Sheba: Through the Desert in Search of the Legendary Queen

Sheba: Through the Desert in Search of the Legendary Queen

by Nicholas Clapp
     
 

View All Available Formats & Editions

Three thousand years ago, a dusky queen swept into the court of King Solomon, and from that time to the present day, her tale has been told and retold. Who was this queen? Did she really exist? In a quixotic odyssey that takes him to Ethiopia, Arabia, Israel, and even a village in France, Nicholas Clapp seeks the underlying truth behind the multifaceted myth of the

Overview

Three thousand years ago, a dusky queen swept into the court of King Solomon, and from that time to the present day, her tale has been told and retold. Who was this queen? Did she really exist? In a quixotic odyssey that takes him to Ethiopia, Arabia, Israel, and even a village in France, Nicholas Clapp seeks the underlying truth behind the multifaceted myth of the queen of Sheba.
It's an eventful journey. In Israel, he learns of a living queen of Sheba -- a pilgrim suffering from "Jerusalem Syndrome" -- and in Syria he tracks down the queen's tomb, as described in the Arabian Nights. Clapp investigates the Ethiopian shrine where Menelik, said to be the son of Solomon and the mysterious queen, may have hidden the Ark of the Covenant. Then the "worst train in the world" (according to the conductor) takes Clapp to the Red Sea, where he sets sail for Yemen in an ancient dhow and comes perilously close to being shipwrecked.
As in his search for the lost city of Ubar, Clapp uses satellite images, this time to track an ancient caravan route that leads to the queen's winter capital in present-day Yemen. The quest is bolstered by new carbon-14 datings and by the discovery of an Arabian Stonehenge in the sands of the Rub' al-Khali. Finally, at the romantic and haunting ruins of Sirwah, the pieces of the queen of Sheba puzzle fall into place.

Editorial Reviews

New York Times
A delightfully readable volume that's part travel journal, part Walter Mittyesque daydream, and part archeological adventure.
Los Angeles Times
His contagious enthusiasm blazes through his prose…a masterful storyteller…a modern Indiana Jones.
USA Today
Reads like a novel, and one can scarcely put it down.
Oregonian
Armchair travelers and those interested in the Middle East and biblical history could do no better than to pick-up [Sheba].
Providence Journal
Nicholas Clapp...has practically invented a new literary genre: call it 'scholarly adventure archaeology.'
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
The legendary Queen of Sheba (known in the Islamic world as Balqis or Bilqis) is a fascinating and perplexing figure. She is the only woman of note in the Bible or Koran who wields political power. Yet the historical basis for the Queen of Sheba has never been clear. In this charming investigative account, filmmaker and archeology lecturer Clapp (The Road to Ulam) creatively seeks to unravel the myth and surprisingly, his search bears some fruit. Clapp brings readers on an unusual trip to the Middle East, including relatively obscure locations in Yemen and Ethiopia, where Sheba is still a living legend. Clapp's narrative is a combination of serious scholarly investigation, casual observation, travel account and personal diary. He is a genial travel companion with a good eye for detail, though he tends to sensationalize his subject matter. Many of his local informants speak in broken and grammatically incorrect English, which may be intended to convey the sense of the foreign, but it also belittles his well-meaning helpers. Fortunately, this aspect does not overshadow the overall contribution of this book. Utilizing recent archeological data, Clapp imaginatively reconstructs the life of Sheba and her visit to Solomon. In opposition to the biblical story, Clapp cleverly suggests that Sheba was in fact a far more powerful political figure than Solomon. The purpose of her visit, Clapp says, was not, as the Bible suggests, to test Solomon's wisdom but rather to engage in high-powered trade talks. Clapp is able to provide a solid, realistic insight into this intriguing figure. As he points out, the evidence is still scanty, but overall this is a well-written and informative book that will not disappoint. Illus. (Apr. 27) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Award-winning filmmaker and author of The Road to Ubar: Finding the Atlantis of the Sands (LJ 2/15/98), Clapp lives up to his "Indiana Jones" reputation, taking the reader on an exciting journey from Jerusalem to Syria and on to Ethiopia and Yemen in search of the "historical" Queen of Sheba. She is best known from the Old Testament, which recounts her visit to King Solomon. As Makeda, she appears in Ethiopia's national saga, the Kebra Negast, giving birth upon her return from Jerusalem to Menelik I, founder of the Solomonid dynasty of Axum. To the Arabs she was Bilqis, a queen of the incense lands of ancient Saba in what is now Yemen. Until the 1950s, Sabaean monuments and their inscriptions were thought to date to a period much later than the reign of Solomon. However, C-14 dating has subsequently rendered some contemporary with that era and established definite evidence for a Sabaean presence in Ethiopia. In addition to the historical queen, the author explores her role in legend, the Kabbalah, and European alchemy. An impressive 20-page bibliography is provided. Written as an archaeological adventure with the lay reader in mind, Sheba is recommended for all public libraries. (Index and photo insert not seen.) Edward K. Werner, St. Lucie Cty. Lib. Syst., Ft. Pierce, FL Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
School Library Journal
Adult/High School-According to two brief biblical accounts, the Queen of Sheba visited the court of King Solomon in 950 B.C.E., but if the story is true, "not a shred of extrabiblical evidence backed it up." Though history tells us nothing of the woman known only as Sheba, she persists as an icon of unique female power in all the religions that originated in the Middle East-and in the popular imagination. Clapp explores the lore surrounding Sheba and sets out to discover, if he can, the facts behind the legends. He follows clues in Jerusalem, Ethiopia, and Arabia, often visiting places not normally open to Westerners and archaeologists. In a dangerous region of Yemen he makes an important discovery and finds what seems a plausible solution to the historical puzzle: "Sheba" was actually the legendary Yemeni Queen Bilqis of the ancient kingdom of Saba, traveling to Jerusalem on a trade mission. (This theory accommodates a historical basis for Sheba's significance in Ethiopian culture as well.) This account is exciting, fast moving, and richly illustrated. The author's observant eye, pitch-perfect ear, and unfailing sense of humor carry readers along on an adventure he justifiably describes as both "harrowing and sublime." This title should please a wide variety of readers-even reluctant ones whose only interest in archaeology is through Indiana Jones.-Christine C. Menefee, Fairfax County Public Library, VA Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
From the Publisher
"makes a significant contribution to the scholarly debate about whether the queen of Sheba existed." The Los Angeles Times

