An Ethiopian Journal

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Discover Ethiopia, Birthplace of Humanity

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“The Ethiopians were regarded by the Greeks as the best people in the world. Homer speaks of them in the Iliad as the ‘blameless Ethiopians’. He claims that they were visited by Zeus, the king of the gods, by the goddess Iris, who travelled to their country to participate in their sacrificial rites, and by Poseidon, the sea god, who ‘lingered delighted’ at their feasts. This theme was taken up, in the first century BC, by Diodorus of Sicily, who asserted that the gods Hercules and Bacchus were both ‘awed by the piety’ of the Ethiopians, whose sacrifices, he claims, were the most acceptable to the gods.”

Passage from ‘The Ethiopians, A History’ by Richard Pankhurst 

Written by Tseday

June 24, 2012 at 3:31 pm

The Queen of Sheba’s visit to King Solomon

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Presented at the Vancouver Grand Masonic Day, October 16, 1999
by VW Bro. Art Scott, Victoria Columbia Lodge No. 1

Upon reading the title of this paper, you may well wonder, “what on earth has the Queen of Sheba got to do with Freemasonry?” As a matter of fact, it was when I asked myself this very same question that I began to pursue the story of the Queen of Sheba and her visit to King Solomon following the completion of his famous temple in Jerusalem. Your next question well might be “where in Freemasonry is there any reference to the Queen of Sheba?” The answer: in the Board of Installed Masters. The Board of Installed Masters is a ceremony, not a degree, so I will plead “not guilty” of divulging any secrets when I tell you that during this ceremony the VOSL is opened at I Kings 10. After witnessing and participating in the Board of Installed Masters, and having listened to the aforementioned scripture read many, many times, I began to wonder what the relevance of this passage was to the ceremony of installation. Why did the Queen of Sheba come to visit Solomon? Was she the only monarch who came? What was so special about her visit that it is afforded such detail in the VOSL? And what is the Masonic significance of I Kings 10?

Let us begin by referring to I Kings 10:

1. And when the queen of Sheba heard of the fame of Solomon concerning the name of the Lord, she came to prove him with hard questions

2. And she came to Jerusalem with a very great train, with camels that bare spices, and very much gold, and precious stones; and when she was come to Solomon, she communed with him all that was in her heart

3. And Solomon told her all her questions: there was not anything hid from the king, which he told her not

4. And when the queen of Sheba had seen all Solomon’s wisdom, and the house that he had built,

5. And the meat of his table, and the sitting of his servants, and the attendance of his ministers, and their apparel, and his cup bearers, and his ascent by which he went up into the house of the Lord; there was no more spirit in her

6. And she said to the king, It was a true report that I heard in mine own land, of thy acts and of thy wisdom

7. Howbeit I believed not the words until I came, and mine eyes have seen it: and behold, the half was not told me: thy wisdom and prosperity exceedeth the fame which I heard

8. Happy are thy men, happy are these thy servants which stand continually before thee, and that hear thy wisdom

9. Blessed be the Lord thy God, which delighted in thee, to set thee on the throne of Israel: because the Lord loved Israel forever, therefore made he thee king, to do judgment and justice

10. And she gave the king an hundred and twenty talents of gold, and of spices very great store, and precious stones: there came no more such abundance of spices as these which the queen of Sheba gave to King Solomon

11. And the navy also of Hiram, that brought gold from Ophir, brought in from Ophir great plenty of almug trees, and precious stones

12. And the king made of the almug trees pillars for the house of the LORD, and for the king’s house, harps also and psalteries for singers: there came no such almug trees, nor were seen unto this day

13. And king Solomon gave unto the queen of Sheba all her desires, whatsoever she asked, beside that which Solomon gave her of his royal bounty. So she turned and went to her own country, she and her servants

Who was the Queen of Sheba?

I don’t want to spoil my story, but before going any further, I should tell you that no archaeological evidence has ever been unearthed or uncovered that suggests or supports that the Queen of Sheba ever visited King Solomon. There are, however, records of the ancient country of Sheba, which date from 715 BCE. Sheba was sometimes called Saba, meaning “Host of Heaven,” and “peace,” and is thought to be what is now the country of Yemen in the South West corner of Arabia where the Red Sea meets the Indian Ocean. The people who lived in Sheba were called Sabaeans. The Sabaeans have been described as a tall and commanding people, both woolly-haired and straight-haired. Semitic in origin, they are believed to have been descendants of the land of Cush in the Bible. The Sabaean people inhabited most of NW and SW Arabia, some 483,000 square miles of mountains, valley and deserts. Some historians claim that Ethiopia, on the western end of the Red Sea, was also part of Sheba’s territory. The Sebaeans conquered all of the other South Arabian countries at the start of the Christian era. Sheba was a wealthy country, rich in gold and other precious stones, as well as incense and exotic spices sought by neighboring kingdoms. From ancient times, perfumes and spices were popular commodities in the near East, and the spice trade was a particularly active one. From both the Bible and other classical sources it appears that the valuable plants from which the coveted aromatic resins, incense, spices, and medicinal potions were produced, were grown mainly in the kingdoms of southern Arabia. From this area, major land and sea trade routes branched out to all the great trading centers of the ancient world. The Sabaeans were both extensive traders and bandits and engaged in the slave trade. Sheba engaged in a lucrative caravan trade. By 1000 BCE, camels frequently traveled the 1400 miles up the “Incense Road” and along the Red Sea to Israel. The spices of Sheba were highly prized. Frankincense, an offering to the gods, was heaped on funeral pyres, and given as an antidote for poison, and as a cure for chest pains, hemorrhoids and paralysis. Myrrh, an ingredient in fragrant oils and cosmetics, was used in preparing bodies for burial, for healing ear, eye and nose ailments, and inducing menstruation. Other Sabaean spices were saffron, cummin, aloes and galbanum. The capital of Sheba was the city of Ma’rib. Nearby was a great dam, which may have been as high as 60 feet, which provided enough water to make Sheba an agricultural nation, as well as a land of beautiful gardens. It was a fertile oasis in the desert. There is evidence that this dam burst, and the devastation caused by the ensuing flood, coupled with the loss of water for agriculture, may have led to the demise of several Sabaean cities which no longer exist today. Because of its isolation, Sheba was secure from military invasion for at least 500 years, and was independent and at peace with its neighbors during the 11th and 10th century BC History reveals that at least five kings preceded the Queen of Sheba. Yet Arabian documents portray all of Arabia as matriarchal and ruled by queens for over 1000 years. In Ethiopia, the Kebra Negast refers to a law established in Sheba that only a woman could reign, and that she must be a virgin queen. Rule by queens was not unusual in prehistoric times. Women played a large role in government, especially in the Near East where there is evidence of their prominence in economics, the family, and religion. According to Ethiopian legend, the Queen of Sheba was born in 1020 BCE in Ophir, and educated in Ethiopia. Her mother was Queen Ismenie. Sheba was known to be beautiful, intelligent, understanding, resourceful, and adventurous. A gracious queen, she had a melodious voice and was an eloquent speaker. Excelling in public relations and international diplomacy, she was a also competent ruler. The historian Josephus said of her, “she was inquisitive into philosophy and on that and on other accounts also was to be admired.” Since Sheba was a center of astronomical wisdom and the ruling monarch was the chief astronomer/ astrologer, religious life involved worship of the Sun and Moon. Shams was the Sun god. The earliest known Arabian temple was at Ma’rib, the capital of Sheba, and was called Mahram Bilqus, “precincts of the Queen of Sheba.” In Arab lore, this queen was named Bilqus or Balkis; in Ethiopia, Makeda (also Magda, Maqda and Makera), meaning “Greatness” or “Great One.” Others say Maqda is a short form of Magadhi, and that Magadhi was a long-gone tribal language in which there were sixty-three different ways to say each word. All that can be ascertained now is that it stands for the letter “M” —that’s what Maqda means. Years later, the historian Josephus, referred to her as Nikaulis, Queen of Ethiopia and Egypt

Why did the Queen of Sheba come to visit King Solomon?

We are told in the Holy Bible that when the queen of Sheba heard of the fame of Solomon concerning the name of the Lord, she came to Jerusalem with a very great train, with camels that bare spices, and very much gold, and precious stones. We are also told that she came to prove him with hard questions. And we learn that when the Queen of Sheba had seen and tested Solomon’s wisdom, and the house that he had built, and the splendor of his court, and the number of his servants, and the attendance of his ministers, and their apparel, and his ascent by which he went up into the house of the Lord she was overwhelmed. How did Sheba learn of the wisdom of King Solomon? The leader of her trade caravans, Tamrin, owned 73 ships and 787 camels, mules and asses, with which he journeyed as far as India. Having also traded with Israel, he brought gold, ebony and sapphires to Solomon, for use by his 700 carpenters and 800 masons who were building the great temple of Jerusalem. Tamrin told Sheba about the temple, and how Solomon administered just judgement, and how he spake with authority, and how he decided rightly in all matters which he enquired into, and how he returned soft and gracious answers, and how there was nothing false about him. Each morning, Tamrin related to the Queen about all the wisdom of Solomon, how he administered judgement and how he made feasts, and how he taught wisdom, and how he directed his servants and all his affairs and how no man defrauded another—”for in his wisdom he knew those who had done wrong, and he chastised them, and made them afraid, and they did not repeat their evil deeds, but they lived in a state of peace.” And the Queen was struck dumb with wonder at the things that she heard, and she thought in her heart that she would go to him. When she pondered upon the long journey she thought that it was too far and too difficult to undertake. But she became very wishful and most desirous to go that she might hear his wisdom, and see his face, and embrace him, and petition his royalty. Sheba’s desire to encounter Solomon was ardent enough for her to embark on a 1400 mile journey, across the desert sands of Arabia, along the coast of the Red Sea, up into Moab, and over the Jordan River to Jerusalem. Such a journey required at least six months time round trip each way, since camels could rarely travel more than 20 miles per day. Arabian camels were tall and hardy, able to store water and fat for three weeks while living only on desert roughage. Wearing saddles of oak padded with colorful fabric, and hung with gold chains and crescents to win the favor of the gods, camels in a caravan were strung together by ropes made of goat hairs. Baby camels born along the way were carried on the back of the camel ahead to assure its mother of its wellbeing. As Sheba prepared for her journey, her own devotion to wisdom fueled her anticipation. Solomon’s commitment to building the Temple reflected not only his love of magnificent architecture, but also his piety. Over 3000 proverbs have been attributed to Solomon, as well as 1005 psalms, the book of Ecclesiastes and in the Christian Apocrypha, The Wisdom of Solomon. Solomon’s wisdom was not only political and theological; he was also an expert on natural history. A gardener, he planted olive, spice and nut trees as well as vineyards; he admired and studied spiders, locusts and harvesting ants. According to the Bible, he could talk about plants from the cedar in Lebanon to the hyssop growing on the wall; and he could talk of animals and birds and reptiles and fish

Was it to see the temple?

It is understandable that any monarch might wish to view such a magnificent edifice, the fame of which was spreading across the civilized world. And according to legend, she was indeed given a first hand tour of the temple while it was being constructed. A gracious host, Solomon showed Sheba his gardens of rare flowers ornamented with pools and fountains, and the architectural splendors of his government buildings, temple and palace. She was awed by his work on the temple, by his great lion-throne and sandalwood staircase, and by his enormous brass basin carried by the twelve brass bulls which symbolized the twelve months of the year

Was it to observe his government and the immensity of his court?

King Solomon came to the throne of Israel in 965 BCE. Solomon had fleets of Phoenician-built ships on the Mediterranean, the Red Sea, and the Indian Ocean Solomon’s empire was so vast that he found it necessary to divide his kingdom into twelve states, To administer his royal cities, Solomon may have been the first to have a “public service” as we know it today. It was the duty of each state to provide one month’s supply, not only of food, but also of barley and straw for the horses, and even horses themselves if necessary, for the needs of the royal household. This put quite a burden on the farmers and shepherd of the country, and taxation was very high. To give you an idea of how great this burden was, consider the following: The provisions needed in one day for Solomon’s court were: 30 cors (about 188 bushels or 240 gallons) of flour, 60 cors (about 375 bushels or 480 gallons) of meal, 10 fat oxen, 20 pasture-fed cattle, 100 sheep, plus numerous harts, gazelles, roebucks and fattened fowl

Was it to observe or test his wisdom?

According to the Bible, the Queen of Sheba visited Solomon at Jerusalem to test him with hard questions. Not only did Sheba ask Solomon philosophical questions; she also tested him with riddles. Since early Biblical times, it would seem that the posing of riddles was a standard exercise among people of power. For example, in the Book of Judges we read that Samson engaged in riddles with his opponents. (Judges 14:12, 18.)The questions she asked were probably riddles commonly used in Arab polite conversations. During the time of Solomon’s reign, it became fashionable to set and solve riddles, a kind of game, which opens up wide horizons of knowledge and language. Riddles and riddle-like anecdotes appear to have wandered from one town to another and from one country to another. There was a passion for riddles at the courts of Hiram, King of Tyre and of Solomon, King of Israel. It is not inconceivable that the Queen of Sheba also had a passion for riddles, since she “came to prove him with hard questions.” The Targum Sheni, Midrash Mischle, and Midrash Hachefez (Arabic books) describe twenty-two of her riddles. The delight in seeing the point where the generality of a riddle coincides with a specific allusion is akin to the delight in the proverb, which in turn raises an actual case in point into the sphere of generality. This is what was regarded at that time as wisdom—the solving of riddles and the formulating of generalizations. On this, the fame of Solomon’s wisdom was originally founded; and when, in later times, wisdom acquired a deeper meaning and was regarded as an insight into the riddle of life and as an attitude of mind that rises above the passionate whirl of life towards the peace of the timeless, Solomon, known to his age as the great solver of riddles and friend of proverbs, remained the model of a man in whom all aspects of wisdom were united. When I first read about this passion for solving riddles, I soon wondered, “what kind of questions would be asked in a riddle?”
Upon further investigation, I found some examples of the kinds of riddles Balkis may have asked Solomon. Here are a few:

Balkis: “What is evil?”

Solomon: “The eyes of the Lord in every place monitor good and evil, and in them is the definition.”

Balkis: “Are the eyes or the ears superior?”

Solomon: “The hearing ear and the seeing eye, the Lord hath made both. Degrees of deafness and blindness, these are man’s province, and measurable.”

Balkis: “What is the most powerful organ of the body, Solomon?”

Solomon: “Death and life are in the power of the tongue.”

Balkis: “How are body and spirit connected?”

Solomon: “The baseness of spirits is derived from their bodies. The nobility of bodies is derived from their spirits.”

Balkis: “What is it? An enclosure with ten doors; when one is open, nine are shut, and when nine are open, one is shut?”

Solomon: “The enclosure is the womb, and the ten doors are the ten orifices of man, namely his eyes, his ears, his nostrils, his mouth, the apertures for discharge of excreta and urine, and the navel. When the child is still in its mother’s womb, the navel is open, but all the other apertures are shut, but when the child issues from the womb the navel is closed and the other orifices are open.”

Balkis: “Seven leave and nine enter; two pour out the draught and only one drinks.”

How did Solomon respond? “Seven are the days of woman’s menstruation, nine the months of her pregnancy; her two breasts nourish the child, and one drinks.”

Other riddles concerned with common objects and materials. At one point, Sheba asked, “What when alive does not move, yet when its head cut off, moves?”

Solomon’s answer: “The timber used to build a ship.”

Another riddle she proposed was: “It is many- headed. In a storm at sea it goes above us all, it raises a loud and bitter wailing and moaning; it bends its head like a reed, is the glory of the rich and the shame of the poor, it honors the dead and dishonors the living; it is a delight to the birds, but a sorrow to the fishes. What is it?”

