One of the reasons I read paranormal historical romance is to immerse myself in a supernatural love story set in a fascinating time period. I learn more about the time and the people, while being swept away in the story with larger than life characters. I was mesmerized by the story of the Queen of Sheba and King Solomon, two heroic Biblical figures who, many say, had supernatural powers. I wondered how this three thousand year old state affair between two super powers became embedded in our collective consciousness. I also wondered about the impact of this epic romance on our lives today, who the descendants of these royal super heroes might be, where they lived, and what they might be doing now.
In my research, I discovered that despite the differences between and among cultures, four major religions, Judaism, Christianity, Ethiopian Coptic Christianity, and Islam, tell, retell and revere the story of the Queen of Sheba and King Solomon. The Hebrew Bible, Old Testament in the Christian Bible, contains the story in very short form, but repeats it in two places, in 1 Kings 10:1 through 10:13 and in in 2 Chronicles, 9:1 through 9:12, as if one telling of the event was not enough. The repetition of the same tale in two places was a way to ensure the story would be found, told and retold, even if the Books of the Bible were somehow separated from one another.
As the only foreign Queen mentioned in the Bible who appears to be considered an equal to King Solomon, this mystery woman has been claimed by no less than three countries: Arabia and Yemen, where she is call Bilqis, Balqis or Balkis, and Ethiopia, where she is known as Makeda. Her role in these stories has been interpreted by many scholars in multiple ways. The Queen of Sheba has been seen as a symbol of trade, as an example of nations converted to monotheism in polytheist world, as a warning against foreign women and their wiles, and, finally, as a romance between a powerful king and an equally powerful queen.
Many scholars who interpret the Queen of Sheba as a symbol of trade, point to the significant trade routes that ran through regions under the control of Israel. All trade routes had to be protected from bandits, or the products would never reach the marketplace. Frankincense was so valuable that men who worked in the factories were required to strip and be searched before they left for the day to ensure they took none of the product home. This lightweight incense was prized all over the world and used in religious rituals throughout the Middle Eastern region, especially at funerals. The wealthier the individual, the more frankincense was used. Israel’s territory lay between the region of production of frankincense and many destination ports. Without the protection of the King of Israel, other countries would not be able to thrive and survive. Was the Queen of Sheba merely a symbol of trade and the rest of the world showing its submission to the great and wise King Solomon?
Scholars who interpreted this story as a way of showing King Solomon’s (and Israel’s) favor in the eyes of his Lord, Yahweh, and to underscore the significance of the need for monotheism in a world of multiple gods, point to archaeological evidence of multiple gods and goddesses still present in the time of King David and King Solomon. Archaeologists have found evidence that Asherah, the female goddess, was worshipped in the first and second temples of Jerusalem, alongside Yahweh. Prophets and priests opposed to polytheism may have created the story of the Queen of Sheba’s visit and her conversion to monotheism as an example of what other nations should do. Was the Queen of Sheba merely a prop to provide a good role model for other nations?
Some stories about the Queen of Sheba have indicated her origins were exotic and supernatural, with a mother who was a jinniyah, or genie. Other, darker stories demonize the Queen of Sheba and make her synonymous with Lilith, Adam’s first wife, who left him to become a soul-sucking demon and baby killer. In early times, the war over which god would prevail was a very real one, and priests and priestesses of gods opposing Yahweh were not well tolerated, even killed, on the road to monotheism. Foreign women became synonymous with foreign gods and evil ways. Solomon’s tolerance of his multiple wives’ religions was seen as a character flaw by the Yahwists. Were these stories about the Queen of Sheba created to serve as a horrid example of foreign customs?
Finally, the romance between two great and powerful heads of state is irresistible; many scholars offer strong support of a real love story. One of the strongest pieces of evidence is the use of the Hebrew word in the phrase “she came to him.” There are many different words the scribe could have used, however, the one selected has a sexual meaning, used only in the Hebrew Bible in sexual situations. The romantic description of the meeting and their interactions include such phrases as “she communed with him of all that was in her heart,” “she was left breathless,” and “king Solomon gave unto the queen of Sheba all her desire, whatsoever she asked, beside that which Solomon gave her of his royal bounty” makes the reader wonder what he gave her, since she was wealthy, too. In fact, the largesse of her gifts of state is over the top, even for a visiting dignitary. Was it, in fact, a wedding dowry? If so, why did she leave and return to her own country with her servants? What happened? Was this a love lost?
