In Search of the Queen of Sheba, and Also the Ark of the Covenant

In its account of the heyday of King Solomon’s reign, purportedly in the 10th century BCE, the first book of Kings relates a visit from the queen of a distant and prosperous land called Sheba. While the popular European and Ethiopian imagination alike locate Sheba in Ethiopia, archaeologists and historians are less certain. No corroborating evidence about the queen exists, but recent excavations of the ruins of a palace in the ancient Ethiopian city of Aksum may change that, writes Stanley Stewart.

Ethiopians . . . consider [the queen] the mother of their nation, the founder of the Solomonic dynasty that would last three millennia until its last ruling descendant, Haile Selassie, died in 1975. It was from this palace, they believe (and archaeologists dispute), that their queen of Sheba set out for Jerusalem around 1000 BCE, [where] Solomon seduced her and fathered the son she named Menelik, who became the first king of the Solomonic dynasty. Years later, Menelik himself would travel to Jerusalem to see his father—and would return to Ethiopia with a rather special souvenir: the Ark of the Covenant, [which], locals assert, still resides in Aksum, . . . in a simple chapel guarded by a couple of Ethiopian Orthodox monks. . . .

Archaeologists date the palace tentatively to the 6th century BCE, when the queen of Sheba would have been dead for several centuries. They’re not even sure that Sabea—the historical name for the land of Sheba—was in Ethiopia; Yemen seems to have an equally persuasive claim.

The latest archaeological discoveries may be coming to the rescue of the queen’s legend. In 2012, Louise Schofield, a former curator at the British Museum, began excavations at Aksum and found considerable evidence of Sabean culture—including a stone stela inscribed with a sun and a crescent moon, “the calling card of the land of Sheba,” say experts. Sabean inscriptions also were uncovered. Then Schofield struck gold, literally, when she identified a vast, ancient gold mine, quite possibly the source of the queen’s fabulous wealth. Excavations in 2015 revealed two female skeletons buried in regal style and adorned with precious jewelry.

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More about: Archaeology, Ark of the Covenant, Ethiopia, Hebrew Bible, History & Ideas, King Solomon

Yasir Arafat’s Decades-Long Alliance with Iran and Its Consequences for Both Palestinians and Iranians

Jan. 18 2019

In 2002—at the height of the second intifada—the Israeli navy intercepted the Karina A, a Lebanese vessel carrying 50 tons of Iranian arms to the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). But Yasir Arafat’s relationship with the Islamic Republic goes much farther back, to before its founding in 1979. The terrorist leader had forged ties with followers of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini that grew especially strong in the years when Lebanon became a base of operations both for Iranian opponents of the shah and for the PLO itself. Tony Badran writes:

The relationship between the Iranian revolutionary factions and the Palestinians began in the late 1960s, in parallel with Arafat’s own rise in preeminence within the PLO. . . . [D]uring the 1970s, Lebanon became the site where the major part of the Iranian revolutionaries’ encounter with the Palestinians played out. . . .

The number of guerrillas that trained in Lebanon with the Palestinians was not particularly large. But the Iranian cadres in Lebanon learned useful skills and procured weapons and equipment, which they smuggled back into Iran. . . . The PLO established close working ties with the Khomeinist faction. . . . [W]orking [especially] closely with the PLO [was] Mohammad Montazeri, son of the senior cleric Ayatollah Hossein-Ali Montazeri and a militant who had a leading role in developing the idea of establishing the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) once the revolution was won.

The Lebanese terrorist and PLO operative Anis Naccache, who coordinated with [the] Iranian revolutionaries, . . . takes personal credit for the idea. Naccache claims that Jalaleddin Farsi, [a leading Iranian revolutionary]. approached him specifically and asked him directly to draft the plan to form the main pillar of the Khomeinist regime. The formation of the IRGC may well be the greatest single contribution that the PLO made to the Iranian revolution. . . .

Arafat’s fantasy of pulling the strings and balancing the Iranians and the Arabs in a grand anti-Israel camp of regional states never stood much of a chance. However, his wish to see Iran back the Palestinian armed struggle is now a fact, as Tehran has effectively become the principal, if not the only, sponsor of the Palestinian military option though its direct sponsorship of Islamic Jihad and its sustaining strategic and organizational ties with Hamas. By forging ties with the Khomeinists, Arafat unwittingly helped to achieve the very opposite of his dream. Iran has turned [two] Palestinian factions into its proxies, and the PLO has been relegated to the regional sidelines.

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More about: Hamas, History & Ideas, Iran, Lebanon, PLO, Yasir Arafat