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Representing the Queen of Sheba in the Islamic, Jewish, and Christian Traditions Course

(with gratitude to Steven Kaplan, who first taught a course on the Queen of Sheba and shared his syllabus with me when I was designing my course)

The Queen of Sheba is perhaps the most famous woman in history, having been depicted for two thousand years in three great world traditions—Islam, Judaism, and Christianity. She first appears in a biblical text written down around 615 BCE as a mysterious female ruler who tests King Solomon. But, did the Queen of Sheba exist? How and why do the stories about her change over time? Do the cultural variations in the tales suggest something about those cultures? What does it mean that the various Christian traditions depict her differently? Comparing representations of the queen in ancient, medieval, and modern texts across these traditions (including those from the Middle East, Europe, Africa, and the Americas) provides a unique opportunity to study the complex ways that various groups think about national identity, gender, and race. Students will work to decode the cultural assumptions underlying texts from other societies and become more aware of their own assumptions. They will also learn how to detect and synthesize the ideas that connect these disparate representations. Thereby, they will improve their skills in close reading, research, public speaking, critical and creative writing, and critical thinking.

Starting with the ancient Bible, Quran, and midrashim, continuing to the medieval Ethiopian holy text of the Kebra Nagast and European legends, and then to modern composers (Handel and Gounod), poets (Yeats and Senghor), novelists (Kipling and Flaubert), and filmmakers, we will explore why the Queen of Sheba appears variously as demonic threat, naïve victim, and pious convert and what these depictions have to do with the places and times in which they originated. All assigned texts will be read in English, but those with reading skills in any of the relevant languages (e.g., Hebrew, Arabic, Greek, Latin, German, French, Coptic, and Ethiopic) are particularly welcome.

Required Texts

Jacob Lassner, Demonising the Queen of Sheba: Boundaries of Gender and Culture in Postbiblical Judaism and Medieval Islam, Chicago, 1993.

Rider Haggard’s Queen Sheba’s Ring

Issac et al, The Kebra Nagast: tr. E.A. Wallis Budge

Pre-Twentieth Century Primary Texts

1 Kings 10: 1-3; II Chronicles 9; Song of Songs 1:5-6 (orig. date 600-500 BCE)

Targum Sheni to the Book of Esther, trans. Bernard Grossfeld (1994) (pp. 110-120?)

Quran Sura 27 (orig. date late 600s CE)

Muhammad Ibn Abd Allah Kisai’s Tales of the Prophets (tr. Wheeler M. Thackston) (orig. date 1200)

Matthew 12:42 ; Luke 11: 43 (orig. date 65-100 CE)

Jacobus de Voragine’s The Golden Legend, (tr. William Granger Ryan) (1997) (orig. date 1260)

St Thomas Aquinas [pseudo], Aurora Consurgens (ed. Marie-Louise von Franz, tr. R. F. C. Hull, tr. A. S. B. Glover) (1966) (orig. date 1200s)

Wolfram von Eschenbach, Parzival (tr Cyril W. Edwards, 2004) (or André Lefevere 1991) (orig. date 1200s) (Books 1-2; 14-16)

Anonymous, The Kebra Nagast: tr. E.A. Wallis Budge (Oxford, 1922) (orig. date 1200s)

Gustav Pfizer Salomo’s Nachte (Nights of Solomon) (1835)

Isaac D’Israeli’s “Solomon and Sheba” in Curiosities of Literature: Consisting of Anecdotes, Characters, Sketches, and Observations, Literary, Critical, and Historical (1798)

Gustave Flaubert’s The Temptation of Saint Anthony (orig. date 1874)

Gérard de Nerval, “The Story of the Queen of the Morning and of Soliman, prince of the genies” in Voyage en Orient (Journey to the Orient, 1851), trans. Norman Glass, London, 123-211

Handel’s opera Solomon (orig. date 1749)

Charles Gounod’s opera La reine de Saba (orig. date 1862)

Karl Goldmark’s opera Die Königin von Saba (1875)

Twentieth Century Primary Texts

W. B. Yeats “Solomon to Sheba” and “Solomon and the Witch” (orig. date 1919)

Leopold Sedar Senghor, “Elegy for the Queen of Sheba” and “At the Call of the Race of Sheba” (1976), in The Collected Poetry, pp 228-34, 41-45 (Eng); 309-316, 565-572 (Fr).