Solomon replied, “Flax, for it makes sails for ships that moan in the storm. It provides fine linen for the rich and rags for the poor, a burial shroud for the dead, and a rope for hanging the living. As seed it nourishes the birds, and as a net it traps the fish.”

Some of Sheba’s questions were related to the Hebrew Bible. For example, “The dead lived, the grave moved, and the dead prayed. What is it?” The answer: “The dead that lived and prayed was Jonah; the fish, the moving grave.” In one theological riddle, she asked: “What is the ugliest thing in the world, and what is the most beautiful? What is the most certain, and what is the most uncertain?”

Solomon replied, “The ugliest thing…is the faithful turning unfaithful; the most beautiful is the repentant sinner. The most certain is death; the most uncertain, one’s share in the World to Come.”

Solomon is said to have collected over 3,000 proverbs or folk sayings filled with practical advice from around the Near Eastern world. The proverbs dealt with a variety of subjects. The book of Proverbs in the Holy Bible are thought to have originated from Solomon, as are the Song of Solomon and even the book of Ecclesiastes is attributed to some as Solomon’s wisdom in his declining years. In addition to riddles which required a verbal answer, Sheba tested Solomon’s ingenuity in action. Dressing five boys and girls identically, she asked him to detect their sex. When he handed them bowls of water for them to wash their hands, the girls, unlike the boys, rolled up their sleeves. Sheba also brought Solomon two flowers alike in appearance, but one was real while the other was artificial; he distinguished them by noting how bees swarmed to the flower with the genuine fragrance. Then, giving him a large emerald with a curved hole in the middle, she asked him to draw a thread through it; he sent for a silkworm, which crawled through the hole drawing with it a silken thread. The Midrash Hachefez reports still another test of Solomon’s cleverness. Sheba presented Solomon with the sawn trunk of a cedar tree, the ends cut off so that they looked the same; she asked Solomon which end had been the root, and which the branches. Solomon ordered the tree stump to be placed in water. When one end sank while the other floated, he said to her, “The part which sank was the root, and that which floated on the surface was the end containing the branches.” According to the Kebra Negast, the questions and tests were mutual; Solomon also challenged Sheba. Sadly, existing legends describe only a few of the artful strategies he used to outwit her. During Sheba’s six month visit with Solomon, she conversed with him daily. The Kebra Negast informs us that “the Queen used to go to Solomon and return continually, and hearken unto his wisdom, and keep it in her heart. And Solomon used to go and visit her, and answer all the questions which she put to him … and he informed her concerning every matter that she wished to enquire about.” Frequently, they roamed Jerusalem together, as she questioned him and watched him at work. She sought astronomical knowledge, for which he was known; Solomon had developed a new calendar that added an extra month every nineteen years. But historians believe there was more to the Queen of Sheba’s motives than simply to see the temple or to satisfy her curiosity about Solomon’s wisdom

The most likely reason for the queen’s visit

According to the ritual of the Masonic ceremony pertaining to the installation of a Worshipful Master into the Chair of King Solomon, we are told that when the temple at Jerusalem had been completed, by the wisdom of King Solomon and assisted by the strength of Hiram, King of Tyre and the beautifying skill of Hiram Abiff, the monarchs of the neighboring countries sent their ambassadors bearing precious gifts to King Solomon to congratulate him upon the completion of his great and holy work. But the sovereign of a more distant country —the Queen of Sheba—was not be content to send an embassage. She, herself, would go up to Jerusalem, so that her own eyes might see the magnificent Temple, and her own ears might hear the wisdom of King Solomon, whose fame was spread abroad throughout the then known world. It is most likely that the Queen of Sheba’s mission was for the purposes of trade and the gifts exchanged were to open up trade relations. One must realize that the kingdom over which Solomon ruled was far more extensive than the Israel we think of in today’s world. King David, Solomon’s father, had won from the Edomites a strategic port and a great tract of surrounding land where the desert stopped at the narrow waterway leading to Arabia and Africa. This port at the head of the gulf of Akabah was called Ezion-geber, and provided access to Ophir, the port of the great Arabian or East African gold land. David ruled from Syria to Egypt. For four hundred miles north to south, and 100 miles inland from the Mediterranean Sea, David’s sovereignty connected the three continents

When Hiram, King of Tyre, learned of the seaport on the southern gulf, he sent a message of congratulations and friendship to David. This friendship was a boon. Tyre and Sidon and the other Phoenician city-states controlled world trade from India to the Sea of Atlantis. But the island Tyre was incapable of feeding itself, and gladly bought the Hebrew’s grain, oil, honey, and wine. In return, the Phoenician king sent David technical advisors in stone, metal, wood, cloth, and dyes. David sent Hiram oak for his oars, and Hiram sent the Jews hardwoods from the mountains of Lebanon and stone form his quarries, out of which the royal city might be constructed. King Hiram’s friendship extended to King Solomon when he succeeded the throne from his father. He gave Solomon a fleet of Phoenician-built ships, which sailed the Mediterranean, the Red Sea, and the Indian Ocean. Soon word of Solomon was being carried around the world on Hiram’s ships. News of conquests and culture reached the far outposts and colonies. Caravans form Egypt and Arabia passing through Israel’s toll cities along the Sea Way or King’s Highway picked up information about the monarch and his court and household. When the Sabaeans learned that Solomon had established a merchant ship navy and was stepping up commercial activities in southern part of Red Sea, he caused Sheba to negotiate an agreement preventing competition with her own traders. Sheba had been in touch with all the cities of the world, in a great whirlwind of trade. She was even known to the Chinese

The Sabaeans quickly realized that opening new sea-lanes would decrease use of overland routes and various oases from which Sheba’s court derived revenue. Natural historian Pliny records: “…all along the route they keep on paying, at one place for water, at another for fodder or the charges for lodging… so that expense mount up to 688 denarii per camel before the Mediterranean coast is reached” It was necessary to consolidate commercial ties, thus there was a mutual exchange of presents, which was a well established diplomatic procedure at that time. This is thought to be the real motive of the queen of Sheba’s visit to King Solomon, which was both political and economic. The spices, gold and gems were probably a tribute paid for commercial favours and treaty concessions. Thus, when it says the King gave her “all she desired,” this may have included satisfactory political agreements. Balkis brought with her 120 talents of gold to give to Solomon. Given that one talent was equal to 3,000 shekels and that there are 11.5 grams in a shekel, when one does the arithmetic we find that 120 talents of gold are about 360,000 shekels or 4,140 kilograms of gold! For those who are more familiar with Imperial measure, this amounts to just over 146,000 ounces of gold, or 9,120 pounds. Can you imagine—more than 4.5 tons of gold! She also gave Solomon more spices than had even been seen at one time in Israel, no small feat insomuch as spices were almost worth their weight in gold.

The Queen’s journey to Solomon’s royal city

There are 1500 miles of desert and mountains between Sheba and Jerusalem. Although most history books claim Sheba traveled by land, one historian claims she made the voyage by ship. The queen may have employed as many as 75 ships to travel from Sheba to Solomon’s Gulf Harbour, a trip which could have taken as long as three years because of the monsoons. Then she rode on a white camel of prodigious size and exquisite poise into the city of Jerusalem. She observed the gates of the city of Jerusalem. By contrast, she recalled how her cities, palaces, even fortresses had many open doors of access. Sheba’s caravan of 797 camels, mules and asses was laden with provisions and gifts for Solomon. Since a camel’s saddle could carry 300-600 pounds, the wealth she brought was vast—gold, precious stones, furniture and spices. Throughout the day, she rode on an extravagant gold palanquin, like a four-poster bed, richly cushioned, with a roof shielding her from the sun and draperies she could close for privacy. Her handsome white camel was laden with gold and precious stones. Most likely, she was also accompanied by an armed guard to protect her from desert brigands, and by her devoted servants. Imagine the sight as Sheba’s train raised up dust in the distant desert. Around her swayed giraffes that had been transported by way of the west, and hippopotami. Six hundred camels in her entourage each held nearly 500 pounds of goods. Fifty elephants followed, four royal Numidian lions, uncountable mules. In the camel’s heavy waterskin sacks were pots of the gum of the frankincense tree. Myrrh leaves and its red resin. Gold. Pink pearls from the sea of reeds. Ivory tusks. Nard (ointment made from plants) and ambergris. The black resin of rockrose. Moon coriander. Myrtle and oliban (balsam used in medicine and perfumes). The endangered storax. Hops. Smell the scents too sweet to describe. The pungent yet aromatic smoke of her incense

And in return, King Solomon had assembled an array of gifts for her arrival. Great caskets of sticky Nubian millet beer awaited her party. The gifts were staked on mules outside Solomon,s palace, ready for her people to take to their camp and enjoy. Silks and linens from Gaza, Assyria, and Lebanon. Tapestry from Ma-Wara-Mnar. Dresses, sweet fruit from Iraq, Mongolistan winter melons. And basins of water from the spring at Siloe. Following the queen’s arrival, Solomon gave her a luxurious apartment in a palace next to his, and provided her with fruits, rose trees, silks, linens, tapestries, and 11 bewitching garments for each day of her visit. Daily, he sent her (and her 350 servants) 45 sacks of flour, 10 oxen, 5 bulls, 50 sheep (in addition to goats, deer, cows, gazelles, and chicken), wine, honey, fried locusts, rich sweets, and 25 singing men and women

What happened after she arrived?

History has given way to legend and fable. As I mentioned earlier, (1) there is no evidence to support the story that the Queen of Sheba ever visited King Solomon; and (2) according to the Holy Bible, King Solomon gave unto the queen of Sheba all her desires, whatsoever she asked, beside that which Solomon gave her of his royal bounty. So she turned and went to her own country, she and her servants. Yet consider the imagery and romance that have been conjured in some of these alternative endings, which come from Arabic and Ethiopian legends and folk tales:

The Marriage of Solomon and Sheba

When she arrived in his court, Sheba found Solomon arrayed in a cloth of gold, so that at first he looked like a statue of gold with hands of ivory. Solomon received her with every sort of festive preparation. He led her to behold the works of his palace and then the grand works of the temple. Balkis was lost in admiration. The king was captivated by her beauty and in a short time offered her his hand. Balkis was pleased to have conquered his proud heart, and she accepted his hand. Their troth was solemnized by the presentation of a ring by the Queen of Sheba to Solomon. Sheba took out from inside the plaiting of her black hair, a golden ring and handed it to Solomon. He receives it with a gasp. For it resembles in many ways the breastplate of twelve engraved gems worn by the high priests of Israel for the purpose of divination. But it is more precise, more pristine. Four gems only shine from the four sides of the circle, and these, Sheba explains in a whisper so perfect Solomon hardly recalls her speaking, signify writing and numbering (the blue stone), the equality of male and female (the green stone), blood (the red stone), and light (a dull reflecting metal). This alleged love affair has been captured both in poetry and in the movies (Solomon and Sheba, a 1959 Hollywood spectacular about the famed reign of King Solomon over ancient Israel in which the voluptuous Queen of Sheba plots his overthrow, starring Yul Brynner and Gina Lollobrigida)

Sheba Falls for Hiram Abiff

The Queen of Sheba was overwhelmed by the splendor and beauty of the magnificent edifice created by Solomon. On one of her visits to the temple, Balkis repeatedly requested to meet the architect who had wrought such wondrous things. Solomon delayed this meeting as long as possible, but finally he found it necessary to accede to her request. At the command of the king, Hiram Abiff, the mysterious artificer, was brought into the presence of Balkis, Queen of Sheba. Hiram looked deeply into the soul of Balkis and cast on the queen a look that penetrated her very heart. Upon recovering from this unforeseen occurrence, she regained her composure and questioned as well as defended Hiram from the ill-will and rising jealousy of Solomon. When Balkis requested to see the countless host of workmen that had created the temple, Solomon protested the impossibility of assembling them all at once; (there had been 70,000 involved in his projects) but Hiram, leaping on a stone to make himself more visible, with his right hand described in the air the symbolic Tau, and immediately the men hastened from all parts of the work into the presence of their master. Seeing this, the queen wondered and secretly repented her choice of a husband. She felt that she was in love with the mighty architect. Seeing the affection of Balkis for Hiram Abiff, Solomon set out to destroy it. He prepared for the humiliation and ruin of his rival. To this end, Solomon employed three fellowcrafts who were envious of Hiram. The reason for their envy was that Hiram had refused to raise them to the degree of a master mason due to their lack of knowledge and their idleness. They arranged to sabotage the pouring of the molten bronze for the great brazen sea. When the molten metal was poured in the presence of Solomon and Sheba, the liquid escaped its containment and flowed like lava over the adjoining places. The observers panicked into a terrified crowd. Hiram attempted to arrest the flow with a great quantity of water, but without success. The dishonoured artificer could not remove himself from the scene of the disaster. He was called into the flames by Tubal Cain (the first artificer in metals). After being promised that he would have a son whose descendants would perpetrate his race and rule the world for many centuries, he was given a hammer by Tubal Cain and returned to the earth. Hiram did not hesitate to test the efficacy of the hammer, and the dawn saw the great mass of bronze cast. Hiram was filled with joy and the Queen of Sheba was exulted. The people came running up to admire this secret power which in one night had repaired everything

Sheba Falls For Hiram Abiff (version 2)

One day Balkis and her maids went beyond Jerusalem and there encountered Hiram. The two confessed their love, and deliberated how Balkis could retract the promise she had given to King Solomon to marry him. It was their decision that Hiram would be the first to leave Jerusalem. Balkis would meet him in Arabia after eluding the vigilance of the king. She would accomplish this by removing the ring from his finger when he was overcome by wine. By this means, she could withdraw the troth that had pledged her to him. Solomon, meanwhile, hinted to the three fellow craft that the removal of his rival Hiram Abiff would be acceptable to him. The three fellowcraft assailed him in sequence and the third ruffian killed him with a setting maul. Immediately before his death, Hiram managed to throw the golden triangle about his neck into a deep well. The master architect was dead. In due course the Temple was completed without Hiram Abiff

