King of Kings
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The genitive phrase King of Kings (Assyrian šar šarrāni, Hebrew מֶלֶךְ מְלָכִים melek mĕlakîm) is a superlative expression for "great king" or high king; it is probably originally of Semitic origins (compare the superlatives Lord of Lords, Song of Songs or Holy of Holies), but from there was also adopted in Persian (Shahanshah), Hellenistic and Christian traditions.
The first king known to use the title "king of kings" (šar šarrāni) was Tukulti-Ninurta I of Assyria (13th century BC). The title used to be intended quite literally, as a šar or mlk was the title of a king of a city-state, and with the formation an empire in the Late Bronze Age, the Assyrian rulers installed themselves as rulers over the existing structure of rulers (kings) of city-states.
The title was adopted in Biblical Hebrew, as מלך מלכיא, in refence to Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar in Ezekiel 26:7. The same usage appears in Aramaic portions of the Book of Daniel 2:37, where Nebuchadnezzar is called מֶלֶךְ מַלְכַיָּא.
The Persian title of a king of kings is shahanshah //, associated especially with Zoroastrian Persian Achaemenid Empire, where it referred to the monarch ruling over other monarchs who had a vassal, tributary or protectorate position.
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The first written record of its consistent use dates to Iranian Kings of the Persian Empire or Iranian High Kings of the Persian Empire (pronounced Shahanshah or Great Shahanshah). Because the Persian kings ruled in a format where conquered rulers were allowed to rule over provinces (Satraps), while being loyal to the King of kings of the Persian Empire, the fact that the Persian kings ruled over other kings gave them the title king of kings..
The title was used in the Donations of Alexandria ceremony in 34BC, where Caesarion, son of Julius Caesar and Cleopatra VII, was proclaimed as King of Kings, also as a status of a god and son of god.
In Judaism, Melech Malchei Ha-M'lachim ("the King of the King of Kings") came to be used as a name of God, using the double superlative to put the title one step above the royal title of the Babylonian and Persian kings referred to in the Bible.
But "king of kings" has also been used as the title of a monarch in Christian tradition. Βασιλεύς Βασιλέων Βασιλεύων Βασιλευόντων (Basileus Basileon, Basileuon Basileuonton) "King of Kings, Ruling over Those who Rule" was the motto of the Byzantine Palaiologos dynasty. The Emperors of Ethiopia had the title of "king of kings" (nəgusä nägäst).
The (secular) title of "king of kings" is criticized in hadith (Sahih al-Bukhari): "Verily, the worst title is 'King of Kings'; there is no King that has absolute power except Allah". A related phrase is Malik Al-Mulk" ("King of the Realm"), one of the 99 names of Allah.
Monarchs and autocrats
Muammar Gaddafi of Libya claimed to be 'King of Kings,' a title he subsequently had a gathering of African tribal chiefs endorse in 2008. More "than 200 African kings and traditional rulers...bestowed the title 'king of kings' on Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi" during a meeting "in the Libyan town of Benghazi in what was billed as a first of its kind. Gaddafi urged the royals to join his campaign for African unity....'We want an African military to defend Africa, we want a single African currency, we want one African passport to travel within Africa,' Gaddafi told the assembled dignitaries, who come from countries such as Mozambique, South Africa, Ivory Coast and the Democratic Republic of Congo."
Variations of the traditional title of the Ethiopian kings, "niguse negest", were held by the rulers of the imperial realms of Mali in West Africa, Asanteman, also in West Africa, and Zululand in Southern Africa.
In The Transformers, the character Abdul Fakkadi is the self-professed Supreme Military Commander, President-for-Life, and King of Kings of the Socialist Democratic Federated Republic of Carbombya.
Spencer "All Day" Gibson is also known as the "King of Kings".
- Keel, Othmar (1994). The Song of Songs: A Continental Commentary. Fortress Press. p. 38.
- Lowell K. Handy, Among the host of Heaven: the Syro-Palestinian pantheon as bureaucracy, 1994, ISBN 978-0-931464-84-3, p. 112.
- "Shahanshah, n.". OED Online. March 2011. Oxford University Press. 4 June 2011 <http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/177290?redirectedFrom=shahanshah>.
- David Engels: Überlegungen zur Funktion der Titel "Großkönig" und "König der Könige" vom 3. zum 1. Jh. v.Chr.. In: Victor Cojocaru / Altay Coskun / Madalina Dana (eds.): Interconnectivity in the Mediterranean and Pontic World during the Hellenistic and the Roman Periods, Mega, Cluj-Napoca, 2014, p. 333-362.
- Meyer Reinhold, Studies in classical history and society, Oxford University Press US, 2002, p.58.
- Haile Selassie's full title in office was "His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie I, Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah, King of Kings of Ethiopia, Elect of God" (Ge'ez: ግርማዊ፡ ቀዳማዊ፡ አፄ፡ ኃይለ፡ ሥላሴ፡ ሞዓ፡ አንበሳ፡ ዘእምነገደ፡ ይሁዳ፡ ንጉሠ፡ ነገሥት፡ ዘኢትዮጵያ፡ ሰዩመ፡ እግዚአብሔር; girmāwī ḳedāmāwī 'aṣē ḫayle śillāsē, mō'ā 'anbessā ze'imneggede yihudā niguse negest ze'ītyōṗṗyā, siyume 'igzī'a'bihēr).
- Iranian revolution
- the CNN Wire Staff, "As ruler, Gadhafi sought world stage," CNN (August 25, 2011).