Hasabo ("he washed him" or "it").' And some
explained [this] to me saying: `It is told that in Ethiopia formerly a serpent was
the ruler of the land. And the people of the country gave him his food in this way: a
gabata of milk and a first-born virgin. This, they say, used to be the law of the
country for many years. And while this was being done, the [nine] saints passing on
their way by [the place] where his food was waiting for him, sat down at the foot of
a sycamore tree to be in the shade. And while they were sitting [there], a tear fell
upon them. And looking up the saints saw a girl hanging in the sycamore. They
asked her saying: `What art thou?' And she answered them: `I am a human being.'
`What then art thou doing?' they asked her. `I have come as tribute to the serpent'
said she to them. They asked: 'But where is he?' And she saying: `Lo, there!'
showed him to them. They said to her: `There near the hill perhaps?' But she said:
`He is what looks like a hill!' And turning their faces towards him they made the sign of
the cross with their crosses, and the serpent burst asunder and died, and his blood
flowed to Hasabo. The saints said to the plain: `He has washed thee.' And now they
call it Hasabo."
1) Giornale della Societa Asiatica Italiana, VoL XI, 1897, pp. 141—156.
Page 12
Now it was very well known to the Abyssinian writers that the nine saints had come to
their country much later than the time in which they put the beginning of their national
history. This fact, among others, must have led to the assumption that the serpent reigned
at several different periods. Generally three distinct reigns of King Serpent are
mentioned: 1) at the beginning of the history of Abyssinia, when he reigned 400
years; 2) at the time of the ascension of Mary 3) at the time of the nine saints (1). Of
these 1 and 3 are, as we have seen, easily accounted for, but 2 isstill unexplained.
However this may be, it is certain that the Abyssinians themselves, in later times,
often considered the serpent as the embodiment of heathenism, which is very natural,
since they always have been familiar with the cult of serpents, at least among their pagan
neighbours. This idea is also clearly brought out by the following passage from the
Abridged Abyssinian Chronicle (2): "[At the time of Abreha and Asbeha] came Abba
Salama together with his father, and of the people of Abyssinia one part was under the
Mosaic law, the other was worshipping the serpent." - On the other hand the suggestion
made by Pereira (3), that the serpent represented in some way foreign influence seems
to a certain degree very acceptable; for a similar thing has happened in Persia, where
the foreign influence of the Arabs was personified by the dragon(4). There is of
course no internal connection between these two parallels, and Halevy's derivation of
the whole serpent legend from Persia(5) seems to me highly improbable (6).
1) Cf. Pereira, Historia dos Martyres de Nagran, pp. XLVIII sq.
2) Beguinot, La Cronaca Abbreviata d'Abissinia, Rome 1901, p. 2.
3) Mart. de Nagran, P. LIII.
4) Brown, A Literary History of Persia p. 114
5) Revue Semitique 1896, P. 261.
6) Cf. also C. Rossini, in Actes XIe Congress Internat. Orient., IV, p. 49.
In our Tigre legend the differences of time have been naively neglected: the saints
appear at the time of Solomon, just as the "Ark of Mary" is here supposed to be in the
temple at Jerusalem under the reign of this king. Furthermore the nine saints have
become seven saints, or, according to the first copy, angels. It was very natural to
substitute the sacred number seven for nine, to which Abyssinian superstition does not
seem to attach a special meaning; yet we must not forget that even in the "Gadla
'Aragawi" seven saints came to Za-Mika'el and, together with him and Abba Garima,
who joined them later, after some time finally became nine altogether (1). But a more
interesting question in this connection is, how the legend of the Queen of Sheba and
that of the dragon were intertwined. It seems to me that here the Tigre legend has
preserved a very old tradition and that we must go back to the South Arabian Bilqis
saga to gain more light on this matter. It is known that according to the Arabic
tradition (2) Bilqis killed her predecessor, a very cruel tyrant who ravished the maidens of
the country; in order to accomplish her purpose more easily, she promised to marry him,
and delivered her country by slaying him on their bridal night. Furthermore we are
told by Mas`udi, quoted by Rosch on p. 545
that Bilqis killed the first tobba`, i. e.
king of South Arabia, who reigned four hundred years: this coincides very strikingly
with the Abyssinian tradition of the length of King Arwe's first reign (3).
