The Queen of Sheba as a transformative work protagonist

Barbara Oudová Holcátová

[0.1] AbstractThe story of the queen of Sheba has often puzzled commentators with its numerous late transformations, which are both colorful and sexual. The transformations of the queen of Sheba's story invoke many of the patterns familiar from fan fiction. Such transformations of ancient tales also provide preliminary explanations of why the themes in the various versions of her story appear again and again. This too shows parallels with fan fiction.

[0.2] KeywordsBible; Edmund Leach; Quran; Shipping

Oudová Holcátová, Barbara. 2019. "The Queen of Sheba as a Transformative Work Protagonist." In "Fan Fiction and Ancient Scribal Cultures," edited by Frauke Uhlenbruch and Sonja Ammann, special issue, Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 31.

1. Introduction

[1.1] The idea for this paper first came to me when I was studying materials on the subject of the Queen of Sheba and came, again and again, across commentators and other academics (e.g., Tidswell 2007) trying to somehow explain why her perfectly respectable political visit to another monarch—which is what happens in her story as presented in the Hebrew Bible—turned into a sexual encounter in most of the later literature related to her. These attempts to explain the transformation of the story resolves itself into two questions: Why the persistent sexual nature of the encounter, and why the repeated focus on Solomon's sexual relations with her when we know from the Bible that he had hundreds of wives? These are questions similar to those many people ask when they first encounter fan fiction. Given the generally acknowledged similarities between modern transformative works and traditional creative expansions on canonical material, this comparison, I believe, bears further exploration, both for the sake of understanding the Queen of Sheba's story and because the comparison may have wider implications when it comes to studying texts that build on what is considered canonical.

[1.2] The chief advantage of this comparison lies in the amount of material fan fiction affords us. Ancient writings of this nature are frequently based on a flourishing tradition that is no longer available to us, requiring us to study the different texts in relative isolation. It is certainly the case with at least some stories about the Queen of Sheba, which we know to be based on an oral tradition lost to time. The internet, on the other hand, preserves many contemporary texts in archives. As regards fan fiction, this preservation makes it possible for us to see the breadth of transformation, allows us to observe developing and past trends. While the transformative cultures surrounding fan fiction and those surrounding ancient texts are not directly comparable—there are marked differences between fan fiction and ancient writing (Keen 2016)— there are nonetheless enough similarities for this comparison to be useful.

[1.3] In this article, I hope to use these similarities to point out some patterns in the development of sacred texts. To analyze how this can compare to modern fan fiction, I will turn chiefly to Harrington and Bielby's (1995) psychoanalytical analysis of soap fans' pleasure, Jones's (2014) exploration of the transgressive aspects of shipping, and Leach's (2000b) analysis of power in all its interconnected forms.

2. Versions of the Queen of Sheba's story

[2.1] First, allow me to retell, in brief, the different versions of the Queen of Sheba's story that are currently at our disposal and that can be considered part of living religious traditions. Deciding what can be seen as part of a living religious tradition is not always easy and could include popular books as well as film and television adaptations of the Queen of Sheba's character, many of which could be taken into account here. But for the purposes of this paper, I will mostly leave such recent adaptations aside and instead provide a historical survey ending in the nineteenth century.

[2.2] The oldest version we know of the Queen of Sheba's story is from the Hebrew Bible (1 Kgs 10:1–13; 2 Chr 9:1–12), in which the Queen of Sheba makes a political visit to Solomon and tests him with riddles. He answers to her satisfaction, and after seeing his power and riches, she praises his God. After receiving gifts from him—a passage sometimes translated as "he gave her her heart's desire"—she departs from Jerusalem. In this context, she is also mentioned (as Queen of the South) in the New Testament.

[2.3] There is some argument about which version comes next (Silberman 1974), but if we refer only to canonical material and holy books for now, the Quranic version of the story (27:20–44) can be considered to follow the Hebrew Biblical version. This version tells of Solomon's summoning the Queen of Sheba to him after he was told of her existence and her sun worship. She discusses his letter with her advisors, worried about a possible invasion, as "kings tend" to invade other kingdoms. As a consequence of their advice, she first tries to placate him with gifts and then, when they are rejected, goes to him as ordered. While she is on her way, Solomon steals her throne and masks it, preparing a test. When presented with it, however, she recognizes that it is "like hers." She has worse luck with the second test, where Solomon meets her in a palace with a floor of glass. She believes it to be water and hikes up her skirts, caught by his trick. Immediately afterwards, she converts to God worship, stating that she bows "alongside Solomon to God, Lord of the Worlds."

