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QUEEN OF SHEBA (960 B.C.) by Legrand H. Clegg II Historian
"I am black but comely,
O ye daughters of Jerusalem,
As the tents of Kedar,
As the curtains of Solomon,
Look not upon me because I am black
Because the sun hath scorched me."
(Song of Solomon)
MAKEDA - QUEEN OF SHEBA (The symbol of Beauty)
Although most of Black history is suppressed, distorted or ignored by the modern world, some African traditions are so persistent that all of the power and deception of the Western academic establishment have failed to stamp them out. One such story is that of Makeda, the Queen of Sheba, and King Solomon of Israel.
Black women of antiquity were legendary for their beauty, power and lover affairs. Especially great were the Queens of Ethiopia; Queen of Sheba (960 B.C.), Candace of Meroe and her defeat of Alexander the Great (332 B.C.), Amanirenas, Amanishakhete, Nawidemak, Amanitore (Acts 8:26-40), Shanakdakh, and Malegereabar.
Ethiopia was also known as Nubia, Kush, Aksum, Abyssinia and Sheba. One thousand years before Christ, Ethiopia was ruled by a line of virgin queens. The one whose story has survived into our time was known as Makeda, "the Queen of Sheba." Her remarkable tradition was recorded in the Kebra Nagast, or the Book of the Glory of the Kings [of Ethiopia], has been held in the highest esteem and honour throughout the length and breadth of Abyssinia for a thousand years at least, and even to-day it is believed by every educated man in that country to contain the true history of the origin of the Solomonic line of kings in Ethiopia, and is regarded as the final authority on the history of the conversion of the Ethiopians from the worship of the sun, moon, and stars to that of the Lord God of Israel.
The Bible tells us that, during his reign, King Solomon of Israel decided to build a magnificent temple. To announce this endeavor, the king sent forth messengers to various foreign countries to invite merchants from abroad to come to Jerusalem with their caravans so that they might engage in trade there.
At this time, Ethiopia was second only to Egypt in power and fame. Hence, King Solomon was enthralled by Ethiopia's beautiful people, rich history, deep spiritual tradition and wealth. He was especially interested in engaging in commerce with one of Queen Makeda's subjects, an important merchant by the name of Tamrin.(1)
Solomon sent for Tamrin who "packed up stores of valuables including ebony, sapphires and red gold, which he took to Jerusalem to sell to the king."(2) It turns out that Tamrin's visit was momentous. Although accustomed to the grandeur and luxury of Egypt and Ethiopia, Tamrin was still impressed by King Solomon and his young nation. During a prolonged stay in Israel, Tamrin observed the magnificent buildings and was intrigued by the Jewish people and their culture. But above all else, he was deeply moved by Solomon's wisdom and compassion for his subjects.
Upon returning to his country, Tamrin poured forth elaborate details about his trip to Queen Makeda. She was so impressed by the exciting story that the great queen decided to visit King Solomon herself.(3)
To understand the significance of state visits in antiquity in contrast to those of today (for example, President Clinton's trips to confer with foreign heads of state), we must completely remove ourselves from the present place and time. In ancient times, royal visits were very significant ceremonial affairs. The visiting regent was expected to favor the host with elaborate gifts and the state visit might well last for weeks or even months.
Even by ancient standards, however, Queen Makeda's visit to King Solomon was extraordinary. In 1 Kings 10:1-2, the Bible tells us:
"1. And when the Queen of Sheba heard of the fame of Solomon concerning the name of the Lord, she came to prove him with hard questions.
"2. And she came to Jerusalem with a very great train, with camels that bear spices and very much gold, and precious stones. And when she was come to Solomon she communed with him of all that was in her heart."
1 Kings 10:10 adds: "She gave the king 120 talents of gold, and of spices very great store and precious stones; there came no more such abundance of spices as these which the Queen of Sheba gave to King Solomon."