1) Guidi, Il "Gadla 'Aragawi', R. Acc. dei Lincei, 1894, P. 38.
2) A full account of its different forms was given by Rosch in Jahrab. f.protestant. Theol. VI, p. 524 sqq.
3) See above p. 26.
Page 13
It seems therefore not unlikely that the tobba` who ravished the maidens and then
was killed by Bilqis, Queen of Sheba, and the arwe who devoured the maidens and met his
death through the Abyssinian Queen of Sheba, were originally identical mythological
persons. Consequently the connection between the legends of the serpent and of the Queen of
Sheba is ancient, and not a new invention of our Tigre story. An occasional allusion to
this connection may be found in the tradition that the people of (Geez: Azeb)"the
South" - whose queen of course was (Geez: Negeste Azeb) "the Queen of the South" - were
worshipping the serpent(1).
Perhaps an equally interesting feature of this part of our legend is the presence of
the ass's heel. The Arabic story of Queen Bilqis tells us that she had very hairy legs,
and that she had an ass's hoof. As Rosch has rightly recognized and discussed in detail,
this peculiarity classes the queen at once with demoniac beings. For in Semitic popular
belief (2) hairiness is one of the main characteristics of the demons (3), and the ass is - as
also in ancient Egypt - very commonly considered a demoniac animal. The ass seems to
play quite an important role in Babylonian demonology and magical practices; to quote one
example, we may recall here the incantations against the female demon Labartu (4), which
were recently published by Myhrmann in the Zeitschr. f. Assyr. XVI. There it is said:
"Thou shalt make an image of Anu's daughter out of canal-clay; thou shalt make an ass
out of canal-clay and give him food" (p.165), and again (p.181): "A whore is Anu's
daughter among the god's, her brothers; her head is a lion's head, her figure an ass's
1) Pereira, Mart. de Nagran, p. XLVIII.
2) The tail and the hoof of the Christian devil might also be compared here.
3) In the O. T. demons are even called (Hebrew words) `hairy beings" ; cf. Robertson Smith, Rel. of the
Semites, New York 1889, p. 113; Wellhausen, Resie arab. Heidentums2, p. 151-52.
4) About Labartu in the 0. T, see Perles in Orieintal. Lit. Ztg.,1903, 244-45.
Furthermore we know that according to Arabic lore the ghul had ass's hoofs. And perhaps
also the fact that the ass was considered unclean and not allowed to be eaten or
immolated, may have something to do with its being the animal of the demons. This
prohibition is found, e. g., with the so-called Sabians; see Chwolsohn, Die Ssabier II, p. lo,
105. Finally we read in the Physiologus, a book which though originally written in Greek,
contains many Eastern traditions, that the wild ass is an image or a symbol of the
devil; see Hommel, Die aethiopische UebersetNung des Physiologus, Leipzig 1877, p. 92,
103. Rosch's conclusion that Queen Bilqis was originally a demoniac being may now be
extended to the Abyssinian Queen of Sheba as well. It is possible that the Bilqis saga
has influenced the Abyssinian legend, but nothing prevents us from assuming that, in
popular belief at least, Makeda has always preserved some of her original mythological
traits, in spite of the more rationalistic treatment which her person has undergone in the Kebre
How it happened that the Queen of Sheba had an ass's hoof, is explained here in quite
a characteristic way: a drop of the dragon's blood fell on her heel. It is known that in a
number of other cases magical power is attributed to the blood of a dragon. It will
suffice to call attention to the `Lied vom hurnen. Sifrit', according to which Siegfried
receives a horny skin by a bath in the dragon's blood. A curious parallel to this from an
Lithuanian story was published by Edzardi in Germania, vol. XX, 1875, pp. 317-20.
Page 14
A few more elements in the Tigre legend may be mentioned here in brief. (1) The tribute
which the dragon receives is a first born maiden (1).
t) Cf. the Tigray tale, above p. 25.
