This took place around 950 BC and there is no direct documentary evidence beyond the Biblical accounts that were written centuries later and are not entirely consistent. But one thing that was recounted was the King Solomon was widely admired and respected as a wise and temperate leader. Visitors such as royalty and scholars came to see his kingdom for themselves and to meet the great Solomon. Among those visitors was the legendary Queen of Sheba. Powerful and important in her own right, Ms Sheba visited Solomon, bringing gifts of course, and she had a good visit. But there is no serious evidence that the encounter was sexual. The only, wholly enigmatic (at most) passage, in Kings, is that when Solomon gave her "all her desire, whatsoever she asked," she left satisfied.
This makes for good movie fodder, helps keep Biblical scholars employed, and gives preachers things to bore their congregations with on Sundays. Whether it is literally true or not is disputed, but most scholars seem to think these characters did exist and were important in their time.
Now along comes....Science! The latest Big Story of hyperbolic marketing is that new DNA sequence analysis has found that there seem to be some Middle Eastern genetic variants found in Ethiopians. Unbelievably, this has been hyped by BBCNews and by the scientists involved, as supporting the Solomon-Sheba tryst--something not even at all clearly mentioned in the only source about these people that exists. The lead author, an otherwise respectable scientist, argues that the estimated timing of the detected gene flow, 3000 years ago, 'fits' the Biblical story:
"By analysing the genetics of Ethiopia and several other regions we can see that there was gene flow into Ethiopia, probably from the Levant, around 3,000 years ago, and this fits perfectly with the story of the Queen of Sheba."
Lead researcher Luca Pagani of the University of Cambridge and the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute added: "The genetic evidence is in support of the legend of the Queen of Sheba."Well, that's within 2000 years of the alleged tryst so it must be true! A real Night to Remember.
In an incredible segue, according to the BBC story, the scientists used this supposed finding to justify looking at (you guessed it again!) more DNA sequence from these populations, probably to include whole genome sequence so that not one lascivious tidbit is missed. And what was the segue? It's to reconstruct the history of this part of the world....60,000 years ago! We guess this is to scope out the really first Shebanger.
Except to ask about the cost justification, there's no reason not to be interested in using DNA to reconstruct history--anywhere in the world. There is no special justification for doing this in the Middle East except our own Middle (navel) East gazing. DNA data are a powerful too for reconstructing our population ancestry, to be sure. But the whole thing is a non sequitur, because the reported--or should we say distorted--genetic finding is absolutely irrelevant to any Biblical story. And the authors know this very well.
Any geneticist worth his or her PCR machine would have to tell you that to find some evidence of gene flow between populations long inhabiting reasonably nearby parts of the world is nothing of a surprise. If we know anything, we know that humans gradually emerged out of northeastern Africa tens of thousands of years ago. Given human mating patterns between nearby local populations, especially along rivers and so on where they populations would interact, genetic variation 'flows' from place to place. And once large, complex, agricultural cultures arose, with their trade networks, navigation by boat or beast, and other social and political interactions, gene flow would increase if anything.
Even if only a small fraction of all mating, if you look at enough DNA from enough people, you expect to see traces of this. And the Queen of Sheba, if there ever was a Queen of Sheba, may well have visited King Solomon, if there ever was a King Solomon. But to make some special story about it, as if it reflects anything other than normal human geographic variation, is to misrepresent the data and, of course, its import.
There's a point at which science should not be confused with Hollywood. For anyone--scientist or journalist or journal--to portray this as any kind of evidence whatsoever for a particular not-even-Biblically-alleged liaison is pure BullSheba.