Yet Another Hiram Abiff Romance

The masons were a breed near invisible to all others. By far the greater number of the sacred builders (some thought to have worked on the pyramids of Egypt) the masons were unbound spirits who fled the unjust and immoral regimes of the Nile delta after building the pyramids. They rowed to all ports of the Great Sea (Mediterranean) They scattered overland with their families in horse carts. They moved like nomads, in small groups resembling tinkers and smiths with their tools and aprons. Sometimes they put a T-shaped cross on their foreheads as a sign for “god” and “iron”. They found a more favourable climate for their work in Phoenicia, and laboured on several projects in Tyre. All the time they preserved faithfully the secrets of stone, brick and engraving, and of the care of the dead. They settled in the Holy Land as well. At the time of Solomon, brother masons usually wore beards but no mustaches, and their wives worked along side them. They lived by geometry. They knew their tools and their materials and they knew the uses of silence. Thus, when Solomon was anointed king in 965 BCE, he did not know of the masons until introduced into their order by Hiram, King of Tyre. Now they had gathered again, stonesquarers, hewers of wood, drawers of water, philosophers, sawyers of the underground lime, smelters of bronze, architects, smiths in silver and gold, apprentices, journeymen, astronomers, masters —skilled craftsmen in the thirty-nine kinds of sacred work. They focused their energies on the Temple mountain, feeling that this assignment from Hiram and Solomon was worthy of the brotherhood. They worked a month at a time, then rested for a month, then returned for another month’s labors. The conifers from Lebanon were cut, smoothed and finished far from the temple site because Solomon did not consider it good to have the loud sound of iron tools in the near workings. Iron was the hand of war. In the temple precincts, white stones as heavy as a thousand men were set into immaculate row upon row with an effortlessness known only to the masons. Solomon was called the Grand Master of the work when the temple was being built. Hiram, King of Tyre, controlled the overseas sources of wealth that made the work possible, and at least half of the work force; he was called the Grand Master of the Work. And the “other” Hiram of Tyre, the architect, was the third of the Grand Masters. Hiram had done good work in Tyre. But his preeminence in the building of Solomon’s temple was not due to his reputation. Nor had it been granted by his patron, the King of Tyre. It had come to him by his merit, on a specific day. On the morning that the foundation stone was being laid, Hiram drew a diagram on his trestle board of a certain three sided figure, and he observed that the squares drawn up on the short sides summed up exactly equal to the square drawn down the longest side, and he cried out “Eureka!” And Solomon appreciated this accomplishment, and appointed him Grand Architect of Jerusalem. Some of the masons said that this Hiram, son of the widow, was an artist wiser that the world had ever seen. Others argued that the work of the men of a hundred nationalities was the key, and that unless each one of these men—every last one—felt and continued to feel that his agreement was sacred, they could do nothing, but so long as the decision to cooeperate was made again and again every morning by every man, then the boundaries of their work would continue to amplify. There was, however, certain work that the masons did not do. No free man worked in the iron and copper mines of the Arabah. This wet, dirty and dangerous job was done by slaves, both male and female. One day, there was dissension amongst the workers. Hiram, chief architect and paymaster, felt the stirrings most. The different pay grades of workmen announced to the paymaster at what level they worked, and were paid accordingly. The ranks were specified in code. For example, burden bearers might say “servitude” and the journeymen masons and carpenters might say “worker’s pool,” and the overseers said “the way.” And in the old Semite tongue, all these three phrases sounded almost exactly alike, but for an accent or an inflection. But the men began to say different words. Hiram King of Tyre recognized immediately that this was the signal of worker unrest, a bad omen. One day, as Hiram stood before three huge drums of gold ingots facing his 150,000 men he motioned them to begin to approach. One by one they stepped forward and pronounced a word according to they hierarchy of their functions and were paid. To Hiram’s shock, one man rudely grabbed for his payment. Suddenly the orderly line gave way and the troops burst into the Temple in a great surge. There was shouting. Three men in an extremity of tension and anger confronted the grand master, demanding money, satisfaction, the truth. Hiram staggered and went down slowly. He was bleeding from the head and side. There was a point of a compasses stuck in his heart. Then there was chaos and riot. Loyal masons fell upon Hiram’s attackers, but the guilty escaped. Finally, at twilight, there fell stillness. Hiram had been left for dead in a rubble of gold. But he was still alive. He rose and left the temple, still bleeding. He knew the blood would never stop. He pressed towards the tents, to Sheba. And he found her, she found him, she loved, they loved, with love as intense as death, passion as incomprehensible as the grave. Sheba mobilized her thousands. The body of the queen’s last love lay buried in a grassy knoll outside Jerusalem, underneath an Egyptian gum acacia with mud around its roots. The long line of men and animals from the land of women gradually disappeared into the horizon. Sheba fled south through the Gulf of Aquaba

The Origin of the Ethiopian Monarchy—Sheba and her son Menyelek

The Bible says nothing about a marriage between Solomon and Sheba, but states simply that she returned to her own land. However, the Abyssinians (the country now known as Ethiopia) have adopted some of the Arab tales and trace the lineage of their royal house to the Queen of Sheba. The Ethiopians claim that their rulers are descended from Menilek, son of King Solomon and Queen of Sheba, thus giving rise to the imperial title “Lion of Judah.” The Kebra Negast is regarded as the final authority on the early history of Ethiopia, and its origin in the Solomonic lines of kings, which “descends without interruption from the dynasty of Menelik I, son of Queen of Ethiopia, Queen of Sheba and King Solomon of Jerusalem.” This idea exists in the folk lore of many Jewish, Moslem and Christian countries .The relationship between Ethiopia, Lion of Judah, and Israel is apparent in Ethiopia’s national emblem, the six pointed star, which corresponds to the Shield (Seal) of David on Israel’s flag Here is the tale of how Solomon’s son became the King of Ethiopia: When her visits to him multiplied, he longed for her greatly and entreated her to yield herself to him. But she would not surrender herself to him, and she said unto him, “I came to thee a maiden, a virgin; shall I go back despoiled of my virginity, and suffer disgrace in my kingdom? Swear to me by thy God, the God of Israel, that thou wilt not take me by force. For if I, who according to the law of men am maiden, be seduced, I should travel on my journey back in sorrow, and affliction and tribulation.”

And Solomon said unto her, “I will only take thee to myself in lawful marriage—I am the King, and thou shalt be the Queen. Strike a covenant with me that I am only to take thee to wife of thine own free will. This shall be the condition between us: when thou shalt come to me by night as I am lying on the cushions of my bed, thou shalt become my wife.” And behold she struck this covenant with him, determining within herself that she would preserve her virginity from him. But the ingenious King Solomon was not to be deterred by her refusal. After she had visited him for six months, the Queen of Sheba chose to return to her own country. The day before her departure, the palace servants busily prepared a festal banquet in her honor. Solomon arranged a great feast for her, beautifying his tent with purple hangings, carpets, marbles and precious stones, and burning aromatic powers and incense. “Follow me now and seat thyself in my splendor in the tent,” he told her, “and I will complete thy instruction, for thou has loved wisdom, and she shall dwell with thee until thine end and for ever.” When she agreed, he rejoiced. He prepared highly seasoned meats that would make her thirsty, fish cooked with pepper, and drinks mingled with spices. Then they dined and conversed until late in the night. Makeda attempted to retire to her own quarters. Solomon wouldn’t hear of her departing at so late an hour. Wasn’t his residence as comfortable as the one he had arranged for her? Makeda was the virgin queen of Ethiopia, her throne pending on that condition. Solomon swore to take nothing from her by force on terms that she would take nothing of his by force. Sheba slept in Solomon’s tent, and awakened in the middle of the night thirsty and craving water. All the water founts accessible to the public were shut off. The queen went to Solomon’s chambers to procure a cup of water, but was only able to find a water in a jar by Solomon’s bed. Solomon had, of course, asked his servants to hide all other sources of water. Believing him to be asleep, she reached across his bed for water, but he opened his eyes, seized her hand and said: “Why hast thou broken the oath that thou hast sworn that thou would not take by force anything that is in my house?” And she answered and said unto him in fear, “Is the oath broken by my drinking water? Be free from thy oath, only let me drink water.” Solomon replied: “As you see, nothing is more valuable than water. Release me from my vow and be released from yours and I will give you all that you desire.” And he permitted her to drink water, and after she had drunk water she gave herself into his embrace willingly. Sheba may have been Solomon’s lover, but she did not become his wife or remain with him much longer. After she had visited him for six months, she chose to return to her own country. Before she left, she gave Solomon 120 talents of gold (10 million dollars), precious stones and spices in great abundance, and highly prized sandalwood for his temple. In the Biblical story, “Solomon gave to the queen of Sheba all her desire, whatsoever she asked…besides that which Solomon gave her of his royal bounty.” Likewise, Josephus states, “Solomon also repaid her with many good things…bestowing upon her what she chose of her own inclination, for there was nothing that she desired which he denied her; and as he was very generous and liberal in his own temper, so did he show the greatness of his soul in bestowing on her what she herself desired of him.” Unlike the Bible and Josephus, the Kebra Negast provides details of Solomon’s gifts—beautiful apparel, 6000 camels, wagons laden with luxurious goods, and vessels for travel over desert, air, and sea. Because she was now pregnant with his child, he also gave her a ring, for he hoped that she would bear him a son, who might in time visit Jerusalem and prove his identity to Solomon. And the Queen departed and came into the country of Bala Zadisareya nine months and five days after she had separated from King Solomon. And the pains of childbirth laid hold upon her, and she brought forth a man-child, and she gave it to the nurse with great pride and delight. And the child grew and she called his name Bayna-Lehkem (Menelik), which means “son of the wise man.”When he was twenty-two years old he was skilled in the art of war and horsemanship, in the hunting and trapping of wild beast, and in every thing that young men desire to learn. And he said unto the Queen: “I will go and look upon the face of my father, and I will come back here by the will of God, the Lord of Israel.” When King Solomon saw his son, he rose up and moved forward to welcome him, and he embraced and kissed him, and said unto him: “Behold, my Father David hath renewed his youth and hath risen from the dead.” And Solomon the King turned around to those who had announced the arrival of the young man, and said unto them: “Ye said unto me, ‘He resembleth thee,’ but this is not my stature, but the stature of David my father in the days of his early manhood, and he is handsomer that I am.” And Solomon the King rose up and went into his chamber, and he arrayed his son in apparel made of cloth embroidered with gold, and a belt of gold, and he set a crown upon his head, and a ring upon his finger. Having arrayed him in glorious apparel, which bewitched the eyes, he seated him upon his Throne that he might be equal in rank to himself. Then he said unto the nobles and officers of Israel: “O ye who treat me with derision among yourselves and say that I have no son; look ye, this is my son, the fruit from my body, whom God, the Lord of Israel hat given me when I expected it not.” And his nobles answered and said unto him: “Blessed be the mother who hath brought forth this young man, and blessed be the day wherein thou hath union with the mother of this young man. For there hath risen upon us from the root of Jessse a shining man who shall be king of the posterity of his seed. And concerning his father none shall ask questions for verily he is a Israelite of the seed of David, fashioned perfectly in the likeness of his father’s form and appearance; we are his servants and he shall be our King.” And they brought unto him gifts each according to his greatness. Menelik along with the Elders of Israel took the Ark of the Covenant and established the Kingdom of David in Ethiopia, this Kingdom remained up till the time of Haile Selassie I, the Last Solomonic King of Kings of the Earth


The paper I have presented today is for entertainment and enlightenment. Remember this is a light-hearted compendium of tales, stories and legends from various sources. It may not be factually correct. Nonetheless, I hope it has given you some insight into the life and times of King Solomon, our first Grand Master. It was natural that imaginative stone masons long before speculative masonry should have felt a kinship with the great builders of all ages. It was natural that they should have acknowledged a peculiar attraction to the most famous and glorious of all building enterprises, King Solomon’s temple. Without a doubt, King Solomon’s temple was the grandest most costly structure ever erected. Thus it follows that Solomon’s temple should come to be regarded as the ideal prototype of a spiritual temple, which explains its prominence in our ritual. However, it is better to pattern ourselves after the building than after Solomon himself. After the departure of the Queen of Sheba, the completion of his luxurious Temple became more important to Solomon than the practice of his religion. Then his luxurious Palace “built for personal rather than collective use” took precedence over the Temple. Finally, his writing and preaching of wisdom became increasingly divorced from experience. Solomon no longer lived by the humane principles for which he had become respected and honoured. Some historians even view him as a tyrant who became devoted to his own glory, and whose greed and extravagance led him to build his kingdom on injustice, oppression and misery. All this for the love of a woman?

Bibliography and related reading

Solomon and Sheba. Faye Levine. Richard Marek Publishers, New York, 1980

Colliers Encyclopedia

Encyclopedia Americana

Great People of the Bible and How They Lived. Reader’s Digest Assoc., Inc. Pleasantville, NY, 1979

Deceptions and Myths of the Bible

International standard Bible Encyclopedia

The Geography of the Bible. Denis Ably. Harper and Rowe, New York 1974

King Solomon. Fredric Thinne. East and West Library, New York, 1947

The Secret Societies of All Ages and Countries. Charles William Heckthorn

The First Book of Kings. J. Robinson. Cambridge at the University Press 1972 Holy Bible, Authorized (King James) Version

The story of the Queen of Sheba is recorded in the Old Testament in I Kings 10:1-13; a similar version also appears in II Chronicles 9:1-12. Other references to the Queen of Sheba are: Psalms lxxii, 15, and in the New Testament, Matthew 12:42 and Luke 11:31

The Queen of Sheba and Her Only Son Menyelek: the Kebra Nagast. Budge, Sir Ernest A. Wallis, translator. Oxford University Press, London, 1932

Solomon and Solomonic Literature. Conway, Moncure Daniel. Haskell House, NY, 1973, pp.59-65 All of the Women of the Bible. Dean, Edith. Harper and Row, San Francisco, 1955

The Lore of the Old Testament. Gaer, Joseph. Little-Brown, Boston, 1951, pp. 242-44

Legends of the Bible. Ginzberg, Louis. Simon and Schuster, NY, 1956, pp. 560-64


Although I could not find a detailed account of one of Solomon’s feasts, the following account of King Ashurnasirpal’s Banquet gives some idea of the enormity of preparation and quantity of foodstuffs required for a royal feast: When Ashurnasirpal, king of Assyria, inaugurated the palace of Calah, a palace of joy and erected with great ingenuity, he invited into it Ashur, the great lord and the gods of his entire country. He prepared a banquet of 1,200 fattened head of cattle, 1,000 calves, 11,000 stable sheep, 16,000 lambs, 1,000 spring lambs, 500 stags, 500 gazelles, 1,000 ducks, 1,000 geese, 2,000 indigenous birds, 20,000 doves, and 10,000 other assorted small birds. Also 10,000 assorted fish, 10,000 jerboa (small, rabbit like rodents) 10,000 assorted eggs, 10,000 loaves of bread, 10,000 jars of beer, 10,000 skins of wine, 10,000 small bottom vessels with seeds in sesame oil, 10,000 small pots of condiments, 1,000 wooded crates with vegetables, 300 containers of oil, 300 containers of salted seeds, 300 containers of grapes, 100 mixed zamru fruits, 1700 pistachio cones, 100 jars with “mixture”, 100 with arsuppu grain, ten homer of shelled luddu nuts (one homer = 75 gallons or 11 bushels), ten homer of shelled pistachio, ten homer of the uru tree, ten homer of fruits of the habbaququ tree, ten homer of dates, ten homer of the fruits of the titip tree, ten homer of cumin, ten homer of sahhunu, ten homer of uriana. ten homer of andahsu bulbs, ten homer of sisanibee plants, ten homer of the fruits of the simburu tree, ten homer of thyme, ten homer of perfumed oil, ten homer of sweet smelling matters, ten homer of the fruits of the nasubu tree, ten homer of zimzimmu onions, ten homer of olives. When inaugurated, the palace treated for 10 days with food and drink 47,074 persons, men and women, who were bade to come from across the entire country, also 5,000 important persons, delegates from the country Suhu, from Hindar, Hattina, Hatti, Tyre, Sidon, Gurguma, Malida, Hubuska. Gilzana, Kuma, Musasir, also 10,000 inhabitants from Calah, 1,500 officials of all the royal palaces, altogether 69,574 invited guests from all the mentioned countries including the people of Calah. They were furthermore proved with the means to clean and anoint themselves.

Written by Tseday

November 19, 2008 at 4:08 pm

The First Muezzin – Bilal ibn Rabah, an Ethiopian

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Written by Barry Hoberman

This article appeared on pages 2-3 of the July/August 1983 print edition of Saudi Aramco World.

One of the most characteristic – and stirringly evocative – symbols of Islam is the adhan, the Arabic call to prayer, dramatically intoned by a muezzin from high atop a lofty minaret. Heard once, it is never forgotten.