We should pause to consider the staggering sight of this beautiful Black woman and her vast array of resplendent attendants travelling over the Sahara desert into Israel with more than 797 camels plus donkeys and mules too numerous to count. The value of the gold alone, which she gave to King Solomon, would be $3,690,000 today and was of much greater worth in antiquity.
King Solomon, and undoubtedly the Jewish people, were flabbergasted by this great woman and her people. He took great pains to accommodate her every need. A special apartment was built for her lodging while she remained in his country. She was also provided with the best of food and eleven changes of garments daily.
As so many African leaders before her, this young maiden, though impressed with the beauty of Solomon's temple and his thriving domain, had come to Israel seeking wisdom and the truth about the God of the Jewish people. Responding to her quest for knowledge, Solomon had a throne set up for the queen beside his. "It was covered with silken carpets, adorned with fringes of gold and silver, and studded with diamonds and pearls. From this she listened while he delivered judgments."(4)
Queen Makeda also accompanied Solomon throughout his kingdom. She observed the wise, compassionate and spiritual ruler as he interacted with his subjects in everyday affairs. Speaking of the value of her visit with the King and her administration for him, Queen Makeda stated:
"My Lord, how happy I am. Would that I could
remain here always, if but as the humblest of
your workers, so that I could always hear your
words and obey you.
"How happy I am when I interrogate you! How
happy when you answer me. My whole being is
moved with pleasure; my soul is filled; my
feet no longer stumble; I thrill with delight.
"Your wisdom and goodness," she continued, "are
beyond all measure. They are excellence itself.
Under your influence I am placing new values on
life. I see light in the darkness; the firefly
in the garden reveals itself in newer beauty. I
discover added lustre in the pearl; a greater
radiance in the morning star, and a softer
harmony in the moonlight. Blessed be the God that
brought me here; blessed be He who permitted your
majestic mind to be revealed to me; blessed be the
One who brought me into your house to hear your voice."(5)
Solomon had a harem of over 700 wives and concubines, yet, he was enamored by the young Black virgin from Ethiopia. Although he held elaborate banquets in her honor and wined, dined and otherwise entertained her during the length of her visit, they both knew that, according to Ethiopian tradition, the Queen must remain chaste. Nevertheless, the Jewish monarch wished to plant his seed in Makeda, so that he might have a son from her regal African lineage.
To this end the shrewd king conspired to conquer the affection of this young queen with whom he had fallen in love. When, after six months in Israel, Queen Makeda announced to King Solomon that she was ready to return to Ethiopia, he invited her to a magnificent farewell dinner at his palace.
The meal lasted for several hours and featured hot, spicy foods that were certain to make all who ate thirsty and sleepy (as King Solomon had planned.) Since the meal ended very late, the king invited Queen Makeda to stay overnight in the palace in his quarters. She agreed as long as they would sleep in separate beds and the king would not seek to take advantage of her. He vowed to honor her chastity, but also requested that she not take anything in the palace. Outraged by such a suggestion, the Queen protested that she was not a thief and then promised as requested.
Not long after the encounter, the Queen, dying of thirst, searched the palace for water. Once she found a large water jar and proceeded to drink, the King startled her by stating:
"You have broken your oath that you would not
take anything by force that is in my palace.
The Queen protested, of course, that surely
the promise did not cover something so
insignificant and plentiful as water, but
Solomon argued that there was nothing in the
world more valuable than water, for without
it nothing could live. Makeda reluctantly
admitted the truth of this and apologized for
her mistake, begging for water for her parched
throat. Solomon, now released from his promise,
assuaged her thirst and his own, immediately
taking the Queen as his lover."(6)
The following day as the Queen and her entourage prepared to leave Israel, the King placed a ring on her hand and stated, "If you have a son, give this to him and send him to me." After returning to the land of Sheba, Queen Makeda did indeed have a son, whom she named Son-of-the-wise-man, and reared as a prince and her heir apparent to the throne.
