The Old Gods in American Gods have roots in the past and in mythology. While we might know the ins and outs of the New Gods, like Media and Technical Boy, there’s probably a lot we can still learn about their predecessors. For those of you hoping to get a better understanding of these characters before you continue on with American Gods, we’ve got you covered. Get to know the history that inspires the characters in our American Gods History Primer series.
Bilquis, a.k.a. Makeda, Bilqis, or the Queen of Sheba
In the Series
Even gods have to make a living, right? Strapped for sustenance and desperate for worshippers, the Old Gods in American Gods do what they can to get by. In fact, desperation is a key motivating factor. They need believers to keep going, to stay relevant, and they’ll do what they must to gain that belief.For Bilquis, the goddess of love, it means prostitution. Hey, her very survival is on the line. Though she used to be worshiped in an era long past, now she’s all but forgotten. Thanks to her profession, Bilquis receives worship from the praise of others through sex. She devours their warm and beating words figuratively and literally. As her clients reach climax, she consumes and absorbs them via her vagina. Worshippers disappear into her. She uses her line of work to her advantage and exerts power and control.
Bilquis is historically known by a few names, but mostly commonly as the Queen of Sheba. She shows up in myriad cultures and religions as a figure of legend and doesn’t seem to have a ton in common with the American Gods version. She’s referred to in texts such as the Bible (in the Old Testament), the Qu’ran, and the Kebra Negast. If you want to measure her reach in the form of art, that’s possible, too. The Queen of Sheba appears in frescoes created in the Italian Renaissance and in sculptures and stained glass in cathedrals like Chartres and Canterbury. But where did her story begin?
One constant comes up among the varying tales about her: the Queen of Sheba visited King Solomon. The story of her making the king’s acquaintance is included in the Bible, specifically in Kings. The text says:
“Now when the queen of Sheba heard of the fame of Solomon concerning the name of the Lord, she came to test him with hard questions… She came to Jerusalem with a very great retinue, with camels bearing spices, and very much gold, and precious stones; and when she came to Solomon, she told him all that was on her mind.”
King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba from The History of the True Cross (or Legend of the True Cross) by Piero della Francesca, painted in the mid-13th century
She wanted to test Solomon’s wisdom herself because she was too sensible to believe hearsay. Sheba was surprised to learn his wisdom and prosperity surpassed what she’d heard on the streets. Maybe she posed riddles to Solomon. Maybe she asked about how he ruled or about the Lord. We don’t know what her “hard questions” covered. It’s possible the queries were about trade and that she actually went with the intention of building a partnership between them.
From this original story in the Bible, speculation about the Queen of Sheba grew. PBS explains that, from contextual evidence and educated guesses based on possible sources of the gifts Sheba brought to Solomon, scholars estimate she was from what is now known as Ethiopia and Yemen. Both places in the Red Sea region claim her. Ethiopian tomes state she procreated with Solomon and therefore kicked off that dynasty–that account also states Solomon summoned her because he heard Sheba’s kingdom wasn’t worshiping God.
The various accounts of Sheba, regardless of how they end or what role Solomon plays in them, have an important common thread. The Queen of Sheba was an intelligent, bold, and powerful monarch. She questioned. She sought answers. She didn’t come to Solomon to instantly submit herself and her people; she swept in as his equal. You can see similar traits in Bilquis.
Now, the catch–because of course there’s a catch: Bilquis exists through the magic of folklore and belief, like the character inspired by her in American Gods. No archaeological evidence has yet been uncovered to support any of the stories about or the existence of the Queen of Sheba. Whether that makes a difference in how you think about her is up to you.
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