The use of the adhan goes back to the lifetime of the Prophet Muhammad, and is mentioned once in the Koran, in connection with the Friday assembly:

O believers, when proclamation is made for prayer on the Day of Congregation, hasten to God’s remembrance and leave trafficking aside; that is better for you, did you but know. – Sura 62:9

Muslim tradition supplies the story of how the adhan came to be used to announce the times of the five daily prayers. After the emigration of Muhammad and his followers from Makkah (Mecca) to Medina-which is called the Hijra – a believer named Abd Allah ibn Zaid had a vision in which he tried to buy a wooden clapper to summon people to prayer. But the man who had the clapper advised him to call out to the people instead and to cry:

God is most great! God is most great!

I testify that there is no god but God.

I testify that Muhammad is the Apostle of God.

Come to prayer! Come to prayer!

Come to salvation! Come to salvation!

God is most great! God is most great!

There is no god but God.

According to Ibn Ishaq, the eighth-century biographer of the Prophet, Ibn Zaid went to Muhammad with his story and Muhammad, approving, told him to ask an Ethiopian named Bilal, who had a marvelous voice, to call the Muslims to prayer. As Ibn Ishaq told the story (in Albert Guillaume’s translation):

When the Apostle was told of this he said that it was a true vision if God so willed it, and that he should go to Bilal and communicate it to him so that he might call to prayer thus, for he had a more penetrating voice. When Bilal acted as muezzin, ‘Umar I, who later became the second caliph, heard him in his house and came to the

Apostle… saying that he had seen precisely the same vision. The Apostle said ‘God be praised for that!’

Though slightly different versions of the story exist, all agree that Islam’s first muezzin was Bilal. But who was this man whom the sources credit with such a key role in the nascent Muslim community?

Actually, very little is known. Bilal ibn Rabah, an Ethiopian, was born in Makkah sometime in the late sixth century, of very humble parentage, and was one of the first inhabitants of Makkah to accept the religion that a local merchant named Muhammad – the Prophet – began to preach there around the year 610.

According to Ibn Ishaq, Bilal suffered for his immediate acceptance of Muhammad’s message. In fact Bilal’s master, Umayya ibn Khalaf reportedly, “would bring him out at the hottest part of the day and throw him on his back in the open valley and have a great rock put on his chest; then he would say to him, ‘You will stay here till you die or deny Muhammad and worship al-Lat and al-‘Uzza” (pre-Islamic goddesses).

Bilal, however, would not renounce Islam and eventually Abu Bakr, later the most distinguished of the Prophet’s Companions and the first Caliph, rescued him.

In 622, the year of the Hijra, Bilal also migrated to Medina and over the next decade accompanied the Prophet on all military expeditions, serving, tradition says, as the Prophet’s mace-bearer and steward, but also as a muezzin revered by Muslims for his majestically sonorous renditions of the adhan .

Bilal’s finest hour came in January, 630, on an occasion regarded as one of the most hallowed moments in Islamic history. After the Muslim forces had captured Makkah, the Prophets muezzin ascended to the top of the Ka’ba to call the believers to prayer – the first time the call to prayer was heard within Islam’s holiest city.

There is confusion about what happened to Bilal after the death of the Prophet in 632. Abu Bakr succeeded the Prophet as head of the Muslim community, and some sources say that Bilal acted as Abu Bakr’s muezzin but subsequently declined to serve his successor, ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab, in the same capacity. Other authors say the Prophets death signaled the end of Bilal’s career as a muezzin, and that he called the faithful to prayer only twice more in his life – once in Syria, to honor the visiting ‘Umar, and a second time, in Medina, when he was specifically asked to do so by the Prophet’s grandsons.

What seems clear is that at some point Bilal accompanied the Muslim armies to Syria and that he died there between 638 and 642, though the exact date of death and place of burial are disputed.

Yet if there is some disagreement concerning the hard facts of Bilal’s life and death, his importance on a number of levels is incontestable. Muezzin guilds, especially those in Turkey and Africa, have traditionally venerated the original practitioner of their noble profession, and African Muslims as a whole feel a special closeness and kinship to him; he was an Ethiopian, after all, who had been exceptionally close to the Prophet, and is a model of steadfastness and devotion to the faith. The story of Bilal, in fact, remains the classic and most frequently cited demonstration that in the Prophet’s eyes, the measure of a man was neither nationality nor social status, but piety.

Barry Hoberman studied Islam at Harvard and Indiana Universities.

Written by Tseday

November 5, 2008 at 12:06 am

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Ethiopian Astronomy/Zodiac

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Ethiopia and the Origin of Civilization Part 2
By John G. Jackson (1939)

In the study of ancient affairs, folklore and tradition throw an invaluable light on historical records. In Greek mythology we read of the great Ethiopian king, Cepheus, whose fame was so great that he and his family were immortalized in the stars. The wife of King Cepheus was Queen Cassiopeia, and his daughter, Princess Andromeda. The star groups of the celestial sphere, which are named after them are called the ROYAL FAMILY (the constellations: CEPHEUS, CASSIOPEIA and ANDROMEDA.) It may seem strange that legendary rulers of ancient Ethiopia should still have their names graven on our star maps, but the voice of history gives us a clue.

A book on astrology attributed to Lucian declares that: “The Ethiopians were the first who invented the science of stars, and gave names to the planets, not at random and without meaning, but descriptive of the qualities which they conceived them to possess; and it was from them that this art passed, still in an imperfect state, to the Egyptians.” The Ethiopian origin of astronomy is beautifully explained by Count Volney in a passage in his Ruins of Empires, which is one of the glories of modern literature, and his argument is not based on guesses. He invokes the weighty authority of Charles F. Dupuis, whose three monumental works, The Origin of Constellations, The Origin of Worship and The Chronological Zodiac, are marvels of meticulous research. Dupuis placed the origin of the zodiac as far back as 15,000 B.C., which would give the world’s oldest picture book an antiquity of 17,000 years. (This estimate is not as excessive as it might at first appear, since the American astronomer and mathematician, Professor Arthur M. Harding, traces back the origin of the zodiac to about 26,000 B.C) In discussing star worship and idolatry, Volney gives the following glowing description of the scientific achievements of the ancient Ethiopians, and of how they mapped out the signs of the zodiac on the star-spangled dome of the heavens:

Should it be asked at what epoch this system took its birth, we shall answer on the testimony of the monuments of astronomy itself, that its principles appear with certainty to have been established about seventeen thousand years ago, and if it be asked to what people it is to be attributed, we shall answer that the same monuments, supported by unanimous traditions, attribute it to the first tribes of Egypt; and reason finds in that country all the circumstances which could lead to such a system; when it finds there a zone of sky, bordering on the tropic, equally free from the rains of the equator and the fogs of the north; when it finds there a central point of the sphere of the ancients, a salubrious climate, a great but manageable river, a soil fertile without art or labor, inundated without morbid exhalations, and placed between two seas which communicate with the richest countries; it conceives that the inhabitant of the Nile, addicted to agriculture from the facility of communications, to astronomy from the state of his sky, always open to observation, must have been the first to pass from the savage to the social state; and consequently to attain the physical and moral sciences necessary to civilized life.

It was, then, on the borders of the upper Nile, among a black race of men, that was organized the complicated system of the worship of the stars, considered in relation to the productions of the earth and the labors of agriculture. Thus the Ethiopian of Thebes named stars of inundation, or Aquarius, those stars under which the Nile began to overflow; stars of the ox or bull, those under which they began to plow, stars of the lion, those under which that animal, driven from the desert by thirst, appeared on the banks of the Nile; stars of the sheaf, or of the harvest virgin, those of the reaping season; stars of the lamb, stars of the two kids, those under which these precious animals were brought forth. Thus the same Ethiopian having observed that the return of the inundation always corresponded with the rising of a beautiful star which appeared towards the source of the Nile, and seemed to warn the husbandman against the coming waters, he compared this action to that of the animal who, by his barking, gives notice of danger, and he called this star the dog, the barker (Sirius). In the same manner he named the stars of the crab, those where the sun, having arrived at the tropic, retreated by a slow retrograde motion like the crab of Cancer. He named stars of the wild goat, or Capricorn, those where the sun, having reached the highest point in his annuary tract, imitates the goat, who delights to climb to the summit of the rocks. He named stars of the balance, or Libra, those where the days and nights being equal, seemed in equilibrium, like that instrument; and stars of the scorpion, those where certain periodical winds bring vapors, burning like the venom of the scorpion.
(Volney’s Ruins of Empires, pp. 120-122, New York, 1926)

The traditions concerning Memnon are interesting as well as instructive. He was claimed as a king by the Ethiopians, and identified with the Pharaoh Amunoph or Amenhotep, by the Egyptians. A fine statue of him is located in the British Museum, in London. Charles Darwin makes a reference to this statue on his Descent of Man which is well worth reproducing: “When I looked at the statue of Amunoph III, I agreed with two officers of the establishment, both competent judges, that he had a strongly marked Negro type of features.” The features of Akhnaton (Amennhotep IV), are even more Negroid than those of his illustrious predecessor. That the earliest Egyptians were African Ethiopians (Nilotic Negroes), is obvious to all unbiased students of oriental history. Breasted’s claim that the early civilized inhabitants of the Nile Valley and Western Asia were members of a Great White Race, is utterly false, and is supported by no facts whatsoever. A similar racial bias is shown by Elliot Smith in his work, The Ancient Egyptians and Their Influence Upon the Civilization of Europe, p. 30, New York & London, 1911. “Not a few writers,” says he, “like the traveler Volney in the 18th century, have expressed the belief that the ancient Egyptians were Negroes, or at any rate strongly Negroid. In recent times even a writer so discriminating as Ripley usually is has given his adhesion to this view.” (The writers referred to here, are Count Volney, the French Orientalist and Professor William Z. Ripley, of Harvard University, an eminent American Anthropologist.) Professor Smith is convinced that these men are wrong, because he holds that there is a “profound gap that separates the Negro from the rest of mankind, including the Egyptian.” (Ancient Egyptians, p. 74.) Another English scholar, Philip Smith, is far more rational in discussing this point:

No people have bequeathed to us so many memorials of its form complexion and physiognomy as the Egyptians. If we were left to form an opinion on the subject by the description of the Egyptians left by the Greek writers we should conclude that they were, if not Negroes, at least closely akin to the Negro race. That they were much darker in coloring than the neighboring Asiatics; that they had their frizzled either by nature or art; that their lips were thick and projecting, and their limbs slender, rests upon the authority of eye-witnesses who had traveled in the country and who could have had no motive to deceive. The fullness of the lips seen in the Sphinx of the Pyramids and in the portraits of the kings is characteristic of the Negro. (The Ancient History of the East, pp. 25-26, London, 1881.)

We read of Memnon, King of Ethiopia, in Greek mythology, to be exact in Homer’s Iliad, where he leads an army of Elamites and Ethiopians to the assistance of King Priam in the Trojan War. His expedition is said to have started from the African Ethiopia and to have passed through Egypt on the way to Troy. According to Herodotus, Memnon was the founder of Susa, the chief city of the Elamites. “There were places called Memnonia,” asserts Professor Rawlinson, “supposed to have been built by him both in Egypt and at Susa; and there was a tribe called Memnones at Moroe. Memnon thus unites the eastern with the western Ethiopians, and the less we regard him as an historical personage the more must we view him as personifying the ethnic identity of the two races.” (Ancient Monarchies, Vol. I, Chap. 3.)

The ancient peoples of Mesopotamia are sometimes called the Chaldeans, but this is inaccurate and confusing. Before the Chaldean rule in Mesopotamia, there were the empires of the Sumerians, Akkadians, Babylonians and Assyrians. The earliest civilization of Mesopotamia was that of the Sumerians. They are designated in the Assyrio-Babylonian inscriptions as the black-heads or black-faced people, and they are shown on the monuments as beardless and with shaven heads. This easily distinguishes them from the Semitic Babylonians, who are shown with beards and long hair. From the myths and traditions of the Babylonians we learn that their culture came originally from the south. Sir Henry Rawlinson concluded from this and other evidence that the first civilized inhabitants of Sumer and Akkad were immigrants from the African Ethiopia. John D. Baldwin, the American Orientalist, on the other hand, claims that since ancient Arabia was also known as Ethiopia, they could have just as well come from that country. These theories are rejected by Dr. II. R. Hall, of the Dept. Of Egyptian & Assyrian Antiquities of the British Museum, who contends that Mesopotamia was civilized by a migration from India. “The ethnic type of the Sumerians, so strongly marked in their statues and reliefs,” says Dr. Hall, “was as different from those of the races which surrounded them as was their language from those of the Semites, Aryans, or others; they were decidedly Indian in type. The face-type of the average Indian of today is no doubt much the same as that of his Dravidian race ancestors thousands of years ago. And it is to this Dravidian ethnic type of India that the ancient Sumerian bears most resemblance, so far as we can judge from his monuments. And it is by no means improbable that the Sumerians were an Indian race which passed, certainly by land, perhaps also by sea, through Persia to the valley of the Two Rivers. It was in the Indian home (perhaps the Indus valley) that we suppose for them that their culture developed.  On the way they left the seeds of their culture in Elam. There is little doubt that India must have been one of the earliest centers of human civilization, and it seems natural to suppose that the strange un-Semitic, un-Aryan people who came from the East to civilize the West were of Indian origin, especially when we see with our own eyes how very Indian the Sumerians were in type.” (The Ancient History of the Near East, pp. 173“174, London, 1916.) Hall is opposed in his theory of Sumerian origins by Dr. W. J. Perry, the great anthropologist, of the University of London. “The Sumerian stories or origins themselves tell a very different tale,” Perry points out, “for from their beginnings the Sumerians seem to have been in touch with Egypt. Some of their early texts mention Dilmun, Magan and Meluhha. Dilmun was the first settlement that was made by the god Enki, who was the founder of Sumerian civilization. Magan was famous among the Sumerians as a place whence they got diorite and copper, Meluhha as a place whence they got gold. Dilmun has been identified with some place or other in the Persian Gulf, perhaps the Bahrein Islands, perhaps a land on the eastern shore of the Gulf. In a late inscription of the Assyrians it is said that Magan and Meluhha were the archaic names for Egypt and Ethiopia, the latter being the south-western part of Somaliand that lay opposite.” (The Growth of Civilization, pp. 60“61, 2nd Edition, Harmondsworth, Middlesex, England, 1937, Published by Penguin Books, Ltd.)

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September 14, 2008 at 5:10 am

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Wonderful Ethiopians of the Ancient Cushite Empire
by Drusilla Dunjee Houston [1926, no renewal]


Because of the great lapse. of time, it seems almost impossible to locate the original seat of the old Ethiopian empire. Bochart thought it was “Happy Araby,” that from this central point the Cushite race spread eastward and westward. Some authorities like Gesenius thought it was Africa. The Greeks looked to old Ethiopia and called the Upper Nile the common cradle of mankind. Toward the rich luxurience of this region they looked for the “Garden of Eden.” From these people of the Upper Nile arose the oldest traditions and rites and from them sprang the first colonies and arts of antiquity. The Greeks also said that Egyptians derived their civilization and religion from Ethiopia. “Egyptian religion was not an original conception, for three thousand years ago she had lost all true sense of its real meaning among even the priesthood.” (Budge, Osiris and the Egyptian Resurrection–Preface.) Yet Egyptian forms of worship are understood and practiced among the Ethiopians of Nubia today. The common people of Egypt never truly understood their religion, this was why it so easily became debased.