According to the Kebra Negast, the constitution and Holy Book of Ethiopia, Makeda, the Queen of Sheba from that nation, returned to her country with her servants and gifts only King Solomon could give to her: a signet ring, a child, and a Solomonic dynasty that endured to the last Ethiopian Emperor, Haile Selassie I. For the purposes of KISS OF THE VIRGIN QUEEN, it is this story that I followed and brought to the twenty-first century via the African Diaspora.
Come with me on this epic paranormal journey into the past and present. Here’s an excerpt from my sequel to KISS OF THE SILVER WOLF, my work in progress, KISS OF THE VIRGIN QUEEN.
Makeda clambered up the steep outcropping of rocks in pursuit of a white snake. She’d seen the creature sunning itself on a large boulder, its normally sleek shape enlarged in the center with a bulge the size of a rat, and wanted him. After a big meal, the slithering would stop and he’d be easy to catch. As soon as she caught the snake, she’d drag him down the rugged slope, and shove him in Tamrin’s face.
Stupid boy. How dare he say girls didn’t know how to catch snakes with a tone used for speaking to babies? Even though he was twelve, two years older than her, didn’t she throw a spear farther, ride her horse harder, and catch more pheasants than he did? Fish practically threw themselves on her carved bone hooks. Without a doubt, Makeda ran faster, climbed higher, fished harder and hunted better than all the other children in Aksum and many of the adults. Hadn’t she brought down a lioness when the predator attacked a woman in Aksum? Everyone else screamed and fled, the cowards. She, a mere girl, had stood her ground and speared the big cat, saving the mother and her unborn child. Her actions had shown the men and boys she was a warrior, not just the king’s daughter.
The only animals she didn’t hunt were the red, long-legged wolves. When she was five, the first time she rode out to hunt antelope with her father and spotted the creatures, a wolf surrounded by a litter of pups locked eyes with Makeda. Frozen in time, it seemed as if the female whispered to her, “Go away. Leave me to raise my babies. Spare me and when your time comes, we will do the same for you and yours.” At last, she pulled away from the creature’s penetrating gaze and caught her father watching her, his dark brown forehead creased in a worried expression.
“Why do you look at me in that way, Baba? Is something wrong?”
He reached over and felt Makeda’s brow. “Are you not well, my daughter?”
She shook her head. “The wolf snared me with her eyes and spoke to me. Asked for mercy.”
Her father’s eyes grew as large as eggs, and he held up the palm of his right hand. “Stop. Say nothing more of this.”
“Baba, what’s wrong?” She had never seen her father afraid of anyone or anything. The supreme ruler feared nothing. Until today.
His lips thinned into a knife’s edge. “Tell no one. Do you hear me?”
Baba had never spoken to her in such a harsh tone before. Tears rose in her eyes. She dared not speak for fear of choking on her words. Makeda nodded. And they never mentioned the incident again. Now, despite the heat baking the stones beneath her feet, she shuddered at the memory. Stop thinking about the wolves. Keep going. A few more boulders to climb and she’d have the snake in her hand.
A sharp rock pricked her palm and a trickle of blood ran down her arm. Scraped, bruised, and covered in tiny cuts, her hands seldom scarred. Her father told Makeda her mother had healed the same way and her extra toe on each foot gave her special powers. “My heart, you are my little goat.”
Tamrin shouted at her from below. The wind snatched his voice and carried it into the clouds. She glanced over her shoulder and the sight took her breath away. A shrub-strewn carpet of green grass broken up with craggy hills, a wandering river, and scrubby bushes lay beneath her. This is why the Sun God rose each morning. To admire his handiwork.
“Nay! Come!” Tamrin’s shout carried to her in a gust of wind. “Soon it will be sundown.” She knew the rest. He ended everything with, “Your father will kill me and my family if I don’t bring you back safely.”
Where was all his boasting and blustering when it came to her father? Vanished like a rat in hole. She dismissed his warning with a shake of her head, pulled herself over a ledge and headed upward, closer to the sun and the snake. Lazy beast. Sitting right in front of a large cleft, the snake hissed, almost as if to say, “Come get me.”
