Sunday, January 3, 2016

The Queen of Sheba

"I am black and beautiful..."

- Song of Solomon 1.5 NRSV

And this Queen of the South was very beautiful in face, and her stature was superb, and her understanding and intelligence, which God had given her, were of such high character that she went to JERUSALEM to hear the wisdom of SOLOMON; now this was done by the command of God and it was His good pleasure.

- Kebra Nagast  

Ethiopian Icon of Queen Makeda's visit with Solomon

Foundational to the grand narrative of Ethiopia is the visit of the Queen of Sheba to King Solomon, which is mentioned in the Bible and in the Kebra Nagast. The Kebra Nagast (the Glory of Kings) is a 14th-century account written in Ge'ez of the origins of the Solomonic line of the Emperors of Ethiopia, which is considered sacred among both the Ethiopian Orthodox and the Rastafarians. It recounts the momentous visit of the Queen of Ethiopia (Queen of Sheba), Makeda, to Solomon in greater detail than the Bible, and speaks of Solomon and Makeda having relations and conceiving a child together, Menelik I.  Menelik would later rule in Ethiopia and begin the Solomonic Dynasty in Ethiopia, which would only end in the 20th century with reign of his Imperial Majesty, Haile Selassie I. The Kebra Nagast also recounts that Menelik I, as a young man, visited King Solomon, and that some of his priests stole the Ark of the Covenant, and brought it back to Ethiopia. Ethiopian Orthodox, Ethiopian Jews, and Rastafarians believe that the Ark rests in Auxum Ethiopia to this day, and is kept in the Church of Our Lady Mary of Zion.
Church of Our Lady Mary of Zion, where the Ark is kept.

The Bible says that the Queen came "to prove [Solomon] with hard questions (1 Kings 10.1)," and in the beautiful language of the King James version, "when she was come to Solomon, she communed with him of all that was in her heart (1 Kings 10.2)."   The Kebra Nagast portrays her as already possessing wisdom and and being highly intelligent. She is portrayed both in the Biblical witness and the Kebra Nagast to be a very powerful and wealthy ruler.

The Kebra Nagast says that the Queen "was very beautiful in face." Some Bible scholars suggest that the Song of Solomon is written about King Solomon and Makeda. The New Revised Standard Version in chapter 1, verse five has the female lover say in a straight-forward translation, "I am black and beautiful..."

I am very disappointed that the Orthodox Study Bible mentions her as being from "Southern Arabia," with no mention of her being black or Ethiopian. This avoidance or denial of her African or Black heritage seems unnecessary, and appears a throw back to scholarship from the dominant culture that downplays the achievement of African cultures.

The Queen of Sheba was ruler of an Empire that included modern day Yemen, Eritrea, and Ethiopian (source: The Original African Heritage Bible). According to Archbishop Yeschaq of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church and professor at St. Vladimir's Seminary in New York, Makeda reigned in Auxum in Ethiopia. St.  Josephus calls her the "Queen of Egypt and Ethiopia."

The story of Queen Makeda highlights the African presence in the Biblical narrative, and her legacy is an example of the great cultures in ancient Africa.

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