Ptolemaic writers said that Egypt was formed of the mud carried down, from Ethiopia, that Ethiopians were the first men that ever lived, the only truly autochthonous race and the first to institute the worship of the gods and the rites of sacrifice. Egypt itself was a colony of Ethiopia and the laws and script of both lands were naturally the same; but the hieroglyphic script was more widely known to the vulgar in Ethiopia than in Egypt. (Diodorus Siculus, bk. iii, ch. 3.) This knowledge of writing was universal in Ethiopia but was confined to the priestly classes alone in Egypt. This was because the Egyptian priesthood was Ethiopian. The highly developed Merodic inscriptions are not found in Egypt north of the first cataract or in Nubia south of Soba. These are differences we would expect to find between a colony and a parent body. Herodotus (bk. ii, p. 29) says that Meroe was a great city and metropolis, most of its buildings were of red brick. 800 B. C. at Napata, the buildings were of hard stone. (Meroe–Crowfoot, pp. 6, 30.)

The Cyclopedia of Biblical Literature says, “There is every reason to conclude that the separate colonies of priestcraft spread from Meroe into Egypt; and the primeval monuments in Ethiopia strongly confirm the native traditions, reported by Diodorus Siculus, that the worship of Zeus-Ammon originated in Meroe, also the worship of Osiris. This would render highly probable the opinion that commerce, science and art descended into Egypt from the Upper Nile. Herodotus called the Ethiopians “Wisemen occupying the Upper Nile, men of long life, whose manners and customs pertain to the Golden Age,those virtuous mortals, whose feasts and banquets are honored by Jupiter himself.” In Greek times, the Egyptians depicted Ethiopia as an ideal state. The Puranas, the ancient historical books of India, speak of the civilization of Ethiopia as being older than that of Egypt. These Sanskrit books mention the names of old Cushite kings that were worshipped in India and who were adopted and changed to suit the fancy of the later people of Greece and Rome.

The Hindu Puranas speak of the Cushites going to India before they went to Egypt, proving Hindu civilization coeval with that of Chaldea and the country of the Nile. These ancients record that the Egyptians were a colony drawn out from Cusha-Dwipa and that the Palli, another colony that made the Phoenicians followed them from the land of Cush. In those primitive days, the central seat of Ethiopia was not the Meroe of our day, which is very ancient, but a kingdom that preceeded it by many ages; that was called Meru. Lenormant spoke of the first men of the ancient world as “Men of Meru.” Sanskrit writers called Indra, chief god of the Hindu, king of Meru. He was deified and became the chief representative of the supreme being. Thus was primitive India settled by colonists from Ethiopia. Early writers said there was very little difference in the color or features of the people of the two countries.

Ancient traditions told of the deeds of Deva Nahusha, another sovereign of Meru, who extended his empire over three worlds. The lost literature of Asia Minor dealt with this extension of the Ethiopian domain. An old poem “Phrygia,” was a history of Dionysus, one of the most celebrated of the old Ethiopians. It was written in a very old language and character. He preceeded Menes by many ages. Baldwin says that the authentic books that would have given us the true history concerning him, perished long before the Hellenes. The Greeks of historical times distorted the story of Dionysus and converted him into their drunken god of wine. “They misconstrued and misused the old Cushite mythology, wherever they failed to understand it, and sought to appropriate it entirely to themselves.” One of the poetical versions of the taking of Troy, on the coast of Asia Minor, was entitled “The Æthiops,” because the inhabitants of Troy, as we shall prove later, who fought so valiantly in the Trojan war, were Cushite Ethiopians. This version presented the conflict as an Egyptian war.

In those early ages Egypt was under Ethiopian domination. In proof of this fact, the Cyclopedia of Biblical Literature says, “Isaiah often mentions Ethiopia and Egypt in close political relations. In fine the name of Ethiopia chiefly stood as the name of the national and royal family of Egypt. In the beginning Egypt was ruled from Ethiopia. Ethiopia was ruined by her wars with Egypt, which she sometimes subdued and sometimes served.” Modern books contain but little information about the country of the Upper Nile, but archaic books were full of the story of the wonderful Ethiopians. The ancients said that they settled Egypt. Is it possible that we could know more about the origin of this nation than they? Reclus says, “The people occupying the plateau of the Blue Nile, are conscious of a glorious past and proudly call themselves Ethiopians.” He calls the whole triangular space between the Nile and the Red Sea, Ethiopia proper. This vast highland constituted a world apart. From it went forth the inspiration and light now bearing its fruit in the life of younger nations.

Heeren thought, that excepting the Egyptians, no aboriginal people of Africa so claim our attention as the Ethiopians. He asks, “To what shall we attribute the renown of this one of the most distant nations of the earth? How did the fame of her name permeate the terrible deserts that surrounded her: and even yet form an insuperable bar to all who approach. A great many nations distant and different from one another are called Ethiopians. Africa contains the greater number of them and a considerable tract in Asia was occupied by this race. The Ethiopians were distinguished from the other races by a very dark or completely black skin. ” (Heeren’s Historical Researches–Ethiopian Nations. Ch. 1, p. 46) Existing monuments confirm the high antiquity of Meroe. In the Persian period Ethiopia was an important and independent state, which Cambyses vainly attempted to subdue. Rosellini thinks that the right of Sabaco and Tirhakah, Ethiopian kings, who sat upon the throne of Egypt in the latter days, must have been more by right of descent than by usurpation or force of arms. “This may be judged,” he says, “by the respect paid to their monuments by their successors.”

The pictures on the Egyptian monuments reveal that Ethiopians were the builders. They, not the Egyptians, were the master-craftsmen of the earlier ages. The first courses of the pyramids were built of Ethiopian stone. The Cushites were a sacerdotal or priestly race. There was a religious and astronomical significance in the position and shape of the pyramids. Dubois points to the fact that in Upper Egypt there were pictured black priests who were conferring upon red Egyptians, the instruments and symbols of priesthood. Ethiopians in very early ages had an original and astounding religion, which included the rite of human sacrifice. It lingered on in the early life of Greece and Home. Dowd explains this rite in this way: “The African offered his nearest and dearest, not from depravity but from a greater love for the supreme being.” The priestly caste was more influencial upon the Upper Nile than in Egypt. With the withdrawal of the Ethiopian priesthood from Egypt to Napata, the people of the Lower Nile lost the sense of the real meaning of their religion, which steadily deteriorated with their language after their separation from Ethiopia.

If we visit Nubia, modern Ethiopia today, we can plainly see in the inhabitants their superiority to the common Egyptian type. The Barabra or Nile Nubians are on a footing of perfect equality in Egypt because that was their plane in ancient days. Baedecker describes them as strong, muscular, agricultural and more warlike and energetic than Egyptians. Keane says the Nubians excel in moral qualities. They are by his description obviously Negroid, very dark with full lips and dreamy eyes. They have the narrow heads which are the cranial formation of Ethiopia. Race may be told by shape of the skull far better than by color or feature, which are modified by climate. The members of the Tartar race have perfectly rounded skulls. The head of the Ethiopian races is very elongated. Europeans have an intermediate skull. The cranial formation of unmixed races never changes. Keane concludes by saying, “All Barbara have wooly hair with scant beards like the figures of Negroes on the walls of the Egyptian temples.” The race of the Old Empire approached closely to this type.

Strabo mentions the Nubians as a great race west of the Nile. They came originally from Kordofan, whence they emigrated two thousand years ago. They have rejected the name Nubas as it has become synonymous with slave. They call themselves Barabra, their ancient race name. Sanskrit historians call the Old Race of the Upper Nile Barabra. These Nubians have become slightly modified but are still plainly Negroid. They look like the Wawa on the Egyptian monuments. The Retu type number one was the ancient Egyptian, the Retu type number two was in feature an intermingling of the Ethiopian and Egyptian types. The Wawa were Cushites and the name occurs in the mural inscriptions five thousands years ago. Both people were much intermingled six thousand years ago. The faces of the Egyptians of the Old Monarchy are Ethiopian but as the ages went on they altered from the constant intermingling with Asiatic types. Also the intense furnace-like heat of Upper Egypt tended to change the features and darken the skin.

In the inscriptions relative to the campaigns of Pepi I, Negroes are represented as immediately adjoining the Egyptian frontier. This seems to perplex some authors. They had always been there. This was the Old Race of predynastic Egypt–the primitive Cushite type. This was the aboriginal race of Abyssinia. It was symbolized by the Great Sphinx and the marvelous face of Cheops. Take any book of Egyptian history containing authentic cuts and examine the faces of the first pharaohs, they are distinctively Ethiopian. The “Agu” of the monuments represented this aboriginal race. They were the ancestors of the Nubians. and were the ruling race of Egypt. Petrie in 1892 exhibited before the British Association, some skulls of the Third and Fourth Dynasties, showing distinct Negroid characteristics. They were dolichocephalic or long skulled. The findings of archaeology more and more reveal that Egypt was Cushite in her beginning and that Ethiopians were not a branch of the Japheth race in the sense that they are so represented in the average ethnological classifications of today.


Egyptians said that they and their religion had come from the land of Punt. Punt is generally accepted today to have been Somaliland south of Nubia. On the pictured plates at Deir-el-Baheri, the huts of the people of Punt were like the Toquls of the modern Sudanese, being built on piles approached by ladders. The birds were like a species common among the Somali. The fishes were not like those of Egypt. The wife of the king of Punt appears with a form like the Bongo women with exaggerated organs of maternity. This was a distinctive Ethiopian form. The king had the Cushite profile. The products carried by the wooly haired porters were ebony, piles of elephant tusks, all African products and trays of massive gold rings. Punt is mentioned in the inscriptions as a land of wonders. We find marvelous ruins in southeastern Africa that substantiate these reports. The inscription in the rocky valley of Hammat tells how 2000 B. C. a force gathered in the Thebaid to go on an expedition to Punt to bring back the products that made the costly incense of the ancients. The Stage Temple at Thebes showed in gorgeous pictures another expedition in 1600 B. C. We now know that Somaliland yielded the frankincense of ancient commerce, which was used in the ceremonials of all ancient kingdoms. Punt was called the “Holy Land” by the Egyptians.

In Egypt today, the most effective battalions are those commanded by black Nubians. In ancient ages the Egyptians followed the lead of the Ethiopian to battle and it is instinctive in them to do so today. Cushites were the backbone of the armies in the earliest ages. The Egyptian has no warlike qualities. It was the Cushite who was the head and brains of the foreign conquests. It was the Cushite element of the Old Empire that extended itself in foreign colonization eastward and westward around the world. Across Arabia and southwestern Asia, even to the central highlands, inscriptions and massive images in stone stand as voiceless witnesses that they were the commanders of the Egyptian armies and that the Ethiopian masses accompanied the soldiers as trusted allies and not as driven slaves. We must remember that in the early ages they were not a subject race but that their power as a great empire was at its zenith.

The Egyptian of today much changed from the ancient whom Herodotus called black, is content to live in a mud hut beside his beloved Nile. He is despised by the prouder Nubian, who saves his earnings to buy a home and piece of ground in his native Ethiopia. Reclus tells us that the dislike between Egyptians and Nubians is carried to such a great extent that the Nubians even in Egypt will not marry an Egyptian woman and that he refuses his daughter in marriage to the Egyptian and Arab. This could have come down alone front an age-old consciousness of superiority. He knows the proud traditions of his race. In books careless of ethnography, we find the Nubian classed with Semitic stock. They have no affinities at all with this race. Nubians are never able to speak the Arabic tongues gramatically. Nubian women are seldom seen in Egypt. They are the most faithful to the manners and customs of the Old Race. The Egyptian of today makes
little showings of ambition or the spirit for great deeds. He squanders his earnings upon trinkets and seems content in the same mud hovel in which the masses of Egyptians primitively lived.

Prichard recognizes two branches of the Nubians, the Nubians of the Nile and those of the Red Sea. In the age of Herodotus, the countries known as Nubia and Senaar were occupied by two different races, one of which he includes under the name Ethiopian; the other was a pastorial race of Semitic decent which led a migratory life. This distinction continues to the present day. The Red Sea nomadic tribes are extremely savage and inhospitable. The Nile Nubas or Barabra are the original Ethiopians. They are agricultural and have the old Hamitic traits. They plant date trees and set up wheels for irrigation. These are the Ethiopians mentioned in chronicles as possessing war chariots. Their allies were the Libyans. Semites at that age of the world had no possession of iron vehicles. Heeren says “that the ancestors of these Ethiopians had long lived in cities and had erected magnificent temples and edifices, that they possessed law and government, and that the fame of their progress in knowledge and the social arts had spread in the earliest ages to a considerable part of the world.”

Maurice, that reliable authority on ancient remains, declares, “The ancient Ethiopians were the architectural giants of the past. When the daring Cushite genius was in the full career of its glory, it was the peculiar delight of this enterprising race to erect stupendous edifices, excavate long subterranean passages in the living rock, form vast lakes and extend over the hollows of adjoining mountains magnificent arches for aqueducts and bridges. It was they who built the tower of Babel or Belus and raised the pyramids or Egypt; it was they who formed the grottoes near the Nile and scooped the caverns of Salsette end Elephante. (These latter are wonders of Hindu architecture.) Their skill in mechanical powers astonishes posterity, who are unable to conceive by what means stones thirty, forty and even sixty feet in length from twelve to twenty in depth could ever be raised to the point of elevation at which they are seen in the ruined temples of Belbec and Thebais. Those comprising the pagodas of India are scarcely less wonderful in point of elevation and magnitude.” (Maurice’s Ancient History of Hindustan.)

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September 14, 2008 at 3:41 am

The ancient Ethiopians and their widespread influence on the early history of civilization

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A Critical Review of the Evidence of Archaeology, Anthropology, History and Comparative Religion: According to the Most Reliable Sources and Authorities
By John G. Jackson (1939)

In discussing the origin of civilization in the ancient Near East, Professor Charles Seignobos in his History of Ancient Civilization, notes that the first civilized inhabitants of the Nile and Tigris-Euphrates valleys, were a dark-skinned people with short hair and prominent lips; and that they are referred to by some scholars as Cushites (Ethiopians), and as Hamites by others. This ancient civilization of the Cushites, out of which the earliest cultures of Egypt and Mesopotamia grew, was not confined to the Near East. Traces of it have been found all over the world.

In modern geography the name Ethiopia is confined to the country known as Abyssinia, an extensive territory in East Africa. In ancient times Ethiopia extended over vast domains in both Africa and Asia. “It seems certain,” declares Sir E. A. Wallis Budge, “that classical historians and geographers called the whole region from India to Egypt, both countries inclusive, by the name of Ethiopia, and in consequence they regarded all the dark-skinned and black peoples who inhabited it as Ethiopians. Mention is made of Eastern and Western Ethiopians and it is probable that the Easterners were Asiatics and the Westerners Africans.” (History of Ethiopia, Vol. I., Preface, by Sir E. A. Wallis Budge.) In addition Budge notes that, “Homer and Herodotus call all the peoples of the Sudan, Egypt, Arabia, Palestine and Western Asia and India Ethiopians.” (Ibid., p. 2.) Herodotus wrote in his celebrated History that both the Western Ethiopians, who lived in Africa, and the Eastern Ethiopians who dwelled in India, were black in complexion, but that the Africans had curly hair, while the Indians were straight-haired. (The aboriginal black inhabitants of India are generally referred to as the Dravidians, of whom more will be said as we proceed.) Another classical historian who wrote about the Ethiopians was Strabo, from whom we quote the following: “I assert that the ancient Greeks, in the same way as they classed all the northern nations with which they were familiar as Scythians, etc., so, I affirm, they designated as Ethiopia the whole of the southern countries toward the ocean.” Strabo adds that “if the moderns have confined the appellation Ethiopians to those only who dwell near Egypt, this must not be allowed to interfere with the meaning of the ancients.” Ephorus says that: “The Ethiopians were considered as occupying all the south coasts of both Asia and Africa,” and adds that “this is an ancient opinion of the of the Greeks.” Then we have the view of Stephanus of Byzantium, that: “Ethiopia was the first established country on earth; and the Ethiopians were the first who introduced the worship of the gods, and who established laws.” The vestiges of this early civilization have been found in Nubia, the Egyptian Sudan, West Africa, Egypt, Mashonaland, India, Persia, Mesopotamia, Arabia, South America, Central America, Mexico, and the United States. Any student who doubts this will find ample evidence in such works as The Voice of Africa, by Dr. Leo Froebenius; Prehistoric Nations, and Ancient America, by John D. Baldwin; Rivers of Life, by Major-General J. G. R. Forlong; A Book of the Beginnings by Gerald Massey; Children of the Sun and The Growth of Civilization, by W. J. Perry; The Negro by Professor W.E.B. DuBois; The Anacalypsis, by Sir Godfrey Higgins; Isis Unveiled by Madam H. P. Blavatsky; The Diffusion of Culture, by Sir Grafton Elliot Smith; The Mediterranean Race, by Professor Sergi; The Ruins of Empires, by Count Volney; The Races of Europe, by Professor William Z. Ripley; and last but not least, the brilliant monographs of Mr. Maynard Shipley: New Light on Prehistoric Cultures and Americans of a Million Years Age.

