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.
|Publisher:||Houghton Mifflin Harcourt|
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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.
Copyright © 2001 by Nicholas Clapp
Table of ContentsContents
Map x Prologue 1 Part I: In Which the Queen of Sheba Appears and her Legend Unfolds 1. In the Monasteries of the East 5 2. I Kings 10 18 3. Songs of Sheba 20 4. The Desert Queen 29 5. With Eyes Shining As Stars 47 6. Touched By the Queen 60 Part II: In Which we Seek Solomon and Sheba in the Holy Land 7. O Jerusalem! 79 8. Looking for Solomon 90 9. Zabibi and Samsi 109 Part III: In a Desert Oasis, an Unexpected Sheba 10. Further Suspects 127 11. The Caliph’s Command 130 Part IV: In Which we Venture to a Land of Incense and Spices 12. To Far Arabia 143 13. A Trail of Ruins 161 14. City of Divine and Mysterious Pleasure 180 15. Chiseled in Stone 202 16. A Secret of the Sands 210 Part V: A Journey Reveals the Power and Dominion of the Queen of Sheba 17. The Glory of Kings 221 18. The Holy City of Aksum 230 19. By Dhow from Djibouti 242 20. The Road to Sirwah 251 21. In the House of the South Wind 258 22. Sheba and Solomon 272 Epilogue: Sheba’s Tomb 288 Appendix 1: The Names of Sheba 297 Appendix 2: Chronology of the Sabean (Sheban) State 299 Appendix 3: Demon Sheba 302 Appendix 4: Alchemical Sheba 309 Notes 314 Bibliography 337 Acknowledgments 357 Illustration Credits 360 Index 361