The KEBRA NAGAST, or the Book of the Glory of Kings of Ethiopia, has been in existence for at least a thousand years, and contains the true history of the origin of the Solomonic line of kings in Ethiopia. It is regarded as the ultimate authority on the history of the conversion of the Ethiopians from the worship of the sun, moon, and stars to that of the Lord God of Israel.
It was during the era of the European conquests and colonization of the African continent, that renewed interest by scholars in the legendary country of "Prestor John" began. Fragmentary accounts and oral reports of a remote Christian kingdom in the heart of Africa amidst a sea of pagan nations, captured the imagination of several European explorers. Both Spain and Portugal hoped to find in this kingdom a possible ally against Islam and the rising power of the Ottomans.
One of the earliest collections of documents of the country of the "Negus" (King) came through the writings of Francisco Alvarez, official envoy which Emanuel, King of Portugal, sent to David, King of Ethiopia, under Ambassador Don Roderigo De Lima. In the papers concerning this mission, Alvarez included an account of the King of Ethiopia, and a description in Portuguese of the habits of the Ethiopians, which was printed in 1533.
In the first quarter of the 16th century, PN Godinho published some traditions about King Solomon and his son Menyelek, derived from the KEBRA NAGAST. Further information about the contents of the KEBRA NAGAST was supplied by Baltazar Téllez (1595-1675), the author of the Historia General de Etiopía Alta (Coimbra, 1660). The sources of his work were the histories of Manuel Almeida, Alfonson Méndez and Jerónimo Lobo.
Among the most complete, and least known, translations of the KEBRA NAGAST, is the exhaustive work of Enrique Cornelio Agrippa (1486-1535) Historia de las cosas de Etiopía (Toledo, 1528)--a greatly amplified account. Agrippa was an alchemist, expert in magical sciences and Cabala, and physician to the King; he resided in the courts of Maximilian I and of Charles V; eventually he suffered imprisonment in Grenoble by order of Francis I, where he died.
Additional information on Arabic additions to the original narratives of the KEBRA NAGAST was included by the Jesuit priest Manuel Almeida (1580-1646) in his Historia de Etiopía which does not appear to have been published in its entirety. Manuel Almeida was sent out as a missionary to Ethiopia, and had abundant opportunity to learn about the KEBRA NAGAST at first hand, owing to his excellent command of the language. His manuscript is a valuable work. His brother, Apollinare, also went out to the country as a missionary and was, along with his two companions, stoned to death in Tigre.
It was not until the close of the eighteenth century when James Bruce of Kinnaird (1730-1794), the famous British explorer, published an account of his travels in search of the sources of the Nile, that some information as to the fabulous contents of this extraordinary book came to be known among a select circle of scholars and theologians.
When [Bruce] was leaving Gondar, Ras Michael, the powerful "Wazir" of King Takla Haymanot, gave him several most valuable Ethiopic manuscripts and among them was a copy of the KEBRA NAGAST. When the third edition of his Travels in Search of the Sources of the Nile was published, there appeared a description of the contents of the original manuscript. In due course these documents were given to the Bodleian Library at Oxford University.
None of the manuscripts of the KEBRA NAGAST give any indication as to the identity of its compilers, the time when it was written, nor the circumstances under which it was compiled. Most scholars do believe, however, that it was compiled soon after the restoration of the "Solomonic line of kings" when the throne of Ethiopia was occupied by Yekuno Arnlak who reigned from 1270 to 1285.