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In Search Of Myths And Heroes: The Queen Of Sheba

Airs Tuesday, October 26, 2010 at 11 p.m. on KPBS TV

Above: Michael Wood receives an assist from a local Eritrean mariner in in the waters off the Horn of Africa as he searches for the Queen of Sheba.

In this series, Michael Wood goes in search of four of the world's most famous myths. These gripping adventures take the viewer to some of the most extraordinary places on earth, exploring stories that have captivated the world for thousands of years.

Living Legends Quiz

The myths and mythical themes of "In Search Of Myths And Heroes" are alive and well today in literature and film. Test your mythological savvy with this quiz.

Photo of the ruins of the temple of Bar'an. In Africa, Michael Wood visits the temple of Bar'an, one of the sites that is part of the Sheba story.
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Above: Photo of the ruins of the temple of Bar'an. In Africa, Michael Wood visits the temple of Bar'an, one of the sites that is part of the Sheba story.

In his first journey, Michael Wood looks for the Queen of Sheba, one of the world's most famous fascinating heroines. She's been portrayed as goddess, demon, femme fatale - but did she really exist? The myth of Sheba takes Wood on a quest for clues around the Red Sea, from Egypt to Eritrea and Ethiopia and on to the earliest civilization of Arabia in Yemen to reveal the surprising truth behind the legend.

The story of the Queen of Sheba appears in religious texts sacred to Jews, Christians, and Muslims. Described in the Bible as simply a Queen of the East, modern scholars believe she came from the Kingdom of Axum in Ethiopia, the Kingdom of Saba in Yemen, or both. Their main clue is that she brought bales of incense with her as a gift; frankincense only grows in these two areas. Both countries claim her as theirs. Given that they are separated by only 25 kilometers of water, both could be right.

In these tales the Queen of Sheba is a seeker of truth and wisdom and she has heard that King Solomon of Israel is a very wise man. She travels on camel to Jerusalem to meet him and test his knowledge with questions and riddles. With her she brings frankincense, myrrh, gold and precious jewels.

King Solomon has heard of Sheba and her great kingdom. He has also heard that she has a strange feature, a left foot that is cloven like that of a goat and a hairy leg. Eager to see if the story is true, he has the floor of his court polished until it is like glass. When the Queen of Sheba walks across the floor, Solomon sees the reflection of her cloven foot. Right in front of his eyes, it transforms and becomes normal.

The Queen of Sheba tests Solomon's wisdom, asking him many questions and giving him riddles to solve. He answers to her satisfaction and then he teaches her about his god Yahweh and she becomes a follower. This is how some Ethiopians believe Christianity came to their county.

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