Book Report: Search for Queen of Sheba Lures Writer to Arabian Desert

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Although he never found tangible evidence for a historical Queen of Sheba, Clapp chased several leads before he settled on compelling evidence that such a queen existed in what is now Yemen.

In Israel, he learned about a religious pilgrim who claimed to be a living queen of Sheba. In Ethiopia, he pursued the myth of Menelik, who is said to have filched the Ark of the Covenant.

But it was in Yemen where Clapp came closest to the object of his pursuit. Using space images and a device for global positioning system navigation, Clapp conspired with drivers dazed by qat (a narcotic leaf) to follow an ancient caravan route leading to ruins where Sheba's tomb may lie.

"With that civilization now coming into focus, the biblical account of Sheba and Solomon assumes the marking of a real event and by association gives Solomon credibility as a historical figure," Clapp notes in his book.

Bibical Queen Revised

The Yemeni ruins of Ma'rib and Sirwah indicate that the Sabeans were an advanced civilization with characteristics that match legends about Sheba, said Clapp. The sites also allow for an archaeological interpretation of I Kings 10:1-13.

According to Clapp, Sheba was probably a powerful merchant queen of Saba who capitalized on the domestication of the camel to open trade routes to the Fertile Crescent Israel, Damascus, Sidon, and Tyre.

In this interpretation, her visit to King Solomon, a hill country chieftain, was a high-powered trade meeting.

The "difficult questions" Sheba asks Solomon in their biblical meeting may have centered on long-range trade, said Clapp. And the gifts she is said to have given to Solomon "a hundred and twenty talents of gold and great quantities of spices and precious stones" are commodities for distribution.

In turn, Solomon gave Sheba "all she expressed a wish for." Clapp says that in mercantile terms, that wish might have been for passage to the lucrative markets of the Fertile Crescent. The phrase also raises the possibility of an affair of the heart, giving greater credence to the myth of Menelik.

Excavation of the Ma'rib and Sirwah sites is ongoing. "Will there be a day when the Queen of Sheba's tomb is discovered?" Clapp asks. "[The civilization] went on for 1,800 years, not one of their tombs have been found yet. There is a huge trove of discovery to come."

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