It is possible that we have here a reminiscence of the sacrifice of first born children 1). -
2) In vs. 6 we read three plays on words, i, e., the names of the persons are connected
etymologically with their actions. This kind of popular etymology is too well known to need
any further discussion. It occurs a great many times in the O. T. (2), and all the other
Semitic peoples are very familiar with it as well as nations outside of the Semitic family.
Especially in Abyssinia we meet it often, and the very name Garima, which is
connected here with garrramkani 'thou hast frightened me', occurs in such a play on words in
the Gadla 'Aragawii, ed. Guidi, p.
and in a Tigray Legend published by Conti Rossini in
his Note etiopiche (Giorn. Soc. Asiat. Ital.), p. 147, 1. 9. - 3) The way in which the dragon is
killed characterizes our legend as an expression of popular and naive reflection. We have
seen that in the homily of Garima God kills the serpent after the prayer of the saints, and
that in the Tigray legend the saints hold their crosses up, whereupon the serpent dies. But
here it seems as if the teller and the hearers wished to see some real heroism and
visible physical power: thus the saints are represented as beating the dragon to death
with the cross. Undoubtedly archbishop Christian I of Mainz, who had great physical
strength, was much more popular because of the mighty club which he wielded on the battle-
field than for his spiritual gifts. -4) A new feature is found in the mention of a girl minister
appointed by the Queen of Sheba after her accession to the throne. It is interesting to see how
this feature continues throughout most of the legend; for the minister also goes to Jerusalem,
has a child by Solomon and finally sends her son to Jerusalem with the son of the
Queen. It seems therefore to be an integral part of this story in its present form. I
have not met with it in the other legends about Solomon and the Queen of Sheba; but
parallels from other popular literatures where a contrast is made between the true and
genuine son and the rejected son are of course not infrequently to be found. Perhaps the best
known are Isaac and Ismael, Jacob and Esau.
i) Cf. Robertson Smith, I- r., Y• 445
2) As to later Hebrew literature cf., e. g., Grunbaum, Neue Beiträge zur stemit.
Sagenkunde, Leiden 1893, p. 207
The jour7zey of the Queen of Sheba to Solomon and her return to Abyssinia. (Verses 11-20).
The reason why the Queen of Sheba travels to Solomon is in almost all the other
forms of the legend her desire to test or at least to experience his wisdom, of which
she has heard so much spoken. The healing of the Queen from her hairiness is known
to the Arabs also and is mentioned by Zamahsari, Tabari and Ibn el-`Atir (1); but
here it is only an episode and of minor importance. Now in the Tigre legend this is made
the main reason: the Queen of Sheba goes to Solomon only to be cured of her ass's
heel. To the minds of a very large class of people all over the world, wisdom, healing-
power and sorcery are nearly synonymous, and driving out the devil of disease - for the
diseases are caused by or identical with the demons - is the most palpable proof of
wisdom. We need not wonder, therefore, that the simple Abyssinian who told our legend,
probably considered Solomon only as a great sorcerer, and that
the healing-power
of this `king of all demons' impressed itself more deeply on the mind of the common people
than his intellectual wisdom.
1} See Grunbaum, Neue Beiträge, p. 219.
Page 15
According to the Arabic story the demons told Solomon that Bilqis had hairy legs and an
ass's hoof, because they were afraid that Solomon would marry Bilqis and tell her, who was
herself the daughter of a Peri or female demon, his secret concerning the demons, so
that then the son of both would rule over them. Then they built a palace of glass and
made the floor look like flowing water. When Bilqis entered, she thought it was real
water and lifted her garment to wade through. Solomon saw that the demons had
spoken the truth: he told Bilqis at once that there was no water there, and then had a
depilatory made by the demons. In Tabari (I, p. Arabic word) we read that this
depilatory, called nurah, was recommended to Solomon by the satans, after he had
asked men and djinns in vain, and that the nurah was here applied for the first time.
