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

The Syrian Civil War May Be Coming to an End, but Three New Wars Are Rising There

March 26 2019

With both Islamic State and the major insurgent forces largely defeated, Syria now stands divided into three parts. Some 60 percent of the country, in the west and south, is in the hands of Bashar al-Assad and his allies. Another 30 percent, in the northeast, is in the hands of the mostly Kurdish, and American-backed, Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). The final 10 percent, in the northwest, is held by Sunni jihadists, some affiliated with al-Qaeda, under Turkish protection. But, writes Jonathan Spyer, the situation is far from stable. Kurds, likely linked to the SDF, have been waging an insurgency in the Turkish areas, and that’s only one of the problems:

The U.S.- and SDF-controlled area east of the Euphrates is also witnessing the stirrings of internal insurgency directed from outside. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, “236 [SDF] fighters, civilians, oil workers, and officials” have been killed since August 2018 in incidents unrelated to the frontline conflict against Islamic State. . . . The SDF blames Turkey for these actions, and for earlier killings such as that of a prominent local Kurdish official. . . . There are other plausible suspects within Syria, however, including the Assad regime (or its Iranian allies) or Islamic State, all of which are enemies of the U.S.-supported Kurds.

The area controlled by the regime is by far the most secure of Syria’s three separate regions. [But, for instance, in] the restive Daraa province in the southwest, [there has been] a renewed small-scale insurgency against the Assad regime. . . .

As Islamic State’s caliphate disappears from Syria’s map, the country is settling into a twilight reality of de-facto division, in which a variety of low-burning insurgencies continue to claim lives. Open warfare in Syria is largely over. Peace, however, will remain a distant hope.

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More about: ISIS, Kurds, Politics & Current Affairs, Syrian civil war, Turkey