Ethiopia's Queen of Sheba and the Ark of the Covenant Myth
The legendary Queen of Sheba has spawned hundreds of films and thousands of books. she is the equal only of the great Egyptian Queen Cleopatra, who died with the aid of a serpent. There are few females in history who have captured mankind's imagination in such a way. And yet, just like King Solomon, Sheba never really existed. Her story has been repeated many times and in many contexts, but there isn't a scrap of evidence for her existence, apart from the religious writings of the Bible, Koran, the Kebra Negast, and a few others. Like Solomon, Sheba's real name is an enigma.
GNOSIS, By Gardiner, Philip, p. 233
Out of all the nations that claim her, she has the most profound impact upon Ethiopians. For them, this mythical queen is the founder of their Ethiopian civilization and one who's cherished and beloved by their Christian population. Ethiopia's account of the Queen of Sheba is seen as the first ancestor of Ethiopia's imperial kings, known as the "Solomonic Dynasty". The Queen of Sheba is seen as the founding ancestor of this imperial line and the begning of Ethiopia's cherished 3,000 year historical claim. According to Christian Ethiopians, upon visiting Jerusalem, Sheba was seduced by Solomon, and gave birth to their son of Menelik. After Menelik grew older, he would end up journeying back to Jerusalem to visit his father Solomon and subsequently stole the Ark of the Covenant to Aksum, where it resides in St. Mary of Zion Church.
So does Christian Ethiopians' claims hold up? Well for starters, in order for Christian Ethiopians to even begin to claim the mytical figure of queen of Sheba, they would need to have archeological evidence unequivocally demonstrating a settled-civilization or a kingdom taking place in their region around the time Sheba was supposedly to be in existence. Sheba's existence is believed to be around the 10th century BC or 3,000 years ago. Unfortunately for Christian Ethiopians, there isn't any kingdom, village, house, a single structure, or a settled-civilization found within Ethiopia that dates to that time period. We know now that the oldest settled civilization in the horn of Africa is found in the outskirts of the Eritrean capital of Asmara, and that only dates to 2,800 years of age. Even if Ethiopians claimed ancient Ona site of Eritrea as their own, they would still be short by two centuries to even start discussing the Queen of Sheba myth.
"He and his colleagues revealed that between 800 BC and 400 BC, the highlands around Asmara supported the earliest settled pastoral and agricultural community known in the Horn of Africa: an indigenous culture."
New discoveries in Africa change face of history, by Professor Peter Ridgway Schmidt
history ever mentions Sheba or the Ark of the Covenant in the numerous texts they left behind. So when did these fictional historical claims by Christian Ethiopians of the Amhara and Tigray ethnic groups begin? According to professor Petet Shchmidt, the Queen of Sheba myth first entered what is now known as Ethiopia at the end of the 13th century AD. The inhabitants of that region learned about this fable from Arabia and recreated the story to fit their own political needs so to further strengthen their own political tale and conquest over other regions.
"In the 13th century, the Christian highlanders even borrowed from Arabia and adapted the fable of the Queen of Sheba with which to further their own conquests and political tale. They developed what was to become known as the Solomonic myth."
New discoveries in Africa change face of history, by Professor Peter Ridgway Schmidt
According to the historian and author Harold Marcus, the queen of Sheba myth adopted by Christian Ethiopians was originally created to legitimize Yukuno Amlak's rule of the late 13th century AD who had killed the Zagwa king to obtain power.
"As a usurper, the new monarch encountered considerable resistance, and, in order to win over Tigray with its many Axumite traditions, he and his supporters began to circulate a fable about his descent from King Solomon and Makeda, Queen of Shaba, and their son Emperor Menelik-I, a genealogy that, of course, gave him traditional legitimacy and provided him the continuity so honored in Ethiopian's subsequent national history."
A History of Ethiopia, by Harold Marcus p. 16
Marcus goes on to add that six Tigrayan scribes mixed local and regional oral traditions, with Biblical stories, adding various Jewish and Islamic commentaries and complied it in a self-serving factious book called Kebra Negest.
