In addition to Arabic folklore, three religious texts tell stories of the queen of Sheba: the Bible, the Quran, and the Ethiopian Holy Book (the Kebra Nagast), but history has yet to prove that this enigmatic figure ever really existed or reigned over the Sabaen Empire in the area known today as Marib. The documentary, “The queen of Sheba: Behind the Myth,” follows the excavation of the temple at Marib (Mahram Bilqis) that was pioneered by Wendell Phillips in the 1950’s and continued recently after his death by his sister Merilyn Phillips-Hodgson. The expedition was able to use penetrating radar survey techniques to recreate what they didn’t have time to reach under the sand. The documentary recreates fantastic digital images of how grandiose the temple would have been in Marib’s heyday.

The Sabaen Empire, of which sheba may have been Queen, was the richest of it’s day and several times the size of King Solomon’s empire in Israel. The temple at Marib was the center of Saba. The great Marib Damn spanning 3,000 feet was twice the length of Colorado’s Hoover Damn and harnessed enough flood water to irrigate 24,000 acres of fields. It was largely because of this sophisticated technology that the Sabaean Empire was so great.

The most captivating story of Bilqis, as The queen of sheba is known to the Arabs, is her meeting with King Solomon of Israel in the 10th century B.C. and their alleged love affair. In Wendell’s early expedition to Marib, he hoped to prove that Bilqis worshipped at the temple there and was in fact a contemporary of King Solomon. Unfortunately he never got past the great columns marking the entrance to the temple and never discovered that it did indeed date back that far. Many years later, Wendell’s sister with head archeologist Professor Bill Glanzman was granted a four week expedition to the site. The information they unearthed added valuably to our understanding of the queen of Sheba. Of the 60,000 square meter site, they were unable to unearth only small parts, but in doing so, could prove that the temple dated back to at least the time of King Solomon and probably much further.

The film portrays vivid images of the ancient Sabaen city and of the Queen’s supposed trip to King Solomon. According to legend she stayed with him for three years before returning to her people and giving birth to Solomon’s son. Shortly afterwards, however, the Sabaen empire vanished almost instantaneously, and historians are left wondering if sheba ever reigned at all. But to the Jews and Christians who know her as Sheba, the Arabs who know her as Bilqis, and the Ethiopians who believe her son founded a new empire in Africa, there is not doubt.

So, despite the movie’s characterization of our friendly surroundings as “notorious for its banditry” and “dangerous” we enjoyed the film.

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