Kaleb of Axum


Kaleb of Axum

###@@@KEYEND@@@###Infobox Saint
name=Saint Elesbaan
birth_date=?
death_date=c. 540
feast_day=October 24
venerated_in=Oriental Orthodox Churches
Eastern Orthodox Churches
Roman Catholic Church


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titles=King of Ethiopia
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Kaleb (c.520) is perhaps the best-documented, if not best-known, king of Axum. Procopius of Caesarea calls him "Hellestheaeus", a variant of his throne name Ella Atsbeha or Ella Asbeha ("Histories", 1.20). On both his coins and inscriptions he left at Axum, as well as Ethiopian hagiographical sources and king lists, he refers to himself as the son of Tazena. [S. C. Munro-Hay, "Aksum: An African Civilization of Late Antiquity" (Edinburgh: University Press, 1991), p. 84.] He may be the "Atsbeha" or "Asbeha" of the Ethiopian legends of Abreha and Asbeha, the other possibility being Ezana's brother Saizana.

Procopius, John of Ephesus, and other contemporary historians recount his invasion of Yemen around 520, against the Jewish Himyarite king Yusuf Asar Yathar (also known as Dhu Nuwas), who was persecuting the Christians in his kingdom. After much fighting, Kaleb's soldiers eventually routed Yusuf's forces and killed the king, allowing Kaleb to appoint Sumuafa' Ashawa', a native Christian (named Esimphaios by Procopius), as his viceroy of Himyar. As a result of his protection of the Christians, he is known as St. Elesbaan after the sixteenth-century Cardinal Cesare Baronio added him to his edition of the "Roman Martyrology" despite his being a Monophysite and therefore technically a heretic. [cite book | title = Butler's Lives of the Saints: October | isbn= 0814623867 | year = 1996 | title = Alban Butler | chapter=SS Aretas and the Martyrs of Najran, and St Elsebann (523) | pages = p.169 ] [cite book | title = The Saints go marching in : a one volume hagiography of Africans, or descendants of Africans, who have been canonized by the church, including three of the early popes | author = R. Fulton Holtzclaw | year = 1980 | publisher = Keeble Press | location = Shaker Heights, OH | id = OCLC|6081480 | pages = p.64 | quote = St. Elesbaan was an Aksumite king of Ethiopia who recovered the royal power in Himyar (Yemen) after the massacre of the Martyrs of Najran. ] [cite book | title = Saints of Africa | author = Vincent J. O'Malley, C.M. | publisher = Our Sunday Visitor Publishing | location = Huntington, IN | isbn = 087973373X | year = 2001 ] However, the question of whether Miaphysitism—the actual christology of the Oriental Orthodox Churches (including the Coptic Orthodox Church)—was a heresy is a question which remains to this day, and other Oriental saints such as Isaac of Syria continue to be venerated by the Chalcedonian churches.

Axumite control of South Arabia continued until c.525 when Sumuafa' Ashawa' was deposed by Abraha, who made himself king. Procopius states that Kaleb made several unsuccessful attempts to recover his overseas territory; however, his successor later negotiated a peace with Abraha, where Abraha acknowledged the Axumite king's authority and paid tribute. Munro-Hay opines that by this expedition Axum overextended itself, and this final intervention across the Red Sea, "was Aksum's swan-song as a great power in the region." [Munro-Hay, "Aksum", p. 88.]

Ethiopian tradition states that Kaleb eventually abdicated his throne, gave his crown to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre at Jerusalem, and retired to a monastery. [Munro-Hay, "Aksum", pp. 88f.]

Later historians who recount the events of King Kaleb's reign include Ibn Hisham, Ibn Ishaq, and Tabari. Taddesse Tamrat records a tradition he heard from an aged priest in Lalibela that "Kaleb was a man of Lasta and his palace was at Bugna where it is known that Gebre Mesqel Lalibela had later established his centre. The relevance of this tradition for us is the mere association of the name of Kaleb with the evengelization of this interior province of Aksum." [The translation of one inscription, written in Ge'ez, appears with discussion in G.W.B. Huntingford, "The Historical Geography of Ethiopia" (London: The British Academy, 1989), pp. 63-65.]

Besides several inscriptions bearing his name, [Taddesse Tamrat, "Church and State in Ethiopia" (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1972), p. 26 n. 1] Axum also contains a pair of ruined structures, one said to be his tomb and its partner said to be the tomb of his son Gabra Masqal. (Tradition gives him a second son, Israel, whom it has been suggested is identical with the Axumite king Israel. [Munro-Hay, "Aksum", p. 91.] ) This structure was first examined as an archeological subject by Henry Salt in the early 19th century; almost a century later, it was partially cleared and mapped out by the Deutsche Aksum-Expedition in 1906. The most recent excavation of this tomb was in 1973 by the British Institute in East Africa. [The report of the 1973 excavation of these structures was published in S.C. Munro-Hay, "Excavations at Aksum" (London: British Institute in Eastern Africa, 1989), pp. 42ff.]

The Eastern Orthodox Church commemorates Kaleb as "Saint Elesbaan, king of Ethiopia" on October 24 (for those churches which follow the Julian Calendar, October 24 falls on November 6 of the Gregorian Calendar).

Notes

External links

* [http://ocafs.oca.org/FeastSaintsViewer.asp?SID=4&ID=1&FSID=103048 Blessed Elesbaan the King of Ethiopia] Eastern Orthodox synaxarion
* [http://www.ccel.org/ccel/wace/biodict.html?term=Elesbaan,+king,+hermit,+and+saint+of+Ethiopia Elesbaan, king, hermit, and saint of Ethiopia] entry from the "Dictionary of Christian Biography and Literature to the End of the Sixth Century A.D.", by Henry Wace


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