In the study of ancient affairs, folklore and tradition throw an invaluable light on historical records. In Greek mythology we read of the great Ethiopian king, Cepheus, whose fame was so great that he and his family were immortalized in the stars. The wife of King Cepheus was Queen Cassiopeia, and his daughter, Princess Andromeda. The star groups of the celestial sphere, which are named after them are called the ROYAL FAMILY—(the constellations: CEPHEUS, CASSIOPEIA and ANDROMEDA.) It may seem strange that legendary rulers of ancient Ethiopia should still have their names graven on our star maps, but the voice of history gives us a clue. A book on astrology attributed to Lucian declares that: “The Ethiopians were the first who invented the science of stars, and gave names to the planets, not at random and without meaning, but descriptive of the qualities which they conceived them to possess; and it was from them that this art passed, still in an imperfect state, to the Egyptians.” The Ethiopian origin of astronomy is beautifully explained by Count Volney in a passage in his Ruins of Empires, which is one of the glories of modern literature, and his argument is not based on guesses.

We read of Memnon, King of Ethiopia, in Greek mythology, to be exact in Homer’s Iliad,where he leads an army of Elamites and Ethiopians to the assistance of King Priam in the Trojan War. His expedition is said to have started from the African Ethiopia and to have passed through Egypt on the way to Troy.

Another great nation of Ethiopian origin was Elam, a country which stretched from the Tigris River to the Zagros Mountains of Persia. Its capital was the famous city of Susa, which was founded about 4,000 B.C., and flourished from that date to its destruction by Moslem invaders about the year 650 C.E.

We cannot devote much space to the early inhabitants of India, though they were beyond all doubt an Ethiopic ethnic type. They are described by Professor Lynn Thorndike as “short black men with almost Negro noses.” (Short History of Civilization, p. 227, New York, 1936.) Dr. Will Durant pictures these early Hindus as “a dark-skinned, broad-nosed people whom, without knowing the origin or the word, we call Dravidians.” (Short History of Civilization, Part I, p. 396, New York, 1935.)

Most readers of history know about the Celts, ancient inhabitants of Europe, whose priests were known as the Druids. It is generally thought that these Celts were Caucasoids, but Sir Godfrey Higgins, after much study came to the conclusion that they were a Negroid people. Higgins wrote a ponderous volume entitled The Celtic Druids. In the following passage from his Anacalypsis he modestly refers to it as an essay: “In my essay on the Celtic Druids, I have shown that a great nation called Celtae, of whom the Druids were the priests, spread themselves almost over the whole earth, and are to be traced in their rude gigantic monuments from India to the extremity of Britain. The religion of Buddha of India is well known to have been very ancient.” (Higgins is here referring to the first Buddha, who is supposed to have lived between 5,000 and 6,000 years ago, and not to Gautama Buddha who lived about 600 years B.C. There were at least ten Buddhas mentioned in the sacred books of India.) “Who these can have been but the early individuals of the black nation of whom we have been treating I know not, and in this opinion I am not singular. The learned Maurice says Cuthies (Cushites), i.e. Celts, built the great temples in India and Britain, and excavated the caves of the former; and the learned mathematician, Reuben Burrow, has no hesitation in pronouncing Stonehenge to be a temple of the black curly-headed Buddha.” (Anacalypsis, Vol. I, Book I, Chap. IV, New York, 1927.)

Most of us are familiar with the Mayan civilization of Yucatan and Central America, since American archaeologists have devoted many years of intensive research to these territories. Among the speculations concerning the origin of this culture, those of LePlongeon and Raquena are the most valuable. Professor Rafael Requena, a Venezuelan archaeologist, holds that there was once an island in the Atlantic Ocean, of continental dimensions, known to the ancients as Atlantis, that this island was settled by Egyptians, who in turn established colonies in America before the submergence of Atlantis…That Atlantis was connected with the history of ancient Ethiopia there can be little doubt. The Greek philosopher, Proclus, stated in his works that he could present evidence that Atlantis at one time actually existed. He cited as his authority The Ethiopian History of Marcellus. In referring to Ethiopian history to prove the existence of Atlantis, Proclus plainly infers that Atlantis was a part of Ethiopia. (See Cory’s Ancient Fragments of the Phoenician, Carthaginian, Babylonian, Egyptian and Other Authors, London, 1876. See also, Maynard Shipley’s New Light on Prehistoric Cultures and Bramwell’s Lost Atlantis.)

we find the great nations of the world, both past and present, worshipping black gods, then we logically conclude that these peoples are either members of the black race, or that they originally received their religion in toto or in part from black people. The proofs are abundant. The ancient gods of India are shown with Ethiopian crowns on their heads. According to the Old Testament, Moses first met Jehovah during his sojourn among the Midianites, who were an Ethiopian tribe. We learn from Hellenic tradition that Zeus, king of the Grecian gods, so cherished the friendship of the Ethiopians that he traveled to their country twice a year to attend banquets. “All the gods and goddesses of Greece were black,” asserts Sir Godfrey Higgins, “at least this was the case with Jupiter, Baccus, Hercules, Apollo, Ammon. The goddesses Benum, Isis, Hecate, Diana, Juno, Metis, Ceres, Cybele were black.” (Anacalypsis, Vol. I, Book IV, Chap. I.) Even the Romans, who received their religion mainly from the Greeks, admitted their debt to Egypt and Ethiopia.

A study of the images of ancient deities of both the Old and New Worlds reveal their Ethiopic origin. This is noted by Kenneth R. H. Mackezie in T. A. Buckley’s Cities of the Ancient World, p. 180: “From the wooly texture of the hair, I am inclined to assign to the Buddha of India, the Fuhi of China, the Sommonacom of the Siamese, the Zaha of the Japanese, and the Quetzalcoatl of the Mexicans, the same, and indeed an African, or rather Nubian, origin.” Most of these black gods were regarded as crucified saviors who died to save mankind by being nailed to a cross, or tied to a tree with arms outstretched as if on a cross, or slain violently in some other manner. Of these crucified saviors, the most prominent were Osiris and Horus of Egypt, Krishna of India, Mithra of Persia, Quetazlcoatl of Mexico, Adonis of Babylonia and Attis of Phrygia. Nearly all of these slain savior-gods have the following stories related about them: They are born of a virgin, on or near Dec. 25th (Christmas); their births are heralded by a star; they are born either in a cave or stable; they are slain, commonly by crucifixion; they descend into hell, and rise from the dead at the beginning of Spring (Easter), and finally ascend into heaven. The parallels between the legendary lives of these pagan messiahs and the life of Jesus Christ as recorded in the Bible are so similar that progressive Bible scholars now admit that stories of these heathen Christs have been woven into the life-story of Jesus. (These remarkable parallels are discussed and interpreted in a pamphlet, Christianity Before Christ, by John G. Jackson, New York, 1938.)

Written by Tseday

August 22, 2008 at 2:18 pm

Why were the Ethiopian Jews the last to arrive in Israel?

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Israel only brought Ethiopian Jews to the country under duress; and since their arrival, it has treated them worse than any other Jews

Interview with Dr. Chen Tannenbaum-Domanovitz

Written by Tseday

January 12, 2017 at 2:07 pm

“Bring Me the Ethiopian Jews”

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Source: World Policy Blog

November 17, 2016
By Omri Bezalel

Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin called the head of Mossad, Israel’s intelligence agency, into his office in 1977 and said to him, “Bring me the Ethiopian Jews.” What followed were a series of missions by land, sea, and air that brought more than 56,000 Jewish Ethiopians through Sudan into Israel over eight years. It was a highpoint in Israel’s history, followed immediately by a massive failure to integrate Ethiopians into Israeli society—a failure that carries immense consequences for today’s young Ethiopian-Israelis who experience racial discrimination and sometimes feel as though they’re not part of Israeli society.

The scale of the calamity can be found in demographic statistics. There are about 140,000 Ethiopian-Israelis living in Israel, about 50,000 of whom were born in Israel. Sixty-five percent of Ethiopian children live in poverty and one-fifth are incarcerated in juvenile detention centers. Less than 11 percent of Ethiopian-Israeli high school students are eligible to graduate. One in five Ethiopian-Israelis—five times the number for the general population—are jailed during their military service, making up 12 percent of the military prison population but only 2 percent of the military. There are fewer than 40 Ethiopians (one out of 3,000) who practice law.

Today’s problems can be traced to the integration process Ethiopians went through when they first came to Israel. Addisu Masale, the first Ethiopian elected to the Knesset, remembers the segregation starting on arrival when he and others were put in permanent public housing. But these projects didn’t exist in prospering neighborhoods, which feared property devaluation; it was the neighborhoods lower on the socio-economic scale that were forced to take in the newcomers. Non-Ethiopian residents soon left, leaving the Ethiopian community isolated from the rest of Israeli society.

“In that way,” Massale said, “the schools and kindergartens, the offices, the neighborhoods, everything naturally became 100 percent Ethiopian with no connection to the rest of Israeli society, and no integration whatsoever.”

Masale, 63, was born in a Jewish village 500 miles north of Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa. He went to a Jewish elementary school where he heard fairytales about Israel as a place without death and illness. The communist regime in Ethiopia at the time had many citizens looking for asylum in neighboring countries, and Zionist Ethiopian Jews, including Masale’s family, escaped to Sudan in hopes of making it to Israel. As many as 4,000 people died during the journey.

Masale recalls a long history of discrimination in Israel that led him to organize protests. In 1985, the Chief Rabbinate of Israel questioned Ethiopians’ Judaism and decreed they all had to convert; in 1996, the Ethiopian-Israeli community found out the blood bank was throwing away any blood they were donating.

Pnina Tamano-Shata immigrated to Israel from Ethiopia in 1984 at the age of three. Even though she excelled in school, she was routinely taken out of class to attend reinforcement lessons with other Ethiopian children.

“The separatism starts with the basic misperception that Ethiopians are weaker, based on the old reality of Ethiopians from 30 years ago who came to Israel with little or no education,” Tamano-Shata said. “Educators have projected this view onto students, many of whom have been tracked down special educational programs that don’t necessarily fit their skills or ability, and that isolate them in a homogenous environment that hinders their development and integration with Israeli society.” This separation leads to isolation, hostility, frustration, and increasing differences between Ethiopian children and their peers.

Israeli society has also been unwilling to accept Ethiopian-Israelis. In a 2013 Ministry of Finance survey asking employers which demographic groups they most preferred hiring, Ethiopians came in last after women, people aged over 45, people with disabilities, immigrants from the former USSR, Orthodox Jews, and Arabs. A 2012 survey by Geocartographica said that less than half of non-immigrant Israelis supported mixed classrooms, and only a quarter would allow their children to marry Ethiopians.

In an opinion piece called “I’m Not Your Cleaning Lady” for Ynet News, Israeli-born Esther Bisur gave examples of society’s institutionalized racism through her day-to-day interactions. These included strangers offering her jobs as a housekeeper, constantly being asked “when did you immigrate to Israel,” and her non-Ethiopian boyfriend being commended for “volunteering with the Ethiopian community” when seen together with her and her family.

This ongoing discrimination—along with greater awareness of the situation, through means such as a viral video of an Ethiopian-Israeli soldier beaten by a police officer—led to massive protests in Tel Aviv last year. The demonstrations were organized by a new generation of Ethiopian-Israelis, most of whom were born and raised in Israel. They claim they’re treated like second-class citizens and refuse to carry on what they consider to be their parents’ generation’s passive mentality.

“The older generation was content in fulfilling the dream of coming to Israel, and then were too busy surviving,” Tamano-Shata said. “The younger generation is fighting for its place within Israeli society, navigating its way between their love for their country and the many blows they absorb based on their skin color.”

While the situation for Ethiopian-Israelis has improved in recent years, many in the community agree they should be more involved in decision making. Various government and civil society programs have attempted over the years to close the gap between Ethiopian-Israelis and the rest of the population, but program leaders have, in the past, mostly been non-Ethiopians. This has led many in the Ethiopian community to see these programs as another means of differentiating them from the general population.

Many in the Jewish community in the U.S. and abroad, out of true concern, have insisted the money they donate be used to help Ethiopians. This has led Israel to fund segregated programs that haven’t helped integrate Ethiopians. Tamano-Shata, who won a seat in the Knesset in 2013, pushed to pass a bill that said donors couldn’t dictate where their money went, allowing funds to be allocated in ways that meet the true needs of the community.

One of Tamano-Shata’s solutions is to have differential treatment in the budget, but integration in practice. For instance, instead of budgeting for Ethiopian youth centers, money would go toward providing Ethiopian children vouchers to attend community centers with the rest of the neighborhood children.

Masale believes there must be one authority in charge of all Ethiopian-Israeli matters, from policy regulation and distributing funds to publicity efforts that inform the public about the community’s history and culture in an effort to get rid of the stereotypes and ignorance that fuel discrimination.

On the one hand, things are better today than they once were. Two Ethiopian-Israeli female judges were recently appointed, the Ethiopian community is becoming more involved in decision-making processes, and there are many people, in and outside of government, who are working toward further improvements. This year, the prime minister signed a policy stating the Ethiopian National Project must spend its $130 million annual budget on programs that promote integration. But social media has also made the Ethiopian-Israeli community more aware of the injustices happening around the country as more cell phone footage, personal stories, and investigative journalism bring to light the harsh barrier of racism Ethiopian-Israelis face today.

“The flag of immigrants still waves in Israel,” Masale said. “People want immigrants in Israel, just not in their backyard.” Israel prides itself in being a beacon for Jews everywhere, and even has a Law of Return that promises citizenship to every Jew who wants it. But the true challenge of that promise isn’t in bringing Jews to Israel, but in what comes after.


Omri Bezalel is an editorial assistant at World Policy Journal.

Written by Tseday

January 12, 2017 at 1:44 pm

The Epic of Aesop, the Black Philosopher

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An inspiring audio reading by Tsegaye Gebre-Medhin, Poet Laureate of Ethiopia

“Speaking of African studies or of Africa, the origin of all living things, the origin of all human kind, and the origin of the first civilization, very little is known. Very little has been studied so far. And a great deal more remains to be studied, to be excavated and to be re-discovered. The name Aesop means in the Egyptian-Cushitic hieroglyphs, the Upper Throne, the Higher Throne. Aethop, the name of Aethopia means the Upper Truth, the Higher Truth.”