[2.4] Perhaps from a similar time period—dating is difficult in this context (Lassner 1994)—comes the story from Targum Sheni (an Aramaic translation of the original Hebrew Bible text). Here, too, Solomon summons the Queen of Sheba, this time outright threatening war. She hurries to comply—no great wonder, perhaps, when we consider that in this version, her country is supposed to be in a golden age without wars and rich in happiness and capital. She does not have any way to fight him. When she arrives, she first embarrasses herself by mistaking a servant for Solomon, and she is then tricked by a glass floor, much like in the Quranic version of the story. This time, though, when she reveals her legs, Solomon also notes that they are hairy, which disgusts him. He declares hairy legs would be fitting for a man but are terrible on a woman. The Queen of Sheba keeps her dignity by ignoring this remark and proceeds to test him with riddles, like in the Hebrew Bible. He answers to her satisfaction, and she praises him. Consequently, he takes her to his chambers, which she praises again for their richness. She then gives Solomon gifts, and he reciprocates by giving her all her heart's desire.

[2.5] Another Jewish version can be found in the text Alphabet of Ben Sira. It is quite short and simply states that when the Queen of Sheba came to Jerusalem, Solomon wanted to have sex with her, but her pubic hair (yes, in this case it is not hairy legs) put him off, and so he had her shaved and then "had his way with her." She reacts to this by singing Solomon's praises. The child born from their union is Nebuchadnezzar, who is later responsible for the fall of the first temple of Jerusalem.

[2.6] Later Muslim transformations of the story captured in various anthologies of the Tales of the Prophets, record, as is customary, multiple versions of the tale. The main storyline remains similar, however. The version provided in al-Tha'labī's (2002) text goes something like this: Bilqis, for that is the name given to the Queen of Sheba here, is a half jinn and daughter of the King of Sheba. When her father dies, the people of her country place a man on the throne rather than her. However, the man turns out to be a serial rapist. When Bilqis hears of this, she pretends to be willing to marry him and then kills him on their wedding night. Afterwards, she is declared Queen of Sheba. The story with Solomon follows after this and goes similarly to the version provided in the Quran. However, this version includes the hairy legs incident as well as some riddles, including one in which Bilqis dresses boy servants as girls and girl servants as boys and then asks Solomon to guess their actual gender. In some variants recorded by al-Tha'labī, Solomon wants to marry Bilqis but requires her body hair to be removed before he will do so.

[2.7] In the Ethiopian version of the tale, the queen, here called Makeda, comes to see Solomon for his wisdom, and after witnessing it converts to Judaism. She spends a long time learning from him, but when she finally decides it is time to go home, Solomon is reluctant to let her leave and decides he wants her to bear him a son. To that end, he invites her to dinner and feeds her large amounts of spicy food. He then offers to let her sleep on his couch. The queen agrees on the condition that he not rape her. He agrees on the condition she will steal nothing from him. They both swear to this and go to sleep. She wakes up in the middle of the night thirsty, and the only water available is by his bedside. As she drinks it, he wakes and accuses her of stealing. Since that breaks their agreement, he proceeds to have sex with her. She bears him a son, who later takes the Ark of the Covenant from Jerusalem to Ethiopia.

[2.8] The last relevant narrative is the one by Saadya ben Joseph called Tale of the Queen of Sheba, in which the Queen of Sheba comes to Jerusalem because she is impressed when she hears about Solomon's wisdom. She poses a number of riddles, all of which he answers successfully. He then wants to have sex with her, but he is aware that she is a jinn and therefore has hairy legs, so he uses the glass floor trick to expose those legs so that he has an excuse to ask her to shave. Afterwards, they have sex, and she sings his praises. Here, too, Nebuchadnezzar is born following the union.

[2.9] Finally, the Queen of Sheba plays a small role in the Christian Legend of the True Cross, where she shows her wisdom by recognizing the wood of the true cross (Watson 1974). The remaining, usually folkloric versions of the Queen of Sheba's tale known to us today tend to paint her in a rather more negative light. In the Kabbalistic tradition, she is frequently called a demon and identified with Lilith, and in Jewish folklore in nineteenth-century Germany, she is depicted as a child-murdering succubus (Silberman 1974). Both versions differ significantly from the Hebrew Bible's story of a wise queen.

