Guest Author - Michelle Roberti
The mystery behind the Queen of Sheba
The Queen of Sheba is well-known to many as a visitor to King Solomon during his illustrious reign, whereas stories on how they became acquainted vary upon the text. She is a figure depicted in Middle Age and Renaissance religious art, and can be found in carvings on Gothic churches. Other than what is told to us about her in the Bible, the Talmud and the Qur’an, what mysteries lie behind the Queen of Sheba?
The name Sheba originates in the Book of Genesis (10:28) and lists Sheba as one of the many descendants of Shem, Noah’s son. The actual location of the kingdom of Sheba is debated, for it quite possibly existed in Yemen, Ethiopia, Nubia or Egypt. (Some scholars translate the name Hatshepsut to mean: Queen of Sheba. And according to recorded accounts of Hatshepsut’s life she did indeed make an illustrious journey to Punt, a yet uncovered locale. Perhaps it was Jerusalem, the land under which King Solomon ruled?)
Needless to say all of the above locations vie for the unprecedented site by which the Queen had her prosperous kingdom. The deciding factor that places Yemen or Ethiopia as frontrunners to the claim is specified by one of the gifts she brought to King Solomon- that of frankincense. Frankincense is found only in those two locations, both separated by a mere fifty foot wide division of the Red Sea.
Folklore and traditional stories about her give more insight. The Ethiopian portrait of the Queen declares that she was born in 1020 B.C., appropriated to the throne at the age of fifteen.
For over 1,000 years Ethiopian emperors assert direct ancestry through Menelik, the son of Solomon and Sheba; and in 1931 emperor Haile Selassie had this holy tradition written into the Ethiopian national constitution.
The Kebra Nagast, or Glory of the Kings is the legend of Menelik, composed in the 14th century by Yetshak, an Ethiopian monk. The tale discloses Solomon’s seduction of Sheba, known in the story as Makeda.
During Makeda's visit with Solomon she was impressed with what she saw and heard, especially in answer to the riddles she imposed upon him. Solomon was equally impressed with Makeda’s beauty and intelligence and discovers a clever way to seduce the virgin queen- by holding a banquet.
However, one stipulation was placed upon her; she could not partake of any hospitality without his exclusive permission. She promises to obey his request. But King Solomon, who was the wisest of the wise, sets up Makeda for her fall- for at the banquet only spicy food was served. Makeda, roused from sleep by insatiable thirst, innocently sips a drink of water. Solomon accuses her of violating his trust and as payment for her “disobedience” he demands “favors” of her. Makeda soon leaves Israel for home and over a due course of time gives birth to their son, Menelik, of whom all Ethiopian kings are descended from.
(According to some Islamic, Persian and Jewish sources Menelik and Nebuchadnezzar are one and the same.)
By the age of twenty-two Menelik visits his father and studies Solomon's religion. Impressed with his son, Solomon anoints him the first Emperor of Ethiopia. Yet prior to Menelik’s return home, the king not only commands that his council send their first-born sons with him, he gifts Menelik with the entire cloth covering the Ark of the Covenant. The council sons, who had no desire to accompany Menelik back to Ethiopia, steal the Ark of the Covenant.
King Solomon is unable to capture Menelik, who is flown magically to the safety of Ethiopia.
Till this day the city of Aksum still houses the tomb of Menelik, as well as, the possibility that the Ark of the Covenant is hidden somewhere within the Church of St. Mary of Zion.
Known as Bilqis or Balkis in legends based on the Qua’ran, Sheba either had hairy legs or a malformed foot. (In contrast, Ethiopian legend states her deformity was incurred by her being bitten by her pet jackal.)
Most of the Arabian folklore of Sheba is fanciful and involves jinnis, teleportation and miraculous cures of her leg by King Solomon.
Sheba is depicted as a prophetess, as well; and a popular medieval legend from the Middle Ages tells of her reluctance to cross a bridge while walking with King Solomon. She enlightens him with the notion that a plank on the bridge comes from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil and refuses to step foot on it. She further explains that this plank will be used to hang the Savior and blesses the bridge. King Solomon has the plank removed and buried. Needless to say, it was later exhumed and converted to the cross by which Jesus was crucified.
Popular culture still mentions the legendary queen in song, classical and operatic music, television, ballets, films, books and poems. Even the video gaming industry has the game character Don Salvatore, of Grand Theft Auto III, referring to his wife as “The Queen of Sheba.”
Despite Sheba's mystery her legendary character lives on.