Ethiopia: Escape to the Land of Origins

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The Brussels Times Magazine

The Brussels Times - Ethiopia: Escape to the Land of Origins The Brussels Times - Ethiopia: Escape to the Land of Origins The Brussels Times - Ethiopia: Escape to the Land of Origins The Brussels Times - Ethiopia: Escape to the Land of Origins The Brussels Times - Ethiopia: Escape to the Land of Origins

Deir Sultan, Ethiopia and the Black World

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By Negussay Ayele

Background to Deir Sultan at a glance

Unknown by much of the world, monks and nuns of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, have for centuries quietly maintained the only presence by black people in one of Christianity’s holiest sites—the Church of the Holy Sepulcher of Jesus Christ in Jerusalem. Through the vagaries and vicissitudes of millennial history and landlord changes in Jerusalem and the Middle East region, Ethiopian monks have retained their monastic convent in what has come to be known as Deir Sultan or the Monastery of the Sultan for more than a thousand years. Likewise, others that have their respective presences in the area at different periods, include Armenian, Russian, Syrian, Egyptian and Greek Orthodox/Coptic Churches as well as the Holy See. As one writer put it recently, “For more than 1500 years, the Church of Ethiopia survived in Jerusalem. Its survival has not, in the last resort, been dependent on politics, but on the faith of individual monks that we should look for the vindication of the Church’s presence in Jerusalem….They are attracted in Jerusalem not by a hope for material gain or comfort, but by faith.” It is hoped that public discussion on this all-important subject will be joined by individuals and groups from all over the world, particularly the African Diaspora. At this time, I will confine myself to offering a brief profile of the Ethiopian presence in Jerusalem and its current state of turmoil. I hope that others with more detailed and/or first hand knowledge about the subject will join in the discussion.

Accounts of Ethiopian presence in Jerusalem invoke the Bible to establish the origin of Ethiopian presence in Jerusalem. Accordingly, some Ethiopians refer to the story of the encounter in Jerusalem between Queen of Sheba–believed to have been a ruler in Ethiopia and environs–and King Solomon, cited, for instance, in I Kings 10: 1-13. According to this version, Ethiopia’s presence in the region was already established about 1000 B.C. possibly through land grant to the visiting Queen, and that later transformation into Ethiopian Orthodox Christian monastery is an extension of that same property. Others refer to the New Testament account of Acts 8: 26-40 which relates the conversion to Christianity of the envoy of Ethiopia’s Queen Candace (Hendeke) to Jerusalem in the first century A.D., thereby signaling the early phase of Ethiopia’s adoption of Christianity. This event may have led to the probable establishment of a center of worship in Jerusalem for Ethiopian pilgrims, priests, monks and nuns.

Keeping these renditions as a backdrop, what can be said for certain is the following. Ethiopian monastic activities in Jerusalem were observed and reported by contemporary residents and sojourners during the early years of the Christian era. By the time of the Muslim conquest of Jerusalem and the region (634-644 A.D.) khalif Omar is said to have confirmed Ethiopian physical presence in Jerusalem’s Christian holy places, including the Church of St. Helena which encompasses the Holy Sepulcher of the Lord Jesus Christ. His firman or directive of 636 declared that“the Iberian and Abyssinian communities remain there” while also recognizing the rights of other Christian communities to make pilgrimages in the Christian holy places of Jerusalem. Because Jerusalem and the region around it, has been subjected to frequent invasions and changing landlords, stakes in the holy places were often part of the political whims of respective powers that be. Subsequently, upon their conquest of Jerusalem in 1099, the Crusaders, had kicked out Orthodox/Coptic monks from the monasteries and installed Augustine monks instead. However, when in 1187 Salaheddin wrested Jerusalem from the Crusaders, he restored the presence of the Ethiopian and other Orthodox/Coptic monks in the holy places. When political powers were not playing havoc with their claims to the holy places, the different Christian sects would often carry on their own internecine conflicts among themselves, at times with violent results.

“For more than 1500 years, the Church of Ethiopia survived in Jerusalem. Its survival has not, in the last resort, been dependent on politics, but on the faith of individual monks that we should look for the vindication of the Church’s presence in Jerusalem….They are attracted in Jerusalem not by a hope for material gain or comfort, but by faith.”

Contemporary records and reports indicate that the Ethiopian presence in the holy places in Jerusalem was rather much more substantial throughout much of the period up to the 18th and 19th centuries. For example, an Italian pilgrim, Barbore Morsini, is cited as having written in 1614 that “the Chapels of St. Mary of Golgotha and of St. Paul…the grotto of David on Mount Sion and an altar at Bethelheim…”among others were in the possession of the Ethiopians. From the 16th to the middle of the 19thcenturies, virtually the whole of the Middle East was under the suzerainty of the Ottoman Empire. When one of the Zagwe kings in Ethiopia, King Lalibela (1190-1225), had trouble maintaining unhampered contacts with the monks in Jerusalem, he decided to build a new Jerusalem in his land. In the process he left behind one of the true architectural wonders known as the Rock-hewn Churches of Lalibela. The Ottomans also controlled Egypt and much of the Red Sea littoral and thereby circumscribed Christian Ethiopia’s communication with the outside world, including Jerusalem. Besides, they had also tried but failed to subdue Ethiopia altogether. Though Ethiopia’s independent existence was continuously under duress not only from the Ottomans but also their colonial surrogate, Egypt as well as from the dervishes in the Sudan, the Ethiopian monastery somehow survived during this period. Whenever they could, Ethiopian rulers and other personages as well as church establishments sent subsidies and even bought plots of land where in time churches and residential buildings for Ethiopian pilgrims were built in and around Jerusalem. Church leaders in Jerusalem often represented the Ethiopian Orthodox Church in ecumenical councils and meetings in Florence and other fora.

During the 16th and 17th centuries the Ottoman rulers of the region including Palestine and, of course, Jerusalem, tried to stabilize the continuing clamor and bickering among the Christian sects claiming sites in the Christian holy places. To that effect, Ottoman rulers including Sultan Selim I (1512-1520) and Suleiman “the Magnificent” (1520-1566) as well as later ones in the 19th century, issued edicts or firmans regulating and detailing by name which group of monks would be housed where and the protocol governing their respective religious ceremonies. These edicts are called firmans of the Status Quo for all Christian claimants in Jerusalem’s holy places including the Church of the Holy Sepulcher which came to be called Deir Sultan or the monastery (place) of the Sultan. Ethiopians referred to it endearingly as Debre Sultan. Most observers of the scene in the latter part of the 19th Century as well as honest spokesmen for some of the sects attest to the fact that from time immemorial the Ethiopian monks had pride of place in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher (Deir Sultan). Despite their meager existence and pressures from fellow monks from other countries, the Ethiopian monks survived through the difficult periods their country was going through such as the period of feudal autarchy (1769-1855). Still, in every document or reference since the opening of the Christian era, Ethiopia and Ethiopian monks have been mentioned in connection with Christian holy places in Jerusalem, by all alternating landlords and powers that be in the region.

As surrogates of the weakening Ottomans, the Egyptians were temporarily in control of Jerusalem (1831-1840). It was at this time, in 1838, that a plague is said to have occurred in the holy places which in some mysterious ways of Byzantine proportions, claimed the lives of allEthiopian monks. The Ethiopians at this time were ensconced in a chapel of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher (Deir Sultan) as well as in other locales nearby. Immediately thereafter, the Egyptian authorities gave the keys of the Church to the Egyptian Coptic monks. The Egyptian ruler, Ibrahim Pasha, then ordered that all thousands of very precious Ethiopian holy books and documents, including historical and ecclesiastical materials related to property deeds and rights, be burned—alleging conveniently that the plague was spawned by the Ethiopian parchments. Monasteries are traditionally important hubs of learning and, given its location and its opportunity for interaction with the wider family of Christiandom, the Ethiopian monastery in Jerusalem was even more so than others. That is how Ethiopians lost their choice possession in Deir Sultan. By the time other monks arrived in Jerusalem, the Copts claimed their squatter’s rights, the new Ethiopian arrivals were eventually pushed off onto the open rooftop of the church, thanks largely to the machinations of the Egyptian Coptic church.

Although efforts on behalf of Ethiopian monks in Jerusalem started in mid-19th Century with Ras Ali and Dejach Wube, it was the rise of Emperor Tewodros in 1855 in Ethiopia that put the Jerusalem monastery issue back onto international focus. When Ethiopian monks numbering a hundred or so congregated in Jerusalem at the time, the Armenians had assumed superiority in the holy places. The Anglican bishop in Jerusalem then, Bishop Samuel Gobat witnessed the unholy attitude and behavior of the Armenians and the Copts towards their fellow Christian Ethiopians who were trying to reclaim their rights to the holy places in Jerusalem. He wrote that the Ethiopian monks, nuns and pilgrims “were both intelligent and respectable, yet they were treated like slaves, or rather like beasts by the Copts and the Armenians combined…(the Ethiopians) could never enter their own chapel but when it pleased the Armenians to open it. …On one occasion, they could not get their chapel opened to perform funeral service for one of their members. The key to their convent being in the hands of their oppressors, they were locked up in their convent in the evening until it pleased their Coptic jailer to open it in the morning, so that in any severe attacks of illness, which are frequent there, they had no means of going out to call a physician.’’ It was awareness of such indignities suffered by Ethiopian monks in Jerusalem that is said to have impelled Emperor Tewodros to have visions of clearing the path between his domain and Jerusalem from Turkish/Egyptian control, and establishing something more than monastic presence there. In the event, one of the issues which contributed to the clash with British colonialists that consumed his life 1868, was the quest for adequate protection of the Ethiopian monks and their monastery in Jerusalem.

Emperor Yohannes IV (1872-1889), the priestly warrior king, used his relatively cordial relations with the British who were holding sway in the region then, to make representations on behalf of the Ethiopian monastery in Jerusalem. He carried on regular pen-pal communications with the monks even before he became Emperor. He sent them money, he counseled them and he always asked them to pray for him and the country, saying, “For the prayers of the righteous help and serve in all matters. By the prayers of the righteous a country is saved.” He used some war booty from his battles with Ottomans and their Egyptian surrogates, to buy land and started to build a church in Jerusalem. As he died fighting Sudanese/Dervish expansionists in 1889, his successor, Emperor Menelik completed the construction of the Church named Debre Gennet located on what was called “Ethiopian Street.” During this period more monasteries, churches and residences were also built Empresses Tayitu, Zewditu, Menen as well as by several other personages including Afe Negus Nessibu, Dejazmach Balcha, Woizeros Amarech Walelu, Beyenech Gebru, Altayeworq. As of the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th Century the numbers of Ethiopian monks and nuns increased and so did overall Ethiopian pilgimage and presence in Jerusalem. In 1903, Emperor Menelikput $200, 000 thalers in a (Credileone?) Bank in the region and ordained that interests from that savings be used exclusively as subsidy for the sustenance of the Ethiopian monks and nuns and the upkeep of Deir Sultan. Emperor Menelik’s 6-point edict also ordained that no one be allowed to draw from the capital in whole or in part. Land was also purchased at various localities and a number of personalities including Empress Tayitu, and later Empress Menen, built churches there. British authorities supported a study on the history of the issue since at least the time of kalifa (Calif) Omar ((636) and correspondences and firmans and reaffirmations of Ethiopian rights in 1852, in an effort to resolve the chronic problems of conflicting claims to the holy sites in Jerusalm. The 1925 study concluded that ”the Abyssinian (Ethiopian ) community in Palestine ought to be considered the only possessor of the convent Deir Es Sultan at Jerusalem with the Chapels which are there and the free and exclusive use of the doors which give entrance to the convent, the free use of the keys being understood.”

Until the Fascist invasion of Ethiopia in the 1930’s when Mussolini confiscated Ethiopian accounts and possessions everywhere, including in Jerusalem, the Ethiopian presence in Jerusalem had shown some semblance of stability and security, despite continuing intrigues by Copts, Armenians and their overlords in the region. This was a most difficult and trying time for the Ethiopian monks in Jerusalem who were confronted with a situation never experienced in the country’s history, namely its occupation by a foreign power. And, just like some of their compatriots including Church leaders at home, some paid allegiance to the Fascist rulers albeit for the brief (1936-1941) interregnum. Emperor Haile Sellassie was also a notable patron of the monastery cause, and the only monarch to have made several trips to Jerusalem, including en route to his self-exile to London in May, 1936. Since at least the 1950s there was an Ethiopian Association for Jerusalem in Addis Ababa which coordinated annual Easter pilgrimages to Jerusalem. Hundreds of Ethiopians and other persons from Ethiopia and the Diaspora took advantage of its good offices to go there for absolution, supplication or felicitation, and the practice continues today. Against all odds, historical, ecclesiastical and cultural bonding between Ethiopia and Jerusalem waxed over the years. The Ethiopian presence expanded beyond Deir Sultan including also numerous Ethiopian Churches, chapels, convents and properties. This condition required that the Patriarchate of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church designate Jerusalem as a major diocese to be administered under its own Archbishop.

Contemporary developments related to Deir Sultan

The foregoing pages should give the reader some idea of the deeply rooted but checkered and sinewy Ethiopian tenure in Jerusalem’s Deir Sultan. That the Ethiopian monastery has survived so far against all odds, is nothing short of a miracle. The different powers played havoc with the Ethiopian monks and nuns in Deir Sultan, taking away their key to their own chapel, changing locks on them, burning their precious religious materials, beating and mistreating them and eventually pushing them out of their central holdings in the main chapel of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher onto the rooftop of the Church. Still, they remained there making their own thatched roofs, linoleum ceiling covers, plants for shades, water well and makeshift cookeries and bathrooms. There they stayed fasting, praying, singing hymnals in the style of David of old. They also carried on their religious rituals and ceremonies in accordance with the practices and requisites of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. Throughout its history the Ethiopian monastery has been a political football for Egyptian Copts and Armenian Orthodox in particular and the Turks and other overlords of the region in general. Most of the time, the Ethiopian state, was not in a position to do much on behalf of the Deir Sultan Ethiopian monks, as it was itself struggling for its survival and sovereignty in a hostile environment. Only towards the end of the 19thCentury, did the Ethiopian state and the Metropolitan in Addis Ababa start making some difference in stabilizing whatever could be salvaged from centuries of Egyptian/Coptic usurpation sustained by the Ethiopian monastery.

Egyptian government/Coptic cabal against Ethiopian/black presence in Jerusalem became even more politicized and more pronounced after the 1950’s when the Ethiopian Orthodox Church opted to be autocephalous, thereby ending the centuries old tutelage of the Alexandrian Coptic Church, which had until then provided the Metropolitan or Patriarch for the Ethiopian Church. The Egyptian Copts never got over that act of self-determination by the Ethiopian Church, and they were quick to peg their petty or greedy quest for complete takeover of all Ethiopian properties and possessions in the holy places, especially the prized Church of the Holy Sepulcher. To that end, they have leaned on the Egyptian government to pressure different landlords of Jerusalem including the Jordanians until 1967 and the Israelis since then. In one form or another, therefore, the question of Deir Sultan has become intertwined with the larger issue of Arab/Palestinian an Israeli conflict in the region. Technically, the Status Quo firmans issued in earlier times, as adumbrated in foregoing pages, are supposed to govern possessions of the holy places in question and relations among the Christian claimants of same. These firmans are not only rigorous and stringent, but it is also incumbent on all landlords that be–such as Turks, British, Jordanian or Israeli—to enforce them strictly to the letter. A recent report points out, for example, that the Status Quo“prohibits simple renovations, removal of fallen debris from the decaying ceiling, even sweeping has to be done in the dark or the Ethiopians risk being reported to the authorities by their Christian neighbors.” Despite such strict provisions, it is, as we have seen heretofore, the rights and footholds of the Ethiopian monks that have been continuously usurped, to benefit mainly the Egyptian Copts and then the Armenians and to some extent other groups as well. The Ethiopian monks are even victims of internecine rivalries and jockeying for advantages among the other Christian usual suspects.