"....Kebre Negast (The glory of the kings), it is a pastiche of legends conflated early in the fourteenth century by six Tigrayan scribes. Yishak, the chief compiler, claimed that he and his colleagues were merely translating an Arabic version of a Coptic work into Ge'ez. In fact his team blended local and regional oral traditions and style and substance derived from the Old and the New Testament, various apocryphal texts, Jews and Islamic commentaries, and Patristic writings. The Kebra Negest's primer goal was to legitimize the ascendancy of Emperor Yukuno Amlak and the 'restored' Solomonic line. Most of the book is therefore purposely devoted to the parentage of Emperor Menelik-I."
A History of Ethiopia, by Harold Marcus page 17
The historian Edward Ullendroff describes the uninterrupted lines of kings descending from Menelik-I, who was according to Christian Ethiopians, the son of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba, as a "historical fiction" that has become a powerful and influential saga among Christian-Ethiopians.
"the historical fiction of uninterrupted line of Kings descended from Menelik-I, the son of King Solomon and Queen Sheba, has very deep roots in Ethiopia and must be one of the most powerful and influential sagas anywhere in the world."
The Ethiopians: An Introduction to Country and People, by Edward Ullendorff, P. 61
One claim Christian Ethiopians have used to support their queen of Sheba myth and Ark of the Covenant story is the fact that there are Ethiopians of Jewish faith, whom are traditionally known as "Falashas" (outsiders) or as the Jewish-Ethiopians would like to be called, "Beta-Israel". According to Christian Ethiopians, these are the people who came from Israel when the Ark was stolen by Menelik-I from Solomon's kingdom. However, recent DNA tests have proven without a shadow of a doubt that these Ethiopians who practice the Jewish faith have no genetic ties to Israel. These Ethiopian Jews may have converted to Judaism after coming into contact with Jewish merchants from Yemen, sometime around the time the Aksumite kingdom went into decline.
"DNA samples from Beta Israel/Falasha Jews and Ethiopians were studied with the Y-Chromosome-specific DNA probe p49a to screen for TapI restriction polymorphism and haplotypes. Two haplotypes (V and XI) are the most widespread in Beta Israel and Ethiopians, representing about 70% of the total number of haplotypes in Ethiopia. Because the Jewish Haplotypes VII and VIII are not represented in the Falasha population, we conclude that these people descended from ancient inhabitants of Ethiopia who converted to Judaism.
DNA & tradition: the genetic link to the ancient Hebrews By Yaakov Kleiman, p.83
Although it's claimed by Christian-Ethiopians the Ark is never shown to anyone outside of the priest who guards it, historical fact is, it has been shown. In fact, Professor Edward Ullendroff, an authority on Ethiopian history and religious scholarly had obtained access to see Ethiopia's ark in 1941 and he dismissed it as a "fabrication". He went on to describe the Ethiopian ark as nothing more than a wooden box, that was empty inside, and one that was of middle to late medieval construction. Ullendorff went on to say that the priests and the Ethiopian government keep perpetuating an aura of mystery around the ark "mostly to maintain the idea that it's a venerated object".
.....Professor Edward Ullendroff, the first incumbent of the only chair of Ethiopian Studies in Great Britain. His book Ethiopia and the Bible, published by Oxford University Press, is acknowledged as the classic scholarly work in the field on religion in Ethiopia. When Graham Hancok's book on the Ark in Ethiopia, the Sign and the Seal, was first released, the press sought Ullendroff as an expert to give his evaluation of Hancock's theory. In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, Ullendroff, after calling Handcock's book "a sad joke," declared that he had personally seen the object in Axum: "They have a wooden Box, but it's empty....Middle to late medieval construction, when these were fabricated ad hoc." Ullendorff went on to say that the priests and the government perpetuate an aura of mystery around the object "mostly to maintain the idea that it's a venerated object." Yet Hancock and Cornuke, as well as other Westerners who have visited the site, have claimed that no one is permitted to enter the church and view the Ark.