Walcott, Derek Alton. O Babylon! (1976)

Rudyard Kipling’s “The Butterfly that Stamped” in Just-So Stories (orig. date 1902)

Rider Haggard’s Queen Sheba’s Ring (1926) (about Maqueda)

The Queen Of Sheba (1953) Gino Cervi and Leonora Ruffo (on Netflix)

Solomon and Sheba (1959) Yul Brynner and Gina Lollobrigida (on Netflix)

Solomon (1997) Ben Cross and Vivica A. Fox

The Queen of Sheba (1921) Betty Blythe and Fritz Leiber (lost)

Sheba Baby (1975)

“She's My Sheba, I'm Her Sheik” (blues 1930s song) 

“If You Sheik On Your Mama, Mama's Gonna Sheba On You”

Jay Williams's Solomon and Sheba: A Novel (1959)

India Edghill’s Wisdom's Daughter: A Novel of Solomon and Sheba (2005) 

Verney Lovett Cameron’s The Queen’s Land (about Queen of Sheba) (1886)

Langston Hughes’s drama Joy to My Soul

Solomon & Sheba: An Epic Love Story (A&E Home Video, 2005) (on Netflix as Solomon & Sheba: Biography 2005)

Secondary Texts

Queen of Sheba: Behind the Myth (2002, 44 minutes) (youtube)

Fabrizio A. Pennacchietti’s Three Mirrors for Two Biblical Ladies : Susanna and the Queen of Sheba in the eyes of Jews, Christians, and Muslims Gorgias Press, 2006.

Dina Stein, "A King, a Queen, and the Riddle Between: Riddles and Interpretation in a Late Midrashic Text", in David Shulman and Galit Hazan-Roken eds., Untying the Knot: On Riddles and Other Enigmatic Modes (Oxford, 1996) 125-147.

Wendy Belcher’s “African Rewritings of the Jewish and Islamic Solomonic Tradition: The Triumph of the Queen of Sheba in the Ethiopian Fourteenth-Century Text KÉ™brä Nägäst.” In Roberta Sabbath, ed. Sacred Tropes: Tanakh, New Testament, and Qur'an as Literary Works. Brill, 2009.

Mark S. M. Scott, "Shades of Grace: Origen and Gregory of Nyssa's Soteriological Exegesis of the 'Black and Beautiful' Bride in Song of Songs 1:5", Harvard Theological Review 99:1 (2006) 65–83

David Goldenberg, The Curse of Ham: Race and Slavery in Early Judaism (Princeton, 2003)

Rigmor Båtsvik, “The Queen of Sheba in the Legend of the True Cross” Bodleian Library Record 19, 2, 2006 pages 229-238.

Silberman, Lou H. “The Queen of Sheba in Judaic Tradition” In Solomon and Sheba , ed. James Pritchard Praeger 1974. 65-84.

Watt, W. Montgomery. “The Queen of Sheba in Islamic Tradition” In Solomon and Sheba , ed. James Pritchard Praeger 1974. 85-104.

Gianfranco Fiaccadori, “Makeda”, Encyclopaedia Aethiopica III, 2007, 672-679.

Melissa Knox, "Rider Haggard's Queer Geographies: Colonizing Sheba" Psychoanalytic Review 93,6 (Dec. 2006), 953-975.

Anne McClintock, Anne. Chapter 1 of Imperial leather: race, gender and sexuality in the colonial contest. Routledge, 1995.

Janice Spleth, "The Arabic Constituents of Africanité: Senghor and the Queen of Sheba", Research in African Literatures 33,4 (2002): 60-75.

Theodore Reff, "Cézanne, Flaubert, St. Anthony and the Queen of Sheba", The Art Bulletin 44, no. 2 (June 1962): 113-125.

Paul Watson, “The Queen of Sheba in Christian Tradition”, in James B. Pritchard ed, Solomon and Sheba (1974), 115-145.

Jacqueline De Weever’s Introduction Sheba's Daughters: Whitening and Demonizing the Saracen Woman in Medieval French Epic (1998)

Barbara Freyer Stowasser’s Women in the Quran, Traditions, and Interpretation (1996, Oxford)

Course Overview

Week 1 Introduction

Primary Readings:        British Museum Treasures from Ancient Yemen

Monday, Sept 21       Introduction to course

Wednesday, Sept 23  Watch and discuss Queen of Sheba: Behind the Myth (2002, 44 minutes)

Week 2 The Ancient Jewish Tradition

Biblical and post-biblical Jewish elaborations of the story of Solomon and Sheba. What role do riddles and disguises have in defining cultural boundaries?

Primary Readings:      

1 Kings 10: 1-3; II Chronicles 9

Targum Sheni to Esther (Grossfeld)

Midrash [Lassner appendix (pp. 161-175)

Secondary Readings:

Lassner chapter 1 (pp. 9-35)

Stein article (pp. 125-147)

Monday, Sept 28       Lecture and close readings

Wednesday, Sept 30  Discussion and close readings

Week 3 The Ancient Christian Tradition

Biblical and post-biblical Christian depictions of the “Queen of the South.” How does the present reinterpret and project upon the past

Primary Readings:      

Song of Songs 1:5-6; Matthew 12:42 ; Luke 11: 29-32

Secondary Readings:

Goldenberg’s chapter 1 (pp. 1-25)

Pennacchietti’s Part 2 “Queen of Sheba” 

Scott article “Shades of Grace”

Optional:

Goldenberg chapter 5 (pp. 79-92), conclusion

Monday, Oct 5           Lecture and close readings

Wednesday, Oct 7     Discussion and close readings

Week 4 The Ancient Islamic Tradition

Quranic and post-quranic depictions of “Bilqis.” How do depictions of female rulers establish or maintain cultural norms? (Think of Palin, Clinton, Cleopatra, etc.)