"charming investigative account...a combination of serious scholarly investigation, casual observation, travel account and personal diary." Publishers Weekly

"Nicholas Clapp...has practically invented a new literary genre: call it 'scholarly adventure archaeology.'" Providence Journal

"Armchair travelers and those interested in the Middle East and biblical history could do no better than to pick-up [Sheba]" The Oregonian

"A modern odyssey filled with adventure, danger, and scientific discovery." Midwest Book Review

"Written as an archaeological adventure with the lay reader in mind" Library Journal

"a satisfying, highly engaging book…" The Washington Post

"Clapp's self-deprecating wit, engaging manner, and enjoyment of anomaly aerate the morass of legend, myth and history…" Boston Globe

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780547345017
Publisher:
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date:
04/24/2001
Sold by:
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
384
Sales rank:
1,167,324
File size:
14 MB
Note:
This product may take a few minutes to download.

Read an Excerpt

Prologue On a sleet-streaked november afternoon I ducked into the New York Public Library, collapsed my umbrella--broken-spoked on the dash from the subway--sloshed up a grand marble staircase, and turned down a dark hallway leading to the Oriental Division. (“Oriental,” in the nineteenth century’s world-view, meant anything to the east of Greece, as in “We Three Kings of Orient Are . . .”) In the hallway, the division’s recent titles could be accessed on two computer terminals glowing green on a table to the right. To the left, shelves of black volumes recorded older entries, typed on antique machines and even handwritten. Both sources had pages of entries beginning: “Queen of . . .” Queen of Bubbles, Queen of Frogs. Queens of Sorrows, Spies, the Swamp, Tears, Tomorrow, the Universe, Rage, and Ruin.
But on this damp day, one entry shone, the one I was looking for: the Queen of Sheba. Further crosschecking would pull up hundreds of entries bearing on her life--if she did ever live--and times.
I had no way of knowing it at the time, but the pursuit of the queen of Sheba would take me from Canterbury Cathedral to a Czech alchemist’s tower. I would venture to the Orient of old and to Jerusalem, the city where Sheba appeared before King Solomon, a city so at the crux of Western religion that it was long held to be the center of the world.
Curiosity, that old cat-killer, would prod and beckon me on, through the cobbled streets of ancient caravansaries, through grassy green African highlands, across a stormy Strait of Tears, and into the trackless red sands of the Rub‘ al-Khali, the Empty Quarter of Arabia.
The desert, I’ve found, is a good place for the curious, for even on a short walk you can expect the unexpected, a glimpse of something you’ve never seen before, be it an oddly striped caterpillar, a rare ghost flower or, as I once found in California’s Mojave, a barely tarnished fighter plane abandoned since World War II. This really doesn’t make sense. One imagines the surprises of the world of nature and of man to be hidden in remote alpine canyons and mist-shrouded jungles. And certainly such places have their share of the unexpected. But it’s in the desert--open, apparently lifeless, with few places to conceal anything--where secrets, perhaps the best secrets, are to be found. Or may still lie buried.
On again, off again, for a decade and more, I would seek Sheba in lands (like her?) exotic, sensuous, even sinister. Would the mists of her myth dissolve, and a real queen of a real country step forth? Or, upon investigation, might she prove to be Sheba, Queen of Illusion? I had no idea. But on a winter’s day in New York, I scanned volume after worn volume and was warmed by the promise of adventure offered by Alexander Kinglake, a Victorian “traveling gent”: There comes a time for not dancing quadrilles, not sitting in pews . . . and now my eyes would see the Splendor and Havoc of the East.
May, 2000

Copyright © 2001 by Nicholas Clapp

Meet the Author

Nicholas Clapp, a noted documentary filmmaker, has lectured on Ubar at Brown University, the University of California at Los Angeles, California Institute of Technology, the National Georgraphic Society, and the Goddard Space Center. Clapp currently lives in Los Angeles, California.

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Write a Review

and post it to your social network

     

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews >