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Sheba: Through the Desert in Search of the Legendary Queen [Hardcover]

Nicholas Clapp
4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)

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Book Description

April 24 2001
Three thousand years ago, a dusky queen swept into the court of King Solomon, and from that time to the present day, her tale has been told and retold. Who was this queen? Did she really exist? In a quixotic odyssey that takes him to Ethiopia, Arabia, Israel, and even a village in France, Nicholas Clapp seeks the underlying truth behind the multifaceted myth of the queen of Sheba.
It's an eventful journey. In Israel, he learns of a living queen of Sheba -- a pilgrim suffering from "Jerusalem Syndrome" -- and in Syria he tracks down the queen's tomb, as described in the Arabian Nights. Clapp investigates the Ethiopian shrine where Menelik, said to be the son of Solomon and the mysterious queen, may have hidden the Ark of the Covenant. Then the "worst train in the world" (according to the conductor) takes Clapp to the Red Sea, where he sets sail for Yemen in an ancient dhow and comes perilously close to being shipwrecked.
As in his search for the lost city of Ubar, Clapp uses satellite images, this time to track an ancient caravan route that leads to the queen's winter capital in present-day Yemen. The quest is bolstered by new carbon-14 datings and by the discovery of an Arabian Stonehenge in the sands of the Rub' al-Khali. Finally, at the romantic and haunting ruins of Sirwah, the pieces of the queen of Sheba puzzle fall into place.

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From Publishers Weekly

The legendary Queen of Sheba (known in the Islamic world as Balqis or Bilqis) is a fascinating and perplexing figure. She is the only woman of note in the Bible or Koran who wields political power. Yet the historical basis for the Queen of Sheba has never been clear. In this charming investigative account, filmmaker and archeology lecturer Clapp (The Road to Ulam) creatively seeks to unravel the myth and surprisingly, his search bears some fruit. Clapp brings readers on an unusual trip to the Middle East, including relatively obscure locations in Yemen and Ethiopia, where Sheba is still a living legend. Clapp's narrative is a combination of serious scholarly investigation, casual observation, travel account and personal diary. He is a genial travel companion with a good eye for detail, though he tends to sensationalize his subject matter. Many of his local informants speak in broken and grammatically incorrect English, which may be intended to convey the sense of the foreign, but it also belittles his well-meaning helpers. Fortunately, this aspect does not overshadow the overall contribution of this book. Utilizing recent archeological data, Clapp imaginatively reconstructs the life of Sheba and her visit to Solomon. In opposition to the biblical story, Clapp cleverly suggests that Sheba was in fact a far more powerful political figure than Solomon. The purpose of her visit, Clapp says, was not, as the Bible suggests, to test Solomon's wisdom but rather to engage in high-powered trade talks. Clapp is able to provide a solid, realistic insight into this intriguing figure. As he points out, the evidence is still scanty, but overall this is a well-written and informative book that will not disappoint. Illus.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

From School Library Journal

Adult/High School-According to two brief biblical accounts, the Queen of Sheba visited the court of King Solomon in 950 B.C.E., but if the story is true, "not a shred of extrabiblical evidence backed it up." Though history tells us nothing of the woman known only as Sheba, she persists as an icon of unique female power in all the religions that originated in the Middle East-and in the popular imagination. Clapp explores the lore surrounding Sheba and sets out to discover, if he can, the facts behind the legends. He follows clues in Jerusalem, Ethiopia, and Arabia, often visiting places not normally open to Westerners and archaeologists. In a dangerous region of Yemen he makes an important discovery and finds what seems a plausible solution to the historical puzzle: "Sheba" was actually the legendary Yemeni Queen Bilqis of the ancient kingdom of Saba, traveling to Jerusalem on a trade mission. (This theory accommodates a historical basis for Sheba's significance in Ethiopian culture as well.) This account is exciting, fast moving, and richly illustrated. The author's observant eye, pitch-perfect ear, and unfailing sense of humor carry readers along on an adventure he justifiably describes as both "harrowing and sublime." This title should please a wide variety of readers-even reluctant ones whose only interest in archaeology is through Indiana Jones.

Christine C. Menefee, Fairfax County Public Library, VA

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.


Customer Reviews

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Most helpful customer reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Arabian History Detective Extraordinaire April 5 2003
Format:Paperback
Nicholas Clapp may be better known for his remarkable discovery of the so-called "lost city" of Ubar in the 90's. What makes his discovery all the more remarkable, and entertaining, is that Clapp is a documentary filmmaker... not an archaeologist. Of course, one could say that a documentary filmmaker is something of a jack of all trades, a good description of Clapp, it seems, as he brought together a team of NASA scientists, a British adventurer in the Lawrence of Arabia vein, and his parole officer wife, among others, on an adventure he created from some serious, in-depth study of ancient texts and maps.
Clapp's Sheba takes place in a similar area, and again deals with the murky mists that cover mankind's ancient past, and with the myths and legends that may, or may not, be based on fact. However, Sheba is notably different than "The Road to Ubar" in that his quest this time involves a person and not a place. Unfortunately, places last quite a bit longer than flesh-and-blooders like ourselves, and Sheba should be approached differently than Ubar-- if you've read it-- because here there will not be that "aha!" moment when the seeming lump of sand gives up its treasure.
Clapp's quest for Sheba offers the tantalizing prospect of such "aha!" moments when and if Yemen becomes a safe place for large, organized archaeological digs. A vast, ancient city of 20,000 people awaits that intrepid Indiana Jones.
Now, having said that, Clapp shows more of his wonderful storytelling ability, and his historical detective work, looking for the weave of fact amongst the warp of time.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Searching for a lost queen June 27 2002
Format:Paperback
Nicholas Clapp's search for the Queen of Sheba is one of the best non-fiction books I've read this year. The book is a travelogue, history, biblical study, analysis of Arabic mythology, and view of Middle Eastern and Eastern African politics all wrapped into one. Clapp is an engaging writer with a dry and subtle sense of humor that had me laughing out loud as I followed him on his often whimsical quest through Israel, Yemen, and Ethiopia. His frank, honest style and his ability to poke fun at and not take himself too seriously made the book and absolute pleasure to read. Like most books that focus on the world's great "unsolved mysteries," Clapp's journey often raises more questions than it answers. But that only added to my enjoyment of the story. When I finished the book, it felt as if I'd come to the end of a long stay with a good friend.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Clapping Again March 15 2002
Format:Hardcover
From the acheologist and author behind the superlative Road to Ubar comes this years-long search for the titular queen. Clapp knows that behind many a legend looms a historical figure. In contrast to his search for Ubar, however, Clapp seems a bit too willing to believe the most tenuous of connections when seeking Sheba's stomping grounds. As his ability to wander through possible sites becomes increasingly restricted (due to political unrest), his healthy critical outlook appears to take a back seat to his need for an expedient resolution. Clapp himself seems as likeable as ever, though, and many of his observations (especially those made while in Yemen) are as hilarious as they are insightful.
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