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The Arrival of the Palace of the Queen of Sheba

Various news sources are reporting on an archaeological find in Ethiopia. Here’s how the DPA tells it:

Archaeologists believe they have found the Queen of Sheba’s palace at Axum, Ethiopia and an altar which held the most precious treasure of ancient Judaism, the Ark of the Covenant, the University of Hamburg said Wednesday. Scientists from the German city made the startling find during their spring excavation of the site over the past three months.

Meanwhile, a Bloomberg report has a slight – but somewhat significant – difference (emphasis added):

A team of archaeologists from the University of Hamburg said they discovered the Queen of Sheba’s palace and an altar that may have once held the Ark of the Covenant in Axum, Ethiopia.

Back to the DPA:

The Ethiopian queen was the bride of King Solomon of Israel in the 10th century before the Christian era. The royal match is among the memorable events in the Bible.

Actually, no – as various other blogs have pointed out (see here and here), the story does not appear in the Bible at all. However, there is a much later Ethiopian legend (collected in the Kebra Negast) concerning how Solomon used that famous wisdom of his to get the Queen of Sheba into bed, and how their son later took the Ark of the Covenant away to Ethiopia. As is well known, the Ethiopian Orthodox Church claims to have it in a church in Axum, where it is hidden behind a curtain and guarded by a monk. The DPA continues:

The University said scientists led by Helmut Ziegert had found remains of a 10th-century-BC palace at Axum-Dungur under the palace of a later Christian king. There was evidence the early palace had been torn down and realigned to the path of the star Sirius.

Bloomberg adds the detail that the original structure “probably didn’t survive for very long”, which gives us a better idea of when the original structure was destroyed and the realignment occurred. The DPA again:

The team hypothesized that Menelek had changed religion and become a worshipper of Sirius while keeping the Ark, described in the Bible as an acacia-wood chest covered with gold. Remains of sacrifices of bullocks were evident around the altar.

The research at Axum, which began in 1999, is aimed at documenting the origins of the Ethiopian state and the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.

“The results we have suggest that a Cult of Sothis developed in Ethiopia with the arrival of Judaism and the Ark of the Covenant and continued until 600 AD,” the announcement said. Sothis is the ancient Greek name for a star thought to be Sirius.

That’s quite some hypothesizing going on there. A few questions from a layperson, if I may:

(1) What actual evidence links this site to Sheba, which may in fact have been in Yemen?

(2) What actual evidence is there that the altar was designed to hold an ark?

(3) Even if there is evidence of some kind of an ark-like object, why assume that it was the Ark? The Biblical description of the Ark suggests a cult object based on models from Egyptian religion – might that not apply to any cult object at this site?

(4) How is it sensible to speak of Menelek “changing religion”, even if we accept a historical Menelek? Just because there are supposed signs of correspondence with Israelite religion at the site, that hardly means that Israelite theology was ever adopted wholesale, or (to return to the point above) even that the correspondences derive from Israelite models. Further, even if Ziegert is correct in his hypothesis about the Ark and the adoption of Israelite beliefs, according to the Bible there were all kinds of religious practices and ideas being assimilated into Israelite religious life during the early First Temple period. Of course, the Biblical authors were appalled by most of these, but their appearance does not amount to “changing religion”. In the same way Menelek (or his successors) could have simply added veneration of Sirius to religious practices.

However, such caveats are unlikely to bother many people; WorldNetDaily’s top story is currently “Ark of the Covenant altar found in Sheba’s palace”, and various US discussion threads are pondering what this means as regards the Last Days and the building of the Third Temple.

Ziegert’s website can be seen here, although there isn’t currently anything there about this story.

UPDATE: WND has belatedly added some quotation marks around “Ark of the Covenant altar” in its headline.

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