Editor’s note: In this third part of a series, “The Searchers,” Corbett
again interviews the late Emperor Haile Selassie’s great grandson, Prince
Stephanos (Stephen Mengesha) and discusses the strange holy book, “The
Kebra Negast,”that holds the key to the location of the Ark of the Covenant
in the northern Ethiopian town of Aksum (Axum).
Prince Stephanos (Stephen Mengesha) was born on Friday, Oct. 24, 1952, in
Haile Selassie I hospital in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa to
Princess Aida Desta, the granddaughter of the Emperor, and Prince Mengesha
His father was governor-general of a number of provinces, including Tigre
province.. Mengesha Seyum had also been minister of public works and
Young Stephanos had been a curious youngster and was able to dig around the
ruins of the ancient civilization of Aksum that adheres to the legend of
the Ark of the Covenant being there; “resting in the basement of a church,
St. Mary of Zion. It convinced him that, indeed, the ancient religious,
historical and powerful relic was in that church.
However, at the age of 8, his life changed.
On Wednesday morning, Dec. 14, 1960, an attempted coup d’etat, led by the
head of the Imperial Body Guard, was finally foiled, while the Emperor and
Stephanos’ mother were on a state visit to Brazil.
While Stephanos hid under a bed, his grandfather, Ras Seyum, was executed
along with other high-ranking officials in the Palace basement.
Then while Prince Stephanos was attending university in Canada, his
respected great grandfather was deposed in 1974 and murdered in 1975 on the
direction of the dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam.
In 1991, Haile Mariam was overthrown by rebels from northern Ethiopia,
including a coalition from the province of Tigre. They are still in control
Despite the fact that Haile Selassie’s would-be successor, his son, Asfa
Wossen, died in 1997,
Prince Stephanos believes the Solomonic Dynasty will one day be restored
because of their undying faith in the Ark of the Covenant.
In 1990, he also introduced me to the Kebra Negast (The Glory of the Kings
of Ethiopia), an ancient script on the travels of Ark from Jerusalem to
Aksum during Solomon’s reign. It gives intimate details of the relationship
between King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba (also known as Makeda) and of
the “flying” entourage that took the Ark out of Solomon’s Temple.
It’s believed the first form of this book was uncovered in the sixth
century AD, however, the most important translation was by a man only known
as Isaac between AD 1314 and 1344.
He was, obviously, an enthusiastic Christian visionary, who firmly
believed: 1. That the lawful kings of Ethiopia were descended from Solomon,
King of Israel; 2. That the Tabernacle of the Law of God, i.e. the Ark of
the Covenant, had been brought from Jerusalem to Aksum (Axum) by Menelik I,
Solomon’s first-born son, according to the Ethiopians and 3. That the God
of Israel had transferred His abode on earth from Jerusalem to Aksum, the
ecclesiastical and political capital of Ethiopia.
In the late 1920s and 1930s, a British professor, Sir E.A. Wallis Budge
wrote the latest translation.
In an interview with Prince Stephanos in 1990, he talked about Ethiopia’s
obsession with the original Ark of the Covenant and related the great
legend concerning King Solomon of Israel and the Queen of Sheba:
CORBETT: Briefly tell me about it?
PRINCE: Her name was Makeda and also Saba, for she was known by both names.
There’s some dispute whether she was the Queen of Aksum (Axum) and the land
of Sheba (which also included the southern Arabian peninsula), but she
definitely settled in Aksum.
CORBETT: Were there rulers prior to Makeda?
PRINCE: Oh, yes, their emperors and empresses didn’t begin with Makeda.
There’s a story that her father, Agabos, became ruler after he killed the
Cobra. The great Cobra was an object of worship and the people sacrificed
their children to it.
CORBETT: What was the connection between Makeda and Solomon?
PRINCE: She visited Solomon in Jerusalem and they had a son who’s name is
Menelik (also Ibna Hakim, Bayna Lemkem and David II). He’s the reason for
the Ethiopian claim to the Solomonic Dynasty and Menelik also brought the
Ark of the Covenant from Jerusalem to Aksum some 3,000 years ago. This is
found in the Kebra Negast.
CORBETT: What’s the Kebra Negast?
PRINCE: It’s an historical account of Menelik and the sons of Jewish
noblemen taking the Ark and replacing it with a replica in the Temple in
Jerusalem. Twenty or 30 years later, the High Priest Zadok recognized that
the Ark in the Temple is a replica and not the real thing after the
Israelites went to war and they lost. Previously, they had never lost a war
when they took the Ark with them. Zadok then realized who the culprit was,
but he wasn’t about to implicate his son, Azariah. So he says, ‘let’s say
it is lost.’ It’s never found in Israeli history after that. It simply
disappears. The whole thing was hush-hush. It was completely forgotten.
