King Menelik Bringing the Zion Tabot to Axum
Memhr Leaketsion Yohannes (Ethiopian, 1937 – 2017)
MediumPaint on cloth
DimensionsWork : 34 3/4 x 38 in. (88.27 x 96.52 cm)
Credit LineGift of Neal and Elizabeth Sobania
LabelAccording to the Kebra Nagest (Glory of Kings), a 14th century manuscript that records Ethiopia’s national epic, the country’s first king, Menelik, was the son of Queen Makeda of Ethiopia (also known as the Queen of Sheba) and King Solomon of Israel. When he reached the age of twenty, Menelik traveled to Jerusalem and was anointed as King of Ethiopia by his father. To strengthen ties between Israel and Ethiopia, Solomon sent Menelik home with an entourage of young Israelite nobles and a copy of the Ark of the Covenant, the sacred coffer containing the tablets of the law given to Moses by God. The young nobles, unhappy to leave behind the real Ark, took it upon themselves to switch the copy for the original. Menelik and his followers believed that possession of the Ark—which they called the Zion Tabot—was a sign that God favored Ethiopia as a new Israel and they followed many Jewish religious practices, including the circumcision of male children and the observance of certain dietary laws, some of which still persist in Ethiopia today. After Christianity became the state religion of Ethiopia in the early 4th century CE, many political and religious leaders continued to invoke the presence of the Zion Tabot in Ethiopia as a sign of God’s favor. Today the Zion Tabot is kept in a special chapel in the holy city of Aksum where it is guarded by a single monk, who is the only person allowed to know its mysteries.