Of all these details none are given in the Tigre legend. In the latter the queen is healed, as
soon as she enters in at Solomon's door, i. e., steps over his threshold. We see again, how
great a magical power the threshold is supposed to have. Among the Semites it is
believed to be the gathering place of evil spirits; and this may be one of the reasons
why in the Christian towns of Syria very many inscriptions with invocations of God
or Christ or symbolic disks are carved over the entrance of houses (1). In modern
Palestine for instance a mother must not beat a disobedient child (2) nor nurse her baby
while standing on the threshold. We know, however, that superstitious beliefs of a
similar nature are common all over the world.
1) See Publications Amer. Archaeol. Expedition, Part II, pp. 32, 34 annot.
2) Cf. Bauer, Volksleben im heiligen Lande, Leipzig
p. 196.
According to the Tigre legend the Queen and her minister disguise themselves by
arranging their hair as men, wearing men's garments and a saber, but are afterwards
recognized as women by Solomon. Here again we have an ancient feature, known to the
later Hebrew and to the Arabic writers, but omitted in the Kebra Nagast. But there
is a characteristic difference. While in Hebrew and Arabic sources the suite of the Queen
is disguised and Solomon displays his wisdom by distinguishing the boys from the girls,
in the Tigre legend the Queen and her minister disguise themselves, and Solomon
recognizes them in order to wed them. It is very likely, as Rosch has shown(1),
that the changing of the clothes in the Bilqis saga is a survival of ancient religious rites
(2). The meaning of the garments in religious ceremonies has been expounded by
Robertson Smith, Rel. of the Semites, 1889, pp. 416 sq., 432 sq. and by Wellhausen,
Arab. Heidentum, (2). Pp. 110, 195 sqq.; cf. also Rosch, l. c.,

Another example,
which perhaps is less well known, may be cited from the religion of the pagan Galla
tribes. Cecchi reports that the pilgrims of the sect of Abba Muda (3) wear women's
garments during the pilgrimage to the cave of their chief.
Solomon notices that his guests are women first by their shyness in eating and
drinking. In a somewhat similar way a Jewish legend (4) makes him distribute nuts and
pastry to the boys and girls, whereupon the boys right away take off their cloaks and
spread them out to receive the gifts, whereas the girls in a diffident manner use their
kerchiefs for this purpose. We have seen above (5) that an episode of the Kebra Nagast,
the story of the water-bowl which was put in the sleeping room, has been stripped of its
original meaning and now helps to discover the disguise. This change has scarcely
improved the story; for the marriage is now introduced very abruptly.
1)) l. c., pp.552. sq.
Page 16
2) Cf. the often quoted passage Deut. 22: 5: The woman shall not wear
that which pertaineth unto a man, neither shall a man put on a woman's garment.
3) See above p. 18.
4) See Grunbaum, l. c., p, 221.
When the Queen of Sheba and her minister leave, Solomon gives each one of them,
according to our legend, a ring and a silver staff (vs. 20). A ring as a token occurs not
infrequently in folk-tales, and perhaps we might find here even a reminiscence of
Solomon's famous ring (1), by the power of which he ruled over all nature and all
spirits. But I have not been able to establish whether the silver staff had originally any
special meaning in this connection.
1) Grunbaum, I. c., pp. 201, 223 a. o.
Menelik's journey to Jerusalem.
(Verses 21 - 29).
After the Queen of Sheba and her minister have returned; to Abyssinia, each
becomes the mother of a son. The boys grow up with the boys of the country, but are
called "fatherless children" by the latter. Hence they ask their mothers about their
father and then go to find him. This is a trait not uncommon in popular literature. One
example may serve for many others: In a story called "The Tale of King Najib of
Jerusalem", which was dictated to me by a native in Jerusalem'), King Najib is brought at
night by a demon to Constantinople, into the palace of the princess. He marries the
princess that night and leaves her his ring and hand kerchief; then the demon takes him
back again. The princess gives birth to a boy, and when the latter is grown up, he
goes to seek his father, after he has had the following experience: "The next day
it-Tayih (this is the name of the boy) went down to the field to play as usual, and
when he found the son of the vizir there, he said: `Come, let us play together!' But the
other boy said: `My friend, I do not want to play with a boy, who does not know his
father.' `Why? What is the matter?' said it-Tayih, `I know my father, my father is the
king of course.' `No, no' replied the other,
the king is thy grandfather, the father of
thy mother, but thy father is not known?'"
