James Bruce (1730-1794)
Travels to Discover...
(First edition: UK, 1790)
According to Andrew Collins, "James Bruce...was a member of the Canongate Kilwinning No. 2 lodge of Edinburgh, known to be one of the oldest in Scotland, with side-orders and mystical teachings entrenched in Judaeo-Christian myth and ritual." (Ashes of Angels... 1996, p. 12). Some historical researchers believe that much of the motivation behind James Bruce's epic travels in Ethiopia centered around his desire to recover sacred objects connected with Solomon's Temple. As a leading Freemason Bruce may have also been interested in verifying legends associating the medieval Knights Templar with old Christian churches in Ethiopia.
Bruce was particularly interested in obtaining examples of Ethiopian books, such as the "Kebra Nagast" and the "Book of Enoch," both of which were written in Ge'ez, the classical language of Ethiopia. According to Graham Hancock, Bruce began studying this obscure language as early as 1759. In going to remote Ethiopia, Bruce risked "numberless dangers and sufferings," purportedly just "in order to discover the source of the Nile." Hancock further states: "Lest any should be in any doubt that this was indeed his ambition he enshrined it conspicuously in the full title of the immense book that he later wrote: Travels to Discover the Source of the Nile in the Years 1768, 1769, 1770, 1771, 1772 and 1773. The mystery is this: long before he set out for Ethiopia, James Bruce knew that the Blue Nile's source had already been visited and thoroughly explored by two other Europeans: Pedro Paez and Jeronomo Lobo (both of whom were Portuguese priests who had lived in Ethiopia in the 1600s before the Fasilidas ban [that any Portuguese seeking entry into Ethiopia be beheaded] was put into effect." (The Sign and the Seal.)
Bruce did not relate much of the story of the Ethiopian "Book of Enoch" or the historical "Kebra Nagast" in the pages of his Travels, It is, however, likely that he communicated the essential stories of both obscure texts, translated into English, in limited-circulation Masonic publications, both in Scotland and in England's American colonies. (That portion of the "Kebra Nagast" which relates the Israelite colonization of Ethiopia contains numerous textual parallels with the Book of Mormon.) Word-of-mouth accounts of Bruce's discoveries in regard to the contents of both books may well have circulated in American Royal Arch lodges prior to 1800. It is a firm (but not yet demonstrated) possibility that Bruce's discoveries, both public and private, reached the ear of the Rev. Solomon Spalding in New England by 1795. Spalding would have at least seen American editions of Bruce's Travels before he moved to Ohio in about 1809. It appears likely that Bruce's work influenced Spalding's writings.
T R A V E L S
TO DISCOVER THE
SOURCE OF THE NILE.
In the Years 1768, 1769, 1770, 1771, 1772, and 1773.
IN FIVE VOLUMES.
BY JAMES BRUCE OF KINNAIRD, ESQ., F.R.S.
opus aggredior optimum casibus, atrox praeliis, discors seditionibus,
Ipsa etiam pace savum. TACIT. Lib. iv. Ann.
E D I N B U R G H:
PRINTED BY J. RUTHVEN
FOR G.G.J. AND J. ROBINSON, PATERNOSTER ROW,
L O N D O N.
THE SOURCE OF THE NILE 471
Queen of Saba visits Jerusalem -- Abyssinian Tradition concerning Her -- Supposed founder of that Monarchy -- Jewish Hierarchy still retained by the Falasha -- Some Conjectures concerning their Copy of the Old Testament.
It is now that I am to fulfill my promise to the reader of giving him some account of the visit made by the Queen of Sheba*, as we erroneously call her, and the consequences of the continuation of the sceptre in the tribe of Judah, down to this day. If I am obliged to go back in point of time, it is that I may preserve both the account of the trade of the Arabian Gulf, and of this Jewish Kingdom, distinct and unbroken.
We are not to wonder, if the prodigious hurry and flow of business, and the immensely valuable transactions they had with each other, had greatly familiarized the Tyrians and
* It should properly be Saba, Azab, or Azaba, all signifying South.
Wonders of Nature,p. 134ff.
Vol I Excerpts:
They pretend that the book of [p. 489] Enoch was the first book of scripture they ever received. They know nothing of that of Seth, but place Job immediately after Enoch, so that they have no idea of the time in which Job lived, but said they believed it to be soon after the flood; and they look upon the book bearing his name to be the performance of that prophet . . .
The last of this Ethiopic library is the Book of Enoch. Upon hearing this book first mentioned, many literati in Europe had a wonderful desire to see it, thinking that, no doubt, many secrets and unknown histories might be drawn from it. Upon this some impostor, getting an Ethiopic book into his hands, wrote for the title, The Prophecies of Enoch, upon the front page of it. Mr. Pierisc no sooner heard of it than he purchased it of the impostor for a considerable sum of money: being placed afterwards in Cardinal Mazarine's library...
Vol III Excerpt (Paraphrase) :
"...A battle fought on the shores of Lake Tana on 10 February 1543...after fifteen years of unparalleled destruction and violence, ended the Muslim attempt to subdue the Christian empire of Ethiopia....The cultural damage -- in terms of burnt manuscripts, icons and paintings, razed churches and looted treasures -- was to cast a shadow over the civilization of the highlands for centuries to come."
Graham Hancock's comments: "The greatest treasure of all, however, was saved: moved out of Axum by the priests only days before that city was burnt in 1535, the Ark had been taken to one of the many island-monasteries on Lake Tana. there it was kept in safety until long after Gragn's death. Then, in the mid 1600's, Emperor Fasilidas (described by Bruce as 'the greatest king that ever sat upon the Abyssinian throne') built a new cathedral of Saint Mary of Zion over the gutted ruins of the old - and there, with due ceremony, the sacred relic was at last re-installed in all its former glory."