New book identifies ancient Marib as the capital of the Queen of Sheba
27 - July 1 thru July 7, 2002, Vol XI
Yemen’s role in the birth of civilization is the subject of a major new book, published last month. The book, entitled ‘Ten Thousand Scorpions/The Search for the Queen of Sheba’s Gold’, was written by Canadian author Lary Frolick after his extended research in Yemen and other countries in the Middle East. The book identifies Marib, the capital of the Iron Age Sabean culture, as one of the archaeological wonders of the world, "equal to anything in Egypt or re-Colombian Mexico." The author, a cultural journalist who has written several books on Western social history, hails Marib for its early cultural and technical innovations. Marib’s first contribution to the world history was its unique architecture, early literacy and art styles. But the ancient town was also a technological landmark, operating a vast wadi (seasonal river) stone dam:
"This Marib dam was a marvel of engineering: a huge stone dam that fed an entire civilization for over 1,500 years. A civilization of high culture, learning, and literacy, when Paris was only a shepherd’s hut and London a cattle wallow. And this dam was unbelievably advanced. Not merely a stone pyramid for the dead; but a complex stone machine for the living."
Frolick was assisted in his research by Yemen Times journalists Mohammed Al-Hakimi and Farouq Al-Kamali. The writers provided him with field notes and the oral folklore surrounding Bilqis, the traditional Yemen name for the Queen of Sheba. During his tour he also interviewed Dr. Yussuf Abdullah, the Director of the National Museum in Sanaa.
Dr. Abdullah, a world expert on South Arabian archeology, theorizes that the story of the Queen of Sheba is epical, "used to validate the founding of a royal dynasty." Professor Abdullah advised Frolick to continue his researches across the Red Sea in northern Ethiopia. The book describes the results of the author’s investigations in the old royal Ethiopian capital of Axum, originally a colony founded by Yemen settlers before 600 B.C. In Axum, now a remote town near the disputed border with Eritrea, the author found ancient alabaster plaques, stella, and carvings identical to the Sabean artifacts in Sanaa’s National Museum. Frolick also discovered that the language of the Axumite tomb carvings was in famous South Arabian script as well, thus proving the ancient connection.
The book describes the complex relationship of Ethiopia and Yemen as "similar to the Trojans and the Greeks, a cultural dialectic that gave birth to new languages, new civilizations, and new technologies." An attack in 570 A.D. by Ethiopians riding war-elephants fatally weakened the Kingdom of Sheba. The final blow came from a Persian invasion in 575 A.D. The Marib dam was utterly destroyed, until a new dam was erected in its place in the 1980s with the help of Sheik Zayed bin Sultan Aal Nahyan, President of the United Arab Emirates, whose family, like many in present-day Yemen, are descended from Sabeans.
From Ethiopia, the author concluded his study with the ruined
city of Ephesus in Turkey. Ephesus, like Marib, is mentioned repeatedly
in the Bible as one of the great cities of the ancient world. Ephesus
is also the site of a pagan cult dedicated to Artemis, the Greek goddess
of the moon. The book argues that a prehistoric mystery religion once
dominated the entire Middle East, a pagan cult far older than the Greek’s
idea of "movie star divinities" who acted out in "celestial soap operas"
in the late phase of Classical times. This mythic substrata was ruled
by a strange poly-sexual god/goddess called Il-Muquh in South Arabia;
the Greeks called this divinity Cybele. "This supreme being was conceived
as the union of all opposites," Frolick says, "Male and female, the
sun and the moon, time and eternity."
In an interview Frolick said he keenly enjoyed his trip to Yemen. He sings the country’s other praises as well. "The people are extremely hospitable; and moreover, Yemeni food is delicious. I have never eaten so well – wild honey, freshly baked bread, the roast lamb and halvah. This is what the Bible calls a feast!"
Ten Thousand Scorpions takes its title from the Yemen island
of Soqotra, the home of a flesh-eating centipede whose bite is said
to be "deadlier than ten thousand scorpions." But it is also a reference
to the romantic imagination of poets like Mohammed Al-Hakimi, whose
award-winning poetry is quoted in the book as well.