3. Shipping and canon

[3.1] Clearly, there are plenty of differences between the earliest version of the story presented above and the many later ones. Fan fiction readers and writers, though, would probably be able to recognize some patterns. As I have mentioned, in the academic study of the Queen of Sheba texts, there are frequent attempts to explain the development of the story, particularly the increasing inclusion of sex. Although there are only some small hints in the Hebrew Bible that could imply a sexual or romantic relationship—and much has been made, for example, of the phrase that Solomon gave the queen "all her heart's desire"—she and Solomon go on to copulate or marry in many later versions.

[3.2] While the explanations for this change provided by scholars never seemed particularly convincing to me, they did remind me of something I was familiar with from a very different context: the frequently mystifying combinations of characters in ships, that is, the romantic or sexual pairings in fan fiction. When one has been in fandom for some time, one gets used to the idea of ships and to the ships that at first seemed odd, but newcomers are often surprised when they glimpse the wide variety of sexual and romantic pairings on offer, thinking, "These two together? But they barely even interact in canon!" This is, precisely, the crux of the problem. It is the same mystery that Hebrew Bible commentators face when dealing with the Queen of Sheba's story and its transformation to include descriptions of her sexual exploits. Fan fiction provides us with a vaster amount of data and even with the ability to ask the actual authors and readers, both, what appeals about a given pairing, so perhaps fan fiction could shed some new light on why transformations of the Biblical tale include increasing and varying references to the Queen of Sheba's sexual union with Solomon.

[3.3] In the Harry Potter fandom, the three most popular ships (Harry Potter and Draco Malfoy, Remus Lupin and Sirius Black, and Harry Potter and Severus Snape) do not occur in canon, that is, they do not occur in the source texts written by J. K. Rowling. Moreover, out of the three, two relationships are depicted as antagonistic rather than romantic relationships in the commercially published texts. Only the fourth most popular ship appears as a relationship in the source material as well as in fans' transformative texts. Noncanonical relationships further down the list of the top ten pairings in the fandom include Hermione Granger and Draco Malfoy, Hermione Granger and Severus Snape, Remus Lupin and Severus Snape, and Harry Potter and Voldemort. Aside from the interesting point that many of the same characters appear over and over again in this list, in different combinations (which is not, let me note, due to an overall lack of characters in the book series), we can see that a number of the romantic pairings preferred in the fandom are based on antagonistic relationships in the published novels.

[3.4] Such a pattern is less observable in other fandoms. If we look at statistical examinations of Archive of Our Own for the most popular fandoms (Destination: Toast! 2017), we see that, for example, in the Sherlock Holmes fandom, the pairing of close friends Sherlock Holmes and John Watson is popular. In the Marvel Cinematic Universe fandom, Steve Rogers and Bucky Barnes would be another case of canonical close friendship read as romance. Pairings are also made between characters who have not met in canon: in the Sherlock Holmes fandom, for example, Mycroft Holmes and Greg Lestrade were often paired even before they met on screen, and in the Marvel fandom, Clint Barton and Phil Coulson are in a similar position. It is clear, then, that the degree to which a ship is represented in canon has little to no bearing on its popularity in fandom. Sometimes there are additional factors—for example, some academics posit that the attractiveness of the actors plays a part in the decision to follow or write fan fiction within a ship (Thomas 2013; Williams 2011)—but that is hardly the only reason.

[3.5] In other words, the oddity of pairings like the Queen of Sheba with Solomon are not a problem particular to the transformations of her story. There appears to be a general tendency to imagine romantic or sexual relationships where there were none in the source material. Academic literature on fandom has a number of answers to the question why. Jones (2014) shows how romantic pairings can tie into central themes of speculative fiction, becoming an additional transgressive factor alongside the supernatural phenomena that appear in the canon. She speaks, in particular, of slash fiction, or same-sex couples in fan fiction, but certainly other kinds of pairings can be transgressive as well, as is perhaps best demonstrated by popular hero/villain pairings. Of the aforementioned noncanonical Harry Potter pairings, all but one would fall under this category. The exception, Remus Lupin and Sirius Black, could certainly be considered transgressive enough simply on the merit of Remus Lupin's lycanthropy (more on that later) and Sirius Black's status as an escaped, if wrongly imprisoned, convict.