Primary Readings:      

Quran Sura 27: 20-44; 34: 15

Tales of the Prophets (chap. 78, 81-84) (pp. 288-320)

Lassner appendix pp. 185-215

Visual images

Secondary Readings:

Lassner chapter 2 & 3 (pp. 36-88)

Optional:

BBC radio show “Woman of the Quran: Queen of Sheba”

Barbara Freyer Stowasser’s Women in the Quran, Traditions, and Interpretation

Monday, Oct 12         Lecture and close readings

Wednesday, Oct 14   Discussion and close readings

Week 5 The Medieval African Tradition

Medieval Ethiopian depictions of the Queen of Sheba as an African woman who triumphs over Solomon and steals the birthright of the Israelites. What role do global politics play in recasting the biblical story with a different victor?

Primary Readings:      

Kebra Nagast read as much as possible, but especially sections 19-39, 43-62, 84-89, 94-95 (in terms of pages, pp. 1, 14-46, 52-86, 123-132, 140-145, 199) (81 total pages)

Visual Images

Secondary Readings:

Encyclopedia Aethiopica entry on Makeda

Monday, Oct 19         Lecture and close readings

Wednesday, Oct 21   Discussion and close readings

Week 6 The Medieval Latin Tradition

Medieval European depictions of the Queen of Sheba, including stories about the wood of the true cross that make reference to the Song of Songs. What role does race play in constructing a European Sheba who is both pagan and Christian?

Primary Readings:      

Aurora Consurgens (section 1, IV, V, and XII of the text and related commentaries)

The Golden Legend (On the Holy Cross)

De Weever’s introduction (pp. xi-29) 

Visual images

Secondary Readings

Sheba's Daughters (pp. 82-87)

Watson chapter (pp. 115-145)

Båtsvik article (pp. 229-238)

Monday, Oct 26         Lecture and close readings

Wednesday, Oct 28   Discussion and close readings

Week 7 The German Tradition

Twelfth- through nineteenth-century German depictions of the Queen of Sheba. How have Germans adapted the myth?

Primary Readings:      

Wolfram’s Parzival (Books 1-2; 14-16)

Goldmark’s Die Königin von Saba ("The Queen of Sheba")

Pfizer’s Salomo’s Nachte

Monday, Nov 9          Lecture and close readings

Wednesday, Nov 11  Discussion and close readings

Week 8 The French Tradition

Nineteenth-century French depictions of the Queen of Sheba. How have the French adapted the myth? 

Primary Readings:      

Flaubert’s The Temptation of Saint Anthony (chap. 1 and 2)

de Nerval’s Journey to the Orient story (pp. 123-211, but especially 153-157, 142-143, 184-185, 203, and 211) (93 pages)

Gounod’s La reine de Saba (opera)

Secondary Readings

Reff article (pp. 113-125) (18 pages)

Monday, Nov 16        Lecture and close readings

Wednesday, Nov 18  Discussion and close readings

Week 9 The British Tradition

Nineteenth-century British depictions of the Queen of Sheba. How have the British adapted the myth?

Primary Readings:      

Kipling’s short story

Yeats’ poems

Haggard’s novel Queen Sheba’s Ring

Handel’s Solomon (opera) “Arrival of the Queen of Sheba”

Secondary Readings:

Knox article

Monday, Nov 23        Lecture and close readings

Wednesday, Nov 25  Discussion and close readings

Week 10 The African Diasporic Tradition

Nineteenth and twentieth-century depictions of the Queen of Sheba in the African diaspora. How has the Queen of Sheba been deployed in the struggle against colonialism?

Primary Readings and Viewings:      

Senghor’ poems (pp 228-234, 41-45)

Walcott’s poems

Solomon (1997) Ben Cross and Vivica A. Fox (Part 2 only)

Secondary Readings

McClintock chapter 1

Spleth’s article

Monday, Nov 30        Discussion and presentations

Wednesday, Dec 2     Discussion and presentations

Week 11 The U.S. Tradition

Twentieth-century U.S. depictions of the Queen of Sheba. How have Americans adapted the myth?

Primary Readings and Viewings:      

Solomon and Sheba (1959 movie)

The Queen Of Sheba (1953 movie) Gino Cervi and Leonora Ruffo

Optional:

Solomon & Sheba Biography (2005)

Sheba Baby (1975)

Jay Williams Solomon and Sheba: A Novel (1959)

India Edghill’s Wisdom's Daughter: A Novel of Solomon and Sheba (2005)

Monday, Dec 7          Discussion and presentations

Wednesday, Dec 9     Discussion and presentations

Week 12 Wrap-up [or add Spanish and Russian tradition]

Monday, Dec 14        Discussion

Wednesday, Dec 16   Discussion