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The Queen of Sheba
What does the Christian text say?
1 Kings 10: When the Queen of Sheba heard about the fame of Solomon and his relationship to the Lord, she came to test Solomon with hard questions. Arriving at Jerusalem with a very great caravan--with camels carrying spices, large quantities of gold, and precious stones--she came to Solomon and talked with him about all she had on her mind. Solomon answered all her questions; nothing was too hard for the king to explain to her. When Queen of Sheba saw all of the wisdom of Solomon and the palace he had built, the food on his table, the seating of his officials, the attending servants in their robes, his cupbearers, and the burnt offerings he made at the temple of the Lord, she was overwhelmed.
Who was the Queen of Sheba?
The Queen of Sheba is the queen regnant (as opposed to a queen consort) who appears in the Old Testament of the Bible. The Queen of Sheba is more than just a mere footnight in Biblical history. The Queen of Sheba has become the subject of a widespread legend throughout Ethiopia and Jewish tradition. Her legendary name was Makeda.
The most elaborate text containing the story of Makeda comes from the "Targum Sheni," the Second Targum. The Targum is a translation of the Book of Esther, which is another story of a great Queen in the Bible. This non-sacred text includes the story of the Queen of Sheba visiting King Solomon and seeing him commanding a daunting army of animals, birds, and demonic spirits as subjects.
According to some, the Queen of Sheba was part of a male dynasty that ended with her being the last ruler in the family. The first heir to the throne was her brother, but he died and that left Makeda as the queen. She ruled Ethiopia for fifty years.
Where does the story begin?
Where did the Queen of Sheba come from?
Scholars believe that the Queen of Sheba came from Agame, Ethiopia. "Agame" means "fruitful"; it is a former province of Northern Ethiopia, now part of the Tigray Region. Its inhabitants include the Irob people, a region where tradition states that the legendary Makeda (the Queen of Sheba) was born and raised. The aristocratic house had its capital at Adigrat.There are several reasons why scholars say Ethiopia was the home of Makeda. First, she brought "precious stones" to King Solomon, which scholars believe to be frankincense. There are only a few places on earth where frankincense is gathered. She was also described as being a dark-skinned woman.
Makeda is Important to Ethiopians
The Ethiopians have a special affinity with Makeda, the Queen of Sheba. They believe that Solomon tricked her into sleeping with him, thus causing her to become pregnant. After her son was a young man, she sent him to see King Solomon and tell the king that he was his son. The son obliged, went to see the king, and supposedly returned to his mother with the Ark of the Covenant.
The best version of this legend is included in a text called "Glory of the Kings," which is considered the Ethiopian national legend. In the text, the son is called Menelick I who is the ancester of the Solomonic dynasty that reigned up until the 1970s.
Some historians believe that the Solomonic dynasty in Ethiopia actually began later when an emperor with the Ethiopian Church overthrew the ruling dynasty. Any link to King Solomon is good for the Ethiopian culture and heritage.
Where does King Solomon come into all of this?
King Solomaon was the son of David and King of Israel from 970 to 931 BC. He was the third King of the United Monarchy, which is the name given to the Israelite Kingdom of Israel and Judah. His patrileneal descendents ruled over Judah, now the site of Jerusalem. He is one of the forty-eight prophets who is credited with building the first temple in Jerusalem. The Hebrew Bible portrays Solomon as great in wisdom, wealth, and power. His sins of idolatry and turning away from God are what led to the separation of Irael and Judah.
The stories of Solomon's wisdom and wealth spread throughout the region, and the Queen of Sheba heard about him. Now, Solomon was used to ordering everything around him, and when he heard about a kingdom in the East that was excedingly wealthy, he was intrigued. He was even more intrigued when he found out that the kingdom was ruled by a woman, Makeda, the Queen of Sheba. He immediately sent word demanding that she come see him.
The Ethiopians believe that Solomon wanted to have sexual relations with Makeda, but she refused him. He agreed not to take her by force if she agreed to not take anything of his that was not freely given. The Queen agreed.
Now, Solomon had his cooks deliberately serve the Queen spicy foods, knowing that she would get thirsty during the night. So, he placed a pitcher of water close to her bed. Of course, she woke up thirsty and reached for the water. Solomon was ready and immediately accused her of taking something that was not freely given. He said that because she broke her promise, then he was no longer obligated to restrain himself. Thus, they slept together and she conceived their son, Menelek, who would begin the Solomonic dynasty in Ethiopia.
The Queen of Sheba in art
The story of Solomon always includes the sub-story of the encounter with the Queen of Sheba. Many artists viewed the story as symbolizing the Christian church. In many pieces of art, Solomon represents Jesus and the the Queen bearing gifts foreshadowed the adoration of the Magi.
There are many sculptures of the Queen in some of the greatest cathedrals throughout the world. Many 12th century cathedrals include stained glass that depicts the queen.
The Queen of Sheba was a popular subject in Italian Renaissance art. Her likeness appears on bronze doors and frescoes.
The Queen of Sheba was an important figure in both religious and secular European art. The impact of her story on European figurative art is tremendous.
After the invention of the printing press, artists reinterpreted the Biblical story of Solomon and Makeda meeting. They were especially intrigued with the story of her bearing gifts for him.