(1) This and the other Jerusalem tales which I collected are to be published soon by E. J. Brill as Part VI of
the Publications of an American Archaeological Expedition to Syria.
When the boys are admitted to Solomon's palace, another man is sitting on the
throne, whereas Solomon has hid himself in the stable. In our story this is meant
to be a test of the boys' intelligence: Menelik has been instructed by his mother, and
therefore he does not step up to the throne to grasp the hand of its occupant, i. e.,
he does not recognize the latter as king; but as soon as he sees Solomon, he recognizes
him. This episode seems to be based on the tradition of Solomon's dethronement by
the demon Sahr; but it has been changed very much, having kept of the original
story only the facts that another man was sitting on Solomon's throne and that the
king himself was clad in rags. An allusion to this story is to be found in the Qor'an,
surah 38 : 33; but it is given in full by the commentators of the Qor'an and by
later Arabic authors, who drew their material from Jewish sources. All the different
Page 17
forms of this tradition are given by Grunbaum, l.c., pp. 221 sqq. The principal facts
are the following: Solomon marries the daughter of the king of Sidon, and his new
wife worships the image of her father in Solomon's house. For this transgression he
is punished, as follows. He is accustomed to give his magical ring to one of his wives named
Aminah, who keeps it while he performs the ritual ablutions. One day in his absence the
demon Sahr comes to Aminah, resembling the king and asks for the ring, which he
receives and then seats himself on the throne. But Solomon stripped of all his power and
glory wanders about as a beggar, and then takes service with some fishermen. After 40 days,
according to the length of time during which the image had been in Solomon's house, the
demon flies away and drops the ring into the sea, where a fish swallows it. In the
evening Solomon receives this very fish, finds the ring, puts it on his finger and is
restored to his former power.
In vss. 27, 28 the Tigre legend tells a curious event which leads to the return of Menelik
to Abyssinia, viz., the story of the cattle pasturing on another man's field. Its appearance
here is rather unexpected, but very characteristic. For it shows that the tendency of the
Jewish and Arabic legends to represent Solomon as being wiser than his father David has had
its influence in Abyssinia, but has here been modified; by putting Solomon in David's and
Menelik in Solomon's ', place. Thus here Menelik is the wiser, which is of course very
natural on Abyssinian soil. The story from which the episode in question is undoubtedly
derived is according to Arabic sources') briefly as follows: A man sues another, because the
latter's sheep have pastured on his property. The matter is brought before David, and he
decides that the sheep should be given to the proprietor of the damaged field. But Solomon
although only 11 years of age at that time, says that the man ought to receive only the
use of the sheep, i. e., their milk, their wool and their young, until the field should be
again in the status quo ante. This tends to prove - thus is said - that Solomon had
received the greater wisdom. - Although no doubt the same tendency underlies this
episode in the Tigre legend, its main object here is to give the reason why Menelik
went back to Abyssinia with the Hebrew youths.
1) Baidawi and Zamahsari; see Grunbaum l. c. p. 189.
The story of the ark.
(Verses 30-35).
It is an ancient tradition at Axum that Menelik took the 'ark of the covenant' with
him from Jerusalem and brought it to Axum, where it is now supposed to be in the
sanctuary of the church. The details of this tradition given in our legend are of particular
interest, but they show again how rude and superstitious ideas obtain among the ordinary
Abyssinian `Christians'. The beliefs connected with the ark at Axum are certainly a survival
of heathenism; and perhaps the stones preserved in the ark are themselves sacred
stones from the time of paganism, comparable to the black stone at Mekka and to
the stones in the original ark of the ancient Israelites. It sounds indeed like fetishism
and it reminds us of the sacred chests of the Babylonians and Egyptians with the idols or
mystic symbols of their gods (1), when we hear of an ark of Mary and of an ark of
Michael. How material the representation of the godhead by the ark is in the mind of
the people, is shown by the following. When Mary's ark reaches Axum, it is said to
Page 18
Satan: 'Mary has come to thee' (vs. 34). In exactly the same way the Philistines say
when the ark of Yahweh reaches the camp of the Israelites: `God is come into the
camp' (I Sam. 4:7).