She stood on the boulder. Two more steps and she’d pounce. One, two–just as he was within her reach he turned his head, flicked his tongue, and slipped into the cave. She followed him into the darkness, deep into the grotto, her trusty feet feeling the way. Her eyes adjusted to the gloom. Aha! Right there on a big boulder. One more step and–
A soundless explosion of light dazzled Makeda. Blinded by its brilliance, she stumbled back, her sure feet slipping, unsteady. Cool and slick, the wet rock walls did little to help her stay balanced. She blinked, shook her head, and gasped. Where the snake had been, now sat a giant. Even sitting down, the ferhenjee, this non-black stranger with skin the color of a young curly horned antelope, was twice her father’s size.
Mouth dry, heart hammering in her throat, her vision adjusted to the light. The ferhenjee had a man’s body with sparks circling his head like embers from a blazing fire. A nose of an eagle, large and strong, dominated his profile. He looked at her with eyes the same color of the sky in the morning. His stare pinned her to the rock floor. Behind him wings, too many to count, fluttered and stirred up a breeze. Her brow, once hot and sweaty, cooled.
Hands clenched into fists, her mind alternated between wanting to fight the creature, run away, or freeze in his sky colored stare. Immobility won. At last, it hit her. He must be the Sun God, angry with her for climbing this high. “I only wanted to catch the snake.”
The giant threw his head back and roared.
Released from his stare, Makeda fell to her knees and bowed her head. “Please don’t kill me, Sun God. I’m sorry; I didn’t mean to anger you.”
“I’m not angry, child. I’m laughing.” He chuckled. “Don’t call me Sun God. It offends my King.”
She jerked her head up. The ferhenjee was smiling. “Who are you? Are you from the stars? Who is your king? How did you get here?” She took a deep breath, prepared to ask more questions.
“Stop.” His voice rumbled in her chest. A frown furrowed his brow.
She bowed her head again. Maybe she should flatten herself on the floor of the cave to please him.
“Don’t lie on the ground, Makeda.”
Tremors shook her body and her teeth rattled. Just like she had heard the wolf’s thoughts, he knew hers.
He sighed and a blast of air blew past her. “I am Metatron, servant of the greatest of all gods, Yahweh. I bring a message for you.”
She peeked up through strands of curly black hair. “Me? Why me?”
“You have a grand destiny. Your son will rule a great kingdom.”
Despite her fear, the notion of being a mother tickled her gut and tore huge gulps of laughter out of her throat. He had to be blind. She wasn’t even a woman yet.
The creature stared at her. “You dare to laugh?”
The girl struggled to regain her self-control. “I’m never going to marry. I will never have children–”
The giant creature stood and his head touched the top of the cave. Her voice caught in her throat. He looked like her father had the day she heard the wolf speak, only angrier.
“Hear me, Makeda. You will become the mother of a nation of kings. Go home and prepare yourself. Learn everything you can about love, honor, and becoming a wise and just ruler, so you can teach your son and his son.”
“I’m sorry, whoever you are. I cannot rule my father’s kingdom unless I am a virgin. It is forbidden for me to marry.”
She was terrified of this messenger and his god, but rules were rules. Her own mother had disappeared when she was a baby. Wasn’t that enough evidence that the punishment for non-virgin queens was banishment?
“I must be a virgin queen. I was born to rule. It is my destiny.”
Sparks flew off him and the room blazed with the light of day. He grew larger and larger, filling up the space with his glow. One of his wings brushed her cheek, soft as the fuzz of a baby bird.
“You are young and foolish. You will grown and learn. Above all else, you must seek wisdom. That is your destiny.”
PS: If you are interested in reading more about the Queen of Sheba and King Solomon, here are some books for you.
Budge, W. (Translator). (2007). The Kebra Nagast (The Glory of Kings). Lexington, KY: Silk Pagoda.
Clapp, N. (2001). Sheba: Through the Desert in Search of the Legendary Queen. New York, NY: First Mariner Books.
Coogan, M.D., Brettler, M.Z., Newsom, C.A., & Perkins, P. (Eds.). (2001). 1 Kings 10:1-13 in The New Oxford Annotated Bible. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, p. 508-509.
Coogan, M.D., Brettler, M.Z., Newsom, C.A., & Perkins, P. (Eds.). (2001). 2 Chronicles 9:1-12 in The New Oxford Annotated Bible. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, p. 630-631.
Fraser, A. (2004). The Warrior Queens. New York, NY: Anchor Books.
Grossfeld, B. (1991). The Two Targums of Esther. Translated with Apparatus and Notes. The Aramaic Bible, Vol. 18. Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press.
Razwy, S.A.A. (Ed.) & Ali, A. Y. (Translator). (2009). The Qur’an Translation. Elmhurst, NY: Tahrike Tarsile.