Sexual Fables

This article accompanies the fable
Letters from Africa

Balkis, Queen of Sheba

Balkis was actually the Queen of Sheba.

She is known in Islam as Balkis (or Bilqis or Bilquis or Bilikisu Sungbo in Nigeria), as Malkat Shva in Israel and in Ethiopia she is known as Queen Makeda. Ethiopia and Yemen both lay claim to ancient Sheba and say they have the ruins to prove it. It seems likely it straddled both sides of the Red Sea.

The Tanakh/Old Testament and the Qur'an tell of how Sheba met with King Solomon in Jerusalem and Ethiopian tradition goes further and says later she bore his son, who became Menelik I. Their story is detailed in Ethiopia's Kebra Nagast, aka The Glory of the Kings, which is written in Ge'ez, the ancient language of the region. It tells of how Sheba (Makeda) is dazzled by Solomon and the night before she begins her journey home, Solomon tricks her into sleeping with him, and he gives her a ring so that their child will be able to identify himself to him. After she's gone, Solomon has a dream in which the sun leaves Israel.


This isn't how everybody sees it. But in Ethiopia it is striking how Ethiopia traces its emperors all the way back to Solomon, intimately linking Ethiopia and Israel. The linkage persists today, with the emigration of the Beta Israel to Israel in the 1980's and 1990's (Falasha is a somewhat derogatory term, meaning "strangers" in Amharic).

According to Ethiopia's national legend, Emperor Haile Selassie (the "Lion of Judah") was descended from Sheba and Solomon through their son, Menelik. It is just that - a legend - but Menelik is said to have returned to Jerusalem and smuggled out the Ark of the Covenant and the Tablets of the Law. He took them to Aksum, Ethiopia's ancient capital (some of the ruins are shown below), where they remain to this day in the church of Saint Mary of Zion, the holiest church in Ethiopia.


The legends get a bit confused at this point. Makeda (Sheba) is also the name given to a 10th century (possibly) Jewish warrior queen, Gudit (or Yudit or Judith) the Terrible, who sacked Aksum. Was she trying to recover the Ark of the Covenant and the Tablets? It seems that after doing so, she was flung off her horse, dying under a rock avalanche south of Aksum.

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