[3.6] A completely different approach was presented by Harrington and Bielby (1995), who explained the problem of shipping using psychoanalysis. According to object-relations theory, building relationships to the external world and with the people who inhabit it is an essential part of human development. To bridge the gap between ourselves and the outside, we practice using transitional phenomena, which are things that simultaneously are and are not real. Popular media creates, for fans, a middle zone between the internal and external world, which allows them to mediate seemingly unbridgeable gaps. Popular media are not alone in fulfilling this function—sports, religion, or art of any kind can play this role—but according to Harrington and Bielby, what is so crucial about fictional relationships serving this function is that romantic and sexual relationships also create a bridge between external and internal. Fans, by avidly following a romantic story, are falling in love not chiefly with the characters but with the relationship depicted. Williams (2011) further develops this by examining the rewards shipping can provide to its practitioners and the creative interaction with the source materials it requires.

[3.7] This, again, is best illustrated by the shipping of antagonists, where the initial distance between the two characters is greater—and the act of bridging more complicated—than it is between two friends or two people who are already depicted as romantically involved. Fan fiction also focuses on getting behind the mask of the antagonistic partner to understand the character's motivations and point of view. In the Harry Potter fandom, this often takes a very literal form, especially in pairings including Severus Snape, where mind-reading is practiced by the couple and leads to the breaking down of barriers between them (e.g., MillieJoan 2016; Loten 2012). The theme of bridging the gap between internal and external could not be clearer.

[3.8] Both Jones's (2014) and Harrington and Bielby's (1995) theories fit the transformations of the Queen of Sheba's story as well as they do fan fiction. The pairing between her and Solomon is certainly transgressive, especially given the emphasis on her otherness in the later versions of her tale, in which she becomes a jinn. And while her story does not precisely focus on the more romantic aspects of what Harrington and Bielby describe as the "transitional dimension" of relationships—where one partner discovers to what degree their mental idea of their potential partner matches their lived identity—the basic point still stands; it is merely manifested differently. Solomon does not wonder whether the Queen of Sheba truly loves him as he dreamed she would, but in the later Muslim versions of the story, he does wonder, before he meets her, whether she truly had hairy/demonic legs, as he was afraid she would, or whether she is clever enough to answer his riddles. The mystery of the other person is revealed and culminates in a sexual encounter. Solomon's increasing antagonism toward the Queen of Sheba in many of the later versions also makes good sense in this context. As Harrington and Bielby say, readers are in love with the idea of the bridging of a gap between two characters. This is why transformative versions of the Queen of Sheba's tale introduce a gap between her and Solomon that can then be overcome.

[3.9] This only answers the first half of my original question: Why sex? The question of why sex must occur between Solomon and the Queen of Sheba in particular remains. It has been shown in my listing of popular ships in popular fandoms that certain characters appear repeatedly in pairings, while others hardly appear at all. It has also been shown that, most commonly, the pairings that appear repeatedly include an antagonistic relationship or a transgressive aspect to the relationship. So to answer the question of why the Queen of Sheba is so prominent in these sexual transformative versions of the tale, I would give the psychoanalytic explanation above a small twist. The Queen of Sheba, in the Hebrew Bible, represents the foreign and distant, and so the external, better than another love interest would. Sex with her is, in Jones's (2014) terminology, more transgressive. As such, the desire to make her and Solomon a couple and thus to bridge the gap is natural, to some degree. The queen is a fascinating character, and readers and authors do not want her to simply disappear back to the distant Sheba; a relationship with Solomon is a way to tie her to him. The bridging of gaps is what draws readers to reimagine characters' relationships as romantic and/or sexual, and in turn, these stories often lose their attraction after the protagonists get together (Jones). The bigger the gap, the bigger the desire to mend it.