Ullendrof, to the contrary, say this is simply because they were Westerners who had no knowledge of Ethiopian language or customs: "I've seen it. There was no problem getting access when I saw it in 1941....You need to be able to speak their language, classical Ge'ez; you need to be able to show that you're serious."Therefore, according to this expert witness, the object in Axum is a medieval relic that can be viewed by anyone who the priests choose to let see it.
Because the Kebra Negast supports the claim of the royal house, it has become the national epic of the country and the possession of its "ark" is essential to maintaining Abyssinian Christian supercession. It is also held to be the Ark by the "faithful" and generally acknowledged as such by the entire population who regard it as part of their national pride. Therefore, regardless what is in the Axum chapel, the Ethiopians still claim it is the Ark.
Searching for the Ark of the Covenant By Randall Price, page, 177.
In reference to the Queen of Sheba and the subsquent claim of the Ark of the Covenant, the historian Smith Hempstone reminds people that historians and archaeologist generally agree the Ethiopian claims are "complete fabrication":
"Historians and archaeologists are generally agreed that the whole story is a complete fabrication."
Africa, angry young giant, by Smith Hempstone, page. 69
Professor Tudor Parfitt has dedicated many years of his life to studying the Ark and visiting various locations around the World, including Ethiopia, to investigate the people that claim it. In his book, The Lost Ark of the Covenant: Solving the 2,500-Year-Old Mystery of the Fabled Biblical Ark, he states there isn't any evidence that the queen of Sheba ever existed and like so many other scholars, he dismisses the claims by Christian Ethiopians that the Ark of the covenant is in Ethiopia. Professor Parfitt believes "without a shadow of doubt" that the Ark being held at St. Mary of Zion Church in Aksum, Ethiopia is a "fake" and one without any "antiquity".
The majority of the Amhara claimed that the Queen of Sheba, who was an Ethiopian queen, visited King Solomon in Jerusalem, where she became pregnant by the great king. In due course the Ark was stolen by their son Menelik, the first emperor of Ethiopia. For the Christian Amhara the story of the Ark was their foundation myth, like it was the foundation myth of no other society on Earth.
But was there any historical basis to these tales? In Arab folklore the Queen of Sheba is called Bilqis and is associated with the pre-Islamic south Arabian kingdom of Saba. In fact there is no evidence at all that the Queen of Sheba ever existed. However, her alleged union with Solomon generated countless legends throughout the world. In the Ethiopian retelling of these legends, the story and the substance of the Ark had become deformed. At the most it had become a pretty, Christian altar box with crosses on it. It was used to celebrate the Christian sacrament. It had been metamorphosed into something tame, domesticated, safe, and obviously far from the Ark of Moses. It had been transformed into something it was not.
There was not the slightest indication that the object in the chapel of the St. Mary of Zion Church in Aksum had any great antiquity or was connected with the original Ark or with original Arks in any way. Quite the contrary: it has been proved without a shadow of doubt that it did not.
But even conceptually, this fake, Christian Ark described by Abu Salih, and something even more ornate described by later visitors to Aksum, was not the Ark I was seeking. It was not the Ark.
The Lost Ark of the Covenant: Solving the 2,500-Year-Old Mystery of the Fabled Biblical Ark by Professor Tudor Parfitt, page 72-73
All in all, we may never know if Queen of Sheba or King Solomon ever existed outside of the imaginations crafty scripture writers or imaginative oral tradition story tellers. Up till now, there hasn't been any evidence both of them were even real. Furthermore, the Ethiopian claim of Queen of Sheba and the Ark of the covenant being present in Ethiopia is one that holds no merit. This fictional myth clearly started in the 13th century AD to legitimize Yukuno Amlak's rule, who had murdered his way to power. Yet despite the Ethiopian claims being undoubtedly fake, one can not overlook the power it has within Christian Ethiopians. Nevertheless, for many Christian Ethiopians they will continue to believe their oral traditions, even with the fact that their claims have been thoroughly dismissed.
Image of the Ark of the covenant is courtesy of Peter's Scribd publication, 'The Lord of the Harvest'.
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