1) Cf. Encyclopaedia Biblica I. coll. 306-8.
The Abyssinians make no secret of the theft of the ark, either in the Kebra Nagast
or in the present legend; thus the ancient Israelitic legend does not hesitate to say that
Rachel stole the `images', i. e. the household-gods of her father (Gen. 31: 19 sqq.).
The Tigre legend tells in a very naive way that Solomon wishes to give his son
some sort of a shrine, viz., the ark of Michael, but Menelik is not content with this
and steals therefore what he considers a much better and more powerful shrine. For
how valuable the ark of Mary is, we learn at once in vs. 31: when a storm comes up,
Solomon gives order to look for the ark, which doubtless means that the ark is
supposed to have power over the elements.
A curious incident is the halting of the ark on its way to Axum. That this is a common
tradition, is shown by Conti Rossini, Besu`a Amlak, Rome, Ace. dei Lincei, 1902, p. 5,
ann. 2; but here it is localized at Damba Micc. The locality given by the Tigre
legend, Qayeh Kor, which means `Red Rocks', is mentioned by Conti Rossini, ib. p. 9,
ann. 2. Of course we know that the ark of the Israelites `stood' on the field of Joshua
the Beth-shemite (I Sam. 6: 14); but the situation is entirely different there, and our
story, judging at least from the motives of the halting stated here, has probably no
connection with the Biblical passage. It is therefore, as it seems, a local Abyssinian
tradition, parallels to which may be found in the popular literatures of other peoples.
The reason why the ark stood still is the insufficient or perhaps religiously illegal
burial of the deacon who had been carrying the ark. The religious law requires that
the whole body must be put into the coffin, a law probably inspired by similar
motives as the religious duty among the. ancients to bury all the body at the same
spot. It is noteworthy that the ark here, as it were, enforces the strict fulfillment of the
Vss. 34-35 lead us into an entirely new cycle of legends which are connected here -
and perhaps have been so for a long time - with the story of Menelik and the ark: the
legends of the fight of Satan against God and of the large buildings of antiquity.
Wherever there are ancient ruins, and especially if these ruins are conspicuous, they furnish
rich material for legends and sagas. It would be strange, if the huge obelisks at Axum
') should not have appealed to the imagination and to the spirit of story-telling among
later generations. As all over the East, such gigantic structures are believed to have
been built not by human hands, but by supernatural powers. It is for instance well
known that in Southern Arabia ancient castles and other buildings are said to have
been erected by the djinns. The same is said again of the awe-inspiring buildings of
Palmyra. Also in Persepolis similar tales are told (2). Such legends are often very
definite in certain details, and in this respect the episode of the big stone, which Satan
had raised and then left, and which is yet to be seen (vs. 35), is typical. Now, it is
said here that Satan `built a house in order to fight against God.' This touches upon the
very ancient myth of the enmity and the struggle between God and the devil, or
between the gods and chthonic powers or giants. And this connection between the
building of a huge structure and the war against God seems to be ancient too, although
the original legend of the tower of Babylon, which we most naturally bring into
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comparison here, probably did not contain this feature. But it is significant that in
Jewish-Greek writings the tower is regarded as the work of the giants '), the typical
enemies of the ancient Greek gods.
1) Cf. the pictures in Th. Bent's Sacred City of the Ethiopians, London1893.
2) Brown, Literary History of Persia p. 112.
It is the privilege of popular literature and legends to ignore chronology in the freest
possible manner: Solomon is a Muhammedan in the tradition of Islam, and here in
Abyssinia the primeval battle of Satan against God, Solomon, and the Christian Saints are
all made contemporaneous.
1)Gunkel, Genesis 2, p. 88.
Page XI read Rivista moderna politica e letteraria, 1902 instead of La Rassegna Nazionale.
Source: Karin Boye Library Uppsala - Sweden