Upon reaching adulthood, the young man wished to visit his father, so the Queen prepared another entourage, this time headed by Tamrin. She sent a message to Solomon to anoint their son as king of Ethiopia and to mandate that thenceforth only the males descended from their son should rule Sheba.
Solomon and the Jewish people rejoiced when his son arrived in Israel. The king anointed him as the Queen had requested and renamed him Menelik, meaning "how handsome he is."
Though Solomon had many wives, only one had produced a son, Rehoboam, a boy of seven. So the king begged Menelik to remain, but the young prince would not. Solomon therefore called his leaders and nobles and announced that, since he was sending his first born son back to Ethiopia, he wanted all of them to send their firstborn sons "to be his counselors and officers." And they agreed to do so.
Menelik asked his father for a relic of the Ark of the Covenant to take back with him to the land of Sheba. It is said that while Solomon intended to provide his son with a relic, the sons of the counselors, angry at having to leave their homes and go to Sheba with Menelik, actually stole the real Ark and took it to Ethiopia.
Menelik returned to Sheba and, according to tradition, ruled wisely and well. And his famous line has continued down to the 20th century when, even now, the ruler of Ethiopia is the "conquering lion of Judah" descended directly from King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba.
1. J.A. Rogers, World's Great Men Of Color, New York, Touchstone, 1996, vol. I, p. 81.
2. Lestor Brooks, Great Civilizations of Ancient Africa, New York, Four Winds Press, 1972, p. 204.
3. Rogers, op. cit., p. 82.
4. ibid., p. 83.
6. Brooks, op. cit., p. 206.
Arka in the Tigre and Aksum were the principal residences of Makeda. A few years ago her tomb, as well as the ruins of a great temple and twenty-two obelisks of her period, were excavated at Aksum.
Makeda possessed all the qualities of a great ruler. She has been mentioned in two holy books: the Bible and the Koran. Her fame extended even into distant parts of Europe. The Greeks spoke of her as "the black Minerva" and "The Ethiopian Diana."
- BBC History Bio
- The Dynasty
- Queen of Sheba and her son Menelik
- Blackhistory Queen of Sheba bio
- PBS Queen of Sheba
- Menyelek & Sheba
According to Ethiopian tradition, Makeda (10th century BC), the Queen of Sheba, had a son, Menilek I, by king Solomon of Jerusalem, thus establishing the "Solomonic" dynasty of Ethiopia that ruled, with a few interruptions, until the deposition of Emperor Haile Selassie (q.v.) in 1974.
Her story of the national epic of Ethiopia, as related in the Kebra Nagast ("The Glory of Kings"), an historic-holy book that amalgamates Arabic and Jewish legends with indigenous themes. Her name and the location of her kingdom are vague to historians, but in Ethiopic her name means "not thus", as when she announced, "not thus is it good to worship the sun, but it is right to worship God." Her city was Dabra Makeda, built at her order as the capital of Ethiopia.
In the sixth year of her reign she learned from her head trader of the existence of a wonderfully-governed kingdom, Israel, and determined to visit its king and observe his methods. Her caravan took about 10 months to get through the Ethiopian mountains to the coast, cross the Red Sea and sands of Arabia. King Solomon received her cordially, and after six months' study she concluded that his rule was successful because of the affection and respect he inspired, his organization of government, and his fairness and humility. He convinced her that Ethiopia should relinquish worship of the sun, and adopt worship of God, creator of the Universe.
As she prepared to depart it occurred to Solomon that he could beget a child from this beautiful woman. He implied that he had yet another art of government to teach her, provided a great banquet, and had her food liberally peppered, and her drinks mingled with vinegar - then suggested she should spend the night. "Promise you will not take me by force," said Makeda. Solomon swore by God that he would not, if in turn she would swear not to take anything that belonged to him.
When Makeda became thirsty in the night, she drank water from a goblet placed at her bedside. Solomon, from his hidden vigil, saw her drink, and immediately claimed her - she had taken his water.
