Lion of Judah

Lion of Judah on a Rasta Van
Lion of Judah on a Rasta Van

Once upon a time, I was in Haight-Ashbury of San Francisco and bought a huge fabric mural wall hanging of Bob Marley with a smile, which adorns an entrance wall in my home. It completely covers the wall with Rasta colors, and has a Lion of Judah in each corner. The brand and the Lion are inseparable and the history of King Solomon lives on through Rastafarian legend, as well as Ethiopian history.

 Imperial Railway Company of Ethiopia "Lion of Judah"
The French inscription on the statue’s base reads: “To his majesty the King Tafari Makonnen/In remembrance of his coronation/The Franco-Ethiopian Railway Company” Tafari Makonnen was the given name of Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie I. He used that name until he was crowned Emperor of Ethiopia on November 2, 1930. The Franco-Ethiopian Railway Company was the successor to the Ethiopian Imperial Railway Company. The Ethiopian Imperial Railway Company was formed in 1894 to build a railroad from Addis Ababa to the Red Sea port of Djibouti in French Somaliland. When the Ethiopian Imperial Railway Company failed in 1906, the rails reached only from Djibouti to Dire Dawa in eastern Ethiopia. According to Wikipedia: “In 1908, the assets of the [Ethiopian Imperial Railway] company were transferred to a new firm, the Comagnie de Chemin de Fer Franco-Ethiopien de Jibuti à Addis Abeba [The Franco-Ethiopian Railway Company], which received a new concession to finish the line to Addis Ababa. After a year of wrangling with the previous financiers and their governments, construction began anew. By 1915 the line reached Akaki, only 23 kilometers from the capital, and two years later came all the way to Addis Ababa itself.” hence; “Lion of Judah” is one of the titles used by the Emperors of Ethiopia. That title harkens back to the Queen of Sheba’s visit to King Solomon in biblical times. The Lion of Judah symbolized the person of the emperor. It is also a national symbol of Ethiopia. In the collection of the National Museum, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

The Lion of Judah (Hebrew: אריה יהודה Aryeh Yehudah) is a Jewish national and cultural symbol, traditionally regarded as the symbol of the Israelite tribe of Judah. According to the Torah, the tribe consists of the descendants of Judah, the fourth son of Jacob. The association between Judah and the lion can first be found in the blessing given by Jacob to his son Judah in the Book of Genesis.

Lion of Judah ornament on a lion-fur cape.
Large Lion of Judah ornament on a lion-fur cape. In paintings of battles, Ethiopian royalty are shown wearing lion-fur capes. The Lion of Judah symbolized the Ethiopian state and the person of the Ethiopian emperor. In the collection of the National Museum, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

The Lion of Judah is also mentioned in the Book of Revelation, as a term representing Jesus, according to Christian theology. The lion of Judah was also one of the titles of the Solomonic Emperors of Ethiopia. It was depicted on a map of the Upper Nile published in 1683 by the Italian Jobi Ludolfi describing the Lion of Judah symbol as the Royal Insignia of the Ethiopian empire. The Solomonic dynasty of Ethiopia lasted three thousand years according and has its patrilineal origin in the Israelite Royal House of Judah.

Imperial Standard of Haile Selassie I of Ethiopia
Imperial Standard of Haile Selassie I of Ethiopia

The Lion of Judah served as the hereditary title of the Solomonic Ethiopian emperors including Menelik and Haile Selassie and was depicted on the flag of Ethiopia from 1897 to 1974. Due to its association with Haile Selassie, it continues to be an important symbol among members of the Rastafari movement.

There’s plenty of incredible art and artifacts related to this big biblical cat, so I assembled a gallery of some of my favourites, here:

Lion of Zion make reference to a very specific place

Zion (Hebrew: צִיּוֹן‎ Ṣîyōn, modern Tsiyyon; also transliterated SionSayonSyonTzionTsion) is a placename often used as a synonym for Jerusalem as well as for the biblical Land of Israel as a whole. The word is first found in 2 Samuel 5:7 which dates from c. 630–540 BCE according to modern scholarship. It originally referred to a specific hill in Jerusalem (Mount Zion), located to the south of Mount Moriah (the Temple Mount).

Mount Zion held a Jebusite fortress of the same name that was conquered by David and was re-named the City of David; see Names of Jerusalem. That specific hill (“mount”) is one of the many squat hills that form Jerusalem, which also includes Mount Moriah (the Temple Mount), the Mount of Olives, etc. Over many centuries, until as recently as the Ottoman era, the city walls of Jerusalem were rebuilt many times in new locations, so that the particular hill known as Mount Zion is no longer inside the city wall, but its location is now just outside the portion of the Old City wall forming the southern boundary of the Jewish Quarter of the current Old City. Most of the original City of David itself is thus also outside the current city wall.

The term Tzion came to designate the area of Davidic Jerusalem where the fortress stood, and was used as well as synecdoche for the entire city of Jerusalem; and later, when Solomon’s Temple was built on the adjacent Mount Moriah (which, as a result, came to be known as the Temple Mount) the meanings of the term Tzion were further extended by synecdoche to the additional meanings of the Temple itself, the hill upon which the Temple stood, the entire city of Jerusalem, the entire biblical Land of Israel, and “the World to Come“, the Jewish understanding of the afterlife.

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