[3.10] Not all that we learn in fan fiction works equally well for ancient texts (note 1). What holds true for both, however, is that authors of transformative works do not have to rely on relationships actualized inside the source material to find inspiration for a romantic story. Their own imagination plays a much more crucial part—be it imagining how the intellect of Hermione Granger could match that of Severus Snape and inspire an intimate relationship or imagining how the Queen of Sheba's intelligence would hold up against Solomon's tests. More, fascination with intimate relationships, be they sexual or romantic, grows most often where there is a transgressive aspect to them—a wider gap to be bridged. This is true in fandom as well as in transformative versions of ancient texts, like the Queen of Sheba's tale.

4. Beyond sex and romance

[4.1] It is worth mentioning, however, that the sexual encounter between Solomon and the Queen of Sheba is not the only repeated pattern that we can find in the later versions of that story. There are other patterns which come up time and again, though they appear nowhere in the first known version of the tale, in the Hebrew Bible. For example, there is the matter of the queen's supposedly hairy legs, which irritate Solomon. It does not appear in the Hebrew Bible's version of the tale, and yet it appears with higher frequency than other elements which do, in fact, appear there (like the queen's visit to Solomon being her own initiative, which almost never appears outside of the Bible). Similarities to this can also be found in fan fiction. One example is the motif of Hermione Granger and Draco Malfoy sharing a living space during their last year at school because of the student leadership positions they hold, as Head Boy and Head Girl. On the surface, their sharing a living space makes no sense—no school would ever permit two students of the opposite sex to share a single living space—yet this motif has become immensely popular in the fandom. As we have seen with sex, the seeds for a particular development popular among readers do not always have to be present in the official or first known literary version of a text. As with particular ships, the question is: How is it possible that certain elements of the story have become so widespread? And as with ships, the question is twofold: Why the repetitive motifs in general, and why these repetitive motifs in particular?

[4.2] These elements have the quality of a meme, in the original sense—a cultural unit that is replicated by the people using it, again and again, because it in some ways fits their needs (Dawkins 1976). As with the characters' romantic pairings, there must be something about the repeated meme that compels readers to (re)use it on a collective level. The answer to "Why do repetitive patterns appear in transformative texts?" may simply be "Because repetitive patterns appear everywhere." The memetic nature of culture is one of its central characteristics, be it on the level of very large ideas (Dawkins talks of the idea of God as a meme) or very small ones (such as the idea that the Queen of Sheba has hairy legs).

[4.3] From here, we move to the question of why particular motifs are repeated more often. I will focus here on the Queen of Sheba's leg hair, and here, too, a parallel with fan fiction can help. In particular, to understand the queen's body hair, and her jinni ancestry, better, we can focus on another frequent phenomenon in fandom: demonization, or reimagining characters as nonhuman creatures. In the case of the Queen of Sheba, gradual demonization, both in the literal sense (her transformation into a nonhuman creature) and in the metaphorical sense (her transformation from a respectable monarch into a dangerous succubus who kills children), occurred over time (Lassner 1994). In the fan fiction context, demonization as a term is most commonly used in the second sense: characters who may have been depicted positively in the canon are depicted, in transformative works, in a negative light. For example, Ron Weasley is often demonized in the Harry Potter fandom, particularly in the stories that pair Hermione Granger with someone other than him. His actions are assumed to be taken in bad faith, and behavioral patterns with a negative connotation for most readers frequently appear. For example, Ron often cheats on Hermione in stories in which he is demonized. Presumably, in case of the Queen of Sheba, demonization would be carried out by those—whole communities rather than individuals—who disliked her and considered her connection to King Solomon a negative, perhaps in the context of his foreign wives who turned him from the Lord (1 Kgs 11:1–3). We see cases of this in German Jewish folklore or the Kabbalistic tradition.

[4.4] Demonization in a literal sense—that is, the Queen of Sheba's becoming nonhuman and even gaining some literally monstrous aspects—appeared in stories long before her metaphorical demonization. A better explanation for this can be found in a different aspect of fan fiction. I have briefly already mentioned the transgressive potential of writing a sexual encounter or a romantic relationship with a nonhuman character above—Remus Lupin's lycanthropy and the popularity of his being paired with Sirius Black is a clear example of the popularity of human-nonhuman pairings. A tradition also exists of making protagonists who are fully human in canon into supernatural creatures who then enter into relationships. For example, there are plenty of demon AUs—or alternate universe stories—on Archive of Our Own. In this genre of fan fiction, one or more of the characters in the story becomes a supernatural creature, usually a demon, while preserving most character traits of the original. For example, in "Chrysalism" by badassontheblock (2019), Harry Potter accidentally summons a demon who turns out to be Draco Malfoy. There seems to be something particularly attractive about a relationship with a supernatural being. As with the sexual and romantic interpersonal relationships depicted in fan fiction, characters' superhuman nature is rarely included because there are any hints of it in the canon. Transforming a character from a human into a supernatural being is a completely independent choice fans make because they find the supernatural compelling, perhaps because of its transgressive aspects and the way it increases the distance between characters, making the bridging of the gap more satisfying, as argued above. We could speculate about whether different characters are more suited to different kinds of AUs, but that is beyond the scope of this paper. What is important here is that in some ways, the answer to the question of why Muslim authors of the Tales of the Prophets think to make Bilqis a jinn might simply be because they were writing a jinn AU.