CORBETT: What happened in Ethiopia when the Ark arrived there?
PRINCE: On the Abyssinian side, it became very evident from the time of
Menelik that there was great rejoicing when the Ark was brought. Again it’s
a challenge to any scholar to say what if it isn’t a fake one; that Menelik
did actually bring it to Ethiopia. Ethiopian chronicles relate a lot of
miracles that were performed because of the presence of the Ark.
CORBETT: What respect is it given in Ethiopia?
PRINCE: Well, emperor after emperor has come to acknowledge the presence of
the Ark and handing over their crowns (at Aksum) because they figure that’s
the only place where they come face to face with their Creator. The only
one higher up than the Emperor of Ethiopia was the Creator and they figured
the presence of the Ark was a justifiable cause to “give up” their crown.
Its magnitude starts getting built into the national history — into church
history and into the heritage of the country.
Haile Selassie I, Stephanos’ great grandfather, could be considered the
Last Emperor of the Ark, for he built a magnificent edifice in Aksum. It
opened in 1965.
CORBETT: You talked about the rulers always sending their crowns to Aksum.
Do you know about Haile Selassie’s continuing the tradition?
PRINCE: Yes. That’s quite significant. To me it indicates he believed in it
and the fact Haile Selassie also built a new church to accommodate the
three million members of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church was an indication he
wanted to bring unity in the church in believing in Mary of Zion.
CORBETT: Why was Queen Elizabeth there for the opening ceremony?
PRINCE: It was quite a ceremony when the church was built because the
traditional church leaders and monks of Mary of Zion were totally opposed
to the idea and also with the breaking of tradition in allowing female
members into the church. But he was able to persuade or order things to be
done and one of the things I remember very clearly about the church in 1965
was that Queen Elizabeth was invited. She officiated along with the Emperor
in the opening of the church and (the parading) of a replica of the Ark.
Most of the monasteries of Ethiopia came for this very colorful ceremony.
They will relate 100 years from now how the Queen of England came all the
way to Aksum. It’s coincidence, I’m sure, that she didn’t come just for the
ceremony, but this occurred during her state visit. It’s quite a memory.
CORBETT: As a member of the royal family, what is the Ark’s importance to
you and also to the Ethiopian people?
PRINCE: Well, the existence of the Ark of the Covenant and its legend is a
cornerstone of the claim of the present royal family of being descendants
of the Solomonic line, therefore, it’s not just a fictitious situation. The
Solomonic line didn’t end at Menelik II. It started with Menelik I and it
ended with Haile Selassie. He was the last of the Solomonic Dynasty. In
between there have been interruptions and a few other interruptions and a
few other dynasties have come and gone and one of them, a significant one,
is the Zagwe dynasty, which claimed to have its heritage from Solomon. They
claim that the Queen of Sheba’s chambermaid bore a son from Solomon and
they are descendants of that. We definitely have a lineage of both royal
houses. In between there were emperors who came to power of their own right
without being members of the Solomonic Dynasty and, in recent times, the
Emperor Theodore and Emperor Yohannes IV, claimed to be members of the
CORBETT: What do you think the Ark’s purpose is today and in the future?
PRINCE: Personally speaking for the royal family, the same way the Jews
expect the rebuilding of the Temple, the restoration of the monarchy and
the restoration of Ethiopian glory is dependent on the Ark of the Covenant
and its existence. Whether it’s truly found or not isn’t the question, for
it’s a fact that people still believe in it and it’s a symbol of the
Ethiopian Orthodox Church, and as such we have faith (in the people) that
Ethiopia will return to that and restore the monarchy.
CORBETT: What influence does the Ethiopian Orthodox Church have on the
PRINCE: As I mentioned the Ark is the anchor of the Ethiopian Orthodox
Church. Again another significant factor is that prior to the 1950s, the
Patriarch of Alexandria (Egypt), the See of St. Mark, used to name the
bishops to Ethiopia. We didn’t have our own rights and that was quite a
drawback for Ethiopian emperors. Egyptian leaders used to control Ethiopian
affairs. Now Ethiopia has her own Patriarch who is elected by the Ethiopian
Orthodox synod and the bishops are all Ethiopians, so they’re actually,
what would you call it, the actual affairs of the church are in the hands
of Ethiopians, without foreign interference, so we could probably claim
once again that we’re masters of our destiny.
NEXT: The Ark and the Falashas plus other dedicated searchers, including
archaeologist Ron Wyatt and Corbett and Harron’s 1990 expedition and their
P.S. In October 1999, Corbett will led a new expedition to Aksum. If you’d
like to join him as a team member, e-mail [email protected] for