En route home, nine months and five days after leaving Jerusalem, she gave birth to a boy, whom she named Bayna Lehkem ("son of the wise man"). Despite the obvious loss of her virginity (a woman could be queen as long as she remained a virgin), Makeda continued to rule Ethiopia. When her son was 22 years of age, he insisted on meeting his father. Before he left for Jerusalem, Makeda reminded him that though the law in Ethiopia said a woman must rule, she had promised his father, Solomon, that "henceforth a man who is of thy seed shall reign," and she would abdicate on her son's return.
Despite every effort of Solomon to keep Makeda's son with him, the young man honored his pledge to his mother to return to her side, and not to marry any woman in Jerusalem. He returned to rule Ethiopia, having taken the name "Menilek I", accompanied by the eldest sons of the nobles of Israel. One of them delivered an oration praising the favorable climate and agricultural richness that they had found in Ethiopia, and then paid handsome tribute to its female monarch: "Thy wisdom is good and it surpasseth the wisdom of men ... none can be compared with thee in intelligence ... the understanding of thy heart is deeper than that of men, and thy wisdom exceeds Solomon in that thou hast been able to draw hither the mighty men of Israel."
The Ethiopians believe that these elder sons who accompanied their prince brought from Jerusalem the original Ark of the Covenant, and this treasure is symbolized by a square oblong box kept in every Ethiopian Orthodox church.
Scholars and historians are fascinated with the variations of the legend throughout the Middle East and Africa, with its psychological implications for the interpretation of Ethiopian culture; artists and musicians for centuries have been inspired by its dramatic content; ordinary people use the expression "Queen of Sheba" as a symbol for sexuality, elegance and pride. In Addis Ababa, the legend is depicted in street-sold paintings that add elements that are not in the Kebra Negast, and follow a version told in northern Ethiopia - a tyrannical dragon-serpent is killed by Agabos, whose daughter, Makeda, succeeds him. The trip to Jerusalem proceeds, but on the fateful night Solomon also sleeps with Makeda's maid-servant, who also gives birth to a son whose descendants, the Zagwé, usurp the throne between 1137 and 1270, after which the "Solomonic" dynasty of Makeda is restored. Since the Kebra Negast was committed to writing only at the beginning of the 14th century, a few historians view the entire story as a political justification for this "Solomonic" restoration. But that it is far more than this - an expression of national and religious feelings - is the consensus of Ethiopian a foreign scholars.
Chris Prouty Rosenfeld Bibliography:
E.A.W. Budge, The Queen of Sheba and Her Son, Menylek, (an English translation of Kebra Negast, meaning "The Glory of Kings"), London, 1922; Guébre Sellassié, Chronique du régne de Ménélik II ("Chronicle of the Reign of Menilek II"), 2 vols, Paris, 1930-1931; "I Kings, 10:1-13,"II Chronicles, 9:1-2," The Holy Bible, Revised Standard Version, Toronto, New York, Edinburgh, 1952; D. N. Levine, "Menilek and Oedipus: Further Observations on the Ethiopian National Epic," Proceedings of the First United States Conference on Ethiopian Studies, 1973, East Lansing, 1975; E Littmann, The Legend of the Queen of Sheba in the Tradition of Axum, Leyden, 1904; S. Pankhurst and R. Pankhurst, editors Ethiopia Observer, Vol. 1, No. 6, Special Issue on the Queen of Sheba, Addis Ababa, July, 1957; J. B. Pritchard (editor), Solomon and Sheba, London, 1974; E. Ullendorf, "Sheba," The Dictionary of Ethiopian Biography, Vol. 1, Addis Ababa, 1975. This article was reprinted from The Encyclopaedia Africana Dictionary of African Biography (in 20 Volumes). Volume One Ethiopia-Ghana, ©1997 by L. H. Ofosu-Appiah, editor-in-chief, Reference Publications Inc., New York, NY. All rights reserved.