for National Geographic News
The Queen of Sheba's visit to King Solomon takes up 13 lines of the
Bible. Those lines created a legend that has spawned thousands of pages
of literature, sculptures, paintings, circus acts, operas, and even a
restaurant in Houston, Texas.
But did the queen really exist?
To find out, author and documentary filmmaker Nicholas Clapp embarked on an adventure that took him from the musty Oriental Division of the New York Public Library to dank monasteries in Jerusalem to the scorching heat of the Arabian desert.
"I thought it wouldn't be too much of a project. How much can you make of 13 lines in the Bible?" said Clapp, who recounts his adventure and discoveries in a recently published book, Sheba: Through the Desert in Search of the Legendary Queen.
Sheba appears in the Bible in I Kings 10:1-13. Having heard "the fame of Solomon," Sheba comes "to test him with difficult questions." Solomon has an answer for each question. Awed by his wisdom, Sheba gives him bountiful gifts and great praise. Solomon, in turn, grants Sheba all her wishes, and then she returns home.
The Bible passage does not say where home was for Sheba, but describes the riches she brought as "camels laden with spices, great quantities of gold, and precious stones." The lingering mystery has prompted much conjecture and fed many myths and legends about the queen of Sheba.
Christian Ethiopians claim to be descended from Menelik, the son of Sheba and Solomon, who is presumed to have been conceived during their biblical meeting. To Arabs, Sheba was Bilqis, a queen of the incense-rich lands of ancient Saba in what is now Yemen.
Scholars believe that if there were an actual Queen of Sheba and she did visit King Solomon, it would have happened about 950 B.C.
Early research dated Saba back to 650 B.C. By the time Clapp began his search for the historical queen, however, archaeologists had used carbon-14 dating to show that Saba had an alphabet, and thus civilization, that dated back to 1200 B.C.
"I was prepared for whatever I might find," said Clapp. "Re-dating of the alphabet showed all things could have happened."
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