When in 1948, the State of Israel came into existence in Palestine, Jerusalem was still part of the Kingdom of Jordan. The ever irksome Copts provoked a confrontation with Ethiopian monks in Deir Sultan which required Jordanian intervention or, more properly enforcement of the age-old Status Quo provisions. Given the somewhat frigid relations then between Egypt and Jordan on the one hand and the nascent cordiality between Emperor Haile Sellassie and King Hussein on the other at that moment, the Jordanian government ordered that the Egyptian Copts hand over the keys to Deir Sultan to the Ethiopians. When the Copts failed to comply with the order, the Jordanians went ahead and changed the locks and gave the new keys to the Ethiopians. This was, however, short lived as newfound courtship between Egyptian President Nasser and Jordanian king Hussein resulted in a Jordanian volte-face which reversed their earlier ruling and the keys were once again given to the Copts. As is well known, in its sweeping military victory over its Arab antagonists in the 1967 war, Israel occupied territories of Egypt, Syria and Jordan. More importantly, Israel wrested Jerusalem from Jordanian control and became henceforth the new landlord of the Christian holy places as well. And so, the problem of Deir Sultan was now squarely on Israel’s shoulders. And, it did not take long for their judgment to be tested. The chronic tug-of-war between the Copts and Ethiopian Orthodox monks flared up again in 1970, when the Israeli government is said to have changed the locks and given the keys to the Ethiopians. The Copts, as expected, did not take this lying down. They decided to take the matter to the Israeli courts where they filed papers alleging that they were the sole owners of Deir Sultan and that at best the Ethiopians were only guests with no property rights to the holy places. In 1971, the Israeli High Court is said to have ruled in favour of the Coptic claim and ordered that the government turn over the keys to the Copts. It is reported that the Israeli government did not comply with the court order insisting that “its dispute with the Copts was political and not legal and that the judiciary should desist from pressuring the government to resolve the case in court.” It is to be remembered that through all this, the Egyptian Copts have already usurped the main floor and chapel of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the Ethiopians are pushed to the rooftop of the Church. What the Copts want is for the Ethiopians to disappear once and for all from the scene, from the last vestige of presence they have maintained for nearly two thousand years altogether. With such Christian charity who needs enemies.

Despite the fact that the government of Emperor Haile Sellassie broke diplomatic relations with Israel in 1973, in solidarity with Egypt (an OAU member) which lost its Sinai territory, the Israeli government did not at this time retaliate by siding with the Egyptian Copts. To be sure, the Israelis were, and some say they still are, annoyed by Ethiopia’s decision which they regard as ‘betrayal’ and which also spawned an avalanche of diplomatic break off of ties with Israel by several other African countries, they did not retaliate on Deir Sultan for several reasons. One reason was that in the larger Arab-Israeli scheme of things, Deir Sultan does not figure big either for Egypt, the Arabs or for Israel. Sinai, the West Bank, the Golan Heights, Red Sea littoral and most importantly, sovereignty over Jerusalem as a whole and, when all is said and done, Palestinian/Arab and Israeli peaceful coexistence in the region are the most important issues. At best, the Deir Sultan issue is a nuisance to them as it has been for all landlords of Jerusalem historically.

Another reason for the Israeli reluctance to tackle the Deir Sultan dispute between mainly the Copts and the Ethiopian monks has to do with yet a different factor in the mix embedded in millennial history of the region. For a very long time, it was recognized by Zionist elements that several thousands of Ethiopians referred to in Ethiopia as falashas and now named bete Israelis as being more or less Jews and in the early 1970’s the rabbinical authorities had authenticated as Jews in exile from one of the lost tribes and therefore eligible for the right of return oraliyah to Israel. Thus, for several years Jewish groups in North America, Europe and Israel had been working painstakingly to safely facilitate the return of the Ethiopian Jews to Israel, and the Israeli government was well advised not to jeopardize this process by antagonizing the Ethiopian government(s) on the Deir Sultan issue. In the event, between the mid-1980’s and 1991 more than 60, 000 Ethiopian Jews have arrived in Israel.

It appears that the Egyptian government and the Copts have left no stone unturned to divest the Ethiopian Church of its rightful heritage in Jerusalem which is as much, if not more, legitimate as that of the Copts and other Christian sects. It is to be recalled that in 1978, then Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin and Egyptian president Anwar Sadat were negotiating land for peace through the good offices of U.S. president Jimmy Carter at Camp David. It is believed that in the course of those negotiations, Sadat privately raised the Deir Sultan issue on behalf of the Copts under his suzerainty, and it is intimated that Begin made some kind of personal promise to him. Inasmuch as what transpired or what exactly was promised was all personal, private and unregistered or not declared publicly at the time, one wonders if any responsible state or government would deem to be duty bound to act upon such informal exchanges. The Egyptians are said to have also raised the matter of Deir Sultan at the Israeli-Egyptian Normalization talks in 1986. What is of interest to us here in all of the above litany of Egyptian/Coptic pleas and goadings, is how relentless and dogged the Egyptians/Copts have been in their hostility to Ethiopian/black Christian presence in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher of Jerusalem.

This brings us to the latest physical clashes perpetrated by the Egyptian Coptic clerics in the Deir Sultan holy site in Jerusalem, which has been the subject of several reports by British, American, Israeli and Arab papers.

Unholy violence occurred in Christianity’s holiest place in Jerusalem at the end of  July 2002, when an Egyptian Coptic priest, Father Abdel Malek, decided to bring a chair, go up to the rooftop of the Church, which is the last remaining preserve of the Ethiopian monks, and proceeded to sit there under the shade of a tree in clear violation of the Status Quo. It is to be remembered that, the cleric and his colleagues would not allow Ethiopians to visit, sit or worship in the Coptic chapels. The details are sketchy in terms who did what and when. However, it appears that when Ethiopians naturally tried to resist this wanton violation of their rights to their space by the impudent Copt, violent clashes erupted involving also Israeli policemen. In the melee, nearly a dozen monks, mostly Ethiopians suffered injuries and lascerations. After all that, it is reported that, escorted by Israeli police daily, Coptic cleric Abdel Malek continued to perch at the Ethiopian property, presumably until the Ministry of Religious Affairs issues a ruling on the matter. A question that comes on loudly to an interested observer is, “Why did the Copts choose this particular time to force a confrontation on Deir Sultan?” It seems that, given the volatile and bloody situation in Palestinian and Israeli relations, the Egyptians/Copts may have assumed that the Israelis may at the moment be ready to cave in and Deir Sultan’s rooftop may just be the kind of bone they can throw to them to elicit a possible or putative mediating role vis-à-vis the Palestinians. And the Egyptians/Copts continue to put pressure on Israel by inflaming Arab opinion. Egyptian President Mubarak is said to have boycotted an important regional meeting recently protesting the Deir Sultan affair. An Arab paper reported  that earlier on, Pope Shenuda III of Alexandria lambasted Israeli Prime Minister Israel Sharon, calling on the Arab world to unite and put more effective pressure on Israel, inserting his pet agenda and saying, “the Israelis are occupying since 1970, the Deir Al Sultan church in east Jerusalem by force, and did not implement a ruling issued by the Jewish Supreme Court in favor of the (his Coptic) church.”

Since these shameful events, several deputations and representations to the Israeli authorities have been made by a newly formed “Ethiopian Association for Jerusalem” in the United States. These deputations took the form of written communications to the Israeli Embassy in Washington, D.C., and also in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Other concerned groups including the longstanding Association in Ethiopia and individuals of Ethiopian origin are, no doubt making efforts to let the authorities in Israel know their concern on the issue. It is also hoped that the black Jews from Ethiopia and elsewhere will also weigh in on the matter. Though the current regime in Addis Ababa is better known for its systematic destruction of Ethiopian history, culture, and integrity, it sent a delegation to Israel for perfunctory reasons and with no avail on behalf of the Ethiopian monks or the monastery. Given the split of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church in Addis Ababa and in the Diaspora, the Church’s effectiveness in successfully challenging the Egyptian Coptic pressures to eliminate Ethiopian, hence black presence in Jerusalem is a matter of serious concern.

Ethiopia and Black Heritage In Jerusalem

For hundreds of years, the name or concept of Ethiopia has been a beacon for black/African identity liberty and dignity throughout the Diaspora. The Biblical (Psalm 68:31) verse , “…Ethiopia shall soon stretch forth her hands unto God” has been universally taken to mean African people, black people at large, stretch out their hands to God (and only to God) in supplication, in felicitation or in absolution. As Daniel Thwaite put it, for the Black man Ethiopia was always “…an incarnation of African independence.” And today, Ethiopian monastic presence in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher or Deir Sultan in Jerusalem, is the only Black presence in the holiest place on earth for Christians. For much of its history, Ethiopian Christianity was largely hemmed in by alternating powers in the region. Likewise, Ethiopia used its own indigenous Ethiopic languages for liturgical and other purposes within its own territorial confines, instead of colonial or other lingua franca used in extended geographical spaces of the globe. For these and other reasons, Ethiopia was not able to communicate effectively with the wider Black world in the past. Given the fact that until recently, most of the Black world within Africa and in the Diaspora was also under colonial tutelage or under slavery, it was not easy to appreciate the significance of Ethiopian presence in Jerusalem. Consequently, even though Ethiopian/Black presence in Jerusalem has been maintained through untold sacrifices for centuries, the rest of the Black world outside of Ethiopia has not taken part in its blessings through pilgrimages to the holy sites and thereby develop concomitant bonding with the Ethiopian monastery in Jerusalem. Apropos to this theme, there is an initiative afoot by a few individuals to launch a “Forum for African Heritage in Jerusalem” website that can serve as a forum for education, dialogue and/or action by any and all concerned on Deir Sultan and the sustenance of Black presence there.

For nearly two millennia now, the Ethiopian Church and its adherent monks and priests have miraculously maintained custodianship of Deir Sultan, suffering through and surviving all the struggles we have glanced at in these pages. In fact, the survival of Ethiopian/Black presence in Christianity’s holy places in Jerusalem is matched only by the “Survival Ethiopian Independence” itself. Indeed, Ethiopian presence in Deir Sultan represents not just Ethiopian Orthodox Christianity but all African/black Christians of all denominations who value the sacred legacy that the holy places of Jerusalem represent for Christians everywhere. It represents also the affirmation of the fact that Jerusalem is the birthplace of Christianity, just as adherents of Judaism and Islam claim it also. The Ethiopian foothold at the rooftop of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher is the only form of Black presence in Christianity’s holy places of Jerusalem. It ought to be secure, hallowed and sanctified ground by and for all Black folks everywhere who value it. The saga of Deir Sultan also represents part of Ethiopian history and culture. And that too is part of African/black history and culture regardless of religious orientation.

When a few years ago, an Ethiopian monk was asked by a writer why he had come to Jerusalem to face all the daily vicissitudes and indignities, he answered, “because it is Jerusalem.” And the writer makes the perceptive observation that “The Ethiopian church in Jerusalem itself resembles a plant which in Jerusalem has found poor soil, but has continued to grow in defiance of the laws of probability and to survive the hardest winters and the hottest summers.” The number of Ethiopian monks and nuns domiciled in Deir Sultan today has shrank drastically from several hundreds at the turn of the century to a few dozens today. And they are of the view that “if they are forced to leave Deir as-Sultan Monastery, blacks will never again be represented in the sacred place.” It is hoped that henceforth not only Ethiopians but all other Black folks from every land in the African continent and in the Diaspora will embark on annual pilgrimages to the Ethiopian convent of Deir Sultan and assert their rights of representation in this holiest of holy Christian shrines in Jerusalem.

8 November 2002

Written by Tseday

October 8, 2015 at 6:53 pm

Banned from the Bible: Canonical Gospels of the Ethiopian Church

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Dazzling jewels from an Ethiopian grave reveal 2,000-year-old link to Rome

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Published June 7 2015 – By Dalya Alberge

British archaeology team uncovers stunning Aksumite and Roman artefacts

The grave in Ethiopia where the woman dubbed ‘Sleeping Beauty’ was discovered. Photograph: Graeme Laidlaw

The grave in Ethiopia where the woman dubbed ‘Sleeping Beauty’ was discovered. Photograph: Graeme Laidlaw

Spectacular 2,000-year-old treasures from the Roman empire and the Aksumite kingdom, which ruled parts of north-east Africa for several centuries before 940AD, have been discovered by British archaeologists in northern Ethiopia.

Louise Schofield, a former British Museum curator, headed a major six-week excavation of the ancient city of Aksum where her team of 11 uncovered graves with “extraordinary” artefacts dating from the first and second centuries. They offer evidence that the Romans were trading there hundreds of years earlier than previously thought.

Schofield told the Observer: “Every day we had shed-loads of treasure coming out of all the graves. I was blown away: I’d been confident we’d find something, but not on this scale.”

She was particularly excited about the grave of a woman she has named “Sleeping Beauty”. The way the body and its grave goods had been positioned suggest that she had been beautiful and much-loved.

Schofield said: “She was curled up on her side, with her chin resting on her hand, wearing a beautiful bronze ring. She was buried gazing into an extraordinary Roman bronze mirror. She had next to her a beautiful and incredibly ornate bronze cosmetics spoon with a lump of kohl eyeliner.”

The woman was also wearing a necklace of thousands of tiny beads, and a beaded belt. The quality of the jewellery suggests that she was a person of very high status, able to command the very best luxurious goods. Other artefacts with her include Roman glass vessels – two perfectly preserved drinking beakers and a flask to catch the tears of the dead.

There was also a clay jug. Schofield hopes that its contents can be analysed. She believes it would have contained food and drink for the afterlife.

Although “Sleeping Beauty” was covered only with soil, her grave was cut into a rock overhang, which is why the finds survived intact.

The team also found buried warriors, with each skeleton wearing large iron bangles. They may have been killed in nearby battlefields.

Other finds include another female skeleton with a valuable necklace of 1,065 coloured glass beads, and, elsewhere, a striking glass perfume flask.

Perfume flask found at the site.

Perfume flask found at the site.

In 2012, the Observer reported that Schofield’s earlier excavations in the region had discovered an ancient goldmine that may solve the mystery of from where the Queen of Sheba of biblical legend derived her fabled treasures.

Aksum, the capital of the Aksumite kingdom, was a major trading power from the first to the seventh centuries, linking the Roman Empire and India. Aksumites were a literate people. Yet little is known about this so-called “lost”’ civilisation.

“Ethiopia is a mysterious place steeped in legend, but nobody knows very much about it,” said Schofield. “We know from the later Aksumite period – the fourth and fifth centuries, when they adopted Christianity – that they were trading very intensely with Rome. But our finds are from much earlier. So it shows that extraordinarily precious things were travelling from the Roman Empire through this region centuries before.”

In return, the Romans sought ivory tusks, frankincense and metals. Schofield’s excavations also found evidence of iron working.

The finds will go to a new German-funded museum, opening in October. Schofield hopes to organise a loan to the British Museum, but first the finds must be conserved: the mirror, for example, is corroded and slightly buckled. Germany is sending nine conservators.

Excavations were paid for by the Sainsbury family’s Headley Trust and the Tigray Trust, a charity that promotes sustainability in the region; and by individual donations.