[4.5] The case is a little different in the above-mentioned folklore and Kabbalistic versions of the queen's character, where the two kinds of demonization combine. Here, the Queen of Sheba is both inhuman and evil. That does not normally happen in fan fiction, where the demonic characters are depicted in a positive light, often a more positive light than in canon, as in the case of the above-cited "Chrysalism" (badassontheblock 2019). In the case of the queen, different factors like gender and her position as an outsider intersect to create a uniquely powerful image of her otherness, which has developed into more interwoven forms of demonization over the very long period of time her character has existed. Still, it is important to note that she was inhuman in many stories without being evil, so the two kinds of demonization can be considered separately.

[4.6] It is unlikely to be accidental that most creatures chosen for this kind of AU are powerful. Someone simply supernatural is not interesting as a character in a romantic or sexual relationship: they must be both supernatural and powerful. And if that is an important enough factor here, it might just help with the question of why body hair, of all things, is such a repeated motif in the stories about the Queen of Sheba: the hair represents wilderness and wildness. It makes the queen less civilized and therefore less human, closer to animals and other beings existing beyond the borders of culture. Wilderness and otherness are deeply connected (Hailwood 2000), and, as Leach shows, both are related to power (Leach 2000b), just as hair itself is related to power (Leach 2000a). If demon AUs show, among other things, that power tied to otherness is an attractive topic to readers and writers both, it is not surprising that the queen's inhumanity and, more frequently, her body hair, as markers of both her power and otherness, would become widespread motifs.

[4.7] In fact, Leach's (2000a, 2000b) arguments may be helpful in tying this to the answer to the question of "why sex" from the previous section. Power, Leach argues, is always in-between, that is, it is always found in relations; liminality and transgression are, according to him, the very source and nature of power. If this is true, then the fascination with the queen's body hair and jinni ancestry, as with fans' fascination with demon AUs, are one more way in which fans express fascination with sexual and romantic relationships. Leach (2000b) makes this comparison explicit in "The Nature of War," though he only explicitly discusses sex, not romance (for more on their interconnectedness, see Driscoll 2006). Power, sex, and romance are all related to transgressing boundaries between oneself and the other, about bridging the gap. Fascination with liminality remains the crux. While I could continue to discuss the way sex and power are directly interconnected both in fan fiction and in the stories about the Queen of Sheba, such an exploration is beyond the scope of this article.

5. Conclusions

[5.1] I argue that an explicit comparison of fan fiction to the Queen of Sheba's story—and the transformations of texts more broadly—helps us to better understand the different versions of her story. One rather obvious benefit is that considering the various versions of the tale as transformative fan works frees us from having to find kernels of her attraction to Solomon in the Biblical version of the tale. There are other benefits, however. Speaking in fan fiction terms, the Tales of the Prophet tell a jinni AU version of the Queen of Sheba's tale, while The Alphabet of Ben Sira can be considered to be porn without plot (PWP), as the focus is entirely on the sexual encounter, with canonical phrases being used as double-entendres. Using terms used to categorize fans' transformative works makes it clear how similar the mechanisms at work in ancient scribal cultures are to the ones we can observe at work in online fandom today.

