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The story of King Solomon and Queen Sheba, painting by Afewerq Mangesha


The story of King Solomon and Queen Sheba, painting by Afewerq MangeshaAD 1971From Ethiopia

The story of King Solomon and Queen Sheba of Ethiopia is a popular theme of modern Ethiopian painting. The story, found in the Kebra Negast, the Glory of the Kings, is an account of the origins of the Solomonic line of Ethiopian Emperors and the Ethiopian Christian Empire. Over centuries, this story has been modified and many oral, written and painted versions exist.

In this example, painted by the artist Afewerq Mangesha in 1971, 24 small scenes illustrate the story in the form of a cartoon. It begins by explaining how Ethiopia was terrorised by a serpent called Wainaba who demanded a sacrifice in exchange for water. One man, called Angabo determined to rid Ethiopia of Wainaba’s tyranny, kills the serpent by feeding it a poisoned goat. As a reward he is proclaimed King of Ethiopia and after his death his daughter Makeda (Sheba) is crowned Queen.

The Queen’s chief merchant Tamrid received a request from King Solomon for precious materials from Ethiopia in order to build the Temple of Jerusalem. Hearing of Solomon’s great wisdom, Queen Sheba decided to visit him, taking with her gifts of gold, sapphires and ivory. Although she was received with honour, on the last night of her visit Solomon tricked her into sleeping with him and she returned to Ethiopia pregnant with a son. Beynalekem was born in Sheba’s capital Aksum and when he grew up he went to seek his father in Jerusalem. Solomon recognised and acknowledged him as his son and educated him in the art of kingship.

When Beynalekem returned to Ethiopia he ruled as Emperor Menelik I, becoming the first in a long line of what became known as Solomonic kings. He is also believed to have brought the Ark of the Covenant from Jerusalem to Ethiopia along with the first born sons of Solomon’s court.

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