Sharon Buchbinder’s Interview with Makeda, Queen of Sheba from Kiss of the Virgin Queen
The authenticity of the Queen of Sheba/King Solomon legend has been a subject of inquiry for many archaeological and Biblical scholars. Outside of materials written well after the tenth century before the common era (BCE), e.g., Kings 1-13 of the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, Targum Sheni (“Second Targum”, the second Book of Esther), the Ethiopian Kebra Negast or Glory of Kings, and the Holy Qu’aran (Koran), no written archeological evidence of King Solomon’s existence has been found in Israel to date. Furthermore, no external chronologists, such as the Babylonians and Assyrians, recorded any stories about King Solomon, although they had written records about Kings of Israel who followed him. Any timelines that exist have been scholars’ estimates based on interpolation of times and names used in the Biblical era and extant sources, such as Babylonian and Assyrian records.
As the only foreign Queen mentioned in the Bible who appears to be considered an equal to King Solomon, the Queen of Sheba is a mystery woman who 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.
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,” “there was no more spirit in her,” 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 my book, Kiss of the Virgin Queen, this is the story I followed and brought to the twenty-first century via the African Diaspora.
SBB: Your Highness, when and where were you born?
QM: I was born in 955 B.C.E. in Sheba, now called Ethiopia, in the royal city of Aksum.
SBB: What influence did your birth family have on you, your choices, and your life? Please explain why and how.
QM: My mother disappeared when I was an infant, so my father raised me. When I was a year old, my nursemaid had a vision, said I would be great. She saw danger in my path, a long journey, tests, love, and loss. Then she dropped dead. Ours was a great and powerful nation, wealthy and rich in resources. It required focus to be in charge, in control. My father said, “Our people are like children who need strong parents. Show no weakness. They look up to the king and queen to lift their hearts when times are bad. Smile. Be kind. These gifts cost you nothing. And will repay you many times over.” He died of black water fever when I was fifteen. I climbed up to the high throne with a heavy heart that day. All my choices were made for me and then the Hoopoe came calling.
SBB: If you could relive your life, what changes would you make?
QM: I’d spend more time with my father. I always thought he’d live to a ripe old age of 50. But the blackwater fever demon took him away from me and our country. I lost a loving father, my nation lost a great leader.
SBB: How did you feel when you first saw the love of your life?
QM: (Smiling and shaking her head) Breathless, exhilarated, terrified. He was everything I had heard and more.
SBB: How do you fall in love? At first sight? Over a long period?
QM: I first fell in love with the idea of King Solomon. My friend, Tamrin, is a merchant. He travelled all over. One time he returned from Jerusalem and told me about this amazing king, a man who spoke in God’s voice and made amazing pronouncements and judgements. The wisest man in the world, a man blessed by God. I wanted wisdom so badly, my soul ached for it. When I met him, I was drawn to his eyes, so intelligent and perceptive, as if he could see my soul. I respected his reputation. After a year of watching him in and out of court, I could no longer resist him. I was going to leave right then because I feared losing myself—and then an evil jinni threatened me. (She stops and shakes her head.) I can’t speak of that monster without getting distraught. Do you have other questions for me?
SBB: What drew you to the person you fell in love with?
QM: His great wisdom. I desired to be a wise queen. I was young and fearful of making the wrong decision. When I heard of his great wisdom, I wanted to go to him, to learn from him. The journey was far and my people needed me, but he was the moon to my ocean of feelings. He drew me to him.
SBB: Tell us why you believe women really are/are not the weaker sex?
QM: (Laughing.) You should ask my friend Tamrin that question. From childhood he tried to out climb, out run, out fish, out hunt, and out ride me. Even though he was two years older, I beat him at every game. He would say I had an unfair advantage.
SBB: Is one sense more highly developed than another? (Are you more visual, or audial, etc., or do you rely on the famous sixth sense?)
QM: That’s the unfair advantage Tamrin would tell you about—except he swore to keep my secret always. When I was five years old, a red wolf mother spoke to me, begged me for mercy, to spare her pups. All the animals spoke to me. And obeyed me.
SBB: Did you turn out the way you expected? The way your parents predicted?
QM: (Looking into the distance) Yes and no to both questions. My father said I could not marry, I was born to rule as a virgin queen, undistracted by husband or children. When I was ten years old, an angel appeared and told me I would be the mother of a great nation. I burst out laughing. He became angry and said, “You are young and foolish. You will grow and learn. Above all else, you must seek wisdom. That is your destiny.” So you see, I found my destiny, my wisdom, and my heart in my beloved Solomon.SBB: What’s the one thing you have always wanted to do but didn’t/couldn’t/wouldn’t? What would happen if you did do it?
QM: I wanted to stay with my heart’s desire, my beloved, but my country called me home. My nation mourned the loss of another leader, my uncle, who also fell to the blackwater demon. I had to return home after only a year in Jerusalem. I couldn’t stay. I wouldn’t leave my people without a leader. It nearly killed me to leave—but what I didn’t know at the time was my departure probably saved my child’s life. Someone wanted both of us dead, someone powerful. Had I stayed, we would have never lived to raise up our great nation.
SBB: What are you most proud of about your life?
QM: (Her eyes fill with unshed tears) I am a mother, so first and foremost I am proud of my son, Menelik. He is a wonderful man, a good husband, a kind father, a firm ruler. Had I never gone to meet my destiny in a faraway land, he would not be here with me now, leading our nation. We don’t know God’s plans for us until we look backward. My heart fills my chest with joy every time I see my son.
SBB: What’s the most important thing in your life? What do you value most?
QM: I’m a very old woman now, over 40 years or so, I think. I’m looking back and with satisfaction and some pangs of longing. I miss my beloved Solomon. I see him in my son’s face and wonder how he is. If we were together, we would have the pleasure sharing our old age together. We had the passion of youth, the pleasures of the flesh, and the joy of a child. Wisdom truly matures in old age, giving this time of my life its own special beauty. I sit back now and watch people with amusement and want to say, “It doesn’t matter. Let go of your anger.” They need to learn for themselves, of course. I enjoy watching the sunrise and the sunset. The pleasure of ripe fruit and cool water. A long walk in the shade. The red wolf cubs playing with each other and following my son. The joy of bouncing my darling grandbabies on my knee. The pride of watching my son grow into a wonderful man. I only wish his father could be at my side, watching him with me. Time. Right now, the most precious thing in my life is time.
SBB: How do you feel about your life right now? What, if anything, would you like to change?
QM: (Sighing.) Content, satisfied, blessed. The one thing I would love to be able to do is to grow wings and fly to visit my beloved—not stay, but visit. Since I’m not growing wings, it’s good I have Hoopoe to fly there for me and bring me back news from Jerusalem, don’t I?
Sharon Buchbinder has been writing fiction since middle school and has the rejection slips to prove it. An RN, she provided health care delivery, became a researcher, association executive, and obtained a PhD in Public Health. When not teaching or writing, she can be found laughing with family and friends.
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