[5.2] I mentioned at the beginning of this article that we sometimes only have an incomplete ancient story because traditions, such as the oral transference of tales, are not preserved. Even literary versions of the tale—that is, versions that were written down—have been lost to time. There was a widespread oral tradition behind the Queen of Sheba's story—the Tales of the Prophets are known to be stories written down from oral narratives (Lybarger 2008). Stinchcomb (2017) recently postulated that we should assume a common oral origin for both the Quranic and the Targum Sheni versions of the story, to avoid endless discussions about which came first. The Quran, to the best of our knowledge, originated in the Arabian peninsula, whereas the Levant is the most likely origin of the Targum Sheni version of the tale. If we hold to the theory of a shared oral tradition, it implies the story was told both in the cosmopolitan areas around Damascus and Jerusalem and in the relatively remote and isolated Hijaz, the birthplace of Islam. This demonstrates an impressive degree of interconnectedness comparable, to a limited degree, to the connectedness of digital fandom.

[5.3] Fan fiction is necessarily created in a dialogue—not only the dialogue between a fan and the canonical material but also that between a fan and the wider fandom. The same holds true for literature that builds and expands on religious texts, only in the case of such literature, larger parts of this dialogue are unavailable to us. As such, it is somewhat pointless to look for motivations for the transformation of particular scenes as if these transformations were isolated cases. The reasons why certain motifs become prevalent and repeated may be understood through the lens of psychoanalysis, but at least in part, they lie in the living dialogue of the community in which the stories were shared and transformed. The process of transformation is an involved and complicated one. In case of the Queen of Sheba, we see fragments of the tale transformed throughout a time period spanning centuries. In fan fiction, we can watch it live, though it can be difficult to map the exact transformative processes taking place (note 2).

[5.4] It is not my intention to provide definitive answers regarding why readers very often transform the works they read to depict certain romantic or sexual pairings, why particular characters are popular, and why particular patterns develop and are repeated. I wish to suggest some possible answers to these questions in this paper, following the theories of Leach (2000a, 2000b), Jones (2014), and Harrington and Bielby (1995). However, my chief goal has been to show the many ways in which the story of the Queen of Sheba behaves exactly like fan fiction stories do, and thus to illustrate that her case is not special—in fact, the transformations to which her tale has been subject may instead reflect a more general human attitude towards texts, one that remains essentially unchanged.

6. Notes

1. As an aside, it should also be said that the case of the Queen of Sheba shows that, contrary to many gendered assumptions, shipping is not only a pastime for women, since the scribes through whom her tale passed to us were, generally speaking, men. However, I do not wish to diminish the role of women keeping the tradition of the story of the Queen of Sheba alive. It would be fascinating to know if and how women readers identified with the queen. Williams (2011) describes identification with characters as common among the fans she studies.

2. One example of the mapping of a motif's evolution—in this case, a ship—can be found in Catherine Coker's (2013) article "Earth 616, Earth 1610, Earth 3490—Wait, what universe is this again?"

7. References

al-Tha'labī, Abū Isḥāq Aḥmad ibn Muḥammad ibn Ibrāhīm. 2002. 'Arā'is al-majālis fī qişaş al-anbiyā, or Lives of the Prophets, edited and translated by William M. Brinner. Leiden: Brill.

badassontheblock. 2019. "Chrysalism." Fan fiction. Archive of Our Own, February 8, 2019.

Ben Joseph, Saadiah. 1994. "The Yemenite Tale of Saadiah Ben Joseph. " In Demonizing the Queen of Sheba, edited and translated by Jacob Lassner, 168–75. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Coker, Catherine. 2013. "Earth 616, Earth 1610, Earth 3490—Wait, What Universe Is This Again? The Creation and Evolution of the Avengers and Captain America/Iron Man Fandom." In "Appropriating, Interpreting, and Transforming Comic Books," edited by Matthew J. Costello, special issue, Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 13.

Dawkins, Richard. 1976. The Selfish Gene. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Destination: Toast! 2017. "TOASTYSTATS: Top fandoms on AO3." Tumblr, February 26, 2017.

Driscoll, Catherine. 2006. "One True Pairing: The Romance of Pornography and the Pornography of Romance." In Fan Fiction and Fan Communities in the Age of the Internet, edited by Karen Hellekson and Katherine Busse, 79–96. Jefferson NC: McFarland.

Hailwood, Simon A. 2000. "The Value of Nature's Otherness." Environmental Values, 9 (3): 353–72.

Harrington, C. Lee, and Denise D. Bielby. 1995. Soap Fans: Pursuing Pleasure and Making Meaning in Everyday Life. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press.

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